The Lake House


By James Patterson

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Six kids on the run must face a villain who threatens the future of human existence . . . but winning comes at a high price.

Six children have escaped horrifying government experiments, a childhood in captivity, and a frightening brush with death. Living out in the world for the first time, they yearn to be reunited with Kit and Frannie, the couple who saved their lives. And Max, the leader of the flock, is seized by an overpowering fear that the kids are about to face a danger greater than any they’ve ever known.

All that the children want is to return to the one place they have ever felt truly protected: the waterfront cabin known as the Lake House. But in order to get there, they must thwart the sinister plans of a survivor from their worst nightmare — plans that not only keep Kit, Frannie, and the children in constant peril, but threaten the future of human existence. And it’s a battle they must be willing to pay any price to win.


Also by James Patterson:

The Thomas Berryman Number

Season of the Machete

See How They Run

The Midnight Club

Along Came a Spider

Kiss the Girls

Hide & Seek

Jack & Jill

Miracle on the 17thGreen

(with Peter de Jonge)

Cat & Mouse

When the Wind Blows

Pop Goes the Weasel

Black Friday

Cradle and All

Roses Are Red

1st to Die

Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas

Violets Are Blue

2nd Chance

(with Andrew Gross)

The Beach House

(with Peter de Jonge)

Four Blind Mice

The Jester

(with Andrew Gross)

IT SURPRISES SOME READERS that When the Wind Blows (featuring Max and the gang) is my most successful novel around the world. Who knows why for sure, but I suspect it's because an awful lot of people, myself included, have a recurring fantasy in which they fly. They treasure it. On the other hand, there are plenty of folks who won't fantasize or play make-believe. They wouldn't have gotten to the Neverland with Peter Pan. There is one other thing that might be interesting to those who read this book. When I researched it I interviewed dozens of scientists. All of them said that things like what happens in The Lake House will happen in our lifetime. In fact, a scientist in New England claims that he can put wings on humans right now. I'll bet he can.

So settle in, you believers, and even you Muggles.

Let yourself fly.


IT WAS BEING CALLED "the mother of all custody trials," which might have explained why an extra fifty thousand people had poured into Denver on that warm day in early spring.

The case was also being billed as potentially more wrenching and explosive than Baby M, or Elian Gonzales, or O. J. Simpson's battle against truth and decency. I happened to think that this time maybe the media hype was fitting and appropriate, even a tiny bit underplayed.

The fate of six extraordinary children was at stake.

Six children who had been created in a laboratory and made history, both scientific and philosophical.

Six adorable, good-hearted kids whom I loved as if they were my own.

Max, Matthew, Icarus, Ozymandias, Peter, and Wendy.

The actual trial was scheduled to begin in an hour in the City and County Building, a gleaming white neoclassical courthouse. Designed to appear unmistakably judicial-looking, it was crowned with a pointy pediment just like the one atop the U.S. Supreme Court Building. I could see it now.

Kit and I slumped down on the front seat of my dusty, trusty beat-up blue Suburban. It was parked down the block from the courthouse, where we could see and not be seen, at least so far.

I had chewed my nails down to the quick, and there was a pesky muscle twitching in Kit's cheek.

"I know, Frannie," he'd said just a moment before. "I'm twitching again."

We were suing for custody of the children, and we knew that the full weight of the law was against us. We weren't married, we weren't related to the kids, and their biological parents were basically good people. Not too terrific for us.

What we did have going for us was our unshakable love for these children, with whom we'd gone through several degrees of hell, and their love for us.

Now all we had to do was prove that living with us was in the best interest of the children, and that meant I was going to have to tell a story that sounded crazy, even to my closest friends, sometimes even to myself.

But every word is true, so help me God.


THE AMAZING STORY actually started six months ago in the tiny burg of Bear Bluff, Colorado, which is fifty or so miles northwest of Boulder on the Peak-to-Peak Highway.

I was driving home late one night when I happened to see a streaking white flash—then realized it was a young girl running fast through the woods not too far from my home.

But that was just part of what I saw. I'm a veterinarian, Dr. Frannie, and my brain didn't want to accept what my eyes told me, so I stopped my car and got out.

The strange girl looked to be eleven or twelve, with long blond hair and a loose-fitting white smock that was stained with blood and ripped. I remember gasping for breath and literally steadying myself against a tree. I had the clear and distinct thought that I couldn't be seeing what I was seeing.

But my eyes didn't lie. Along with a pair of foreshortened arms, the girl had wings!

That's correct—wings! About a nine-foot span. Below the wings, and attached somehow, were her arms. She was double-limbed. And the fit of her wings was absolutely perfect. Extraordinary from a scientific and aesthetic point of view. A mind-altering dose of reality.

She had also been hurt, which was how I eventually came to capture her, in a "mist net," and sedate her, with the help of an FBI agent named Thomas Brennan, whom I knew better as Kit. We brought her to the animal hospital I operated, the Inn-Patient, where I examined her. I found very large pectoral muscles anchored to an oversize breastbone, anterior and posterior air sacs, a heart as large as a horse's.

She had been "engineered" that way. A perfect design, actually. Totally brilliant.

But why? And by whom?

Her name was Max, short for Maximum, and it was incredibly hard to win her trust at first. But in her own good time she told me things that made me sick to my stomach and angrier than I'd ever been. She told me about a place called the School, where she'd been kept captive since the day she was born.

Everything you're about to hear is already happening, by the way. It's going on in outlaw labs across the United States and in other countries as well. In our lifetime! If it's hard to take, all I can say is, buckle up the seat belts on your easy chair. This is what happened to Max and a few others like her.

Biologists, trying to break the barrier on human longevity, had melded bird DNA with human zygotes. It can be done. They had created Max and several other children. A flock. Unfortunately, the scientists couldn't grow the babies in test tubes, so the genetically modified embryos had to be implanted in their mothers' wombs.

When the mothers were close to term, labor was induced. The poor mothers were then told that their premature children had died. The preemies were shipped to an underground lab called the School. The School was, by any definition, a maximum-security prison. The children were kept in cages, and the rejects were "put to sleep," a horrible euphemism for cold-blooded murder.

Like I said, buckle up those seat belts!

Anyway, that was why Max had done what she'd been forbidden to do. She had escaped from the School. Amazingly, we succeeded. We even got to live with the kids for a few months at a magical place we all called the Lake House.

Kit and I listened to what Max had to tell us, then we went with her to try to rescue the children still trapped at the School.

When the smoke cleared (literally), the six surviving children, including Max and her brother, were sent to live with their biological parents—people they'd never known a day in their lives.

That should have been fine, I guess, but this real-life fairy tale didn't have a happy ending.

The kids, who ranged from twelve years old down to about four, phoned Kit and me constantly, every single day. They told us they were horribly depressed, bored, scared, miserable, suicidal—and I knew why. As a vet, I understood what no one else seemed to.

The children had done a bird thing: they had imprinted on Kit and me.

We were the only parents they knew and could love.


OUTSIDE MY BATTLE-SCARRED Suburban, the crowd was flowing like lava down Bannock Street. I read somewhere that Denver has the fittest population of any major city in America. I'd always loved it here—until now. I was about to force a joke when Kit said, "Brace yourself, Frannie. The kids are here."

He pointed to a black Town Car slowly parting the crowd and finally coming to a stop in a no-parking zone right outside the courthouse. The hair on my neck stood even before the crowd started chanting her name. My heart was in my throat.

"Max! Max! Max! We want Max!" somebody screamed.

"The freak show has arrived!" Another country heard from.

Car doors flew open and somber-looking gray-suited bodyguards and lawyers scrambled out onto the sidewalk. Then a second car braked behind the first.

A bullnecked man in a tight-fitting black jacket opened the passenger-side door for a petite, blond woman about my age. She opened the rear door of the sedan, then reached into the backseat.

Max emerged from the Town Car. There was a sudden hush over the crowd. Even I caught my breath. She was stunning in every way. An amazing girl with extraordinary intelligence and strength—and wings that spanned close to ten feet now. They were feathered in pure white, with glints of blue and silver shining through.

"God, she's beautiful," I whispered. "I miss her, Kit. I miss all of the babies. This just breaks my heart."

I remembered how stunned I had been when I saw her for the first time, and the crowd was having the same reaction now.

"Max! Max! Max!" people started to chant.

Cameras flashed. "Here, Max, look over here!" "Max, here!" "Max, smile!" "Max, fly for us!"

Four people burst through the police line, holding a banner aloft that read ONLY GOD CAN MAKE A TREE. THAT GOES FOR CHILDREN TOO.

Other signs read CELL NO! and SAY NO TO CLONING!

Another banner had birds stenciled on it and read BAKE THEM IN A PIE.

Then the news choppers came in, and it got really loud and unruly. Max swung her head around to take in the astonishing scene. My heart lurched.

We grabbed up our papers for court, and as Kit locked the car doors, he said softly, "She's looking for us, Frannie."

"She's scared. I can see it in her eyes."

Max has the ultrakeen senses of a raptor. She can hear a caterpillar wriggle from a hundred yards away. She can see the caterpillar from half a mile overhead.

She called out now, her voice shrill with fear, "Frannie. Kit. I need you. Ple-e-e-e-e-ase. Where are you guys?"

Her piercing cry was still hanging in the air as more cars pulled up to the courthouse.

Burly men with buzz cuts leaped out onto the street. Several cars began discharging the other kids. They were so hesitant, so young and vulnerable. They shied away from the cameras, hid their darling little faces.

"Spawn of the devil!" someone screeched. "These children are demons!"


COURTROOM 19 was on the sixth floor. It was the largest room in the complex by far and would have to be, to hold so many inquiring minds. As Kit and I approached with our attorney, we were besieged by a throng of reporters. "Put your head down," our lawyer advised, "and just keep walking."

"Agent Brennan, look over here. Dr. O'Neill. Hey, Frannie! What makes you think you're a competent mother?" one of the press vultures shouted.

"What makes either of you think you can be good parents to these children?"

Kit finally looked up at the reporter. "Because we love the little creeps," he said, and winked. "And because they love us. Life's simple like that."

A couple of armed guards swung open the set of double doors to the courtroom, and we disappeared inside. If the brouhaha on the street had sounded like a hurricane in motion, the inside had the intensity of swarming bees. The room was paneled in golden oak, and the gallery at the rear was furnished with matching benches that held over two hundred spectators.

Every available space was filled with family members, scientists, and members of the press with real clout and, hopefully, better manners than those of the terrible horde outside.

Our lawyers and those representing the biological parents had gathered in small groups around the bar. The lawyers' tables were situated in the middle of the room. Up front was the judge's bench, and it was vacant.

Our lawyer, Jeffrey Kussof, had told us that Colorado courts almost always rule in the "best interest of the child." I was holding on to that statement as tightly as I clasped Kit's hand when the door from the judge's chambers opened.

What I saw next kind of took my breath away. I suspect that it did the same thing to everybody else in Courtroom 19.

Eyes front, wings folded, the six children filed into the room wearing their tailored suits and starched little smocks. They were eye-poppers, for sure. Dazzlers.

First came the four-year-old twins, Peter and Wendy. They were dark-haired, of Chinese descent, their snowy wing feathers glinting with dark blue tips.

Max's little brother, Matthew, an unruly towhead of nine, came next.

He was followed by the two handsome older boys, Icarus and Ozymandias.

And bringing up the rear was the lovely firstborn herself.


The crowd, as they say on the sports pages, went wild.


A COUPLE OF PACES behind the six children strode Judge James Randolph Dwyer, a large, fit man of seventy-three. He had a face like a crumpled paper bag, wispy white hair, and a no-nonsense set to his jaw.

There was a loud whooshing sound as everyone in the courtroom sat down.

While the bailiff called the court to order and then read from the docket, I was keenly aware of the people across the aisle from us. They were the biological parents, and they had assembled a formidable legal team of attorneys headed by Catherine Fitzgibbons, a former prosecutor known for her aggressive parry-and-thrust style and impressive winning record. I suppose it didn't hurt their case that she was married and pregnant with her fourth child.

"Your Honor," said Jeffrey Kussof, our lawyer, "I am quite certain this case will stretch the heartstrings of all concerned. There are no bad people here.

"The real conflict is about what is in the best interest of the children. We will prove that their best interests clearly lie with Dr. O'Neill and Mr. Brennan.

"I'd like to quote Marianne O. Battani, judge of Wayne County Circuit Court, Detroit. In 1986 she said of a test-tube baby case, 'We really have no definition of mother in our law books. Mother was believed to have been so basic that no definition was deemed necessary.' Your Honor, all that has changed. Today, in our complex and sometimes confusing world, a child can have as many as three mothers. The one who conceived the child, the one who bore the child, and the one who raised him.

"Agent Brennan and Dr. O'Neill have been surrogate parents under extreme fire. They actually put their lives on the line for these children. I'll repeat that—they put their lives at risk.

"They never thought of anything but the children's safety. Dr. O'Neill lost her animal hospital and her home in the process. To take blows and bullets for others shows love as fierce as any natural maternity or paternity.

"That said, this case isn't about my clients or about the respondents. It's about the children and the Colorado law that mandates children be united with their families. There is a new kind of family here, a family that came together through terrible adversity. And this powerful, loving family, for the good of the children, must be kept together. To separate Kit, Frannie, Max, Ic, Oz, Matthew, Wendy, and Peter would be an injustice to everyone involved. It would be exceedingly cruel."

I wanted to hug Jeffrey Kussof, and he did look mildly pleased with himself as he sat down. "It's a start," he whispered.

But Catherine Fitzgibbons was already on her feet.


"I'M HERE TODAY to represent the rights of six American citizens—Max, Matthew, Oz, Icarus, Wendy, and Peter," said attorney Fitzgibbons, "as well as their true parents."

"Why am I always the last one?" little Peter suddenly spoke up from his seat in the second row. Everybody in the room laughed at the unexpected interruption from the small boy.

"No offense meant," Catherine Fitzgibbons said, but she had turned the brightest red. Her face seemed to float like a balloon above the tailored navy blue field of her maternity dress. "Okay then—Peter, et al., I'm here to represent all of you," she said, and smiled benevolently.

"I sincerely doubt it," Icarus, who has been blind since birth, piped up. "You don't know us. As blind as I am, even I can see that."

Once again, the room was moved to laughter and small talk, quieting only after Judge Dwyer's repeated gavel banging and threats to clear the room. The kids finally settled down somewhat. They were all quick with a quip, though, probably because each of the six had a genius IQ. They tested off the charts—Stanford-Binet, WPPSI-R, WISC-III.

In her opening remarks, Fitzgibbons went on to laud Kit and me for what she called our "heroic rescue" as a way of acknowledging our help in the past and putting it completely to rest. Then she began to make her critical points against us. Each was like a knife driven into my heart and Kit's and, I was quite certain, the children's.

"Your Honor, Dr. O'Neill and Mr. Brennan, for all their altruism on the part of these children, have no legitimate claim in this courtroom," she pronounced. "None.

"They are unmarried. They've known each other and the children for only a matter of months. Furthermore, and this hardly can be said strongly enough, the children's parents have done nothing whatsoever to forfeit their parental rights. On the contrary, we will show cause to irrevocably declare them the lawful, legitimate, and exclusive parents of their children once and for all."

When Fitzgibbons had finished her opening remarks, Jeffrey Kussof stood up immediately and called Kit. I watched with pride, and love, as he took the stand.

Jeffrey cited Kit's law degree from NYU and his twelve years as an FBI agent. And he gently elicited the personal tragedy that was like a dark hole at the center of Kit's life. Four years ago, while he was working on a case, his wife and two small boys had left for a Nantucket vacation without Kit. Their small airplane went down, and there were no survivors.

Kit testified calmly yet passionately, and with a spark of humor and the wit that defines his personality. I thought anyone seeing him for the first time would be entirely convinced that not just was he a brave man but he had been, and would be again, an unimpeachably good father.

Then, for two unrelenting hours, Catherine Fitzgibbons expertly filleted Kit's career—and just about every moment of his private life.


"KIT ISN'T YOUR given name, is it?" she asked.

"No, actually it's Thomas. Thomas Brennan. Kit is a nickname. Frannie and the kids call me Kit. It's a long story."

"Mr. Brennan, you've been with the FBI for twelve years?"

"That's right."

"Have you ever heard of Fox Mulder?"

Kit snorted and shook his head. He knew where this was going already. "That's very cute."

"Please instruct the witness to answer, Your Honor," said Fitzgibbons.

"Mr. Brennan, please respond to the question."

"Fox Mulder is a fictitious character on a television series," said Kit.

"Do you have an opinion of this fictitious character?"

"Yeah. He's a frickin' nutjob."

The spectators laughed. So did I. And the children twittered with delight. They adored Kit.

"Have you any idea, Mr. Brennan, why your colleagues at the FBI call you 'Mulder'?" asked Fitzgibbons.

"Objection, Your Honor. Argumentative. Move to strike," shouted Jeffrey Kussof.

Fitzgibbons bowed her head as if to show she was contrite. She wasn't, of course.

"I retract the question. Mr. Brennan, do you consider yourself a workaholic?"

"Maybe. At times. I'm definitely committed to my work. I even like it sometimes."

"And would you describe yourself as a stable person?"

"Yes, I certainly would."

"But you've been medicated for depression."

Fitzgibbons turned her back on Kit when she said this. It was good to see that even she could feel some shame.

"Yes. I was depressed, damned depressed when I lost my entire family," Kit said, his voice rising sharply.

Catherine Fitzgibbons turned round to face him. She held her stomach in profile to Judge Dwyer.

"I see. So you understand, then, how the respondents must feel about losing their children."

Kit didn't speak. Across from me, the twins sent up frightened, high-pitched screeches in protest of this attack on Kit.

"Agent Brennan, shall I repeat the question?"

"You heartless —," he said in a whisper.

"Permission to treat the witness as hostile, Your Honor," said Fitzgibbons.

"Mr. Brennan, please answer the question," said the judge.

"Yes. Yes, I understand how it feels to lose a child," Kit finally answered.

"And still you persist in this action? You say that I'm heartless? That will be all, Agent Brennan."


I WAS FEELING SICK in the pit of my stomach when Jeffrey Kussof rose and spoke in a clear, confident voice.

"I call Dr. Frances O'Neill."

I immediately wondered why Jeffrey seemed so confident. Did he know something that I didn't? Why did he have more confidence in me than I had in myself?

As I stepped up to the witness stand, I think I had some idea of how it felt to be a four-hundred-pound lady in a wading pool. I looked out at the gallery, and the gallery looked back at me. A little more than two hundred people staring right at me, waiting for me to convince them that I would be a great—no, a flawless—mother for six unusual and very special children.

Well, that was what I planned to do.

Because I knew in my heart that I would be. Wasn't that worth something?

Jeffrey gave me a reassuring smile, then, under his direction, I cited my academic and professional credentials: the Westinghouse Science Scholarship, my DVM from Colorado State's Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Fort Collins, and all the rest of my laurels.

This prompted a little cheer and a round of whistles from the six kids, right under the noses of their seething parents. Even the twins were laughing. I chanced a quick look over at Kit, and he gave me a wink and one of his famous crooked smiles.

As the interview went on for well over an hour, I began to feel a little more confident. I knew I would be a great mom; I loved these kids more than anyone else could. Because I was a veterinarian, I understood how complex they were. Jeffrey asked me to speak about my own recent tragedy—my husband had been murdered in a holdup two years before. And I talked about my successful one-woman animal practice on a squiggle of dirt road in Bear Bluff, a one-traffic-light town about fifty miles northwest of Boulder.

Jeffrey then went on to depict me as a woman with a heart as big as the Rockies, with an open door to every chipmunk and mule deer and pound puppy in Colorado. Okay, so I started to blush.

But most important, he told about my having operated on Max when she was near death. How I had saved her life when no one else could have. That was a fact that no one could dispute, not even Ms. Fitzgibbons.

Or so I hoped.

So I prayed.

A few moments later Catherine Fitzgibbons came over to the stand and smiled as sweetly as if she were my own dear sister, Carole Anne. But she didn't waste much more of the court's time on niceties.

"Dr. O'Neill, what is your annual salary?" she asked in her trademark huffy tone.


On Sale
Jun 1, 2003
Page Count
384 pages

James Patterson

About the Author

James Patterson is the world’s bestselling author, best known for his many enduring fictional characters and series, including Alex Cross, the Women’s Murder Club, Michael Bennett, Maximum Ride, Middle School, I Funny, and Jacky Ha-Ha. Patterson’s writing career is characterized by a single mission: to prove to everyone, from children to adults, that there is no such thing as a person who “doesn’t like to read,” only people who haven’t found the right book. He’s given over a million books to schoolkids and over forty million dollars to support education, and endowed over five thousand college scholarships for teachers. He writes full-time and lives in Florida with his family.

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