By Sara Blaedel
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Ilka Jensen's life is in chaos following the tumultuous events of Her Father's Secret. The funeral home she inherited after her estranged father's death is bankrupt. Her new business partner, Artie, lies unconscious in the hospital after a savage attack by mysterious assailants, and her father's second wife is in prison.
Then, just as Ilka learns a shocking revelation about her father, two menacing strangers turn up at the funeral home—dangerous men who mean to draw her further into a world of secrets, betrayal, and murder.
In order to protect herself and those around her, Ilka sets off on a twisting journey to confront the truth about the man who abandoned her as a child. But the long-buried secrets of her father's past are more tangled and perilous than Ilka could ever imagine . . .
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Ilka woke up and squinted against the bright light. The floor was marked by a triangle of sunshine. When she raised her head, she found herself staring straight at an automatic weapon.
“I was beginning to think you weren’t ever going to wake up.” Sister Eileen rose from the chair. “We need to go.”
Ilka was the one who had insisted on staying the night in the funeral home. She rolled onto her side and watched the slender woman disappear through the doorway, the long-barreled weapon dangling from her hand.
She wanted to pull her comforter up over her head and pretend that everything she’d heard the evening before was none of her business. Everything. That Sister Eileen wasn’t actually a nun, that her real name was Lydia Rogers, that she’d gone underground and had been in hiding for the past twelve years to escape a death sentence in Texas. She wanted to convince herself it didn’t matter that Artie lay in the hospital, hovering between life and death, because of Sister Eileen—Lydia.
Ilka was the one who had found Artie. Lydia must have had her suspicions, because she’d called and asked Ilka to drive out to his house, but regardless, Ilka had sensed something was amiss when she pulled in, and she’d been right: Lydia spotted him lying on the sidewalk with a black hood pulled down over his head. At first, she had thought he was dead, but she’d detected a weak pulse in his neck beneath the blood streaming down from under the hood.
Later, Lydia had explained that the people searching for her were unscrupulous and dangerous. “They won’t hesitate to kill someone to get their hands on me.”
And Ilka had understood: These people, these killers, were Artie’s assailants.
If Ilka hadn’t found Artie herself, she probably would have thought Lydia was being dramatic. But she had seen him, and she’d waited outside intensive care at the hospital in Racine while they fought to save his life. Lydia hadn’t exaggerated, no doubt about it.
There was another reason she didn’t want to get out of bed. It had been a shock to learn that her father was still alive and, according to Lydia, had also gone underground, and Ilka needed time to let that sink in.
“But he should be the one to tell you about it,” Lydia had said.
She was right about that, Ilka thought. He was definitely the one who should tell her. But finding out he was alive had shaken her, and now she struggled to get everything clear in her head. It was hard to accept that he and Lydia had been lying to her.
Suddenly she shot straight up in bed: She hadn’t inherited the failing funeral home after all, since her father wasn’t dead! Finally, something positive in all the turmoil.
“Are you coming down?” Lydia yelled up the stairs.
Ilka grabbed her jeans off the floor and picked out a clean blouse while mentally going over their conversation from the previous evening.
She’d been enraged because nothing the woman she had known as Sister Eileen had revealed made any sense. The only thing Ilka was sure of was that her father had done it again: He’d run off, and everything he’d left behind had become her problem. Just like back when he left Denmark, leaving her mother alone with the funeral home on Brønshøj Square.
“Where is he?” she’d asked. The question now echoed in her head. Lydia had known he was alive since before Ilka arrived in Racine, and for weeks she’d stood by watching Ilka struggle without saying a word, until she was forced into it.
For what felt like an eternity they’d sat across from each other in silence, while Ilka tried to calm herself down. “In Key West,” Lydia finally answered. Living in Artie’s house, she added.
“So Artie’s known about it the whole time?”
Ilka thought back to the night she’d spent in Artie’s bed. He’d said nothing, even though she had opened up to him, exposed the part of herself that missed her father terribly.
But Lydia shook her head. Artie had believed his friend and employer for the past nineteen years was dead, that he’d died while Artie was up in Canada fishing. Lydia was the only one who knew the truth. She’d faked a death certificate by copying a signature from the many certificates the funeral home had handled. And she hadn’t needed to ask Artie for a key to the house in Key West, because she knew it hung on a hook in the prep room.
Ilka had shaken her head in astonishment, but Lydia had refused to answer any more questions.
“He helped me,” was all she would say. Instead she’d warned Ilka again that the men from her past would return, which was why it had been too dangerous for Ilka’s father to stay in the funeral home. And she’d pleaded with Ilka, told her they had to get out of there too.
None of this felt plausible to Ilka, and finally she’d stood up and announced that she was tired, she needed to think, and she was going to bed. Too much had happened. She wouldn’t give in and agree to take off at once, even though the fear in Lydia’s voice had made her skin crawl, on top of the shock of knowing her father was out there somewhere. She’d rolled into bed praying that all this would somehow disappear during the night. Or at least not feel as horrifying when she woke up.
But it was every bit as bad today. In fact, she’d half expected the sister would be gone when she woke up. The sister—Lydia—yelled up at her again.
Ilka pulled on a sweater and buttoned her pants, then she dragged out a weekend bag from under her father’s bed. She jammed some clothes into it and grabbed her toiletry bag from the table. She had no idea how long it took to drive to Key West, but she was ready to go.
Downstairs Lydia had made coffee and put out crackers, a picture of normalcy that seemed absurd against the backdrop of Ilka’s chaotic thoughts. But she took the cup that was handed to her. Her phone rang as she was about to sit down: the hospital. Ilka had added their number to her contacts list after Artie’s admission.
She sat down slowly and listened, ignoring the other woman as she stared at the table.
“Okay,” she said. “I understand. Of course you should do whatever can be done; absolutely.”
She swiped at her damp forehead as she spoke.
After hanging up, she said, “The hospital needs the name of Artie’s insurance company and the policy number, otherwise they won’t keep treating him. And they need an okay from the insurance company or money in his patient account so they’ll know they’ll get paid.”
Ilka shook her head. Her thoughts were too foggy; she couldn’t think straight.
“How much is the bill?” Lydia asked.
“Almost fifty thousand dollars. And that’s only for intensive care up to now.”
It sounded completely absurd to her. Artie was in a coma. What was the alternative if they stopped his treatment?
Lydia stared straight ahead for a moment, then turned and walked out the back door. When she returned, she took out a thick wad of bills from the travel bag in her hand and gave it to Ilka. “Open a patient account for him and tell them we’ll be paying in cash, until we clarify the situation with his insurance.”
Ilka stared, her eyes wide open, at the thick bundle of hundred-dollar bills in her hand. But Lydia ignored her bewildered expression. Truth be told, Ilka didn’t want to know where they came from. She didn’t need any more loose ends or sketchy explanations. All she wanted was assurance that the doctors would take good care of Artie, and when she got it, she would take off to look for her father.
Ilka had said she was going to drive to Key West, and without hesitation Lydia had said that sounded perfect for her; there was something she needed to take care of before moving on.
At that moment, the nun peered through the window out at the parking lot and suddenly stiffened. She quickly stepped to the side.
Ilka stood up. Two men were walking toward the funeral home, one of whom she recognized immediately; he’d come by the funeral home and asked about Javi Rodriguez—as well as about her father.
“Who’s the other guy?”
“It’s the man we met at the hospital,” Lydia said.
“And you think they’re coming for you?”
Lydia nodded silently. She stared blankly, squeezing the bag’s leather strap so hard that her knuckles turned white.
The two men focused on the funeral home’s front door as they approached. One of them led the way, while the other tossed away a crumpled-up sack that the wind caught and flung across the street toward the school.
Ilka grabbed Lydia and pushed her into the hall leading to the garage. “I’ll talk to them. You wait here—and keep away from the windows, there could be more of them out there.”
Ilka checked to make sure the back door was locked before walking past the closed doors of the prep room and the memorial room. She reached the reception just as the men began knocking. A few seconds later, they rattled the doorknob. Only when they knocked again did she casually walk over and open the door.
She nodded graciously at the men. “Good morning. What can I do for you?”
One of them stood at the door while the other stayed on the sidewalk, unwrapping a sandwich. The wind whipped the paper around in his hands, and strands of lettuce fell to the ground.
“We’re here to talk to Lydia Rogers.” The man’s black hair was graying at the temples, and his nose was broad. He wore a vest and a knee-length leather coat. Ilka noticed a square diamond in his left ear.
“She’s not here right now.” She kept smiling politely even as he put a hand on the doorframe and made a move to elbow past her, but she stood her ground. “I expect her back within half an hour, and you’re more than welcome to come back then.”
“We’ll wait here,” the man with the diamond stud said, his eyes darting around the reception behind her.
Ilka stalled a few moments. The other man had finally liberated his sandwich and was holding it with the paper around the lower half. He stared at Ilka as he chewed, and she stared back. A tattoo circled his neck like a wreath.
“Come in.” She backed away from the door and straightened up to her full height. She towered over both of the short, stocky men. Their chests pushed out like shields as they glanced around. The guy eating the sandwich was younger and taller but had the same broad nose. Obviously brothers, she thought.
“We know Lydia Rogers works here,” the older one barked out, as if he expected Ilka to deny it.
Streamers of lettuce kept falling from the sandwich, but the younger brother didn’t seem to notice the trail he was leaving. Now that he was closer, Ilka recognized him from the hospital. Something about the way he stared straight at her made her feel smaller, but she ignored his intimidating manner.
“Have a seat.” She gestured at the two chairs for visitors.
They didn’t budge.
She walked around behind Lydia’s desk. “You’re sure this isn’t something I can help you with?”
“She’s the one we want to talk to,” the older brother said. His diamond gleamed as he turned and walked to the window.
“Would you like a cup of coffee while you wait?”
The sandwich paper crinkled when the younger brother peeled it down and took another huge bite. He still ignored his mess on the floor. “We don’t give a shit about your coffee,” he said, his mouth full.
The punch came out of the blue, and the paper and sandwich flew out of his hand. The older brother then turned back to Ilka and said they would both appreciate a cup.
His brother stared down at the chicken and bacon littering the floor. A small dab of mayonnaise dotted the corner of his mouth. She watched the almost imperceptible aftermath play out between them, and for the first time she spotted fear in the younger brother’s eyes—which in turn scared her.
But she pulled herself together and pointed again at the chairs. This time they sat, and she went out to get cups and the pot from the coffee machine.
“I’m sure she’ll be here soon,” she said as she handed each of them a cup. She made a show of picking up the mess from the chicken sandwich.
Neither of them answered. One brother sat leaned over with his cup in his hands; the other leaned back and again peered around the room. Ilka glanced at her watch.
“You’ll have to excuse me, I need to deliver a body to the crematorium. You’re welcome to more coffee. And again, I’m sure it won’t be long before the sister is back.”
They didn’t seem particularly interested in what she said, though they exchanged a few short sentences in Spanish.
“You’re also welcome to come back later,” she said. She didn’t want to leave them there, but she needed to get going, now.
The older brother stared at the front door. “We’ll wait here.”
Ilka nodded and left the room as casually as she could, but the moment she was out of sight she grabbed her travel bag and the keys and ran out to the garage. Lydia was standing by the hearse with her bag at her feet, and Ilka couldn’t help noticing the gun underneath the coat draped over her arm.
“Give me the keys,” Ilka said. Before she knew what had happened, the nun had tossed her the keys, opened the rear door, and jumped into the back. She shoved the lid off the coffin, and in one swift movement she was inside. When Ilka reached the back of the hearse, she was lying with the automatic weapon resting on her chest. She didn’t come close to filling the large coffin.
Ilka checked her watch again. At best, they would have a twenty-minute head start, and they had to stop by the hospital before leaving town. She closed the coffin as fast as she could, slammed the rear door shut, and opened the garage door with the remote.
On the way out of the parking lot, she glimpsed the shadow of a broad figure standing in the reception window. She grabbed her phone, and when they reached the street leading to the hospital, she called the police and reported that the two men almost certainly responsible for the attack on Artie were in the funeral home.
Ilka drove the hearse to the rear of the hospital, far from the visitors parking lot and front entrance. She spotted the loading dock, then the drive-in entrance, the one she’d been told undertakers should use when picking up a corpse. After parking in a spot where she would not block anyone bringing out a stretcher, she grabbed her bag and stared at the bills inside. Well over fifty thousand dollars, she guessed. Maybe closer to a hundred thousand. She stepped out of the hearse and glanced back at the coffin with Lydia inside, then walked over to the door beside the entrance.
She stopped to get her bearings when she entered the dim basement, but there were no signs telling her where to go. The heavy odor of cauliflower hung in the air; the hospital’s kitchen had to be nearby. Ilka tried a door, which opened up to a wide, brightly lit hallway filled with empty hospital beds. Some of them lacked mattresses; others were filled with stacks of hospital linen.
She hurried past all the beds to the ELEVATOR sign, her footsteps echoing the entire way. Artie was on the sixth floor, but she didn’t know if this was the right section of the hospital. The elevator clanked loudly when it stopped and the door opened. It rose slowly, and when she stepped out, she recognized the waiting room. She’d reached his ward by the service elevator.
She smoothed her hair, which was easy enough; the hair she’d been born with was straight as a string. Like a rag doll’s hair, as one of the catty girls in her class had once said. Back then she’d felt bad about it, but it was true. She squared up her coat then walked to the ward’s office, where a middle-aged woman sat behind a computer screen, talking on the phone.
Ilka had slipped a rubber band around the bills, and when the woman hung up, she held the bundle out. “I’m here to see Artie Sorvino. Maybe you’re the one who called me earlier today, about paying for his stay here?”
The woman nodded. “Yes, I’m the one.”
“I’ll have to get back to you about his insurance; we haven’t found the information yet. But this should be enough for his treatment so far. Put the rest in his patient account.”
The woman accepted the bills without batting an eye and slipped them into a machine. A moment later Ilka heard a hectic rustling sound as the money was counted at lightning speed. She handed Ilka a receipt, confirming that eighty-seven thousand dollars had been deposited in Artie Sorvino’s patient account.
Ilka sent a silent thank-you to Lydia in the coffin.
The woman’s face was still blank. “Would you prefer the patient be moved to the hospital’s private patient unit?”
Ilka didn’t doubt the level of service was much better there, but for the moment she just hoped the doctors and quality of treatment were the same where Artie was. She shook her head and explained that the money in his account was solely for his treatment.
“Can I go in and see him?” Twenty minutes had already passed—their head start was almost certainly wiped out—but the real question was whether the men looking for Lydia Rogers had been arrested, or if they’d caught on before the police got there. She had to see Artie before leaving for Key West, though, if for nothing else than simply to stroke his cheek.
Just outside his room, she spotted the head doctor who had treated him when he’d been brought in. He’d been unconscious, and the doctor said they’d found a significant accumulation of blood in the back of his head. A tube had been inserted to drain the blood, which the doctor said should help. She’d also told Ilka and Lydia that Artie would be put into an induced coma to help his body recover.
“Is he awake?” Ilka wanted so much for the crisis to be over, but the doctor shook her head. They’d decided to keep him in the coma the rest of the week, after which they would reassess when to bring him out.
“He’s stable,” she said, and then assured Ilka that his condition hadn’t worsened. “But his injuries are serious, and we can’t know how they will affect his brain when he wakes up.”
“Does that mean nothing will happen this week?” Ilka explained that she planned on being gone. “Maybe four days.”
“That won’t be a problem. And I promise, you will be contacted if there’s any change in his condition.”
Her voice turned serious. “But you should know that he’ll need extensive testing and medical treatment going forward. And he’ll also be in for an extended rehabilitation. Both from the injuries he sustained and from his time in a coma, which will weaken him. A physical therapist will be treating him daily, moving his arms and legs, but that doesn’t maintain muscular strength.”
Ilka nodded. She was enormously relieved that the doctor was thinking long-term, which surely meant they expected him to make it, she thought.
“And you have my number?” she asked, even though the office had already contacted her for money.
The doctor nodded. Ilka mentioned that Artie’s bill had just been paid, and she asked her to please not hold back on any treatment.
Artie lay by the window. The first day in intensive care he’d had a private room, but now he was in with two other patients. One of them slept with his head leaning back and mouth open—it was abundantly clear he was still breathing. The other lay in bed reading. He watched her pass by, and when Ilka nodded at him, he immediately hid behind his book.
Someone had folded Artie’s hands on top of his blanket, and his shaved head was covered with a bandage that also shielded from sight the tube in the back of his head.
Ilka stroked his cheek and cupped her hands gently around his face. It was so nice to feel the warmth of his skin. She ran her finger over his lip. He looked peaceful, and without thinking she leaned down and kissed him. She felt she was letting him down by leaving him behind all alone, and she was ashamed when the thought crossed her mind that his coma gave her a convenient excuse—that she was practically leaving with the hospital’s approval.
She had no idea how she’d tell him that her father wasn’t dead. That it had been a cover-up. But that was something her father would have to do, she decided.
Ilka kissed him one last time before walking out without a glance at the other two patients. She hurried to the elevator and took it down to the foyer, where she jogged over to the kiosk and bought water and a few sandwiches for the trip.
She glanced around the large area by the entrance, at the sofa groups on both sides of the information desk, but no one resembled the two men she’d left behind at the funeral home. A crowd was waiting for the next elevator up, and she squeezed through to a door beside the porters’ elevator. Moments later she was in the basement, making her way past the empty hospital beds.
Outside, another hearse had pulled up and parked behind her. A young guy behind the wheel was talking on his phone. Ilka hesitated, but she decided she didn’t have time to wait for him to leave. She walked to the rear door and opened it, then tapped on the coffin a few times and lifted the lid a crack. She tried to make it look as if she were arranging something inside while she spoke to Lydia.
“Are you okay in here?” The nun peered up at her, and for the first time Ilka wondered if she was getting enough oxygen. Should she even be in there?
“There’s a guy parked right behind us, but I can drive off to the side and you can get up front.”
But Lydia wanted to stay in the coffin. She rose on her elbows and unscrewed the lid of the water bottle Ilka handed her.
“Do you need to pee before we leave?”
Ilka glanced at the guy behind them. He was staring directly at her now, with no phone in sight.
Lydia shook her head and drank more water, then grabbed the sandwich and said she was ready to go.
Ilka ignored the guy and quickly shoved the lid in place, though this time she left it open a crack. She walked around the car and got behind the wheel.
Forty-five minutes had passed since they’d left the funeral home. She punched in their destination on the GPS and was informed it would take twenty-four hours to reach the tip of the Keys.
Seven hours later, somewhere in Kentucky, they ran into road work. Ilka had left the freeway to find a rest stop. They’d already paused once for Lydia to stretch her legs and go to the bathroom. She’d insisted on keeping out of sight while they drove. Ilka felt it was unnecessary, that they were far enough away from Racine, but Lydia had just looked at her blankly before crawling back in and getting settled.
They were behind a long line of cars at a temporary stoplight, waiting to cross a river bridge with one lane closed for repairs. The line of cars zipping past them from the other side was endless. Ilka felt sure many more of them were allowed to cross than from their line; whenever it was their turn, they advanced only a few short spurts before stopping. She noticed woods on the other side of the river they’d have to drive through to get back to the freeway.
Ilka rolled her window down and swore. They were wasting so much time. Her phone rang, and she checked the display. Her mother. She thought about answering but put the phone on mute and waited for the silent ringing to end. It still boggled her mind that her father was alive, and she couldn’t imagine how her mother would react to the news. Telling her would have to wait until she’d found him.
She was still holding the phone when the line began moving again, and she straightened up in her seat, expecting to cross the bridge this time. But again, the line stopped, and she yelled out the window.
- "One of the best I've come across."—Michael Connelly
- "Sara Blaedel is a force to be reckoned with."—Karin Slaughter
- "One can count on emotional engagement, spine-tingling suspense, and taut storytelling from Sara Blaedel."—Sandra Brown
- "Compelling and unique...Sara Blaedel knows how to reel in her readers and keep them utterly transfixed."—Tess Gerritsen (praise for The Daughter)
- "This series started off with a bang and just gets better and better...one of the most anticipated releases come springtime."—The Real Book Spy
- On Sale
- Nov 3, 2020
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Grand Central Publishing