As an infant, Ellie Stuart is adopted by a poor, but loving couple in Harlan, Kentucky. When she’s sixteen, they die in an accident, leaving her completely alone in the world. In college she searches for biological parents with the help of a law student, Quinn Parker.
But as she gets close to finding them, an assassin tries to kill her.
When they finally discover why – it may be too late – and Ellie and Quinn have to run for their lives.
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403 Brownlee Street
"Wimp ...!" Elle Steward growled to herself as she rested her forehead on her Organic Chemistry textbook.
She was too exhausted to study more.
Eight straight hours of analyzing acid-based formulations had turned her brain to liquid silicone, a.k.a. silly putty. The problem was she had to study more. Tomorrow's exam determinedwhether she got into the University of Louisville Medical School.
She lifted her bedroom window and the cool breeze swept in, refreshing her a bit. She lay back on her bed to rest her eyes, but her eyelids soon grew heavy and she sensed them falling.Maybe a quick nap. She started counting sheep, but soon was counting ex-boyfriends. Within seconds, she drifted off.
Elle bolted awake in her pitch-dark room. She definitely heard a noise.
Something moved. Her roommate? No, Jenny was in Lexington.
Elle sat up, looked around, saw no one.
The window curtain fluttered. Did the breeze knock over the family picture on the dresser?
She turned toward the noise – as hands gripped her neck from behind, cutting off her scream. She tried to pull his hands away, but couldn't.
Elle knew she was blacking out ... knew her brain was shutting down ... knew the last thing she might see in life was the gold metal band around her attacker's ponytail.
703 Brownlee Street
Ellie Ann Stuart stared at eighty-four-year-old Celeste, who stared at her empty plate. Ellie worried that Celeste stared a lot, and forgot a lot, and lost interest a lot.
"Would you like more toast?" Ellie asked.
"Where is my toast?"
"You ate it, Celeste. Want some more?"
"No, thank you, Annabelle."
Sometimes Celeste called her Annabelle, the bacon slicer at Kroger. And sometimes she called her, Karl, the mailman.
Ellie loved Celeste Barclay, but hated what Alzheimer's was doing to her mind. Each month the disease deleted more of her memory, dialed down the dimmer switch on her brain. There was no cure. All Ellie could do was keep her nourished, and comfort her when she seemed afraid or confused.
Ellie check her watch. Time for school. She looked in the hall mirror. As usual, her sleep hair made her look like the Bride of Frankenstein. She blinked and saw her eyes were bloodshot from studying late again, obscuring the fact that one eye was slightly bluer than the other. Her pale skin suggested too many hours indoors, hunched over textbooks.
The doorbell rang. Sarah Barnes, the next-door neighbor, walked in right on time. Sarah, a Godsend, cared for Celeste when Ellie attended classes at nearby University of Louisville.
"She's just finishing breakfast," Ellie said.
"Good. See you around noon?"
"Right." Ellie turned to leave.
Sarah looked concerned. "Be extra careful today!"
"As always ..."
"Extra extra careful!"
Sarah sounded serious. Ellie waited for her to explain.
Sarah flipped open the Courier Journal newspaper and pointed to a headline.
Female U of L Student Attacked in Home!
Ellie was shocked to read the attack took place on Ellie's street, just blocks away.
Sarah shocked her even more when she said ... "The girl's name was Elle Steward. E l l e ... not E l l i e, like you ... and also S T E W A R D, not your spelling, S T U A R T."
An icy chill shot through Ellie’s body. She was speechless.
"So be extra careful, hon." Sarah patted her arm.
"I will," Ellie said, still stunned by the girl's similar name.
She grabbed her backpack and coffee mug and walked outside. She placed the mug in the handlebar holder of her old beat-up Schwinn Roadmaster and pedaled her way down the street toward the U of L campus.
The morning sun was warm and the sweet scent of lilac and peonies reminded her of back home in Harlan. She couldn't wait to visit after exams.
Ellie pumped harder as she approached the steep hill she called Mount Cardiac. Despite her loud huffing, she heard a truck start up. Then she saw it ahead … a dark blue van on the other side of the street, pulling away from the curb, driving in her direction.
Right at her!