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Dead Stop (Sydney Rose Parnell #2)
Author:Barbara Nickless

Dead Stop (Sydney Rose Parnell #2)

Barbara Nickless


Her husband brought home little from the war.

His rucksack, worn to a pale softness by desert winds. Two Silver Stars. A Bronze for valor. A promotion. A set of white creases etched around his eyes from squinting into an unforgiving sun. He came home with a slight drag in his right foot that on bad days required a cane.

But he came home.

And that, along with his newfound joy in his wife and children, made Samantha Davenport feel like the luckiest woman alive.

But there was a darker side to what Ben Davenport brought home from the war.

Nightmares. A tendency to startle. A fixed determination to drive more slowly than traffic or road conditions warranted. The occasional flare of temper followed by a long evening drinking whiskey and then a silence sharp as a suicide’s knife.

Now and again he had such a faraway look in his eyes that she didn’t know how to reach him.

At those times, Samantha wondered if her husband had really come home at all.

Ben Davenport’s youngest child didn’t care about any of this. Daddy was Daddy, and eight-year-old Lucy loved him with her entire being.

That Friday, at five minutes till seven, Lucy went into the kitchen where her mother stood browning meat at the stove. In the Davenport household, family dinner was nonnegotiable. No matter how crazy things were. No matter how much Lucy’s brothers grumbled about having to eat late or eat early or eat fast—whatever the night’s schedule required. No matter how tired their dad was or if the dog had been sick or if one of the kids had a project due for school. Their mom traveled a lot, but when she was in town, they ate together.

Precisely as the big hand on the clock ticked onto the twelve, the garage door rattled open outside and an engine rumbled as a car pulled in.

“Daddy’s home!” Lucy cried and went to crouch behind a chair at the dining table. It was part of the game.

A minute later, her father came through the kitchen door on a wave of heat, carrying with him the smell of sun-crisped grass and baked asphalt. He tossed his briefcase on a chair, set his sunglasses on the counter, and grinned at his wife.

He was a big man—six feet three and wide across his chest. His hair was military short, his face kind but serious—even, Lucy had noticed, at birthday parties and barbecues.

“Like an oven out there,” he said.

Her mother leaned away from the stove to kiss him. “They’re saying more rain tonight.”

“Thank God.”

His fingers brushed her shoulder before he turned away to rummage through the refrigerator. He emerged with a green bottle, popped off the top, and took a long drink.

“How was work today?” Lucy’s mother asked. She asked the same question every night. Sometimes Lucy heard something in her mother’s voice. Something sharp but hidden, like a needle lying forgotten in the carpet.

“Let’s see. We got in an order of office supplies. The Internet went down for two hours. Emily brought kimchi for lunch. You ever smell that shi—stuff? Makes your eyes water. All the usual excitement.”

She set down the spoon. “Dull as a butter knife, is what you mean.”

Her father took a long drink. “It’s fine, Sam.”

“Fighting is part of you. I know you miss it.”

Those words, Lucy somehow knew, were the needle sliding in.

Her father put down his beer and touched her mother’s cheek. “Not half as much as I missed you guys while I was over there. I’m good, Sam.”

Samantha Davenport turned her face into her husband’s palm, and he pulled her close. They stayed like that for a moment, their skin flush in the evening light. They made Lucy think of the statue in France, the one they’d seen last summer at the museum. The Kiss. As if nothing existed but the two of them. As if that was the way it should be.

Then her father stepped back. Smiled. “And your day, my beloved?”

Her mother picked up the spoon again. She was tall, with long, dark hair and brown eyes a magazine writer had called soulful. She was a famous photographer who took pictures of mothers and children. Her photos of Lucy and her brothers hung all over the house.

“Cranky babies,” her mother said. “Fretting mothers. I did get up to the factory, took more shots for next month’s gallery opening.”

“And no weird guy lurking in the background?”

Her eyebrows came together in that way that made Lucy think of bird’s wings. “Nothing. Jack didn’t see anything, either. Maybe I’m just paranoid.”

Her dad nodded, but not like he agreed with her. Lucy thought her mom’s assistant was mostly okay, but she was pretty sure her dad didn’t like him at all. “You packed and ready to go?”

“Pretty much. Four a.m. is going to come too early.” She gathered her hair in a fist and lifted it off her neck. “I’m going to miss you, Ben Davenport.”

He took her hands in his, freeing her hair, and pressed his nose into the long strands. “Where are the boys?”

“Upstairs, doing their homework.”

“Then it’s just us.” He put his arm around her.

“Daddy!” Lucy cried.

Her father winked at her mother. “Did you hear a mouse?”


“There it is again. That little field mouse. I thought we shooed it away.”

“I didn’t hear anything,” her mother said, smiling.

“Dad-dy!” This time Lucy stomped her foot.

Her dad lowered his gaze until his eyes met Lucy’s.

He winked.

Lucy lifted her chin and held up her book. “It’s time, Daddy.”

Her mother folded her arms, but not in an angry-mom way. “You two have twenty minutes until dinner.”

In the library—it was really the family room, but Lucy and her father called it the library—Lucy grabbed Bobo and waited until her dad had turned on the lamp and seated himself in his favorite chair. Then she clamored into his lap and curled against his chest, her stuffed monkey tucked into her own lap. Her father carried the heat of the day, like a stray bit of sun in the air-conditioned house. He smelled of the office—papers and stale air but also cigarette smoke and a whiff of grease. The grease said he’d been in the yard with the trains that day.

“You had peanut butter for lunch,” she said.

“Satay,” he answered as he opened the book. “Chicken with peanut sauce. Much better than kimchi. Now where were we?”

His chest rumbled beneath her ear as he read. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Her favorite. Not least because her mother had named her after the little girl in the book, Lucy Pevensie. Lucy, who was brave and honest and good.