The Summer Children (The Collector #3)

The Summer Children (The Collector #3)

Dot Hutchison

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was scared of the dark.

Which was silly, even she knew that. There was nothing in the dark to hurt you that wasn’t also in the light. You just couldn’t see it coming.

So maybe that was what she hated, that blindness and helplessness.

Always helpless.

But things did get worse in the dark, didn’t they? People are always more honest when no one can see them.

In the light, her mama would only sigh and sniffle her sadness, blinking away tears, but in the darkness her sobs would become living things, fleeing her bedroom to tuck away in the drafty corners of the house and wail so everyone could hear them. Sometimes screams would stalk after them, but even in the dark her mama was rarely brave enough for that.

And her daddy . . .

In the light, her daddy was always sorry, always apologizing to her and her mama.

I’m sorry, baby, I didn’t mean that.

I’m sorry, baby, I just lost my temper.

Look what you made me do, baby, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry, baby, but this is for your own good.

Every pinch and punch, every slap and slam, every curse and insult, he was always sorry. But sorry was only for in the light.

In the dark, he was Daddy, entirely and honestly himself.

So maybe she wasn’t silly after all, because wasn’t it a lot smarter to be afraid of true things? If you were afraid of something in the light, wasn’t it just good sense to be more afraid of it in the dark?


The roads around DC are rarely quiet at any time of day, but a little after midnight on a hot summer Thursday, I-66 is sparsely populated, especially once you pass Chantilly. Beside me, Siobhan babbles contentedly about the jazz club we just left, the singer we went especially to see and how wonderful she’d been, and I nod and hum in the pauses. Jazz isn’t really my thing—I tend to prefer more structure—but Siobhan loves it, and I planned the evening as a bit of an apology for having to work through a handful of date nights recently. The mothers—my last set of foster parents—always told me relationships took conscious effort. Back then, I didn’t realize how much effort they meant.

My job doesn’t lend itself to standard date nights, but I do try. Siobhan is also an FBI agent and should theoretically understand the up-and-go constraints, but she works translations in Counterterrorism Monday through Friday, eight to four-thirty, and doesn’t always remember that my job in Crimes Against Children is nothing like that. We’ve been on rocky ground the past six months or so, but I can sit through an evening of music I don’t care for if it will make her happy.

Her steady stream of chatter shifts to work, and my hums get a little more absentminded. We talk about her work all the time—not the details of what she’s translating, but her coworkers, deadlines, the sort of thing that doesn’t bring Internal Affairs around asking about security leaks—but we never talk about mine. Siobhan doesn’t want to hear about the horrible things people do to children, or the horrible people that do them. I can talk about my teammates, our unit chief and his family, but it even unnerves her to hear about the pranks we pull on each other at the office when our desks bear folders full of horrors.

I’m used to this disparity in our relationship after three years, but I’m always aware of it.


My hands clench on the wheel at the sudden spike in volume, eyes flicking to the dark road around us, but I’m too well trained to let my flinch make the car swerve. “What? What is it?”

“Were you even listening?” she asks wryly, back to her normal volume.

That would be no, but I’m not about to admit that. “Your bosses are ignorant assholes who wouldn’t know Pashto from Farsi if their lives depended on it, and they need to get off your ass or learn to do it themselves.”

“I complain about them far too much if that’s your safe guess.”

“Am I wrong?”

“No, but that doesn’t mean you were listening.”

“Sorry,” I sigh. “It’s been a long day, and waking up early is going to suck.”

“Why are we waking up early?”

“I have that seminar in the morning.”

“Oh. You and Eddison being you and Eddison.”

That’s one way of putting it. Mostly accurate too.

Because apparently it’s inappropriate, when your partner/team leader asks after a specific report, to tell him not to get his nuts in a vise. And it’s definitely inappropriate for said partner/team leader’s automatic response to be “Calm your tits, hermana.” And it’s especially inappropriate if the section chief happens to be walking through the bullpen and hears the exchange.

I’m honestly not sure who laughed harder over it later: Sterling, our junior partner, who witnessed everything and got to duck down behind the safety of a cubicle partition to hide her giggles, or Vic, our former partner/leader and now unit chief, standing beside the section chief and lying his ass off to assure him that this was a one-off occurrence.

Not sure if the sec-chief believed him or not, but both Eddison and I were assigned to the next quarterly sexual harassment seminar. Again. I mean, we’re not Agent Anderson, who has his name on the back of a chair and a first-name relationship with the roster of instructors, but the two of us are there far too often.

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