Rory Connolly has returned home to care for her ailing mother until children in the neighborhood, including her younger sister, are kidnapped. When Rory Connolly was thirteen, her seventeen year old sister, Carleen disappeared. Three other girls, including her best friend, Emily Anghardt, were also kidnapped in their small town, Lake Charlotte, New York. Prior to Emily's disappearance, she assures Rory that Carleen will just turn up – but she never has.
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After being away from home for ten years, Rory is now returning to take care of her mother and younger sister, Molly, while her older brother goes on a hiking trip with his girlfriend. Nothing has changed on the inside of the house, except for the people in it. Her father died not long after Carleen disappeared and her mother has drifted off into her own world. She can barely take care of herself and needs full time help.
Settling in and caring for her mother is upsetting; she dresses in warm clothing when it's the middle of summer and needs to be reminded to eat. Molly spends most of her time either arguing with Rory or babysitting next door. Rory meets Barry Maitland, a true crime writer, who wants to spend time with her to gather information on the disappearance of Carleen and the other girls. At first Rory is hesitant, but then she agrees to meet him for coffee. Over coffee, she tells Barry she doesn't want to discuss her sister or the past. Barry reluctantly understands, but asks to see her again. Liking him, she agrees.
Michelle and Lou Randall have just purchased the abandoned house next door to the Connolly's, which was Emily Anghardt's home, and are making renovations to it. Their house has been abandoned since the disappearance of Emily, Rory's best friend, when she was a teenager, and needs lots of work. Michelle is expecting her second child and needs Molly to babysit often for her oldest, two year old Ozzie.
Rory and Molly are not getting along well, and Rory is trying to make amends for being gone so long. Molly is also arguing with her best friend, Rebecca Randall. Molly wants to hang out with some of the popular kids at the Curl, which is a place near the water, and her crush on a local boy pushes her to make new friends. Rebecca doesn't want to hang with the popular kids, or go to the Curl because they just drink down there. They argue, and Molly goes to the party alone. She gets home late and Rory demands to know where she is. As they argue, it comes out that Molly is Carleen's daughter. Carleen had gotten pregnant when she was thirteen and the family had to move to California for a year. When they returned, Rory's parents told everyone that they had a new daughter, Molly. Molly is devastated that her whole life has been a lie. Everyone always said that she was like Carleen, and now she knows why. The next day, Rebecca is kidnapped while looking for her lost cat, Sebastian.
Rory comforts Molly when her friend goes missing and they both agree to write notes to let the other know where they are.
Meanwhile, Michelle is hearing noises in her house and food has been going missing. She feels nervous in her new house and wishes they hadn't moved there. With all the extra work, being eight months pregnant and dealing with a toddler, she finds it all overwhelming. Lou has been absent from the house working hard on his new promotion at his law firm. Michelle is also wondering if he is having an affair. Michelle confronts Lou of her feelings in the house and the missing food and he brushes it off as her pregnancy hormones. She had become very forgetful; he reminds her and also asks her to call her cousin to come over to talk about the renovations for the family room. She calls her cousin and he agrees to come but won't be able to give her an estimate until he returns from a trip he was taking.
After Rebecca was kidnapped, Barry leaves for a short trip to South Carolina. Prior to leaving, he tells Rory that during his research he found out Emily has a twin brother, severely retarded, who lives in an institution. Rory couldn't believe that her best friend would never share something like that with her. Rory goes to see Emily's brother and the nurse at the home tells her that he has no visitors except for a Sister from one of the local churches. She brings things for Barry like quilts and candies.
Barry is guilt ridden on the disappearance of Carleen because he had been running around with her at the time. His parents rented a house for the summer and the night Carleen disappeared, she was supposed to be meeting him. He has also felt that if he told the police Carleen was supposed to be meeting him, it may have helped find the kidnapper. This is also why he has decided to write on this crime: he's hoping to solve it.
While Barry is away, Rory searches his room at the Bed and Breakfast he is staying at. In his room she finds a picture of Carleen, which upsets her terribly. She thinks maybe he has something to do with the kidnapping but then she calmed herself by coming to the conclusion that he is a writer and he should have pictures of Carleen.
Michelle's water breaks and calls Molly to come and watch Ozzie while she goes to the hospital. Molly writes a note that she is going next door to babysit. When Michelle comes home, she bakes brownies to bring over to her but gets side tracked by a visitor. When the visitor leaves, she goes over to Michelle and Lou's house to bring the brownies and finds the house empty. Molly has disappeared along with Ozzie. She calls the police.
Ozzie has been afraid to go to sleep at night, claiming he sees someone in his room. Molly reassures him that it's just the Old Mother Goose on the wall that his mom painted. Through the baby monitor, Molly hears noises coming from Ozzie's room and goes to investigate. She is hit on the head with something heavy and wakes up chained to a wall in a secret room below Ozzie's bedroom. Ozzie is with her and so is Rebecca. The room under the house had been used during slavery times as part of the Underground Railroad; sympathizes would hide the slaves in the room and if they were caught, they would chain them up and say they were bringing them back to their owners.
Molly is surprised to see Emily Anghardt, Rory's childhood best friend, who disappeared along with Carleen and two other girls. Emily was sexually abused by her father and has returned to Lake Charlotte to murder Rory, who she blames for not seeing the abuse when they were kids.
Barry, while in South Carolina working on research for his book, finds that Emily's father is still alive and goes to visit him. When he gets to the house, he finds no one home. The next day he is arrested for the murder of Mr. Anghardt. He retains an attorney and confesses that he has been doing research on the missing girls in Lake Charlotte for the book he is working on; but he did not murder Mr. Anghardt.
Emily forces Molly to call her sister to come and get her and Ozzie out of the house. Rory grabs a knife from the kitchen and heads over to Michelle and Lou's. She finds a secret door to the hidden room behind Ozzie's bookshelf and heads down into the dark. When she arrives, she is shocked to see her sister, Ozzie, Rebecca and the bodies of three missing girls, one of them her sister, Carleen.
Rory can see that Emily has gone crazy. She is dressed in her father's clothing, speaks like him and then she switches to Emily. Rory learns that Emily was sexually abused by her father, as were the other girls he kidnapped. Mr. Anghardt kept the girls prisoners in the secret room, and then moved to South Carolina leaving the girls to starve to death. Emily also killed her father prior to coming back to Lake Charlotte.
Rory and Emily engage in a physical fight until the police arrive and take Emily prisoner. The cops find out about the secret room from Michelle's cousin, who called the police once he heard that Ozzie and her babysitter were missing. Lou arrives shortly after for Ozzie.
While all this is going on, Michelle gives birth to a baby girl, which they name Joy. Lou apologizes to her for being so absent from their lives and for not believing her but he just has been working hard for their family. Michelle confesses she thought he was having an affair, he couldn't believe that she actually thought that. They mend their strained relationship while they are waiting on news about Ozzie and taking care of their new baby daughter.
In the meantime, Molly's father shows up and wants to meet her. At first, Molly is hesitant but then she agrees. Three months later, Molly, her father, Rory, Barry and their mother, who has been on medication and has somewhat returned to normal, go for dinner.
Best part of story, including ending:
What I liked about this story is the mystery. Wendy Corsi Staub writes wonderful mystery stories that are sometimes difficult to solve and this was one of them.
Best scene in story:
I must confess, my favorite scene was the ending when you find out the mother is on medication and wants to go to dinner with Molly, Rory, Molly's father and Barry.
Opinion about the main character:
I liked Rory. She was down to earth, level headed and really wanted to make a difference in the lives of her mother and sister, Molly.