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Charlaine Harris

Shakespeare’s Counselor

The fifth book in the Lily Bard series, 2001

This book is dedicated to the memory of Elizabeth Daniels Squire, who was many things-all of them good.


My thanks to Laura Lippman, Phil Gates, Susan McBride, and Officer Kelly Blair, who all were kind enough to answer more or less peculiar questions.

Chapter One

I connected with a hard blow to the nose, rolled on top of him, gripped his neck, and started to squeeze. After the pain, the unfathomable humiliation, this rage was completely pure and good. His hands gripped my wrists, struggled to pull my fingers away. He was making noises, hoarse and pleading, and I gradually realized he was saying my name.

That wasn’t part of the memory.

And I wasn’t back in that shack in the cotton fields. I was on a firm wide bed, not a sagging cot.

“Lily! Stop!” The grip on my wrists increased.

I wasn’t in the right place-or rather, the wrong place.


This wasn’t the right man… the wrong man.

I released my grip and scrambled off the bed, backing into a corner of the bedroom. My breath was coming in ragged pants, and my heart thudded way too close to my ears.

A light came on, blinding me for the moment. When I got used to the radiance, I realized with agonizing slowness that I was looking at Jack. Jack Leeds. Jack had blood streaming from his nose and red marks on his neck.

I’d done that to him.

I’d done my best to kill the man I loved.

“I know you don’t want to do this, but maybe it’ll help,” Jack was telling me, his voice altered by the swelling of his nose and throat.

I tried very hard not to look sullen. I didn’t want to go to any damn therapy group. I didn’t like to talk about myself, and wasn’t that what therapy was for? On the other hand, and this was the decisive hand, I didn’t want to hit Jack again, either.

For one thing, hitting was a terrible insult to the one you loved.

For another thing, eventually Jack would hit me back. Considering how strong he was, that was not an unimportant factor.

So, later that morning, after Jack left to drive to Little Rock to talk to a client, I called the number on the flyer we’d seen at the grocery store. Printed on bright green paper, it had caught Jack’s eye while I was buying stamps at the office booth at the front of the store.

It read:



CALL TODAY 237-7777



“Hartsfield County Health Center,” said a woman’s voice.

I cleared my throat. “I’d like to find out about the therapy group for rape survivors,” I said, in as level a voice as I could manage.

“Of course,” said the woman, her voice scrupulously neutral and so consciously nonjudgmental it made my teeth hurt. “The group meets Tuesday nights at eight, here at the center. You don’t have to give me your name at this time. Just come in the end door, you know, the door that opens on the staff parking lot? You can park there, too.”

“All right,” I said. I hesitated, then asked a crucial question. “How much is it?”

“We got a grant to do this,” she said. “It’s free.”

My tax dollars at work. Somehow that made me feel better.

“Can I tell Tamsin you’ll be coming?” the woman asked. Definitely a local; I could tell by the number of syllables in “tell.”

“Let me think about it,” I told her, suddenly frightened of taking a step that would undoubtedly add to my pain.

Carol Althaus lived in the middle of chaos. I had dropped all but three of my customers, and I wished Carol had been one of them, but I’d had one of my rare moments of pity and kept her on. I was only cleaning Carol, the Winthrops, and the Drinkwaters, and Monday was the day I did all three. I went back to the Winthrops on Thursday, and I remained open for the odd errand or special cleaning job other days, but I was also working for Jack, so my schedule was complicated.

Carol’s chaos was of her own making, the way I saw it, but it was still chaos, and I like order.

Carol’s life had gone out of control when she’d married Jay Althaus, a divorced salesman with two sons. To Jay’s credit, he had custody of his sons. To Jay’s debit, he was on the road all the time, and though he may have loved Carol, who was anemically attractive, religious, and stupid, he also needed a live-in baby-sitter. So he married Carol, and despite all their previous experiences with the two boys, they had their own babies, two girls. I’d begun working for Carol when she was pregnant with the second girl, throwing up intermittently every day and sitting limply in a recliner the rest of the time. I’d kept all of the children for a day and a half, only once, when Jay had had a car wreck out of town.

Probably these children were not demonic. Possibly, they were quite typical. But collectively, they were hell.

And hard on a house, too.

Carol needed me to come at least twice a week, for maybe six hours at a stretch. She could afford four hours a week, just barely. I gave Carol Althaus the best value for her money she would find anywhere.

During the school year, it was nearly possible for Carol to cope. Heather and Dawn were still at home, only five and three years old, but the boys (Cody and Tyler) were in school. Summers were another kettle of fish.

It was late June, so the kids had all been home for about three weeks. Carol had enrolled them in four Bible schools. The First Baptists and the Central Methodists had already completed their summer programs, and the house was even more littered with paper fish and bread glued to paper plates, sheep made from cotton balls and Popsicle sticks, and lopsided drawings of fishermen pulling in nets filled with people. Shakespeare Combined Church (a fundamentalist coalition) and the joint Episcopalian/Catholic Bible schools were yet to come.

I entered with my own key to find Carol standing in the middle of the kitchen, trying to get the snarls out of Dawn’s long curls. The little girl was wailing. She had on a nightgown with Winnie the Pooh on the front. She was wearing toy plastic high heels and she’d gotten into her mother’s makeup.

I surveyed the kitchen and began to gather dishes. When I reentered the kitchen a minute later, laden with dirty glasses and two plates that had been on the floor in the den, Carol was still standing in the middle of the floor, a quizzical expression on her face.

“Good morning, Lily,” she said, in a pointed way.

“Hello, Carol.”

“Is something wrong?”

“No.” Why tell Carol? Would she be reassured about my well-being if I told her I’d tried to kill Jack the night before?

“You could say hello when you come in,” Carol said, that little smile still playing across her face. Dawn looked up at me with as much fascination as if I’d been a cobra. Her hair was still a mess. I could solve that with a pair of scissors and a brush in about five minutes, and I found the idea very tempting.

“I’m sorry, I was thinking of other things,” I told Carol politely. “Was there anything special you needed done today?”

Carol shook her head, that faint smile still on her face. “Just the usual magic,” she said wryly, and bent to Dawn’s head again. As she worked the brush through the little girl’s thick hair, the oldest boy dashed into the kitchen in his swimming trunks.

“Mom, can I go swimming?” Carol’s fair complexion and brown hair had been passed on to both the girls, but the boys favored, I supposed, their own mother: they were both freckle-faced and redheaded.

“Where?” Carol asked, using a yellow elastic band to pull Dawn’s hair up into a ponytail.