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I stumbled back, catching myself just in time, and looked down. A few of the floorboards were pried up. Maybe it wouldn’t have normally been of importance, except that Elliot’s hat was lying beside them.

I crouched down and picked it up, turning it over in my hands. Then I peered down into the space in the floor.

There was a large mail sack sitting in there. I frowned and reached my hands inside, hoping nothing was in there ready to bite them off. I pulled out the burlap sack and started rifling through it.

Inside there was nothing but letters upon letters upon letters. Curiously, every single one of them had already been opened, some ripped in two, some neatly sliced along the top.

I picked up a letter in an orange envelope, closest to the top, and turned it over in my hands. It was written in the faded scrawl of a child’s writing and addressed to Mrs. Valerie Wolfe in Seattle, Washington, from Elliot Wolfe.

I opened up the letter and pulled the paper out.

It wasn’t very long and seemed to be written in an ink that had almost all but faded, but I could still make out the gist of it.

Dear mommy,

I hope I can visit you sooner now. The doctors here say they are closer to a cure. We can’t speak about it but we all know. My friends Sam and Phillip died the other day. I think they were left outside in the cold here for too long. It gets really cold at night. Please send me some slippers and socks. Love Elliot.

I blinked a few times, reading it over and over. I put it aside and picked up another letter. This was also from Elliot, addressed to his mother.

Dear mommy,

Please come get me. I am very scared. I think that nurse Amy wants to kill me. I think she killed Susan. I don’t want to be here anymore. Everyone is scared that Amy will come after them next. She didn’t let me eat dinner for all of last week until I started crying. Please come get me and take me home. I love you. Elliot.

I swallowed hard and brought out another letter from the bag. This one said Mildred Wachman from Gold Beach, Oregon on the envelope but had no return address. Inside the letter though, it was obvious who it was from.

Dear Aunt Mildred,

I keep writing you every day but I still haven’t gotten a response. You never call or write or visit and I’m so scared. After father died, I’ve had no one to turn to and no one to talk to. We are not allowed to talk about death at Sea Crest, and yet that’s all I see, all day long. The nurses promise me that I’ll be allowed to go free, but the other day one of them told me that I would need to be moved up to the fourth floor in order to make room. I don’t want to go up there, that’s where the children go to die. I don’t want to die, in fact I feel better each day. Oh, please come see me Aunt Mildred and take me out of here. You’re all I have left.

Love, Shawna.

I exhaled slowly, trying to wrap my head around it all. My heart was still galloping from the escape, my nerves still buzzing along on adrenaline. And yet, the crazy thing was that the minute I found the bag, the fear seemed to blow away from me, like the wind that was howling at the windows. All these letters were from children pleading to be taken away, that they were in danger and scared for their lives, letters that were never mailed.

And souls that were never found.


I just couldn’t believe it. I sat cross-legged on the floor and rifled through the rest of the bag but it was all the same. So much loss in one place.

Suddenly the door to the body chute swung open, snapping me back to the danger, to the fear, and I screamed as I tried to get to my feet, nearly falling into the hole.

“Perry!” Dex cried out as he appeared in the doorway, looking down at me in amazement, flashlight in hand. “Are you hurt? Oh, thank fuck you’re here,” he said as he took a step toward me.

“Get back!” I screeched, trying to get to my feet. I put my hands out in front of me. “Stay away from me!”

He looked absolutely bewildered, sticking the flashlight into his jacket pocket, but I wasn’t buying it.

“Baby, it’s me.”

I narrowed my eyes at him, my heart getting another workout. “Yeah, well I thought it was you earlier too.”

“I ran into Rebecca,” he said. “She’s gathering up our stuff and meeting us down here. She told me what you guys saw. You saw my doppelgänger.”

“How do I know you’re not the doppelgänger?”

He cocked his head and frowned. “Because, baby, I’m me. And I’m yours. Ask me anything if you have to. Or fuck, let me tell you a few things.”

“Stay away, I’m warning you.”

“You know, you’re awfully cute when you get all threatening and stuff.”

“I mean it.” And I did. I think.

“That doesn’t mean I won’t start flapping my mouth. I know you, Perry Palomino.”

He took two steps forward, eyes never leaving my face, and I staggered backward only to hit my back against a counter. He raised his palms at me. “I can tell you that you hum Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star to yourself as you brush your teeth and I think it’s completely adorable. I can tell you that when you eat, you like to get equal amounts of each different food on your fork with every single bite. Drives me fucking crazy. I can tell you—or show you—exactly how you like to be kissed, how you like to be touched, what I do to make you come in five seconds flat.”

With his palms still up, he came forward another step. “I can tell you that I’m head over heels in love with you. That this…” He paused and breathed in deeply, his eyes glittering. “What we have, it consumes me. It devours me. And it scares me more than anything we have ever encountered, because if I ever lost you, if I ever had to live without you, I wouldn’t be whole. You, Perry, have my heart. You are my heart.”

My breath hitched as I was lost in his words, lost in his eyes as they looked deeper into me than ever before.

“Do you still need convincing?” he asked in a low, husky voice, taking another step forward.

I didn’t. I knew this was Dex. My man, right in front of me. Still, I could never pass up the opportunity to hear him say these wonderful words, to hear him speak from his soul.

So I nodded. I needed more convincing.

His mouth ticked up into a smile. “Well then…”

He briefly closed his eyes, exhaled through his nose, and shook out his limbs. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he was nervous as hell.

Then he got down on one knee.

For a moment I was completely puzzled, like what the fuck is he doing, why is getting on his knees? My first thought was that it was something sexual and kinky. My second thought was that something was scary and wrong. After all, we were in an abandoned post office; the door to the body chute was still open, and a storm was raging outside.

My third thought was…holy shit. Holy shit! Is he proposing to me?

“I was waiting for the right time,” he said, staring intently at me, his voice shaking slightly, “but you’re right—I do have shitty fucking timing. So I might as well embrace that. And so, here it goes.”

He reached out for my left hand, never taking his eyes off me.

I felt like I was about to black out.

This couldn’t be happening.

This had to a dream. A beautiful, crazy, amazing dream.

I needed him to pinch me.

Instead he said, “When I first met you, I knew, somehow, that you were going to change my life. I just didn’t know in what way. I didn’t know that you’d make me love you. And most importantly, I didn’t know that you’d make me love me. Baby, you make me see the good in myself and the good in everything on this damn earth. You chase my ghosts away, and…” He cleared his throat, and to my surprise, I saw his eyes were watering.

Oh fuck. Please don’t cry, Dex, cuz I will fucking lose it.

He swallowed hard, blinking tears back. “And you bring me peace. I can’t thank you enough for being in my life. And I want you there for the whole journey. Through everything—the good and the bad, the batshit crazy and the sane, the scary and the sexy. Especially the sexy. Just you and me, baby, until death do us part.”

Somehow I found my voice. “Even though we’ve only known each other for eight months?” I asked quietly, afraid of his answer.

But he just smiled up at me. “Time has no bearing on the truth. And what we have, that’s true as fucking anything.” He gave my hand a squeeze and reached into his pocket.

I sucked in my breath, feeling all my emotions flood me at once, and watched as he took out a beautiful, sparkling ring, and held it poised at my finger. He gazed at me, and it was like I saw every moment we had with each other captured in his eyes.

“Perry Palomino, kiddo, baby—will you be my wife?”

I didn’t even have to think about it.

“Yes!” I blurted out in a sob as the tears started coming. I put my hand to my mouth, trying to control myself, but it was useless. I was a goner. “Yes, I will be your wife.”

A single tear rolled down his cheek, which he didn’t wipe away. His face broke out into the most breathtaking smile I had ever seen, a smile of absolute pure joy, the same joy that I felt bursting out of me like hot butterflies. He slid the ring onto my finger and it sat there perfectly, like it was custom made for me, vintage-style with shimmering stones that sparkled like heaven.

“It was meant for you,” he said, voice still choked up. “Just like you were meant for me. My future wife.” He got to his feet and cupped my face in his hands. “My god, I’m going to do whatever I can to make you happy.”

I smiled, sniffling back the tears. “You can start by pinching me. This doesn’t feel real.”

He grinned cheekily. “Oh, I’ll show you how real this is.” He kissed me passionately, just the way I loved to be kissed, and reached around to grope my ass. He snuck in a pinch, a wonderfully sharp pain. Yup. That hurt. And this was real.

I buried my head into his neck as he held me close to him, our bodies melding into each other, giving each other support and strength.

Holy fuck. Oh my god. Dex just asked me to marry him.

I was going to be Mrs. Declan Foray.


Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.

“How you feeling?” he murmured, pulling away and gazing down at me. He wiped the tears away from under my eyes.

“I feel like I’m going to die from excitement,” I said. “I feel like I want to tell the whole world we’re getting married.” I pulled him close to me and kissed him. “I feel like I want you to show me that thing where you can make me come in five seconds flat.”

He groaned lustfully. “My fiancé is a wild one.” He slid his hands under my shirt, feeling my skin. “Unfortunately, I do think we should probably get the hell out of here.”

I nodded. I’d been so over the moon, so crazy overwhelmed about his proposal that I had completely forgotten where we were. Damn fucking reality. I pulled away and looked over at the body chute’s door. “How did you find me anyway?”

He glanced at it over his shoulder. “Rebecca told me that you disappeared into the autopsy room. I figured if you were going to find a way out, you would go through the chute. I went through on the first floor and just kept walking, calling for you.”


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