Vanessa nodded and headed back to her cruiser.
Before going inside, Braden went to the toolbox in the back of his truck and pulled out a pair of latex gloves. As he slammed the metal lid shut, Lilly opened the passenger door.
“What is going on?”
“I don’t know, but I intend to find out. Stay here.” Without waiting for a response, he turned and headed toward the front door, which was wide open.
Gun drawn, he stepped across the threshold. “Greg? You in here?” Instinct told him that the man was long gone, probably drowning himself at one of the local bars by now.
When there was no answer, he stepped further in. He swiveled at a slight movement behind him, then instantly pointed his gun toward the floor. “Damn it woman, I thought I told you to stay in the truck.”
Instead of responding, Lilly peered past him and let out a long whistle.
Giving up the argument, he holstered his gun and turned back toward the living room. One of the leather couches was tipped on its side, shards from what had once been a glass coffee table were scattered around the room, and there were two huge holes in one of the walls. No doubt from Abby Murphy’s bat.
Photographs littered by a bookshelf in the corner caught his attention. “Don’t touch anything,” he ordered, without turning to look at Lilly.
Stepping over broken glass, he made his way to the other side of the room and crouched down in front of a bunch of five by seven photographs. Picking one up by the edge, he shook his head.
“Now we know how he’s seen my tattoo,” Lilly muttered close to his ear.
He glanced over his shoulder to find her crouching next to him. “I thought I told you to stay put.”
She ignored him and frowned at the photo. It was of Lilly wearing a bright yellow-and-pink two piece bathing suit. From the angle, the various people surrounding her, and the way she was looking away from the camera, it was obvious she hadn’t been aware of having her picture taken. “Do you know when this was taken?”
Lilly swallowed hard. “A while ago. I took a long weekend before…”
“What is it?”
She raked a hand through her dark hair and sighed. “Before the Africa incident I spent the weekend in Virginia Beach with a girlfriend of mine. I’d been travelling so much before that and I wanted a break before my next assignment. I can’t believe that weirdo was watching me.”
Braden glanced back at the photo but her words seared into his brain. “Before the Africa incident.” He knew bits and pieces of what she’d been through over there and it tore him up. With what Lilly’s aunt had told him, he knew that at one point Lilly had been worried she’d never be able to walk normally again. From the way she walked now, she’d obviously healed nicely. No matter how things had ended between them, the thought of someone physically hurting Lilly burned a crater sized hole inside him.
He whipped back to face her. “What?”
She cleared her throat and nodded. “The picture.”
“Shit, sorry.” He’d started to crush one of the edges in between his fingers.
After placing it back on the floor, he called for reinforcements. Detective Bolinger answered on the first ring. “I need you down here now.”
“Everything all right?” Perry asked.
“I think we just got the first big break in our case. Looks like Murphy might have been stalking Lilly Carmichael.”
“I’ll be there in about ten minutes.”
Braden snapped the phone shut and bent to look at another of the photos.
“Hey, check this out.” Lilly was across the room and pointing at something on the ground.
“Don’t touch anything.”
Lilly looked up and rolled her green eyes at him. “I know.”
He crouched next to her and pulled an airline ticket from under a section of broken glass. Looked like Greg Murphy had flown in to D.C. last Thursday night and flown back Sunday afternoon. Very interesting. “This would have given him enough time to kill your therapist.”
Biting her bottom lip, Lilly nodded. “I know.” Pain laced her voice.
He knew he shouldn’t let emotions get in the way but she’d lost her aunt and someone else in a span of a week. Of all people, he knew how that felt and he hated hearing that suffering in her voice. “We’re going to catch this guy, I promise. We’ve got an APB out on him, but I’ll send his information to the locals in D.C.”
In response Lilly held a hand against her abdomen and raced out the front door.
“Lilly!” He dropped the papers and headed after her.
Standing with her back to him, she clutched the porch rail.
“Are you okay?”
She turned to face him, but kept her hand firmly around the railing. “Yeah. It’s just a lot to take in. This guy has been watching me. I thought my life was finally getting back to normal. I feel so violated. It’s creepy…and confusing. After all these years, why is he now coming after me? He hasn’t been in jail the past decade, right?”
He shook his head as he forced himself to keep his distance. “He only moved back a couple years ago but as far as I know, he was living out west, not in jail. The last time he was in jail was almost a year ago exactly but he was only in about a month.”
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Perry drive up, but he didn’t break eye contact with her. “Why don’t you go wait in the truck? My other detective just arrived. After we secure the scene, I’ll get you out of here.”
“Okay.” A sad smile touched her lips as she walked toward his truck.
He rubbed a hand over his face as Perry and one of the officers crossed the lawn.
“You ready, boss?” Perry held up his camera case.
“Yeah. I’ve only been in the living room. We’ve still got the rest of the house to cover.” His stomach clenched at the thought of what they’d find.
“I just got a call from Vanessa. Looks like they found a bunch of marijuana plants at that Walker kid’s house, but there isn’t anything tying him to the murders,” Perry said.
Braden had figured that was the case. At least now it looked like they might have a solid lead. Too many thoughts bombarded him. It didn’t make sense that Greg Murphy had suddenly decided to start stalking Lilly after a decade. What was his motivation? And why the hell would he kill her therapist? Braden had too many unanswered questions and a lack of sleep. Not a good combination.
Whitney Myers dusted her face with mineral powder as she looked at herself in the mirror. “Another day working for minimum wage,” she muttered to her reflection.
A scratching at her window caused her to swivel around. She frowned when she saw that her curtains were slightly open, giving anyone a perfect view into her bedroom. If she didn’t live on a first floor apartment, she wouldn’t care. Unfortunately her roommate’s annoying cat got into her room and wreaked all sorts of havoc.
The stupid thing was always knocking down her picture frames and pulling the drapes back. Peering out, all she saw was a thin layer of melting snow covering the dried out grass behind her place. No one was there. Not even a stray squirrel or cat. Still, she almost felt like someone was watching her.
Lately it seemed her arms and the back of her neck were constantly tingling. At work, when she arrived home. It was driving her crazy. Of course it was the week Nikki, her roommate, was out of town. After yanking the yellow curtains back into place, she plucked her cell from her nightstand.
For a moment, she almost changed her mind, but then she dialed Sheldon’s number.
He picked up on the first ring. “Hello?”
“Sheldon, it’s Whitney.”
“Hey!” He cleared his throat. “Uh, hey. What’s up?”
She felt a little bad since she knew he had a crush on her and she didn’t want to lead him on, but she also hated being so freaked out all the time. “I was wondering if you could give me a ride to work today.”
“Sure, no problem. I was just on my way out.” He sounded nervous and for some reason, she found it sort of cute.
“Thanks. Do you need directions?”
“You live with Nikki right?”
“I know where it is.”
“Great. I’ll see you soon. And…maybe we can grab a couple drinks after work or something.”
As soon as they hung up, relief surged through her. Part of her knew she might be paranoid, but during her freshman year of college her best friend had been raped by a stalker. Ever since then, she tried to pay attention to her surroundings at all times.
Sometimes she wondered if she was too paranoid, but she didn’t want to end up as some statistic because she ignored her instinct. Whether someone was watching her or not, something primal was telling her to be careful and she was going to listen.
Lilly slightly jumped as Braden opened the driver’s side door. While she’d been sitting in his truck most of the neighbors had dispersed and she was starting to go a little stir crazy.
Braden was probably going to be pissed when he found out she’d called her boss and asked Charles to find a way to get her officially on the case, but what choice did she have? She had a lot to lose and wanted to do everything she could to bring this guy down.
Technically she was a civilian and she was grateful that Braden had allowed her a huge liberty by coming with him to the Murphys’ house. When the FBI agent showed up tomorrow, she’d be under virtual lockdown unless she immersed herself in the team. Braden might be angry that she’d gone above his head but she refused to be left in the dark.
Not when her life and so many others were at stake. She might be good at compartmentalizing things—she’d had to in order to survive—but some maniac was out there, stalking her. Maybe watching her right now. She was a little embarrassed she’d had to run from the house but she’d felt suffocated in there. Women were dying and they had no clue who could be next. That was the scariest thing of all. That someone else was being killed this instant—or worse—while she sat in Braden’s truck. As the image of Mallory’s broken, lifeless body flashed in her mind, she forced it out. She had to concentrate on what she could do.