“About how I knew where to find the girl—Page.”
His jaw set, he nodded. “Yeah.”
She’d wanted to tell him earlier, but her teeth had been chattering so bad she hadn’t been able to string two words together. “Three years ago I was in Japan and there was a huge murder trial going on. This woman, Violet Tanaka, found out her husband was cheating on her. He and his mistress had afternoon quickies practically every day on Violet’s yacht. Apparently he married Violet for her father’s money. To get even, she killed his mistress and tied her up at the marina.”
“The same way we found Page?”
“Almost. Violet didn’t give her husband’s mistress a breathing tank. She stabbed her over forty times before stringing her up.”
He let out a low whistle. “What happened to the Tanaka woman?”
“She killed herself. I guess the shame she brought to her family was too much. The magnitude of the story was the equivalent of when the O.J. trials were going on here. It totally dominated the airwaves and a story like that is hard to forget, especially in a country like Japan. The guy said Violet had style, as if he was impressed with someone, not something. When you said ‘underneath’ the pier, something clicked. It was a long shot, but…” She shrugged.
“Now that he’s got our attention, it’s only going to get worse.”
A wave of nausea threatened to overwhelm her. “I know.”
“How did he even know you were in Japan during that time?”
She shrugged. “Who knows? It wasn’t exactly a secret. My aunt knew and she could have told her friends. This is a small town and if he knows people here, well, people talk. You know that. Plus, if I was under a lease during any given assignment I found someone to sublet so maybe he found out by talking to one of the tenants. I don’t know. There’s more than one way he could have found out.”
His phone buzzed, interrupting their conversation. When he looked at the caller ID, his eyebrows furrowed. “One second.”
As he talked, she retrieved her saltwater-soaked clothes from the bathroom floor and shoved them into a plastic bag one of the nurses had left her. The sterile smell of antiseptics was enough to make her gag.
She’d had enough of hospitals to last a lifetime. Thankfully someone had grabbed her tennis shoes and jacket so she slipped them on and sat at the edge of the bed.
Braden’s heated gaze locked on hers. “That was Hailey. She needs to see us.”
“Okay.” She hoisted the plastic bag over her shoulder and stood.
“I’m taking you back to your aunt’s to change and then we’re stopping by my place,” he said as he held open the door.
“If it’ll be any easier, you can take me by the rental company so you don’t have to keep hauling me around everywhere.” Not having a car was a foreign experience.
She took the metro in D.C., but she’d never given up owning a car. The power and control of being able to go where she wanted, when she wanted, was something she didn’t know if she could ever give up. Which was why she never understood why her aunt had sold her car a few years ago.
Ignoring her statement, Braden took the plastic bag from her as they got into the elevator. “You’ll probably need to sign some paperwork before we leave.”
Okay. So he was ignoring her offer. She couldn’t muster enough energy to argue so she followed him without commenting. As long as he didn’t care, she sure didn’t mind him chauffeuring her around. Protective custody or not, being close to him all the time was driving her libido crazy.
It had been a while since she’d been with a man and even longer since she’d enjoyed it. Braden knew all the nuances of her body. If those hot kisses were anything to go on, the fire they’d once shared was still there and it was obvious he felt the same way. Unfortunately, she knew she couldn’t get physically involved with him without getting emotionally involved too. Not to mention, he was hell bent on keeping his distance from her.
“Lilly?” Braden’s voice cut into her thoughts.
“Huh?” She glanced at him.
“We’re on the bottom floor. Are you going to get out?”
Her surroundings immediately registered. She could feel her cheeks heat up, but she quickly exited the elevator and brushed past him. After filling out a few more forms, she and Braden went to her place first. After changing out of the scrubs and into her own clothes, they headed to his place.
By the time they pulled into his garage she’d finally gotten the chill out of her bones. He lived in a two-story house in a small subdivision not far from her aunt’s place. She was grateful he’d stopped at her aunt’s house first. She’d taken a short—blessedly hot—shower and bundled up. An extra thick scarf and gloves seemed to be warming her up. “Why don’t you live at your parents’ estate?” His family had a huge mansion on the outskirts of town.
He shrugged as he turned the ignition off. “My grandmother still lives there, but I’ll probably sell it in a few years. It’s too big and…there are too many memories.”
She still couldn’t comprehend how he’d managed to deal with the loss of practically his entire family. She’d been young when her parents had died so she’d had no choice but to adjust. But to lose so many people at once. It was unimaginable.
Fighting a sudden overwhelming sadness, she unstrapped her seatbelt and got out. She followed him through the inner door into his kitchen. Relief coursed through her when they were greeted by a continuous beeping sound. Since his place was alarmed she didn’t have to worry about masked men jumping out of closets here.
“One sec,” Braden said absently as he punched in the alarm code to turn it off.
“When did you buy this place?” Everything looked brand new, but unlike her place, the kitchen actually looked used.
“A couple years ago. It was in bad shape when I bought it. Took a while, but I finally finished the kitchen about a month ago.”
“You did all this yourself?” Walnut cabinets, antique-style fixtures, crown molding trim and a marble island top gave the room a traditional, show room quality.
He shrugged, but she didn’t miss the red flush that spread across his face.
“So do you have anything in that big fridge or is it all for show?”
“Grab whatever you want. I’m going to go change.” Braden disappeared through the swinging door so she opened the stainless steel refrigerator.
Her stomach rumbled painfully as she stared at the array of food. Finally she settled on an apple and milk.
She shut the door and her throat seized painfully. In the reflection, a masked figure stood right behind her. Panic tore at her chest like a razor wire. She swiveled around but no one was there.
Her heart thumped wildly against her ribs as she swept the kitchen with her gaze. With the exception of the marble and stone island, there wasn’t anywhere to hide in two seconds.
Lilly set the apple and milk on one of the counters and rubbed her hands over her eyes. If she couldn’t decipher what was real and what wasn’t, she was putting herself and everyone else in danger. Blindly, she reached for her phone, then just as quickly shoved it back into her jacket pocket. She couldn’t bother her boss with any of this. He was thousands of miles away and he would order her to come home. Or worse, he’d force her to take even more time off. Braden was right here. She should tell him. But could she?
Her mouth dried up at the thought of admitting what had just happened, but she swallowed her fear. Appetite lost, she leaned against the counter and tried to steady herself.
“Lilly? Is everything okay?” Braden’s deep voice caused her to jump. He wore dark jeans and a polo shirt, but he had on his sheriff’s jacket and hat.
“Yeah, except that I think I’m losing my mind…” She took a deep breath and tried to gauge his expression, but his face was unreadable. “I saw the masked figure again—”
His shoulders tensed. “What? Where?”
She shook her head. “No, it wasn’t real. I saw it in the reflection of the refrigerator, but when I turned around, I was alone. What happened at the funeral home was very real, but I thought you should know that it’s possible I’m seeing things.”
“I don’t know what to say, Lil.”
“Tell me I’m not crazy.”
His lips pulled up slightly as he leaned against the counter next to her. “You’re definitely not crazy.”
“Are you going to tell anyone?”
“Why would I?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m not going to cut you out of the loop now if that’s what you’re worried about. If it starts to affect the case, we’ll figure something else out. Until then, no one needs to know.”
“Thank you.” Her chest loosened a little. It was embarrassing enough that he knew about her problems, she didn’t want the rest of the world to know too.
He cleared his throat. “You ready?”
She nodded and put the milk back in the fridge. In exchange she grabbed a small water bottle to take with her and kept the apple. They’d practically force fed her half a dozen sugar cookies at the hospital to help her calm down, but she wanted something more substantial. “What did Hailey want? You never said.”
“Said she wanted to go over your aunt’s autopsy and she might have found a break in the case.”
“Why didn’t she have us come down there right away?”
Braden held open the door leading to the garage. “She wanted us to, but I knew you needed some time.”
“Damn it, Braden, you can’t make those decisions for me.” Lilly fisted the apple tightly as she passed by him.
“Looks like I already did.” Without waiting for her response, he slid into the front seat.
She gritted her teeth as she got in the truck. “Whatever happened with Mabel’s Florist?”
“I talked to her while the doctor was in with you and I’ve already got a guy down there fixing her door. She didn’t even care about the damage. Said she heard you were in town and wanted to know how long you’d be here. She also said to tell you she’d see you tomorrow at the wake.” He glanced over his shoulder and backed out of the garage.