After a few more grunted orders, Braden snapped the phone shut.
“You think someone might have paid with cash?”
“If they did, it means they were in the store and as far as I know, Delaney’s has an in-house security system.”
She frowned. “Since when?”
“About a year ago there were a few break-ins downtown. Just some teenagers looking to get some easy cash, but a lot of the locals installed security systems.”
“Hudson Bay finally caught up with the rest of the world.”
“In more ways than one,” he murmured.
“What else are you holding back?” He was leaving and she didn’t want to waste time dancing around her question. Something was bothering him. She could sense it. When he didn’t respond she crossed her arms over her chest and stared at him. “Keeping me in the dark won’t help the case.”
He let out a long, tired sigh. “He was there, Lilly.”
“He, as in the killer?”
“We caught him sneaking out of Lloyd’s boat. He dove into the water before we could stop him.”
“Who is it?” She dropped her arms and clutched onto the dresser.
He shook his head. “He was wearing a mask.”
“What about Lloyd Redford?”
“The guy tied him up and was using Lloyd’s phone. From what Lloyd remembers, it sounds like he’s using some sort of modifier for his voice.”
She smoothed a hand down her black slacks. “Is it horrible that I wish today wasn’t the wake? I feel like I should be out there doing something.” Saying the words aloud only intensified her guilt.
Pulling her away from the entry to the living room—and away from curious eyes—he brought her closer to the front door before enveloping her in his strong arms. “You’re not alone,” he said against her hair.
Leaning into him, she savored his embrace for a few moments. Simply being this close to him got her heart pumping overtime and heat flowing to all her nerve endings. Letting herself get close to him again was just plain stupid. Her head knew it, but her heart didn’t want to listen. Even if they caught the guy, Lilly knew she’d have to come clean about the real reason she left and take the chance that Braden wouldn’t believe her. After a few long moments, she took a step back. “You’ve got to go.” Her words came out raspy.
“I know.” The look on his face told her he didn’t want to leave but she understood he had to. If it wasn’t for the wake, she’d go with him.
“Go. I’ll be fine here.” It was barely eleven and she was ready to go back to bed. Her aunt had been murdered and now it looked like some poor girl might be suffering unbelievable torture. When the hell had the world gone so mad?
Hours later Lilly collapsed onto one of the chairs at the kitchen table and stared at Braden. “I’m so glad everyone is gone. Today felt like four days. I want to go to bed and sleep for a hundred years. Are you sure you should have left the search party?” she asked him. He’d told her to call after everyone had gone so she had.
He nodded as he leaned against the counter. “We pulled in all the volunteer firefighters and the search dogs haven’t been able to find a lead past Main Street. We’ve been searching for hours. They can live without me for ten minutes.”
“I don’t know what I did to deserve you.” The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. He wasn’t hers. Sure, they had a past, but they’d only shared one night together. That didn’t mean they had a relationship.
When his dark, heated gaze met hers, she swallowed hard, but somehow found her voice. “I didn’t mean anything by that,” she mumbled.
He straightened. “What do you want from me, Lilly?”
She inwardly groaned. After last night she’d known this was coming but admitting what she wanted was too much right now. Biting her bottom lip, she met his gaze. “I want…” Her throat seized, refusing to let any words pass. What if she admitted that she wanted a second chance and he rejected her? She wasn’t a kid anymore and the break up the first time had wrecked her. She didn’t know if she could deal with that kind of pain again. And this time she knew it would be worse. After seeing the man Braden had grown into, she knew there would never be anyone else who made her feel the way he did. “I think I need to get some fresh air.” The chair made a scraping sound as she stood.
Braden pushed away from the counter. “You can’t answer my question?” He sounded angry and she didn’t blame him.
The room felt suddenly stifling. She hated that she was being a coward and couldn’t just answer him but she couldn’t find the right words. What if he didn’t believe her? “I just want a few minutes of fresh air on the beach.” When he made a move to follow, she held out a hand. “Alone, Braden. I’ve been cooped up all day and I want to think without anyone hovering over me. I’ll take my gun with me.”
He shook his head. “I’ll give you space, but I’m coming with you.”
She opened her mouth to argue, but knew it was pointless. Before she could respond, he lifted his pant leg and pulled out a .38. “Tuck this into your jacket.”
Nodding, she did as he said. Her weapon was upstairs and she didn’t feel like running up to grab it.
“I’ll stay in your aunt’s yard, but that’s as far away as I’ll let you go.”
After shrugging into her jacket, she let herself out the back door and made her way to the beach. A glance behind her told her that Braden wasn’t far behind. Even though she might not admit it aloud, his presence made her feel safer. Immediately the fresh salty air enveloped her and some of that tension ebbed from her shoulders. The house was beginning to feel like a prison and this was exactly what she needed. Just a few minutes of down time. Then it was back to reality.
The beach was empty for miles in each direction. As she started to sit on the soft sand, her phone rang. The number wasn’t private, but she didn’t recognize it.
“Hello, Lilly. It’s been a long time.” The voice on the other end sent chills down her spine. It wasn’t mechanical, but it was the voice of a dead man. Someone she hadn’t even considered.
“Who is this?” Fear clawed at her insides because she already knew the answer. She might want to deny it, but his voice was unmistakable.
“I think you know.”
“You’re dead.” Her voice was a whisper and she briefly wondered if he could hear her above the crash of the waves. When she’d heard the news of his death she’d actually been glad—no, relieved—even as she’d felt bad for Braden for losing his family.
“Exactly,” James Donnelly—Braden’s dead brother—said.
“Are you the one doing this?”
“Who else would it be?” His voice was taunting.
“But why?” An icy fist wrapped around her throat, threatening to suffocate her. She glanced behind her. Braden stood about twenty yards off. He half waved at her.
“Because it’s your fault I got sent to that shitty military school my senior year.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“After that night, my mother told me I’d be punished. I didn’t realize what she had in mind until after summer.” His heated voice rose above the wind and waves.
She gritted her teeth at the way he said “that night” so calmly. “You tried to rape me, you psycho!” She pushed up from the sand, unable to stop the rising pitch of her voice. She’d been through a hell of a lot worse and she was a decade older. Not some scared teenager. She wouldn’t let him frighten her.
“You wanted it. I bet you still want it.” The way he calmly spoke, as if he really believed his own words, made her want to vomit.
She couldn’t find her voice though and he just continued. “Do you think of me when you touch yourself or when you’re fucking other men? Did you think of me last night when my brother was touching you? What do you think sweet Barbara’s thinking of right now?”
“What?” Lilly gasped.
“That’s right. She’s here with me, begging me to let her die. Do you think I should kill her? Say the word, Lilly, and I’ll put her out of her misery.”
“Let me talk to her!”
“Help me,” a terrified voice whispered.
Lilly couldn’t tell if it was even male or female. “Where are you, you sick son of a bitch?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” He chuckled.
“You want me, not her. Why not trade me for her? I can meet you right now.” If she could just keep him talking longer maybe he’d give her some sort of clue where he was. Turning around to motion to Braden, she saw him running toward her.
James paused for a moment then laughed, the sound hollow and eerie. “I’m not stupid.”
“We’re going to catch you.”
“Have fun trying.” The phone line went dead.
Her hands shook as she stared at the silent cell phone. Her battery beeped once, telling her it was about to die anyway. But that was the least of her worries. For years she’d been battling memories of him. She refused to be a victim to that monster again. She didn’t understand how he was alive but she knew what she’d heard. There was no mistaking his voice. That voice had haunted her for too many years. And as far as she knew the rescuers had never found his body. Her aunt had told her that much.
“What’s going on, sweetheart? Was that him?”
“Oh, that was him all right,” she ground out.
“What did he say?” Braden’s dark eyes called out to her, begged her to tell him the truth.
She cursed under her breath. She knew it sounded crazy but maybe if she explained everything…Hell, either he believed her or he didn’t. She’d been keeping this bottled inside for too long. “I know who’s after me and I don’t think it’s Greg Murphy.”