He was taking the risk of pushing her away, but he had to get this next part out. “I believe you and I’m so sorry, but he’s not alive.”
She frowned at his words and took another step away from him. “I know what I heard. That voice…” She slightly shuddered. “I had nightmares about his voice and about him for a long time.”
That knowledge made Braden sick. He’d been so angry at her after she’d left him and now he found out she’d been suffering too. Probably worse than him. But that didn’t mean she was right. “Even if he’d managed to survive the crash, it was the middle of winter and they were over a hundred miles from any sort of civilization.”
Lilly simply repeated herself. “I know what I heard.”
“You said so yourself, you saw another masked face at my house that wasn’t real. Is it possible that this is a side effect of your PTSD?”
“No, it’s not.” She spoke through gritted teeth.
By the firm set of her jaw, he knew that no matter what he said, it wouldn’t make a difference. “They’re tracing the call right now. Maybe we’ll catch a break.”
“I feel like this nightmare will never end,” she muttered.
He reached out a hand to offer comfort, but she flinched away from him. “What do you want me to say? Do you want me to say I believe you?”
Sighing, she met his gaze. “I feel like my whole world is crumbling right now and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. You’re the one person…just forget it. You don’t believe me, fine. I can’t make you and I don’t actually blame you. It does sound crazy, but I know what that psycho said to me. I didn’t imagine that conversation. I’m as sure of it as I’m sure I’m standing here talking to you.”
His cell buzzed in his jacket pocket. He wanted to ignore it, but couldn’t when he saw it was the station. He flipped open his phone. “Yeah?”
It was Vanessa. “We’ve got a hit on the number. The call to Lilly’s phone was from a cheap motel on the outskirts of town. I talked to the motel manager and it looks like Murphy might be staying in room one-twenty.” She quickly rattled off the address.
“I’m on my way there now. Instruct everyone not to use their sirens and park on the east side of the lot.” He’d busted a couple teenagers who’d lifted televisions out at the motel earlier in the year so he was familiar with the layout.
As soon as he disconnected, Lilly asked, “What’s going on?”
“The call to your phone came from a local motel.” He started to protest when she bent to slip on her boots, but stopped himself. She didn’t have a car and he couldn’t leave her alone. “No matter what happens, you’ve got to stay in my truck.”
“Fine. I’ve got to leave my phone here because the battery is dead so you can’t leave me here even if you want to.” At that, she strode past him without another word.
“Is there something else you want to say?” he asked as they descended the stairs.
“Someone obviously called me. You at least admit that.”
“I never denied that. I just think you’re confused about who called. Damn it Lilly, you’ve admitted you’re suffering from PTSD. The other day you saw someone in my kitchen who wasn’t there. What if this is Greg pretending to be James? This could just be another way to fuck with us. Greg’s wife is dead. He’s missing and he has a long history of violence against women. You said yourself he used to harass you in school.”
She turned to face him at the bottom of the stairs and faltered slightly. “I…Maybe you’re right but I can’t imagine how the hell someone like Greg Murphy could pretend to be James. I don’t know what else to say other than I know James’s voice.”
He bit back a retort and grabbed his keys and jacket from the rack. Arguing with her was pointless and he didn’t want to alienate her further. Especially now that he knew the real reason she’d left had nothing to do with him. “Can we discuss this later? There’s a lot I want to talk about, this included, but now isn’t the time.”
Her expression slightly softened as she locked the front door. “All right.”
The drive to the motel seemed to stretch on for an eternity and the silence between them didn’t help any. His mouth dried up as he pulled in next to Vanessa, Perry and Officer Jordan. This could be it. If they found Murphy, he didn’t have anywhere to run this time. This nightmare would finally be over. Then maybe he and Lilly could finally hash things out once and for all.
“Hey.” Lilly reached out and grasped his thigh as he switched off the ignition.
He turned toward her, eyebrows raised.
“Be careful,” she rasped out as she sat back against her seat.
Wordlessly, he nodded and got out of the truck. One thing he was sure about. She might be angry with him, but he could tell she still wanted him. And that meant they might have a future. That was enough motivation to make damn sure he survived.
“You all right, boss?” Vanessa frowned as he got out of his truck.
He cleared his throat and glanced toward the office of the motel. “How long have you been here?”
“We arrived about five minutes ago,” she said, instantly all business.
“Negative. The motel manager is in the office, but he discreetly put in calls to the surrounding rooms and told everyone to stay put until further notice,” Perry said.
Braden looked at Vanessa. “You and Jordan loop around and cover the back. Perry and I will go in through the front. You ready?” he said to Perry.
He nodded. “Yeah.”
The management office and outside stairs blocked their view of a cluster of rooms at the end of the two-story building. As he and Perry headed around the office and toward the long line of doors, they opened themselves up to being seen, but there was no way around it.
“Why didn’t you ask Vanessa to go with you?”
“Because you’ve got more experience.” Perry had been in the Navy and knew how to sweep and clear rooms. That kind of training stuck with a man forever.
Braden knew exactly how Perry would react if they were ambushed or fired upon and he needed that kind of person by his side right now. Vanessa was a good detective, but for this case, he didn’t give a shit if he hurt someone’s feelings or appeared sexist. He just wanted this monster caught.
He slowed as he neared room one-twenty. The curtains were slightly open. He motioned to duck down and they both crouched past the window. While Perry kept his back to the wall directly next to the door, Braden held up three fingers. On the count of three, he kicked the door in.
Immediately they both stormed the small room. Greg Murphy was sprawled out on the queen sized bed. On the dresser was a needle, the bottom part of a soda can and a lighter.
“Murphy? You alone?” Perry asked.
No response or movement from the bed. Braden motioned to Perry that he was going to check the bathroom. Tiny shampoo and lotion bottles were scattered on the tile floor, but they were otherwise alone.
Braden checked Murphy’s pulse, which was strong. He couldn’t decide if that was a good or bad thing. Considering the objects on the dresser, he guessed the scumbag had recently shot up with heroin. Probably right after he’d called Lilly. Unfortunately the effects could last anywhere from two to eight hours which meant he’d have to wait to question him.
“Hey, Murphy.” Braden smacked the guy’s face.
Murphy’s brows furrowed, then he opened his eyes. “What the hell are you doing in my room?” His pupils were dilated and his words slurred as he tried to focus on Braden.
“You’re under arrest for stalking, rape and murder.” Braden rolled him over and slapped cuffs on him.
Murphy didn’t even struggle. He just mumbled something incomprehensible.
Braden gritted his teeth and buzzed Vanessa and Officer Jordan. “We’re all clear.”
Perry let out a low whistle as he motioned to a cluster of pictures tacked up behind the door. “Check this out. I’d say this is our guy.”
About thirty pictures of Lilly covered the wooden surface. In all of them she was looking away from the camera or blocked by people. In some she wore a bathing suit, but in most she was bundled up in a scarf and jacket. From what he could tell, the majority looked like they’d been taken in D.C., but some were definitely taken since she’d been back in Hudson Bay. Since there weren’t any dates on them, Braden couldn’t decipher how long he’d been stalking her.
Like nails in a coffin, there were also pictures of seven women—including Whitney Myers. Braden’s blood turned to ice at the array of pictures. It appeared as if Murphy had actually killed all these women and from the looks of it, he’d been planning to kill Whitney too. When this was over, he was going to tell Whitney how smart she’d been to listen to her instinct.
“I’m going to take him back to the station in your car and start questioning him. I want this room sectioned off. No one goes in or out. If this goes to court, I don’t want to chance that anything gets thrown out because of shoddy work,” Braden said to Perry. He didn’t care if Murphy was out of it. He wanted him secured in a patrol car and behind a cage for the ride to the station. But mainly he didn’t want Lilly anywhere near him.
The detective tossed him his keys before pulling a pair of latex gloves out of his jacket pocket. “I’ll start categorizing the pictures. Maybe Lilly will know when these were taken.”
A sense of disappointment bubbled up in Braden. He should feel victorious, but staring at Murphy’s still form, he felt hollow. The whole episode was almost anticlimactic. They’d been chasing this guy for a year and all of a sudden, he did something incredibly stupid to get caught. Braden didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but something about the situation didn’t feel right. Why would he call Lilly then shoot up, knowing he’d be out of it for a while? And why would he call directly from the motel room without using any sort of diverter? He still didn’t think his brother was behind this but Murphy’s actions didn’t make sense. Maybe someone was trying to set him up or maybe he was working with a partner.