As soon as the door shut behind Perry, Braden jogged down the hall and made his way to the nurses’ station. When Lilly wasn’t there, he hit up the cafeteria. Worry churned in his stomach as various scenarios raced through his mind, especially now that he knew she’d been right. What if this bastard had gotten to her at the hospital? When he didn’t find her, he raced for his truck. Before he could contemplate anything, his radio buzzed again.
It was Vanessa again. “Listen, I was looking over our case notes on Murphy and realized something. At the time of Teresa Cochran’s death, Greg Murphy got a speeding ticket in San Francisco.”
“What are you talking about?” Murdered about six months ago, Teresa had been his Sunday school teacher in middle school. She’d been a sweet woman in her forties who’d gone out of her way to help people.
“I’ve got the papers in front of me. He got the ticket on the same day she was killed.”
As he digested the information, another flash of icy panic streaked through him. “He might not even be involved at all.” Which meant his brother was likely working alone.
“Exactly. There’s no way Murphy could have killed her. This pretty much blows a hole right through our case against him,” she muttered in disgust.
“I’ll see you in a minute, but keep trying to reach Lilly.” He’d be at the station soon and he wanted to try calling Lilly himself. After finding out this, he had to find her.
Lilly couldn’t stop the nervous tingles zipping down her spine as she strode up the drive toward Alma’s front door. She wiped her damp palms on her pants as the door swung open. She still hadn’t decided how to broach the subject of Braden’s brother, but now that she was here, she knew she’d better think fast.
“I don’t know what I did to deserve your visit, but I’m so pleased to see you again this soon. This house gets too quiet.” Alma stood back and let Lilly pass.
“Thanks for having me over on such short notice.” She shoved her hands in her pockets as she entered the foyer area.
Alma scoffed as she shut the door. “At my age, I just love having visitors.”
Lilly bit back a grin. Alma was a social butterfly and probably had more of a life than she did.
“This way. I’ve put out some tea and cookies.”
Lilly followed her down the hallway and into the sitting room she’d been in on more than one occasion. It surprised her that not much had changed. A plush chaise lounge sat by one of the windows and two accent chairs and a rich leather sofa were positioned around the mahogany coffee table.
She sat on one of the accent chairs across from Alma. Even though anticipation hummed through her, she waited for Alma to pour a cup of tea and hand it to her.
Crossing her legs, she leaned back in her chair. “I hope you don’t mind if I dive right into this.”
“Go ahead.” Alma took a sip of her tea.
Lilly mentally braced herself for a reaction. “Do you think there’s any possibility that anyone survived the crash that killed Braden’s parents?”
Alma’s eyebrows rose slightly as she set her tea on the table in front of her. “No. Why?”
Lilly took a sip of her tea and tried to think of a response. “I was just curious.” Okay, her answer was lame and unbelievable.
Instead of grilling her, Alma politely changed the subject. “What’s going on with you and my grandson?”
Not that the new subject was any better. A small smile touched her lips. “Ask me in a couple days and maybe I’ll have an answer for you.”
“I wish you two would work things out and give me some grandchildren.” Alma shook her head, making her gray hair swish softly around her shoulders.
Lilly choked on air at the woman’s words. She was thankful she’d already put her tea down or she’d have definitely dropped the tiny cup. Clearing her throat, she half rose, ready to leave. “I think I made a mistake coming here. I—”
“Why did you ask about the plane crash?” The abrupt turn back to their original conversation stopped Lilly cold.
She sat back down and frowned. “The truth?”
“I think James is still alive.” Her statement flooded the room with thick tension.
The older woman was silent as she regarded Lilly. After a few uncomfortable moments passed, she cleared her throat. “Things have been moved around my kitchen.”
“Uh, excuse me?”
“My kitchen. I keep everything in a specific order but lately I’ve noticed things missing. Not reorganized, but missing. Canned food mostly.”
“Does anyone have a key?”
“Other than Braden, no.”
“Did you ever get your locks changed after the accident?” As long as Alma wasn’t shooting down her theory, she was going to get every bit of information she could.
She paused then shook her head. “No.”
Lilly picked up her tea cup to keep her hands busy. If it was James, he was obviously taking enough precautions to avoid grocery stores, but it probably meant he was staying somewhere close. “When did this start?”
Alma clasped her hands tightly in her lap. “About a month ago.”
“Have you noticed anything else out of the ordinary?”
“Well…once or twice I noticed my office door had been left open when I was pretty sure I’d closed it. I’m getting old though so it may be nothing.” Her creased brow told another story.
“Do you still have that cabin on the other side of the property?” Years ago it had been used as a hunting cabin when the men didn’t want to trek back to the house after a long day. Truth be told, she and Braden had used it when they wanted privacy all those years ago.
“It’s still there but it hasn’t been touched in years. Why? You’re not planning to—”
Ignoring her protests, Lilly set her cup down and stood. “I don’t know how much Braden has told you about the case he’s working on, but it’s a matter of life and death. Do you still have any of your husband’s hunting rifles?”
Alma smoothed down her long skirt and sighed as she stood. “Yes, I do…Why?”
“Good.” Lilly had Braden’s pistol but she wanted to be prepared. She chose to ignore Alma’s question. Part of her wanted to call Braden, but she was going to prove James was still alive before she did that. After the way Braden had all but said she was crazy, she wasn’t going to give him any more ammunition. If she was wrong, she couldn’t bear to see the judgment in his eyes. All she was going to do was head to the cabin, check it out, then call him if she was right. And if she was wrong, he never needed to know about it.
When James Donnelly saw Braden’s truck sitting in the driveway of their grandmother’s house, he turned and sprinted across the property. The cover of night and his black attire let him blend in to his surroundings.
His food supplies were dwindling, but he’d be okay for a few more days. He’d been careful only to take a couple things at a time and so far he doubted his grandmother noticed. If she did, he wondered what she’d say if she knew he was alive.
She was the only decent woman in his family. Hell, she was the only decent woman he’d ever known. If she hadn’t been there he’d have stormed the house and taken Braden. Lilly too if she was with him. Which he assumed she was. Son of a bitch hadn’t let her out of his sight all week.
Once James reached the edge of the woods he slowed his pace and entered the thick underbrush. Before this past month he’d been staying in various dumpy motels that let him pay cash. Using his father’s old hunting cabin had been genius. Since the power was connected to the house, he had free electricity and running water. If he stayed too long he knew he’d get caught, but he planned to be long gone before that happened.
As he trudged through the woods he pulled out his hunting knife. A few beams of moonlight streamed through the trees, perfectly illuminating his killing tool. That bitch Barbara had held on long enough. Longer than he’d imagined. It was time to kill her and get the cabin ready for Lilly’s arrival.
As soon as Braden parked his car in the station parking lot, he jumped from the vehicle and strode inside. He felt as if time was slipping away from him. Vanessa sat at a desk hunched over a stack of papers.
She glanced up when she saw him and straightened. “I just got a hold of Lilly. She’s at your grandmother’s.”
The invisible weight on his shoulders lifted a fraction as he allowed a small measure of relief to course through him. Still, he needed to talk to her himself. To hear her voice and know Lilly was all right.
“Thanks.” He picked up the phone on Vanessa’s desk and dialed his grandmother.
She answered immediately. “Hello?”
“Is Lilly there?” He didn’t bother with niceties.
“Well it’s nice to talk to you too,” his grandmother muttered.
Braden thrust down the fear burning through him. “I’m sorry but this is important. Is she there?”
“Where’d she go?”
“She just left, but I’m not supposed to tell you where.”
He held the phone tightly against his ear. “Her life is in danger. Where is she?”
His grandmother sighed heavily before answering. “She took your grandfather’s rifle and decided to drive out to the old hunting cabin.”
“Did she say why?”
“Not exactly but she was asking about your brother. What’s going on? She mentioned that he might be alive. I don’t understand any of this.”
An imaginary fist closed around his throat, sucking the air out of his lungs. He found his voice. “Stay in your house and keep all the doors locked. Don’t open them for anyone. I’ll call you later.” He disconnected before she could argue.
He glanced around the station. With the exception of Vanessa and Jordan, the place was virtually empty. He’d have preferred Perry to go with him, but he didn’t have much choice.