“How’d you find me?” Lilly’s words came out raspy.
“Vanessa found some evidence that Murphy couldn’t have possibly killed one of the victims and we got a sketch from Vegas P.D. from a victim of his that survived. Then when your FBI friend called I called my grandmother trying to get a hold of you and she told me where you’d gone. I got here as soon as I could…I’m sorry it wasn’t faster,” he said quietly.
She shook her head, trying to tell him it wasn’t his fault, but she couldn’t make her voice work. She wanted to curl up in a ball and sleep for a week straight. Anything to distance herself from the memories of tonight.
“Will you be okay by yourself for a minute while I grab some bandages? The EMTs should be here soon but I want to stop the bleeding.”
She nodded because she couldn’t find enough energy to respond as he hurried away. Their nightmare was finally over even if it didn’t feel like it. She wanted to look over her shoulder to see James’s dead body again but couldn’t bring herself to turn around.
A few moments later Braden sat back down next to her. He had a first aid kit and a towel. “You can cover yourself with this, but I need to patch your stomach and arm.”
Before taking off the jacket she leaned back in the chair as he started cleaning the wound on her stomach. She hissed slightly and he paused. His dark eyes were filled with pain as he looked at her.
“Don’t stop. I know you need to clean it,” she gritted out.
“You might need stitches,” he murmured as he continued his cleansing.
Probably not on her stomach but definitely on her arm. As the world went in and out of focus she closed her eyes for a moment.
When he was finished, he helped her take off the jacket. After covering herself with the towel, she held out her bleeding arm. James hadn’t nicked any veins or arteries. From his files she knew he cut his victims sixty-six times—and all because he’d been in that military school sixty-six days—before raping and killing them. No doubt he had experience in inflicting maximum pain without killing them first.
Braden was gentle as he cleaned her other wound, but she still hissed at the antiseptic he applied. Whatever he was using burned her skin, sending prickles of awareness skittering down her arm. At least she was alive.
“What the hell were you thinking coming out here by yourself?” he muttered. Even though his question was low and he was being attentive, it still pissed her off but mainly because she was embarrassed.
Her actions had been rash but she hadn’t been willing to risk Barbara Allbright dying if she could have done something to help. “Did you find Barbara anywhere?”
“No.” His answer was soft, gentle and for some reason it made her cry.
She wanted all his gentleness and desperately wanted to lean on him but didn’t know how they’d ever get past something like this. He’d killed his own brother for her. His psychotic, monster of a brother. She sure as hell wasn’t sorry James was dead but she hated the fact that he’d caused Braden so much pain.
He’d put a chasm between them once and even though he was dead he was doing it again. No matter what happened, she and Braden had no future together. How could they after all this?
When Braden gently cupped her cheek and swiped her tears she leaned forward and wrapped her good arm around his neck. He murmured soothing sounds against her hair as he pulled her into a gentle hug. He was careful not to pull her too tight and she appreciated it. She had no clue if he was saying actual words but she didn’t care.
She wasn’t sure how much time passed but eventually he pulled back and helped her back into the jacket. He left with the promise of finding her more clothes. James had cut hers from her body when she’d been passed out and the police would need to collect them as evidence anyway. Bracing her hands against the table, she stood up. The jacket hung to mid thigh so she zipped it up and stumbled for the front door.
As she stepped outside an ambulance and another police car zoomed up to the house. Braden was standing in front of the house and waving them over. He paused when he saw her but she couldn’t muster enough energy to do anything other than flop down on the porch and lean her head against one of the support poles. She was just so tired. Blue and red lights flashed, illuminating the porch in a harsh light so she closed her eyes.
Boots stomped up and down the stairs and in and out of the cabin and there was a steady murmur of voices, but she managed to block most of it out.
“Lilly.” Braden’s hand on her shoulder startled her.
Lilly’s eyes flew open. “What is it?”
“The paramedics are here to take you to the hospital.”
“I don’t need a hospital. I need my bed.” She knew that was irrational but the words just popped out.
“You’ve got to get checked out, honey, and I know you’re going to need stitches. You’ll get a bed and they’re going to take the best care of you. I need to finish up here but as soon as I’m done, I’ll meet you at the hospital. I don’t want to leave you but—”
“It’s fine, Braden. He’s dead and no one is going to hurt us anymore.” She hated the almost guilty look in his eyes as he stared at her. She wasn’t sure what he felt guilty for. He’d saved her. Averting her gaze, she focused on the ground. “Thank you for saving me.” She couldn’t remember if she’d said it earlier but she certainly meant it. Saying thank you felt lame but she didn’t know what else to say.
“You don’t ever have to thank me for that.” He started to say something else but two very polite, uniformed paramedics appeared out of nowhere to help her into the ambulance. Even though she hated being manhandled, she decided to make an exception this once. If it allowed her to get some much needed sleep, she’d let them take her anywhere.
Braden tried to talk to her as they led her away, but she didn’t turn around. Looking at him or talking to him would ensure a breakdown. She still felt exposed and vulnerable and knew if she started crying she’d never stop. Even though James was dead, she could still feel his blank gaze watching her, staring at her naked body, touching her, preparing to torture and kill her.
Two Days Later
Braden steered into Lilly’s driveway and parked next to her rental car. He wasn’t sure when she’d picked it up but he didn’t have much of a clue what she’d done since leaving the hospital. After putting his truck into park he rehearsed what he wanted to say to her one more time.
He still couldn’t believe the stubborn woman had checked herself out of the hospital before he’d gotten there. Then, she’d sent her statement to Vanessa’s attention and refused to take his calls. In addition to handling his brother’s burial arrangements—even though he just wanted to burn the damn body—he was trying to deal with his feelings of actually killing his brother. He couldn’t understand what had happened to make his brother so evil. They’d been raised in the same house, had the same upbringing and all the same opportunities.
The one thing that mattered most though was straightening out everything with Lilly.
He let her run away from him last time but he’d be damned if he let her get away again. They belonged together. He simply needed to convince her of that. After a glance at his watch, he got out of the truck and headed up the walkway. It was after nine so he knew she’d be awake.
He rang the doorbell, then knocked. Hard. A shadow moved behind the peephole, but Lilly didn’t respond so he knocked again. “I know you’re in there, Lilly. Open the damn door.” Okay, not exactly how he’d rehearsed his speech.
“Go away.” Even through the door, she sounded tired.
“We need to talk.”
“Leave me alone. I’ll call you later.”
Gritting his teeth, he turned and stalked back to his truck. He wouldn’t hold his breath waiting for her to call. He’d been trying to get her to return his calls for two damn days. He’d driven by her place half a dozen times and thinking she’d eventually call him, he’d wanted to give her space especially after what she’d been through. But he was done waiting. He slipped the key into the ignition but stopped when he remembered he still had Lloyd Redford’s key. He popped open the center console and snatched it.
Seconds later, he opened the front door and stepped inside. “Lilly?”
“Braden?” Her voice carried from the kitchen with a dose of uncertainty.
“Are you decent?” he asked as he strode toward the kitchen. He didn’t care if she was decent. If anything, he really hoped she wasn’t.
She pushed up from the kitchen table as he entered. “What the hell are you doing? How did you get in here? I know I took that key from out front!”
His entire body lit on fire at the sight of her. Wearing a long pink striped pajama set, she looked tired and good enough to eat. Her dark hair fell around her face in waves and she didn’t have a scrap of makeup on. Still, he wanted nothing more than to take her in his arms. Since that wasn’t going to happen, he decided on something neutral to start the conversation.
“We need to talk…Got any coffee left?” He nodded toward the mug on the table.
She rolled her eyes and sat back down. “There’s about one cup left. Help yourself,” she muttered.
After pouring himself a mug, he took a seat across from Lilly. He hated the dark circles ringed under her eyes. The closer he was, the more predominant they seemed.
Might as well get right to the point. “Why haven’t you been taking my calls?”
She raked a shaky hand through her hair as she stared at the table. “I need time to decompress after everything that happened. Can you blame me?”
“You shouldn’t be alone right now.” More importantly, she should be where she belonged, with him.
Lilly finally met his gaze. “All the monsters in my life are dead. Why not?” The muted pain in her voice tore at his insides like razor wires.