Jesus Christ. What she’d gone through.
Worse. What she imagined her friend had gone through.
He knew exactly what it was like to be helpless and see someone in a life-threatening position. Frustrating, guilt-producing, keep-you-awake-at-night blame game.
He stretched a hand across the table and laid it on her wrist as she clutched at her hot chocolate. Startled eyes flashed to his and she jerked her arm away, sitting straighter.
“Are you all right?” Stupid question.
She nodded, lips closed tight, eyes still startled.
What was he thinking by touching her? Just talk to her. Distract her.
“I told you I dated Hillary Roske. One of the first victims.”
She gave another stiff nod of assent.
“We met several years before she vanished. I was hauled in for questioning along with a dozen of her ex-boyfriends.” He smiled wryly. “The timing wasn’t great. I was trying to get hired with the police department. They weren’t thrilled to have me questioned in a murder case.”
Her wide mouth turned up at one corner, but he wanted to see the entire smile. It wasn’t easy to pull his gaze back up to hers and away from those lips. He relaxed as he noticed her eyes had lost the rattled look. He was doing something right.
“It came to nothing, though. I followed the case and cheered when they caught the killer.” There was her smile. Nearly too wide for her face, but incredibly appealing. His chest warmed and he wanted to see more. “Now I know they caught him, thanks to you. But I’m back in the thick of it again. Between the apartments, Hillary, and Cal, I feel like I’m in the hot seat.”
“Who do you think killed him?”
“Who? Cal?” Jack shook his head. “I don’t want to leap to conclusions, but I assume it was the same person who dumped your friend’s remains. Someone deliberately left that badge there to lead us to him.” He paused. “Did you know Cal Trenton?” It was a wild shot, but he had to ask.
“Do you know who would have wanted your friend’s case out in the open again? Or why they would leave a police badge with her skeleton?”
She rubbed her lips together, and he watched her concentrate. His questions had distracted her from her disturbing story—one of his reasons for asking them.
“I can’t think of anyone. Or why someone would do that. It just doesn’t make sense to me. DeCosta’s gone. Dead. It’s over. Why would someone stir it up deliberately with…Suzanne? Do you think it’s a coincidence that Suzanne and the badge were together?”
“Hell, no. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. On my property? With my ex-partner’s badge? DeCosta may be dead, but someone knew where to find her body. And someone wanted some big fat arrows pointing at me.”
They both sat silently. Jack felt a quiet pull toward her, his original attraction from Saturday hadn’t dimmed, in spite of the horror of her story. The attraction was stronger. Now he knew Lacey was smart, sharp, and compassionate. And as tough as hell. Anyone who’d gone through…
He wanted to see her again. Jack blinked in surprise at the sudden emotion. Why now? He hastily scrambled for the negatives. Lacey Campbell had a boatload of emotional baggage, and he was facing a war with some nasty press. Why an attraction now?
People don’t date under those conditions.
His cell rang and he mumbled an apology to her as he answered the call from his secretary. He listened silently to the unsurprising news as Lacey pushed away her plate and picked up her drink again. His eyes locked on her mouth as she sipped the drink, and a thick piece of blonde hair fell over one cheek, hitting the cup. He reached to push it back, remembered how she’d reacted to him touching her arm, and turned the movement into a reach for his own drink. He tapped his fingers on the glass bottle, not drinking as he studied her downcast eyes. Gorgeous thick dark lashes. She wasn’t wearing eye makeup; he didn’t think she needed it. Her eyes were big and expressive. He ended the call. “State police want to talk to me again tomorrow.” He rubbed his hand over his scratchy chin. “I guess I was expecting that.”
“I’m sorry.” Lacey grimaced. “I did that on Saturday. It wasn’t pleasant.”
Her eyes met his in sympathy and the quiet moment stretched. He wasn’t ready to let her go. He shifted on his chair as his irrational mind scrambled for an excuse.
“Can I call you? If I think of some more questions?”
“Ah…sure. I guess so.” Her words slowed as if she was carefully considering each one. “Why don’t you let me know what the police have to say? And if you hear any more from the Lakefield PD.” She gave him a half smile, and his heart skipped a beat.
“You can count on it.”
Satisfaction flowed through him.
He wanted to run. Feel the icy air pump through his lungs. Feel the endorphins send a high rocketing to his brain.
Everything was going according to plan. The wheels were in motion and the rats were confused, flustered by the maze he’d dropped them in. People were tearing around like rodents as he stood at the head of the table and hid the cheese. Excellent analogy. Grinning, he tucked his hands behind his head on the pillow and took a rare moment to rest his brain, organize his thoughts.
Things were just getting started.
What was next? He consulted a page in his mental notebook and crossed off Calvin Trenton, focusing on the name below it. All the years of planning, reviewing, and revising on paper had carved the plans into his brain. It was simple to visualize the page he needed.