When she’d told him of her commitment downtown, Jack had asked to meet up and she agreed, not sure why she was doing so.
This was not a date with Jack Harper. She repeated the refrain again.
He simply wanted to touch base with her, tell her what happened in his police interview. That was all. Lacey’s mind shifted to the new murder she’d heard about yesterday. Did Jack know about Joseph Cochran?
Who was killing the men from DeCosta’s prosecution? Starting with the discovery of Suzanne, everything pointed back to the DeCosta case. Suzanne, the arresting cop, the district attorney.
Am I in danger? How much? Lacey’s fingers grew numb as if their blood supply had suddenly been severed. She drew a deep breath and appreciated the masses of people crowding the sidewalks. Safety in numbers.
Finding the street corner where she’d agreed to meet Jack, she stopped to stare through a window at an ugly watercolor, a clashing chaos of browns and grays, and her mind spun back ten years. Dave DeCosta had been evil. Closing her eyes, she could see him at the trial, lounging back in his chair, stretching his long legs under the defense table, watching the proceedings with casual, bored eyes. Like he was watching a scoreless football game on a Sunday afternoon.
She had never seen any emotion in his eyes. As if a nugget of his soul had been missing. His family had sat silently in the row behind him. Their faces expressionless. Their mental states and thoughts hidden from court observers.
She’d spent long days in the courtroom, listening to the parade of witnesses, horrified at the testimony of those who’d discovered the remains of his victims. Graphic descriptions and photos of torture, sexual abuse, and corpse abuse. DeCosta had sat unaffected and aloof while Lacey’s stomach fought to keep its contents. She’d picture Suzanne in his hands and mentally collapse under the blistering guilt of being the one who escaped.
Survivor’s guilt, her psychiatrist had called it. Common in people who survive ordeals where others died.
Lacey’s eyes opened as the pace of her breathing sped up, and she refocused on the watercolor, seeking distraction.
It didn’t matter what the psychiatrist had called that hellhole. It had been the blackest period of her life. After leaving the hospital following her brush with death, she’d stayed in bed for days, sometimes weeks, fighting back the nightmares that toyed with her sanity.
It had been a catch-22. She’d wanted to sleep. Just sleep for long blissful periods of nothingness. But the horrors came to life in her dreams. Tranquilizers helped keep the horrors away but affected her sleep quality, making her exhausted. Leaving the sanctity of her house had taken superhuman effort. Even a simple trip to the grocery store had taken mental coaxing and preparation.
She would’ve stopped eating if not for the efforts of her parents, friends, and doctors. Food hadn’t been important. She didn’t eat because her body no longer created impulses of hunger.
Because she’d let go, Suzanne was gone.
Guilt had dragged her down to a point where she stockpiled her Vicodin. Every night she’d stared at the growing number of pills, nervously fingering them, counting them, arranging them into piles, and finally putting them back in the bottle, screwing the lid on tight, hiding them from her mother. It went on for months, even after her physical pain was gone. For some reason, just knowing she could resist the drugs had given her a tiny sense of control in her life.
One year to the day that Suzanne vanished, she’d stood staring into the toilet, watching as if from a distance, as she dumped the Vicodin into the bowl and flushed them away. Every last pill. It’d made her feel strong. She’d been given a second chance. Something a lot of people never get.
She’d never looked back at that dark period. Until now.
She’d managed to keep control this time. Her nights were still hellish, but staying busy at the dental school helped with distraction. Wallowing in a bowl of ice cream or simply talking with Michael also helped. She ached for the comfort of her mother, but considered herself lucky to have close friends. Some nights she wanted to beg Michael to sleep on her couch, but she wouldn’t allow that crutch. She could get through this on her own.
DeCosta was dead. He couldn’t reach her.
Lacey lifted her chin. She wouldn’t live in fear from police theories and hunches. It would take a lot more than that to disrupt her life. She didn’t hide. She directed her life; not her faceless fears. She had pepper spray in every coat pocket and a brand new kick-ass security system in her house.
Her stomach tightened and her throat burned as she turned away from the watercolor, finally comprehending it was a painting of a graveyard. She wrapped her arms around her middle, guarding against the wind and memories.
“Are you cold?”
She jumped, her hand instinctively moving to her purse, then stared up into questioning gray eyes. Jack Harper. Warmth flowed through her and pushed away the threatening shadows quicker than a venti coffee. Death and graveyards faded. She studied the tall man. He looked good. Nice slacks and a thick jacket couldn’t hide the fact that he was…What was the right word? Built. Well built. His black hair was trimmed short, slightly spiky on the top, making her fingers want to drift through it, testing the texture. She shoved her hands into her coat pockets.
Simply put, the man was hot.
Being around him was warming her up, stirring up her insides into a very pleasant eddy. And the way he looked at her…as if he had intimate ideas to mix up more heat between them.
What was she thinking?