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But still . . . It seemed too easy. Nothing in Jenna’s life was ever easy. “I don’t know.”

“Whatever.” He lifted a hand and started to turn away. “But a pretty girl like you don’t have to be dirty.”

Her own body odor hit her nose suddenly, as if she hadn’t been able to smell it until he pointed it out. Humiliation spilled into her. The stolen candy weighed heavily in her pocket. Not much of a meal. “Wait.”

He glanced back.

“I’ll do it.” Waitressing was legit, right?

He led her to a shiny town car. Light from the streetlamp reflected off the windshield like a mirror, blinding her to what was inside. She knew she shouldn’t get in. The car was way too nice for the neighborhood. But what else was she going to do?

He started the car and shifted into drive. The locks clicked down. Jenna jumped. He drove away from the strip mall. She hunched in the leather seat and stared out the window. He pulled into the drive-through at Carl’s Jr. and ordered a burger, fries, and a Coke. A minute later, the Carl’s guy passed a bag through the car window. The aroma of fried grease hit Jenna’s nose, and her stomach flipped out with a loud gurgle.

Grinning, Mick nodded at the bag. “Eat up.”

She ate with the speed of a starving dog.

A few minutes later, he pulled up in front of a door to a cheap chain motel room. Not even the dark of night could conceal the chipped stucco and peeling brown paint.

Her eyes skimmed over the sagging roofline. “Where’s the restaurant?”

“Closed now. You can crash with me.”

Apprehension tightened around her meal. She set the Coke aside. How many other details did he leave out?

They got out of the car. Jenna turned to run as a flash of panic rushed through her. But his body blocked her escape. “Where do you think you’re going?”

Jenna’s arms broke out in goose bumps. The apprehension she’d felt in the car grew. She backed away. “I changed my mind. I want to go.”

He shook his head. “This is what’s gonna happen.” He stepped closer, his pretty brown eyes shrinking down to mean, cold marbles. “I own you now. You’ll do whatever I say, or I’ll hurt you. You try to leave, I’ll kill you. You escape? I’ll find you, and you’ll pay.”

Mick’s hand shot out. He grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled her into the room. He released his hold, and she stumbled. Locking the door behind them, he crossed his arms. “Your new name is Jewel.” He walked to the dresser and picked up a bottle of vodka. “Time to get started.” He handed her the bottle. “Drink.”

Mick put three blue pills in Jenna’s other hand. “These, too.”

Jenna put the pills in her mouth. The vodka set her belly on fire. The back of her throat burned. But she did as she was told. Just looking at him, she knew he’d hurt her if she didn’t obey.

Minutes later, her vision hazed, and her limbs turned lazy.

“What’s your name?” Mick asked.

Terror confused her. “Jenna.”

She saw the violence simmering in his eye, but the backhand still shocked her. Pain sliced through her face. She pressed a hand to her stinging cheek. Lenny had handed out worse, but he was older and slower. She’d been prepared for the blows.

“What’s your name?” he asked again.

This time, she remembered. “Jewel.”

“Good girl.” He smiled. “Say my name.”

“Mick,” she croaked.

He reached out. She flinched, expecting another blow, but he only lifted her chin. “Now it’s time for you to earn your keep. You do what you’re told, so I don’t have to beat you.”

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Hannah parked Grant’s truck in the driveway and turned off the engine. The windshield wipers stopped, and light rain misted on the glass. In no rush to go inside and be alone, she checked her phone. It was almost four o’clock, and Brody hadn’t called. But he’d expected to be tied up all day. Though their meeting had been set for morning, the prosecutor had rescheduled for afternoon at the last minute. Hannah fought the urge to dial Brody’s number. Her discussion with the prosecutor had reopened wounds and left her raw.

The text from Grant had only made things worse. He’d messaged her twice this week, and she’d lied outrageously to him both times. But she didn’t want him to come home. She didn’t want him to get upset, not after he’d made such good progress. She didn’t want her family anywhere near Scarlet Falls, but the house felt empty without them.

Since when did she not want to be alone? She spent most of her career either working or alone in a hotel room. Now, returning to that lifestyle held little appeal. She didn’t want months to pass without a hug from Carson. She wanted to be here when Faith hit her next milestone. Something within her had changed, shifted, almost as if there was more room inside her. Empty places that needed to be filled, and only one man who could make her whole.

Brody.

The strength of her need for him left her as shaken as the prosecutor’s news. Under her instability, a thick layer of anger simmered.

Her cell vibrated. Brody. Finally. Her heartbeat skipped as she answered the call.

“How did it go with the prosecutor?” he asked.

“She’s going to let him plead out.” The words tumbled out of her mouth with none of her usual control and measure. Her voice tasted bitter in her throat.

“What?”

“The defense attorney intends to haul Grant and Carson through hell, and there’s nothing the prosecutor can do to stop him. The charges against Grant and the motion for change of venue were just the openers. He has a big song and dance prepared about his client’s psychological state. He’s going to drag this out as long as possible.” Hannah clenched the steering wheel, her knuckles white with frustration.

“Does she think he’ll get the change of venue?”

“No. She’s fairly confident in the judge assigned to the case, but she is concerned about the chances of the verdict being overturned on appeal. Frankly, his argument has merit, and she knows it. Publicity on this case has been relentless.”

“Much of that news coverage was generated by the defense,” Brody said.

“Nobody cares about the source. The only matter under consideration is the possibility of seating an impartial jury. Plus, if Carson is put on the stand, there’s no telling what he’ll remember. This case could drag out for years. He’s six. He should be able to rebuild his life, not be constantly reminded of what he’s lost.”

“There’s enough evidence that Carson shouldn’t need to testify. Surely, the court can protect him.”

“But the defense is insisting. If Carson doesn’t take the stand, that’s one more reason for appeal.” She swallowed, her throat tasting bitter. “So, she’s going to let him plead guilty. She assures me, with murder and the other lesser charges, he’ll serve a minimum of twenty-five years before he’ll be eligible for parole.” But twenty-five years wasn’t good enough for Hannah. He should never see daylight again. Lee wouldn’t.

“I’m sorry.” Brody’s voice held more disappointment than shock. “I wish I could tell you bullshit plea deals were uncommon, but they’re more common than trials.”

“I know, and in reality, the death penalty isn’t an option in New York State, so the maximum sentence would be life without parole. The prosecutor thinks twenty-five years is good enough.” And she gets the conviction for her statistics. “But the assault charge against Grant will go away as part of the deal.”

“I know you’re disappointed, but a plea will let Grant and Carson get on with their lives.”

Disappointed? That didn’t even come close. Anger seethed through Hannah’s blood. The prosecutor had all but stated that she didn’t want to spend the next year working on a case with this many complications and unknowns. An overturned verdict hurt her numbers. A plea satisfied her boss. The case would be closed. Her caseload was enormous, and her resources limited. She wanted to put this case away with no possibility that it would land back on her desk in eighteen months.

But twenty-five years?

Lee’s killer could still have part of a life remaining when he was released from prison. Her brother was gone forever. His children were orphans.

“I’m sorry,” Brody said. “It’s not fair.”

“No. But maybe she’s right. Maybe it would be best for Carson and Grant to let this go.” Hannah’s throat tightened. Carson would be thirty-one when the sentence was up. How would he deal with his father’s killer being set free?

“I wish I could be there with you, but I have to go into another meeting with the chief and mayor about yesterday’s shooting. I don’t know when I’ll be available again. I’ll call you when I’m finished?”

“Please.” She wished he were here more than was comfortable. He grounded her. His smooth demeanor offset her turbulence. He could be her ballast if she let him, and the loss of independence that realization represented sent wariness rippling over her skin like goose bumps.

“I will.” Brody said good-bye and ended the call.

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