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“I can’t see Lindsay having anything to do with an ass like Billy, no matter how much she had to drink.” Both Emily and Madison had adored the woman.

“Well . . . I suspect Billy mighta put something in her drink that first night.”

Zander wasn’t shocked; Billy Osburne’s actions no longer surprised him. “Why Lindsay?” he asked. “You didn’t have to kill her too.”

“She’s a race traitor.”

Chills locked Zander’s limbs at the ugly words. Harlan Trapp was pure hate. The medical examiner’s description of the huge number of stab wounds in both bodies echoed in his head. Zander had suspected a high level of anger was involved.

He had been right.

“I had more issues with her actions than Sean’s. She married the piece of shit and then cheated on him with Billy. Cheap whore.”

“I assume he drugged Nate Copeland’s beer before killing him. Did Nate see you at the Fitches’?”

“I wasn’t sure. Billy and I were in the woods behind the home when Emily and then Nate arrived. We stayed too late trying to get the fire to take hold . . . shoulda left as soon as we saw Emily, but I wanted as much evidence destroyed as possible.”

“You decided to play it safe and eliminate any possible witnesses.” Zander held very still. “You shot at Emily.”

Harlan scratched his arm. “Was just trying to scare her.”

“Bullshit. You were starting to panic and getting sloppy. You don’t scare people, you kill them. You nearly killed an FBI agent and Emily that day.”

The man simply looked at him. No regret.

“Who dumped dead animals at the Barton Mansion?”

Harlan snorted. “That’s all Billy’s doing, stupid fuck. He did some tire slashing too. He holds a long-standing grudge against the Bartons that goes back to the mill closing and his father losing his job. Idiot. As if those three old hens had anything to do with it closing.”

Standards à la Harlan.

“The fire you set at Lincoln Mills’s death could have killed his entire family.”

A muscle twitched in Harlan’s cheek.

“Why in the hell did this town elect you mayor? From what I’ve heard, your name’s been connected to racism rumors for years.”

Harlan looked confused. “Do you really think people care? They were just rumors. And besides, I’ve done a lot of good for this town.”

Zander didn’t agree. “How do you feel about Chet Carlson spending twenty years in prison?”

“He shouldn’t have been so stupid and pled guilty.” Harlan wrinkled his brow in puzzlement. “Who admits to a murder they didn’t do?”

Harlan Trapp would spend the rest of his life in prison. Zander should feel elated that Harlan wasn’t fighting the charges, but instead he felt drained and empty from the exposure to how Harlan’s brain worked. It was narcissistic. Indifferent. Twisted.

Zander was done asking him questions.

But he had questions for Tara.


After leaving the county jail, Zander drove to the mansion. The weather had cleared, showing cloudless skies for the first time since Zander had arrived at the coast. The ocean and sky were rich blues, but the temperature was a chilly forty-five.

Tara and Emily had been treated and released from the hospital that morning. Both of their gunshot injuries had caused muscle damage and heavy bleeding. Zander had checked in with both of them several times. The doctors were optimistic about their recovery, but neither woman would be up and about very soon.

Vina let him into the mansion and directed him upstairs when he asked for Tara. He knocked on the open door to a bedroom where Tara sat in a rocking chair, staring out a window.

She jumped at the knock and then winced, a hand going to her side. “Agent Wells.”

“Call me Zander.”

Her brown gaze eyed him skeptically, but she agreed. “What can I do for you?”

“I have a few questions.”

“You and everybody else. I’ve already talked to detectives from the county and state police departments. I hoped you would give me a break.” A small twitch at the corner of her lips told him she was teasing.

In that second she reminded him of Emily. Her smile and the shape of her face were like Madison’s, but the attitude and intensity in her eyes at the moment were all Emily.

“Did I thank you for the other night?” she asked. Then she scowled. “Maybe I shouldn’t thank you. He’s still alive because of you.”

“You didn’t want him to go over the cliff.”

“Wanna bet?” she asked softly.

“What happened the night your dad died?” he asked abruptly, slightly disturbed by the truth he’d heard in her words.

She looked back out the window. “I’m not sure.”

She’s lying. He waited.

“We were high,” she finally said. “I wanted to believe it was a dream.”

“You and who?”

Fierce eyes met his. “My friend doesn’t remember anything. And Harlan never saw her, so he doesn’t know she was there. I didn’t bring her into it back then, and I won’t now.” She swallowed hard. “From what I can put together, my friend and I had returned to my house in the middle of the night. I’m not sure why. Somehow she drove us there and back, both of us high as kites.”

“You’re lucky you didn’t kill anyone.”

Guilt flashed.

“You didn’t kill anyone,” Zander told her, understanding she felt partially responsible for her parents’ deaths in some twisted way.

She didn’t appear convinced. “I think we’d come to the house to sneak in and get some more pot from my room.”

“You kept pot in your bedroom?” Emily was right. Tara was there that night.

“I was a teenager.” She frowned. “With very snoopy sisters, I knew how to hide things. I don’t think either one ever found it.”

“What did you see outside?”

Tara took a deep breath. “I don’t remember seeing my father, but I think I remember several men outside the house and having an overwhelming need to hide from them. I don’t know why—it was just a feeling. Something evil hovered. I remember telling my friend to run and that we needed to leave. I can still feel my hands pushing branches out of the way and smell the smoke.” A haunted look entered her eyes. “I didn’t see a fire. I don’t remember leaving or riding back to my friend’s home. The next morning I convinced myself it was just a dream. Then the police came before I asked my friend about it. Her reaction to the police was pure shock, so I knew she didn’t remember.”

“Was your mother outside that night?”

Tara frowned. “I never saw her. I heard she was asleep until Emily woke everyone.”

“But Harlan saw you that night.”

“He did. I didn’t know until he came to me two days later. By then I’d convinced myself I hadn’t been there, and I had a hard time believing his accusation.”

“You’re lucky you’re alive. He has a habit of killing the people he believes can cause trouble for him.”

Her face reddened, and she dropped her gaze.

Oh shit.

“You were involved with him,” he said flatly, his stomach churning at the thought. “He’s got to be twenty years older than you—and you were a kid.”

“I was eighteen,” she snapped. “People looked at me as an adult—especially men. Do you know how many men had propositioned me by the time I was sixteen? Married men. Men old enough to be my grandfather.”

“I’m sorry—”

“Not your fault. But it made me view myself differently, you know? I believed they wanted me because I was special. The attention felt good. After a while I sought it out. At least Harlan wasn’t married.”

“Harlan told you he saw you in the woods the night of your father’s death. Then what?”

“He told me to leave town and never return, or he’d kill my sisters and mother.” Her gaze was steady, her voice monotone.

That sounds like the Harlan I know.

“You got a free pass because of your relationship.”

“My life has not been a free pass.” Fire shone in her eyes. “Do you know what it’s like to believe the man you slept with murdered your father? And I fully believed he killed my mother until Emily told me otherwise—it still hasn’t sunk in that she committed suicide. Back then her death was the proof that he was serious. My sisters would be his next targets. As I got older, I knew my husband and my daughter could be targets.”

“I find it hard to believe you simply packed up and left Bartonville.”

One eyebrow rose. “That’s exactly what I did. When I told people I was leaving, no one seemed too surprised.” She forced a laugh. “I had a reputation as a wild child. A slut. My parents were at their wits’ end with me. People were happy to see me go.”

“Your sisters weren’t happy. Neither were your aunts.”

“Doesn’t matter now.” Her voice cracked and pain flashed.

“Are you going to leave again?”

“No,” she said firmly. “For the first time in twenty years, I feel like I can breathe. I no longer have to look over my shoulder or fear that my daughter will be killed.” She tipped her head, wonder in her eyes. “You have no idea how different the world looks to me today. I don’t know what to do with myself because I’m not focused on hiding. Two decades of ingrained thought patterns suddenly have no purpose. On one hand I feel free . . . on the other I’ve lost the impetus that drove my every action for years.”