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Authors: Leslie Parrish

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until . . .”


“Until right before I escaped. But I didn’t see the man, even then.”

She went on. And as the story unfolded, he found himself less interested in

taking notes and more interested in learning what made this woman tick. How

had she come back from something like that, being kidnapped right out of her

bed as a teenager, then getting away with the help of a strange boy a few

days later? Hel , he dealt with people al the time who excused their crimes by

saying they just couldn’t get over daddy leaving mommy for his assistant. So

what made her the calm, cool exception?

Then he thought about it, wondering if she’d just done what he had: decided

to live as a sort of fuck-you to the past. Not letting it drag you down was the

best revenge, right? And letting some awful memory distract you from living

whatever life you had left was a sucker’s play. He was no sucker, and he

sensed Olivia Wainwright wasn’t, either.

“So this Jack, you say he was, what, guarding you during your captivity?”

“Sort of,” she admitted. “Although, as I said, I think he was a prisoner, too.

He’d obviously been abused; he was al bruised and scarred. And I heard him

being struck.” She shivered, as if that sound, that crunch of fist on flesh, stil

echoed in her mind.

“Did you ask Jack who this man was, why he was with him?”

She nodded. “He didn’t remember any other life, said he’d been with him

forever. But he did not say the man was his father. He’d just been captive so

long, I honestly think he was brainwashed. That’s how he sounded, anyway.

Flat, emotionless. Hopeless.”

A lump formed in Gabe’s throat, one he couldn’t swal ow down. What she

was describing could certainly fit the abused child he’d been picturing since

the autopsy report had come back. Whoever that boy was, he’d had so many

broken bones—most of them not properly reset—that Gabe suspected he’d

been beaten every week of his young life.

“I know Jack didn’t like having to be an accomplice in this; it wasn’t like he

had any choice. He hated that I was tied up and terrified. He brought me food

and water.”

“And eventual y, he even helped you escape?”

For the first time since she’d begun quickly skimming over her ordeal, the

redhead’s eyes shifted. She glanced down at her own hands, which were

clasped on top of the table. A surefire indication that she was hiding

something or else was about to tel an untruth.

“Something like that,” she murmured.

He breathed a sigh of relief that she hadn’t lied. No, she hadn’t told him the

whole story—he imagined there was a lot more to tel —but he liked that she

hadn’t taken a step into deceit.

Her story was, as she’d said, easily verifiable, and, of course, he was going

to have to verify it. He’d like to trust her, but even witnesses to a crime that

took place yesterday got details wrong today. He saw it al the time.

This could also just be a product of survivor’s guilt or of wanting the answer

to a question so badly, you saw similarities where none existed. She’d

showed up at the scene on Monday, long before the sketch had been made,

based on . . . what, nothing but a report of an old skeleton?

This was looking more and more like a long shot. Maybe she’d seen what

she wanted to see in that sketch. Memory could be a tricky thing; it could

create scenes that hadn’t happened or leave out details that it didn’t

necessarily want to remember. Frankly, he suspected there would be a lot a

young woman wouldn’t want to remember about a kidnapping ordeal that had

gone on for days.

Fifteen years old and taken right out of her bed. Jesus. She was lucky she’d

gotten away because the far more likely scenario was that she would have

been kil ed. Or, like one of the more wel -publicized kidnapping cases in

recent years, she might have been kept in sexual servitude for years. He

couldn’t help wondering if that’s why this boy, Jack, had been kept alive.

Though revolted, Gabe forced his instinctive emotional reactions away,

thinking of al the possible explanations for the mysterious Jack. There was

one big one. Could the boy actual y have been the son of Olivia Wainwright’s

kidnapper? And if he were, did that make his whole sad tale better or worse?

He honestly didn’t know. But being a blood relative of somebody did not, by

any means, guarantee a life free from abuse and pain. He knew that far better

than most.

He also knew he had to keep an open mind and acknowledge that, even

though her memories might have played tricks on her, her story
could be

entirely true. That boy’s face may have been imprinted on her mind, and the

forensic artist might have been able to draw him accurately enough to be

identifiable. Stranger things had happened. He’d learned in his career to

never rule anything out until he had hard evidence on which to base his


God, he hoped it was true. He would real y like to have just been handed his

first solid lead in this murder investigation. Going back to her kidnapping case

would be like finding a secret staircase in a huge house. It could take him

down hal ways he’d never have thought to explore. Including right to her own

kidnapper, who might very wel have murdered his young accomplice for

helping Olivia to escape, not that he was about to mention that possibility. Why

add to her guilt by pointing out something he’d lay money she had already


Honestly, at this point, he wasn’t placing bets one way or another. But he

certainly hoped she was right. Not only would it make his job easier, it also

might give her a little closure he suspected she badly needed.

“The news said he was hidden in that bar that burned down?” she said.

“That’s correct. He’d been entombed right behind the drywal .”

She blanched, and he kicked himself for being so blunt. But she didn’t back

down. “When you say entombed, do you mean the kil er built a wal around

him? He didn’t just stash him in a crawl space or something?” she asked, a

frown line appearing between her eyes.

“He worked hard to conceal him, making the wal look like part of the


“That would take some time,” she murmured, the frown deepening.

“I suspect this guy knew what he was doing.”

In fact, he’d already been gathering information from the contractors on

every person who’d worked that reconstruction job. That was a chore,

considering the way the construction businesses had col apsed when the

economy did. A lot of the workers had already been transient types, going up

and down the southeast coast looking for work during the busy hurricane


“Did you happen to see any construction equipment when you were held?

Anything that would indicate he worked in that field?”

“No, I didn’t.” She nibbled the corner of her mouth, trying to work it out, then

mumbled, “But if he were a carpenter or something, that would make sense,

wouldn’t it? Then he could build something like that very quickly.”

She sounded like she was trying to convince herself, more than him, and he

found himself wondering what else she hadn’t told him. It sure sounded like

she had some time line in her head and was trying to make sure al the pieces


“Could be. Or a handyman, somebody who knows a little about a lot of

things,” he said, not wanting to get her hopes up but not wanting to dash them,


“I’m sure you’re wondering if my mind is playing tricks on me,” she said, as

if noticing he’d been careful y evaluating every word she said. “If I’m real y

remembering his face or just projecting it onto that drawing.”

“Maybe. It’s been a long time. Hel , I can barely remember what my last

girlfriend looked like, unless I look at a picture of us together.” Shrugging, he

added, “Of course, that’d be impossible, since she ripped ’em al up when

she dumped my sorry ass.”

A tiny smile played on those pretty lips, as he’d wanted it to. She might have

sounded calm and cool while relating her own horrifying ordeal, but he knew it

had dredged up some stuff she’d probably rather have kept buried down in

the black muck of lost memories. He wanted to bring her back into the light,

and if playing self-deprecating good ol’ boy accomplished that, that’d be just

fine with him. Lord knows he did it enough. Seemed some people equated an

accent and a little Southern color with stupid, and sometimes it paid to have a

perp underestimate the cop who was questioning him. Gabe had learned that

real quick.

“At least she didn’t burn them.”

He lifted a wry brow. “That came after the ripping.”

“Where did the picture of your face as bul ’s-eye on a dartboard come in?”

“Hey,” he said, pretending to take offense, “did
teach her that?”

Angry Ex-Girlfriend Secret Handbook

“Guess I missed that one.”

“Guess you missed the ‘Secret’ part, too,” she told him, actual y sounding


“Is there a chapter in that book about cutting up al a guy’s clothes and

dumpin’ ’em on the lawn?”

“Depends on whether you’re dating a real woman or a
Fatal Attraction


“Just kidding. She didn’t cut ’em up.”

“Dumping them on the lawn?”

“I’m gonna have to take the Fifth on that one.”

Her eyes gleamed, but now it wasn’t strictly due to the moisture that had

fil ed them not so long ago. There was good humor there, too. He was glad

she hadn’t stopped to evaluate that, figuring she’d start feeling guilty at the

very thought of smiling given the rol er-coaster ride of emotions she’d

probably been on al morning.

“Please don’t even try to tel me you guys don’t have a secret coded

playbook, too,” she said, sounding accusing. “Somehow the word got out that

a guy should drunk-dial his ex in the middle of the night to accuse her of

breaking his heart.”

“That I didn’t do. May’ve gotten drunk a time or two, but I deleted her

number from my address book the day after she deleted me from her

Facebook friends list.”

She snickered, as if finding it hard to believe he had one. That was

perceptive: He didn’t.

“Whew. Glad to hear you rose above the impulse.”

“How about you?”

“I’m not the Facebook type. I try to stay as disconnected and hard to reach

as possible.”

He didn’t point out that he could understand why, given her past. Any

kidnapping victim would be pretty damn protective of his or her privacy, he

suspected. “I meant the drunk-dialing.”

“I rarely drink.” The quirk of her lips said she was teasing him, pretending

she didn’t understand the question at first. “Okay, I’ve had to have my number

changed once or twice.”

He’d just bet she had. The woman was bright and warm, not to mention

incredibly attractive. He didn’t doubt she’d broken some hearts in her day.

Having known more than a few crime victims, he had to wonder if she had a

hard time real y trusting anyone. Most did. Which could lead to some broken

hearts if somebody decided to take it personal y.

He’d already snuck a quick glance at her left hand and seen a big, antique-

looking silver ring that looked like it had been inherited, not slipped on by a

fiancé. At least, that’s how he preferred to think of it, though, having known her

al of twenty minutes, he couldn’t say why.

“So, tel me, Miz Wainwright, is there a chapter in there about ordering gay

porn and big-woman skin mags and having them delivered to your ex-

boyfriend at work? Because if so, that’s some seriously bad advice and can

get you arrested.”

Whistling, she replied, “She sounds like she was a real piece of work.”

“Nah, not speaking from personal experience. It’d be pretty stupid to do that

to a cop.”

“Oh, so
ordered the gay porn and big-woman skin mags?”

“Ha-ha,” he said with a wry grin, liking how quickwitted she was. Especial y

liking that the evidence of those tears was growing dimmer with every word

she spoke.

“So when was this devastating breakup?” she asked, though whether it was

to be polite, or because she was real y interested in knowing, he couldn’t say.

“Year or so ago. And to be honest, it wasn’t that devastating.”

“Not even to her?”

“I don’t think so. She was al about settling down and having babies and

being with somebody who didn’t risk getting shot every day when he left for

the office. Ended up engaged to a guy who runs a bookkeeping business up’n


“Somebody nice and normal,” she murmured, sounding thoughtful.

He leaned back in his chair, hearing it creak, and crossed his arms over his

BOOK: Cold Touch
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