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Authors: Maggie Shayne

Darker Than Midnight (29 page)

BOOK: Darker Than Midnight
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He nodded, a slight smile appearing on his face, and limped away.

CHAPTER 18

R
iver had showered and dressed, and Jax had downed two cups of coffee, started the car and filled their travel mugs a half hour later. They were on their way out when the telephone rang.

Sighing, Jax snatched up the receiver. “Hello?”

“Hello, Jax. How's your weekend off going?”

She smiled at the familiar voice. “Fine, Frankie. How about yours?”

“Very funny. You know perfectly well I'm on call twenty-four-seven.”

“Why do I get the feeling I'm on call right now?” Jax asked her. She sent a look at River, who was standing by the door. He held her gaze, his eyes like a physical touch that made her warm and cold at the same time. The car was running in the driveway, exhaust making clouds in the wintry air. “What do you need, Frankie?”

“I had a call from Mrs. Ethan Melrose this morning.”

“You're kidding me. What did she want?”

“You, I'm afraid. She wants to talk to you, alone.”

“About?”

“The Corbett case.”

Jax blinked slowly. River was coming closer now, his eyes curious, probing. “Why would Victoria Melrose want to talk to me about River Corbett?” As she said it, Jax leaned closer
to River, putting her ear and the phone close to his, and tipping the receiver so he could listen in.

“I wish I knew,” Frankie said. “If you'd rather not do this, I can forward the request to the state police. She'll just have to understand that, technically, it's their case.”

“She didn't call the state police, Frankie. She called me. I just wish I knew why.”

“Well, I guess there's only one way to find out. She wants you to meet her, to talk. Forty-five East Main, Burlington.”

“What's there?” Jax asked.

“It's a coffee house. Perfectly safe. Still, you can take one of the boys with you if you—”

“No, that's all right. I'll go alone, like she wants. See what she has to say. What time?”

“Eleven.”

Jax glanced at the clock and knew she'd have to leave right then to make the appointment. “All right. I'll go now.”

“Thanks, Jax. I don't have any reason to think this is high risk, but you watch your back, just in case. From what I understand, Victoria Melrose was Stephanie Corbett's best friend. Could still be some emotions running pretty high, there.”

“Will do.”

“And I'll be expecting to hear what you find out later on.”

“You've got it. Bye for now, Frankie.”

Jax hung up the phone and turned to River. “Change of plans. You go to that inn without me. It's not like you'll be recognized there. It's in Burlington not Blackberry. Your face hasn't gone out over the airwaves or anything like that. I'll have a nice chat with Victoria and see what she has to say. All right?”

“I don't like it.” He was frowning hard, and she knew he was trying to think of any reason Victoria Melrose might want to talk to her, but seemed to be drawing a blank, just as she had.

“Do you have some reason not to trust her?” Jax asked.

River met her eyes. “No. I've always adored the woman. I just…I don't know what she wants. I don't understand why she would want to talk to you.”

“Maybe she knows something, River. If Ethan
was
involved in any of this, maybe she's ready to talk. We have to find out.”

“I could go.”

“She didn't ask for you. Listen, you can drop me there, and take the car on to the inn. We'll scope this coffee house out first, and pick a spot a couple of blocks away to meet up when you get back—say around noon?”

“You think you're gonna need a whole hour?”

“What can she do to me in an hour?” Jax lifted her brows. “She's not a body builder or anything, is she?”

“She's a pixie stick,” he said.

“Good. I used to
eat
pixie sticks.” Jax winked. “Besides, you'll need an hour to get to that inn, ask the questions that need asking, and get back to me. Come on, River. Don't go all overprotective on me, it'll only piss me off.”

He sighed but nodded. “Take your sidearm,” he told her.

“I'm never without it,” she promised. “You'd better take the spare. And don't forget our backup,” she said with a look at Rex, who was standing by the door, ready for another ride in the car.

* * *

“So you still haven't told your family that you were planning to see me here in the office today?” Dr. Melrose asked.

Dawn sighed and lowered her head. “It's not that I'm ashamed of it. It's just—I really prefer to get things straight in my head before I try to explain to anyone else, you know?”

“Even Bryan?”

She nodded. “Especially Bryan.”

“Why is that?” He leaned back in his chair, twisting his
pen slowly in one hand. He had made a special effort for her, opening his office to see her on a weekend. She knew weekend appointments were not the norm. But he was good at his job—Beth said he was the top shrink at the state hospital. And Dawn was scared. She was tired of keeping all this to herself.

“I don't know. I think Bryan would be angry with me for doubting my own sanity.”

“You don't think he'd understand?”

She shook her head. “How could he understand? God, how could anyone understand this? My father was completely insane, and now it seems like I'm heading in the same direction.”

The doctor nodded. He had a way about him that let Dawn know he was really listening, really absorbing everything she said. It helped.

“You know, Dawn, when we first talked, I told you I had done quite a bit of reading about your father. Tell me how it is you feel his gift is manifesting in you.”

“Gift? God, it's no gift. It's more like a curse.”

“That depends, I suppose. Are you…hearing voices the way he did?”

“No. No. Mostly it's just…like a heightened intuition. Like I know things I shouldn't know.” She watched him to gauge his reaction to that. She still hadn't decided just how much more she was going to tell him.

He nodded slowly. “Like—when the phone is going to ring.”

“And who it's going to be. And sometimes, what they're going to say.”

“I see.”

“It started out with simple things. Really small stuff, like a stray thought that turned out to be true later on. I thought it was coincidence, at first.”

He watched as he listened, seemed completely involved in what she had to say. “It happens to all of us. You think of a
song and turn on the radio and it's playing. Or you wonder about an old friend and then run into them later in the day.”

“Yeah. Yeah, that's it exactly. But then it started getting bigger. I would know more complex things, more details.”

He was nodding enthusiastically. “It's important, Dawn, that you know this doesn't mean you're insane. A lot of people have—or believe themselves to have—extra sensory perception. And most of them are perfectly sane.”

She blinked and searched his face. “But you don't think it's real.”

“What I think isn't important.”

“But I want to know.”

He shrugged. “I really haven't seen anything to convince me one way or the other. I have…an open mind on the subject.”

She sighed softly, bowing her head. “It's…it's changing now. I've started…seeing things.”

“What sorts of things?” he asked, unruffled, unalarmed by her revelation.

She'd expected him to react, and she wondered if he had, deep down. If he was just very good and very practiced at hiding it. “People. I think…I think they're people who have died.”

“I see. Is there any one person in particular that you see more often than others?”

She thought a moment before answering. “You mean, besides my father?”

“You see your father?”

She nodded. “Yeah. But I don't want to talk about him. There's someone else. A woman.”

“A woman.”

“I saw her out near my friend Jax's house one day. And at the inn that day when you first arrived. I saw her again in the diner when we met Jax for lunch—Beth and I, that is. The other night she was standing at the foot of my bed.”

He made a note, his brows drawn close. “Did she say anything?”

“She was trying to. I couldn't hear anything. And then she got so frustrated she screamed—it was like a banshee's wail or something. Just all-encompassing.”

“You
heard
her when she screamed?”

“No. I
felt
her.”

He nodded, wrote some more. “Interesting. Tell me, Dawn, do you find it odd that the one thing you
can't
do is hear this woman? When, according to all I've read, that was the part your father talked about more than anything else—hearing voices?”

She shrugged. “I guess…I hadn't thought about that.”

“What do you think this woman wants?” he asked.

“I don't know. If I could have heard what she was trying so hard to say, I might, but as it is, I just don't know.”

“I think you do.”

She tipped her head sideways, frowning at him. “How could I?”

“Just trust yourself for a moment, Dawn. Pretend everything you need to know is already inside your mind. Just take a total shot in the dark. If you had to guess, what would you think she was trying to say to you? What is it you think she might say when you finally get to where you can hear her? If you ever do.”

“That would just be guessing.”

“So guess. Just try it—what harm can it do?”

She heaved a deep sigh and nodded slowly, but she knew this game wasn't going to give her any answers. Guessing wasn't the same as knowing. “I suppose—I'd think it was some kind of a warning. I imagine she might be trying to tell me someone is in danger.” Dawn blinked as she mulled that over. “Yeah, because it
couldn't
be anything good she's trying to tell me. And she's so frustrated it's like she expects me
to
do
something to…I don't know. Prevent it, maybe. And I think it's something to do with Jax, because she showed up twice around her. Near the house, you know, and then the diner. She was standing right behind her.”

He nodded. “That's very good. Now what's going on with your friend Jax that makes you think she might be in danger?”

She shot him a look. “
I'm
not the one who thinks she's in danger. This woman is.” But she was thinking even as she said it. Thinking that Jax was a cop, in search of an escaped mental patient and living in his former home. That
had
to be it. It had to be that she was at risk from the fugitive. And it made sense, too, given that Dawn had begun to wonder if the dead woman haunting her mind was the same one who'd died in that house, in the fire.

Hell, she should warn Jax. She should have warned her long before now, but she was too damn busy worrying about her own mental health.

And she still was. But that didn't mean she could let Jax walk into danger.

She looked up at the doctor. And then she gasped and jumped to her feet.

The woman was standing on the far side of the office. Just standing there, staring at her, holding her baby in her arms. Her dress was burned, her face was scarred. She was so beautiful and so horrible all at once.

“What is it? What is it, Dawn? Are you seeing something now?” Dr. Melrose asked. He got to his feet slowly and turned his head to look where Dawn was staring.

“Listen, Dr. Melrose, I don't want you carting me off to a rubber room somewhere, okay?”

“I've got no reason to do that, Dawn.”

Dawn nodded. “She's standing there.” She pointed. And then she narrowed her eyes, because the woman faded and
vanished, and there was nothing left but the framed photograph on the wall. She'd been standing right in front of it.

Dawn's eyes widened. “Oh, my God,” she whispered. “That's her.”

“It's all right. Try asking her what she wants, Dawn.”

“No, no. She's gone. She's gone, but
that
is her. That woman in the photo.” She pointed.

Dr. Melrose looked at the photograph. It showed four people, two couples. Clearly the stylish woman in the incredible orange pumps standing in the circle of Dr. Melrose's arm was his wife. Beside them stood another couple.

And then Dawn knew. She knew that what she had been sensing was absolute fact. And she couldn't doubt it anymore, because there was a photograph to prove it. “That woman in the photo—she's the woman who died in the fire, isn't she? The one whose husband escaped from the mental hospital? Corbett—that was their name.”

BOOK: Darker Than Midnight
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