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Authors: Maggie Shayne

Darker Than Midnight (30 page)

BOOK: Darker Than Midnight
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The doctor nodded slowly. She expected him to comfort her, to tell her it wasn't a mental illness and to suggest a dozen ways she might have glimpsed the woman's face in the past, or heard the name, or somehow had her image implanted into her own subconscious. But he didn't say anything. He sank back into his chair as if the wind had been knocked out of him. And she wondered why he was reacting so strongly when he'd been utterly unflappable up to now.

Dawn swallowed hard. “I've got to go.”

“Wait,” he said quickly. “Dawn, what did she say to you?”

“Nothing.” Dawn gathered up her jacket, her purse. “I told you, I can't hear her.”

“But you
know
something. Something has occurred to you that hadn't before. Hasn't it?”

She frowned and realized that something had. The clear knowledge that she should not be talking to this man about any of this. The dead woman had appeared near him, too.
Twice now. She should be talking to one person about this, and one person only. Jax.

And there was something else in her mind, something about a river.

She schooled her face into a mask of calm. “No. There's nothing. It's like she just popped up to startle me.” She frowned and looked again at the photo, squinting her eyes, making a show of it. “You know, that isn't her at all. Not even close, actually. I just—I guess I panicked. I'm sorry, Dr. Melrose, I really want to stop now. This is upsetting. I just want to forget about all of it and hope it goes away.”

“If you really want to be rid of it, Dawn, we could try some medication.”

She blinked and looked at him. Medication? After one visit? Wasn't that odd? Aloud, she said, “Yeah. Let's try that.”

“I'll phone you in a prescription,” he said. “Blackberry Pharmacy, if that's all right. We'll start easy, see how it works. Okay?”

“Thank you, Doctor. I honestly don't know how I would have got through all this without you.”

He nodded, and she hurried toward the door. The doctor stood up and moved behind her, grabbing his own coat on the way. “I'll walk you to your car,” he said.

She felt a cold chill down her nape as she started for the door. And the woman appeared there, blocking her way, shaking her head slowly, side to side.

What?
Dawn thought desperately.
Are you telling me this guy is dangerous? Jesus, did you wait long enough, do you think?

The woman looked down at Dawn's coat pocket, and even as she did, Dawn heard the familiar bleat of her cell phone.

She snatched it up as if grabbing a life jacket. “Hello?”

“Hey, Dawn. It's Bry. Where are you?”

The woman nodded. She nodded insistently.

“I'm with Dr. Ethan Melrose, Bry. I'm at his office, in Burlington, and I'm just heading out. He offered to walk me
to my car. And then I'm coming straight home, no stops along the way. No one else I plan to see. There's no one else here.”

“What the hell is going on, Dawn?”

“I'm leaving now. Oh, you're that close? Good, I'll see you in five minutes then. Tell you what? Why don't you stay on the line with me the entire time?” She turned. “Bye, Dr. Melrose. Thanks for everything.”

He looked deflated, and maybe curious. But the woman in the doorway appeared relieved. She didn't vanish, but moved aside, as if to tell Dawn it was okay for her to leave now.

Bryan was shooting questions at her. “Do you want me to call a cop or something? Are you in trouble?”

“Not yet. I'm walking to my car now.” She got out of the building and glanced back. The doctor hadn't followed. She grabbed for her keys with her free hand, and fought not to break into a run. “He's not following me. But I think he wanted to. I'm on to something here, Bry. Something to do with the escapee Jax is after. And the doc knows something, too, and he knows I know something, though I don't know what it is. Yet.”

“You're not making any sense, Dawn.”

“I know.” She got to the Jeep, hit the button to pop the locks, jumped in fast and hit the button again, locking it down. She glanced back, and the doc was standing in the open doorway. “Dammit, he's coming.”

“Who? Melrose? Jesus—Dad! Dad, come here. I think Dawn's in trouble.”

She jammed the key into the switch, twisted it and started the engine, then slammed the car into Reverse and swung around in a wide arc even as the doctor came toward the car, holding up a hand as if asking her to wait up a sec.

“You still okay?”

“I am.
He
won't be if he doesn't get the hell out of my way.” She jammed the car into Drive and gunned it. Tires spun.
Squealing assaulted her ears and hot rubber her nostrils, and then it caught and lurched, and the good doctor ducked aside. The car exploded into the road, forcing another onto the shoulder to avoid hitting her, and then she ran the red light and turned toward home.

It was only as the little clinic vanished behind her that Dawn slowed down a little, and dared to breathe again.

She glanced to the side. The woman was sitting there in the passenger seat, and Dawn shrieked and almost went off the road.

“Jesus, Dawn, what is it?” Bryan cried into the phone. “Dawn!”

“I'm okay. I'm okay. He's not following. I just—I was startled.”

“I'm coming down there.”

“No need. I'm on my way home.” The woman shook her head, side to side. “No? Okay. No, I'm not on my way home.”

“Where are you going?”

Dawn looked at the woman. She was so sad. There were tears welling in her pretty eyes, spilling over her blackened, charred cheek. She pointed, and sighing, Dawn took the corner she indicated. “I don't know where I'm going yet, Bryan. But it looks like I'm headed downtown. Why don't you start for Burlington? Keep the phone on and I'll keep you posted as to where I end up.”

“I'll be there. Be safe, Dawn. I need you to be okay.”

She smiled slowly. “I'm about the furthest thing from okay you've ever seen, Bry. And the furthest thing from what you need, too. But I need your help.”

“I'm on my way.”

* * *

Jax had River drop her off a block from the designated meeting place in Burlington, then watched him drive out of sight, and turned to walk along the sidewalk to the coffee
house. It was a sunny day, and there was no snow sticking to anything the way there was out in Blackberry. It was always warmer in the city—even a tiny, small-town city like this one. The sun warmed the sidewalk and glared in her eyes, and Jax lowered her sunglasses from her head to her nose. She felt a little shiver of unease as she wondered what Victoria Melrose could want from her, but she knew from River that the two couples had been close. Maybe she wanted to help. Maybe she thought she knew something.

Maybe she was about to implicate her husband. That possibility was the most enticing of all. Despite River's denials, Jax couldn't help but suspect Ethan's involvement in all of this. At the very least, she thought he was guilty of malpractice in treating his best friend. River was
perfectly
sane. She'd lived with the man for almost a week now, and he was fine. Functional, rational and fine. Clearly, he had not needed the vat of chemicals Ethan had been pumping into his bloodstream.

She looked ahead of her at the brick buildings and pretty storefronts, the benches on the sidewalk here and there with no other purpose than to give pedestrians a place to rest their feet. She decided she liked Vermont. It had a fresh, clean feeling—a healthy energy to it. She drew a deep lungful of the crisp air, spotted the coffee house across the street, looked both ways and stepped onto the crosswalk.

The car came out of nowhere.

Jax caught movement in her peripheral vision, and in the time it took her to jerk her head around fully, the vehicle was on her. A speeding glimpse of shining silver, and then the hood of the thing slammed her, launched her. She was airborne—then the impact. Her body crashing to the pavement. An explosion of pain rocked through her, with darkness close on its heels. She fought it, knew she was in trouble, had to stay awake.

Footsteps. Pain. Hands gripping her wrists. Pulling. Dragging her body over the blacktop. Oh, God, that hurt. She
moaned, tried to speak, to shout, to pull free, but she was barely making any movements at all. She couldn't see—there was hot blood stinging her eyes. And then there was more pain as her upper body was lifted, crammed and shoved inside. A door slammed. She couldn't move. And finally, she lost her battle to cling to the light.

* * *

Dawn rounded a corner, and then stopped the car in the middle of a downtown Burlington street, staring straight ahead and not sure what she was seeing.

A block ahead of her was a car—a Silver Mercedes. Its back door was open, and Dawn swore she saw a pair of feet dangling from it. But then the person who stood at the car door, swathed in a parka with the hood up, bent down to shove the feet into the car, slammed the back door and got behind the wheel. Then the car spun around in the street and sped away.

Dawn stomped on the gas, and her car lurched ahead to where the other one had been. Items littered the road, and she stopped and got out, racing from one to the other. There was a cell phone. And a handgun.

“Jeez, what is this?” She picked up the phone and looked at its display, quickly hit a button. The screen read, “Your number is 315-555-8738.”

“Jax,” she whispered. “That's Jax's phone!”

A pedestrian shouted to another, “Did you see that? That car just ran some woman down like a dog!”

Dawn looked ahead, in the direction the Mercedes had gone, and knew that the dead woman had led her there. To help Jax. Dawn dived into her car again, tossing the cell phone and handgun onto the seat, jammed the Jeep into gear and took off after the Mercedes, hoping to God she could catch up to it again, and having no clue what she would do when she did.

As she drove, she grabbed her own cell phone and hit the button. “Bryan,” she told the phone.

It did the rest, and within a few seconds, Bryan was picking up.

“Dawn? What happened? We got cut off.”

“Yeah. Listen, something's happened to Jax. I'm pretty sure I just saw her being stuffed into the back of a Mercedes. I'm following.”

“Wait a sec. Wait just a—Dawnie, are you okay?”

“Fine. Wait, I think I see them.” She pressed harder on the accelerator, got a little closer. “Yeah. Okay, I've got them in sight. I'm going to hang back so they don't spot me.”

“Tell me exactly what happened,” Bryan said.

“God, there's no time for all that now. Listen, I'm pretty sure someone in a Mercedes ran Jax down in the street, Bryan, then shoved her into their car and took off with her.”

“Where are you?”

“Just turned off East Main onto the highway—heading south.”

“I'm calling Frankie Parker. And I'm coming to back you up. Don't get too close, Dawn. Don't put yourself at risk.”

“I won't.” The phone beeped, and she glanced at its screen. “I'm losing the signal, Bry.”

“Stay on as long as you can. Don't hang—”

The rest didn't come through. The phone's digital panel told her there was no signal, and she flicked it off and dropped it onto the seat of the car. She sped past a man standing on the side of the highway, staring at her, and caught her breath as she realized it was Mordecai.

“You stay away from me!” she shouted. And when she looked in her rearview mirror, he was gone.

“Hold on, Jax,” she whispered. She owed the lady cop a lot. And this was her chance to pay a little bit of it back.

* * *

River showed a photo of his wife to the desk clerk at the Harrington Inn. It was a gorgeous little place. A huge log
cabin, ten miles from the Burlington city limits, set on a piece of property that could pass for paradise. It had a pond, a little waterfall, a footbridge that spanned it and a water wheel in the stream that bisected the rolling green lawn. There were patches of snow here and there, few and far between, and a blotch or two of white on the shingled brown roof.

The inside was just as impressive, a double-decker dining room off the cathedral-ceilinged lobby. Wide curving staircase that wound up to the guest rooms, of which there couldn't be more than a couple of dozen at most. An intimate hideaway.

His stomach knotted.

The manager smiled at him and shook his head. “I'm sorry, sir. I don't know her. Is she missing?”

He held up a hand then, delaying River's reply as he caught the eye of a woman in a maid's uniform who'd been coming down the stairs. “Fresh linens in room six, Sylvie.”


Sí, señor.
Right away.” She moved behind the desk, glancing at the photo on the counter as she did, and doing a double take. She looked up at the manager, who met her eyes with a dismissive stare, and then turned back to River.

BOOK: Darker Than Midnight
3.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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