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Authors: Maggie Shayne

Darker Than Midnight (33 page)

BOOK: Darker Than Midnight
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She nodded hard, not even arguing with him for carrying her, though it was totally over the line and she thought he knew it. She wasn't some helpless wilting flower. And yet, she didn't mind him overreacting this time.

He set her on the Jeep's tailgate. Jax was gone—Dawn saw the ambulance trundling away over the dirt road. The firefighters manned hoses, soaking the pathetic log cabin, where flames still leaped up now and then.

And cops were everywhere. They hadn't been there a few minutes ago. There were a lot of them. Dawn looked around for one she recognized and didn't see any. She glanced up at Bryan, told him with her eyes to follow her lead. Drawing a breath and lifting her chin, she got to her feet. She turned and closed the Jeep's tailgate, then moved to the driver's door.

A police officer put his hand on her shoulder. “Miss, if you don't mind, we need to get your statement.”

“I know you do. There's not much to tell. I followed a car here. Left to call for help because there's no signal here, came back to find the place on fire. Bryan busted in and got them out.”


She bit her lip, unsure whether to say more. “Her. I meant her. Listen, Jax is a good friend of my family's. I need to get to the hospital, call my parents. I'll be glad to give a more thorough statement—to Frankie Parker—at the hospital. Okay?”

The cop blinked. “You have something to hide, young lady?”

“Nothing. Can we please go now?”

“I think my daughter is being very reasonable,” a woman said.

Dawn jerked her head up to see Beth and Joshua standing nearby. She didn't know when they had arrived, but God, she was glad to see them. She went into Beth's arms, and the warmth and love she felt there seemed to seep into her bones and make her stronger.

The policeman looked at another cop. Then someone called out, and he went to them. Dawn saw them kneeling down, examining some kind of tracks on the ground. Tire marks, maybe, or footprints. She didn't know. She didn't care.

“We have to go the hospital, Beth,” Dawn whispered.

“I know. Go ahead, we'll be right behind you.”

Nodding, Dawn got into the Jeep, started it up and shifted into gear. Bryan jumped into the passenger side just before it lurched forward and started down the road.

“Do we tell them about that guy? Corbett?” he asked.

“I don't know. That's what I hope we can find out before we have to talk to them. I have to see Jax—conscious. I have to ask her what she wants me to do.”

* * *

River wanted nothing more than to follow the ambulance to the hospital, to stay with Cassandra, make sure she was all right. It was tearing him apart not to go. But he'd told her what he needed to tell her. He'd said what needed saying. And he'd taken care of her as best he could. His hovering over her on that stretcher wasn't going to make her any more likely to pull through. It would only ensure his capture and arrest. And
while he didn't give a damn about himself or his freedom at this point, there was one thing he was going to get done before he was put into another straitjacket.

One thing he probably should have done a long time ago.

Rex lay on the front seat, his head in River's lap. God, it was a good thing he'd listened to his gut and left the dog in the car. He hadn't thought it made a hell of a lot of sense at the time, but he wasn't sure if Rex would have survived the fire.

He stroked the dog's head as he drove Cassandra's car over the back roads, in the opposite direction from which he'd come, until he reached the main highway again. Then he headed back toward Burlington. He snatched up the cell phone the girl had given him. Dawn. She was sharp, smart. He punched in the cell phone number he'd committed to memory long ago, and hoped it was still the same.

It was.

“Dr. Melrose,” Ethan said when he picked up.

River's throat was clogged with anger. “I suppose you're on your way back to the cabin to take a look at your handiwork.”

“River? Jesus, River, is that you? Where are you?”

“Not in a morgue, or the back seat of a police car like you planned, pal. I'm still at large. Only now I'm

“River, listen. I don't know what you think, but—”

“I don't think. I know, Ethan.”

“You're wrong. I didn't—”

I was at the Harrington Inn today. I spoke to the housekeeper you always request by name. I showed her a picture of Stephanie. I know, Ethan. I know you were fucking my wife.”

There was a long, strained silence. “There's still a lot…a lot you don't know.”

“Yeah? Well, don't you think it's time you filled me in, old friend? Don't you think you owe me that much?”

Ethan sighed. It sounded tortured. River didn't give a damn. “Where are you, River?”

“Five miles from your place.”

“You want to meet me there?”

“Will you have the cops waiting?”

“No. No, and Victoria's out. It'll just be the two of us, River. And I'll tell you—I'll tell you everything.”

“You're damn right you will.”

River flicked off the phone and pressed his foot harder on the accelerator.

* * *

“I can't believe River Corbett would do this,” Frankie said softly, shaking her head. “I never, ever thought he was the one.”

Jax tried to open her eyes and couldn't. She couldn't even feel them—it was as if they were no longer connected to her, as if no part of her body were connected to her. She tried to part her lips to speak, mostly just to ask for water, because her throat hurt—it hurt, and she knew it hurt, but it seemed to be disconnected, faraway. She couldn't convince her voice to work or her mouth to move, either. Her lips seemed stuck together, her throat gravelly and raw, off there in Neverland with the rest of her body parts.

Maybe it wasn't her body parts that were floating around in the distance. Maybe, she thought, it was her mind.

“Melrose's Mercedes was reported stolen this morning,” said an unfamiliar male voice. “Clearly, Corbett took it, then used it to run her down.”

Jax thought the word, but couldn't say it, though she tried.

“Then how is it he was spotted at the scene later in Jax's car?” Frankie asked.

“Simple. He ditched the Mercedes—witnesses had seen the hit-and-run, we were looking for that car. Not a red Ford. So he switched vehicles,” the man said.

“Maybe, but tell me this—what's his motive?” Frankie demanded.

Good, Frankie. Don't believe it. Not so easily.

“Does he need one? Chief Parker, she's living in his house, taking care of his dog, and she winds up getting run down by his shrink's car. He takes her to his hunting cabin—”

cabin?” Frankie asked. She sounded surprised.

“Yeah, his cabin. He and Ethan Melrose own it together, bought it years ago.”


“Take all that,” the stranger said, “and then mix in the fact that the place was set on fire with her locked inside—the same way Corbett's house was torched with his wife inside—and you've got a pretty convincing case.”

“But still no motive,” Frankie insisted, though she sounded far less certain than she had before.

“Does he need one? Maybe he just had one of those brain lapses of his and didn't know what the hell he was doing.”

Frankie sighed. “It's a bad way for a good cop to end up, Drummond. A damn bad way.”

“I know that. I agree with you, but Frankie, the body count's piling up here. There's his wife, his unborn kid, that orderly from the loony bin—ex-con or not, he was still a human being. And now, one of your own officers.”

“Jax isn't going to die.”

“That's not the point, Frankie. The point is, we can't let Corbett keep on killing and trying to kill. Wounded hero excop or not. We've got to take him down.”

Frankie sighed deeply, but didn't disagree.

“Captain Drummond, Chief Parker?” a third voice called.

“What is it?”

“They've found something in the cabin. A body.”

“Jesus, there was someone else inside?” Frankie asked, shocked.

“Yes, ma'am. But, uh—not alive. This body was stuffed inside an old freezer. You'd better come.”

“One more to add to Corbett's tally,” Captain Drummond said. “We have to end this.”

Frankie cleared her throat. “He was last seen driving Lieutenant Jackson's car,” she said, speaking slowly, carefully, and as if she didn't want to. “Red, oh-two Ford Taurus, NY plates SVG-135. Better put the word out.” She sighed. “I guess it's time I phoned her parents.”

Jax felt her fingers move just a little in response to her mind's endless commands. Her fingers curled, one by one, into a small, weak fist, and she managed to raise it up and drop it on the mattress. Not exactly the pounding motion she'd been going for, but at least she could move.

But not in time. The room was silent now. Empty.

Wait, footsteps.

“Hey, Jax. It's me, Dawn. And Beth's here, too.” A soft hand moved through her hair, and she was surprised that she could feel it. Maybe her mind and body were somehow, finally, reuniting.

“The nurse said you should be coming around soon.” Beth's voice was soft and quavery with worry. “So wake up already.”

Jax tried again to open her eyes. She was shocked that they obeyed this time, but she had to close them fast due to the blinding light. Her hand rose of its own will to block it.

“Wait, I've got it.” There was a click. “Get the curtains, Dawn.” And Jax heard them closing.

Carefully, she tried again, and this time her eyes opened, and the dim room came into focus after several blinks. She tried to speak, but what emerged sounded like a bullfrog's croak.

Beth held a glass with a straw to her lips. Jax sipped, swallowed, sipped some more and nodded, and Beth moved the glass away.

“How you feeling?” she asked.

“R-River. They're…after…River.”

“River?” Beth shot a look at Dawn.

Dawn nodded. “I think that's the guy who was trapped in the cabin with her. Michael Corbett. Right, Jax?”

Jax nodded, sighing in relief. “The police think…he set the fire.”

“Are you sure he didn't?” Beth asked.

“He was in there with her, Beth,” Dawn said quickly.

“But—but isn't that how his wife died? And didn't they say he did it during some kind of blackout? How do you know he didn't black out again, lock himself in there with her, and torch the place?”

“He didn't,” Jax said. “I know him.” She swallowed, cleared her throat. The words were coming more easily now. “He didn't, Beth. But the police know he's in my car. They're after him. I have to go—”

She sat up in spite of their protests, pushed back the covers, then stared at the thick layers of Ace bandages that were wrapped around her ankle, and the hospital gown she wore. Dizziness hit her hard and she sank back onto the pillows.

“Beth, close the door, will you?” Dawn asked.

Beth shot her a look, but did as she asked. When she came back to the bed, Dawn pulled a cell phone out of her handbag and hit the power button. “You can call him, Jax. I gave him your cell phone.”

“How did you—”

“I found it on the road, after you were hit. This, too.” She pulled out Jax's gun.

Beth gasped so loud Jax thought she would choke. Jax only nodded. “Good job, kid.” She looked at Beth. “Help me sit up.”

“Jax, you can't—”

“I can, and I have to. I just need to go slower. Help me up.”

Beth hit the button that raised the upper part of the bed. Jax rolled her eyes. “That's not what I meant and you know it.”

“It's enough, for now.”

“I need my clothes.”

“I had Beth bring fresh ones,” Dawn said, moving to a locker on the far side of the room. “They're hers. Yours were a mess. Between the car hitting you and the fire…”

She handed a plastic bag to Jax, who sat up straighter, opening it and taking things out. “How did we get out? Last thing I remember it was looking pretty hopeless.” She peeled the tape off her wrist and quickly, smoothly, slid the IV line from her arm, then pressed her thumb to the hole it left, fingers on the other side of her forearm, squeezing hard. “Anyone got a Band-Aid?”

“Dawnie and Bryan got you out,” Beth said. “Jax, you really shouldn't be doing that.”

Dawn was rummaging through her purse and emerged with a bandage. She peeled it open and deftly applied it to Jax's forearm.

BOOK: Darker Than Midnight
4.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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