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Authors: Maggie Shayne

Darker Than Midnight (8 page)

BOOK: Darker Than Midnight
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She padded downstairs, into the kitchen in her gorilla slippers and plush powder-blue robe, made a pot of coffee and sat at the table to watch it brew. The sun was shining. That couldn't be a bad thing.

When she heard footsteps, she thought someone else was up, and hoped it wasn't Bryan. The two of them alone in the kitchen of the sleepy inn would be too intimate. He didn't understand her withdrawal. How could he?

She stiffened her resolve—it wasn't easy—as she filled a cup with the heavenly smelling brew, and turned to see who was about to join her in the kitchen.

stood in the doorway, staring at her, and though he didn't look the same way he had the last time she'd seen him, as he'd drawn his last breaths, she knew him. She knew his eyes. He had the most piercing, deep brown eyes she'd ever seen. She couldn't speak, couldn't move. He lifted a hand, took a single step toward her, and the cup fell from her boneless hand. The sound of it shattering seemed to break the paralysis, and her scream broke free of its prison in her chest.

She turned her back, covered her eyes. “No, no, no. I won't see you, I don't want you. Go away, dammit, go away!”

A hand fell on her shoulder, and she lurched away from it so fast she tumbled over a chair, tipping it sideways and landing on the floor beside it.

“Dawn, it's okay. It's okay, babe.”

Blinking through her tears, she looked up. It was Bryan, bending over her, looking terrified and sleepy and disheveled. And behind him, Beth and Josh came running into the kitchen, and Josh appeared ready for battle.

“What happened?” Beth asked. “Dawnie, are you okay?”

She blinked, looking past them, her gaze darting from one end of the kitchen to the other. But he wasn't there. Mordecai Young, her father, wasn't there. He was dead. Gone.

“I…I think I was sleepwalking,” she managed to say.

She saw them, saw them all looking from the broken cup and spilled coffee on the floor to the nearly full pot on the counter, to the robe and slippers she had put on. They didn't believe her.

She didn't blame them.


ax sipped her coffee and actively resisted the temptation to revisit the platter of sausage links on her mother's perfectly set kitchen table.

“Have some more, hon. You're too thin.”

She smiled. Her mother would say she was too thin no matter what her current weight was. Though, in Jax's considered opinion, her mom could use a few pounds of padding. The woman had the body of a thirty-year-old. Only her face showed the signs of her age—or, more likely, the stresses of her past. You didn't see it in her blond hair. She kept it colored, cut and styled to perfection.

“I couldn't eat another bite, Mom. Besides, I have to get into town. Don't want to be late my first day.”

“Oh.” Mariah frowned. “Oh, well, then, never mind.”

Jax slanted a look from her mother to her father, who shook his head. “Don't bother Cassie today, hon. I told you, I can take that stuff over for her and drop the other things off, as well.”

Frowning, and curious, Jax said, “What stuff?”

“Your mother has an ice chest packed full of food for you, is all,” her father said. “Thinks you might starve to death in a house without groceries, and a whole mile from the nearest store.” He pointed to a cooler in the corner of the room. It sat right beside a box of clothing.

Jax smiled, because he'd nailed her mom so well. “I can take it for you.”

“No, I won't hear of it,” Ben said. “I've got to go into town anyway, take that box of castoffs to the Goodwill.”

An idea crept into her brain as she followed his gaze to the huge cardboard box that sat in the corner near the cooler. Piles of folded clothes filled it. She tried to ignore the notion, and couldn't. “What sorts of castoffs?”

“Clothes. Shoes. Your mother didn't throw a thing of mine out the entire time I was…away. Kept everything. Most of those don't even fit me anymore. Came across them in the attic, when we were going through it looking for things you could use for the house.”

Mariah shot him a look. “Ben, I asked you a dozen times to sort those things before we ever moved out here. Had you got around to it when you should have, we wouldn't have ended up packing them and moving them with us.”

“I told you I didn't need them.”

“There were perfectly good things in there!”

Jax held up a hand. Even though their bickering was good-natured, she didn't like it. And she supposed it was silly, after all this time, for her to still be afraid they'd end up splitting like so many couples did after a tragedy. But silly or not, she did worry. Her mother seemed to have recovered, for the most part. But her father—God, there was still something dark and enormous that haunted her father.

Those two had lost a daughter. They'd survived her father's lengthy prison sentence. And yet they'd stayed together. But they were not the same. Neither of them was.

Jax wasn't, either. She'd been the youngest daughter, a tough little hellion, but still…She had become the oldest, abandoned by her big sister, and by her dad, whom she'd thought would always be there for her. She'd become a caregiver to her mother—and there had been no one left to be a
caregiver to her. So she'd grown up and she'd done it fast. Hadn't done her a bit of harm, either, she reminded herself, just in case a hint of self-pity tried to creep in. She didn't believe in that kind of garbage.

Hell, it amazed her how solid her parents' relationship must be to have weathered so much. And yet there was something lurking underneath. Something waiting, ready to pounce and ruin it all. And she thought they both sensed it, even if they didn't know what it was.

“I'll be glad to take those things for you,” she said, breaking free of the silence into which she'd fallen. “Really. It's no trouble.”

Her father frowned. “Only if you're sure.”

“Do you need me to phone Frankie for you, hon?” her mother asked. “I could explain you might be a few minutes late.”

Jax laughed. She couldn't help it. She lowered her head and laughed.

“Well…what did I say that's so funny?” Mariah demanded, sounding defensive.

Ben patted her hand. “Honey, our daughter is a grown-up woman. She doesn't need you to write an excuse to her teacher.”

Mariah pressed her lips together.

“It'll be fine, Mom. If I leave right now, I can still make it on time. That Taurus knows what to do when I stomp on the gas, and the roads are blessedly bare.”

“Don't you even think about breaking any speed limits, Cassie,” her mother warned.

Jax got to her feet, gave her mom a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Thanks for breakfast. It was fabulous.”

“You barely touched it.”

One egg, two sausage links, a scoop of home fries and a pancake were apparently her mother's idea of barely touching. “I'll see you later, Mom.”

Her father grabbed the ice chest and carried it out to her car, sliding it into the back seat. Jax carried the box of clothes, and even as she loaded them in and closed the door, she knew she wasn't going to take them to the Goodwill in town.

She was going to leave them on the porch of her home, right beside the cooler of food. It was stupid. The scrawny hunk was long gone, and she would probably never see him again. Then again, she couldn't very well justify leaving a warm bed and food for a stray dog and not doing as much for a stray human being. Particularly one who'd saved her life.

* * *

Dr. Ethan Melrose stood over the slab in the hospital morgue and waited while the attendant pulled a sheet from the dead man's face. They needed to do a postmortem. And since he was both River's doctor and his best friend, he wanted to oversee it personally.

But as soon as he looked at the body, he knew something was wrong.

“How did he do that much damage to his face with a simple fall?”

The attendant flipped open a metal folder, reading from a chart. “Hit the toilet, facefirst.”

“No way in hell,” Ethan said. “Get this cleaned up. I can't even see him, much less examine him.”

He paced the room while the attendant worked, but when he turned again and saw more of the corpse's face, he thought his heart flipped over in his chest. It was pummeled, yes. The nose broken, maybe a cheekbone, too. But he was certain of one thing.

“That man is not Michael Corbett,” he said.


Lunging forward, Ethan grabbed the dead man's wrist, lifting it. “Jesus, where's his wrist band? Didn't anyone even bother to check his wrist band?”

“Oh, God,” the attendant muttered. “He…the patient's room was locked. He was the only one inside. No one even thought to question—Doctor, if this isn't Michael Corbett, then who the hell is it?”

“I don't know. But I think we have a more pressing question to answer right now. If this isn't Michael Corbett, then where the hell is he?”

“Jesus, he escaped.”

Ethan nodded. “Better call the state police. And find out the name of every male staff member who was on duty last night. See who's not accounted for.”

He walked out of the room, but had to stop halfway down the hall, because his knees were shaking so badly he thought he might fall. He braced his arms against a wall, lowered his head between them. “Dammit, River. Where are you?”

* * *

“Welcome to the Blackberry Police Department,” Frankie said, beaming a smile at her as Jax walked through the door. The police department took up fully half of a neat brick building with a huge parking lot that rolled out in back of it. The other half held the town post office.

The first room was a reception area, more or less. It held a desk, where a pretty brunette with a nameplate that read Rosie Monroe jumped to her feet as soon as Jax entered the room.

“Hi, Lieutenant Jackson,” she said. “I don't think we really met last time you were in town.”

“Well, there was a lot going on last time I was in town,” Jax said, extending a hand. “Chief Parker tells me you practically run this department.”

Rosie shrugged, shaking, her grip entirely too gentle, her hand cool. “I've been here ten years. It's kind of second nature.”

Jax released her hand and looked around the room. Besides Rosie's desk, this end held a small sofa and love seat in fake green leather. Between them was a stand with a coffeepot,
creamer and sugar containers, and a large white box that she guessed, from the aroma, contained fresh doughnuts. It had Susy-Q's Bakery stamped on the lid.

The other side of the room opened out wider, held three desks and was lined with file cabinets. Every desk had a typewriter, and there was one computer in the room, which the men apparently had to share.

The officers were coming over now, two of them smiling and vaguely familiar—she'd worked with both of them during the Mordecai Young incident last year. Good men. She held out a hand. “Campanelli, Matthews, good to see you again.”

Bill Campanelli shook her hand warmly, his smile genuine. All of five-six, and nearly as big around, Bill had a thin layer of carrot-red hair remaining on his rapidly balding head, and when he smiled, his whole face lit up. “Same here,” he said.

Mike “Icabod” Matthews took his turn, adding a pat to her shoulder. “If anyone can fill Frankie's shoes, we figure it'll be you.”

Cassie shook her head. “Either one of you could handle the job,” she said.

They exchanged looks and winked. “Neither one of us
it,” Campanelli said. “Hell, I retire in five years. And Matthews, he's got so many side projects going he wants to have himself cloned.”

“Town couldn't take two of me,” the other man joked.

The third man stood off to one side, waiting his turn. His pale blue eyes were cold, his smile forced in his square-jawed face. He was built like a boxer—stocky and solid. Jax knew the type. Big chip on his shoulder and probably had issues working under a woman. It might have been different with Frankie, since she was the man's aunt. But Jax was not only female, but a younger female at that. And stepping into the job he had coveted for himself. She read all of that with her
first look at the guy, pegged him as an asshole, and didn't doubt she'd be proved right, given time.

She extended a hand. “You must be Officer Parker,” she said. “It's a pleasure to meet you.” It was a lie, but what the hell.

“Lieutenant,” he said with a nod.

She almost told him to call her Jax, but decided against it. She'd need every edge she could get with this fellow, and establishing a pattern of respect would be a good start.

“I hear you stayed out at that old empty house last night. How do you like it?”

“Love it,” she said.

He lifted his brows, maybe a little surprised. “Really? I'd have thought being way out there like that might make a city girl a little uncomfortable.”

“I'm from Syracuse, Officer Parker, not Manhattan.”

He shrugged. “Still city, compared to here.”

the country. It's quiet.”

“Not a neighbor within a mile of you,” he said. “A lot of the locals claim to have seen things out there, since the fire.”

“What kinds of things?” she asked, looking him square in the eye.

“Just things. Things that spooked 'em.”

“Guess it's a good thing I don't spook easily. I didn't have power or a phone last night. And even that didn't spook me.”

“Those will be on by the time you get home,” Frankie told her, coming out of her office to join them. “Power company said by noon today, and the phone guy told me dinnertime at the latest.” She smiled. “So did you really like the place?”

“I've never spent a more interesting evening,” she said, and it was a perfectly honest answer.

“Well, now you've got me curious. Come on, you can tell me about it while I give you the grand tour.”

“Nothing to tell, Frankie. Honest, I love the house.”

Frankie led her through the station, showing her the files,
the communal computer, the supply closet, which was packed full. Jax noted a holding cell in what looked like a new part of the station. “Just the one cell?” she asked.

“We didn't have any until this past year,” Frankie told her. “It's brand-new.”

“What did you do with the criminals before now?”

Overhearing her, Kurt Parker released a bark of laughter. “Hell, honey, this isn't some city police department. We barely
any criminals.”

She shot him a look, but before she could say a thing, Frankie cut in. “I'm pretty sure I did introduce you, didn't I, Kurt? The woman's name is Lieutenant Jackson. Not ‘honey.'”

He looked as if he was about to say something belligerent, but by then the other two officers were chiming in. “You'd think some of us had been raised in a cave,” Matthews said.

BOOK: Darker Than Midnight
6.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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