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Authors: Jess Mcconkey

Tags: #Mystery, #Contemporary, #Adult

Love Lies Bleeding (4 page)

BOOK: Love Lies Bleeding
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“Good thing you have a new job, isn’t it?” Esther asked, sacking the loaf of bread. Pushing her glasses up on her nose, she leaned against the counter and angled her head. “Jane McGill said that your new patient is staying at the old Jones place.”

From behind her, Anne heard a gasp. She glanced over her shoulder to see Irene Brighton glaring at them. Looking back at Esther, she watched as the woman’s attention traveled to Irene. A small satisfied smirk hovered at the corner of her mouth. “That cabin’s cursed,” she said smugly. She paused dramatically, her focus never shifting from Irene. “If those walls could talk—”

“Kimberly, let’s go,” Irene interrupted. “I just remembered the last gallon of milk I bought here curdled within two days.”

The smirk fell away from Esther’s face as the Brightons strode past, the scent of their expensive perfume following in their wake.

Esther’s whole face puckered as she stared at their retreating backs. “Uppity woman. She’s not half as good as she thinks she is,” she muttered, shoving the sack across the counter.

Choosing not to respond, Anne took the bag and made her own way out of the store. Just like everyone else living in the small lake community, she’d heard the stories. Heard all about Blanche Jones and her wild ways . . . the parties . . . the affairs, but my God, it had all happened years ago. Blanche was long gone. According to gossip, she’d run off with one of her lovers, abandoning her much older husband, Harley. A short time later, he’d left the lake, too, after selling the cabin to an insurance agent in Pardo who’d used it as a rental property off and on ever since.

As Anne stepped off the porch, she caught sight of a red shirt ducking around the corner of the building.

“Edward,” she called out as she rushed after him. “Wait.”

Rounding the side of the grocery store, she saw Edward patiently waiting for her. He stood with one arm clasped across his stomach, staring out over the water. Even at this distance, Anne could see the redness of the skin on that arm, the swelling, and the way his fingers curled like a claw.

He turned toward her and a shadow of a smile eased the lines of pain bracketing his mouth.

“Hey, I missed you on Thursday,” she said, striding up to him.

Edward’s gaze traveled down to the arm resting at his waist then back to Anne’s face. “Sorry I stood you up for my appointment. Mother had a long to-do list and I couldn’t get away.”

“Your therapy is important, too, Edward,” Anne chided. “It helps with the pain, doesn’t it?”

He turned away from her, watching a duck cruise the lily pads looking for water bugs. “Some, but after twenty-five years, Anne, I doubt there’s a lot even you can do.”

“If you don’t think the ultrasound is helping, there’s more we can try,” she insisted. “Dr. Osgood might prescribe a nerve block or a drug pump. Maybe spinal-cord stimulation would help.” She caught his eyes. “And if you’d consider talking to a psychiatrist . . .”

Taking a step away from her, he shook his head. “I’m not talking to a shrink,” he said with determination.

“But, Edward—”

The sudden slam of a door and the sound of heavy steps crossing the porch stopped her.

“Edward! Edward!” Esther’s shrill voice rang out, startling the duck. With an indignant quack, it took flight.

At the sound of the duck, Esther’s head popped around the corner of the building. Seeing Anne talking with Edward made her jaw clench and her lips form a thin line.

“Edward,” she said in a brusque voice. “Quit lollygagging. We’ve got customers waiting for that bait.” Not pausing for him to obey, she spun in her sensible shoes and lumbered back to the store.

He began to walk swiftly away. “I got to go.”

“Will you keep your appointment this week?” Anne called after him.

“I’ll try,” he said over his shoulder before disappearing inside the bait house.

Discouraged, Anne trudged off to her car. Pulling out of the parking lot, she couldn’t get over Esther’s attitude. Edward suffered from complex regional pain syndrome, a fancy name for a disease that caused him constant pain. One would think Esther would support her son in his attempts to find relief. But no. It seemed all she did was interfere.

Anne shook her head as she turned down the lane leading to her house. Why? Was Esther afraid that if Edward learned to control the pain, he wouldn’t be dependent on her any longer? She couldn’t understand it.

Chapter Three

T
iny points of yellow glow from in between the tall pines. One by one they flicker out as the night deepens and the witching hour approaches. Finally, the last one extinguishes and peace descends.

At last I’m alone in the dark.

No,
says the voice inside my head,
you’re not alone . . . she’s still here, waiting for you
.

“Stop,” I whisper aloud to silence the voice. “I’m not going to think about it now.”

I cross the deck and open the screen door, heading for my private stash. A bottle of Glenlivet single-malt Scotch. I pour three fingers and swirl the deep gold liquid around in the glass. The rich floral scent fills the air around me. Taking a small sip, I close my eyes and savor its mellow taste. Content, I walk to the stereo and hit play. The poignant strains of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” soar from the speakers. My fingers move in time with each haunting note, as if I were playing.

A satisfied smile plays at the corners of my mouth, and after adjusting the volume, I return to my place on the deck overlooking the lake. Pulling up a chair, I prop my feet on the railing and tip my head back, letting the music carry me away.

Far, far away,
coaxes the voice in my head. In my solitude, I can imagine I’m anywhere in the world except here. New York, Paris, London . . . cities with sophistication and class, cities with excitement and energy. That’s where I belong. Not here in the woods, part of a sleepy backwater community whose biggest thrill is a weekend fishing tournament.

My grip on the glass tightens.

It’s not my fault I’m here. If they’d give me the opportunities that I deserve, if
she
didn’t hold me back, I could be in one of those cities right now, engaged in witty conversation with important people.

My eyelids drift shut as the scene plays out in my mind. Me, at a party surrounded by elegantly dressed men and women. They’re smiling as they hang on my every brilliant word, and I know they’re thinking,
My, how clever he is!
Below us, the lights of the city sparkle, and in the distance, the hum of traffic drifts through the concrete canyons. The atmosphere is so
alive
. Electric. It energizes me and I see myself achieving every dream.

I open my eyes and the image vanishes. Reality. I’m not surrounded by bright city lights, just stars shining overhead, and the only sound I hear over the music is the call of a loon.

Silly birds,
I think, downing my Scotch and standing.
They say loons mate for life.
The image of her battered face flips through my mind. Nothing lasts forever?

Chapter Four

T
he thud of running shoes echoed. They were closing in. Part of her wanted to stop, turn around, and confront her pursuers. Tell them to go away and leave her the hell alone. Another part of her—the one concerned with self-preservation—said,
Run
. . .
faster
.

She turned restlessly in her sleep, no more able to escape her nightmare than she’d been able to flee the parking garage.

Hands suddenly dug into her shoulders and spun her around with a force that made her head snap. The clip holding her hair in place smashed on the floor. Her Coach bag flew out of her hands and skittered across the concrete floor.

A young man, dressed in work pants slung low on his hips and a dark blue jersey, pressed his fingers into her tense muscles. “Hey, baby, whazup?” he asked.

Her eyes flew to his friends standing behind him. They chuckled. They all wore the same kind of pants. A couple of them had blue handkerchiefs hanging from the pocket. Their shoes had a Nike swoosh. But it was their eyes that made the sweat trickle down her spine. In the cold flickering light, their eyes, sharp and cunning, were the eyes of predators.

“Please, what do you want?” Sam pleaded, and tried to pull away from the young man.

The young man smiled as his hands gripped her tighter.

Wincing with pain, she stammered, “Please don’t hurt me . . . I’ll give you all my cash.”

“Give?” He chuckled low in his throat. “You don’t
give
. We take.” His eyes caught the flash of her engagement ring. “Hey, this fine lady’s getting married,” he called over his shoulder to his buddies.

“Come on, man,” one replied, shifting back and forth. “Quit fucking around. Grab the purse and the ring and let’s go.”

The young man holding her jerked his head toward his friend. “We go when I say we’ll go.” He looked back at Sam with pupils so dilated, his eyes were black. “I think we should give her a test run.” He took a step closer and put his face next to hers. “Is that your car, lady?” he whispered, his hot breath tickling her ear.

Oh God, they’re going to rape me,
her brain screamed as her body turned boneless and she started a slow slide to the floor.

The young man’s hands gripped the flesh of her upper arms and yanked her upright. When he saw her fear, the spark in his black eyes flared, as if her terror fed him. His excitement swirled around them, and she could smell it over the noxious fumes of the garage. Sour and musky.

“Please, please don’t hurt me. I’ll give you anything you want. Just let me go—please.” The boy’s face wavered as sudden tears blurred her vision.

The young man snickered. “Did you hear that? The fine lady’s begging.” He glanced at his companions. “Let’s see if she’ll beg on her knees.”

Laughter followed while hands from behind forced her to her knees. The concrete felt cold and the chill traveled through her skin to settle in her bones. Her muscles trembled, but she couldn’t tell if it was the cold or her fear that made them shake.

Sam’s eyes flew to each face in the circle now gathered tightly around her, looking for sympathy and finding none. One boy, holding a tire iron in his fist, winked.
This can’t be happening
. Beyond fear now, her shaking stopped while her brain disconnected from her body. She felt as if part of her were drifting away. Her gaze fell to the gray concrete.

“Okay, lady, start begging,” said the young man standing in front of her.

“Please, please, I don’t want to die,” she whispered, each word rasping from her clogged throat.

Her head was wrenched back until she had no choice but to stare up at the young man standing over her.

“What’s that? I didn’t hear you.”

She choked. “Please . . .”

A sudden voice rang out, reverberating through the empty garage. “Security! What the fuck are you doing!”

The hands fell away as their eyes flew to one another’s faces in silent communication.

Slumping back on her heels as they released her, she gasped with relief.

The young man holding the tire iron took a step forward, glaring at her. And as if in slow motion, she saw him raise the tire iron high over his head . . .

Sam opened one eye slowly. The sun peeking through the slats cast thin horizontal bars across the wooden floor. So Jackson hadn’t entered while she was sleeping and opened them. No one had been able to watch her while she slept.

She raised her head, shutting her eyes tightly against the dizziness she always experienced first thing in the morning. Her senses were foggy and her whole body felt wrapped in cotton. A slight headache gnawed at the base of her skull. Always the same. The dream. The headache. Would it ever end?

Opening her eyes, she struggled out of bed and headed for the bathroom.

Leaning against the sink, she forced herself to look at her face in the mirror. Dark circles ringed her eyes and her shoulder-length auburn hair looked as lifeless as she felt. She ran her fingers through her hair, pausing to trace the scar running down her scalp. Another lasting souvenir of her attack. Left by the incision the doctors had made to relieve the pressure caused by her brain swelling. She tugged at the hair sprouting around the puckered skin as if pulling on it would suddenly make it longer.
No, still short and still sticking out like a cowlick.
She hated the way it looked.

She dropped her hands and her gaze traveled downward. She’d gained back some of the weight she’d lost in the hospital, but she still looked like a refugee from a concentration camp. Underneath her nightgown, her breasts seemed to sag like sacks above bony ribs and hip bones that jutted out. Yup, she thought, all in all she was quite a looker. Glancing back at the mirror, she stuck out her tongue. Well, at least that looked normal.

As she turned on the faucet, the sound of rattling pans and the smell of brewing coffee drifted through the doorway. That’s right . . . her parents were making the two-hour drive up from Minneapolis for brunch. A long drive for just a meal, but after her conversation with Dan, she knew her dad had an agenda. He and Jackson were going to tag-team her into agreeing to a babysitter. Well, it wasn’t going to happen. Just because her left leg didn’t work perfectly didn’t make her an invalid.

She splashed cold water on her face and rubbed hard. No way was she going to allow a stranger to take care of her. They hired this woman . . . they could just as well fire her. Drying her face, she opened the medicine cabinet to grab her brush. Maybe today, and with enough gel and hair spray, she could tame the cowlick.

Her brush was gone.

Where is it?
She shoved the assortment of pill bottles out of the way, knocking several over. They spilled out of the cabinet, rattling as they rolled down the porcelain sink. It wasn’t in the cabinet, she thought with a rising sense of panic.

It was always in the cabinet. Ever since returning home from the hospital, she’d been careful about placing her things exactly in the same spot every day. Her brush on the second shelf; her slippers on the right side of the bed; her robe draped across a chair. It gave her a small sense of control over a life that had changed so dramatically.

BOOK: Love Lies Bleeding
5.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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