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Authors: Melinda Leigh

She Can Scream (10 page)

BOOK: She Can Scream
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Luke turned to look for Brooke. She was limping down the driveway toward the mailbox. “I’ll get the mail.”

“I’m not helpless.” She pulled it open and stumbled backward. One hand shot to cover her mouth, and the color bled from her fair skin.

Luke sprinted to her side and pushed her behind him. The rotten scent of decay floated toward him. Flies buzzed around the opening. Luke peered inside. A flat bloody mass of fur had been stuffed into the metal tube. Squirrel? “Looks like roadkill.”

Brooke was leaning on her thighs. She kept her gaze firmly on the clover under her feet. “Lovely.”

“I should have thought to check the mailbox.” He explained about the truck he’d seen that afternoon. “Let’s go inside. I’ll call the police.”

He took her elbow and steered her to the house. At the door, he whistled for the dog, and she followed them into the foyer. Music blared from upstairs.

Brooke beelined to the living room and dropped into her chair. Exhausted lines fanned her eyes and mouth. Luke angled the ottoman so she could put her leg up. While he was in the kitchen calling the cops, he grabbed an ice pack from the freezer.

“Thanks.” Brooke clenched her shaking hands.

A deep-seated, primal urge roared inside Luke. He wanted to find the truck’s owner and beat him to a pulp as bloody as the animal he’d stuffed into Brooke’s mailbox. Then he’d hold Brooke until she stopped trembling.

“You haven’t seen a pickup following you?” He paced the living room in front of her chair.

“I haven’t gone anywhere without you since last night.”

“Does anyone at school drive a black pickup?” Luke stopped. “What does that history teacher drive?”

“I don’t know.” Brooke leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees. She dropped her forehead into her hands. “But Tony would have been at school all day.”

“He gets a lunch break, doesn’t he?”

“I suppose, but I can’t see Tony shoveling a road-killed squirrel into my mailbox.” Brooke straightened. Her brown eyes went wide. “Today he kept insisting he come and stay here to protect us.”

“So maybe he thinks if he scares you enough, you’ll let him.”

Brooke leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes, as if the thought exhausted her.

The doorbell rang. Sunshine’s head shot up. She let out a loud
woof
and trotted toward the front door.

“You’re supposed to bark
before
they get to the door,” Luke joked, following the dog. He checked the peephole. “It’s the police.”

Brooke sighed and hauled herself out of the chair.

A young, black-haired officer came to the door. “Hey, Brooke.”

Brooke stepped out onto the porch. “Luke, this is Officer Ethan Hale. Ethan, Luke Holloway.”

“Call me Ethan.” The cop shook Luke’s hand. They walked to the mailbox.

“That’s nasty.” Ethan grimaced. “I’ll write up a report, but honestly, unless you know who did it, there isn’t much we can do about a prank like this.”

Luke told him about the black truck.

Ethan made a note. “Did you get the license plate number?”

“No.” Luke clamped his teeth together until his jaw ached.

Ethan went to his vehicle for a camera. He snapped a picture and jotted down some information. “Call us right away if you see that truck again or if anything else unusual happens.”

Brooke climbed the porch steps. A sedan pulled into Brooke’s driveway, and the officer who’d interviewed Brooke in the ER the night before got out. The cops exchanged a quick greeting in the driveway.

The cop looked rough. Stubble and dark circles said he’d been up all night.

“Luke, this is Officer Kent.” Brooke waved a hand between them. “Please, come inside. Is something wrong?”

“No, ma’am.” Officer Kent followed them into the living room. “I live out here. I stopped by on my way home to give you an update.”

“I appreciate that,” Brooke said.

Luke told him about the roadkill and the truck.

“I don’t like the sound of that.” Kent grabbed a straight-back chair from the corner and set it next to Brooke’s chair. He pulled out a small notebook and turned to Brooke. “First of all, let me say that we’re grateful you stepped in last night and stopped a terrible crime. Most people don’t want to get involved.”

“Brooke isn’t most people.” Unexpected pride laced Luke’s voice. Where the hell did that come from? He perched on the arm of the sofa.

“How is Maddie?” Brooke leaned forward. Her eyes misted.

“Good enough to give us a statement thanks to you,” the cop said.

“Thank goodness.” Brooke clasped her hands together in her lap. Had they stopped shaking? “I didn’t see her last night. She
was getting a CAT scan, but her parents were there. They told me she had a concussion from repeated blows to the head. I’m glad to hear she was coherent enough to talk to you.”

“We haven’t found her assailant yet.” The cop rested his forearms on his thighs. “But the good news is that Maddie had some skin under her nails. We’re going to run the DNA through CODIS. It’ll take time, but if the same guy ever left DNA at another crime scene or if he’s registered in the convicted offender database, we’ll be able to match it.”

“What’s CODIS?” Luke asked.

“CODIS is the Combined DNA Index System. It cross-references the DNA of convicted criminals with DNA found at crime scenes,” Kent explained. “We’re also going through our lists of sexual offenders in the area. That might narrow it down. This guy didn’t come out of the blue. Sexual crimes tend to be habitual. There’s a good chance he’s done something like this before. Maddie got lucky.”

“She fought hard,” Brooke said.

“She did.” The cop sounded impressed. “Is there anything else you can tell me about last night?”

Brooke’s eyes unfocused as she searched her memories. She blinked and shook her head. “No. If I remember anything, I’ll call you.”

“How much danger do you think Brooke is in?” Luke asked.

“Hard to say.” The cop tucked his notebook back in his pocket. “She didn’t see his face, so she isn’t an eyewitness or anything like that. But you never know with these violent types.”

“Chances are he knows Maddie from somewhere.” Brooke tapped a forefinger on her lip.

“Maddie didn’t recognize him.” The cop yawned.

“He was wearing a mask. This doesn’t seem like a random attack.” Brooke leveled the cop with a hard stare. “I’ve lived in this area most of my life. Hardly anyone uses that trail. A rapist lying in wait for a hapless female jogger might have had to wait for days. It’s much more likely he knew Maddie would be coming along.”

“Maybe,” Kent admitted. “We’ll consider all the evidence and
then
come up with some theories. Don’t worry. We’ll be looking at every scenario.”

But Brooke’s eyes were plenty worried.

The cop handed Brooke a business card. “Call me if you think of anything else.” Kent stood and stretched his back. “Maddie asked if you would visit her. She wants to thank you in person.”

“I’ll go over there today.” Brooke struggled to her feet.

“Please, don’t get up. I can see myself out.”

“I don’t want to get too comfortable if I have to go out again.” She followed Luke and the cop to the foyer. Kent went out.

Luke hesitated at the open door. “I’ll be outside for a few minutes.”

“OK. If we’re going to see Maddie tonight, I need coffee.” She headed for the kitchen. “Do you want some?”

“Yes, please. I’ll be right back.” Luke went out front, cleaned out the mailbox, and buried the flat squirrel behind the garage before joining her in the kitchen. Brooke, already halfway through a mug of coffee, poured him a cup.

“Thank you.” Relief softened her voice. “I don’t think I could’ve handled that.”

“You’re welcome.” Their fingers brushed as he took the cup from her hand. The slight contact made Luke want to perform more manly chores for her if it led to additional touching.

The doorbell rang again, and irritation buzzed through Luke as he went to answer it. The buzz went ballistic when he saw Tony the teacher on the porch, a bouquet of flowers in his hand. Instead of letting the teacher in, Luke went out onto the porch and barged into the guy’s personal space. Wide-eyed, Tony backed up. He dropped the flowers. The glass vase hit the porch with a
thunk
. Water spilled out and spread across the boards.

Ignoring the mess, Luke pressed closer. “Did you pay Brooke a visit this afternoon?”

“N-no.” Tony’s butt hit the railing. His Adam’s apple quivered.

Luke glanced at the driveway. Tony drove a navy-blue Volvo. Anger batted reason aside. Tony could’ve borrowed a truck. “Can you prove you didn’t leave the school today?”

The front door opened. “What’s going on?” Brooke limped out.

But Luke didn’t move. Tony sidled out from behind him. He stooped, picked up the vase, and thrust it at Brooke. “These will need fresh water.”

Brooke didn’t accept the flowers. She hugged her arms in a defensive gesture that tempted Luke to pick Tony up by his scrawny, pompous neck and toss him onto the lawn.

“Why are you here?” Luke loomed. He had a few inches of height on the teacher.

“I just wanted to make sure you knew my offer was sincere.” Tony jerked the flowers back to his body.

“I said no this afternoon, and I meant it. As you can see, I’m not alone.” Brooke gestured to Luke, and her tone iced over. “Tony, we had dinner as friends and colleagues. There will never be anything more between us than that.”

“Well then. I’m sorry to have bothered you.” Tony’s head bowed, but under his apologetic façade, Luke sensed the undercurrent of anger still ran strong. With a final glare at Luke, the teacher backed off the porch and walked back to his sedan.

Shivering, Brooke limped back into the house. Luke closed the door behind them. In the foyer, she spun to face him. The circles under her eyes deepened in the overhead light, highlighting her vulnerability and exhaustion. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

“Done what?” Luke shot back. “Let that creep know I won’t stand for him stalking you?”

“You’re leaving next week.” Brooke pointed at his chest. “I need to handle men like Tony on my own. Besides, he’s a coworker. I have to see him almost every day.”

“I can’t let anything happen to you.”

Brooke softened. “I know you promised Wade to look out for me, but you can’t just take over. After you go, I still have to live my life. Otherwise, once you’re in another country, what’s to stop Tony from harassing me again? Facts are facts. This time next week I will be on my own. It’s far better if Tony respects
me
rather than
you
.”

She was right, but facts had no effect on the storm brewing inside Luke.

“You don’t understand.” Luke paced the foyer, nerves seething from the mailbox find and the encounter with Tony. He hit the wall with both palms. Pausing for a deep breath, he pulled his shit together by sheer force of will. His promise to Wade was stretching his tenuous thread of recovery to the breaking point. Shame flooded him. Brooke was in danger because she’d risked her life to save another. Her courage humbled him. How could Luke resent his best friend’s request to protect her? Oh, who was
he kidding? Luke wasn’t here because of Wade. He was here because of Brooke.

More worry spun in Luke’s gut. Wade wouldn’t be here tonight. Someone had played a nasty prank on Brooke today, she had a creepy coworker to worry about, and Maddie’s assailant was still on the loose.

What had Brooke said to her brother the night before? Sexual predators reoffended. It was the way they were wired. So, whether the attacker went after Maddie or another woman, this guy wouldn’t stop until someone made him.

He crossed the hardwood and crowded her against the closed door. Her brown eyes darkened. Surprise or desire? His body hardened as he hoped for the latter. He leaned close to her ear. Her hair smelled soft and fresh, like the meadow that fronted her house. “I
won’t
let anything happen to you this week. You’re just going to have to deal with it.”

Brooke froze. Her nerves, already tested by the week’s events, locked in indecision. Her brain was screaming that she wasn’t a let-the-man-take-charge kind of girl, but her body was shamelessly reveling in the whole alpha-male display. Primed from confrontation, Luke’s body was hard as stone and just inches away from hers. Tension radiated from his skin like an electrical field, and she wanted to absorb his energy.

Too cultured for jealousy or possessiveness, intellectual Ian wasn’t prone to emotional outbursts. He hadn’t even lost his cool when he’d left her.

She’d never had a man act this primitive and protective over her. My God, what would it be like to have Luke exercise that
dominance over her naked body? A warm shiver slid through her belly. Cripes. Why the hell was she even thinking about sex?

Must be some physiological response to stress. Whatever the cause, it was powerful and primal, calling every female molecule in her body to sit up and take notice.

His gaze dropped to her mouth. Was he going to kiss her? Did she want him to? The scent of warm male and soap flooded her nose and drew her closer. Oh, yes. She did.

“Mom?” Haley called from upstairs.

BOOK: She Can Scream
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