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Authors: Melinda Leigh

She Can Scream (25 page)

BOOK: She Can Scream
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“Yes.” Brooke stared at her clenched hands. “We’d been dating since junior year in college.”

“Then I’d still like to talk to him. He might remember something you don’t.”

“I remember
everything
from that time. Every single thing.” Brooke gave the chief Ian’s contact information.

Mike wrote it down. “No one else? You haven’t gotten into any arguments lately?”

Brooke shook her head. “No.”

Mike made a notation. “Do you live here alone with your kids?”

Brooke nodded. “Luke and I dropped them off at their father’s house for the weekend. After Joe’s visit last night, I felt better if they were away from here for a few days.”

The chief closed his notebook. “Is there anyone
you
can stay with for a few days? Give us some time to figure this out.”

Brooke shook her head. “All my friends live here in town, and I won’t put any of them in danger.”

“How about a hotel?” Mike said. “I don’t like the idea of you here alone.”

Luke leaned on the back of a chair. “She won’t be alone. I’ll be here until Monday.”

“I’m thinking about a security system. Can you recommend anyone?” Brooke asked.

Mike nodded his approval. He pulled a business card from his pocket and handed it to Brooke. “I have a friend who installs alarms. He’s the best. Tell him I referred you. He’ll give you a good deal.”

“Thank you.” Brooke slid the card into her pocket.

“I’ll have the night shift drive by during the night. Don’t hesitate to call if you see anything suspicious. Anything at all. If a branch rubs your window the wrong way, I want you to call us.” The chief turned to Luke. “If you hear a noise outside, do not check it out by yourself. Call us. You do not want to leave her vulnerable while you play hero.” A harsh light in the chief’s eyes made the statement seem personal.

Luke swallowed. “Don’t worry. I’m no hero.”

Brooke set her empty mug on the table. Thumps and thuds emanated from the open basement door. Ethan carried a large, unwieldy bag through the doorway and out of the house.

The mannequin.

She shivered and rubbed her crossed arms. Luke went to the stove and turned on the burner under the teakettle.

Ethan went back into the basement and made several more trips to his car with boxes of evidence. Finally, he closed the door. “I’m finished down there. You should board up the window.”

“I will. Thanks.” Luke showed him out and disappeared into the basement. Trying not to jump at each hammer strike, Brooke
made fresh tea, but the hot liquid did little to banish the chill in her belly.

The hammering stopped. Luke came back upstairs and slipped into a chair. “I covered it, but I’m not feeling too secure here. How about we check into a hotel for the night?”

“Can’t.” Brooke dropped a hand to the dog plastered to her side. “There’s no way to sneak a dog this big into a hotel.”

“And I guess it’s too late to start calling dog sitters.”

“I’m not leaving her here alone.” Brooke hugged Sunshine close. Joe or whoever left the mannequin in her basement could have hurt her dog. The only threat Sunshine posed was tripping over her. In fact, Brooke wasn’t even comfortable leaving the dog home while she went to work tomorrow, and she would much prefer sleeping in a hotel than with a loaded shotgun under her bed. “I guess I could leave her with Abby for a few days. We trade dogs for vacations.”

Brooke reached for her cell and made the arrangements. Upstairs, she stuffed pajamas, a change of clothes, and a few other essentials into a small bag. When she came back down, Luke was packing up the dog’s food. “Where are we going?”

“Just trust me.”

She already did. “I guess I have to take a day off tomorrow.”

“You’ve had a hell of a week.” Luke slid his laptop into his bag and loaded the trunk.

In the car, she called the school secretary’s number and left a message. Fifteen minutes later, they pulled up in front of Abby’s narrow house. Brooke led the dog from the back seat. She leaned in to wipe a puddle of drool from the soft leather. Oops. Dog fur covered the seat and carpet. She made a mental note to vacuum Luke’s vehicle.

Luke carried the bag of dog food to the front door. Abby’s porch was decorated with pumpkins and cornstalks. Orange light twinkled from the hedges under the front window.

A throaty
woof
and the sound of heavy paws sent Luke back a step.

“It’s OK. That’s just Zeus,” Brooke said.

Sunshine wagged her tail. In a flannel robe that covered her from neck to feet, Abby opened the door. The dog at her side was the size of a compact car. The house was a shotgun, built one room behind the other. Brooke led Sunshine into the living room. Behind it were the dining room and a small kitchen.

“Holy shit.” Luke edged past Abby’s mastiff and set the bag of dog food on the dining room table. “How big is he?”

“About two hundred pounds.” Abby said. “But he won’t hurt her. He loves other dogs, and he’s very mellow.”

Brooke unhooked Sunshine’s leash, and the dogs went on a sniffing and wagging spree.

“Good thing,” Luke said.

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay here?” Abby put a hand on Brooke’s arm. “Zeus is a much better watchdog than Sunshine.”

“Thanks for the offer, but I think a hotel is the safest option. No one will know I’m there.” Brooke could not put her friend at risk.

“OK.” Abby hugged her. “Don’t worry about the dog. She’ll be fine.”

“If she’s still favoring that leg in the morning, you can give her one of these.” Brooke handed her friend Sunshine’s arthritis medicine. “Thanks.”

Back in the car, Brooke looked over the back seat. “I’ll vacuum your interior tomorrow.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Luke shrugged. “It’s just a little hair.”

“Actually it’s a lot of hair.”

Luke laughed. “Still doesn’t matter.”

“Where are we going?” Brooke settled back. “Did you decide on a hotel?”

“I couldn’t find anything local with enough security.” Luke turned out of Abby’s development and onto the main road. “It’s a long drive, but I’d rather go where I know you’ll be safe tonight—my place in Manhattan.”

“You want to drive all the way to New York City?”

“I live in a very secure building, and I have a separate alarm system in my apartment. I really need a good night’s sleep and so do you.” Luke headed toward the interstate. “I don’t want to worry about Joe or anyone else for the rest of tonight.”

Brooke shook her head. “The mannequin in the basement doesn’t feel like Joe. Too much forethought. He’s angry and impulsive. He put roadkill in my mailbox and threw a rock though my window in plain sight. This was different. Whoever set the scene had to find a mannequin, research Karen’s murder, and figure out when we’d be out. When did he do all that if he was in jail the night before?”

“All good points, but Joe was mad. Maybe he already looked into Karen’s murder.”

“And had a mannequin lying around?”

“You never know. Somebody had one handy and that’s creepy enough.” Luke scratched his chin. His beard stubble rasped against his fingers. “Is there anyone else who could want to hurt you like this? What about that history teacher?”

“Tony?” Brooke pulled back. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“He has it bad for you.” Luke reasoned. “And he was very unhappy when he visited the other day.”

“Tony has attached himself to other teachers. He’s never stalked them.”

“So? Did he ever show up on any of the other teachers’ doorsteps?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Maybe he’s more obsessed with you. His mental state could be deteriorating.”

Brooke turned to the passenger window and watched the dark night roll past. Luke was right. She’d call Mike and tell him about Tony in the morning. She’d totally missed the cues that Tony was getting attached to her. What else had she missed?

She went through a mental list of everyone she knew and came up empty. Was there anyone else she’d misread? Someone who wanted to hurt her?

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

“Brooke, we’re almost there.”

She jumped. Luke’s hand dropped from her shoulder to her arm. “I’m sorry. I hated to wake you.”

She blinked and looked out the windshield. Heavy rain poured onto the glass. The wipers struggled to keep up. Traffic streamed by even though it was past midnight. Brightly lit high-rises lined the street, their images blurred by the downpour. Manhattan.

Luke turned into an underground parking garage and stopped next to a manned booth. A yellow mechanical arm blocked the entrance. With a wave to the guard, Luke pushed a button on the sun visor, and the barrier lifted. They drove underneath, turned down two aisles, and parked in a numbered slot.

Brooke stretched and got out of the dripping car. Luke grabbed their bags from the trunk. They walked through two rows of cars. She shivered as their footsteps rang on the concrete in the damp and empty space. An elevator went up one floor and opened to an expansive marbled lobby. The setup was much like Ian’s place in Philly, but there were two security guards on duty, one at a desk, the other standing unobtrusively near the elevators. A sign on the wall that read
FITNESS CLUB OPEN 5 A.M. TO 11 P.M.
pointed to another hallway. From an archway across the lobby, muted voices and the metallic sounds of utensils hitting plates echoed from a restaurant.

The desk guard looked up at Luke. “Good evening, Mr. Holloway.”

“Good evening, Max.” Luke swiped a keycard through a reader on the desk. It blinked green. He led Brooke toward the elevator.

“Mr. Holloway.” The second guard had already pushed the elevator button. He held the door while Luke and Brooke boarded.

“Thank you, Phil.” Luke pushed number three.

The doors closed. The ride was three seconds long. Their steps were silent on the carpet in the hall. He pulled his key from his pocket and opened the door. Brooke walked into a modern, sleek apartment. A short hall led into a spacious living room of gleaming hardwood, mahogany furniture, and deep red accents. Floor-to-ceiling windows looked out over the city street. Lights sparkled through the raindrops cascading down the glass. Everything was low-slung and long. The black granite and stainless-steel kitchen opened onto the living space.

“Wow.” She ran a hand across a sideboard polished to a high gloss. Her dog and kids would trash this place in three seconds flat. Heck,
she
was afraid to touch anything. She checked to see if she’d left fingerprints on the wood. All clear.

Luke crossed the room to another short hall. He nodded toward a doorway. “I’ll put your things in the bedroom. You can have the bed. I’ll take the couch.”

Brooke followed him into the bedroom. Space was tight, but more floor-to-ceiling windows made the room seem bigger. A king-size platform bed faced the view.

“You don’t have to give up your bed for me.”

“It’s not a problem.”

But Brooke didn’t want to be alone. She wanted him. She wanted human contact, skin and heat and enough physical sensation to block out the ugly images in her head.

She glanced around the beautiful but stark bedroom. His apartment was luxurious but it wasn’t warm or welcoming. Even the bed, with its perfectly smooth crimson duvet, didn’t look inviting.

His apartment made it clear. They were very different people with polar opposite tastes and life goals. A relationship between them would never work. But she still wanted him.

“The bath is through here.” Luke flipped a wall switch.

She glanced into the adjoining bath, full of black granite and glass. Everything gleamed. A huge multi-jet shower dominated the space. Not a smudge or speck of dust to be seen.

Luke would be returning to this life in just a few more days. She couldn’t have him forever, but maybe she could have him for one night. She was damned tired of sleeping alone. She followed him back into the kitchen.

With tense movements, he opened an under-the-counter wine cooler and selected a bottle of white.

“Would you like a glass?” He uncorked it.

“I’d love one, thanks.” Brooke leaned over and read the label:
PINOT GRIGIO
.

He poured out two glasses. Perching on the edge of a tall stool at the counter, she sipped. The wine floated, light and crisp, over her tongue and into her fluttering belly.

“How about a snack?” Luke put together a plate of cheese and crackers.

Neither crackers nor cheese settled her. She gave up and concentrated on the wine.

“Done already?” Luke gave her glass a questioning glance.

“It’s very good.” It flowed into her blood and settled warm over her nerves.

Luke tasted his wine. “It’s a nice vintage.” He ate some crackers and gestured toward the plate. “Aren’t you hungry?”

“Not really.” Not for crackers anyway.

Luke’s apartment felt like a whole new world. One in which she didn’t have to think about Karen or Maddie or bricks through windows or horrible pranks.

Just for once, she wanted to purge her mind and let her body take over.

She turned around to face his chest and slid her arms up and around his neck. “You don’t have to sleep on the couch.” She rose up on her toes and planted her lips against his. Her hands drifted down to unfasten the top two buttons of his shirt.

BOOK: She Can Scream
12.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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