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Authors: Melinda Leigh

She Can Scream (38 page)

BOOK: She Can Scream
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Luke studied the worn Persian carpet. Intricate patterns of beige flowers and vines bordered a navy center. “I didn’t save her.”

“No one could have saved her.” Mr. Leonetti’s fingers dug into Luke’s muscle. “But you tried and risked your own life to do it. For that we will always be grateful.”

“Three floors burned up completely.” One of Mrs. Leonetti’s tears dropped onto his hand. “Without you, she wouldn’t have come home at all.”

An hour later, Luke stood in front of his office building. He stared up at the towering glass structure. The Leonettis had settled his nerves, but fresh panic rattled his skeleton and turned his stomach as he reached for a door.

The truth hit him like an ax.

He didn’t want to go inside.

He didn’t want to go to Buenos Aires.

He hated his apartment in New York. He hated the whole fucking city. His panic attacks hadn’t been brought on by high-rises or elevators. He’d freaked out because he didn’t want to return to constant travel and never-ending stress.

The explosion had changed him. Before Manila, Luke was the most dedicated, type A person in the company, except for his boss. But now everything had changed. His priorities had shifted under his feet like tectonic plates. He had one foot on each side, and his ass was hanging out over the crack. Which way should he jump?

Brooke left the cafeteria. On her way out, she spied Haley at a table with her friends. Haley had no memory of being abducted. Brooke wasn’t sure if this was good or bad. They were taking it one day at a time. Brooke opened the bag of chips she’d bought as an excuse to walk down here.

Joe Verdi’s daughter sat at a table by the door. The police had found her father. He’d checked himself into a rehab center. Joe had been too humiliated to tell even his own father where he was. There was hope for the family, Brooke supposed. While Joe could never take back his actions, at least he realized he had a problem.

“Hey, Brooke.”

She stopped and turned. Owen Zimmerman was hurrying toward her. Brooke pulled back. Owen might not be the killer, but Luke had said his tastes were of the nasty variety.

“Aren’t you done with the yearbook photos?”

Owen nodded. “Pretty much. Just had a few makeups to do this morning.”

Brooke wondered if she should talk to the principal about getting a new photographer. How could she justify it?
My boyfriend illegally obtained some photographs…

He shoved his hands in his front pockets. “I know you’ve had a rough weekend, but if you still want those photos for a Christmas present, don’t wait too long to make an appointment.”

“Yeah, about that.” She inched backward.

“What’s wrong?”

“Look, Owen. I’m just going to say it.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “I know about those violent pictures on your computer.”

Owen’s forehead wrinkled. “What pictures?”

“Does BDSM ring a bell?”

“Oh.” Owen’s eyes widened. “
Oh. Those
pictures. How…?”

Brooke didn’t answer.

The light bulb went off in Owen’s eyes. “You didn’t think those were real, did you?”

“What do you mean?”

He laughed. “I was hired to do a photo shoot for a very adult Halloween fright night: 50 Shades of Zombies. The BDSM theme is really popular these days. People can’t get enough of it.”

Mental. Head. Smack.

“Seriously, you thought that was real?” Owen asked. “That was some weird shit.”

“I’m sorry, Owen. For snooping and for jumping to conclusions.”

“It’s OK.” But Owen was still laughing when he walked away.

She returned to her classroom. Pretty blond Sara was waiting by the door. Brooke had promised her student extra help with her algebra today.

“I’m sorry. Am I late?” Brooke checked her watch and unlocked the door.

“No. I’m early.” Sara swept her long blond hair over her shoulder. “My mom wanted to know if you got the cookies she baked you.”

Brooke dropped the chips on her desk. “The macaroons were from you?”

Sara pulled a student desk close to Brooke’s. “Yeah. My mom wanted to thank you for helping me so much. She dropped them off at the office, but one of the other teachers said he’d bring them to you.”

Brooke dropped into her chair. “Please thank your mother for me.”

Sara pulled out her notebook. “I’m really confused.”

Hours later Brooke parked in her driveway. She glanced at Haley in the passenger seat. She’d said her first day back at school had been “fine,” but exhausted circles rimmed her eyes.

They went into the house. A
beep
drew Brooke to the hall closet. She stepped over the dog, opened the door, and turned off
the new alarm. Worth every penny. Without it, she doubted she or Haley would be able to close their eyes at night.

The kitchen was a mess again. All of Luke’s efforts destroyed in the few days he’d been gone. She pressed a hand to the center of her chest, where the emptiness had settled. He’d promised to visit when he returned to the States but that would be six to eight weeks from now. Then he’d be off to another exotic location.

She went into her office. The sight of her extensive files and notes reminded her of Kent’s detailed records with a surge of nausea. She grabbed a box from the shelf and started emptying drawers. An hour later, her desk was cleared of everything relating to violence. One by one, she carried the boxes into the attic.

The sound of a car door brought her back to the hall. She looked out the sidelight. A silver BMW sat in her driveway. Luke got out of the car and walked to her front porch.

She opened the door. Hope lifted her heart as he stepped into the house.

“I thought you were going back to work.”

Luke leaned down to kiss her. “I did go back to work.”

Disappointment brought her back down.

“I quit.” He grinned.

“What?”

“I quit.”

“Seriously?”

Luke took her hand. “I’m an unemployed thirty-four-year-old man who’s going to move in with his grandmother. I have some money put away, and I’d like to start my own business, maybe do some consulting eventually, but honestly, right now, my only plans are to paint Gran’s house. But if you don’t mind a man with no real life plan or prospects in mind, I’d like to take you on a date.”

“A date?” Brooke stammered.

Luke nodded. Behind the pain in his green eyes, light glimmered. “Yes. A real date. We’ve faced a killer and almost died together, but we’ve never gone out to dinner or a movie. Do you like movies?”

“I love movies.” Brooke’s heart was stuck in disbelief gear.

“Are you teaching your self-defense class tonight?”

“No. I’m taking some time away from all that.”

“Really?” Luke said. “You don’t have to. If it’s important to you, I’ll even help you. Your girls can beat me up every week if it makes you happy.”

“Here’s the thing. It wasn’t making me happy.” Brooke took a deep breath. “I was reliving Karen’s death as a punishment.”

Luke took her in his arms and held her close. “You can’t blame yourself for not being able to predict the future any more than I could.”

“I know.” She sniffed. “That’s why I have to take a break. I need to let some of the hurt go. I need to let Karen go.”

“We’re a mess.”

She leaned back. He hadn’t shaved, and the shadow on his jaw made her yearn to feel the rasp. “Maybe that’s the point. No one else ever really understood. You get it.”

“Oh, I know all about survivor’s guilt, no question.”

“I went to a psychiatrist this week.” She pressed her forehead into his chest. “I wasn’t about to let Haley suffer like I did. So I thought maybe I deserved the same.”

Luke kissed her temple. “You found your roommate’s body and never had any therapy?”

“I went when Ian made me, but I didn’t get anywhere.” Brooke shook her head. “I didn’t want to get better.”

“But now you do.”

“Yeah.” She really did.

“I assume you don’t want to leave Haley alone yet.” He turned and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “How about we rent a movie on the TV tonight? We’ll do that real date whenever you’re ready.”

“As long as it’s a comedy, I’m in.” Brooke leaned against his shoulder. “I’ve had enough suspense and sorrow for a lifetime.”

Luke steered her toward the den. “What’s going to happen to the guy who went to prison for Karen’s murder?”

“He’s being released, along with twelve other innocent men who were imprisoned for Kent’s crimes.” Brooke pulled back. “I want to see him, to apologize for helping to put him behind bars. Would you go with me?”

“Brooke, I’ll go with you anywhere.” Luke hugged her close. “Any news on Kent?”

“No, but I’m hoping for a guilty-plea-to-avoid-the-death-penalty deal. I really don’t want to have to testify against him. I will if I have to, but I’d rather not.”

“I know.” Luke leaned back. “But I’ll be here if you do.”

“Won’t you miss the city?”

“No. And even if I did, it’s only a short drive away.” He brushed a stray piece of hair from her cheek. “I’ve lived in dozens of places, and I have very few people in my life to show for it. I want roots, Brooke.”

“I’m about as rooted as a person gets.” She smiled.

“I want to wake up in the same bed every day.” He leaned close and whispered in her ear. “Preferably with you. Naked.”

Picturing him naked, Brooke sighed. “You know that’s not going to happen that often for a few years. The kids need—”

He wiped a tear from under her eye with his thumb. “Stop worrying. I’ll take whatever you can give me. One day at a time, OK?”

“OK.” She kissed him back.

Sunshine butted her head against their legs. A pungent scent wafted up.

“Oh, my.” Brooke reached a hand to her nose. “The movie will have to wait.”

“I’ll get the dog if you get the towels.” Luke laughed. “I’m glad I won’t have to do it by myself this time.”

“No.” Brooke rose up on her toes and planted a kiss on his mouth. “We’re in this together.”

THE END

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thanks to Dan Boucher for reviewing the brain-numbing geeky details. Any omissions or errors are my fault. Also, thanks to Kendra Elliot, my friend and fellow Montlake author. It’s amazing how much support a person can provide from three thousand miles away.

Publishing a book is a group effort. I’m lucky to have the support of an entire team of incredible people. As always, a gigantic thanks to my agent, Jill Marsal, for making my dream a reality. My managing editor, Kelli Martin, and the entire staff at Montlake Romance (especially author herder/technical goddess Jessica Poore) also deserve credit for doing their best to take care of the process and let an author focus on writing. Finally, thanks to developmental editor Shannon Godwin for her help in making this book come together.

Don’t miss Melinda Leigh’s next spine-tingling romantic thriller

SHE CAN HIDE

CHAPTER ONE

A
whoosh
and soft impact jolted Abby’s body. She slid forward. The seat belt caught her and snapped her back. Pain ripped through her temple. What happened? Her vision blurred, and she rubbed her eyes to clear it.

The steering wheel and dashboard came into focus. She was sitting in the front seat of her Subaru sedan. Icy pellets bounced off her windshield. When had it started to sleet? Blinking hard, she stared through the glass. Water splashed over the hood.
Oh my God
.

She swiveled her head to get her bearings. A thin sheet of ice edged the opposite bank twenty feet ahead. Water bubbled over rocks down the center of the flow. Behind the car, fifteen feet of water stretched to an inclined embankment. Her car was door-deep in a river.

The Subaru bobbed for a couple of seconds. The front end tilted down, and water swished over the floor mat. This had to be a nightmare. But her personal horror didn’t usually involve water. Abby’s bad dreams were all dark all the time. But a minute ago she’d been in the parking lot of the high school where she taught math. How did she get here?

Water swirled around her feet and seeped through her running shoes. Cold. No, beyond cold. Liquid ice. Shocking pain washed over her ankle and jolted her from her dreamlike state.

This was real.

Terror swept through her confusion and jerked her from numb disbelief into panic. Fear, bitter and acidic, bubbled into her throat. Her lungs pumped like pistons, forcing air in and out at dizzying speed. Tiny dots flashed in her vision. Out the window, water rushed past the car, the surface level with the hood and rising.

The interior closed in on her, claustrophobia overwhelming her senses.

The water was going to rise. She was going to be trapped, and then she was going to drown. She was going to die.

A chunk of ice scraped across the windshield. The noise jolted her.

She had to get out of the car. She fumbled for the seat belt release, the frigid temperature and horror destroying her dexterity. Frantic fingers yanked at the nylon. Her thumb found and depressed the button, and the strap loosened and recoiled with a snap. Abby reached for the door handle and pulled, but she couldn’t budge it. Water pressure held the door closed. Until the pressure was equalized…

BOOK: She Can Scream
10.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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