A Beautiful Wreck (Second Chance #3) (13 page)

BOOK: A Beautiful Wreck (Second Chance #3)
2.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
Chapter 24

L
uke led
her on a weaving trail throughout the city in his Camaro. Cassie followed his red tail lights closely in her own car. “Right!” he shouted over the speaker phone, and quickly turned the car right. Two blocks later he called for a left. This strange pathway continued for nearly twenty minutes. Cassie kept a watch in the rear view mirror, but no one was following them.

Finally, Luke drove the Camaro down a narrow driveway threaded between two brick buildings. Cassie pulled in behind him, squinting in the darkness, trying to make out the house in front of her.

She parked next to him and got out. “Where are we?”

“My friend’s duplex. Actually, it was my friend’s dad’s house. He died last year,” Luke answered.

Died?
“Who’s lived here since then?”

“Nobody. Jared lives on the other side right now. He hasn’t wanted to pack his dad’s stuff up yet. Not ready to deal with it, I guess.”

Cassie nodded, remembering how long it had taken her to look into Leif’s box. “Sometimes it just takes time.”

“Yeah.”

The neighborhood quiet was broken by a dog barking farther up the street. The two of them walked toward the front stoop. A cracked cement planter, still filled with the dried stalks of dead flowers, sat on one of the stairs. Spider webs hung from the porch rafters. Cassie clutched her purse closer to her side.

The other half of the duplex was dark. “Jared’s still at work.” Luke jerked his thumb towards the other porch. Whistling, he ran his hands along the door trim and then lifted the door mat. “Where’s it at?”

Cassie stood silently and wiggled her pendant back and forth. Luke moved the heavy planter to look under it. “Ahh, there you are.” He scooped up the key. “Jared, you idiot. Under the planter, really? First place they’d look.”

Third, actually,
Cassie wanted to say. Instead, she smiled. “Does Jared realize I’m staying here?” Luke’s lack of knowledge of the key’s whereabouts was not reassuring.

“Yeah, he knows. He said the key was by the door.” Luke shook his head as he jammed the key into the lock. Pushing the door open with one hand, he waved her in with the other. “After you.”

Cassie stepped over the threshold, her eyes straining to see inside. The door shut behind her, and then came a loud bump, followed by soft cursing. A light flipped on, showing Luke rubbing his thigh. “Ran into the buffet.” His eyebrows creased in pain.

“You okay?”

“Fine,” he muttered, limping down the hallway.

Cassie looked around the living room—yellow tweed couch, magazine rack, dark landscape paintings on the wall. Luke was already out of sight, presumably in the kitchen, and she heard the water run. The refrigerator opened before quickly being slammed shut.

“Uh, stay out of the kitchen,” he warned as he returned to the living room. “We’ll have to pick you up something later today to eat.”

“This place is kind of creepy.”

“Hey, you’re the one who wanted to stick around.”

“Why do you think Nicholai won’t look here?”

“Jared is an old high school buddy. He just came back to take care of his dad. As far as everyone knows, we have no connections.”

He started up the stairs. Cassie followed after him, studying the chipped trim boards and black marks on the paint. She breathed in deeply, taking in the scent of dusty, mothballs and Old Spice cologne.
Just like a grandpa’s house.

Unconsciously, she sighed. Luke squeezed her hand in response. “Relax. You’ll be okay here. It’s just for a week or two, until the bust goes down.”

“You think he’ll be caught this time?”

They headed down the short hallway located at the top of the stairs. Luke opened the first door they came to and stuck his head in. Grimacing, he shut the door again, shaking his head no. “Let’s see what’s behind door number two.” He smiled and poked her in her ribs. “You feeling lucky?”

“Do I want to know what was behind door number one?”

“It was his bedroom, and apparently, his taxidermy room. I don’t think you’d like it in there.”

“Lovely,” she whispered. “Everything was dead, right?”

He ran his fingers up her neck, tickling her, and raised his eyebrows. “All I saw were millions of black eyes staring at me.”

“Not funny!” she yelled, brushing his hands off. Shivering, she rubbed the back of her neck.

The second door opened to a spare guest room. Just a tiny bed covered with a faded patched quilt.

“Your boudoir, my lady.” Luke waved his hand in a grandiose gesture.

“Mm.” Cassie walked into the room, her fingertips hesitantly touching the dark wood paneling and clunky oak dresser.

“So, I’m thinking this bed hasn’t been slept in—” He pulled back the covers raising a cloud of dust. “In years.”

With several quick movements, he had the bed stripped of its linens. Rummaging in the closet, he pulled out a couple more quilts. He held them to his nose. “Well, they smell clean. Will you be okay with these for tonight?”

Cassie licked her lip and nodded. “Yeah, I’m up for it.”
Don’t complain, Cass. This is your chance to stay in the fight. Don’t make him regret not sending you home.

Luke shook out the blankets and made the bed. He fluffed up the pillow and set it at the front.

The sound of tires came from the driveway. Luke walked over to the window and pulled back the blinds. “Oh, good. There’s Jared now.”

Taking ahold of her hand, he drew her over to the bed and had her sit next to him. “I can’t stay, just in case it puts you in danger. But, I’m worried. You really going to be okay here?”

“I’ll be fine.” Her heart cried the opposite. She took a deep breath.

He drew her in his arms and rested his chin on top of her head. “You hang onto your phone and sit tight. Jared will keep an eye out for you tonight now that he’s here, and I’ll call you a little later.”

Snuggled against him, for the first in a very long time, she knew what she wanted.

“Luke, when this is over, please let’s escape to some tropical island,” she whispered into his chest. “I wish we could do it now. Just leave this whole mess behind.”

“That sounds nice, Principessa. I’ll sit on a beach towel and drink out of some crazy coconut, and you can read me your latest blog post and tell me who’s who in the celebrity world. And we’ll grab every last scrap of happiness out of life and suck it dry. You got it. One day, that’s going to happen.”

Her heart melted at his words. Luke lifted her hand and kissed across her fingers. “But for now, don’t you leave this house. I’ll have Jared check on you as soon as the sun comes up and bring you some food.”

He reached for the jacket he’d slung over the chair, and casually pulled it on. Buttoning it, he studied her. “We’re going to rediscover love again.” He winked at her. She followed him downstairs to the door. Locking the lower handle, he pulled it shut tight behind him.

She shivered as his words washed over her and fastened deep in her heart.

T
he next morning
her cell rang while she was in the bathroom. Her hair towel flying, she raced through the house, only to bang into the dresser as she scrambled for her phone.

“Cassie?” an unfamiliar female voice asked.

“Who’s this?” The hair on the back of Cassie’s neck stood on end.

“This is Sheila. Luke sent me your number and asked me to call you. He wants you to meet him at the old house immediately.”

What’s she talking about? Why didn’t Luke call me personally?
“Why would he leave you a message to give to me?”

“It came through his secure email line. I assure you, I work for the Freymere police department. My badge number is 7895. Feel free to call and check. It’s possible there is a problem with his phone, or he feels it may be compromised.”

Cassie paced the length of the room. The old house.
He must mean where the fire was. Why would he want to meet me there?
“Uh, okay.”

Hesitantly, she clicked off and stuffed the phone in the pocket of her oversized sweatshirt.
His cell is compromised?
Something was going on.

She slipped on her Converse and grabbed her purse.
What do I do? Call him? Maybe that will put him in danger. Think, Cass. But if someone else has his cell, how will I know it’s really him if he texts back?

Mindlessly, she unzipped her purse and searched for her Life Savers.
Green says go, red says stop and text.

Cassie peeled back the waxed paper. Yellow. “Seriously?” She popped the candy into her mouth and secured it in the side of her cheek. Shaking her head, she fished the phone back out of her pocket. “I’ve got to do it. Can’t drive out into the country without at least checking with you first,” she mumbled, her fingers flying over the keypad.
Oh man, I hope this is really you, buddy. Be vague.
Luke, why do you want to meet me?

The response was immediate.
What?

The message you left with Sheila.

Stay there. Do not leave. I’m on my way.

She shivered as she read it. Who was on his way? Was it really Luke? She ran to the window to look for Jared’s car.

Gone.

“No time for pity parties. I’ve got to find something to defend myself.” Spinning in a circle, she searched for a weapon, her eyes lighting on useless throw pillows, glass figurines of cats, and old National Geographic magazines. Her heart sank.
This isn’t looking too good.

Cassie scrambled into the kitchen, nearly tripping over her untied shoes, and yanked open the drawers. Rusty silverware. She grabbed a knife and frowned at the cracked, plastic handle. Finally seizing a wooden meat tenderizer, she hid behind the kitchen door and waited.

Chapter 25

C
assie lined
her sight of vision up with the living room window. Luke hadn’t exaggerated when he said he’d be right there. Five minutes later, his Camaro ripped down the driveway in a shower of dust. Leaving his car door flung open, he bounded up the porch steps.

“I was so scared I wasn’t really texting you!” Cassie said as she threw open the door. He dragged her into his arms and held her like he was never letting go. She could feel his heart beating wildly. “What’s going on, Luke?”

“Reception was horrible or I would have called. Tell me about the message you got.” His hand was trembling as he dragged it across his scalp, leaving his hair disheveled.

“Sheila said you’d left a message for me to meet at the old house?”

“She called you?”

“Yeah, she said you gave her my number.”

“What reason did she have that I didn’t give it to you directly?”

“I asked her about that. She said the message came from your secure email line.”

Luke grew quiet for a moment. “Somebody’s hacked me.” He grabbed the doorframe and his knuckles shone white.

“What does that mean?” Cassie watched him with concern.

“It’s the same thing that happened with Jennifer.” His words came through clenched teeth. “She left work early to meet me. Supposedly fell asleep waiting for me.”

“Oh—” Cassie gasped. “Why would Sheila do the same thing again? Send the same message? Surely, she had to remember.”

He scrubbed his face with his hand and walked toward the couch. “Come on, Cassie. Don’t blame her for following protocol.” He sat down and beckoned for her to sit next to him.

“Are you serious? The same exact plan almost catfished me! She had to have had her memory triggered here. I’ll blame her if I want to!” Cassie spat out, and crossed her arms over her chest.

“Come over here. Sit with me.”

Rolling her eyes, she sat down next to him and rested her head against his shoulder.

“Did you ever think, if she’d done her job right the first time, nothing would have happened to Jennifer?”

She felt him flinch at her words. His torso shifted away from her.

Too far, I went too far for sure this time.

“Sheila didn’t do anything wrong. She was following protocol. Those messages came through a line that was supposed to be secure. What happened to Jennifer happened. Nothing’s going to bring her back.”

Frustration brewed inside Cassie like a storm. “But that could have been me! I got the same message!”

Luke grabbed her knee. “But you knew better than to believe I’d leave a message like that. You’re safe, and you’re here.”

Cassie pulled away. “I still think Sheila should be fired. Or investigated.” She threw the last comment at him.

Luke sighed and leaned back against the cushions. He rubbed his thumb and fingers across his temples. “She’s been investigated. Hell, I’ve been investigated.” He shook his head. “The whole department’s had a shake down. They never found a leak.”

“So you’re saying it wasn’t a setup?”

“I’m saying sometimes lighting strikes the same place twice. No rhyme or reason. But it’s not going to end like last time. This time….” His lip curled as anger brooded in his eyes. “This time he’s going down. I hope to send him to hell myself.”

Cassie sucked in her breath at the intensity of his words. She didn’t doubt he meant them. She studied him as he cracked his knuckles and her anger drained away, leaving a strange resignation and fear. Suddenly, she had an overwhelming urge to scoop him up, take him someplace safe, somewhere they’d never have to face Nicholai. They could start a new life. New everything.

Just as quickly, the feeling deflated. Cassie knew he’d never go for that. Until Nicholai was dealt with, she doubted he could ever truly move forward.

She nudged his shoulder. “While you’re going all big and bad after him, you take care of yourself, you hear?” Her lips curved slightly, into a small smile. “I’m getting kind of fond of you.”

His gaze caught hers, and his anger turned into a different kind of intensity. The green in his hazel eyes seem to glow, and then his arm dragged her closer. His hand cupped the back of her head and his lips pressed against hers. He kissed her like he was a drowning man.

She kissed him like she was drowning, too.

Slowly, Luke pulled away and she settled against his chest. His fingers stroked her hair. “You’ve given me something, Cassie. I’m not going to squander that.”

“What have I given you?” She barely could whisper as her pulse raced in her throat.

“A future.” Tipping her chin, he kissed her again. She melted into him and inhaled his spicy cologne.

Sighing, he continued. “But, right now, I need to keep you protected. And as long as Nicholai is out there, I don’t feel like you’ll be safe.”

“How can I help?”

“Help?” He immediately stiffened as his voice growled.

“Yeah. You know. Help.”

“You aren’t getting anywhere near this. You can help by staying out of the way while I return to my job and take care of this piece of—”

“What are you talking about? I have been staying out of the way.”

“Not far enough. In fact, today we’re packing up your car and you’re going home. And, this time, you’re not talking me out of it.”

Cassie’s mouth dropped open. Her warm feelings flushed away as icy rejection sloshed over her. “I thought we already settled this?”

He stood up, the couch creaking at the release of his weight. “Look, you want me to be able to concentrate when I get back to work or what? Right now, all I’ll do is worry about you.”

She nodded, slightly mollified by the word
worry.
“I already told you I can’t go back. I’ll stay out of the way.”

“Cassie! For crying out loud! Why are you fighting me? Just go back home. I’ll call you when the coast is clear.”

Cassie couldn’t explain the black dread she felt about returning home. It was like her house had long chains still reaching for her, ready to lock her up again in suffocating fear. Life had just started opening up for her again. She tried again. “Remember when you told me to have patience with you? Well, I need you to give on this. You don’t understand who I was back home. It’s like death lives for me there. I barely escaped. Besides, Nicholai doesn’t know where I’m at. Sheila’s message proves that. I’m just as safe here as I would be at home.”

He stood before her and exhaled deeply out his nose. “You’re driving me crazy, woman.” Gently, he bumped his knee up against her own, before reaching and pulling Cassie to her feet. “Principessa.” His mouth was in her hair. “I’m just trying to keep you out of harm’s way. It didn’t work out so well the last time I went after him. I can’t chance losing you too. The thought of that,” his mouth moved lower as he shifted the hair off the back of her neck. “I can’t bear it, baby.” Softly his lips rested there. He traced his fingers down the curve of her cheek and whispered, “Okay?”

Cassie leaned away, her eyes searching his own. He wasn’t pushing her away again. He was being honest. Well, as honest as he could be right now. Satisfied, she nodded. “If you really can’t concentrate at your job, then I’ll leave. Just let me stay until the end of the week.”

“Deal.” He wiggled her arm back and forth. “Now, give me a smile.”

She broke out her cheesiest grin. A startled laugh broke out of him, and he shook his head. “Okay then, I’m heading out to meet with Sheila. And I’m calling in a favor with Trevor. He’s on day shift, so I’m asking him to spend the next few nights here, just to keep an eye on you.”

“Trevor staying here?”
Okay, that changes thing.

“Yeah. Like I said, he owes me. I bailed him out a time or two when he was fighting with his ol’ lady.” He laughed at her expression. “Don’t look so worried.”

“Me, worried? Never.”

“I’m not gonna let anything happen to you. But, you be good. Stay here.”

“Aye aye, Captain.” She gave him a mock salute.

“In the meantime, I’ll ask for a few extra patrol cars in the area. And Jared should be home soon. Did he bring you food this morning?”

She jabbed her thumb in the direction of the kitchen where several grocery bags lay empty on the table. “He even cleaned out the fridge. You know, you’re really relying a lot on an old high school friend.”

“Didn’t I tell you? He’s a former Marine. I think he’s secretly hoping something happens on his shift. He’s a
First to Fight
kind of guy.”

Hearing those words, Cassie breathed a sigh of relief.
It’s going to be okay. Somehow, this is all going to work out.

BOOK: A Beautiful Wreck (Second Chance #3)
2.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Kolonie Waldner 555 by Felipe Botaya
Tuffer's Christmas Wish by Jean C. Joachim
The Right Temptation by Escalera, Diane
The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley
Hello Darkness by Anthony McGowan
The Mascot by Mark Kurzem
Esher: Winter Valley Wolves #7 by V. Vaughn, Mating Season
emma_hillman_hired by emma hillman