Authors: Rita Herron
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Suspense, #ROMANCE - - SUSPENSE
Amanda stiffened beside him.
Justin clenched his jaw. Most men would have been pleased at her advance. But Justin was simply annoyed. He wrapped his fingers around her hand and stopped her playful tease.
“No, thanks. We’re working a case,” he said. “Do you know anyone who would have wanted to hurt Kelly?”
Renee shook her head. “No. But poor Raymond. I bet he’s distraught.”
“Yes, he appears to be,” Amanda said.
Renee’s eyes twitched with a devilish gleam. “I guess I’ll have to console him at the reunion.”
Justin’s stomach twisted. He really didn’t like women like Renee. Teases. She probably flirted with anything in pants.
“What about that dead girl they found at the creek?” Renee asked. “I heard she used to live around here, too.”
“She did,” Amanda said. “Other women in Sunset Mesa have disappeared over the past decade, too, and we suspect it might have something to do with our class. That our reunion might be triggering someone’s anger toward the females.”
Renee paled, and she stepped backward, her hand gripping the door. “Are you saying this maniac might come after me?”
* * *
Sunset Mesa would wake up today, wolf down breakfast, go to school and find one of their alumni lying on the bleachers waiting for them.
Kelly Lambert didn’t look so pretty right now.
Getting her onto the football field had been an ordeal. But it was worth it.
Maybe the bullies and mean girls would think twice about how they hurt others the next time.
Yes, all the members of that class were counting down the days till they partied together again.
But their party might be moved to the cemetery when they realized how many of them would end up dead.
“What did you think of Renee?” Amanda asked, hoping the sliver of jealousy she’d felt when the wicked woman had flirted with Justin hadn’t shown through.
She had no reason to be jealous. Justin was his own man. He could flirt or sleep with anyone he wanted.
They weren’t even remotely involved and never would be.
“I think she’s a big flirt and probably a liar. But that also tells me she probably wasn’t serious enough or obsessed enough with Fisher to carry a ten-year-old torch for him.”
“True, she has always been superficial,” Amanda said, surprised but relieved that Justin hadn’t fallen for the woman’s charm. Most men did.
“I also think she’s too concerned with fashion, her looks and appearances to dirty herself enough to commit a murder.” Justin folded his hands, flicking his fingernails. “Did you see those fake claws? Girls like that are too worried about breaking a nail to strangle someone.”
Amanda laughed. “You’re right. Let’s go talk to Donald.”
“His home or work?” Justin asked.
“I looked him up this morning. He has a home office, works in computer graphics.”
She gave him the address and pointed out directions as he drove. But her nerves remained on edge as they passed the high school, and she saw teachers arriving for work, buses beginning to pull up. The marquis out front announced that prom was fewer than two weeks away. The same night Kelly’s wedding had been scheduled. Amanda wondered if she’d planned it that way.
The reunion date was also posted.
A bad feeling crept over her, and she clenched the seat edge. Had something else happened?
“Is this the right road?” he asked.
“Yes.” Amanda pointed to the subdivision. “Go to the end of the road and turn left.”
He pulled down the row of houses, all older with a spattering of well-kept single-family homes mingling with rentals that had seen better days. He turned left and they wound down a mile-long private drive to the Reisling estate.
Justin parked and Amanda caught his arm before they got out. “If you don’t mind, let me take the lead. Donald might be...defensive.”
“He also might be guilty,” Justin said. “I don’t intend to cut him any slack just because he’s in a chair.”
“Fair enough,” Amanda said, although her heart squeezed. She felt like Donald had been dealt a shoddy deal in life.
Yet he’d chosen to say he was driving instead of turn Lynn in.
He’d probably regretted that a thousand times over. If so though, why hadn’t he changed his testimony later?
The enormous estate house sat on several acres, grandiose and stately.
“What the hell does this man do to own this place?” Justin asked.
“Family money,” Amanda said. “Donald’s father is an entrepreneur, works in investments and has done well. But Donald’s grandfather invented some kind of farm equipment that he patented and it earned them a fortune.”
Justin followed her up to the door, where she rang the bell. A few minutes later, a voice sounded and the door opened to reveal Donald in his wheelchair.
But instead of looking scruffy and angry, as if he was living in the past, he was well dressed in dress slacks and a blue shirt and his hair was groomed.
“I’m the sheriff now,” she said.
“That’s right, I heard that,” he said, his mouth quirking to the side.
“This is Sergeant Thorpe with the Texas Rangers,” she said. “Can we come in?”
“Sure. What’s this about?”
“Kelly Lambert’s disappearance.”
“That was shocking. I don’t know how I can help, but come on in.” He turned and wheeled his way through the two-story foyer to an office equipped with a state-of-the-art computer system.
Reisling parked his chair behind his desk and indicated a coffee decanter on the sideboard. “Help yourself.”
Amanda and Justin both declined. Her gaze was drawn to the high school trophies on a bookcase behind him. If his basketball career hadn’t been cut short, he would have most likely added college ones to that collection.
“Donald, when was the last time you saw Kelly?” Amanda asked.
Donald rubbed his temple as if he had to think about the question. Because he was fabricating a lie?
“Honestly, it’s probably been months. She dropped by one day to ask me if I wanted to help with the committee organizing the class reunion.” He grunted. “Imagine that.”
Justin cleared his throat. “Sheriff Blair told me what happened years ago. Her visit must have angered you.”
Donald chuckled. “Actually I thought it was funny. I asked her why she thought I’d even want to attend, much less help organize the thing. It’s not like I’ve stayed friends with anyone from back then.”
Anger hardened his tone. She couldn’t blame him. Hadn’t she thought the same thing when she’d opened her own invitation? And she didn’t have the reason to dislike their classmates that he did.
“So why didn’t you move away?” Justin asked.
Donald shrugged. “Takes money to have a place set up for handicap access,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’m not proud that I live at home—then again, my father is rarely here. He has his own office and travels. And I stay in the guesthouse. He also fronted me startup money for my own business. Now, I’m doing pretty well,” he said. “I’ve been looking at buying a condo in the city.”
Amanda offered him a smile. “It sounds like you’ve made a success of yourself.” Not as if he was stuck in the past.
He gave a sarcastic laugh. “Business is good. But not a lot of women can handle the chair.”
Sympathy for him stole through Amanda.
“Where were you day before yesterday?” Justin interjected.
Donald’s expression turned to steel. “What? Why? You don’t think I had something to do with Kelly’s disappearance, do you?”
The strained second that followed answered his question.
He cut his eyes toward Amanda. “Amanda, why would you think that?”
“You suffered a terrible tragedy and got the raw end of the deal. Everyone said Lynn was driving the night of your accident.”
“That must have eaten at you all these years,” Justin said in a dark voice. “Watching her go on with her life, date other guys, have everything you missed out on with no consequences.”
Any semblance of friendliness faded from Donald’s face. “Even if I did harbor resentment toward Lynn, why the hell would I hurt Kelly?” His voice rose an octave. “Besides, I thought some sicko stalker was kidnapping those women.”
Justin crossed his arms. “It’s possible that the kidnapper hates all women who remind him of the one who first hurt him.”
Tension stretched between the two men as Donald realized the implications of Justin’s statement.
Donald pressed a hand over his chest. “Look, that person is not me. I decided a long time ago that anger was only holding me back.”
“That’s very mature of you,” Justin said.
Amanda pursed her lips. “So you forgave Lynn?”
“Yes.” A mixture of emotions seethed in Donald’s eyes. “You may not believe me, but look at me.” He gestured at his chair. “Even if I wanted revenge or was this sick person you’re talking about, how the hell would I kidnap anyone and get away with it?”
“Donald, we’re just trying to get to the truth,” Amanda said calmly. “One of the missing women was found in Camden Creek. She’d been strangled and was holding one of our class rings.”
“So you think someone in our class murdered her?”
Justin spoke up. “Someone who had a beef with the females. After your accident, we heard that the girls turned you down for dates.”
Pain wrenched Donald’s eyes. “I admit it was a rough time, but that doesn’t make me a killer.”
“We’re talking to everyone still in town and everyone coming in for the reunion,” Amanda said.
“What about your father?” Justin asked.
A muscle ticked in Justin’s jaw. “What about him?”
“You may have forgiven Lynn and accepted your situation, but did he?” Justin asked. “He probably enjoyed watching you play basketball. He had big dreams for you. Then those dreams were crushed because some teenager caused your paralysis. That would be enough to set off any parent.”
Donald gripped the wheels of his chair and flew around his desk. “I think you need to leave now.”
“Please, Donald,” Amanda said. “If you know anything about Tina’s death or Kelly’s disappearance, tell me. I don’t want to see anyone else hurt.”
Donald gestured toward the door. “I told you what I know. Now, if you want to talk to me again, go through my attorney.”
* * *
talk to Reisling’s father,” Justin said as they left the estate.
Amanda fastened her seat belt. “He has an office in town.”
“You feel sorry for the guy, don’t you?” Justin asked.
Amanda twisted sideways to look at him. “I don’t know what to think. If he’s truly forgiven Lynn, then maybe he’s found some peace and happiness and he’s not our perp.”
“But his father might be,” Justin pointed out. “A parent’s love is the strongest bond there is. I’ve seen fathers, especially fathers of athletes, do outrageous things to help their kids succeed.”
“I know there are stories of fistfights at little league games, and dopers at the Olympics—”
“And parents who sought revenge against another person for hurting their child.”
Amanda bit her lip as they lapsed into silence.
Ten minutes later, they arrived at Reisling’s office on the corner of town. Justin faintly wondered why the man hadn’t kept his office at home as his son had, but figured Reisling had other employees working for him and needed a professional space.
He was worried about Amanda, too. Knowing the people in town made it more difficult for her to treat them as suspects.
She obviously hadn’t seen the harsh realities he had on the job. Teenagers killing their parents. Husbands and wives taking out hits on one another.
Babies abused and children mistreated in heinous ways.
“Were you and Donald friends growing up?”
Amanda shook her head. “I told you before, I wasn’t in the popular crowd. He was.”
“Until the accident,” Justin clarified. “Coupled with the loss of his scholarship, losing his social status and the extra burden of helping him start his business, his father could have broken.”
Amanda sighed wearily. “I know logically you’re right. But it’s hard for me to believe that a serial killer has been living in Sunset Mesa all this time and no one caught on.”
Justin wanted to cut her some slack. “Sometimes people are blinded because they’re too close to the situation.”
“To see the forests for the trees,” Amanda finished. “But surely a friend or family member would have noticed something suspicious.”
Justin parked, noting as they walked up the sidewalk that the office space was the nicest building on the street. Reisling must have spent some major bucks on renovations. “It’s possible that the killer lives alone. Or that if a family member noticed something suspicious, he or she is in denial.”
Amanda sighed. “Or they feel indebted enough to the unsub not to turn him in.”
He reached for the door to the office. “That would fit Donald. He has to feel indebted to his father.”
“I don’t like this,” Amanda said. “But I like even less the fact that a killer might have been hiding in town right under my nose.”
Justin squeezed her arm. A dangerous move because heat blazed through him instantly. Amanda glanced down at his arm, then licked her lips, drawing his gaze to her mouth.
Damn. She had luscious full lips. Lips he wanted to taste.
“Don’t beat yourself up, Amanda,” he said softly. “This string of disappearances started long before you took office. You were only a teenager back then.”
“Yes, but when I think about my classmates, I can’t imagine any one of them committing these crimes.”
He dropped his hand and opened the door. “Let’s talk to Reisling.”
The inside of the office was plush and modern, nothing like the Western feel of the town. Steel gray and chrome furniture, a high-tech computer where a receptionist sat and expensive artwork.
He didn’t feel as if he was in Texas anymore.
Amanda led the way to the receptionist’s desk. “We need to talk to Mr. Reisling.”
The middle-aged woman with platinum hair frowned up at Amanda, giving her a jolt of surprise.
“Mrs. Kane, I didn’t realized you worked here.” Or that she worked at all. She had been the country-club type.
“Yes,” the woman said with a sheepish look. “I’ve been here a couple of years now. Mr. Reisling’s good to me.”
Amanda glanced sideways at Justin. “Is he in, ma’am? It’s important we talk to him.”
Confusion marred the woman’s face, which obviously had had some touch-up work. “Can I tell him what this is about?”
Justin flashed his badge. “Tell him it’s urgent police business.”
She rose, diamonds and jewels glittering, then disappeared through a doorway that probably led to more offices in the back.
“You seemed surprised to see her here,” Justin said.
Amanda jammed her hands in the pockets of her jacket. “I am. She was one of those tennis moms who had maids and martini lunches.”
Justin started to say something more, but the door opened, and Mrs. Kane waved them through, then led them into a hallway and to an office space that was even plusher than the entry and waiting area. The computer system outdid the sheriff’s office’s ancient one by thousands of dollars.
Mr. Reisling greeted them with shakes of their hands and indicated for them to seat themselves in the area in the corner. A sparkling water decanter sat by crystal glasses, along with a fancy espresso machine, and a fully loaded bar ran along the back wall. Reisling offered them a drink, but Amanda shook her head and Justin cut straight to the chase.
“Mr. Reisling, we’re investigating the disappearance of several young women from this area over the past ten years, the most recent being Kelly Lambert. We also recently recovered the body of Tina Grimes.”
Mr. Reisling smoothed a hand over his red tie. “I don’t understand what that has to do with me.” He glanced pointedly at Amanda. “What’s going on, Sheriff?”