Authors: Karen Rose
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General, #Suspense
Copyright © 2008 by Karen Rose Hafer
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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First eBook Edition: May 2008
Have You Seen Her?
I’m Watching You
Nothing to Fear
You Can’t Hide
Count to Ten
Die for Me
To Martin, because the sun shines brighter whenever you’re with me. Of course, living in a very sunny state doesn’t hurt, but you get my drift. I love you.
To Kay and Marc. Your friendship is without price.
And to my editor, Karen Kosztolnyik, and my agent, Robin Rue. Thank you.
Danny Agan for answering all my questions on police procedure.
Doug Byron for answering all my questions on forensic chemistry.
Marc Conterato for all things medical.
Martin Hafer for information on hypnosis and for sliding dinner under my office door when I’m on deadline.
Jimmy Hatton and Mike Koenig for being such a great team all those years ago. I couldn’t help but give you an encore performance.
Terri Bolyard, Kay Conterato, and Sonie Lasker for listening when I get stuck!
Shannon Aviles for your support and all the buzz.
Beth Miller for all your enthusiasm!
All mistakes are my own.
Mansfield Community Hospital, Dutton, Georgia
Thirteen years ago
bell dinged. Another elevator had arrived. Alex stared at the floor and wished to be invisible as a strong perfume tickled her nose.
“Violet Drummond, come
. We’ve still got two patients to visit. What are you
? Oh.” The last was uttered on an indrawn breath.
“Isn’t that . . .
?” The whisper came from Alex’s left. “The Tremaine girl that lived?”
Alex kept her eyes fixed on the fists she clenched in her lap.
“Looks like,” the first woman answered, dropping her voice. “My goodness, she looks just like her sister. I saw the other one’s picture in the paper. Spittin’ images, they are.”
“Well, they are twins. Identical, even. Were, anyway. God rest her soul.”
Alex’s chest closed up and she couldn’t breathe.
“Shame, it was. Pretty thing like that found dead in a ditch without a stitch on. God only knows what that man did to her before he killed her.”
“Dirty no-good drifter. I hope they fry him alive. I heard he’d . . .
A million voices were screaming in her head.
Cover your ears. Make them stop.
But Alex’s hands stayed clenched in her lap.
Shut the door
Shut the door.
The door in her mind closed and the screaming abruptly stilled. There was quiet again. Alex dragged in a breath. Her heart was racing.
one in the wheelchair there tried to kill herself after she found her mama dead on the floor. She took every pill Doc Fabares prescribed for her mother’s nerves. Luckily her aunt found her in time. The girl, of course. Not the mother.”
“Well, of course not. You don’t get up after shootin’ yourself in the head.”
Alex flinched, the crack of the single shot echoing through her mind, again and again and again. And the blood.
So much blood. Mama.
I hate you I hate you I wish you were dead.
Alex closed her eyes. Tried to make the screams go away, but they wouldn’t stop.
I hate you I hate you I wish you were dead.
Shut the door.
“Where’s she from, the aunt?”
“Delia at the bank says the aunt’s a nurse from Ohio. She and the girl’s mama are sisters. Were anyway. Delia says when the aunt walked up to her window she nearly had heart failure. Lookin’ at the aunt was just like looking at Kathy—spooked her good.”
“Well, I heard Kathy Tremaine used the gun that belonged to that man she was livin’ with. What an example to set for those girls of hers, livin’ with a man, and at her age.”
Panic began to well.
Shut the door.
his. He has a daughter, too. Bailey’s her name.”
“They were wild, wild girls, all three of ’em. Somethin’ like this was bound t’happen.”
“Wanda, please. It’s not that girl’s fault some homeless man raped and killed her.”
Alex’s breath was backing up in her lungs.
Go away. Go to hell. Both of you. All of you. Just leave me alone and let me finish what I started.
Wanda scoffed. “Have you seen the way these girls dress today? Just askin’ for a man to drag them off and do God-knows-what. I’m just glad
being taken away.”
“She is? The aunt’s takin’ her back to Ohio?”
“That’s what Delia at the bank told me. I say it’s a blessing that she won’t be going back to the high school. My granddaughter goes to that school, in the tenth grade, same as the Tremaine girls. Alexandra Tremaine would have been a terrible influence.”
“Terrible,” Violet agreed. “Oh, look at the time. We still have to visit Gracie and Estelle Johnson. Push the elevator button, Wanda. My hands are full with these violets.”
The button dinged and the two old women were gone. Alex was shaking from inside her body out to her skin. Kim was taking her to Ohio. Alex didn’t really care. She didn’t plan on making it to Ohio anyway. All she wanted was to finish what she’d started.
“Alex?” Footsteps clacked on the tile and she smelled a new perfume, clean and sweet. “What’s wrong? You’re shaking like a leaf. Meredith, what happened? You were supposed to be watching her, not sitting on that bench with your nose in a book.”
Kim touched her forehead and Alex wrenched back, keeping her eyes on her hands.
Don’t touch me.
She wanted it to be a snarl, but the words echoed only in her own mind.
“Is she okay, Mom?” It was Meredith. Alex had a vague memory of her cousin, one big girl of seven playing Barbies with two five-year-olds.
Two little girls
Alex wasn’t part of two anymore.
Panic began to well again.
For God’s sake shut the door.
Alex drew a breath. Focused on the darkness in her mind. Quiet darkness.
“I think so, Merry.” Kim knelt in front of the chair and tugged on Alex’s chin until she lifted her face. Her eyes met Kim’s and instantly skittered away. With a sigh, Kim stood and Alex breathed again. “Let’s get her to the car. Dad’s bringing it up to the door.” The elevator door dinged once again and Alex’s chair was pulled into the elevator backward. “I wonder what upset her? I was only gone for a few minutes.”
“I think it was those old ladies. I think they were talking about Alicia and Aunt Kathy.”
“What? Meredith, why didn’t you say something to them?”
“I couldn’t really hear them. I didn’t think Alex could hear them either. Mostly they were just whispering.”
“I’ll just bet they were, old busybodies. Next time, come get me.”
The elevator dinged and the chair was pushed into the hall. “Mom.” Meredith’s voice took on a warning tone. “It’s Mr. Crighton. And he’s got Bailey and Wade with him.”
“I was hoping he’d do the right thing for once. Meredith, run out to the car and get your father. Have him call the sheriff, just in case Mr. Crighton gives us any trouble.”
“Okay. Mom, don’t make him mad, please.”
“I won’t. Now go.”
The wheelchair came to a stop and Alex stared hard at the hands in her lap. Her own hands. She blinked hard. They looked different. Had they always looked this way?
“Dad, she’s taking her. You can’t let her take Alex away.” Bailey. It sounded like she was crying.
Don’t cry, Bailey. It’s better this way.
“She’s not taking her anywhere.” His boots stopped shuffling on the tile.
Kim sighed. “Craig, please. Don’t make a scene. It’s not good for Alex or your own kids. Take Wade and Bailey home. I’m taking Alex with me.”
“Alex is my daughter. You can’t have her.”
“She’s not your daughter, Craig. You never married my sister, never adopted her children. Alex is mine and she leaves with me, today. I’m sorry, Bailey,” Kim added, her voice gentling. “But this is the way it needs to be.
can come visit her any time.”
Scuffed black work boots stopped next to Alex’s own feet. She pulled her feet back. Kept her eyes down.
“No. That girl lived in my house for five years, Kim. She called me ‘Daddy.’ ”
No, that Alex had never done. She’d called him “sir.”
Bailey was crying now, hard. “Please, Kim, don’t do this.”
“You can’t take her. She can’t even look at you.” There was desperation in Craig’s voice and truth in his words. Alex couldn’t look at Kim, not even now that she’d changed her hair. It was a nice try and Alex knew she should be grateful for Kim’s sacrifice. But Kim couldn’t change her eyes. “You cut and dyed your hair, but you still look like Kathy. Every time she looks at you, she’ll see her mama. Is that what you want?”
“If she stayed with you, she’d see her mama dead in the living room every time she came downstairs,” Kim snapped. “What were you thinking, leaving them alone?”
“I had to go to work,” Craig snarled back. “It’s what keeps bread on my table.”
I hate you. I wish you were dead.
The voices screamed in her mind, loud and long and angry. Alex bent her head low and Kim’s hand brushed the back of her neck.
Don’t touch me.
She tried to pull away, but Craig was too close. So she stayed frozen.
“Damn you and damn your work,” Kim said bitterly. “You left Kathy alone on the worst day of her life. If you’d been home, she might be alive and Alex wouldn’t be here.”
The boots came closer and Alex pulled her feet back further.
“Are you saying
caused this? That
made Kathy kill herself? That
made Alex swallow a bottle of pills?
Is that what you’re saying?
The silence between them was tense and Alex held her breath, waiting. Kim wasn’t saying no and Craig’s hands were now fisted as tight as Alex’s were.
The doors swished open, then closed and there were more footsteps on the tile floor. “Kim, is there a problem?” Kim’s husband, Steve. Alex let out the breath she held. He was a big man with a kind face. Alex could look at his face. But not now.
“I don’t know.” Kim’s voice trembled. “Craig, is there a problem?”
Another few beats of silence and Craig’s fists slowly relaxed. “No. Will you at least let me and the kids say good-bye?”
“I suppose that would be okay.” Kim’s perfume grew faint as she moved away.
Craig was coming closer.
Shut the door.
Alex squeezed her eyes closed and held her breath while he whispered in her ear. She concentrated hard, keeping him out of her mind, and finally, finally he stepped away.
She sat hunched over while Bailey hugged her. “I’ll miss you, Alex. Whose clothes will I steal now?” Bailey tried to laugh, but choked on a sob. “Write to me, please.”
Wade was last.
Shut the door
. Again she held herself rigid as he hugged her good-bye. The voices screeched. It hurt.
Please. Make it stop
. She focused, hands on the door, shoving it closed. Finally Wade stepped away and she could breathe once more.
“Now we’ll leave,” Kim said. “Please let us go.” Alex held her breath again until they reached a white car. Steve scooped her up and settled her on the seat.
. Steve fastened her seatbelt, then cupped her face in his hand.
“We’ll take care of you, Alex. I promise,” he said softly.
He slammed her car door and it was only then that Alex let herself unclench her fist. Just a little. Just enough to see the bag she held. Pills. A lot of tiny white pills. Where? When? It didn’t matter where or when. What mattered was she could now finish what she’d started. She licked her bottom lip and forced her chin up.
“Please.” She flinched at the sound of her own voice. It was rusty from lack of use.
In the front seat both Steve and Kim jerked around to look.
“Mom, Alex talked!” Meredith was grinning.
Alex was not.
“What is it, honey?” Kim asked. “What do you need?”
Alex dropped her eyes. “Water. Please.”