Authors: Shiloh Walker
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #United States, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Suspense, #Contemporary Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Sagas, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense
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For Tim and Marty M. —Tim, thanks for all your help. Marty … just thanks.
For all my readers, who kept asking when I’d do another suspense, here you go. I hope you enjoy.
For Nicole, who is always answering legal and lawyer questions. I know I drive you nuts. Thank you.
For my husband and my kids, I love you.
This series had a false start … and stop … before I finally got around to really working on it. The first idea ended up getting trashed and I had to start from scratch when I was finally able to start working on the project.
It started with the idea of a body, found under the floorboards of an old house, inspired by something I’d read online. It trigged that old ‘what if’ game that happens to so many writers.
Right about the time that I got to working on this project the second time, events surrounding the molestations of numerous underage boys came to light and the entire world watched as Jerry Sandusky, a retired assistant football coach, was arrested and eventually went to jail for child molestation.
Not long after I sold the series and while the Sandusky trial was still very vivid, a teenager was raped, her assault captured on video and shared via social media. Her attackers were found guilty. Indictments against school officials, related to tampering with evidence and failure to report child abuse, later followed.
For every victim who finds justice, though, hundreds do not.
Very often, it seems where we live in a world where victims of assault have no voice. The Secrets & Shadows took on a life of its own, where people of power manipulated and abused some of the most helpless among us.
To those who have known such pain, may you find peace.
If you or somebody you know has been a victim of rape, abuse or incest, you can find support at RAINN.
It could be said that Adam Brascum loved women.
But it would be off-target. Adam didn’t love women—he didn’t
them, but he didn’t love them, either. He needed them.
The soft curves, the scent of their skin, the husky voices as they whispered to him in the night. If he worked it right, he could spend the night with any number of them and he wouldn’t have to be alone unless he wanted.
Wouldn’t have to be alone, with just the voices in his head, the memory of a phone call, the memory of a smile, the memory of the girl he might have been able to save.
If only he’d done something.
Now, years after, when it was far too late, he was doing something. Drowning his sorrows between the thighs of just about any woman who would have him.
There had been a time when he’d drown his sorrows with a woman, along with the help of his good friend Captain Morgan or maybe some Jack Daniel’s, but that had all stopped on a cold, wintry day. He could still remember the soft, sad words spoken in his ear, and at the foot of a grave he’d made a promise.
He didn’t make them often, but when he did, he kept them.
So the booze was gone.
His only vice now was women.
Lately, though, that vice wasn’t doing it for him anymore.
He barely knew the name of the woman in bed next to him. She was beautiful, a long, sleek woman maybe ten years older than him, and she had left him feeling like she could put him through his paces for the rest of the night. He’d slept maybe thirty minutes, her neck tucked against his chest, her hand resting on his stomach.
And then the nightmare hit.
He was standing in front of the house.
Just standing there.
It was dark.
It was cold.
The dimly lit windows mocked him. If he moved any closer, the lights would go out and he’d find nothing.
But he could hear her. Her voice, whispering his name.
Adam … why didn’t you help …
Why didn’t you …
Why didn’t you …
* * *
He came awake, choking back the oath. He’d learned long ago that when he made noise, whatever partner he had in bed with him tended to ask questions. Questions weren’t the kind of thing he liked to entertain in bed, so he eventually figured out how to strangle the groans, the curses … even the screams.
After all these years, it was second nature.
Next to him, there was a long, soft sigh. He froze, listened.
After years and years of slipping out of beds, he’d all but perfected it to an art and he could almost tell to the second when a woman was about to wake.
She shifted, rolled onto her belly.
Adam turned his head, stared at her in the dim light filtering in through the skylight. Her face, all but lost in the darkness, was a clean oval, her skin a warm, rich brown, her lips sweet and full. She had a wicked laugh and she’d looked at him like she had more than a few ideas about any secrets he might harbor. She’d looked, and she hadn’t cared.
I just divorced a son of a bitch who’d been cheating on me for eight years. I knew, and I couldn’t leave him. Now I can.
She told Adam that, sitting across from him at the sports bar he owned, staring at him with clear eyes.
This is how I burn those bridges.
He’d lifted an eyebrow at her.
Just how do you burn them, Jez?
He was the only man I ever shared my bed with and I plan on changing that damn fast. I’m almost fifty years old and I don’t want the only man I’ve slept with to be a lying, cheating son of a bitch.
Adam was a son of a bitch, but he couldn’t be called a cheater. He’d never married, never even had a serious relationship. Again, it went back to promises. If you didn’t make them, you didn’t have to worry about breaking them.
I might be a son of a bitch, but I’m clear on the rest of it.
She’d smiled at him.
They’d ended up in her room at the B&B, not the big one in town but a smaller, quieter one out near the river, and she’d all but turned him inside out. A hungry woman, a hot woman … who should have left him too burned-out to dream.
But here he was, on the edges of a desolate nightmare.
While Jez slept on.
He leaned in, brushed her cheek with his lips. “Find somebody who’ll do more than just share your bed, Jez,” he murmured.
She made a grumbling sound under her breath and then sighed, a faint smile curving her wicked, delicious mouth.
Then she shoved her face into the pillow.
He was gone in less than three minutes.
But he didn’t go home.
Instead, he drove out to the house that had haunted his nightmares. Yet again.
It stood there, a silent sentinel on the river. What secrets it guarded Adam didn’t know.
It hadn’t yielded an answer in all this time.
And now there was a new owner. It wasn’t likely any answers would ever be found. A new owner—pretty lady, from what he’d heard. A young kid. Blowing out a sigh, he put the car in reverse and did a three-point turn.
He hadn’t gotten answers in all this time.
It wasn’t going to happen now, either.
She had a ritual.
Get up in the morning.
Run three miles. Come back home. Do one hundred push-ups, two hundred sit-ups, shower, brush and braid her hair and then sit at the computer and take care of business before she went down to work. After work, she’d come up here, check her email again, read and then eat. Sometime around midnight or so, she would go to bed.
And all the while, she waited and she worried.
This was her life.
This was the only life she knew.
It was boring.
It was lonely.
It was safe.
It was comfortable.
Sometimes she hated it, but mostly she needed it.
Needed it because she remembered a time when she hadn’t
the safety. Nights when she hadn’t even had a bed. Days when she hadn’t had food in her belly. Days, weeks, months that had passed in a blur of nothingness, all because she had to forget, had to bury who she
You can do anything you set your mind to, baby.…
She’d been told that from the time she’d been just a little girl. Was it arrogance that she’d believed it? She hadn’t thought so at the time. But looking back, she’d realized those words had just been encouragement from an adult to just convince her to
She’d thought she could do extraordinary things; she’d set out to do just that. Then came the one thing that seemed so simple.
In the end, it had been huge, an insurmountable wall, and although that wall needed to be scaled, she just wasn’t strong enough to do it.
Instead of changing things, she’d ruined her life and the lives of how many others?
She couldn’t even begin to count.
So she didn’t try to change things in a big way anymore.
She focused on little things. If a guy needed food, she’d give him food. If somebody needed clothes, she’d find a way to give him clothes. More than once, she’d taken the shirt off her back—she always wore two around here, a T-shirt and a bigger outer shirt, a flannel in the winter, a work shirt in the summer. If she came out with fewer clothes than she left with? No big deal.
When she first started this new … life … if that was what she had to call it, somebody had told her,
Keep your head down. Don’t cause trouble, don’t look for it. Don’t attract attention.
So that was what she did now. She helped in small ways, because she hoped it might balance out the scale eventually. But she avoided trouble. She worked hard and she kept her head down.
It wasn’t enough, but she tried to pretend it was.
She wasn’t going to let anybody get hurt over her again.
But then the day came when she couldn’t keep up her nonexistence. The day, boring as it was, started like any other. She could hear the rattle of the L outside her window, smell the scent of coffee, bread from a bakery down the street. Car horns beeping and she rolled over, stared up the window with a sigh.
It was never quiet in Chicago. She’d long since gotten accustomed to it, but she missed silence, even now. After a minute or two of lying there and letting her brain wake up, she rolled out of bed, hit the floor and headed to the bathroom.
Five minutes later, she was out the door and ready for her run.
It was miserable hot, even at six a.m., and she dodged the commuters, the people rushing to and from the subway. Businesswomen in pretty suits with sensible shoes they’d swap out later. Some brave souls already wore their toothpick heels even to navigate the streets of Chicago, and that always made her smirk a little.
She was more at home in her boots and tennis shoes, but some of those heels did fill her with a wistful sort of envy, made her remember a time when she’d had a small—very small—hoard of pretty clothes. She’d had to bust her tail to get them, but she’d cherished them that much more. She’d loved just being a girl, pairing this shirt with that skirt, messing with her hair, playing with makeup, spending a ridiculous amount of time in the bathroom as she got ready for the day.
These women reminded her of who she might have become. Their sharply cut suits, the way they moved through life. They had a sense of purpose.
She envied it.
She had no purpose anymore. She hadn’t had purpose in far longer than she cared to think about. No purpose, no goals. No goals, other than maintaining the status quo.
You can’t worry about him now. You need to rest up, heal.
Those words echoed in her mind, even now.