When Fall Fades (The Girl Next Door Series Book 1) (31 page)

BOOK: When Fall Fades (The Girl Next Door Series Book 1)
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Chapter 32

Archer Hayes

“C
an we stop? I’m hungry.” The headlights stole out into the silver dusk. Sal squinted at the upcoming exit sign for fast food options.

“How about a fat, juicy failure-patty with a side of unemployment?”

Sal shrugged, his dark eyes wide with innocence. “Does that combo come with a soft drink?”

Archer blew out a laugh and shook his head. “We’ll be back in an hour. You can wait.”

“Aww.”

Archer glanced over at his partner whose cheek was now mournfully propped up by his fist. Silence extended for several miles while Sal seemed to pout it out. The contemplative quiet should have been peaceful, but it wasn’t. And not because of Sal’s silent brooding.

Something wasn’t right about all this. The tension in his chest was confirmation enough. And Archer had learned not to discount his gut.

It
seemed
like Canterbury was their guy. The drugs from the lab he’d broken into needed to be confirmed, but it was a tight fit. He had motive—skewed and unfounded as it was. And with his recent release from prison, the timing fit too.

“So what do we do about Canterbury? Manhunt?” Sal was apparently done sulking.

Archer nodded. “With the media attention, hopefully he won’t get too far. I just wish someone saw which way he was headed.”

“He seems to be our guy.”

“Seems to be.” Archer kept his eyes on the road.

“What? You’re not convinced?”

Sucking in a deep breath, his unease wound tighter. Expelling the pressure, he loosed his tie from his neck and unbuttoned the top button of his collar. “I didn’t say that.” The interior of the car felt like a hundred degrees. He cranked the AC and raked a hand through his hair, questioning the flare in his intuition.

“So, what
are
you saying?”

“I dunno, Sal. Something’s not sitting right.” Archer pulled out his cell to check for missed calls. No signal. Stupid phone.

“Did you eat without me before we left?”

“Ha!
No
, man. Is your mind ever on anything else?” He set the phone in the cup holder.

“Crime, chicks, chow. I know what’s important in life.”

Sal was genuinely funny, and that should have been good for a chuckle. Instead, it pinched with a sad truth. Archer’s list would have one item. Work. Not family, not friendship, not …

Oh
.

Something critical was missing from that list—from Archer’s life. The clarity of that one thing resounded in his head as if a megaphone screamed it against his ear.

Love.

Had he been too blind to see it? Or too stubborn. And did he truly deserve it? After everything he’d done?

“What’s wrong?”

“What?” For a moment Archer had forgotten he wasn’t alone with his thoughts.

Sal’s puzzlement relaxed into a smug grin. “Oh, I get it. Don’t think you can hide that hopeful, gooey-love glazed look in your eyes from me. Such a softie
.
Whaddya think,
Archer
, think you’re aim is good enough to pin your girl with Cupid’s arrow?”

His mind took a sharp turn. My girl.
Sadie.

He hadn’t even breathed her name, but panic ignited in his bloodstream. It was unfounded, and it didn’t make sense, but something in his gut fired off a warning flare.

You trying to tell me something, Big Guy?

The only response was his foot mashing down the gas pedal and a gut-wrenching premonition.

“Whoa! You may not be hungry for food, but it appears your appetite for Sadie can’t …” The quip died on Sal’s lips. “Wait, seriously what’s wrong?”

“I dunno, something. I can feel it.” Archer snatched his phone from the cup holder.

No signal. “Come on!” Clenching the phone in his fist, he slammed it down against the steering wheel.

Beep.

The bars for the signal filled in and an envelope appeared on the screen.

A message. From Sadie. Over twenty minutes ago.

Archer’s hand shook as he opened the text.

911

Oh God, don’t give up on me. Please don’t let it be too late.

Chapter 33

Sadie Carson

T
he adrenaline had been a rush of heated panic. Fear, on the other hand, was frigid. Icy little shards of it slithered slowly, tauntingly down her spine as she turned away from his perverse touch. Jagged fingernails dug into her jaw, forcing her face back to meet his dark soulless eyes—their wickedness painstakingly clear, despite the obvious cloud of derangement.

He was tall and well-muscled. With a dull, granite tint to his skin from numerous faded tattoos and a greasy tangle of stringy hair, he wore the hard life he’d endured for all to see. She shuddered when he licked the bottom of his rotting teeth, his tongue smattered with a repulsive brown grit.

“Pretty little thing, aren’t ya?” He clawed her tender flesh as his grip raked down to her throat. His eyes flashed, and his hold softened, skimming down her neck to her breast. “We can do things the easy way or the hard way. After twenty years in prison I think I prefer the hard way.” His hand tightened.

Swallowing a sour breath of his stench, she gulped down the nausea ascending her throat, struggling to keep her wits about her. “What do you want?” She kept her jaw clamped tight, grinding her teeth to keep more strength in her voice than her trembling larynx would allow.

“I want the book.” His hold firmed to the point of pain.

“The b—book?”

“Yeah, the evidence against my father. Give it to me.” He spoke near her face, a big league spew of chaw spit from his cracked and stained lips. Vapors from the tobacco on his sticky breath clogged in her nose.

She bit back her repulsion.
Just focus and answer the man’s question.
“I don’t know where it is. As far as I know it was destroyed.”

“NO! He will not destroy my father!” His outburst unleashed merely an inch from her face. She flinched, felt moisture seep from the corners of her eyes from his punishing grip.

Then he jerked back, releasing her, and began muttering to himself in a fit of fury. Wonderful. Her survival was teetering on the edge of this big, brutal man’s tumultuous psychological stability.

Breathe
.

She had to be smart about this, tread carefully, but this kind of terror was powerful and irrational. She could feel the emotion reinjecting into her veins like a shot of epinephrine.

She spoke tenderly to calm him, despite her heart rate sprinting toward tachycardia. “I don’t know what you are talking about. And Charlie is dead, he can’t destroy anyone.”
You killed him
, almost slipped from her lips.

He turned away, and Sadie wrestled with her restraints, biting her lip against the burn of the ropes.

His back to her, his fists coiling as if to collect his fury, he spoke through a thinly contained rage. “You’re not listening to me.” He withdrew a utility knife from his back pocket, turned slowly to face her and protracted the blade. She stilled, the menace in his eyes chilling as he placed the razored tip at Sadie’s throat.

Swallowing hard, the blade pressed deeper against her skin. She squeezed her eyes tight, trying to obliterate the image of the man’s poisonous stare and praying it wouldn’t be the last thing she would see on this earth.

The prick of the knife left her skin. A warm bead of blood skated down her sternum. Then she felt something tug at the fabric of her shirt. Her eyes shot open. Her T-shirt was sliced down the center baring her—thankfully—bra-clad chest.

He moaned. A sickening sound she hoped never to hear again. His suggestive leer made her stomach dive and her mind reel with a million wrong ways to handle this situation, but not one right way.

“Don’t.” Was all she could manage to say.

The crude edge of the blade scraped teasingly across the swell of her chest, a shiver of gooseflesh tightened her skin. “We’re gonna have some fun. The work truck I boosted on the way here came with all sorts of
goodies
.” He pulled the knife from her skin, twirled it in his palm like a revolver in an old west shootout. “If you’re a good girl, I might just let you pick which tool I use next.”

Nauseous tremors gripped her body when she saw how this might play out. Too much time had passed. No one was coming. Archer wasn’t riding to her rescue.

That meant if she was going to survive this, she’d have to save herself. She wasn’t exceptionally strong or brave but she was smart and tough where it counted.

Her mind streamlined, straining to recall what Archer had said about the case—about Charlie’s time in the war. If her brain was firing on all cylinders—no way to be sure due to the slow rotation of the room and the pounding in her skull—then she surmised that this lunatic in front of her must be Reamus’s son.

But Reamus had been a captain when Charlie was young. So unless Reamus was over a hundred years old, he’d have to be dead by now. From the way this guy was talking, he seemed to believe his father was still alive and might have something to lose if evidence from the journals ever got out.

“I—I understand you’re trying to help your father, but what you’re looking for isn’t here. I’m sorry I can’t help you.” Sadie held her breath.

His expression softened for a brief moment before suspicion pinched his brow. “Charlie told you to say that, didn’t he? Liars! All of you!” He blinked erratically and his body tweaked and jerked with a sort of tick—tell-tale signs of withdrawal.

She couldn’t even flinch before he backhanded her with his fist. Pain exploded behind her eyes. Her head flopped against her shoulder, her neck limp and wrung and aching. Tangy, metallic blood awakened her taste buds, but everything else felt dormant, lifeless—like she’d been defeated with one blow.

The pain was paralyzing. Her face, head, arms, and throat all screaming at her. She was more than thankful that he took his next bout of rage out on a stack of papers on the nearby table so she had a moment to recover. Her head lulled forward, her neck muscles like wet spaghetti failing to stabilize.

Pages fluttered to the ground near her feet. Through the haze of tears and spotty vision she was able to make out a few words. An initial postmortem report, tox screen analysis—they appeared to be faxed copies of Charlie’s murder case files. How—?

The sudden quiet was as frightening as the belligerent outbursts. Dirt-creased fingers lifted her chin. There was no mistaking the intent in his gaze.

“Please don’t do this.” Her voice choked out in a pleading whisper.

His eyes flashed with satisfaction—her display of fear only serving to stimulate his arousal.

“The evidence, now,” he growled.

She wasn’t a very convincing liar, but she could try and switch up her tactic. “No.” He clamped his hand over her mouth, stopping the lie about to emerge. Then he traced the pulsating column of her neck, stroked his hand across the scalloped lace of her bra and pulled the fabric down. His breathing got instantly heavy as he used punishing fingers to pinch and twist and bruise her.

Sick sick sick!

She held in a whimper so as not to inflame him, but he didn’t need to feed on her fear anymore. Lust and greed had overtaken him. She twisted her ankles against the ropes while he pressed his face between her breasts and breathed deeply, his hands growing more fervent in their torment.

One calloused palm shifted down her stomach to her lap. Bile rose in Sadie’s throat as he reached a flat hand down the front of her pants and curled his fingers.

Well beyond the threshold of controlled diplomacy, she writhed against his advances, fighting against the ropes and the grotesque hand groping her. “Help!” The strangled threads of her vocal cords broke. “Help me!” The scream emerged raspy and desperate. She jerked at the binds at her ankles again and again, banging hard against the seat, her back throbbing with each unforgiving blow. 

A sickening smirk spread across his deranged face. His free hand went to his belt and deftly released the buckle and the top button while his other filthy hand continued to touch her. “Get your hands off me, you sick creep! Somebody help me!”  The fingers on his zipper stalled, then moved to squeeze around her throat. “Don’t worry, it will be over soon. But if you scream … I’ll do it again. And again. Until you give me the answers I want.”

Piercing slivers of air barbed past her windpipe, just enough to keep her conscious while her ankles worked at the ropes. Tighter.
Breathe
. Tighter. Her body bowed, straining for breath. Tears leaked down her cheeks. Black spots danced in her eyes.

This is it …

He released her with a hard jerk. A fit of convulsive coughs wheezed in and out of her starving lungs, intensifying the thundering pain in her skull.

He bent down, pulled on the waistband to remove her sweatpants.

Wrenching her ankle, she felt the rope give. One foot slipped loose of the ties just as her phone fell, tangled in her pants, and clacked against the floor. He paused—reached for the phone. With that single moment of distraction she rammed her free knee into his already busted nose.

“Bitch!” He gripped his face and fell to the floor, hunching on his elbows and knees, cursing and spraying blood.

She was shaking, but she managed to stand, lifting with her the chair still strapped to her arms. Turning abruptly, she sat back with all of her might, forcing two of the metal legs of the chair to jab against his back, pinning him down.

She tried to stand and deliver another blow, but the uneven force of the first jab—and the entanglement of her pants around her ankles—caught her off balance and she stumbled backward. Crash-landing against the chair, pain spread like a shock wave through her body.

Get up. Get up and fight back.

Struggling against the chair, she fought to regain her footing when she saw something move in her periphery.

“Freeze, Police!”

She froze, heart pounding, afraid to breathe until she heard his cuffs click into place. And then, and only then, did her fight surrender, her battered body collapsing against the toppled chair in a disjointed heap, her sobs unleashing. It was over. She had survived.

“Are you okay, Miss?” Another officer appeared and helped free her from the chair.

She couldn’t speak to answer—wasn’t sure she knew the answer.

She was alive but was she okay? Everything ached, and the room swayed again as the officer helped her off the floor.

Sadie looked down, realized she was standing in front of two male police officers in her mangled bra and underwear, and about fainted. Thankfully one of them steadied her so she could adjust and reach down to gather her pants. She pulled at her now open front T-shirt to conceal her chest, crossed her arms over what wasn’t covered, and did her best to keep her chin up while they escorted her out.

A swarm of police cars had arrived by the time she got to the lot. Red and blue flashes of light reflected off the night sky, stirring up another round of staggering steps as her equilibrium endeavored to right itself against the kaleidoscope.

She was still in survival mode, and wasn’t sure she’d feel safe until …

She halted that thought, and instead, searched for the only person she wanted to see. But as she scanned the bustling scene, her hopes shattered.

Maybe she really had messed things up beyond repair. And maybe that was her answer.

After being wrapped in a blanket and seen by a paramedic, Sadie was violated all over again as she was asked to submit her clothes and was scrubbed for evidence. She changed into the scrubs they provided and was asked to come to the FBI office to give her account of the incident.

Incident? Is that really what they wanted to call her abduction and attempted rape? Exhaustion in its truest form took over her achy body. The last thing she wanted to do was take a ride downtown and rehash the living nightmare, but at least the worst was over and all of this would be put to rest. Charlie’s family would have their closure, and Sadie? She would go back to waiting for a miracle that would never come.

After an awkwardly silent escort to the FBI building, Sadie sat in a virtual prison behind a metal table. The bite of the chilled steel under her folded arms revisited the torturous hours strapped to that chair as she relayed every horrible detail to the stoic man in an equally stiff-looking suit. If this guy was going to be in the business of questioning traumatized people, he needed to work on his bedside manner.

At least he’d filled her in on the particulars of Reamus, er—Canterbury’s escape. Though the fact that her attacker was being booked and questioned in this same building made her want to retch out whatever might remain in her stomach that hadn’t burned off from anxiety. Even being here—in a building loaded with law enforcement—she felt an eerie certainty that she’d never feel safe again.

Some sort of commotion pulled the agent from Sadie’s interrogation, so alone she sat in the cold room, feeling on edge and ready to crumble. The seconds ticked by like hours as she fought back another aftershock of tears.

When the agent finally returned he told her she was free to go but that Agent Hayes requested to see her in his office before she left.

BOOK: When Fall Fades (The Girl Next Door Series Book 1)
11.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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