Authors: Audrey Claire
Tags: #Mystery: Paranormal - North Carolina
I forced a smile and turned solid. “Would you like something to drink, Isabelle? Please, have a seat.” I don’t know why I was playing the courteous host after my stunt and Isabelle’s revelation.
Isabelle took a seat on the couch and crossed her legs at the ankle. “No, I’m fine. Thank you. I’m sorry for visiting so late. I had to take care of a few things, and I had put off the visit for so long already.”
Her attitude surprised me, but I played along. If we were going to behave like neighbors enjoying a cozy chat, it was fine for now. Never mind the elephant in the room. We discussed the gossip circulating town, carefully avoiding anything to do with my love life. The murder came next, and Isabelle assured me proudly that her brother would see justice done for poor Sadie.
“I agree,” I said. “Clark’s good at his job.” I winced, having forgotten I had vowed to go back to calling Clark chief.
Isabelle took it in stride, her smile never wavering. “I won’t speak ill of the dead, but I doubt anyone but Sadie’s friends and family care about justice for her. Of course, Clark is duty and honor-bound to solve the case.”
I sat back in the armchair I had taken after she had made herself comfortable. “I wonder which one it was.”
A crease formed between Isabelle’s eyebrows. Even that reminded me of her brother. “Which one what was?”
“Whether it was Bart or Sharon who killed Sadie,” I explained.
Isabelle waved a hand in dismissal. “I’ll leave those details to Clark. All I’m trying to figure out at the moment is where your body is.”
I must have been hearing things. The stress of the last few days and having been blackmailed must have gotten to me because I couldn’t have heard her correctly. She didn’t just say what I thought she did. I gazed at Isabelle, a sunny person overall. She’d been cold to me in the beginning but warmed up a little later. At the time I accepted the date with Clark, I didn’t believe Isabelle and I could ever be friends, but she’d stopped treating me as if I were beneath her brother’s notice. In fact, when I thought back to it, Isabelle had begun to ask me how I was doing whenever I ran across her. Yet, at the same time, she always hurried off, so we never engaged in conversation. The longest we had a discussion was when I met her as she left the hospital. Now, she told me finding my body was her greatest concern? I found no words to respond.
“Did you think I wouldn’t notice, Libby?”
Too late I recalled something else Ian had told me. He’d said I should be very careful to keep myself hidden from others. Just like he had the ability to banish me, others had it as well. Ministers or priests and who? I looked again at Isabelle, and panic stirred inside me. Did she have the ability that Ian mentioned? Did she even know of such a place that could hold a spirit for all eternity? If she did know of it, would she send me there to keep me from being with Clark?
Calm down, Libby. She said she’s interested in finding your body, not banishing you.
Even as I gave myself the pep talk, I couldn’t make myself believe it or Isabelle’s air of friendliness. In my mind, I saw evil lurking behind her eyes. I had already cut ties with Ian, so I couldn’t call for him and ask him to erase Isabelle’s memories. I stood alone.
“How did you know?” I asked.
“I’ll tell you everything, but first I want to show you something, okay?” She stood up. I didn’t move. “Come on, Libby. We might not have a lot of time, so we have to figure out what we’re dealing with soon.”
I had no idea what she was talking about, and fear still gripped me. I wanted to stay in the safety of my home. “Tell me here.”
For the first time, Isabelle’s smile faltered, and impatience took its place. “I’ve promised to tell you everything, haven’t I?”
“And I have no reason to believe you.” I took my time rising, never taking my eyes off her. We stood there facing each other, silent, determined. I refused to be foolish again. Hasty decisions left me in this position, and others had been hurt. No more.
Isabelle threw up her hands and sighed. “The truth is I have a secret too, and I have kept it a long time. It’s not easy for me to tell anyone, least of all—”
“Least of all, me,” I supplied.
She nodded. “I can guess how scary it’s been for you. You’ve felt alone, but you were never alone really. You had Ian McClain. For the life of me I can’t figure out why
would be on your side.”
I thought I imagined her emphasis on the word
“On the surface it seems like I always had my brother,” Isabelle continued. “I guess I do, but Clark is vulnerable.”
She had no idea how vulnerable, and I knew in that second I was not brave enough, or a good enough person, to tell her the truth.
“Clark can’t support me in my…secret.” All the same, I heard her affection for her brother. “Because I know what is in this world, I’m extra protective of him, and if my secret got out, he might suffer. It’s even possible others might try to use him to get to me. Now you see?”
“I don’t see,” I admitted. “What are you hiding?”
My words were not cold. I understood her worry about her brother and how Clark seemed strong but he was vulnerable. I saw it first hand in how Ian manipulated him. Did she mean in that way? Was she a vampire too? I considered it and remembered how she had said she’d manned a booth at the park for Sadie. A vampire could never have weathered the sunlight. Ian had said if one knew how, one could survive a short time in sunlight, but even he had burned a little.
Thoughts of Ian filled my head, of all he had done and why. Each time he acted, it was on my behalf, even if his methods were cold and almost cruel. I shook images of the vampire I loved from my head and started to ask Isabelle to explain what she meant when my front door banged against the wall. Isabelle and I both jumped, but Monica appeared in the doorway, panting and holding her chest.
I zipped to stand beside her and took her arm. “What’s wrong?”
“It was on the radio,” she said in a breathless tone. “You won’t believe it, Libby. Bart and Sharon had been arrested for embezzlement!”
In the end, it was Isabelle who convinced Monica to stay at home to watch Jake while she and I drove to the station to get more information. When we walked inside, I expected one of the officers to put us off, but from the way Isabelle swept past the man on duty with nothing more than a nod and the officer kept his gaze on his computer screen, I had the feeling she commanded the office as well as she commanded her home.
She knocked on Clark’s door and let herself in. I followed. Clark sat in his chair, staring down at his hands, so much like the last time I’d seen him, my chest tightened. Then he looked up and blinked at seeing me with his sister.
“It’s late, Isabelle. Libby, what are you doing here?”
Isabelle took a seat on the opposite side of his desk, and I joined her. “We’re here to find out about Sharon and Bart. Did you really arrest them, Cla—chief?”
He frowned at me. “Yes, but it has nothing to do with the Sadie Barnett case.”
I gaped. “You’re kidding.”
Clark slammed a fist on desk and surged to his feet. His hair looked like he’d driven fingers through it again and again, but he avoided doing so now. Instead he shoved his hands into his pockets and paced. “This will affect leadership in this town.”
“It doesn’t have to,” Isabelle interjected.
Her brother rounded on her. “Are you insane? How can it not!”
Isabelle cleared her throat, and Clark made an attempt to calm down. I bit back a smile. Isabelle would not be shouted at the way her brother shouted at his men.
“What happened?” I interjected. “Obviously, you were investigating them.” I didn’t say how I knew and hoped he wouldn’t catch onto it
Clark dropped into his chair. He couldn’t hold out on abusing his hair and drew clumps to standing points. “I don’t know how the media got wind of it since our da—
—newspaperman was arrested on murder charges.”
“Summit’s Edge is now on the map with two murders in such a short time,” I guessed.
Clark didn’t appear happy to be reminded. “Bart confessed to the murder.”
He shook his head. “Hold on. I told you, their arrest has nothing to do with Sadie Barnett.”
My spirits sank. “Go on.”
“Anyway,” he continued, “Bart confessed. I had hauled the two of them back into my office to talk more about the letters to you.”
Confusion showed on Isabelle’s face. I caught her up to speed quickly, and she clicked her tongue disapproval, then prompted her brother to go on.
“I pressed him, but when Bart confessed, it took Sharon by surprise. Her not knowing what he was up to seemed genuine, unlike Bart’s saying he did it. I was going to demand he tell me the particulars when the two of them got into it.”
Isabelle interrupted. “He thought he was protecting her by confessing. That’s why he sent those letters to Libby because he believed Sharon had killed Sadie. If Libby confessed, Sharon wouldn’t be accused.”
“A tangled web.” I tried to sound calm, but it angered me to think he would use me to let his girlfriend walk free. Maybe he thought even if I were convicted with my “gift” I could faze through the bars and still be free. I wanted to think of Bart as anything but the selfish man he was, but I couldn’t.
“The two of them got into an argument,” Clark said. “Sharon called him a fool for risking everything.”
“Tell me you caught that ‘everything,’” Isabelle insisted. I realized there was more than one detective in the household.
Her brother offered her a proud smile, and then it disappeared. “Yes, of course, but I stayed quiet to listen. Bart didn’t want Sharon arrested because he felt it would jeopardize the life of their unborn child. Apparently, he would do anything for the baby, a fact that Sharon can’t abide.”
“She thinks he loves the baby and not her.” I had heard of issues such as that, and I felt sorry for the young woman. “So neither of them killed Sadie?”
“No,” Clark said, “but in all the arguing, which I goaded, they broke down to admit their activity under the nose of the mayor, embezzling town funds. I looked into it, and was able to get a partial paper trail going. There’s much more to be done, but I had enough to have them arrested earlier today.”
The entire situation threw me for a loop. No one knew Sharon and Bart were seeing each other. Worse, no one could have imagined what they were involved in. I understood Clark’s worry that this crime might shake the small town’s faith in the leadership. This was the second employee under the chief of police’s nose to commit a crime, and the mayor had been oblivious to her secretary stealing.
“Wait, did the mayor know about the theft?” I asked, voicing my thoughts.
Clark groaned. “Sharon and Bart say no, but I’m doing a thorough investigation.”
“I’ll bet the mayor will love you looking into her affairs,” Isabelle said.
Clark hesitated, and I knew he had more news. “It was Bart who took the discs. He believed they would uncover his and Sharon’s activities.”
Isabelle and I both gasped, but she was first to ask what I was thinking. “Did he look at them? Do you have the discs now?”
I wondered if she worried about the discs proving she was a witch and her brother finding out.
Disappointment radiated from Clark. “He destroyed them.”
“All of them?” I whispered.
“Every last one. He showed me where he burned them. Nothing left to salvage, but we don’t need those discs circulating anyway.”
I agreed. “Yes, there are some secrets that should remain hidden.”
“Definitely,” Isabelle said.
Clark looked from one of us to the other, but he managed to contain the curiosity I saw in his expression. “Mayor Olivia Walsh will step down from her position until the investigation is complete.”
“We don’t have a leader?” Isabelle squeaked.
“The county government will run things,” Clark informed her, “but I think in the interim, they’ll appointment someone.”
Now I understood Clark’s alarm.
He pinned me with a significant look, and I waited for him to speak, trepidation consuming me. “Bart confessed to trying to blackmail you into saying you killed Sadie Barnett.”
My head spun. “Oh?”
“Yes, he said he had thought Sharon did it because before she died Sadie had been running after the mayor saying she had something important to tell her. Sadie refused to share her news with me, which made both of them assume Sadie had learned what they had been up to.”
“They must have been tormented thinking she knew,” I guessed.
He made a noise of agreement, but his gaze locked on me until I felt like it burned me. I swallowed and fiddled with my hands in my lap. Clark waited in silence, but I refused to give him an opening. I should have known he wouldn’t let things lie.
“What could Bart have on you, Libby, that made him think he could force you to take the wrap for murder?”
“What indeed,” I mumbled for want of anything better to say.
Clark opened his mouth to say more, but his sister cut across him. “Is that really what’s important right now, Clark? We still have a real murderer out there. Shouldn’t you be looking for him or her?”
Irritation radiated from Clark, and he stared hard at first me and then Isabelle. “Why are you two together at this time of night?”
Isabelle moved with fluid grace to her feet. “Really, Clark, I think I’m old enough not to be questioned by you!”
His face went beet red, and I couldn’t contain the laugh that burst from me. He sputtered and said something about being the chief of police before he was her brother and he had a right to know what happened in his town. Isabelle, like no one else could, ignored him and spun toward the door. When she reached it, she looked back at me.
I glanced at Clark and darted across the office to catch up with his sister. “Good night, Clark.”
We left without another word, closing the door softly behind us.