Authors: Liz Schulte
Book Two of
The Ella Reynolds Series
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Copyright © 2012 by Liz Schulte
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
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Table of Contents
“If I can make it through living in a haunted house with a deranged psychopath, I can make through a date,” I muttered, staring at my computer screen.
I was out of excuses. The tan I picked up on my vacation had all but faded, the reconstruction of the house was done, and the book, thanks to being a hot news story, had been fast-tracked to release. Gabriel had the patience of Job. He accepted all of my excuses about why I couldn’t go out with him, but never stopped trying. Finally, his persistence wore me down, despite my fear—not of him, exactly, but of how easy he made it for me to depend on him—and despite the fact it meant leaving the house. We’d arrived at an understanding, it and I.
A knock on the front door made my stomach drop. Yes, the ghostly noises had been on hiatus since the fire, but I still expected them—old habits and all that jazz. I took a deep breath and flipped the four heavy deadbolts, then tugged the door open to find a woman standing on the porch in jeans and a parka. Her wool hat was pulled down over her ears, and dark blonde hair peeked out from underneath.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
“Are you Ella Reynolds, the author?”
I froze for a second, scenes from
flashing in my head.
Good God, please don’t let her be my biggest fan
. I frowned and nodded, prepared to slam the door if need be. I fingered the phone in my pocket, ready to speed-dial Gabriel.
“I need your help,” she said, her voice so low I thought maybe I misheard.
My head shook, but curiosity and her crestfallen face got the better of me. Obviously it wasn’t a flat tire. “With what?”
Her dull eyes didn’t manage to reach mine. Every word she spoke seemed like an effort. “I want you to write her story.”
I bit my lip and considered how to respond. She’d clearly lost someone, but why would she think I’d want to write about it?
Damn my curiosity.
Family drama—I wanted nothing to do with it. I began to shut the door. “Sorry, I write fiction.”
wasn’t fiction.” Desperation thickened the air between us and stayed my hand.
“That was different—”
“Please, just hear me out before you say no.” She pleaded. “It’s your kind of story, I promise.”
My kind of story? Had to be murder, poor woman. I sighed and invited her in. Her sallow, sagging skin, puffy, dark-ringed eyes, and beaten down tone of voice were all too familiar. Just a short while ago I was her.
I opened the screen door and she stepped through, unzipping her coat and tugging off her gloves. “Thank you.”
I ignored the voice in my head that said this was a bad idea. I already knew I shouldn’t get involved, but anticipation made my heart quicken and life spark inside of me. Even the house seemed to come alive, the air crackling with energy. Maybe it fed on misery. “You want coffee?”
“Do you have anything stronger?”
I gave her a sympathetic smile. “No, not anymore. The coffee is strong and warm, though. It’ll help.” I beckoned her to follow me into the kitchen.
She took a seat at the table, slipping her coat over the back of the chair. I went around the island and pulled two mugs from the cabinet. While pouring the coffee, my eyes drifted to that infamous spot on the wall. Hot liquid scalded my hand and startled me back to what I was doing. I hissed out a breath, cleaned up the mess I made, and brought two steaming cups to the table.
“So what happened to your daughter?” I asked, sitting down across from her.
She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. “It was in the news a lot in the spring…” I waited for her to explain, but she didn’t begin speaking again.
Please don’t cry. Please don’t cry.
I eyed her cautiously, not wanting a hysterical person in my kitchen, but worried if I didn’t prompt her we’d never get to the point. “I wasn’t watching a lot television in the spring. Hell, I wasn’t doing a lot of anything in the spring besides sulking and drinking.”
She nodded and continued with a cracked voice. “She was killed. The police never caught who did it. She was driving home from her boyfriend Bryan’s house, and I was speaking with her on the phone. We lost connection, but that wasn’t unusual. There are a lot of dead zones on the way to my house—I live on a farm.”
I cringed at the phrase “dead zone” and took a big mouthful of coffee, trying to ignore the bad feeling growing in my stomach
“After twenty minutes, I began to worry. She should’ve been home. I waited ten more minutes and tried to call her, but when the phone went directly to voicemail, I got in my car and went looking for her. I didn’t see her or her car anywhere between my house and Bryan’s. He confirmed the time she left, so I called the police. She was nineteen. They wouldn’t let me file a missing person’s report for twenty-four hours. Four days later, a farmer found her car on fire in his field ten miles away. Her body was stuffed into the trunk—mutilated so badly she had to be identified by dental records.”
I stared at the kitchen wall again. All too easily, I recalled the smell of Danny’s blood and the horror of finding him. I hadn’t thought about this stuff in months. I shook my head, refusing to let it weigh on me. “Who did the police suspect?”
“I don’t know if they ever had a suspect. They talked to me and to Bryan, but neither of us did it. We loved Mary.” A tear rolled down her cheek, and she wrapped her hands around her mug, but didn’t take a sip.
“I don’t know what you think I can do. It’s a very intriguing story, but I don’t write true crime. I wouldn’t even know where to start. My husband’s murder was an exception—it was my life.” I knew if anyone could grasp what I meant it would be her. People who had never experienced a life-altering tragedy couldn’t grasp how one single event could define everything else, but it could.
“Please. She read all of your books. She was majoring in English and wanted to be a writer like you. I know you can help. If you don’t, her death will be brushed under the rug and her killer will get away. Please, Ms. Reynolds.”
I shook my head. “I’m sorry—”
“Don’t let her be forgotten. Even if you just write about her and never investigate, it will drum up interest in the case again. They aren’t even trying anymore. Please.”
I couldn’t say no again, not looking at her and listening to her beg a stranger to help. I nodded slowly, not knowing what else to do. “Let me think about it. What’s your daughter’s last name? What’s your name? Is there a number where I can reach you?”
She introduced herself as Jennifer Nelson and wrote down her phone number, thanking me and crying profusely. I got her a tissue and walked her to the door. “I’m not making any promises. I’m only thinking about it, you understand?”
“Yes.” She nodded, but from the hopeful tilt of her lips I had my doubts.
I locked the door behind her. Could I handle immersing myself in another murder investigation? I wasn’t sure. I’d worked through most of my issues and was better now, but that didn’t mean I wanted to test myself. Lost in thought, I went back to the kitchen. The coffee cups were in sink rather than on the table where I left them.
“Grant?” I asked the still, static-charged air around me.
The room hummed with promise and cooled significantly, but nothing happened. I hoped whatever had awakened in my house with Jennifer’s visit was Grant and not something darker.
“Should I take the case?” I asked.
A tingling sensation like ice brushing against my arm froze me in place, but a moment later everything was gone and back to normal. I went to my office, shaking my head. One mention of murder and I was already acting like a crazy person again.