Authors: Jaycee Clark
Tags: #Romance, #Fiction, #General, #Contemporary, #Erotica, #Romance Fiction, #Colorado, #Violence, #Suspense Fiction
* * * *
They crested the hill and took the access road down to the lake. He couldn’t believe the sight before him. Red and blue lights flashed through the misty weather. A uniformed officer stopped them and Tim apparently recognized the guy, T.J., being in the back seat, told the man to let them through.Aiden could see two spotlights on boats out on the water. Fog floated above the lake, a
low wispy cloud like the steam from a witch’s caldron.
“They’re dragging the lake,” T.J. said from the back seat.
Aiden felt like he’d been sucker punched. This was not happening. Vehicles were parked haphazardly on the far shore. Flashlights bobbed in the darkness through the little valley he and Jesslyn had walked through.
The SUV hit potholes and bounced, but never slowed down. Tim had barely pulled to a stop before Aiden tossed the door open and all but tore out of the car.
“Aiden! Wait!” T.J. hollered behind him.
Several people stood near the water’s edge. A part in the crowd allowed him to see divers in wetsuits kneeling by a black bag.
A body bag.
His world fell out from under him. Aiden didn’t remember running. He shoved his way through the people, their voices and hands lost in a blur of terror.
God! Rage roared through him. “No!”
Someone grabbed him hard.
“It’s not her, Mr. Kinncaid. It’s not Jesslyn.” The arms that held him were like manacles, and still he fought against them.
All Aiden saw was the black bag, a grotesque slap into reality.
He finally stilled when he realized he wasn’t getting out of the strangle hold someone had on him.“Mr. Kinncaid, if you don’t calm down, I will remove you from these premises. Calm down and listen,” the voice said.
Aiden could only nod.
The arms around him loosened and he jerked away. His eyes still zeroed in on the bag.
“It’s not Jesslyn.”
It’s not Jesslyn. Not Jesslyn. Oh, God. He closed his eyes.
Finally, he looked up and into the whisky colored eyes of Derrick Garrison, the Chief of Police. “It’s not her,” the man told him.
Aiden’s throat was so tight he couldn’t get a word out. He just stared at Garrison. The Chief of Police was dressed in jeans, muddy hiking boots, a dark hooded rain parka, and a Colorado Rockies baseball cap.
“I don’t like civilians at crime scenes,” the chief continued. “And family and close friends, I ban. However, if you can follow orders like anyone else, I figure we can use another pair of eyes and legs in the search. There’s a lot of ground to cover.”
Aiden nodded. The man took his arm and steered him away from the body bag and through the crowd to stand by a police marked Explorer.
“I need to ask you some questions,” Garrison said.
Aiden cleared his throat. “Fine. What do you want to know?”
“Do you know what Jesslyn Black was doing up here during a storm at seven tonight?”
A glance at his watch told him it was ten o’clock. Three hours. Damn it.
“Yeah, I do,” Aiden answered. “She was upset about several things and wanted some time to think.”
Why the hell hadn’t he just kept her at the house?
“What was she upset about?”
Aiden gave him a brief run down.
“That’s your Jeep?” Garrison pointed to the black vehicle with his pen.
Aiden turned his gaze back to Garrison. “You know it is. Can we cut the crap? Where is Jesslyn? Have you found anything?”
Who was in the body bag?
Jesslyn’s name carried on the chilled, wet air as people yelled it out.
Garrison ran his tongue around his teeth. “We’ve found a car at the bottom of the lake, and a murder victim. We’re looking for Jesslyn.”
A motor from the boat cut through the air, and drew his gaze to the darkened water.
“You’re still dragging the lake, why?” Aiden asked.
The Chief of Police sighed. “I’m covering all my bases, Kinncaid.”
Christ, this was not happening. It was
T.J. came up then with Tim and another man. Introductions were made and flashlights were passed around.
“We’ll be looking at the south side,” T.J. said.
Garrison leveled a look at him, which Aiden only quirked a brow to and crossed his arms.
“I’d guess the temps in the forties,” Garrison said. “Hypothermia is an issue especially if Jesslyn got wet. If you find her--” His gaze sharpened on Aiden. “Do not, and I repeat, do
move her until SAR gets there. They are trained professionals.”
Aiden nodded again. He turned around and followed T.J. and Tim. His parents stood off to the side and he made his way over to them. They wrapped him in hug.
“You okay?” his mother asked.
“No.” He looked to his father. “We’re going to be searching. It’s more of a hike. Please stay here, or around here. I don’t want to find out you had another attack because you were traipsing around at this altitude.”
His father’s eyes flashed, but his mother only said. “We’ll be fine, Aiden. Go, do what you have to. Don’t worry about us.”
With that, he turned and jogged to catch up with Tim and T.J. The air was wet, heavy with the piney sweet scent Aiden remembered. It wasn’t raining, just windy and cold.
The red and blue lights swirled in the air, reflected in muted tones off the clouded lake.
SUV’s with MCBPD painted on the side, an ambulance, sheriff’s cars, and other civilian vehicles. Sirens were silenced, but rotating lights bounced off the mountainsides and lake. Dogs barked and Jesslyn’s name carried on the wind.
This had to be a horrible, terrible nightmare….
Nightmare … Oh, God. The memory of Jessie’s words just that morning startled though his mind. A dead woman, the monster, the water drowning her. He looked at the lake. How could such a place of beauty become such a living hell? Aiden begged and pleaded with God that they find Jesslyn. She had to be unharmed. She had to.
The reality of the situation slammed into him, almost bought him to his knees. Fear slithered through his system. It would do her no good if he fell apart here. And he’d come damn close when he’d seen that black bag.
A muscle bunched in his jaw. His hand tightened around the flashlight he held.
Her name bounced and carried on the air as it was called out from various locations.
Aiden looked at T.J. “Where do we start?” he asked as he caught up with her and Tim.
T.J. pointed towards the far side of the lake he and Jesslyn had hiked to the day she’d bought him up here. A strange feeling tingled his nerves.
Aiden didn’t say a word, just followed along. He called out for Jesslyn, hoped for an answer, prayed for an answer, but the name only echoed back eerily on the wind, tore around him, through him, could have broken him.
* * * *
An hour later and still nothing, or almost nothing. The temperature had dropped. Tim saw T.J.’s breath puff in the cold damp air. Aiden’s nerves were stretched, Tim could tell. The man said little, hardly acknowledging anyone. He just studied the ground, the beam of light, and called Jesslyn’s name. Aiden was in front of them, heading back down the path towards the knoll. At first, their group had headed through the dense vegetation, but left that for the other teams and started where the land sloped up. They’d covered hundreds of yards in the forest. There was a knoll below them that overlooked the lake and all the busy activity below in the valley. Colored lights swirled even though the engines couldn’t be heard up here. Beams of flashlights bounced and jumped throughout the countryside.
Finally, Tim could stand it no more. He stopped and looked at T.J. He had his suspicions but asked anyway, “Teege, why are we up here? What are the chances the guy bought Jesslyn all the way up here? The dog found her phone down by the lake.”
Their search had been on for less than ten minutes when a dog had let loose a bark. That it had only been Jesslyn’s phone was both a hope and a disappointment. The search continued.
His stomach turned as he saw they still dragged the lake. It was a deep lake.
T.J. stopped. The lights from below cast Aiden as a black silhouette with a flashlight in the darkness. Finally, T.J. turned to him. His light, though pointed to the ground, let him see her face clearly. Tears glistened in her eyes and she swallowed.
“I didn’t want Aiden to see … I saw Maddy.” The watery drops trickled in shiny paths down her flawless cheeks. “You’re right. I figured this was the last place he’d bring her. I want to be down there.” She pointed with her flashlight to the valley below. “But I couldn’t let him see that. Aiden loves her so much. You can see it every time he looks at her. And Jesslyn’s crazy about him. They just need a chance,” her voice broke, and Tim gave into the urge and pulled her into his embrace.
She was so incredibly tiny. Jesslyn was small, but T.J. was faerie like, slight and fragile.
He kissed the top of her damp head.
“I couldn’t let him see that, Tim. I couldn’t. Not if … not if…,” she started crying against his chest.
“Shh, baby. It’ll be okay. It will.” Emotions swirled within him. Oh, Jesslyn….
T.J. leaned back, viciously swiped at her cheeks. “I don’t have time for this and neither do you. She’s our friend, and she needs our help not our damn tears. Come on.” She pulled his hand and they started down the mountainside towards Aiden.
* * * *
Aiden heard them approach. He stood a few feet away from the giant fallen tree. “She bought me up here the first day we were together.” He told them, remembering everything about that day. How they’d hiked up the other side, closest to the lake. Her laughter, the sun shining in her hair. “This is one of her favorite spots.”
Tim stood quietly beside him, his beam of light gazing the ground, looking, searching.
“Aiden, don’t do this to yourself.”
Aiden walked to the log. He sighed, bent his head, the flashlight weighed in his hand.
Why hadn’t they found anything yet? Anger clawed through him and he reared back to hurl the flashlight over the damn hill. He stopped. That wouldn’t do a damn bit of good. Guilt punched at him. If he’d only made her stay. If he’d told her he loved her, ran after her quicker.
The possibilities were endless.
The bottom line was that he’d failed her. T.J. said she’d run, or fled from her attacker.
He imagined her screams and pleas. The images echoed endlessly in his brain. Red haze cleared from his vision and he scanned the ground again. ‘Jesslyn’ carried on the wind. Nothing.
They’d found nothing but her blasted phone.
“I thought she’d be here. As crazy as that sounds I thought I’d find her here. Right here.”
He hit the smooth wet wood with the bottom of his fist, propped his foot on the ancient tree.
T.J. turned to him. “That’s only natural Aiden.”
He shook his head, “No, you don’t understand. It’s not just wishful thinking or maybe it was. But since we started searching it was like something, or someone was pulling me here.
Practically whispering at me. Right here.” He scanned the area with his flashlight. The fallen log, a blackened ring from an old fire, gnarled trees, and water laden flowers. No Jesslyn.
Please God. Please. Let me find her. I love her
Aiden stood up on the log, started to hop down to the other side. Something flashed in the beam of his light. He almost fell off the grounded timber, stumbled and managed to land on his feet.“Are you all right?” Tim asked him on the other side of the log.
He dropped the damn light.
“Fine,” he muttered, picking up the flashlight and looking to see what had caught his attention.
His breath stilled at the jacket bunched and wedged beneath the giant log. He knew that jacket. It was his. Aiden shakily reached his hand out and the light caught again. Her ring winked at him. Her finger.
“She’s here,” he hoarsely whispered out. His hand paused, afraid to touch her, afraid not to.
“What?” Tim asked, hopping down beside him. “Sonofabitch.”
Aiden took a deep breath, picked the edge of the coat up. And the air whooshed out.
She looked so peaceful, like she was asleep. Huddled and curled into herself in a fetal position, covered in the clinging wet coat.
Aiden reached out and touched her right hand. Cold, she was so cold.
“Don’t mover her, Aiden,” T.J. reminded him.
Jesslyn’s hand hung lifelessly in his as he tried to find her pulse, his own heart hammering against his ribs. “Come on, Jessie girl. Come on, baby, help me out.”
“Team to base. Team to base. We’ve got her! Over.” T.J. said into the radio. The click of the button popped as she released it.
Aiden vaguely heard Garrison’s voice over the pounding of blood in his ears. “Roger, Team. Location?”
“The knoll above the south edge of the lake.” She waved her flashlight down to the cars below. Flicked it on and off.
“Gottchya. T.J., is she alive?”
Is she alive?
He couldn’t find anything in her wrist. Oh, God. Please. Aiden moved his hand to Jesslyn’s neck, and didn’t so much as move her head. An eternity seemed to pass. “There.” It was thready and slow. “I have a faint pulse,” he told T.J., not caring if his voice was hoarse.
She relayed the message over the radio. All he wanted to do was pick Jesslyn up and hold her against him. But he remembered Garrison’s warnings about moving hypothermic victims. Instead, he reached again and held her cold, limp hand.
He’d found her and by God, he wasn’t about to lose her now.
Jessie was so still, he couldn’t even tell if she was breathing. Panic threatened to tear through his relief.
“I knew you were here, baby. Everything’s going to be all right now. You’re safe, Jessie.
You’re safe. I promise. No one is ever going to hurt you again.” And though he was frightened beyond anything in his life, Aiden knew in some part of him that Jesslyn would be okay.
It took almost another hour before she was in the ambulance and on her way to Gunnison County Hospital. SAR had all but shoved Aiden out of the way. He didn’t want to let her go, but he knew he couldn’t help her now. Orders had been barked. Needles probed, instruments listened, and gauges read. They had finally thought it safe enough to move her onto a rescue board. The bright orange gurney obscenely lay on the ground as they gently and easily rolled Jesslyn onto it.
Aiden remembered the rage that had choked him at the sight of her bloody bruised head, the cut at her smooth throat. She was pale, her mouth and fingertips blue from cold.
Jesslyn didn’t respond to any stimulus. One of the medics had told Aiden to yell at her.
And he had right in her face. He yelled for her to come back to him, that he loved her. Nothing had brought her eyes open, and that terrified him to the bottom of his soul. No one knew if the head wound, shock, or hypothermia kept Jesslyn unconscious. Finally, she’d been loaded in the ambulance.
Scenery flew by in an unseen blur. Aiden sat in the front seat of Tim’s 4-Runner as they sped to Gunnison. T.J. was slumped in the back seat with his parents.
Aiden didn’t know who had hurt Jesslyn, but he vowed, if it were the last thing he ever did, he’d hunt the bastard down and make the monster pay for what had been done. That thought lead to another and then another. Did he remember to grab his phone? A lump in his pocket slid relief through him. Thank God. First chance he got, there was someone he needed to call.
The Kinncaid motto echoed through his mind, his father’s voice and grandfather’s before him. All the Kinncaid men said it on their wedding day to their brides, on the birth of their children:
This I’ll defend.
Aiden knew he’d failed at keeping Jesslyn safe and protected. Never again. Never again.