Authors: Jenn Vakey
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery, #Retail, #Suspense, #Thriller
six of the
Rilynne Evans Mysteries
re you nervous?” Lori Sibrian asked.
Rilynne Evans looked herself up and down in the long mirror before turning around and facing her best friend.
“It’s a rehearsal dinner,” Rilynne said with a playful grin. “Even as clumsy as I am, I’m pretty sure I can make it through without serious injury.”
“You’re funny,” said Lori as she reached out and straightened the straps on Rilynne’s dark blue dress. “You know what I mean. You’re getting married tomorrow. Are you nervous?”
Rilynne felt an immense wave of joy pass over her and settle in the smile on her face. “Not even a little,” she said.
Lori raised an eyebrow and looked at her skeptically.
“No, seriously,” Rilynne said, waving kindly behind Lori to an older woman on her way out. “I’m excited, and happy, and eager, and so many more things. Nervous isn’t one of them.”
“Good,” Lori said, smiling down at her warmly.
“Because you don’t need to be. Ben’s amazing, and I don’t think you could have made a man more perfect for you. I couldn’t be happier for you, Rye.”
Rilynne had to fight the urge to jump up and down. She had never imagined when she moved to Addison Valley sixteen months before that she would end up here. In fact, it was one of the last places she ever saw herself being again.
A year before she decided to make the move, she walked into her house and found it covered in the blood of her first husband, who was believed to have been killed by her former partner. With the loss looming over her, she couldn’t picture herself even being ready to date anytime soon, let alone enter into a serious relationship. Then she met Ben.
They instantly hit it off and became close friends. Though there was an undeniable attraction between them, the love Rilynne had for Christopher tethered her to the past. After several frustrating months, she finally gave into her feelings for him and they stepped through the veil beyond just friendship. No sooner than that happened, though, than Rilynne’s past announced itself again.
Rilynne’s first husband, Christopher Parker, was found in a small town in Colorado, very much alive. The shocking event ended in Ben shooting and killing Christopher, but not before taking a bullet himself.
Though the entire ordeal left more than just physical scars, one good thing had come out of it.
While trying to stall Christopher so her backup had time to arrive, Rilynne and her estranged husband entered into a very heated discussion about Rilynne’s special abilities. It was a conversation that had been overheard by Ben.
Though it was months before he told Rilynne he knew what she could do, he had been nothing but understanding and supportive. She didn’t know if she would ever be able to express just how much that meant to her.
From the time Rilynne was a child, she knew the flashes she saw in her head were more than just her imagination. When her mom realized what she could do, Amber decided it should stay between the two of them. It was something Rilynne stuck to, not telling anyone until Christopher. Both Christopher's original reaction and the choices that he made afterward because of what he knew left her more than just a little nervous when she thought about telling Ben.
When he proposed to her five months before, she finally found the courage to tell him the secret she kept so carefully hidden. Before she could even get the first sentence out, though, he stopped her and told her he already knew. To her surprise, he never questioned her decision to keep it from him for as long as she had, stating he knew she would tell him when she was ready.
After that moment, there was no doubt in her mind that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him.
“I’m just glad you could be here with me,” Rilynne said, wrapping her arms around Lori. Lori's sateen red dress was soft against her bare arms. “I couldn’t picture doing this without you.”
“Even if I hadn’t moved here, there’s no way I would have missed this,” Lori said, taking Rilynne by the arm and leading her toward the restroom door. They cracked it open and peered out at the full room awaiting them. “Besides, I don’t think you could have found a cuter flower girl.”
Rilynne chuckled as her eyes swept across the room until they found the precocious little girl, spinning in circles between the tables. She was tall for her age. Just a week shy of her fourth birthday, she was already a head taller than most of her preschool friends. “And I’m sure your opinion has nothing to do with the fact that you’re her mother,” she said. “But you’re right. There isn’t a child alive who would look better in that dress. I bet she can’t wait until tomorrow so she can finally wear it.”
“You have no idea.” Lori’s blue eyes sparkled as she watched her adopted daughter dancing around the guests until she found Harper, her soon to be stepbrother. “I think it’s about time we get out there. Are you ready?”
Rilynne smiled and nodded before pushing the door open.
Even though it was just the rehearsal dinner, nearly half of the wedding guests were in attendance. In addition to every member of the Addison Valley homicide unit and the majority of the forensic team, there were also several guests in from Bodker, Rilynne's home town.
“I'm going to go check on my fiancé. No doubt LaShad is trying to talk him into an impromptu boxing match. I might just kill him if he shows up to your wedding tomorrow looking battered and bruised,” Lori said. She gave Rilynne a gentle squeeze on the arm and crossed to the table seating Joe Ackerman and several members of the police department boxing team.
Rilynne was just approaching the nearest occupied table to start greeting her guests when Matthews walked up beside her.
“So I’ve been trying to figure out how I’m going to work Ben killing your first husband into my toast,” he said.
Rilynne raised her eyebrow as she folded her arms in front of her. “You do and Katy will be a widow by the end of the night.”
A wide grin spread across his face as he leaned back against an empty table. “Come on,” he said. “It’s my job as the best man to tell your story. I wouldn’t want to leave anything out.”
Rilynne was glad to see Matthews as excited as he was for his speech. While he was always an outspoken, confident man at work, the same couldn’t be said when it came to social events. She had actually expected a little hesitation when they named him best man and informed him of all the responsibilities that came with it. Instead, he seemed to have embraced it and had really come out of his shell.
“Hasn’t anyone ever told you not to argue with a bride?” Her tone held a devilish bite. “It’s almost as bad as arguing with a pregnant woman.”
His expression quickly moved from amusement to something that more resembled fear. As it did, Rilynne let out a satisfied chuckle.
“I should go check on my wife,” he said, visibly affected by her statement.
“Probably not a bad idea,” she chortled. She stood in place, slowly shaking her head as she watched him walk away. Todd Matthews, her partner on the Addison Valley homicide unit, was tougher than just about anyone she had ever met. That is unless it came to his wife, Katy. She had never seen two people so in love. There wasn't anything that Matthews wouldn't do for his wife, even agreeing to have a baby when he wasn't ready. He nearly lost it when they discovered that they weren't having just one child, but twins.
“Do you know how amazing you look?” a voice came from just behind her ear as she watched Matthews hand Katy a drink.
She bit her lip as she smiled and turned. “Who, me?” she asked coyly.
Ben nodded as he slipped his arms around her waist. “I was beginning to think you were never coming out of there. Not having second thoughts, are you?”
“Not a chance,” she said without hesitation. She slid her hand gently up his cobalt blue shirt and ran her fingers through his shaggy dirty blonde hair. He had offered to cut it for the wedding, but Rilynne wouldn't hear of it. “Do you really think I would have put on a dress tonight if I was?”
He laughed and shook his head. “Good point.”
Ben pulled her close and held her for what felt like an hour, though it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds. When he pulled away, he leaned down and pressed his lips firmly against hers.
Though they had been together for close to a year, her heart still jumped every time her lips met his. This time was no different. The room melted away around them as her chest tightened. The quickening of his heart against her body only made her head spin faster. A shiver spread down her back, causing her entire body to erupt in goose bumps.
Ben chuckled as he pulled away, looking down at where his hand was holding her arm. “Goose bumps,” he said.
Rilynne shrugged. “You tend to do that to me.”
“All right, lovebirds.” Matthews walked back up behind them. “Save it for the honeymoon. Besides, you’re going to start giving Katy ideas.”
Rilynne glanced behind him to his wife and grinned. “You know, they say that can actually help move things along. I know Katy is more than ready to get those babies out.” That was an understatement. With only three weeks before her due date, Katy had been trying everything she could think of to jumpstart her labor. While she was filled with nothing but excitement, Matthews was constantly on the verge of a panic attack. Rilynne grinned at the petrified look on his face before leaving the men to talk as she started making her rounds.
She had just reached the second candlelit table when she saw Harper, Lori’s fiancé’s son, running through the room. Something about his demeanor made her heart stop. The expression on the nine year olds face was nothing short of terror.
“Dad!” he yelled.
Rilynne swept across the room and met up with him as he nearly ran into the table Joe and Lori were seated at.
Like Rilynne, Lori took one look at his face and panicked.
“Where’s Kim?” she asked, looking quickly around the boy before turning back to him. “Harper, where’s Kim?”
Tears started rolling down his cheeks as his eyes shifted between his dad and Lori. He opened his mouth, but he couldn’t seem to speak.
Rilynne looked between them, panic almost overwhelming her, before she turned to Ben. He was still across the room talking to Matthews but stopped abruptly when he saw the look on her face.
“Harper,” Joe said, pulling her attention back in. “What happened?” he asked, grabbing his son by the arms. “Where’s Kim?”
“I…” he stammered. “I tried to stop him. I grabbed her and tried to pull her away but he pushed me down,” he said. Tears soaked his cheeks as his eyes shifted again between Joe and Lori. “I tried to stop him.”
“Where’s Kim?” Joe asked.
“He took her,” he said, eyes wide with fear. “The man took her.”
hat’s going on?” Ben said as he and Matthews came up behind her.
“Who took her?” Joe asked, panic sounding in his tone.
Harper just shook his head helplessly and pointed to a door on the opposite side of the room.
Before his hand was even all the way up, Rilynne was already halfway across the room, Matthews and Lori right behind her. As she passed the head table, she reached out and grabbed her purse without slowing. She pulled her gun out and dropped the purse on the ground as she pushed through the door.
The lobby on the other side was empty aside from one thing: a small pink shoe.
“No,” Lori said. “No.”
She dropped down on her knees next to the shoe. “No!”
Rilynne and Matthews ran out the door and into the dark parking lot.
“Kim!” Rilynne yelled. Her heart felt like it was being squeezed as she made her way between the cars, looking for any sign of her.
There was nothing. No movement, no sounds. She was gone.
Tears rolled down her face as her knees buckled beneath her. She fell to the ground, the gravel digging into her hands and knees. She couldn't feel it, though. The only thing she could feel was her chest tightening as she tried to make sense of what was going on.
She was shaking silently when Matthews stooped down next to her, phone pressed against the side of his head. With her heart pounding violently in her ears, she could only make out a few words of his conversation: four year old, roadblock, kidnapping.
Matthews gripped her upper arm with his free hand and pulled her to her feet, taking the shaking gun from her hand when she was steady. After tucking it into the back of his pants, he led her back into the building.
It was like a scene from a tragic movie. Lori was on the floor in the middle of the room, screaming. Both Ben and Joe were holding her back, trying to keep her from grabbing the lonely shoe in front of her.
Katy was standing against the back wall, both hands bracing her stomach in a protective way. Tears rolled down her face as she watched everyone else rushing around.
Rilynne couldn’t move. The moment Matthews pulled his hand off of her arm, she sank to the floor and stared around the room. She was glad so many of their guests were members of the department, because as hard as she tried, she couldn’t make herself do anything. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t speak,
she couldn’t breathe.
She didn’t even realize her mom was at her side until she wrapped her arms around her and pulled her back to her feet.
“Look at me,” Amber said, pulling her away from the crowd. “Rilynne, look at me.” She grabbed her face and pulled her attention in. “Breathe,” she said. “You need to breathe. You need to think, Rilynne. You have to concentrate.”
Her words didn’t make sense. She stared at her, panic turning into confusion. Her mother grabbed her by both arms and jerked her. As she did, Rilynne let out the breath she seemed to have been holding onto and she nodded.
She knew what she needed to do.
Amber released the hold on her arms and Rilynne sank back to the floor, shutting her eyes as tight as she could.
“Think,” she told herself, rocking back and forth. “Concentrate.”
She put all of her energy into concentrating on the little girl she loved so much. Her
smile, the sound of her laugh, the way her long blonde hair flowed when she spun around.
“I can’t,” she said. “I can’t.”
Amber wrapped her arms around her and held her tighter than she ever had before.
“Yes you can.”
Rilynne took another deep breath and thought instead on the look on Harper’s face and the story he told. Then she saw it.
She was standing over the little girl, sitting down with her hands over her eyes, counting. She was playing hide and seek.
Looking up, her eyes swept quickly around the room. It was empty. Anticipation built as she reached down and grabbed her, one hand holding her waist and the other over her mouth.
Suddenly someone hit her from the side. She looked over and saw the small boy pulling the girl by the foot. She tried to walk away, but he pulled harder. Not knowing what else to do, she reached out and pushed him, causing him to fall to the ground with the little pink shoe in hand. Before he had a chance to get up, she ran, the little girl held firmly against her.
She was happy. She was excited.
When Rilynne’s eyes opened, it was everything she could do not to throw up.
“What did you see?” Amber asked.
Rilynne shook her head violently, trying to force the feelings out of her. “He was happy. He was too happy,” she said. “Mom, he was so happy.”
She couldn’t see her mother’s face, but she could feel her body tense where it was still wrapped around her.
There were so many voices in the room; Rilynne couldn’t hear anything being said. She looked around and found nearly all of the detectives on their phones, each with a determined scowl.
Lori was still in the middle of the floor, but her screams had stopped. She now seemed to have completely shut down, staring blankly at the floor in front of her.
Ben was standing against the back wall, also on the phone, looking helplessly around the room. He was talking to the lab, she knew it.
Something shattered behind her, more than likely a vase that someone knocked over. A few eyes glanced in its direction, but no one seemed bothered. Rilynne didn't turn. Her body felt so heavy that she wasn't even sure she would have been able to even if she wanted.
Then her eyes shifted to Katy.
“Mom,” she said, suddenly finding her head much clearer. “Mom, look at Katy. Something’s wrong.”
The look of terror that had been on her face moments before had been joined by something else. There was now pain, physical pain.
Amber was on her feet and across the room before Rilynne could even budge. She reached up and grabbed the table next to her, using it to help her to her feet. As soon as she was standing, she made her way over to Matthews. He had just pulled his phone
down and was staring out the front doors when she grabbed him by the shirt and turned him face her.
“Katy,” she said when he looked down at her.
His eyes widened as he spun around, nearly knocking Rilynne back down. He pulled away and ran to his wife before her shaky legs were ready. She tried to reach out for anything to stop her, but it was too late. She was falling.
“I’ve got you,” a voice said, catching her just before she hit the floor. “I’ve got you.”
Ben picked her back up and pulled her in, holding her so close that she could hardly draw a breath. “We’ll find her,” he said. “We’re going to find her.”
“He was so happy,” she whispered. “He was too happy.”
“That could mean anything,” he said, trying to reassure her. His heart raced even faster, though, and she knew he was thinking the worst.
She shook uncontrollably in his arms for ten minutes before Detective Patrick Wilcome, head of the homicide unit, walked up.
“I want everyone back to the station,” he said firmly. “I’m taking Sibrian back to her house with Jerkins. I’ve spoken with Wied in major crimes and let him know we'll be working with them. I need to know if I can count on you to handle things in the officer.”
Rilynne nodded without hesitation. Suddenly, she found her fear had been replaced with something else: anger. There was so much of it coursing through her that she felt as if Ben’s arms weren’t still around her, she might explode.
“Good,” he continued. “A road block has already been set up. We also have a trace on Sibrian’s phones, so we’ll be ready in the event of a ransom call. I’m going to stay with Sibrian. I want updates every fifteen minutes.”
Without waiting for her to respond, he and Jerkins pulled Lori off the floor and helped her out the door. Just behind them was Joe, his crying son in his arms.
Rilynne stood with her head rested against Ben’s chest for several more minutes before backing away.
“I’ll give you a ride,” Ben said. He brushed his thumb gently across her cheeks, wiping away the last of her tears.
“I need to check on Katy first,” she said. He gave her a puzzled look, but followed her without question.
They found Katy seated in the banquet hall, Matthews and Amber at her side. When she saw them approaching, she offered a weak smile before looking back at her husband. Rilynne didn’t know who looked worse for wear between the two of them.
“She’s all right,” Amber told them. “The excitement caused a few contractions, but they seemed to have stopped. All she needs is some rest and she'll be fine.”
“Good,” Rilynne said before turning toward her partner. “Wilcome wants everyone back at the station. We’re going to be working alongside major crimes.”
He stared at her with a solemn intensity before shaking his head and turning toward his wife. Before he could say anything, though, Katy stopped him.
“They need you at the station,” she said. “That little girl needs everyone looking for her right now. You don’t need to worry about me. I’ll be fine.” He looked like he wanted to argue, but fell silent at the stubborn look she gave him.
“I’ll stay with her,” Amber offered. “That way you won’t have to worry. Besides, I don’t think I could take just sitting back and waiting for news right now.”
Rilynne hugged her mom before she walked back out of the room. Before crossing through the door, she turned back to the empty hall. Just an hour before, it had been filled with love and happiness. Now the only thing she could feel as she looked around at the vacant tables was immense, heart wrenching sadness.
* * *
The station was busier than she had ever seen it when they walked in. Rilynne had a feeling that every officer, no matter what division, had come in to help.
“I'm going to change,” she said, looking down at her dress. “I have some clothes in my locker.”
Ben nodded and pushed through the crowd as he led her to the locker room.
All she had in her locker was a pair of loose jogging pants and a sweatshirt. She hesitated for a moment but knew they would be better than the dress. After slowly pulling them on and tossing her dress over her shoulder, she walked back out to find Ben waiting just outside the door.
They passed through the loud, chaotic lobby and climbed into the awaiting elevator. It seemed to crawl on its way up to the third
floor, though Rilynne had a feeling it was no slower than usual. The brief moment of quiet they had on the way up was shattered when the doors opened and they stepped toward the homicide office.
In addition to the four homicide detectives that were already in the office, Rilynne counted
close to twenty others. Most of the major crimes unit was present, along with several others she hadn’t expected, including Jimmy Wooldridge.
“Chief,” she said when he walked up to greet her. “What are you doing here?” She knew as the words left her lips that it was not only rude, but a ridiculous question. If he shared the same opinion, though, his expression betrayed no hint of it.
Wooldridge was the chief of homicide in Bodker, where both Rilynne and Lori worked prior to moving to Addison Valley. He was almost like a father to her, as well as Lori, and she knew without waiting for his response that he would do anything he could to help find Kim.
“I’ve been talking with Wied, and we’re trying to get a list pulled together of anyone who would have motive to take Kim,” he said. He knew her well enough to know her question didn’t warrant an answer.
“Is there any possibility that it was just a crime of opportunity?” Ben asked. He leaned against her desk and shifted his eyes between the two of them.
“No,” Rilynne said. She had considered the idea in the car on the way to the station. “No one would have risked taking a child from a room full of cops unless they were desperate. It would have been much easier to just snatch a child off the streets.”
“I agree,” Wooldridge said. “Chances are the kidnapper is either targeting Sibrian or wanted Kim.”
“I’m going to call Elise,” Ben interjected. “I asked her to stay at the hall until my guys could get out there. I told her to wait, but you know as well as I do that she'll already have the scene processed by the time they arrive. Hopefully she turned something up.”
He quickly kissed her on the forehead before walking out into the hall. After a few seconds, she heard the sound of the elevator as it took him up to the lab on the fourth floor.
“Is there any news on the roadblock?” Rilynne asked.
Wooldridge didn't seem to have an answer. He turned around and searched the crowded room before motioning over Alex Wied, head of the major crimes unit. Though their paths had crossed on occasion, Rilynne had never actually had a conversation with him. Wied was around the same age as Wilcome, though his thick gray hair made him appear at least ten years older. The three inch knife scar running down the left side of his face only helped the fact.