Authors: Hannah Jayne
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ALSO BY HANNAH JAYNE
Truly, Madly, Deadly
See Jane Run
Copyright © 2016 by Hannah Jayne
Cover and internal design © 2016 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover design by Elsie Lyons
Cover image © Ardon/Arcangel
Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Published by Sourcebooks Fire, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.
P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410
Fax: (630) 961-2168
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data is on file with the publisher.
For my new husband, Graham Haworth, for seeing my search history and marrying me anyway.
TEN YEARS AGO
The two men leering down at seven-year-old Beth Anne Reimer were huge. If anyone had asked her, she would have said they were at least seven feet tall, but no one was asking her anything. The men were simply shifting by her, giving her a wide berth while looking down with sad eyes and clicking their tongues or saying stupid, meaningless things like, “It’s a damn shame.”
The man on the left had a huge mustache that seemed to ooze from his nose. It was so black it was almost blue and dotted with crumbs of something fine.
Bread or doughnuts
, Beth Anne thought as he leaned closer, his hot breath sweet. He moved his big, meat-hook hands closer to her throat, and an electric shot of terror pulsed through her. She stepped backward, stumbling over her own feet, and didn’t let out a breath until she felt her narrow shoulder blades grind into the garage door behind her.
“This belonged to Melanie Harris,” the mustached guy said, tugging on the thick, gold ring that Beth Anne wore on a chain around her neck. She looked down at his fingers touching the ring,
ring, rubbing callously over the bright-blue stone that Beth Anne meticulously polished with her own small fingertips whenever she got scared or anxious.
“My dad gave it to me.” Her voice was a small, pitiful squeak, and she wasn’t sure if the mustached man didn’t hear her or didn’t care. He tugged on Beth Anne’s chain until it burned against her skin and the lobster clasp was between his fingers. He unclasped her necklace and slid it off before she could find her voice again to stop him.
The mustached man held the chain and the ring up to his partner—a clean-cut guy with not even the slightest hint of facial hair and ears that stuck out of his head like satellites. The clean-cut guy held up a plastic Ziploc, and Beth Anne watched her necklace drop inside, coiling like a snake at the bottom of the bag.
“Evidence,” the mustached man said.
Neither man said anything to Beth Anne as they zipped the bag, the ring’s stone catching the light with a glorious zing of blue before they both turned away and left her standing on the driveway, the cement scratchy on her bare feet as they slammed her father in the back of the squad car.
• • •
Bex Andrews surged forward, eyes pulled open wider than she ever thought they could be, heart hammering like a fire bell.
“I’m so sorry,” the soothing voice continued. “I didn’t mean to startle you. We’re going to be landing in a few minutes, and I need you to put your tray table up.”
“Oh.” Bex looked at her hands, her knuckles white as she gripped the tray table in front of her, then back to the flight attendant. She felt the familiar heat of embarrassment singe across her cheeks. “Sure. I’m sorry.”
The flight attendant straightened. “Thank you.” Her smile was as bright as a Crest commercial and her hair swirled behind her as she continued up the aisle, reminding the other passengers that they were landing soon.
Bex’s heart didn’t stop its relentless thump.
“Excuse me,” she said, leaning forward in her seat.
The flight attendant turned. “Mmm-hmm?”
“Do I have time to use the restroom?”
Bex made her way down the narrow aisle, wobbling with the rocking of the plane. She glanced away as people looked up at her, letting out her breath only when she escaped into the tiny lavatory and slid the little lever to
. Under the glaring, yellow light, Beth Anne Reimer hardly recognized herself.
Her once white-blond, shoulder-length hair was blunt cut to her ears, the curls gone so that her new sandy-brown hair and pixie cut framed her face, hugging her cheekbones and falling against her darkened eyebrows. Her long bangs hung into her hazel eyes, and several coats of mascara made her short lashes stand out. She was wearing an outfit that made her look like every other teenager in the free world: tight jeans faded at the knees and fraying at the ankles, flip-flops, and a white zip-up hoodie with a surfer print. Instinctively, she pulled the hood over her head, and the fabric shaded her face and instantly darkened her cheekbones. Her bright eyes were suddenly small and menacing. She pushed the hood back.
She was a new person, at the other side of her home state and about to start a new life. No way was she going to fade into her hoodie and let people think she was a serial killer just because her father was.
That was Beth Anne Reimer.
And she was Bex Andrews now.
Bex stared out the car’s passenger-side window as the scenery zoomed by. She had never been to Kill Devil Hills, though she had seen postcards and TV shows set here, but what was whizzing by her—nondescript strip malls, Target shopping centers, and fast-food places—made her feel like the puddle-jumper flight from Raleigh, North Carolina, had landed her right back there. If it hadn’t been for the woman in the driver’s seat who was chatting happily about something Bex couldn’t focus on, she would have wondered if this whole moving-across-the-state thing was just a big hoax.
“Does that sound good to you?”
The woman driving the Honda SUV smiled at Bex, her light-blue eyes sparkling even in the dim hint of twilight.
Bex felt her mouth drop open. “I’m sorry, what?”
Denise tucked a strand of deep-brown hair behind her ear. “I’m sorry, Bex. That’s such a cool name, by the way. I’m probably just talking your ear off. We’re just really happy to have you here. I know it can’t be easy for you…”
The familiar lump started to form in the back of her throat and Bex shifted in the car seat, working the seat belt strap between her fingers. Her grandmother’s face flashed in her mind, and the familiar smells of the house where Bex had lived since she was seven years old filled her nostrils—her grandmother’s powdery, lavender smell; the sweet, cloying scent of night jasmine when it wafted through her bedroom curtains; the earthy smell of hot grass as she tromped barefoot through it.
But that was a world away in another life. Her grandmother had passed seven months ago and Bex’s home had been sold. She’d been shifted into a “temporary care situation,” which basically meant she was stuck in a cross between an orphanage and juvenile hall until a foster home willing to take her opened up.
And when one did, it was across the state in the Outer Banks with Denise and Michael Pierson, a couple in their early forties who only knew that Bex had lived with her grandmother.
They didn’t know the truth.
They didn’t know that Bex’s own mother had disappeared when Bex was only five years old and still called Beth Anne Reimer. They didn’t know that Beth Anne was doted on by a father who lavished her with costume jewelry and funky purses.
They didn’t know that all the gifts Beth Anne’s father gave her had once belonged to women in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. Women who Beth Anne’s father—dubbed the Wife Collector in the press—had murdered.
The word gnawed at Bex’s periphery.
It was Beth Anne herself, a shy, moon-eyed seven-year-old, who had pointed a chubby finger at her own father when the police came to her house. Yes, she knew the pretty blond woman from the photograph, she had said to the police officer. The girl had been with them for two days before getting into the car with Beth Anne’s daddy. No, she didn’t know where they had gone. All she knew was that the blond lady never came back to the house, never came back for the nubby scarf she had wound around Beth Anne’s neck, so Beth Anne had kept it for herself.
It was just a few days later that Beth Anne’s daddy was locked in that police cruiser and scuttled down to the courthouse. The newspapers and local news station splashed headlines everywhere and that single word—
—seemed to grow smaller, to fade into the enormous text around it.
Wife Collector Murderer, Held in Local Jail
Whenever one of the coifed and pinched news anchors said her daddy’s name, that word was always attached: “Jackson Reimer
murdered these women in a fit of rage…”
The memory still nagged her—her father, a murderer, and she barely a second grader, thrust in front of the media as “The Devil’s Own Daughter” who did a noble thing by turning him in. Back then, she didn’t have any idea what that meant. Back then, she wasn’t able to decide if what she saw and what she was
she saw were the same thing. Back then, she didn’t know her words would be used against the one person who had always taken care of her: her father. But he had never been tried, never been convicted, because he had disappeared. Then the news anchors started to drop the
Denise flipped on her blinker, the
bringing Bex back to the here and now. “Are you hungry?” Denise asked.
Bex shifted, pushing the memory—the broken look in her father’s eyes, the sound of his shackles scraping on the cement as they led him away—as far out of her present mind as she dared. “A little bit.”
“Well, Michael’s at home. He’s a master chef—at least he thinks he is. Really, he’s lousy in front of anything but an open flame, and even that’s iffy. He’s doing burgers. I hope that’s okay?”
Bex nodded. Her head was an absolute mess, the events of the last twenty-four hours humming in her brain like the whir of the plane’s engine. Since Tuesday, everything had been new. The first time she had dyed her hair. The first time she had cut it more than an inch. The first time she had been on a plane. The first time she ever had real hope that she could put her past behind her and never again be the Wife Collector’s daughter.
She swallowed hard when Denise aimed her car between the two huge, brick fences of the Kill Devil Hills beachfront neighborhood. Brush grass and trees lined the sidewalks, yawning into the night and softening the edges of the comfortable, cookie-cutter homes on either side of the street. Denise reached out and gingerly patted Bex’s knee. “Home, sweet home, hon. You ready?”
Bex didn’t know how to answer.
• • •
Denise was right. Michael wasn’t much of a cook, but he piled Bex’s burger with three kinds of cheese to make up for the half-charred puck of ground beef and talked relentlessly about the university where he worked as a professor of anthropology, and Bex kind of liked him. He was funny and animated, and by the time Bex’s burger was reduced to crumbs, she and Denise were holding their stomachs and wiping tears from their eyes.
When Bex’s eyes flicked to the clock on the stove—it was nearly nine by then—she realized that the last two hours of her new life had been just that: brand-new. She couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten a terrible burger, laughed so hard it hurt, and not ached inside, missing her grandmother. She couldn’t remember the last time she was this carefree, this happy.
“Can I help with the dishes?” Bex asked, standing.
Michael looked taken aback, his eyes going to Denise and then back to Bex. “Didn’t anyone tell you?”
Heat burned the tops of Bex’s ears and her chest tightened. “Tell me what?”
“You’re a teenager. You’re supposed to hate us, refuse to do anything, then stomp up the stairs screaming, ‘You’re ruining my life!’” He broke into a grin so wide it made his brown eyes crinkle at the corners. Denise swatted at him.
“Michael, leave her alone. It’s only her first night. She’ll have plenty of time to scorn your terrible dad jokes and be that teenager later. Come on, Bex. I know you must be exhausted. Let’s get you settled into your room, and we can deal with chores and school and all that boring stuff in the morning. Okay?”
Bex followed Denise up the stairs, hugging her purse to her chest. Michael had already dropped her luggage into a room right off the hall, and when Denise opened the door, Bex sucked in a sharp breath.
“This is for me?”
Denise nodded silently.
The bedroom was enormous—at least twice the size of the one at her grandmother’s house and a dozen times bigger than the four walls she shared with three other girls at the interim home. The walls were painted a soft green that matched the chevron stripes on the bedspread that matched the curtains fluttering lazily in the evening breeze. From where she stood, Bex could see that her room had its own bathroom, and the cool green continued there in fluffy towels and a funky pattern on the shower curtain.
“I hope it’s okay.”
Bex turned to Denise, who stood in the doorway, nervously wringing her hands.
“Are you kidding? It’s amazing. I didn’t expect—well, I didn’t know what to expect. I mean…”
Denise batted at the air. “It’s your home now, Bex. We just want you to be comfortable, to know that you belong here. We’re so happy to have you.” She avoided Bex’s eyes as she started opening drawers and showing off the enormous, empty closet. “You’re—you’re our daughter.” She looked up, her eyes soft, almost pleading. “We want you to be happy.”
Bex nodded, too choked up to answer.
“And if you hate the color, you can blame Michael.” Denise’s grin was big but shy. She paused in the doorway for an extra second, her teeth working her plump lower lip. “If you can’t sleep or if you just want to hang out, Michael and I will be up for a while watching TV. And eating ice cream. Kind of a nighttime ritual.” Denise turned and shot another smile, her blue eyes bright. She was tall and naturally slim, and even with her shy grin, she had an easy confidence and grace that Bex instantly admired. She looked at home in her skin.
When Denise left, she shut the door behind her. Bex flopped on the bed, loving the smooshing sound of the pillow-top mattress and the soft, ultra-plush comforter. She could be happy here. She rolled over and spied a framed picture of Denise and Michael on one of her bookshelves. They were smiling, arms entwined, standing in front of a fenced-off waterfall somewhere.
They looked like parents. They looked like burger-making, ice-cream-eating parents who maybe had a Volvo sedan in a very neat garage and a shaggy dog and…a teenaged daughter. With her new hair color, Bex even looked a little like Michael, whose brownish hair was salted with gray, like they really could be father and daughter. But the second the elation of maybe actually belonging to a family swelled, it was hacked down by crippling guilt.
You have a father
, the little voice in the back of her head hissed.
You sent him to prison for the rest of his life, remember?
“I didn’t,” she said, teeth gritted, voice a low growl. “He ran
You gave him no choice…
Bex blinked away the tears that swelled below her lashes. “He abandoned me just as much as I abandoned him,” she muttered to herself. That was something the social worker had told her—that in deciding to run, Bex’s father had already decided to abandon her. Bex mumbled the phrase every now and again when the guilt bubbled or she missed her father or she wanted to remember what normal was.
“Normal is ice cream,” she said, tugging a sweatshirt over her head. “Normal is me having ice cream with Michael and Denise.” She paused, then tried out the words. “My parents.”