Read When a Secret Kills Online

Authors: Lynette Eason

When a Secret Kills (11 page)

BOOK: When a Secret Kills
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He punched in the first six numbers of Colton’s cell number, then stopped. What if Jillian had told him what she saw that night? His stomach twisted tighter. What was he going to say? What if Colton asked him outright if he killed the governor?

He’d deny it of course. And Colton would believe him. Wouldn’t he?

He looked at his hands, then the guns on the wall behind him.

One way or another Jillian had to be silenced. If she went public with her accusations, it would kill his career. And if she died after she talked, he would definitely look guilty. If she died now, he could do damage control. Couldn’t he?

Of course he could. He had no choice.

She had to die before she said anything.

And he had to have an airtight alibi when it happened.

Frank punched a number into his phone. And it wasn’t Colton’s.

16

Jillian finished off her last bit of pizza as she watched her friends work together. Serena’s six large pizzas were gone, every last bite consumed in record time. The clock pushed toward ten, and she had nowhere to sleep tonight. She supposed she’d better think about that.

“I’ve got something. I think.” Serena’s voice broke into the silence.

Jillian sat straight up, a surge of adrenaline sweeping away her fatigue.

Colton stepped across the room to stand beside Serena. Jillian took up residence on the other side.

“What is it?” she asked.

“I didn’t see anything that jumped out at me on the governor’s autopsy report so I moved to the ME’s file. These pictures aren’t pretty,” Serena warned with a concerned look.

Jillian moved closer. “I can handle it. Just show us, please.”

“Okay. I’ve read through the report here. There wasn’t an autopsy, but this is an official death record. The pictures are from the site where the body was found.”

“Who found the body?”

“His fishing buddy, Conrad Pike.”

Colton shifted and Jillian got a whiff of his subtle, yet spicy cologne. Memories of Colton in high school wanted to kick in, but Jillian pushed them away with a hard swallow and forced herself to focus.

Colton said, “So he wasn’t there when Gerald got stung?”

“No.”

“Is his statement in there?”

“Yes.” Serena frowned. “A brief one. I don’t think you’ll find it very helpful. You’ll probably want to go talk to the source and get it from him. But this is interesting, something that doesn’t fit.”

Jillian felt her heart thump a little faster. Had she been right?

Serena was pointing to a picture she’d pulled up on the screen. “See this right here? This is a picture of what he looked like by the time the photographer got there. He’s bloated, swollen, and discolored. The poison in his system really did a number on this poor man. All of that looks exactly like it should for someone to die the way he did.”

“But?” Jillian leaned in, the sight of the man making her stomach turn. What a horrible way to die.

“But,” Serena glanced at her, then Colton, “this right here—” she used the end of a ballpoint pen to point to the dead man’s wrist—“this is weird. I’ve worked on victims like this guy before and I’ve never seen this except on victims who’ve had their wrists tied up.”

Colton leaned closer. “I don’t see anything.”

“Look closer.”

Jillian finally saw it. A faint raised line encircled his lower wrist. Colton drew in a deep breath.

Serena zoomed out, then back in on the other wrist.

“The wrist marks match. There’s no way that’s an accident,” Colton said.

Serena nodded. “I would say so.”

Jillian’s throat tightened. “But why?” she whispered. “If he went along with him and falsified the autopsy report, why kill him?”

“Because he was a liability,” Hunter answered from behind her. Katie, Grayson, Dominic, and Hunter had gathered behind Serena so they could see.

Katie nodded. “If what you say is true.”

“It’s true.” Jillian walked over to the couch and slumped onto it. She was so tired. She just wanted this to be over with. “Is it enough to exhume the governor’s body?”

Colton pursed his lips and rubbed the back of his neck. He looked as tired as she felt. “Let me take it to the judge in the morning.” He looked at Serena. “You’re sure.” Jillian noticed the two words weren’t a question.

“I’m 99 percent sure those are rope burns.”

“And yet his death was declared an accident,” Colton murmured.

Serena shrugged. “I spent forty-five minutes sitting here, working on the pictures, zooming in and out, to be sure. This man’s in very bad shape. It would be easy to miss if you weren’t looking for something other than an accidental death. I was looking for something, anything. The ME who got this one wouldn’t have thought anything was wrong. I might have come to the same conclusion. The rope burns do kind of blend in with the stings, the discoloration, everything.” She looked at the picture one more time. “Yeah, it would be an easy thing to miss.”

“Anything on his ankles?”

She shook her head. “I looked. But he did have a contusion on the back of his head. The ME attributed that to Gerald panicking and trying to get away from the bees. He tripped and fell on a thick tree branch, which might have rendered him unconscious.”

Colton exchanged a glance with Hunter. Katie raised a brow and said, “Or the branch rendered him unconscious before the bees were sicced on him.”

Jillian shuddered. “Really?”

“I say we talk to Gerald’s wife and see what she has to say,” Katie said.

“What about Conrad Pike’s statement?”

Serena switched screens to read. She said, “Mr. Pike stated that they were to meet at the lake to go fishing. It’s a rather isolated area but they’d been going there for years. Mr. Pike said he got an email from Gerald saying he was going to be late and could they reschedule for two hours after the original time. Pike responded that was fine. Two hours later, he showed up and found his friend on the ground. Dead.” She scrolled down a little farther, then stopped and shrugged. “That’s basically it. His death was ruled an accident and his body released to the funeral home.”

“Sounds to me like you need to have a little talk with a few people,” Grayson said.

Katie nodded. “I think we need to talk to Pike and also Gerald’s wife. And Harrison Martin’s wife.”

Serena yawned and rubbed her eyes. “Y’all figure that out. I’m headed to my parents’ for a good night’s sleep. I’ve got to work tomorrow.”

Jillian felt another familiar pang of guilt—and gratitude. She stood and wrapped her friend in a hug. “Thanks for doing this. I’m sorry we kept you so late.”

Serena returned the hug with a fierce squeeze. “You’re worth the lost sleep.”

Dominic wrapped an arm around his fiancée’s shoulders and led her toward the door. Looking back, his gaze met Jillian’s. “We’ll figure this out.”

She nodded, appreciating—and marveling at—these people, willing to jump right in and help her. Even if one of them didn’t totally believe her. At least he hadn’t dismissed her outright and left her to fend for herself.

But she hadn’t really thought Colton would do that. It wasn’t his style.

Dominic and Serena were gone. Hunter hung back behind Katie and Grayson as they said their goodbyes. Grayson looked at Jillian.
“Don’t you think it would be safer for you to simply go to the media about this?”

She frowned. “No. Not really.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t have proof. If I say anything now, it’s my word against his.” She lifted a brow. “And who do you think they’re going to believe?”

“But wouldn’t it be protection even without the proof? If you go public with what you say you saw ten years ago, then he’d be stupid to keep going after you. If anything happened to you, his guilt would be sealed.”

“And I would still be dead.” She shook her head. “I’m an investigative reporter. I don’t throw out accusations I can’t back up. The proof is there, I just have to find it.”

Colton said, “And there’s no reason to ruin a man’s career over something that’s not—” He broke off and Jillian felt hurt sweep through her. He still didn’t fully believe her. She shoved the hurt aside as he finished with, “—something that could be a misunderstanding. No, we need to wait to go public.”

Jillian felt her anger rise and tamped it back. In time, he would see. They all would. She grabbed her bag and stopped. “Can someone call me a cab?”

Colton gave a short laugh. “A cab. Right.” He sobered and looked at Hunter, who hadn’t had a chance to answer Jillian. “I’ll take her. Why don’t you follow behind and keep an eye out?”

Hunter nodded and pulled his keys from his pocket.

To Jillian, Colton said, “I’ll take you to a hotel and arrange for the security to keep you safe.” He considered telling Jillian she could just stay with him. He stopped himself. Probably not a good idea, being alone with her. And besides, whoever was after Jillian was aware Colton was helping her. The incident at the lake
house still puzzled him—scared him. He thought he’d been careful to watch and make sure no one followed. He’d taken a circuitous route and had seen nothing.

His lips tightened. Obviously he hadn’t been careful enough.

And it had almost cost Jillian her life.

Well, it wouldn’t happen again.

They climbed into his truck and Colton watched Katie and Grayson’s taillights disappear as she turned onto the highway.

Jillian gave a sigh and set the bag from Alexia between her feet. “Where are we going? I don’t have any way to pay for a hotel room. I—”

He placed a finger on her lips and she went silent, eyes wide. He said, “I’ve got it taken care of, okay?”

Under the dome light of the truck, a wariness he didn’t like flitted across her features. Then she sighed. “I guess I don’t have much choice, do I?”

Frustration welled up inside him. “Why is it so hard for you to accept help?”

“I’m accepting help,” she protested. “Everyone at your house tonight was there to help. And I’m grateful for it.”

“Then it must just be me.” He cranked the truck and felt his gut twist when she didn’t protest
that
statement. He pulled his phone and sent a text to Hunter. When he got his reply, he pulled out of the drive, one eye alternating between the rearview mirror and the side mirrors, the other on the road.

They rode in silence for about ten minutes until Colton’s phone rang. “You have a tail.”

Colton narrowed his eyes, looking for it. “I don’t see it. Just lights.”

“Busy highway on a dark night. He’s subtle, but he’s there.”

“Keep an eye on him. I’m going to take the next exit.”

Jillian’s troubled gaze drilled him as he kept Hunter on the line. He said to Jillian, “We might have a problem.”

“Someone’s following us?”

“Yes.”

She nodded, her brow furrowed. “I’m not surprised. They need to get rid of me as fast as possible.”

Colton whipped the truck off the highway at the next exit. Jillian watched the lights of a gas station grow closer, then whip past. Her heart picked up speed as the blood rushed in her veins.

“He still on me?” Colton asked Hunter.

“He’s still there. I’m calling for backup.”

The phone now on speaker, Jillian heard every word.

“Has he made you?” Colton followed the two-lane road and Jillian wondered where he thought he was heading. There was nothing along this lonely stretch of road except farms and trees and the occasional trailer park.

“No, don’t think so. He’s focused on you. I’m closing in to get the plate.”

Colton slowed. “About two miles up ahead is the bridge. Right beyond is that old mill with the big parking lot. I’m going to turn in and swing around. Have backup meet us there. We’ll trap him.”

“10-4.”

Colton’s phone went silent and Jillian’s pulse pounded. Was this the same guy from the lake house? And would that plan work? They rode in silence until Colton tapped his brakes. He said, “Okay, we’re going to get away from this guy and then we’re going to go on the offensive.”

“What do you mean?”

The shattered back windshield cut off his response even as Hunter’s warning yell came through the phone.

Jillian gave a short scream as Colton reached out to shove her head down below window level. The truck jerked to the right and she heard him yell, “Stay down!” As another bullet slammed into the passenger window behind her, Jillian grabbed the gun from the
back of her waistband and heard Hunter’s voice come through the speaker of the phone, now resting in the cup holder. She felt shaky and sick. Felt like her heart would beat straight from her chest.

“Don’t!” Colton ordered. “Hunter’s taking care of it.” He spun the wheel to the left and rounded a corner. Jillian lost her grip on her weapon and grunted as it fell to the floorboard while the right side of her head snapped into the window. Pain shot through her forehead. Ignoring it, she leaned over and felt for the gun.

“Where is he?” Colton hollered.

“Right behind you. I’ve got his plate and backup is on the way. I’m going to try and run him off the road. Stay to the left. He’s shooting from the driver’s side through the open passenger window.”

BOOK: When a Secret Kills
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