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Authors: Lynette Eason

When a Secret Kills (2 page)

BOOK: When a Secret Kills
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Sunday
1

10:25 a.m.

Would he try to kill her today?

Probably.

Jillian shifted her carry-on bag and walked through the jetway into the airport, her eyes scanning every face she passed. Yesterday, she’d called Serena Hopkins, one of her best friends from high school, and gotten an earful on events in her hometown the past two months. Serena had warned her in no uncertain terms that Jillian was a target.

Jillian had almost laughed out loud. She’d been a target for the past ten years.

She fingered the healing scar on her forearm as she thought about Jeff. The grief threatened to smother her and she shoved it off with a vengeance. There would be time for grieving later.

Knowing they’d tracked her down after ten years of hiding not only scared her down to her bones, it told her two things.

They were getting desperate . . .

. . . and it was time to fight back.

Serena had had to back out of picking her up due to a last-minute meeting called by her boss and an unexpected autopsy,
but she’d promised someone trustworthy would meet Jillian at the baggage claim.

Someone trustworthy?

Or someone who wanted to see her dead?

No, she could trust Serena.

Jillian picked up the pace and followed the flow of the crowd, staying a little to the side and yet trying to blend in. Baggage claim crawled with people, and she swallowed hard as she tried to scan each face, be alert to anyone who seemed too interested in her.

She hitched her carry-on up on her shoulder and shoved her glasses to the top of her head. One finger reached up to twirl the brown strands as she let her eyes rove the area for a familiar face. Uneasiness clamped down on her stomach as she made eye contact with a tall man leaning against the terminal wall. He offered her a small smile and straightened.

Jillian frowned and turned, indicating her disinterest while keeping him in her peripheral vision just in case . . .

He came toward her and Jillian tensed, moved to the side, and dropped her carry-on to the floor beside her. All she had to do was defend herself long enough for security to grab him.

And then a pretty blond woman dashed past her and into his arms.

As they kissed, Jillian wanted to wilt into the floor. Releasing a harsh sigh, she felt her adrenaline ebb. Grabbing her carry-on from the floor, she looked around again and, seeing no one she knew, headed for the restroom off to the side. She needed to calm down. To think. Convince herself she was doing the right thing. Again.

She entered the bathroom and took her spot in line. After a short wait, she rounded the corner and stepped into the first stall, just vacated by an elderly woman.

Hanging her bag on the hook on the door, Jillian leaned her head against the wall and closed her eyes for a moment. She was so tired. When her phone buzzed, she groaned. Serena? Or Meg?

Just thinking about Meg stiffened her spine. She was doing this for Meg. A glance at her screen told her nothing. She didn’t recognize the number. She frowned and felt her tension build. Who would have her number? Had Serena given it to someone?

Probably the person who was picking her up. Her tension eased slightly as the call went to voicemail. She’d check it in a minute. As soon as her pulse slowed a little more. Jillian sent a text to her friend.
Who’s picking me up?

Reality started to sink in. She was home. Back in Columbia, South Carolina.

And she was here to right a wrong, to face her past, and to put a killer behind bars. So she and Meg didn’t have to live in fear, constantly watching over their shoulders, Jillian wondering if this would be the day they’d die.

Beautiful, full-of-life, nine-year-old Meg.

Did
they
know about her yet?

Just the thought of the people after her finding out about Meg sent waves of nausea through Jillian. If they knew about her, they’d find her and use her.

And that’s why failure wasn’t an option. One by one she heard people leave the restroom. Time to get going, to face the past and step into the future. Jillian grabbed her bag from the hook and stepped out of the stall, senses alert.

Movement to her left. A flash of something metal coming toward her. A woman’s scream distracted her for a brief second, then instinct and training kicked in. Jillian ducked and spun, using her carry-on as a shield. She felt the knife rip into the bag as she stumbled back. The bag hit the floor and she crashed into the sink.

The attacker paused for a split second, then came at her once again, dark eyes cold and determined. She read the mission there.

Kill Jillian Carter.

With a scream of fear and outrage, she used the sink behind her
as leverage to lift herself from the floor. She kicked out and gave a hiss of satisfaction as her foot landed against a hard stomach.

Colton Brady stepped into the airport baggage claim and looked around. The flight had landed ten minutes ago. Serena said Jillian would be waiting on him. She’d be in disguise as a brunette and she was about ten pounds heavier than the last time he’d seen her.

Ten years and two months ago.

But he wasn’t counting. Really. He wasn’t.

He was just doing a friend a favor.

A scream echoed through the area and Colton froze, determined the direction of the sound, then rushed toward the women’s restroom, pulling his weapon as he ran. He flashed his badge at the two TSA officers and one airport police officer also attracted by the scream and rounded the corner into the bathroom.

His brain registered the facts.

A man attacking a woman. A woman fighting for her life. A cop in front of him.

“Police!” the officer yelled.

The woman froze. The man didn’t.

The knife arched downward.

Three shots from the cop a breath of a second before Colton’s finger tightened.

Blood blossomed on the attacker’s chest and he dropped like a rock.

Colton held his fire, raced in, and kicked the weapon away. He handcuffed the wounded man’s hands behind his back, then rolled him away from the woman. She sat up with a shaky grunt.

“Is he dead?” She scooted away, grasped her carry-on, and stood. Flecks of blood covered one cheek. A whole lot of it had pooled on her right shoulder.

Colton leaned over and checked the man’s pulse. Weak and
thready. “Not yet.” He looked up at the hovering airport police officer. “Get an ambulance.”

The officer holstered his weapon and radioed it in. Colton had his doubts that the attacker would live long enough to benefit from the help.

“Are you hurt?” Colton asked the woman.

“N-no. I don’t think so. I managed to block the knife, but . . .”

The fine tremor in her hands and the shallow panting breaths told Colton she was on the verge of either hysteria or collapse.

Then she surprised him by hitching the carry-on over her shoulder and shoving her tinted glasses up onto her head. She marched to the sink, grabbed a handful of paper towels, and started to scrub the blood from her face.

Once again he felt his heart slam into his lungs. Jillian Carter. She had been beautiful as a blond. As a brunette, she took his breath away. He wanted to pull her into his arms, kiss her senseless—then demand what she’d been thinking when she’d disappeared from his life ten years ago. Either that or send a fist through the wall, releasing all of the pent-up anger he’d thought he dealt with years ago.

He did neither.

“He tried to kill her. He just attacked her . . .” Shock stood out on the white face of the witness to his right. “I saw him but I . . . it just happened so fast.” She looked at Jillian, her trembling increasing with each word. “I’m so . . . so sorry . . . I—” Her eyes dropped to the man on the floor, whose breathing was shallow and labored, and Colton saw her shudder.

Jillian shook her head. “It’s all right. You couldn’t have done anything.”

Colton motioned for a uniformed officer to usher the woman from the bathroom. “Why don’t you get her statement?”

The officer swallowed hard and nodded. “I called 10-99. Everyone’s rolling.”

It was going to be a madhouse. TSA, FAA, and the FBI were no
doubt already on their way. TSA was in the process of shutting down the airport and screening every person in the building. Colton gathered his composure and walked over to Jillian. He took the paper towel from her trembling fingers and said, “It’s been a long time.”

As though in slow motion, her eyes lifted to meet his in the mirror. Tears trembled on the edges of her lashes and his gut clenched. Then those brown eyes narrowed. He stared, trying to see past the contacts that covered the blue eyes she’d been born with. Her tears faded. “Ten years.”

“I’ve been counting,” he said as he wet the towel a little more and wiped up a few spots around her nose that she’d missed. “Did you get any in your eyes?”

“No.”

Good. He made a mental note to check with Serena about blood-borne diseases on the dead man. No need to mention that to Jillian right now.

She hitched her carry-on up again and nudged her glasses farther atop her head, then twisted her fingers together.

“That’s how I knew it was you,” he murmured.

“What?”

“You used to do that same maneuver in high school. Shrug your backpack up higher on your shoulder, then push your glasses on top of your head.”

She went still and fear flashed across her face. “I did?”

Colton frowned at the fear. “Yes.”

“Sir?”

Colton looked up and away from Jillian’s puzzling expression. “Yeah?”

“We need to secure the crime scene.”

Jillian stepped away from the man who’d tried to kill her, and Colton followed her from the bathroom.

Colton rubbed a hand through his hair. “Looks like Serena will be making a trip to the airport after all.”

Her throat worked and he wondered what was going through her head. But instead of saying anything, she let out a sigh, looked at the blood on her shoulder, and grimaced. She asked, “Were you my ride?”

“Yes. I was on my way to church when Serena called me about an hour ago. I called your cell phone, but you didn’t answer.”

“Of all the people—”

Colton had to strain to hear her words, but he gathered she wasn’t happy about his presence. Tough.

She shook her head. “I guess we have to stay here, give a statement or whatever.” Her eyes jumped from one person to the next, her shoulders stiff, posture on guard.

She was watching, ready for an attack from any side. Colton felt the first stirrings of sympathy for her. “Yes.”

Jillian dipped her head, hiding her eyes. Her hair slid over her shoulder to cover her face. She dropped her carry-on to the floor and sat on it. “Fine.”

“Do you have a different shirt in your bag?”

She looked up, surprised. “Of course.”

He wanted her out of the open. Even though the bystanders had been ushered out of view of the scene, he wasn’t sure someone wouldn’t try to grab a few pictures with a cell phone. “Why don’t I clear the men’s room and you go in and change? You’ll feel better. Keep the bloody shirt, though. It’s evidence. I’ll get a bag to put it in.”

With a grateful glance at him, she nodded. The men’s bathroom, right next to the women’s, had been cleared. Colton waved her in. Five minutes later, she returned and placed the shirt into the bag he’d found and now held out to her. She leaned against the wall, closed her eyes, then slid to the floor, her carry-on bag pulled against her stomach. He gave her another couple of minutes to gather herself, then stood in front of her. “Why don’t you tell me what you’ve been doing the past ten years and why you’re back now?”

Jillian groaned and dropped her face into her hands. “Go away.”

Anger shot through him and he sank to his knees as he placed a hand beneath her chin to jerk her face up to his. “Oh no, Jillian Carter. I’m not like you. I don’t run away when the going gets tough. I’ve waited ten years for some answers. You’re not leaving my sight until I get them.”

2

Jillian swallowed. Hard. Colton’s green eyes had a look in them she’d never seen before. One that said he’d grown up and hardened in the past ten years.

A look that said he’d suffered when she’d left without a word.

A look that said she was going to give him answers whether she wanted to or not.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t do that. Yet.

Before she had a chance to figure out what to say, the airport doors slid open and more law enforcement descended upon them. Uniforms already swarmed the area, but this new group she knew.

She breathed a sigh of relief for the reprieve. Colton wasn’t so happy. He shot her a look that said they weren’t finished and turned to fill in the newcomers.

Jillian registered the faces from her past.

Hunter Graham, Chad Graham, and Katie Isaacs. She thought she might know a few more, but her befuddled mind couldn’t find the names. She’d worked so hard to forget and yet at the same time couldn’t—she’d known
he’d
try something.

And he had.

Colton’s leadership skills stood out as he spoke. She took a moment to study him. Same shaggy blond hair, green eyes, and
square chin. The dimple in his cheek still peeked out even when he frowned.

“Jillian, is that you?”

She looked up to see Hunter Graham staring down at her. He’d broken away from the group and squatted in front of her. “Yes, it’s me.”

“Boy, do you look different. What are you doing here?”

Jillian sighed. “Coming home. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to go anywhere without trouble following. Sorry about that.”

“So I’ve heard.” He paused. “Alexia and Serena will be glad to see you.”

Jillian gave a humorless laugh. “I’m not so sure about that. Knowing me put them in danger. And it’s still not over.”

“We caught the guy after Serena, but not Alexia.” He paused. “Is that why it isn’t over?”

“Yes. No. Maybe.”

“Well, that clears it up.”

She grimaced. “Sorry. There’s just a lot you don’t know.”

“Then tell me.”

“I will.” She looked around. “Just not here.”

“Right.” He looked over his shoulder and she followed his glance.

Serena made her way through the airport doors. Jillian wanted to rush over and give her friend a hug, but it wasn’t the time for that. Serena caught her eye and gave a slight wave, the expression on her face saying they’d have a talk later. Jillian nodded and Serena stopped to sign in to the crime scene. After she slipped on gloves and booties, she stepped into the bathroom.

Jillian’s eyes slid to Colton as he talked to Katie. She was nodding and waving an arm as she responded. “She’s very animated, isn’t she?” Jillian said. “Has she changed?”

“Animated is one way to put it. And no. She hasn’t changed a bit.”

Jillian grimaced. “Wonderful.”

“Aw, Katie’s all right.” He studied her. “You
really
look different.”

“I know.” She’d be explaining why later. She let her eyes slide back to Colton. “You trust him? Is he a good cop?”

Hunter’s brows lifted in surprise. “One of the best. And yes, I’d trust him with my life.”

“Even though he’s related to Frank Hoffman?”

Now Hunter just looked puzzled. “The senator? Sure. Frank’s a good man. Might even be president one day.”

The thought turned her stomach. “Right.”

He studied her with a questioning look. “Why do I get the feeling you disagree about the good man part?”

Colton turned and walked over to them. “Jillian, are you ready to give your statement?”

She shuddered. “Sure.” From the corner of her eye, she saw the airport police officer who fired the shots talking to Chad Graham. He rubbed his eyes and shook his head. Grief stood out on his face, and Jillian felt guilt and regret well up inside her. This was all her fault. If she’d stayed in town ten years ago and gone to the authorities, told what she saw . . .

No. If she’d stayed, she’d be dead. And so would Meg.

This time she wasn’t going down without a fight. Part one of her plan. Find the evidence to convict Frank Hoffman, and stay alive while doing it. Part two? Find a way to tell Colton about Meg without endangering her daughter.

Colton helped her to her feet. “Come on. They’re taking statements in a room down the hall. I need you to walk me through what happened.” He motioned for Hunter to join them.

In silence, Jillian walked beside Colton down the hall. Hunter followed. Colton led her inside the room and she sat at the table. A video camera had been set up to record her statement. He turned it on, pulled out a little green notebook, and said, “Okay, tell us what happened in as much detail as you can remember.”

Stuffing down her emotions, she said, “I got off the plane and came down to baggage claim. When I didn’t see anyone I knew, I
went to the bathroom. When I came out of the stall, the woman screamed—he was . . . there.” She hated the shakiness in her voice, but couldn’t seem to control it. “He had a knife and he tried to stab me,” she drew in a shuddering breath and forced the words out, “but I was able to throw my carry-on bag up and the knife hit that instead of me.” She swallowed hard, remembering the paralyzing fear. She was extremely grateful she’d allowed a friend to talk her into several years of self-defense training. They’d just saved her life. “I kicked him in the stomach, but he managed to tackle me. I think that’s where Colton and security came in and,” she grimaced, “shot him.”

Colton nodded and snapped his notebook shut. “I have a laundry list of questions. Let’s start with, Have you ever seen this man before?”

“No. Never.”

“Was he on the plane with you today?”

“I didn’t notice him, no.”

Colton sighed and scratched his chin. “Did you notice anyone following you?”

“No, Colton, no one. And it’s not because I wasn’t looking.”

His lips puckered, and memories of their long-ago summer together washed over her. Beneath the table, she curled her fingers into fists.

He asked, “What about who knew you were flying in today?”

“No one.” She swallowed hard. “I told no one.” Except the people who had Megan, but she couldn’t say that. And she knew without a doubt they hadn’t been the ones to say anything. No, whoever had known she was on that flight was right here in Columbia, South Carolina.

“Who’s after you, Jillian? Who wants you—and Alexia and Serena—dead and why?”

She sighed and closed her eyes as she tried to find a way around her answer. But she couldn’t. Opening her eyes, she said, “Your uncle, Senator Frank Hoffman, wants me dead because I saw him murder a man ten years ago.”

BOOK: When a Secret Kills
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