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Nathan slowly opened the bedroom door and poked his head in. “Jessie?”
“May I come in.”
He flicked the light on and walked in. Without a word, he walked to the bed and sat down beside of her. Slowly, she sat up and stared at him with expectant eyes.
“After my father died, I watched my mother go from one relationship to another. It was as if she was looking for what she had lost and couldn’t quite find it. She married man after man, always trying to fill that hole in her heart. I saw how devastated she was. I remember how she cried when my father was killed. I swore to myself then and there that I would never be like her. I would never care so much about someone that I could no longer function without them in my life.” He drew in a deep breath and forced himself to continue. “I’m very good at friendships. But when it comes to intimacy, I’m just incapable. I’ve tried, believe me.”
“Tell me about her?”
He blinked. “Her name was Angela. My first homicide investigation… Angela’s father was the victim. He had been shot in the head in the store he owned--a botched robbery. She was upset and I offered to take her out for a cup of coffee so that we could talk. Throughout the investigation, she and I worked closely together and when it was over, she asked me out on a date. I went against my better judgment and to make a long story short, six months later we were picking out a church and caterers. The night before the wedding, I got a severe case of cold feet. I don’t know what came over me. All that I did know was that I couldn’t marry her.” He lowered his head. “I was a coward, Jessie. Instead of going to her and telling her that I didn’t think I could marry her, I just never showed up. I took my two weeks that I had planned for our honeymoon, didn’t tell anyone where I was going, and went to Vegas. When I got back, I drove to Angela’s apartment. The place had been emptied out and Angela was nowhere to be found.”
Jessie lifted her hand to his chin and lifted his face, forcing his eyes to meet hers. “We all make mistakes, Nathan.”
“Yes. But my mistake hurt someone I cared about.”
“I won’t make that mistake again.” He reached over and caressed her face with the pad of his thumb for a mere second before releasing her and standing up. “Jessie, I have let this thing between you and I go too far. It’s time to put an end to it right now.”
“Just like that?”
He nodded and started to the door.
He halted but refused to look back at her.
“You give the affect you have on me way too much credit.”
Jessie watched him flinch before he left the room, shutting the door slowly behind him. She didn’t care. It was harsh but then again so were his words. She refused to let him know just how hard she had fallen for him. As far as Nathan was concerned, he would never know that his refusal to give them a chance cut her to the core.
* * * *
The room spun around her, finally standing still so that all she could see were the glow of the candles. Jessie squinted her eyes to see better and clearly made out the faces of her three roommates, sitting on the sofa drinking wine and laughing.
Suddenly, Maria looked straight at Jessie and stood up, making her way to her side like a flash of light.
Maria smiled and lifted one hand to Jessie’s face, brushing a stray tendril from her eyes.
“Don’t be afraid, Jess. You have always been much stronger than we ever could dream to be,” Maria said in a clear voice.
“You heard me. Don’t be afraid. Fear is what he wants, what he craves. For if you fear him you will never see.”
“See him for who he really is.”
“Who are you talking about?”
“The man responsible for destroying all of us… even you.”
Jessie felt like falling to her knees and sobbing. “I can’t remember his face.”
“I know. But sometimes you have to stop trying to see and just listen.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Stop trying to see and just listen,” she repeated.
Maria’s presence faded, leaving Jessie feeling so alone and desolate. Then the voice invaded her mind… the voice of the man she could not see. “I’ve always wanted you, Jessica. I’ve always wanted you and could never have you. Now, no one will have you.”
* * * *
Nathan paced the confines of the living room, his gut wrenching as he remembered her words. They shouldn’t have hurt him as much as they did. Yet they had.
He didn’t want to care about her. The last thing he wanted was to fall in love with her. Nathan knew that in the end he would just end up hurting Jessie like he had all the others. But somehow cutting Jessie loose before he had the chance to break her heart had been harder than it had with the other women he had let get too close to him in the past. This time, he didn’t want to push her away.
But then, she had said in so many words that he overestimated the affect he had on her. Could it be that she had put up a wall to protect herself? Or was it that he felt more than she felt for him? He had to laugh at the latter. That would be a first for him only because he always stopped himself from getting emotionally attached to anyone or anything.
Nathan let out a soft curse, silently chastising himself for wasting his time thinking about something unimportant in the greater scheme of things. His mind should be on the case and finding out who murdered those three girls. Instead he had been solely focusing on this thing that was going on between he and Jessie. But the question of the moment was not how to pick her brain until she told him who the murderer was. Instead, he was thinking about how in the hell did he stop letting his brain do the thinking and started giving his heart total control.
Nathan heard a knock on the door and pulled himself out of his reverie. Pulling himself together, he walked over to the desk, pulled his gun out of the top drawer, pulled the hammer back and slowly opened the door.
Mike shrunk back as he stared down the barrel of Nathan’s gun.
Nathan let out a long breath and lowered his gun. “What the hell are you doing here?”
* * * *
Jessie ran down the stairs, taking two at a time. She needed to tell Nathan about this last dream.
Her eyes widened as her gaze collided with Mike’s instead of Nathan’s.
“Mike? What are you doing here?”
“I came to relieve, Nate. We just arrested Cameron Demauro tonight. So, Nathan has to go back to Deatsville and make sure everything is processed properly. And I came up here to keep an eye on you until Cameron is securely behind bars with no bail and we can take you home safely.”
“Cameron? Are you sure?”
“We found the bloodied knife in his closet, sent it to forensics, and the blood on the blade matches yours.”
She lifted a trembling hand to her mouth, not wanting to believe that Cameron who she had known and trusted for so many years was capable of doing something so brutal.
Suddenly, Jessie felt a cold breeze rip through her and send chills down to her bones. The whispery voice echoed in her ears… “Stop trying to see and just listen.”
“Jessie, I assure you, Cameron is our guy.”
Jessie closed her eyes and listened to the sound of Mike’s voice, her stomach rolling as recognition set in. She opened her eyes and looked at him.
“Jessie, are you okay?”
She blinked and tried to swallow the lump in her throat. Jessie couldn’t let him know. “I’m fine,” she whispered.
A broad grin spread across his face. “Good. Then I think I’ll go find me something to eat. I’m starving. Do you want anything?”
She shook her head and breathed a deep sigh of relief when he walked out of the room.
Carefully, Jessie tiptoed to the door and opened it. Just as she was about to bolt she felt a hand grab her hair and yank her back. The blade of a knife dug into her throat and panic enveloped her.
“It seems we have a problem,” Mike said in a serene voice.
“What’s the problem? I was just going to get a breath of fresh air.”
“I saw the way you looked at me just now, Jess.”
“What way was that?”
“The same way you looked at me that night…”
* * * *
Nathan stared out the window as he drove. Something was nagging at the back of his mind. Something just didn’t add up.
Jessie had said that Cameron Demauro couldn’t have possibly been the one to do it. His build wasn’t right. Yet, how reliable was Jessie? Her memories of what had happened that night weren’t ironclad.
He mulled over the possibilities in his head. Cameron Demauro had motive… being in love with a woman that didn’t love him. But was it enough to make him commit murder? And there was still the idea that Jessie remembered the man’s body structure if she didn’t remember his face.
Roger Blake? Now that was a mystery in itself. Roger also had a motive but would he risk everything to get even with the woman who wouldn’t let him in her pants? That was very iffy.
Suddenly a feminine whisper caressed his ear, sending cold chills down his spine.
“Go back before he finishes what he started.”
“What?” he yelled.
“You let the enemy walk right through the front door, just like we did.”
Nathan glanced over to the passenger seat and his mouth dropped. One foggy image sat beside of him, but the face was morphing from Maria’s to Sherry and then Karen. He shook his head and looked over again but the vision was gone.
“Go back and save her…” the voices echoed over and over.
No! It couldn’t be Mike!
Or could it?
Nathan quickly did a u-turn and headed back to the cabin.
* * * *
Jessie looked into Mike’s eyes. Everything faded away until they were back at her house… that night when her life had changed forever. She could see it as if it were happening before her. The man wielding the knife that night was no longer cloaked in darkness. His features were in plain view… Mike’s face staring back at her, holding the knife in his firm grip… Sherry, Karen, and Maria lying behind him on the floor, already dead… the knife slicing down into her flesh… pain… such immense pain… and then… NOTHING!
“Why?” she whispered.
“Oh, Jessie. I never wanted to hurt you. But what could I do. I had been trying to get you to see me for so long. I dated Maria and Sherry in high school, just trying to get closer to you. And you were completely oblivious.”
“I really liked Karen. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in love with her.”
“No. I am and have always been in love with you.”
“Then why were you seeing Karen?”
“Because that was the only way I could spend more time with you. Don’t you remember how much fun we had together? Karen would fall asleep and I would hear you come home from work. I’d climb out of bed and come sit with you in the kitchen and we’d share a pint of ice cream and talk about your day. Don’t you remember that?”
“I thought that if you got to know me, you would fall in love with me. I know it sounds crazy now. But what can I say? I would have done anything to be close to you.”
“Why didn’t you ever tell me, Mike?”
“I started to once. That was the night that I found out you were a whore just like the other three.”
“What’re you talking about?”
“I saw you coming out of your bedroom with Steve Marchand. You had gone out on one date with the guy and then brought him back to your house and f----- him!”
“No. That’s not what happened.”
“Shut-up! You’re lying!”
“No, Mike. I borrowed a book from him and he came into my room to help me look for it.”
“I always thought that you were the good girl. But I see those sluts you lived with rubbed off on you. That night, I decided that if I couldn’t have you, no one else would.”
He leaned forward and took her mouth possessively, kissing her with a mixture of passion and anger. His hand covered her breast and squeezed hard as he forced her backwards.
Jessie felt the sofa against her calves and tried to remain upright but Mike’s strength was too much for her. She fell backwards, Mike tumbling down with her. She struggled to get out from under him but he kissed her harder, his hands roaming over her body violently.
Mike released her mouth and started down at her. “I’ve waited a very long time for this.”
Mike reached down for the button on her jeans and Jessie could only close her eyes and try to ignore what he was about to do. Suddenly, she heard the door slam open and Mike released her, standing up.
She forced her eyes open and sat up. Nathan stood in the doorway, gun cocked and aimed at Mike.
“What the hell are you doing?” Nathan growled as his eyes took in Jessie’s disheveled clothes and the knife in Mike’s hand.
“Teaching this little whore a lesson she’ll never forget.”
“Mike, put the knife down.”
“Why? So you can have her? I don’t think so.”
“I’m warning you, Mike.”
“No. If I can’t have her, no one will,” he laughed and lunged forward, ready to strike Nathan.
Jessie flinched as the gun went off. She felt hands touching her, warm, soothing hands, and forced her eyes to open.
“Are you okay?” Nathan asked breathlessly.
“How did you know?”
“I don’t know. I just… knew.”
Without another word, Jessie fell into his embrace and sobbed.
Four months later…
Boxes were strewn all over the house but Jessie didn’t care. Her heart wasn’t into it. Packing up all of her belongings and tucking them away in a truck so that she could move across the state had only sounded like a good idea at the beginning. Now, she didn’t know if she had it in her to say good-bye to this house and all of the memories it represented.
Sure, there had been a few bad ones mixed in there. But to remember the good, she would sacrifice the mental devastation of recalling the bad.
Sherry Phillips, Karen Shepard, and Maria Melendez had died but their names would live on. They had all three become legends in Deatsville, along with Mike Harris who was awaiting trial and would be facing capital murder charges and quite possibly the death penalty. Until his trial was over and sentencing had been handed out, all of their names would grace the local papers and even some of the higher ranked television news channels. And Jessie would have to relive the horror of what took place for just a little while longer so that she could recount her fully restored memory of what had happened that night to a judge and jury.
Cameron Demauro had moved away from Deatsville two weeks after he had been released from jail with the sincerest apologies of the entire police department. And Isabella Evans had been found about forty miles outside of town in an old abandoned warehouse, thanks to Mike finally breaking down and telling the investigators here whereabouts.
Evangeline Wolfe, Jessie’s grandmother, had died three months ago, one day after Jessie’s graduation. Gene wasn’t sitting in the front row as she had promised. However Jessie had felt her presence all around her, just as she had felt Sherry, Karen, and Maria.
A knock at the front door drew her out of her silent thoughts and Jessie straightened her back, walking stiffly to the door. She threw it open and forced herself to hide the shock that was boiling up inside of her. It had been four months since she had seen him. Yet there he was, standing in her doorway as handsome as ever.
“Hi,” Nathan said quietly. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” was her bored reply. “How are you?”
“Fine.” Nathan cleared his throat nervously. “I heard about your grandmother. I’m so sorry, Jess.”
“Thank you for that.”
Silence surrounded them, overwhelming and crushing. As close as the had come in that small cabin in the mountains of North Carolina, they had been reduced to this--uncomfortable quiet. “May I come in?”
Jessie wordlessly stepped aside and allowed him to brush past her before shutting the door softly.
His eyes roamed the disheveled den before settling back on Jessie. “You moving?”
“Yeah. I got offered a job at Western Carolina University.”
“Good for you.” Nathan shoved his hands in his pockets, forcing himself not to reach out and touch her. “When do you leave?”
“In a couple of days.”
“Will you be back for the trial?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“No. I guess not. Let’s just hope it doesn’t drag on. I think everyone has been through enough.”
“I agree.” Jessie glanced at him sideways before she sighed heavily. “What brings you by, Detective?”
“I just wanted to see how you were doing.”
“I’m doing great. I’ve never been better.”
“I’m glad to hear it.” He opened his mouth to say so much more but settled with, “Well, I guess I’ll leave you to your packing.”
Nathan started to the door but halted, turning to face her again. “I put in my resignation. Today is my last day as Sheriff.”
“I can’t do this kind of work anymore.”
“What will you do now?”
“I have some money saved up so maybe I’ll just take some time off and… I don’t know… make it up as I go along.”
“Good luck to you. I know you’ll do great things no matter where you go.”
“Why do you have to do that, Jess?”
“What do you mean?”
“I haven’t seen or talked to you in over four months. Instead of being pissed off and slamming the door in my face, you invite me in. Instead of telling me to go to hell you tell me I’ll do great things no matter where I go.”
“I don’t have it in me to be mad at you, Nathan. You saved my life in more ways than one.”
“But what about us and…”
“You told me straightforward that there was no chance of a future. I just chose not to listen to you. That’s not your fault.”
“What would you do if I said I changed my mind?”
“What?” was her sharp reply.
“I could move to Asheville with you,” he offered in a hopeful voice.
“Why would you do that?”
“Because I’m in love with you.”
“You haven’t so much as called me in four months and you expect to just walk in here, tell me you’re in love with me, and I’m supposed to swoon,” she said with a half-smile on her face.
“Yeah,” was his cocky reply.
“Why on earth would you think that?”
“Because you’re in love with me, too.”
Before she had a chance to argue, Nathan grabbed her quickly and pressed his lips against hers. Her arms came around his shoulders, her mouth caressing his.
Nathan abruptly ended the kiss, leaning back so that he could peer into her eyes. “Jessie?”
“I hope you don’t have a lot of furniture. My house in Asheville isn’t as big as this one and I’ve got a lot of junk myself.”
He smiled. “Does this mean that you’re in love with me, too?”
She nodded and laughed. “I guess it does.”
“I want to hear you say it.”
“Nathan… I love you.”