SUCH A GOOD GIRL: An urgently timely gripping mystery with a heartbreaking twist (Eva Rae Thomas Mystery Book 9), Page 2Willow Rose
Rachel watched as he was rushed to his car and helped inside, then took off, leaving the clamoring journalists behind.
Rachel didn’t need any sound on her TV to know exactly what was going on. But she did need to breathe, and right now, she wasn’t. She leaned forward against the counter, then gasped for air. Her heart was beating so fast in her chest that she couldn’t calm down. She dropped to her knees, her torso shaking heavily, gurgling sounds leaving her mouth.
“Mom? Mom? Are you okay?”
It was her teenage daughter, Marissa, who had walked in just in time to see her mother fall to her knees.
“MOM?” she shrieked.
Rachel tried to speak but didn’t have enough air. Marissa grabbed her phone. “Dad? Dad? I think something is wrong with Mom. I think she might be having a heart attack or something. All right. I’ll call nine-one-one.”
Marissa got off her phone, then dialed. Rachel heard her talking with desperation in her voice. Rachel wanted so badly to be able to comfort her daughter, to tell her she was going to be all right, but she couldn’t because she suddenly wasn’t sure she was going to be all right. The panic inside of her, the shaking anxiety, wouldn’t ease up. It held her in such a tight grip; she couldn’t move. All she could do was focus on breathing, and yet it still felt like she was being strangled, like she was choking on the very air that was supposed to keep her alive.
“Yes, yes, um seventy forty-five Macarthur Street, yes, okay.”
Marissa was crying, speaking through sobs.
“Please, tell them to hurry, please!”
Marissa hung up, then wiped her tears away with her sleeve. She knelt next to Rachel, who was breathing raggedly, wheezing, feeling like her airways were slowly being closed.
“It’s okay, Mom. They’re on their way. They’ll be here soon, just…please, just don’t die on me. I can’t live without you; do you hear me?”
Rachel clasped her constricted chest as her throat closed up further, and she could no longer pull in air. She reached out her hand for her daughter. In the same second, her eyes rolled back in her head, and she lost consciousness. Her daughter’s screams disappeared as she was pulled into oblivion, and there was nothing but peace in the deep darkness.
“I take it you’ve followed the details in the Richard Wanton case?” Isabella asked me as she led me down the hallway. I nodded and smiled at an old colleague. Some greeted me with hugs, while others just nodded politely. It all looked very much the same, but there were many new faces, and that made me feel like a stranger. I realized I no longer belonged there, and that was okay. This belonged to a different time in my life. And so much had happened since. I wasn’t the same woman.
I nodded. “How could I not have? It’s all the news talks about. I take it that’s the case you need my assistance on?”
Isabella nodded. “Sort of.”
I wrinkled my forehead. “What do you mean sort of?”
We stopped in front of a door leading to the room next to one of the interrogation rooms. Isabella used her card to let us in. She threw the file on a desk and closed the door behind us. The one-way glass was dark.
“Well, you know how he’s accused of having killed a young woman, right?”
I nodded. “Yes, Samantha Durkin, twenty years old. Killed on the night of April 10 by being thrown off the terrace of his apartment. Two police officers parked below saw her fall and saw him standing there, then ran up and arrested him. It’s a pretty clear-cut case.”
“Except Richard Wanton has the best lawyers money can buy, and the guy says he didn’t touch her.”
I scoffed. “So, it was an accident?”
She nodded. “According to him, yes.”
“There’s a special place in Hell for guys like Richard Wanton,” I said. “Please, tell me you have evidence to nail him?”
“We do have something pretty strong,” Isabella said pensively. “And that’s where you come in.”
I gave her a look of disbelief. “Me? How?”
Isabella looked down at her feet. “There was someone else in the apartment when Samantha Durkin fell.”
“A witness? That’s amazing?” I looked at her. “Why aren’t you more excited? Who is it?”
Isabella bit her lip. “It’s a woman.”
“Can she testify against him?”
“She could…if she would talk to us.”
I nodded. “Ah, I see. She’s scared, you think? I can’t blame her. Wanton isn’t someone to mess around with.”
Isabella nodded. “Could be that...”
“But that’s not why? And how do I fit in again?”
Isabella took in a deep breath, just as the door opened to the interrogation room and someone was brought inside by Timmy. She wasn’t looking up; her eyes stayed on her feet as she sat down nervously. I couldn’t see her face properly because of the bent forward head, but I didn’t need to.
I had seen more than enough.
I shook my head, then took a step back. “Oh, no. This isn’t happening.”
“Please, Eva Rae,” Isabella said.
“But…Eva Rae, we really need you to…”
Isabella could protest all she wanted to, but I wasn’t listening anymore. I grabbed the door handle, pulled it hard, and walked out of the room with angry steps. Isabella called my name behind me as I rushed to her office, picked up my weekend bag, then left.
Two weeks into her internship, Samantha was invited to a conference, along with most of the reporters at the network and their bosses. They stayed at the Grand Hyatt, where there was a dinner and an afterparty with an open bar. Samantha sat with the other interns at their table during dinner, but as the night progressed and people got more and more drunk due to the open bar, she soon moved onto the dance floor. First, she danced with one of the older reporters who had asked her. Samantha could feel the alcohol in her blood as she moved, and she felt light and was having the best time ever. People at the network were so nice and a lot of fun. She felt so lucky to be a part of this family. And that’s what they said it was—that the network was just like a family. They took care of one another.
She felt eyes on her, then turned to look and spotted Richard Wanton. He was standing, leaning against the bar, watching her. Samantha sent him a smile, then continued her dancing, feeling how his eyes followed her every move. She danced with one of the anchors, Jimmy Howell, and he swung her around till she got so dizzy she almost had to throw up.
“Come on, one more dance,” he said as a new song came on. He was pulling her arm, but she pushed him away.
Samantha shook her head, laughing. “I need to take a break.”
She staggered away from the dance floor, laughing yet feeling so dizzy she was afraid she was going to get sick. She leaned against the bar, then found a stool and sat on it. Samantha wasn’t used to drinking this much.
She hid her head between her hands for a second when she felt someone brush up against her, and she looked up.
It was Richard Wanton.
He grinned. “You all right?”
Samantha nodded and smiled. “I’m just not used to drinking this much. I think I need to hit the sack soon.”
He stared at her, his eyes looking deep into hers.
“That’s probably not a bad idea.”
Samantha nodded. “Yeah, I think I’ll call it a night.”
She was about to walk away when Richard Wanton leaned toward her, placed a hand on her thigh, and whispered in her ear.
“My hotel room is 103. I’m gonna take a round and say goodnight to some people. Wait fifteen minutes, then come to my room.”
He pulled back, winked at her, then turned around and left. Samantha remained seated on her stool, wondering if she had heard him right or if she had just been hallucinating.
Did he really tell me to come to hi
s hotel room? Richard Wanton?
Samantha swallowed. She had a crush on the man back when he used to be an anchor, and she watched him every night on the news. He was handsome, and she was definitely attracted to him. But come to his hotel room? That was a little much. He was married; she knew that. But she had also read in the tabloids that they weren’t doing so well—that they believed they were heading for a divorce. Could he be genuinely interested in Samantha?
She shook her head and ordered a vodka shot from the bartender. She watched Richard as he said goodnight to some of the other bosses, shook their hands, then sent her a glance as he left.
Come to my hotel room.
He had really said that, right? She couldn’t have misheard him, could she? No. How else would she now know the room number?
Samantha got her vodka shot, then downed it, feeling the burn as it went inside. She put the glass down on the counter.
What do I do?
Samantha weighed her options. What could she do? Could she pretend like she didn’t hear him? Could she just not go? But then she risked that he’d be mad at her. He might have her moved to another department or even fired. Would he destroy her chances in this business? He was, after all, a powerful man.
She shook her head. No, she couldn’t go to his room. This wasn’t something she did. She simply couldn’t.
Samantha glared in the direction of where Richard Wanton had disappeared, then looked at her watch as the minutes passed, approaching the fifteen-minute mark. Her stomach was turning, while she secretly wondered:
Do I even have a choice?
I made it back to the hotel and threw my tired body on the bed with a deep sigh, scolding myself for being so stupid. This had been a total waste of my time. I should have known. Of course, there was a reason for Isabella’s secrecy, for her not telling me who it involved. I shouldn’t have trusted her. It was my own fault.
I opened my laptop while lying on the bed, then looked through flights back to Florida, trying to find the soonest one home. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get any until the next day, so I was stuck in D.C. for the rest of the day.
Just my luck.
My phone was vibrating on the bed, but I didn’t pick it up. Isabella was trying to get me to come back, and she was the last person I wanted to talk to. I was so angry at her right now; I wasn’t sure I would ever speak to her again.
My phone screen lit up and told me I had a voice mail. I grabbed a bag of peanuts I had bought in the Orlando airport to keep my stomach from growling, then started eating while staring at the display.
Did I want to hear the message?
No. You know what she’ll say. She’ll use all her persuasive powers to convince you to come back. Don’t fall for it.
I ate some more peanuts, then turned my focus to the computer screen instead. Then I grabbed my phone and looked at a text I got from Isabella:
I KNEW YOU’D REACT LIKE THIS. THAT’S WHY I DIDN’T TELL YOU. COME BACK, PLEASE. SHE ASKED FOR YOU. SHE’LL ONLY TALK TO YOU.
I sighed, then wrote:
NOPE. NOT GONNA DO IT.
I stared at the words on my screen, then deleted them. If I engaged in a conversation with her, she’d only think I was easing up on her. She’d only convince me, and I really didn’t want that.
I put the phone back down, and it vibrated again. This time, it wasn’t Isabella. It was Olivia, my oldest daughter.
I picked it up.
“Hi, sweetie. What’s up? I think I may be coming home earlier. It turned out they didn’t really need me after all.”
“Mom,” Olivia said. She sounded so serious, and I suddenly saw a ton of scenarios in front of my eyes, involving the deaths of several of my children.
“Is something wrong?” I asked, trying not to panic.
“Yes, something is wrong, Mom,” Olivia said. “I just spoke to Tristan; you remember him?”
I swallowed. My voice was getting high-pitched as I answered. I knew what she was getting at.
“Of course, I remember him.”
“Why won’t you help her? Why won’t you help his mom?”
I exhaled, then walked to the window and looked out at the town in front of me. I had once loved living there; this had been my town. Now, I felt so estranged from it. It was evident to me that I didn’t belong here anymore.
“You know why,” I said in almost a whisper while rubbing my forehead. “You, of all people, should understand that.”
“She’s in trouble, Mom. She’s scared.”
I closed my eyes. Those were the exact words I didn’t want to hear. I didn’t want to feel sympathy for the woman. I didn’t want to think of her as a real person with feelings. I was fighting it with every fiber of my being.
“She was in the apartment when that guy pushed the girl over the railing,” my daughter continued. “That’s what Tristan told me. She’s scared to be an accomplice to murder; don’t you understand that? That’s why she only wants to talk to you. What happened to you, Mom? You usually always help people who need it?”
I cleared my throat and nodded. “I do. But not this one. Not her.”
“You have to, Mom. For Tristan. If you can’t do it for her, then do it for him or me. He is my friend.”
“But she… she ruined our lives, Olivia.”
My daughter went quiet on the other end.
“Still, Mom. She needs your help. How can you refuse her that? It’s one of the things I admire so much about you. That you always believe that people are entitled to a second chance.”
“That’s not fair, Olivia.”
I hung up, then threw the phone on the bed, feeling awful. How was it that your teenage daughter always knew how to get to you? How did she always know which buttons to push? How to make you feel like the worst person in the world?
“I’m a good person, dang it.”
I finished the bag of peanuts, then went to the mini bar and grabbed a soda to wash it down with and opened a can of pecan nuts and a chocolate bar.
Then, I called Isabella.
“If I say yes to this, the FBI pays my consulting fee and my expenses too, do we agree? And I plan to order room service a lot.”
“Deal, Eva Rae.” Isabella paused, then said: “Thank you for doing this. I know it must be hard on you.”
“Hard doesn’t even begin to cover it,” I said and filled my mouth with more nuts and crunched them. “The woman had an affair with my husband for an entire year without my knowledge, and then Chad left me for her. Hard doesn’t even come close to how this feels. I’m not sure any word suffices.”
“You’re a saint,” Isabella said. “For doing it anyway. I mean it.”
That made me laugh. “I’m not quite sure I can live up to that. Let’s talk once this is over and see if I’ve been able to do it without strangling her with my bare hands.”
No words were leaving her lips. Even though she felt her lips moving, no sound seemed to come out between them. Meanwhile, the doctor and her husband were standing by her bedside, deep in conversation.
Finally, the sound of her voice echoed off the barren walls, and the two of them stopped their conversation.
“Rachel! You’re awake.”
Joe approached her bedside and grabbed her hand in his.
“You had an…episode,” Joe said. “You fainted.”
“Marissa?” she said and suddenly remembered her worried daughter’s screams in the kitchen right before everything went dark.
Joe squeezed her hand. “She was hungry, so I told her to go to the cafeteria. She should be back in a few minutes.”
Joe stroked her hair gently. “We were so scared.”
The doctor stepped closer. “Your pulse suddenly plummeted, and we struggled to get it back up.”
Rachel wrinkled her forehead. “But…what…is it my hear
The doctor shook his head. His lips grew narrow. “I have seen this before, and…”
“What?” Rachel asked, feeling terrified.
“They believe you had a panic attack,” Joe took over.
Joe squeezed her hand even tighter in his.
“Have you been under a lot of stress lately?” the doctor asked.
Rachel tried to think, then shook her head. “Not more than usual. I mean, I only work part-time, and my daughter is a teenager, so no nothing more than I normally do.”
The doctor nodded. “Well, you need to figure out what caused this, so I’d recommend you start seeing a therapist. Something triggered this reaction in you, and we need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Rachel nodded. “O-okay.”
The doctor smiled, then shifted on his feet before he left. Joe sat on Rachel’s bedside and looked into her eyes while touching her cheek gently.
“I am so sorry. I didn’t realize you were in distress,” he said. “You need to tell me these things. I can do more at home.”
Rachel smiled and nodded. “I’m fine. I promise.”
Joe kissed the top of her hand just as Marissa came back into the room, a big smile on her face.
“Mom! You’re awake.”
They hugged, and as they did, Rachel suddenly remembered what she had seen right before she passed out. Her eyes grew wide, and she felt her heart rate go up rapidly. She felt dizzy and had to close her eyes to compose herself.
“Mom?” her daughter shrieked.
Rachel felt her hands shaking as she watched the images of Richard Wanton leaving the courthouse over and over again, breathing raggedly.
“Rachel, are you okay?” Joe asked. “Do we need to call a nurse?”
Rachel closed her eye briefly, pushing the images away, hiding them deep down where she couldn’t reach them. It was where they had been for years, so it had to be possible to keep them down there and close the lid.