TO DIE FOR (Eva Rae Thomas Mystery Book 8)Willow Rose
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Is it true?
That the pain inside of me could be you?
Kings Garden by Tim Christensen, Danish singer
It was just one of those days. Sarah Abbey was late for work at the Bed Bath & Beyond in The Avenues due to a traffic accident. Her clients, a young engaged couple who wanted to register there, were upset from the beginning because she was late for their appointment. It ruined the atmosphere, and the groom-to-be didn’t like any of Sarah’s ideas. They ended up leaving without registering, and Sarah’s entire morning was wasted. Then, at lunch, she realized she had brought Scott’s turkey sandwich instead of her own with ham. Since the Thanksgiving dinner as a child when she got sick and threw up, Sarah had hated turkey and couldn’t eat it. Just the smell alone made her feel sick. She texted Scott a picture of the sandwich, followed by an emoji laughing so hard it cried. Later, her boss yelled at her for placing the new bath towels from Huntley on the wrong shelf, and she had to excuse herself and say she didn’t know where her head was.
Now that she was finally coming up her driveway and stopped the car in front of the small townhouse she shared with her boyfriend; she felt a sigh of great relief leave her body. Finally, she could relax. Nothing had worked out today, and there wasn’t enough coffee in the world to make her feel better.
At least, now that she was home, she could get a glass of wine. She would put on some comfortable clothes and just relax—maybe binge some Netflix until Scott came home.
Sarah got out of the car and walked up toward the front door when she noticed something on the doorstep. The sight made her smile and forget all about the dreadful day, at least for a few seconds.
It was a huge bouquet of beautiful white lilies.
She reached down and grabbed them, still smiling and shaking her head while mumbling, “Scott, you really shouldn’t have.”
She unlocked the door, holding the bouquet close to her chest, then walked into the kitchen and placed it on the granite countertop. She put her purse down, then found the big clear glass vase on top of the fridge and poured water into it.
They had been dating for two years now and living together for the past six months. It was a rental, and Scott talked about finding something they could buy together, but Sarah hesitated. She wanted to make sure they really meant it, that they could figure things out before making such a big decision.
Looking at the flowers, she suddenly realized she was in way deeper than she had thought. She was really in love with him.
She unpacked the lilies and looked for the card but didn’t find any. Scott wasn’t a man of big words, so it was no surprise, she thought and shrugged it off. He had probably decided to send her the flowers because he was sad about the sandwich mix-up today. Or maybe he just thought she needed it. Scott was a guy who would surprise her like that. He was the type who was always there at the right time and place.
“There, that looks great,” she said as she let go of the flowers in the vase, and they folded out to show their splendor. The bouquet was even bigger than she had thought, and she wondered if it hadn’t been too expensive.
Sarah took a picture of them, then sent a text to Scott:
YOU REALLY SHOULDN’T HAVE
It took a few minutes before he answered:
Sarah stared at the display of her phone, puzzled at his response. She then lifted her gaze and looked at the flowers, now with a concerned look. If they weren’t from Scott, then who?
Who else in this world knew how much she loved white lilies?
Sarah felt her hand holding the phone begin to shake. Then she put it down, grabbed the flowers, and threw them in the trash. She stood and stared at the trash bin for a few minutes, her heart throbbing in her throat. Then she realized she needed the flowers out of the house completely. The mere thought of having them inside made the hairs rise on the back of her neck.
She grabbed the garbage bag, closed it, carried it outside, and then threw it in the big bin. She slammed the lid shut. Sarah stared at it, almost feeling as if the flowers could jump out of it and attack her.
They’re just flowers, Sarah.
Sarah took a couple of deep breaths to calm herself, then walked back to the porch. As she came in through the door, she stopped, sensing something. She turned and looked just in time to see a truck go by her house, driving very slowly.
Their house was at the end of a cul-de-sac. It wasn’t often cars drove by if they didn’t come to visit Sarah and Scott. Some people would accidentally come down their street, then use it to turn around, and that was all the traffic they usually got. Sarah stared at the pick-up truck as it continued past her house, still going very slowly. She tried to peek inside the cabin, but the windows were dark, and she couldn’t see who was sitting in it. It returned to the street, then sped up while Sarah looked after it, heart pumping in her throat.
Easy now, Sarah.
Sarah watched as the truck disappeared completely, then turned around and went back inside, closing the door and locking it safely. She walked to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of white wine, her hand still shaking as she tipped the bottle. She sipped the drink, letting the wine run down her throat and do what it did best, calming her. Except it didn’t really work. Her heart was still beating rapidly, and she had a hard time finding rest. She walked back and forth by the kitchen window, sipping her wine, staring out into the street.
You’re paranoid, Sarah. It’s impossible.
Sarah took another sip, then decided it was time to stop staring out the window. She was about to turn and walk away when she spotted the pick-up truck again. It was driving up the street once more and soon entering the cul-de-sac. It was going even slower this time like the driver was trying to figure out if this was the right place or not.
Sarah gasped lightly, then walked back into the living room, holding a hand on her chest and her beating heart. She sat down on the couch, then looked at the phone, wondering if she should text Scott. She knew he had a meeting with a potential new client today, one that he had worked on landing for months. Life as a freelance graphic designer could at times be tough, especially when the economy was suffering. Scott hadn’t had many new clients this past year.
You can’t disturb him now.
Sarah sighed and put the phone down, then closed her eyes briefly, once again reminding herself that it wasn’t possible—that what she was imagining couldn’t possibly be happening.
You’re seeing things, making them up. You’ll end up paranoid if you’re not careful. You’ll be one of Scott’s clients.
She breathed again, easy and steadily, focusing on just that. Breathe in, hold it, and breathe out.
It worked. Her heart calmed, and as she opened her eyes again, she noticed something that immediately got her pulse to spike again, even worse than earlier.
There was something on top of the fireplace. Something she knew she hadn’t put there.
“What in the…”
Sarah jumped up, then grabbed the frame between her hands. The picture inside it had been replaced with another one.
One from her past. A picture of her taken five years earlier in a different place and time.
Sarah clasped her mouth and could barely breathe as she stared at herself from years ago. She pulled out the picture and set it on fire before throwing it in th
e fireplace. The tears began to flow just as there was a knock on the door. She dropped the empty frame, then turned to look.
Out in the driveway, she saw the pick-up truck. It had parked behind her car, and whoever was in it was now by her door—wanting in.
One week later
Cocoa Beach, Florida
I hid my face between my hands. I was sitting up in bed, looking down at Matt on the floor. He was kneeling while holding up the ring, an insecure smile on his lips. On my stomach slept Angelina—or Angel as we called her—our newborn. She was only three weeks old and still so small and fragile it seemed impossible she’d ever become as big as my other three children. I had just finished nursing her, and now she was sound asleep, acting like she hadn’t awakened me every two hours all night.
“So, what do you say?” Matt asked, his voice shivering.
I stared down at him, then reached out my hand and touched his cheek. “I thought you’d never ask. Yes, I’ll marry you, Matt.”
He smiled, then rose to his feet and put the ring on my finger, or tried to, but my finger was still quite swollen from the extra pregnancy weight, and it didn’t fit. This was disappointing to Matt. I could tell by the look on his face.
“Put it on the pinky instead,” I said. “For now.”
He did, and it barely fit, but I didn’t care. I was just so happy finally to hear the words coming from his mouth. And to be honest, I couldn’t have imagined a better or more romantic situation. Just the three of us together. The past weeks had been so intense, so incredibly wonderful; I could barely contain it—so much love, also between my older children and their little sister. The only one who seemed to struggle slightly with the newcomer was Matt’s son, Elijah. I couldn’t blame him. He had lost his mother and just recently connected with Matt as he came to live with him. It was easy for him to believe he might be forgotten with a newborn in the way.
We were all living in my small four-bedroom house, and my mom, who had lived with us until recently, had finally gotten herself a condo on the beach. I missed her since I had gotten used to having her around, but it was the right decision. We were a family now, and it was as it should be. Except Alex and Elijah had to share a room, and they weren’t exactly excited about that. We had talked about finding something bigger, but I found it hard to leave my little home that I had gotten acquainted with after my ex-husband left me and later was killed.
It felt like home.
Plus, I wasn’t sure we could even afford to buy something bigger with the upcoming wedding and everything.
Matt kissed me, and I felt tears run down my cheeks. I was so happy at this very moment; it seemed like a dream.
“I love you,” I whispered. “It was always you; you know that, right?”
He nodded and placed his forehead gently against mine. “There was never anyone else for me.”
I sniffled and wiped my eyes with my hand. I felt so extremely emotional these past few weeks, and I cried at even the smallest things. But today, it was okay to cry. I had waited for so long for Matt to pop the question, and finally, he had. Nothing could spoil this perfect moment—nothing.
I looked up toward the doorway. “Christine? What are you doing home? School started two hours ago.”
She hesitated in the doorway. I was about to tell her that Matt had proposed, but I sensed it wasn’t the right time. Something was going on with her.
“What’s up, sweetie?”
“I…I kind of need your help. And it kind of has to be quick. Now.”
“Let me take Angel,” Matt said and grabbed the baby. He held her tight to his body and walked to her crib, then put her down gently. Christine came closer, and I swung my legs out over the edge. She sat down next to me, and our eyes met.
“It’s Amy,” she said, her big eyes tearing up when talking about her friend. “I don’t know what to do.”
“I just don’t understand why he doesn’t hug me when I cry—when that is all I need from him.”
Lynn Parks looked up at the woman, Joanna Harry, on the couch in front of her. Next to her sat her boyfriend, Jeffrey Johnson, in his two-thousand-dollar pinstriped suit. They had held hands on their first visits to Lynn’s office. They had been coming for three months, and now, they weren’t holding hands anymore.
Lynn wrote on her notepad, then lifted her gaze to meet Jeff’s again. “And what do you say to that, Jeff? Why do you think that is?”
He threw out his hands. “I don’t know. I mean, she’s…sometimes she seems like she wants me to leave her alone when she’s upset. Maybe she could tell me when she wants me to hug her and when she doesn’t because I don’t know.”
Lynn nodded. Her eyes stayed locked with Jeff’s for a few seconds longer, just to make sure he didn’t have anything else to add. Then, she looked at Joanna. “Is that something you might be able to do? Tell Jeff when you need him to affirm you and when he doesn’t? Sort of guiding him along the way?”
Joanna sighed and rolled her eyes. “But shouldn’t he know these things by now?”
Lynn closed her eyes briefly and hoped they didn’t see. It wasn’t her job to judge, but she often felt that Joanna demanded a lot from Jeff.
“We’ve been dating less than a year,” Jeff said. He had a little smirk on his lip that always made Lynn smile. His blue eyes lingered on her a lot during their conversations, and they had come to learn during their sessions that it was a pattern in his life—flirting with women to feel superior to them. It was one of the reasons his girlfriend had wanted them to seek counseling. They were planning on marrying within the next year, but she wanted to make sure they were suitable and hopefully have him stop looking at other women. That’s how she had put it during their first session. She wanted them to be close, but Jeff wasn’t doing enough.
“I’m trying my best here,” he added and leaned back on the couch, stretching out his arms behind his girlfriend, struggling to kill the smirk.
“Trying your best?” she squealed. “It sure doesn’t feel like it. Last weekend at the bar, you were flirting with that woman, remember? The blonde one?”
“I was just talking to her. Her boyfriend was right there next to her. I wasn’t flirting at all.”
Joanna’s shoulders slumped, and she turned away from him. “You see what I have to put up with here? I don’t want to end up like some suburban housewife who doesn’t know where her husband is or who he is doing.”
“At some point, you’ll just have to trust him, Joanna,” Lynn said. “We all have to trust the ones we choose to marry.”
“Yeah, you totally have trust issues,” Jeff said, leaning forward.
Lynn didn’t know much about him except that he was an investment banker and made a lot of money. She couldn’t blame Joanna for being nervous since he was a very handsome guy, tall and blond with the bluest eyes Lynn had ever seen.
Lynn looked at the clock on the wall next to her. She had let them go over time without noticing it.
“I’m afraid our time is up for today. Let’s continue where we left off next time, okay?”
They got up, and Joanna rushed toward the door, while Jeff didn’t seem to be in any hurry to get out. He smiled at Lynn as he passed her, then winked.
“See you next week, Doc.”
She closed the door before he could notice that she blushed.
“You mean to tell me that Amy has been here the entire time?”
I knelt next to the girl on the floor in the bathroom. The house Christine had taken me to was for sale and abandoned. I pushed away a dead roach lying on its back.
Christine nodded. “Her parents wanted her to get rid of the baby, but she didn’t. So, we brought her here, and she’s been living here the past several months. I’ve been bringing her food and whatever else she needed. But last night she…she started to feel pain, and when I came to see her this morning on my way
to school, as usual, she was screaming.”
Amy was sweating and let out a loud groan as another contraction waved through her body.
“Her water broke like half an hour ago, and that’s when I thought I’d come to get you,” Christine said. “I don’t know what to do.”
I stared at the young girl, no more than fifteen. Christine had told me that Amy had gotten pregnant a long time ago, but I had assumed that she had an abortion since I didn’t hear anything else. I knew that was what her parents wanted. I couldn’t believe she had been hiding in this house for months, and Christine had kept this a secret from me.
“What the heck, Christine?” I said. “What was your plan? To have her give birth here? In all this dirt?”
“I…I don’t know,” she said, half crying. “I don’t think…I mean, we…”
Amy let out another loud groan, and I realized she was closer than I had thought. I had to act fast.
“We need to get an ambulance,” I said and grabbed my phone. I looked at Christine. “I’ll deal with you later.”
The ambulance came quickly, but by then, it was too late to move her. The EMTs decided they had to let her have the baby there, and Christine held Amy’s hands as she went into labor right there on the bathroom floor of an abandoned house.
“There you go, Amy. You’ve got this,” I squealed and remembered my own birth just a few weeks earlier. It had gone pretty smoothly and uneventful since it was my fourth child. Amy’s was painful; I could tell, and I truly felt for her. My first birth to Olivia sixteen years ago had lasted thirty-six hours, and even though I did get an epidural, I still felt the pain in a way that made me force Chad to promise me we’d never have any more children. A year later, I had forgotten everything about the pain, clever as the body is, to be able to block out that sort of thing entirely, and we tried again, making Christine.