As I pulled my cellphone out of my purse with a shaky hand, its unexpected shrill ring startled a tiny shriek out of me. Jesus. I looked down at the screen. It was a local number I didn’t recognize. Normally I wouldn’t answer, but for some unknown reason, this time I did.
I placed it to my ear and croaked out, “Hello?”
My free hand landed on the steering wheel. I recognized the voice immediately. “Colton? I—”
“Thank fucking God you answered,” he said, cutting me off. “Where are you?”
I blinked slowly, completely thrown off. “I’m…I’m sitting in the parking lot of the grocery store near…near Mona’s.”
“I want you to listen to me, okay?” There was the sound of a car door slamming and an engine keying on. “I want you to go inside and stay there, okay. Do not go home.”
I had kind of done what Colton had demanded. I’d gone into the grocery store and waited near their pharmacy, and when I spotted Reece, his younger brother, prowling through the sliding doors, I knew something really bad had happened.
Reece, a deputy with the county sheriff’s office, had been in his uniform. I saw Reece around town a lot and knew he was seriously dating one of the bartenders over at Mona’s, a girl we’d gone to school with, but for him to be the one to show up sent a chill over me.
“Something has happened at your house,” he’d said, and that was all he would tell me.
He was supposed to wait with me until Colton could get from the city, but I wasn’t having that. How could he just say something had happened at my house and then just expect me to stand around and wait? That was my home. After much arguing and more than a handful of concerned looks shot in our direction, Reece agreed—or relented—to escort me home.
Stars had started to dot the sky as we walked outside, all the while Reece muttering, “Colton’s going to kick my ass.”
One look at Reece told me that would be easier said than done. Yeah, Colton had an inch or two on him when it came to height, but Reece could hold his own.
In his county cruiser, he’d led me the short distance to my house. My hands had ached the entire drive and the moment I pulled into my parking space, I’d wanted to cry.
Not when I’d climbed out of the car and saw the two officers standing by my open front door. I hadn’t cried when I saw the shattered front window. And right now, as I stepped around Reece and went inside, I couldn’t let the weight of everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours get to me.
The TV, which sat near the window, was knocked over, shattered on the floor. Lying next to it was a huge cement block. I had no idea how someone could throw that thing through a window.
“Nothing else appears damaged,” Reece said when I looked over at him. His hands rested against his duty belt. “But we’re going to need you to look around to make sure nothing has been stolen.”
Drawing in a shaky breath, I nodded as I tried to process what I was seeing. There was no way this wasn’t related to what happened last night or the swarmy guy outside of the grocery store, but I still had a hard time believing it. Not because I was ignoring the evidence right in front of my face.
“Both the neighbors on either side of your townhouse weren’t home,” Reece explained. “No one else heard anything. When your neighbor on the right came home and saw it, she immediately called the police.”
I needed to thank Betty, the elderly woman he must’ve been referencing. Coming home to this, on top of everything else, would’ve been horrifying.
“Are you okay, Abby?” Reece asked, stepping closer. “I know it can be hard to deal with the fact someone has done something like this to your house.”
“I imagine you see this a lot, huh?” I worked my fingers together, hoping to ease the blood flow back in them as another officer scooped up the heavy cement brick with gloved hands. Something occurred to me right then. “How did Colton know about this?” This was so not his jurisdiction.
Reece watched the other officer carry the block out of the house. “He mentioned what happened last night when I saw him this afternoon—he mentioned you.” A half grin appeared, nearly identical to Colton’s. “Which is odd because he normally doesn’t talk about witnesses or the fact that he shared crepes with one this morning.”
My hands stilled and my eyes widened.
“I was the second officer to respond,” Reece continued, the smile slipping away. “Once the neighbor next door said your name, I called Colton.”
Was that allowed? I didn’t know. Suddenly bone weary, I walked over to the chair and sat down, exhaling heavily. Over the years, since Kevin’s death, I had learned how to deal with things. Last night, I had let myself have that little breakdown. It was understandable. I’d been a witness to a murder. If you were going to flip out about something, that was high up on the list of things to freak out over. But I needed to get it together now. I wasn’t a shrinking violet, nor was I someone prone to hysterics.
The responding officer came in and I answered all his questions. When had I left the house? Where had I been? When I told them about stopping at the grocery store and the subsequent creeper dude in the creeper van, Reece snapped to attention.
“Why didn’t you say something at the store?” he demanded, his eyes sharpening as he reached for his phone in his pocket.
“Um, I was kind of distracted by the dire message of not going home,” I said. “But I’m telling you now.”
Reece opened his mouth but seemed to rethink what he was saying. “I’ll be right back.” Stepping outside, I saw him lift his phone.
I wasn’t sure how much time passed before I got up and accomplished what Reece had suggested. I checked everywhere, concentrating on my office and my bedroom. Nothing of any value was missing, which is what I told Reece when he appeared in my room.
I knew what the brick through the window was.
As I stood in front of my untouched jewelry box, I shuddered. Message was received, but that didn’t mean I was going to listen. I’d already told the one officer and Reece, and I would tell Colton.
“Abby?” a deep voice boomed from downstairs. “Reece?”
I turned at the sound of Colton’s voice and Reece’s answering, “We’re up here.”
A handful of seconds later, Colton appeared in the doorway. He had changed since this morning, wearing a different police-issued polo. His blue eyes were fastened on me as he stepped into the bedroom.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“She’s okay,” Reece answered, and then rolled his eyes when Colton shot him a look.
“I’m fine,” I insisted, smoothing my hands along my skirt. “I’m just shook up.”
Colton crossed the room and within a heartbeat, he was standing right in front of me. One hand curled around the back of my neck in a familiar, comforting gesture. The other landed on my shoulder. Our eyes locked, and my lips parted.
“The man at the store, he didn’t harm you or anything?” he demanded, his gaze intently searching mine.
“No,” I whispered, swallowing hard. “He just told me that I…I needed to keep my mouth shut. That I better not identify anyone from last night. And then he said that I’d understand quickly how serious the message is.”