The casual way he spoke to the deputy told me he had some kind of relationship with the guy. Then it struck me. Shaw had remembered me from . . . from before, which probably meant he remembered Jensen too. Had they stayed in contact all these years? Or did Jensen remember that Shaw was Gavin’s older cousin?

Shaw strode forward. “I need to talk to Ella.”

“Why?” he asked, moving so he entirely blocked my body from the cop’s.

Having no idea what was causing this response, and not wanting him to get into trouble, I stepped aside, meeting the deputy’s dark gaze. “What’s going on?”

Shaw stopped in front of us. “I have some questions I need to ask after the most recent event.”

“Most recent?” I glanced at Jensen and then the deputy, confused. “What are you talking about?”

Surprise flitted across the deputy’s face. “You haven’t heard?”

“Heard what?” Jensen asked, stiffening.

Shaw scratched his jaw. “Well, hell, I thought you would’ve heard by now. Monica Graham is missing.”

CHAPTER 9

In a daze, I followed Deputy Shaw into some kind of meeting room off the main hall of the warehouse. It smelled of burnt coffee. The room hadn’t been in use for a while as there was a thin layer of dust on the brown table. Jensen sat beside me in an uncomfortable metal folding chair.

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“She was last seen yesterday evening, visiting a friend’s house after cheerleading practice,” Deputy Shaw explained. “She left her friend’s house in her car, but she didn’t return home last night, and no one has heard from her since. Normally, missing person reports aren’t filed within twenty-four hours, but in light of recent events we don’t want to wait.”

I thought of Vee Bartol, who would be missing three weeks come this Saturday, and then I thought of how ragged Wendy had looked this morning, which Monica’s disappearance could’ve explained. Monica’s parents had probably contacted Wendy last night, and she’d been more concerned about her friend than how she looked.

Now I felt bad for how I thought of her this morning.

“God,” I said, because I didn’t know what to say. “You really think she’s missing? That she didn’t just go somewhere?” After I said that, I realized how stupid it sounded. What seventeen or eighteen-year-old just up and left?

Shaw shook his head as he leaned back, the vest under his shirt making a crackling sound. Perched on the edge of the table, he folded his hands in his lap as he stared down at us. “It’s not impossible.”

“But unlikely. God, this is terrible.”

Jensen’s hand found mine under the table. After threading his fingers through mine, he squeezed gently. “It is terrible, and I don’t mean to sound like a total jackass.”

A wry grin formed on Shaw’s lips. “But knowing you, you’re going to anyway.”

So they really, really did know each other.

“What does this have to do with Ella?” he asked, looking Shaw dead on.

My heart turned over as I met Shaw’s steady gaze. “It’s because of the attack Saturday night. The police think it’s related to Monica’s disappearance, right?”

“We have the state, county, and city departments involved in this,” Shaw answered. “We’re chasing down any possible lead we have, which leads me to you.”

Drawing in a deep breath, I nodded. “Okay.”

“It’s unlikely that what happened to you has anything to do with Monica’s disappearance, but I think it’s smart to check out every possible avenue.”

“That makes sense,” I whispered.

“So we’re taking everything into consideration, and I know you’ve already given your statement to the state police, but if you could walk me through what happened, it might shine some light on what’s going on now. It might give us some answers. And maybe, if this does have anything to do with what happened to you, it could help Monica.”

Jensen’s grip on my hand tightened as he leaned forward. “Is it really necessary for her to go through that again?”

It was the last thing I wanted to do, but if talking about Saturday could help Monica, then I would deal with it. “It’s okay,” I said, taking a deep breath, preparing myself. “I can do this.”

Jensen looked like he wanted to argue, but he didn’t stop me as I began to tell my story. It wasn’t easy, because it was all too real, too fresh, and I wasn’t sure if a day would ever come when it didn’t feel that way. I pulled my hand free from his hold and wrapped my arms around my stomach, stopping the chill that kept racing up and down my spine. When I got to the part where I’d fought to get free, Shaw listened with rapt attention, not missing a single detail.

Jensen reached under the table, placing a comforting hand on my knee. The contact grounded me in reality, in the right now.

“And then . . .” I glanced over at Jensen, who was watching me closely. “And then I remember Jensen picking me up and . . . and that’s it.”

Shaw nodded slowly. “And there was absolutely no way you saw his face or any distinguishing characteristics?”

I shook my head as my shoulders slumped. “The mask and wig stayed in place. To be honest, like Trooper Ritter pointed out, it could have been a girl for all I know.” Tired, I reached up, rubbing the heels of my hands against my eyes. “I know that’s no help whatsoever.”

“No, it’s helpful,” he said, giving me a reassuring smile when I lowered my hands. “Now, a few nights ago, a call came into dispatch about a possible intruder at your home. The report filed said there was no sign of a break-in, but you said that the mask—the same kind the attacker was wearing—was on your bed and there was a note, saying something along the lines of it ‘being your fault?’”

Jensen stared at me. “What? Why didn’t you tell me that?”

Crap. “I . . . the cops didn’t find anything, so I thought it was just my imagination. The window wasn’t open and there was no mask on the bed when the police got there.” My gaze swung back to Shaw. “I told myself it was my imagination, but I also think it’s kind of hard to imagine all of that.”

Shaw didn’t answer immediately, and when he did, it was a totally vague response that wasn’t him agreeing or disagreeing. Unease grew, slithering through me like noxious smoke. What if that thing had been in my house? I knew it was possible, but I’d been able to convince myself otherwise over the last couple of days. A shudder worked its way through my body, and Jensen’s hand shifted, his fingers curling around my knee.

“How close were you to Monica?” Shaw asked.

“I wasn’t at all.”

His forehead creased. “But you went to school together since elementary, correct?”

“Yes.” It was a little weird realizing that Shaw had done his homework. Then again, in a town this size, it wasn’t hard to make the assumption that we’d grown up together. “But we were never close. We hung out in different crowds and she wasn’t always . . .” I trailed off, thinking it would be work to finish that sentence.

“She wasn’t what?” he coaxed gently.

I pressed my lips together. Monica, like Wendy and Shawna, had never been particularly nice to people. Up until this week, I’d never had a problem with any of them, but . . .

“Monica is popular, but she isn’t the nicest person,” Jensen answered truthfully, saving me from having to be the one to talk bad about her. “She had a tendency . . . ever since middle school, to pick on other kids.”

“Like Penn Deaton?” Shaw asked.

I pressed back against the chair at the sound of his name. Hearing it roll over the deputy’s tongue floored me.

“Yeah, like Penn,” Jensen muttered, fixing his gaze on the wall.

The question might have sounded abnormal to anyone else, but it had been common knowledge after everything that Penn had been relentlessly bullied. Till this day, I could list those who, for whatever reason, had made Penn’s life a living hell.

Monica Graham.

Brock Cochran.