“Whoa.” The medic grabbed my arm. “I want you to sit still for a little while longer.”
The officer carrying the mask halted in the driveway. “Oh, look, the state boys are finally here.”
Within seconds, green uniforms swarmed the front yard. I recognized Trooper Ritter. He took one long look at me before heading toward were Shaw was standing with Brock.
My stomach cramped as the new officers gathered around Brock, and then Shaw broke away, striding toward me.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
Wrapping my arms around myself, I willed my teeth to stop chattering. “I’m okay, but Linds—”
“They took her to the hospital, and you’ll be able to go check on her soon, but I need you to focus on me right now. Okay?” When I nodded, he shifted his stance. “When did Brock show up?”
My gaze darted over to him. “After I drove through the garage door. He knocked . . . he knocked on the car window.”
“Did he say why he was out here?”
I licked my lips. They felt impossibly dry. “He said he lives a few houses down. That he heard screaming . . . wait.” I took in his shrewd gaze. “Do you think Brock . . . ?”
“I want you to stay here.” He clamped a hand down on my shoulder and continued without answering my question. “I’ll call your—”
“Don’t call my mom,” I pleaded. “Please. I don’t want her to see me like this—see the garage and all the police. Please. I’m okay, and I don’t want her to freak out. Please.”
He shifted again, jaw hard. “Okay.”
“Can you . . . can you call Jensen?”
Shaw stared at me a moment and then nodded. “Yeah, I can call him.” He started to turn and then stopped. “You got some clothes in there?”
“In the bathroom.”
“I’ll send someone up. Meanwhile, follow me.”
I followed him over to where his cruiser was parked. Popping the trunk, he pulled out a dark blanket.
“It’s clean,” he said, shaking it out. “I promise.”
At this point I didn’t care if it had been in a stinkbug infested crack house. I stood still as he dropped the blanket over my shoulders. It covered more than the robe. Relieved, I tucked the edges of the blanket close.
I didn’t want to stand out here by the flashing lights of the cop cars, too close to the prying eyes of the neighbors. I saw Shaw on his phone, and I hoped he was calling Jensen. He spoke briefly to another deputy who turned and headed up to the open front door.
Had they called Linds’ parents yet? I squeezed my eyes shut, rocking back slightly on my numb feet. I should be there with her so that when she woke up she wasn’t afraid. And she would wake up. She had to. I couldn’t allow myself to think anything else.
A few minutes later, an officer came to stand with me. I didn’t recognize him. He was a deputy by the looks of his uniform. I was learning they all wore different colors and oddly shaped hats. He didn’t speak, and I realized dumbly that I was probably under guard.
“Holy shit!” yelled a voice from within the garage.
I turned just as a deputy stumbled out, bent at the waist, clasping his knees. He gagged. Someone yelled something. The officer standing with me frowned. “Stay here,” he ordered.
He rushed over, joining the cops who were standing at the back of Linds’ mom’s car. Officers raced back and forth in the driveway, and whatever they were saying was lost in the roaring of the blood in my ears. I stumbled forward, my arms and legs shaking. No one noticed me as I approached the group huddled around the back of the car, the same car Linds had been trapped in, might’ve died in.
No. Linds was alive. Shaw said as much.
“What’s going on?” Brock demanded from where he stood by the tree, but his voice sounded so very far away. “Come on, someone tell me what the hell is going on.”
Legs trembling, I crept forward, drawn to whatever it was that had the cops freaking out. An officer stepped aside, turning his head to speak into a microphone attached to his shoulder. “We got a signal eighteen out here. I need the M.E. stat.”
I could see around him, see inside the trunk, see what was folded up in there waiting to be found.
“Oh my God,” I whispered, my hands rising to my mouth.
“Shit.” Shaw spun around and was suddenly in front of me, blocking the view of the trunk, but it was too late. He turned me away, but I’d already seen it.
I saw Monica folded into the trunk, her hands tucked under her chin like she was sleeping, and that’s how she looked. Peaceful. Asleep. All except for the cardinal shoved into her mouth.
Lightning flashed across the sky, splintering the darkness. A crack of thunder chased after it, so loud and so close that the windows in my bedroom rattled.
I wrapped my arms around my waist as I turned. Jensen stood in the doorway, and I knew he’d been there longer than I realized, standing silent and still like a sentry. He’d been a constant presence since he’d arrived at Linds’ house.
I took a step toward him, my legs shaky. I didn’t speak and neither did he as he crossed the distance between us. Taking me in his arms, he held me close to his chest, easing some of the chill that had invaded my bones and senses.
Tonight had been one of the worst nights of my life.
Jensen’s lips brushed my forehead. “Everyone is downstairs.”
It was late, more like early morning, and under normal circumstances, Mom would be flipping out, but tonight was far from normal. The wind picked up and the tree outside rattled like dry bones.
“Gavin showed up,” he continued, smoothing a hand down my back. “Heidi’s here, too. Your mom made hot chocolate.”
I drew back as another flash of lightning tore up the sky. “She’ll wake up, right?”
“Yes.” Conviction strengthened his voice. He kissed my forehead. “She will.”
That was what the doctors said. Linds had inhaled too many fumes and her body had shut down. Her parents were with her at the hospital and since she was in intensive care, anyone outside of her family wasn’t allowed in her room.
“I still can’t believe it. He was in that house. He was in the bathroom when I . . .” I couldn’t finish that sentence without wanting to hurl.
Jensen’s muscles rolled as he carefully placed his hands on my cheeks and then kissed my forehead. Moments passed before he said a word. “I hate this. I hate that you’re in danger, and you are. There’s no telling each other anything different.” His voice turned deeper, rougher. “This is twice now that he . . . he almost got you.”
That was the reality of the situation. There was no more pretending or looking at this statistically. Twice now the . . . thing had come after me.
I took a deep breath. “We should go downstairs.”
He nodded, and I started around him, but he caught my hand, stopping me. “Are you okay?”
A weak smile tugged at my lips. “I’m just a little sore. I’ll be fine.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
Of course. The poor excuse of a smile faded. “I really don’t know what to think or feel. I mean, how am I supposed to feel?”
“Scared? Confused?” His hand slid up to my elbow. “Angry?”
“I feel all of those things.” And I had felt them before, after finding Penn, but there had also been a lot of guilt attached to that.
His gaze searched my face intently for a moment and then he nodded once more. Taking my hand in his, we headed downstairs. Mom was in the dining room we rarely used, on the phone with my father. Her voice was tight and she turned away as I walked past, lowering her voice even more.
In the living room, Gavin and Heidi sat on the couch. They both looked up as we entered, Gavin’s gaze lingering on our joined hands. I started to pull free, but Jensen wasn’t having that.
Jensen sat in the recliner and tugged me down into his lap. He grabbed a cup of untouched cocoa and handed it over to me.
“You look okay,” Gavin said, and then winced. “I mean, you don’t look like you just went toe to toe with Mike Myers.”