Jensen started backing up, and I managed to slide my hands between us. I pushed hard against his chest. “Ella!”
I was able to twist around enough to see my bedroom. My gaze darted to the rumpled blankets and then to the foot of my bed. My horrified gaze rose to the ceiling fan.
A body hung from the fan, arms and legs limp at its sides. The ghastly white mask was secured in place, a red frizzy wig covering its head.
My mouth worked soundlessly as I pressed back against Jensen. I got hung up on its neck, how the head hung at an unnatural angle, and what was wrapped around it.
Jensen pulled me out of my bedroom and down the hall. Blood buzzed in my ears and my heart was beating too fast. I didn’t get a good look at the body, but I knew it was a guy.
There was a guy hanging in my bedroom.
“He’s been in here,” I said, and it was stupid, because it was obvious, but I couldn’t stop saying it. “He’s been in here again, while we were . . . oh God.”
“I know.” Jensen snatched my shirt off the banister, shoving it into my hands. “Get this on.”
My hands shook as I dragged it over my head, wincing as the cool, damp cloth clung to my skin. There was a good chance it was inside out, but I didn’t care. We started downstairs, but I stopped, turning to where the house phone sat on a small table in the hall outside the main bathroom.
“Wait.” I picked up the cordless phone, hitting the button. A busy signal greeted me. “What the . . . ?”
My stomach dropped.
The other receiver, the one downstairs, had to be off the hook.
“It doesn’t matter. My cell is in my truck. Or we can grab yours from your bag.”
I dropped the cordless phone and hurried down the steps, feeling like at any given moment, a giant half spider, half human would try to snatch me from behind.
Before we hit the foyer, Jensen stopped and peered around the railing, toward the living room, and then did the same on the other side, looking into the dining room. He snatched up my bag and then grabbed my hand again.
As we ran out of the house, he dug out my phone and called the police. He spoke to them as he stowed me away in the truck, and then climbed into the other side. “We’ll stay out front. Okay.” He disconnected the call and handed the phone over. “They’re on their way.”
I dropped my phone in my lap, staring out the window. The rain had stopped.
“Oh my God . . .” I pressed my hands to my face, bending over. “Who do you think it was?”
He squeezed my shoulder. “I don’t know, but Brock . . .”
Brock was missing, meaning he could’ve just gone from suspect to victim in a nanosecond. My fingers curled into my hair as my stomach cramped with nausea. The afternoon had gone from something wonderful to a horror show in a matter of seconds.
And who knew how long he’d been in the house. He could’ve been hiding while Jensen and I were in the bedroom. He could’ve been . . . could’ve been watching.
My stomach twisted.
“It’ll be okay,” Jensen said, and he said it again and again.
I looked up, lowering my hands, and my gaze met his. “Someone is hanging in my bedroom. This stuff is not coincidental.”
“I know.” He removed his hand as he tipped his head against the headrest, staring out the window.
“And someone was in there while we were—”
“I know,” he repeated, jaw tight.
The police showed up then, parking their cruiser in front of Jensen’s truck, blocking him in. A county one appeared behind us. I twisted around, recognizing Shaw. Jensen and I glanced at each other and climbed out.
The city officer reached us first. “There’s a . . . a body hanging in my bedroom,” I said. “I don’t know who it is.”
“Stay here.” The officer’s face was stoic as he turned to Shaw. “You ready?”
Shaw looked at us like he wanted to lock us up in one of those oxygen bubbles before he nodded. Then they disappeared into the house.
Wrapping his arms around me, Jensen pulled me against his chest. I went, closing my eyes. “I’m going to have to call Mom.”
“I can do it for you.”
I closed my eyes. “I need to. I don’t want her to hear your voice and think something’s happened.”
Jensen dropped his chin to the top of my head and fell quiet as he held me. I opened my eyes, trying to see the body in the room, but the details were too fuzzy.
“Shaw’s coming out,” he said.
I turned in his arms, my chest locking up. The look on his face made me not want to ask, but I had to. “Who is it?”
He stepped in front of us and took off his hat. Running his hand over his head, he frowned. “It’s not . . . it’s not anyone.”
Confusion swamped me. “What do you mean?”
Shaw lowered his arm. “It was fake—a dummy. Probably a prop left over from the Halloween thing you guys were working on.”
“Fake?” I whispered. My brain did not comprehend the word.
Jensen tipped his head back, blowing out a deep breath. “Thank God.”
“Obviously someone was trying to scare you,” he went on, lowering the volume of his radio. “And it worked. They must have gotten in through your window. Officer Brandis is up there. We’re going to get a crime unit out here to dust for prints, and then we’ll take the damn thing down.”
I stepped away from Jensen, letting the words sink in as I tugged my still damp hair back from my face. Fake. Someone had broken into my house to hang a fake person.
I didn’t even know what to do with that.
“It could be a prank, but with the recent events I think you should find someone else to stay with,” he suggested.
“I think that’s a good idea.” Jensen placed his arm over my shoulders. “You could stay with your dad.”
Shaw nodded. “I think that would be a great idea. He lives in town?”
“On the other side, near Shepherdstown. In the development . . .” As Jensen explained, my attention drifted toward the house.
The body had been fake.
But the warning was clear.
She placed her hands on her hips. “I don’t want you staying another night in this house. I want you at your father’s.”
I shifted my weight. “But what about you?”
“I’m going to head back to the office. I’m going to get someone out here tomorrow with an alarm, and then I’m going to stay with my sister.” She paused, frowning. “And I think I’m going to apply for a gun permit.”
My lips pursed. “But—”
“Honey, I can’t stay at your father’s and I don’t want you in a hotel room. No more arguing. Get your stuff.”
I was seconds away from stomping my feet. I wanted to stay with my mom. I wanted her, but that wasn’t happening. So I resorted to pouting.
She ignored that. “Her father won’t get home until eight.” Mom glanced at Jensen, who was sitting quietly on the recliner, minding his own business. It was like she had decided he’d be my babysitter. If she knew what had gone down this afternoon, he would probably be the last person she trusted around me. “Neither will Rose.”
“I’ll stay with her.”
“Good.” She shot me a look that said get moving.
I sighed. Jensen headed upstairs with me. An officer was still in my bedroom, messing with the window. Thank God the dummy had been pulled down and removed. I still hesitated at the door.
I had no idea how I’d ever sleep in this room again.
Or this house.
“Let’s get this over with,” Jensen said, eyeing the officer.
Feeling out of it, I grabbed a tote from my closet and started shoving clothes into the bag. Every so often, a tremor shook me. I felt kind of numb, and I felt too much. Anger. Fear. Confusion. More anger.
I wanted this to be over.
Grabbing a couple of sweaters, I turned away from the closet as the hangers rocked back and forth.
I wanted to know who was doing this.
Bending down, I grabbed some socks, and then I moved on to stashing undies into my bag.