I tried to take a breath, but it got stuck in the ball of emotion that suddenly formed in my throat. My hand curled against his chest as I stared into his eyes. “You . . . you love me?”
He rested his forehead against mine, dragging in a deep breath. “I would think that would be pretty obvious by now, but yeah, I love you and then some.”
Tears rushed to my eyes, and I lifted my head, kissing him with everything that was in me. “I love you, too. I don’t think I ever stopped. I’m in love with you.”
Jensen shuddered. “Hearing that . . .” His voice was gruff, raw. “There are no words—hey, why are you crying?”
“I’m sorry.” I laughed, feeling stupid. “They’re not unhappy tears. I promise.”
He caught the tears with his lips, and then he rolled onto his side, gathering me close. I snuggled up, closing my eyes. My cheeks felt warm—so did the rest of me. I smiled as he dropped little kisses across my cheeks and the bridge of my nose. We stayed like that for a while, talking about college, about what classes we wanted, and how we planned to make sure we shared enough.
We explored one another like it was the first time. He traced the curve of my stomach, the strap of my bra, and the indent of my navel. I did the same, fascinated by how his skin could be so soft and hard at the same time.
We didn’t go any farther than that and it was exactly what I—what we—needed. The promise of tomorrow, the belief that it would be there, and we would have time to experience what we had once more.
“We need to get heading over to your dad’s,” he said finally.
I sat up, handing over his shirt, and he helped me into mine, which took longer than if I had just put it on myself. But I wasn’t complaining.
We walked downstairs, hand in hand, stopping at the front door for a quick kiss that caught me by surprise. When he pulled away, I wanted to hold on to him. The idea of him coming back here, where I wouldn’t know if he was okay or not, was going to drive me insane.
Between worrying about him, about Heidi and my mom, and Gavin and Linds, I was going to develop a stomach ulcer on steroids.
Jensen flipped on the porch light, and we stepped outside. The night had grown chilly and the breeze cut through my thin shirt. I went down the porch steps, and the feeling came out of nowhere once more. The hairs on the back of my neck rose. I looked around, sucking in a gasp as my gaze fell on the black walnut tree.
A swift curse from behind alerted me to the fact that Jensen had spotted what I was staring at. Hanging from the tree was another damn dummy with a clown mask and wig. It was too dark to tell the color of the wig.
“This is . . .” I shook my head. All the happiness of the moments spent entwined vanished like a smack in the face.
Jensen edged around me, going down a step. “It wasn’t there when we came in.”
Anger rose in me, hot and bright. It swelled alongside the fear and confusion. And I was tired of being afraid. I didn’t care if he was hiding somewhere, watching, and getting off on this. I pushed past Jensen and stalked up to the dummy.
Wind whipped my hair around my face as I reached up, grasping the edge of the clown mask. The plastic was cool under my fingertips. Slipping my fingers into the gap of the wide smile, I pulled as hard as I could. The mask didn’t give for a moment, and then the strap holding it in place snapped.
“Holy shit!” shouted Jensen as I stumbled back. Suddenly he was behind me, his hands on my shoulders, yanking me backward.
The mask slipped from my fingers. “Oh God,” I whispered.
What hung from the tree wasn’t a prop or a dummy.
It wasn’t fake.
The glassy dark eyes were real.
The slack jaw was familiar.
It was Brock.
Brock’s body swayed back and forth. I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing, that it was truly him hanging up there, the clown mask on the ground in the damp grass and dirt.
I pressed the back of my hand against my mouth, swallowing hard. I told myself to look away, but I couldn’t.
“We need to call the police,” Jensen said, and his voice sounded so far away.
I murmured something along the lines of agreeing, but both of our phones were in his truck. My feet were rooted to the ground.
“Come with me,” Jensen urged, and when I didn’t move, he took my hand. He didn’t ask if I was okay because who would be after seeing that?
My body felt numb as we hurried to his truck. Jensen grabbed his cell out of the glove box. I turned to his yard. With the thick hedges and trees, you couldn’t see Brock’s body from the sidewalk or the road, but how had someone gotten it there without being seen?
Unless Brock had walked himself into the yard and done it himself.
That was possible, especially if he was the one behind it. I didn’t know what to think as I stared at the hedges, my fingers twitching.
“Let’s go inside,” he said, glancing around the street, his gaze extra sharp. As we headed back into the yard, Jensen maneuvered me so I wasn’t walking closest to the tree.
I forced myself not to look.
Jensen called 911 as he unlocked the door. I barely heard what he said to them as I drifted into the living room. A few moments passed, then he came in behind me. “They’ll be here soon. Told us to stay inside and lock the doors.”
Running my hands over my face, I nodded. “Oh God, I . . .”
Jensen placed his hands on my shoulders. “It’s going to be okay. This is—”
Somewhere in the house, a floorboard creaked. It was not the normal sound of a house settling, but a slow deliberate measure of footsteps. The air halted in my throat.
“Jensen,” I whispered.
He placed a finger over his lips and stood so still that I wondered if he was breathing. I strained to not move, to listen.
The sound came again. Wood groaning.
“I don’t know where it’s coming from,” he whispered. My eyes rose to the ceiling. “I want you to go outside, okay? I want you to go right to my truck and—”
“No,” I hissed, grabbing his arm. “I am not leaving you in here. If I’m going outside, you’re coming with me. It’s as simple as that. You are not—”
The footsteps came again, sending ice through my stomach.
Jensen wrapped his hand around mine. He pulled me along behind him, stepping around the couch. We crept down the narrow hallway, turned to enter the kitchen—
Jensen drew up short and I plowed right into his back. He cursed, and I saw it—saw the thing standing in front of the kitchen table, clown mask in place, head tilted to the side.
It made that God-awful tsking sound.
The next couple of moments were a terrifying blur. Jensen twisted at the waist and pushed me hard enough so that I stumbled back several steps and lost my balance. I went down on my knees and immediately raised my head, peering up through a sheet of hair.
Jensen was in the kitchen with the killer. He went right after him, balls to the wall with no fear. But terror swelled inside me as he swung at him, and the killer easily avoided a punch that would’ve knocked him into next week.
I pushed to my feet, screaming as Jensen landed a punch in his stomach. The attacker doubled over as he staggered a step to the side and then straightened. They circled one another in some kind of macabre dance.
Spinning around, I searched for a weapon. Remembering the heavy iron candlestick holders in the living room, I spared Jensen one last look. His back was to the kitchen doorway.
“You’re not getting out of this house,” Jensen warned.
The thing made a sound, something inhuman, but much like a laugh. It was deep and low and animalistic. It sent a chill right to my marrow.
I raced into the living room, heading for the hutch near the foyer entryway. Tossing the white candle out, I grabbed the heavy holder. Dimly, I could hear the sound of grunts, of flesh connecting with flesh, and off in the distance, the sound of sirens grew steadily closer. I darted back down the hall.
Jensen twisted to the side, breaking free from the grip around his neck. The quick movement threw him off balance, and the thing in the mask slammed his hands into Jensen’s chest, shoving him back.