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The Doubted by Shiloh Walker (4)

Chapter Four

 

“I don’t know.”

She was almost afraid to say even those words.

His eyes had somehow gone terribly cold and it terrified her, but she had to say something.

“You don’t know,” he said, the words condescending. “A woman is murdered only moments after you grab on to me and demand I stay with you. And you knew something was going on. I can see it in your eyes, but you don’t know how it’s connected.”

“No.” She winced and got up, sidling around the table, desperate to get away from eyes that had practically turned to ice. She couldn’t hear anything in her head now and part of her wanted to, even as she feared what it might be.

A nervous breath jittered out of her and she thought of that window—the one she’d imagined slamming shut.

She’s connected…

His voice slid inside her mind just like that as she imagined the window gone.

That low-level buzz returned, voices and murmurs and whispers that she could not begin to distinguish.

I don’t believe this.

The words were his, not hers. Although he hadn’t spoken.

The disillusion in his voice made her heart ache. His face had gone cold and hard and she was torn between wanting to smooth a hand down his face and tell him it would be okay, and run.

It was odd, because right up until five minutes ago—even three minutes ago—fear hadn’t come onto her radar with him. “Look, this is going to sound…crazy. I know it does. I think it sounds crazy and I’m the one dealing with it. But…” She stopped as she came to the window. Resting a hand on it, she stared into the downpour. Normally, the sound of the rain soothed her. Right then, it sounded ominous. Everything filled her with dread and she couldn’t explain it. “I had the worst headache when I woke up this morning. Everything hurt. I was trying to do my job and I kept…seeing things. Hearing voices. One of our patients…”

She stopped, licking her lips. “I kept seeing one of our patients. A boy was beating on her. I’d touched her chart while I was trying to scan it and ever since, I couldn’t get that idea out of my head. Then I…oh, shit!”

She heard a scream and a pale face flashed before her eyes.

“Hailey!”

He stared at her. “Ma’am?”

“Hailey! Hailey… Fuck, I can lose my license for this…” Groaning, she shoved a hand through her hair and then swore. “Damn it to hell. Hailey Mullins. She’s a patient. I think she’s in trouble.”

“Ms. Goldman, I’m not in the mood for—”

“Her boyfriend was strangling her!” she shouted it. “I saw it.”

When he just continued to stare at her, she grabbed her phone. He shot out a hand. “What are you doing?”

“Calling 9-1-1.”

“And telling them what?” He stared at her as though she’d lost her mind.

She really, really hoped she had.

“I’m going to tell them I heard a scream,” she said, improvising. “And give them her address. They’re in front of the house.”

He grabbed the phone. “You aren’t even there.”

“Give me the damn phone!” She jerked against his hand, panic flooding her. The pain started to swell in her head and she swung out.

“What the—”

She ended up cuffed, facedown, shuddering, shaking.

“Look, I don’t know how you got involved in this, what they are paying you, or what they have on you, but I’m done. You’re not going to sucker me in—”

His words didn’t make any sense. Desperate, she said, “Please…just…you’re a fucking cop. Can’t you have somebody drive over there? Just look? If you’re told somebody’s in danger, aren’t you supposed to do something?”

 

 

You gullible sack of shit.

Even as he recited the address into his radio, he stared at Nyrene.

His jaw still ached from where she’d clipped him with her elbow. But that was nothing compared to the disgust he felt. At himself.

Because instead of trying to figure out what her angle was and what she knew about Meredith, what was he doing?

His radio chirped and he scowled.

A few minutes later, he stood at the window. Nyrene now sat on the edge of the couch, her hands still cuffed and she was breathing in deep, shuddering gasps.

The uniform—somebody Dev didn’t know—said, “Victim is breathing and responsive.” He droned on for a few more minutes, but he had nothing else to say that Dev needed to hear.

He’d already heard enough to make his head spin.

Slowly, he turned and looked at Nyrene.

“You want to explain how you knew about that?”

She looked away.

“You’ve now been connected to two crimes—one murder and one assault. It might have been another dead body,” he said, throwing that in when she didn’t respond. She flinched and he wanted to kick himself. “So just how did you know what was going on with this girl in the car?”

Finally, she looked at him.

“I saw it,” she said, her voice wooden.

“You saw it.” He closed his eyes and rubbed the back of his neck. He didn’t have the time or the patience for this shit. He was tired and he needed to get about six hours horizontal before he got up and tried to go through the files one more time. There had to be something…

“I saw it,” she said again, and this time her tone was caustic. “In my head. The same way I saw that reporter get shot—only the way it played out in my head that time was that you were the one who found her and a couple of cops pounced on you and arrested you.”

Dev opened his eyes.

She stared right at him and under the weight of that gaze, he felt something icy trail down his spine.

“And that’s not the only thing,” she said softly, her lashes sweeping down. “Right before I decided to go to the hospital, I was watching the news…and you were on there.”

“What?” Struggling to keep up with this complete and utter insanity, he shook his head. “I was on where—the news?”

“Well, sort of. They were talking about your…death.” Now she looked away. “That part got a little blurry— Hey!”

Her skin was soft under his hands. He couldn’t help but notice that, just like he couldn’t help but notice the fear in her eyes and the way she tried to recoil when he jerked her upright. “You’re going to talk,” he ground out. “Who are you talking to and what do you know?”

“You son of—”

He picked her up and threw her over his shoulder.

Her screech echoed through the house and he grunted as she kicked, managing to drive one knee into his chest before he caught her legs.

A minute later, he found the kitchen and dumped her on a chair.

She stared at him with dumb shock on her face. It hit him like a slap but he ignored it, shoving it down. This was his life he was fighting for, and if she knew something…

Hauling out a chair, he flipped it around until they were face-to-face. “These people are killers. You already know about Meredith,” he said, keeping his voice level. “I’m already on their list. You clearly know that. Now I am here in your house. Connect the dots, Nyrene. Who do you think is next? They are going to think you talked.”

“I don’t know what in the hell you’re talking about,” she said, the words a broken whisper.

“Too late for that.”

When she tried to avert her face, he crowded in until he engulfed her field of vision. She shrank back away from him and some small part of him died. Fuck, maybe he should just eat a bullet, get it over with. He’d rather die knowing himself than become a man who was okay crossing the lines he seemed willing to cross lately.

No. He wasn’t going to go away that easily. How many good cops, how many decent people, had died because of these fucks? No.

Softening his voice, he leaned in even closer. “You seem like a nice lady, Nyrene. Nice and normal, yet you somehow got caught up in something that’s over your head. You really think you get out of this on your own?”

A breath shuddered out of her.

Her pulse slammed away—he could see the rapid beat of it under the thin shield of her skin at the base of her throat. “Meredith thought she could handle herself and look at what happened to her. You want to end up like that?”

A whimper escaped her and she bit her lip to hold back another one, but he caught the faint sound before she muffled it.

He hardened his heart and steeled himself.

“You will, or maybe worse. They just wanted her out of the way. She never made the mistake of getting tangled up with these guys. Now tell me, what do you know and who is it you’re talking with?”

He reached up when she lowered her head, brushing her hair back from her face and he discovered it really was as silken as he’d thought. It was a knowledge he didn’t need, because one thing was clear—he’d never wrap that hair around his hands, never taste her mouth, never feel her beneath him.

“I’m not working with anybody,” she said, her voice soft, almost soundless. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Nyrene—”

“Stop,” she said. Slowly, she lifted her head and glared at him. “I already told you. I saw it on the fucking news. But it wasn’t really there. You were going to be arrested for some sort of corruption shit, and you resisted arrest and you ran. That’s what the news report said. Then they gunned you down.”

Then she started to laugh, the sound taking on a hysterical edge. “Of course, clearly you’re still alive. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to warn you earlier. Maybe I was just supposed to let you go. I don’t know.”

Shaken, he stood, slowly backing away.

She was still laughing, although it sounded more and more like sobs.

 

 

She lost track of how long she’d sat there.

It could have been minutes.

It could have been an hour.

But the sound of his shoes—those ugly police shoes—striking the linoleum of her floor made her flinch.

Nyrene hunched her shoulders, wishing she could make herself even smaller, but she couldn’t. She’d slammed that mental window shut again, unable to think clearly thanks to all the other thoughts in her head. Thoughts that weren’t hers.

People want him dead. He thinks I’m involved.

The idea terrified her.

He moved behind her. Her breath caught when his hands brushed her wrists.

His hand stilled, for just a moment, and then she heard the clank of metal, her hands freed.

She almost fell on her face in her haste to get away from him. Stumbling over to the far side of the kitchen, she huddled by the back door.

Bennett Deverall stood there, the light shining down on his golden hair and playing with the planes and hollows of his face. He looked as if he’d been born to wear a uniform.

She was officially terrified of him.

He took a step toward her.

She wrapped her arms around herself and started to rock, hating herself for the fear crowding inside her mind. “If you plan on trying to scare me more, do me a favor and just kill me,” she said, the words flying out of her mouth before she even knew what she was going to say. “I don’t know what you want to hear from me and I don’t know what’s going on and I…”

He came to a stop in front of her.

Despite her reluctance to look at him, she found herself unable to stand there, hiding her face. Slowly, she shifted her gaze to him and found that the remote stranger who’d taken over for however long he’d been there seem to have faded. No. Not faded.

He was just…restrained.

Once more, his face had a cool politeness. As though he had been simply waiting for her to look at him. He held out a card. “That’s my supervisor’s name. If you want to file a report, you’ll want to talk to him. Talk to him—nobody else, do you understand?”

The urgency in his voice would have worried her. If she wasn’t already terrified.

She didn’t take the card, though. She just stared at it.

Bennett waited another minute and then leaned over, placing it on the kitchen counter. “I apologize for my actions, Ms. Goldman. I… You should get help for your…headaches.”

Get help?

He turned away and she watched him, another hysterical laugh bubbling inside her. Absently, she reached out, brushing the card with her fingers.

The window inside her mind splintered and images leaked through.

“Don’t go home.” There was a heavy pressure at the base of her skull even as she said the words and picked up the card, stroking it as those images solidified inside her mind. “Don’t. They’re waiting for you. Don’t go home.”

 

 

Don’t.

He’d already come too close to a line and whether she was jerking him around, playing him, or just plain crazy, when he died, he’d rather do it with a clear conscience.

Still, at the doorway to her kitchen, he paused and looked back. “Who’s waiting?”

She barely seemed to hear him and she was holding the card that she’d refused to touch only seconds ago. Now her fingers traced it, as if that connection was vital. “Don’t go home,” she said a third time. “The fire…it touches the sky.”

She leaned back against the door, slid down it and just like that, she closed her eyes.

He opened his mouth, closed it. After a minute, he moved closer, prepared to see her flinch, but she didn’t do anything, didn’t even seem to breathe.

Son of a bitch.

Turning, he strode down the hall, heading to the front door.

He was an idiot.

He was a sucker.

He was going to be dead for it, too, he knew it.

He hit the front door and sixty seconds later, he was gone, speeding away from Nyrene Goldman.

 

 

“He’s just standing there.”

Looking through his binoculars, he watched the big, dark shadow that stood on the balcony overlooking the river.

“Go inside, you stupid fuck.”

Bennett Deverall had proven to be a bigger pain in the ass than any of them could have imagined. It had started when he’d gone to double-check on some evidence from a routine traffic stop—one that had turned into a hell of a drug bust for the uniformed cop—and he’d found the report had been altered.

Of course, Deverall would keep copies of his reports and he would have a memory like a fucking elephant.

He’d wanted to take him out then.

If he had…

He’d told them that son of a bitch would be trouble. If he’d taken care of him early on, then he wouldn’t be sitting out here, listening to the rain pound down on his car while he waited for the stupid shit to go inside.

But all he was doing was sitting on the porch, staring at nothing. After a moment, the man stood and moved to the door.

“Finally…” He started to sigh in relief, but the man turned away again and then there was a faint glow. Like a cell phone.

“I’m about ready to come down there and throw your ass in the house,” he muttered.

Not that he had the option.

This had all been set up in the past couple of hours, but the men he’d chosen were professionals and they were very, very good at what they did.

When this was over, Deverall would be a bad memory and nothing more than a burned corpse to throw into the ground.

He started to worry though as the man began to pace the porch, and he had a sinking suspicion settling in his gut. What if that wasn’t Bennett Deverall?

He strained, trying to get a better picture through the binoculars but the man wasn’t looking up and with the dark and the rain, it was impossible to tell anything but that he was now talking on the phone.

 

 

“This is Deverall.”

It was more habit than anything else that had him answering his phone. Staring out at the endless rain, soaked to the bone, he listened to nothing but silence for the first few seconds.

“This is Officer Bennett Deverall. Can I help—”

“You son of a bitch.”

The exhaustion from the past day—the past few months—cleared as instinct kicked on. “Who is this?”

He didn’t expect an answer.

“It’s Judd Crowder.”

The answer came as if he’d bitten off the words, chewing through steel to say them. Dev closed his eyes. Judd. Meredith’s fiancé. She’d been sporting the ring on her broadcasts for the past two months.

“Judd,” he said softly. “I’m sorry for—”

“It had something to do with you,” Judd said, interrupting. “Didn’t it?”

Dev opened his mouth, then closed it. Finally, he fell back on training. “I’m not privy to the details of the investigation, Judd. Have you talked to the investigating officers?”

There was a ragged breath and then Judd said, “No. And I can’t. Because I promised her. I’ve got something for you. I need to see you.”

Caution advised against that. The wild grief in Judd’s voice told him that it would be a stupid thing to do, meeting with this man right now.

But…

“Look, Deverall. I’m at your house now and I need to give you an SD card. Meredith made me promise if…” His voice broke. “If something happened. Are you going to get your ass here or should I just break down the fucking door?”

“You’re at my house?” Dev asked.

“Yeah. So get here before I add breaking and entering, or at least breaking, to my list of experiences.”

“Don’t—”

It was instinct that had him saying it.

But Judd hung up before the call ended.

Don’t go in my house, Judd.

He wasn’t entirely sure if it had anything at all to do with the utter bullshit he’d heard from Nyrene Goldman. Swearing, he jogged back to his car and climbed in. He’d stopped at the small riverfront park a few blocks away, determined to think, determined to clear his head, but if he went home, he’d bury himself in the investigation he’d been conducting on his own.

He was only two blocks from home.

He was close enough to see the explosion—the flames shot up into the air, painting the night a haunting shade of golden orange.

Don’t go home…

He hit the gas, but somebody ran in front of him and he hit the brakes just in time to avoid running the man over. “Son of a—”

The gun was pointed right at him.

He looked through the windshield at the man in front of him. While his home burned like an inferno only yards away, he stared down the barrel of a gun.

Jamming his foot on the gas, he ducked low just as the glass of the windshield shattered. He didn’t wait to see what happened next. Throwing the car into reverse, he floored it, tires squealing.

He turned the lights off as he whipped the car around and punched it.

He had, literally, only seconds to get away.

If that.