Beneath These Lies (Beneath #5)(3)

by Meghan March

I want that, I thought again as we followed them out of the bar. That easy togetherness with a man who was all man. The kind who took care of his woman and made sure she and her friends would get home safely.

Stop, Valentina. I forced my thoughts back to the present.

Hennessy’s bright green gaze fixed on me, and I couldn’t help but wonder what he saw.

“Am I riding in the back of a cop car?” I asked, hoping to break the intensity of his study. I wasn’t in any shape to be analyzed closely tonight.

“I don’t drive a squad car. But even if I did, you wouldn’t be riding in the backseat.”

We rounded a corner, Hennessy’s arm tucked around my back to keep me upright as I stumbled on the uneven sidewalks of the Quarter. Always a protector.

I focused on staying upright until he slowed and keys jangled. Lights flashed on some kind of SUV a few feet away. Hennessy led me around to the passenger side, opened the door, and helped me up into the seat.

“I got it,” I said, fumbling for the seat belt.

He backed away and waited until I clicked the buckle into place before shutting the door.

I was out before he put the key in the ignition.

“OH GOD, WHY DID I drink so much?” My scratchy voice filled the room as my head pounded against the soft down pillow. “Never, ever doing that again,” I said with a groan.

I hadn’t felt this awful since Ash Wednesday my senior year in college. We’d gone to a fancy party, drinking with abandon because it was our last Mardi Gras before we hit the real world, and the booze had been free because of someone’s parents’ friends.

Last night hadn’t been quite as crazy, but I was years out of practice at drinking like that. My memory was hazy, but I still recalled the highlights. Including . . .

Detective Hennessy, offering me a ride.

Detective Hennessy, carrying me to my door.

Detective Hennessy . . . handing me a washcloth to wipe the vomit from my face.

Brilliant, Valentina. Just brilliant.

I groaned again, burying my face in my pillow. Could I smother myself with embarrassment?

Why did it seem that there was always one person who continually saw you at your worst? In high school, I was as poised and proper as any Catholic prep school girl could be expected to be, except when I saw the captain of the swim team, Kirk Ryan. I hadn’t fallen down the stairs because I was flustered. No, it was the fact that I was staring at him and didn’t see the piece of loose-leaf paper that someone had dropped at the top, and I’d slipped.

And then there was the giant puddle the janitor hadn’t cleaned up from the leaking door seal and the epic rainstorm we were having. He’d been kind enough not to laugh when I’d fallen on my face. And the cafeteria tray incident? Billy Butcher ran into me and knocked the spaghetti down the front of my white shirt and all over my cardigan.

But regardless of the reasons for these unfortunate incidents, Kirk Ryan always saw me at my most disastrous. Which was why, when he asked me to the junior-senior prom, I had politely declined in favor of studying. No one likes being vulnerable, especially not in front of someone you’d prefer to impress.

Did I want to impress Detective Hennessy? That was a matter for another moment, because right now I needed to find my way into the shower and drag myself back to human status in time to get to work. I didn’t want to leave Trinity waiting on the sidewalk like I’d done once before when I’d overslept.

Forty minutes later, I was slipping a shoe on and rushing out the door. I had three minutes to get to work, which meant I’d be late and she’d indeed be waiting on the sidewalk.

Except she wasn’t.

I unlocked the door and turned off the alarm before slipping inside and crossing to my desk to stow my purse in a drawer. Trinity was never late. Never.

Then again, I wasn’t usually late either, so maybe she was having a rough start to the morning too. But when I hadn’t heard from her by noon, every internal warning bell I had was going off.

Trinity didn’t pull a no-show without calling. Ever. She’d called in sick exactly twice since she’d started working for me two years ago, and one other time when she needed extra time to study for a test. She was as reliable as any adult employee I’d ever had.

I called her cell no less than a dozen times before I called her grandmother around three, and learned that Trinity hadn’t come home last night and there was no word from her all day. I thanked her grandmother for the information and immediately started calling hospitals. The woman was used to Trinity coming and going as she pleased, sometimes staying the night with boyfriends, and had basically kept her out of the foster system but hadn’t provided much else in the way of parenting. She’d seen it all and wouldn’t share my fears.

Every possibility ran through my head while I talked to customers throughout the day and sold artwork. When the clock turned to five and I was locking up the gallery by myself, panic set in. Something was wrong. I felt it in my bones.

Trinity had graduated weeks ago, so calling the school wouldn’t be any help. I’d exhausted the hospitals, didn’t have any way to contact her friends or her boyfriend, and a second call to her grandmother returned the same conclusion as the first: Trinity was MIA.

So I was left with only one other option . . . the police.

Was I overreacting? Maybe. But when it came to Trinity, I wasn’t taking any chances. I knew better than anyone what could happen when a girl went missing, and how quickly it could turn bad.

“Ms. Noble, I’m going to need you to calm down. Ms. Rodgers is eighteen years old and therefore no longer a minor.”

Frustrated, I jammed my hand into my hair, and my ring caught. I was trying to free it when Detective Hennessy stepped out of an office and paused. His green eyes were on me, assessing, like always. Seeing my weaknesses, my flaws, my vulnerabilities. Probably remembering the horrific display of last night.

If this were just about me, I would have turned and walked out rather than face him, but my purpose was too damn important. Trinity was too important. And I was not above exploiting my connections to get help tracking her down.

I tugged my hand from my hair as discreetly as possible before raising my chin at Detective Hennessy, who was already walking toward me.

How is it possible I didn’t know his first name? It showed just how little I actually knew about the man. He was taller than my five-foot-four-inch frame and if I stood behind his back, I’d disappear behind his wide shoulders. Every time I saw him, I remembered what it felt like to clutch the scratchy white sheets lining my hospital bed with my broken fingernails and nearly lifeless hands. I shoved the memory back down.