Trail of Dead (Scarlett Bernard #2)(10)

by Melissa F. Olson

I pressed on. “Then you must know that you need help. Jesse is a trained investigator, and I trust him. I don’t know what will happen when he catches the person, but if you don’t ask him for help, someone else might die.”

That was harsh, but I knew all about having the death of loved ones on my conscience, and it wasn’t something I’d wish on Kirsten.

A long minute ticked by on the clock above the door, while Kirsten chewed on her lower lip and weighed what I’d said. Finally, she asked, “You’ll work with him? Keep him from exposing us, and keep him safe from magical attack? I don’t want any more deaths, especially a member of the police.” From the tone of her voice it was clear she was worried less about Jesse’s personal safety and more about getting the wrong kind of attention.

Now it was my turn to hesitate. Setting Jesse up with Kirsten had seemed like the perfect way to get him off my back, but I hadn’t planned on being involved any further. Running around with Jesse didn’t seem to pay very well, and we were a long way away from my actual job description.

When I didn’t answer right away Kirsten looked over at me, disappointment written all over her face. “What do you need,” she asked tiredly, “to care that my witches are dying?” Before I could answer, she had picked up her purse and rifled for a moment, finally pulling out a worn photo. She slid it along the bar, not forcing me to look but definitely inviting me. I picked it up.

It was a group shot, a dozen or so women at what looked like a Halloween party, though this particular group might have dressed up just about any time of the year. They were wearing long black dresses and black pointy hats, grinning at the camera. I spotted Erin in the front row, with a shy, happy smile that showed none of the nervous secretiveness I’d seen in the picture at the apartment. Kirsten leaned over and tapped her finger on the shoulder of another woman, a slightly heavy caramel blonde in the back row. She was laughing, opening her mouth so that the toddler in her arms could shove in a piece of candy. The little girl had her mother’s blonde hair and a tiny witch hat of her own. Her face was smeared with chocolate, joy lighting it up like a firecracker.

“Denise?” I whispered.

Kirsten nodded. “And her daughter, Grace. Gracie. Who will now grow up without a mother. Is that enough, or shall I start pulling out cash?”

I turned the picture facedown on the bar, shame washing over me. Kirsten had risked her life to save me, and I’d just forced her to practically beg for my help. “No. It’s enough.”

And it was.

I arranged for Kirsten to join Jesse and me at brunch the next morning, and finally headed back to Molly’s. By the time I got to the house, it was after three, and I was swaying on my feet. I locked the door carefully behind me and went straight for the stairs up to my bedroom. I didn’t bother turning on the light, just transferred the contents of my pockets to my nightstand and allowed myself to tilt onto the bed, clothes, jacket, and all. I kicked off my shoes, pulling the corners of my quilt over my shoulders and snuggling in. At the last moment I remembered to set my alarm clock for nine.

The phone rang.

I looked at the clock in my hands, wondering if I had fallen asleep so fast I hadn’t even noticed, but no, the time still said 3:32. I picked up my cell phone and peered at the caller ID, my eyes protesting against the bright flash of the screen. I flipped open the phone.

“Jesse, I agreed to meet up at ten. You’ve got to—”

“Scarlett,” he interrupted. “Stop. It’s not about that.” I went silent. “Do the names Sara and Liam Reed mean anything to you?”

“Never met ’em.” I yawned hard enough to bring tears to my eyes.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I’d remember ’cause Sara and Liam were my parents’ names.”

There was a terrible, pregnant silence. Goose bumps broke out on my biceps. “Jesse?” I said uncertainly. “Are you still there?”

When he spoke again, his voice had cop detachment. “A couple named Sara and Liam Reed were found dead in a stolen Jeep over by Laurel Canyon. It’ll be a while before they can do the autopsies, but the cause of death is probably cutting wounds to the wrists. Only there’s no blood in the car.”

When I remembered how to breathe I said, “Cuts, not bite marks? Is there a chance it’s not Olivia?”

His voice was steady, but the detachment was gone when he said, “I don’t think so. There was no blood inside the car, but she used some of it to write on the outside of the windshield.” His voice trailed off, and I had to work not to snap at him. He shouldn’t be sparing me. This was my fault.

“Just tell me,” I said through my teeth.

He sighed, long and sad. “It said Welcome home.”

Chapter 5

I tried to talk Jesse into letting me come to the crime scene, but he was adamant that I stay put. I told him that I had probably seen way more crime scenes than he had and would know how to spot anything out of the ordinary. He pointed out that Olivia might just be trying to lure me out into the open so she could kill me. The argument ended when Jesse said I’d be arrested if I got within fifty feet of the Jeep, and I tossed the phone on the bed next to me and stared at my bedroom ceiling.

I felt torn in half. A big part of me—hell, maybe the majority—wanted to just curl up in a ball and sob, for Liam and Sara Reed, for their families, for myself. Then there was the part of me that seethed with frustration. Why was she doing this? Was she trying to make me crazy too? And if so…was it working? Unable to hold still, I put on my running shoes and went into Molly’s room to pound away on her treadmill for a while. After only a few minutes, though, the adrenaline was burning its way out, and I could already feel the edges of the queasy emptiness that would replace it.

Over the hum of the treadmill, I thought I heard something chime. I climbed onto the side rails and pulled the emergency clip in one movement, freezing in place. The doorbell rang again. Scrambling off the machine, I raced back into my room and grabbed my Taser off the charging station, cursing myself for not carrying it with me in the first place. I sped down the stairs and paused a few feet from the door, panting. Should I look in the peephole? I’d seen a movie where a guy had gotten shot in the eye that way. But Olivia wouldn’t use a gun, would she? Then again, who knew what Olivia would do—