Authors: Debra Webb
Tags: #Stephen King, #Kay Hooper, #murder, #Romantic Thriller, #secrets, #small town, #sixth sense, #lies, #twins, #cloning, #Dean Koontz, #FBI
“Debra Webb is a master storyteller.”
New York Times Bestseller
“Debra Webb’s name says it all.” ~ Karen Rose, New York Times Bestseller
This book is dedicated to my daughter, Erica Green. Thank you for helping bring this story to life. May you have a long and successful career following in my footsteps as a storyteller.
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2013, Pink House Press, Webbworks, LLC
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
Sunday, July 10, 9 p.m.
Blood... so much blood.
She peered down at her hands, marveling at the thick, warm fluid that seeped between her fingers, slipped along her arms. Her heart slammed mercilessly against her ribcage, sending her own blood gushing through her veins.
She blinked, tried to focus.
He was dead.
She stared at the motionless body on the floor. A pool of crimson encircled the still torso.
She inclined her head and stared at the knife buried deep in his chest.
She’d killed him.
Tuesday, July 12, 10:32 a.m.
Jillian Ellington watched an elderly couple stroll along the sidewalk on the east side of the historic town square. Why their slow, steady pace mesmerized her so defied logic. At Pritchard’s Pharmacy, the man held the door and smiled as the woman entered the store ahead of him.
It was the same wherever she looked. Life went on as if nothing had changed. It felt wrong to her that the rest of the world hadn’t paused for more than a second or two to observe the tragic, life-shattering event that had turned hers upside down. Mothers walked hand-in-hand with their children on the sidewalks. Traffic continued to flow. Shoppers shopped. Unreasonably, she resented and, at the same time, envied their innocence to the horror that had invaded her existence.
This was a mistake
Disgusted, she powered up the windows and started the engine once more. Hot air blasted from the vents. It wasn’t even noon and already the temperature was a sweltering ninety degrees. She’d been sitting in her car, parked across the street from city hall, for more than an hour. Her frustration level had maxed out.
He was late
. The big deal investigator who was supposed to be exactly the advantage she needed to prove her twin sister hadn’t murdered her husband, and maybe her three-year-old son, was thirty-two minutes late. Jill closed her eyes and rode out the wave of dread and apprehension that threatened. Her sister was in a coma and her three-year-old nephew was missing. And the so-called miracle worker who was supposed to help was a no show.
God, she was tired. Most of last night was spent on the internet doing research on the guy. After what she’d discovered she shouldn’t be surprised that he hadn’t shown but this was what desperation did to the most rational human. She waited, clinging to an unraveling thread of hope that a stranger, a profoundly damaged one by all reports, would actually turn out to be the miracle she needed.
. First thing this morning she should have called Richard Lawton, her old friend and law professor, and told him to cancel this meeting. What had he been thinking recommending this guy? Admittedly, Richard had gotten her on the calendar with an excellent attorney. Cullen Marks was the best criminal attorney in the state. His Nashville firm had a reputation for always winning. A quick call from Richard and Marks was ready to accept her sister’s case. But, Richard had insisted Jill needed more than a topnotch attorney. She needed an investigator who would look beyond the official investigation.
Problem was the one he recommended seemed so far off what she had expected that she’d almost called Richard back in the middle of the night to demand an explanation. All that prevented her from picking up the phone and doing just that right now was the irrefutable fact that Richard had never steered her wrong. Not once.
Jill sagged against the headrest and let the cool air wash over her. Their relationship had started as one of diligent law professor and eager student, but had quickly developed into more. Regret trickled through her. No one had been to blame, not really. It simply happened. Her father had died and she’d needed someone to fill that void—one that had started expanding well before his death.
Though she’d left home practically before the ink dried on her high school diploma, Jill could still remember the look of stark disappointment on her father’s face. He hadn’t agreed with her decision and they had scarcely spoken after that. His death had hit her hard.
She forced herself to breathe. Blinked back the emotions that crowded in on her even now when she thought of her father.
The relationship with her mother was an entirely different story. She and Jill had never been close. That position had belonged to her sister, Kate. Another old, familiar ache swelled inside Jill.
“Jesus.” Why was she rehashing ancient history? Her nephew was missing. Her sister was in serious trouble on more than one level. And Jill wasn’t sure she could fix any of it.
As an attorney she was aware of the pitfalls of emotional involvement in a case, yet, with every fiber of her being she needed to do something. To be out there searching for her nephew. Her chest ached. To be at her sister’s bedside trying to reach her. Kate would never have harmed her child. The entire concept was utterly ridiculous.
The ache in her chest twisted deeper. How could Cody have simply vanished? Surely someone had seen or heard something.
The real question was why hadn’t
No matter how logically Jill considered the situation, it felt exactly as if it was her fault. She should have been here. Tears burned her eyes. Why hadn’t she come home two months ago when her sister called and practically begged her to visit? Jill had sensed Kate’s urgency even then. But she’d been too busy with work to worry about her sister, the stay at home mother and wife. The perfect daughter.
Jill had opted not to worry. Kate had their mother, who hovered over her like a secret service team monitoring the president. What did she need with Jill? In her defense, the caseload just kept getting in the way in spite of her best intentions. On the rare occasions when she managed time for a visit to Paradise all those old feelings of inadequacy and failure resurrected. She never measured up. Felt unwanted, like an outsider.
So she avoided coming more often than not.
A decades old hurt tightened around her chest, making it hard to breathe. As children, she and her sister had been inseparable. The Appalachian Mountains that bordered their little town held a kind of magic about them. A mystique that went beyond the clouds that hugged their craggy peaks and the greenery that draped their sloping shoulders. She and Kate had played like little faeries, flitting from one secret place in the woods and meadows to another. Jill had gone over every one of those secret places with the chief of police. There was no sign of her nephew at any of those locations.
How could one little boy be so hard to find in such a small town—a place where everyone knew everyone else?
Each hour that Cody remained missing lessened the likelihood of his being found unharmed. Along with most of Paradise’s police force, three teams of local citizens were out looking for him. An Amber Alert had been issued. Cody’s picture had run on the area news channels along with a plea for help in finding him. The chief had assured her there was nothing else to be done—except pray and she’d done plenty of that.
An older model Land Rover that had once been white parked at the curb behind Jill’s Lexus. She drew her thoughts away from the hurt and focused on her rear-view mirror. It was
. About damned time. According to Richard, Dr. Paul Phillips could be the answer to her prayers. As much as she wanted to believe her old friend was right, she’d read too much last night to be encouraged.
Richard hadn’t exaggerated Phillips’ reputation, at least not from the early years of his career as a forensic psychologist with the FBI. His list of solved cases from a decade ago was incredible. Countless families and their hometown law enforcement spokespersons had chalked solving the unsolvable up to Dr. Paul Phillips, the man with the sixth sense. Some had called him a phenomenon. He, apparently, could see and feel beyond the obvious. Richard had called him special and gifted.
That was where the good news ended. Around five years ago, at the very height of his rise into celebrity status, he’d had some sort of breakdown and fallen off the radar, only to resurface as a sort of psychic advisor for hire in Memphis. He took few cases, charged exuberant prices and failed a whopping forty percent of the time. Hit after hit about his being inebriated at a reading or failing to show had infuriated her. Her fingers tightened on the steering wheel. How could Richard do this to her when she needed his help the most?
Jill watched in her side mirror as Phillips emerged from the SUV.
Deep, deep breath
. Out of respect for her friend, she would give Phillips an hour. Whatever Richard had paid him to come here, she would gladly reimburse.
Phillips stopped at her door. Asking for ID wasn’t necessary. Richard had given her the make of his vehicle and pictures of him had been splattered all over the web. This was definitely the man…the
, as some had called him.
Dismissing all else, Jill powered down her window and met his hooded gaze. “I’m Jillian Ellington. Why don’t you join me, Dr. Phillips, and we’ll talk?” She hit the unlock button.
He gave her a negligible nod before starting around the hood. Her heart sank. Even her low expectations had been a little high. The doctor wore jeans that had seen better days and a wrinkled shirt along with a sports jacket likely leftover from his heyday. He hadn’t shaved in a couple of days and though he’d barely made eye contact, Jill had seen enough hung-over witnesses to know a man suffering from long term alcohol abuse.
. This was such a mistake and yet it was the only option she had at the moment.
He dropped into the passenger seat. When he’d closed the door, he stared forward rather than looking at her as if anticipating a lecture for some wrongdoing.
Oh yeah. He was just sober enough this morning to feel guilty for being late or maybe for existing. Great.
Just get this done.
“I appreciate your coming all this way.” Since he hadn’t bothered so much as a glance at her, she settled her attention on the row of shops that lined the street opposite city hall. Phillips would certainly demand his full fee whether he was here five minutes or all day. There was no reason for her to regret the four-hour drive from Memphis he’d made at what he no doubt considered an ungodly hour. “I apologize for meeting like this but things are...” What was the proper term for a place that was ones childhood home but where one felt like an uninvited stranger? “Things are tense at my mother’s.”
His words rumbled through her, made her suddenly uneasy sitting here alone with him in the close confines of the car. Or maybe it was the idea that he seemed unable to muster enough wherewithal to summon a professional response.
As if sensing her dismay, he tacked on, “Your
explained the situation when he called.”
There was no mistaking the hint of sarcasm and accusation in his tone. Irritation inched its way up her spine.
“Dr. Lawton is a good friend.” She turned and stared at his profile. “I have a great deal of respect for his opinion.” The Lawton name was a powerful one in the field of law. Just now
needed to bear that in mind.