Also in this series: SIN, SUSPECT, SURRENDER, STAY
by Ketley Allison
(Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads)Also by this author: SIN, SUSPECT, SURRENDER, STAY
Source: The Author
I received this book for free from The Author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Week 11 – Wednesday, November 13
I let my mind slip away after the phone call with Lou when she told me my arrest was imminent. No morals, no worries, no repercussions, just me. What I wanted, what I could take, was all that mattered. But in the afterglow, I had people to answer to.
Did I regret what happened with Nate? I didn’t know. He was magnetic in every sense of the word. I’d been pulled to him, seduced by him, painfully aware of him ever since we met. Even now, as I listened to the spray of the shower, imagining the droplets and streams skimming down his body, I wanted him.
I’d done it. I’d jumped into black waters the moment I called him and told him to come over and—and ravish me, but the bold in me, the feverish part of me that wantedeverything before it all crumbled down, didn’t care. Friends, lovers, choices, consequences—it all disappeared.
Until it rose to the surface again, where I now sat with a paper in my hands, a ridiculous list of things to do before cold metal wrapped around my wrists.
Talk to Lara.
Talk to Slade.
Find the FUCKING killer.
You’re going to be arrested tomorrow.
I had to tell Lara about everything. Then call Slade, who I hadn’t heard from since he walked out on me. Confess to both of them what I’d done with Nate, that I’d finally given in to what they’d believed all along, before informing them that I was the one most likely: the girl who killed Reagan.
And then I would tear into this city and find out everything I could before being locked up for someone else’s crime.
One of them did this. Lara, Nate, or Slade.
None of them did this. An unknown stranger stood just ahead of me, waiting for thetick-tick-tick-boom that tomorrow’s public announcement of my arrest would bring.
There was no more time. I had to decide Reagan’s fated end before they—Lara, Nate, Slade or the Unknown—decided mine.
Footsteps sounded down the hall and I folded my handwritten note before tucking it into the pocket of my robe.
“Hey, Snuffleupagus,” I said.
Nate grimaced as he stepped into the kitchen, one side of his mouth screwing up. “My secret’s out, isn’t it?”
I laughed, sliding off the stool to pour him a cup of afternoon coffee. He stood in the center of the kitchen in his suit, his cell probably already hot from all the phone calls he made before hopping into the shower and getting back to work. When I woke him up, he rolled onto his back, rubbing the sleep from his eyes with the heel of one hand and finger-combing the top of his head with the other.
He was the cutest tattooed, pierced, just-woke-up-from-naptime little boy I’d ever seen.
I’d distracted him from his duties, which he’d happily stated was a much-needed, always-welcome break, but it was time for us both to get back into our worlds. He got out of bed after making me promise I’d make a habit of staying in it with him.
As he stood in the kitchen, he was no longer tousled and easy. Nate was getting back to business, and the renewed lines on his face proved it.
Nate sighed and sat on the stool I’d just vacated. “Just call me Nate ‘Warthog’ Westcott.”
Smiling, I handed him a mug. “What is your middle name, anyway?”
His brows rose as he cupped it. “Interesting question. Does that mean you want to know more about me, Miss Miller?”
I leaned on the side of the island, enjoying the contact of his legs against mine. “I want to know everything about you. I want to commit it all to my memory.” I hoped he didn’t hear the trace of sadness in my voice.
“Wallace,” he said, setting down his mug so he could pull me into his lap.
I mouthed it to myself before I said it, so with any luck I wouldn’t laugh the moment it sounded from my lips. “Nathaniel Wallace Westcott,” I said, dipping in for a kiss. “I like it. Very sophisticated.”
“Shut up.” He smiled, bopping my nose with his finger. He didn’t ask me for my middle name because he already knew it. It was on all the investigative papers. “Take that information to your grave.”
“Hmm,” I said, resting my nose against his. “Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. It could be a useful weapon in the future, Wally.”
His hand shot to my waist and tickled another screech out of me. “All right, all right! Uncle! Mercy! Whatever!”
“I want you naked,” he said, suddenly serious. His eyes turned a shade deeper when he registered my reaction to his words. He nipped at my lower lip. “But first I want to know why you were so upset when you called me this morning.”
He felt me stiffen and he pulled back, searching my face. “Hey,” he said, stroking my arm. “What’s going on?”
“I, um…” I forced myself to stay where I was instead of walking away, though I felt a vital need to start sprinting. “Lou called.”
One arm went around my waist. “What’d she say?”
I just had to say it quick.
“They’re going to arrest me.”
He was silent for a minute. My teeth cut into my lips as I waited for his response, any response.
“On what basis do you know that?” he asked at last, deathly quiet.
I couldn’t look at him. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to remain composed anymore. I’d lose all my strength and fall so deep into madness I’d never find my way out.
I whispered toward the floor, “A litany of circumstantial evidence, everything we’ve talked about. Lou wants me to turn myself in as soon as the warrant is issued.”
His body went hard underneath mine, his hand going to my cheek and forcing my face to his.
“Say it to me, Charlie,” he said. “Not to the ground or the windows or to the air. Say it tome.” His thumb rested on the corner of my lower lip. He felt every tremor.
“I didn’t kill her. They’ll arrest me, parade me in front of the public, but I will never lie. Not to you.”
His brows folded in and his cheeks lifted up, transforming his face into anguished misery.
“They’ve got the wrong person. Please believe me,” I said.
“You’re not doing it.”
At first I didn’t hear him. “What?”
He maneuvered me off him so he could stand. “I said you’re not doing it.”
“I have to turn myself in.”
“I have to.”
“Where else am I going to go? Run? Go on the lam? I have no choice.”
“The warrant might not go through,” he said, his words desperate. “Damn it, how did I not know this? Lou could be wrong. It’s false information. It’s gotta be.”
“She’s been opposing counsel to you before; you know how she works. She’s never wrong.”
“I’m going to stop this. I’m going to rip that paper to shreds. You’re signing yourself up for endless hours just breathing, counting the minutes until you can close your eyes and get the revolving nightmare of your day to stop only to wake up and go through it again. You can’t give up everything you are when you didn’t do this. And whoever did—whoever goddamned did—is free. A flawless execution they can walk away from. No one will be looking for them anymore. They’re so wrong. The cops are so fuckingwrong!”
“No. No. This isn’t right.”
“You have to keep searching,” I said. “Whatever happens to me, don’t stop.”
He reared away from me, turning, looking at me, and twisting away again.
“I need you,” he said, imploring. “I need you with me in order to do this.”
“You have me,” I said, reaching for him.
He met me halfway. “I’m going to put a stop to it. I’ll save you.”
“You can’t,” I said, clutching him. “Don’t lose your focus. I’m all right. I can survive whatever they do to me. Okay? But if I know you’re giving all your attention to me, I won’t be able to take it. You’ve got to remember what’s important, and that’s the true killer. That’s what will save me.”
“Think about this,” he said, grabbing my hands and pulling them to his chest, shaking them. “You’re innocent. Instead of fighting for it, you’re going to fall into the system.” His face contorted, his eyes shining. “You’re giving up. I told you, I told you, not to give up!”
“I’m not! I can’t run from this. The idea of a trial…it shakes me. But that’s where it’s going. You can’t pretend it’s not, and we’ve got to prepare—”
“No, you don’t because you’re innocent!” His yell matched mine. “You don’t have to take this, sit through it, listen to it all, because it’s lies! It’s convenient for the cops,” he cried. “You’re not going to jail! That’s ludicrous! That’s fucking crazy!”
“Nate,” I said, my voice quieting. I stepped toward him, his chest heaving with his breaths. “You know as much as I do what the outcome of a trial will be.”
“No, I don’t,” he said through his teeth. “Because it won’t fucking happen.”
“Listen to me!” I said. “Everything is stacked against me. I have nothing but my word, and I can’t even rely on that because my actions are so much worse. How’s that going to look, huh? Me on the stand, all the gaping holes in my story exposed. Charlie says there are texts? There are, but look at her responses, which are just as sadistic. Sure, it’s from a disposable phone, but she’s in law school. She’s smart enough to attempt to cover her tracks for this pre-meditated murder. She says they fought? Well, the victim had just told her she was having an affair with her boyfriend and was pregnant. Charlie Miller was a woman scorned. She says she didn’t go to Reagan’s home and set a fire? Hang on—this one’s a doozy. Let’s bring in her friend of thirteen years to say she saw her holding a knife and pointing it at the victim a mere few hours earlier! I am so, so ruined, Nate! Can’t you see that? I’m petrified.” I held on to his arm, shaking him. “Now more than ever, I have to discover the truth. And if I can’t do it, if I’m not out there, then you must.”
“Why would I let you rot away in there?” he yelled so loud I stumbled back. “The evidence is incidental as shit. I’m getting you out. Charlie.” In three steps, he closed the distance between us, tangling his hands in my hair. His arms folded around me, his soapy scent floating over me. My insides collapsed, longing and despair drying them up into powder.
“I can’t forget you,” he said.
“You don’t think I did it,” I said against his collar, turning his white shirt transparent with my tears. “That’s enough. It’ll always be enough.”
“Always,” he said, his voice starting to tear. “But you believed in me, too. You didn’t just sit back and listen to me spout my shit; you searched. You haven’t stopped looking, questioning your best friend, or analyzing the motivations of your boyfriend, even though it’s for a girl who tried to ruin your life. I know it could be because you were the one the police were interested in and you had no choice—that’s what I did think when this all went down, but then…you changed my mind. You changed me. It’s not just because you want to save your own skin. You’re doing it because you cared about Reagan, despite what she did to you. You know she didn’t deserve to die.” He pushed away, meeting my eyes. “I’m not going to step back, either, and I’m not going to leave you. I found my soul in you, Charlie.”
I lifted up and buried my face in his neck, inhaling as much as I could so I wouldn’t cry out.
“I won’t give up. I promise,” I said, my mouth moving across his skin.
He spanned the back of my head and laid his lips near my ear. “I love you. I love you so goddamned much.”