Chapter 1



Lucas held Rachel close to his chest as Sheriff Hinley walked into what used to be Ruth’s room. His flashlight beam skated across the floor, reflecting off the dark bloodstain.

“The nightmare continues,” he said, seeing what Rachel had seen.

When she closed her eyes, she could still see Rebecca lying on the rug in a puddle of her blood.

“We came in to check on them,” said Lucas.

“She was supposed to be staying with her mother in the next room. She must have gotten up because she heard something,” said Rachel. “They were probably already in the room. Or she heard them coming in.”

“What’s happening?” asked Mattie from the hallway.

“We’re standing in the middle of a crime scene,” said Sheriff Hinley. “Again. Let’s carefully step out and see if we can’t get the lights restored.”

“I’ll go down and check the electric box,” said Lucas. “It’s possible it was shut off there.”

Sheriff Hinley stopped him. “I was just down there. There are some footprints that I marked. Do not get near the marker, but see if you can get the power turned on. I would do it myself, but I don’t want to leave this room unattended.”

Lucas nodded and let go of Rachel at the door. “Don’t look,” he whispered to her. “Mattie, don’t let her go in there.”

Mattie hugged Rachel. “It’s just awful,” she said. “Having this happen again.”

Rachel held on to Mattie. She didn’t want to see Rebecca that way, but it wasn’t like she hadn’t seen all the blood and gore before. Being a nurse, she was able to put it into a different perspective, but when it was a person she knew, it was much different.

Rachel suddenly thought of Ava in the next room. “Her mother is sleeping next door. I gave her some pain medicine for a fall, so she probably slept through it. She’ll be devastated when she wakes up.”

She wasn’t sure Ava would survive losing her daughter. She was all the woman had left in the world, and now she was gone.

About that time, Liam and Eloise made their way up to the second floor. “What’s going on?” asked Liam. “Did you wake Aunt Ava?”

Eloise kept her distance from him. “Lucas just ran out back.”

“He’s trying to get the power on,” said Rachel, noticing the lights from outside provided a little bit of illumination inside once her eyes had adjusted. “It’s Rebecca. She’s dead.”

“What?” said Liam, stepping forward and looking like someone had just slapped him. “Dead?” Surprise was the only emotion he showed. There was no sadness whatsoever.

“Yeah,” she said. “She was fine when we left her with Ava. Someone must have gotten in somehow. They killed her.” She felt herself choking up, knowing how badly Ava would take it.

“How?” asked Liam, still showing no sadness for the loss of his cousin.

Sheriff Hinley walked out of the room. “We’ll know more when the lights come on, but this is a crime scene. I want you all to go downstairs and wait for me to come talk to you.”

“But what about Aunt Ava?” asked Liam, who didn’t look like he wanted to go back downstairs. “Is she alright?”

“She was fine when I checked on her,” said Rachel. “She’s still sleeping.”

“This will kill her,” he mumbled.

That would be convenient for Liam, who wanted the place all to himself.

“I’ll tell her,” Rachel said. “She might be sleeping a while.”

“I told you,” said Eloise. “I knew I saw something. If I hadn’t come back, you could all be dead.”

She really had done them all a big favor, and even though Rachel didn’t care much for the girl, she was glad she had returned, knowing all that had been going on. This was the fourth murder at the Fox Nettle estate, and they were no closer to identifying the killer.

“It’s true,” said Sheriff Hinley. “Whoever was in that car wasn’t playing around. They came here to clean house.”

“Why do they want to hurt us?” asked Mattie. “And who could it be?”

“How do they keep getting in?” Rachel asked. “We locked this house up, Mattie and I.”

“You’re the one with all the keys,” said Liam. “You wouldn’t have any trouble letting someone in.”

Rachel couldn’t believe her ears.

“That’s not fair,” said Mattie. “Anyone could unlock these doors and windows. We asked you all not to.”

“I didn’t,” said Liam. “Eloise kept going out on the balcony.”

“Are you trying to blame me?” she asked. “Just because I wanted a little fresh air? Besides, I locked it again. I didn’t want anyone getting in here. And don’t forget, Liam, I just saved your ass. I could have left you all here. God knows I’m not welcome.”

“No, you’re not,” he said.

“You are so ungrateful. I could have let you die.” Eloise raised her voice, getting the attention of Sheriff Hinley.

He walked back over and cleared his throat. But he didn’t get a chance to say anything.

“Don’t start, you two,” said Mattie. “I think we’ve got more to worry about than your garbage relationship.”

“I’m over it,” said Liam. “You won’t hear any arguing from me.”

“Me too.” Eloise folded her arms in front of her. “As soon as my statement is done, I’m leaving.”

“Good,” said Liam. “I think that’s for the best.”

“I’m happy to go,” she said, making a face at him.

“We all think it’s for the best,” said Rachel. “But thank you again for coming back. You didn’t have to. I appreciate it. Truly.” She didn’t want to think about what could have happened if she hadn’t seen that car.

It had to be the killer’s.

Eloise’s face fell. “I just wish I had seen him before he hurt Rebecca.”

“Please. You didn’t even like her,” said Liam with a huff.

Rachel noticed that the sheriff was quietly taking in every word those two said.

“I didn’t want her to die,” Eloise shouted, then lowered her tone. “And well, I guess I respected her in a way. She was tough. The world needs more women like her.”

The lights came back on.

“Thank goodness,” said Mattie.

Rachel breathed a sigh of relief.

Sheriff Hinley radioed other officers to the scene, including the coroner, as well as the crime scene unit. Rachel watched and listened as he approached Rebecca’s body.

“It looks like blunt force trauma to her head, but there’s also a stab wound in the back,” he said. “Okay, thanks.” He ended the call and took a deep breath that was shielded by his arm.

“How bad is it?” asked Liam, who, for some reason, felt the need to peek into the room. “Gah, what the fuck?”

His shoulders heaved and he covered his mouth, like he might puke.

“Don’t throw up on my crime scene,” Hinley said sternly.

Liam shook his head and raised his palms. “I’m good.”

“Is it that bad?” asked Eloise.

“You don’t want to see it,” he said.

Rachel knew the feeling. “Could you all keep it down? Her mother is sleeping next door.”

“She’ll wake up sometime,” said Liam.

Lucas arrived upstairs and walked over to Rachel. “They flipped the main breaker. I turned it back on. We should be good.”

“Oh good,” she said.

“You didn’t get near the marker, did you?” asked Sheriff Hinley.

Lucas gave him a reassuring look. “I saw it. I stayed clear.”

“Good man. Thanks for helping out. I called in the cavalry. You can all go and wait downstairs.” He looked right at Liam when he said it.

“Do you need me to do anything else?” asked Lucas, who was always willing to lend a hand just like his uncle.

“What about her mother?” asked Rachel. “I really should stay with her. If she wakes up, I don’t want her to see this.”

Sheriff Hinley nodded. “Okay. You stay up here with her. The rest of you, go on downstairs now. Give me some room. I’m going to need it.”

Liam walked down with Eloise in his shadow and Mattie behind her.

When Lucas walked away, Rachel turned to the sheriff. “There’s so much blood,” she said.

“Yeah. She bled out. She probably came through that door, and he hit her. It didn’t do the trick, so he stabbed her for good measure.”

Rachel closed her eyes and shook her head. How was she going to tell Ava? “I’ll be next door.”

“Wait,” he asked. “Can you do me a favor and look around and tell me if there is something missing?”

“Missing? Um, sure.” She knew the room by heart and everything in it. There was a lamp that Mr. Murphy said belonged to Beth’s grandmother on the side table, and on the dresser, there was the small music box that he bought for Beth on their second anniversary. It was spattered with blood, along with the rest of the dresser around it.

She knew exactly what was missing.

“It’s the geode,” she said. “There was a large cut geode that Mr. Murphy kept on the end by the door. He got it on a trip.” He had told Rachel about that trip many times and how much fun he had.

“Are you sure?” Sheriff Hinley met her eyes.

“Yes. It was heavy and would have done the job. They must have gotten it when they heard her get up. Do you think they took it with them?”

Sheriff Hinley shrugged. “We’ll look for it. I just wanted to know if anything stuck out to you. A potential murder weapon is always worth looking into.”

“I know it was here earlier. It’s dumb, but I look at it every time I come into this room.” Rachel shrugged. “It’s pretty.”

“Is there anything else missing?”

She looked around again but finally shook her head. “Only the geode.” Just thinking that the murderer could have used something she loved so much to kill Rebecca made Rachel’s stomach turn.

“Rebecca,” called Ava’s from the other room.

Rachel’s eyes widened. “I should get over there.”

She hurried out of the room and went to see Ava, who was sitting up in bed but still half out of it.

She smiled at Rachel but looked confused. “Could you get Rebecca, please? I think I need some help.”

“Um, Ava, I need you to take a deep breath and listen to me.”

Ava blinked some of the sleep out of her eyes and leveled a worried look at Rachel. “What’s going on? Is she mad at me?”

“No, no, nothing like that,” said Rachel, who was trying to find the right words to use. How do I tell a fragile old woman her daughter was brutally murdered in the room next door?

Ava grabbed her wrist in a surprisingly strong grip. “What is it? Have more cousins shown up? Is something wrong?”

“No new cousins, but yes, I’m afraid there is something wrong. Rebecca is gone,” she said.

Ava let go of Rachel’s wrist and leaned back in bed, relieved. “Oh, well, where did she go?”

“No, Ava. What I mean is, she’s dead.”

Ava cocked her head like she had misheard Rachel. “What was that? It sounded like you said she was dead.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “The sheriff is next door, and he’s called in forensics to go over the house.”

“Rebecca?” Ava screeched. “Rebecca, you come in here right now. This isn’t funny. You’re scaring me.”

“I’m so, so sorry, Ava, but it’s not a joke. The power went out. Someone got in. They were in Ruth’s room. We think Rebecca must have gone in to see what the noise was.”

“You’re wrong,” said Ava, struggling to untangle herself from the covers. “Why are you lying to me like this?”

Rachel sank inside. “I’m so sorry, honey. I’m not. I wish to everything it was a lie.”

Ava sprang up from the bed, forgetting about her hip until she tried to take a step toward the connecting door. “Oh,” she said, stopping to hold her side. “Rebecca?”

Rachel moved to stand in her way. “You don’t want to go in there,” she said. “You don’t want to see her that way.”

“I do. I want to see her. She’s my daughter, and if she’s hurt, I have to help her.”

Rachel gave her a sympathetic look. “She’s not hurting anymore.”

Tears streamed down Ava’s lined face, and it twisted with agony. “Rebecca, I’m coming!”

Sheriff Hinley filled the doorframe. “You don’t want to do that, ma’am,” he said. “Rachel, would you get her back in bed?”

Ava’s eyes widened at actually seeing the man was there. Panic set in. “Rebecca! Rebecca!”  

She screamed her name over and over as she collapsed in Rachel’s arms.

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