She heard the weeping, but couldn’t see where it came from. The scent of stale dirt and defecation stung her nose, making her gag. The darkness surrounded her like a heavy cloak, preventing her from seeing anything. Relying on her touch alone, Sam moved in the darkness. Something bulged from her pocket. Confused; she reached a hand inside and felt the cool metal. Slipping it out, she saw it was a lighter and flicking it on, she gasped.
Stumbling back, she hit a wall, her eyes wide at Alexis, the little girl she saw in her dreams. The flesh left on the tiny figure had decayed grotesquely. Before she had time to adjust to what she saw, scenes flashed before her.
Alexis lay weeping, her clothes soiled from the dirt she sat on, damp from the urine she’d secreted in her fright. Blood coated her face, bruises beginning to form around her left eye, her bottom lip swollen.
“I’ll get you out of here,” Sam spoke in a whisper then jerked when the heat from the lighter singed her hand. “Damn it!”
Fumbling with the lighter, Sam touched it and realized it was still too hot to use. Behind her she heard a creek, then light spilled into the dark room as a door opened up. She turned to see who it was, but the sunlight shot into her eyes, preventing her from seeing.
The door closed, the light was gone and darkness surrounded her once more.
“It’s time, little girl,” the male voice echoed.
“No, please don’t hurt me anymore,” Alexis pleaded.
“Stop it, leave her alone,” Sam cried out, waving the lighter in her hand to cool it down. She had to see who it was.
“It will only hurt for a bit, and then it will all be over.”
Sam heard the crunch of dirt as the man moved closer. “No, stop, leave her alone,” she cried out again. The lighter slipped from her hands and frantically, she scrambled in the dirt to find it.
“I want to go home,” Alexis sobbed.
“I can’t let you go. They’ll figure out what I’ve done and come after me.”
“I won’t tell,” she cried harder.
He laughed and Sam felt it slide into her like cold steel. “Yes, you will.”
“No!” Sam screamed as the sound of flesh being cut echoed in the darkness. Ignoring the heat, Sam flicked the lighter on. Before her was Alexis, tucked in the corner against a cement wall, her throat hanging open and blood spilling from the wound. When her tiny hand moved, Sam jumped back.
In the dirt, Alexis wrote in blood. D.B.
Sam shot awake and her stomach rolled. She swallowed it down. “Oh god, no!” Pulling her legs to her chest, Sam wept. She’d been there, she’d seen and she’d heard the last remnants of life being taken away and she hadn’t been able to do a damn thing to stop it.
Cursing her ability, she cradled herself and wept.
She was still there an hour later when the doorbell rang. Ignoring it, Sam closed her eyes and let the tears fall. The jingle of keys had her eyes opening.
“Sam?” her father called out.
“In here,” she managed through a shaky voice. It wasn’t unusual to have any one of her family just walk in. Her home was their home and they all had each other’s keys.
“Still in bed, lazy bones? Were you out partying it up all night?” He stopped short when he entered her bedroom. “What's wrong?”
“Oh, Dad. I hate it, make it stop,” Sam sobbed and eagerly went into her father’s arms when he came to her.
“I’m sorry, sweetie. I wish I could.” He stroked her hair gently. “Tell me what happened?”
She sniffled, lifting her hand she reached out for the tissues beside her bed. “He hurt her. Oh God, he touched her and took away her innocence. Then he killed her because he didn’t want anyone to find out. I couldn’t stop him.”
“It’s okay, sweetie, sshh now.” He stroked her face with gentle hands. “You were there?”
She nodded, blew her nose in the tissue. “She took me there, but I couldn’t do anything. I was there while he slit her throat.”
“Did you see who did it?”
“No, it was too dark.”
“Tell me about her.” He wiped the hair from her face.
She blew her nose one more time. “Her name is Alexis Donaldson and she was six. She was sexually battered and killed by some sick bastard who has no regard for the innocent. God, I heard him slice her throat.” It was a sound she would never forget.
He rubbed a hand along her arm. “I’m so sorry, sweetie. Is this the one you came to me about?”
Sam nodded, wiping her eyes on a fresh tissue. “I only just found out her name by searching through old newspaper archives. She went missing in February.”
“Any clues as to who might have taken her?”
She frowned then it hit her. “Yes! D.B. Before I woke up, she wrote D.B. in the dirt.
“Any idea who he is?”
“None. I don’t know what to do, Dad.”
“All I can tell you, Sammy, is to keep researching, look for clues, talk with people.” He lifted her chin, angled his head in sympathy. “I wish I could do more.”
“I love you for that alone.” She didn’t know what she would do without him.
“I never wanted this for any of my children. Your mother and I discussed it for a long time, weighing the pros and cons as to whether we should have children or simply adopt.” He ran a hand through his hair. “But we wanted our own, so we took the chance. You paid the price.”
“It might have been easier if you had been a male.”
“Excuse me, what did you just say?”
“How about I make you my special breakfast? It’s been a while,” he said quickly, lifting from the bed.
“Whoa there, buckaroo. You’re not going anywhere.” She jumped out of bed and blocked the doorway before he could leave. “What did you mean by that?”
“It’s okay, sweetie. Just relax.” He patted her cheek then tried to scoot around her.
“You are not going anywhere after such a sexist statement. I’m not some weak minded woman, you know. I can deal with this just as well as any man could. Even better.”
“I know that, and now you know it too.” He tapped his finger to her nose, grinned.
He was the sneakiest person she’d ever known, and it pissed her off. God love him. “That was dirty.”
“You were on the verge of giving up, or saying you couldn’t handle it anymore. I couldn’t let you humiliate yourself like that.”
The smirk slipped out despite her control. “You are a nasty man.”
“And you love me.” He kissed her nose.
She narrowed her eyes. “Did you get the patch?”
“Get dressed. I’ll get started on the waffles and while we enjoy my masterpiece, you can fill me in on how one of your art pieces ended up being displayed at the Montgomery Bookstore.”
“How did you—Colleen,” she sighed. “You didn’t answer my question, Dad?”
“Yep. Now hurry up. I’m starved.”
C.J. was busy making waffles when he felt the familiar prickle at the back of his neck. Without missing a beat, he spoke. “How is she holding up, really?”
Trent moved in beside C.J. “She has her moments, but she’s tough. Didn’t even bat an eye when she took care of that gentleman the other night.”
Now C.J. did pause, angling his head to look at Trent. “Care to expand on that? What gentleman?”
“Ethan, somebody.” He waved it off with a pudgy hand. “Tall, lean, dressed like someone who owns everything. He gave her a check for that statue, you know, the one I love so much.”
“The Mother?” When Trent nodded, C.J. continued. “What did you mean when you said she took care of him?”
“Good morning, Trent. You’re not gossiping about me are you?” Sam warned, waging her finger at him.
“Me? Never.” He sent a warm smile Sam’s way. “I’ll have a huge stack of those waffles, C.J.”
Laughing, C.J. filled his daughters’ plate. “I bet you would.” He topped it off with whipped cream and strawberries.
“Being dead sucks.” Trent pouted, his heavy frame sinking into one of Sam’s kitchen chairs.
“You know, I believe I’ve heard that before.” C.J. turned to his daughter. “So, let’s start with how one of your pieces ended up at the Montgomery Bookstore.”
“I sold it to the owner.” She dug into the waffles, sighing. “As always, these are the best, Dad.”
“Thanks. How exactly did that come about? You selling it to the owner of the bookstore?” He plugged on, watching his daughter eat and her ghostly roommate drool beside her.
“It just did.” She stood to pour herself some coffee.
“You’re evading, Sammy. That tells me you’re trying to hide something.”
“You know, that’s the reason us kids preferred talking to mom instead of you. With you it was always an interrogation.”
He let it slide. It hadn't been meant to be hurtful and they both knew it. “That’s what fathers are for. Besides, your sister never has a problem talking to me.”
She licked whipped cream from her lips. “That’s because she doesn’t have a life and always has her nose in a book. Now, if she were to get laid once and a while—”
“Sam, please.” He held his hand up, stopping her. There were some things a father didn’t want to discuss with his girls. “You haven’t answered my question, Sammy girl.”
“I am well aware of that, Daddy,” she said with sarcasm. When he crossed his arms over his chest and stared her down, she caved. “Fine, I went out to dinner with him.”
“With Ethan Montgomery?”
“Yes. Anyway, he inquired about my work so I brought him back here after we ate and showed him the Mother and—Oh god!” Her eyes went wide, her mouth gaping. “Alfonzo Demarra made a bid on it. Fifty thousand dollars, Dad! Can you imagine that, fifty?” she said again, full of excitement.
He enjoyed her excitement and patted her hand. “Well, you are good.” And he wasn’t just saying that because he was her father and obligated to tell her that. He really thought his daughter was talented.
“That’s what Ethan said too.” She stuffed more waffles in her mouth.
C.J. lifted an eyebrow. “On a first name basis, now?”
“I’m just curious how it is that you would attend dinner with a married man and be on a first name basis with the guy.”
“He’s getting a divorce.” When he didn’t waver, she gave in. “No, I did not sleep with him. Jesus, have a little faith in me.”
“I do. I’m proud of you, Samantha.” He beamed with a father’s pride.
Her brow lifted. “For what, not sleeping with him?”
“No! Well, yes, but that’s best not discussed. I’m proud of you for having one of your pieces showcased.”
She smiled up at him, her own pride filling her face. “I’m pretty excited by it—oh crap, what time is it?”
C.J. looked at his watch. “After ten.”
“Oh man, I need to get going.” She pushed from the table, taking her dish to the sink.
“What's the rush? I was hoping on a daddy daughter day. You, me and Colleen, out shopping, eating, spending some quality time together.”
“Oh, I wish I could, but I have an appointment at one.” She raced into her room, C.J. followed. “What should I wear?”
C.J. ducked just in time as the red dress flew past his head to land on her bed. “An appointment? With who?”
She tossed a shirt in pale blue over her shoulder. “Olivia Langston. She owns a gallery on fifth. She wants to discuss my work and the possibility of displaying it in her gallery. I’m really sorry, Dad. Rain-check on the daddy daughters’ day?” Kissing his cheek, she darted off to the shower.
“Sure.” He heard the water engage. “I have all the time in the world now.” Sulking, he showed himself out. He hated that his doctor had put him on such a strict regimen of no work and only relaxation. He was getting damn tired of sitting around doing nothing,
Oh well, one daughter was busy, he would try the next and if she was busy, there was his son. He wondered if Andrew was done sulking yet that he’d refused to lend him more money.
When was the boy going to learn to save his pennies?