A tiny part of me believed him, because I could hear it in his voice. “What did you think when they found me?”
Lowering his gaze, he didn’t answer.
My body shook as another sob rolled its way through me. “What would you’ve done if I’d remembered then?” I gasped, trying to shake his hands off. “What are you going to do?”
“I hoped you wouldn’t remember, but then you started poking around, writing those notes, trying to figure out what happened.” He looked so disappointed, as if I’d failed him somehow. “The day you went to the cliff, I followed you.”
Competing levels of horror and fury battled inside me. My hands formed tight fists. “I thought I was crazy! And you just let me believe that.”
“I couldn’t tell you the truth. You have to understand that.” Dad shook his head. “I wasn’t in the car, baby. You had a panic attack or something, but I found the note and I did call the accident in.”
Like that made it better, redeemed him somehow. He’d accidentally killed Cassie and then left me to die…all so he could keep up his pathetic lifestyle.
He cupped my cheek, and revulsion twisted my insides. “You’re my baby girl, my princess.”
Cassie had been his baby girl, too, and that had meant nothing to him. Movement flickered behind him. Over his shoulder, I caught a glimpse of the door inching open. A long, thin shadow spread across the floor. My breath caught as a denim-clad leg appeared, and then long, tanned fingers gripped the door.
I focused on my father, swallowing hard. “Why did you give her the same music box if you didn’t want her to know?”
Caught off guard by the question, he blinked. “It was so long ago when I gave it to Cate.” A faint smile parted his lips. “I had the boxes made in Philly. They’re unique. It was a stupid, sentimental thing to do.” He laughed then, the sound broken and harsh. “How was I to know that you two would be friends one day? Cate left town. I never thought she’d be back. Those boxes…”
Moving silently behind us, Carson squeezed in between the door and my wall. His eyes were fixed on us, and I had no idea what he was planning. I wanted him to run because I knew my dad owned pistols. He could have one on him now.
If Carson got hurt in all this…
“I’m so sorry.” Dad’s hand moved from my cheek to my neck. “I never meant for any of this to happen.”
Another shudder rocked me. “Please, don’t—”
Carson stepped on a piece of glass. The crunch sounded like a shotgun blast. Dad whipped around, and everything happened so fast. I jumped up as Carson rushed forward, as if he was going to tackle my father, but Dad—he moved so quickly. Like lightning, really. He swiped something off the floor and met Carson.
There was a pain-filled yelp, and Carson staggered back. Blood spurted from his left shoulder as he hit the wall. A scream rose in my throat, spilling over. Dad yanked the piece of glass out of Carson and reared his arm back.
I didn’t even think.
Rushing forward, I grabbed the heavy base of the broken music box, and with another scream that rose from a deep place within me, I brought it down on the back of my father’s head.
The bloodied piece of glass fell from my father’s hand as his legs buckled out from underneath him. He folded like a paper sack.
I stepped back, clutching the music box. “Dad?” I whispered.
He didn’t move.
Had I…killed him? I edged around his body, reaching Carson. “Are you okay?”
Face pale and contorted, he nodded as he pressed his hand against the wound. “It’s not deep. Thought…I was going to rescue you.” He gave a dry, shocked laugh. “Holy crap, Sam, holy crap…”
I dropped the box on the floor and placed my hand over his. Blood seeped through his fingers, causing my stomach to roll. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“Stop.” He grasped my other hand as he pushed off the wall, pulling me toward the door. “None of this is your fault. We need to call the police, but let’s…get out of here first.”
Together, we rushed from the room and down the hall. My eyes were fastened to him the whole way. The wound didn’t seem too bad, but the blood kept making its way down his gray shirt. Dad had been aiming for his throat, but Carson’s reflexes had saved him. And he’d most likely saved me by showing up. I’d gladly spend the rest of my life thanking him.
At some point my brain had clicked off, and instinct had taken over. Get out. Call the police. Get Carson help. It was all I could focus on. He leaned into me, letting go to pull a phone out of his pocket.
We reached the door downstairs, my heart pounding as my fingers circled the cold doorknob.
We whirled around. Dad was coming down the stairs, and there was that pistol—in his hand and pointed right at us. Carson pushed me back against the door, shielding my body with his.
“No!” I screamed, struggling to knock Carson out of the way. “Dad, don’t do this!”
He came across the foyer, his arm shaking. “None of this was supposed to happen! You have to believe me, princess. I never intended for Cassie to die. For you—”
The gun went off, and I screamed, wrapping my arms around Carson’s waist. I expected him to slump down, to fall, and the terror of losing him was so real I could taste it on my tongue.
But he never fell. He only turned slightly, trying to force me away, and I didn’t understand why. Confusion poured through me as I managed to move to the side.
Dad lay on the floor, facedown. A red spot on the center of his back quickly spread. Lifting my head, I saw my mother standing behind him, holding one of his hunting rifles.
I sat on the front porch steps for the longest time, numb after answering so many questions. I’d learned that Mom had come home from the meeting and gone for the gun when she heard me scream upstairs. I don’t know what had been going through her head when she saw Dad pointing the gun at Carson and me, only that she’d reacted. She had immediately protected me. No questions asked. No hesitation.
People came and went, trying to talk to me, checking me over. The lights kept flashing. Blue. Red. Blue. So many voices crowded me. Activity was everywhere, even after they’d rushed Dad off to the hospital.
He had still been alive then, but now, I didn’t know.
Pulling my knees up to my chest, I tried to make myself as small as possible. The police still had Mom separated from me. Carson had disappeared in a swarm of EMTs and police. Had they taken him to the hospital? Was he okay?