The others had seen her. The victims. Even when they were dead, they’d still seen her. Admonished her. Pleaded with her. Blamed her.
She forced a shaky breath. She wasn’t a kid anymore, and they were all dead. There was nothing they could do to her now, nothing here she couldn’t handle. Probably nothing she hadn’t seen before.
Alejandro’s mower roared louder as he drove toward the fence on her side of the house, then after a rumble that vibrated the ground beneath her feet, he made a tight turn and headed back. He wouldn’t hear her if she called. No one ever had. Not even when she screamed.
Nausea rising inside her, Mila forced herself to take a step, another, another, angling off to the left side, the side closest to the gate in case she needed to make a sudden exit. Each step brought the person in the chair into better view, until she could see his feet, his bare legs, the khaki of his shorts. A man, yes. Maybe Mr. Carlyle, maybe not.
Definitely a dead man. The gaping wound that stretched across his throat from one ear to the other left no doubt about that. Neither did the terror in his open eyes. Terror that she’d seen before, on the victims, on her grandmother, on herself.
Dear God, not again.
* * *
Ninety percent of the city of Cedar Creek fell within the rectangular boundaries plotted by its founders over 125 years ago, making it a neat little box that was easy to navigate. Sam Douglas had been born and raised in those twenty-five square miles, gone off for a stint in the army, then come back to work for the Cedar Creek Police Department. He knew every block like the back of his hand, except for the neighborhood he was turning into.
It was a forty-acre section of high-dollar houses on big lots that overlooked the town while security guards and tall iron fences kept out the common folk. The area had fallen under county jurisdiction until five years ago, when the city council got wind that it was being acquired by some luxury developer. The council had moved fast, extending town limits to incorporate the former ranch and getting a nice increase in tax dollars from it. Even though incorporation meant police and fire protection, this was the first call Sam could remember requesting police presence within the hallowed compound.
“Hawk’s Aerie.” Cullen Simpson, the department’s newest hire, snorted. “Who comes up with these names?”
“People who make more money than you and me, bud.”
Simpson snorted again. “I’d rather have a nice little house in Texas than a big fancy one looking down on Cedar Creek. They could’ve at least built in Tulsa, where there’s more to do.”
“Easier to be a big fish in a little pond.”
“Never mind.” Sam showed his credentials to the guard at the gate, then drove slowly down the street. Simpson was from a wide spot in the road in north Texas, so he should have understood the fish comment. Maybe he was just too damn young. The more time Sam spent on this job, the older he felt. He was pretty sure he was going to feel ancient tonight.
There was only one street in the development, splitting five hundred feet in to form a loop with four houses in the middle and six on the outside. The middle houses were just as large as the outer ones, but the lots were smaller, only two or three acres. Even on the lofty premises of Hawk’s Aerie, there was best, and then there was best of the best.
“That must be it there.” Simpson pointed ahead, where two police cars, a fire engine and an ambulance were parked. There was also a decrepit pickup truck towing a trailer and bearing a sign saying Happy Grass Lawn Service on its side.
The only happy grass Sam had ever come across was the weed he’d smoked back in his younger days. Who did come up with these names?
He pulled his pickup to the curb, shut off the engine and climbed out as he looked at the lawn service crew idling by their truck: three men gathered together, one woman a dozen feet away. Two of the men were smoking, but none of them were talking. The woman leaned against the faded fender, her feet spread wide, her spine rounded so she stared at the ground. Though there were plenty of people around, she looked alone, with no one to stand with, no one to lean on.
His gut said she was the one who’d found the body, stirring his sympathies. He’d spent two years in combat in Iraq, where he’d seen things no one should ever see, but he still got a jolt at crime scenes. How could someone who probably had zero experience with violence handle getting a view up close and personal?