Ben’s nod was quick, making her heart sink.
She was six feet down the hall when he spoke. “It’ll be all right.”
She smiled tightly but didn’t speak until she was inside her room, the door closed at her back. “I wish I could believe you,” she whispered.
* * *
Sam closed the book and set it on his desk, but he was half-afraid to shut his eyes, even though exhaustion dragged at him. He would have found the story unsettling under the best of circumstances, but this…
How did someone do those things to another human being? To a child? How did they lose the capacity to recognize right from wrong? Mila’s parents had had so many chances along the way, but at every turn they chose the bad thing, the mean thing, the unforgivable thing. Even now, after the miracle recovery she’d been through, Lindy’s only apparent goal was to punish her daughter for Joshua’s death. She was a sick individual who shouldn’t be walking around free.
But they had to find her before they could lock her up.
The numbers on the wall clock showed it was only midnight, but his body felt as if he’d been battered in combat for thirty hours straight. He needed to go home. To get some sleep. Or run ten or twenty miles to exhaust his anger. He needed to scrub away every image conjured by the book—every insult, every hurt, every slap, every moment of terror those monsters had put Mila through.
He needed to see her, touch her, tell her how incredibly proud he was of her, of her strength and resilience and courage. To apologize for the shock and impotence that had kept him at a distance today, until his brain had processed some of the outrage, heartache, the helplessness.
He left his office, calling goodbye, and walked out into the hot, still night. His truck sat under a streetlamp in its usual spot, but he walked past it. He continued west until he came to the intersection where a right turn would take him to Mila, a left would take him home. He could see her bedroom from there, looking mostly dark until his eyes adjusted and caught the faint glow of the night-light. It was a wonder she could bear the dark at all.
His heart hurting, he turned left. If she’d managed to find sleep tonight, he wouldn’t disturb it. He would send her a text to await her in the morning.
It was funny that he was only a block off Main Street but his neighborhood was as quiet as if it sat on the fringes of town. Lights burned at every house—porch lamps mostly, or a living room light softened by blinds. His house was dark inside, but a single green light shone next to the door. Green-light a vet. While he was out of the army, he still offered support where he could.
He pulled the keys from his pocket as he climbed the steps and was half an inch from inserting the house key in the lock when the glider at the far end of the porch creaked and a figure stood. For half an instant, he hoped it was Mila, needing to see him as much as he needed her, but the feel of his muscles going rigid, his hand automatically going to his gun, told him it wasn’t.
Sam had never heard the harsh, raspy voice before, but his gut identified it. His first thought was Thank God she’s here and not after Mila. Then he turned to face the stout figure. In the glow of the light, it was hard to determine gender. So much damage to the body, the voice, the mind…though the mind had been damaged beyond repair long before the rest of her.
What wasn’t hard to determine was the nature of her weapon tonight. The nine-millimeter Ruger looked small and her grip was awkward, but the red dot of the Crimson Trace laser sight sat true right above his heart.
He lifted his hand away from his pistol. There was no way she would miss with the laser at this distance, no way he could draw and get off his own shot before she killed him. “Your mother, your daughter and I were all very sorry to find out you were still alive. We liked the world much better without you in it.”
She barked a laugh. “You’re one twitch away from certain death, and yet you still make insults. I’d want to kill you even if you weren’t her boyfriend.”
The odds of an officer passing on routine patrol, or a neighbor going out or coming home, were slim. Sam would give a lot for any kind of distraction that would give him a chance with her. He would settle for keeping her talking. “We know your real name, and Joshua’s. What was her real name? She doesn’t remember.”