Page 25 of Secret Admirer

They’d gotten out to the cabin without attracting the attention of the reporters. Thanks to Zander. He’d provided the perfect distraction for their getaway. The reporters had been so eager to hear a new update now that the killer had been stopped. Sure, like Zander had said, there were still some loose ends, but as far as the Press was concerned, Alice knew they’d consider the case closed.

Over.

So why didn’t it feel that way to her?

“There he is,” the deputy added as Jonathan’s car turned onto the cabin’s long, winding drive. His headlights cut through the darkness. “You sure you want to see him?”

They were overdue for this talk. It was time to put this particular part of her past to rest. “Yes, I’m sure.” So she waited on the steps as Jonathan parked and exited his car. He hurried toward her, and the light from the porch spilled onto him.

So far, it had really been one hell of a night.

She rubbed the bruise on her chest, the one she’d gotten courtesy of Tiffany’s bullet. The bruise ached, but she’d take a bruise any day over what might have been.

When Jonathan approached the porch, she opened the cabin’s front door. “Come inside.” She had the feeling this would be the last time they talked for a while. He was part of her past, but Zander was going to be her future. Alice glanced at the deputy. “Are you sure you’re okay out here?” She hated to leave him just standing in the dark.

“Got orders, ma’am. I keep watch until Agent Todd arrives.”

“You can come inside—”

“No, thank you.” He gave her a quick smile. “Can’t watch the perimeter as well if I’m in there.”

“The danger is over,” Jonathan said, climbing the wooden steps. “Alice is safe now. You should be able to return to town.”

But Deputy Greg Ross shook his head. “Like I said, I’ve got my orders.” He gave Alice a quick smile. “I’ll be out here if you need me.”

“She’s safe now,” Jonathan spoke quickly. “There’s nothing to worry about.”

It almost sounded as if he were trying to reassure himself of that fact.

A few moments later, she and Jonathan were in the den, near the fireplace. The deputy had taken up his position outside. Alice didn’t sit on the couch. She stood, with her arms wrapped around her stomach, and faced the man who would have been her brother-in-law. If things hadn’t gone so horribly wrong.

Jonathan waited a small distance away from her. A dark line of stubble covered his jaw. His shoulders slumped as he stared at Alice, and then he cut right to the chase. “I’ve gone over things in my head a million times. Hugh and I grew up in the same house. Lived almost the same life. But how could one of us end up normal, one never breaking a law, following every rule, and the other…” He swallowed. “How did the other end up so different?”

Alice didn’t speak. She understood that he needed to get this off his chest.

“Our father—he was such an asshole. Nothing was ever good enough. Nothing could please him. Demand, demand, demand—that’s all he ever did. I tried to protect Hugh from him. I swear, I did. But I guess I didn’t try hard enough.”

“Hugh…he didn’t remember his dad.” Because he’d died when Hugh was just a little kid.

“That’s what he said, huh?” Jonathan exhaled. “I remember him too well. When the bastard passed, our mom tried to make things right. She gave us everything. Everything. Until the day she died.” His head tipped forward. “So how did it happen? How did one brother become so fucked up?” His hands fisted at his sides. “That poor dead woman. What was her name? Tiffany something? She was deluded, wasn’t she? Thinking she was going to kill you.”

Alice remembered staring at Tiffany’s still body. “I didn’t want her to wind up dead. I wanted to save her.”

But Jonathan shook his head. “You just can’t save some people.” His jaw hardened. “And the FBI agent made sure of that, didn’t he? He was the one who fired the shot. He was the one who killed her, not you, Alice. Never you.” Jonathan took a step toward her. His gaze had softened. “Because you can’t kill another person. It’s just not in you. You’re too kind. Too good.” Another step. His hand lifted and the back of his fingers brushed over her cheek. “Too perfect.”

A shiver slid over her. “I’m not perfect,” Alice said quite clearly as she side-stepped away from Jonathan, making him drop his hand. “And I never claimed to be.”

He gave her a brief smile. “So you make mistakes. We all do.”

Why was her heart racing so fast? Why was she suddenly nervous to be with him?

He turned away from her and paced toward the window. “Now that the case is over, I guess you won’t be seeing Special Agent Zander Todd any longer.”

“Actually, I will.”

His shoulders stiffened.

It was time to say this. Time to clear the air. “I’m going to keep living.”

Jonathan glanced back at her, his brow furrowed. “Of course, you are.”

“No, that’s not what I—” Alice stopped and pulled in a deep breath. “For the last year, I pulled away from everyone and everything. I retreated to this cabin. I did my freelance work, and I barely had a life. Then Zander came along. He woke me up. He charmed me, and he pissed me off, and he made me see that I can’t stay locked away forever. He makes me want more. He makes me want a future, and I’m going to have one.”

Now Jonathan turned to fully face her. “With…him?”

Alice nodded. “Yes. Or at least, that’s the plan. We’re going to try dating.” She gave him a weak smile. “Baby steps, you know.” Though she felt as if they’d leap-frogged right over the dating deal. Deep inside, Alice knew the truth. She’d fallen hard and fast for her FBI agent. She loved him. A love that scared her because it was already so strong after such a short time. But sometimes, things happened. Things you never planned.

“You’re choosing him?”

An odd way to say it, but… “I think we’re choosing each other.”

Jonathan nodded. “Then I wish you the best, Alice. All I ever wanted was for you to be happy.” He came forward and wrapped her in a hug.

Her heart pounded faster. “I-I want you to be happy, too.”

He let her go. “I should leave. If the Special Agent is coming back, well, I guess he’s going to want to be alone with you.”

“It’ll be a while before he’s here. He has to finish up the paperwork on the case.”

Jonathan inclined his head. “I should still go, Alice.” He headed for the door. But then he hesitated. Without looking back, he said, “If you’re not living in the past, then I shouldn’t either. I should let it go. I should let Hugh go.”

“It’s not your fault.” She took a step toward him. “Not the fault of your family. Not the fault of anyone. We make our own choices in this world. Hugh made his choice. He killed. He tortured. Because that was what he wanted to do.”

“Yes. I guess that was what he wanted. Time for me to accept that. And it’s also time for me to let go. Of him…and of you.” He glanced over his shoulder. Wistfully, his gaze swept over her. “Good night, Alice.”

The door clicked shut behind him a moment later.

Alice stood there, her hands limp at her sides, as she tried to figure out just why her heart was still racing so fast, why her palms were damp with sweat and why…

Why she was scared.

***

“The reporters were like pit bulls.” Randall clapped his hand on Zander’s shoulder. “But you handled them like a pro. Way to wrap up this mess.”

They were still at the sheriff’s station. For the moment, the reporters had backed off. For the moment. He and Randall should have been tying up the loose ends for the case, but something kept nagging at Zander. His eyes narrowed as he thought about everything that had happened that night. That fucking twisted night. “How did he know?”

Randall frowned. “Who? What are you talking about?”

“Jonathan Collins. He said

that…that I’d tricked Alice. That I’d lied to her.” His gut seemed to clench. “How the hell did he know that?”

Randall rocked back as his frown deepened. “Alice must have told him. I mean, they’re close, right? I saw him do an interview a while back where he talked about how he still looked out for her. That she was family.”

“She’s not family,” Zander retorted, probably too quickly. “And…no, they hadn’t talked in months. Alice told me that. When he came here to the station, that was the first time she’d seen him in over two months.” Right around the same damn time that Julianna Stiles was killed. Zander replayed things in his mind. “I don’t think she told him about how we met. I don’t think she told him I was undercover.”

Randall blinked. “If she didn’t tell him, then how did he find out?”

Zander yanked out his phone. He started to call Alice then remembered—shit, her phone had been collected as evidence. But she would be back at their cabin by now. So he quickly dialed the landline for his place. Only he didn’t hear a ringing in his ear. He just got a fast, busy signal.

That twist in his gut became one hell of a lot worse. He turned, roaring out into the station, “I need to reach Deputy Greg Ross right the hell now! Get him on the radio, get me his cell number—get him!”

Chapter Thirteen

Alice hurried into the kitchen and reached for the phone on the counter. It was a landline. Sometimes, cell service was so bad in the mountains that you had to use a landline if you wanted to reach anyone. Zander seemed to have better cell service at his place than she did at hers, but since the deputies and agents had confiscated her phone…

Alice reached for the old landline. She picked up the receiver and started to call the station so that she could speak with Zander but—

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