Incriminating Evidence(11)

By: Amanda Stevens

Whatever Emmett had said to her obviously upset her and Nick was certain it had nothing to do with his grandmother’s birthday cake.

* * *

CATHERINE HAD A hard time falling asleep that night. She lay in the dark listening to the rumble of thunder as she went over the day’s events in her head. She couldn’t blame Nick LaSalle for questioning her frame of mind. The evidence she’d presented of her parentage was sketchy at best, but she could think of no other reason why her mother would have kept those clippings all these years. People often saved newspaper articles about events that were historical or even interesting, but why hide them in a secret compartment if she hadn’t at least suspected the truth?

Rolling to her side, Catherine fixated on the flicker of distant lightning out her window. The wind was picking up and she could hear the patter of rain on the roof. Her landlady was away visiting family and Catherine suddenly felt very alone and isolated, set back from the street as she was. Her apartment was on the second floor, nestled in a thick canopy of oak leaves. Most of the time, she enjoyed the illusion of living in the trees and the peace and quiet of being located off an alleyway rather than a busy street, but tonight the solitude seemed oppressive, the shadowy yard and side street menacing. Who knew what danger prowled the dark?

She shifted to her other side, deliberately turning her back on the window, and fluffed her pillow. Insomnia had been a problem since childhood. Night terrors, too. Catherine had never understood her fear of the dark, but now she had to wonder if long-buried memories lurked somewhere in her subconscious. If she truly was Orson Lee Finch’s daughter, what horrors might she have witnessed as a child?

The notion haunted her, so much so that when she finally drifted off, her sleep was filled with terrible visions of Finch’s deeds. She dreamed of his victims’ screams and of crimson magnolia petals raining down upon her. She awakened in a cold sweat, clinging to the covers as her gaze darted about her bedroom. Once her heart settled, she got up for a glass of water and then stood at her bedroom window peering out into the rainy night. Another image came to her—that of the man who had watched her from a recessed doorway. He had walked off when she called out to him, but Catherine couldn’t suppress the worry that he had been following her, that he might even now be out there with his eyes trained on her bedroom window.

The dark and her nerves played tricks on her vision. She saw him everywhere—inside the back gate, hiding behind the azaleas, perched on her landlady’s back steps. The intermittent lighting revealed the truth. The shadows dissolved into nothingness. No one was out there. She was perfectly safe ensconced as she was behind locked doors and a latched gate.

She went into the bathroom and took a melatonin tablet, determined to salvage what was left of the night. Then, shivering, she crawled back into bed and pulled the covers up to her chin. Turning her mind away from Orson Lee Finch and his victims, she let her thoughts drift back to her meeting with Nick LaSalle.

She remembered him well from their previous encounter. Skeletal remains had been discovered in a wooded park after a heavy rain and Nick had been the detective assigned to the investigation. He’d come to Catherine for help in establishing a biological profile of the victim. Their consultation had been brief, but he’d made an impression. Tall and lean with dark hair and gray eyes the color of a rain cloud.

He’d struck her as professional and methodical with flashes of intuition that had surprised her. She’d been unexpectedly drawn to him and had been disappointed when he hadn’t made further contact. Perhaps the attraction had been one-sided. Or perhaps other things had occupied his time. She vaguely recalled something unpleasant about his departure from the police department. She searched her mind for the details, but drowsiness clouded her memory and anyway, she’d never put much stock in rumors.

She drifted in and out of sleep, aware of her surroundings on some level even as she started to dream. She was in her bedroom, safely tucked beneath the covers. If she opened her eyes, she knew that she would see all her familiar possessions. The refinished dresser that had belonged to her mother, the vase of blue hydrangeas on her nightstand that she’d picked from her landlady’s garden.

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