Repressed deadly secrets, p.28
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       Repressed (Deadly Secrets), p.28
 

          
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  “Are you saying Jenkins and Margaret were—”

  “Yeah. On and off for years. She wanted money and power, and he had both, but he wasn’t stupid enough to marry her, so he convinced Jeff to do it instead. That kept her quiet for a while, but when she discovered the Adler boy was Hollings’s kid, she got antsy. I don’t know if Jeff knew about her relationship with Jenkins, but I’m pretty sure that’s how Jenkins kept her from talking.”

  Connections and links Sam hadn’t been able to piece together suddenly clicked. Thomas was Sandra Hollings’s son. He must have learned something about Seth’s connection to Hollings and found out Sam was Seth’s sister. His coming to Hidden Falls had started a landslide that was still tumbling out of control.

  “Me, though,” Will went on. “Jenkins knew he had me all those years ago because of what happened to my mom. Sandra Hollings tore my family apart. I wanted her to suffer for that. I wanted her to pay.”

  Sam’s hands shook against the wall. “But you said you didn’t want what they did. You said it was a mistake.”

  “It was. I just wasn’t strong enough to stop it. After it started . . . ” A sick look passed over his face. “He had her by the throat, and I just . . . I couldn’t stand back and watch anymore. I lunged for him, knocked him to the ground, but by then . . . ” He shook his head. “By then she was already dead.”

  Sam’s stomach pitched. Will was the one she’d seen fighting with Jenkins. He’d tried to save Hollings, but it had already been too late.

  “I think he would have killed me too,” Will went on, “but there was some kind of noise outside, and it distracted him. He stopped beating on me and sent Kenny and Jeff to see what it was. Shortly after that was when Seth arrived. I don’t know how he knew something was going on, but he did. He went wild. Jenkins heard the commotion and came out. He told the others to take Seth to the falls.”

  Every muscle in Sam’s body tightened. She’d heard the commotion. She’d followed Seth. Those were the memories she’d lived with all these years. “Wh-who killed my brother?”

  Will’s eyes darkened. “Jeff. Jeff and Kenny are the ones who dragged him out into the water, but Jeff’s the one who held him under. I managed to get away from Jenkins and went after them, but I got there too late. When I tried to pull Jeff off, Kenny took me under. We wrestled. Coulter . . . ” He shook his head again. “Jenkins must have known he was a juvenile delinquent. He talked Kenny into recruiting him into the group, probably to frame it all on him at some point, I think. Kenny told Coulter to meet us at the falls earlier in the night and planned to take him to the cabin with us, but Coulter never showed. First time I saw him all night was when he saw what was happening and ran into the water to try to save Seth.”

  Sam’s heart squeezed so hard she could barely breathe. She’d been right. Ethan hadn’t killed her brother. He’d been trying to save Seth, as he’d claimed. And she’d run from him when she should have stayed and listened.

  “No one planned what happened to Seth,” Will said. “You have to believe that. Seth was my friend. What happened to him made me sick, and if I could go back and change it, I would. But I can’t. When you fingered Coulter for the murder, Jenkins was thrilled. Seth’s death took the focus off Sandra Hollings’s disappearance and put it on the Coulter kid. I wanted to tell the cops what I knew, but I couldn’t, because Jenkins threatened me and my dad. But I always owed you, Sam. It’s why I tried so long to keep you safe. It’s why I tried to scare you into leaving town. But you wouldn’t go. You wouldn’t go because of that shrink.” His jaw tightened. “He’s Coulter, isn’t he? I knew he was familiar. I just didn’t put it together until Jeff showed me that text message. Dammit, I wish he hadn’t seen that.”

  Sickness swirled in Sam’s stomach, a newfound fear for Ethan. “You can’t—”

  “Listen.” Will’s voice hardened as he stepped toward her. “They’re upstairs. They’re waiting for me to bring you up. I need you to act scared and to fight against me, to make it look like you want to kill me. If they suspect I’m on your side, we’re both dead.”

  On your side . . .

  Sam’s head spun. Was he trying to help her? She met his steely gaze. Tried to see the lie or truth. He could be trying to spring a trap. But she knew for certain that one thing he’d said was fact. The only way she was getting out of this room was with him. She could figure out how to get away from him once she was free of these walls.

  “O-okay. I can do that.”

  “That’s my girl.” Will’s eyes softened. “I’m sorry, Sam. I’m sorry for all of this.” He brushed a finger down her cheek, and she forced herself to stay still and not recoil. “I’ll make it right. I promise.”

  She wasn’t sure he could. Even if she got out of this, she could never look at him the same.

  The door pushed open before they could take a step toward freedom. Will dropped his hand and turned. A gunshot exploded through the basement room.

  The force of the bullet sent Will sailing back against the wall with a thud.

  “Will!” Sam scrambled to grab him. Blood pooled from a wound in the center of his chest. He slumped to the ground.

  “Will.” Frantic, Sam pressed a hand against the hole in his chest, trying to stop the flow of blood. “Hold on, Will.”

  Blood pooled all around her hands, gushed onto the floor, wouldn’t stop. Sam looked up, desperate for help. Jeff stood in the doorway, a handgun at his side, his eyes flat and cold.

  “Do something!” she yelled.

  “Stupid fucker,” Jeff muttered. “He always had a soft spot for you. I told him it would kill him one day.”

  No. No, no, no, no, no. Tears burned Sam’s eyes as she looked down at Will. “Just hold on, Will.”

  “Sam, I’m so—” But the rest of his words were lost as the life slipped out of his body. His hand landed against the carpet with a thud and his eyes stared off into nothing.

  “Get up, Sam,” Jeff said from the door. “You can’t do anything for him now. And we have somewhere we need to be.”

  A blinding rage came over Sam. She scrambled for Will’s gun from the floor, but Jeff crossed the distance between them and yanked on her hair, pulling her up and away before she could reach it. A shriek tore from her throat.

  “I always knew you were trouble,” he growled.

  Sam struggled against him. “People will know. You won’t get away with this.”

  “I already have. I’m Oregon’s next senator. I’m the Hidden Falls golden boy. Besides which, McClane was behind the whole thing.”

  Sam’s eyes flew wide as he jerked her up the stairs. “No.”

  “You explain it right, and people will believe anything. After all, he killed Seth. No one’s forgotten that. All I have to do is say he was jealous. He wanted what Seth had. Hell, I spin this right, I bet I could even pin Hollings’s murder on him and solve several cases at once. He came back here, met you, didn’t realize who you were. When it all clicked, the guilt was too much. I figure a murder-suicide will get the point across.”

  Sam swayed as they reached the top of the stairs, and she realized just why they’d wanted Will to take her to that cabin. “Oh God.”

  “Not yet.” Jeff pulled her toward the back door. “Wait to say your prayers until McClane shows up to save the day. Again.”

  Where the hell was she? Ethan sat in the front seat of Sam’s broken-down car, looking for anything that might tell him where she’d gone. The hood was cold, indicating she hadn’t driven in quite a while, and he’d already been out to Kellogg’s. The place was empty.

  Nerves danced all through his stomach.

  He glanced up at the rearview mirror as a car approached. The pickup slowed to a stop behind Sam’s Mazda. Ethan tensed, then relaxed when Lincoln Jenkins climbed out of the cab.

  Jenkins’s shoes crunched across the gravel on the side of the road. “You need help there, Dr. McClane?”

  “No.” Ethan pushed out of Samantha’s car and closed the door.
It’s not mine.”

  “Looks like Sam Parker’s rig. That your shiny BMW across the street?”

  “Yeah. Say, you didn’t see Samantha in town, did you?”

  “No. Not that I remember. She been having car trouble lately?”

  “Looks like it.” Crap, where was she? Ethan fingered the keys in his pocket. “If you see her, tell her I’m looking for her, okay?”

  “Sure thing.” Jenkins waited until Ethan crossed the highway. “Oh, Dr. McClane?”

  He stopped with one hand on the car door. “Yeah.”

  “You know, now that I think about it, there was a car parked in her drive. Looked like Jeff Kellogg’s SUV.”

  Ethan’s chest constricted. “When?”

  “Little bit ago. Saw it on my way out here. Betsy Murphy’s cat had kittens. Each with eight toes. Headin’ up there with my camera to take pictures. Should make for a good human-interest piece.”

  Ethan barely heard him. They were at Sam’s house. Would Kellogg really be stupid enough to take her there? He stepped back toward Jenkins. “I need your help.”

  Jenkins’s eyes widened. “Sure thing. What’s up?”

  “I think Samantha knows who killed Sandra Hollings.”

  “You’re kidding.”

  “No. You got a piece of paper?”

  Jenkins pulled a pen and pad from his shirt pocket. “I’m a reporter. Course I do.”

  Ethan took the paper and jotted a note. “I want you to call Jack Simms at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office at this number and tell him to meet me at Samantha’s house. You got that? The sheriff’s office, not the HFPD.”

  “Sure thing, but why not our local cops?”

  “I can’t explain now.” Ethan handed Jenkins the pad of paper and climbed into his car. “Just do it.”

  Dusk was settling over the valley as he parked in front of Sam’s house. The drive was empty. No lights shone from inside. His heart dropped into his stomach as he glanced around the quiet street. Maybe she wasn’t here. Maybe Jenkins had been wrong. Kellogg could have taken her anywhere. He killed the engine and knew he had to check, just to be sure.

  The front door was locked. He jiggled the knob and tried to peer through the panes of glass at the top of the door. Grimly barked and tore down the stairs.

  He picked his way around the house. A breeze blew across the yard, chilling his skin. The dark sky threatened rain. He tried the back door, twisted the handle, and found it unlocked.

  His adrenaline ticked up. Samantha knew better than to leave her house open. Quietly, he stepped into the kitchen. Grimly barked and rushed forward, slamming on his brakes when he spotted Ethan.

  Ethan dropped to his knees and rubbed the dog’s ears. “Hey, buddy. Where’s Samantha?”

  Grimly looked up at him with big, brown, stupid eyes.

  Ethan frowned. “It’d help if you could talk.” But it was a good sign the dog was in one piece and not freaking out. Grimly was fiercely protective of Samantha. If someone had come into the house, he’d be acting funny.

  The chairs were pushed up against the table. A few dishes sat in the sink. Sam’s purse lay on its side on the counter. Ethan rifled through the contents—hairbrush, tube of lipstick, wallet, keys.

  No cell phone.

  A tingle ran down his spine. Turning, he checked rooms as he headed toward the front of the house. Nothing looked out of the ordinary, but still there were no other signs of her. He moved up the stairs, maneuvered around boxes in the upstairs hall, glancing inside bedrooms as he went. But the house looked exactly as he’d left it earlier.

  When he got to Sam’s room at the end of the hall, he turned the handle. Grimly plowed by and jumped on the bed, wagging his tail. On a groan, the dog dropped to the mattress.

  “You’re not supposed to be up there, big guy.” With a frown, Ethan checked the adjoining bath, found that empty too, and moved back into the bedroom.

  “Shit.” He turned a slow circle. Every minute that passed felt like a hundred years.

  A tree limb tapped against the window, drawing his attention to the darkness beyond. He peered out into the night. Muttered, “Samantha, where are you?”

  A light flickered on the hillside.

  No way he’d take her up there.

  Rushing downstairs, Ethan scribbled a note for Simms, slapped it on the kitchen table, and tore out the back door. He paused when he got to the clearing, trying to remember which direction they’d gone when they’d taken that walk. An owl screamed above. The wind whistled through the trees as the first droplets of rain hit him. Closing his eyes, he envisioned the cabin from the day he and Sam had hiked these woods.

  Left.

  His legs seemed to move on their own. He jumped over a log in the path, rounded corners, and climbed the steadily rising hill. And finally slowed when the dim outline of the cabin came into view around the bend.

  Sucking in air, he leaned forward and tried to quiet his breathing so he could listen. The forest was silent but for a woodpecker somewhere in the distance and the soft patter of rain on the ground. No lights shone from the windows. As quietly as he could, he eased through the trees toward the cabin.

  Wood scraped against wood. A muffled grunt echoed from the building. Cautiously, Ethan moved past a tree and peered through the window. Then bit back a curse.

  Samantha sat on a metal chair in the middle of the room, her hands hooked behind the back, struggling against the ties around her wrists. Lincoln Jenkins walked around her with what looked to be a whip in his hand.

  Ethan’s adrenaline soared. She was alive, but, if he didn’t do something fast, not for long.

  His body urged him to rush in there, but he held back. Jenkins . . . Sonofabitch. He’d confided in the fucker. The man had been playing him. He’d all but sent Ethan up here. Ethan had no doubt Kellogg and Branson were somewhere close. Which meant they’d staged this so he’d walk right into a trap.

  It almost killed him, but he forced himself to move away from the cabin and back into the trees. When he was twenty yards away, he pulled his cell from his pocket and dialed.

  Hunt answered on the third ring. “Ethan? Alec and I are at still ten minutes out.”

  Shit. He couldn’t wait ten minutes. “They have her up at the cabin,” he whispered. “There’s a path that runs off the back of her property. Stay to your left. Samantha’s inside. Jenkins has her bound.”

  A twig snapped somewhere close. His gaze shot to the side.

  “We’re on our way,” Hunt said. “Alec’s got Simms on the line right now. Listen to me, Ethan. Don’t go into that cabin alone. You got it?”

  His heart thundered. He couldn’t just let her sit in there. Not with Jenkins. “Just fucking get here.”

  Another limb snapped to his left. Ethan turned toward the sound and sank back deeper into the trees. “I gotta go.”

  “Stay where you are, Ethan. We’ll be there soon. Don’t—”

  Ethan clicked “End,” shoved the phone in his pocket, and reached down for a thick branch on the ground at his feet. The crackling stopped a few feet away. He held his breath and peered through the darkness.

  Rain ran down his wet hair, slid into his line of vision. The sliver of moonlight wasn’t enough to see three feet in front of him.

  Branches rustled to his right. Gripping the limb in his hands, he whirled around and swung. Wood connected with something solid. A muttered curse echoed from the darkness. Ethan’s adrenaline surged, and he swung again, but the branch cut through empty air.

  An elbow cracked against his cheek from the side, knocking him off balance. He stumbled back. A hard punch to his stomach pushed the air out of his lungs, and he gasped just before a body plowed into him.

  He hit the ground with a thud. Rocks jabbed into his back. The branch fell from his hands.

  “You just won’t quit, will you, McClane?” Kellogg pressed a meaty forearm against Ethan’s throat. “Branson should be doing this, but the son of a bitch always had a soft spo
t for Sam. I knew he was going to betray us. Guess it’s time I took matters into my own hands, after all.”

  Ethan lifted his leg and jabbed his foot into Kellogg’s groin. Kellogg jerked back and groaned. Closing his hand into a fist, Ethan threw a right hook across Kellogg’s face, knocking the man off him.

  He stumbled out from underneath Kellogg’s weight and reached for the branch. Kellogg growled, rolled to his back, and pulled a handgun from his waistband. Ethan swung as hard as he could. The gun went off just as the branch hit Kellogg’s arm.

  A burning pain sliced through Ethan’s shoulder, the force of the bullet thrusting him backward to slam against the ground.

  A muffled scream echoed from the direction of the cabin. Water droplets slapped against Ethan’s face.

  Through a haze, Ethan watched as Kellogg scrambled for the gun. Ethan rolled quickly to his side, slapped out across the muddy ground, and closed his hand around the butt of the gun.

  Kellogg roared and lurched toward him. Ethan rolled to his back and fired.

  The bullet hit Kellogg in the thigh. He dropped to the ground and screamed, clutching his bloody limb. Pain ripped through Ethan’s shoulder and chest, but he struggled to his feet and stumbled toward the cabin, desperate to get to Samantha.

  His arm hung at an odd angle. Something warm dripped down his hand. Spots appeared in his vision, and he swayed as he moved onto the porch, but he had to get to her before it was too late. Had to save her . . .

  He kicked in the door and lifted the gun in his good hand. Jenkins had untied Sam and now held her in front of him, one arm around her neck, the other resting on the top of her head.

  “Drop the gun, son. Drop it right now or I’ll snap her neck.”

  “Let her go.” Ethan’s vision blurred. “It’s over. Cops are on their way. You’re done, Jenkins.”

  “Ethan.” Samantha’s frightened eyes shot to Ethan’s limp arm.

  “I say when it’s over,” Jenkins yelled. “I make the news in this town. Do you hear me? I decide when something’s over or not.”

 
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