Theirs to cherish, p.38
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       Theirs to Cherish, p.38

         Part #8 of Wicked Lovers series by Shayla Black
Page 38


  Thorpe seemed to turn that story over in his mind. “I wish I could have gutted him myself, but we have bigger fish to fry now. Let’s go back to the night your father and sister were killed. Is there any way Holden could have been involved?”

  Callie shook her head before Thorpe had even finished the sentence. “He’s far too dumb to be that stealthy. He wasn’t violent, just greedy. I know now that he was more interested in my family’s money than in me. He always wanted whatever he didn’t have to work for. If he had broken into our house with a gun, he wouldn’t have shot my family, taken a swipe at me, then fled. He would have stayed to rip off whatever he could. He got caught at the robbery because the cashier, who looked like a female sumo wrestler, decided that she wasn’t going to take his shit and tackled him. She pinned him down and called the cops. Besides, that night . . . witnesses placed him a few streets over, and there’s no way he could have done all the shooting, then beat me back to his car without being winded or having blood splatters. ”

  “What about his friends? Would any of them have helped?” Sean asked.

  She shook her head. “He didn’t have any guy friends anymore. He’d slept with all of their girlfriends or sisters at some point. He was universally regarded as a douche. ”

  “And you liked him why?” Thorpe looked like he was grinding his teeth.

  “He was cute and had really pretty eyes. When you’re sixteen, that’s important. ” She shrugged.

  “Did he sleep with your sister?” Sean asked.

  Callie let her eyes slide shut. “I don’t know. ” She drew in a deep breath and forced herself to face them again. “Right after school started that year, I came home from cheerleading practice early one day and found Holden there with Charlotte, supposedly waiting for me. She looked flushed, and he seemed winded. They told me they’d just come in from outside. The temperature was still hot. I wanted to believe them. Knowing what I know now about Holden, I’m sure he tried to seduce her. ”

  The guys exchanged a glance, and a gong of foreboding rang in her stomach.

  “What? Spit it out. What do you know?”

  Sean sighed. “According to Charlotte’s autopsy record, she was nine weeks pregnant when she died. ”

  A wave of incredulity overcame Callie. Tears stung her eyes. She had a hard time breathing. In some ways, she was too shocked to be anything but numb. But as if she couldn’t stop the march of time and emotions, a blade of betrayal stabbed her right in the heart.

  “Then it had to be Holden. I knew she had a crush on him. I won’t ask what he was thinking; I know. He must have laughed at taking the virginity of two sisters. But what the hell was Charlotte thinking?”

  Thorpe shrugged. “That she would be important to him, perhaps. Come here, pet. ”

  When he tried to pull her into his arms, Callie resisted and twisted away. “Don’t. Not now. ”

  “We’re not Holden. ” Thorpe’s gray eyes looked like thunderclouds under the scowl of his dark brows.

  “She just needs time,” Sean argued. “It’s a lot for her to take in. ”

  Callie shot him a grateful look as she wrapped her arms around her waist and tried to absorb the fact that she’d been deceived by the sister she’d loved. But Charlotte had always been a difficult child, always lashing out as if punishing the world for taking her mother. She’d always required more love than any one person could give.

  “In retrospect, I should have realized that she’d be vulnerable to someone with a smooth tongue like Holden. But I didn’t want to imagine that either of them would do that to me. ” She sighed raggedly, trying to cycle past the blow that probably shouldn’t have been a blow at all. But the revelation, even all these years later, was still like a bomb going off inside her. “I think I knew about two hours after we ran away from my house that I’d made a huge mistake with him, but I was in shock and terrified. ”

  “Of course,” Sean soothed, but he didn’t try to touch her. He only made himself available in case she wanted the support. Bless him.

  But she wasn’t ready.

  “Is there any chance that Holden and your father argued about Charlotte’s pregnancy?” Thorpe asked. “That Holden shot him, then maybe he and your sister wrestled over the gun?”

  “No. There were no voices in the house, just gunshots. My father was a quiet man, and he might not have raised his voice with Holden if he’d known about Charlotte’s pregnancy, but Holden would have yelled. He was rebellious and wanted to be heard. And heaven knows that Charlotte would have put in more than her two cents. Neither one of them could shut up. Besides, he wouldn’t have been smart enough to wipe the gun clean and plant it in my room to frame me. ”

  “The crime scene reports make the whole event sound methodical. Professional,” Sean said in agreement. “Whoever did this knew exactly what they were about. ”

  “They came to kill. There were no struggles or scenes. As far as I know, they didn’t try to extort money from my dad or rob the place. He had millions worth of art in the house and an underground safe with a lot of cash in his office. ”

  “Whoever killed him blasted their way into the safe,” Sean confirmed. “But the cash was still there, as well as the art. ”

  “Whoever did this wanted something specific. ” Thorpe crossed his arms over his chest, visibly restraining the urge to hit something since he couldn’t find the someone who deserved it.

  “I can’t imagine what. ” Callie shrugged.

  “And no one else had an ax to grind with your father?”

  She’d really tried to figure it out, and of course she didn’t know everything about her father, but . . . “The only possibility I can think of is a woman. After my mother’s death, Dad didn’t date or really get involved. He kept a mistress in a loft by his office downtown. About twice a week, he’d disappear for a few hours. He’d get cranky when he moved one out and had to find another. That happened about every six months, as soon as one got comfortable enough to want more out of the relationship than baubles and sex. I overheard him once on the phone. He told whoever she was that she wasn’t his first mistress and wouldn’t be the last. The woman moved out the next day. But that was at least three or four months before his murder. He had a new mistress by then, I’m sure. ”

  “This wasn’t a crime of passion,” Sean pointed out. “It was a surgical strike. ”

  “Any greedy family members you’re aware of?” Thorpe asked.

  “Dad was an only child. Mom was an orphan. So no. I’m not supposed to know that I have an illegitimate older half brother. He’s definitely bitter, but last I heard, he had two kids and sold cars for a living. Why would he wait into his twenties, then decide to come after his father? If he’s pissed about missing out on the money, why resort to murder rather than blackmail? He wasn’t mentioned in my dad’s will. ”

  Pacing, Thorpe speared Sean with a glance. “And the bureau has no other suspects?”

  “We’ve combed phone records and financial transactions. Nothing suspicious. Your father didn’t keep tight security, much less video surveillance, so that’s a dead end. The staff we interviewed were either gone or asleep when it happened. Their hands were all tested for gunpowder residue and came up clean. They were openly weeping when they realized your father was dead. It’s not impossible one of them was guilty, but again, wouldn’t they have stolen something if they’d gone to the trouble of killing him?”

  “They loved him. ” Callie shook her head. “They had been with him for decades, in most cases. He didn’t part with our nanny until Charlotte turned thirteen. Most of our classmates didn’t have a nanny much past ten. And the only reason Dad let Frances go was because she had to take care of her elderly mother. One thing about my father, when he loved someone, he was as loyal as the day was long. ”

  Sean scrubbed a hand down his face and joined Thorpe, pacing in the small galley. They bumped shoulders and grunted a nonverbal apology at one another. “We’ve g
ot to be missing something. Let’s try looking at this from a different angle. Tell us what made you bypass Logan’s contact at the Vegas airport. ”

  “That was really weird. I had my disguise, just in case. I know security in airports can be ridiculously high-tech, so I was all ready. I changed on the plane. Since I was last off, no one noticed. I stopped in the bathroom to check myself and found a red pull-along someone had shoved in the trash can because one of the wheels was stuck. But it disguised my duffel, so I swiped it. I was ready to meet Elijah. Logan had shown me a picture of him before putting me on the plane. I had his number, too. ” She shrugged, remembering that day. “When I hit baggage claim, the first thing I noticed was some big guy in a uniform. I drifted toward the smoking area and watched him through a window. Imagine my shock when I realized that he was flashing a picture of me—taken in the New Orleans airport just a few hours earlier. ”

  “And you panicked,” Thorpe guessed.

  “Hell yeah! Instead of waiting around, I left. I was worried this guy would figure out the connection between me, Logan, and Elijah, and hunt us down. I didn’t want to make the guy’s life harder since I knew he had a wife and kids. ”

  “So you went into the city with the idea of getting a job as a stripper?” Thorpe raised a brow at her.

  Boy, for a man who’d seen a lot of nudity at Dominion, he was acting like it was a big freaking deal that she’d taken half her clothes off for a few dollars.

  “Mitchell Thorpe . . . ” She put her fists on her hips.

  He grabbed her arm. “Watch your tone, pet. I have no problem putting you over my knee again. If your ass isn’t sore enough yet for you to mind your manners, I can fix that. ”

  A fact she was beginning to know well. “I’m just saying that I’ve worn bikinis with less material to Dominion pool parties, and you didn’t have a spaz then. ”

  “No, I just watched you like a hungry dog all afternoon, then went back to my room and jacked off. But I digress. ”

  Seriously? Callie blinked at him. She hadn’t guessed that he had more than a fleeting thought about her sexually in the last two years.

  “The amount of clothing isn’t the issue,” he continued. “It’s the intent. You meant to arouse other men with what I considered mine. I know Sean felt the same. ”

  “Exactly, lovely. You could wear a skimpy bathing suit at such a party, and if you meant it for us, I would probably smile. And get into a fight with any asshole who thinks he’s going to lure you away. But a striptease for money for all those strangers . . . ” Sean gnashed his teeth.

  Had they gone to the same caveman school? Apparently so. They’d both graduated with honors, too. “Look, I didn’t have a lot of money, so I had to get to the city and find work fast. I had to secure a place to live, buy food, and make enough money for a bus ticket out of town. It wasn’t like I hopped on that stage as a big ‘fuck off’ to either of you. ”

  They exchanged a glance. It was clear that neither of them liked the direction of this conversation. Thorpe bristled, crossing his arms over his chest to glare down at her with a gaze that promised hell later.

  Callie melted back in one of the galley’s chairs, biting her lip. She’d pushed the Dom in him too far. Best if she shut up and picked her battles. If she was smart, she’d change the subject now and distract him. “Don’t you want to talk about the man in uniform at the airport?”

  Sean rolled his shoulders, as if trying to shrug off tension. “He didn’t look familiar?”

  “No. ” She shook her head, grateful to him for the return to business. “Just the uniform. It looked military . . . but it didn’t exactly seem standard issue. ” She tried to picture what was different in her head, but drew a blank. “Something was off. The color, maybe?”

  “Were they BDUs?” Sean asked.

  Callie frowned. “What?”

  “Camo,” Thorpe supplied.

  “No. They were a pale blue. ”

  Sean scowled. “Like the Coast Guard? Pale blue shirts with navy pants?”

  “No. Both the coat and pants were the same color. More of a pale grayish blue. And they were dressier, for sure. Almost formal. The coat had patches and medals and stuff. ”

  “You mean insignia?” He looked amused.

  “Yes. Lots of chevron stripes and braided rope and crap. ”

  “Did you recognize any of it?”

  Callie held up her hands. “When would I have had time to study military uniforms?”

  “Point taken. ” Sean scowled. “Did he wear a hat?”

  “Yeah. One of those beret things. It looks funny on a guy built like the side of a mountain. He thought he was a real badass, too. I could tell. ”

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