“Thank you,” she said, her fingers momentarily brushing the warm skin as she reached out to take it.
And she froze, her hand feeling scalded by the brief contact. She looked up, again with only her eyes, and she gasped, instinctively drawing away her hand and holding it against her chest.
“You don’t need it now?” the deep male voice asked her casually, as if it were perfectly natural that he was in the girls’ bathroom with her.
She sat up, ignoring his question as she studied him, from head to toe, taking in every detail of his outfit…his uniform. She should have felt better, reassured by his presence, but she couldn’t…not knowing what she knew. Not after touching his hand and feeling what she’d felt.
The shrill vibrations. The ones that had nothing to do with the pulsating beat coming from the dance. The same high-pitched, ear-piercing resonance she’d felt before…in the woods when she’d fallen. The day she’d been chased.
And she recognized him, not just by the familiar imprint he carried, but by his face as well. Although it wasn’t from the day he’d followed her, tracking her like a wounded animal among the trees. She recognized him from a different day, the day that she, along with everyone else in town, had been searching in the woods for Mackenzie Sherwin.
She’d run into him that day, right before she’d located the killer, when she’d been following Brooke’s bells. He was the officer she’d collided with.
He raised his eyebrows, as he watched all of this cross her face. Each of them scrutinized the other…she trying to figure out how he could possibly be the killer, one of her uncle’s own officers…and he, trying to decide how she knew.
He spoke first, his curiosity getting the better of him. “How did you do it? When no one else could, how did you figure it out?”
Violet’s mouth went dry as her mind raced through half a dozen options, some of which she ruled out immediately. Running was impossible. Screaming was futile all the way out here, especially with the DJ trying his best to rupture eardrums. Her cell phone was in her purse, but she’d left that with Jay since it was too difficult for her to carry. Crying…begging…pleading. All viable options.
And then she decided. Lying.
She did her best to look confused, praying that he didn’t know as much as he seemed to. “What are you talking about?” Her voice was quivering. “Is something wrong, officer?”
He paused thoughtfully, seeming to consider her questions. He was tall, massive really, with broad, boulderlike shoulders that seemed to shrink the space of the restroom. His uniform stretched tightly across the wide expanse of his chest. He grinned at her, showing a glimpse of his white teeth, but still he remained silent.
Violet’s heart surged violently. She decided to try another tack, in case he didn’t know who she was. “Did my uncle send you in here?” she tried nervously. “Chief Ambrose?”
He took a step closer to her, if that was even possible. “You can drop the act.” He skipped a beat, and then he added, “Violet.” He said her name in a way that suggested that there was never a doubt; he knew exactly who she was. And then his voice changed, leaving no wiggle room when he commanded her harshly, “Stop toying with me. I’m asking the questions here. Understand?”
Violet jumped. Her stomach felt queasy, and she started to shake, unable to contain the shuddering fear coursing through her. She nodded apprehensively, her eyes wide.
“I did some digging,” he finally explained, his voice oddly composed again. “You’ve been there all along the way. I’m not even sure that you know how far back you and I go.” He stepped back in an informal manner, his body relaxing as he launched into his explanation. “I didn’t realize it right away. In fact, I might never have realized it, if I hadn’t seen you in action for myself.” His gaze swept over her as she sat, transfixed, listening in frozen horror to the menacing tenor of his deep voice.
She had a hard time concentrating, separating his words and his voice from the high-pitched ringing reverberations he unwittingly carried. She could barely believe that she hadn’t noticed it sooner, that she hadn’t recognized the sound earlier when it was so close to her. How could she have missed it? Even if she had been deaf she should have noticed that sensation.
It was impossible to ignore now. He, of course, was completely unaware of it.
“I would never have suspected you if I hadn’t been there that day, at my partner’s house, when your uncle brought you out to look for…for what? Clues? Bodies? Of course, you must know by now that I had a partner. I doubt you thought it was a coincidence that I was in the woods with you when you had your”—he paused—“your accident.”
Violet thought it was ludicrous that he would call it anything other than what it was. He had tried to attack her, and if it hadn’t been for Jay showing up, he would have. “It wasn’t an accident,” she heard herself saying with more conviction than she would have thought possible under the circumstances.
He laughed at her. “It was, actually. That was not how I intended for things to end up. It was simply fortuitous for you that your boyfriend came along when he did.” And then he added, as if boasting, “I could have killed you both out there, but I hadn’t planned on using a weapon….” He smiled at her. “And I really didn’t want witnesses to what I was going to do, even the kind that don’t live to tell about it. So I decided to wait. I wanted to have you all to myself.”