Her stomach churned.
Sweat tickled the back of her neck.
Bile crawled up her throat and she knew in that instant that she was going to throw up.
Beginning to retch she frantically stumbled away from her husband, from the dining room, from the marred visage of her youngest daughter. She ran half-blind to the powder room where she heaved over the toilet, hot tears filling her eyes, her stomach emptying again and again. For the love of all that was holy, where was Allie? Where was her baby? Why had the horrid mask been left at Cassie’s apartment?
A new fear slithered through her: Would Cassie disappear as well? Was this a warning?
For a few seconds she stood, bent over the toilet bowl. Until she was certain nothing else was coming up. Then, unsteadily, she flushed the toilet and stepped to the sink where she bent down again and rinsed her mouth with water from the tap. Her body’s shaking had stopped, she was no longer trembling, but the fear still gnawed at her as she splashed water over her face. A floorboard near the doorway creaked and she caught sight of Shane’s face in the reflection. A tall man, with an intimidating stature, he met her gaze. “We’ll get him,” he told her. “We’ll get the bastard.”
Her knees threatened to buckle and she clung to the edge of the pedestal sink for support. “Promise?”
Big arms surrounded her again, the scent of wet leather from his jacket over the smell of his aftershave and a deeper, earthier male scent. Familiar. Calming. Safe. The smells she associated with him that caused her heart to tick a little faster. Today they weren’t calming. Nothing was. Rain peppered the small window in the room, and she saw Shane holding her in the mirror’s reflection. Her face was thin and drawn, devoid of makeup. His eyebrows were pulled into a line of concern, his lips a thin, hard blade as he tried to soothe her.
It was all she could do to not break down completely.
“I want twenty-four-hour protection for Cassie,” she whispered. “And she should live here with us. We’ll get a bigger dog and have an alarm system installed and . . .” She let her voice trail off. Hadn’t she tried all those techniques ten years before? And still the monster had easily breached the walls of her fortress.
“I’ll take care of things.”
How? Jenna wondered, and knew his statement was little more than a platitude, just as Cassie promising to find Allie was only to ease her mother’s mind. Well, nothing could. At least no words were the bromide for her deep-seated worries. She blinked back the damned tears that had been threatening all morning, then set her jaw. She could not, would not collapse. Not now.
She swallowed hard. Stiffened her spine.
First things first: They had to find Allie. And she had to remain sane. Not fall apart.
In the past few weeks, Jenna had been so desperate to locate her daughter, so unhinged at the thought of Allie being stalked by a crazed fan, being abducted or worse, that her mind had been playing tricks on her. Twice she’d thought she’d caught a glimpse of Allie, always at a distance, but when she’d tried to call out to the woman, reach her, she’d disappeared. It had happened once in the supermarket and another time when she’d seen ?
?Allie” getting into a car. Each time the look-alike had appeared to stare straight at her, only to ignore her and leave.
Had those sightings been tricks of her imagination?
Or something deeper, a mental weakness that seemed to run in her family? Cassie’s mental state had been fragile for the past ten years, ever since the unthinkable had happened. Her grip on reality had faltered, and she claimed to have seen things that hadn’t existed. Sometimes Cassie swore she couldn’t remember hours of her life. So what about herself? Or Allie? Couldn’t they, too, be affected by the trauma they’d suffered? Couldn’t their mental states be weakened, allowing paranoia or worse to creep in and take hold?
Don’t go there, she warned herself. Nothing good will come of it.
She couldn’t have Shane thinking she was unraveling.
“It’ll be okay,” Shane said now, kissing the top of her head.
She muffled a little choking sound.
Okay? Things would be okay?
She hoped to hell he was right, but deep down she didn’t believe him for a second.
The digital clock on her dash indicated it was after three when Cassie and Trent finally drove across the Marquam Bridge and wound their way to Mercy Hospital. Cassie had spent most of the day at Jenna’s house bringing her mother and stepfather up to speed on what had happened to her and where she was in her own amateur attempts at finding Allie.
Jenna had been freaked, of course, and Cassie didn’t blame her. Over coffee and eventually lunch, Jenna, Cassie, Trent, and Shane had mapped out a loose game plan. While Trent and Cassie were visiting Mercy Hospital, Shane would call Detective Nash and later they would converge at the police station with the mask.
Cassie wasn’t looking forward to the meeting with Detective Nash. Now, her car lugged down and she had to step on the accelerator to climb the steep hill to Mercy Hospital. Fir and maple trees lining the road shivered with the rain, the windshield wipers scraping water off the glass and the car’s heater working overtime to clear condensation from the windshield.
“I hope you’re right about this,” Cassie said to Trent, who had called his ranch hand, Shorty Something-Or-Other, to take care of the place while Cassie and Trent drove into Portland. The street was rain-washed, asphalt shining, headlights reflecting off the pavement in the gloom of the deep cloud cover.