Leaning against a wall, his face chalky white, blood staining his jeans, he looked as if he might pass out at any second. “Oh, Jesus,” she said, her anger evaporating, her heart wrenching. “Trent!” Hurtling out of Shane’s arms, she ran to him. “Oh, God. We need an ambulance.”
He forced a bit of a smile. “ . . . or two.” He hugged her fiercely and buried his face in her hair. She collapsed against him, drinking in the smell of him, feeling the strength, his incredible strength waning. The thought of losing him was too much to bear. “Hang in there,” she whispered over the rush of other officers arriving and the bleating of a rescue vehicle piercing the night.
“Cuff her,” Shane said to the first deputy on the scene. He was motioning to Allie. “And get this one,” he indicated Laura, “to a hospital. Keep her under guard. She’s dangerous. But first,” he hitched his thumb toward Trent, “get this one to a hospital STAT. After you see to Kittle here.”
Cassie said, “And there’s . . . there’s a dead body in the silo. I think maybe Belva Nelson, but I’m not sure.” Involuntarily, she shuddered remembering the brush of cold flesh against hers.
“Check it out,” Shane ordered another deputy and the man responded, despite the fact that Carter had no jurisdiction, was no longer an officer. Still no one questioned his authority. Not tonight.
Carter bent down on a knee and tried to revive Laura.
“Come on. Stay with me,” he ordered, but the woman was still. “Come on, Laura! Hang in there.” But it was obvious to Cassie the woman she’d known as Laura Merrick was gone.
Allie watched it all. As her hands were forced behind her back, cuffs snapped into place, she seemed to suddenly become aware of what was happening.
“It . . . this . . . it’s not my fault. And my disappearance, that was staged, too. It was Brandon’s idea to hide. I mean, after I realized that she”—Allie hitched her chin to the still body of Laura Merrick—“was serious about killing people, that she actually exchanged the prop gun for a real one.” With big eyes, she looked at Cassie. “You have to believe me, I wouldn’t have let you go to jail and I was going to come out . . . to show up. You know, before the premier and pass it off as being odd or eccentric, but then I got scared . . . people started dying.” She looked pleadingly at Shane.
His jaw tightened and he said to the nearest deputy, “Read her her rights.”
“No! Shane,” Allie cried. “Please. Daddy!”
He physically jerked and looked about to point out that he wasn’t her father, but didn’t.
Footsteps rang and two cops, weapons drawn, appeared. “What the hell’s going on here?” one asked.
Carter said, “We need an ambulance.”
One of the cops nodded. “On its way.”
“There’s a body,” Cassie said, pointing behind her to the opening into the silo. “In there.”
“What?” One of the deputies pulled a flashlight from his belt and peered inside. “Jesus H. Christ. It’s a nurse . . . like from the fifties or something!”
“She’s dead.” No doubt the nurse was Belva Nelson and Laura had hoped to terrorize Cassie one last time. Cassie might have fallen down the shaft by mistake or it might have been all part of Laura’s sick plot, but she’d dressed Belva in her old uniform and dumped her body into the silo.
“Call Detective Nash,” Shane said to the remaining deputy as the first descended the shaft. “Portland PD. She’s been looking for this one.”
The distinctive bleat of an ambulance’s siren drew near, more cops and paramedics arriving. Too late for Laura Merrick.
At that moment, Hud appeared limping slightly. “Hey, Buddy,” Trent said. “We’ll get you fixed up.”
“But you’re okay,” she asked and felt Trent’s hand tangle in her hair. She was so thankful he was alive, so happy to be his wife.
“I am now, baby,” he whispered, kissing her forehead and holding her tight against him. “I am now.”
Detective Nash walked through the three rooms Laura Merrick had rented in a little dive in Portland, one last time. They were odd. Merrick had decorated them to appear as if she were actually living in LA, even going so far as to put in a fake window, actually a back-lit poster with a view of the Hollywood sign.
The room was filled with costumes and wigs she’d collected over the years, those from Jenna and Allie in their various movie roles, and the walls were covered with movie posters of her mother and half-sister, many of which had been torn or ripped to shreds and then taped back together. A makeup mirror was front and center. And a printer sat in a corner along with some kind of laminating machine. Nash had even found a box of elastic bands to be used for the making of even more masks, the fronts of which littered the floor.
There were a lot of questions left about Laura Merrick, whose adoptive sister had died when she was in her teens, the result of a tragic car accident. The Beauchamps, too, were deceased, both killed in a house fire. For now, the questions would remain unanswered as Laura had been pronounced DOA at the hospital, three nights earlier.
Since that night, the police had identified Belva Nelson’s body, stuffed into the empty grain silo at Trent Kittle’s farm. Kittle himself had been shot by Merrick, but was surviving, the bullet tearing through his thigh, but not hitting his femur or femoral artery. He was lucky.
Jenna Hughes was rumored to be a wreck with guilt over her children, but Cassie, who had been a rebel in her youth and at odds with her mother, was stepping up. A good thing.