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The Letters

By Ella Drayton All Rights Reserved ©

Mystery / Thriller

Letters From A Homicidal Maniac

I left Gunner’s apartment that night feeling more confused than ever. I really did believe that Gunner didn’t kill these girls but there no way to prove it. All of the evidence pointed to him. And he was still avoiding giving up some information, like where we was when Chloe was killed. He wouldn’t give me an alibi which led me to believe that he either didn’t really have one or he did have one and he was doing something that he didn’t want anyone knowing about. Considering that he didn’t want to explain about the fight with Chloe over his affair with Selena, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had more secrets up his sleeve. But if he didn’t kill these girls then who did? Who else would know things about mine and his relationship? Things that were special to us back then but would have been of no relevance to anyone else in the world? And why would they use that as an excuse to kill innocent young women? Who could be that sick?

The next morning I woke up and Keaton and Braelynn were already gone. Keaton was debuting a new fall menu at the restaurant and had to be there early to help teach the new chefs how to cook the dinner specials. I vaguely remember Braelynn coming in to kiss me goodbye this morning. I couldn’t wait to be off this case so that I could get back to some kind of normalcy with her. This job was a twenty-four-seven deal when there was a case to be worked on. My relationship with Braelynn was starting to suffer because of it. After this case was over, I thought about taking some vacation time and looking for a new job, something that would allow me to be at home with her more. I didn’t want to miss any more of my sweet little girl growing up. In the kitchen was a fresh pot of coffee and a note from Keaton saying that he loved me and he hoped I had a good day at work. It was sitting on top of the mail from yesterday. Underneath the phone bill and the car insurance bill was a beautifully decorated black and cream envelope. The paper was a silky texture and it had black scroll-work snaking up the sides of the envelope. My name was situated in the middle written with what looked like a calligraphy pen. It was definitely one of the fanciest pieces of mail I’d ever received. I figured it had to be a wedding shower or lingerie invitation from Chelsea so I ripped it open and pulled out the letter inside only half-way paying attention to the fact that something had dropped to the floor. I turned the tri-folded paper over in my hands and opened it up. It was a letter from the killer. He had my home address. A letter from a homicidal maniac had been sitting on my kitchen counter waiting for me to open it all night long. My stomach felt like it was going to fall out of my butt. I hadn’t felt personally threatened by this killer until now. He knew where I lived. I picked up the paper in the floor, sat down at the kitchen table and began to read the letter.

Brodie,

I’m starting to get impatient. There are so many things left that I still want to do but I am getting impatient. I don’t know how much more of my own game I can play. I need to see you. I need to be face to face with my Medusa. It’s not that you’re not beautiful. You’re more than beautiful. There isn’t even a word in the English language to describe your beauty. But looking at you, feeling your gaze on me, it turns me to stone. It makes my heart feel like concrete in my chest. I die a little inside each time you look at me because I know you’re not looking at me like you look at Keaton. There is no fire in your eyes that runs down between your legs when you look at my face. That is saved only for him and it’s truly not fair. I have loved you from the first moment I laid eyes on you so many years ago. How you haven’t figured it out by now, I do not understand. I have pined for you all of these years only to watch you fall in love with losers who didn’t deserve you. They weren’t the man you needed. Grayson couldn’t even protect himself, how could he have protected you and Braelynn? And Keaton? He’s a lying shit. A lying shit who still has a pregnant girlfriend. He didn’t end things with her. Here he is in your house, wrapped up between your legs, burying himself deep inside of you, all while knowing that he’s got a wee babe growing in some other girl’s belly. He has his cake and gets to lick the icing too. And wouldn’t it be even more amazing if this baby turns out to be a boy? I bet he doesn’t even know that you can’t have any more kids, does he? Or are you still lying to yourself about that one, too? I know everything about you, Brodie. I know all of your faults and they just make me love you even more. I don’t care that you can’t have any more kids. Braelynn is enough. She’s growing up to be just like her mother, stubborn and strong. I just want to be the man in your life, Brodie.

I Will Always Love You

I dropped the letter on the table and picked up the piece of paper that had fallen out of the envelope. I turned it over and saw that it was a picture of Keaton and Kailee. It was outside Manhattan and she was leaned against the passenger side of his car. He had one hand on her hip and the other on her face. And he was kissing her. The date at the bottom of the picture was two days ago. He had been in the parking lot of Manhattan kissing his pregnant girlfriend two days ago. Two days ago he had come home to my house and cooked dinner for Braelynn and I. Two days ago we had gone outside and played basketball until Braelynn’s bedtime and then shared a steamy shower. He had made love to me slowly, all night long. Two days ago. The already sickening feeling in my stomach was just getting worse. Keaton had told me that he’d handled the Kailee issue that I needn’t worry about her again until it was time for her to deliver the baby. I believed him without giving it a second thought. The only time he would see her would be at work. When he wasn’t at work he was at home with Braelynn and I. I never mentioned Keaton firing her because I felt like that would be unfair to her. It wasn’t her fault that we decided to get back together. Being with her possible child’s father was punishment to her enough. But I had believed him. And he lied. The picture fell out of my hand and dropped to the table. I sat there staring into space, twirling the large diamond on my ring finger around and around. I could taste bile in my throat and I felt like my heart was going to explode out of my chest at any minute. I had finally let go of my issues with trust and let Keaton fully into my life and was preparing to become his wife and he had lied to me. He was still seeing this girl. This girl that may or may not be pregnant with his child. And who the hell knew that I couldn’t have any more kids? I hadn’t told anyone that little bit of information. No one knew that. This sick bastard knew way too much about my life and I was quickly getting tired of the guessing games. But, now I knew for sure that Gunner was not the killer. If he had been, he would have thought that I’d already read the letter and he would have let on to something that the letter said. And he damn sure would have tried to do more than kiss me. I felt like a piece of shit because I had let some other man kiss me and here Keaton was sneaking around with his pregnant girlfriend. I had had enough. I was at my snapping point with him, with work, with Gunner, with this sick bastard going around killing innocent women in the name of his love for me. I was done and I was going to make sure that everyone knew it.I was parking my truck in the parking lot of Manhattan before I even realized what I was doing. I had driven to the restaurant on auto-pilot.

The only other cars in the parking lot belonged to Manhattan employees because the restaurant did not open until lunch time. If Keaton walked past the window at any minute, he’d see me sitting outside in my truck. I was trying to decide if I wanted to go in and confront him or just drive off. Before I could make that decision for myself, my cell phone rang.

“Hello?”

“It’s Walker. Gunner is in my office. He told me that you came to see him last night and that you believe that he didn’t do it. I want to believe him, too, Brodie, but I’m having a really hard time. He won’t give me an alibi for the time of Chloe’s death and I’m his fucking lawyer. Is there any way you could come down here and try to talk to him with me? He seems to trust you.”

“Yeah. Give me ten minutes. Stopping to get coffee, you want some?”

“No, thanks. Chelsea bought me a cappuccino machine for the office last week.”

“Well, well. Walker Sawyer’s moving on up in this world. Drinking fancy shit coffee with foam. Don’t tell him I’m coming.” I hung up the phone and pulled out of the parking lot. At this point I didn’t care if Keaton saw me. If he asked, I would just tell him that I was stopping by to see him before I went to work but got a call to come in. That technically wasn’t a lie. I wasn’t even sure what I was going to say to him. I was still hoping that I’d dreamed the whole thing but when I looked down at my cup-holder, the picture from the envelope was staring back at me, basking in all of its ugly glory.

The letter was at home in my office. I knew I needed to tell Captain Stephens and Beau about the letter but I just wasn’t ready yet. I was still trying to process everything it had said. Someone had been stalking me, even going as far as snooping into my medical records because I had mentioned to no one that I couldn’t have any more children. That was a fact that I was still in denial about.

Walker’s office was located on the corner of 4th Avenue & 23rd Street. While his office only had one fancy large wooden door instead of two, it was still an impressive space. The lobby had cherry oak hardwood floors, a cherry oak information desk complete with a secretary who probably moonlighted as a model, and a sitting area outfitted with plush black suede couches and a glass coffee table stacked with the latest fashion, entertainment, and news magazines. His actual office housed a gorgeous hand-carved cherry oak desk with a matching maroon leather chair complete with hand-carved armrests, two maroon leather visitor chairs that also had hand-carved armrests, a cherry console with a large flat screen TV, a black suede couch identical to the ones in the lobby, and a small silver corner bar. When I walked in his office, he and Gunner were taking turns using his putter and practice green. Boys will always be boys.

“Brodie! What a pleasant surprise! What are you doing here?”

“Good morning, Gunner. Nice to see you in such a good mood, all things considered. Walker gave me a call. He thought it might help you if we all sat down together and tried to piece the evidence of this case together.”

“I see. Well, let’s get to it then.” Gunner handed Walker the putter and slumped down on the couch, picking up a short crystal glass of brown liquid and swirling it around in his hand. Whiskey was my best guess. Leave it to Walker to decide that alcohol would be the answer to pulling information out of him. From his jolly greeting and lazy grin, I was guessing the drink in his hand wasn’t the first of the day. I turned one of the visitor chairs around to face the couch and sat down across from him, pulling my pad and pen out of my blazer pocket. Walker grabbed a pad and pen from his desk and sat down on the couch next to Gunner. He never took his eyes off of the glass in his hand. I could tell that he was thinking but I couldn’t read his mind. Or his face. I wasn’t sure if he was just ready to get this over with or if he was panicking inside, scrambling to come up with an alibi that would satisfy us.

“Okay, let’s not beat around the bush. Gunner, you have got to give Brodie your alibi. Not being honest about where you were when Chloe was killed makes it look like you did it or had something to do with it and since you and Brodie are so convinced that someone else did it, you need to convince me. I can’t represent you in court if I think you’re guilty. And if you don’t give up an alibi sometime soon, court is where we are going because if this investigation doesn’t get another lead to someone else, they’re going to file charges against you and then you’re going to be up shit creek with a hole in your boat.”

Gunner snickered and gulped down the liquid in his glass. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and set the glass down on the black glass coffee table sitting between us. When he looked up at me, his eyelids dropped a little. He gave me a sideways smirk like we shared some kind of secret that Walker didn’t know about it. I supposed we did since no one knew about the kiss last night but I was willing to forget all about it. I did not need anything else complicating my life.

“Saying I wasn’t in town isn’t good enough?”

“No. If you weren’t in town, I need to know where you were. I also need some kind of receipt, picture, anything with a time stamp and a location on it to prove that you were where you say you were. Gunner, I believe you and I want to help you get out of this. I don’t want to see you go to jail for something you didn’t do but you’ve got to help yourself. Whatever it is, no matter how embarrassing or shameful it is, you need to tell us. And if it is something that no one else really needs to know about, Walker and I can figure out a way to validate your alibi while keeping it a secret. You have to trust us.”

“I trust you, Brodie. I don’t know about Walker. He’s got a big mouth. You should hear the secrets he spills about people around the poker table. Hell, I’ve even heard a few of your secrets waiting on my cards to be dealt.”I pretend like what he had just said didn’t even faze me. The fact that Walker would spill any of my secrets to his poker buddies didn’t really surprise me. As long as I had known Walker he’d never been good at keeping a secret. If he knew something that other people didn’t he would squirm and be an overall annoying ass until you either begged him obligingly so that he felt like you forced him into to telling you or you played ridiculous charades with him until you guessed it. Walker had let the cat out of the bag about our gym teacher being pregnant by the captain of the football team by walking around his bedroom with his football jersey on and a basketball shoved up under it all while doing calisthenic exercises that our teacher loved to torture us with. He was not the person that you told things to if you didn’t want them getting out to someone else.

“I’m not surprised. My secrets aren’t really all that secret nor are they relevant to your current situation. Walker is not going to tell anyone what you tell us unless it is legally necessary. Now, start talking or I’m walking out of here. I’m not going to let you waste anymore of my time while there is still a real killer on the loose.”

Gunner huffed loudly as he situated himself on the couch. He went back to looking down at the floor instead of looking at me or Walker. I was getting really tired of the coy shit and just wanted to hear what his excuse was. I still had more work to do to catch this asshole before he murdered someone else. I wanted to catch him before I got another note at my house. While I was waiting on Gunner to finally open his mouth, I happened to notice the knuckles on Walker’s right hand were red and scabbed over as if he’d been in a fight. He had a few scratches on his neck that could have been from being in the woods, walking through thick brush; it was hunting season after all. Other than that, Walker was blemish free. He didn’t look like he’d been in a fight. I’d have to ask him about it later.

“Shit. I was in Atlanta. With a friend.”

“I’m going to need more than that. I’ve already explained that to you.”

“I’m getting to it. I was in Atlanta with a guy friend. We went to a strip club.”

“What’s his name? What strip club? How long were you there? Is that the only place you went? What time did you leave Birmingham?”

“Fuck. Do we really have to do this? Can I just give you a blacked out credit card statement showing the time and place?”

“No.”

“We went to Sailor Sam’s.”

“The gay bar?”

“Yeah.”

“With who?”

“Stevie Schaeffer. We left here around twelve and did some shopping at the mall once we got into town. We had dinner at Constantine’s, drinks at Kennigan’s Pub, and then to Sailor Sam’s. We stayed at the PeachTree that night. Drove home the next morning after having breakfast at the Waffle House.”

“Stevie Schaeffer as in Judge Schaeffer’s son?”

“Yes.” Gunner continued to look at the floor. Walker’s chin was hanging down to his chest and he was staring wide-eyed at Gunner. I wanted to laugh but knew I couldn’t. If I started laughing now, Gunner wouldn’t trust me to explain his story.

“Why did you go to with Stevie Schaeffer to Atlanta?”

“Do I really need to explain?”

“Are you gay? You kissed me last night!”

“He kissed you last night? You kissed her last night? What the hell is going on? Aren’t you engaged? Didn’t your fiancée just die? What the fuck kind of twilight shit have y'all gotten me into?”

“You’re engaged?”

“How did you miss this giant ring on my finger?”

“If you haven’t noticed, rings don’t really mean much to me.”

“You kissed him?”

“I’m going to eat all ten of the bullets in my gun if you two don’t shut up. Finish your story, Gunner.”

Gunner shifted around on the couch before getting up and walking over to the bar to pour himself another drink. The ice clinking in the glass echoed through the office. I pulled my blazer off and got comfortable in the chair. I had a feeling that I was going to be here for a while hearing this story. I sent a quick text to Beau explaining where I was and what I was doing. Walker finally closed his mouth but was now staring at me with eyes so wide he resembled a scared Chihuahua.

“For Chloe’s twenty-first birthday she wanted a threesome. With Stevie. She and Stevie were in the same psychology class. She had a huge crush on him and really wanted to sleep with him but he was more interested in me. Chloe begged me and begged me and begged me to do this with her. I was really freaked out about it at first but we met with Stevie one night and agreed on some ground rules. I felt okay about it afterward so I agreed to it. And then Chloe wanted to do it again. And again. It eventually got to the point that Stevie was in our bed more than he was out of our bed. At least when Chloe was at home. Anyway, last week was the first time Stevie and I have gone off by ourselves. I was having some weird feelings and I wasn’t sure if it was just because of the strange situation with Stevie, Chloe, and I or if I was really having feelings for Stevie. I needed to get away from Chloe and the wedding planning and all of the other bullshit and just figure the shit out. It was Stevie’s idea to go out of town.”

“So, how’d that work out?”

“I’m definitely not gay, if that’s what you’re asking.” Walker nearly choked on his drink. I bit back a giggle and waited for Gunner to finish his story. I was still in shock about the threesome with Stevie and Chloe to process the fact that he thought he might have been having feelings for another man. Not than someone being gay bothered me. I could have cared less but it just seemed like such a strange, strange turn of events to find out that Gunner didn’t kill his fiancée because he was off with the bedfellow that he shared with his fiancée trying to figure out if he had feelings for him or not. It was just too much to process all at once.

“So, what kind of receipts do you need in order to clear my name?”

“The hotel receipt and any receipt from your shopping trip will work. That will show a time line and that you were still in Atlanta the next morning when we think Chloe was dumped. Also, if you know of anyone else that could back up your story without us having to talk to Stevie, we should be able to leave him out of the police report.”

“Um, I can’t think of anyone right off the top of my head but I will think about it. I didn’t really want anyone knowing that I was going on a trip with Stevie by myself. I didn’t want it getting back to Chloe. She would have been heartbroken. Chloe was marrying me for the money. I think she really had feelings for Stevie. The really shitty part is that he kept stringing her along making her think that she would eventually have a chance of something with him only to keep himself close to me. He confessed that to me while we were on our trip. He’s a bastard. I know that Chloe and I had our issues and had a very unorthodox relationship but I would have never done anything like this just to hurt her feelings. I really did - still do- love Chloe. I wouldn’t have wanted to purposely hurt her. He’s a jerk. We got back here around eleven on Wednesday morning and I told him that I didn’t want to see him anymore. He got really pissed off and threatened to tell Chloe about our trip. When I didn’t hear from her, I figured he’d told her and she was mad at me and giving me the silent treatment once again. I’m such an asshole that I thought she was just pouting and trying to teach me a lesson that I didn’t even think to check on her. My poor Chloe was dead, laying out in public for someone to just walk by and find her, and I didn’t even know. I was in my office, working like usual, thinking that she’d come home in a few days.” Gunner stopped talking. Before he looked up at me I already knew he was crying by the cracking sound in his voice. My heart was breaking around the edges seeing him show some emotion about what had happened to Chloe. I think it had finally hit him that she was gone and would never be coming back. Chloe was dead and there was nothing he could do about it.

After Gunner’s interview Walker and I decided to get some lunch. He suggested Manhattan because he loved Keaton’s alligator and sausage gumbo. I wasn’t sure if I really felt like seeing Keaton but I didn’t want to give away that something was bothering me. We both drove our own vehicles in case I got called into work. The parking lot was packed full of cars and I could see people waiting at the door for a table. Of course, Walker wanted me to use my status as Keaton’s girlfriend to get a table ahead of everyone else but I said no. We could stand outside in the line just like everyone else. After about fifteen minutes we were finally seated in the last booth in the right hand corner of the restaurant. We were sitting right next to the bar where Kailee would be working. I hated my life right now. Walker ordered the gumbo and a plate of fried green tomatoes. I ordered a steak and a baked potato. If I was going to have to sit and look at this gigantic jugged ex-girlfriend baby mama current mistress whatever she was of Keaton’s, I felt like I deserved all the red meat and starchy food I wanted. And of course, an ice cold beer. Walker tried to talk me into ordering a whiskey sour and getting smashed at lunch but I knew if I did I’d whiskey tango myself across that bar to whoop her ass. And then Keaton’s. I kept trying to tell myself that there was a simple explanation. The picture could have been photoshopped for all I knew. With everything that had happened it the last two weeks, I wasn’t sure what was real and what was fake anymore. All I knew was that I was so damn tired of playing mind games with people.
“What did you do to your hand?”

“Hmm? Oh, this? It’s not as bad as it looks. I sparred with a guy at the gym the other day and the wrap on my hand came loose.”

“Looks like you hit him pretty hard to be sparring.”

“Like I said, it’s not as bad as it looks. So, Gunner kissed you?”

“Can we please not even talk about that?”

“Because he had a boyfriend and it makes you sick to think about it? Because let me tell you, I thought I was going to throw up. I mean, I used to sleep next to that dude in football camp.”

“I know. He used to call me and tell me about how great your ass looked in the showers with the hot soapy water running down your crack.”

“You’re a disgusting, vile human being. You know that? I mean, really disgusting. I don’t even know why I’m friends with you.”

“Easy.” I said as I reached over and snatched a fried green tomato from his plate.

“We are one and the same. The only difference is I don’t have a dick and you d — well, there’s no difference actually.”

“I hate you.”

“No. You don’t. And let me just go ahead and tell you what happened because I know if I don’t you’re going to bug the hell out of me until I tell you. I was going through some old photo albums at home trying to figure out how the Alabama Theater related to me when I found a picture from a school field trip where we went to the Alabama. I remembered riding that damn Wurlitzer with Gunner because you were too stuck up Pennheller’s ass to ride it with me and I was scared. Gunner held my hand on the Wurlitzer but only when we were under the stage where no one could see us. So, either Gunner was really the killer and he was doing this fucked up shit to get back at me for marrying Gray or someone else knew more about he and I than we thought they did and was using me and him as an opportunity to kill innocent girls and pin it on him.”

“Innocent girls?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you not hear any of the shit that Gunner told you about Chloe? Chelsea told me some stuff about that girl, too. I’m surprised she didn’t bring home Gunner a whole collector’s set of STD’s. And that Janelle girl was advertising for sex on Craigslist in order to pay for head shots so that she could become a model. And she had done porn.”

“Okay, first of all, asshole, what a woman decides to do with her twat is none of your damn business. You have put that little dick of yours in just about everything that walks, shits, and breathes in this town so you’re just as much of a slut as Chloe was. And you DID get an STD one time. Remember that time we went to Panama City and you slept with that big-lipped Dorito tanned girl that called herself Coco Loco? Does it still burn when you piss? Second of all, if Janelle wanted to do gang-banging midget porn until she was eighty doesn’t mean she wasn’t an innocent girl who damn sure did not deserve the beating she got. These girls didn’t hurt anyone with what they were doing. Yeah, okay, it’s probably not what society wants to see young women doing but it’s their fucking bodies. They can do what the hell they want to. You don’t get to pass judgment on them just because you have a dick. Fuck you.”

“I don’t even know what to say to you right now. You promised me that you wouldn’t ever bring up Panama City. And I’m sorry! You’re right. I shouldn’t have opened my mouth. I just meant from the standpoint of a friend of Gunner, Chloe was not the angel that her mother and some of her other friends thought she was.”

“Apology accepted. And I promised to never bring up the second trip to Panama City. Coco happened on the first so its fair game.”

“Touché. Why are you so pissy anyway?”

“Seriously? Have you not been paying attention to what is going on in my life right now? Some psycho is going around killing girls and leaving me love notes to go hunt down their bodies. I got a letter at my house yesterday. Well, I didn’t read it until this morning but still. Back to Gunner. I thought if I went to his apartment and approached the situation as an old friend instead of the cop who is trying to put him in jail that he might open up to me and either give me an alibi or confess. We were on his couch talking and he was kind of flirting with me and making references to when we were teenagers and then the next thing I know, he grabbed me, slid me into his lap, and kissed me.”

“You kiss him back?”

“You’re such a girl! No, I didn’t. I mean, I wasn’t rude, ya know? But I didn’t want to give him the wrong idea. It was all kind of wrong and awkward so I left shortly after that and just told him I’d talk to him more today. I wasn’t planning on bringing it up but the shock of the Stevie story just kind of made me blurt it out.”

“No kidding. You ever had a threesome?”

Before I could answer Walker’s ridiculous question I heard someone clear their throat and looked up to find Keaton standing at the table. He looked handsome as he always did. I wanted him to sit down next to me and throw his arms around me and bury his face in my neck and hair. I just wanted him to touch me and let me know that everything was going to be okay but he didn’t even know anything was wrong. Did I confront him about it or did I just let it go and hope that maybe it was just a moment of weakness and he’d gotten it out of his system?

“Hey, baby. I would have stuck my head in the back to let you know that I was here but you guys were really busy when we got here. The new menu looks amazing!”

“Thanks, babe,” Keaton said as he slid into the booth next to me. He reached out and shook Walker’s hand. Walker immediately wiped his hands on his napkin and then gulped down the last of his whiskey. I noticed it. Keaton didn’t. Keaton threaded his arm through mine and placed his hand on the inside of my thigh. My brain started buzzing as soon as he touched me.

“So, you guys were discussing a threesome. Should I back away from the conversation I butted into or do I need to stay?”

“Oh my, gosh, Key, we’re not discussing us having a threesome. It’s a complicated work thing with a client of Walker’s. And Nosey Nancy over there just asked me if I’d ever had a threesome. He wasn’t asking to have a threesome. Don’t be gross.”

“Why are threesomes gross?”

Walker laughed and high-fived Keaton. I blushed.

“I didn’t say threesomes were gross. Just a threesome with Walker would be gross.”

“Hey! I’m not gross, damnit.”

“No, but you’re my best friend. That’s weird.”

“You know I read somewhere that if you’re going to have a threesome it is actually better and more successful if you have it with someone that you are close to and trust. So, I’m a perfect candidate.”

“He has a point, Brodie. As a matter of fact, I think I read that same article.”

“I read an article once where it said that a man’s IQ is equal to his dick size. Must be why both of you are so stupid.”

“Hey, hey, that’s below the belt.”

We all laughed at Keaton’s pun causing Kailee to look over at us from the bar counter. She was drying glasses as she watched Keaton’s face. He either didn’t have that same sense that I do when someone was staring or he was purposely ignoring her. Either way it still irked me. Here she was ogling Keaton while he had his hand on my thigh and all I could think about was that damn picture. I was trying so hard to push it out of my mind and not think about it but the longer I sat there the harder it got. I knew that confronting him at work was not a good idea. Especially with her standing right there. He finally noticed her staring and just gave her a kind of a quick nod and a wave. No smile. No emotion. I couldn’t even tell what that meant between the two of them. She eventually slammed down the last glass and walked away, shooting me a look that could have melted me into the booth. I couldn’t help myself any longer.

“She seems upset. Did you talk to her?”

“Yeah. And she is upset. Things didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped. She pretty much blackmailed me into keeping her job. I wasn’t going to fire her per se but I did suggest that maybe she find employment elsewhere so that things wouldn’t be weird or complicated. I was informed that she’d sue me for discrimination since everyone knows she’s pregnant. Which is another thing she’s started using to hurl threats at me. I can’t wait until this kid gets here so we can get a paternity test. The more I think about things the more I’m pretty sure that I’m not the father.”

“One can only hope, right, Brodie?"

“I choose not to comment on this. Keaton already knows that I will support him whatever happens. Did you offer her a severance package or anything?”

“Yes, she wanted ten grand cash or nothing. I’m not giving her a damn dime. She’s being ridiculous. Our relationship was shit before Brodie and I decided to work things out. I don’t know why she thinks things were so great and I just all of sudden wanted out? I’ve been trying to get her out of my apartment for months.”

“Is she still there?”

“Yeah. I paid some movers to pack up my shit the day after you told me I could move back home. Anything I haven’t brought to the house is in storage. I had the building manager write up a lease in her name and I signed it over to her. It’s hers now. If she doesn’t pay for it, it’s her ass out on the street. She’s just being a fucking bitch.”

“I’m sorry you’re having to go through this.”

“Don’t be. It will be worth it in the end. Once this baby is here and we know it’s not mine, I can fire her for whatever I want to. Until then, I plan on making her time here so unbearable that she’ll just quit. Now, back to this threesome, can I substitute Walker for a blonde with porn star lips and tramp stamp?”

“Just get Walker to grow his hair out and there you go.”

“You two are hilarious. But seriously, have either of you ever had a threesome? Chelsea has brought it up to me before and the conversation gets really weird really quick.”

“The conversation or you?”

“Me, probably. I mean, Chelsea doesn’t even talk dirty in bed and then all of a sudden she’s like hey, would you ever want to have a threesome? It makes no sense. It’s got to be a trap.”

“A trap?”

“Yeah, a trap. You know how girls are. They ask you shit and then you tell them the truth and they lose their freaking minds. I just know if I say hell yes, I want to have a threesome her head will spin around faster than a weather vane in a hurricane. I’m not going there. I just told her if it was something she really wanted and she had someone in mind, I’d think about it. No dudes, though. No dudes.”

“Damn, Walker. I was getting my hopes up that I’d get to see you naked.”

“No wonder you two get along so well, Brodie. He’s a fucking comedian, too.”

Walker and I finished lunch and Keaton walked me out to my truck. Walker stood around and talked with us for a minute before leaving to go see Chelsea. They were supposed to be picking out the tuxes for his groomsmen. He looked so excited. Keaton walked me around to the driver side of my car. There was a brick wall across from my door, blocking this side of my truck from anyone in the parking lot. Keaton slammed me up against my truck door and kissed me hard while he shoved a hand down my panties.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Sorry,” he breathed in my ear. “I got a little excited talking about threesomes.”

“With Walker, though. Ew. Men are so fucking gross.”

Keaton laughed with his head buried in the crook of my neck. He pulled his hand out of my panties and slid both of his hands around to my ass. He squeezed my ass pulling me closer to him. I kissed and nibbled his neck pushing my hips against him when I heard him moaning.

“Let’s go home and embarrass Roscoe.”

“Can’t. We both have work to do.”

“Let’s blow it off. Hell, we don’t even have to go home. Your truck has a backseat. I want to ruin that new car smell.”

“What has gotten into you?”

“You. I can’t stop thinking about your beautiful body underneath mine.”

“Well, as fun as that sounds, we are not having sex in my truck. People will see us.”

“So?” He grinned at me like a fox that had just devoured everything in the hen house. The dimples in his cheeks always made me feel like someone had started a fire low in my belly. I could feel the heat between my legs thinking about looking down at those dimples as he disappeared between my legs. And then I thought about the damn picture.

“We need to talk.”

“Uh oh. That doesn’t sound good.” Keaton let me go and backed away from me. He leaned against the brick wall with his hands clasped in front of him."

“I got another letter from the killer in the mail yesterday.”

“What? I checked the mail yesterday. I didn’t see anything.”

“That black and white envelope that was decorated really pretty? Looked like a wedding invitation? It was a letter from him.”

“I thought it was a wedding invitation! What did it say?”

“He talked about how much he loved me and wanted to be with me and then talked about Gray and you and he knew something about me that I’ve never told anyone else. No one. But there was also a picture in the envelope. A picture of you.” I turned around, opened the door of my truck, and grabbed the picture out of the cup holder. I handed it to Keaton and waited for him to say something.

“Brodie, I — I don’t understand. Why would someone be taking pictures of me and Kailee?”

“So that is you and Kailee? That’s not photoshopped? I mean the time and date is right too? Because that is two days ago. Two fucking days ago.”

“It’s us. And I think it’s the right date but it’s not what you think. I didn’t kiss her. She kissed me.”

“Keaton —”

“Don’t you dare start accusing me of anything or start trying to sabotage this without hearing what I have to say, damnit. I walked her out to the car because she was saying that she didn’t feel good and that she wanted to get some air. When we walked out here she started crying and telling me that she missed me and that she didn’t understand why I didn’t want to be with her since she was about to be the mother of my child and was saying some really awful things about you. And I defended you and told her that it didn’t matter what she said that I loved you and I didn’t want to be with anyone else but you for the rest of my life and that she was going to have to learn how to deal with it. Then she kept crying. I reached up to wipe tears from her face and that is when she leaned in and kissed me. My hands in this picture are me pushing her off of me. You don’t have to believe me, but Brodie, have I ever lied to you?”

“No.”

“Well, that ought to tell you something. I mean whoever this guy is, he clearly wants you to leave me. That’s his end game. He wants you all by yourself so that he can have you. He thinks if he gets you all alone, away from everyone in your life, that he can have you. Of course he is going to tell you things and send you things to make you think that I’m no good for you. Brodie, I love you, damnit. I just got you back. There is no way in hell I’m going to fuck this up now. I guess I should have told you as soon as it happened but it didn’t mean anything to me and I know she’s just being a desperate bitch and I know you’ve been under a lot of stress lately so I just didn’t want to bother you. I’m sorry, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Do you believe me? You’re only giving me one word responses?”

“Yes, I believe you. I just feel stupid for even bringing it up after hearing what you said. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, baby. If something is bother you, no matter what it is, you have to tell me so that you and I can work it out. We’re a team. We are in this together. That’s the only way this is going to work. We can’t be like we were last time and just think that the other is reading the other one’s mind. It doesn’t work like that. You have to communicate.”

“Well, since we’re communicating, I need to tell you something else.”

“Okay, shoot.”

“I can’t have any more kids.”

“Why?”

“You remember when I told you about that crack head stabbing me during one of my first arrests as a beat cop?”

“Yeah?”

“Apparently the guy had such good aim that he managed to get me right in the uterus. Who stabs people in the uterus? Anyway, I’ve known for a while but I didn’t tell anyone because I was holding out in hope that I could have more kids but it’s honestly probably not going to happen.”

“Okay.”

“Okay? You’re not upset?”

“Does it bum me out a little? Yeah. But we already have a beautiful little girl. No, she’s not biologically mine but she’s still mine all the same. She’s my baby girl. And honestly, Brodie, we don’t need a kid right now anyway. We just got back together. We aren’t even married yet. And with the way you work, there’s no way you could have a baby. Did you think I would be mad?”

“I thought it might change the way you felt.”

“Why?”

“Because I can’t give you any kids, Key. That’s one of the primary responsibilities of a wife, to give her husband kids, and I can’t do that. I can’t give you a son.”

“That’s okay. I don’t need one.” Keaton wrapped his arms back around me. He pulled me close to him and kissed me on the forehead. “I just need you and Braelynn. That’s all I need. I need you to plan a gorgeous wedding and have our gorgeous daughter as a flower girl and you to walk down the aisle to me wearing a gorgeous dress. And then I need you to say I do and live with me forever and ever and ever for better and for worse, in sickness and in health. Even when I’m old and pooping myself.” He kissed my forehead and then leaned back so that he could look into my eyes. "Being in a relationship with you is like eating ice cream with a fork- frustrating and stupid and challenging. And there's always going to be a little left behind... but it's still ice cream, and it will always be worth it."

I laughed and laid my head on his chest. I could have stayed there like that all day long. I loved being in his arms. Keaton always made me feel so safe. Nothing in the world could get me while I was in his arms. He was my safety blanket. I could feel him running his hands through my hair. He leaned down and kissed me again but this time it was soft and sweet. His lips were so soft against mine and I’d never felt more in love than in that moment. Keaton truly did love me for who I was and for who I wasn’t. He had accepted all of my faults and flaws and looked past them. He never tried to change who I was. I was so worried that he would leave me once he found out that I couldn’t have kids. I still didn’t know who else would know that secret but I felt so much better getting it off of my chest. If Keaton knew now going into this marriage, then he couldn’t be mad at me later. Keaton being so accepting of this news is probably not what the killer was planning on. In fact, I was pretty sure that his plan had just back fired but I was more than okay with that. I was incredibly happy.

“I love you so much, Keaton."

“I love you, too, sugar.”

Keaton walked back to work and I got in my truck and pulled out of the parking lot. I didn’t really have to be in the office but I didn’t really want to go home. I figured if I went in to the office and went over the case files again I might catch something we hadn’t before. There had to be something in the case files and the evidence to point to who our real killer was. He couldn’t be that smart. Once I got to the office I poured myself a cup of coffee, grabbed the files and a notepad, and plopped myself on the couch in the break room. I sipped my coffee while I read over the witness reports from the botanical gardens. No one had seen anyone suspicious the night before or the morning of the find. No one had seen Chloe since Tuesday night. Her phone wasn’t on her when she was found. Her car wasn’t in the parking lot. Gunner had told us that she had her phone with her when she left his office that day because she had sent him a text telling him that she was going shopping with Chelsea. No one had questioned Chelsea yet and she was the last known person to see Chloe alive. I made a note to interview her. Janelle’s file was even more disappointing. Her roommate had seen her that afternoon. She left on her bike headed to class. No one in her class could remember her being there but said that she kept to herself so they couldn’t say for sure whether she really wasn’t there or they just hadn’t noticed her. Her phone had been on her when she left. Her bicycle was chained outside the building that housed her classroom. No one saw anyone suspicious the night before or the morning of her dump either. I kept going back and forth between Janelle’s file and Chloe’s file in hopes that there would be more similarities other than their missing cell phones. They were the same age. Chloe didn’t work. Janelle worked at a nursing home. Chloe had a brand new fancy car. Janelle rode a bicycle. Chloe was in her running gear and brand new running shoes when she died. Janelle was dressed like she was going out to the club. At that I made another note to ask Chelsea about Janelle because she seemed to know who she was too, according to Walker. He had mentioned earlier that Janelle had done porn and was working as a prostitute. How else would he know that? And as much as it cost to go to college these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true. There had to be something that linked the two of them together. Everything this killer did and said was all linked together in some kind of way. There was no way that this guy just picked two girls at random and killed them. They had to be connected somehow and they had to be accessible to him. Chloe had a string of men that chased her. If Janelle was working as a prostitute, then she probably had a slew of men chasing after her, too. Could one of the guys that chased Chloe have been a customer of Janelle’s? That was certainly possible. But he had to be connected to me, too. Chloe was a sorority girl with lots of friends. Janelle kept to herself. I made another note to check them out online. Apparently no one else had thought about doing that either. Young girls these days were always posting way too much information about themselves online. Janelle was posting ads on Craigslist. If we could get into her email we could see who she has been in contact with.

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