Deadly Fear Page 33

They didn’t have time to waste.

He gave a weak nod.

“Only the folks in your office knew Sam was at that airport.” And that fact pointed most heavily against Martin and right back at the good deputies of Jasper County.

“You think it’s one of us?” The shocked whisper came from behind her.

Monica glanced back, turning her attention to Lee Pope. He stood a few feet back, eyes wide in his pale face. “Somebody on our team?” He shook his head. “Doing that twisted crap?”

“Deputy, I’m going to need you to keep this conversation absolutely confidential.” Right. Like that was gonna happen. But she didn’t really mind. She wanted word to spread that the SSD was turning the focus on the sheriff’s office. It would help her stir the pot.

He spun away and slammed the door shut behind him hard enough to shake the glass in the window.

“You’re gonna make a lot of enemies, Davenport,” Davis warned her.

Yes, but what else was new? Making enemies, losing friends. Her way. Might as well go ahead and say it all. “I’m going to need to know your whereabouts for all the crimes, too, Sheriff.”

He gave a grim nod.

Making enemies…

“So how’d that work for you?” Luke asked as they headed out of the sheriff’s office. The personnel files were locked in her briefcase. She’d review them when they were secure and away from all the prying—and glaring—eyes.

“About like I anticipated.” There wouldn’t be a whole lot more cooperation coming from the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office.

“We aren’t killers.” Lee came around the corner of the building, a cigar dangling between his fingers.

Her nostrils flared even as she tensed. “I didn’t say you were, deputy.”

He shook his head, and ash drifted in the wind. “I know these people—we go to the same church. I dated Melinda in high school. I know them.”

“Sometimes you don’t really know people like you think you do,” Luke said softly, and Monica’s gaze flew to him. “Sometimes, you never see past their surface until it’s too late,” he finished.

She’d never wanted to let him see past the surface. No, but she was trying so hard now because she didn’t want to lose him.

Luke was worth fighting for. She’d known that years ago. She knew it now.

The difference? This time, she wouldn’t be afraid to fight.

Lee raised the cigar to his lips and took a long pull. When he exhaled, cigar smoke plumed in the air, and he growled. “The things he’s done, it ain’t one of us.”

“I really hope it isn’t,” she said and meant it.

“I’d know it! If a killer were working with me, I’d know!”

She felt a bit sad as she told him, “No, Lee, you wouldn’t.” Because the guy they were looking for was perfect at blending in and hiding right in front of everyone’s eyes.

That was why he was so dangerous.

Sam jerked awake, gasping for air, the water choking her as she struggled to kick up and away from—

“It’s okay, Samantha.” Someone took her hand and held tight.

She jumped at the touch, and her gaze shot to the left. Hyde was there, staring down at her from the shadows.

“You just had a bad dream,” he told her. “You’re safe.”

No, she’d never be safe again.

She pulled her hand from his. I can’t be weak in front of him. He’d kick her off the SSD, and she couldn’t leave the team. It was all she’d ever had. Something that mattered.

Something that had almost gotten her killed.

A chair screeched as he pulled it closer to the bed. “There’s no shame in being scared.”

“And what do you know… about being scared?” Shit, had she just said that? To him? But, yeah, that croaking voice was hers.

His brows climbed up high. “More than you might think.” He glanced at the machines that hummed and beeped on the other side of the bed. “If you make it through the rest of the night without any problems, you’ll be able to get out of here tomorrow.”

Her eyes skated around the room. “I want my gun.” She had no idea where her gun was, but she needed a weapon, any weapon.

“When you get out,” he said softly.

“I have to be ready, if he comes again—”

“You will be.” That dark stare was so steady on her.

I won’t break.

“I telephoned your mother. Told her what happened.”

Oh, no, not her mother. She would freak out. She’d—

Reach for the bottle.

No, no, she’s past that. Mom’s strong. She won’t.

“She said for me to tell you she was calling Chris and that she loved you.”

Sam took a deep breath. Chris was her mom’s sponsor. Good.

“If you want to talk to her, I can get you a phone in here.”

She shook her head. “No, not yet.” She just couldn’t handle that right then. If she heard her mother’s voice, she’d cry, and she just might not stop. “She—she didn’t want me to join the FBI.” Mom had always thought working with the FBI was too dangerous. What are you going to do when you get shot at? When you’re on the streets and a killer comes at you? Come on, Samantha, this isn’t for you.

But it had been, until a killer had come for her.

“Glad you didn’t listen to her.” He leaned back in the chair and crossed his arms. “I would’ve missed out on one damn fine agent.”

Her eyes widened. “You think I’m good?” She’d always felt like she didn’t fit in with the others. They had an edge, a sharpness to their personalities, and they weren’t afraid, not of anything.

There was a reason the killer had come after her. She knew it.

He’d realized she was the weak link. And he’d been right.

“I do.” Hyde’s head cocked to the right. “And I know you’re going to get past this, and you will be even better.”

Her lips pressed together so he wouldn’t see the tremble. He said he knew about being scared. Maybe she’d been wrong about him. “What are you afraid of, Hyde?”

His eyes bored into hers.

“Fine, don’t tell me.” Her voice was raspier now. “I’m going back to sleep.”

“I’ve seen a lot of death. Seen bodies mutilated, killers covered in blood…” He took a deep breath. “I know Hell’s real because I’ve seen it. Not once, but many times.”

“You keep working the cases.” Her fingers tightened around the sheets. “Why?” Why didn’t he ever give in and just give up?

“Because I will be damned if I let the killers win.” Flat. “That’s why I started the SSD. Why I go to work every single day. Someone has to stop those a**holes.”

He watched her silently for a time, then said, “Once, I thought there wasn’t any reason to keep trying. Those twisted bastards out there were winning the battle. The body count just kept rising, and the killers kept slaughtering. I was ready to turn away from everything. Everything.”

Now there was an intensity in his voice that she’d never heard before. “What happened to change your mind?”

“I saw a miracle.”

She blinked, not understanding. “What do you—”

“We can stop the killers, Samantha. We can track them, we can catch them, we can put the bastards in cages so that they never hurt anyone else, and we can save lives.”

Like Monica had saved her life. Pulled me out of that water. A few moments more…

“I’m in this business because I’m scared of what the world would be like if no one fought the killers. Someone has to do it.” His shoulders lifted. “Might as damn well be me.” A pause, then, “And you.”

If only things were that easy for her.

Hyde reached into his pocket and pulled out a peppermint. She almost smiled. Her uncle Jeremiah had carried those, too. When he’d given up his precious cigars, he’d gotten hooked on them—

Her fingers dug into the sheets as her heartbeat monitor beeped, loud and fast. Too fast to match her racing heart. “I remember something,” she whispered. The smell that had been so familiar to her. He’d leaned in close—Jeremiah.

“Samantha!” Monica’s voice.

Her head jerked as Monica ran into the room. “What’s happening?” Monica demanded, eyes bright. “Luke, get a nurse—”

Dante. She’d almost forgotten about him. “No, no… I’m okay.”

Monica and Dante shared a long look.

“What are you doing here?” Hyde demanded. “I said I’d stay through the night.”

“I need to get access to that security video,” Monica told him. Sam had no idea what video she was talking about. “I’ve got files on the deputies, but there are more suspects than you know, and I need to see—”

“He smelled like cigars,” Sam told them, blurting across Monica’s words. Goose bumps rose on her arms. “I-I remember… when he untied me from the chair, he leaned in close, and he smelled like… cigars.”

She saw Dante’s gaze shoot to Monica. “Fuck,” the guy swore and he spun around, heading right back for the door.

But Monica didn’t move. “Are you sure about this?”

She could smell the scent even now. “Yes.”

“And you didn’t see his face?”

“H-he was behind me… then he…” Her hand circled in front of her face. “He put some kind of cloth bag over me so I couldn’t see him.”

Monica stared at her, and Sam could almost see the wheels turning in her head. Finally, Monica said, her voice so cool, “Then I’ve got a deputy I need to question.”

Lee Pope heard the shuffle of footsteps behind him. He spun around, his hands clenched into tight fists. “You’re not gonna believe this shit.” Rage and fear pumped through him. Keep this quiet? Hell, no. “The Feds are looking at us for these kills.”

“Really?” Vance asked, blinking. “Us?”

He could still see Monica Davenport’s face. Perfect face, ice-cold eyes, staring too hard at him.

“They’re running our records. Checking us all out.” Lee shifted from his left foot to his right. “Ain’t right.” She had no business digging into his life. He’d already spilled his guts about his father. She didn’t need to know anything else. His past—it was his.

“Man, what are you worried that she’ll find?”

He stared into Vance’s eyes. Confusion was there. No worry. Because what would Vance have to be worried about? As far as he knew, Vance only worried about who his next screw would be.

Get control.

Lee blew out a hard breath. “Nothin’.” There’d be nothing for Agent Davenport to find. She could look all she wanted.

He’d be clean.

He brushed by Vance.

“Hey, hold up, where you goin’? I thought you had a mornin’ shift.”

Lee didn’t glance back.

Something more important had come up.

Luke’s eyes were grainy. Stubble coated his jaw, and if he didn’t get a cup of coffee in the next five seconds, he might just go postal on someone’s ass.

“Where is Deputy Lee Pope?” Monica demanded, leaning over Sheriff Davis’s desk. “I need to see your deputy now.”

“You think it’s him?” Davis’s chin sagged. “Him, me, maybe Jake Martin in Gatlin?” Animosity there. While they’d been gone, the fact that they were investigating his deputies, investigating him, must have really sunk in deep.

Luke saw her shoulders tense. “What do you know about Jake Martin?”

“I know he called my office five minutes after you left. He’s at the hospital in New Orleans with his poor sister. The woman was beat damn near to death by some crazy boyfriend—”

“Sheriff, I want you to listen to me.” She leaned forward and her voice—yeah, it would make a grown man shudder. “Either you get on your radio, and you get Lee Pope into this office right now, or I make the call for you because I am not dicking around here.”

The sheriff whirled his chair around and grabbed for the radio he kept in his office. He punched in the buttons, tuned it, then said, “This is Sheriff Davis. I need Lee Pope to report to the station, repeat, I need Deputy Pope to return to the station. Over.”

He raised his brows at Monica. “Satisfied?”

“No.” She lifted the phone and offered it to him. “Call on his cell. Get him in this office.”

His cheeks reddened. “You’re wrong. It’s not Lee, I’m tellin’ you, not him. I’d know—”

“You can never know killers. You only know what they show you, and believe me, Sheriff, it’s damn little.”

He made the call. “Voice mail,” he muttered, but then said, “Pope, it’s Davis. I need you back at the office, got me? Now.” He slammed the phone down and shoved back in his chair.

Luke stirred. “No beeper?”

Davis’s eyes slit. “No.”

“Look, I know you don’t like this,” Monica said. “Neither do I.”

“He’s my man! He’s worked by my side. He wouldn’t—”

“Pope knew all three of the victims here in Jasper, didn’t he?”

“Yeah…”

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