Seven years earlier.
NEW YORK TIMES & USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR
An escaped serial killer is looking for revenge in this new Romantic Thriller from New York Times bestselling author Toni Anderson.
Seven years earlier.
Today, Hope Harper had won the biggest victory of her life in the courtroom. After weeks of fiery and often brutal testimony, her client had been released. The problem was, Hope suspected Julius Leech was truly the vicious serial killer the police and District Attorney’s office had accused him of being.
And now he was free again.
Her stomach clenched. She closed her eyes and laid her head against the warm steering wheel in the quiet parking garage attached to her firm’s downtown building.
It wasn’t her job as a defense attorney to make a judgement regarding her clients’ guilt. Only for her to vigorously defend them and focus on the government’s failure to legally prove their case.
The cops had fucked up.
Worse, they’d lied. Perjured themselves on the stand.
Last night, one detective had tragically taken his own life. His partner, a junior detective, was now under investigation.
She raised her head. Glanced at the text her husband had sent her a few hours ago.
We need to talk…
And didn’t that sound ominous.
They hadn’t spent a lot of time together recently, this case consuming every minute of her existence since Jeff Beasley had dangled a partnership in front of her like a carrot on a stick if she took on Leech as a client. She hadn’t even needed a “Not Guilty” verdict.
Partner before thirty?
With a kid?
Hope liked to win. Liked to prove she was as good as any of the arrogant, self-righteous prosecutors in the DA’s office. Her goal had always been a partnership at Beasley, Waterman, Vander & Co., so she could have job security and some say in what cases she handled in the future. Mainly, so she could spend more time with Danny and Paige and they could think about adding to their little family.
Well, now she was officially one of the “Co.”
And even though her insides churned with unease, she wasn’t the one who’d screwed this up for the prosecution. The cop who’d planted the evidence was the reason Julius Leech was once again free to wander the streets. She was good, but she wasn’t good enough to beat the wave of circumstantials the police had produced to back up their accusations.
And she was truly sorry about Detective Pauly Monroe. She’d known him personally via her brother-in-law, who was also a Boston Police detective.
She blew out a massive sigh. This trial had damaged her relationships on so many levels.
She couldn’t bear to think about Leech any longer. She’d been forced to sit next to the guy for months and pretend he didn’t make her skin crawl every time they accidentally brushed against one another. She’d had to pretend the obvious admiration in his pale blue eyes wasn’t something that made her want to retch.
She was taking next week off. God knew, she’d earned it.
We need to talk…
Anxiety gnawed along her nerves. She missed her husband and she missed her daughter. She started the car and began the drive out of the city. She contemplated calling ahead to see if they needed anything picked up from the store but dreaded the idea Danny might tell her not to come home at all.
They’d argued last night to the point where for the first time in their lives together she’d slept in the spare room and left before the sun was up.
She hated when they fought. Danny was her safe place, her rock, and usually backed her.
Not last night.
Last night, Danny had begged her to walk away. To walk away from the case and the firm.
It had been an impossible ask after she’d worked so hard and the trial was almost over. Why couldn’t he have seen that? Instead, he’d said she was a workaholic who was selling her soul.
That had cut deep.
It was okay to work tirelessly on the Innocence Project and help get wrongly convicted individuals out of jail, but it wasn’t okay to vigorously defend people the public had decided were guilty, whether the facts backed them up or not?
That was bullshit.
Criminal justice was not necessarily about right and wrong. It was a game of legalese chess and she was damn good at it, even if her morals were a little bruised from some of the people her firm represented—but no more than the experienced detective who’d planted DNA or the rookie who’d let him.
Her jaw hurt from clenching her teeth so hard, but she had to let it go.
She loved Danny. Had loved him since the first day they’d collided. They’d figure it out.
Hell, she’d quit if it meant that much to him. Deal with corporate or entertainment contracts instead. Even though she loved trying cases in court, she’d quit for the man she loved.
It was after seven p.m. and the rush hour traffic had died down. Getting out of the city only took twenty minutes. She arrived at their beautiful, leafy, suburban craftsman-style house and parked in the driveway. She stared at the building that Danny had turned into a comfortable home for them all. It was deep blue and had white-painted shutters. Flowers bloomed in the containers they’d set up that spring. That was the extent of her gardening prowess, but Danny enjoyed being outside. He’d planted a flowerbed at the side of the driveway and a small vegetable garden at the back where he and Paige were growing lettuce and carrots and a pumpkin to carve for Halloween.
He’d made the choice to stay home with Paige while Hope went out to work. He was a crime fiction author and managed to squeeze out pages in-between playdates and kids’ movies. She and his brother Brendan served as advisors for his plots. One of his novels had been optioned for a movie although Danny had told her not to get excited because most options expired before the movie was ever made. But Hope was secretly planning what to wear at the Oscars and mentally helping Danny prepare his acceptance speech for winning best screenplay.
She loved her husband. She believed in him. Up until yesterday, she’d thought he believed in her too.
Lawyers often didn’t like their clients. Clients were often bad people. They still deserved a solid defense.
Last night they’d both said things in anger they shouldn’t have, but maybe the real issue was the fact she’d been absent so much lately. She didn’t want to be absent anymore.
She climbed out and met the muggy September air. The fact Paige didn’t immediately throw open the front door and run to greet her was a bad sign. Aged four and a half now, her daughter was usually allowed to stay up late if she knew her mom was going to be home in time to tuck her into bed.
Hope stretched her neck to the side, working out the kinks before walking around to grab her heavy briefcase and suit jacket off the passenger seat.
The sun was starting to drop in the sky, casting long shadows from the detached garage into the yard. It was unseasonably hot. A bird sang in the tree and a kid rode his bicycle down the sidewalk followed by a girl on a skateboard. Cars were parked all along the street. The house opposite was having an addition built on the back and Danny had been cursing the noise and distraction from his writing.
The workers were gone now. The Dumpster at the front of the house full of sheetrock and rubble, mud all over the sidewalk.
Hope brushed her hair from her forehead and went in through the side gate to see if her family were in the back yard.
It was so quiet.
Her heartbeat sped up in sudden apprehension.
What if he’d left her?
“Danny?” She hurried up the back steps and inside. “Paige?”
She dumped her bag and jacket on the kitchen island, pulled out her phone. No messages. She texted him before slipping it back into her pocket. Danny’s car keys were hanging up beside the door, which made the awful tension that had gripped her ease. No evidence of dinner being made though. Where the heck were they? Maybe they’d gone to pick something up. Or to grab an ice cream from the convenience store at the end of the street to celebrate the end of summer.
Perhaps they could all go out to that place on Field Street and eat on the patio. Celebrate her partnership and a week’s well-earned vacation.
She kicked off her heels and absently leaned down to stroke the kitten, Lucifer, who’d come running through from the family room meowing for food as usual. Then she noticed blood on the floor.
“Did you cut yourself?” She picked up Lucifer and checked his paws. There were traces of crimson on his feet but he didn’t seem to be injured.
She walked through to the family room, clutching the kitty to her chest. Her heart stopped. She dropped the cat. Ran toward her husband who lay on the floor in front of the muted TV.
“Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God. No.”
Paige lay next to him. Still as a rock. They were holding hands and a chill stole over her.
“No, no, no.”
She searched for Danny’s pulse. Belatedly noticed the blood drenching his dark blue graphic tee that had a small hole in the center. The faint flutter of his heartbeat beneath her fingertips took her by surprise.
He was alive.
He was alive.
The slight rise and fall of his chest told her he was breathing. Just.
She fumbled for her phone and called 911 and put it on speaker, yelling her address and begging for help.
She turned to Paige and frantically feeling for a pulse, internally recoiling from her daughter’s cool skin while checking to see if she was breathing. She wasn’t.
“Baby, come on.”
Danny’s eyes flickered as she started CPR on their child. They couldn’t lose her. Hope refused to lose her. She repeated the thirty compressions to two breaths, five times, ignoring the lack of response in Paige’s blood-speckled blue eyes.
She turned to Danny to make sure he was still alive, still with her. She pressed a kiss to his cheek. “I love you, honey. I’m so sorry we argued last night. I’m so sorry. I love you.”
He tried to open his mouth, but nothing came out. His eyes flicked to their daughter and Hope began CPR again, knowing it was almost certainly too late and their beautiful, amazing daughter was gone. But she was called Hope for a reason.
She refused to give up.
The doorbell rang. The paramedics were here. Thank God. She stumbled to her feet and crashed into the coffee table on the way out of the room, barely registering the blow. She threw open the door and suddenly, it was as if she’d slipped into a surreal dream. It wasn’t the paramedics standing there, it was Julius Leech and he held a bunch of flowers and a bottle of red wine and wore a big smile.
“I wanted to thank you—”
Hope ignored him. Blinked and looked around. An ambulance was racing down the street toward her and she raised her hand, pushing past Leech to stand on the cool grass in her bare feet, frantically waving her arms.
The ambulance pulled to a stop.
“This way,” she urged as they jumped out of their rig and grabbed their heavy bags.
“Quickly. My husband is alive. I did CPR on my daughter but she isn’t breathing.” She broke off on a sob as she led the way inside. She eased into a space between Danny and Paige as the paramedics began to work on her family. Stroked her daughter’s silky blonde hair. “Her name is Paige.”
“What happened?” One of the paramedics asked.
“I don’t know. I arrived home a few minutes ago and found them like this.”
The paramedic avoided her gaze but she refused to accept what she could see on the woman’s face.
“Please keep trying.” Terror strangled Hope. “Please don’t give up. They are everything to me.”
The woman nodded and began inserting an IV while another medic worked on Danny.
Hope stroked his black hair. “He was breathing and had a pulse when I came home. His eyes were open and aware.” She didn’t know how coherent words were spilling out of her mouth when all she wanted to do was scream.
More medics arrived and she was forced aside as the two teams worked side-by-side.
“Please help them. I don’t know what I’ll do without them.” She’d die. She’d cease to exist.
She glanced up and saw Julius Leech standing on the threshold of the family room. A smile flickered around the corner of his mouth as his eyes shone with what looked like glee.
Realization hit her like a shotgun blast. “You son of a bitch.”
Hope stumbled to her feet and launched herself at him. Leech looked startled. He scooted from the room and out through the wide-open front door and she chased him, grabbing the neck of his suit jacket, jerking him off his feet. He lay there in the grass, staring up at her.
“What did you do to them? What did you do!” she screamed.
Another figure rushed over and threw himself on top of Leech and started pummeling the guy.
Danny’s brother, Brendan.
“You bastard. You fucking piece of filth.” Brendan slammed his fist into Leech’s face, over and over again.
Hope wanted Julius annihilated. Wiped off the face of the earth. He’d come to her home and hurt her family—to toy with her, to torture her. The fact she’d gotten him released from jail would only add a nice twist for the sick bastard.
But Brendan wasn’t stopping and none of the other cops who’d rolled up in their squad cars appeared to be willing to prevent her brother-in-law from beating Leech to death on her front lawn. As much as she wanted Leech to suffer, she couldn’t allow that kind of mindless slaughter. Nor allow Brendan to risk his freedom.
She grabbed Brendan’s arm. “Stop it. Stop. We need to go with Danny and Paige to the hospital. We need to be there for them.”
“I want him to pay for what he’s done.” Brendan sobbed.
“He will. We need to be with our family and they need our support.” She dragged Brendan to his feet.
The guy looked shattered. News of the attack had spread fast through the Boston PD as every cop on the force seemed to have arrived.
Leech lay unconscious on the lawn, face battered and bloody. The medics came out of the house with two gurneys and she dashed toward them, dragging Brendan with her.
“Reap what you sow, bitch,” one of the cops snarled at her.
Ice flashed across her skin.
Was this her fault?
She tried to climb into the ambulance but the paramedic blocked her. “No room.”
Brendan grabbed her arm. “We’ll follow. Come on.”
She ran barefoot to his car and got into the passenger side. Brendan pulled away behind the ambulance, riding in the slipstream with only a few feet between them. Hope stared at the back of the ambulance as it raced through the city, lights and sirens blaring, willing Danny and Paige to survive. She wrapped her arms around her middle, rocking back and forth.
“What the hell happened?” Brendan’s knuckles were raw.
“I came home and found them inside. Danny was bleeding but conscious. Paige—” She sobbed. “Paige wasn’t breathing.” Her hands trembled as she raised them to cover her mouth. “I did CPR but her lips were blue, Brendan…”
“She’ll be okay. The EMTs have her now. What did Danny say?”
“Nothing. He didn’t say anything.” Hope felt her lungs seize and had to close her eyes and will her muscles to give enough to draw in air. “They were holding hands,” the words croaked out, their import not lost on the police detective.
Tears coated her cheeks.
“That fucking bastard.” Brendan growled.
Leech, who always left his victims in pairs, holding hands.
Crimes she’d persuaded a judge he wasn’t legally guilty of. And he hadn’t been. The cops had messed up. She’d done her job and won because those cops had messed up big.
But this, this was her fault.
“If I hadn’t been his lawyer, he would never have targeted my family. Danny and Paige…”
“They’ll be okay.”
“Yeah.” She needed to hold on to that thought. Modern medicine could accomplish miracles.
The ambulance pulled up outside the Emergency Room and she threw open the door and jumped out before Brendan stopped the car.
She took Danny’s hand as they wheeled him past her, heading inside through the glass sliding doors. She felt the warm skin and the faint pressure as his fingers squeezed her back.
“I love you, Danny. I love you so much. Please hold on for me. For us.” They forced her away as they whisked Danny through the doors into the OR.
Hope looked around, grabbed a nurse. “Where’s my daughter, Paige? The little girl who just came in?”
The nurse led her to a small room. Hope saw her daughter lying on the stretcher as she pushed open the door.
Brendan sat beside her crying. He held Paige’s hand.
“Why aren’t you helping her?” Hope shouted at the doctors who looked as if they were already leaving. “I started CPR on her as soon as I found her. The paramedics worked on her the whole time. She could be resuscitated.”
A female doctor shook her head. “I’m afraid it’s too late to save her. She’s already gone.” The doctor looked at the clock and declared time of death.
“No!” Hope pushed past and closed her daughter’s small turned-up nose and tilted her chin. Pressed her lips to her child’s to fill Paige’s lungs with air, willing her to start breathing on her own again.
No one said a word. They watched with tears in their eyes for what felt like hours. Finally, Hope felt strong hands gripping her arm, drawing her firmly away.
“Enough. Enough now.” Brendan pressed her face to his chest. “She’s gone. She’s gone.”
Hope sagged against him as her knees went.
She met Brendan’s gaze and saw the terrible truth burning in his eyes.
Grief immersed her, submerged the denial for long enough for reality to finally penetrate. She’d lost them both. She’d lost everything. She gripped Brendan’s shirt as emotion took over, and simply gave in to it.
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