Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice:
Title: Got a Secret . . . Can You Keep It? (Part Twenty-four)
The strobe of the ambulance lights bathed the immediate area crimson. Two EMTs fired questions regarding age, parental consent, method of injury, and allergies at Detective Hoffstra as they started a line on Ciel and strapped her onto a backboard.
Hoffstra called a hysterical Susan and handed the phone off to one of the medics who assured her Ciel was alive and informed her which hospital they were heading to.
Janice refused medical treatment, opting to sit in the back seat of Paul Jeffries' SUV after shooting a sullen look at the couple still huddled in the grass. Muffled cursing drifted out through the open window, and Hoffstra grimaced. He had a delicate situation to deal with without having to worry about a lovesick teen.
Ed paced back and forth alongside Melinda's car, gun now tucked in the back of his jeans. That fact didn't relieve Hoffstra's anxiety level any. Ed kept muttering about “backwoods cops” and how even the ambulance had beat them to the scene. He'd be really pissed when he found out Hoffstra had delayed making the call to the police on Mark Strohm's okay. Hoffstra didn't pretend to understand it; he was just following directions.
Ed caught sight of Hoffstra from the corner of his eye and stopped abruptly, throwing his hands in the air. “I get it that the cops aren't here yet, but what the fuck, man? Why is this nut-job given freedom to roam?”
Hoffstra stared Ed down, eyes narrowed. He didn't fully understand the situation, but he'd be damned if he'd be held accountable to a hack like Ed who was only here for the bounty. Eventually, Ed returned to his pacing and muttering, which suited Hoffstra just fine.
* * *
Paul and Melinda clung to one another in the dew-coated grass. The distant horizon was filled with the fire of the rising sun. Melinda closed her eyes against the dawn and burrowed her head against Paul's chest—her favorite place to be—and prayed the world would end in that moment.
They hadn't spoken much since Paul mentioned the waterfall, and then the ambulance had arrived to take Ciel to the hospital. Melinda deeply regretted her part in Ciel being terrorized and injured.
Paul's arms tightened around her. “Mindy, why?” The two words contained such grief.
“What?” Melinda whispered into his shirt.
“Why did you kidnap . . .” He struggled with the words.
“My niece that you bedded? My niece that's younger and more beautiful than me?”
Paul groaned. “Don't . . . please.”
“I have questions, too. Why did you sleep with my niece, a student at the school?” She pushed back on his chest until their eyes met.
“I didn't know who she was, if that makes a difference. I would never . . . if I knew.”
Melinda huffed a bitter laugh. “That makes it all perfect, then.”
“That's not what I'm saying. I just wanted you to know it wasn't intentional.”
“How did it happen? I mean, what are the chances of you picking my niece out of a school full of nubile young girls?”
Paul looked away, shame heating his face. “Something about her reminded me of you. Other parts reminded me of Ree—so carefree and confident.”
“Ree? You . . . knew my sister?”
Paul closed his eyes and nodded.
“You never told me.” Memories of the accident that stole Marietta's life and disfigured Melinda flashed through her mind. She instinctively cradled the ruined half of her face, hiding it. Her heart beat faster, the breath choking in her throat.
“I couldn't, Mindy. Not knowing the guilt you felt about that day.”
“How did you know her, Paul?” Melinda backed away, landing on her butt in the grass, and looked into the eyes of her husband, wondering if she knew him at all.
Tears shone in his eyes, and he held a hand out to her. “I never meant for you to know—for any of this to happen.”
“She was mine . . . until I lost her to Mark.”
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Sarah Aisling hails from the East Coast of the US and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and precocious daughter. She’s currently editing her upcoming novel, The Weight of Roses. When Sarah isn’t being enslaved by her characters, she can be found with her nose in a book, obsessing over nail polish or anything leopard, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook