A light rain was falling and the wipers squeaked as they arced across the windshield of FBI Special Agent Paige Carson’s van. She’d left the radio off, but the silence in the vehicle, being alone with her thoughts, wasn’t a good thing just now, not with all she had in her head.
Her doctor’s appointment had been an hour ago. One hour. Was that all the time that had passed? More time than it had taken for him to reveal his diagnosis.
“Agent Carson, the damage you sustained is irreparable. You are never going to regain full mobility in your left foot.”
This was the third doctor who’d told her the same. Three strikes.
Her grip on the steering wheel tightened. She’d spent the last five months undergoing surgeries on her foot followed by physical therapy to try to regain the mobility she’d lost when serial killer Todd Thames had used his medieval torture device to shatter the bones.
A game. Capturing her and so many other women. Torturing her and the others had all been a game to him. He’d drawn her into his sick amusement in which she would be his ultimate prize.
Emotions surged within Paige. Anger and a vulnerability that she hated. But it hadn’t all been for nothing. He hadn’t killed her. In the end, she had killed him. She had stopped Thames. He would never be able to hurt anyone again.
She clung to that to combat the pain of all he had done to her. Drugged her. Beaten her. Humiliated her. Worst of all, he had likely cost her the career that meant everything to her.
She turned onto Main Street in downtown Caledon, the town in Kirk County, South Carolina, where Paige had lived and worked since last April. She drove past the children’s clothing store, the dollar store, the ladies’ boutique, the hardware store and the diner. It was noon on a Friday and just as Paige had noticed on her first Friday in town, the people of Kirk were knocking off early for the weekend. Despite the cool October day, a few women holding umbrellas and pushing strollers or holding the hands of toddlers walked up and down the sidewalks, stopping to point out jack-o’-lanterns and mannequins costumed as witches, monsters, princesses, and superheroes. Halloween was just two weeks away.
In her time in Kirk County, Paige had come to love living here. Her first real home. For how much longer?
A chill crept up her neck while her hands on the steering wheel went damp.
As if she could outrun that dread, she stepped harder on the accelerator. She drove for some time, leaving the main section of town and the residential areas behind. Wild forest took up most of the land now. Trees with red and orange autumn leaves rose on both sides of the street.
She came to a road that had been cut into the woods. If she hadn’t known where to turn, she would likely have missed it, but she’d been making this turn for the last five months, the turn that would take her to Sam’s house.
Sam. Her heart gave a hard thump thinking of him. Special Agent in Charge Sam McKade. Her boss and the man she loved. When she’d come here, she could never have imagined finding him.
The road opened wide. At the end of it was a clearing. Sam had built his house on a large expanse of grassy and rocky land. It stood nestled between trees and wild plant growth. Paige had been drawn to this place from the start. At first for the sanctuary and safety the remote and protected location had afforded from Thames and since . . . for so many more reasons.
She parked in Sam’s driveway then cut the van’s engine. Reaching for her cane in the footwell of the passenger side, she eased down on to the asphalt. Mindful of the rainfall that made the ground slick, she leaned heavily on the cane, taking careful, mincing steps as she hobbled to the front door.
The house was an open concept design that Paige learned Sam had chosen to combat claustrophobia from a childhood steeped in abuse. At a glance from the front door, she could see the kitchen, dining room, and living room with its huge stone fireplace built into the wall that she now knew first hand was well used. Sam kept the box beside the fireplace stocked with kindling and logs.
He hadn’t decorated beyond furnishing the place with thick wood tables and big leather couches and chairs, all in colors that were masculine earth tones. A wide hall off the living room led to the side of the house with the laundry room and the rooms Sam used as a home office, a workout room, a spare bedroom with an adjoining bathroom, and a powder room.
The powder room was her destination. She was shaking from exertion by the time she reached it. Just that small walk from the driveway had left her winded. Frustration and fury that her physical condition was so depleted rolled through her.
She removed her suit jacket, now slightly damp from the rain, and set it on the counter then splashed water on her face. The water was cold but she didn’t wait for it to warm, just filled her palms and brought them to her cheeks and her eyes. Then again.
Raising her head, she reached for the towel on the rack then stopped, looking into her reflection in the mirror above the sink. She’d washed off the light makeup she wore for everyday and on the job and looked as pale as the water flowing down her face. By contrast her large brown eyes looked very dark and very lost. As long as she had been going to doctors’ appointments, she’d had the hope of a different outcome. Three strikes. She was out.
She heard the front door open.
Sam. She hadn’t expected him. Today was her first day back at the Bureau office. She’d planned to go there after her appointment with the doctor and had expected to see Sam there.
Before she could respond to his call, she heard his footsteps nearing the powder room, likely drawn there by the sound of the water running, then he was standing in the doorway.
She dried her face, turned off the faucet. She didn’t turn toward him as he came up behind her. He was reflected in the mirror above the sink. Dark hair he wore short. Square jaw. Handsome. He wore a suit the color of charcoal with a matching tie and a white shirt. It struck her that it was the same suit he’d been wearing on their first meeting, on her first day on his squad. At that time she’d thought how the suit outlined a tough, hard body that showed he hadn’t spent his career behind a desk. Though that hadn’t changed, today she thought that the suit had marked her first day and may also be marking one of the final days of her less than two-year career with the Bureau.
Sam’s eyes narrowed on her reflection. “What did the doctor say?”
He asked though Paige had no doubt he already knew. Despite what he must have believed was futile, he had not discouraged her from seeking more opinions, seeking different opinions. He’d gone with her to the numerous medical appointments and would have been with her today but for a case that had gone to trial and required his presence in court that morning.
She dropped the towel on the counter. “The same.”
He wrapped his arms around her. Her throat closed up tight. She turned in his arms and wound her arms around his waist. She only reached as high as his shoulders and ground her face against his chest.
She could smell his clean male scent underscored by his subtle aftershave. This was home. He was home. And she didn’t know what she would do if it all went away.
Holding her against him, Sam pressed his lips to her hair. “You’ll find a way through this, sweetheart.”
She didn’t see how she could find a way. How she could ever find her way, but she held tight to him, needing his assurance.
He drew back enough to look at her. His eyes bore into hers. “We’ll find a way through this. I’m right here with you.”
They’d been together for just a few months. Their relationship was new, untried. Sam hadn’t signed on for a woman he was going to have to take care with and of. She choked back bile at the thought of becoming a burden to him.
He brushed his thumb over her cheek. “I’ve missed my partner. Come on. Let’s get to work.”
She wanted to be back at her job with a need so powerful she could almost taste it. But what kind of agent would she be now?
Sam’s cell phone rang. Keeping one arm around her, he removed the phone from the clip on his belt. He frowned as he glanced at the caller ID then took the call. “McKade.” He paused. “Where is he?” Sam listened again then his tone harsh said, “I’m on my way.”
The look on Sam’s face had Paige tensing. “What is it?”
Sam’s grip on the phone remained tight as he ended the call. “Riley. He’s been arrested.”