House of Secrets Ramona Richards Ëèòàãåíò HarperCollins EUR Sheriff Ray Taylor always had a soft spot for the former minister's widow, June Eaton…until he found her standing over the current minister's dead body. She claims she's innocent–and after a string of attacks against Ray and June, he's inclined to believe her. So who is the real killer, and what is he after? Ray knows that the parsonage has to be the key. The old house is hiding a dark secret, something the pastor's murderer is convinced June knows. Something that murderer will do anything to keep buried. “If you’re going to arrest me, get it over with,” June said. “But I didn’t kill him.” She moved to push past the police officers that were blocking the door. She didn’t get far. Instead, Ray Taylor abruptly grabbed her shoulder and spun her into his arms, pressing her tightly against his chest. “Let it go, June. Stop fighting what you really feel.” June resisted him only a moment, then her body crumpled and she sank against him, wild sobs bursting from her as she clenched his shirt in both hands. RAMONA RICHARDS A writer and editor since 1975, Ramona Richards has worked on staff with a number of publishers. Ramona has also freelanced with more than twenty magazine and book publishers and has won awards for both her fiction and nonfiction. She’s written everything from sales-training video scripts to book reviews, and her latest articles have appeared in Today’s Christian Woman, College Bound and Special Ed Today. She sold a story about her daughter to Chicken Soup for the Caregiver’s Soul, and Secrets of Confidence, a book of devotionals, is available from Barbour Publishing. In 2004, the God Allows U-Turns Foundation, in conjunction with the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA), chose Ramona for their “Strength of Choice” award, and in 2003, AWSA nominated Ramona for Best Fiction Editor of the Year. The Evangelical Press Association presented her with an award for reporting in 2003, and in 1989 she won the Bronze Award for Best Original Dramatic Screenplay at the Houston International Film Festival. A member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and the Romance Writers of America, she has five other novels complete or in development. House of Secrets Ramona Richards www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. —Romans 8: 15-16 This one is for Diane, Krista, Jessica, Emily and Tina, with thanks, appreciation and gratitude for your intelligence, guidance and support through it all. Y’all are a true blessing in my life. Contents CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE CHAPTER SIX CHAPTER SEVEN CHAPTER EIGHT CHAPTER NINE CHAPTER TEN CHAPTER ELEVEN CHAPTER TWELVE CHAPTER THIRTEEN CHAPTER FOURTEEN CHAPTER FIFTEEN CHAPTER SIXTEEN CHAPTER SEVENTEEN CHAPTER EIGHTEEN EPILOGUE Letter to Reader QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION ONE “I did not kill Pastor David.” June Presley Eaton tried to swallow her fear as well as the lump of grief in her throat. Her upraised hands trembled, and she felt the phone clutched in her left hand slip slightly. I have to maintain control. June lifted both hands a bit higher and forced her voice lower. “I found him. I wanted to help,” she said to the man standing behind her. Please, Lord, let him believe me. It was a desperate prayer, and June fought a tightening sense of panic. She had a dead pastor lying at her feet and, she was pretty certain, Sheriff Ray Taylor and his deputies at her back, guns drawn. Without turning, June wagged the cordless phone in her hand. From it, the flattened and tinny screeches of the Bell County dispatcher bounced off the kitchen walls of the Victorian parsonage. “June Presley Eaton! Is that you? Don’t tell me you decided to upset Pastor David right before his big event! Someone already heard the fight and called us and Ray is on his way right now, and—” June hit the off button with her thumb. “I just got here, Ray. I wasn’t the one fighting with him. There are footprints leading farther into the house. See them? And when I got here, I could still hear someone back there.” The lump in her throat had eased, but the fear still bore into her, tensing every muscle in her lower back and sending a shudder up her spine. Please, Lord. No response came from the sheriff, however, and in the silence that followed, June knew that all of Ray’s instincts had kicked into gear. His brown eyes scanning the room, he’d assess the scene in front of him with that precise, military-trained way he had of observing everything quickly before making a judgment. He would calmly evaluate the crime scene while she stood over a dead body, covered in blood, hands raised, cops clustered at her back with their guns pointing at her. June knew that only the phone in her hand kept her from looking like a suspect. She closed her eyes, praying that Ray would see the same thing she had as she’d approached the broad back porch of the White Hills Gospel Immanuel Chapel’s parsonage: bloody footprints leading away from the door and out into the yard. That had been her cue to fly into the house, calling David Gallagher’s name. June had entered the kitchen, moving fast, and her sneakers had hit the red pool gathering around David’s body before she could stop. She’d skidded and fallen forward, hitting the floor with a painful thud, her hands splashing down on either side of the butcher knife protruding from David’s ribs. Even during her years as a street kid, she’d never come face-to-face with violence like this. Once June had stopped screaming, she’d scrambled to her feet and lunged for the phone, barely having time to dial 911 before the screen door had banged open and Ray’s command to “Freeze!” had brought everything to a standstill. In the silence, a fly buzzed around her blood-coated right hand. Trying to look over her shoulder, June struggled to speak in a quieter tone. Control. Stay in control. “Please, Ray. I’m a witness, not a suspect.” She took another deep breath, working to sound much more dignified than she felt. “And please close that door. You’re letting the flies into the house.” No one moved. Then, after a few seconds that felt like at least a decade, Ray spoke, his baritone voice even and thoroughly professional. “Rivers. Gage. Clear the house.” Silently, Ray’s deputies, Daniel Rivers and Jeff Gage, moved through the kitchen and past June and the pastor’s body into the main areas of the grand old Victorian. Over the next few minutes, their calls of “Clear!” echoed through the rooms. “Can I at least put my arms down?” “Why are you here, June?” “I came to confront David about what he’d said—” She broke off, suddenly realizing how suspicious that sounded. “About what?” Ray’s tone grew more agitated as he holstered his gun, stepped over David’s legs and moved in front of her. “What did you need to confront him about?” June straightened her back and took the holstered gun for a sign she could lower her arms. “What he said yesterday morning from the pulpit.” The tension in Ray’s voice revealed his impatience. “About what?” “Hunter Bridges.” Silence reigned in the room again as Ray simply waited, eyes dark and demanding. June’s hands suddenly shook at her sides, and she looked around for a place to put the phone, her words picking up speed. “Hunter Bridges is a canker sore on the face of this town and you know it. I don’t care how much David wants to see him in the state senate. He’s a lying, manipulative, womanizing cheat, and I don’t want him representing me or to have my name connected to his.” She lowered her voice. “I’ve witnessed his ability to manipulate people to get what he wants. He’s propositioned two married friends of mine. I’m done with him.” With no flat surface close enough, the phone grew awkward in her hand. A wicked pain snapped through her head, making her grimace. “David’s implied before that I support Hunter, and I’ve politely asked him not to. He did it again yesterday morning, in front of the whole church, and I knew polite just wasn’t going to cut it anymore.” “So you were here to yell at him. You were mad.” “Well, yes! I won’t have my name mixed up with that no-good politician Hunter Bridges.” She threw up a hand in front of her face, then stopped, taking a deep breath to calm down. “But I was too late. When I got here, I saw the bloody footprints on the porch and I ran in. I slipped…” She paused, pointing down at the floor. “I fell.” “Is that why you’re covered in his blood?” She nodded. Ray’s gaze held an intensity that aggravated her growing sense of panic. “But you didn’t kill him.” June’s knees began trembling, and she fought the urge to throw the phone at him. He’s just doing his job. Don’t lose it! “No, I did not kill him. David and I have been disagreeing about Hunter Bridges for weeks. We’ve debated over coffee, over lunch. He wouldn’t give up trying to convince me. He thought Hunter had great things ahead of him. I think Hunter should be locked in his office and kept away from sharp objects.” She shook her head and pointed at a stack of flyers lying on the kitchen counter. “I don’t know why David suddenly wanted to be politically active. He never had before. I thought he followed JR’s philosophy of keeping politics out of the church. But that’s his business. Then he started in on me to support Hunter because, for some unfathomable reason, he thinks people in this county still listen to me. I warned him that if he didn’t stop, I was going to take out a full-page ad in the paper explaining exactly what I thought of Hunter Bridges, his career and his mother. David thought I was stubborn, and I thought him politically naive. That may be grounds for an argument, but not murder.” “Wasn’t David hosting a political dinner tomorrow night?” “Yes, and he invited me. But I told him I’d rather chew glass. You know I don’t like mixing politics with religion any more than JR did.” The pain spiked under her scalp at the mention of her dead husband, and June pressed her palm to her forehead, trying to push the headache away. Her whole body seemed to quiver now. Even her voice held a tremor, and tears abruptly stung her eyes. “You know how hard JR worked to keep politics out of the church.” Ray’s low voice turned gentle. “Yes. Everyone knows.” June took a deep, ragged breath and closed her eyes, trying to stave off the tears. Of course everyone knows. David, why didn’t you follow his guidance? After three years, what changed? June tried to push away a sudden flood of memories of JR, from their wedding day in a tiny mountain chapel to the instant a heart attack took him from her—and the entire congregation. “Come back to me, June,” Ray urged. “Don’t retreat from this. Stay in control.” Ray’s soft bass tones resonated in an almost comforting way. “You’ve been trembling like a leaf since I walked in, and you’re about to have the worst adrenaline headache of your life, if you don’t already. But you have to hang on to it, girl. We’ll get through this. I’ll get you through it.” June stared down at her hands. The red had darkened, the blood turning brownish as it dried. Suddenly, a foul scent from David’s body reached her and June realized it must have been there all along. Her entire body shook, and the impact of the situation hit her anew. David’s dead. Murdered. No wonder I’m babbling like an idiot. Lord, I need calm. And I need Your strength. Nodding, she looked back up at Ray and let out the breath she’d been holding. “You know I didn’t do this.” “We have to clear you with evidence before I can let you go.” His dark eyes shifted as he looked behind her, and she turned toward Rivers and Gage, who both shook their heads. “Nothing,” said Rivers. “All clear, although the study has been partially ransacked. Looks like the search might have been interrupted, but if anyone was here, he’s long gone.” June shook her head. “I know he was still here. I could hear him in the study. Did you check the tunnel?” The three men stared at June, and Ray stiffened. “What tunnel?” Ray held the flashlight in his left hand, shoulder level and pointed slightly down. The earthen tunnel in front of him soaked up the light, and the air smelled acrid and moldy, reminding Ray of a flooded riverbank after a hard rain. Ray ran the beam of his light back and forth across the floor of the narrow tunnel. Behind him, his chief deputy, Daniel Rivers, searched the walls. Daniel paused to examine a lump, which turned out to be the end of a tree root. “I can’t believe there’s a tunnel under the parsonage.” “By now, I suspect we’re out under the backyard. A lot of houses this old have secret rooms and passages, but not usually tunnels.” “An escape route for slaves, maybe?” Ray paused and ran his light over one of the wooden support arches to check its strength. “I doubt it. This house wasn’t built until around 1900. June told me once that the original builder had been seriously paranoid about fire. Since the only entrance is from the second floor, I’d say he built it from a fear of fire or intruders.” Daniel cleared his throat. “You think she did it?” Ray, trying desperately to forget the feelings he had for his number-one suspect, resumed his examination of the floor. “She’s your sister-in-law. What do you think?” Daniel, who’d married June’s sister April less than a year ago, paused a moment. “No.” “Why not?” “June likes a good argument, and she likes to win, but she’s worked hard over the years to leave behind the street kid that she was. She wouldn’t resort to violence. She’s so in control most days, I forget she’s not from a privileged background. April once said June lived with violence so long that she abhorred it. They both do. June might yell, but she’d never lift a hand to hurt anyone.” Daniel sniffed, then coughed. “Besides, she kept referring to Pastor Gallagher in the present tense, as if he were still alive. Plus, the blood pattern on her clothes is all wrong.” Ray smiled grimly, glad Daniel couldn’t see the flash of pride in his face. Daniel got better at his job every day. “How so?” “The killer would have blood on him in streaks and smudges from the attack. June looked like she’d wallowed in it. Plus the footprints on the back porch don’t match the ones that skidded through the blood. So there were at least two people in that kitchen. June and whoever made the prints.” “Maybe three, if the set leading away from—” Ray froze, his light focused on something on the ground. Daniel came to his side, on alert. “What did you find?” Ray nodded toward the floor, then they both squatted, examining the small white button that seemed to glitter in the light. A tiny piece of navy-blue fabric still clung to it, and both had a distinctive red smear on them. “Strange place to lose a button.” Ray shined his light farther down the tunnel, where it illuminated a pile of plaid cloth. Red streaks had soaked the navy-blue and dark green squares. “Not if you were jerking your shirt off.” Daniel stood. “I’ll send Gage down with the crime-scene kit.” “Good.” Ray pulled his handcuffs from his belt and placed them carefully next to the button, so it would be easier to find. Standing, he shined his light back toward the house, noticing how distinct his and Daniel’s footprints were in the earth. He noticed other prints that seemed recent as well, and he skirted them as he turned back and made his way deeper into the tunnel, toward the shirt. Using his pen, Ray prodded at the thick flannel until he found the collar. The shirt was a man’s extra large, which made it useless for judging the suspect’s size. Small shirts are only worn by small people, but large shirts are popular with all sizes of folks. The dirt ring around the collar meant that the shirt could be old—and filled with DNA. Two dark smears on the cloth bore an unmistakable resemblance to tobacco juice. Ray replaced the pen in his pocket and stood again, his mind turning over a hundred possibilities. He ignored the relief he felt at finding some possible evidence that pointed away from June. Tobacco stains didn’t exactly narrow the suspect pool much—Bell County remained tobacco country and there were as many fields of the bright, wide-leafed plants around here as there were of corn and soybeans—but it might not be a bad place to start looking. Especially if it could help clear the name of the woman he could not get off his mind. The woman who just wanted to be “friends.” The scuff of shoes on dirt made Ray look up, and he shined his light down the tunnel behind him, expecting to see Daniel and his lone crime-scene investigator, Jeff Gage, heading his way. Instead, the beam of his flashlight faded away into the darkness. Then the scuffing sounded again, now clearly from the opposite direction. Ray drew his pistol and swung around, dropping to a crouch. June perched on the outside edge of the carefully placed kitchen chair, tense and weary. Her foot bounced nervously, the white crime-scene suit she now wore crinkling and crunching with every movement. Before he and Daniel had headed off to explore the tunnel, Ray had given her the suit and insisted she exchange her bloody clothes for the Tyvek coverall. He also pulled a chair from the far side of the room and told her to sit there once her clothes were in evidence bags. He placed it where every officer on the premises could see her. For her safety, he’d said. She could see them as well. She watched as Jeff Gage went to his patrol cruiser and returned with the crime-scene kit, beginning his work on the body. Photographs, diagrams and evidence bags. He’d placed brown paper bags around David’s hands, and for the first time June saw the defensive wounds on her pastor’s arms. You fought back. Good for you. Tears stung June’s eyes again as she realized that there was no forced entry. David must have let them in—he must have known his attackers. Her stomach knotted as a sense of betrayal shot through her. How could anyone…? June pressed her fingers to her lips, fighting a wave of grief. When JR first took over here at Gospel Immanuel Chapel in tiny White Hills, Tennessee, the congregation had barely numbered one hundred. She and JR had worked hard to build the church, and within a year, JR had needed an assistant and an associate pastor. He’d hired Kitty Parker as his assistant and David Gallagher as his associate pastor, for his knowledge of scripture, charisma in the pulpit and genuine love of people. After JR’s death, David became the senior pastor. Over the past three years of his tenure in that role, David had grown the church even more, and he knew every member by name and their problems and their hopes. June shifted in her chair, her heart aching for David. You were a good shepherd. Did you know them? Were they friends? David had either let his attacker in…or the killer had come in through the tunnel. Not many folks knew about that underground passageway in and out of the house. In fact, when she and JR had started the renovation of the parsonage the year before he’d died, the entrance on the second floor had been sealed. The contractor told her it had probably been closed off for at least twenty years, since the house had been empty for more than ten years. And the previous owners had known nothing about a tunnel. JR had found the tunnel fascinating, even though the dark passageway was little more than a deep ditch that had been covered over with railroad ties and sod. It let out at the spring house. Although deep enough for a man to stand up in, only two feet or so of dirt and wood separated it from the expanse of grass that grew fresh and even across the backyard. JR had insisted on having the tunnel inspected for safety. They’d never really used it except for the time they had left the house that way in order to sneak away undetected by the neighbors for a romantic three days in Gulf Shores. A pretend adventure that still made June smile. A rhythmic thudding on the main stairway of the house made June turn, and she stood as Daniel entered the kitchen. “Where’s Ray?” “Still down there.” He motioned for Gage to follow him. “Bring your kit.” “What did you find?” June asked, taking a step toward her brother-in-law. “Later. Stay here.” He waited as Gage repacked the kit. As they turned to go, two muffled thumps echoed from somewhere deep in the house. They looked at each other, puzzled, as two more thumps sounded, like a car backfiring in some far distant place. Gage recognized it first. “That’s gunfire!” TWO Ray Taylor’s ears rang, and his head throbbed with an almost blinding pain. Blue and white dots danced angrily before his eyes, and a spreading dampness on the left side of his skull slid through his hair and down his neck. Ray clenched his jaw and sank heavily against the wall of the tunnel, sliding to a sitting position. When he’d swung around, only his instinct to crouch and weave to the right had kept him alive. A bright spotlight flashed suddenly, blinding him, and one of the shots that followed went wild, while the other grazed the left side of his head instead of hitting him square in the chest. He’d returned two quick shots, and the intruder had dropped the spotlight and fled out of the tunnel. The bouncing stream of light from the abandoned spot had illuminated the attacker’s path out of the tunnel but nothing about his identity. Definitely a man, a slender, wiry one, but otherwise Ray had seen only shadows among the flashing dots in his eyes. He pressed his left hand against his wound and took two deep breaths, holding each for several seconds before releasing them slowly. His right hand still held his pistol in a crushing grip, but both hands now shook furiously. Adrenaline seared through him, and anger that he had not been able to follow the intruder made his stomach roil. But blinded, deafened by gunshots and bleeding, Ray knew he’d be more of a target than aggressor. He tried to radio Daniel, but the signal wouldn’t penetrate the earth and wood overhead. Ray squeezed his eyes tightly shut, waiting for the blue and white sparks to dissipate and his ears to clear. As they did, he could hear the frantic thuds of shoes on the narrow ladder leading from the parsonage’s second floor. Hidden behind a sliding panel in one of the hallway closets, the solid wooden ladder had been built into one side of a thin shaft between the walls, exiting into the tunnel through the home’s foundation. One by one, five of his officers cleared the ladder and rushed in his direction, led by Daniel Rivers. The streams of gold from their flashlights bounced around the tunnel like out-of-control basketballs. “Slow down!” Ray commanded. Daniel reached him first, shining his light on Ray’s head. “What happened?” he asked, digging a handkerchief out of his pocket. He peeled Ray’s hand away from the wound and pressed the cloth tightly against it. Ray filled them in, then instructed Gage and the others to continue the search down the tunnel. He pointed at the big handheld spot, which still shined its penetrating light down the tunnel. “Use gloves. Take that with you. He’s long gone now, but go slow. Look for any sign that I hit the guy.” As they moved away and the light dimmed, Ray took the cloth from Daniel, folded it into a neater square and pressed it to his head again. Daniel watched his boss’s face a moment, then said quietly, “What are you thinking?” Ray holstered his gun, then pushed himself to his feet with his free hand. Daniel steadied his off-balance sheriff with a hand on one arm. Ray nodded his thanks, then checked the handkerchief to see if his bleeding had stopped. His head still throbbed from the blow, and he squinted from the pain. His mind, however, spun furiously with his recall of the past few minutes. Demonstrating his attacker’s actions, he held his right hand at shoulder level. “He held the light here, out to the side and pointed down. If I hadn’t ducked, the shots would have hit me square in the chest. A fraction more to the right, and this one would have knocked me out, at the very least. I don’t think he expected me to survive, much less return fire. I fired to the left of the light and hit nothing. When I fired right at it, he dropped it and ran, probably realizing that the shots would bring you guys running.” “So you think he’s a pro?” “Or a former cop. At least he’s someone who’s pretty good at his job. And there’s a good chance he’s left-handed.” Daniel nodded. “The knife entered the right side of David’s body, low, an upward thrust.” Ray pressed his fingers to his skull again, and they came away only slightly sticky. “That’s a combat move. Misses the ribs and goes straight to the heart.” “But to complete that move, wouldn’t he have twisted the knife and pulled it back out? Why didn’t he take the knife?” Ray shook his head. “I thought about that. Not sure. But I bet we don’t find any prints.” He gestured down the tunnel. “My guess is that’s our killer.” “So David lets him in—or maybe them—in the back door because he knows them. They kill him, but then they hear June drive up. You know that old Corvette of hers needs a new muffler.” “And a transmission.” Ray went on, his words picking up speed. “One takes off across the yard, while the other one heads down here, giving himself more time to get away. If a pro had to run, he may have not wanted to take a chance of getting caught with the knife.” “So you’re convinced this wasn’t a botched robbery or home invasion.” Ray shook his head. “Whoever it was came specifically to kill David Gallagher.” “He just didn’t expect June to show up.” Ray nodded. “She made him get sloppy.” He paused. “You did send someone to the other end of the tunnel?” “The minute we heard the shots. June told us the tunnel came out at the spring house. I sent the rest of the crew there. Carter was already out in the crowd out front, so I put him on point.” Ray scowled. “Who’s watching June? She’s still officially a suspect.” Daniel glanced down, his lips twitching slightly. “The coroner was there, but I…uh…I handcuffed her to the kitchen cabinet in case the coroner needed to leave.” Ray’s eyebrows arched as an image of exactly how well that idea must have gone over flashed through his mind. “I’m glad you’re the one married to her sister.” “Well…” “Well, what?” “The handcuffs weren’t just to keep her away from the evidence. They were to keep her from coming down here. She heard the shots and took off for that ladder. I almost had to tackle her to keep her out of here.” Ray stared at his young deputy. His racing thoughts stalled for the first time as conflicting emotions and images swirled through his head and heart. June, his suspect—his lovely, brown-haired, blue-eyed suspect—had stood terrified and trembling over David’s body. Yet when gunshots rang out, her instinct had been to run toward him…and into potential danger. What is going on with her? Ray wrestled his thoughts about June aside, his mouth tightening into a thin line. “Let’s go upstairs and soothe the ruffled feathers.” “You need a doctor for that wound.” Ray turned and headed toward the ladder. “I’m not dying. First things first. Let’s clear the crime scene, then I’ll go over and have them stitch this up.” They headed upstairs to find that the kitchen held only the coroner and her assistant. A pair of handcuffs dangled from one cabinet’s door handle. Ray glared at Daniel, who said weakly, “We have her car blocked in. She couldn’t have gone very far.” “June!” Ray bellowed suddenly, almost amused at how Daniel jumped. “What?” The quiet question came from behind them, and they turned to see June, wiping her hands on a small towel. Ray’s eyes narrowed. “How did you—” “Why are you bleeding?” June stared at the side of his head. “Did you get shot?” “I’m fine. Answer my question.” “You’re not fine. You have a hole in the side of your skull. Being a Marine doesn’t mean you’re invincible, you know.” She reached for Ray, but he caught her wrist. “Just answer the question.” Relenting, June rolled her eyes as she pulled her hand away. She turned and pointed at Daniel. “You. You should never handcuff anyone next to a drawer full of tools.” She looked back at Ray. “Don’t have a fit. Your deputies wouldn’t let me go to the tunnel, and standing there handcuffed to the cabinet was distinctly undignified.” When Ray continued to stare, unmoving, June gave in with a soft sigh. “Okay, I had to go to the ladies’ room before things got dire. And it wasn’t easy in this suit.” She plucked at the arm of the white coverall. “You washed your hands.” She nodded. “I only touched the floor and the phone, Ray. No evidence at all on my hands.” “Unless you killed him.” “Well, if I did, then your deputy is going to have to find a new career, isn’t he?” she said with a forced smile. There was a false lightness in June’s voice that worried Ray. He wondered if being handcuffed might have pushed her into her dark past, dredging up memories she’d do anything to avoid. Ray moved closer to her. “Are you okay, June? I feel like I’m losing you a little. Is there anything you want to tell me?” He looked at her, hard. June stilled, her deep blue eyes narrowing as she searched his face, her skin losing its color again, stark against her dark brown hair. When she spoke, her words were flat and void of emotion. “If you’re going to arrest me, get it over with, Ray. But I didn’t kill him.” She pushed past the two men blocking the door. She didn’t get far. Instead, Ray Taylor abruptly grabbed her shoulder and spun her around. “June, I wish I could just let you walk right out of here, but you know I can’t. Now sit back down in that chair or I’m going to have Rivers handcuff you again.” And then June did something that surprised everyone, especially Ray. She burst into tears. THREE June wiped her face on the same towel she’d dried her hands on only ten minutes before. She perched on her kitchen chair again, a headache slowly but steadily circling her skull with pain. She clutched the towel, looking for some kind of reassurance, but her mind was flooded with memories. Seeing David’s dead body brought back the horror of being fourteen and watching her father beat her mother halfway to death. She had been sprawled out at June’s feet, so still June had thought her dead. Three years later, she would be. June’s father had kicked June out of the house the day her mother died, forcing her to live on the street. Memories of her parents gave way to visions of her brother Marc, just thirteen, his face raw with wounds and gray in death. And her sisters, bruised and terrified, huddling away from the rages of their father, a man who turned home into a horror house that had sent April into a brutal early marriage and June into the dark world of the streets. Only Lindsey, four years younger but somehow wiser, had conquered the terror. After their mother’s death, she’d sued her father for emancipation at fifteen and won. Righteously angry at the world, Lindsey had walked away from her entire family. June had kept track of her on the internet, but neither she nor April had seen their sister since. As June watched the coroner zip the body bag closed, she shook off one last memory: JR, three years ago, collapsed on the floor beside his pulpit, dead before he’d hit the floor from a heart attack so massive the doctors doubted he’d felt anything. June forced herself to come back to the present. She looked around the room. Deputy Gage was finishing last-minute tasks with the crime-scene kit, pulling fingerprints from the kitchen table and labeling the last of the blood samples. Standing in the hallway door, Ray and Daniel conferred over diagrams of the crime scene as the coroner and one of the deputies loaded Pastor David’s body on the gurney and wheeled him out. Outside, dozens of faces peered intently, dodging back and forth, trying to get the best view through the door. The parsonage, like the church itself, sat in the middle of one of White Hills’ oldest and most established residential sections. One reason the Victorian had been the house of choice to replace the crumbling cottage where she and JR had first lived in this small town was its proximity to the church. It was literally next door, surrounded by the homes of potential members. Members who now peered inside, desperate for more information. Tears coated the faces of most of the women and some of the men as the news about David spread. They held each other, some scared and anxious, others angry. They stared at her through the open door, sitting there in her white suit. Guilty. They thought she was guilty. June closed her eyes, memories again flashing through her mind. Other times that people stared and pointed. As JR was carried from the sanctuary. As her mother’s body had been removed from their house. The day she had been arrested. June had traded the abuse of home for the violence of the streets. She’d lived in abandoned boxes or sometimes at missions, working hard-labor jobs. As a kid, she’d discovered she was good with computers, so she tried to practice her gift in libraries and friends’ apartments whenever she could crash with someone, hoping it might help her get a job and get off the street somehow. And it did—in a way. An underground hacker discovered her talents, giving her a place to sleep while recruiting her to wreak mischief on corporations and local governments. She could defeat almost any firewall, break through almost any security system. And she’d loved it. Finally good at something, finally praised for her work, June took pride in tackling what she saw as the greatest puzzle-solving game ever. When the police arrested her for computer crimes, June’s world crashed. A year later, she was eighteen, on parole and back on the streets, broke and hopeless, ready to get back to hacking. Until the night she wandered into one of Jackie Rhea “JR” Eaton’s mobile soup kitchens. “June?” She blinked up at Ray as if coming out of a dark dream. “Are you okay?” June pointed at her temple. “Headache.” Ray smiled wryly. “Yeah. No doubt.” The wound on his head had begun to bleed again, and June resisted the urge to reach toward it, to tend to him. “You ever going to the doctor with that? Seriously. You look awful.” The coroner had cleaned his injury with a first-aid kit, putting on a temporary bandage, but dried blood still streaked his neck and matted his dark brown, closely cropped hair. Fresh blood discolored the bandage and tape. “Thanks. You don’t look much better yourself.” “No doubt,” she replied, using one of Ray’s favorite expressions. But she knew the truth as well. She’d skidded when she’d fallen and slipped twice trying to get up. Even with her washed hands and white suit, she had David’s blood in her hair, which had to be topsy-turvy by now. And half of her makeup had shifted dramatically from its original location on her face. “We still need to test your hair.” June’s eyes widened in confusion. “I beg your pardon?” “The blood. David fought back. Not a lot and not for long, but he could have injured one of his attackers. There may be blood from—” “One of his attackers?” Ray hesitated, then nodded. “You saw the footprints on the porch. So we think there were at least two. One went out the back, one through the tunnel. And maybe one of them left his blood here, too.” June understood where he was going. “And I might have landed in it as well.” “Another reason I didn’t want you to wash your hands.” “Sorry.” “It’s done. But I don’t want to miss another chance. Can you ask April to pick up a change of clothes from your house and meet us at NorthCrest Medical?” “Why do I need to go to NorthCrest?” Ray shifted to stand squarely over both feet, then began counting off his reasoning. “A. Because you’re covered in blood, possibly from more than one person. I want you on their records if something…untoward shows up in the blood work.” “You mean HIV.” “And hepatitis C. It’s a precaution.” “I don’t have any open—” “B. Once the adrenaline subsides, you may find that you’re really hurt somewhere. If you fell like you described, you hit pretty hard.” “Okay.” “And C. I’m not letting you out of my sight again until I get you to the station for a complete statement and someone is assigned to watch your house tonight.” June sat a bit straighter. “Watch my house? You think I’m in danger?” Ray hesitated. “Depends on whether they believe you saw them leave.” “But I didn’t—” “You interrupted the search of the study. They have no idea what you saw. And you’re still my material witness. Don’t argue.” She stood up, stepping closer and tilting her head back to look up at his face. “What about my car? It has a tricky transmission.” “Everyone in the county knows your car has a tricky transmission. We’ll leave it here for now. I’ll send it home later with a guy who’s good with a manual.” “You have to let it warm up at least ten minutes. Then make sure you put it in First before shifting to Reverse or it won’t go anywhere. It has that 435-horsepower, big-block engine. You don’t do it right, you’ll leave half its innards sitting in the road.” “You should have that fixed.” “Yeah, but then it wouldn’t be June’s emerald-green 1968 Corvette with the tricky transmission.” “Notoriety isn’t always a good thing.” “No such thing as bad publicity.” “Nothing good about being stranded on the side of the road.” “Not a bad way to meet new folks in a county like this.” “June.” He took a step closer until they were toe to toe. “What?” “Get it fixed.” “So you won’t worry about me?” Ray’s mouth tightened to a thin line, but his eyes glistened a bit. June wasn’t sure if he was going to laugh or yell. He yelled. But he never took his eyes off hers. “Rivers!” Daniel came to his side and Ray stepped back from June. “Please call your wife and ask her to bring a change of clothes for June to NorthCrest. We’ll be there in thirty minutes. Radio the station and the hospital that we’re on our way.” “Yes, sir.” “And ask Carter to clear that crowd back from the house.” “Yes, sir.” Ray held out his hand. “June, I need your keys.” “They’re in the ignition.” Ray’s eyes narrowed. “You left the keys in a Corvette?” “Everybody in the county knows my car, as you just said. Would you steal it?” Ray didn’t argue with her reasoning. “Considering what one of your favorite Sunday school country boys would do if they saw anyone but you driving it? No.” Ray took June by the arm to escort her out. She paused at the door, looking out at the faces of the crowd that had grown even larger. “This could get ugly,” she whispered. “I’ll take care of it.” “I don’t suppose you could tell them—” “Not yet.” “Maybe I could just tell them that I only found—” “June, don’t talk.” June nodded, then took a deep breath. It’s not like I haven’t made this walk before. She pushed open the door and stepped out on the porch. The murmurings started immediately, and June cringed as the words hit her ears. It was as if she’d betrayed them all. Ray walked beside her, waving back those who got too close. By the time he closed the car door, shutting out the voices, tears traced down June’s cheeks, grief building again within her, composure slipping away. Ray yanked open the driver’s door. He fastened his seat belt, then touched her arm gently. “We’ll get through this, I promise.” “The glass house a pastor lives in doesn’t just vanish when he dies.” She twisted toward him, grief boiling over. “You have no idea what it’s like! What this brings back. How this makes me—” Her voice broke, and she wiped away tears in furious frustration. “It brings back JR. Your dad. And your arrest.” June squeezed her eyes shut. “How did you—?” She stopped, pressing her lips together. Of course he knows. He’s the sheriff. She took a deep breath to staunch the tears. Ray looked her over carefully. “Just so you know, June, no matter what we do, these people out here are going to think you’re being treated with favoritism because you’re Daniel’s sister-in-law and JR’s widow.” He paused, easing the cruiser through the cluster of cars in the yard. “And my friend.” June faced forward, looking down at her lap again. “Friend.” “Friend,” Ray repeated. “Your choice, if I remember. Now fasten your seat belt.” He pulled out of the parsonage driveway and headed toward Highway 49, which would take them into Springfield. For the next ten minutes, neither of them spoke. June stared out her window as Ray focused on maneuvering Highway 49’s hills and curves, and her thoughts turned to prayers. Lord, we’re going to need You more than ever. You were there when JR died. Please, guide us now. Help us have strength, understanding…and a little common sense wouldn’t hurt, either. She looked down at her fingers, twisting them around each other. The truth was, this also felt as if she were betraying JR as well. She and JR had worked hard to transform her from a parolee to an elegant preacher’s wife. She’d studied etiquette and taken design classes. She’d practiced walking with grace in three-inch heels until her back hurt and her shoulders cramped. She’d read the Bible until she knew almost every book by heart. They’d never hidden her past from the church, but some of the folks within had never forgiven her or forgotten that they had a felon for a preacher’s wife. Only the fact that she’d never once slipped up, maintaining her elegance and class, had kept her in their good graces. Now that JR no longer stood as her protector, the rumor mill would run out of control. God, You’ve forgiven me. Why can’t they? Because of my disagreements with David? David. Despite her quarrels with him, she had cared about David Gallagher, cared that he succeeded in the church she and her husband had built. For the past three years, she’d supported him, even though she’d pulled back from her activities in the church following JR’s death. In fact, until this business about Hunter had come up between them, she’d thought they were friends. But she’d begun to feel as if he was turning the people in the church against her over Hunter Bridges. And today had probably sealed her fate with them. Their comments had upset her, but now that she thought about it, the same people who whispered behind their hands today were the same ones who always had. That would never change, guilty or innocent, no matter how good or bad her behavior. In every church, there are folks who dislike the pastor’s wife, even if they love the pastor. That was the way of the world. But June had always refused to “court” them. She preferred being straightforward and honest, even if it came with a few bumps. Or hurt someone. She turned to look at Ray. Since JR’s death, June hadn’t considered dating. Ray had always been good to her, checking on her, making a few repairs around the house. But he’d never so much as suggested anything more. Until about six weeks ago, when he changed where he sat every Sunday at church. He’d moved from the balcony to sit in her pew, five rows from the front. Even in a large church like Gospel Immanuel, everyone notices when the county sheriff starts sitting with the former preacher’s wife. By the end of that first service, the rumor mill had already ground out its first tidbits. So she’d made it clear quickly: they were just friends. Nothing more. She’d made it clear despite any feelings she had to the contrary, feelings she wasn’t even ready to admit to herself, yet. Ray had agreed. But he hadn’t gone back to the balcony. And the man who was considered the best Bell County sheriff in its history had taken some hits to his reputation and authority. All because he’d chosen her as his friend. She studied him now. His eyes, shadowed by physical pain, seemed to gaze into some far distance. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Ray blinked twice, as if she’d interrupted a major train of thought. “What?” “By saying we were just friends.” He kept his eyes on the road as he slowly smiled. “June. All the best relationships start as friends.” Now it was her turn to blink in confusion. “Relationsh—” An explosive pop cut off her words, and the cruiser jerked suddenly to the left, into oncoming traffic. June’s seat belt wrenched her back against the seat, locking into place as Ray hit the brakes. He wrestled the car back to the right lane and slowed, the left front tire thudding heavily on the pavement. He eased the car off onto the shoulder, out of all traffic, and turned on the blue lights on the roof. Letting out a long sigh, he looked at June. “You okay?” She nodded. “Although I didn’t really need a second adrenaline rush today.” “No doubt.” Ray reached for the radio and reported to the dispatcher what had happened, along with their location. June looked around, realizing that while they weren’t far from Springfield, they were still surrounded by farm country. Her window overlooked a steep embankment that led down to a stream. Beyond the stream the land rose and fell in the typical undulating nature of this part of Tennessee, and rows of soybeans fluttered in a light breeze. As he replaced the radio, he reached for the door handle. “Stay put. I’ll check on the tire.” At that moment, the window above Ray’s hand cracked, and the radio exploded into tiny pieces as a bullet tore into it. Ray’s shouts to get out of the car sounded muffled, until June realized they were being drowned out by her own frantic screams. Ray released her belt, pushing her toward the passenger door. June jerked on the handle and scrambled out just as the windshield in front of them spiderwebbed into a thousand shards. June bent to squat down against the car but she fell, slamming into the door. Ray tried to hold on to her, but his grip slipped. Terror washed over her as she began to slide down the embankment. FOUR June’s head cracked against a rock on the edge of the ravine and she went silent as she tumbled over. Scrambling but still trying to hold on to the car door, Ray frantically snatched at her arm but missed, and she slid away into the ravine. Ray let go of the door, dropping out of the line of fire and sliding down the rock-lined slope. He stumbled on the rock bed at the bottom, twisting his right ankle and hitting the ground hard. The rocks had punctured deep gashes in his right arm, but he clambered to June’s side, calling her name and checking her pulse. June, limp, pale and unconscious, had a deep cut on her forehead and abrasions on her right cheek and arms. Blood streamed down her face and Ray pulled his shirt open and ripped away part of his undershirt, pressing it hard against her forehead. Her pulse felt thready and uneven, and Ray yanked his cell phone from his pocket. As he called into the station for backup and an ambulance, Ray drew in several deep gulps of air to steady his voice—and his nerves. Flipping the phone shut, he pressed the cloth against June’s face again, then turned his attention up the ravine’s bank. Using the cruiser for cover, he climbed the embankment slowly, ignoring the increased throbbing in his head and arm. Peering around the rear tire, Ray spotted the assailant on the foliage-covered hillside that rose steeply away from the other side of the road. The yellow-white late-morning sunlight glinted off the grille of an SUV—and a rifle barrel. About ten yards below the rise of the hill, and camouflaged by thick brush, the sniper still sat, apparently waiting to make sure they had not survived. “How did you get here so fast?” Ray muttered under his breath as he pulled his pistol from its holster. Bracing his arms, Ray took careful aim and fired three times. The rifle went airborne with the first shot, and the assailant—a slender, wiry white man with dark, shaggy hair—scrambled after it. Ray could hear the raw, explosive words that burst from the gunman. The second and third shots shattered one headlight and the grille on the SUV and, Ray hoped, the radiator. The assailant clawed the SUV’s door open and slammed the vehicle into Reverse as Ray fired again, aiming for but missing the windshield. The SUV roared away as sirens filled the air, and Ray lowered his gun, sliding back down into the ravine toward June. Pressing the cloth against her head again, Ray checked her pulse. Weak, and her breathing was shallow and slow. All his training, all his knowledge, fought desperately with his urge to gather her up in his arms and clutch her to his chest. Instead, Ray clenched one fist at his side and waited for the sirens to close in, for the first responders who could truly rescue this woman. And in his mind he made plans for the man who’d tried to kill her. “Where is she?” Ray winced as Fran Woodard cut his sleeve and peeled the cloth away from the gash on his left forearm, and the demanding tone in his voice lessened. “Who’s seeing her?” As a nurse, Fran had been taking care of Bell County’s law enforcement officers since long before Ray had been on the force. Her hands were always firm but gentle, and her straightforward manner kept any attitude in line. She’d already cleaned and rebandaged the gunshot wound on the side of his head, and now she used a dampened gauze pad to loosen a bit of cloth stuck to his arm by clotted blood. Ray sat on the bed in the E.R., his arm resting on one end of a rolling table, Fran’s tray of supplies on the other. She picked up a cleansing antiseptic to use on the gash. “We’re seeing too much of you boys lately. You need to be more careful.” Fran clucked her tongue at him. “Stop fretting and sit still. Dr. Collins is in with her right now. The X-rays are back.” “Is she still unconscious?” “Last I heard, she was awake and being stubborn about treatment.” Ray’s quick grin shifted to a grimace as Fran began to clean the wound. “That’s a good sign.” Fran shrugged. “Maybe. She needs to rest, not resist.” “Not June’s style.” “Yeah, well, she won’t have much choice if Dr. Collins decides to keep her overnight. That was quite a knock on her head.” Ray took a deep breath and steeled himself as Fran reached for tweezers. “Hold still. You’ve just got a couple of pieces of gravel embedded.” Ray didn’t want to close his eyes, even against the pain. Every time he did, he replayed the scenes from the shootings. “How did he get there so fast?” Ray muttered. Fran cut her eyes toward him briefly, then focused again on the cut, pulling free the last bit of gravel. “I don’t think I’m the one to ask.” In spite of it all, Ray almost grinned. Instead, only the corner of his mouth jerked. “Thanks, Fran.” She paused, watching him for a moment. “What?” “Do you think he was shooting at you or June?” Ray scowled. “Why?” Fran shrugged one shoulder again. “It’s a little unnerving to know someone’s out there randomly shooting at folks. I mean, it’s easy to assume that it was because of Pastor Gallagher’s murder, but was it really?” Ray’s eyes narrowed. “Fran, for all our sakes, let’s hope it’s connected. I’d hate to think we’ve got two nut-cases running around in Bell County.” Fran stood. “You’re going to need four or five stitches in this arm, so sit tight. Dr. Collins will be over here in a few. Do not go wandering around looking for June. Even if she is nearby.” She winked at him, then left the room. Ray twisted his forearm, tipping the gauze onto the tray where his arm rested. His muscles still twitched from the pain. Much of the blood had clotted, but a few places still glistened red from the cleansing of it. It was only three inches long, but deep in the center. Scrapes surrounded the primary wound, and a bruise had started to form. Ray looked up at the room. How he hated being in the hospital. It reminded him of pain and loss—nothing good, that was for sure. The last time he’d been stuck in the hospital was with Anne, when she was dying of cancer. He’d done everything he could since his wife’s death to avoid the place. But now it was June who brought him here—how strange. He stretched his fingers out, then made a fist, grateful that the tendons remained unscathed. He repeated the action, imagining his grip closing on the man who’d shot at June…. “Don’t you dare undo all my work.” Fran’s scolding drowned out the greeting of Dr. Collins, who followed the nurse into the room. Ray focused on the doctor, whose busy night in the E.R. showed in the shadows around his eyes. “How’s June?” Nick Collins plucked a pair of latex gloves out of a box on the wall and stretched them over his hands. “Obstinate. She’s not thrilled about being kept overnight.” “You’re keeping her for observation only?” Nick nodded, then peered over his glasses at the tray Fran had prepped. “They’re moving her to her room. Go see her when we’re done here. Hopefully, you can save the second-shift nurses some grief.” June’s head throbbed, and every time she moved it, a new wave of vertigo slammed into her, making the room spin. “You missed lunch, but I can order you a tray for later. What would you like for supper?” the nurse’s aide asked. June closed her eyes and pressed her head against the pillow, hoping it would stop. “A bucket.” In the silence that followed, she relented, opened her eyes and squinted at the aide, who waited next to her bed. “I’m too dizzy to eat. Don’t order anything.” “The meds will take care of the dizziness. You’ll be hungry later.” “I’ll order out for pizza.” She closed her eyes again and scratched idly at the heart-monitor patch peeking out of the top of her gown. Near the head of the bed, the monitor blinked, its bright green sinus-rhythm line showing steady and even. “Please go away.” “I’ll be back later.” The aide’s shoes squeaked lightly on the floor as she turned and left the room. Before the door could shut, however, someone caught it and entered the room. June started to repeat her command to go away when she realized that her new visitor had arrived with the scent of sweat, musk, dirt, gunfire residue and the faint odor of cologne that somehow still lingered after the day’s events. “Hi, Ray.” “You had to get hurt, didn’t you?” “I guess it does sort of put a damper on the possibility of me as suspect.” She opened her eyes and peered at him through the pain. “More or less.” He stepped closer to the bed. “How do you feel?” “Like a major-league baseball after the World Series.” “Mets or Yankees?” She grinned, which made her wince. “Red Sox. Don’t make me laugh.” Ray returned the smile, then reached for her hand. “I’m sorry.” “Oh? You put the sniper on that hill?” “I dropped my guard. Our cruisers don’t just suddenly have flats.” She glowered at him. “Sniper. Lying in wait. Nothing you could have done.” “I could have called—” June clutched his hand. “Stop it, Ray. You start getting all overprotective on me and we’ll never solve David’s murder.” Ray’s eyes narrowed. “We.” “I’ve been thinking about something—” “You’ve been smacked in the head.” “Doesn’t stop me from thinking.” He pointed at the badge on his chest, then at her. “Me, sheriff. You, witness. Solving this is my job, not yours.” “Don’t worry, Tarzan, I’ll let you be the hero.” June tugged on his hand to pull him closer. “But there are some things you don’t know.” Ray listened silently as June spoke. He knew that her mind never stopped, that she always had some project, some plan in the works, whether it was remodeling a Victorian parsonage or a craft session for the kindergarteners at the church. Apparently, her brain had been spinning about David’s murder from the moment she’d found the body. Her ideas were astute and in many ways mirrored his own thinking about the murder. She felt it wasn’t random, but local, intentional and related to David’s newfound political ambition. As far as she knew, nothing else had changed in his life. And she also felt that she had not interrupted the murder itself—but possibly the reason for it. “If you had interrupted the murder,” Ray said, “there would have been less blood and probably no footprints. Whoever bolted out that door did it without caring that he’d stepped in the blood.” “I barged in because I saw the footprints on the porch. And someone was still there.” “Ransacking the study.” She nodded, then pressed her palm to her forehead. Ray could see that pain still raged inside her. She took a deep breath, wiped her face with one hand and sat straighter in the bed. She won’t give up. Or give in. “I must have interrupted the search in David’s study.” Ray pulled a chair next to the bed and sat. “The way they left, as well as the evidence, definitely points to a division in the team. Whoever went out the back ran first or you would have run into him. Probably the mastermind was more afraid of getting caught. The person who left out the back may have been the killer since there was blood evidence in the tunnel. He left last, more determined to finish the job.” “He was just the muscle.” Ray’s mouth twitched at June’s use of the term, and he shifted in the chair. “And not as concerned about you catching him. He may have planned on killing you, then heard us in the driveway.” June’s eyes watered again, and she looked down, plucking at the blanket across her lap. “David once told me he could hear the Corvette turn into the driveway. Teased me that it gave him plenty of time to escape out the back.” Ray gave her a moment of memory. “Is that why you went to the back door?” Her gentle smile revealed her deep affection for David Gallagher. “Yes. After he said that, I always went to the back. It made him laugh.” “Didn’t most people go to the back?” June’s hands stilled and her brow furrowed. “No.” She looked up at Ray, a light of realization in her eyes. “No, they didn’t. When JR and I first remodeled, people got in the habit of coming to the back, but JR didn’t like it. He wanted to be accessible to everyone but not encourage folks to think they could just walk in any time. At that time, the driveway came around behind the house, so he solved the issue by putting in the patio there at the side of the house and improving the sidewalk in the front. Even though the driveway still went around it to our garage, people started coming up the front walk.” “So instead of building a physical barrier or offending people by asking them not to come to the back, he built a psychological barrier.” “And most people got the message.” June pushed herself up in the bed. “And David carried that tradition forward after JR died. The only people who came to the back were people he knew extremely well. He’d never have opened the back door to a stranger. And he was austere enough in the pulpit that casual acquaintances never even thought about it. Except for his political cronies, you’ll have to look at his friends.” “Our friends.” They both fell silent, well aware of how small the Bell County community was. The population of the three small towns of the county—White Hills, Caralinda and the county seat of Bell Springs—remained tiny enough that most people knew everyone in the area. That was one reason that June remained a respected voice in Bell County. Ray cleared his throat. “You were David’s psychological barrier.” June scowled. “What?” “The reason he wanted you on Hunter’s side. Like it or not, people still listen to you in Bell County. If you come out in a vocal way against Hunter, he’ll have a hard time advancing politically.” “Ray, I think you’re giving me too much credit.” Ray shook his head. “No, I’m not. Do you still blog every day?” June hesitated a moment, then nodded. June’s online diary had begun almost as self-therapy after JR’s death. Titled “June’s Bell County Wanderings,” she had started it in an effort to connect with other pastors’ widows. Granted, at thirty, she was younger than most of them. But sharing her grief, however, had soon turned into sharing her life in Bell County, and the popularity of the blog had soared. She entertained people with tales of life in a small Southern town, and she now had more than one thousand followers, most of them in the county. “I’m fairly sure David wouldn’t want you talking about Hunter’s exploits online.” “Ray Taylor, I do not gossip, thank you very much. I do not—” Ray took her hand. “I know that. But if you had supported Hunter openly…” She hesitated, looking down at their intertwined fingers. “People might listen. Might.” “Right.” “Which explains David’s actions toward me, but—” She paused and her eyes widened. “You think Hunter will ask me to support him?” Ray squeezed her hand. “Hard to say. But if he does approach you, you may be able to expand on any information we get from him.” June took a deep breath. “How? Do you think Hunter would tell me if he knew what the killer was after?” Ray watched June’s face closely. “What do you think he was after?” “You’re asking what a pastor keeps in his study?” She shrugged. “Depends a lot on the pastor. And the church. Gospel Immanuel is small enough that JR did most of his work at home.” “So he kept anything valuable in his study?” “And anything private.” “What kind of private information did JR have?” “Counseling. He helped a lot of people, and he was a fanatic about people’s privacy. Any notes he kept from counseling sessions were locked away in a fireproof box and stored in one of the dozens of hiding places in the house. He didn’t even tell me where they were.” Ray shifted, then stood, reluctantly letting go of June’s hand. Counseling records could provide a motivation for murder. David, what in the world did you get into? What got you killed? “Did JR tell David?” She shrugged. “No way of knowing now.” She plucked at the sheet again. “I don’t know if David took on any of JR’s folks for counseling. That’s not the kind of information anyone shares.” Ray nodded. “There were a lot of hiding places in the house?” “It’s an old Victorian, and the original owner, Sieg fried Osborne, was a little nutty. Siegfried, as you know, was the grandfather of Rosalie Osborne. Poor thing just vanished into thin air. Her disappearance was never solved, right?” Ray shook his head. “And we’ve got enough to worry about without adding anyone else to the mix, June.” June gave Ray a small smile. “Anyway, we uncovered at least a hundred secret cubbyholes, rooms and sliding panels. Every time we moved a wall or redid paneling, we found something.” Ray stared. “You found stuff?” “Oh, yeah. That house is a time capsule. Letters, diaries, dried flowers. Jewelry, silver, candlesticks. JR once found a tin box full of papers that…” As her voice trailed off, June grew still and the color left her face. “What was in the box?” “I don’t really know. He wouldn’t let me see it. We’d discussed everything else, but he wouldn’t let me see that one box. He said he planned to destroy it, the box and all the contents.” “Why?” “I don’t know.” June clutched Ray’s hand again. “He just promised to get rid of it, said what was inside was far too dangerous to keep in the house.” Ray closed both hands around hers as they turned to ice in his grasp. “Looks like he may have been right.” FIVE “How did he know where we were headed?” Daniel grimaced and squirmed a bit in the visitor’s chair of Ray’s office. The late-afternoon sun always shone directly through the windows and Daniel shifted the chair so that the blinds shaded his face. “Maybe he has a scanner. We did notify dispatch that you were taking June to NorthCrest.” Ray stared at his deputy. “Maybe.” “You don’t buy it.” “You radioed after we pulled out of the driveway.” Êîíåö îçíàêîìèòåëüíîãî ôðàãìåíòà. Òåêñò ïðåäîñòàâëåí ÎÎÎ «ËèòÐåñ». Ïðî÷èòàéòå ýòó êíèãó öåëèêîì, êóïèâ ïîëíóþ ëåãàëüíóþ âåðñèþ (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=39926474&lfrom=390579938) íà ËèòÐåñ. Áåçîïàñíî îïëàòèòü êíèãó ìîæíî áàíêîâñêîé êàðòîé Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, ñî ñ÷åòà ìîáèëüíîãî òåëåôîíà, ñ ïëàòåæíîãî òåðìèíàëà, â ñàëîíå ÌÒÑ èëè Ñâÿçíîé, ÷åðåç PayPal, WebMoney, ßíäåêñ.Äåíüãè, QIWI Êîøåëåê, áîíóñíûìè êàðòàìè èëè äðóãèì óäîáíûì Âàì ñïîñîáîì.