He stumbled out of the cattails and stared down at his hands.
Blood, slick and dark and oily, covered his gloves and the knife. He turned toward the water and squatted at its edge. Setting the knife on the bank, he stuck the gloves into the shallow water. He rubbed his palms together and washed away as much of the blood as possible. Then he stripped off the gloves and set them aside. Specks of blood dotted his forearms. He scrubbed at them, scooping a handful of mud from the lake bottom and using it as a cleanser.
There’d been so much blood. He’d never wash it all off.
He glanced back into the reeds. What had he done?
Something that couldn’t be undone.
His gaze landed on the knife at his side. His stomach turned over at the sight, and he ripped his eyes away.
How many times had he stabbed her? He couldn’t remember. Rage had completely short-circuited his brain. The last twenty minutes were a blur.
A violent, frenzied blur.
He heard screaming, pleading, crying, the sounds of pain and fear. He put his hands over his ears, but the sounds were in his head.
The bloody knife glared at him accusingly.
You know what you did.
And he was going to have to live with it. But how?
An idea cut through his panic.
By not getting caught.
He couldn’t go to prison. He’d never survive, and even if he did, his entire life would be over. It wasn’t as if a life sentence for him would bring her back. Nothing could do that.
What am I going to do with the knife? Thanks to TV crime shows, everyone knew that he’d never get all the traces of her blood off it. He needed to get rid of the knife and the gloves. His clothes too. They must have blood on them. He needed to dump everything. But where? How?
He paused and breathed.
He hadn’t meant to kill her. But rage had taken over. He’d been driven by an animal urge that screamed that she belonged to him.
Even as he thought it, he knew it wasn’t the truth. She wasn’t his. He’d simply taken what he wanted without asking.
But then, he’d always had dark thoughts. He’d fought the darkness inside him most of his life. Hidden it away so no one would see. But she’d broken his control.
Since the first time he’d seen her, he hadn’t been able to think straight.
He pictured her now, her pretty eyes that always seemed to be on him. From the first time they’d met, she’d felt the same rush of attraction for him, even if she hadn’t wanted to admit it. He was sure of it. But she was gone. Her smile would never brighten another of his dark days.
I love you.
His heart ached, acutely aware that hers no longer beat. He’d watched the life fade from her eyes, felt her soul leave her body.
Bringing the knife had been his downfall, an impulse decision.
But then, impulses were his real problem, weren’t they?
Self-preservation drove him to his feet. He had work to do. He collected the gloves, now dripping with lake water rather than blood. Putting them on, he picked up the knife by the very end of the handle. He had to hide it.
But first he had to pay his respects. He had to see her one final time and face the reality of his actions. Only then would he be able to put this night behind him and move forward.
On his way back to the cattails, he picked up a plastic bag from the ground, trash from someone’s takeout dinner. He stuffed the knife inside the bag and rolled it up. He’d figure out what to do with it later.
After he said his final good-bye.
He returned to her. Dropping to his knees, he looked at her face—only her face. He couldn’t think about the extent of his brutality. It was as if for that twenty minutes, someone else had inhabited his body. He couldn’t have done that to her. He loved her.
But love had its dark side, jealousy, possession.
A tear slid down his face at the thought of never seeing her again.
I love you.
How am I going to live without you?
Morgan Dane toyed with her steak salad, but the weight of the decision on her mind dampened her appetite.
The waitress returned to the table. “Anyone need another drink?”
Morgan shook her head. “No, thank you.”
She’d had exactly two sips from her glass of house red.
Across the table, District Attorney Bryce Walters finished his single glass. “Is something wrong with the wine?”
“No. It’s fine. I’m not much of a drinker.” The truth was she had no tolerance for alcohol, and the only thing worse than a kaleidoscope of butterflies flapping in her stomach were stumbling drunk ones.
“Well, that’s a good thing.” He smiled, his teeth even and white.
She should probably be attracted to him, but she wasn’t, which was for the best. This was not a date. As long as Bryce hadn’t changed his mind about offering her a job since their last meeting, he was going to be her boss, not her boyfriend.
He set aside his empty glass and ordered coffee. Morgan declined.
The man’s superior genes could not be denied. Tall and lean, he had a tan that suggested manly, outdoorsy pursuits. He balanced being a gentleman and a man’s man. He’d even been gifted with a deep voice that resonated well in large rooms. In the courtroom, Bryce sold guilt like the slickest marketer.
Morgan shifted in her chair, acutely aware of the way her suit nipped in at her waist. Her tailored silk blouse fell in an elegant drape to show the single strand of pearls around her neck but never revealed any hint of cleavage. While some female ADAs strove to downplay their femininity, Morgan had chosen to highlight hers, and she was often underestimated because of it.
But today her professional attire felt more like a Halloween costume. She hadn’t worked in a long time, not since John’s death.
The grief she’d packed away threatened to rise, and she blinked away from Bryce’s sharp scrutiny to eat another bite of steak. The moment she swallowed the meat, those damned butterflies attacked it like a swarm of locusts. Giving up on the meal, she rested her fork across her plate.
Bryce’s gaze softened. He didn’t miss a thing.
She’d thought she could get through the meeting without getting emotional.
Time to get this done.
The rural county in upstate New York only employed a handful of assistant prosecutors. If she wanted to work near her home in Scarlet Falls, this was her best chance. She intended to grab it.
The waitress returned with Bryce’s coffee.
He drank it black. “Sorry my afternoon meeting ran long. Thank you for being flexible and having dinner with me.”
“Thank you for dinner.” It wasn’t as if Morgan had wild Friday night plans he’d interrupted. If it weren’t for this dinner, she’d be in her pajamas watching a Disney movie with her kids. Truthfully, Morgan hadn’t been happy about pushing their meeting back, but this was her new reality. Working moms missed the occasional bedtime.
Bryce leaned his forearms on the table and interlaced his fingers. His cross-examination focus landed on Morgan like a spotlight.
“Have you made a decision?” he asked.
“I have.” She shivered as the vent overhead unleashed a stream of cool air down her back. “I accept.”
Bryce grinned. Satisfaction slid over his face as he shifted back in his chair. “Excellent.”
A busboy cleared their dinner dishes, and the waitress approached. “Would either of you like to see a dessert menu?”
Morgan shook her head. A few grains of silver on her skirt caught the light, evidence of her youngest child’s current obsession with glitter. She resisted checking her watch. She’d only been gone a couple of hours. The girls were fine.
One evening away from her kids, and she missed them. How would she cope with being at the office all day, every day? This was ridiculous. She was thirty-three years old. Until two years ago, she’d been a successful assistant district attorney. She’d juggled a household, three very small children, and a career. Most of the time, John had been deployed to Iraq. Then an IED had exploded six thousand miles away, killing her husband. Devastated, she’d chucked everything to move back home. Now it was time to get back to being an independent, professional woman. She’d been hiding behind her grief long enough.