I don’t have any trouble at all finding parking at the free clinic today.
It’s a good thing because I have a jam-packed schedule today. This isn’t even my usual day to be here, and I’m seeing patients till nearly seven o’clock at night. I’ve been gone for over a month, on a tour to promote The Anatomy of Fear, which recently hit number eight on the New York Times bestseller list. Nobody knows that the account of the woman who survived a stabbing in an isolated cabin is entirely a lie.
It’s been nearly four months since EJ, also known as Edward Jamison, left my life. Or rather, I should say he became a permanent part of my life. I peeled the duct tape off the floor later that day, destroyed his phone, and moved the couch back in place, but over the next several days, the stench coming from the floor became unbearable. I had to close off the room and cancel all my patients. I didn’t go into my office for two months.
If I even got close to the door to my former office, the smell was enough to turn my stomach. But then when I returned home from my book tour, I was relieved to find that the smell had abated significantly, although it was still very much present.
I finally went online and purchased a spray that was advertised to “chemically neutralize odors from dead
bodies.” I opened all the windows, aggressively spritzed the neutralizing chemical, and to my surprise and immense relief, it worked—the odor disappeared. You would never know there was a dead body down there.
I had assumed that at some point the police would come by, asking questions about his disappearance. I even had a story ready. There were moments during my tour when I was signing books and I was certain the police would approach me with handcuffs and haul me away. But it never happened. Nobody even asked me any questions about him. And now, four months later, I’m starting to believe they might never come. After all, there was no cash trail for EJ’s visits to my practice. The only person besides him who knew that he came to see me was his mother, and she’s gone.
I got away with it. I killed a man, he’s lying under the floorboards in my home, and nobody knows it but me. Well, Patricia likely knows I killed him but she doesn’t know where the body is.
Patricia. So far, she hasn’t been a problem. But it worries me that she knows what I’ve done. That we share this secret. Could she use it against me someday? I do not know. The secret I know about her is just as bad, possibly worse. I can’t obsess over it, anyway. Right now, I’ve got to catch up on the patients I wasn’t able to see during my book tour, and I’ve still got plenty of signings and television appearances on the books over the next several weeks.
When I get into the clinic, Gloria is sitting at the front desk, humming to herself like she often does. When she sees me, her entire face lights up. “I’ve got a surprise for you, Dr. Hale.”
“Oh?” It’s probably food. Patients love to bring sweets for me. I rarely eat them. Mostly, it’s homemade items or cheap chocolates. I don’t care how many comments Gloria makes about me needing to put meat on my bones—I’m not eating homemade goods prepared by psychiatric patients.
“It’s in the documentation office,” she says. And she winks at me. “You should go there right now.”
I follow Gloria’s cryptic instructions and head to the documentation room. I’m guessing it’s donuts. Patients love to bring in donuts. I skipped breakfast this morning, so I suppose I wouldn’t mind a munchkin or two. Just this one time, I’ll live dangerously.
But when I get to the room, I discover what Gloria was excited about. It’s not donuts.
I stare at him for a moment, my heart pounding. I haven’t seen him in nearly five months, since that day he stormed out of my house after I asked him to… Well, we all know what I asked him to do. I had forgotten quite how handsome he is. He’s clean-shaven, his dark brown hair newly clipped, wearing a freshly ironed dress shirt and a brown tie. And he’s wearing that aftershave again. The same brand he was wearing the first night we were together.
Luke looks up from his computer at the sound of my footsteps in the entranceway to the room. He sucks in a breath when he sees me. “Adrienne…”
“Oh.” I tuck a stray strand of hair behind my ear. “I… I didn’t expect you to be here.”
“Just had to do a software update.” He coughs into his hand. “You usually come on Tuesdays. So I figured Thursday you wouldn’t be here…”
“I’m working an extra day.” I hate how formal we sound when we’re talking to each other. Like we’re strangers. Like we didn’t almost move in together. Like he wasn’t the first man I had ever fallen in love with. “I’m playing catch up after my book tour.”
“Right.” He bobs his head. “I saw your book came out.
“Thank you. You didn’t… Did you read it?”
He hesitates for a beat. “Yes. I did. It was really good.
Better than your last book even.” “You think so?”
“I wouldn’t lie.”
“Well.” I plaster a smile on my lips. “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.”
We both stare at each other for a moment, the air between us heavy with everything that happened the last time we saw each other. When he stormed out of my house.
Finally, he blurts out, “I miss you.” A lump rises in my throat. “You do?”
“I really do.” He stands up and leans against the desk. “A lot. You have no idea…”
I attempt to swallow the lump. “I took care of that… situation. I paid him off.”
A lie, of course. I wonder if Luke knows it. Maybe he’s decided not to care.
“I shouldn’t have run out on you like that.” He adjusts his glasses on his nose. “I know you didn’t really mean that we should… I mean, I should’ve helped you figure out the situation. I just got freaked out. I’m sorry.”
“I forgive you.” I clear my throat. “And… I miss you too.
His shoulders sag. “I’m so glad to hear that. Honestly, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you the last few months. I tried—believe me, I tried. But it’s no use. I can’t even sleep at night because I keep tossing and turning, thinking about how I blew it with the best woman I ever met.”
I arch an eyebrow. “I could call in a prescription for some Ambien.”
He reaches over and takes my hand in his larger hands. I missed this feeling. “Or you could have dinner with me tonight.”
My lips stretch into a smile. “I’m going to have a late night at the clinic tonight.”
“I can wait.” He leans in towards me. “Also, I have a confession to make. I wasn’t entirely truthful with you.”
My stomach flips. Does he know what I did to EJ? “You weren’t?”
He grins. “The truth is, I knew you were going to be working today. Gloria told me. I asked her what days you would be in this week before I planned my schedule.”
That’s his confession—that he was trying to see me. My knees wobble with relief. I grab his shirt collar and pull him towards me, then I press my lips against his. The way he kisses me back, I know he’s been missing me as much as I’ve missed him.
He’ll never know what I’ve done. I’m going to keep it that way.
Luke and I are meeting tonight at nine o’clock. I tried to finish up the clinic as quickly as I could, leaving behind a stack of paperwork at the end. I’ll probably have to come back tomorrow, but Gloria was nice about it. She knew I made plans with Luke, and she was practically shooing me out the door.
Luke is picking me up at my house, then we’re going out to a restaurant. As much as I’d like to have him inside the house, there’s no way I’m allowing him inside while that body is still underneath my floorboards. Even though the smell seems to have abated, I swear I can still detect a faint whiff of death, especially in my office. I can’t risk having him in the house. If he knows what I’ve done, he’ll never forgive me.
Eventually, I’ve got to get rid of the body. I’m dreading it. It’s like when I was a child and I used to smash a large insect with a heavy book. I knew eventually I would have to pick up the book and clean up the smashed insect. But I always dreaded it.
I may not be perfect, but I’m not a psychopath. I didn’t want to kill EJ. He gave me no choice.
I drive down the dark path to my house, keeping my eye on the clock. I’ve got an hour to shower and change before Luke arrives. I’ll come up with an excuse for why he can’t go inside the house. Perhaps I had it newly painted. I’m sure he’ll believe whatever excuse I come up with. I may be good at detecting lies, but he is not.
And eventually, I’ll have to get rid of the body for good. Maybe in a few more months. Nobody will be looking for him by then.
As I draw closer to my house, I see an Audi parked in front. My agent Paige’s car. I wonder if she’s come to beg me to take her back. If she has, she’s wasting her time. It’s far too late for that.
But then I see a dark figure leaning against the car—one I haven’t seen in four months and hoped to never see again. A figure with long, shapely legs and silky blond hair that gleams in the moonlight. It’s Patricia Lawton. I forgot she drove the same kind of car as my former agent did.
I park my car next to the Audi and kill the engine. I stuff my keys in my purse and get out of the car. I don’t know what Patricia wants, but I don’t have time for it. I need time to look my best for Luke.
“Hi, Dr. Hale,” she says. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” “Yes…”
Her teeth almost glow in the moonlight as she smiles. “I was hoping we could talk.”
I glance down at my watch pointedly. “I’m in a bit of a rush.”
“It’ll just take a moment.”
I nod. “We can talk out here. You’ve got one minute.”
“I just…” She chews at her thumbnail, which is gnawed down to the quick. “I’m nervous about what we did. What if somebody traces it back to us?”
“That won’t happen. It’s been months. Nobody is looking for him.”
“They might. If they find the body.” “They won’t.”
“You don’t know for sure. And I’ve been thinking about it…” Her lips twist downward. “There’s video footage in the casino. If they find out when he disappeared, they could look at the footage and figure out I was the one talking to him right before. They might see us leaving together. Or maybe they’ll have footage from the garage.”
She might be right. It’s another reason Patricia has become a liability. I’ll have to do something about it. But not now. “I wouldn’t worry about it.”
“I just want to know…” Her eyes lock with mine. “What did you do with his body?”
“What?” I almost choke. “Patricia, I am not going to have this discussion with you. Trust me. Everything is fine.”
“I want to know where the body is. I need to know.
Please tell me.”
I grunt in disgust. “Your minute is up. I have to go.” “Is it in the house somewhere?”
I hesitate a beat too long, and her eyes widen. “You have the body in the house?” she gasps. “My God. Where is it?”
“I can’t discuss this with you.” “But, Dr. Hale—”
“Look.” I pause one more minute to address her. That’s all she gets—I can’t babysit this girl any longer. “The only people who know about this are the two of us. All we have to do is keep the secret.”
Patricia’s eyes don’t blink once as she stares into mine. “My mother always says the only way two people can keep a secret,” she says, “is if one of them is dead.”
And then her fingers bite into my arm. A cold feeling comes over me, and I realize I have made a terrible mistake.
I should never have gotten Patricia involved in this. I knew exactly how dangerous she was.
And now I am going to pay the price. Please forgive me, Luke…