Chapter no 26

The Locked Door

Present Day

As usual, I’m the last person to leave the office.

Harper shut off all the lights in the waiting area, so it’s pitch black when I come out there. It takes me several minutes of fumbling before I find the light switch, but I’m scared if I don’t, I’ll end up nose-diving into a chair.

I’m used to the busy pace of the waiting room, so it’s so eerily quiet in the evening. Harper left behind her biology book on her desk. I walk over and flip through the pages, seeing her meticulous notes scribbled in the margins. I remember when I used to study biology, back in college. My whole life was ahead of me then. It was a chance to leave my past behind. Nobody has to know who you are, my grandmother told me on the day I left for college.

And now somehow, I’ve gone and blown that. But to be fair, it’s not my fault.

I take the stairs two at a time down to the lobby. I can’t wait to get home. I have a feeling this might be my last night of quiet before the reporters start banging on my door. Maybe I’ll take a nice hot shower. Or better yet, a bath. When was the last time I had a bath? It might have been a different decade.

But then when I get down to the lobby, somebody is waiting for me. “Nora?”

I flinch. “Brady, what are you doing here?”

Brady is standing in the lobby of the building, his hands shoved into the pockets of his open jacket. He takes a step towards me and I take a step back.

“Can I talk to you?” he says. “No. I’m afraid you can’t.” “Nora…”

I frown at him. “What do you want to talk to me about? Look, we had some fun. You made your feelings pretty clear. Just… let’s leave it at that.”

“Can I have five minutes?” He holds up his hand with his digits outstretched. “Five minutes. And if you don’t want to see me ever again after that, I promise I will leave you alone forever.”

I let out a sigh. I can tell that if I say no, he’s going to keep at me.

Might as well get this over with. “Fine. Five minutes.”

I look down at my watch pointedly. Making sure he knows his five minutes have officially begun.

“So here’s the thing.” He shoves his hands back into the pockets of his coat. “My divorce was a mess. The only reason we got married in the first place was because she got pregnant. All we did was fight the whole time. And I just… After it was over, I never wanted to have another relationship again. It was one of those things that soured me forever.” He furrows his brow. “And then I saw you sitting at the bar, and I remembered what it was like to be happy with another person. And I wanted to start dating again. Does that make any sense?”

I scoff. “It doesn’t explain why you lied to me.”

“Come on, Nora. We both know you hate children.”

“Just because I don’t want any, that doesn’t mean I hate them.”

Those are the truest words I’ve ever spoken. I like children. But I can’t risk passing on my genes to anyone else. I can’t risk creating another Aaron Nierling. I could never live with myself. And anyway, my career is my life. It consumes almost all my waking hours. There’s no room for children.

But God, it doesn’t mean I hate them. If I were somebody else, somebody other than his daughter, I would love to…

Well, it’s not worth thinking about. It is what it is.

“Is there anything I can say?” he asks. “Anything I can do to convince you how sorry I am? Because I really like you, Nora.”

I look up at his brown eyes and I realize how much he means it. It isn’t like men haven’t hit on me in the last ten years or so, since I decided to be celibate. But most of them didn’t care much one way or another if I went for it. Brady cares. But he’ll get over it. Especially when the story about who I am hits the news tomorrow.

I’m glad I don’t have to see the look on his face when he sees that story.

“Sorry,” I say. “Also, your five minutes are up.” “Okay,” he sighs. “That’s fair.”

My mouth falls open. I had expected at least another twenty minutes of him trying to convince me we were made for each other. “That’s it? You’re giving up?”

“I…” He tilts his head. “You told me no. So… I thought… I mean, should I not give up?”

I stare at him, feeling suddenly a bit confused. Do I want him to keep trying? All I know is that when he gave in, I felt a deep sting of disappointment. “I… I’m going to get my car.”

“Can I come with you?” he asks.

Our eyes meet. Dammit, I’m going to end up going home with him again. I wish I had more self-restraint. Usually, I’m better at saying no.

We head out into the dark parking lot right outside the building. There are a couple of lights in the parking lot, but several of them have burned out. I’ll have to talk to maintenance about it. Brady walks me to my car, and it’s only after we get a few feet away that I see what happened to it.

“Somebody slashed my tires!” I cry.

And they didn’t just poke holes in them to make them go flat. I see the shredded rubber in each of my wheels. Somebody did a number on my tires. I wonder if it was Mrs. Swanson. But no, she left hours ago. She wouldn’t have done this in broad daylight. Although I suppose she could have come back.

Tears prick at my eyes, but I quickly blink them away. I haven’t cried in… I can’t even remember the last time I’ve cried. It’s been a very, very long time.

“Jesus,” Brady breathes. “What the hell?”

I’m suddenly incredibly glad he’s here with me. If I saw this and was all alone, I would’ve had a complete meltdown. But his presence calms me down.

“I’ll have to get it towed.” I look down at my watch. It’s even later than I thought. God knows when I’ll get home at this rate. “This is just great. I’ve been at work for fifteen hours and now I have to deal with this.”

“Let me drive you home,” he says quickly. “You don’t need to deal with this now. All the repair places are closed anyway. You can call in the morning and get it towed.”

I grunt. “I don’t have time to deal with this in the morning.”

“But I do.” He bends down to look at the tires. “I’ll come back here in the morning and I’ll meet the tow truck operator. I’ll take care of it for you.”

“So I’m supposed to trust you to get my car towed for me?” His lips pull down. “You don’t trust me to do that?”

I look down at the shredded tires on my Camry, then back at his open face. I guess I do trust him. I’ve known him for over fifteen years, and he’s never given me a reason not to. Yes, he lied about his daughter. But I think that was more because on some level he didn’t trust me.

“Fine,” I say. “Thank you.” I fish around in my purse for my keys and take the car key off the ring. I hand it over to him. “I appreciate it.”

He pockets my car key. “Come on. I’ll drive you home.”

Like me, Brady has a sensible car—although older and more beat up than mine. I climb into the passenger seat beside him, and I appreciate that the inside of the car is clean and that he doesn’t have to throw like twenty wrappers and empty Coke cans in the back so that I can sit.

“I like that your car isn’t covered in McDonald’s French fries,” I comment.

“Oh, it definitely would be if I left Ruby to her own devices.” “I appreciate cleanliness.”

He winks at me. “It’s next to godliness, right?”

Despite everything, I smile at that old saying. I feel the same way. I like everything neat and clean.

Brady mounts his phone on the dashboard. “What’s your address?” I hesitate.

He gives me a look. “Nora, I understand you want your privacy, but there’s no way I can get you home if I don’t know where you live. I swear, I will only use your address this one time, and I will never use it for evil. Okay?”

“Fine,” I grumble.

I recite my address and he punches it into the GPS on his phone. He gets on the road, and I appreciate that he doesn’t speed or do anything else that makes me feel like he’s taking our lives into his hands. Of course, if he’s used to driving with a kid in the car, I guess he knows how to take it easy.

I glance in the backseat, expecting to see a car seat or booster seat. But there’s nothing back there.

“Aren’t you supposed to have a booster seat for a little kid?” I ask him.

He grins at me. “Absolutely true. Ruby informed me last time she is way too big for a car seat, and as usual, she was right—so I took it out yesterday. The booster seat is coming tomorrow. And I’m incredibly excited that I don’t have to break my back every time I strap her into it.”

I pick at a loose thread on the drawstring of my scrubs. “It’s kind of hard to imagine you being a dad. I think in my head, you’re still twenty.”

“Sometimes in my head, I’m still twenty.” He turns right at a red light. “There are some days when Ruby asks for an extra cookie after she’s already had way too many, and I’m like, why the hell not? Cookies are great. Why do I have to be the cookie police?”

“So you give her the cookie?”

“Sometimes.” He holds a finger to his lips. “Don’t tell my ex. I’m trying to get joint custody, and I have a feeling it’s the kind of thing she would use against me.”

“How come you didn’t get it in the first place?” That part surprises me.

Brady seems like he’d be a responsible parent.

“It’s…” He slows to a stop at a red light. “It’s a long story. I don’t want to bore you with it.”

I look out the passenger side window, trying to ignore the tight feeling in my chest. I don’t know who slashed my tires, but I have a distinct feeling that this was not a random event. They meant to slash my tires. And once the news hits who I really am, it’s only going to get worse.

I look over at Brady, and his brown eyes are pinned on the road. He glances over at me for a moment and smiles. What’s he going to say when he finds out? I don’t foresee any more rides home in my future.

Well, who cares? I wanted to get rid of him.

As he makes the turn onto my street, I can see the flashing red and blue lights all the way down the block. My heart leaps into my throat. Is that my house?

Oh God, I forgot to call Detective Barber back. But even so, would he show up at my doorstep with the flashing lights?

“What’s going on up there?” Brady squints at the road. “Is that a police car by your house?”

I swallow. “Maybe you should just let me out here…”

Brady keeps driving as if he hadn’t heard me. “Do you think it’s about the slashed tires? But how would they know about that? You didn’t call the police, did you, Nora?”

“Just let me out here,” I say, louder this time.

But of course, he doesn’t stop till he gets right in front of my house. And there’s no doubt whatsoever that the police car is parked right by the walkway to my front door. His eyes are like saucers as he stares at the cop car, then back at me.

I leap out of his car the second he gets it in park, or even a few seconds before, if I’m being honest. But he’s quick, and he gets out of the car right behind me. I grit my teeth, pushing back the urge to yell at him to go away. In his defense, he probably thinks he’s looking out for me.

“Dr. Davis.” Detective Barber is leaning against the cop car, his arms folded across over his protruding gut. I wonder how long he’s been waiting there. I wonder how long my neighbors have seen this stupid police car with flashing lights in front of my house. “Could we have a word?”

I feel torn. I’d like to go into my house so that the neighbors and Brady aren’t here to witness this whole conversation. But at the same time, I don’t want this detective in my house. This is the time when I need to lawyer up. I can’t keep letting him push me around, or I’m going to end up right where my father is.

“Dr. Davis?” Barber says.

I finally find my voice. “What do you want?”

“I think it would be better if we went inside your house,” the detective says. “You don’t want the whole neighborhood to hear this.” He glances at Brady curiously. “Your boyfriend can stay if you want.”

“I told you,” I say through my teeth, “I don’t want to have another discussion with you without a lawyer present. I’ve answered all your questions.”

“I was just wondering,” he says, “if I could take a quick look around your house.”

I feel like all the air has been sucked out of my body. “Take a look around my house?”

He holds up his hands. “Real quick. Just me. Just looking around.”

What does he think he’s going to find? Some girl chained up in my basement? Maybe I should just let him look. I have nothing to hide.

“Hey,” Brady says before I can answer. His voice is respectful but firm. “Nora had a really hard day today. She’s been operating since five in the morning. And I’m pretty sure you need a warrant to search her house. So maybe it would be better if you talk in the morning when she has a lawyer present?”

Detective Barber gives me a look as if to say, Is this guy for real? Of course, if Brady had any clue what they were here to talk to me about, he might not have gotten in the middle of it. But the amazing part is that it works. Barber takes a step back, nodding his head.

“Fine,” he says. “We can talk tomorrow morning with your lawyer present. Say, ten o’clock at the station?”

“Fine,” I say. Now I just have to find a lawyer by ten o’clock. And figure out what the hell I’m going to do about my morning surgeries. I don’t have time to be a murder suspect.

I feel like I can’t breathe until Detective Barber gets back in his car and drives away. Even after he’s gone, my fingers are shaking so much, I’m having trouble getting the key in the lock to the door. This is unusual for me. I’m a surgeon, for God’s sake. I never have shaky hands.

Finally, Brady takes the key from me, fits it in the lock, and then leads me into the house. He puts his hand on my back and directs me to the sofa, where I sit down obediently. He rests his hand on top of mine and gives it a squeeze. “I’m going to get you some water, Nora.”

I nod wordlessly.

I hear him clanging around my kitchen for long enough that I’m almost tempted to go out there and ask if I need to help him find the sink. But then he comes back with a glass of water. I take it gratefully and gulp down half of it. It doesn’t help. I need something much stronger than water.

Brady settles down beside me on the sofa. “I’m not going to ask. But unless you’re looking for a divorce lawyer, I can’t help you out in that department.”

“Right.” I stare down at the little bubbles in the water. “It’s not a big deal.”

“You don’t have to tell me. It’s none of my business.”

But all of a sudden, I want to tell him. I want to tell somebody what’s going on. I’ve been suffering with this for a long time all by myself. And it doesn’t seem like it’s just going to go away.

“Those two women who were murdered.” I take another swallow from the water glass. “You know, the ones all over the news? The ones who… who had their hands cut off?”


“They were my patients.”

His eyes widen. “Both of them?” “Yes.”

“Oh.” He scratches at his brown hair. “Well, I guess that’s a strange coincidence. But seriously, why would they think you had anything to do with it? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my whole life.”

“Because…” I rub at my knees. There’s a stain on the knee on the right. Probably some food. Possibly blood. “Because like I said, their hands were cut off. The same thing the Handyman did to his victims.”

Brady cocks his head to the side. “I don’t understand.”

I could just leave it. I’ve kept this secret for twenty-six years. For twenty-six years, I’ve been Nora Davis, whose parents were killed tragically in a car accident. My grandmother wanted me to never tell a soul

—she even moved with me to get away from the people who used to know who I was. But it’s like I’ve been living a lie. Like I’ve been an actress playing the lead role in my own life.

I look up at Brady. If anyone would be kind to me, it would be him.

I’ve got to tell somebody.

“Because,” I finally say. “Aaron Nierling is my father.”

I don’t know how I expected Brady to react, but I didn’t expect him to start laughing. He laughs for several seconds before he sees the look on my face and realizes that I am absolutely, one-hundred percent serious. I can actually see the laughter drain out of his body.

“You’re Aaron Nierling’s daughter,” he states. “Yes.”

“And…” It’s almost adorable how confused he looks, if it wasn’t so awful. “So you changed your name after…?”

“Wouldn’t you?”

“I guess…” He rubs at the back of his neck. “So those two girls with their hands cut off… They were both your patients. And the Handyman was… your dad?”


“How come you never told me?”

I cough. “Are you serious? Do you think I wanted everyone to know about that?”

“Yeah, but I wasn’t just anyone. I was your boyfriend.”

“We were dating for three months, Brady. It’s not like we were married.”

He’s quiet for at least a minute, looking down at his hands. The only sound in the room is my heart thudding.

“Jesus,” he finally says. “Yeah.”

“So…” He raises his eyes to look into mine. “Did you…?” I inhale sharply. “Did I what?”

His Adam’s apple bobs. “Did you kill them? Those girls?”

And that is the moment when I realize that whatever I had with Brady Mitchell is over forever. I had hoped telling him would be the right thing to do, that it would be cathartic in some way. He liked me so much, I thought maybe he would be on my side. But I was wrong. I should never have said a word. Of course, it doesn’t matter if the story hits the news tomorrow, because he would’ve found out then. But at least I wouldn’t have had to experience him looking at me like this.

I can’t even be angry about it. It’s no less than what I would have expected. But I had hoped…

“I didn’t kill anyone,” I say quietly. “I’m not like him.”

“But you’re a surgeon—you cut people up for a living.” God, it’s like he’s coming up with all the things that people are going to be saying about me tomorrow. All the reasons why I must be a psychotic killer, like my father. At least he has the good grace to look embarrassed. “Sorry.”

A muscle twitches in my jaw. “I think you should go.”

For once, I want him to argue with me and beg me to let him stay like he usually does. But instead, he nods. “I think so too.”

And that’s that. Brady gets up and he leaves my house—he’s barely able to look at me on the way out. And when he gets out the front door, he

makes a beeline for his car. He doesn’t look back before he gets in and drives off.

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