Chapter no 27

The Locked Door

Well, that was a lovely preview of what my life is going to be like from now on. If the guy who has apparently been stuck on me for the last decade and a half can’t even wrap his head around my past, how is the rest of the world going to react?

I sit on the sofa for a long time after he leaves. I can’t seem to make myself move. But then I hear a thudding noise at the back door. It’s the cat again. Probably desperately hungry.

Although the last time I tried to feed her, she wasn’t there.

I finally get up off the couch and walk to the back door. I hold my breath as I press my ear against the door. And then I hear it. A gentle meowing sound.

It’s the damn cat. Thank God.

I go to the cupboard and get a can of cat food. I open the back door, and that black cat is waiting there for me, looking up hopefully at my face. Well, at least she won’t judge me. She has no idea who Aaron Nierling is. And she couldn’t care less.

Wonderful. A stray cat is my only friend.

I peel off the lid to the can and dump it in her bowl. She laps at the food eagerly. Cats have it so good. All they care about is where their next meal is coming from. They don’t worry about stupid things like their career or the fact that the only guy they’ve liked in the last decade is now afraid of them.

I reach out and run my hand over her black fur. It’s comforting.

The cat lifts her head from the bowl and rubs her face against my hand, like she sometimes does. I scratch her underneath her chin and she purrs. Then, to my complete surprise, she pushes past me and darts into the house.

“Hey!” I yell. “You’re not allowed in here!”

But that cat does not care that she’s not allowed in here. She sprints through my kitchen, then into my living room, and then jumps up onto my sofa. Then she curls up in a happy little ball on the cushion.

“Hey!” I yell again. “Cat!”

Great. This stupid cat probably has fleas all over her, and now I’m going to have fleas on my sofa. Could this night get any worse?

I step across the living room to where the cat has curled up. I swear to God, she better not pee on my sofa. I glare at her, looking completely cozy and like she’s not planning on going anywhere in the near future. Yeah, we’ll see about that.

I reach out with my hands to grab her, intending to pick her up and bring her outside. But as my fingers wrap around her torso, I feel the bones of her rib cage under my palms. They’re so fragile compared to human ribs.

They would snap so easily.

My stomach turns. I yank my hands away and back off from the cat, my head spinning. I stare at that cat, wishing to God she would just get out of my house. I can’t have a cat. It’s not safe for me to have a cat. This cat needs to leave right now.

What am I supposed to do? I can’t pick her up and throw her out. Every time I think about it, I get that sick feeling again. Should I call animal control? Will they just laugh at me that I can’t seem to get rid of a little tiny stray cat?

I grab my phone from the pocket of my scrubs. I scroll through my contacts, which are almost entirely work colleagues. The hospital, the office, all the doctors that I trade call with. How did my life get to the point where I have zero friends? It didn’t used to be that way.

Or maybe it was. Maybe I’ve always been this way.

My thumb hovers over the name Philip Corey. Yes, he’s a work friend, but he’s a friend. Sort of. Close enough. I certainly know him long enough.

Before I can second-guess myself, I click on Philip’s name. There’s at least an eighty-percent chance he’s out with some girl right now. Hopefully not Harper.

After a few rings, I hear the familiar voice on the other line: “Nora?

What’s going on? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” I frown at my phone. “You sound like you think I’m about to die.”

“You have to admit,” Philip says, “you never call me unless you have some sort of dire emergency.”

“That’s not true.” It is absolutely true. “So what’s up?”

“I…” I clear my throat. “Are you busy?” “I’ve been busier. Why?”

“So…” I look down at the furry black body on my couch. “I need your help with something.”


“There… there’s a cat at my house and I can’t get rid of it.” There’s a long pause on the other line. “What?

“It just came in through my back door!” I blurt out. He must think I’ve completely lost my mind. This is not very Nora behavior. “And now I can’t get it to leave. Can you come help me?”

He chuckles. “Nora, if you want me to come over for a booty call, just say so. You don’t have to make up some ridiculous story about a cat.”

I cringe. I made a mistake calling him. “Never mind.”

“I’m joking! Look, I’ll be over soon. I just have to finish up one thing and then I’ll head right over to help you get rid of the cat.”

I grip the phone. “Thank you, Philip.” “Hey, what are partners for?”

I don’t think anyone would argue that the purpose of a partner in a surgical practice is to get rid of a stray cat that wandered into your home, but he’s being nice and I’m not about to start getting sarcastic.

Philip lives at least a twenty-minute drive away from me, but about ten minutes later, I hear a knock at my door. At first, I’m convinced it must be the police again, and a tiny little idiotic part of me is hopeful that it could be Brady. But no, it’s Philip.

“Did you drive a hundred miles per hour the whole way here?” I ask


“Hey, it sounded like you were having a true emergency.” Philip steps

into the foyer, looking around my house. “Place looks good. Kind of bare, but not too bad.”

I back away to give him room to come inside. He’s got his coat on, and underneath he’s wearing a sweater and jeans. I usually only see Philip in either scrubs (mostly) or a dress shirt and tie. He looks good dressed casually. He is, in fact, incredibly handsome in whatever attire he chooses. I’ve heard nurses on the floor call him Dr. McHottie. He’s in his early forties now, and as far as I can tell, he’s at his peak attractiveness.

And he knows it. When he’s not listening, Sheila calls him “God’s gift to the world” and it always makes me snicker.

I was surprised when Philip decided to get married, but he seemed devoted to his wife at the time. And he said he was finally ready to settle down and have kids. But apparently, he wasn’t at all ready to settle down, because within a few years, he was hooking up with nurses at the hospital again. Nurses—plural. Everybody knew about it, and then his wife found out. It was a really bad divorce.

So in summary, Philip is terrible at relationships. He can’t seem to keep it in his pants. But at the same time, I respect the hell out of him as a surgeon. He’s good at what he does, and he’s always had my back.

“So where’s this treacherous cat?” Philip asks.

I feel my face get hot. I step back and point to the sofa. “There she is.” “Good thing you called me. She looks terrifying.”

I glare at him. “Are you going to help me or not?”

He flashes me a grin that shows off all his teeth. “Relax. Watch the cat whisperer at work.”

He strides over to where the damn cat is still lounging on my sofa. He reaches out for her, but this time, she lets out a loud meow, then leaps off the sofa and runs away.

“She evaded me,” he says. He looks around the room. The cat has vanished. I can only hope she went out through the back door and is not on my bed, lying on my pillow. “Um. Are you sure you don’t want to have a cat as a pet? I think she would like to be your pet.”

“I can’t have a pet!” I cry. “What part of my life makes you think I can take care of a cat?”

Philip blinks at me. “Nora…”

But it’s too late. Everything I’ve been going through in the last couple of weeks suddenly hits me like a ton of bricks. The two dead girls. The missing hands. The detective. Brady.

And suddenly, I’m sobbing. I don’t think I’ve cried since I was in grade school, on the day I found out my father was arrested. I didn’t even cry when I discovered my mother had killed herself. I remember when my grandmother gave me that piece of news, and I just sat there on my bed, feeling nothing. I knew my grandmother was watching me, expecting me to

squeeze out a few tears, and when I didn’t, it confirmed what she always believed about me.

“Nora.” Philip’s arm is around my shoulders. “Nora, it’s okay. I’ll track down the cat if you want me to. She’s got to be somewhere around here.”

“Don’t worry about it.” That cat is the least of my problems. “It’s just… It’s been a long day.”

He gives me a squeeze. “Do you want to talk about it?”

No. I really don’t. I already talked to Brady about it and look what happened. I can’t bear for Philip to look at me that way too. “No. But thanks.”

“Is there anything I can do?” He offers me a smile. “A hug? A glass of water? A stiff drink?”

I don’t want a hug from Philip. I’m not a hugger, although I liked it when Brady’s arms were around me. That will never happen again. “Actually, there’s one thing.”

“Sure, anything.”

“Do you have the name of a good lawyer?”

His eyebrows shoot up, nearly disappearing under his hairline. “Are you being sued?”

“No, a criminal lawyer.”

I hear him suck in a breath. “Nora, what the hell is going on? Does this have to do with those two girls who were killed?”

I just shake my head. “I can’t talk about it. Do you know anyone or not?”

“Yeah, I do.” He chews on his lip. “But if you’re in serious trouble, you need to talk to me about it. I mean, we’re partners.”

“It’s fine. I’m fine.”

He purses his lips. He doesn’t look like he believes me, but that’s too damn bad.

“Also,” I say, “I’m covering the trauma pager tomorrow morning after six but I need to be out of the hospital from nine-thirty to eleven-ish. Can you cover me?”

He thinks for a minute. “Yeah, I can.”

Thank God. I didn’t know how I was going to work around that and get to the police station. Of course, I have the added complication now that

I don’t have a car because my tires are slashed. And I’m guessing Brady isn’t going to be willing to take care of that for me anymore. I curse myself for forgetting to get back my car keys from him.

“It’s usually not too busy in the morning. You probably won’t even get paged.”

“Yeah…” His jaw tightens. “I’m serious, Nora. Can you please tell me what’s going on?”

I take a deep breath, but it comes out shaky. I still can’t get the look on Brady’s face out of my head. I can’t tell anyone else about my father. It will ruin me.

“It’s not a big deal,” I say. “Just a stupid misunderstanding. I promise.” He sighs, but he lets it go. Because the truth is, Philip and I aren’t friends. We’re partners and that’s it. And he’d rather not get involved with

whatever is going on with me.

“What about the cat?” He glances around. “I don’t see it. Do you want me to look for it?”

Now that the cat is out of sight, I don’t feel as anxious about dealing with it. She’ll probably leave at some point anyway. A cat like that doesn’t want to be restricted to this house. Anyway, she’ll probably sense my evil and want to leave. Animals are good at that.

“It’s fine,” I say. “I… I just wanted her off my couch.”

Philip narrows his eyes at me. “Is this you having a nervous breakdown, Nora? Should I be worried?”

“I’m fine.” I lift my chin, trying to feel the confidence in my words. I just need to get myself a lawyer and this will be okay. I didn’t do anything wrong. I have to remember that. “Thanks for coming, but…”

“You want me to leave.” He flashes a crooked smile. “I get it.” “But thanks for coming.”

He sighs and stands up from the couch. “If you want to talk to me, call me anytime. I mean it.”

Philip might be a bit of an asshole and probably does think he’s God’s gift to the world, but he can be nice too. That’s why I picked him as my partner. And he’ll cover for me as much as he humanly can. I know he will.

I walk to the door, and he gives me a little salute as he leaves which makes me smile just a tiny bit. I watch him get into his Tesla and disappear practically in a puff of smoke. He loves that car, that’s for sure.

Now that he’s gone, I turn around and face my empty house. Where on earth did the cat go? My eyes drift to the stairwell to the second floor. Did she go upstairs? Is she currently in my closet, pissing in all of my shoes? Because that would just be the perfect ending to this day.

But then I see the door to the basement is slightly ajar. Bingo.

I walk over to the basement door and nudge it the rest of the way open. The light switch is just inside, and I flick it on. Nothing. Great—the bulb must have blown out. I reach in my pocket and pull out my cell phone, then turn on the flashlight function. Just like in any dungeon, I don’t get any cell phone reception down here, but at least the flashlight works.

The light is just bright enough to illuminate the stairs, so I don’t tumble down and break a hip. When I get about halfway down the steps, I hear shuffling of tiny feet and a little meow sound. I was right. The cat came down here.

I shine my flashlight around the room, searching for black fur. I finally locate her in the far end of the basement, in the corner, lapping at a puddle of water.

“Come on, cat,” I say softly. “You don’t want to live here with me.” The cat looks up at me thoughtfully, then goes back to the puddle.

“I’m not much fun,” I tell her. “I’m always working. And I’m not very nice. I used to do some terrible things when I was younger. I don’t anymore though. At least, I don’t think I do. But you never know. You’re probably safer being somewhere else—anywhere else.”

The cat completely ignores me. Which isn’t surprising, because she’s a freaking cat who can’t understand a word I’m saying.

I come a little closer to her, making cat noises. I hold the flashlight steady, thinking maybe she’ll follow it. Don’t cats like to follow lights?

It’s only when I’m a few feet away that I notice it.

When I walked into the basement, I assumed she was lapping at a puddle of water. Now that I’m closer, I realize that it’s not water. The puddle is dark red.

I glance above me at the lightbulb. God, I wish it were brighter in here

—how could I let it blow out like that? I shine my light directly on the puddle. It’s definitely red. It’s not dirt or something like that.

I crouch down to get a closer look. With shaking hands, I run my index finger along the red liquid. I’ll bring my finger closer to my face to take a

better look.

Oh my God, I think it’s blood.

For a moment, I’m certain I’m going to be sick. I hunch over, swallowing the bile that rises in my throat. If I had anything for dinner, I almost certainly would be watching it come up in reverse right now.

After a couple of minutes of dizziness, I manage to compose myself. I stare down at my fingers, still stained with crimson. Blood. I’m so sure of it now. I’ve seen enough blood to recognize it.

But why is it in my basement?

A horrible thought occurs to me. If I had caved and let Detective Barber look around my house, he would have discovered this blood. And I would probably be in jail right now. Thank God Brady knew enough to stop him.

Is that why the blood is here? Did somebody plant it in my basement to frame me? Is this the blood of Amber Swanson or Shelby Gillis?

Or did something horrible happen in this basement since the last time I’ve been here?

If something did happen down here, it happened recently. The blood hasn’t had a chance to dry.

I look up at the cat, who is still lapping at the puddle of blood. I swat at her. “Get away from that!”

This time she listens to me. She scurries away from the puddle, and I hear her footsteps going up the stairs. Great—she’s probably going to track blood all over my floor.

I don’t know what to do. No, I do know what to do. I should call the detective and tell him everything. I still have his business card, and I’m sure he would take my call. But I also know how terrible this looks for me. Am I supposed to tell him that a pool of blood magically appeared in my basement? Is there any chance in hell he’ll believe that, knowing who my father is?

No, if I tell him about this, I’ll be his number one suspect. If I’m not already. I’ll probably end up leaving the house in handcuffs.

My best bet is to clean this up before anyone else can see it. And as soon as I deal with my broken down car and finish speaking to the detective tomorrow, I’m going to get an alarm system for my house. Nobody’s getting in here ever again without my permission. Even a cat.

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