The voice sounds very far away. All I can focus on is Philip’s body, tied to the chair with rope. He’s slumped forward, unconscious. Or dead. But no, I heard that moan. He must be alive.
Also, his left hand has been severed. “Nora…”
I somehow manage to rip my eyes away from what’s in front of me. I swivel my gaze, and there she is. She’s not lying dead somewhere. She’s not tied up or bleeding. She’s fine. Better than fine. She’s got a gun in her right hand and it’s pointed at me.
“Harper,” I say. I feel like I’m choking. “What are you doing?”
Harper laughs. Her eyes are so blue, but at this moment, they look very dark. “What do you think I’m doing? It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?”
“But…” My head is swimming. A dizzy sensation comes over me, and for a moment, I feel like my legs might give out under me. It takes all my strength to stay upright. “I thought you liked Philip…”
“Liked him?” She gives me a scathing look. “Please. Philip is an arrogant prick. The only man I care about—the only man I ever cared about
—is Sonny. And you took care of him, didn’t you?”
“Took care of…” I shake my head, which makes the dizziness even worse. “What are you talking about? I barely even know Sonny.”
She shakes the gun in my direction. “Sonny is lying in the ICU thanks to you! Why do you think I was crying that day? He would never have broken up with me. He was trying to help me. I asked him to keep you busy so I could get into your house.”
That’s when I remember a little tidbit Harper mentioned about her boyfriend—he was named after his father. So to avoid confusion, everyone called him Sonny.
The name of the man in the ICU: William Bennett Jr.
I blink at her, my eyes adjusting to the darkness. “But… I don’t understand. Why?”
“Why?” she repeats mockingly. “You still don’t know why?” I open my mouth, but no sound comes out.
“To be fair,” she says, “I didn’t expect you to come down here. I expected to finish this one off…” She kicks his leg with her high-heeled boot, and Philip lets out a low moan from his altered state of consciousness. “And then leave the police a little tip to let them know what was in your basement. Isn’t that what you did to your dear father?”
There’s a lump in my throat that’s making it hard for me to breathe. “How do you know about that?”
The police promised me nobody would know—they would say it was an anonymous tip. I didn’t want my father to know that I was the one who told the police about his little basement workshop. I wanted to try to save Mandy Johansson. But I was too late. By the time they got there, she was dead.
“He told me,” Harper hisses. “You think he didn’t know what you did? He trusted you, and you betrayed him. He knew. And he will never forget.”
I reach out for something to grab onto, to keep from collapsing, but my hand touches only air. “Who knew? Who told you?”
She blinks at me. “Our father.”
“Our…” I shake my head, but that was the wrong thing to do. I feel so dizzy all of a sudden, I fall to my knees. “Oh God.”
Harper bends over me, smiling. She lowers her gun slightly, probably because she doesn’t think I’m a threat. “I see you ate the soup I made for you. I wasn’t sure you would. That’s going to make this all so much easier for me.”
The soup. She must’ve slipped something into it. No wonder I’m feeling so out of it all of a sudden. Somehow, that knowledge makes me feel better—that there’s a reason for my dizziness. I summon every last ounce of my strength and get back to my feet.
“What are you talking about, Harper?” I say. “Why are you calling that man ‘our father’?”
She looks amused. “Because he is. He’s our father. Yours and mine.”
“I… I don’t have a sister.” My father couldn’t have knocked anybody up in prison, could he?
“Oh, but you absolutely do.” She smiles at me. “I guess nobody ever told you that our mother was five months pregnant when you called the police on our father. That’s why she killed herself, you know. After she found out the truth, she didn’t want to bear any more of his children. But unfortunately for her, I survived. And she didn’t.”
I suck in a breath. My mother was always overweight. Had she seemed bigger back then? I can’t remember. It’s possible. I do vividly remember her throwing up after she caught me watching the news story about Mandy Johansson—was that morning sickness?
But if she was pregnant, why didn’t she tell me about it? I was eleven years old. Old enough to know something like that.
Was it because she was afraid of me?
“Our grandmother refused to take me in like she did you.” She sneers. “She wanted to pretend I didn’t even exist. So I was put up for adoption. A sealed adoption, where I wasn’t supposed to ever know who my real parents were. But I found out.” She winks at me. “I’m very resourceful.”
Don’t collapse again. Stay on your feet, Nora. It’s your only chance.
“And that’s how I met our father,” she continues. “I went to the prison to see him, and he told me everything. We really connected. It was like finding the missing puzzle piece. And I have to say, I am a much better daughter than you are. I would never do what you did. You’re a traitor. He told me he wrote to you every week, and you never even came to see him.”
“Because he’s evil!” I spit at her. “He killed like thirty women! He tied them up and did terrible things to them!”
“Yes.” That disturbing smile is still on her lips. “He did do that. He taught me so much. Like did you know that a Kukri knife can slice clean through bone?” She nods at Philip’s left arm, dangling lifelessly off the side of the chair. “He’s not going to be happy about that when he wakes up.”
I cover my mouth, swallowing down another wave of dizziness. “You don’t have to go through with this.”
“But I want to.” Her blue eyes are on mine. “Everything has been leading up to this moment. I found you and got a job working with you, so I could see you every day. The big, important surgeon. Saving lives, even
though I know what you really wanted to do to those people. At least our father and I are true to ourselves.”
“You’re sick,” I manage.
She smirks. “It’s funny, because that’s what they’re going to say about you when they find all this.” She waves her free hand around the basement. “The dungeon you made, just like your father’s, where the police will discover you kept both Amber and Shelby captive before their deaths. And you made it all so easy. The spare keys to your house and your car were right in the desk drawer in your office. Although it was lucky for me that Philip blabbed about you hiring some security company to come tonight. That would’ve really messed up my plans.”
Harper is evil. She is just as evil as our father. I can’t believe only fifteen minutes ago, I had been worried that her life was in danger. I was terrified. Because she has blue eyes and dark hair, so I believed she would be a target.
But now it all makes sense. The reason Harper has blue eyes and dark hair is because my father loves blue eyes and dark hair—and Harper inherited it from our mother. It never even occurred to me, but she looks a lot like our mother did when she was young. Right down to the dimples.
I always blamed my mother for killing herself and abandoning me. But now I understand why she felt she had to do it.
“You know what’s sad?” Harper says. “Your whole life, you kept yourself from following your natural instincts. I can see it in your eyes. And now you’re going to go to jail for it anyway. Ironic, isn’t it?”
I take a slow controlled breath, pushing away the dizzy sensation. “Who says I never followed my natural instincts?”
She snorts. “Please. You’re a little Miss Goody Two Shoes.”
“Right. That’s what everybody believes, isn’t it?” I gesture at the other end of the basement. “You never took a look around here, did you?”
She narrows her eyes at me. “What are you talking about?”
“You never looked at what I keep in that crate over there.” I nod at the wooden crate pushed up in the corner behind her. “If you had, you wouldn’t be saying those things about me.”
I stare into her blue eyes. Another blinking contest—my specialty. Harper is first to break her gaze away from mine to look over at the crate. “What’s in there?”
“Why don’t you take a look?”
She grits her teeth. “Why don’t you go ahead and tell me?” “Remnants,” I say.
A curious smile touches her lips. “Remnants?”
I give a modest shrug. “I think I did a good job preserving them. I took a cue from what my father did. Our father.” I raise my eyebrows at her. “Too bad you never told me who you were. We could’ve had some fun together.”
Harper is looking at the crate now. Curiosity is getting the better of her.
She takes a step back, the gun still raised.
“Of course,” I say, “I couldn’t get it quite perfect. The bones have become a little brittle over the years. Maybe you’ve got some tips for me.”
“What do you use?” she asks.
“Acid to get off the skin. Bleach to preserve the bones.”
She nods in approval. She takes another step back and her left hand is on the side of the crate. She starts to tilt it open. I know I’ve got only a few seconds before she realizes the crate is filled with nothing but about fifty rolls of extra soft toilet paper. This is my chance.
I lunge at her.
She falls backward, and I hear a satisfying crack as her head hits the back of the crate. I might be drugged, but Harper isn’t as physically imposing as my father was. I have a chance of taking her down. I at least have to try.
But even though she’s not as large as our father, she is strong. Surprisingly strong. Even though I start with the upper hand, she fights like a banshee. I still might have been able to take her out, but whatever is circulating in my bloodstream is making it hard to fight. Waves of dizziness wash over me, and it starts to feel like my limbs are moving through molasses. After a minute of struggle, she pins me down on the ground, her knee wedged in my chest. It doesn’t feel humanly possible that I’ll manage to get up again.
“Nice try,” she scoffs at me. “You have more spunk than I thought.
Good thing you’re going to be unconscious in another few minutes.”
I have no idea what she put in that soup, but it’s starting to hit me hard. Despite the adrenaline rush, I’m having trouble clinging to consciousness.
This is it. She’s gotten the better of me. I couldn’t save Mandy Johansson from my father, and I can’t save myself from Harper.
But then I hear a hiss. A second later, Harper screams and the pressure on my body eases up. For a moment, I have no idea what’s going on. And then I see the flash of black fur. It’s the cat. The cat attacked Harper.
This is my only chance. I heave myself off the floor and jump on top of Harper. This time, the gun slips out of her right hand. It slides across the basement floor as I put all my weight on top of Harper. I wedge my knee under her neck and close my hands around her wrists. She gurgles as she tries to take in air.
I watch as her face slowly starts to turn purple. And I don’t ease up one
“What the hell is going on here?”
Unlike Harper, I don’t move my body even a millimeter off of her at
the sound of the distraction. As a surgeon, my concentration is excellent. But with everything going on, I hadn’t noticed somebody else enter the basement. I blink my eyes in the dark room, and after a second, Brady comes into focus.
It takes him a few beats to realize what’s going on. As he sees Philip in the chair with his left hand missing, Brady’s face turns green. Maybe he liked slasher movies, but it’s different in real life. I know that, but maybe he didn’t.
“Oh Christ,” he gasps. He takes a couple of deep breaths, obviously trying not to lose his lunch.
“Brady…” I’m realizing now how this must look. It looks exactly the way Harper wanted it to look. There’s a man tied to a chair in my basement with a hand missing, and I’m the one choking a girl on the floor.
He notices the gun on the floor and reaches for it. I have a feeling he’s never handled the gun in his life, based on the way he fumbles with it, but I believe he’s capable of shooting it if he wanted to.
And now he’s pointing it at me. “Get up,” he orders me.
I do what he says. But whatever Harper gave me is hitting me hard. I feel like my legs can’t quite support me. It takes me three tries to get to my feet.
“Thank God you came!” Harper is coughing and sobbing now as she clutches her throat. “She’s crazy! She was going to kill us both!”
She sounds so believable. He already has his doubts about me. He’s going to think I was holding Harper and Philip captive down here. That’s what he’s going to tell the police when they arrive.
“Brady.” My voice is shaking—I think my speech might be slurred. I can’t even tell anymore. “She did this. She tied him up down here and she… she drugged me.” My voice cracks. “You have to believe me. You know me. I would never…”
I can see the hesitation on his face. There’s so much more I want to say, but I don’t know if there’s any chance he’ll believe me. And my brain feels like mush. I want to keep fighting, but I’m not sure I can.
But then Brady swivels the gun and points it at Harper. “Get back down on the floor.”
“Me?” she squeaks. “But Nora is the one—”
“I said get down.” He shakes the gun at her, and her face turns pale. “I already called the police and they’ll be here any minute.”
Harper gets down on the floor, and so do I, because my legs won’t support me anymore. I get on my hands and knees, my vision swimming in and out. “Brady,” I mumble.
And then before I can get out another word, I lose consciousness.