I slam my fist on the office desk with a curse.
Calista is my only priority yet I’m no closer to finding the person responsible for her assault. Even with access to government databases, I can’t find anything that’ll point me in the direction of a guilty party.
At the idea of not enacting justice on her behalf, a growl rushes between my clenched teeth. I’ve already failed my mother on that front. I can’t do the same with Calista. It could send me over the edge and into the pool of insanity churning in the recesses of my psyche.
I retrieve the pill that caused my mother’s overdose from the drawer and set it before me. The starburst symbol in the middle is worn from the number of times I’ve touched it. For reasons I can’t explain, staring at it helps me center my thoughts.
If only it wasn’t a tangible reminder of my shortcomings: First to protect my mother, then to avenge her.
I pick up the pill and roll it between my fingers, the action soothing to the tumultuous energy coursing through me. The symbol and composition were the only clues I had to go on after my mother’s death, but no amount of research provided answers as to where it came from. The police wrote it off as another illicit street drug. I didn’t give up then, and I won’t now.
It’s not an option. Not when Calista is counting on me. Maybe I’m the one who needs this absolution, this chance at redemption as much as she needs the closure.
Setting down the pill, I start a new search. The cursor blinks accusingly as I hover over the keyboard. There has to be something I’m missing, a small detail that’ll provide a breakthrough on this case. With that in mind, I start at the beginning, recalling my conversation with Calista.
My skin grows heated as my anger rises. The mere thought of her assault has me sweeping my arm over the desk’s surface, tossing and scattering every scrap of paper to the floor. With the area bare, I retrieve a legal pad from the drawer and write down everything.
Where: Hopeful Hearts Children’s Shelter
When: June 24th
Who: Calista Green
What: Victim was present at the location around 4pm, but the timestamp of the photo showcasing her injuries was 8:30pm. By that time, the bruises were plain to see on her ivory skin and she was conscious.
I squeeze the pen until my fist shakes. What possibly happened in those unaccounted for hours has my stomach heaving. Calista was hesitant to talk about that night and there are times I wish I hadn’t pushed her, but I needed to know everything. And now that I do, blood will flow.
The law has limits. I don’t.
Not when it comes to protecting the woman I…
My breathing halts. I’m not sure how to finish that thought. The only thing I know for certain is Calista’s mine. Forever.
I return my gaze to the legal pad, taking in the sharp lines and bold strokes of my writing. It taunts me, provokes me. There’s still another question to be written, the one that haunts me: Why would someone hurt Calista?
Motive: An indirect attack on her father? Lust? Mental instability? Opportunity?
With a loud exhale, I push back in my chair and retrieve the papers from the floor. After placing her medical record front and center, I go over the contents. Calista was physically assaulted. There’s no disputing that. However, the sexual assault examination was inconclusive, despite the drug in her system.
I frown at the description.
A depressant with an unknown compound that results in behavior similar to a ‘date-rape’ drug.
The phrasing tugs at my memory, forcing my brain to sort through the years’ worth of information I’ve stored during my career. I snatch up the coroner’s report for Kristen Hall, Senator Green’s secretary. The phrasing in her record isn’t identical to Calista’s, but it’s close. Too fucking close.
My gaze darts between the words on the page and the pill sitting off to the side. Back and forth, again and again as my mind creates a connection, one that has my chest painfully tightening.
This is merely a coincidence.
Or is it?
What are the chances that the drug that killed my mother, and was found in Kristen Hall’s bloodstream, is the same drug that was used to incapacitate Calista?
If I look at the common denominator in the fucked-up equation—this drug with a mysterious compound—that makes the entire scenario way more feasible. I’ll have to look at this case and its victims as a whole. The connections are there in the evidence.
Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t unsee it.
My gut twists until I’m gritting my teeth against the discomfort. Two out of the three women involved in this situation are dead. Does that mean Calista’s next?
Whoever’s behind this better fucking kill me if they think they’re going to hurt her.
I race through the city while trying to control my panic before it interferes with my faculties and I crash my car. My need to be with Calista has never been stronger, my obsession with her safety has never been more urgent.
I’ve never been one for dramatics, but I might fucking die if I don’t touch her soon. Even if it’s only to reassure myself that she’s alive.
My thoughts have plagued me since my discovery of the cases’ connection to one another and they continue to, driving me closer to insanity. So close I’m beginning to worry I’ve already gone past my limits and crossed over into dangerous territory where my instincts guide my actions.
Right now those instincts want to protect and fuck Calista.
I shake my head at my thoughts, but that doesn’t stop me from running through the lobby and cursing while I wait for the elevator to reach my floor. My ragged breaths only become more uneven when I reach the door to my penthouse.
I’m inside within seconds and stalking through the living room toward the bedroom. Until I spot Calista by the windows, peering out. The tightness in my chest loosens when she turns to look at me over her shoulder. The woman I’ve killed for—would again without question—is alive.
And stares at me with the eyes of a wounded animal.
My steps falter as I come to an abrupt halt. I run my gaze over her, from head to foot, only to return my attention to her face. The skin around her mouth is tight and her bottom lip trembles enough for me to see it from where I stand.
She holds up a hand when I start to walk toward her. “Don’t, Hayden.”
I stride up to her and with every step her body goes more rigid. Ignoring the strange behavior, I peer down at Calista, clenching my fists to keep from grabbing her. She holds her ground with a lifted chin.
“If I ask you a question, will you promise not to lie to me?” Her voice quivers during the delivery. Is she apprehensive because of me or the answer I might give? “I have to know the truth,” she says in a whisper.
I dip my head in acknowledgment, not acquiescence. It’s enough. Calista parts her lips to inhale deeply, drawing my gaze to her lush mouth. God, how I want to fuck it.
She raises her fisted hand and slowly unfurls her fingers, giving me an unobstructed view of the pearls resting on her palm.
“Where did you get these, Hayden?”