Bringing Maddie Home - Page 61

“Yes,” she said, trying to hide her sense of foreboding.

“Here’s what we’ve learned so far.” He explained that they knew the victim was male and likely in his late teens. The exciting part for investigators was the recovery of a backpack with contents preserved well enough they knew the young man carried what might be items deeply personal to him, including a photo of a woman and boy and a Purple Heart. Oddly, he also had a change of clothes in the pack.

The foreboding had swelled until it hurt to contain. She managed a choppy nod.

“The clothes could have been because he’d just been to the gym.” He paused. “But the framed photo? The military medal? My first thought was that he was homeless. Carrying what he absolutely needed with him, and some mementos of his parents. Things he wouldn’t have left even if he had a temporary place to stay. The schoolwork complicates that explanation, though. I don’t know what to think now.”

“You’re asking if he was my boyfriend,” she whispered.

Regret darkened his eyes to charcoal. “Yeah, that’s what I’m wondering. He was buried so close to where you were assaulted, the coincidence has been nagging at me.”

She pushed against the darkness that separated her from all the things she should be able to remember, and was paid back by pain stabbing through her temple. Thinking at all became a struggle, but she made herself.

“I was wearing a shirt that I don’t think was mine when I came to in the trunk.” Filthy. Bloody, but still comforting even though she didn’t know why. It was the only thing she’d had to hold on to...something. Someone. “The sleeves come down to here.” She held her hand six or eight inches from the tips of her fingers on the other hand. “The patch on the shoulder says ‘Airborne’ and has a feathered wing holding a sword. I looked it up online and learned it’s from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. They took heavy casualties in Vietnam.”

“Which means lots of Purple Hearts were awarded,” he said slowly.

She nodded.

He let out a heavy breath. “It’s not sounding good, sweetheart.”

Her heart took a little hop. Did he realize what he’d just said? The way he’d reverted to brooding made her suspect it was a slip.

The moment of hope was only a blip in the dark cloud of anxiety that had her clasping her hands on her lap to hide her shaking from Colin.

“I have the shirt with me. I mean, back at the apartment. It’s...” Precious? No, that wasn’t right. “I wore it a lot those few first years. It meant something to me. I just don’t know what.”

“If your parents didn’t know you had a boyfriend, you wouldn’t have dared wear that shirt where they’d see it. Or run it through the wash at home.”

“No. He might have let me wear it sometimes.” The pain in her head splintered until she saw black spots before her eyes. “That night...” Her voice broke.

Colin leaned forward, his intensity a force field. “Maybe you weren’t running to Emily. You were running to him.”

Nell had to close her eyes. She pressed fingers to her temple, pushing hard, harder. A whimper escaped her.

The next thing she knew, a big, warm hand captured hers and lowered it. Then he began to massage, far more gently, almost a caress. Her temple, her forehead, her cheekbone. The pain subsided slowly, ebbing like a tide sweeping all debris with it.

The tension gradually left her neck and shoulders, until she felt so weak her head fell back. But not far—it rested against him. His belly, rock-hard but moving with each breath he drew. He was standing behind her, she gradually came to realize, both hands now squeezing her shoulders until she moaned softly.

“Ma’am?” she heard someone ask. “Sir? Is there a problem?”

“Migraine.” Colin bent forward so his lips had to be close to her ear. “Do we need to go home?”

She felt weirdly relaxed, and she wasn’t sure she could stand. The relief was huge. Somehow she shook her head slightly and slitted her eyes open. People at neighboring tables were watching them. Belated self-consciousness had her straightening.

“No, I...feel better.” To her astonishment, she did. The pain had to have been purely psychosomatic. Am I just a little crazy, or a lot? She blinked a few times. “Thank you, Colin. You saved me.”

His worried gaze not leaving her, he returned to his seat. “God, I’m sorry, Nell. That was entirely my fault.”

“No.” Her head still felt a little wobbly when she shook it. “I’ve...had that happen before, when I tried too hard to remember. It’s one reason I quit trying.”

Tags: Janice Kay Johnson Billionaire Romance
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