Bringing Maddie Home - Page 93

The surface beneath her was vibrating and her heart clenched with fear. This was real. She had to be in the trunk of a car again. She groped above her and found the angular metal lid she’d expected. And beneath her was slick plastic, but when she pulled it toward her, her hand found—yes, there was a semistiff, carpeted surface. Underneath that was the rounding of a spare tire. Also underneath it was whatever sharp thing was poking her. A tire iron? Maybe.

Using touch seemed to clear the mists from her mind. Duane.

I’d rather you come with me. Nasty, sneering, revealing anger and even hate.

He had called her angel. As if a door had opened, she did remember. Her beloved uncle, whom she’d loved as a child, but who didn’t seem to recognize she was growing up when she reached puberty. He kept taking her for overnights to his house, insisting she get in her nightgown and cuddle with him while they watched a movie. Then he’d give her a massage, and ask her to give him one. Tickle her, his hand sliding to places that made her painfully self-conscious.

She’d tried talking to her parents.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” her father snapped before telling her he was busy.

Mom froze her with one look instead. “Do you know how lucky you are to have family, including an uncle who loves you so much? How can you possibly imply there’s anything wrong with that?”

She was never allowed to make excuses when he offered to take her. His touches, his kisses, grew more and more sexual. She had pretended none of it was happening. He didn’t just press my hand to him there.... Rubbing it up and down, as if absentmindedly, except it wasn’t, because he was swollen and hard. She worked hard at turning her mind to something else. Recite poetry, or think about the last time she’d spent the night at Hailey’s and how silly they’d been. Yes, that was when she’d learned to go away in her head.

Curled into a ball in the trunk of the car, her body flushed with horror at the memory.

And Beck. She remembered him, too, a friend until the end. He’d treated her almost like a little sister. He’d known something was wrong, and teased and begged and waited patiently until she told him. His face had darkened, his hands knotting into fists.

“Run away,” he told her. “I’ll help you. You can come and live here, at the Hales’.”

She had been so tempted.

But he scared her, too, when he said, “We could get married when you’re a little older. I’d keep you safe. Kissing and all that stuff can be nice, Maddie. I promise. It’s not like what he’s doing to you.”

And he’d coaxed her, saying, “Let me kiss you. I’ll show you.”

Stiff with apprehension, she had wanted to say no, but she liked Beck so much. He was the only person she could really talk to. And he was cute. So...maybe it wouldn’t be the same.

It wasn’t. She’d liked it.

But...that was when the terrible something happened.

The first terrible something.

* * *

HIS PHONE RANG. Marc Dubeau again. Colin didn’t let him speak.

“We found Maddie’s purse. It was thrown into the park, not far from where she was attacked the night she disappeared.”

“But she’s not there?” Her father’s voice was stark with fear, enough that Colin felt sure the man did love his daughter even if it were in a limited way.

“No.” Another call was coming in. “I’ve got to go, Marc—”

“No, listen,” her father said, his voice threaded with urgency. “I keep thinking about something Maddie said back then.”

Standing beside his SUV, unaware of the cold, Colin stared into the greater darkness of the park. “What was it?”

“I didn’t take her seriously. After she disappeared... But, damn it, he was so upset, I couldn’t believe—”

Colin had to unclench his jaw. “Tell me.”

“It was Duane. She’d always loved him, but something changed. She quit wanting to go with him. She said—” His voice broke.

Colin felt as if his skin had been peeled away, leaving his nerve endings raw. How could he not have guessed sooner? Duane had tried so damn hard not to encounter Nell. The way she’d withdrawn even at the idea of him. More when he actually arrived.

When I let the son of a bitch hug her, right in front of me.

“She said he kept touching her. I thought...I thought Duane just didn’t want to let himself recognize that she was growing up. That maybe he was being insensitive. And you saw him!” His voice rose. “He was so desperate to find her.”

“He was,” Colin said harshly. “Because he’d lost her. Finding her was life or death for him. He didn’t even have to pretend.”

Tags: Janice Kay Johnson Billionaire Romance
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