On the other hand, her uncle was exactly the person she wanted to see right now. She had been biding her time until she could tell him what had really happened to her. But now that he was there, she wasn’t sure how to start. So she waited for the right moment.
He ruffled her hair as he came in, all uncle and no cop about him now. She far preferred her uncle to the chief; he had inherited the sense of humor in the family, while her father got the receding hairline and mad skills with numbers. “Geez, Vi, you didn’t need to break your own leg to get out of going to the dance with Grady Spencer. A simple ‘no’ would have been just fine, I’m sure.”
Apparently no one had noticed that Jay had barely let go of her hand for a second. His thumb was now tracing lazy circles around her palm, and he answered her uncle’s teasing comment without looking away from Violet for even a split second. “She’s not going to the dance with Grady,” he announced, smiling at her mischievously, and for a moment Violet forgot how to breathe. She hoped she never got used to how a simple look from him could turn her into a blithering idiot.
“Really?” her aunt Kat asked, her eyes narrowing as she glanced from Violet to Jay, and then down at their intertwined hands. Clearly she wasn’t going to let the comment pass unnoticed. “Why is that?” she asked in a voice filled with unspoken meaning.
Stephen Ambrose looked at his wife curiously, a little slow to catch on, which was sad, really, considering it was his job to seek out clues and solve mysteries.
Jay answered Kat without missing a beat. “Because she’s going with me.” He winked at Violet, whose cheeks had flushed to a brilliant shade of scarlet. She wasn’t entirely sure she was ready for this.
Violet saw her mom and Aunt Kat exchange meaningful glances.
They knew, she realized. And now her uncle did too.
Uncle Stephen gave Jay his best I’m-keeping-my-eye-on-you look, but a quick “Hmm” was the only sound he made.
How much embarrassment could one person possibly survive?
There was a moment of awkward silence, made even more uncomfortable by Jay’s refusal to look anywhere but at her. He reached out and brushed his finger along her cheek. Violet almost forgot to care that everyone in the room was looking at them.
Her uncle Stephen cleared his throat, and Violet jumped a little.
“So, what exactly happened, Vi?” Suddenly the police chief was back in the room with them.
Violet pursed her lips. She wasn’t sure where to start, but she knew it needed to be said. “Well,” she began, “I went for a run.” She paused to chew her lip, trying to put her words in the right order. “Anyway, I thought I, you know, heard something. An echo.”
“Really?” her uncle asked. “Do you think it was a body…a person? Did you stop?”
Violet shook her head. “No, it wasn’t that, exactly.” She cursed herself for being such a chicken, but she was afraid of how everyone was going to react if they knew she’d been followed—and very nearly captured—by a man who had obviously been chasing her. “I…it wasn’t a body.” Spit it out, already! “It was a man.”
The words didn’t have quite the impact she’d expected, and she knew from the clueless looks on their faces that she was going to have to explain it to them.
“Someone was following me,” she stated, and finally she had their full attention. Before they could bombard her with questions, she plunged ahead. “It was a man, and he was carrying an imprint on him. That was how I first knew he was there. He was hiding, wearing camouflage so I couldn’t see him, and he was…following me while I ran.” She paused to take a breath, feeling a little light-headed now that she was in the middle of her explanation. “When he realized that I’d seen him, he started to chase me. I knew I needed to get off the trail to try to get home faster, but I got turned around and ended up heading toward the river instead.” She looked at Jay gratefully, fresh tears stinging her eyes. “That was when I heard you calling for me.”
Violet glanced up. Everyone was watching her uncle, who was pacing now. He seemed to be deep in thought. It wasn’t quite the reaction she’d expected from him.
“What is it?” her dad asked his brother.
Stephen didn’t hesitate. “I knew we were missing something” was his only explanation at first.
“Missing what?” Violet’s mom rounded on her brother-in-law like a protective mother bear. “If you know something, then tell us…now!” she demanded.
Her uncle looked torn, but his familial obligation won out. “Look, Maggie, I’m not even supposed to be talking about this. We’re in the middle of a murder investigation, and the things we uncover are confidential. I could be compromising the case just by discussing it with you.” He sighed then, having gotten it out of his system, and continued. “But we’ve been following a lead based on evidence we recovered at the suspect’s home.” Violet thought it sounded strange to call him a “suspect” when she knew exactly what he’d done—what he’d confessed to doing—to those girls. As far as she was concerned he was the killer, not the suspect.
Her uncle went on: “I was hoping we were wrong, but it looks like it might be true after all.” He shook his head, as if he were having a hard time believing it himself. “We were starting to suspect that he wasn’t acting alone, that he might have had a partner.” He held up his hand when Violet’s dad was about to interrupt him. “I know what you’re going to say, but up till now it’s been more speculation than fact. We have no idea who this accomplice might be or even if there is an accomplice at all. My detectives are going over phone records and following every lead they can, but most of them have been dead ends. We’ve even enlisted the help of the FBI forensics to go through his computer. But so far, nothing.”