Violet could only whimper as she watched. “No! Please, God, no!” And then she was crying, “You don’t need him. He can’t hurt you. Please…” She crawled forward, meaning to block Jay, but she was moving too slowly. She felt like she was progressing in slow motion, like a bad dream where her feet were too heavy to make any real headway. She looked up at the man, and when she saw the look in his eyes, she realized that she was too late.
The sound of the gun was like a deafening crack, and Violet instinctively flinched, closing her eyes, her hands covering her ears at the same time that she started to scream. She heard a second shot immediately follow the first.
She opened her eyes just long enough to see the blood. Everywhere…blood. And she squeezed them tight again, unable to look. She knew she was still screaming, but she couldn’t hear anything aside from the internal ringing that seemed to fill her head.
But her mouth was suddenly filled with the strangest sensation…the taste of dandelions. It was the bitterly familiar taste of childhood, of picking the weeds to make a yellow bouquet, and then later, when you put a finger in your mouth, you could still taste the caustic flavor of the dandelion milk clinging to your skin. Her tongue recoiled.
Violet realized, while she was being peeled up from the floor by strong hands, that the taste had nothing to do with picking flowers.
It was an echo.
A brand-new echo.
VIOLET LOOKED OUT THE WINDOW AT THE FIRST snowfall of the season. The thick, fluffy flakes came down through the darkness, casting a brilliant whiteness that radiated throughout the night sky.
There was something so refreshingly delicate about a new snow. It was like a rebirth.
And it meant that school would be canceled tomorrow.
She turned back to her room, as she reached behind her neck to remove the thin silver chain that Jay had given her the night of the Homecoming Dance. She rubbed the smooth finish of the heart before setting it gently into the black velvet box it had come in, trying, as she did every night, to blink back the hot tears that started to sting her eyes.
The night of the dance…
That was almost two months ago, but just thinking about it again made Violet shiver despite the warmth of her bedroom. She wrapped her arms around herself and rubbed at the goose bumps that broke out over her skin.
If she closed her eyes, she could still picture the vivid images that would be forever ingrained in her memories. But it was physically painful if she dwelled there for too long.
She was safe now, she had to remind herself of that, and there was something cathartic about remembering what she’d somehow survived.
She could easily recall the blistering sounds of the gunshots, and then everything seemed to blur together for her.
It was her uncle who’d found her and lifted her up from the floor. By the time she was aware of her surroundings, all hell had broken loose around them.
She remembered her uncle explaining how they’d finally figured out, almost too late, that it was one of his officers who was responsible for the deaths of all those girls—and nearly responsible for Violet’s as well.
They’d found a receipt among the evidence collected from the farmhouse belonging to his partner in crime. The receipt was for a disposable cell phone; apparently that was how the two of them had communicated. When they traced it back, it led them right to the man who had worked both with, and for, her uncle for the past ten years. The GPS from his own patrol car confirmed his presence at several of the crime scenes…and many of which they’d been unaware.
Later, after her uncle had fired the shot that had killed the officer in the hallway of the school, they’d gone back to search the woods where they’d first discovered Hailey McDonald’s body, and found Mackenzie Sherwin buried right where Violet said she would be.
Her neck had been broken.
But Violet had survived. Her uncle had saved her. And now he carried with him a new aura, a new imprint, that Violet found somewhat disturbing to be around…the bitter dandelion taste. But even that was fading, almost faster than it should have, and Violet found it bearable now to be around him for short periods of time.
There was a tap at her bedroom door before it opened.
Violet turned in time to see Jay coming in. His grin was mischievous and wicked at the same time. She practically leaped into his arms as he closed the door behind him.
He laughed against the top of her head. “I missed you too.”
She lifted her face to his, and he kissed her, his arms pulling her closer.
“I just came to say good night,” he said between hungry kisses.
“So say it.”
He kissed her again, and then again, but he never said good night…or good-bye.
“Good night,” she finally whispered when his lips left hers.
She was grateful every single day that Jay had only been grazed by the first shot fired that night. Grateful that the wounded officer—the killer—in the hallway had been too dazed to fire straight. And even more grateful that her uncle had come around the corner in time to fire the second shot…the deadly one.
Jay watched her, reading the thoughts clearly on her face. And then he smiled and lifted her into his arms, kissing her lightly on her forehead, her cheeks, her nose. “Maybe I can stay for a little while,” he breathed as he finally found her lips.
Violet knew that everything was going to be all right now.
Jay was safe. The killer was dead.
She curled into Jay as he pulled her down against his shoulder.