“We both know you don’t care, so I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t pretend.” Raising her arm, she held her hand out to him. “Can I please have my phone so you can put us both out of our miseries and leave?”
Stump straightened but didn’t reach for the phone. “There’re a few questions I want answered before I give it back. Then I’ll leave you so that Penni or Grace can come back.”
“What questions?” Zoey lifted up onto her elbows, her face going ashen as her eyes darted around the room as if afraid someone would jump out from behind the curtains.
The unusual reaction had him wanting to ask even more questions, but he wanted to find out the immediate answers first before delving deeper.
“Did you get flowers this morning before the fire alarm went off?”
“No. Why do you ask?”
Stump reached into his pocket, but not for the cell phone. Taking the note out, he handed it her. “I found that in your office with fresh yellow roses.”
“You must be mistaken. The roses in my office weren’t fresh.” Zoey took the note in her hand but didn’t lift it to be able to read the message.
“I know the difference between wilted and fresh.”
Zoey kept shaking her head. “I changed the water this morning and would have noticed the difference.”
“Not if someone changed them when you left the office during the fire alarm,” Stump pointed out.
Zoey kept shaking her head. “There’s no way. I locked the door and had the key, which I gave to Grace to get my phone.”
“The door was unlocked when I got there.”
“That’s impossible. You’re wrong. Maybe the firefighters opened it with a master key to check for a fire?”
Stump could tell she was grasping at straws to explain the fresh roses away.
“I have another question for you.”
Stump watched as she licked her lips nervously. “Why aren’t you reading the note?”
I dreamed of you last night. Do you remember when you gave me Rabbit? I know I was too young to remember, but I dreamt it last night. You were so pretty, Mom. I think I look like you, but sadly, I look more like him. Do you think I look like you or Dad?
He said you were so pretty that he stared at you all night when you met. Did you fall in love with him as fast? Dad said no man would ever love me; that I’m too ugly. I don’t think I’m ugly. Do you? If you do, it’s okay; you won’t hurt my feelings.
I’m sending my school picture. You can’t see a lot of my face because it was a sample. Dad didn’t want to buy the pictures, so it’s the only one I have.
I was hoping you could come for a visit and show me how to wear makeup and which colors I should choose, but Dad said you weren’t feeling well this summer and can’t. I hope you are feeling better. If you can’t come, can you give me an idea of which colors to use? I like blue, but Dad and Marlene laughed and said I looked silly.
I hear the mailman coming. Write me back.
Your daughter, Zoey
Zoey looked down at the card. “I’m in pain; that’s why.” She didn’t want to read it. From his watchful attitude, it was a sympathy card.
“I can read it for you.”
He wasn’t leaving.
Giving in, she picked up the card, holding it over her face to hide her expression. Reading the note, she tightened her fingers to keep them from shaking. Composing herself, she then set the card back down.
“I’ve read it. Now can I have my phone?” She was proud of herself for remaining calm under his scrutiny.
“What were you expecting?”
“I don’t know. Most women would be worried when someone threatens them.”
“They weren’t threatening me; just telling me to take better care of my flowers. Did you show the note to Penni and Grace?”
“Does it matter?” he mocked, answering her unanswered question with his own.
“Yes, I get notes and emails all the time. If I was scared, I wouldn’t have a job. I don’t want them to be worried about me.”
“Too late. Jackal showed them. You received other notes like this?”
“No, not like that. This one is different.”
“Well, he didn’t threaten me; that’s for sure.”
“Where are the notes?”
“I threw them away.” Shifting her gaze, she was glad to see a woman doctor coming through the curtains. “You can leave now—”
“Your brother doesn’t need to leave. You can hold his hand as I pop your knee back into place.” The woman ran her fingers over her knee with a featherlight touch.
“I don’t need to hold his hand. I prefer—”
A wrenching pain had her arching off the bed, reaching out to make the doctor stop. Stump grabbed her hands, using his shoulders to press her back down.