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The Sweetest Obsession: Chapter 21

ONE OF THOSE DAYS (GRANT)

I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing here.

Staring at this almost-dead man like I can magically see through him, divining some answers from his bones.

From somebody’s bones, I guess.

Because goddammit, I really don’t know what to do about finding a whole human body out there in that clearing in the same place Law was bleeding out.

That’s what Raleigh PD forensics dug up in the end.

A complete human skeleton—and they’re gonna want me to have a look at the rotted remnants of clothing to see if I recognize anything.

From the looks of it, the perps stripped the victim naked, buried them, then buried their belongings close by. Not much survived over long years of decomposition besides a leather jacket.

Too much like the jacket Ethan wore when he started riding his motorcycle.

The big asshole just had to play the part, all leather and jeans and tough guy swagger as he grew into a young man. Once, I had to pull him away from a drunken fight with a dude from the Grizzlies MC. It was bad enough that we snuck into the bar without anybody carding us. Worse that this tank of a man was passing through town when Ethan mouthed off and the biker called him out as a ‘chickenshit poser.’

He totally was.

But that boy was my poser and my best friend.

My thoughts are unsettled as hell as I frown at Mason Law.

What were you trying to tell us, old man?

How many more bodies will Raleigh forensics find as they work that clearing, churning up the earth and the devil’s secrets?

One.

Just one awful secret.

You know that’s all it is.

You already know who.

My lip curls into a snarl.

I can’t take this shit.

All these years, I thought I was ready.

Now that there’s a chance we might find out he’s really gone—

Fuck.

In the back of my mind, I’ve been hoping one day he’d show up on my doorstep with a wife and kids or at least some unbelievable story about running off to Argentina—a place Ethan always fantasized about when we were boys because it was so frigging close to Antarctica. He had a hard-on for arctic exploring even though he shook like a leaf all winter.

Go figure.

Ethan, he’d be a little grey, more grizzled than before. Maybe an early midlife pot belly and a set of bristly whiskers, but grinning with that same shit-eating, disarming grin.

Sorry, man. Wish I could’ve told you.

But I just couldn’t take this dull little town anymore.

So you married my sister, huh? Shit, that’s great.

When do I get to meet my niece and nephew?

Stupid.

Stupid fucking cheesy-ass fantasy.

I snort at my own idiocy.

Married to Ophelia with a son and daughter of our own and Nell playing big sister?

Ros safe and sound, busy running the family shop without any goddamned drug-snorting, panty-sniffing Arrendell lunatic in the picture?

Angela Sanderson, miraculously recovered and happily retired?

Then Ethan, coming home to surprise everyone.

Deep down, I knew.

I knew it was fucking hopeless.

Guess I never learned to separate hope from the desperate inner ravings of a madman who could never stop wishing for one more day with his best friend.

I’m a realist at heart with everything but Ethan.

Trouble is, shattering that little fantasy feels like the apocalypse. The end of everything.

Every hope that I could somehow fix things for the Sandersons, a family I care about as much as my own.

Every hope that somehow, some way, everything could still be all right.

Every hope that Ophelia might be so overwhelmed with joy that all her problems would disappear and she’d marry me tomorrow.

Shit, no.

I need to get the fuck out of here.

Head out to the crime scene and meet up with the Raleigh team. Check in with Ophelia and make sure she’s okay after all the scares yesterday.

I hope she’s shaken off a little of her angst.

With any luck, she’s back at home with Nell by now. She’ll probably keep giving me those guilty looks like she did something wrong, and I don’t know how the fuck to tell her she didn’t.

I don’t know how to tell her I’ll wait as long as she needs me to.

Goddammit, Grant.

Get out of your own head and go do something useful.

So I do.

After staring at Mason Law for a few more seconds, I heft myself up with a groan and stretch, rubbing at my ass. I’m sore from over an hour in that little plastic chair. The seats in this joint are fit to put someone in the hospital themselves.

I turn away, grinding my fingertips against the back of my aching neck—only to hear a low moan behind me.

I whirl on my heel.

Law’s eyes twitch, his lips parting on a disturbed groan.

Cautiously, I step closer.

His vitals aren’t changing—not that I really know how to read that shit, I ain’t Ophelia—but the beeping hasn’t changed, so I guess he’s okay, just waking up.

I should get the nurse.

I turn away again.

Only, this time I’m stopped by cold, bony fingers pinching the back of my arm.

I freeze.

Law clings to me with too much strength for a man in his state, the needlepoints of his emaciated fingers digging into my arm.

When I look back, his eyes are marbles crafted in pure fear.

Bloodshot, entirely mad, red-rimmed—he’s awake, and staring right through me with an accusatory gaze that says he sees me.

He’s aware.

“The… the letters,” he wheezes. His voice has the rawness you’d expect from someone whose throat was burned, first by a flesh-wilting poison and then by a breathing tube. “I… I buried them where they b-buried the bones.” Law stares at me like he’s trying to grind something urgent into me. “T-tried… tried to w-warn her. Tried to stop her, you… you have to save her.”

“Save her? Save who?” Alertness spikes flashes of cold through me. Fuck. Was that what he was trying to do? Save Ophelia from something? From what? I step closer and lean over him. “What am I saving her from, Mr. Law?”

He just stares at me.

Mr. Law,” I say again. “I’m Captain Grant Faircross with Redhaven PD. I’m on your side. If you want me to help Ophelia, you’ve got to tell me more.”

“The letters,” he repeats in a fading whisper. His grip on my arm goes lax.

Goddammit.

His eyes lose focus and his head falls back against the pillow, staring blankly up at the ceiling.

“I… I was there,” he breathes, but I don’t think he’s talking to me anymore. “The night that boy… that night th-they ran him off the road. I was there…”

…that boy?

Ethan?” I gasp, catching his arm. “You talking about Ethan Sanderson? Did someone run him off the road?”

And he’s gone.

Eyes rolled back, closing as he goes slack, his hand falling away to dangle from the bed like a broken doll.

Fuck me.

Looks like I’ve got some serious digging to do. An old case to reopen and answers to find, even if it pounds what’s left of my heart into slag.

I turn to head out again and this time no one stops me.

I stop by the nurses’ station and let them know he woke up, asking them to let me know if he does it again, and to record anything he says.

A quick glance at Angela’s room shows her alone now.

Ophelia and Nell are gone.

Damn.

I’m on the verge of something massive. I can feel it.

I just have to find out what.

Whatever I have to do to keep Ophelia Sanderson safe.


The forest clearing looks like a battered anthill that was kicked around by some bored kids when I get there.

The whole area has that wet earthy smell of fresh-turned mud you always get in October.

My team is mostly on the sidelines, talking with a few of the folks from Raleigh forensics as they bag and tag more soil samples for evidence. They mostly defer to Lucas to determine what we keep and what goes off to the Raleigh lab for more analysis.

“Anything interesting?” I ask, settling on the hood of Lucas’ patrol car.

Our combined weight makes it sag on its front tires.

Together, we watch while the Raleigh crew digs up these neat segmented squares, carving out one orderly piece of ground at a time.

“Full human skeleton. Scraps of clothing, but I’m guessing you knew that. The teeth in the skull are intact, I guess.” He glances at me, his cat-green eyes flashing. “Sounds like they might try dental records to get an ID.”

I just grunt.

I don’t need to say it.

He’s a Redhaven native and only one degree removed from Ethan’s mystery with his own missing sister for so long.

He gets it.

“Nothing else?” I ask.

“Not yet, but they’re still working it, Cap,” he answers—just as a call goes up from across the field.

“We got something!” a voice calls.

I glance at Lucas before pushing off the car and speeding across the clearing.

A woman in a white jumpsuit and mask crouches over a hole in the ground, gingerly sweeping dirt off—wood?

Yep, polished wood.

Her gloved hands gently lift up a gleaming box of rose-tinted redwood, roughly the size of a shoebox.

Doesn’t look that old—and doesn’t look like it’s been in the ground all that long, either.

There’s not enough dirt accumulation to be as old as those bones.

Plus, the moisture along with the freezing, melting, and heating cycles would’ve warped the wood bad, never mind insects and worms eating away at it, too.

This thing was buried not too long ago.

The woman gives me a questioning look through her goggles.

I nod.

“Open it.”

She returns my nod and pries the latch. The little bronze hook opens smoothly, no rusty squealing, confirming its age.

Inside, I see stacks of folded paper, yellowed with age, thin enough so the handwriting on the other side looks like ghostly scribbles bleeding through.

I stare at the box with Mason Law’s voice on replay in my mind—until something brushes my elbow and I just about bust right out of my skin.

When I look up, Lucas stands by my side, holding a pair of nitrile gloves.

I take them with a grateful nod and snap them on, then take the box from the woman and retreat back to the patrol car.

The urge to read the letters wars with professional obligations to treat this like crime evidence—because it is.

No prints, no smudging, so I carefully set an evidence bag on the hood of the car and place the box on top before I settle down and pick up the first sheaf of folded pages, peeling them open.

They’re definitely older.

Handwritten.

All blue, sloping ink, a light and loopy feminine style with a slightly older feel I can’t explain. The top page is dated over twenty years ago—October, just like now.

Dearest,

It’s freezing today. Cold enough to feel the loneliness, your absence, though I know why I can’t see you.

Not right now. Maybe not ever.

I told you I won’t deceive myself about what we’re doing.

I’m lonely, yes… but I’m also convenient for you.

You know how much that makes me smile.

Being yours. Something to distract you from your responsibilities. From how cruel life must be in that cold, loveless house, where you said all the money in the world can’t buy you any joy.

Oh, I can tell when your smiles are false. When you turn on the charm for everyone else, playing the part of the dearly respected man for the public.

I’m not fooling myself.

I’m just the only one who understands how lonely, how sad you truly are. It’s enough for me to believe you love me right now.

Enough for you to believe you love our beautiful little girl and the child growing in me right now.

Will you come tonight? I don’t dare send the ultrasound, just in case she stumbles on it. This letter is damning enough, but there’s a little bit of a thrill in the risk, isn’t there?

It’s a girl, beloved.

Another girl.

Perhaps I’ll name her for one of Shakespeare’s ladies, too.

Hoping to see you tonight,

-Your angel

What the fuck am I reading?

I numbly scan the pages of the first letter again.

Something in the back of my mind screams like a startled coyote.

Call it an instinct that’s trying to make me look at what’s right in front of my dumb fool face. Only, everything else shuts the fuck down and refuses to acknowledge the terrible truth.

You already know what this means.

It’s veiled, yes, but it’s not hard to decode.

This is a letter from Angela Sanderson to Montero fucking Arrendell.

After the birth of her first daughter, while she was pregnant with her second, and—

Oh fuck.

Oh fuck, oh shit, oh damn.

I shove my knuckles against my mouth, barely stopping my fingers from clutching violently at the pages and crumpling them into dust.

Angela Sanderson had an affair with Montero.

A long-running arrangement, from the sounds of it.

Ophelia. Rosalind.

Montero’s daughters.

They’re both Arrendells.

Which means Ros is about to marry her own half brother.

And I get the sickest feeling Aleksander knew it all along.

“Hey, Cap, what’s wrong? What the hell did it say?” I hear Lucas asking, but I can’t answer.

I dig my feet into the mud, fighting to stand up as my mind strains, wondering what the hell to do with this waking nightmare.


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