Her Final Confession – Lisa Regan

Billy was coming out of the store, a bag containing two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream slung over one wrist, when he stopped to light a cigarette. He inhaled deeply and checked his watch; he could have two cigarettes and still be home in time for dinner. His wife didn’t like it when he smoked. In his periphery, he saw a woman heading over to her minivan. The flash of her silver hair in the sun as she stumbled through the parking lot caught his eye. He watched her walk in a full circle before fumbling with her keys. Maybe she was sick; maybe she was drunk; maybe she was just old, or mad, or both. His gaze drifted once she got into the van and started it up, distracted by the rattle of a motorbike engine. He couldn’t believe his luck as Lincoln Shore roared to the front of the store and parked his bike. Even outlaw bikers had to eat, he guessed. The truth was that Billy knew Linc frequented this grocery store and a few other places in the area and had been hoping he’d run into him. He was already well known to a couple of Devil’s Blade members but had yet to capture Linc’s attention. Billy lit his second cigarette from the end of his first one and flicked the butt to the ground as Linc heaved himself off his bike. Billy felt the heat of his gaze. Then heard his gravelly voice.

“You’re that hang-around, aren’t you? The one’s been sittin’ at the bar lately.” “Yeah,” Billy answered, “I—” but his words were swallowed up by sounds his brain couldn’t quite process right away. A rush of air, a squeal of tires, the screech of metal against metal, and the howl of an engine being pushed to its limits. He had a split second to react, and his instincts took over. From the corner of his eye, he registered the minivan trampling shopping carts and clipping a parked car. Other shoppers jumped out of the way of the speeding vehicle. Billy barreled into Linc, throwing all of his weight into the burly biker and sending them both flying through the air. Concrete rushed at them. Linc’s body cushioned Billy’s fall, and his leather jacket kept him from losing generous strips of skin as they skidded across the ground. Behind them, the minivan crashed into a parked car, pushing it into two other nearby cars before finally coming to a stop.

Its engine continued to rev, its front tires screaming against the asphalt. The driver slumped over the wheel. Red blood stained her silver scalp. As the other patrons in the parking lot rushed toward the minivan, Billy stood and extended a hand to Linc, pulling him to his feet. They stood silent and staring at the trail of damage the minivan driver had left behind her. Linc said, “Thanks, brother.” Billy smiled. “Anytime,” he replied, and because he didn’t want to press his luck, he started walking away. “Hey,” Linc called after him. “What’s your name, hang-around?” Billy turned back.

“Benji,” he said, using his undercover name. “Benji Stone.” CHAPTER TWO PRESENT DAY Denton, Pennsylvania Spread out on the kitchen table before Josie was a vast array of brochures advertising home security systems. It had been six months since her life was turned upside down by the woman Josie had thought was her mother. The assault on Josie’s life and sanity had included a home break-in, and for months she’d been trying to select a home security system advanced enough to keep her anxiety at bay. Twice she’d had the representatives out to the house to install the systems but changed her mind at the last minute when she discovered a hidden flaw or outrageous additional fees. From the pile, she pulled out a colorful brochure from Aegis Home Security. SPECIALIZING IN HOME SECURITY FOR OVER 20 YEARS. They were one of the few companies transparent enough to put their full pricing scheme in their promotional materials. She flipped it open and looked at the options.

She wondered if a dog would be a better way to go. A big dog. But her work schedule could be crazy. As a detective for the small city of Denton, Pennsylvania, her cases often kept her away from home for days, even nights. Sometimes she only returned long enough to shower, change, and head back out to work. If she owned a dog, she’d have to hire a dog walker. Then she’d worry about whether the dog walker was trustworthy. Josie sighed. Too many complications. She would just have to bite the bullet and spend a small fortune on a security system if she ever wanted to feel safe in her own home again.

Her fingers hovered over a smaller brochure from a different company: Summors Security. A knock at her front door interrupted her thoughts, and she made her way into the foyer. Through her peephole, she saw that it was Lieutenant Noah Fraley. She opened the door and looked him up and down, giving a low whistle. “Well,” she said. “If I knew you cleaned up this nicely…” He wore a perfectly cut charcoal-gray suit with a tasteful yellow-and-gray striped tie that brought out the hazel of his eyes. When he smiled at her, she felt a slight flutter in her chest. “Very funny,” he said, stepping past her and making his way back to the kitchen. “You’re not ready. You’re not even changed.

” Josie looked down at her jeans and faded Luke Bryan T-shirt. “It’ll only take me a minute.” “Isn’t that what all women say before they spend an hour on hair and makeup?” Josie raised a brow. “Watch it. I don’t have to bring a date to this dinner.” “Kidding,” Noah said. He looked around the kitchen. Then he walked back out to the foyer, poking his head into the living room. Returning to the kitchen, he asked, “Where is everyone?” Josie had recently been reunited with a biological family she had no idea she’d been separated from at birth. She was still getting used to calling Shannon and Christian Payne “Mom” and “Dad”.

She ticked off her fingers as she spoke. “Shannon and Trinity are out shopping. They’ll meet us at the restaurant. My dad and brother are coming in from Callowhill. They’ll also meet us there. My gram is back at Rockview since I needed the spare bedroom for Shannon, and Mrs. Quinn is on babysitting duty for little Harris this week.” Noah moved around the table, drawing closer to her until the backs of her thighs were up against the table’s edge. He leaned in, pinning her there, his hands finding her hips and his lips grazing hers. “Do you mean to tell me that we’re actually alone for once? Really and truly alone?” Josie laughed and slipped her arms around his neck, drawing him down for a kiss.

It was true that since the end of the Belinda Rose case, they hadn’t had a moment to themselves when they weren’t working or too exhausted to do much of anything. With an entirely new family in her life, Josie’s home had seen a constant influx of guests in the last six months. Her real mother, Shannon, had stayed with her for several weeks, trading off with Lisette, Josie’s grandmother, when Shannon had to return home for work. Josie’s arm had been in a cast for nearly two months after the attack, and the help was welcome. Occasionally, her sister, Trinity came from New York City, where she worked as a national network news anchor, and spent the weekends with Josie. And a few times, Christian and her teenage brother, Patrick, had stayed with her. Josie had lived alone for some time. It was difficult at first being surrounded by people at every moment. The first time she had gone into her refrigerator to find that her halfand-half was gone had been frustrating, as had the first time she’d found her bathroom devoid of both towels and mats because Shannon was washing them. Her carefully ordered world, the sanctuary of her home, was being turned on its head.

But, she reminded herself, family was more important than any household item or habit she had become accustomed to over the years. The Paynes wanted to swoop in and reclaim the last thirty years in only a matter of months, but for Josie, it was going to take longer than that. Then there was Misty Derossi, the woman Josie’s late husband, Ray, had been seeing before he died. Misty had given birth to Ray’s son after his death, and the two women had struck up an unlikely friendship. Baby Harris was almost a year old, and Misty had stopped stripping and gotten herself a job at the mayor’s new women’s center doing intake for domestic violence victims, which meant that Josie’s occasional babysitting duties had become routine. Now traces of Harris’s place in Josie’s life were scattered throughout her home—a high chair at one end of the kitchen table, baby gates, sippy cups, a bin of toys, and a rocking chair in her living room. It was easier for Josie to keep some things at her own house rather than ask Misty to lug everything back and forth each time she brought the baby. Noah’s lips moved to Josie’s throat. His hands cupped her bottom and lifted her up, setting her onto the table. Reflexively, her legs wrapped around his waist.

She threw her head back. “Your suit,” she breathed. His hands traveled up, under her shirt, to the clasp of her bra. “I don’t care about my suit.” She could feel the frenetic energy building between them, and she knew that if she gave in to it, there would be no turning back. The tension between them had been building for so long, it felt like a volcano about to erupt. She had told him when the Belinda Rose case ended—after their first kiss—that she needed to move slowly, and he had respected that. Josie had a bad track-record with relationships, and she didn’t want Noah to be another casualty of her horrible upbringing and all her personal baggage. She wanted it to be right. Or maybe she was just afraid… “Is this how you want to do it for the first time?” she asked.

“On my kitchen table?” He scooped her up off the table as if she weighed nothing. “We’ll go upstairs then.” Her mouth opened to protest, but as her body melded to his, every inch of her skin burned to know what was hidden beneath that suit. They’d made it as far as the bottom of the stairs when the muffled beat of a cell phone sounded from within his jacket pocket, then from her own somewhere on the other side of the house. Their bodies froze. Josie broke their kiss first, her head turning toward the sound. She’d left her phone in the living room. Neither one of them said it, but they both knew that there was only one reason both their phones would be ringing so close together. It had to be work, and it had to be serious. Although many of Denton’s twenty-five square miles spanned the untamed mountains of central Pennsylvania, the population was large enough to give the police department about a half dozen murders a year and enough other crimes to keep the police department staff of fifty-plus fairly busy.

In recent years, the small city had seen a couple of cases so shocking that they had caught the attention of the entire nation. She and Noah had both been deeply affected by those events, and Josie knew he was feeling the same sense of trepidation that spiraled up from her core. If they were both being called in on their day off, it must be big. Slowly, Josie unhooked her ankles from Noah’s waist, and he lowered her to the ground. His phone stopped, and Josie’s began again. She straightened her clothes and walked into the living room to answer it. Denton Chief of Police, Bob Chitwood, wasted no time getting to the point. “Quinn. I need you and Fraley on the street right now. We got a homicide.

” “Sir,” Josie said, “we were—I—” “I know. I don’t care. Get your asses out to the scene right now.” He rattled off an address that sounded familiar to Josie. Chitwood’s voice was so loud, it carried across the room to where Noah stood in the doorway, his suit wrinkled, one eyebrow raised. He mouthed the word Gretchen? Gretchen Palmer was another detective with the Denton Police Department. Josie said, “Detective Palmer is on duty tonight. She can handle it.” Chitwood made a noise of exasperation. “I’m aware of who’s on duty, Quinn.

But I can’t get hold of Detective Palmer.” “Did you try her—” His voice rose to a shout. “Dammit, Quinn, I don’t have time for twenty questions. I’ve got a dead body, a crime scene, and no detective. Now one of you get over there.” He spat out the address again, and it was then that Josie realized why it was familiar. It was Gretchen’s home address. CHAPTER THREE “Slow down,” Noah said. Josie glanced over at him to see one of his hands tightly gripping the door handle of her Ford Escape as the city of Denton flashed past beside him in a blur. “There’s a homicide at Gretchen’s house,” she reminded him.

“And we know it’s not Gretchen, because if it was, the responding officers would have made that known,” Noah replied. Josie slowed down, but only fractionally. “Text her.” “I already did,” Noah said. “And I tried calling her while you were changing. It goes straight to voicemail. No response to my texts. But I called the station, and dispatch told me that Gretchen was last seen there, about an hour before the body was found. We don’t even know she was at her house when this happened.” “But we don’t know that she wasn’t.

An hour is plenty of time for her to have gone to her house.” “While on duty?” “Maybe. I don’t know. We don’t have enough information.” A sinking feeling spread through her stomach. It was unlike Gretchen to disappear and not answer her phone or texts—particularly in the middle of a shift. Josie’s foot pressed harder on the gas once more. “Dispatch couldn’t raise her?” she asked. “No,” Noah answered. “They’re checking the MDT now to see if they can locate her car.

” Gretchen usually drove a department-issue Chevy Cruze that was outfitted with an MDT, or Mobile Data Terminal, a computerized mobile device that not only allowed Gretchen to communicate with the department’s dispatch, but also allowed dispatch to locate her vehicle. “I want to know the moment they’ve found her,” Josie said. Noah nodded silently. When Josie chanced a quick glance at him, she saw a muscle in his jaw tick, his gaze set on the scenery flying past his window. Nestled in one of Denton’s quiet, middle-class neighborhoods, Gretchen’s home was a detached two-story red-brick craftsman. It sat on one acre of land with a long, straight driveway leading from the street and running along one side of the house to a garage in the backyard. A tall white fence ran the length of the driveway, cutting off the neighbors on that side. Towering evergreen shrubs barred the view of the neighbors on the other side. On any other day, the house looked cute and welcoming, but today it was surrounded by police cruisers and ambulances. Josie and Noah parked across the street and walked to the driveway, edging around an ambulance parked across its entrance.

A strip of crime-scene tape kept them from getting any closer to the house. In front of it stood one of Denton’s patrol officers with a clipboard in his hands. “Hummel,” Josie greeted him. “Boss,” he responded. Josie’s fingers drummed a steady beat against her thigh, but she managed a tight smile. “Just Detective Quinn now, remember?” For two years, Josie had served as Denton’s interim chief of police, but had happily returned to her position as detective once the mayor insisted on replacing her with Bob Chitwood. But the staff still called her “Boss.” “It’s a hard habit to break,” Noah said, giving Hummel an easy smile. Hummel nodded as he entered their names into the log. He gave Noah a quick onceover.

“Nice suit.” With lightning speed, Josie had changed into her usual khakis and a Denton PD polo shirt under a black jacket, but Noah still looked like something out of a men’s fashion magazine. “I was on my way to dinner when I got the call,” Noah told him. Hummel pointed to one of the cruisers parked curbside, its trunk open. “There are Tyvek suits in there.” “What’ve you got?” Josie asked Hummel. Hummel motioned toward the house, where members of Denton’s evidence response team were working their way across the driveway, yard, and porch, wearing white Tyvek suits. They were busy marking evidence with yellow flags, taking measurements, sketching out the crime scene, and taking photographs. To the left, in the driveway, several yards from the front porch, a white pop-up tarp had been erected. Josie knew that was where the body lay.

Hummel said, “We got one dead body, Caucasian male, gunshot wound to the back, unarmed, no identification. No one else is here, but the front door was open. We tried reaching Detective Palmer on her cell phone, but it goes straight to voicemail. Cap says she’s not at the station either. Someone saw her there about an hour ago, but now nobody can find her. Dispatch couldn’t raise her. They’re checking the MDT now.” “I heard,” Josie said. “If she’s still unreachable a half hour from now, I want Lamay to check the station’s CCTV footage to pinpoint exactly when she left. Who found the body?” “The house has one of those security monitoring systems.

You know, like the kind where if an alarm gets tripped, they send out the police?” “Yeah,” Josie said. “I’m thinking of getting one for my place.” “Well, the alarm for the front door went off. Security firm called Detective Palmer, got no answer. They called 911. We rolled up. Found the dead body. Oh, and there’s something else…” “What?” Noah asked. Hummel shifted from one foot to the other, his mouth briefly forming a thin, nervous straight line before he answered. “It’s best if you just go have a look.


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