Southern storm, p.29

Southern Storm, page 29


Southern Storm

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  The thought made her angry. Who did she think she was? Some bikini-clad beauty-pageant queen? Cade could get any woman he wanted. How dare she fantasize that he would want her?

  “You never believed that marriage story, did you, Blair?” he asked.

  “No, I didn’t believe it.”

  “Good. Because that never would have happened.”

  She left him there, and went out into the hall. Morgan and Jonathan stood near his door, and as Blair came out, Morgan reached out to hug her. “Is he all right?”

  “Perfect,” she said. She knew if she stood here, she would fall apart right in front of everyone. “I have to go. I need to be alone. If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the chapel.”

  Morgan’s face changed. “Sure, okay.”

  Blair hoped she could make it to the room before her tears overcame her.


  The chapel was dark except for four electric candles burning on a table at the front of the room, flanking an open Bible. Six small pews filled the room, three on each side of a narrow aisle. Blair slipped into one of the back pews and sat there quietly, staring straight ahead.

  “Thank you,” she whispered out loud. “I owe you one. I just wanted to tell you that.”

  She closed her eyes as her tears came forth, dripped off her chin, and wet the front of her shirt.

  Where did they come from? Was it gratitude or relief? Or was it the raw, unfettered hope that left her so vulnerable and frightened?

  He had looked in her eyes, touched her, and confessed to thinking about her while he was held. . . .

  It was too much. The hope birthed by those facts was cruel, painful.

  She pulled her feet up to the pew and buried her face in her knees, weeping out all the weariness and dread that had ridden her for the last few days.

  What was she to do with these feelings?

  Hugging her knees, she looked up at the front of the room again. “I know I’ve really imposed lately,” she whispered. “It’s not like you have nothing better to do. But I’m really out on a limb here, thinking these thoughts about Cade and knowing I’ll probably be shot down like all the other times in my life. I don’t want . . . to want.”

  She saw a box of Kleenex someone had slipped under the pew in front of her, so she grabbed a tissue out and blew her nose. Drawing in a deep breath, she went on.

  “You answered that other prayer, even though I didn’t deserve it. If you wouldn’t mind helping me out with this, I’d really appreciate it. Whether it’s to make me stop caring so much or work it so it comes out the way I wish. . . .”

  The very utterance of that desire sent a shiver of fear through her, greater even than the fear when she’d gone in through Ann Clark’s window.

  “Stupid,” she whispered. “I’m so stupid.” What could Cade ever see in her?

  Maybe he just sensed her own inane feelings and didn’t want to hurt her. That would be just like Cade. Being gentle and sweet to keep from making her feel like an idiot.

  But had she been obvious about her feelings? Had she even known for sure what her feelings were? Denial was her middle name, after all. Maybe it wasn’t as obvious as she thought.

  She grabbed another tissue and blew into it, then another and wiped her face. She had to stop this. Somehow she had to pull herself together.

  She thought of what Cade had said to her about her own Avengers and the refuge he thought she needed. Was she just another potential convert, or were his frequent attempts to share his faith the greatest acts of love he knew?

  She pictured herself running, running, away from her own Avengers—away from the secrets that had caused her scars, the bitterness that had taken root and grown within her, the grief over her parents’ murders, the loneliness and anger.

  She saw herself running from those who would destroy her, racing down that smooth road that would take her quickly to safety. She pictured herself reaching that gate where salvation waited. She lingered outside it, wanting that sweet peace the city walls would provide but fearful of crossing that threshold.

  Cade had lived within those walls, even though he’d been trapped in the confines of a basement room. He’d called Christ his refuge, and he had been rescued.

  But her parents had also lived in Christ, and they had suffered a violent end. She believed what Morgan had said all those months ago, about Christ being there to greet them the moment they closed their eyes. They had lived their life in a city called Refuge, and now their home was Refuge, itself.

  What peace there must be in knowing that whether you live or die, the Avenger could not overtake you.

  “Jesus, I long for that peace,” she whispered on a sob. “I’m so tired of running.”

  She closed her eyes, covered her face, and pictured herself reaching that gate. She raised her hand to knock, preparing to make her case. . . .

  But the door flew open, and she stepped inside . . .

  And fell into the arms of Refuge Himself.


  Blair kept her decision to herself. She had been in church enough as a child to know that a public profession was important, but she couldn’t do that just yet. How could she trust her own faith? What if this was just a knee-jerk reaction born of her emotional state? What if it didn’t hold up under pressure? What if she simply wanted to believe, but didn’t really?

  She would sort through it all later when things quieted down. But for now she had a paper to write. Jason Wheater had come to the hospital earlier with a briefcase full of papers for her to sign, making the newspaper hers. She had the keys to the building now and didn’t intend to waste a moment. There was a kidnapper and a killer still at large. And that baby needed to be found.

  She came back to the crowd of friends in the waiting room and located Sadie across the room with Morgan.

  Cutting through, she tapped Sadie’s shoulder. The girl turned around.

  “Sadie, I need your help. Jason gave me the keys to the newspaper office tonight, and I want us to start working.”

  Sadie caught her breath. “Really?”

  Morgan frowned. “But Sadie has school tomorrow. I don’t want her up late. And, Blair, you need to rest.”

  “There’s plenty of time for that later,” Blair said. “We’re going to need to work through the night to get the first issue out. She’ll have to miss one day of school because I’ll need her tomorrow too.”

  Sadie’s face glowed. “Oh, please, Morgan. Let me do it!”

  Morgan sighed. “Okay. I guess one day won’t hurt. You take care of her, Blair.”

  Energized and full of new purpose, Blair led Sadie out of the hospital, ready to right the wrongs done against Cade by finally getting the truth out.


  Blair and Sadie worked until morning writing the story, with sidebars about the accomplice still at large and the possible connection this person had to the kidnappings of babies across the south.

  Blair placed Ann’s DMV photo on the front page.

  Sadie came up behind her. “I can’t believe I was so close to her at that wedding, and all the time she was holding Cade captive. I wonder if the man I saw her with was the accomplice.”

  Blair nodded. “My guess is that he is. I’m including his description. I’m hoping someone will read it and remember seeing him with her.”

  She got Sadie busy hunting down articles about the other missing babies, while Blair wrote about the lies perpetrated against Cade while he’d been held.

  It was daylight by the time they had most of their first issue laid out, but they still needed a few things.

  “We need some quotes from people who were involved in the case, and a few more pictures,” Blair said. “I want to interview that detective who walked through Ann’s house with Joe. I want to see him squirm when I ask him how he feels knowing he overlooked the clues that Cade was there.”

  “You think he’ll even talk to you?” Sadie asked.

  “He’ll talk, even if it’s to say
he won’t talk. And you’re going to get a picture of him doing it. Then we’ll get back here and get this puppy printed and have it on every driveway in town by this afternoon.”

  It had started to rain, reminding her of that day over two weeks ago when all of this had started. Her windshield wipers swiped across her windshield, making it hard to drive. Exhausted, but driven, Blair and Sadie drove to the Savannah Precinct as the first shift was getting under way.

  The sergeant at the front desk was making coffee, and he looked up as he poured the water in. “Help you?”

  “I’m Blair Owens,” she said, shaking her umbrella out. “I need to speak to Detective Hull, please.”

  The sergeant pointed to the back. “He’s around the corner there.”

  Blair looked back at Sadie, who carried the digital camera. “Okay, now you take pictures as I’m talking to him. I want his ragged head right on the front page, with a caption that says what a prince of a cop he is.”

  “I’m on it,” Sadie said. “Photojournalist-slash-newspaperwoman.”

  “Don’t say anything. Just let me do all the talking.” She spotted him standing at the coffeepot. “There he is now. Just hang back a minute until I get him engaged. Try to get the front of his face.” Locking her eyes on the man who had failed so miserably to help Cade’s case, Blair headed toward him.

  Sadie hung back a few steps behind Blair and watched as she approached the man. She could only see him from behind, but something about him was familiar.

  Then he turned, and she knew where she’d seen him before.

  The wedding. He’d been the man with Ann Clark, holding her as if they were lovers!

  She quickly brought the camera to her face to cover it and began flashing pictures.

  Her heart hammered as she heard Blair asking him if he had any comments on why he failed to find Cade when he’d done the original search of Ann Clark’s house.

  “If I recall, one of Cape Refuge’s finest was also searching the house. Why don’t you ask him?” he said.

  “I have,” Blair said. “He told us that you were the one who searched the basement. I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t have seen the scrape marks on the concrete floor in front of the bookcase. I was there myself, and it was very clear that the shelves had been moved because something was behind them. Why would a trained detective fail to notice that?”

  Sadie turned away and pretended to be adjusting her camera. Her hands trembled so badly that she almost dropped it.

  What did this mean? If this man was the detective who searched Ann’s house, it was no wonder they hadn’t found Cade.

  He must have known. He must have been helping her.

  And he had seemed familiar at the wedding because she had seen him before, in Karen’s hospital room after the kidnapping.

  She couldn’t stand here and take the chance of his seeing and recognizing her, so she took off for the exit door. Stepping outside, she waited for Blair just under the overhang. Lightning bolted nearby and thunder cracked behind it.

  Panic sent her mind racing. The accomplice was a cop! And if he saw her face, he would remember that she’d seen them.

  Frightened, she dashed out into the rain and got into Blair’s Volvo.

  After a moment, Blair came out, looking for her. “Sadie, what’s wrong with you? I asked you to take pictures.”

  “Blair, it’s him!”

  Blair got in and stared at her. “Him who?”

  “The accomplice. The one I saw Ann Clark with. He’s the one!”

  “Detective Hull? Are you sure?”

  “Positive. Blair, he’s the one. He was working with her, helping her, and that’s why he didn’t find Cade that day.”

  Blair looked back at the door, and for a moment Sadie feared she would go back in. Then she started the engine and pulled out of her space.

  “Okay, we’re going to the hospital. We’re going to tell Cade and the FBI. If Detective Hull is who we think he is, he’s about to have a big surprise.”


  Joe McCormick sat in Cade’s room when Blair reached the hospital. She burst in without knocking, Sadie on her heels. “Cade, you’re not going to believe this!”

  Cade sat up. “What, Blair?”

  She stood over him, breathless. “We know who the accomplice was. Tell them, Sadie.”

  Cade regarded the girl, who looked as if she’d been up all night. “I went to a wedding with Trevor Beal . . . it was his cousin’s—”

  “Skip ahead,” Blair blurted. “He doesn’t care about the cousin.”

  Sadie tried again. “Ann Clark was there. I stumbled on her in the garden. She was with a man, kissing him.”

  Cade frowned. “Who was it?”

  Blair took over. “She didn’t know him. But just now, Sadie and I went to Savannah Police Precinct Three to interview Detective Hull for the paper. And the minute Sadie saw him she recognized him.”

  Cade’s mouth fell open, and he looked at Joe. “Hull?”

  Joe took a step toward Sadie. “Are you absolutely sure?”

  “Positive. They didn’t come to the wedding together, but they snuck away together.”

  Cade’s face looked stricken as he stared at Blair. “No way. Hull’s too good a detective to do something so stupid.”

  But Joe didn’t seem so sure. He got up and ran his hand over his just-shaved head. “He was the one who searched the basement when we walked through the house, Cade. He made sure I would search the upstairs. If I’d gone down there, I would have seen the scrape marks and looked behind the bookcase. Any cop would have.”

  The color was draining from Cade’s face. “So he missed it. It doesn’t mean he was involved.”

  Blair’s eyes flashed with conviction. “Cade, last night when we found your bloody bandage in the trash, we took it to the police. Hull kept it, then stalled like crazy. He was probably calling her, warning her to get you out of there. I heard her on the phone when I broke in. She was saying she couldn’t move you herself, even if she drugged you.”

  Cade shook his head. “You don’t know that she was talking to him.”

  Joe started pacing. “I wondered how Ann got your unlisted home number. A cop could have gotten it for her. And when the first baby was taken from here in Savannah, Hull was the one in charge of the case. He could have been destroying evidence as he pretended to search for it.”

  “You’re jumping to conclusions! So he was having an affair with Ann, that doesn’t mean he’s guilty of murder and kidnapping!”

  Blair gaped at him. “Cade, if Ann was involved in the kidnapping, then he was too. He may even be the one who shot her husband, if she didn’t do it herself.”

  Cade stared down at his bandaged leg. “This can’t be. No cop would have shot me.”

  “A crooked cop might, Cade!” Blair bent down, her face close to his. “Cade, add things up! If he is involved, then maybe he has the baby.”

  Cade sat for a moment, his eyes transfixed with possibilities.

  Finally, he threw back the covers. “I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to tell the FBI. I want to be there when they question him.”

  “Cade, you can’t leave,” Blair said. “Your leg . . .” He gritted his teeth as he moved his leg to the floor. “I’m fine,” he grunted. “Just get me some crutches.”

  “But you need the IV,” Blair said. “The antibiotics. . . . Cade, just talk to the FBI on the phone and let them handle it.”

  “No,” he said. “This is personal, Blair. I’m not a spectator in this. Sadie, will you go find someone who can get me a pair of crutches? Tell them I’m leaving. I’ll sign whatever I need to, but I’m outta here.”

  As Sadie left the room, Blair stood in front of him. “Cade, you’re the only witness to these crimes. Hull—or whoever Ann’s accomplice was—still wants you dead.”

  Cade wasn’t listening. “I’ll go straight to the FBI, Blair. I’m not going to compromise the investigation. But I can’t stand back on the sid
elines and watch. And if Hull was involved, I have to know for sure.”


  She’s following us, Cade.” Joe muttered the statement with dread. “That woman never quits.”

  Cade looked out Joe’s back window. The rain hadn’t slowed Blair any. She drove so close behind them that he feared she’d skid and hit them at the next red light. He sighed and turned back around. “Let her follow. They won’t let her anywhere close to the house.”

  They had found out that Agent Tavist was at Ann Clark’s house, directing the search for evidence that would lead them to any accomplices and, hopefully, to the babies. He had called ahead and told Tavist he was coming and that he had some information. Tavist had left word that the agents were to let him in.

  Joe couldn’t get much closer to the house than Blair could since so many cars blocked the driveway. “Just stay here and I’ll go in,” Cade said.

  Joe gave him a worried look. “Sure you can walk on those things in the rain?”

  Cade wasn’t sure, but he was going to give it his best shot. “I’ll be fine.” Carefully, he pulled his leg out of the car and pulled himself up on the crutches. There was no way he could carry an umbrella, and he knew the rain would soak his bandages. He would just have to hurry.

  Blair got out of her car when she saw him emerge. “Cade, you need help. You could slip.”

  “I’m okay, Blair. Just wait in the car.”

  An agent came forward with an umbrella and held it over him as he hobbled up the porch and into the house. He got in and stood on the entrance mat, waiting for Tavist.

  The man came through the house and shook Cade’s hand. “Good to see you up, Cade. After last night, I didn’t expect to see you out of bed for a while.”

  Cade looked around at the house where he had been held. “I have some information that may or may not be helpful.” He told the agent about Hull’s involvement with Ann Clark, and Joe’s suspicions about his part in the investigation.

  “I don’t know what it all means,” Cade said. “I’ve known Hull for a long time. I’ve trusted him. I find it hard to believe he’d be involved in something so criminal. But it has to be looked into.”

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