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CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE: the flowers

At home, she kicked off her shoes in her foyer, reveling in the feeling of her feet being free after so many hours in the car. Her leg still ached and throbbed, and her lower back was stiff from the long drive.

As promised, on her kitchen table was a large manila envelope containing the Ginger Blackwell file. Next to it lay a bundle of pink wildflowers, each one with four rounded petals and tiny yellow flutes at its center. Limestone bittercress. Her grandmother had taught her the actual names of most of the wildflowers that grew in rural Pennsylvania. These started blooming in March and were her favorite. Josie smiled as she picked them up.

She found a vase for the flowers, poured herself a glass of red wine, and sat down at the table. The Ginger Blackwell file was remarkably thin for a case that had garnered so much attention. She sifted through pages’ worth of tips that had been faxed from Denton PD to the state police, ranging from vague (a brown-haired lady lurking outside of an elementary school in New York) to the bizarre (a woman claimed to have seen Ginger in a dream before). None were particularly useful, and all of them—at least, the ones that sounded sane enough to check out—had been investigated and dismissed. There were notes about where Ginger had been found and by whom. An Ohio driver passing through Pennsylvania on Route 80 had seen her struggling to stand up on the side of the road and stopped. He called 911 and the state police found her. The notes said she was “bound at the arms with tape.”

Josie shuffled the contents of the folder until she found two photographs. One was of the area where she’d been found and the other was of Ginger sitting on a hospital bed. The photo sent a cold shock through Josie. Sure, it had been six years since Ginger Blackwell returned from her ordeal, but the girl in the photo looked like a terrorized shell of

the woman Josie had met that morning. Her auburn hair was matted and shot through with dried leaves and small twigs, her skin was pale almost to the point of looking blue. Dull eyes peeked from above hollowed-out cheeks, her expression as vacant as June Spencer’s had been.

She was naked from the waist down. Her upper body, from just below her hips to her neck, was wrapped so tightly with tape that the outline of her hands were only just visible as two small bumps.

“No way she did this to herself,” Josie mumbled.

Josie paged through the rest of what was there, looking for fingerprint reports—surely they had tried lifting prints from the duct tape—but there was nothing. Ginger’s statement was there, but there were no reports from investigators visiting all local oncology units to talk to female patients. Had they not investigated at all? Perhaps those reports hadn’t made it into the file, or had been removed once the investigation concluded?

“Seriously?” Josie said to herself as she reached the end of the stack of pages. There were no medical records. She paged through the entire thing again. No log of the rape kit. No log of injuries. No crime lab results from the rape kit. No photos of Ginger’s injuries. No photos of the duct tape, or of Ginger after it was removed. The cold fingertips of fear scuttled over her. This went beyond shoddy police work. You didn’t omit the results of a rape kit in a sexual assault abduction case.

And then she finally realized what had bothered her from the moment she’d read about the investigation. Why would the police come out and say that Ginger’s case was a hoax? Why not just quietly let it go cold without any leads if they wanted the problem to disappear? And what problem was that? What could the medical records or DNA results from the rape kit have revealed to warrant omitting them from the file?

The sound of her front door opening made her jump. Luke’s laughter filled the room. He stood in the doorway. “It’s me,” he said.

She put a hand over her pounding heart. “You scared me.” “I’m sorry.”

The last sip of red wine had sloshed over the contents of the Blackwell file. She rushed to the counter and got some paper towels to blot it. Luke watched her with a mildly amused look on his face. “You sure were engrossed in that file. Did you forget I was coming over?”

She got the last drops of moisture off the pages, although not the red stain, and stuffed the pages back into the envelope. “No,” she snapped. “I didn’t.”

He stepped closer and hooked an arm around her waist, pulling her

in. He smelled of soap and aftershave. “Did you like the flowers?” She softened as his lips tickled her neck. “You know I did.”

An hour later they were eating dinner in her bed. Luke had ordered fancy takeout from the restaurant that Solange, Dirk Spencer’s ex- girlfriend, worked at and brought it with him, complete with plastic forks to go with the white foam takeout containers. She watched him devour more lobster ravioli than she could eat in a week.

“Do you know anyone in the forensic division?” Josie asked, catching him between mouthfuls.

“Where?” he asked. “You mean in the state crime lab?” “Yeah, didn’t you used to be stationed out by Greensburg?”

He nodded, putting his empty container on the nightstand and lying across the foot of the bed, one hand propping his head up while the other stroked her uninjured calf.

“Near there, yeah,” he said. “Why?” “So, do you know anyone in the lab?”

His fingers stopped moving. She looked up over her takeout container long enough to see a shadow cross his face. “What is it?” she asked.

“I might know someone there.”

She wiggled her foot and inched her toes toward his chest, tickling his rib cage with her big toe. “Might?”

His hand moved further up to her inner thigh. “Well, I’d have to find out if they’re still working there. Not to mention—again—that I shouldn’t be pulling files, or strings, for you.”

She put her takeout container to one side and stretched her body closer to his roving fingers. “I wouldn’t ask unless it was really important.”

His mouth followed his fingers with breathy kisses along the insides of her legs. “Is this about that Blackwell file?”

An involuntary moan escaped her lips. “Yeah. I need the uh, report, uh the… results of the…”

As his mouth reached her center, she lost her ability to speak. He lifted his head for a moment, a wicked grin on his face. “If I promise to ask about it, do you promise not to talk about the case for the rest of the night?”

She palmed his head and pushed his face back down. “Yes,” she

breathed. “Oh God, yes.”

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Written by Amazing Thing Admin

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CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO: house

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR: Luke