Authors: Elicia Hyder
I cut my eyes at him for several moments before begrudgingly leaning forward and taking a closer look. My eyes moved slowly from face to face until I settled on one that was very familiar. I tapped her picture. "I went to school with this girl." I said. "I remember Adrianne telling me about someone we went to school with who disappeared while I was away at college."
He nodded his head. "Leslie Ann Bryson. She disappeared in 2009 after getting off work at Chili's Bar and Grill."
I shuddered. "Are there any more girls from around here?"
He shook his head and pulled out a legal sized sheet of ledger paper. It was a timeline. A map was glued to the bottom of the sheet with red "X" marks and numbers scrawled on it. There had been two disappearances in Raleigh, two in Greensboro, two in Hickory, two around Winston-Salem, two around Statesville, and Leslie Ann Bryson in Asheville.
A light bulb flickered on in my brain.
I pointed at him. "You didn't move here for your girlfriend," I said. "You moved here because you believe the next victim is going to be from around here!"
He just stared at me.
I raised an eyebrow. "Why isn't this the FBI's problem?"
He closed the folder. "Well, the FBI just recently started looking into this as these cases being possibly related."
I closed my eyes and pressed my palms over them in frustration. "Nathan, why the hell did you have to come to Asheville? My life was so much less complicated before you showed up! Do you even have a girlfriend?"
"Yes. I didn't lie about that."
I smirked and shoved him hard in the shoulder. "Does she know you're using her as an alibi to be some kind of vigilante with a badge?"
"I'm not using her," he argued. "And I did move here for her. I don't know the next abduction will happen here. I don't even know if these crimes were all committed by the same person."
I pointed at him. "But you suspect it and you are using her. And now, you're trying to use me." I got to my feet and began to stalk across the room.
He followed and grabbed me around the waist before I could throw the front door open and insist that he leave. He pulled me back against his body and rested the side of his face against my hair. "Sloan, I'm just asking you to think about it," he said quietly in my ear.
His pheromones were making my head foggy and I suspected he knew it. I wrenched his arm off of my mid-section and pulled on the front door handle. "Go away, Nathan," I said as I pointed to the street.
His shoulders slumped and he moved toward the door.
"Wait," I said.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his shoulders straighten and his eyes widen with hope. I walked back to the living room, gathered up his files, and closed the folder. I rejoined him at the door and shoved the folder into his chest, forcing him backward over the threshold.
"Now, go away." I slammed the door in his face and tumbled the deadbolt.
* * *
Surprisingly, I didn't see Nathan at all the rest of the week. I thought for sure he would be waiting at my office door when I arrived for work the morning after I expelled him from my house, but he wasn't. He didn't call or text either. Not that I was disappointed.
On Friday after work, I met Adrianne at 12 Bones Smokehouse for dinner and drinks. She was waiting at the bar and flirting with the bartender when I arrived. Like me, it seemed Adrianne would be eternally single, but it wasn't for lack of suitors. Adrianne became more and more exotic with age. I felt sloppy in my work blouse, black pants, and heels next to her mile-long legs and eyelet lace party dress.
I slid onto the barstool next to her. "I hate you."
She laughed and tossed her hair over her shoulder. "What did I do?"
"Look at you." I motioned to her evening outfit. "I look like I just came from a meeting with the school board."
She nudged me with her elbow. "
you just come from a meeting with the school board?"
"No. That was on Monday."
We both laughed.
The bartender walked toward us. "What are you drinking tonight, Sloan?"
"Beer," I answered. "Rebel IPA if you've got it on tap this week. Thanks, Gary."
He nodded and turned away.
"Drinking the hard stuff tonight?" She traced her finger around the rim of her martini and waited expectantly for a reason.
I groaned. "It's been a week from hell."
"I figured as much. I haven't heard from you in days," she said.
I sighed as the bartender placed the frothy amber liquid in front of me. "I know. I'm sorry. I've been so swamped and so stressed out."
She lifted the skewered olive from her glass and popped it between her cherry lips. "Why? What's going on?"
I took a long swig of ice cold beer. "So, obviously, I helped the detective find that little kid. Then, the very next day, he showed up at my house with this huge folder full of a bunch of missing girls. He wants me to help him with the case. He thinks it might be a serial killer."
She blinked in disbelief. "He wants you to investigate a serial killer?"
I gripped the frosty glass. "Pretty much."
"What did you tell him?"
I laughed and took another long drink. "Oh, I kicked him out of my house."
She nodded. "Good girl. You don't need to get involved in that stuff."
I dropped my face into my hands and whined. "But he makes it so hard! I'm so freaking attracted to this man it's infuriating. And"—I gripped her arm—"one of the victims is his sister. His
She raised an eyebrow and turned toward me on her seat. "You didn't tell me you had a thing for him."
I dropped my face into my hands again. "I don't want to have a thing for him, but I
"What's his name?" she asked.
I straightened and looked at her. "Detective Nathan McNamara," I said. "Even his stupid name is sexy."
She laughed and her eyes widened. "Oh yeah. He's the blonde guy who was standing next to you on the news."
I sighed. "Yes."
"He is hot.
hot." She sipped her drink. "Are you sleeping with him?"
She shrugged her shoulders and laughed. "I would be."
"This has been the worst week ever." I groaned as I raked my fingers through my hair.
"So, the hot cop wants you to hunt down a serial killer," she said. "How would you even do that?"
I shook my head. "I
"Are you sure? You didn't think you could find that little girl either, but you did. Maybe you can find a serial killer too and you just don't know it," she said.
I pointed at her. "Just two seconds ago, you told me to stay away from it."
She shrugged. "That was before I knew all the facts."
"There is another fact." I tilted my glass toward her. "Remember that girl from our school who went missing a few years ago?"
Her eyebrows lifted. "She's one of them?"
"Is she dead?"
I leaned my elbows on the bar top and cradled my face in my hands. "Adrianne, they're all dead."
She shifted uncomfortably on her barstool. "That's big."
"I know," I said.
"What are you going to do?"
I shook my head. "Nothing. I'm not going to do anything. I'm going to drink my beer and enjoy my peaceful, quiet little life."
She laughed and drained the last of her martini. "Finish your beer. We're getting out of here."
"Where are we going?" I looked at my watch. It wasn't even eight o'clock.
She pointed to my outfit. "We are going to your house so you can change into proper Friday night clothes, and then we are going out."
"We are out, and I need to get some food in my stomach," I argued.
She shook her head and signaled the bartender for our check. "No ma'am. We are going out and getting your mind off of dead girls, serial killers, and the hot detective."
After several wardrobe changes and having my hair yanked and pulled till my scalp nearly bled, we arrived at The Social Lounge. It was the closest thing Asheville had to a swanky, upscale bar. My dress, which looked like a black satin garbage bag cinched at the waist with a jeweled belt, kept sneaking its way up my backside. Adrianne had given me the dress two birthdays prior, and it had hung in my closet ever since. My heels were too tall and my makeup was too thick. But, my hair did look amazing. Sometimes it was a really good thing to have a top hair stylist for a best friend.
We made our way up to the rooftop and navigated through what appeared to be Manhattan transplants until we found two empty bar stools at the bar. When our drinks were delivered, I looked at my Rebel IPA and at her martini and scowled. "I don't see the difference here as opposed to an hour ago when we were paying a lot less for the same drinks, and I was a
She winked at me over the rim of her glass as she tilted it up to her glossy lips. "You look so good now our drinks might end up being free." She nodded toward the other side of the bar. "Those guys are cute."
I followed the path of her eyes. At the far left end of the bar, two thirty-something-year-old frat boys were speaking in hushed tones as they stared at us—no, as they stared at Adrianne. One was tall and wiry with blonde hair and a chiseled face. The other was shorter with dark, wavy hair and overly perfect teeth. He gave me the creeps.
I shook my head. "No. Absolutely not."
She rolled her eyes. "They're cute. And they look like they could afford to pay our tab at the end of the night." She smiled over at them.
I sighed and drank my beer.
"I'll have what she's having," a voice said to the bartender from behind me. I saw Adrianne's eyes widen and then dart away. "A beer girl, huh?" Nathan wedged his body between my chair and the older man seated next to me.
I covered my eyes with my hand. "Seriously?"
"You called him here," Adrianne teased as she nudged me with her elbow.
His lips spread into a wide smile. "You were talking about me, huh?"
I smirked. "Oh, it wasn't flattering." I drained half of my glass before putting it back down.
He leaned down close to my ear. "I'm kinda surprised I haven't heard from you this week."
His voice disturbed the butterflies that had taken up residence in my stomach since he had moved to town, but I refused to let him know it.
I glanced up at him. "Was I not clear enough for you the other day when I slammed my front door in your face?"
The bartender placed a beer in front of Nathan. "Do you want to start a tab?"
Nathan shook his head and put a twenty dollar bill on the counter. "No thanks. Take care of these three drinks and keep the change."
"I'm not inviting you to join us," I told him.
He shook his head. "I wasn't expecting you to."
Adrianne reached across me and offered him her hand. "I'm Adrianne. Sloan's best friend. You're Detective McNamara."
"Just Nathan or Nate," he said as he shook her hand. "It's nice to meet you."
"You can join us," she said with a smile. "My invitation."
He laughed and looked at me. "As tempting as that sounds, I can't. Thank you though." He looked back and waved to someone. I knew it was his girlfriend before I even turned around.
Shannon Green, the girl I had wished syphilis on in high school, was walking toward us when I spun around in my chair.
I looked at Adrianne. "Is this really happening right now?"
"Sloan?" Shannon hesitated as she approached.
Nathan's eyes darted between us. "You two know each other?"
I laughed and crossed my legs. "Oh yes. We know each other very well." I pointed at her. "This is your girlfriend?"
"Uh oh," I heard Adrianne mumble next to me.
"Yes," Shannon answered, so bubbly I wanted to smack her. She draped her arms around Nathan's neck and leaned her body into his. "Isn't he wonderful?"
"He's actually a pain in the ass." I looked at him. "I thought you said your girlfriend was a reporter?"
Shannon tossed her hair over her shoulder. "I am a reporter."
Adrianne laughed. "You're the traffic girl!"
Shannon put her hand on her hip. "I'm not
the traffic girl!" she protested. She started counting on her fingers. "I have to put together news stories, and interview people, and lots of stuff."
Adrianne nodded, sarcasm dripping from her eyes. "I'm sure that it's very challenging to keep up with the traffic of the Asheville metropolis."
Shannon wanted to speak, but her mouth couldn't find any words. Her eyes darted from Adrianne to me and then finally back at Nathan. He was doing his best to try and look offended on her behalf, but he wasn't very successful. Finally, Shannon turned and stalked off.
I chuckled quietly to myself and turned back around in my seat. I picked up what was left of my beer and tipped it toward Nathan. "Thanks for the drink, Detective."
When they were gone, Adrianne gripped my bicep so hard she left fingerprints. "Hold up. Wait a second. He's dating Shannon Green? Out of all the women in this city,
his girlfriend?" She was laughing so hard she doubled over in her seat.
"Apparently so." I sighed and shook my head.
Tears leaked from her eyes as she slapped the bar and laughed next to me. "How does this stuff happen to you? That's the funniest thing I've ever seen in my life!"
I buried my face in my hands and couldn't help but laugh. "I have the worst luck in the history of the world." I finished off my glass and held it up so the bartender would see I desperately needed another one.
Adrianne draped her arm across my shoulders. "Well, look on the bright side," she said. "You finally have an opportunity for payback. Now you have the chance to hook up with
"When you said, 'you're the traffic girl' I about died," I said, trying to control my giggles.
She made a serious face with overly pouty lips. "She really is a serious news reporter."
I nodded and grinned at her over my glass. "I know I couldn't get to work without her in the mornings."