Words From The Past
ASH STOOD AT my hospital door, his face an unreadable mask, hands shoved into his jean pockets as he waited for me to respond.
I scanned the ominous note in my hand. One is such a lonely number. Two make a couple. Enjoy it while it lasts.
It wasn't typed, like the others, but it was the same cream stationary with the same watermark, the same tone as the Midnight Murderer.
Lucky hadn't killed my parents.
The killer was still alive. And now the man I'd fallen in love with had a confession to make, even as his scent lingered on the note I held. I stuffed it under my blanket.
Bridgette stood. "I'm going to go call my parents and let them know you're doing better."
She left the room and Ash took the seat next to me.
We hadn't talked since I told him the truth about my double identity, that I was both Catelyn and Cat. My head spun, pain pounding behind my eyes and a buzzing in my ears distracting me from his voice.
I looked up at his dark brown bedroom eyes, his black locks of hair that always looked like he'd been running his hands through them, the dimpled chin, the face I couldn't get out of my head. I nodded. "Sorry. My head's still not on straight." Being unconscious for a week does that to a girl. I still couldn't believe I'd lost a week of my life, a week I'd never get back.
He swallowed and straightened his shoulders, pulling a rumpled piece of paper out of his pocket. "We didn't meet by accident."
I stilled my heart, breathing deeply and telling myself to give him a chance to explain. "What do you mean?"
He handed me the paper. Palms sweating, I opened the note and skimmed it, the large loops of my mother's writing familiar to me in a way that made my gut tighten.
Meet me at my office tomorrow. There is something you need to know. Tell no one.
The letter was dated the day before she'd been killed. I held it up, glancing at the front and back to make sure I'd read everything. "Ash, what is this?"
"I hoped you could tell me," he said. "A few months ago, my mom asked me to take some of my old clothes to a homeless shelter. I found the letter in a coat. Why would Alice have wanted to meet me?"
"No idea. Did you know her?"
He shook his head.
"Then how'd you recognize her name?"
"She…" He paused. "Your parents' death was big news."
"Right." But what were you about to say?
"I had my private investigator do some digging," he continued. "He found you, and I arranged to run into you."
My head ached with anger. "So you could interrogate me?"
"So I could get to know you." He grabbed my hand and squeezed. A heavy sorrow dwelled in his eyes. A cold truth rang in his words. "I don't know why your mother wanted to meet me. But I can't help feeling—if I'd found that letter earlier, if I'd talked with her, maybe she'd still be alive. Maybe I could have stopped it."
"I don't know. I thought if I got to know her daughter, maybe I'd understand. But I never expected to fall in love. I never expected you." He brushed a strand of hair from my face.
I smirked. "How long have you been rehearsing that speech?"
He looked like a kid caught sneaking candy. "Since I left the room."
"It's nice. But self-contradicting."
His eyebrows jumped. "What?"
"You arranged to meet me, but didn't expect me?"
He chuckled. "Well, a guy's got to try, right?"
I patted his hand. "You'll do better next time."
He gave me puppy eyes. "So there's a next time?"
"Depends. Why are you telling me this now?"
He shrugged. "You told me about Cat."
"And how do you feel about that?"
"Hurt. Because secrets hurt. I never want to hurt you, Catelyn."
I sighed. "Are you okay with me being Cat?"
"I am. Are you okay with me setting up our meeting?"
He grinned. "Is this the part where we hug?"
"And the romantic soundtrack kicks in." I leaned forward to hug him, but my head started to spin. "Whoa. Sorry."
"I'll settle for this." He kissed my mouth, fully and deeply, cupping my face in his hands. He tasted like peppermint.
And then the taste turned bitter.
I pulled back, a ringing in my ears. "I… I have… something…"
"Cat, are you okay?'
"Catelyn… call me Catelyn." My head felt stuffed full of cotton balls, leaving no room for thought. My hands flapped around, as if searching for something. The stationary. The stationary that smelled like peppermint and cigars. I pulled it from below my blanket and passed it to Ash. "The Midnight Murderer is still alive. He sent this."