Her thought was interrupted as she kicked a small object that had been left in the middle of the floor.
Automatically glancing down she came to a sharp halt, her breath locked in her chest as she leaned over to pick up the small doll with the mass of tangled blond hair.
It was covered in dust, and the clothes were rumpled, but Annie had a vivid memory of dancing through the house with the doll clutched in her hand.
The sun had been shining and her father was laughing as he watched her silly antics.
The sound of Rafe’s deep voice broke her out of the past, although the precious feelings of childish joy refused to be completely dismissed.
“This house should be a place of horror, but I had such good memories,” she muttered, her attention locked on the doll that looked as lost and broken as she felt since returning to Newton.
He moved to stand next to her, his hands clenching as if he was battling the urge to reach out and touch her. “You loved your father?”
“Very much,” she admitted without hesitation, lifting her head to meet his searching gaze. “I know you must think it’s twisted, but he was always kind and patient and funny when we were together.”
“I don’t think it’s twisted at all,” he protested. “Tell me about him.” He held up a hand when she frowned. “I mean, tell me about him as your father.”
Expecting the usual condemnation, Annie was caught off guard by his gentle question.
No one had ever asked her about Don White as something other than the psycho serial killer.
Tentatively she allowed herself to return to the past, the doll unconsciously pressed to her chest. “He always had two Oreo cookies and a glass of milk waiting for me on that table when I came home from school.” She nodded toward the shrouded piece of furniture situated near the door. She hadn’t eaten an Oreo cookie since she’d left Newton. “And he went with me to the movies on Saturday afternoon just because I said I wanted to be an actress when I grew up. And every Sunday morning he took me to the restaurant for pancakes.” Bittersweet pain sliced through her heart. “I don’t understand how the same man could be so evil.”
“He was sick, Annie, not evil,” Rafe murmured.
She hunched a shoulder. “Is there a difference?”
“Yes. I’ve seen men in battle,” he said, a hard edge in his voice hinting at memories that were as dark and painful as her own. “Some are just naturally cruel. They enjoy causing pain because it’s a basic part of their nature.” His jaw clenched. “And there are others who’ve been ruined. By life. By war. By . . . fate. They do what they do because they can’t help themselves.”
Annie studied the lean, fiercely handsome face. How did he do it? How did he always know exactly what to say?
It was freaky.
“Thank you,” she breathed.
He cocked a brow. “For what?”
“Most people don’t want to think the Newton Slayer could have any redeeming qualities,” she said, having learned from the second she’d been rescued that her father was public enemy number one. “I usually feel guilty for not hating him.
He destroyed so many lives.”
He brushed a hand over her tangled curls, careful to keep
his touch light. “He was your father.”
“Yes.” He’d been more than that. He’d been her entire family. She gave another shiver. “We should go.” He dropped his hand and nodded, keeping a small distance between them as she headed out the door and across the
“My truck is at the end of the drive,” he murmured as they reached the overgrown yard. “I’ll tell Teagan to join us at the motel.”
She had a vague impression of a large man who appeared from the shadows to speak with Rafe before he was jogging toward her Jeep, but her concentration centered on keeping her feet moving forward.
Christ, she was tired.
Rafe was back at her side by the time she reached the edge of the road, opening the door to his truck and helping her to climb into the seat before he was rounding the hood and taking his place behind the steering wheel.
In silence he started the engine, flipping the heater on high before performing a U-turn. There was a brief stop as he waited for his friend to approach the truck holding her purse that he’d obviously retrieved from her Jeep. Then, placing the bag in her lap, he shoved the truck in gear and headed back to town at a pace far slower than the one she’d used to get to the house.
Annie clutched her purse, only vaguely aware of her surroundings. She had the impression of genuine leather and a dashboard that had all the bells and whistles. The sort of truck that would be functional for work around a ranch but no doubt cost more than she made in a year. But her gaze remained glued to the dark, chiseled profile of her companion.
Safely tucked in his car with the warm air beginning to ease her shivers, there was nothing to distract her from Rafe’s sheer male beauty.
It was . . . nice.
Almost as if she was a normal girl being driven home by a man who she found intensely attractive.
A damned shame her brief daydream didn’t last for long.
All too soon they were back in town and he was turning into the drive of the motel. Rafe pulled to a halt in the center of the parking lot and glanced in her direction.
“Do you remember where you lived before coming to Newton?”
She froze at the abrupt question, too startled to tell him it was none of his damned business.
“Most of my memories from my early childhood are fuzzy. I think my dad said that we lived overseas, but it’s really just a blur,” she admitted.
It was weird. She had such a clear recollection of her time in Newton. Time with her father. Her friends at the school she’d attended. Climbing on top of the house so she could see her father in the distant fields.
But she never could capture any memories of her days before coming to Newton or the days after she’d been found tied and blindfolded in the bomb shelter.
“Why do you ask?”
“I thought you might have some family who could come to give you support,” he smoothly explained.
Her gaze narrowed. She sensed there was more to his question than he was admitting, but she was too tired to try and search for any hidden meanings.
“There are just my foster parents, and I don’t want to worry them,” she said.
He reached into his rear pocket, pulling out his wallet.
“Then I want your promise you’ll call me if you need anything,” he commanded, handing her a small business card.
She took the card with a frown, asking the question that had been bothering her from the moment their paths had crossed.
“Why are you so determined to help me?” she demanded. “I’m a stranger.”
He held her wary gaze. “It’s what I do.”
“Something like that.” He pointed toward the business card. “My private cell number is printed on the back. Call me . . . any time, for any reason.”
Tucking the card in her purse, she crawled out of the truck and hurried to her motel room.