Cul de Sac
Blake Pierce is author of the bestselling RILEY PAGE mystery series, which includes fourteen books (and counting). Blake Pierce is also the author of the MACKENZIE WHITE mystery series, comprising eleven books (and counting); of the AVERY BLACK mystery series, comprising six books; of the KERI LOCKE mystery series, comprising five books; of the MAKING OF RILEY PAIGE mystery series, comprising four books (and counting); of the KATE WISE mystery series, comprising five books (and counting); of the CHLOE FINE psychological suspense mystery, comprising four books (and counting); and of the JESSE HUNT psychological suspense thriller series, comprising four books (and counting).
An avid reader and lifelong fan of the mystery and thriller genres, Blake loves to hear from you, so please feel free to visit www.blakepierceauthor.com to learn more and stay in touch.
Copyright © 2018 by Blake Pierce. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Jacket image Copyright robsonphoto, used under license from Shutterstock.com.
BOOKS BY BLAKE PIERCE
A JESSIE HUNT PSYCHOLOGICAL SUSPENSE SERIES
THE PERFECT WIFE (Book #1)
THE PERFECT BLOCK (Book #2)
THE PERFECT HOUSE (Book #3)
THE PERFECT SMILE (Book #4)
CHLOE FINE PSYCHOLOGICAL SUSPENSE SERIES
NEXT DOOR (Book #1)
A NEIGHBOR’S LIE (Book #2)
CUL DE SAC (Book #3)
SILENT NEIGHBOR (Book 34)
KATE WISE MYSTERY SERIES
IF SHE KNEW (Book #1)
IF SHE SAW (Book #2)
IF SHE RAN (Book #3)
IF SHE HID (Book #4)
IF SHE FLED (Book #5)
THE MAKING OF RILEY PAIGE SERIES
WATCHING (Book #1)
WAITING (Book #2)
LURING (Book #3)
TAKING (Book #4)
RILEY PAIGE MYSTERY SERIES
ONCE GONE (Book #1)
ONCE TAKEN (Book #2)
ONCE CRAVED (Book #3)
ONCE LURED (Book #4)
ONCE HUNTED (Book #5)
ONCE PINED (Book #6)
ONCE FORSAKEN (Book #7)
ONCE COLD (Book #8)
ONCE STALKED (Book #9)
ONCE LOST (Book #10)
ONCE BURIED (Book #11)
ONCE BOUND (Book #12)
ONCE TRAPPED (Book #13)
ONCE DORMANT (Book #14)
ONCE SHUNNED (Book #15)
MACKENZIE WHITE MYSTERY SERIES
BEFORE HE KILLS (Book #1)
BEFORE HE SEES (Book #2)
BEFORE HE COVETS (Book #3)
BEFORE HE TAKES (Book #4)
BEFORE HE NEEDS (Book #5)
BEFORE HE FEELS (Book #6)
BEFORE HE SINS (Book #7)
BEFORE HE HUNTS (Book #8)
BEFORE HE PREYS (Book #9)
BEFORE HE LONGS (Book #10)
BEFORE HE LAPSES (Book #11)
BEFORE HE ENVIES (Book #12)
AVERY BLACK MYSTERY SERIES
CAUSE TO KILL (Book #1)
CAUSE TO RUN (Book #2)
CAUSE TO HIDE (Book #3)
CAUSE TO FEAR (Book #4)
CAUSE TO SAVE (Book #5)
CAUSE TO DREAD (Book #6)
KERI LOCKE MYSTERY SERIES
A TRACE OF DEATH (Book #1)
A TRACE OF MUDER (Book #2)
A TRACE OF VICE (Book #3)
A TRACE OF CRIME (Book #4)
A TRACE OF HOPE (Book #5)
Jerry Hilyard pulled his Mercedes Benz into his driveway just after one o’clock on a Monday afternoon and smiled wide. There was nothing better than owning your own business and being rich enough to call it a day whenever you wanted.
Jerry looked forward to the look of surprise on his wife’s face when he told her he was taking her out for a surprise lunch. He wanted to make it a brunch, but he knew Lauren would still be nursing a hangover from the night before. She had stayed out way too late, going, for reasons he still did not understand, to her twenty-year high school reunion. By lunchtime, she should be less cranky—and maybe even up for joining him for a Bloody Mary or two.
He smiled when he thought of the good news that he would be sharing with her: he was planning a two-week getaway to Greece. Just him and her, without the kids. They’d be leaving next month.
Jerry walked to the door, briefcase in hand, excited about how the afternoon might turn out. He found the door locked, which wasn’t unusual. She had never been a trusting sort of woman, even in a neighborhood as well-to-do as theirs.
As he unlocked the door and made his way into the kitchen to pour himself a glass of wine, he realized that he could not hear the bedroom television. The house was just as quiet as when he had left. Maybe the hangover had not yet run its course.
He wondered how the reunion had gone last night. She hadn’t really spoken about it that morning. He had been in her same graduating class but he loathed sentimental nonsense like high school reunions. All it was at its core was an excuse for classmates to get together ten or twenty years later to see who was doing better than everyone else. But once Lauren’s friends had convinced her to go, she’d gotten almost excited about seeing some of her old classmates. Or so it had seemed. The intake of alcohol last night indicated that it might have been a rough night all around.
These thoughts were parading through Jerry’s head as he made his way through the upstairs hallway toward their bedroom. But as he neared the doorway, he stopped.
It was very quiet.
Sure, this was to be expected if Lauren was indeed taking a nap and had not put on Netflix to finish binging whichever show had been her fancy for the week. But this was a different kind of quiet…a total lack of movement or motion that seemed out of place. It was like a silence he could hear—a silence he could literally feel.
Something’s wrong, he thought.
It was a frightening thought but still, he moved toward the door quickly. He had to know, had to make sure…
Make sure what?
All he saw at first was red. On the bedsheets, on the walls, a dark red so thick and dark that it was almost black in places.
A scream pushed itself up through his lungs and out of his mouth. He didn’t know if he should go running to her or downstairs to the phone.
In the end, he did neither. His legs gave out and the weight of his gut-wrenching screams took him to the floor, where he pounded his fists, where he tried to make sense of the horrific sight in front of him.
Chloe focused, narrowed her vision down the sight of the gun, and fired.
The recoil was gentle, the blast light and almost peaceful to her. She breathed deeply and fired again. It was easy; it came naturally to her now.
She could not see the target at the other end of the indoor range, but she knew she’d made two good shots. She was able to get a sense about these things lately. It was one of the ways she knew she was growing into the position as an agent. She was more comfortable with the sidearm, the stock and the trigger as familiar as her own hands when she could really get into the zone. In the past, she’d gone to the range only as a study of sorts, a way to improve and get better. But now, she enjoyed it. There was freedom to it, a weird release from firing at even just a paper target.
God knew she needed to feel that way as of late.
It had been a lackluster two weeks at work, leaving Chloe with nothing much to do but assisting others with data and research work. She’d nearly been pulled in to help a team with a small-time hacking sting and she’d been far too excited about it. It made her realize just how slow things had been for her as of late.
That’s how she ended up at the range. It wasn’t necessarily her ideal way to pass the time, but she knew she needed some practice. While she had been among the best in her class on her way through the academy, being transitioned from the Evidence Response Team to the Violent Crimes Program had made her realize that she could never be too sharp, too on top of her game.
As she fired off several more rounds into a target fifty yards away, she understood how people were drawn to it. You were absolutely alone, just you and your firearm and a target in the sights. There was something very Zen about it, the focus and the intent behind it. And then there was the pop of the gunshot in the open space. The one thing Chloe had always taken away from her time at the range was just how fluid the relationship between the human body and a sidearm could be. When focused, her Glock felt like a simple extension of her arm, something else she could control with her mind in the same way she controlled the movements of her fingers or arms. It was a cautionary example of how her gun should only be used when absolutely necessary because when you are trained to use it, it can start to feel almost too natural to squeeze the trigger.
When her session was over, she collected her targets and took stock. She had a surprising number of direct hits to the center of the target but a few stragglers to the outside, right along the edges of the paper.
She took a few pictures of the targets with her phone and made a few notes, ensuring that she would improve next time. She then tossed the paper targets and made her way out of the facility. As she did, she felt yet another thing that she assumed was so appealing to those who spent a great deal of time at the range. The feeling of numerous recoils thrumming through her hands and wrists felt peculiar, yet at the same time, pleasant in a way she could not quite describe.
As she made her way out through the lobby, she saw a familiar face coming through the door. It was Kyle Moulton, the man who had been assigned as her partner but also a man she had not seen much of over the last few weeks due to the slow caseload. She had a moment of school-girl panic when Moulton flashed a smile at her as the doors closed behind her.
“Agent Fine,” he said, with an almost sarcastic tone. They knew each other well enough to drop the Agent and just use first names. In fact, Chloe was certain there was some romantic tension brewing between them. She’d felt it on her end almost right away, from the moment she had seen him to the moment they had wrapped their first case three months ago.
“Agent Moulton,” she responded in kind.
“Blowing off steam or just passing the time?” he asked.
“A bit of both,” she said. “I’m just feeling restless lately, you know?”
“I do. Riding a desk doesn’t seem to do it for me, either. But…well, I didn’t know you frequented the gun range.”
“Just trying to stay sharp.”
“I see,” he said, smiling.
The silence that fell on them was the typical one that Chloe was getting used to. She hated to feel so conceited, but she was fairly certain he was feeling the same thing she was feeling. It was evident in every little glance they gave one another and the way Moulton could not look at her in the eyes for more than three seconds—like right now, in that moment, as they stood at the doorway of the shooting range.
“So look,” Moulton said. “This may sound stupid and it might even be a little reckless, but I was wondering if you’d like to have dinner with me tonight. Like, not as partners.”
Chloe was unable to keep the smile from jumping up on her face. She wanted to say something a little biting and sarcastic in response. Maybe a cliché “Well, it’s about time,” or something like that.
Instead, she settled for a much safer and genuine: “Yeah, I think I’d really like that.”
“If I’m being honest, I’ve wanted to ask you for a while now but…well, it was always so busy. And these last few weeks have been pretty much the opposite.”
“I’m glad you finally decided to ask me.”
That silence wrapped around them again and this time, he was able to meet her gaze without looking away. For a moment, she was pretty sure he was going to kiss her. But the moment passed and he nodded toward the doors.
“I’d better get to it,” he said. “Call me later to let me know where you’d like to eat.”
She stood there for a moment, watching him enter the range. As far as the start of some sort of relationship, it had been awkward. It was the equivalent of a nervous pre-teen standing around at a dance when she’d heard that some cute boy had his eye on her. It made her feel incredibly naïve and juvenile, so she walked away as quickly as possible.
It was nearing five o’clock and since she had nothing on her schedule, she simply decided to head home. There was no use in going back to her little cubicle only to watch the last fifteen minutes or so tick away. Thinking of the time, she then realized that she didn’t have much time to prepare for dinner with Moulton. She had no idea what time he preferred to have dinner but she assumed it would be sometime around seven—which gave her just a little more than two hours to figure out where to eat and what she was going to wear.
She hurried to the parking garage and got into her car. Here, she again fell into high-school-girl mode. What if they ended up in her car for some reason? It was pretty gross, considering she hadn’t bothered cleaning it since she and Steven had split up. And as she thought of Steven, she realized that was why she felt so awkward easing her feet back into the dating pool. She had only had one serious relationship before Steven, and then she and Steven had dated for four years before getting engaged. She wasn’t at all used to the dating scene and the idea of it seemed antiquated and, if she was being honest, a little scary.
She did her best to calm herself on her fifteen-minute commute to her apartment. She had no idea what Kyle Moulton’s dating history was like. He could be just as out of the loop and rusty as she was. Of course, judging from his looks, she doubted this was the case. Honestly, if she was basing it all on just his looks, she had no idea why he was interested in her.
Maybe he’s into girls with broken pasts and a tendency to throw themselves far too hard into their work, she thought. Guys find that sexy these days, right?
By the time she reached her street, her nerves had calmed quite a bit. The anxiety was slowly turning into excitement. It had been seven months since she had called it off with Steven. That was seven months without kissing a man, without having sex, without…
Let’s not jump the gun, she told herself as she fit her car into a parking spot at the end of her block.
She got out of the car, mentally running through what she had in her closet that would look nice but not too nice. She had a few ideas of what to wear, as well as a few ideas of where they could go for dinner, as she had been craving Japanese as of late. Some sushi would really hit the spot, actually, and—
As she walked to her front stoop, she saw a man sitting on the top step. He looked rather bored, his head propped up in one hand while he scrolled through his phone with the other.
Chloe slowed a bit and then came a complete stop. She knew this man. But there was no way he could be here, sitting on the steps to her apartment building.
There’s no way…
She took another slow step forward. The man finally noticed her and looked up. Their eyes met and when they did, Chloe felt her heart shudder.
The man on the steps was Aiden Fine—her father.
He was trying to sound normal. He was trying to make it sound as if it were a perfectly normal thing to have him show up on her step. Never mind the fact that he had been in prison for nearly twenty-three years, serving time for playing a hand in the murder of her mother. Sure, recent events that she herself had uncovered showed that he was likely innocent of those charges, but to Chloe the man would always be guilty.
But at the same time, she had a small yearning to go to him. Maybe to even hug him. There was no denying that seeing him here, out in the open and free, stirred up a huge range of emotions within her.
She didn’t dare move a step closer, though. She didn’t trust him and, worse than that, she did not fully trust herself.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Just wanted to come by and visit,” he said, getting to his feet.
A million questions swirled through her head. Chief among them was how he had found out where she lived. But she knew that anyone with an internet connection and stubborn determination could figure that out. Instead, she tried to be civil without being warm and inviting.
“How long have you been out?” she asked.
“A week and a half. I had to work up the nerve to come see you.”
She recalled the phone call she had made to Director Johnson when she had found that last piece of evidence two months ago—evidence that had apparently been more than enough to free her father. And now here he was. Because of her efforts. She wondered if he even knew what she had done for him.
“And this is exactly why I waited,” he said. “This…this silence between us. It’s awkward and unfair and…”
“Unfair? Dad, you’ve been in prison for most of my life…for a crime I now know you weren’t guilty of but didn’t seem to mind taking the fall for. Yes, it’s going to be awkward. And given the reason for your incarceration and the last few conversations we’ve had, I hope you understand if I don’t come to you, dancing and tossing flowers your way.”
“I absolutely get that. But…there’s so much time we’ve missed. You might be unable to feel that yet, being so young. But those years I wasted in prison, knowing what I sacrificed…time with you and Danielle…my own life…”
“You sacrificed those things for Ruthanne Carwile,” Chloe spat. “That was your choice.”
“It was. And it’s a regret I’ve had to live with for nearly twenty-five years.”
“So what do you want?” she asked.
She moved toward him and then past him, toward her door. It took more willpower than she thought to pass by him, to be that close to him.
“I was hoping we could grab dinner.”
“Just like that?”
“We have to start somewhere, Chloe.”
“No, actually we don’t.” She opened her door and turned back to him, looking him in the eyes for the first time. Her stomach was in knots and she was doing everything she could not to get emotional in front of him. “I need you to leave. And please don’t ever come back.”
He looked genuinely hurt but his eyes never left hers. “Do you really mean that?”
She wanted to say yes, but what came out of her mouth was “I don’t know.”
“Let me know if you change your mind. I have a place in—”
“I don’t want to know,” she interrupted. “If I want to get in touch, I’ll find you.”
He gave her a thin smile, but there was still some pain there. “Ah, that’s right. Working with the FBI now.”
And what happened with you and Mom is what led me down that path, she thought.
“Bye, Dad,” she said, and stepped through the door.
When it closed behind her, she did not bother looking back. Instead, she made it to the elevator as quickly as she could without appearing as if she were in a hurry. When the doors slid closed behind her and the elevator started going up, Chloe pressed her hands to her face and started to cry.
She stared into her closet, thinking very hard about calling Moulton and letting him know that she couldn’t make it tonight after all. She wouldn’t tell him the real reason why—that her father had gotten out of prison after spending twenty-three years there and had suddenly showed up on her doorstep. Certainly he’d understand the trauma of that, right?
But she decided that she was not going to let her father ruin her life. His shadow had hovered over far too much of her life already. And even something as small as canceling a date because of his presence was giving him too much power over her.
She called Moulton’s number and when it went to voicemail, she left her suggestion for a dinner spot. With that done, she took a quick shower and got dressed. As she was slipping into a pair of pants, her cell phone rang. She saw Moulton’s name on the display and her mind went to the worst scenarios first.
He’s changed his mind. He’s calling to cancel.
She actually believed this until the moment she answered the phone. “Hello?”
“So yeah, Japanese sounds good,” Moulton said. “Now, maybe you can tell because of the extreme lack of detail and follow-through, but I don’t do this much. So I don’t know if I come pick you up or if we just meet there…?”
“Pick me up, if you don’t mind,” she said, again thinking of the ragged state of her car. “There’s a pretty good place not too far from here.”
“Sounds good,” he said. “See you then.”
…I don’t do this much. Even though he’d admitted such a thing, Chloe still found it hard to believe.
She finished getting dressed, fussed with her hair a bit, and waited for a knock on the door.
Maybe it’ll be your father again, she told herself. Although really, if she was being honest, it wasn’t her own voice that was speaking to her. It was Danielle’s voice, condescending and confident.
I wonder if she knows he’s out yet, Chloe thought. My God, she’ll be absolutely furious.
She didn’t have time to dwell on this, though. Before she could, there was a knock at the door. For one paralyzing moment, she was sure it was her father. It made her freeze for a second, unwilling to answer it. But then she recalled how Moulton had been just as uncomfortable as she had been outside of the shooting range and she realized just how badly she wanted to see him—especially after the way the last few hours of her life had gone.
She answered the door, putting on her best smile. Moulton had one of his own. Maybe it was because they rarely saw one another outside of work, but Chloe found his smile sexy as hell. It also helped that while he had dressed rather plain—a button-down shirt and a pair of nice jeans—he looked incredibly handsome.
“Ready?” he said.
“Absolutely,” she said.
She closed the door behind her and they headed out into the hallway. Once again, there was that perfectly still silence between them, one that made her wish they were a bit further along. Even something as simple and innocent as him reaching out to hold her hand…she needed something.
And it was that simple need for human contact that showed her just how much she had been rocked by her father showing up.
It’s only going to get worse now that he’s out of prison, she thought as she and Moulton took the elevator down to the lobby.
But she was not going to let him ruin this date.
She pushed all thoughts of her father out of her mind as she and Moulton stepped out into a warm evening. And to her surprise, it actually worked.
For a while.