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Catherine Coulter - FBI 1 The Cove

1

SOMEONE WAS WATCHING her. She tugged on the black wig, flattening it against her ears, and quickly put on another coat of deep-red lipstick, holding the mirror up so she could see behind her.

The young Marine saw her face in the mirror and grinned at her. She jumped as if she'd been shot. Just stop it. He's harmless, he's just flirting. He couldn't be more than eighteen, his head all shaved, his cheeks as smooth as hers. She tilted the mirror to see more. The woman sitting beside him was reading a Dick Francis novel. In the seat behind them a young couple were leaning into each other, asleep.

The seat in front of her was empty. The Greyhound driver was whistling Eric Clapton's 'Tears in Heaven,' a song that always twisted up her insides. The only one who seemed to notice her was that young Marine, who'd gotten on at the last stop in Portland. He was probably going home to see his eighteen-year-old girlfriend. He wasn't after her, surely, but someone was. She wouldn't be fooled again.

They'd taught her so much. No, she'd never be fooled again.

She put the mirror back into her purse and fastened the flap. She stared at her fingers, at the white line where the wedding ring had been until three days ago. She'd tried to pull it off for the past six months but hadn't managed to do it. She had been too out of it even to fasten the Velcro on her sneakers-when they allowed her sneakers-much less work off a tight ring.

Soon, she thought, soon she would be safe. Her mother would be safe too. Oh, God, Noelle-sobbing in the middle of the night when she didn't know anyone could hear her. But without her there, they couldn't do a thing to Noelle. Odd how she rarely thought of Noelle as her mother anymore, not like she had ten years before, when Noelle had listened to all her teenage problems, taken her shopping, driven her to her soccer games. So much they'd done together. Before. Yes, before that night when she'd seen her father slam his fist into her mother's chest and she'd heard the cracking of at least two ribs.

She'd run in, screaming at him to leave her mother alone, and jumped on his back. He was so surprised, so shocked, that he didn't strike her. He shook her off, turned, and shouted down at her, 'Mind your own business, Susan! This doesn't concern you.' She stared at him, all the fear and hatred she felt for him at that moment clear on her face.

'Doesn't concern me? She's my mother, you bastard. Don't you dare hit her again!'

He looked calm, but she wasn't fooled; she saw the pulse pounding madly in his neck. 'It was her fault, Susan. Mind your own damned business. Do you hear me? It was her fault.' He took a step toward her mother, his fist raised. She picked up the Waterford carafe off his desk, yelling, 'Touch her and I'll bash your head in.'

He was panting now, turning swiftly to face her again, no more calm expression to fool her. His face was distorted with rage. 'Bitch! Damned interfering little bitch! I'll make you pay for this, Susan. No one goes against me, particularly a spoiled little girl who's never done a thing in her life except spend her father's money.' He didn't hit Noelle again. He looked at both of them with naked fury, then strode out of the house, slamming the door behind him.

'Yeah, right,' she said and very carefully and slowly set the Waterford carafe down before she dropped it.

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She wanted to call an ambulance but her mother wouldn't allow it. 'You can't,' she said, her voice as cracked as her ribs. 'You can't, Sally. Your father would be ruined, if anyone believed us. I can't allow that to happen.'

'He deserves to be ruined,' Sally said, but she obeyed. She was only sixteen years old, home for the weekend from her private girls' school in Laurelberg, Virginia. Why wouldn't they be believed?

'No, dearest,' her mother whispered, the pain bowing her in on herself. “No. Get me that blue bottle of pills in the medicine cabinet. Hurry, Sally. The blue bottle.'

As she watched her mother swallow three of the pills, groaning as she did so, she realized the pills were there because her father had struck her mother before. Deep down, Sally had known it. She hated herself because she'd never asked, never said a word.

That night her mother became Noelle, and the next week Sally left her girls' school and moved back to her parents' home in Washington, D.C., in hopes of protecting her mother. She read everything she could find on abuse-not that it helped.

That was ten years ago, though sometimes it seemed like last week. Noelle had stayed with her husband, refusing to seek counseling, refusing to read any of the books Sally brought her. It made no sense to Sally, but she'd stayed as close as possible, until she'd met Scott Brainerd at the Whistler exhibition at the National Gallery of Art and married him two months later.

She didn't want to think about Scott or about her father now. Despite her vigilance, she knew her father had hit Noelle whenever she happened to be gone from the house. She'd seen the bruises her mother had tried to hide from her, seen her walking carefully, like an old woman. Once he broke her mother's arm, but Noelle refused to go to the hospital, to the doctor, and ordered Susan to keep quiet. Her father just looked at her, daring her, and she did nothing. Nothing.

Her fingers rubbed unconsciously over the white line where the ring had been. She could remember the past so clearly-her first day at school, when she was on the seesaw and a little boy pointed, laughing that he saw her panties.

It was just the past week that was a near blank in her mind. The week her father had been killed. The whole week was like a very long dream that had almost dissolved into nothing more than an occasional wisp of memory with the coming of the morning.

Sally knew she'd been at her parents' house that night, but she couldn't remember anything more, at least nothing she could grasp-just vague shadows that blurred, then faded in and out. But they didn't know that. They wanted her badly, she'd realized that soon enough. If they couldn't use her to prove that Noelle had killed her husband, why, then they'd take her and prove that she'd killed her father. Why not?

Other children had murdered their fathers. Although there were plenty of times she'd wanted to, she didn't believe she'd killed him.

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