Home > Say You're Sorry (Romantic Suspense #22)(5)

Say You're Sorry (Romantic Suspense #22)(5)
Karen Rose

Rafe opened his mouth to say something, then shook his head.

“What?” Gideon snapped, but felt instant remorse. None of this was Rafe’s fault. The man had been there for him when everything had gone to shit. Had helped him pick up the pieces. “Sorry. It’s . . .”

“It’s okay,” Rafe said quietly. “Talking to Mercy messes you up. I get it. I was just going to say that the two of you would benefit from counseling, but I knew you’d say no, so I edited myself.”

Gideon nodded, because that was exactly what he would have said. “Where is Miss Dawson?”

Rafe gestured to the closed door. “In there with Erin.”

Erin Rhee had been Rafe’s partner for the past year. She seemed sharp. Most importantly, she had Rafe’s back. “So you two took the case?” Gideon asked.

“Yes.”

Gideon eyed him sharply. “Isn’t that a conflict of interest?”

Rafe eyed him right back. “Because?” he challenged.

“Because she’s ‘like a sister’? Your words, not mine.”

Rafe waved his hand vaguely. “She’s an old family friend.”

“That’s what you’re going with? What about the fact that you’re her landlord?”

Rafe scowled. “I was first on the scene.”

“Because she called you, didn’t she?”

Rafe’s scowl deepened. “Right now we’re calling it an attempted abduction and assault with a weapon,” he said, ignoring Gideon’s question, which was answer enough. “We’ll investigate the reference to other victims and see what turns up. I wanted you to see this first.” He pulled a small evidence bag from his pocket. Inside was the silver locket, and Gideon’s questions about Daisy Dawson evaporated. Rafe’s eyes softened, his expression concerned, and Gideon realized the real reason for Rafe’s insistence.

To protect me. Because he knows this is going to hurt me. Gratitude welled, leaving Gideon without words, but Rafe clearly understood.

“Daisy pulled this off her attacker’s neck,” Rafe murmured.

Gideon took the small bag and held it up to the light, clenching his jaw against the sudden wave of nausea that swept over him. Yes, he knew this locket. Well, not this exact locket, but . . . Yeah. He’d seen more than his fair share of them. He’d hated them all once he’d grown old enough to understand what they’d represented. Slavery. Possession. Their wearers pawns in a chess game they didn’t fully understand until it was too late.

“It’s the same design, isn’t it? The same one you had tattooed right here?” Rafe tapped his left pectoral. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen it, I wasn’t sure.”

Yeah, it was the same design. With the exception of the number of branches on the olive tree. The tree on the locket had twelve branches. The tree on his tattoo had thirteen.

It made him want to throw up.

“Gid?” Rafe softly prompted.

Gideon made himself speak, grateful Rafe had allowed him to see the locket in relative privacy. “Yeah.” His voice was rough. Rusty. “It’s the same.” From his pocket he pulled the photograph he’d taken from the wooden box in his living room. Two teenaged boys, one golden, one dark, both shirtless, arms slung over the other’s shoulders, grinning happily. The tattoo on Gideon’s chest could be clearly seen.

“I remember this,” Rafe murmured. “It was my birthday. We went river tubing.”

Gideon remembered the day perfectly, one of the nicest Gideon had ever had. Only a month before he’d found Mercy and his life had been forever changed—again. “Yeah,” he said hoarsely.

Rafe looked up from the photo. “The design is exactly as I remembered. What can you tell me about the locket?”

“The original owner’s name is Miriam.” Gideon hoped she was somewhere safe. “She wouldn’t have just taken it off and left it somewhere. It was purposefully removed, the chain cut off her.” He spoke dispassionately. It was the only way he knew how to talk about it. About them. “With bolt cutters.”

Rafe’s brows lifted. “Excuse me?”

Gideon pointed to the delicate silver chain in the evidence bag. “This is not the original chain. The locket would have been hanging from a heavier chain that required a lot of strength to break. Strength none of the women had.”

“So every woman who had a locket had a similar chain.”

“Not just every woman who had a locket. Every woman. They all wore a locket.”

Rafe blinked. “Like a . . . what? A symbol of membership?”

“Ownership,” Gideon corrected. “The locket sat at the hollow of their throats, but the chain was never long enough for the wearer to pull over her head. It was, however, long enough to be used as a ‘teaching tool.’” He said the two words mockingly.

“Teaching tool?”

“Her husband or any of the other men could grab the chain at the back of her neck and pull until she couldn’t breathe.”

“Why?”

“Because they could,” Gideon said flatly. “There was no clasp. It was welded. The wearer would likely have a scar somewhere on her neck.”

“A burn?” Rafe asked, looking appropriately horrified. “From the welding?”

“Yes. At least one. Most wearers would have to be refitted as they grew. Links would be added to the chain. Miriam would have received her locket on her twelfth birthday. How many times she had to be refitted depended on how much larger she grew over her lifetime.”

“So this is more like the collar that a dom puts on a sub.”

Gideon nodded. “Yes. Although it wasn’t seen as a kink to the women who wore them. It was more like a wedding ring, although they wore those, too.”

“So she got the locket on her twelfth birthday. Do I want to know at what age she would have gotten the wedding ring?”

Gideon studied the locket so he wouldn’t have to look at his friend’s expression. “Also on her twelfth birthday.”

Rafe drew a breath and let it out carefully. “And the tattoo you used to have?”

Used to. Because he’d had it altered. Had a new tat inked over it, obliterating that particular reminder of his past. “What about it?”

“When did you get it?”

Gideon swallowed hard, pushing the memory away. Not about getting the tattoo itself, but what had followed later that night, after his birthday celebration was over. The night that still haunted his worst nightmares, seventeen years later.

“On my thirteenth birthday.”

Rafe looked like he wanted to ask more, so Gideon plowed forward. “Miriam would have been her given name. She might go by a nickname, though.”

“Like Mercy?” Rafe asked.

Gideon nodded again, not wanting to think about his sister. Not here. Not in public. Not when he was barely holding on to his composure. “Or Midge or Mir or Mimi.” Miriam had been a popular name. There had been a need for many nicknames.

Rafe was quiet for a long moment. “I know you don’t like to talk about this.”

Gideon chuckled bitterly. “That’s the understatement of the century.” But he’d forced himself to do so, the first time to the cop who’d come to see him in the hospital, five days after his thirteenth birthday. Four days after his escape. One day after he’d finally regained consciousness. The cop had been kind. Compassionate.

He might have even believed me. Of that, Gideon still was uncertain.

However, he’d never told Rafe. Not even after finding Mercy in foster care, traumatized and scared. He’d been seventeen. She’d been thirteen. He’d known what had put that haunted look in her eyes. He’d understood. And he’d wanted to rage at God, the universe, the man—or, God forbid, men—who’d hurt her.

She’d never talked about it. Not once in all the years since he’d found her. Maybe he should have pushed her.

But he hadn’t wanted to push her away. Which happened anyway. Now she lived in New Orleans, two thousand miles and two time zones away. They exchanged Christmas cards and awkward birthday voice mails. He hadn’t actually seen her in two years, and that was only because he’d been “just passing through.” He hadn’t really been. He’d made the trip because he’d specifically wanted to see her, needed to see her, to make sure she was okay. It had been the anniversary of her escape and she’d known he’d been lying about “just passing through.”

“You know you can talk to me,” Rafe said softly. “Anytime.”

Staring at the wall over Rafe’s shoulder, Gideon forced the words out. “I know.” He had talked about it before, in fact. Once he’d joined the FBI, he’d forced himself to tell his first boss about the community, about the abuse. The boss had opened an investigation and several agents had searched the vicinity where the community had been at the time of Gideon’s escape. But they’d found nothing, not on foot or by air. Not even by satellite photos.

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