Colton Baby Homecoming(81)

By: Lara Lacombe

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Annabel Colton pushed back from the table and allowed herself the indulgence of a jaw-cracking, eye-watering yawn. She’d risen with the sun to start her shift, then had come home to sift through the stacks of Matthew’s mail that Trevor had dropped off.

“You’re sure you don’t mind?” Her older brother had seemed almost reluctant to part with the letters. She’d tried not to take it personally—none of her brothers were happy about her choice of career, but she was good at her job and even they had to admit it. Still, they tried to protect her from what they saw as the messier side of things.

“I’m happy to help.” She knew Ridge had originally volunteered for the job, but he deserved a break. He’d been even more quiet than usual after his visit to the prison. Annabel didn’t know if it was something Matthew had said or just seeing the man again that bothered him so much, but either way, he didn’t need to trouble himself with Matthew’s fan mail. Besides, he and Darcy were like two teenagers in love and Annabel didn’t want to mar their happiness. Ridge had been alone for so long—it was nice to see him smiling again.

She pushed a stack of letters to the side and pulled another one forward. Sorting through Matthew’s mail was harder than she’d anticipated. It wasn’t the content of the letters—although that was pretty bad. Rather, it was the tangible proof that so many people admired him enough to go to the effort of writing. How many more out there looked up to Matthew but hadn’t bothered to send a letter? It really made her worry about the state of humanity, that so many people wanted to connect with such an evil man.

Her eyes burned with fatigue, but she didn’t stop. She had a meeting with her boss in—she checked her watch—just about an hour, and she wanted to report on her progress with this batch of mail. If she found something, it could really help direct the investigation.

Fortunately, there hadn’t been any new victims of the Alphabet Killer of late. The police had held several press conferences to spread the word that women with long dark hair should take extra precautions, and it seemed the message was getting through. Annabel had seen women in Granite Gulch walking in groups, and she personally knew several women who had taken to wearing a wig to hide their hair when going out in public. It was a shame people needed to alter their lives so drastically for the sake of safety, but it was a small price to pay if it prevented additional deaths.

Of course, if the Alphabet Killer really had gone to ground it was going to be that much harder to stop her. But Annabel wasn’t going to give up. She would see this case through to the end, no matter what.

With a sigh, Annabel pulled out another letter and began to read. It seemed familiar somehow, and when she got to the end, she realized why.

What she had initially mistaken as an ink blot was actually a crudely drawn red bull’s-eye.

Chills raced through her limbs, chasing away her fatigue. She sat up and read the letter again, this time paying more attention to the handwriting. Was it the same as the other letter from their killer?

She pushed aside piles of paper, searching frantically for the photocopy of the killer’s letter that Trevor had given her to use as a comparison in case she found something. Excitement bubbled in her veins as she realized she had probably just discovered the proverbial needle in a haystack.

At last, she found the page and held it next to the letter. A wide grin split her face as she verified it was indeed the same handwriting.

But the best part of all?

This letter had a signature.

Regina Willard.

“Gotcha,” Annabel whispered. Now they had a solid lead, after weeks of guesswork and circumstantial clues.

She stuffed the letter and the photocopy back into the original envelope, noting with a small shock the return address in the upper left corner. Blackwood. As in the next town over.

“You’ve been here the whole time, haven’t you?”

It was almost too good to be true—the killer’s name and a location all at once. Annabel glanced at her watch. It was still early, but this news was too exciting to sit on for long. She grabbed her keys and phone and hopped in the car, dialing Trevor as she drove.

I’m coming for you, Regina, she thought, stepping on the gas to beat a yellow light.

You can run, but you can’t hide.

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