Her mother was smiling.
Chloe paused at the entrance to the ballroom. Her small fingers lifted to curl against the edge of the wooden doorframe as she watched her mother. Her parents liked to hold big parties on the weekends. They’d invite so many people over to the estate. Women who wore pretty dresses. Men in dark suits. They’d drink and they’d dance, and she’d hear their laughter and voices drifting to her bedroom.
The music would fill the air. Everything would seem…happy.
Her mother liked to dance. She’d been a dancer, a ballerina, back in her younger days. She often told Chloe about how wonderful she’d been. How she’d owned the stage when she’d danced upon it.
Chloe was supposed to dance, too. But she wasn’t very good at it. When she tried, she tripped and fell.
No music played now. No one else was in the cavernous ballroom. Just her mother. Spinning round and round as she lifted up her hands. Each time she spun, Chloe could see the smile on her mother’s face. She liked it when her mother smiled. She liked it when her mother was happy.
There were too many days when she wasn’t happy. Not really. Her mother faked being happy. Why didn’t anyone else seem to notice that?
Her mother started to hum. The spins slowed down as she turned to gliding back and forth, from her left foot to her right. Over and over.
That was when Chloe noticed something was on her mother’s white dress.
A gasp slid from her lips. Her mother was hurt. That was blood on her shirt. Bright, red drops. Chloe let go of the doorframe and took a quick step forward.
Her mother lifted one hand and beckoned to her. “Come dance with me, Chloe.”
She took another step. Not quick this time. But slow. Something was… “You’re bleeding.”
“Dance with me.” Her hand stayed extended. Her mother’s voice had turned harder.
Chloe looked at her mother’s hand. She looked at her mother’s broad smile. At her mother’s gleaming eyes. “I—”
“No.” A hard hand clamped over Chloe’s shoulder and spun her around.
Chloe sucked in a sharp breath and found herself staring up into her brother’s eyes. “R-Reese?” His thin frame seemed to shake with tension, and his lips were pressed into a tight line.
“Don’t dance with her, Chloe,” he barked. “Do you hear me? Don’t dance with her. I don’t care what she tells you, don’t you—”
Why was he so angry? What was wrong with dancing? She didn’t want Reese angry with her. Her shoulders stooped, and her head lowered. “She’s bleeding,” Chloe whispered.
“It’s not her blood.”
Her head whipped up.
“It’s not,” he gritted out. “Go back to your room, Chloe. I’ll deal with her.”
He pushed her away from the door. She looked back and saw him straighten his spine. His hands were clenched at his sides as he marched into the ballroom. “Mother…” His voice was low, but Chloe could still hear him. She could hear him because she wasn’t going back to her room. She was staying there to find out who was bleeding. If someone was hurt…
“Mother, what have you done?” Reese demanded.
Blood covered the dancer’s body.
Chloe Hastings stared at the ballerina, and for one dark moment, past and present merged for her. She could hear her mother humming. Could see her spinning round and round…
Mother, what have you done?
“Uh, Chloe?” Detective Cedric Coleman cleared his throat and squinted at her. “Are you with me?”
She blinked. Once. Twice. Her head cocked as she stared at the body. “Of course, I’m with you.” Where else would she be? “I’m right beside you.” Surely the man saw her. Normally, he was highly observant.
“Yeah, but, you…” His throat cleared again.
Was he having an allergy attack? Getting choked on something?
“You have been staring at the body for about five minutes now, and you haven’t said a word.”
Five minutes? Her gaze slid off the body. Darted to Cedric. Then she glanced toward her partner, Dr. Joel Landry.
Joel shrugged his broad shoulders. “I wasn’t watching the clock.” His handsome face was expressionless, but his dark eyes gleamed with curiosity.
She didn’t usually go so quiet at a crime scene. It wasn’t as if death was something new to her. No, she and death were well acquainted. A very long and turbulent history. The more violent the crime, the more at home she normally felt, but this time…
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