Well, not all the souvenirs.
He liked sharing them.
I just didn’t know it at the time.
But now I did. The mere memory of Nick draping me in jewelry that had been removed from a dead woman’s body made my stomach churn, my skin growing cold.
I tried to find comfort in the fact that he wasn’t a serial killer when I married him. Or even a serial rapist, although many would argue differently. Most considered me one of his first rape victims.
And I would have been one of his murder victims, too, if I hadn’t found the courage to break free from his years of grooming and manipulation.
Naomi’s voice cut through my thoughts, returning me to the present, reminding me I was free. That I never had to see Nick again.
I tore my gaze to my left where my best friend sat, clutching my hand, concerned eyes studying my every move.
“It’s okay.” She dropped her voice to no louder than a whisper. “It’s nothing. Just because that woman died of suicide doesn’t mean anything.” She leaned closer. “Nick’s in prison. Where he’ll eventually die. He will never be released. Hell, for all we know, he’s received a taste of his own medicine and spends his days as some badass prisoner’s fuck toy.”
Any other day, I would have found amusement in her suggestion. Not today.
“That’s not it, Naomi. It’s not just the scenario. It’s…” I trailed off, shaking my head, searching for the words to tell her just how closely related this revelation truly was. Something I couldn’t do with the hair and makeup artist from the morning news show I was about to appear on hovering nearby.
As if picking up on the reason for my hesitation, Naomi glanced over her shoulder. “Hey, Margo?”
The blonde tore her eyes from the television as a reporter talked about Lachlan’s connection to the island. How this was where he’d gotten his start in professional baseball, thanks to his high school coach inviting recruiters out here. “Yeah?”
“Can you give us a minute?”
“Sure.” Smacking her gum, she left the room, completely oblivious to the tension growing thicker with every passing moment.
When the door closed, Naomi refocused her attention on me. “Okay. What’s up? It’s not just Nick, is it?”
I slowly shook my head. “That woman… Claire. A few days ago, she came up to me as Imogene and I were having lunch.”
This certainly got Naomi’s attention. She straightened, then leaned toward me. “What did she say?”
I swallowed hard. “It all happened so quickly. One second, I was having an enjoyable lunch with Imogene before she left for camp. The next, this woman bullied her way into our conversation, shoved a voice recorder in front of me, claiming to host a podcast, and asked me to comment on a handful of recent suicides she alleged were related to Nick.”
“What did you say?”
“What do you think? I just…” I blinked back the tears threatening at the possibility that, had I been a bit more understanding, a bit more receptive, perhaps I could have prevented her death.
Now I had even more blood on my already stained hands.
Why didn’t I at least talk to her? Listen to what she had to say?
Instead, I’d asked that she be removed, as I did whenever some true crime fanatic sought me out.
In the months following Nick’s arrest, my bakeries were inundated with obsessed fans hoping to get a photo taken with me. The wife of the notorious “Professor”, as he’d been dubbed in the media.
Thankfully, that had all died down over the years, apart from the occasional fanatic or, worse, true crime podcaster wanting to revisit Nick’s crimes.
Which I thought Claire was.
When she suggested Nick was involved in even more deaths, and in front of a wide-eyed Imogene, I had no choice but to turn her away, refuse to answer her questions. I couldn’t. My daughter had been traumatized enough, reporters constantly begging to do a story about her. Probably wondering if she were as psychotic as Nick simply because she had the same DNA.
I just wanted to put the past behind us.
I feared I’d never be able to.
“When the truth came out and my world became a media circus,” I explained, “I made a promise to myself that I would never put Imogene in danger again. That I would do everything in my power to protect her. To keep her safe, no matter the price I was forced to pay.”
Naomi squeezed my hand, giving me a reassuring smile. “And you have. You did what any mother would do in that situation. Protect your child at all costs. I may not have any kids…hell, I’ve never even been in a relationship long enough to entertain the notion…but I love Imogene as if she were my own. I would have done the same thing. So stop blaming yourself for what happened to that poor girl. You are not at fault here. I know you blamed yourself for what Nick did to those women. But as was the case all those years ago, too, he was at fault. Not you. Just like you’re not responsible for this, either.”
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