Guilty until proven innocent…
Bex has always been her daddy’s little girl. After her mother left, it was just the two of them. Sure he spoiled her with clothes and jewelry, but what father doesn’t dote on his daughter?
Except Bex’s dad is alleged to be a notorious serial killer. Dubbed “The Wife Collector” by the press, her father disappeared before he could stand trial. And Bex was left to deal with the taunts and rumors. Foster care is her one chance at starting over, starting fresh.
But Bex's old life isn't ready to let her go. When bodies start turning up in her new hometown, the police want to use her as bait to bring her father in for questioning. Is this Bex’s one chance to reunite with her father and prove his innocence—or is she setting herself up to be a serial killer’s next victim?
Hannah Schwartz lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and writes cozy mysteries, young adult fiction, chick lit, and grocery lists that she never seems to remember to bring to the grocery store. Hannah shares a house with two neurotic, feet-attacking cats and has Kryptonite-like weakness for donuts. Visit www.hannahjschwartz.com.
Would you rather have a lousy short term memory or a terrible long term memory?
I already have a lousy short term memory. Ask me about the wallpaper I had outside my crib in the house we lived in when I was 2 and I can describe it perfectly. Ask me what I wore yesterday and I will stare at you blankly for hours.
Bex Andrews surged forward, eyes pulled open wider than she ever thought they could be, heart hammering like a fire bell.
“I’m so sorry,” the soothing voice continued. “I didn’t mean to startle you. We’re going to be landing in a few minutes, and I need you to put your tray table up.”
“Oh.” Bex looked at her hands, her knuckles white as she gripped the tray table in front of her, then back to the flight attendant. She felt the familiar heat of embarrassment singe across her cheeks. “Sure. I’m sorry.”
The flight attendant straightened. “Thank you.” Her smile was as bright as a Crest commercial and her hair swirled behind her as she continued up the aisle, reminding the other passengers that they were landing soon.
Bex’s heart didn’t stop its relentless thump. “Excuse me,” she said, leaning forward in her seat. The flight attendant turned. “Mmm-hmm?”
“Do I have time to use the restroom?”
Bex made her way down the narrow aisle, wobbling with the rocking of the plane. She glanced away as people looked up at her, letting out her breath only when she escaped into the tiny lavatory and slid the little lever to Occupied. Under the glaring, yellow light, Beth Anne Reimer hardly recognized herself.
Her once white-blond, shoulder-length hair was blunt cut to her ears, the curls gone so that her new sandy-brown hair and pixie cut framed her face, hugging her cheekbones and falling against her darkened eyebrows. Her long bangs hung into her hazel eyes, and several coats of mascara made her short lashes stand out. She was wearing an outfit that made her look like every other teenager in the free world: tight jeans faded at the knees and fraying at the ankles, flip-flops, and a white zip-up hoodie with a surfer print. Instinctively, she pulled the hood over her head, and the fabric shaded her face and instantly darkened her cheekbones. Her bright eyes were suddenly small and menacing. She pushed the hood back. She was a new person, at the other side of her home state and about to start a new life. No way was she going to fade into her hoodie and let people think she was a serial killer just because her father was.
That was Beth Anne Reimer. And she was Bex Andrews now.
Bex stared out the car’s passenger-side window as the scenery zoomed by. She had never been to Kill Devil Hills, though she had seen postcards and TV shows set here, but what was whizzing by her—nondescript strip malls, Target shopping centers, and fast-food places—made her feel like the puddle-jumper flight from Raleigh, North Carolina, had landed her right back there. If it hadn’t been for the woman in the driver’s seat who was chatting happily about something Bex couldn’t focus on, she would have wondered if this whole moving-across-the-state thing was just a big hoax.
“Does that sound good to you?”
The woman driving the Honda SUV smiled at Bex, her light- blue eyes sparkling even in the dim hint of twilight.
Bex felt her mouth drop open. “I’m sorry, what?”
Denise tucked a strand of deep-brown hair behind her ear. “I’m sorry, Bex. That’s such a cool name, by the way. I’m probably just talking your ear off. We’re just really happy to have you here. I know it can’t be easy for you…”
The familiar lump started to form in the back of her throat and Bex shifted in the car seat, working the seat belt strap between her fingers. Her grandmother’s face flashed in her mind, and the familiar smells of the house where Bex had lived since she was seven years old filled her nostrils—her grandmother’s powdery, lavender smell; the sweet, cloying scent of night jasmine when it wafted through her bedroom curtains; the earthy smell of hot grass as she tromped barefoot through it.
But that was a world away in another life. Her grandmother had passed seven months ago and Bex’s home had been sold. She’d been shifted into a “temporary care situation,” which basically meant she was stuck in a cross between an orphanage and juvenile hall until a foster home willing to take her opened up.
And when one did, it was across the state in the Outer Banks with Denise and Michael Pierson, a couple in their early forties who only knew that Bex had lived with her grandmother.
They didn’t know the truth.
They didn’t know that Bex’s own mother had disappeared when Bex was only five years old and still called Beth Anne Reimer. They didn’t know that Beth Anne was doted on by a father who lavished her with costume jewelry and funky purses.
They didn’t know that all the gifts Beth Anne’s father gave her had once belonged to women in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. Women who Beth Anne’s father—dubbed the Wife Collector in the press—had murdered.
Allegedly. The word gnawed at Bex’s periphery.
It was Beth Anne herself, a shy, moon-eyed seven-year-old, who had pointed a chubby finger at her own father when the police came to her house. Yes, she knew the pretty blond woman from the photograph, she had said to the police officer. The girl had been with them for two days before getting into the car with Beth Anne’s daddy. No, she didn’t know where they had gone. All she knew was that the blond lady never came back to the house, never came back for the nubby scarf she had wound around Beth Anne’s neck, so Beth Anne had kept it for herself.
It was just a few days later that Beth Anne’s daddy was locked in that police cruiser and shuttled down to the courthouse. The newspapers and local news station splashed headlines everywhere and that single word—allegedly—seemed to grow smaller, to fade into the enormous text around it.
Jackson Reimer, Alleged Wife Collector Murderer, Held in Local Jail