Silence hung over the house, the only sounds her pulse in her ears and the shallow rasp of her own frightened breaths. Moving slowly and quietly, she carefully checked the upstairs rooms. The last thing she wanted was for someone to overpower her from behind on the stairs. Time passed with excruciating slowness, punctuated by muffled shuffling and thumping, as she cleared the second floor.

 

Her pulse pounded loud in her ears as she eased her foot onto the first step and, eyes closed, willed the steps silent as she shifted her weight from one to the next. She was halfway down the stairs when sudden pounding at the front door nearly shot her clean out of her skin.

 

"FBI! Mac, if you don't open the door in the next thirty seconds, I'm breaking it down!"

 

Faith took the remaining stairs in frantic relief, barely remembering to pause for a cursory glance as she hit the foyer.

 

In another minute, she had the locks thrown, and the front door flung open. She didn't allow herself to think of what she was doing as she burrowed into Jonathan's embrace, unconcerned about the gun in his hand. All she knew was she was still shaking, and Jonathan represented safety.

 

Jonathan instantly grasped her shoulder with his free hand and eased her away, meeting her gaze with a fear she was certain was only a reflection of her own.

 

"Are you hurt?"

 

She shook her head mutely.

 

He moved her around him onto the porch, still holding her gaze with his own. "Stay. Here. I'll check the place over."

 

Glock in hand, he disappeared into the night-darkened interior of her house. The instant he was gone, his words snapped the last of her shock, and anger at herself rose up in its place.

 

Damn it, she was a capable, well-trained, and intelligent woman. She didn't need anyone to fix her problems. So why was she still standing here, while Jonathan checked her house?

 

Ignoring Jonathan's instructions, she plunged back into the house, heading straight for her purse, on the foyer table. She dug out her P35, and chambered a round.

 

"What do you think you're doing?"

 

The sudden sound of a voice startled her, and she swung around, prepared to shoot, before wilting in relief when she recognized Jonathan, standing just behind her.

 

"I thought I told you to wait outside." He sounded pissed, even as he passed her to shut the door and flip on the foyer lights.

 

"And if I remember correctly, this is my house." She turned to confront him as she safetied her weapon. The rest of what she intended to say died, unspoken, in the face of Jonathan's grim expression and the fear in his eyes. Her breath stuttered and her shoulders sagged in defeat. "What did you find?"

 

He looked distinctly ill at ease. "It's pretty gruesome..."

 

She rolled her eyes. Just what did he think he was protecting her from? "I'm a pathologist, Caulder. I look at gruesome every day."

 

He grasped her arm as she turned back toward the direction he came from. "Not like this."

 

She shook him off and marched into her living room, telling herself she was prepared for anything.

 

Anything, it turned out, but what she found.

Contact Esther Mitchell at:

esthermitchell@esthermitchell.com

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