Redemption Chapter Two

Flashes of a town she’d lived in pressed against her memory as she followed Aidan through the streets. A fishing and factory town—her father had worked at the old cannery. Not that Molly remembered that for herself. Peter Blake’s life had been documented, written about, and plastered all over the Internet—on more than one occasion. Some people even enjoyed his work. Found him trying to build the perfect family inspirational. Molly believed those people may well be more twisted than her father had been. It made her sick, especially the ones who begged her to come out of hiding, who wanted her to take on her father’s legacy. They needed professional help—or a lobotomy.

In recent weeks the media blew up again because of the upcoming execution. U.S. Marshall Greg Hoult, Molly’s former handler from WITSEC called letting her know that the media wanted interviews. He didn’t have to take on that task, but after he helped Molly and her grandmother disappear, he’d kept an eye on her growing up. Even when she had opted out of the program, he’d kept in touch from time to time. She’d declined the interviews. The last thing Molly needed or wanted was to have the person she’d become, associated with the man her father had been. She preferred the anonymity.

Molly took a soft breath, her gaze roaming over the town she briefly called home when she’d been Jesse Blake. Goosebumps rippled across her arms and her heart ached as those bits of memories gave her a nostalgia that she had no right to have. This town had gone through hell because of her family. They had lost so much—and she didn’t have the right to grieve the place that had once been her home.

Modernized stores had moved in, Walgreens and a Walmart, but small mom and pop shops still dominated most of the area. The salty, fresh smell of the ocean wafted through her open windows. Seagulls screeched overhead, their shadows darting through the streets—a common occurrence with the town sitting on the coast. Boats moved in and out of the harbor at a lazy pace, bringing in their catch or going out to get it. Nearby people shopped at farmer and fish markets to get fresh goods for their dinner.

Molly wondered what it would have been like to grow up there. How her life would have been different—if it could have been better than growing up in Florida. Her heart ached again, not just for the life she didn’t have, but because of the life her father’s victims never had either.

 Aidan pulled up to Spencer’s General Store, parking out front. She pulled into a spot across the street in front of Boat Part Depot and let the engine idle. He got out of his car, and a small boy with sandy blond hair ran out the front door leaping into his arms. Molly couldn’t hear what they were saying, but they smiled, and Aidan carried the boy back inside. Everything she’d wanted to know, she’d found out. Aidan seemed happy—but for some reason, she didn’t pull out of the parking lot. Something held her in place, and she couldn’t figure out what it was. Leaving was the smart thing to do. Even though it had been twenty years, someone could still recognize her.

Yet, she had an undeniable urge to walk into the store. See more of Aidan’s life.

A warm breeze blew her long, brown hair over her back. The chill from the prison washed away in the sun. She took off her jacket, leaving her sleeveless blue blouse rippling in the wind over her slender form. As much as she wanted to be brave, Molly wasn’t. Her nerve wasn’t there, so she decided to walk the streets and stretch her kinked up muscles.

Purple ribbons attached to trees and lamp posts waved in the wind. Even the store fronts had them on the door or displayed in a window. Molly didn’t know what they were for, but she snapped several pictures as they wiggled and danced, finding the flow almost poetic.

Most of the tourists were sunburned in one area or another—they were also older. Many of them with gray hair and comfortably worn faces from years of vacationing in the sun. They walked along with smiles and giant hats, and Molly wondered if she’d ever have any sort of normalcy that might resemble the pictures she took. Most days, she felt like a leper, like her father’s sins had somehow branded her and everyone could see it as soon as they looked at her. And yet, she harbored guilt for turning him in. If she hadn’t, he might still be alive—but she wondered how many other women would be dead. That guilt would have weighed on her too. Molly carried the guilt of four women and her father.

It ate a little bit of her soul every day. Sometimes, it was hard to get out of bed. Like the weight literally held her down. She’d had more than one panic attack over the years because of it. If anymore guilt weighed on her, Molly was sure it would kill her.

The marina was nearby with several boats moving through the channels. Most of them fishing vessels. The smell of seafood wafted from the market, and Molly envisioned a young version of herself walking along the white sand with her mother and father. It only lasted a brief moment, before blowing away, like bits of sand carried in the wind.

Shaking off the could-have-beens, she took pictures of people passing, of boats, and the sky, a seagull dive-bombing to grab a chip that escaped the fingers of a small child. A sense of peace washed over her, but guilt soon replaced it. Many people of this community once suffered because of her family—or the family her father tried to make. She shivered and rubbed her arms, pushing back the chill that took her and swallowed back the emotions that threatened to overflow.

Turning back, Molly walked up the street, stopping by her car. Her gaze went to Spencer’s General Store.

“Get in your car and leave,” she whispered to herself. Groaning, she shook her head and took a deep breath. No matter what her mind thought, her body seemed to do the opposite.

Watching for traffic, she crossed the street and went inside the store. The walls were littered with everything from snacks to bait, to various types of oil for cars and boats. The back had fridges full of drinks—both alcoholic and non. Aidan and his son were nowhere to be seen. An elderly gentlemen stood behind the counter, reading a newspaper—her father’s picture on the front with the headline “Mommy Murderer Execution Today”.

He looked up at the sound of the bell and smiled at her with soft, hazel eyes. The light, shaggy gray hair thinned around his temples and his belly bowed out under a yellow shirt and blue jeans.

“Well, you’re a new face,” he said in an easy tone.

“I—” Her breath seeped away, leaving the words caught in her throat. She hadn’t planned on anyone noticing her. She’d hoped to blend in like any other tourist, anonymous and forgotten. Fingers tightening on the camera, she raised it and gave a tight smile. “Yeah. How’d you guess?”

“Well, most of the tourists that come through here are a mite older. The retired sort with too much time on their hands.” He winked at her. “Your face is a hard one to forget.”

Molly’s shoulders raised a fraction of an inch, and she took a breath to keep her composure. He couldn’t know. He was just an old man doing a bit of harmless flirting. Forcing a smile, she nodded. “Well, I’m just here to take some pictures of the ocean and harbor.”

“You a reporter?” He raised his brows, gaze narrowing. The lightheartedness left his voice, and now he seemed steeled against a possible intrusion.

“No, sir.” She shook her head. “Just a freelance photographer. I get paid by the photo, so I travel a bit to find the more beautiful ones.”

“Well then,” he held out his arms. “You’ve come to the right town. There’s nothing like a sunrise here in the morning.”

The smile relaxed a bit, her shoulders losing some tension. “Yeah?”

“Most definitely!” He came around from behind the counter. “In the early hours, you might even be able to catch a few dolphins swimming around.”

“Sounds like a slice of home,” she said.

“Where you from, darlin?” He grabbed two plastic bottles of Pepsi from the cooler and handed her one.

“Florida. South Florida. I love the beach, but ours is a little different.”

“Different don’t mean better.”

She laughed. “No, sir, it doesn’t.”

Twisting the top, she took a long swig. “How much do I owe you?”

“On the house,” he waved her off. “Didn’t catch your name?”

She hesitated, wondering if somehow, he knew. Maybe he’d put it all together and realized she was a charlatan, a fake—he might figure out her real name.

Paranoia, she knew, but the tension flooded back, making her traps feel like small boulders. “Molly Harper.”

He held out his hand. “Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Molly Harper.” Crow’s feet nestled in the corner of his eyes when he smiled. “I’m Corbett Spencer. Owner of this establishment.”

The soda caught in her throat and Molly choked, covering her mouth to keep from spitting it all over him. Corbett Spencer had been Marion Spencer’s husband—he’d been made a widower of because of her father. The color drained from her, leaving a pale pallor. He patted her back, a frown settling on his wrinkled features.

“You all right?”

She nodded, tears stinging her eyes from the carbonation tickling the back of her throat. “I am,” she croaked. “It just went down the wrong pipe.”

He laughed with gusto. “Had that happen a few times myself.”

The coughing subsided and she noticed another purple ribbon—this one attached to the front of the counter.

“What’s—” Her voice came out hoarse and she cleared her throat. “Excuse me.” She gave him a sheepish smile. “I’ve noticed those ribbons all over town. What are they for?”

“Tribute,” Corbett said. He walked over, adjusting the purple fabric. It hadn’t been crooked, but it was more like he needed something to do while talking about it. “To the four women who were murdered twenty years ago.”

Molly’s heart ached with grief for what the town must have gone through. She knew that being ripped away from the only home she’d ever known and growing up with a grandmother who barely wanted her wasn’t anything compared to the pain and suffering an entire town went through because of Peter Blake.

Aidan came out of the back. The little boy dashed past them out the front with a ball, the door clattering shut. Jogging after him, Aidan pushed it open again, the bell chiming through the store.

“Stay out of the street, Cody!” He called after him.

“I will!” The little boy hollered back.

Chuckling, he shut the door and shook his head before noticing the two of them. Molly’s eyes widened, and she wiped the tears from her face. Corbett leaned over the counter and grabbed a paper towel.

“Molly, this is my son, Aidan,” He handed it to her. “The little hellion that ran out is my grandson, Cody.”

Aidan smiled, a dimple peeking out of his left cheek beneath a light blond beard. His piercing blue eyes twinkled with amusement. “Pleasure to meet you, Molly.”

When she’d seen him from afar, Molly noticed his attractiveness—even if it’d been at an inappropriate time. She thought her father might be cursing her from beyond the grave, though maybe he’d been cursing her since she noticed Aidan the first time. This close to him, Molly could smell the subtle scent of his aftershave, and see the way his smile was ever so slightly crooked. She squeezed her eyes closed, trying to shut down any of her mind’s thoughts of seeing him in such a sensual light.

This had been a beyond stupid idea. If they figured out her name had once been Jesse Blake this town would lynch her sure as the sky was blue. Maybe she’d only been a kid, but it’d been her family that caused so much pain and grief in the town—that had marred it, leaving it blemished with purple ribbons to the rest of the world.

The bell chimed over the door before Molly found her voice. A woman with a pristine, short platinum blond haircut walked in, typing away on her phone. She wore an elegant pale green dress that looked like it must be designer, along with high heels and a matching purse. She smiled at Aidan, walking over.

“You’re back already.” She hugged him and brushed her lips across his. “Are you all right? I really wish you’d have let me go with you.”

Her gentle tone conveyed sympathy and her perfectly sculpted brows squeezed together as she looked at Aidan. The woman cared for him, his wife probably. A twinge of jealously struck through her chest. Which was stupid. Utterly stupid. She knew that. Aidan and his family deserved nothing but happiness.

Taking a breath, she forced the feeling away and focused on the situation. Molly could understand why he didn’t want her at the execution. It hadn’t been easy sitting through it, for anyone who had been there.

He cleared his throat, shoulders tensing a bit. “We can talk about that later.” He nodded at Molly. “We’ve got a new face in town. Molly, this is Krysta—”

She turned to face Molly. The outfit made Krysta’s green eyes pop. Everything from her short silky hair to her pedicured toes was gorgeous and she gave off that aura of effortless grace.

Molly couldn’t pull that look off no matter what she did. Her grandmother always said she didn’t have her mother’s beauty, but instead carried her father’s hard features. Grandma liked to remind her of a lot of similarities between Molly and her father.

Krysta’s gaze roamed over Molly as if to size her up, but her smile was genuine. “His girlfriend.”

Corbett crossed his arms over his chest and his lips pressed together in a thin line, making the wrinkles around them deepen.

“Girlfriend?” Molly tilted her head.

She raised her brows. “Is something wrong with that?”

Molly cleared her throat. “I ah, noticed the wedding ring.” She pointed to Aidan’s hand.

His thumb absently twisted the bit of jewelry. “My wife passed away—little over a year ago. Just haven’t been able to part with it.”

“Oh,” she said in a quiet voice. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

He rolled his shoulders and let out a slow breath. “Thanks.”

Corbett clapped him on the back.

Krysta’s smile turned soft and she ran long, slender fingers through his hair. The sound of the fan whirring next to the register filled the silence.

“I can understand the confusion,” Krysta said. “But they were together a long time. I can understand Aidan’s need to hold onto her for now.”

Something in her tone made Molly wonder if that were actually true. It seemed to come out with a false tone. Not bitter persay, but it just didn’t seem sincere. Still, Aidan smiled in appreciation.

Silence fell over them again and she shifted from foot to foot. The sweat from the soda bottle didn’t help the moisture on her palms.

“Well,” Molly said, clearing the tense moment.  “I should go. I wanted to get some shots in while the sun is overhead. Great lighting.”

“Molly here is a freelance photographer. For a minute I thought she might be coming to report on you know what—but that ain’t the case.” Corbett smiled. “Just wants some pictures of our quaint town.”

“Oh, yeah,” Aidan went and looked out the window keeping an eye on Cody. The boy kicked his ball around in a grassy area near the parking lot of the store. “Why Bellefort?”

She shrugged. “Was just passing through and thought it’d make a good picture.” Molly gestured toward the door. “I really should go. A paycheck needs to be in my future soon.”

Krysta smiled. “Well, if you’re looking for a good spot, check out the cove just south of the harbor.”

“I’ll do that.” She smiled back.

“It was nice meeting you,” Corbett said. “If you need anything you just come back and see us, ya hear?”

“Thank you and thanks for the Pepsi.” She held it up and walked out the door, the bell signaling her exit.

She collided with an African American woman wearing a teal skirt suit, her hair pulled back into an elegant ponytail.

“I’m sorry,” Molly said. Her eyes widened slightly as she realized this was the reporter from the prison.

The woman smiled. “It’s all right, my mistake. I’m sort of in a hurry. Do you mind?”

Molly shook her head and stepped aside, letting the woman rush into the store, grateful the woman was too enamored with Aidan to give Molly a second thought.

A gust of wind blew Molly’s long hair into her face. She sighed; her chest tight with anxiety. She walked at a fast pace to the edge of the parking lot eager to get away from all of this. Her heart thumped against her ribcage, knocking her breath back. Tugging on her collar, she took a deep breath trying to break through the invisible barrier in her chest. Still unable to rid herself of the tight compression around her ribs, Molly bent down to put her hands on her knees, the plastic bottle denting beneath her grip.

Taking the strap of the camera from around her neck, she tilted her head up to the sun, letting the warmth push away the anxiety. This had been a mistake—she needed to get the hell out of here and figure out her next move before someone realized who she was.

The ball bounced past her into the street. Giving a grunt of frustration, Cody chased it not bothering to check for oncoming traffic. A maroon car coming down the road inexplicably accelerated, tires squealing. Smoke drifted up from the burning rubber. Time seemed to slow even as the car sped up. Something snapped inside of her, a moment of realization that the car would hit the little boy who had stopped in the middle of the road.

Oh god.  

Molly dropped her camera, and rushed into the street, shoving Cody out of the way. Agonizing pain exploded through as the car slammed into her body. It radiated down her side. Something snapped in her wrist. She flew back onto the rugged surface, tumbling over the asphalt. Shock immediately numbed the intense pain as her head lolled to the side.

Aidan ran out of the store, followed by Krysta and Corbett. The reporter came as well. She could faintly hear exclamations of shock, and shadows crossed the street as a crowd formed.

Molly tasted blood. The world turned into static at the edges and she tried to keep her eyes open, tried to find out what happened to the boy she’d shoved out of the way. She blinked and a few feet away, saw him clamoring to his feet. He stumbled a bit, looking back at Molly. Fear consumed his face. Terror twisted in her belly that she hadn’t been able to get to him in time. That he would fall over at any moment and she’d have caused more pain to the Spencer family.

“Cody!” Aidan ran over, swooping the boy up.

Molly’s chest eased. The boy gasped a few times before starting to cry, his small arms clinging to his father. He wouldn’t be able to scream like that if he were seriously hurt.

If she died, that would be okay, because Cody was okay. She hadn’t taken his life like her father had done to his grandmother, but instead saved it.

Corbett knelt next to her. “Molly? Just stay with me okay?”

His voice seemed far away.

She tried to latch onto the sound of it, tried to keep her eyes open. The world went fuzzy and she blinked, but the weight of her eyelids proved too much. Oblivion took her leaving nothing but darkness in its wake.

Stay Tuned for Chapter Three!

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