Framed

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“That? It’s ketchup. Come on, honey. What else could it be?” he said as he looked at the stain she pointed out.

“On the side of your collar? Do you eat through your ear now?”

“Honey, you’re being ridiculous. I don’t know what you’re thinking, but that is not…lipstick.” He put his hands on her shoulders and said, “You know that you and your…sorry, our son are all that matter to me. Why in the world would I spend all those months trying to win you over dating you and…ask you to marry me to turn around and do something so obvious and this foolish?”

He lifted up her chin and said, “You can’t seriously believe I’m having an affair just three months after our wedding.” She finally looked at him and he said, “Can you?”

Her first thought was, “Yes, I can,” but she didn’t say it. She’d never actually seen him and their neighbor, Cheryl Radcliffe, doing anything overtly wrong unless one considered a lot of laughter and too much touching ‘doing something.’ Brooke wasn’t the jealous type and Evan had otherwise never been a flirt, but Cheryl began showing up far too often and in too many unexpected places to be pure coincidence. And she wore red lipstick. Brooke chided herself when she realized so did several million other women. Still, she knew something was wrong. She could feel it. She didn’t know what it was, but her intuition told her something was going on.

She’d been so careful after her husband passed away. She waited for three years to even think about dating again. Three long, lonely years during which she cried and grieved and often felt like she’d die, too. And then when she finally felt ready to date again, she took it slow—very slow. Of the few men she did date, she never brought any of them around her son—until Evan Walters. He was so charming and friendly and…handsome, and he took such an immediate interest in her son who really needed a father figure in his life. So she had to admit he had a point. Why would he go to all that effort to turn around and just throw it away? Cheryl was attractive, but so was Brooke. She didn’t mean to be smug, but she knew Cheryl was a step down from her at least in terms of looks. But looks weren’t everything, and Cheryl was a good ten years younger than Brooke, who couldn’t shake the thought that maybe, just maybe….

“I guess that does sound a little crazy,” she told him as she took back the shirt. “Here, let me finish up. I’ll just wash out the rest of the…ketchup…and it’ll be good as new.”

“That’s my girl,” he told her as he kissed her on the forehead. “Oh, don’t forget, I’m going out of town tomorrow on business. Two days and I’ll be back.” He walked out of the laundry room and said, “I’m missing you already, honey.”

Brooke Matthews was a 32-year old recovering lawyer turned stay-at-home mom since her husband, Aaron, passed away nearly five years ago after a long battle with brain cancer. His life insurance policy had given her the ability to pay off the mortgage, car loans, become debt free, and still have enough to left to allow her to quit working and take care of her then 3-year old son, Tyler.

She’d met her new husband, Evan Walters, just under two years ago. She’d been on several fix-up dates with guys her friends told her were ‘really nice’ or ‘steady’ or even one who had ‘a really great personality.’ They had all been nice, just not nice enough. The only exception was a young police officer she’d reluctantly agreed to see. Brooke had been pleasantly surprised to learn he was a college graduate able to intelligently talk with her about almost any topic. He was also funny and probably the best looking of the handful of men she dated before meeting Evan. But he was a whopping twelve years younger than her and no matter how she looked at it, it just didn’t make any sense to see him again let alone let things get serious. At least not intellectually. Her heart told her to say ‘yes’ to a second date but her head won out. She felt sure he was a man she could trust, but he was just SO young.

Brooke was looking for several things in a future husband, and at the top of the list was a man who would be willing to love and raise Tyler as his own son. He had no real memories of his biological father, and Brooke knew whomever she married would be the man he would think of as his dad. Her needs were secondary although at least one of them was non-negotiable. Trust. Sure, he had to at least be attractive to her. Who’d marry someone who wasn’t for any reason other than maybe the late Anna Nicole Smith? But if the guy was at least reasonably good looking, had a decent, steady job, and was someone she felt she could trust, that was all she needed. But Tyler absolutely had to have a loving, caring dad no matter what. Lower on her short list was a sense of humor and if the guy was romantic, how could that be a bad thing?

The young police officer with whom she’d had dinner was all those things. Evan had also been all those things, but he was two years older than her and that somehow canlı bahis felt right. He was very attractive, always sounded optimistic, had a gorgeous, ever-present smile, and he was constantly doing the kinds of little things most women dreamed about. Oh, and Evan was good in bed. In fact, he was very good. Brooke had always enjoyed sex with Aaron, but she had no idea it could be this enjoyable. He was unbelievably attentive to her needs and spent all kinds of time pleasuring her. He called that special part of her ‘his muffin’ and Evan took a very long time slowly and deliciously ‘eating’ every crumb of it to the point that it left Brooke breathless before they even got to the sex part. And that huge, gorgeous cock of his not only filled her up in all the right ways, he knew just how to use it to drive her to the brink of ecstasy every time he fucked her. And unlike Aaron, where twice a week had been plenty, Brooke often found herself the one begging for it a fourth or even a fifth time. She was well aware that any woman who got a taste of Evan, would do almost anything to keep it coming and the thought caused her to briefly wonder again about her next-door neighbor.

At that point, overall, she felt like she could trust Evan and yet the sensible part of her still needed to make sure. “Trust but verify.” She’d heard that somewhere before but couldn’t remember who said it or what it was about. All she knew was she needed to do some verification before she could commit.

She started out with social media. Evan had a Facebook page, was also on Twitter, and she even found his profile on Linkedin which seemed a bit unusual for a guy who drove a truck. Okay, so that was a good start. She’d also Google’d his name and verified his basic information, but she couldn’t find out anything else about him. Her best friend, Gayle, assured her that wasn’t all that unusual. “Unless someone is famous or has a criminal record, it’s hard to find anything about them on the internet.” To prove her point, she searched both of their names and they couldn’t find a thing on either or them without spending money for a background report. “But if you’re still worried, I know a private investigator. Just let me know.”

The only real downside to this otherwise idyllic relationship was that he drove a truck for a living and he could be gone for several days at a time. Even so, after six months of dating, she finally introduced him to Tyler and the two of them bonded almost instantly. He and Evan did pretty much everything together from playing video games on the couch to team sports. And Brooke loved that he always took the time to read to him at night and tuck him into bed before well….doing her in bed.

Brooke couldn’t put a finger on it, but something still didn’t seem quite right. Maybe it was the way he tended to avoid talking about his past or his family. He told her he was an only child and that his parents had been killed in a car accident when he was 22. She even found the newspaper article with the correct names of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Walters who had been killed in a car accident when he would have been that age and it had taken place in the city he told her it had.

She was otherwise so swept up in his charm, she finally let her nagging suspicions go and said ‘yes’ when he’d proposed six months ago. They were married three months later and things had been going along quite nicely, her unfounded suspicions of Cheryl aside, until she found the lipstick on his collar; what Evan had assured her was ketchup. He—or someone—had obviously tried rubbing it out so why wouldn’t he have just thrown the shirt away if it really was lipstick? While she didn’t have an answer for that yet, it was this very sort of thing that set the warning bells off again in her head while also wondering if she might be turning into some kind of jealous, paranoid wife.

Even if that was happening, Brooke knew that even paranoid people had enemies, so because of the stain, she’d also removed his wallet from his pants, and although she didn’t want to look through it, her concerns drove her to take a peek. The first thing she noticed was the picture he always carried of her and Tyler had been cleanly torn in half leaving only her son in it. She then looked inside the tiny pockets on each side and found something that also disturbed her, but it wasn’t proof of anything. It was just an address written on it a piece of paper. No city, just a street name and address number. But the thing that really disturbed her was finding a phone number written in pencil on another scrap of paper on the other side of his wallet. She memorized the digits, then but everything back exactly where she’d found them, and decided not to bring it up with Evan. At least not yet.

Brooke nearly laughed when she told herself she’d watched one too many episodes of Murder She Wrote before realizing there was nothing funny about it. She tried to tell herself to relax, and yet her hackles were up again. They went way up when she waited for him bahis siteleri to go upstairs and read to Tyler before calling the number from Evan’s phone.

“Evan?” she heard a familiar voice say. “Evan? Are you there? Are we still on for tomorrow? Hello? Evan? Baby, is that you?”

She ended the call and stood there too stunned to speak. She wasn’t 100% certain, but the voice on the other end sounded very much like her next-door neighbor’s. She could taste the bile in her throat as she put his cell phone back where she found it. How could she have missed something right in front of her nose; something going on right next door to her?

She wasn’t sure why she did it, but she then called the number a second time only from her own cell phone. This time, it rang until it went through to voicemail and when she heard the recording, her blood ran cold. “Hi, this is Cheryl. I can’t come to the phone right now so if you’ll leave your name and number, I’ll get back to you.”

Brooke felt paralyzed as the call ended. She wasn’t sure how long she stood there just staring into space, but when she finally came to herself, she realized she had to follow him the next day. “So much for trust,” she told herself with a bitter sense of irony.

She barely slept at all that night, and the next morning, Evan was getting ready to head out when he told Brooke, “I’ll drop Tyler off at school today on my way out of town.”

“Oh, okay. That sounds great. Thank you,” she said trying to sound the way she always did in the morning. Normally, she took Tyler to school, but Evan had done it many times himself so that didn’t seem unusual. She kissed her son goodbye and told him to have a great day. Evan then gave her a peck on the cheek and assured her he’d call her each evening.

She gave him a couple of minutes head start knowing she could easily pick him up again once he dropped Tyler off at school. All she had to do was wait on a side street where she could see him go by without being seen herself then stay far enough back to avoid be spotted. Fifteen minutes later, she saw the black Chevy Malibu and fell in behind it about 500 yards back in her nondescript, beige minivan. He pulled onto the Interstate and Brooke followed him for nearly an hour before he exited. Keeping her distance, she continued following him for another ten minutes until she saw him pull into the parking lot of a cheap motel called “The Pines.”

She slowed down dramatically allowing her to watch him get out of the car and knock on on one of the first-floor doors. She drove on by hoping he didn’t see her go passed before circling around and pulling into the lot a good 100 feet from the Malibu. Her heart was pounding with fear at the same time her stomach was churning with that sick feeling of anticipated betrayal as she walked passed the motel lobby.

She saw the cleaning woman about six doors down from the room her husband had entered. The woman greeted her with a cheerful ‘good morning’ and Brooke forced a small smile and told her hello. She stopped and asked, “Excuse me, can you tell me the address of the motel, please?” The answer she provided matched the address written on the scrap of paper in Evan’s wallet and the churning in her stomach grew more intense. “Okay, thank you,” she said. She slowly walked toward the room and noted it the number 7. “Lucky seven,” she said to herself.

She tried to peek in through the curtains but couldn’t see anything. She drew a deep breath, steeled herself, then knocked on the door. She waited and hearing no answer, turned the handle. To her surprise it was unlocked. She slowly pushed it open and looked inside. “Evan? Evan, what in God’s name are you doing here?” She stepped inside expecting to see her husband. Instead, what she saw made her scream. Or at least she tried to.

As she looked down at the floor, she saw a woman’s body lying in a pool of blood on some kind of plastic sheet or shower curtain. Her eyes were wide open and Brooke’s immediate impression in the quarter second she looked was that she was dead. As she inhaled sharply before screaming, a large hand shot out from behind her and wrapped around her mouth powerfully pulling her head and body against his. There was a soft, white cloth in it and for a moment, there was a strong odor of something like rubbing alcohol before her world went black. The last thing she remembered before losing consciousness was that the woman on the floor was her neighbor. It was Cheryl Radcliffe.

When she awoke, her head was pounding akin to the worst hangover she’d ever since her college days. Her mouth was dry and she felt nauseous. There was a noise coming from somewhere in the room. She couldn’t exactly place it, but she knew it didn’t sound like her alarm. She forced open one eye and saw a cell phone lying next to her face. As she reached up to grab it with her right hand, she felt something cold in her left.

She pulled herself up onto her left elbow and looked down. What she’d felt in her left hand bahis şirketleri was the cold, hard steel of a gun. A gun that looked just like Evan’s 9mm pistol. The phone was still ringing and as she tried to focus on the name of the incoming caller, she thought she’d throw up when she read ‘Evan.’

She swiped ‘Accept’ and barely able to speak muttered, “Hello?”

“Hello, honey. It’s me. Your loving husband. Sorry about the headache. That happens. Listen carefully because the police are on their way. I want you to know I’m going to take really good care of Tyler, okay? Really good care. After all, he’s the reason I went through hell with you to convince you I loved you. Fortunately, your desperate need to believe I was this kind, caring man you wanted me to be, completely blinded you to who I really am. Now Tyler is mine and well, let’s just say we’re going to have SO much fun together.” He laughed before saying, “Well, at least I am. He really is a very cute little boy and just the right age for me. Oh, and if you don’t confess to killing Cheryl in a moment of jealous rage, Tyler won’t live long enough to have any fun—his or mine. Now tell me you understand me, sweetie. Do you?”

Her head not only hurt, it was also reeling as her foggy brain tried to make sense of the words she’d just heard. The sound of police sirens filled the room as Brooke looked around to finally realize she was right next door in Cheryl’s home and that…Cheryl’s dead body was lying next to her about a foot from the gun.

“Oh, hon-ney? Did you hear me? Time is running out.”

“Yes. I heard you. Evan, why are you doing….”

“You know,” he said, “you did all that research on me but you stopped one level short. If only you’d dug just a little bit deeper….”

The phone went dead just as Brooke heard shouts of, “Police! Open up! We have a warrant. Open the door or we’ll break it down!”

Unable to move let alone stand, Brooke dropped the phone and just sat there as the door was kicked in. “Get on your face! Hands behind your back! Do it NOW!”

Brooke was already on her face. She buried it in the carpet and vomited as she felt her hands being cuffed behind her back before being roughly pulled to her feet.

“Do you understand your rights as I’ve read them to you?” someone in a suit said.

“Um…yes. I understand,” she somehow said.

“Get her out of here!” the man in the suit barked.

The ride to the station was a blur. The vile taste of vomit filled her mouth and the stench was such that it caused her to retch again spewing the fluids in her stomach all over her and the seat between her legs. She noticed there was blood on her coat and her pants, but she still couldn’t think clearly enough to make sense of how or let alone why it was there.

“Face to the side.” Click. “Face back to the front.” Click.

A female officer removed her cuffs then took her fingerprints before ordering her her to step inside a room and undress where she would be searched inside and out. After the full-body search was complete, Brooke was given an orange jumpsuit to wear then taken to a male officer who was responsible for filling out the remaining paperwork and booking into the jail. Brooke’s head was beginning to clear but she still wasn’t quite with it. Even so, she recognized the officer sitting next to her.

“What’s your last name now, Brooke?” he asked her.

“Walters,” she said as it donned on her. His name plate said Jensen and she remembered having gone out with him on one of her early fix-ups. “Aren’t you Rick?” she asked through the mental fog.

He tapped his name tag and said, “Officer Jensen,” before requesting her date of birth.

“Rick…Officer Jensen….listen to me. My husband has my son.”

“I’m sure he’s still at school, but we have detectives at the house interviewing your husband right now. Besides, isn’t that exactly where your son should be? At school or with his father?”

“No! You don’t understand,” she tried telling him. “I think my husband is going to abduct him and…harm him. And…he’s not his father.”

“Harm him? Harm him how?”

She leaned toward him and said, “I have this suspicion…this very strong suspicion…that he’s going to molest him.”

Jensen stopped filling in the on-line form and said, “And what exactly are you basing this suspicion on, Mrs. Walters?”

She tried explaining the phone call, but it was still very fuzzy and she wasn’t 100% sure it had even taken place. “He told me if I don’t confess to this…and I didn’t do it, I swear…he’d kill Tyler.”

He tilted his head and raised his eyebrows as he looked at her. “Sounds like a desperate plea from a desperate woman.”

“Rick, you know me.” She lowered her voice. “We went out together. We talked—a lot. You know I’m not capable of doing something like this. I’m being set up. I swear!”

Other people were watching them and Rick said, “Brooke…Mrs. Walters, you’ve been charged with murder. I can’t exactly sit here and chat with you.”

“Then let me make my phone call. My husband could be taking my son out of school right now. He could already have him. Please. I know you had feelings for me at one point. Rick? Please.”

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