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Bellamy and the Brute

By:Alicia Michaels

Bellamy and the Brute
Alicia Michaels

Loose gravel crunched beneath her boots as Special Agent Camila Vasquez navigated the almost-empty parking lot to her car. Darting a glance around, she took in her surroundings, careful to listen for any approaching vehicles or footsteps. Settling her gaze back on her car, she found it undisturbed-no broken windows or picked locks. She took another glance over her shoulder to ensure she hadn't been followed as she pressed a button on the fob attached to her keychain.

Wellhollow Springs was a small town with a tight-knit community, but she couldn't afford to let her guard down. After she slid into the front seat, she glanced in the rearview mirror and spied the stack of files laid on her backseat. The information she'd been gathering for the past month would be enough to put a murderer away for the rest of his life. The fact that he was powerful hadn't intimidated her in the least, but until she'd placed the evidence into the right hands, she couldn't be too careful.

She placed her takeout box from the Japanese steakhouse on the passenger seat, dropped her purse onto the floor, and retrieved her phone. It vibrated in her hand. Her pulse began to race when she saw who was calling.

Answering quickly, she pressed the phone to her ear. "This is Vasquez."

A familiar voice reached out to her from the other end of the line. "Vasquez, it's Jones."

"Yeah, I know," she said with a smirk, jamming her key into the ignition and cranking the engine. "Your ugly mug pops up on my screen every time you call me."

Special Agent Jones laughed, but it came out dry and forced. "That's real cute. You want the results of this DNA test or what?"

Taking a deep breath, she gazed back through the driver's side window at the tall pine trees lining the highway beyond her. She'd been feeling as if she were being watched for about a week now, yet when she turned around, no one was ever there. Finding comfort in resting a hand on the sidearm holstered at her hip, she reminded herself that she had protection.

"Let's have it," she replied.

"The DNA from skin cells found under Isabella's fingernails matched the sample of saliva you sent me," Jones said. "The findings are consistent with the medical examiner's report-Isabella fought for her life while she was strangled, scratching and clawing. He's the one, Vasquez. He killed her."

Her grip tightened on the phone, and her eyes began to sting. Choking down a sob, she fell back against the seat. She'd had her suspicions and a lot of circumstantial evidence. Aside from that, Camila had felt, deep down in her gut, that the man whose DNA she'd painstakingly retrieved from a coffee cup had been responsible for her sister's murder two years ago. Now, she had proof.

"Are you still there?"

Jones' voice snapped her back to reality, and she sat up, wiping away a stray tear that had escaped one eye.

"I'm here. I need those results sent to my email as soon as possible. Tomorrow morning, I am going to present everything I have here to the Young County D.A.'s office. That son of a bitch is going to pay for what he did to my sister."

"Just watch your step," Jones warned. "I'm not even supposed to be giving you this information, and you're still on administrative leave pending a psych evaluation."

Camila rolled her eyes. "A woman insists on investigating the death of a family member, and, suddenly, she's crazy?"

"I don't make the rules," he retorted. "And breaking them could cost me my job."

"Keep your panties on," she muttered. "No one's going to lose their job. Once I bring this guy down, they'll be apologizing for not taking me more seriously."

"I hope you're right, for both yours and Isabella's sakes. She deserves justice, and you deserve closure. Good luck, Vasquez."

"I don't need luck; I have evidence," she said before ending the call.

The wallpaper of her home screen showed an old picture of her and Isabella. They'd taken the selfie together years ago while sitting on a park bench. Camila held the phone up while her little sister leaned into her, smiling and squinting a bit with the sun in her eyes. Isabella looked radiant and healthy-a far cry from the drug-addicted, waif-thin thing she'd been forced to identify in the morgue.

Giving the photo a sad smile, she sniffed and blinked back a fresh wave of tears.

"Don't worry, Izzy," she whispered. "I won't let him get away with this."

She placed her phone into the console beneath the radio, threw the car into reverse, and peeled out of the restaurant parking lot. Being one of the few customers leaving at closing time, she found the highway leading back into Wellhollow Springs all but empty. The red taillights of the car in front of her eventually disappeared around one of the many bends in the road, leaving her alone with two walls of pine trees whizzing by on either side.

Glancing at the panel behind the steering wheel, she frowned. The brake light had come on yesterday, and she'd forgotten all about it. She'd been so consumed with her case that she had neglected to have it serviced.

Tomorrow, she told herself.

The moment she'd finished up at the district attorney's office, she would have her car fixed. Since her administrative leave was indefinite until her superiors decided she was fit to resume duty, she might even stick around Wellhollow Springs for a while. The extended-stay hotel she'd been living in the past month was clean and affordable. Besides, she didn't want to miss any new developments in the case.

Rounding another bend in the road, she spotted a large, dark shape thrusting up toward the sky from the top of the hill. Baldwin House-the home of millionaire real estate development mogul Douglas Baldwin and his family. His grandfather had made a fortune by building half of Wellhollow Springs, so it seemed appropriate for the family home to overlook it all like the castle of some king looming over the peasants.

Turning her attention back to the road, she found yet another sharp curve and pressed the brake to slow down. She frowned when her foot was met with little resistance, the car neglecting to respond. With a gasp, she jerked the wheel left and just barely made it around the bend. Her heart began to pound, throat constricting as she came upon another turn. She pumped the brake, turning the wheel right. The car went entirely too fast, veering into the metal guardrail and causing sparks to fly. Giving the wheel another jerk, she attempted to decelerate again, her breath coming in short pants as the downward slope of the road became steeper.

The vehicle was out of control now, speeding up into the sixties. It hit the seventies as she bit back screams and sobs of terror, fighting to bring it to a stop. The brakes weren't responding at all, and another turn loomed ahead, a steep drop-off yawning beyond the guardrail.

"No," she whispered, clenching the wheel with damp palms. "No, no, no!"

In a last-ditch effort to stop the car, she jerked the wheel to the right, and then yanked up on the emergency brake while speeding around the curve. Her tires screeched, the scent of rubber being burned by asphalt filling her nostrils. The world outside her windows tilted and spun until she couldn't distinguish the sky from the trees or dark hills. A scream burned in her chest when the sound of metal crunching metal indicated she'd slammed into the guardrail. Her stomach shot up into her throat as the car tipped over, hurtling over the steep incline leading to the valley below her.

The car made impact-once, twice, three times, rolling and bouncing over and over, jostling her mercilessly. Her head bashed against the driver's side window, causing her teeth to rattle. She must have bit her tongue, because blood filled her mouth at the same time it began to trickle down her face from a wound on her temple.

She didn't know h