The pungent smell of mildew and dead fish seeped from the blanket I pulled tighter around my shoulders. At least the layer provided some warmth against the chill in the cold October night. Salt water dripped from my hair and the pretty pink dress I put on to impress him, stuck to my skin.
Not a good night to be tossed into the ocean.
I stood to stretch my legs and walked to the water’s edge. Waves lapped the shore, erasing my sins. If only the memories could be wiped away as easy.
I glanced over at the crime scene team working to preserve the victim’s remains. They’d already collected all they needed from me, my testimony, samples of his skin from under my nails and photos of every bruise on my body, except for the ones the metal handcuffs created.
Detective Ben Stephenson glanced in my direction and headed over, stopping behind me so he didn’t get wet. The softer foundation of sand under my bare toes disappeared with the current’s retreat.
“He’s gone, Sara.”
“You’re safe now.”
From the restraining orders to the late night 911 calls, Ben knew me. He was there the first time I called. Who better to be here tonight at the end? I was safe from physical abuse, but the emotional damage would continue for years to come.
He touched my arm, and I turned to face him. The glow of the moon reflected in his copper eyes. He slipped the key from his pocket and removed the cuffs. My cold hands absorbed the warmth of his fingers.
“Did you do what I told you and filed another restraining order yesterday?” he asked.
I nodded and rubbed my wrists.
“Tell me exactly what happened. How did you kill him?”
The question quenched my breath and punched my gut with truth. I was a murderer. I’d killed a man.
Sure, my lawyer would claim self-defense. Would I be able to prove it? No time like the present to get the facts straight.
“He found me at the Saltwater Tavern and apologized, then asked me to take a walk on the beach so we could talk. He seemed sincere, so I agreed. That was my first mistake.”
I paused, remembering several other missteps from last night. “He led me to the boardwalk by the water. No one was around. I suggested we go back, but that’s when he showed me the images on his phone and accused me of seeing someone else. Said he had me followed.”
Detective Ben averted his gaze to the water, then back to me. “And what did you say?”
“Nothing. I knew to stay silent. He’d taught me that lesson too many times before.” I swallowed, avoiding the details surging into my mind. “He called me awful names and…”
I stepped closer to Ben and lifted my gaze to his. “I told him he was right. I loved someone else.”
A large wave crashed and pressed us closer. I stumbled, but Ben’s arms caught and steadied me. He held me for a moment, then raised his fingers to lightly touch the bruises on my neck. “Is that when he—”
“Yes.” I interrupted him, not wanting to relive the horrible event.
His eyes glistened in the moonlight, “I’m so glad you’re okay. If anything had happened to you, I don’t know—”
My arms slipped around him in a hug. “I’m okay. He can’t hurt me anymore. Thanks to you.”
“I wish I’d done more. This went on way too long.” His lips brushed the top of my head. “I know some great attorneys that can build a self-defense case, if the DA even decides to press charges.”
“Thanks, but I’ve got a lawyer.”
He released me from our hug. “Just one more question. Can you show me which pylon of the pier he hit his head on when you pushed him off?”
I forced my hand to point to the fifth from the end. “That one. A wave crashed in on us, knocking him back. His head smashed against the corner, then the current pulled him under.”
Ben took my hand in his. “The medical examiner thought the fatal blow might’ve come from a blunt object, like a bottle or something. Are you sure that’s where he hit?”
“Positive. Of course, I’m not sure what happened when he went under. I saw blood and pulled him to shore.”
“Which explains the drag marks,” Ben said.
Shivers shook my shoulders, and we walked toward the parking boardwalk where the awful night began. He moved us out of sight from his team then faced me, placing a soft, gentle kiss on my lips. “Go have a seat in my cruiser, and I’ll take you home. I’m just going to tell my partner. Okay?”
Ben jogged around the large sand dune, and I made my way toward the parking lot. With no one in sight, I stepped from the boardwalk and reached underneath. My heels and purse were still there, along with one full bottle of wine. I didn’t even have time for a celebratory glass. The beach shower was the perfect spot to wash the sand from my toes and his blood from the outside of the bottle. I popped the cork and poured the contents down the drain. Clear water tinted crimson…for just a moment.
Gone forever. “Such a shame. I always did like a good red.”
She won first place in the Foundation Awards and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. She is a member of the Suspense Squad. Connect with her at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.