Guilty Needs by Shiloh Walker
For my family, always
To all the loyal readers who supported me over the years.
To my agent Elaine Spender of The Knight Agency.
To the group at Inscribe Digital.
The wind cut across the graveyard, cold and bitter, sharp as a knife and unrelenting. The rain continued to fall, every bit as cold and unrelenting as the wind. The cemetery was empty now, save for a couple of miserable souls—the workers waiting to shovel the wet earth over the gleaming, shell-pink coffin and two mourners.
That was it. It didn’t seem to do her justice, her life summed up in those three lines. How could thirty years on this earth be condensed down to three damn lines? Bridgette Lancaster—Bree—knew just how little justice those lines did Alyssa. She hadn’t been a dear friend. She’d been the friend—the kind of friend everybody should have at least one of. Not just the kind of friend you’d call when you were bummed over a guy, or when you needed to go shoe shopping. Not even just the kind of friend you’d call if you needed to bury a body.
Oh, God…she flinched as her mind played back memories of days when she’d stormed into the room she’d shared with Alyssa throughout college. Her best friend would take one look, then with a conspiratorial smile, she’d ask, Where do you want to hide the body?
Not that Lyssa could ever hurt anybody. She just didn’t have it in her.
Where do you want to hide the body?
The body. Shit—
She tore her mind away from those memories. Harmless little comments tossed out to make each other feel better after a bad day. Maybe some day, Bree could look back and smile again. But she didn’t know.
Alyssa had been the kind of friend who knew your every little secret, even those Bree wished nobody knew—especially not Alyssa. And she’d loved Bree anyway.
God, Lys. How are we going to make it without you? Bree thought, swallowing the knot in her throat.
Then her gaze was drawn to Colby. Colby Hutchins, Alyssa’s husband…and Bree’s darkest secret. The one secret she’d hoped Alyssa would never discover…
Alyssa turned her head and saw Bree standing in the doorway. She smiled, and even as thin as she had become from the cancer, the smile lit her entire face and made her beautiful. “Hey, yourself.”
Bree came into the room and settled her hip on the edge of the hospital bed. When the doctors told them there was nothing left to be done, both Colby and Alyssa had insisted she come home. For the past three weeks, Alyssa had lived in the home she and Colby had built from the ground up, just three years earlier. Their dream home—built when a combination of luck and hard work had paid off for Colby and he’d hit the writer’s version of the lottery, an overnight bestseller followed with an offer for more books, the kind of offer that would make a lot of people weep.
The money made it possible for him to take care of his dying wife without relying on a hospital. Private round-the-clock nursing care kept her as comfortable as anybody could hope for and Colby himself took care of giving her baths, brushing her thinning hair and coaxing her to eat or drink as often as he could.
Thankless work, Bree guessed, but all it did was make her love him more. If he was bitter over the lot life had handed him, he never showed it. Married less than seven years, they’d been talking about having kids soon, then a routine exam revealed something none of them could have prepared for. Cervical cancer—the rapidly advancing kind. Too advanced for surgery and, they soon discovered, too advanced for medical treatment.
By the time the doctors caught the cancer, it was just too damn late.
“Where’s Colby?” Bree asked, taking the tube of lotion from the bedside table and squeezing some into her palm to rub onto Alyssa’s hands. Colby had done her nails again—Bree knew it was his handiwork because of the slightly uneven strokes near the cuticles. Practically since middle school, Alyssa had given herself manicures every week and painted her nails in some vivid shade of red or pink with a fru-fru name that made Bree snort.
Closing her eyes, Alyssa smiled and said, “I made him leave the house for a while.”
Bree laughed. “And how did you do that?”
“I told him I wanted some ice cream from Schone’s. It’s summer.”
“Lime sherbet,” Bree murmured, smiling faintly. “I’m glad you’ve got something of an appetite today.”
Alyssa grimaced. “I don’t have an appetite. I’ll eat a little, but I needed him to leave for a little while.”
“Why? I know he’s hovering but—”
“It’s not that.” She turned her head on the pillow, studying Bree with solemn eyes. “I just needed to talk to you. I want you to do me a favor.”
Fingers slippery with lotion, Bree squeezed Alyssa’s hand. Alyssa squeezed back, but the lack of strength there was heartbreaking. She’d gotten so weak. Forcing a smile, Bree said, “You know all you have to do is ask. We need to go bury a body?”
Bree flinched. It was a standing joke between them, that they’d help bury the body if one of them ever needed that kind of help. But it wouldn’t be too long before a body was buried—Alyssa’s. Bree couldn’t think about that right now. “Lys—”
Written By: Shiloh Walker
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