The Lies I Told Cover

Another Girl Lost

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A woman’s harrowing past comes back to haunt her in a novel of twisting psychological suspense by New York Times bestselling author Mary Burton. Ten years ago, fifteen-year-old Scarlett Crosby was held captive in a terrifying ordeal with a girl named Della. Scarlett escaped, the police shot their predator, and Della simply vanished. Detective Kevin Dawson always wondered if Della even existed. A decade later, Scarlett is a successful artist. As hard as she tries to move on, the mysterious. Della remains her inescapable obsession. When contractors discover a girl’s body behind a wall, Scarlett’s horrific past and all her old traumas resurface. Scarlett has seen her hiding in plain sight. And now Scarlett believes that Della, who knew her secrets and the desperate compromises she’d made to survive, has returned. As a suspicious Detective Dawson once again comes calling and obsessions turn deadly, Scarlett fears she can’t trust a living soul. As for Della, who’s watching from afar, what could she want from Scarlett now? And what new nightmare lies ahead?
Another Girl Lost Excerpt

Another Girl Lost

Detective Kevin Dawson

Saturday, July 20, 2024
Norfolk, Virginia
6:00 a.m.

Fear is a shape-shifter.

It manifests in dozens of different ways. Loud shrieks, righteous wails, angry denials, moans, nervous tics, tapping feet, even nail biting. Detective Kevin Dawson had seen all incarnations in his fifteen years on the force.

He’d also crossed paths with the rare ones who didn’t show any signs of anxiety. They barricaded themselves behind an oppressive, icy silence that was difficult to penetrate. Discovering their secrets was always a challenge.

The woman sitting across the interview table from him now was one of the unusual ones. A rare breed. Scarlett Crosby had tucked herself under layers of a smooth, nonresponsive facade. Nonplussed—bored, even.

He’d yet to get under her skin, but she’d burrowed deep under his. Hours ago, he’d been pissed when he tightened the cuffs around her thin wrists, constricting the links until tension rippled through her body.

Scarlett Crosby had likely killed one woman and had been caught trying to murder another. She’d viciously attacked the arresting officer, and now Dawson, along with everyone in the department, wanted a pound of her flesh.

Two hours ago, after the paramedics had patched her up, he’d stuck her in this small, windowless interview room. He’d dimmed the lights, knowing she’d stew in shadows and dirty grays. When he’d slammed the door behind him, he’d made a show of flipping the dead bolt. His message was clear: You’re locked in. Trapped. Get used to a cell.

On his orders, she’d received no bathroom breaks, water, or coffee, and no human contact. He wanted her uncomfortable. Given her history, a little physical discomfort in a confined space might penetrate her silence.

Playing fair? Maybe not. But his job was to solve two murders, not coddle Scarlett Crosby.

When he reentered the room, her eyes were closed, and her bandaged hand rested on her thigh. If he didn’t know better, he’d say she was meditating at a yoga retreat.

She wore gray scrubs, courtesy of the forensic officer who’d confiscated her blood-soaked T-shirt, jeans, and shoes. The garments swallowed her thin frame and cast an unhealthy hue on already-pale skin stippled with traces of blood. She smelled of her victim’s perfume, the back of the squad car, and the artist’s paint she used daily.

When he flipped on the lights, she didn’t open her eyes or move.

He angled the second chair at a diagonal close to her, the position a deliberate choice to foster a connection between them. No table separating them, they were allies, not enemies.

He sipped coffee as he set a cup of water in front of her. He shouldn’t be the one talking to Scarlett Crosby. His perspective on this case was tainted, but he was the first to admit he had an on-again, off-again relationship with common sense. He wanted, needed, her to talk to him.

When she opened her eyes, there were no signs of gratitude or relief. If anything, annoyance simmered. He prided himself on sizing up suspects, but reading her was tough.

He tugged his jacket, sipped coffee. “How did we get here, Scarlett?” The use of we and her name was deliberate. Creating-connections, building-bridges kind of thing.

The suggestion that they were in this together seemed to amuse her. “I want my lawyer.” Her voice rattled with a slight rasp.

When his investigation began almost two weeks ago, he’d recognized her name immediately. An internet search unearthed ten-year-old images of a haunted, broken Scarlett staring blankly into a camera. A gash had run down her cheek, and bruises covered her neck and arms. That version of Scarlett had plagued his nightmares for a decade. He’d failed that Scarlett. She’d been the victim of Tanner Reed, who’d held, raped, and tortured her for three months. She’d suffered for those three months because when Dawson had interviewed Tanner weeks before her kidnapping, he’d not seen past the man’s easy explanations and smile. It took three months for the dots to connect in Dawson’s mind, and thanks to some dumb luck, he’d finally saved Scarlett. The world had seen him as her ultimate savior, and he’d been promoted.

This Scarlett sitting here now, the 2.0 version, had physically filled out in the last decade, softening those sharp bones. Her blond hair had thickened and grown glossy, color warmed her skin, and the old terrors radiating from her eyes had vanished.

Now, he believed, her fears hadn’t gone anywhere, but had bonded with anger and embedded in sinew and bone. She’d remade herself into an artist, a businesswoman, and a volunteer who helped at a local recreation center where she’d just completed a mural. Current publicity and public images captured smiles, but a detectable distance blunted her gaze.

“I’ll call your lawyer soon,” he said.

Scarlett drank her water and dug her thumbnail into the Styrofoam cup. “I’m only talking to Luke Kane, Detective Dawson.”

“It could be a while. I’d hate for you to sit here any longer than necessary.”

The cup creaked as she tightened her fingers. “I was locked in a basement for eighty-eight days, remember? You’ll have to try harder to intimidate me.”

He glanced at his watch, struggling to hide his rising frustration. “Scarlett, let me help you. I want to get this sorted out so you can go home. Talk to me.”

“Lawyer first, Detective Dawson.” Full lips flattened into a grim line, projecting experience well beyond her twenty-five years.

“Where do I start? We have footage of you speaking to your latest victim, and we’ve also confirmed you were one of the last people to see her alive. You also stalked and kidnapped a second woman. You’d have killed her if you’d not been stopped.”

She sat silent, barely breathing.

“And I can also link you to the human remains found entombed in a wall.” He leaned forward, his knees less than an inch from hers. “What set you off? Why call in the location of the first body that’s been hidden for a decade? Why kill again after all these years?”

She exhaled slowly, her face remaining a blank mask.

He sat back, refusing to acknowledge the frustration elbowing his gut. He lowered his voice and softened the tone. “Tell me about Della.” He knew Della was a trigger point for Scarlett, their alleged relationship an open wound. “Tell me how she hurt you.”

She settled back in the chair, her face cool and emotionless. “Not talking.”

“You and me have history, Scarlett. You don’t want another cop handling your case. I’ve seen you at your worst. Others won’t understand you like I do.”

“You understand me?” Bitter amusement vibrated under the words.

The first threats of anger. Progress. “We must talk, Scarlett. You helped kill a woman, murdered another, and tried to suffocate a third. You put a cop in the hospital with several vicious stab wounds. You called that officer Della multiple times. And this isn’t the first time you’ve confused a woman with this Della.”

Scarlett’s fingernail dug into the cup.

Dawson didn’t focus on the dead women but the one currently in surgery. Scarlett’s latest version of Della had elicited so much anger and rage, she’d attacked her with a knife. “Nineteen stiches. Your knife left a nasty gash on your victim’s neck and chest. The doctor said a few more centimeters to the left and you’d have severed her carotid artery. If she’d bled to death, you would be facing another murder charge.”

The cup creaked again.

He’d sat across from hardened criminals in this room. Gangbangers, drug dealers, and men who’d strangled their baby mamas to death. Some protested their innocence. Some tried to look bored or indignant when he accused them of attempted murder. Some cried. Scarlett barely blinked.

“I was there when the van crashed a decade ago. I shot and killed Tanner Reed when he drew on me. I helped pull you from the wreckage,” he said. “I’m on your side.”

She inhaled and exhaled slowly.

“Breaks my heart when I think about pulling you out of that torn metal. What happened to you in that basement should never have happened to any person.”

Counselors he’d consulted in the early-morning hours said she managed the old traumas by disassociating. Quiet. Distant. In her own world. This was how she coped. The consultant had underlined Detached several times.

“Were you always like this?” he asked. “Withdrawn, I mean? As a girl, were you outgoing?”

“You want to talk about my middle school years?” Bitterness pirouetted with amusement.

“I want to start a dialogue with you. I want to help you.”

“Then call my lawyer.”

“At some point you and I are going to have to talk, Scarlett. You need to tell me what you know.”

How did you scare someone who’d been tortured by the devil?

Dawson’s fifteen years in the department had armed him with tricks and tactics. Fighting every urge to rail at her, he leaned on his patience. “When did you first meet Officer Margo Larsen?”

She moistened her lips. “This information for the case or your own personal reference, Detective?”

He almost protested, then slid back behind a blank stare. “What does that mean?”

“You know.” A smile tipped the edges of her lips before she closed her eyes, released the cup, and drew in a deep breath. The muscles in her arms and hands eased, shedding the tension. She’d turned the tables.

“When did you decide to stalk Margo Larsen?” He shifted back to offense. “I’ve seen the portrait you left for her in her apartment. Odd.”

Scarlett blinked. “Her name isn’t Margo. It’s Della.”

“She’s Officer Margo Larsen.”

“When did you start screwing Della? Did you find her, or did she find you? What itch do you have that she scratched?”

“What’s that mean?”

“Della found me. Her smile was so bright, it banished all my fears and worries. That smile lured me into Tanner Reed’s van. That smile ruined my life.”

“Margo Larsen isn’t Della.”

“You’re wrong. She’s Della, and she’s come back for me.”