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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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I try to open my eyes, but the light is too bright and painful. It’s quiet except for a soft beeping sound, and I try to raise one hand to the agony that’s my head, but it won’t move properly. Something’s stuck in it, or to it. The air smells faintly of bleach.

“Can you hear me?” asks a low voice. A cool, dry hand presses against my cheek. “Ellery? Can you hear me?” I try to say yes, but it comes out more like a groan. My throat hurts almost as much as my head.

“I’m sorry. Don’t talk.” The hand leaves my face and curls around mine. “Squeeze if you understand me.” I do, weakly, and something wet drips on my arm. “Thank God. You’ll be all right. They’ve used hyperbaric oxygen on you and— Well, I guess the details don’t matter right now, but things look good. You look good. Oh, my poor girl.” My arm is getting wetter. I crack my eyes open a slit and see the faint outline of a room. Walls and a ceiling, blending into one another with clean white lines, lit by the pale-blue glow of fluorescent lighting. A gray head is bent in front of me, framed by shaking shoulders. “How?” I ask, but it doesn’t sound like a word. My throat is as dry and rough as sandpaper. I try to swallow, but it’s impossible without saliva. “How?” I rasp again. It’s still unintelligible, even to my own ears, but my grandmother seems to understand.

“Your brother saved you,” she says.

I feel like Sadie’s robot character in The Defender. That does not compute. How did Ezra wind up in the Nilssons’ basement? But before I can ask another question, everything fades again.

The next time I wake, pale sunlight is streaming into the room. I try to sit up, until a figure in scrubs covered with sailboats gently forces me back down. “Not yet,” a familiar voice says.

I blink until Melanie’s face comes into focus. I want to talk to her, but my throat is on fire. “I’m thirsty,” I croak.

“I’ll bet,” she says sympathetically. “Just a few sips of water for now though, okay?” She raises my head and puts a plastic cup to my lips. I drink greedily until she pulls it away. “Let’s see how you do with that before you have any more.” I’d protest, but my stomach is already rolling. At least it’s a little easier to talk now, though. “Malcolm?” I manage.

She places a comforting hand on my arm. “In a room down the hall. He’ll be all right. And your mother is on her way.” “Sadie? But she’s not supposed to leave Hamilton House.”

“Oh, honey. Nobody cares about that right now.”

Everything about me feels as dry as dust, so it’s surprising when tears start rolling down my cheeks. Melanie perches on the side of my bed and snakes her arms around me, folding me into a hug. My fingers curl onto her scrubs and clutch tight, pulling her closer. “I’m sorry,” I rasp. “I’m so sorry about everything. Is Mr. Nilsson …” I trail off as my stomach lurches and I gag.

Melanie raises me into more of a sitting position. “Throw up if you need to,” she says soothingly. “Right here is fine.” But the moment passes, leaving me exhausted and coated in clammy sweat. I don’t say anything else for a long while, concentrating on getting my breathing under control.

When I finally do, I ask again. “Where is he?”

Melanie’s voice is pure ice. “Peter’s in jail, where he belongs.”

It’s such an enormous relief that I don’t even mind when I feel myself slipping into unconsciousness again.

By the time Ryan visits, I almost feel like myself again. I’ve been awake for more than thirty minutes, anyway, and I’ve managed to keep down an entire cupful of water.

“You just missed Ezra,” I tell him. “Nana made him leave. He’d been here for seven hours straight.” Ryan lowers himself into the chair beside my bed. “I believe it,” he says. He’s not in uniform but wearing faded jeans and a flannel shirt instead. He gives me a nervous, lopsided smile that reminds me of Ezra’s and I wish, for one irrational second, that he’d hug me like Melanie did.

Your brother saved you, Nana had said.

She was right. I just didn’t realize which one.

“Thank you,” I say. “Nana told me you came looking for us at the Nilssons’. But nobody told me why.” I search his open, friendly face, wondering how I ever could have imagined that it harbored dark secrets. My Spidey sense is officially crap, which I’m sure Malcolm will tell me as soon as I’m allowed to see him.

“I don’t want to tire you out,” Ryan starts tentatively, but I cut him off.

“No, please. You won’t, I promise. I need to know what happened.”

“Well.” He hunches his shoulders and leans forward. “I can’t get into everything, but I’ll tell you as much as I can. It’s hard to know where to start, but it was probably with the bracelet Daisy gave me. She says she told you about that.” “The bracelet? Really?” I sit up so fast that I wince from the headache that suddenly hits me, and Ryan shoots me a worried look. I settle back into the pillows with pretend nonchalance. “I mean, okay. Sure. How so?” He regards me in silence for a few seconds, and I press my lips together so I won’t accidentally vomit. “I didn’t think much of it at the time,” he finally says. “I followed up with the jeweler and she had no paper trail. She’d sold a bunch of bracelets around the same time and kept lousy records. Dead end, I thought. But I asked her to contact me if any similar sales took place, and last month, she did. A guy bought the exact same bracelet and paid cash. When I asked her to describe him, he fit Peter to a T. Not that I realized it at the time. I didn’t start connecting dots until you guys brought me that repair receipt. That made me question the whole Nilsson family. Then I asked Brooke’s parents if I could look through her jewelry box.” I have to make myself remember how to breathe. “And?”

“She had a bracelet exactly like Lacey’s. Her mother didn’t know when she’d gotten it, or from whom. But we had our own theories. Obviously.” “Right, right,” I say sagely. Like that had ever occurred to me, even once.

“At the same time, we were scouring Brooke’s house for clues. Her phone had gone missing the same time she did, but we were able to seize her computer. There was a diary on it, buried among a bunch of school files and password protected. It took us a while to get it open, but once we did we had most of the story. Brooke’s side, anyway. She was cagey about names and details, but we knew she’d had an affair with someone older, that she’d been with him the night something terrible happened, and that she wanted to make things right. We had the car repair receipt, so we were starting to piece things together. But it was all still circumstantial. Then the Huntsburg police found Declan’s ring at the crime scene.” Ryan grimaces, burrowing his neck into his shoulders. “I screwed up there, when I questioned Declan. I was trying to rule him out while confirming that the ring was his, because at that point I was pretty sure he was getting framed. But … I don’t know. Declan and I have never had a great dynamic. I pushed too hard, and raised doubts in Malcolm’s head that didn’t need to be there. If I could take anything back, it would be that.” The machine next to me beeps quietly. “Okay,” I say. “But … how did you show up in the nick of time? Why did you show up?” “Your text,” Ryan says. I stare blankly at him, and his brows rise. “You didn’t know? You managed to get one letter off before Peter took your phone. All it said was ‘P.’ I texted back a few times, but you didn’t answer. I got worried with everything going on, so I checked in with your grandmother. When she said you were hanging out with Malcolm at the Nilssons’ house, I freaked. I’d done my best to get Malcolm and his mother out of that house while we were investigating, but they wouldn’t leave. And then you show up there? I know how you are—always asking questions people don’t want to answer. I headed over there, thinking I’d make up some excuse to bring you back to Nora’s. And I found …” He trails off, swallowing visibly. “I found you.” “Where was Peter?”

Ryan’s expression darkens. “Heading out of the house just as I was heading in. I guess he’d gone back to the basement to drag you guys into the hallway so we wouldn’t know you’d ever been locked in. He didn’t say a word when he saw me, just got into his car and took off. Which was enough to make me start tearing through the house. Thank God I heard the hum of the generator when I got into the kitchen, because you were nearly out of time.” His mouth sets in a grim line. “Peter almost made it to Canada before someone caught up with him. I can’t talk about what we found in his car, but it was enough to tie him to Brooke’s murder.” “So this is just … a thing with him? Sleeping with teenage girls and killing them when they get in his way?” Malcolm had said that in the Nilssons’ house, while I stood silently beside him. Frozen and useless, like I hadn’t spent nearly half my life preparing for the moment when I’d be lured into a killer’s basement.

“Looks like it. Mind you, he hasn’t confessed to anything, and we don’t have hard evidence when it comes to Lacey. Not yet. We don’t know what the tipping point was with her. Profilers are analyzing Peter now, and they suspect that she likely wanted to take their affair public. That she threatened to tell his wife or something.” “His second wife, right?”

“Yeah. She doesn’t live in Echo Ridge anymore, but she lost her husband and son in a car accident before she married Peter. I think that’s his particular brand of evil—acting like some kind of hero figure to vulnerable woman while preying on young girls behind their backs.” Ryan’s face twists with disgust. “I don’t know how else to explain why he’d marry the mother of Lacey’s boyfriend. It’s like he wanted to stay involved with Lacey, or something.” I shudder, thinking back to Peter and Malcolm’s mom in their kitchen the first time I’d gone to Malcolm’s house. How charming he’d been, but also—now that I have the benefit of hindsight—how controlling. Not letting his wife talk and maneuvering her out of the room, but doing it all with a smile. He’d fooled me as much as anyone. “What a twisted creep. The only thing that would’ve been worse is if Melanie’s husband wasn’t around and he’d tried to hook up with her.” “Agreed,” Ryan says. “Although Melanie never would’ve gone for it. She’s tough. Alicia—not so much.” My heart aches for Malcolm, and what this is going to mean for his family. Declan is finally in the clear, at least, and maybe once people realize Lacey was under Peter’s influence, they won’t judge him and Daisy too harshly. On the other hand—his mom. I can’t even begin to imagine how she must feel, and how she’s going to pick up the pieces from being married to somebody like Peter.

Ryan inches forward in his chair, his elbows on his knees and his hands clasped together. “There’s something I wanted to check in with you about. When I spoke to Malcolm, he said you asked Peter if he’d done anything to Sarah, and that Peter whispered something he couldn’t hear. What did Peter say?” My fingers find the worn edge of my blanket and pluck its loose threads. “I don’t know. I couldn’t hear him either.” His face falls. “Ah, okay. He’s not answering any of our questions, including the ones about Sarah, but don’t worry. We’ll keep at it.” “What about Katrin?” I ask abruptly. “Why was she doing all that anonymous threat stuff? Was she trying to point people toward her dad or something?” “No. That’s another long story,” Ryan says. I lift my brows, and he adds, “Katrin wasn’t involved in the threats, at first. It was Vivian Cantrell who started them.” “Viv? Why? What does she have to do with Peter? Were they having an affair too?” I almost gag at the thought.

Ryan huffs out a humorless laugh. “No. It was completely unrelated. She’s applying to journalism programs this fall, and I guess some high-profile alumni told her that her portfolio wasn’t strong enough to stand out. So she decided to manufacture a story she could report on.” I’m not sure I’ve heard him correctly. I almost have my head wrapped around Mr. Nilsson’s warped psyche, but Viv’s calculated plotting shocks me. “What? No. You have got to be kidding. She did all that crap—freaked people out, brought up horrible memories, and totally traumatized Lacey’s parents—so she could write about it?” “Yep,” Ryan says grimly. “And that’s why you got dragged into it. Viv fixed the homecoming court election. She thought it’d be more newsworthy to have Sarah Corcoran’s niece involved.” “Newsworthy?” The word tastes bitter in my mouth. “Wow. She’s a special kind of horrible, isn’t she?” Ryan looks like he fully agrees, but all he says is, “We traced the pep rally stunt back to her, and were about to talk with her parents when Brooke disappeared. Then we couldn’t give the situation as much attention as we wanted, although we did let her know she was busted. She was terrified, and swore up and down that she’d stop immediately. So I was surprised as hell when Malcolm turned up with that video.” “Why would Katrin get involved, though?”

Ryan hesitates. “I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you that. We’re in discussions with Katrin’s lawyer about what kind of role she’s going to play in the investigation. Her reasons are part of those discussions, and they’re confidential.” “Did she know what her father was doing?” I press. Ryan folds his arms across his chest without answering. “Blink once for yes.” He snorts, but more in a fond sort of way than in annoyance. I think. “New subject.” I twist the blanket between my hands. “So you had the whole thing figured out, and all this time I’ve just been getting in your way. Does that about sum it up?” “Not entirely. The repair receipt was genuinely useful, especially knowing how much Brooke wanted to find it. When we added it to the bracelet and her diary, we knew who we were dealing with.” He gives me a half smile. “Plus, you almost getting killed gave us probable cause to search Peter’s car, so … thanks for that.” “Any time.” My eyelids are getting heavy, and I have to blink fast to keep them from drooping. Ryan notices and gets to his feet.

“I should go. Let you get some rest.”

“Will you come by again?”

He looks flattered at the hopeful tone in my voice. “Yeah, sure. If you want me to.” “I do.” I let my eyes close for a second, then force them open again as he stands. “Thanks again. For everything.” “You’re welcome,” he says, shoving his hands in his pockets awkwardly. For that moment he reminds me of the old Officer Rodriguez—the skittish, subpar cop, instead of the crack investigator he turned out to be. “Hey, so, this is maybe not the time or the place,” he adds, hesitantly, “but … if you’re feeling well enough, my sister’s having a fall open house in a couple of weeks. She does it every year. She wants to meet you and Ezra. If you’re up for it.” “She does?” I ask, surprised. I’d almost forgotten that Ryan has siblings.

“Yeah, but no pressure or anything. Just think about it. You can let me know later if you’re interested.” He smiles warmly and lifts one hand in a wave. Then he turns, disappearing into the hallway.

I sink back onto the thin pillow, my haze of tiredness suspended. I’ve almost gotten used to Ryan, but I’m not sure how to feel about even more strangers that I’m related to. Going from a family of three—four, with Nana—to this sudden influx of half siblings, their spouses, and their kids seems like a lot.

I kind of like the idea of a sister, though. Maybe a half one wouldn’t be bad.

There’s a rustling sound at the door, and the scent of jasmine. I half twist on the bed, and spy a cloud of dark curls framed in the doorway.

“Ellery,” Sadie breathes, her blue eyes sparkling with tears. Before I can remember that I’m mad at her, I’m returning her hug with every ounce of strength I have left.

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