Home > Pieces of a Life (Life #3)

Pieces of a Life (Life #3)
Author: Jewel E. Ann





“My dad said I need to stay close to you until my mom comes back. He’s afraid a bad person will hurt me.”

While my mom zips the back of my white gown, I stare at the little girl before me.

So innocent.

So loved.

So beautiful.

Her dad is right. There are bad people who do bad things to children.

However, we are at a private venue surrounded by family and close friends. Whether it’s right or not, this is the perfect example of allowing kids to roam freely until corralled at the last possible minute—there’s an assumption that someone is watching them.

Her dad is feeling extra protective today because Winston Jeffries preyed on little girls running around at family events, like weddings, between 1892 and 1901. Nearly a decade of kidnapping. Nearly a decade of long hair hanging from trees in churchyards. Just the hair.

The bodies were never found.

Jeffries was convicted of thirty-seven counts of first-degree murder and hanged in Owensboro, Kentucky, on February 10, 1902 without a single body discovered.

He took the location of the bodies to his grave.

“A bad person, huh?”

The young girl nods, her long, dark curls and pink ribbons bouncing with each tip of her chin.

Her father’s not worried about a mysterious “bad person.” He’s worried his bride might flee at the last second.

This girl has been sent here to keep an eye on me.

But why scare her? Why not just tell her I need help getting dressed? Why send her to deliver the one message that would make me want to kick off my heels, toss aside my veil, and run until my heart gives out?

“Mom, will you give us a minute?” I ask.

She straightens the skirt of my gown. “Sure. I need to check on your dad anyway.”

When it’s just the young girl and me, I bend down so we’re at eye level. “Do you trust me?”

She nods slowly, eyes wide.

“I think your dad is scared. Will you help him not to be so scared?”

Another slow nod.

“It means you have to be brave too. You have to do something really brave and trust me that it’s for the best. Can you do that?”

“I think so,” she whispers.

I riffle through my mom’s bag. She packed everything we could possibly need for any hiccup. My fingers curl around the orange-handled scissors, and I turn back to the girl. “Are you sure you’re brave?”

She stares at the scissors and nods.

“And you trust me?”

“Y-yes …”

“Come here.”

She shuffles her pink shoes toward me.

“Turn around.”

She turns around.

I remove the ribbon from the partial ponytail on the crown of her head. Then I tie it low, right above the nape of her neck.

She jumps when I cut her hair just above the tied ribbon, and the rest of her hair falls into a short bob around her chin when she turns toward me.

I smile, ignoring her parted lips and bugged-out eyes. “Take this to your dad and tell him you are safe. Then tell him I am just a star. If he takes a step back, he’ll see the whole galaxy.”

She hesitantly wraps her hand around the tail of hair.

“One more favor?” I turn and squat in front of her. “Unzip my dress.”






Seven months earlier …


I could use a naked body with a pulse. This thought summarizes my love life as I approach Paul Turner, my first swipe right in over a month.

Full head of blond hair neatly parted to the side.

Clean shaven.

Jeans, white button-down, and a navy blazer.

He’ll work. My standards are at an all-time low.

Paul sips his water and surveys the restaurant, blue-eyed gaze snagging on me as I weave my way through the chattering crowd, clinking dinnerware, and the tantalizing aroma of garlic. When he smiles, the tension vanishes, leaving nothing but relief. He not only looks like his profile picture; he looks better than his profile picture. This never happens.

“Josephine?” He stands.

“Paul?” I smile as he nods. “You can call me Josie.”

Paul gives me a hug instead of a handshake. We’ve been chatting online for weeks. I don’t get a lot of hugs, which makes it easy to sink into his warm body.

A warm body … I could use one of those too.



With a pulse.

“It’s nice to finally meet in person,” I say, taking a seat across from him.

“You look better than your profile picture.” Appreciation seeps through his words.

My grin doubles. “Funny. I was thinking the same thing about you as I approached the table.” In less than thirty seconds, I have a good feeling about Paul Turner. He doesn’t appear nervous or awkward. Confident, but not overly so.

“Can I get you something to drink?” he asks.

“Water is fine. Thank you.”

“Are you sure? They have an amazing house wine here.”

“I’m sure. Please, however, order yourself a glass of wine. I’m going to jump straight into an appetizer because I skipped lunch today.”

He laughs. “Sounds good.”

We order drinks and appetizers while I contemplate my main course. He smiles a lot. I smile a lot. All the good vibes buzz around us.

“Did your niece have a nice birthday party?” I ask, lifting my gaze from the menu.

He narrows his eyes for a second. “Oh, that’s right. I forgot I told you about that. Yes. It was extravagant. I fear when she turns five, anything short of a trip to Paris will be an epic disappointment.”

“Is she an only child?”

Paul gives me a few more details about his family, and his love for them bleeds through each word. He’s originally from Vermont, and he’s lived here in Chicago for five years as a cosmetic chemist. Paul swiped right because we both have degrees in the sciences.

“So how do you like Chicago? It has to be quite the change of pace from Des Moines.”

My head bobs several times as my stomach growls waiting for the appetizers. “It is, but I feel at home with my job.”

“And you like your job?”

I sip my water before nodding. “I do.”

“That’s good.” Paul sets his menu aside and unwraps his silverware, depositing the cloth napkin on his lap. “It takes the right kind of personality to work in a lab. My friends think I have a cool job. I mean … I formulate cosmetics, but when they find out I’m tucked away in a lab all day, it loses its luster. I bet you get the same thing.”

“Yeah, it’s not as uh…” I clear my throat “…glamorous as other jobs.”

“I can imagine people perk up when they hear you’re a doctor. You think doctor and immediately you think saving lives. But I suppose working in pathology you’re catching things like early stages of cancer, and in some ways, you’re saving lives as much if not more than other doctors. Right?”

Saving lives? Not exactly.

I find a subtle smile to accompany my slight nod. “I worked in surgery for just under a year. So I’d never take anything away from other doctors. I solve mysteries.”

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