“It’s over here,” Nick said.
Mercy stayed five steps behind, watching as Nick kept glancing at her sister, his smile growing wider each time. Belle trotted on Rose’s other side as Nick led them into a corner filled with workbenches, electric saws, and woodworking tools. Mercy stopped to admire a thick slab of wood that featured a cross section of a gigantic knot and couldn’t stop herself from running her hand across the polished surface. Instead of being rejected for its deformity, the unique wood was stunning and highly desirable for a one-of-a-kind table.
Reluctantly pulling her gaze from the wood, Mercy looked over at her sister and caught her breath. Nick had just placed Rose’s hand on an intricately carved cradle. It was tall, with widespread legs that rested on gently curved rockers. The ends arced like the headboard of a sleigh bed, and the sides had elegant flat spindles.
It was beautiful.
Rose’s mouth dropped open as she realized what was under her fingertips. Her face lit up and her hands flew over every aspect of the cradle, pausing over the complicated design carved into the arched ends. “Oh, Nick.” She gave the cradle a push, feeling it smoothly rock. “It’s lovely.”
Mercy blinked hard as the cradle blurred. “Did you make that, Nick?” She already knew the answer.
“I did. Do you like it, Rose? I didn’t know if you already had one.” He was entranced by her reaction; his gaze locked on her face.
“It’s amazing, and no, I don’t have one.” Her fingers returned to the pattern on the ends. “Are these flowers? I feel leaves too.”
“They’re roses.” He said the name of the flower in the same tone with which he’d said her name. With deliberate respect. “I debated that it might be too girly if you have a boy, but then I decided that a baby wouldn’t care.”
Rose laughed, a sound that filled Mercy’s heart. “It’s for me to enjoy, and I love it.” She turned her shining face to Nick. “Thank you so much. You’ve created an heirloom.” She lifted both arms in his direction, and Nick stepped into the hug. “I can’t believe you made it for me.”
His eyes closed as he returned the hug, and the expression on his face made Mercy catch her breath again. Rose pulled away, turning her excited face to Mercy. “Describe it for me.”
“He stained the oak a lovely golden shade,” said Mercy. “It reminds me of rich honey. It’s both elegant and homey at the same time. The grain of the wood is very elegant. You’re right; it will be an heirloom.”
Rose’s right hand explored the cradle again as her left gently touched her coat over her growing belly. Nick rubbed Belle’s ears, never taking his gaze from Rose’s movements. The dog watched her too.
“I can deliver it this afternoon if you’d like,” he told Rose.
“That’d be wonderful. I don’t know how to thank you. This is the most wonderful gift I’ve had in a long time.”
The elated look in Nick’s eyes stuck with Mercy as she drove Rose home.
A snowplow driver had called in the vehicle, claiming it’d sat on the side of the remote road for two days. Truman had responded to the call and was now parked behind the SUV.
Truman studied the screen on his police vehicle’s computer. The new Lexus SUV hadn’t been reported stolen.
No snow covered the black SUV’s hood, so it hadn’t been present during the last snowstorm. Truman got out of his truck and approached the vehicle. Several footprints surrounded it in the deep snow, but the driver who’d called it in had said he’d peeked inside to see if someone was hurt. From the look of it, a few other people had also stopped. Truman counted three different sets of tire tracks where vehicles had stopped. People who’d probably checked to see if anyone was inside and then gone on their way, seeing it as none of their business. A typical attitude in this area. Truman was slightly surprised that the abandoned SUV had been reported after only two days, but he suspected the value of the vehicle had shortened the time period.
He checked the interior. It was empty and nothing appeared damaged, but he couldn’t see into the rear section, which was covered by the interior cargo cover.
He studied the surrounding area. Fenced snowy pastures. A few trees. Nowhere for anyone to go. Whoever had been driving the car had either been picked up or walked the three miles back to town. No footprints led away on the shoulder, but the driver could have walked on the plowed road. Truman started back to his vehicle, but he paused. After a second he turned around and pounded on the rear hatch of the Lexus. And listened.
He leaned closer to the rear hatch and sniffed. All he smelled was icy cold air.
Relieved, he got back in his vehicle and took another look at the name and address of the registered owner.
Bells rang in his head. There was a victim named Lake who might be tied to Olivia Sabin’s murder. But the victim was a judge who lived in Portland. It was the similarity of the two murders that had sparked the interest of the FBI.
This vehicle can’t be related.
Truman started his SUV, plugged the owner’s address into his GPS, and pulled back onto the plowed road, his curiosity growing. He’d see if the owner was related to the victim before calling the FBI.
Christian Lake’s home was stunning. Truman wouldn’t call it a mansion, but it was pretty damned close. The huge mountain-cabin-on-steroids-style house sat on a high ridge, overlooking a lake. A location Truman found mildly amusing considering the owner’s last name.
He parked, noting the six-car garage connected to the giant home by a long covered walkway. An old Hummer was parked in front of the closest garage door, an early model Truman recognized as being desirable among collectors, and he wondered what other types of classic vehicles were hidden behind the doors. He called in his location and got out of his SUV.
“Can I help you?” A stocky man had emerged from the home’s end of the walkway. He looked about Truman’s age and wore a Mount Bachelor cap and thick black jacket. His breath hung in the cold air.
“Are you Christian Lake?”
“No. Mr. Lake is a bit busy. Can I give him a message, Officer?”
Truman pulled off his gloves and dug a business card out of his pocket. He held it out to the man, noting he could be actor Jason Stratham’s twin. He even had the beard stubble and scowl. “Is he missing a black Lexus SUV?”
The man frowned at the card. “Why are you asking?”
“Because it’s been sitting on a road’s shoulder for a few days.”
“What? Hang on a minute.” He strode to the garage, punched a code into a keypad, and vanished through the door that opened.
Truman waited. He has to take inventory?
The man reappeared five seconds later. “Where is it?”
“I’d like to talk to Christian Lake. He’s the registered owner.” Truman wasn’t budging until he talked to Lake.
The man glanced at Truman’s department SUV and back to the card. “Okay, Chief. I’m trying to keep people out of his hair today, but I think he’ll talk to you.” He gestured for Truman to follow him into the home.
Truman gaped as he entered.
Golden wood gleamed. Everywhere Truman looked, he saw polished wood and glass. Tall wainscoting, custom cabinets, end tables, and elaborate baseboards. The ceilings were sky high and decorated with rustic beams, amplifying the multimillion-dollar-cabin feeling. In the middle of the open common area, a three-sided fireplace made of river rock immediately drew his gaze. It was the centerpiece of the room, stretching up to the grand ceiling. Floor-to-ceiling windows looked out to the lake and showed off a giant deck that appeared to surround the entire home. Truman felt as if he were indoors and outdoors at the same time.
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