“I put together that he’s Malcolm Lake’s son. I didn’t ask any questions about his father’s death, but he’s clearly upset about it,” stated Truman. “And besides, the SUV is registered to him. If he thought he was hiding it, he’s not very sharp,” Truman said dryly.

Ava grinned at his comment and a spark of jealousy flared in Mercy’s chest, catching her by surprise. She instantly let it go and enjoyed the signs that two of her favorite people might share the same sense of humor.

Truman said, “I assume you’re here to talk about his father’s murder?”

Ava and Eddie nodded.

“But why are you here?” Truman asked Mercy. “This isn’t your case.”

“I knew Christian. He grew up in Eagle’s Nest and was a few years older than me. Ava is hoping I can get him to open up a bit more.” And I want to find Olivia’s killer.

“Christian wasn’t cooperative on the phone,” said Ava. “And he didn’t go to Portland after being told about his father’s death. I find that very odd.”

Mercy knew Truman wanted to stick around. And by the inquisitive look on his face, he wouldn’t mind listening in on Christian’s interview, but there were no grounds for it. He reluctantly told them good-bye and drove off in the snow.

Ava watched him leave. “Truman’s even better in person.”

“Tell me about it,” muttered Mercy, keenly feeling his departure.

“Mercy goes around moony eyed all the time,” added Eddie.

Mercy glared at him. “You’re the same way about that female friend of Jeff’s.”

He stiffened, a guilty look in his eyes behind the thick frames. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Children,” lectured Ava. “Behave. We’ve got work to do.” She marched up the stairs and introduced herself to Christian Lake. She turned and introduced Eddie and then Mercy.

Christian shook her hand and blinked as he held her gaze. “Kilpatrick . . . Mercy?” A grin filled his face.

“Good to see you too, Christian. I’m sorry it’s not under better circumstances.”

“You’re an FBI agent?” he exclaimed. “You?” He hadn’t let go of her hand yet.

“And you’re rich and famous,” she emphasized. “I’ve followed your career. I still think of you as the line cook who constantly burned my orders.”

“I was the epitome of a nerd. You were always kind to me, and I appreciated that,” he said sincerely. He noticed he was still shaking her hand and let go, looking to Ava and Eddie. “I had a huge crush on Mercy back then. She was a cute young thing.”

Mercy spotted Ava’s smug grin. I’m her secret weapon. But Christian was sharp. He wouldn’t share anything he didn’t want to. He hadn’t become this successful without learning a trick or two.

Three minutes later the four of them were seated at a dining room table for sixteen. Mercy had counted the chairs while trying not to gawk at the chandelier of wrought iron and glass. It had to be five feet tall and just as wide. Ava sat at the head of the table, taking charge of the interview as Mercy sized up this new Christian Lake.

He looked exhausted and as if he’d been hating life for days.

Exactly what she’d expected of someone whose father had been murdered.

“Why didn’t you go to Portland when you got the news of your father’s death?” Ava pulled no punches with her first question. She sat straight in her chair, her gaze focused on the son, her attitude all business.

Christian glanced down, his hands gripped together on the table before him. “My father and I have been estranged for a while.”

“What happened?” Ava asked.

The son looked out the window, and Mercy followed his gaze to the picturesque lake that reflected the perfect blue of the sky. “It’s an old story.”

“I’d love to hear it,” said the Portland agent.

Christian shifted in his chair. “My parents divorced when I was eight. It was pretty brutal and my father essentially left my mother for another woman. Of course, the relationship didn’t last.” He gave a satisfied smile. “But he’d moved to Portland and decided to stay. I’d hear from him occasionally. A card on my birthday. Crap like that. Twice during my teen years, he acted like he wanted to be back in my life. He’d call and write persistently for a month or two, but I hated him. I’d sworn never to speak with him, and I ignored him until after I finished college. I’d finally started to think maybe it was time for me to have an adult relationship with him. The hatred seemed so juvenile, and so we tentatively began to talk, even met for a beer a time or two. I kept those visits short. I was always civil, not ready to embrace him as family.

“But ten years ago, I received a sizable inheritance from my aunt . . . my father’s sister. She’d hated what he did to my mother. She didn’t have kids and left me the bulk of her estate—she left my father and my mother each a good amount too, but I got three-quarters of a twenty-million-dollar settlement. It didn’t help my relationship with my father.”

“That’s a lot of money for someone in their twenties,” commented Eddie.

Christian gave a wry grin. “It was, but I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it.”

“Your father didn’t like the split of the money?” Mercy asked.

“My mother didn’t either because my aunt barely left any to my older brother, Gabriel. My mother—and brother—found it very unfair.”

“Why didn’t your brother get the same amount?” Ava asked.

Christian shrugged. “She liked me best. She was the type to play favorites. I always thought it was a good thing she didn’t have kids. My father was furious when he heard how I was planning to spend that inheritance. He considered it a slap in my aunt’s face to invest all her money in something doomed to fail. So again, we were no longer on speaking terms.”

“You bought the sporting goods stores,” Eddie stated.

Christian’s smile was strained. “I found the struggling store here in Bend and saw it as the stepping stone to my dream. My father said I would go bankrupt.”

“And you remained estranged because your father didn’t agree with your goals?” Mercy sympathized, her father’s face prominent in her mind.

“He’s rather stubborn,” stated Christian. “I guess I am too.”

Touché.

“It got to the point where we were both simply acting out of pride.” A sheepish look crossed his face. “My determination to make the stores successful and prove him wrong was one of my biggest motivations. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t been driven by his lack of confidence.”

Mercy nodded, wondering if she would have gone into law enforcement if her father hadn’t been so antigovernment.

I didn’t select my career to shove it in his face.

She was proud of who she’d become. Part of her was also pleased to show him that she hadn’t grown horns while working for the FBI.

“Where were you the night your father was murdered?” Ava asked.

Christian took a deep breath. “I fully expected you to ask that question, but I’ve got to say . . . even being prepared, it still hits me in the chest like a bullet.” He looked straight at Ava. “I was here. I haven’t left Bend in two weeks. Next you’ll want an alibi?”

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