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Very slowly, he’d given in to the friendship concept and had evolved into a type of protective older brother. She loved him fiercely and considered him family. And they argued like brother and sister.

Lacey knew Jack Harper was raising red flags in Michael’s gut. Jack was refusing his calls and his name was popping up in every aspect of the case. It stroked Michael’s unending curiosity as an investigative reporter. If something seemed fishy, Michael would poke, push, and prod until he got his answers. He’d exposed pedophile priests, Internet child stalkers, and a kickback program in the Oregon prison food system.

He opened the cabinet door next to her sink and rooted through the little pill bottles. “Do you have any ibuprofen? My head’s killing me.”

“All the way in the back.”

She watched as he subtly checked the labels of the other bottles. Did he think she wouldn’t notice?

“Anything stronger for pain?”

“No,” she snapped, “you know there’s not.” She blew out a breath. He cares. He asks only because he cares.

In a sudden move that made her brain bounce, Michael changed the subject.

“I got the medical examiner’s prelim on Suzanne today.”

How did he do it? She wasn’t going to get a look at it till tomorrow. The man had sources everywhere. Annoyed, she looked at him expectantly.

“Her identity hasn’t been completely verified, you know,” Michael stated.

Lacey shook her head. “It’s just not been officially announced. I have absolutely no doubt it is her. I did the odontology report. I had her previous dental films, and everything matched up perfectly. I know it’s her. They might run some DNA testing, but even her mother will know it is her by her distinctive dental work.”

“Something’s bugging me.” He was pacing again. Back and forth over her wood floors, running his fingers over every kitty knickknack in her kitchen. “You didn’t tell me both her femurs were broken,” he said.

“It was the same MO with all the victims, right? They were all found with broken femurs. Why should Suzanne be any different?” She swallowed hard.

He pinned her with an unblinking stare, making her feel like she’d done something naughty.

“Think, Lacey. What other gymnast do you know who had her legs broken?”

She did know one.

“But that was an accident… They said the roughness of the river and the rocks probably did it. Amy died in a car accident, Michael…she wasn’t murdered. And that was in Mount Junction, years before Suzanne died.” She stumbled over the words and slipped slowly from her perch on the counter to a barstool, her mind awhirl. Suzanne and Amy weren’t linked. There was no way. Amy Smith, a gymnastics teammate, had accidentally driven her car into a river. Her body hadn’t been recovered for several weeks. “All DeCosta’s victims had broken femurs. Are you trying to tie Amy’s death to all the others?”

“She was a gymnast. She was blonde. Her legs were broken in almost the same place. She’s dead. That’s four too many coincidences for me. I’m gonna check it out.” He was on a mission. It was in his eyes. The man wouldn’t stop until he had his answers.

“Did you tell the police about this?” She was still stunned. Not Amy.

“Not yet. It’s just speculation on my part. I’m going to Mount Junction to look at it personally. Now, what did you tell Harper?” With a calmer voice, he pulled up a stool and sat in front of her, knees to knees. Those green eyes pinned her again.

She blinked, her mind still focused on Amy. How did he change directions so fast? “Why?”

“Christ, Lace. It’s a simple question.”

She shrugged. “He wanted to know about the night Suzanne and I were attacked. We talked for only a few minutes.” She looked anywhere but at Michael.

“So you made plans to talk later.”

“What of it?” she snapped at him.

“He dated one of the victims.”

“I know that.” She looked away. “I’m tired. Can we talk about this tomorrow?” He glanced at the clock and immediately hopped off his stool. It was after midnight. “I’m sorry, Lace, but you need to know the type of guy you’re dealing with.”

Michael laid a gentle hand on her shoulders and tilted her chin up to him, kissing her softly on the mouth. “I’ll call you tomorrow.” He studied her face, frowning at the dark shadows under her eyes.

She knew Michael had a need to look out for her because he believed she wasn’t doing a good job by herself. And maybe she wasn’t. She’d started talking with a man who had strong links to Suzanne’s case.

But talking with Jack Harper was the first time she’d felt a stirring of interest in a man in forever. After years of shutting people out and being numb, it’d felt good to experience that spark. Jack couldn’t be involved with Suzanne’s reappearance. Jack Harper was one of the good guys. She could sense it.

She walked Michael to the front door and he frowned at the single locking bolt, twisting it back and forth. “Why haven’t you got a security system yet? Do I need to makes some calls to find one for you?”

“Not tonight, Michael. I can’t argue with you anymore. And get your hair cut. Please.” She stretched up to kiss his cheek. His gaze rested on her face for a brief second, and then he jogged down her porch steps, determined energy radiating from him.