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“Let’s take a ride out to Mac’s place.”

“You still haven’t heard from him?” She frowned.

“No.”

“I’m sure he’s fine.” But she didn’t sound convinced. “You don’t think he found out about Lee and Kate and—”

“I have no reason to think Mac is in trouble.” Grant shook his head. “But I’ll feel better if we find him.”

“Me, too.” Hannah nodded. “Let’s go then.”

Mac hadn’t relapsed in the ten years since he’d gotten out of rehab, but if he’d found out about the murders . . .

“You want the baby or the box of files?” Grant nodded toward Lee’s office.

“I’ll get the box,” Hannah said.

Not surprised, Grant took Carson out front and opened the back door of the rental car.

Carson shook his head. “I hafta be in a booster seat.”

Shoot. Of course both kids needed safety seats. “Where’s your booster seat?”

“In Mommy’s van.” Carson trotted back into the house and emerged with a set of keys. They trooped around the house to the detached garage. Kate’s silver minivan was outfitted for kids. Toys, bottled water, snacks, and little nets to stow everything. Carson climbed into his booster seat and fastened his seat belt. Grant snapped Faith’s seat into its base unit. He leaned on the carpet. Crumbs embedded his palm. His knee squashed an empty juice box.

Hannah came out of the house with AnnaBelle on her leash. “She was whining. I didn’t see why she couldn’t ride along.”

Grant opened the rear door for the dog. Hannah put the box of files in the cargo area. AnnaBelle jumped in. The insides of the van windows were already smeared with dog slobber. Not the dog’s first car ride. Hannah rode shotgun.

He started the engine. “When was the last time you talked to Mac?”

She lifted a shoulder. “I haven’t talked to Mac or Lee in over a month.”

“Me either,” Grant said. “Were we always like this? I seemed to remember we were closer as kids.”

Hannah sighed. “When Mom died, everything changed.”

“True.” Grant backed out of the driveway.

Mom had been the backbone of the family. She’d handled four young kids with a husband who was away most of the time, and when he finally came home, he was paralyzed.

“Lee used to call me every Sunday.” Hannah shook a piece of hair out of her eyes. “But the last couple of years, I got the impression he was swamped and stressed at work. We talked less and less. I was all over the world. The time differences were a pain.” She sighed. “None of my excuses will change the fact that he’s gone. I should have called him more, and now I can’t.”

Nothing altered reality and instilled regret with the same permanence as death.

Julia stepped off the bus and shrugged into her backpack, the weight of the straps digging into her shoulders. She fished her phone out of her pocket. Three text messages displayed on the screen. All of her friends were already home. None of them took the bus. They all drove to and from school. She was going to be sixteen in a couple of months. She’d get her own driver’s license. But she doubted it would matter. They couldn’t afford another car, and none of her friends lived close enough to give her a ride.

She scrolled past the first two messages to the one from Taylor, another thing that didn’t make her mom’s short approved list. But at some point, a girl had do what a girl had to do, and Julia was sick of being left out of all the fun. She didn’t drink or do drugs. Her grades were straight As. Instead of being rewarded, her mom practically kept her prisoner with a bunch of ridiculous rules. She wasn’t allowed to date older boys. Taylor was eighteen, and the only boy she was interested in. Julia’s fun was limited to skating, and now even that would suck without Mrs. Barrett as her coach. She flicked a tear from her cheek.

A funny sensation tickled the back of her neck, like someone was watching her. She glanced around, but there was no one in sight. She looked ahead. Her house was two blocks from the bus stop. One block left.

She went back to her message from Taylor.

Can u get out tonight?

Omigod. He wanted to go out with her.

Don’t act too excited. She texted back: maybe.

That prickly feeling itched her neck again. She glanced behind her. A white van with a ladder on the roof sat at the curb in the middle of the block. A man in green coveralls was leaning into the back. Just a workman. Her phone vibrated. She opened another text message.

Taylor: Maybe?

Julia: u kno, crazy mom

Taylor: I can come get u

Julia hesitated, thumbs hovering above her phone. Guilt passed over her, but excitement crowded it out of her mind. If her mom was reasonable, she wouldn’t have to sneak around. She typed k and sent the message.

Taylor: What time?

Julia considered. Mom usually worked on the house renovations until around eleven o’clock. It would have to be late, after Mom settled into a deep sleep. At least AnnaBelle was back at the Barretts’ house. There was no way she would have been able to sneak past the ever-alert golden retriever.

12, she texted.

Taylor: K.

Goose bumps raised on her arms. Suddenly anxious, Julia zipped her jacket higher and glanced around. The white van sat empty. The man was gone. Everything was normal. Her sudden attack of nerves must be from the decision she’d just made. She didn’t care. She’d never disobeyed her mom before. OK, she had, but not like this. Sneaking out was a whole new level of deception. If she got caught, she’d be in big trouble. But she was going out tonight. Seeing Taylor would be worth the risk.

Chapter Ten

“The turnoff is coming up.”

“I see it.” Grant slowed and steered onto the dirt road that led up to Mac’s cabin. The minivan bumped along the frozen ruts.

Hannah glanced in the back. “Hope this doesn’t wake them.”

Both kids slept, heads lolling against the sides of their car seats. Grant parked in a cleared area in front of the cabin. Mac’s beat-up Jeep sat in front of the house. Mud splattered the fenders and windshield.

“Wait here with the kids,” he said. “I’ll see if he’s inside.”

He closed the door softly, went up onto the porch, and knocked. No answer. Cupping his hand over his eyes, he looked through the window but didn’t see anyone. He tried another window. Mac’s car keys were on the kitchen table next to a backpack. He must be inside. Why wasn’t he answering? Anxiety welled in Grant’s chest. He pounded on the front door with a fist.

“Hold on,” someone shouted within. A minute later the door opened, and a rumpled Mac stood in the doorway. Sporting a scraggly two-week beard and bloodshot eyes, he was barefoot, dressed only in a pair of unbuttoned jeans. He dragged a hand through his bushy blond bedhead. “Grant?”

“Where the hell have you been?” Grant shouldered his way into the cabin. “I’ve been trying to reach you for days.”

“I got home about four this morning.”

Grant scanned his brother’s bedraggled appearance. Please. Please, let Mac not be using again. He needed his brother’s help. “Where were you?”

“Not doing anything bad. I swear.” Mac held up a hand. “I was finishing up my study on a family of river otters on the Scarlet River. Been camping for almost a week. My phone battery died last Friday. Not that it matters. No cell reception out there anyway.”

Grant exhaled the breath he’d been unconsciously holding. “You can’t do that to me, Mac.”

“You need to have a little faith, Grant,” Mac shot back. “I know I fucked up big-time, but that was a long time ago.” He blinked a couple of times, then his gaze sharpened. “Wait a minute. You’re not due home from Afghanistan for two more months.” Apprehension dawned in his bleary eyes. “Who died? Dad?”

Shaking his head, Grant guided his youngest brother into a chair. His relief that Mac was all right shifted to dread at having to break the news. Mac’s butt went down hard, his eyes hardening, preparing for the worst.

“Lee and Kate,” Grant said softly.

Mac’s face went blank for a few seconds, as if he couldn’t comprehend the words. He stared back at Grant, the shock and horror gradually sliding over his expression. “No.”

Grant closed his eyes. Mac’s disbelief brought back his own reaction to receiving the news a few days before. Pain burst fresh in his chest like a flashbang. He turned toward the kitchenette. Giving his brother a minute to absorb the news, he went through the motions of making coffee, though probably neither of them wanted it.

“Car accident?” Mac’s train of thought echoed Grant’s original assumption when he’d gotten the call in Afghanistan.

The coffee pot hissed as Grant dropped into the chair across from Mac. There was no way to smooth the news over. “No. They were murdered. Not sure why. Robbery maybe.”

Mac’s mouth opened, but no sound came out.

“I know.” Grant rubbed his eyes with his fingertips. “I can’t wrap my head around it either.”

“That can’t be right. Not Lee and Kate—” Mac’s voice cracked. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed hard.

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