“I guess not.” Stella pulled away from the curb. She had nothing but respect for Mac’s sister, who really could kick butt.
Mac rubbed his chin. “Did you notice anything strange about the pictures in the Miller’s house?”
“There are no other people in them. Not a single friend. No one. Every picture in that house is of Dena and/or Adam.”
“He said they don’t have any close family or friends.”
Mac shook his head. “She didn’t have a single family member? I’m not saying it’s not possible, just not probable. People who don’t have much family tend to have a few close friends.”
“Maybe she’s an introvert.”
“Maybe.” Mac nodded. “I also noticed from the photos that she’s an experienced hiker.”
“Adam says her neck injury kept her to short distances.”
Mac shrugged. “We’ve already established that they were less than honest with each other. She could be in better shape than he knows.”
“True.” Stella turned out of the development. “But you saw a naked woman four miles from her house in a storm. That seems quite a distance. And if Dena left her husband, wouldn’t she have gotten dressed first?”
Mac considered her argument. “Unless she was desperate and didn’t have time to grab clothes.”
“In which case, she wasn’t walking. She was running away. But that seems like a stretch.” Stella’s gut insisted that Dena had been violently taken from her home. But Mac was forcing her to see other possibilities.
“What now?” Mac asked.
“Now I go back to the station and fill out some paperwork.” Stella texted Brody the information on Adam’s alibi.
“Fun,” Mac teased.
“It’s exactly as exciting as it sounds.” She needed to update her files with today’s interviews, and she and Brody needed to compare notes. “Do you want me to drop you home?”
“Please. I need to head over to my brother’s house, where I will be tormented for shaving.”
“Siblings.” Stella grinned.
“Exactly.” Mac squinted out the window.
She drove out to Mac’s house.
“See you tomorrow.” His gaze dropped to her lips for a split second before he reached for the door handle, and she wondered if he wanted to kiss her.
But Mac seemed to bring out every inappropriate thought she could possibly have.
“Yes. Good night.” After he’d gotten out of the vehicle and disappeared inside his cabin, Stella turned the air-conditioning vents toward her face. She was halfway back to the police station when her cell buzzed. She picked it up. Gianna’s phone number was displayed on the screen.
“Hello,” Stella answered the call.
Gianna didn’t bother with niceties. “I was getting ready to go to my NA meeting tonight, and I remembered something I should have told you this morning. I saw this guy hanging around outside when I went into the last meeting.”
Stella grabbed for her notebook and pen. “Can you describe him?”
“About six feet tall,” Gianna said. “Thin, short hair.”
“Where did you see him?” Stella asked, excitement humming in her blood.
“Thursday night at the Catholic church.”
“Was he at any of the other meetings?”
“Not that I noticed.”
“Do you have a meeting schedule?” Stella asked.
“It’s posted on the local NA group website.” Gianna rattled off a web address.
Stella put the call on speaker and accessed the site on her smart phone. There were multiple meetings listed every day in the region, which covered the tri-county area. A recovering addict with a car could find a meeting every single day if that’s what he needed.
Scrolling down the list, Stella spotted the meeting at Our Lady of Sorrows at nine o’clock that night.
“Was Missy at the meeting last Thursday night?” Excitement buzzed in Stella’s veins. Missy hadn’t shown up for work on Friday. The NA meeting could be the last place she was seen alive.
“Yeah. Missy was there.”
“Was the guy outside when the meeting was over?” Stella asked.
Gianna’s face scrunched in concentration. “Yes. I remember because he creeped me out, and I had to walk home alone.”
“Missy didn’t offer you a ride?”
“She wanted to stay for the coffee hour. Sometimes, you feel so much support during the meeting, you’re not ready to let it go when the hour’s over. But I was too tired.”
“Thanks, Gianna. I really appreciate this information.” Stella ended the call energized by the new lead. Her paperwork could wait.
Tonight, Stella was going to stake out that meeting.
Mac steered his Harley onto the main road. A few minutes later, the space between his shoulder blades itched. He glanced in his mirror. The mammoth SUV far behind him set off an internal alarm and Mac made a sudden left. The SUV lumbered through the turn and settled into place the exact same distance behind him. Mac’s gut twitched. At the next intersection he turned left and rode away from his brother’s place.
The SUV followed.
Mac eased off the throttle, but the truck stayed a stubborn distance behind him, just far enough that he couldn’t see the driver clearly or read the license plate.
Like a professional.
He drove to the grocery store in town, parked, and went inside. He watched through the plate glass window as the SUV continued past the store. He went out and fired up the bike again, leaving the lot through a different exit and heading in the opposite direction. Ten minutes later, when there was no sign of the truck, Mac headed for Grant’s house.
Had that been coincidence or had the old gang spotted him? If he stayed in town long enough, they’d catch up with him. But for now, Mac hoped he was being paranoid.
Knowing he’d be on his bike, Grant had left the detached garage open. Afternoon storms had been hitting the region daily. Mac parked and walked to the front door.
Grant answered the first knock. “Mac?”
He stepped into his brother’s house.
Grant was staring at his face. “I hardly recognize you.”
“I shaved. No big deal.”
“You don’t have to knock. You’re always welcome here.”
“Down!” A toddler’s scream sounded from the back of the house.
“Come on back.” Grant led the way down the hall to the kitchen. The house had been a project when they’d bought it, but Grant and Ellie had transformed it into a home. The kitchen was Mac’s favorite room. Done in earth tones, with hardwood floors and bronze granite, it boasted a huge picture window that framed a view of the woods out back.
“Faith, hold still.” Grant’s fiancée, Ellie, struggled to unclip the high chair straps while his nineteen-month-old niece squirmed.
“Down!” Faith wailed, flinging her body sideways in an Oscar-worthy dramatic gesture. She grabbed Ellie’s dark ponytail, and Grant hurried across the kitchen to pry her fingers free.
Ellie straightened her ponytail, lifted the child out of the chair, and set her on the floor. “Let me wipe your hands.”
But Faith bolted toward Mac like a mini missile. He swooped her up and carried her to the aproned sink at arms’ length while she babbled. Kicking a stool into place, he set her down on top and turned on the water. “Can you wash your hands like a big girl?”
By the time she was done, water was spattered over both of them, but her hands were free of whatever orange substance she’d been coated in.
“Sorry. We’re working on spoon use, but you know Faith. She’s very tactile.” Ellie used a towel to wipe her ponytail.
Mac grinned as the toddler turned to face him. She smacked his face between her pudgy hands and rubbed. Her tiny forehead wrinkled with a frown. “No wike.”
Ellie laughed. “I don’t think she approves of the shave, but I think you’re handsome.”
He leaned over and kissed Ellie on the cheek.
Grant crossed his arms over his wide chest. “The last time you were clean-shaven was for Lee’s funeral. What’s up?”
“Thought it was time for a change,” Mac said.
Grant nodded in approval. He still wore his blond hair in an army-buzz. “Hannah’s on her way.”
The back door flew open, and seven-year-old Carson ran into the house at full speed, directly into Mac’s legs. His golden retriever barked behind him as he flung both arms around Mac’s thighs. Mac shifted Faith to one hip to hug his nephew. The toddler kicked his gunshot wound, and he sucked wind. That local anesthetic could only do so much.
“Let me take her.” Grant held out his arms, and Faith tried to leap to him. “That’s my girl.” Mac was still amazed by Grant. Not that his tough, career-soldier brother had given up his military future with no regrets to raise his niece and nephew, but that he was so good at parenting and clearly happier than Mac had ever seen him.
Grant put Faith on his hip. “You all right?” he asked Mac. “She didn’t do any damage?”
“I’m fine, just thankful she hates shoes.” Mac put a hand on his side. He set the other on Carson’s shoulder. “What have you been doing?”
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