Page 26

He was curious about what made Emily Mills tick. Understanding what had happened to her father might give him some insight into what made her so intriguing to him. Besides the obvious physical attraction.

Ava handed him one of the coffees, and he nearly dropped it, the extreme heat radiating through the cup. “Careful. You need to toughen up your hands,” she quipped. “Maybe do something else besides tap on a keyboard.” She pulled a coffee sleeve out of her pocket and passed it to him with a grin.


“I bet someone would be willing to take you logging or fishing. That would help.”

He removed his lid, and steam gushed. “No thanks. I’m happy with my keyboard. Why is this so hot?”

“Dunno.” She tilted her head to see what he was reading. “Lincoln Mills?” The frown he’d fully expected appeared on her face. “Why are you—”

“Looking at a solved case when we have work to do,” he finished, unable to maintain her scrutinizing eye contact.


“You know why,” he hedged. “Our witness’s father was hanged. We agreed it was too big to be a coincidence.” He risked a glance at her, but her blue eyes still stared. Into his guilty soul.

“Uh-huh. Yep. That’s why,” she said.

“It’s a fascinating case,” he added, grasping at straws. And I’m curious about one of his daughters.

“You can tell me about it later. We have work to do.” She set her overflowing laptop bag on a chair and hauled out her computer.

Zander closed the thick three-ring binder and set it aside. “I called Dr. Rutledge this morning.”

“You didn’t mind waking him up?” She focused on her computer.

Zander understood he would pay for not calling her. “He told us yesterday that he starts early. I asked him to hold off on Nate Copeland’s autopsy.”

Her head snapped up. “Why?”

“I want to be there. I felt at least one of us should have observed the Fitch autopsies, but we were buried in the case. Copeland was law enforcement . . .”

Ava immediately got it. “We’ll both go.”

They shared a bond with the young deputy. All law enforcement did. As uncomfortable as it was to witness an autopsy, being present showed respect. It highlighted their commitment to finding the answers behind the man’s death.

“But what about Billy Osburne?” Ava grimaced. “This morning I wanted to find out where he’s hiding.”

“The sheriff will be on it,” said Zander. “He knows better than us which rocks to look under first. I think the autopsy is important. Rutledge has done the X-rays and photos on Copeland and sent his clothing to the lab. He’ll hold off on the rest until we get there. We can ask Dr. Rutledge more about the Fitches too,” Zander added. “I’ve been reviewing where we’re at. We don’t have any current leads on Billy Osburne. None of the employees at the auto parts store knew who he hung around with. Greer put a deputy on the Osburne house for a bit to see if he shows, and I’ve got watches on his credit cards and cell phone.”

“There’s nothing back from forensics on the Copeland scene,” Ava added. “Forensics did check the Fitch cups and beverages for the presence of GHB. They didn’t find any. They’re checking the food next.”

“Rutledge said it was probably in a liquid.”

“Probably is the key word there.”

“If it’s not found,” Zander said slowly, “that means someone walked away with the method of delivery.”

“Possibly someone they knew—”

“Someone they trusted to share a beverage with,” Zander finished. “Shit. I can see that scenario working with Copeland too.”

“We don’t know if he had GHB in his system yet.”

Zander’s gut told him the toxicology report would show he had.

“Now.” Ava cleared her throat and turned her laptop so he could see the screen. “Yesterday I got a warrant for Emily Mills’s cell phone records.” She aimed her gaze at her computer.

Coffee cooled in Zander’s mouth. She hadn’t told him of the request.

“Why didn’t you just ask to see her phone?” he asked, knowing the suggestion was weak the moment he said it.

She looked up, faint condescension shining in her eyes.

“I know, I know. What did you find?” Coffee acid churned in Zander’s stomach. Had he put too much trust in their primary witness?

“Twenty minutes are missing.”

He couldn’t speak.

“Emily’s phone records show she got a call at 6:47 from the diner. That would be her cook calling to tell her he couldn’t reach Lindsay.” Ava pointed at the entry with her pen. “She told you she left immediately for the diner. When I talked with Madison yesterday, she told me she heard Emily’s phone ring and stated she left within minutes.”

“She must have already been up and dressed,” Zander said numbly. “Seems reasonable.”

“I think so. The records show a call to Lindsay’s house at 6:50 that lasted two seconds.”

“She must have reached her voice mail and hung up.”

“And either she called right before she left, or she called while driving. Either way, I drove from the Barton mansion to Lindsay’s home. It took me eight minutes in the middle of the day. At that time of morning I imagine the roads are even quieter.”

“They’re always quiet here,” Zander said.

“There’s another brief call to Lindsay’s phone at 7:02. Your interview notes said she knocked and then tried to call again. That’s when she heard the phone ringing inside and tried the door, finding it was open.”

Zander remembered Emily’s description exactly.

“According to 911, Emily’s call came in at 7:29.”

“Jesus.” Ice flooded his veins. “What did she do for all that time? I can understand it might take a few minutes to find Lindsay and then Sean. But going twenty minutes before calling it in?” He ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t get it.”

Ava’s lips were tight, her face grim. “That makes two of us. She didn’t make any other calls during the time.”

“I need to interview her again.”

“We need to interview her again.”

Her emphasis made him pause. “Why do you say it like that?”

She sighed and gave him a look that reminded him of his mother when she was disappointed in him. “You’re too nice.”

“Nice? I’m not nice. We’re working a murder case.”

“You’re nice around her.” Ava raised both brows and held his gaze.

He got it. “You think I’m attracted to her.”

“I know you are. She’s a very attractive woman, and I know exactly what you look like in that scenario.” Her lips twisted in a wry smile.

Ava would recognize that.

He rubbed his forehead, analyzing everything he’d said or done in Emily’s presence. “I don’t think I’ve treated her any different than, say . . . her sister or aunts.”

“Just be more aware. Okay?” Ava’s tone said she was done with the subject. “When should we talk to Emily about this? She might have a reasonable explanation—maybe she spent time vomiting in the bushes . . . or . . . I don’t know.”

“What could she have done indoors for twenty minutes?” Zander was stumped.

“Or outside.”

“The bodies didn’t appear moved. Copeland admitted he was the one who’d cut down Sean. We wouldn’t know if anything else had been changed.”

“They took her fingerprints to check against any found inside,” Ava said. “Maybe they’ll turn up somewhere.”

“I’ll email forensics and tell them we want the locations where her prints turn up ASAP,” Zander said, opening his laptop. The churning in his stomach had subsided, but now he felt numb and determined to get to the bottom of Emily’s movements.

Is she involved somehow?

As hard as he tried, he couldn’t see her participating in murder. But Emily might have done something to compromise the scene, purposefully or not.

“You’re in android mode now,” Ava commented.

He glanced up. “Android?”

“All business.”

“Make up your mind how you want me to act.” He refocused on his email. Ava’s scrutiny was making him surly.

“We can discuss it on the way to the medical examiner’s office in Portland.”

“I can’t wait,” he groused, risking a glance at her.

She was grinning, her eyes warm with humor, and for the briefest second, he regretted what he’d lost because he’d kept his feelings to himself in the past.

The regrets occurred less and less, but he’d be happier once they completely vanished. Frowning, he sent his email, knowing Ava was right that Emily had caught his notice. But this was no time for feelings. She was a witness, and he had a murderer or two to catch.


“Where’d Isaac vanish to?” Madison asked Leo as he flipped hash browns on the griddle.

“Dunno. He was here a minute ago.”