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“What do you think about holding a memorial for Lindsay and Sean?” she asked.

The gruff man frowned. “Isn’t that something their families will do?” The shredded potatoes sizzled as he pressed them with his spatula.

“I don’t know, but if they do, I doubt it will be here in Bartonville. They’ll probably hold something in their hometowns. I feel like we need something too.”

“It makes sense. Memorials are for the living, not the dead,” Leo stated with a knowing glance.

He read her perfectly, understanding that she needed closure. Many of the people in town could use the same. They were silent, walking grievers, seeking a place to ease their pain.

Isaac appeared and headed toward the supply room with a box of huge tomato-sauce cans. As he passed, Madison touched his arm, and he flinched away, nearly dropping the box.

“Sorry, Isaac.”

Fear flashed in his wide eyes as he stopped and turned toward her.

He looks scared of me. Why?

“I wanted your opinion on a memorial service for the Fitches,” she said, forcing a small smile to put him at ease. His brief terror had rattled her.

Isaac looked from her to Leo. “Yeah. That’s a good idea.” He continued around the corner to their storage area. Isaac had always been skittish, but he’d been so much better over the last six months. It hurt her to see him looking like a kicked puppy again.

Leo shrugged as she sent him a questioning look. “People process things in different ways. I’m sure it’s about Lindsay. Don’t take it personally.”

She didn’t.

Leo had asked Emily to give Isaac a job a year ago, claiming he was a nephew from out of state who needed a fresh start, and Emily had immediately hired him. Several weeks later Leo had confessed he’d found Isaac hiding in a shed on his property and had lied about the nephew story. The bruises, burns, and scars on the boy’s back had kept Leo from sending him home. Leo had done some investigating a few hours south in Isaac’s hometown of Lincoln City. He’d shared with the sisters that he’d learned Isaac’s father was a drunk, and that two of his old girlfriends had brought charges against him for assault. He’d been in and out of jail most of his life.

Isaac had simply left home instead of going to the police.

Emily had promised that Isaac had a job for as long as he wanted.

Three months into Isaac’s employment, Madison had found him reading an article on Leo’s tablet in the break room. When she’d asked what was so interesting, he’d replied, “Nothing,” and then closed the browser and left. Madison had sat in his chair, opened the browser, and clicked on the first page in the history. Her skin had tingled as she read about an assault in Lincoln City. A forty-year-old resident had been attacked with a baseball bat outside a bar. He’d suffered severe head trauma and two crushed ankles. Madison had not recognized the name, but the police were searching for the attacker they’d briefly caught on camera. A grainy image accompanied the story.

The man in the picture wore Leo’s coat. He also wore a hat, so his bald head was covered, but Madison had known the coat. Two years ago, she’d sewn on new buttons after she noticed he’d lost more than half of them. Since then he’d worn it nearly every day. There was nothing identifiable about the coat to anyone else; hundreds of men on the coast wore similar tan canvas coats.

I could be wrong.

She’d closed the story, erased the history, and sat thinking for a long moment. The victim’s last name wasn’t Smith like Isaac’s.

Smith. Could there be a more common name?

Spinning around in her chair, she’d checked the employee coat hooks. Leo had worn a denim jacket with fleece lining that morning.

She never saw the canvas coat again, but she followed the story. The victim would never walk without a heavy limp, and no leads were ever found on his attacker.

Madison had asked no questions and exercised more patience and sympathy around the teenager.

But this morning, Isaac’s flighty behavior was another oddity that tipped her day off-balance. Dory’s weird rambling had been the first, and the slogan from the pocket watch consistently beat a fierce tempo in her brain as she worked, making her mess up orders and nearly spill coffee. Twice. Usually her shift ran like a well-oiled machine. Today her mental gears were grinding and sticking.

The watch and Dory’s words sucked up her concentration.

Why would Dad have a watch with that slogan? Maybe he didn’t know what the words meant . . . it had been his grandfather’s, after all.

But Dory said, “Even with the kind of man he was.”

Was there something we didn’t know?

The thoughts warred in her brain. She had memories of her loving father. But if she thought hard, there were also glimpses of anger. Glimpses she’d pushed away, not wanting to remember.

“Dammit!” her father roared from the driver’s seat. Madison and Emily went silent in the back seat and craned their necks to see what had made their father yell and pound on the steering wheel.

“Damned bitch.” He threw open his door and strode to a car that had just pulled into a parking place.

“I think Dad was waiting for that spot,” said Emily.

“Why doesn’t he just find another?” asked Madison. She could see empty spots a few rows over.

She gasped as she saw him kick the rear tire of the other car. Putting both hands on the glass, she pressed her face close to see. The other driver was frantically rolling up her window, her wide eyes terrified in her black face.

Madison’s stomach clenched.

Who can I ask about Dory’s comments about Mom and Dad? And about Tara?

She didn’t want to go to her other great-aunts. Past conversations had proved the aunts stuck to a script when it came to discussing her parents. Dory had gone off script, and Madison was certain her other aunts wouldn’t approve. She had to think of someone else who’d been around during her parents’ early years. And would be willing to talk.

Remembering she’d entered the kitchen to grab extra butter for a customer, she scooped a generous ball into a tiny dish and darted back to the floor. The customer said nothing as Madison set it near her pancakes.

You’re welcome.

She sighed and checked the restaurant front for new customers. A single male waited, his back to her. She grabbed a menu for him, feeling tension crawl up her spine. He turned as she approached.

Brett Steele.

She tossed the menu onto the hostess stand and met his gaze. “Why are you here?”

“To eat of course.”

“Emily’s not here yet.”

“I didn’t come to see her.” He looked pointedly at the menu she’d cast aside. “Can I get a table?”

She reluctantly picked it up and led him to the closest booth.

“You look good today, Madison,” he said as he slid in. “I’m liking the lipstick.”

An urge to wipe it off consumed her, and she hid a tremor.

“Coffee?” she asked instead.

“Yep. And a short stack with a side of bacon.” He smiled.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Emily walk through the kitchen door, clearly headed to her office. Brett’s sudden attention shift indicated he’d also spotted her. Madison rolled her eyes at his flash of longing.

Get over her.

His comment about her lipstick curdled in her brain. The man had issues when it came to the Mills sisters. All three of them.

“I’ll get your coffee in a minute.” Madison dashed away in pursuit of Emily, catching her as she unlocked her office. “Can you watch the floor? It’s quieted down from breakfast, and I have an appointment.”

“Seriously, Madison? Why would you schedule it during your work hours?”

“I just made it this morning. I’ve got a tooth that throbbed half the night. They said they could get me in now.”

“Oh.” Emily’s gaze sharpened. “Yeah, I’ll cover it.” She wrinkled her nose. “Did I see Brett out there?”

“Yes. He wants the usual, but I didn’t put in his order yet. And keep an eye on table eight. They’re needy.” Madison pulled her apron strap over her head, wadded the fabric up in a ball, and squeezed past Emily into the office to grab her purse. “Gotta go.” She darted out and down the hall.

“I hope your tooth feels better,” Emily called after her.

Madison had already forgotten the lie. “Thanks.”

She’d thought of someone who would answer her questions.

Madison rapped on the window, spotting Anita at a desk inside her beauty parlor. The front door was locked because the shop didn’t open for another twenty minutes. Anita waved at her and headed toward the door.

Anita was Madison’s choice for answers for several reasons.

First, she’d lived in Bartonville all her life and knew every person in Madison’s family, including her parents. Anita had been a few years older than Madison’s mother, Brenda.

Second, the Anita Haircut shop was a gold mine of gossip—or cesspool, depending on one’s personal preferences.

Third, Madison knew that Anita and her aunts had quarreled off and on over the years. Anita wasn’t afraid to stand up to her aunts. They were still friends, but that didn’t mean Anita toed their line like some people in town. She spoke freely.