Another glance showed him she was staring straight ahead now, her lips pressed together. He’d either surprised her or stated out loud what she was already thinking. He parked in front of the mansion, turned off his vehicle, and waited for her answer.

She finally met his gaze, her eyes uncertain. “I don’t know.” Her voice was low but not nervous.

“My statement didn’t surprise you.”

“No. It’s crossed my mind.”

“You haven’t discussed it with your aunts?”

“No, like I said, I didn’t want to worry them.”

“I think they should know about these other incidents. Maybe they’ve seen things they didn’t share with you.” He raised a brow. “You might be surprised at what communication can reveal.”

She tipped back against the headrest and briefly closed her eyes. “I know you’re right.”

He checked the time. “I’d like to talk with you and your aunts some more, but first I need to check in with my partner. I’ll make a phone call and then knock, okay?”

“Sounds good.” She got out of the SUV and marched up the stairs without looking back.

He watched her leave as he listened to Ava’s phone ring.

“Hey, Zander,” she answered.

“Anything out of the deputies?” he asked.

She sighed. “I know these kids went to the police academy, but I swear they forgot half of what they learned. I don’t think there is much around here to keep them on their toes. Sounds like they deal with a lot of DUIs, drugs, and domestics.”

“Doesn’t surprise me. How many did you make cry?”

“Only one. The first responder. Nate Copeland. And honestly I’d barely started asking questions when he fell apart.”

“Losing your touch?”

“Some of these guys are young. I feel I should hand them a video game controller and make them a sandwich.”

Zander grinned.

“Anyway, Copeland was all apologetic about cutting Sean down. He lives in Bartonville, so he knew the victim. They’d had beers together. He said he’d panicked when he saw Sean, and he was overwhelmed with a need to quickly get him down so he could breathe—even though his brain knew it was too late.”

“If he knew Sean, did he have an idea of who would do this?”

“Well, that’s where it gets a little odd. He also said Sean and Lindsay were having marital problems.”

“No shit.” Zander was surprised. This was a different picture from the rosy one Emily had presented. Who was right?

“When I pressed the issue, he said he wasn’t aware of anyone who would hurt the couple.”

“What about the other deputies?”

“They didn’t know Sean. They live east of Astoria. What did you get from the first witness—Emily Mills?”

“I got a slightly different picture of the Fitch couple. She says it was heavenly bliss in their home and can’t think of anyone who would hurt the couple.”

“Huh. What did she say about her father’s death?”

“I haven’t gotten to that. We were interrupted because someone had slashed her tires. Again.”


“It appears she and her aunts have been the target of some harassment lately. Dead animals left on doorsteps, car damage. Stuff like that.”

Ava was silent.

“I’m about to talk to her and her aunts. I’ll get more information on the father’s death.”

“It’s so weird. Two of them hanged. But the father’s case was solved.”

“It’s definitely odd.”

“While we’re waiting on forensics and the medical examiner,” Ava said, “I’ll get in touch with Sean’s family in Portland and find Lindsay’s family.”

“I’ll contact Sean’s and Lindsay’s friends here in town and dig into the old hanging a little bit.”

“Keep in mind that’s not the case we are here for,” Ava pointed out.

“True, but since the first victim’s daughter plays a role in this case, I want to eliminate any involvement on her part.”

“She is involved,” Ava stated. “She found the bodies.”

“You know what I meant. Did you check in to our hotel yet?” Neither of them had paused since arriving in Bartonville. They’d jumped in with both feet.

“No. I’ll contact them so they don’t give away our reservations.”

“Okay. Let me know what you find on the families.” Zander ended the call and stepped out into the misting rain.

Emily tried to see her aunts through Zander’s eyes.

No doubt he had noticed that all three women wore the same shade of lime green. It was hard to miss. Dory wore a thick, green cardigan because she was always afraid of being cold, and the tip of the always-present facial tissue protruded from her cuff. Thea’s snug-fitting zip jacket was for runners. One that guaranteed she’d be seen while power walking on the side of the road. Vina’s green blouse was simply practical, just like Vina herself.

The three women were as different from one another as could be, but there was nothing they liked better than coordinating their clothing nearly every day. “It shows people we’re united,” Thea had told Emily one time. “When we’re talking to the city council, they know we mean business.”

Emily didn’t think the matching colors were needed. Everyone in town knew the Barton sisters were a formidable trio.

Emily and Zander sat at the old table in the formal dining room, waiting for the aunts, who had dug out a formal tea set that had to be older than the mansion. Dory had been thrilled when Zander agreed to tea. Emily watched him out of the corner of her eye, convinced he was a coffee drinker but pleased he wanted to make her aunts happy. Dory had pulled Emily aside for a moment and with a wink and a whisper told her that Zander could park his shoes under her bed anytime.

Emily couldn’t think of a response.

She knew the aunts were trying to cheer her up and distract her from thinking about that morning. Their efforts were appreciated and even working a little.

The three silver-haired women happily scurried in and out of the dining room, preparing the formal tea even though it was closer to dinnertime.

Zander leaned in to Emily. “Why aren’t you wearing green?” he whispered.

She snorted. “That is their thing. They’ve been doing it since they were teens.”

“Lime green every day?” His eyes were wide.

“No. Matching colors. They discuss it before bed every night. I’d say they match eighty percent of the time. They get a big kick out of it. Trust me, they’re pleased you’ve met them on a coordinated day.”

“Huh.” Zander sat back in his seat. “They’re charming.”

“That’s just one of their Jedi skills.”

“What are their others?”

The three women bustled in with their hands full before she could answer.

“So nice to have unexpected company, even if it’s because of a horrible tragedy,” Thea said as she poured Zander’s tea, her bright-red lipstick clashing with the lime green. “But I’ll have to do an extra hour on the treadmill to combat all these cookies.”

“I’m really sorry about the circumstances, but the cookies do look good,” Zander told her, eyeing the large assortment of sweets. “I’ll have to hit the treadmill too.”

Her aunt smiled. “I can tell you don’t need to. You’re a man who takes care of himself. Have you ever tried Health—”

“Thea!” Emily and her other aunts spoke at the same time.

Thea blinked. “What?”

“Don’t buy anything she tries to sell you,” Dory told Zander earnestly, placing a hand on his sleeve. “They’re all poppycock and scams.”

“They are not,” Thea huffed. “I’ve had excellent results from everything I sell. I wouldn’t support a product if I didn’t believe in it.” She moved to pour Vina’s tea but avoided eye contact with that sister. She enthusiastically embraced every sell-from-home product; she was a born saleswoman. Emily had a drawer full of crazy print leggings that she never wore and a bathroom counter full of expensive skin-care products that didn’t make her skin look any better than the items she bought at Walgreens did.

It was hard to say no to Thea.

Emily’s appetite vanished as she looked around the table at her smiling aunts. For several minutes she’d forgotten she’d discovered her murdered friends, but reality returned in an abrupt rush. She stared at her teacup. Lindsay would never have another chai latte. Emily would never step into the restaurant break room and be greeted by the rich fragrance of Lindsay’s daily drink addiction.

She filled her lungs and slowly exhaled.

Glancing to her right, she caught Zander watching her, his brow wrinkled in concern, and the oddity of the situation caught up with her.

An FBI agent is having tea with us.

“Aunties,” Emily began. The three women immediately gave her their attention. “I got two flat tires today.” The three women started to talk at once, and Emily held up her hands to quiet them. “This isn’t the first time. Clearly my vehicle has been targeted when I park behind the restaurant. No other employees have had a problem. Vina, Zander told me you found a dead raccoon on the porch today.”