“I did.”

Thea and Dory peppered Vina with questions, which she ignored.

“It’s the third animal in the last six or eight weeks,” Vina admitted.

Zander spoke up, looking from Dory to Thea. “Have either of you experienced any sort of harassment-type incidents?”

The two women exchanged a glance and then shook their heads. “Not that I can think of,” Dory said. “What about Madison? Has anyone asked her?”

“No,” said Emily, mentally shaking herself. She’d forgotten to mention the tires to her sister. “I’ll ask when she gets home tonight. I know her car has been fine.”

Dory peered at Zander. “I thought you were in town to solve those horrible murders, not worry about some flat tires.”

“I am. I was interviewing Emily when the tires were noticed. That’s when I wondered if her vehicle and your home have been targeted by the same person. I’ll finish Emily’s interview when we’re done here.”

Thea leaned an elbow on the table, rested her chin on her hand, and studied Zander intently. “What is the next step for you? Do you have any leads on the murders? Do we need to be locking our doors at night?”

“I hope you lock your doors every night,” Zander murmured.

“We do when we think of it,” Dory announced.

“Don’t interrupt,” Thea ordered. Dory rolled her eyes and dabbed at her nose with her tissue. “I heard the first responder screwed up the scene. Some of those young deputies are as sharp as a mashed potato sandwich,” Thea continued, her blue eyes challenging. “Is that true? People around town are saying it was a drug deal gone bad. Really bad.”

“No,” said Vina. “I heard it was a domestic dispute.”

“I heard it was someone passing through town.” Dory wiped her nose again.

Emily bit her lip. Zander had given each woman his full attention as she spoke, but a hint of desperation lurked in his eyes. Her family was a lot to take at once. He was getting off easy with Madison still at work.

“Aunties! Leave him alone. You know he can’t talk about an active case.”

The three women looked apologetic.

“We don’t know much yet,” Zander told the chastised women. “You’ll hear when we do.”

Dissatisfaction filled their faces.

“I know this may seem awkward to ask, but what might help is if you tell me some more about Emily’s father’s death.”

Emily froze, and a loud buzz filled her ears. Why?

The nightmare images of her hanged father returned and destroyed the walls keeping her emotions at bay.

I can’t be here.

She stood, and her chair’s legs squealed as it shot backward. “You’ll have to excuse me for a moment,” she choked out. She rushed from the room and up the stairs, her vision tunneling.

Who told him?

Guilt swamped Zander.

What was I thinking? He hadn’t discussed Emily’s father’s death with her. The sheriff and Vina had talked with him about it, but Emily had not. He started to rise.

“Sit down,” Thea ordered, her eyes sharp. “Give her a few minutes. She’ll be fine.”

Zander slowly sat, studying the three women. Thea appeared to be the thinnest of the three, but her tone would have stopped a platoon.

“Her father’s death isn’t a comfortable topic,” Dory said. She turned to Vina. “My stomach hasn’t felt right since breakfast this morning. Are you sure those eggs weren’t past their expiration date?” She laid a hand on her stomach, and a frown pulled down her lips.

“They were fine. And you’re fine too,” Vina informed her.

“I’m sorry,” Zander told the three women. “I shouldn’t have brought it up in the middle of conversation.”

The three women waved aside his apology. “I’ve been thinking about his death since you were here after lunch,” Vina told him. “It’s very upsetting that another man was hanged, and Emily found him.”

“Did Emily see . . . her father?” asked Zander.

“Oh, no,” announced Thea. “She was asleep, thank goodness. Both her and Madison.”

“And the other sister?”

The women exchanged a look. “Tara had stayed at a friend’s home that night,” said Vina. “She was eighteen and a little wild. According to her mother, Brenda, the two of them had argued that evening, and Tara stormed off.”

“Emily told me that Tara moved away,” Zander stated. “Tara has been out of contact with your family?”

Each of the aunts’ faces drooped. “That’s correct,” said Vina. “Every now and then we discuss hiring someone to find her, but Emily says to let her be. If Tara wanted to still be part of this family, she’d contact us.”

“I’ve searched a bit with the Google and some dot-com things,” Thea admitted. “I can’t find her.”

“I suspect she’s changed her name in some way.” Dory patted Thea’s shoulder. “She was an independent sort, which I suspect is why she seemed so out of control. Her parents had tough rules about alcohol and curfew, and Tara wasn’t fond of rules.”

“Did the family live here with you when the girls were young?” Zander asked.

“No. Brenda and their father had a house a few miles from here,” Dory told him.

“It was a sweet little home that backed up to the national forest. Lots of space where the kids could be outside and explore all day long,” Thea said with a sigh and a faraway look. “It was horrible that everything went to hell after their father was killed.”

“What do you mean?” Zander spoke carefully, wanting to hear the story, but fully aware that the women’s perceptions would be colored by their relationship with the family. He took careful mental notes, wanting to compare them with the official case file.

Thea picked a crumb from the front of her green jacket. “The house had been set fire, and they lost everything that night. It was tough on Brenda.”


“The four of them moved in here,” added Vina, “so we could help with the girls. Brenda . . .” Vina glanced at her sisters.

“Brenda wasn’t a strong woman,” Thea stated. “She had spells.”

Zander was silent, wondering what the official medical term was for Brenda’s “spells.”

“She’d lock herself in her bedroom for days at a time when the girls were tiny,” Dory said in a low voice. “After Lincoln died, she couldn’t function.”


“She committed suicide a week after his death,” Vina added.

Zander sat back. “That’s horrible.”

Those poor girls. First their father and then their mother.

“She always refused help. We begged her to go to the doctor each time, but she brushed it off, telling us she was just tired.”

“Who found her?” He hated to ask the personal question as much as he feared the answer.

“I did,” said Vina. “Her bedroom. Upstairs here.” Her eyes were haunted. “She hadn’t been happy to return to this house where she grew up. She wanted her little home and her family back.”

“Not only did Chet Carlson murder Lincoln,” Dory said, her voice tight, “he destroyed their home and decimated their family.”

The scorched siding of the Fitch home flashed in Zander’s mind.

He kept his expression neutral, unwilling to mention it in front of the women.

Another coincidence?

“I’m so sorry,” Zander told the women. All the lively spirit had been chased out of the room. By him. First he’d upset Emily, and now the aunts. He looked down at his plate. He hadn’t touched the elaborate desserts. “I should go.” He stood, not allowing their weak protests to change his mind. “Tell Emily we can finish her interview tomorrow.”

He gently disengaged himself from their goodbyes and escaped outside, but not before Dory pressed a small bag of cookies into his hand. He stopped on the sidewalk, looking up at the grand home, seeing it in a different light. Now he understood what was behind the tired and neglected property. The decades had been tough on the inhabitants; the home reflected their hard times.

The plaque caught his eye again.

“Not the peaceful life you imagined for your heirs, was it, Mr. Barton?”


Emily sat on the edge of her bed, furious with herself.

She’d overreacted. Zander Wells was doing his job. Had she really believed her father’s death wouldn’t come up when she was the one who’d found a hanged man?

Even she couldn’t deny the horrible coincidence.

But she wasn’t ready to talk about it.

She stood and paced, knowing she wasn’t in a position to discuss what had happened that night. She’d been thirteen back then. She’d been asleep and had seen nothing.

At least that was the story she told everyone.

She backed away from her father, feeling the heat of the fire grow hot against her bare legs. The strong wind made his body sway and the tree branches thrash in the dark, and shock froze her limbs. A movement far to her right yanked her attention from the horror before her. Two people dashed into the firs, their clothing catching flashes of light from the fire before they vanished. For a split second, the fire lit up the long, blonde hair of the second runner.