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“Brady said she had access to a lot of cash.”

“Still needs a credit card to rent a car or hotel room.”

“Maybe she stole identification from someone at the rehabilitation center in Costa Rica.”

“I’ll call to ask if they’ve had any thefts.”

“You don’t have time for this. Neither of us does . . . especially now.”

“I can make a quick call while you drive us to the briefing in Oregon City. Before Ben assigned me to the task force, I did some scouring in San Diego but didn’t find a trace of her—or you—anywhere. But I did learn your father is at the Oregon coast at the moment. Did you know that?”

“I did,” Ava said reluctantly. “It’s a family trip. He has his kids and grandkids with him. David invited me.” She couldn’t call him Dad—or Father—yet. He was David. Using his first name felt safe, like keeping a small wall between the two of them. Jayne was able to fully embrace the father she’d never known existed, but Ava wasn’t there yet.

Baby steps.

“Could Jayne be with him? Was she invited?”

“I don’t know.” Ava imagined her sister playing on the beach with David’s grandkids. It was the type of opportunity Jayne wouldn’t pass up. The chance to pretend she had a real family.

It is her real family.

“Can you call him?” Zander asked patiently.

“I’ll text.” Ava picked up her phone. No small talk needed.

“No one makes phone calls anymore,” Zander complained. “It’s becoming a lost skill.”

She sent David a text asking if Jayne was with them.

“Why didn’t you join them at the beach?” Zander asked. “You could have popped in for a day visit.”

“Do I seem like a pop-in kind of person?”

“No, you seem like a person who is terrified of being a part of something unfamiliar . . . or terrified that it could become something very good.”

“Not terrified. Cautious.”

“You’ve known this family for almost nine months and you’re still hesitant? They could have been a bunch of jerks, but instead each one has reached out to you.”

“I like Kacey. We talk sometimes.” David’s daughter was the type of person Ava wanted to be friends with, but the blood connection made her hesitate.

She waited a few moments, staring at her screen. “I don’t think David is the type of person that always has their phone in hand. I might not hear back for a while.”

“I envy those people.”

“I do too. But I’ve accidentally left home without my phone and felt as if I was missing a limb.”

“Let’s head out to the meeting,” Zander suggested.

Ava nodded and stole another look at her phone. No text. She slipped it into her pocket, grabbed her bag, and followed Zander.

Why do I feel this day will get worse?


Mason welcomed the heat of the sun as he stepped out of the medical examiner’s office. Even the waiting room had been cold. He turned his face to the sky, appreciating the warmth and realizing how drained he was. It was barely noon and he wanted to go home, take a nap, and not wake up until someone could tell him Ray was out of the woods.

Instead, he had to go back to Reuben Braswell’s home and pick up where he and Ray had left off yesterday. At least the crime scene team should be gone. No one to distract him.

Why am I not rushing over there?

The need to nap swamped him again. As important as the Braswell murder case was to him, he desperately wanted his finger on the pulse of the shooter investigation. The image of the dead officer in the medical examiner’s office haunted him.

It could have been Ray.

He and Ray went back more than a decade. Mason had been an experienced detective when Ray was assigned to the Major Crimes division as a rookie, fresh off being a state trooper for years. His easy talkativeness and snappy way of dressing had annoyed Mason at first, but he’d soon learned the former college football player had a big heart and a brain as sharp as a knife. They had become friends, and Ray and Jill had pulled him into their lives when his own was cold and empty after his divorce from Jake’s mom. He’d dragged his heels, not wanting to bring down the upbeat family with his taciturn ways.

With strong encouragement from Jill, Ray had prevailed.

Mason was a better man for having known both of them.


Mason stiffened at the familiar voice. Michael Brody leaned against an SUV parked twenty feet away at the yellow curb.

Not now.

He didn’t like to admit it, but Mason grudgingly admired the investigative reporter. As a whole, reporters drove him nuts. And it’d only gotten worse with the hundreds of online “news” sites cropping up. Facts and truth weren’t high on their list of priorities when it came to sniffing out a story.

But Brody was one of the good ones. The two of them had butted heads a few times but eventually recognized they shared a dedication to finding answers. Ava adored the reporter for some reason. Probably because he usually rubbed Mason the wrong way. Brody had no filter and no respect for authority. Mason suspected Ava pushed him and Brody together as much as possible so she’d have a sociology experiment to analyze.

The younger man was cocky and laid back and always looked as if he’d just returned from the beach. Currently he wore loose shorts—with two ragged holes—and a faded T-shirt. He didn’t look like a man with two master’s degrees. The Range Rover and expensive watch were the only indications that the reporter had money to burn. Family money. His mother had been a skilled surgeon, his father a state senator, and his uncle the governor of Oregon.

Mason shielded his eyes from the sun as he squinted at the vehicle. It was navy. Last time he saw the reporter, it had been black. “New Rover?”


“What do you want, Brody?” Mason asked. The casual displays of wealth never failed to trigger Mason’s annoyance.

“What’s the connection between the death of Reuben Braswell and the shooting yesterday?”

How did he find that out?

It was another thing that irked Mason. Brody had sources that he shouldn’t have and refused to reveal. The reporter had friends in both high and low places.

“Why do you think there is one?” Mason inserted annoyance into his tone. He wasn’t about to acknowledge anything. “If you have questions, we have public information officers to help you.”

Brody grinned, his teeth white against his tan face. “I like you better. You don’t mince words.”

“No shit. Go away.”


Mason put on his cowboy hat as he headed for his vehicle. “I’m exhausted. Fuck off.”

“Hey, Mason . . . I’m sorry about Ray.”

He halted and looked back. Brody’s tone was sincere and so was his expression.

He knows when to stop with the crap.

On some twisted level, Mason enjoyed their arguments. “Thanks.”

“If something at the Braswell murder scene led you to that bomb scare at the courthouse, I might know some avenues you can pursue to find the shooter.”

“Are you being serious right now?”

“Deadly serious.”

“I’m not on the shooting investigation. My job is to find who murdered Reuben Braswell.”

“I think this might open up some leads for that murder too.”

“You use the word might a lot. That doesn’t instill confidence.”

Brody shrugged. “You know I have resources.”

Do I want to open this can of worms?

“I could use some coffee,” Mason finally said. He could spare twenty minutes to hear Brody out if it might help with either investigation.

“I’ll even buy,” said Brody.

“That was a given.”

Ten minutes later the two of them were at a shaded table outside a coffee shop. Mason had ordered an iced black coffee. Brody had a gigantic frozen drink with four shots of espresso, whipped cream, and extra caramel drizzle.

“That’s not coffee,” said Mason as he realized he wanted a taste of the froufrou drink.

“It’s caffeine. That’s what’s important.”

Mason leaned forward. “What do you have for me?”

Brody drew a happy face in the condensation on his plastic cup. “A couple of months ago I was working on a story about conspiracy theories. Where they originate, what draws people to them, how they perpetuate, and so on.”

“Ava said Braswell was a conspiracy theorist.”

“Let me finish,” Brody said, raising a brow. “I found several online-message-board sites dedicated to discussing these theories. It was pretty entertaining. Especially when people would present proof. Blurry pictures, links to unreliable web pages, testimony from relatives. Great stuff. It was one of my most fascinating research projects.”

“Your research is reading what crazy people write.” Mason wished his job were as laid back.

“Some of the writers are as normal as you and me, but they seem to have a weakness for the bizarre.”

“You mean a weakness in their heads.”

Michael ignored his remark. “After a while one commenter frequently caught my attention. He had all sorts of theories about our government—and several other governments around the world. Believed there was a one-world government forming behind our backs. He would trumpet that law enforcement was a weapon of the government to keep us down, created to make a permanent working class that simply supports the rich. No chance to build something of themselves. Arrest the middle-class working guy who’s barely supporting his family and throw big fines at him that he can’t afford, or lock him up long enough to lose his job and rely on government handouts. Said law enforcement only pretended to help the public. That they would ignore regular people in real trouble.”