She met Zander’s gaze. He was in the driver’s seat, watching her intently, sympathy in his eyes.
“What do I do?” she mouthed silently at him. Confusion warred with responsibility in her brain.
“What do you want to do?”
That’s no help. She covered her phone’s microphone. “I don’t know. I feel like I should be there for them, but we have a huge case on our hands.” Ray’s face flashed in her mind. She wanted to track down his shooter. “I wouldn’t be able to help the case in Seaside. I’d simply be standing around with the rest of them.”
“You’ve told me a dozen times you don’t feel a connection to this family.”
She had said that. And it was true. Sort of.
What is wrong with me?
“I want to find Ray’s shooter at the moment,” she admitted.
“Since he’s injured and his prognosis is up in the air, that makes sense. You’ve had a tight connection with him for a few years.” Zander gestured at her engagement ring. “Mason is tightly intertwined with the case here too.”
The mention of Mason was the deciding factor. Ava immediately knew she had to stay but didn’t know how to explain it to her grieving half sister.
“Kacey? I’ll get back to you after I call the sheriff and see what information he has so far. That will help me decide if I should be there or not.”
Her excuse was lame, and she cringed as she said it. It focused on the murder, not the family.
“I’ll call you as soon as I can,” Ava promised. “Oh, Kacey . . . have you heard from Jayne? I thought she might have accepted your invitation to the coast.”
I nearly forgot to ask.
“No. I haven’t heard from her in weeks. She never answered my invitation to join us here.”
“I’m sorry about that, Kacey. She’s . . . Well, you know.”
“I’m learning. You’re two very different people,” Kacey said softly. “Dad really did love you two, you know. He was so happy when he found both of you. He’d always felt a piece of himself was missing.” Quiet crying came through the phone. “Call me when you can.” Kacey ended the call.
Ava slowly lowered her phone. “I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing. I feel horrible.” She was numb, drained.
I wouldn’t be any help to that family.
“I’m really sorry, Ava,” said Zander. “I know how confused you are about David and his family, but I also know you hoped for the fairy tale.”
Her fairy tale.
One big happy family. With both a mother and a father.
She turned wet eyes his way. Zander always saw everything. “I did,” she admitted. “It was stupid.”
“No, it wasn’t. It’s absolutely normal for children who never knew their parents to hope they’ll appear in their lives one day and they’ll live happily ever after.”
“I should have tried harder,” Ava said. “I should have accepted all their invitations and sent them Christmas presents. Did you know David sent us a case of expensive Italian red wine and the most beautiful wineglasses I’ve ever seen?” The present had compounded her guilt about holding the family at arm’s length. But not enough to push her into action. “I’m a horrible person.”
“Considering your upbringing and your twin, I’d say you turned out to be an amazing person. You’re driven and caring. You’ve done a lot of good for a lot of people . . . including Jayne.”
“I’m not looking for a pep talk.”
“I know. But I needed to say it.”
Jayne, where the fuck are you? Ava rubbed her temples, feeling overloaded and anxious. Everything was happening at once. A perfect storm.
Ray, David, Jayne.
“Did I ever tell you about the time Jayne told my junior high school crush that I had herpes?” she blurted. The memory had leaped out from behind a door in her mind that Ava kept tightly shut and locked.
Zander shot her an incredulous look. “No, you told me about her sleeping with boys and telling them she was you, and how she stole your driver’s license since she flunked her driving test, and how she threatened to cut herself if you didn’t take a history test for her, and—”
“Got it.” Ava cut him off. Her list of grievances with Jayne was long and painful and didn’t need to be rehashed at the moment.
“What happened with your crush?”
“He went out with Jayne, of course.” She wrinkled her nose. “They had sex. I’ve always hoped he used a condom, because if anyone had herpes, it was Jayne.”
“In junior high?”
“You wouldn’t believe the number of teens—and men—she slept with.”
“Men with a girl in junior high? That’s fucked up. And illegal.” He paused. “She needed mental health care.”
“I know. I mean, now I know. Back then I just thought she was mean.”
Would Jayne’s life have been different if she had received the proper help?
“I’m sorry, Ava.”
Ava didn’t answer. She usually hated when people felt sorry for her, but Zander was an exception because his sympathy was aimed at the past, not the present.
“Let’s go talk to that 7-Eleven clerk,” Ava said. “I’ll call the Clatsop County sheriff about David’s case on the way.”
Zander started his vehicle and put it in gear. “On it.”
Ava had been on hold in the car for five minutes before Clatsop County sheriff Greer picked up the line.
“Special Agent McLane!” The sheriff sounded genuinely pleased to hear from her. “I’ve been wondering about you. I hope you’re fully recovered?”
“I am. Thank you.” The truth was her shoulder and collarbone still ached, except for the areas that were numb. And she occasionally shuddered as she drove past men watching traffic as they stood on the side of the road. She’d been a vehicle passenger in the sheriff’s county when a killer shot at the car. If the shot had been a few inches higher, she’d be dead.
“And Agent Wells? How’s he doing since he persuaded Emily Mills to leave the coast? Their romance is still the talk of the county.”
Ava glanced at Zander behind the steering wheel. “Zander is fine. I don’t think anyone persuaded Emily. She does exactly what she wants.”
Zander nodded emphatically, his eyes on the road.
“I’m calling about the shooting in Seaside this morning.” Ava struggled to keep her tone even.
“Sad business,” said the sheriff. “The victim had a big family, and I’m hearing over and over how kind he was.”
Ava winced and struggled to align her words. “I know. He was my . . . father. But I didn’t know he existed until last fall. My mother never told us about him.”
The sheriff was silent for a long moment. “Well, now, that’s just horrible. I’m very sorry for your loss, Agent McLane. I had no idea he was your father.”
“My mother thought she was doing the right thing at the time.” Ava cleared her thickened throat. “What can you tell me about . . . the incident?” She couldn’t say murder. Not yet.
“I just got an update from the detective who caught the case. David Dressler left for a run around eight this morning. His family wasn’t sure of his route but believed he was headed south down the beach from the promenade.”
Ava knew the promenade was a central spot in Seaside, where the touristy Broadway Street met the beach.
“He was found by a couple of tourists in some taller vegetation.”
“Was he still in sight of the city homes along the beach? Or past the golf course?”
“The vegetation blocked him from any home’s view. And the golf course was further south.”
“Found a nine-millimeter casing. We’ll know more details after the lab looks at it.”
“His injury?” Her voice was hoarse.
“One shot to the temple. No stippling. No exit wound.”
Hopefully death was instantaneous.
“None so far. Only the folks that found him. Medical examiner said he hadn’t been dead more than a few hours. We’ve been canvassing the area but haven’t found anyone who heard a shot.”
Did they use a suppressor? The roar of the ocean was loud, but not enough to muffle a gunshot.
“A report of an assault on a woman early that morning near a bakery shop not far from where he was found. We’ve requested the bakery’s video.”
Hope rose in Ava’s chest. “Did she give a description of who assaulted her?”
The sheriff sighed. “She hasn’t come forward. The bakery clerk reported it during our canvass. He saw them in front of his shop around eight a.m. He said the man slugged her in the face, making her drop to her knees.”
“Why didn’t the clerk report this earlier?”
“He claimed he had his phone in hand, ready to call it in, when the man helped the woman up and they walked away together, his arm around her shoulders. He said the woman didn’t appear to be coerced or fighting him off, so he let it go.”