The old Tudor home they’d purchased last year had turned into a money pit. Issues in the kitchen were just the beginning of problems found throughout the entire home. How it had passed inspection, she didn’t know. Mason had wanted to hunt down the inspector, but Ava had reminded him that this was the home they’d fallen in love with and would have bought no matter what the inspection returned. He’d grumpily acquiesced and sent another payment to their contractor.
She would smile all she wanted at appliances. Remodels were hell.
Ava had worked from home that morning, finishing up reports on the case she’d closed the previous week, and had promised her supervisor, Ben, she’d be in the office by noon. She checked the time and grabbed her bag as Bingo whined. She spun to give the dog a goodbye hug and stopped. He was utterly still, his attention directed at the front door.
The doorbell rang, and Bingo uttered a low woof of warning.
“Good boy.” Ava gave him a head rub. He was an excellent watchdog, knowing with no training—at least no training from her or Mason—when to sound the alarm and when to stay quiet. More than a year ago, the stray had chosen Mason as his person and become a permanent part of the household.
Ava looked through the peephole in the front door. She could have used her phone to check the front-porch camera of the high-tech security system Mason had installed, but the old-fashioned way was quicker.
The man on her porch appeared to be in his twenties. His hands were shoved in the front pockets of his cargo shorts, and he stood several feet back from the door, leaving plenty of space between himself and whoever would answer. Flip-flops and a snug T-shirt completed his look, but he didn’t appear scruffy. His hair was short and his goatee neatly trimmed.
He was familiar, but she couldn’t place the face.
A chill of warning went up her spine. There was a reason Mason had installed the security system. In the past, dangerous elements of their jobs in law enforcement had followed them home.
And there was always the question of Jayne.
Ava’s twin sister was unpredictable. Usually for the worse.
“Can I help you?” she said loudly through the door. The man straightened, and hope filled his features.
“Are you Ava McLane?” he asked.
“Who is asking?”
“Brady Shurr. I’m looking for Jayne.” His tone was desperate.
Ava’s knees shook, and she pressed her hands against the door to steady herself as she looked closer through the peephole. Jayne had run off from a local drug-and-alcohol rehab facility with Brady Shurr around eight months ago. Last Ava had heard, her twin sister and Brady were in Costa Rica, using Brady’s family’s money to pay for a luxury rehab clinic.
At least Jayne had still been seeking help.
Ava now recognized him. The Shurr family owned a half dozen auto dealerships in the state. Brady and his siblings were often in the commercials.
Her hands icy, she undid the locks and yanked the door open. “What happened? Where’d she go?”
Brady stared at her, scanning her face. “Jesus.”
Ava knew that look. She’d seen it all her life. She and Jayne were identical twins, and often the only difference between them was the current style or color of hair. People who knew only one of them were always stunned when they met the other.
“Jayne said you two looked nothing alike,” he finally said, blinking hard as he continued to scrutinize her.
“She knows full well how identical we are,” Ava snapped. “She’s impersonated me more times than I can count.” Her heart pounded. Jayne had been quiet for months, but that was part of her twin’s destructive cycle. Long periods of silence followed by an abrupt tsunami of activity. Usually illegal activity. Ava had been on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop—it always did—and now it was standing on her front porch.
The silence was over.
“She’s gone,” he choked out.
“What do you mean, gone? I thought the two of you were living the high life on a beach in Central America.” Pretending her heart wasn’t climbing up her throat, Ava leaned against the doorjamb and casually crossed her arms. “What did she do now?”
Jayne’s past was full of illegal drugs, petty crimes, and stealing whatever she could from her twin. Ever since they were young, none of Ava’s possessions had been off-limits, in Jayne’s mind. She had helped herself to Ava’s credit cards, her identity, her car, her boyfriends, and her clothing, claiming that twins shared everything. Jayne always floated from job to job and man to man, seeking excitement.
Jayne was several years older than Brady. They’d met in rehab, and somehow she’d convinced him to leave his wife, check out of the clinic, and disappear with her.
The last time Ava had heard from Jayne, she’d been upbeat, looking forward to the future with this young man and promising to stay clean.
Ava hoped for the best but always expected the worst when it came to her twin.
Brady’s pleading gaze held Ava’s. He really cares about her. How had Jayne gotten to this rich, good-looking young man?
“She vanished, and she told me in the past to find you if she ever disappeared.”
Alarms went off in Ava’s head. “You better come in.”
Minutes after he’d arrived on her doorstep, Ava had Brady settled on a stool in her new kitchen, with a glass of iced tea in his hands. He sat at an island that was so big she had to stretch onto her toes to wipe its center. The contractor had measured how far Ava could reach before approving the island. He had a client who was annoyed with him that she had to climb on a chair to clean her island. He refused to make that mistake again.
Brady watched as she poured her own iced tea. “It’s so weird. You walk like her and move your head the same way.” He blew out a breath. “Her hair is the same color and length too.”
“That’s unusual,” Ava said as she took the stool beside him. “In the past she’s tried to keep her hair as different as possible. Blonde or purple. She’s always said brown is boring.”
“She was making a fresh start. We both were.”
Fresh start. How many times have I heard her say that?
“She’s a drug addict. She always will be. The same with you.”
“I know that . . . We both know that.”
“Who decided the two of you should leave the local clinic and go to Costa Rica?”
His shoulders slumped. “Me.”
Ava doubted that. Jayne was a master of manipulation. It would have been child’s play for her to convince Brady he’d come up with the idea when she’d planted it seed by seed in his brain. Ava knew Jayne had always wanted a lengthy tropical vacation. No doubt she had seen the possibility with Brady.
“You were married when you met my sister.”
He slumped more. “I was. But it was over before I entered the rehab clinic. I didn’t leave her for Jayne.”
Maybe true. Maybe not. But either way, Brady believed it now.
“The two of you decided you’d make more progress in Costa Rica at a different rehab clinic?”
“Yeah, but we checked out of there three months ago.”
Ava blinked. “Where have you been?”
“We’re living not far from the clinic. It’s really beautiful down there.”
“Your family was providing you with money to live in a foreign country?”
“It’s pretty cheap. We had a huge place with an ocean view for less than ten thousand a month.”
She swallowed. Brady was serious. To him that was cheap.
“When did she leave?”
“It’s been about two weeks.”
“What? And you’re just telling me now?” Ava tightened her grip on her glass of tea.
Not my problem. Jayne is not my problem.
Two decades of trying to help her sister had ripped holes in Ava. The scars were deep.
Jayne’s suicide attempt last year had nearly destroyed her.
Ava had to build a wall and keep it between the two of them, and Mason had done everything in his power to help.
“I thought she’d be back. She would take off for a few days sometimes, but she always came back.”
“Hang on.” Ava pulled out her phone and opened a locator app. After Jayne’s suicide attempt, she’d added her sister’s phone to the app without Jayne knowing. In the hospital, she’d used the facial recognition on Jayne’s phone to approve the addition.
Being a twin was good for some things.
Ava had checked the app once a month, noting that Jayne was still in Costa Rica. It’d given Ava some peace, but not much.
Right now the app couldn’t find Jayne.
Her phone was off.
“Where would she go?” This is the Jayne I know. Vanishing acts.
Brady shrugged, keeping his gaze on his tea. “I don’t know. She asked that I not talk to her about her disappearances. She was always clean when she came back. I could tell she hadn’t been using or drinking.”
Ava bit her tongue to stop from lecturing Brady on the characteristics of a healthy relationship. “What was she doing? Shopping? Have you checked your credit cards?” she asked bitterly. Jayne had run up huge debts with Ava’s cards multiple times.
“I got her some cards in her own name.” He finally met Ava’s eyes. “I looked. There’s no charges on hers or mine.”