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“Maybe he took an Uber,” Ava suggested.

“Good point. I’ll check with Uber and Lyft. Cab companies too. Maybe someone had a drop-off in the area. Didn’t think of that until now.”

“Glad I could help.”

He tightened his arm around her shoulders and kissed her on the temple. “I swear my head isn’t completely in the game. I’ve got to step it up.”

Ava didn’t mention his worry about Ray as an excuse again. Mason had already heard it a dozen times. “What did the fingerprint evidence show?” she asked.

“One bloody set on the mallet and bathtub. Same bloody set on Reuben’s desk. This adds a point in the column for a single killer.”

“Doesn’t rule out that another person was there.”

“I’m keeping it in mind.” He paused. “Jill gave me a good report on Ray earlier,” he said. “He appears to be stable. She said a doctor actually smiled. That told her more about Ray’s condition than anything he said to her.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” A small weight lifted from Ava. “Was Nora helpful today?”

“She’s always great, and she’ll make me stay focused.”

Ava elbowed him. “Stop it. Now that Ray’s doing better, you’ll be less distracted.”

“I hope so. Got any other tips? I’ll take whatever I can get.”

She thought for a moment, considering everything they’d discussed. It helped to talk to another person. They often thought of possibilities the first person hadn’t or looked at evidence from a different perspective. “Not that I can think of. There’s been no sign of Reuben’s brother, Shawn?”

“Nope. It’s like he evaporated. I’m sure he’ll crawl out from under a rock somewhere.”

“He could be our killer. For Reuben and the courthouse.”

“He’s first on my list.”

“Always look at family first,” Ava said, knowing the statement was unnecessary. “His sister didn’t have any ideas where he could be?”

“No. Her husband didn’t either.”

“Do you believe them?”

Mason was quiet for a long moment. “I do.”

“Do they think Shawn killed Reuben?”

“I didn’t tell them about the Mustang at Reuben’s. As far as they know, Shawn is still in Nevada. And neither of them brought up Shawn as a suspect when I asked who might hurt Reuben.”

“Might not have been Shawn’s car.”

“True. But Shawn’s neighbors said he’s been gone. Too big of a coincidence.”

“It is,” Ava agreed. She raised her head to hold her cheek against Mason’s warm one. They sat in silence, their breathing the only sound.

“Ready to go back?” he asked.

“Not yet.” Going back to the house meant preparing for the next day. For some reason she believed that as long as they sat on the bench, tomorrow would stay away.

At this moment everything was perfect.

Even if it wasn’t.

“Any word from Kacey?” Mason asked gruffly. She knew he hated to break the perfection of the long moment too.

“Yes. David’s funeral will be in three days. Back in San Diego.”

“We’ll go.”

“Of course.” Her father had died. She would leave work for his funeral and show Kacey and the rest of the family that she wasn’t a working robot. When Kacey had told her, Ava’s first thought had been how tough it would be to get away from the investigation. But she’d promised Kacey she’d be there. “I need to check with Sheriff Greer and get a progress report on David’s murder investigation.”

Mason turned his head, moving his lips against her cheek. “I’m so sorry.”

“I know.” Shouldn’t I be experiencing grief? All she felt was surprised and stunned.

Which led to more guilt.

“We should be talking about a wedding, not our work.”

Ava didn’t say anything, shocked to realize she hadn’t thought about the wedding once that day. This is insane.

“It’s okay,” Mason said. “This is why you hired Cheryl. If there were any issues, you’d have a dozen texts from her. The silence means everything is going smoothly.”

She bit her lip. Smoothly? Ray was in the hospital, and Ava hadn’t chosen an attendant. It might be just her and Mason standing before the minister. The thought left a hollow feeling in her stomach.

Mason moved Bingo’s head off his leg and stood, pulling Ava to her feet. He placed his hands on her cheeks, making her look at his eyes in the dim light. “Everything is going to be perfect,” he said. “And if something goes wrong, I bet we’ll laugh about it in twenty years.”

“Like Jake accidentally knocking over the wedding cake?” Mason’s son wasn’t the most coordinated teenager.

“Exactly like that.” He grinned. “That would be pretty funny.”

Ava could clearly see it. “I almost want it to happen now.”

“He’d be humiliated.”

“I’d laugh,” she admitted. “I’d probably cry, I’d be laughing so hard.”

“It wouldn’t matter,” Mason said, slipping his arms around her and pulling her tight to his chest. “All that matters is what happens between us that day.”

Ava closed her eyes, feeling his heartbeat. How did I find this man? He understood every fiber of her. Her needs, her insecurities, and her fears. And easily balanced them with love and patience.

“Ready to go back home?” Longing sounded in his voice.



Mason was waiting outside the Home Depot when it opened at 6:00 a.m. He knew Reuben Braswell had worked graveyard, and he wanted to talk to people who worked the same shift. Several customers milled around the front doors. Mostly men in ball caps and Carhartt pants, waiting to pick up their supplies for the day. Mason had noticed the parking lot had a large contingent of pickup trucks. Big diesel rigs and long beds. Some shiny new and others battered with heavy use.

The large glass doors slid open, and the group didn’t rush the door. This wasn’t the holiday shopping season, when being first might make the difference between getting that big-screen TV or not. The group casually strolled in, leaving space between them. Inside, they dispersed, each headed to a different section of the store. Mason made a beeline for the customer service desk as he inhaled the scent of fresh lumber and made himself not stop to look at the colorful display of wheeled plastic coolers.

He liked Home Depot.

A dark-haired woman in an orange apron cheerily greeted him from behind the tall counter. “What can I do for you this morning?” She quickly scanned him from head to toe; he wasn’t their usual 6:00 a.m. shopper.

“I’m looking for Gloria Briggs.”

She grinned. “You found her.”

Mason’s gaze dropped to the handwritten name on her worn apron. In large block letters it read RIA. “Ria,” he corrected. “Sorry.”

“Not a problem. What do you need?”

Mason showed her his ID. “I’d like to ask you about Reuben Braswell. Is there somewhere quieter we can talk?” The store was actually very quiet, but he felt exposed at the central desk.

Her face fell as she heard Reuben’s name. “Let me get someone to cover the desk.” Mason nodded and stepped away, eyeing the coolers. They were twice the size of the three he already had.

I don’t need another.

But damn, the price is good.

Ria joined him. “Let’s head down this way,” she said, gesturing to an aisle. He followed, and they stopped under the light fixtures for sale near the back of the store. It was deserted. “No one comes in looking for chandeliers this time of day,” she stated. She met his gaze. “I heard about Reuben. Rumors are flying. What happened?”

“I can’t say much,” Mason said. “The investigation is ongoing.” Always a handy phrase that most people respected. “I’d like to know what kind of employee he was.”

“Excellent,” she immediately said, crossing her arms. “He’s worked graveyard for several years and seems to enjoy it. He’d rather work with the merchandise than the customers, so it seemed a good fit for him.”

“What do his coworkers think of him? He get along with everyone?”

Something flashed in her brown eyes. “He gets his work done and does his part. Not a slacker.”

Not what I asked.

“Who’s he hang around with?”

Ria twisted her mouth as she thought. “I see him talking with Joe Cooper a lot.”

“He around?”

She checked her watch. “Yes. He should still be here.”

“Ria.” Mason paused, searching for a tactful way to ask his question. “Did Reuben have any arguments with his coworkers? Or maybe an issue with a customer? Wait . . . you said his job didn’t require him to interact with customers.”

“He works until seven a.m.,” she said. “He dealt with customers during that last hour of his shift.”

“Anyone get angry with him?”

She cocked her head to one side. “Are you asking if he got someone mad enough to kill him?”