“I don’t want another surprise like the one I found at Kaden’s,” he muttered. He’d just stepped onto her driveway when Gillian came out the front door with a large suitcase.
Worry lit Gillian’s face as she saw him and Nora approach.
“Is everything okay?” she asked, tugging the suitcase. She looked from one of them to the other.
“Yes,” said Nora before Mason could speak. “We were checking to see if you’d left.”
“I’ll be gone in a minute—wait—did you think something had happened to me?” Her face went white.
“We’re only checking on you.” Mason reiterated Nora’s words. “Did you find a place to go?”
“I’ll be at my sister’s in Seattle,” she answered, still looking rattled. She popped the trunk of her car, and Mason stepped forward. He grabbed her suitcase—it was insanely heavy—and heaved it into the trunk.
“We’ll be in touch,” Mason told her. She nodded, an unhappy expression in her eyes.
He didn’t blame her. Anyone would want to distance themselves from what had happened in the last few days.
“What do you think of her?” asked Nora as they watched Gillian drive down the street.
“Two of her neighbors have been murdered. I think she’s justifiably shaken.”
“I thought you were going to throw your back out when you lifted her suitcase.”
“I think she packed rocks.”
Nora snorted. “Ready to go?”
Mason thought about Kaden Schroeder sitting in his gaming chair.
“More than ready.”
“This place is packed,” Zander said to Ava.
“That’s an understatement.”
A city park had been offered for the officers’ memorial. Weekly concerts were held there during the summer, so a stage was already set up at one end, and there was plenty of parking. Everywhere she looked, Ava saw different uniforms. It appeared as if every department in the state had sent representatives. And dozens more from out of state.
She and Zander stood near the park’s edge under a tree as she kept an eye out for Mason. It was after 9:00 p.m., and the park was still warm even though the sun had gone down. Heat radiated from the parking lot and the hundreds of vehicles. Several food trucks were nearby, clearly popular with the crowd, but the shave ice cart had the longest line.
Ava wasn’t hungry. She hadn’t been since she’d learned that her twin was pregnant. Her thoughts vacillated between worry for the baby and worry for her sister.
Why hasn’t she contacted me?
She was surprised Jayne hadn’t shown up to brag about being pregnant.
“Do you think Brady Shurr knows about the pregnancy?” Zander asked, revealing she wasn’t the only one pondering the puzzle that was Jayne.
“I think he would have told me,” Ava said. “He seems like an open type of guy. He was really worried about Jayne, and I know he would be worried for a baby.”
“Maybe it’s not his.”
The words sent a jolt through Ava’s nerves.
Why am I surprised? When has Jayne ever stayed with one man in her life?
“Are you going to mention it when you tell him she was at the motel?”
“Heck no. I won’t mention the pregnancy or the guy she was with. I’ll tell Brady we saw her at the registration desk. That’s all.”
Zander was silent.
“Don’t judge me.” She was partly joking.
“I’m not. Just putting myself in your shoes and his. Can’t put myself in Jayne’s shoes because her thought patterns are irrational. But you’re right. It’s not your place to tell Brady about the baby. That’s Jayne’s responsibility.”
Ava lost track of the conversation as a police uniform caught her eye. “Does that say San Antonio?”
“Yes,” said Zander. “I saw one from Orlando too.”
Her jaw tightened, and she pressed her lips together, emotion bubbling up in her chest. “That’s amazing.”
“It is. These are good people.”
The Texas police officer blended into the crowd, and a Portland police officer wandered into her view, holding hands with a pregnant woman.
Suddenly Jayne was back on her brain again.
Is the baby healthy? Is Jayne taking prenatal vitamins? Is she seeing a doctor regularly?
Questions had been spinning in her mind since she saw Jayne glide her hand over the baby bump.
Is she faking?
Ava considered and then rejected the idea. Jayne had entered the motel room with a man. It was hard to fake a pregnancy with one’s clothes off.
The happiness in Zander’s voice made Ava smile as Emily Mills joined them at the edge of the park and immediately gave Zander a hug and kiss. Ava sighed, wondering if outsiders saw Mason light up like that when he saw her.
I know they do.
Emily greeted Ava and then critically examined Ava’s neck, evaluating the scars. Ava had been a passenger in Emily’s car when she was shot last spring. “It looks good,” Emily said, nodding in approval. “The marks are paler every time I see you.”
“They are,” Ava agreed. She liked Emily. She was blunt and direct and made Zander smile. All good things in Ava’s book.
She spotted Mason cutting through a corner of the crowd, his cowboy hat making him stand out. “Be right back.” He spotted her before she reached him. His eyes softened, and his tough-cop stride faltered.
Oh yeah. Zander’s got nothing on Mason.
As he drew closer, she saw the strain around his mouth and in his gaze. He hated these gatherings. It wasn’t the people or the venue he hated; it was the reason. He reached her and enveloped her in a hug, exhaling as he tightened his arms. “I’ve missed you today.”
He pulled back and looked her in the eye. “What’s wrong?”
Ava looked down at his boots against the grass. “Jayne showed up on a motel video from a week ago. She’s pregnant.”
Mason was silent, and Ava brought her gaze back to his. She was unsure of the emotion in his eyes, but it looked like concern . . . for her.
“Are you sure she’s pregnant?”
Ava’s lips quirked. Mason was almost as familiar with her twin’s deceptions as she was. “Ninety-nine percent sure.”
“Where is she now?”
“We don’t know yet.”
She took his hand and led him back to greet Zander and Emily.
“We’re about ready to start.” The Clackamas County sheriff stood at the microphone onstage, and the crowd immediately quieted.
“Feels like we just did this,” Mason said quietly, looking over the crowd.
Ava squeezed his hand. He was right. They’d attended his friend Denny’s service last fall, but it didn’t feel like that long ago.
On the stage, officers brought out large photos of the murdered officers and placed them on stands. Ava had already memorized their faces. She knew each one’s name and how many kids each had. Quiet murmurs rippled through the crowd.
We could be looking at a photo of Ray.
She glanced at Mason and found him watching her, his eyes red. He dropped her hand and slid an arm around her shoulders, and she leaned into him.
“I feel horrible that I’m happy Ray is okay,” he whispered.
“It’s the same for me too.”
She scanned the crowd again, seeing tears and anger in the faces. The number of attendees was heartening, but—
Terror tightened her muscles. So many officers. In one place.
Her breathing labored as her hands grew icy.
“Hey.” Mason gripped her shoulder. “I know what you’re thinking. Stop it,” he whispered.
“They’re so exposed. We’re exposed.”
“I know. And every one of us knew that when we came, but we made a choice to be here. Dozens of officers are watching and patrolling the perimeter. There’s no high ground. No one would dare try.”
Ava doubted that.
It’s not just officers attending. Their families are here.
It would be a bloodbath.
Light-headedness engulfed her.
“I need to go.” Her voice was barely audible.
I’m having a panic attack.
Alarming energy and terror lit up her nerves. She needed to get away. Mason turned her to him and took her face in his hands, his dark eyes stern. “Breathe. Slowly in through your nose and slowly out.”
Her gaze held on to his as if to a lifeline, but every muscle in her body screamed for her to leave and take Mason with her. Put as much distance between the gathering and them as possible.
“Breathe,” he ordered again. “Focus on feeling the movements of your rib cage.”
Faintly she heard Zander ask if she was okay. But her focus was locked on Mason’s eyes. She continued to inhale and exhale, concentrating on the physical sensation in her lungs. She repeated each breath to a count of four in her mind. The panic eased.
“I’m all right.”
“You will be in a few more seconds.”
Exhaustion suddenly swamped her, and he pulled her close again. She pressed her face against his shirt; he smelled of heat and male skin. Soothing and comforting.