The sergeant studied the scene. “Yeah. We’ll still have the house in sight.”
“Reuben, we’re going to move back,” Ava told him. “I’d appreciate it if you let Jayne go after we do that for you.”
“Back it up,” ordered the sergeant. The sheriff department’s vehicles slowly moved away. Ava went with them, hating to put more distance between herself and Jayne.
A deputy approached the sergeant. “The Lloyd daughters are just fine. Shaken up, but okay. The neighbor is keeping them distracted.”
“Do they know what’s going on?” Ava asked.
“They do,” said the deputy. “Their mother ordered them to lock themselves in a playroom and not come out. Said they could hear a man yelling and someone crying. But then a policeman in cowboy boots got them out the back door.”
“That’s Detective Callahan,” said Ava, tension and relief battling for control of her limbs. She checked her phone. He hadn’t responded to her text. “Where’d he go?”
“The neighbor said he ran back to the house. This was before any squad cars arrived.”
“I suspect he’s unwilling to leave his location,” Ava said. “Either he can’t, or he’s got good eyes on the situation. Get his description to everyone. Let them know there’s a plainclothes officer on the scene. Tall, salt-and-pepper hair, jeans, cowboy boots.”
“No white hat?” asked the sergeant in a joking manner.
“Not in a situation like this,” Ava replied in all seriousness. She lifted the bullhorn again. “Okay, Reuben, we’ve given you some space. Let Jayne go so we can help her.”
Her eyes continually scanned the home, looking for any movement.
“Stay back,” yelled Reuben. “I don’t want to see anyone walking toward the house!”
Will he let her go?
“There!” said the sergeant a long moment later. “The door in the carport.”
Ava stared, willing Jayne to appear.
A dark-haired woman stepped out. Her shorts and hands were bloody.
Ava’s knees weakened.
“That’s the sister,” she told the sergeant.
Veronica Lloyd was barefoot. She walked a few steps, looked at the house over her shoulder, and stopped. She turned her back to the police and appeared to be talking to someone.
Come on. Don’t stop.
Veronica took a few backward steps and then spun around and ran toward the police-car blockade. Her eyes were wide, her face wet.
“My kids,” she cried as the sergeant stepped out to her. “My girls are still in the house.”
“We got them out,” the sergeant told her. “They’re at a neighbor’s.”
Veronica quaked and nearly collapsed, but the sergeant grabbed her. “Are you sure? I need to see them. Right now.” Her legs continued to shake. A deputy brought a thin silver blanket and wrapped it around her shoulders.
“Are you hurt?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Not my blood.”
“I’m going to let this deputy get you cleaned up,” the sergeant told her. “And then he’ll take you to your girls.”
“Wait,” said Ava, grabbing Veronica’s arm. “Is Jayne okay? Why didn’t he send her out?”
Veronica studied her for a split second. “You’re the twin.”
“What’s she talking about?” asked the sergeant. He looked from Veronica to Ava, suspicion dawning in his eyes.
“Jayne is my twin.” She calmly held his gaze.
“He’s holding your twin hostage? Why didn’t you mention that?” He turned to a deputy. “Get an ETA on our hostage negotiator.”
“I’ve formed a connection with Reuben,” said Ava. “I got him to let Veronica out. Even your own negotiator will tell you to stick with me.”
Indecision flashed on his face.
“I know what I’m doing,” she told him.
“Let’s hope so. Anything else you need to tell me in addition to knowing both people inside?”
“Detective Callahan is my fiancé.”
The sergeant was shocked. “And has disappeared,” he said.
Ava refused to worry about Mason. He’s a good cop. He can handle himself.
“Reuben only mentioned two women,” replied Ava. “If he’s unaware of Detective Callahan, he must be somewhere safe.” She turned to Veronica. “Why didn’t he send out Jayne too?”
“He seems fixated on her,” Veronica said slowly. She eyed Ava. “And you.”
“Is she all right?”
“The bleeding slowed down. She’s in a lot of pain. It can’t be good for the baby.”
“She’s pregnant?” muttered the sergeant.
“Is he worried about her medical condition at all?” Ava asked.
“Very worried,” said Veronica.
“Why won’t he let us help her, then?” There really is a baby. She kept her thoughts calm. This information didn’t change the current situation.
But a baby does give me something to pressure him with.
“I think he believes he can handle it. He’s going to try to get her in the minivan,” Veronica added.
“She’ll slow him down. That doesn’t make sense.”
“As if this guy is thinking logically,” the sergeant pointed out.
“Ava!” Mercy jogged up. “What a mess.”
Ava quickly gave her an update and then lifted the bullhorn. “Reuben. Thank you for letting Veronica out,” Ava said. “Would you let Jayne out now? We have concerns about the baby.”
“Will you be able to get Jayne medical care?” she asked him. “Let us help her, and then I’ll see what can be done for you.”
“I know you had me followed after our meetings,” Reuben yelled. “Why should I trust you?”
“I’m sorry you felt that way,” said Ava, “but I didn’t. When a meeting ended, it was over. I went back to work, and no one else was there to follow you.”
“You cops are all talk. You say you’ll help and then you don’t.”
“I’ll see that Jayne gets help,” Ava told him. “She’s my sister.”
“She’s told me how you’ve ignored her and pushed her away over the years.”
Ava bit her tongue. He’s trying to get a reaction out of me. “Right now I’ll do anything to help her and my niece or nephew. Let me see her at least.”
I’m going to be an aunt.
It didn’t feel real.
“I’ll let her go, but you have to come get her. She can’t walk on her own,” Reuben hollered. “And it has to be you, Ava. No one else.”
“No,” said the sergeant. “Absolutely not.”
“Why me?” Ava asked Reuben.
“Because that’s the deal. Leave your gun behind.”
Is it a trap?
She didn’t think he would hurt her. He’d portrayed her in a good light while raining anger on all other law enforcement in his notes. He hadn’t purposefully injured Jayne, and according to Veronica was very concerned about her twin’s condition.
But she’d been wrong before.
She went with her gut.
“Okay. I’ll come get her.”
Ava set down the bullhorn and handed her weapon to Mercy.
“Are you crazy?” Mercy whispered. “He’s going to kill you.”
“I don’t think so,” said Ava. “His sister says he’s worried about Jayne. I think that extends to me.”
Or is it vice versa?
“Wait,” said the sergeant.
Ava ignored him and worked her way around the police cars. The house seemed miles away.
I can do this.
Mason flinched as Reuben demanded Ava come get Jayne.
She knows better than that. Nice try.
He crouched under a kitchen window in the backyard. It was a sort of mini greenhouse that extended outside beyond the home’s wall. It was stocked with herbs on glass shelves and provided good cover from above. None of the windows on the back of the house were useful for viewing the situation inside, but several were open, and he could hear most of the conversations.
Reuben had asked about his nieces, and Veronica had lied, saying that they were at a friend’s home. His reply had been, “Good. They shouldn’t see this.”
Mason estimated Veronica had been reunited with her girls by now.
Reuben was stressed. He had yelled at his sister before letting her go and constantly complained about the police presence outside. Over and over he’d said he needed to leave the state, and he paced nonstop in the kitchen. He sounded exactly like the antigovernment websites. He believed the cops outside were there to dominate and control a working man like him. The only good thing Mason heard was that he was troubled by Jayne’s injuries. Veronica had pleaded with him to let Jayne get medical help, but he kept repeating that he could handle it.
His tone didn’t sound so certain.
Reuben was falling apart. If the police could just wait him out, Mason thought it could end without violence.
Through the bullhorn, Ava announced she’d come get Jayne.