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“Shit.” A martyr. Ava turned to go back to her office. “I’ll grab my bag.”

“No. Wait.”

She froze, one hand on the doorjamb of his office. Something else is wrong.

“Reuben Braswell,” Ben stated.

The man’s face appeared in her mind. A pain in the ass. Braswell was fascinated with law enforcement and saw himself as some sort of necessary source of information for the FBI. Ava placated him, even though his phone calls and visits seemed more about using up her time than providing information. “What about him?”

“When’s the last time you spoke with him?”

Ava touched a consistently numb spot on her shoulder. “Before the coast.” Before I was shot this spring at the coast.

“What did you talk about?”

She shrugged, still fingering her shoulder. “I’ll have to check the report. I don’t recall anything of use. Sometimes I think he simply likes to feel important.”

“He didn’t mention a bombing?”

“Hell no.” She straightened. “You can’t think Braswell knew something about today’s bomb threat. Wouldn’t he have told us?”

“He’s dead. He was murdered in his home at some point overnight.”

She blinked, unable to speak.

“They uncovered the plans for today’s bombing in his home. Intricate plans. I haven’t seen them yet, but there’s something in the plans that suggests he wanted to tell you about the bombing. Did he ever allude to something like that?”

Ava fought for breath as she strained to recall her last meeting with the man.

Did he hint at something?

She was positive Reuben hadn’t discussed anything of the sort. “He never said anything about a bomb or any other type of violent episode. He provided more of the ‘I heard a rumor that so-and-so isn’t paying his taxes because he’s a sovereign citizen’–type information.”

“I want you to stay here. Find all your notes on every meeting with Braswell.”

“I can go—”

“Stay here. Every law enforcement agency is lending help. They’ll have more than they need.”

She nodded dumbly, frustrated but knowing he was right. “Got it.” She turned to leave again.

“And Ava,” Ben said, “you’ll find out eventually, but Mason caught Braswell’s murder investigation this morning.” His gaze held hers as he waited for a reaction.

Her heart jumped, but she maintained her composure. “I see.”

Did Mason discover my name connected to the bombing?

She wanted to check her phone even though she knew he hadn’t called. Mason wouldn’t. He had a protocol to follow, and notifying his fiancée that her name had turned up at a murder scene wasn’t part of it.

What is going through his head?

Ava was certain she’d never mentioned Braswell’s name to Mason. At the most, she might have mentioned she had a meeting with an informant. The names and topics were confidential.

“I’ll get my notes.” She walked away, her mind racing.

He didn’t mention a bombing. I wouldn’t have missed that.

She sat in her chair and tapped her keys. According to her files, she’d met with Reuben Braswell four times and taken three phone calls over the last eighteen months. She had last spoken with him in January at the strip mall Starbucks down the street from her office.

He had originally contacted their office, stating he had information about an unsolved bank robbery. He’d been randomly assigned to Ava for a meeting, and his tip had panned out. One of the robbers had been a friend who’d bragged when he had too much to drink one night.

At least that was Reuben’s story. After a few meetings, she wondered if Reuben had known about the robbery all along. He didn’t like the FBI; he’d been clear about that. He had a big chip on his shoulder about all law enforcement, but she didn’t know why. He didn’t have a record.

She suspected he’d had a falling-out with his friend and turned him in as revenge even though it meant talking with law enforcement.

The first time she’d met him he’d been suspicious to the point of amusing her. He’d been stiff, reluctant to speak even though he’d been the one who’d contacted the FBI. The next meeting he’d been slightly more relaxed and even asked for a suggestion on how to get law enforcement help for a friend in a domestic violence situation.

She suspected it had been hard for him to bring up. Sympathy had flashed in his eyes as he talked about a female friend. He said the police had come after her husband had hit her, but nothing had happened. Ava told him who in her local police department his friend should contact and emphasized that the woman needed to be ready to do whatever it took to keep herself safe. Ava looked up some domestic violence help websites and gave the addresses to Reuben.

But at their January meeting in the coffee shop, Reuben had been full of suspicion again.

She’d been waiting ten minutes and was moments from walking out when Reuben finally stepped into the crowded shop and scanned the room for her. They made eye contact, and he nodded but continued his perusal of the other patrons. Reuben was tall and lean but emitted a powerful energy that told her he believed he could hold his own in any fistfight. He walked and moved like a brawler. A type of person she rarely saw in this Starbucks. Due to its location, most of the patrons were white-collar professionals and soccer moms who’d come to shop at the mall.

He didn’t order and took the seat to her left so he could view the rest of the place. Just as she had.

“Morning, Reuben.” Ava sipped her coffee, wondering what was in store for her today. Reuben was unpredictable. Would it be the guy who wanted to help a friend, or the one who thought law enforcement was always watching him?

“How many agents are in this shop, Agent McLane?” His dark gaze darted from coffee drinker to coffee drinker, lingering on a businessman with a laptop twenty feet away.


“He filming us?” Reuben jerked his head at the man with the laptop.

She sighed. It was to be a paranoid visit. “No. Do you think the FBI would be that obvious?”

“Maybe they’re trying the opposite.” His eyes were sharp and assessing.

“I think I should go.” Ava started to stand.

“Wait!” He grabbed her forearm, his gaze fierce. “Forget it. You know how I am.”

She glared daggers at him. “Do. Not. Touch. Me.”

He immediately let go. “I’m sorry.”

Ava made a show of rubbing her forearm, fury bubbling in her chest. “Do that again and we’re done. Permanently.”

“I told you where to find that guy who was violating his parole.”

“And I notified the proper law enforcement agency. You didn’t need to bring that to the FBI.”

“You listen to me. No one else does.”

“If you need someone to listen to you, get a dog.” She still fumed about him grabbing her arm, but she sat back down. “I have a lot of work to do.”

“Wait.” He stared at her left hand. “What’s that? You’re not married.”

“That’s none of your business.” She slipped the hand with the engagement ring under the table. She was not sharing personal information with this man.

“You’re not married,” he repeated, as if saying it again would make it true. Shock registered in his voice.

“Soon,” she reluctantly admitted. “Now. Tell me why we’re here.”

Concern crossed his face. “Who are you marrying? How well do you know him? You know a lot of marriages can turn violent. I’ve seen it.” His eyes softened. “I would never hurt you.”

Ava stood. “Don’t contact me again, Reuben. We’re done.”

“But I need to tell—”

“Tell it to a dog. Or a cat.” She strode out of the shop, her coffee cup gripped tightly, wondering why she’d agreed to the meeting.

Ava reread her notes. She had written that the meeting was a waste of time, that he’d grabbed her arm and made inappropriate comments. Her recommendation had been for no other agent to meet Reuben Braswell in person.

Scanning notes from earlier meetings, she confirmed he’d offered no more information that was pertinent to the FBI. He could have just as easily given any of his leads to the Portland Police Bureau. She’d suspected he was attracted to her. It was in his eyes and his body language, and his concern about her ending up in a violent situation, but she’d ignored it since he’d broken a big case, and she had hoped he’d offer useful tips again. He’d insinuated that he associated with people in antigovernment factions, but that he personally avoided anything illegal. It’d been enough for Ava to continue to meet with him.

She frowned as she looked at all the meeting notes as a whole. At two of the meetings he’d probed her about FBI activity, and he had done the same on all three of the phone calls. In her reports she’d briefly mentioned his questions about the FBI.

Was his overall goal to get information out of me?

She knew he’d gotten nothing of value, but she wished she had noted specifically what he had said.

Note-taking 101. Write it all. No matter how unimportant it seems.