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“The dog probably wandered off. It doesn’t stay here all the time.”

“Then why did you say you thought he’d taken the dog? Those were the first words out of your mouth.” Ava’s gaze was frank and direct. “You are in serious denial. Why won’t you consider these as possible links to Henley?”

Mason stared back. Was he avoiding something? “I don’t know. I’m hoping that the dog just wandered on.” He paused. “And in my mind, I’m not really family. I’m just Jake’s dad.”

Silence filled the porch.

Ava shook her head at him. “You’re family,” she said firmly. “You were married to Robin, and you’re Jake’s dad. You’re as tied to them as Henley is. Face it.” She turned to look at the dog’s dish. “The note was under his dish,” Ava said. “I think someone is being clever. He’s using the note to state that he didn’t have a connection to the ransom last night, but he’s also flaunting that he can walk up to your home and take something.”


“Yes, which is usually what will trip them up.”

“But why me?”

“Why Henley?” Ava pointed out. “When we figure that out, it will all fall into place and we’ll find her.”

Two vehicles joined Ava’s on the street, and Special Agent Wells’s lean figure got out from behind the wheel. Two forensic specialists climbed out of the SUV behind him.

The interruption unbalanced Mason. His conversation with Ava had already thrown him for a loop. He’d always felt like an outsider in the Fairbanks home. He held himself apart from any family activities. He rarely had the time to spare, and he’d come to rely on Robin and Lucas to supply the family-oriented life for Jake. Was that mindset keeping him from looking at the odd happenings surrounding Josie’s case and now the dog dish? Could there be a connection to Henley?

Wells jogged up Mason’s stairs, and Ava moved to greet the man and gestured at the dog dish. The two agents and specialists talked while Mason stood useless, like a drunkard trying to get his equilibrium back.

One investigator placed the note in a bag, and the other snapped pictures. “Any security cameras on the property?” the female investigator asked.

“No,” said Mason. He saw Ava raise a brow at him. Some cops felt the need for a heavy security system in their homes. He’d never been one. He had a damn good dead bolt, locks on his windows, and a weapon in his nightstand. That was good enough for him.

“One of the points discussed at the meeting this morning was whether or not any other family members have had something go missing,” Wells said to him.

“We don’t know if the dog was taken. It may have just wandered off somewhere else to sleep and eat last night.” Mason argued. “I think it was just a good place to leave a note.”

“Someone is watching your movements,” Wells pointed out. “Someone knows you’re involved with the family. The same person must have known about the fake ransom note.”

“They couldn’t have learned about the note until the late evening news,” said Ava. “At least the general public didn’t know what was going on until then. We tried to keep the operation quiet beforehand, but the restaurant management and the Portland Police Department knew a ransom demand had been made. Leaks happen.”

“And the woman who found the ransom note at the grade school. I’m sure she told someone. We asked her not to, but people talk,” added Wells.

“So there’s a slim possibility that the person who left this note on my porch may have found out before the eleven o’clock news. Or not. We can’t use that as a guide for a possible time when he could have been here,” stated Mason. “But my neighbor said she filled the food dish around eight. Usually the dog finishes the food within minutes. There’s a good chance that someone was here close to that time.”

“We’re going to go knock on doors,” said the male forensic specialist. “See if anyone else has camera views of the street.” The duo headed down the stairs.

“Ready to go inside?” Wells asked Mason.

“I went in but didn’t go farther than inside the door. I spotted the note when I looked back out the window.” Mason opened the door with Wells right behind him. Ava stooped to pick up the Sunday newspaper that had been tossed on the porch. She handed it to Mason.

“The door was locked?” asked Ava.

“Yes.” Mason scanned his living room. Everything looked normal. He glanced at Ava as her gaze took in his bachelor existence. What did his home look like to a woman?

Ava could tell Mason had been thrown for a loop. He’d stared at the dog dish for several minutes, shaking his head as they theorized that Henley’s kidnapping was linked to his dog. His feelings were getting in the way of his objectivity. He didn’t want to be connected to Henley’s disappearance. Wells seemed to feel there was a strong link, and she did, too.

Mason appeared to be in some serious denial. Maybe he was too close to the situation to look at it objectively. If he’d been an outsider on the case, he would have pointed it out right away as something to consider.

Mason’s phone call about the note couldn’t have come at a better time. She’d been struggling to drive straight after leaving Jayne. Her twin had managed to put Ava’s thoughts into a tailspin. Mason’s issue had yanked her out of it and given her something to focus on. There was truth in the statement that we hurt the ones we loved the most. A simple car ride had resulted in Jayne shredding Ava’s psyche, and she’d lashed back. Would she never learn?