Mitchell Hayden wasn’t pretty boy handsome. His eyes were too deep set and his jaw too broad to resemble anything classical. Toss in a nose that looked as if it had been broken once or twice, and you ended up with a face that resembled a street brawler’s. There was a sharp intelligence in those gray eyes that missed little. When Faith was in his sights, just for a little while, she forgot about the youth center, Kat’s precarious future, and Jack Crow.
“I’ll need another half hour here,” she said.
“No rush.” . . .
The shelter director and Margaret motioned Faith forward as the local television station crew arrived to film her and a few donors. “I’ve a couple of details to wrap up. No need for you to stick around.”
“I’ve nowhere to be.”
“Suit yourself,” she said. She crossed the ballroom to the reporter, spoke on camera for several minutes, visited with the guests, and kissed Margaret on the cheek. When she was finished speaking to the hotel staff, it was past ten.
She looked around the room, but she didn’t see Hayden. His patience for the tedious side of her life had its limits. She left the ballroom and headed toward the lobby. Her heels clicked across the marble floor as she made her way to the elevator.
She turned and saw a tall, lean man with a neatly shaved face and warm brown eyes. Midforties, smartly dressed in a gray suit and a shirt of a similar but lighter shade.
“Have we met?” she asked.
He held out his hand. “Kevin. I saw the event sign with your picture and thought you were someone else for a moment. Then I recognized the McIntyre name. I knew your father.”
“Should I apologize now?” She accepted his hand.
White teeth flashed. “No. He didn’t cross-examine me. Good thing, I suppose. He was known as a real tough nut in his time.”
If by “tough nut” he meant “ruthless legal shark,” then yes. “That he was, Kevin.”
“I just saw you crossing the lobby, and I wanted to introduce myself. Would you like to grab a drink in the bar?”
“No, thank you. It’s been a long day.”
Rejection slid off him like water off a duck. “Maybe we’ll catch up again some time.”
“Have a good evening, Kevin.”
“You, too, Faith.”
Faith sensed that under all his sleek manners and polish lurked an ulterior motive. She’d dealt with several men like him since her father’s death. Wearing nice suits, they came bearing law degrees and threats. And as she’d told them all, Russell McIntyre might have been worth a fortune once, but it was all gone. What she had now had either been left to her by her mother or she’d earned herself. Stones didn’t bleed, no matter how hard you squeezed.
Faith didn’t give the man a second thought as she crossed the tiled lobby of the hotel. Laughter and the clink of glasses drifted out from the hotel bar as she stepped onto the elevator. Her attention shifted to room 701.
As the gilded doors slid closed, a hand reached between and pushed them open. She tensed for a second, thinking her admirer had followed, but then breathed a sigh of relief as Hayden casually stepped into the elevator.
He stood stock straight, staring ahead without acknowledging her. Broad shoulders, muscled thighs, and braced feet commanded most of the horizontal real estate, and over six foot two inches of height ate into a healthy portion of the elevator’s vertical space.
“Looks like you made a new friend,” he said.
Tucking her purse under her arm, she locked her gaze with his in the door’s reflection. “Not a friend.”
“He’s been watching you for at least a half hour.”
“As I’m sure half the people in that room were tonight.”
Hayden was a foot from her, but his proximity warmed her skin. Touching him was tempting, but elevator cameras kept her gaze forward as overhead music reminded her of piña coladas and dancing in the rain. The lighted elevator panel ticked off the floors until reaching seven. Hayden placed his hand over the open door and waited for her to exit.
She moved down the hallway, following the signs to 701. It felt good to be away from the crowds, the forced smiles and pretending.
Hayden’s steady steps followed, and when they reached the door, he produced a key and opened it. She passed him and flipped on the lights.
The room wasn’t fancy, but a shaving kit on the dresser, dry-cleaned shirts in the closet, and the closed curtains told her he’d been there earlier. He’d commented once that he lived out of hotel rooms for the most part and stayed on the go. She’d wager if she opened the curtains, she’d find a view of air-conditioning units or a brick wall. But then neither of them had come here for the sparkling view of Austin.
“You had your chance to be good.” He drew back from her, breathless and rubbing his forearm as if it still pained him. As scared as she was, she was glad she’d hurt him. It was worth the broken tooth and the pain still rattling around in her head to see him suffer.
“I want to get out of here!” she shouted.
He backed up toward the door, scooping up the metal pipe. “Oh, you will, darlin’. I’ll let you go as soon as you give me a healthy baby.”
The kid kicked her hard in the ribs, matching the beat of the heart hammering in her chest. “Why do you want my baby?”
“It’s spoken for. A decent couple who can give it all it deserves.” As he fished his keys from his pocket, a pen fell out and tumbled to the floor, rolling out of sight under the refrigerator. But he was too angry to notice as he rubbed his forearm and then slammed the door behind him. This time the dead bolt clicked into place.
She wrapped her fingers around the manacle and pulled at it, wincing as it scraped her skin. Tears welled in her eyes, but she refused to give in to the pure fear that threatened to swallow her.
She stood and walked toward the door, only to find out that her tether stopped several feet short of it. She had just enough slack to reach the toilet, the dresser, and the refrigerator. The microwave was inches out of reach.
She dropped to her knees and slid her fingers into the small space under the refrigerator. Her fingertips touched the pen, which for several tense seconds rolled just out of her reach. She pressed her bruised cheek to the refrigerator door, stretched her arm, and prayed for the pen, which miraculously came into reach. She coaxed it out from under the appliance and gripped it in her hands. It was a simple ballpoint pen. She pulled the blue plastic top off and tried to wedge it into the lock on the manacle. Unflinching metal quickly ate up the plastic, leaving her with a choice to now use the pen tip on the lock or save it for something else.
She sat for nearly a half hour before she made her decision and shuffled to the dresser, the chain clinking and rubbing as she moved. She pushed the cheap piece of furniture away from the wall, knowing exactly what she wanted.
She’d had months to explore every inch of this room, and she’d found initials on the back of the dresser.
If she’d ever had doubts that there’d been others before her, the initials proved she wasn’t the first and probably not the last. She shifted her focus to the second discovery she’d made eight weeks ago. It was the air vent behind the dresser and two loose screws that were nearly stripped. Initially, she’d thought she’d found a way out, and hope had exploded so violently it hurt. But as soon as the vent cover had been off, she had realized it was too small for any human body. It wasn’t an escape route.
But it was a hiding place.
She jostled the grate free, careful not to make a sound for fear he was still lurking outside her door, listening. As the silence stretched, she grew bold, stuck her hand into the dark vent until her fingers skimmed what she was looking for. Amazing what you could discover if all you had was time.
She removed the magazines, replaced the grate, and pushed the dresser back in place. She never knew when he’d return, and it was always smart to look guiltless.
Hayden’s phone rang, and he saw his sister’s name on the display. He walked away from Sammy, Brogan, and Holcombe. “Kate.”
“I made calls regarding Macy Crow.” Her tone was clipped and sounded slightly annoyed.
It was always directly to the point with Kate. No “How are you doing?” or “How’s the weather?” Small talk was foreign to his sister. However, when Sierra died and Kate had been in northern Maine leading an investigation, she’d driven three hours to the nearest airport and taken a red-eye so she could be present at the funeral. He’d not spoken to her or anyone that day. He’d been so broken and angry. After the visitation at their mother’s house, Kate had left Austin. These days, he and his sister shared a mutual respect and had each other’s backs, but no one would ever describe them as warm and sensitive.
“Give me what you have,” he said.
“Macy Sunday Crow, age thirty, was attached to Quantico, Virginia. She’s also spent time in the Denver, Seattle, and Kansas City field offices.”
“She looks much younger than thirty.” He’d thought the same about Faith and had been surprised when Sierra had told him she was a pathologist.
“For the last six years, she’s worked juvenile sex trafficking cases because she can pass as a teenager. She broke a big case about two months ago and was just promoted. On Sunday, she called her boss, said her father had died and she was taking personal time.”
“Does she have a boyfriend or other family?”
“No to a boyfriend and yes to a brother who lives in the Austin area. I have no address for the brother.”
Neither did he. So far there’d been no sign of Jack Crow’s son. “Any cases she was working that might have triggered this attack?”
“Like I said, that human trafficking case was big. According to the woman’s file, she’s not afraid to mix it up. She’ll throw down with the best of them.”
Kate could have been describing Faith. “Thanks, Kate.”
“Have you called Mom lately?” He didn’t get Kate on the phone often, but had promised never to let her go without trying to connect.
He could hear the gears in her very linear brain shifting from professional to personal. “She’s on a cruise with three of her girlfriends from church.”
“She’s actually back. I saw her two days ago. She says she’s left you messages.”
“I’m working a case.”
Kate was obsessive when she was working. “Call Mom, Kate. She worries.”
“When are you going to do it?”
When they had been kids, he had teased her a lot, and he always knew he had gotten under her skin when she sighed.
“I’ll wake her up if I do it now.”
“She won’t care, Kate. Call now.”
“Perfect.” He dropped his voice a notch. “Be careful.”
His phone vibrated with an alert from the camera he’d posted at the country ranch. As he glanced at the screen, he wasn’t sure what he expected. A random coyote. A sagebrush’s prickly arms reaching up toward a moonlit sky.
He sure had not expected to see a woman walking toward the stones in the dark. She knelt, ran her hand over the rock, and then looked to the other two as if she’d recognized them for what they were.
He stared at her face for a long moment. Then did a double take in the direction of the car that had just carried Faith away. The woman at the ranch looked exactly like Faith. Jack had been so mutinously silent during their chat, and now he knew why. There’d not been one baby on that night in 1988, but two. Twins.
When the phone vibrated with a text, he cursed until he saw the number.
He perched a cigarette on his lips and flicked the flint wheel of a gold-plated lighter until a flame appeared. He inhaled deeply, savoring the burn as the smoke flowed out of his nose and mouth.
Are we on track with our project?
He stared at the glowing tip of his cigarette and then typed. All is going according to plan.
Have you found it?
He hesitated. Not yet. But I will.
Watching the woman walk back to the truck that he knew belonged to Jack Crow, he could feel the skin on the back of his neck prickle the way it did when there was a problem. Who the hell was she? And then it hit him. She was Jack’s kid. Macy Crow. She was the little kid in all the photos he’d smashed. When she had looked up at the camera, her gaze had been defiant and annoyed.
You need to wrap this up, his employer typed.
So you’ve told me. He was a professional and didn’t need coaching.
All this needs to go away quietly and quickly.
The tone of the text reminded him that no matter how far he’d climbed, there would always be someone adding their two cents. Very annoying, and he had his limits. I’m on it.
Macy had been to the ranch, no doubt tipped off by Crow. If she was curious enough to go to the ranch at night alone, she was tenacious like her old man. He admired her grit.
Though they were Jack’s legacy, there was no real connection between the two. They shared no childhood memories, or even DNA since she was adopted.
“Who told you about Pop?” Dirk asked.
“The Texas Rangers. And you?”
“Got a voicemail from Ledbetter.” A small muscle pulsed in his jaw.
“You live on the property, and I bet the cops still had a hard time finding you,” she said.
“They did.” He shifted, his gaze narrowing as he looked at the lawn chair. “Ledbetter tells me Jack is at the morgue.”
“He wouldn’t want a funeral.”
“I know. I’ll have him cremated.”
“Do you want to do it?” she asked.
“No. If you know anything about me, you know I don’t like to get into town, and last I checked the funeral home is in town.”
“Fair enough. That’s why I’ll do it.” Her brother lived somewhere on the property and from what Jack said was good at keeping an eye on things and keeping the varmints away. “Where were you yesterday?”
He rubbed his temple. “I was in El Paso on business. I came back as soon as I got the message.”
No sense asking what he’d been doing in El Paso. He’d not been here, and that was enough.
“Jack trusted you with all the paperwork,” he said. “Is there a will?”
“That’s the last thing on my mind right now. I want to know who killed Pop. Do you have any idea?”
Dirk’s nostrils thinned and he drew in a breath, and then he scratched the black-and-gray stubble on his chin. “How the hell am I supposed to know?”
“Because you’re the one who stuck around. You saw him all the time. And you’d know better than anyone if he’d done something to piss someone off.”
“I hadn’t seen Jack in over a week.”
“And if Jack were into something he shouldn’t have been, you wouldn’t try to hide it, would you?” she asked.
“What do I have to hide from an FBI agent, sister?” he asked.
“I doubt we have time to talk about all that you’re hiding, but unless it related to Pop, I don’t care.” She’d learned to bluff really well as an agent, knowing if she went in hot with a suspect and acted like she had the answers, they’d give up more than intended.
“Aren’t you the badass agent?” He shook his head as he rubbed a splintered spot on the deck with the tip of his worn boot.
“When’s the last time Jack went into Austin?” she asked.
“I have no idea.”
“What about the local diner near here?” she countered. “Had he been there lately?”
“He barely left the yard in the last year. Why are you so worked up about where he’s been? He was killed right here.”
“Our old man was tortured and murdered. Everything he did in the last few weeks matters to me. What he did and who he saw is all a part of the puzzle.”