Authors: Carla Neggers
Tags: #Detective and Mystery Stories, #General, #Romance, #Suspense Fiction, #Missing persons, #Suspense, #Fiction
“Who would do such a thing?”
“I don’t know.”
But Nora suspected he was just trying to spare her. “Melanie. She hates me. She must have figured out we’re onto her lies, and she wants to discredit you.”
“We have no proof—”
“I don’t need proof.”
“Just because you don’t like her doesn’t mean she’s some crazy evildoer.”
Nora didn’t want to argue with him. He had an almost scary ability to penetrate a current situation with clarity. He could look at the facts without going off on a million different tangents the way she would.
“Can you show me the spot where you found Drew?” she asked.
“Yeah. We’re close. Let me carry your pack.”
She shook her head. “I’ve got it. But you were right—it’s really heavy. I thought I was in better shape.”
“You’ve got a lot on your mind. It drags you down.”
He was matter-of-fact in his sincerity. Nora said nothing and followed him as he led her through the trees, moving with an assurance and familiarity with the difficult terrain that she didn’t have.
“Devin,” she said behind him, “have you ever considered if Drew’s death wasn’t just an awful accident?”
He glanced back at her. He was wearing only a sweatshirt, vest and jeans, but he didn’t look cold at all. “Don’t start thinking like that.”
He wasn’t one to jump from A to Z without going carefully through all the letters in between. She’d seen that in how he was helping her look into Melanie’s background.
So far they’d found out that she came from a middle-class Long Island family and had a degree from the State University of New York at Binghamton. She’d worked for several different high-end furniture stores in New York before moving to Washington, D.C., two years ago to set up her own one-woman interior-decorating firm.
They’d checked out her Web site, which she hadn’t updated lately, and had filled out the form for more information, but never got anything back. Devin was figuring out how to approach her as a would-be client and ask for references. Nora had written down all the different places she could think of that Melanie had traveled to since April. She hadn’t liked Melanie from the beginning, but she’d kept hoping her father would dump her.
Now they were engaged.
Nora ducked under the sharp, dead lower branches of a pine.
“It’s almost dark, Dev,” she said. “We need to figure out where to camp soon.”
“Not a problem.”
“I don’t know if I want to sleep right on top of where a man died.”
“Yeah.” He stopped next to a huge boulder and turned to her, a light breeze floating almost peacefully through the trees. He seemed quiet, as if he’d gone into some deep part of himself. “I don’t, either.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to sound callous.”
“You don’t. It’s okay.” He tilted his head back at the darkening sky. “Drew was my friend is all.”
Nora slipped off her pack. “It’ll be cathartic for you to be back up here again, but if you don’t want to go to the exact spot, I’ll understand.”
He dropped his gaze back to her. “No. I’ll go. It’s not a big deal.”
“How much farther is it? It’s getting dark.”
She hoisted up her pack again. “I keep thinking about Alex,” she said, hating herself for how meek she sounded.
Devin nodded. “I know.”
“You do, don’t you?”
He’d already started back through the woods and didn’t hear her. Nora tripped along behind him. Her legs were rubbery and her back ached from her heavy pack, but she didn’t have any blisters. “What if Melanie’s some kind of madam?” she called to him almost cheerfully. “Maybe she’s running high-class call girls to Washington politicians.”
“Whoa, Nora.” Devin glanced back at her with a grin. “I’m lost. Call girls? How’d you come up with call girls?”
It made her feel good to see him smile. “I’m just saying what if Melanie has secrets that she doesn’t want anyone to discover, and she knows we’re after those secrets?”
“What if she really loves your father?”
Nora was thoughtful a moment. “She has to be honest with him.”
“Maybe he knows already and doesn’t care.”
“You could be a cop, Devin. You don’t jump ahead. But right now, I need you to jump ahead just a little. Okay? Because I’m really tired, and I’m scared, and I hate this woman. It’s not all drama. Melanie doesn’t love my father. I know she doesn’t. She just wants him because of his status.”
Devin stopped suddenly and removed his pack, leaning it against a boulder. They were on the flat top of a knoll, but it sloped downward sharply just ahead. “I guess I’ll never be so important I’ll have to worry about women falling for me because of my status.”
His tone was self-deprecating, but the humor was underlined with a touch of bitterness that irritated Nora. “You shouldn’t put yourself down.”
“What? I wasn’t.”
He seemed oblivious, which didn’t surprise her really. “When this is over,” she said, “I can talk to my dad—or you can talk to him yourself. He can help you if you want. He’s a good guy. He’s just caught up with Melanie right now.”
Nora could feel her own resolve faltering. She was so tired from hiking, from the cold—from crying. Alex’s horrible death had undermined some of the cocky self-confidence she’d had earlier in the week. “I’m scared, Devin. I have all these bad vibes. If Melanie really does have something awful to hide, she could fight back. We’re threatening to ruin her life.”
“If she’s as smart and as conniving as you think she is, she won’t bother with you—she won’t waste her time on revenge. She’ll just focus on saving her own skin.”
Nora didn’t argue. She knew she was freaked out and cold and maybe not acting rationally, but she was determined now to see through what she’d started. And up on the mountain, at least she could think. She didn’t have to worry about anything or anyone.
But she realized Devin hadn’t continued. Her heart pounded. “Dev?”
“This is the spot,” he said simply, pointing off to his left. “The trail down to the logging road is just over there.”
“How did you ever manage to find him? Now that I’m here…” She shivered from a breeze that created shifting, spooky shadows, as if Drew Cameron was there, trying to tell them something. But she shoved that thought aside before she really freaked out. “It’s nothing but trees and more trees.”
“I had an idea where to look.” He sounded tired and resigned more than depressed. “He had me help him bring stuff up here and dump it off on the trail. Beams, plywood, two-by-fours, tools.”
“You never said—” Nora contained her shock. “He was building something?”
“He wouldn’t tell me. He said it was a surprise.” Devin stared down at his hands. “He said he knew he didn’t have long to live and he wanted to do this one last thing.”
Nora bit back tears. “Dev. My God.”
“It was easier just to not say anything. I didn’t lie to anyone.”
“Devin, what could he have been building up here in the middle of nowhere? It’s a
“The Camerons first settled out here. It wasn’t as remote back then.” He cleared his throat and stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Whatever. Doesn’t matter now. He’s gone.”
Nora reached a hand out and brushed his arm with her fingertips. “I guess it never sunk in until now…” She bit back tears. “You miss him a lot, don’t you?”
“Yeah.” Devin nodded toward the trail. “There’s a level spot over there where I used to leave Drew’s supplies. You can set up your tent there. I have my—”
“My tent will sleep two people easily.”
He looked awkward. “You’re sure? I promise…you know.” He turned bright red.
Nora smiled. He was so innocent sometimes. “Damn straight, Dev. We’re both filthy.” But when he didn’t move off, she realized there was more bothering him. “What is it?”
“I didn’t want to worry you, but you should know.” He hesitated only a fraction of a second before he continued. “Hannah left a message on my cell phone. I listened to it while Elijah was getting ice for my leg. A big guy’s up here looking for you. Your father hired him, but it was Melanie’s idea. She knows him.”
“A big guy? Who?”
“His name’s Kyle Rigby.”
Nora suddenly felt very cold. “Devin. I don’t want this Kyle Rigby to find me. Reassure me. Please, tell me I can trust you.”
“You can trust me. Maybe you should talk to Elijah. Maybe we both should. He’s tough, and he won’t back off. You trust him. I do, too, even if he thinks I’m responsible for his father’s death.”
“He doesn’t think that,” Nora said.
“I took off on him today. I lied to him. I pretended to be hurt worse than I was.”
“And I broke my word to him. He’ll drop-kick me off a ledge when he catches up with me—that’s the way he is. Jo Harper, too. But I don’t care. Nora, whatever’s going on, we can’t do this ourselves. We need help. I can’t get a cell signal out here, but—”
Nora shook her head, stifling a surge of panic as everything rushed at her—her father marrying this woman he hardly knew and the police thinking he had something to do with Alex’s death because Alex stole her mother from him and her mother being so sad because Alex was dead—and now this man Melanie had asked to search for her.
“No, Devin. Don’t. Please.” Nora’s voice was just a croak as she pictured Alex’s death for the hundredth time, at least. “Let’s just get through tonight and think. I hate Melanie. I don’t trust her.”
“I know, Nora. It’ll be okay.” Devin started off painfully, clearly more hurt than he wanted to admit.
Nora pulled herself out of her jumble of crazy thoughts. The woods were so quiet at dusk. So beautiful. “I’m really sorry about Drew,” she whispered.
“He wasn’t easy, but he was a good guy.”
“I don’t have anyone in my life like that. Everyone I know has an agenda—nothing unconditional. It wasn’t that way with you and Drew.”
“Your folks love you, Nora. Don’t give up on them, okay?”
She tried to smile, but couldn’t. “You spend time up here, and you begin to realize how insignificant we all really are. It doesn’t matter if we’re alive or dead. The world keeps spinning. I thought of Alex this morning. He’s gone, and the sun came up just like always. The birds twittered. The squirrels chattered. Nothing changed because of his death. Nothing that matters, anyway.”
“Let’s get your tent out.”
She set her pack down and unzipped the main compartment, but her fingers were frozen now. She slipped on her gloves. She wanted to see her mother—she wanted to cry with her about Alex.
“I didn’t hate him,” she said.
“I keep telling myself I did, because I think it’ll make losing him easier, but I didn’t. He could be a real prick and everything, but lately…” She cried openly now, tears streaming down her cheeks, raw already from the cold and wind. “I want my mom, Dev. I want to see her.”
“If something happened to me—she couldn’t stand it, on top of Alex.”
“Nothing’s going to happen to you.” Devin took out her tent and unrolled it on the ground, steady, competent. He gave a low whistle. “Look at that. Your tent poles are color coded. That’s the coolest thing ever.”
Nora smiled through her tears. He was totally in his element out here. She felt better just having him with her. “You’re my best friend, Dev.” She sniffled, not crying so much now. “It’s so quiet. It’ll be just us and the owls up here.”
“I don’t know. I saw a big bull moose—”
“You did not.”
“And a bear, a coyote, a fox and about a dozen snakes.”
She laughed. “Thank you, Devin. Thank you.”
He got up stiffly, with a little wince of pain, and hugged her, more of a reassuring, brotherly hug than anything romantic. “We’ll figure this out. Now, let’s just pitch this fancy tent of yours.”
Jo wasn’t in the mood to let Elijah out of her sight, but he’d slipped back through the trees just as the Whittakers arrived at the guesthouse and invited her up for tea. She went with them, Vivian chatting breezily about leaf raking and getting the place ready for the winter, Lowell making the occasional amiable comment as they entered their farmhouse through a side door. Vivian pulled off her barn jacket and hung it on a hook. She had on just a short-sleeved polo shirt underneath but looked warm enough. Lowell stayed bundled up in a zip-front charcoal sweater. Jo removed her fleece but kept it with her—she didn’t plan on staying long.
The interior of their farmhouse wasn’t what she had expected. There was no cozy decor or pictures of cows and fall foliage. The walls were stark white, the wood floors shining, the furnishings bright and modern, the artwork abstract and striking. The Whittakers took her back to a sunroom that looked out on a garden and an open field that stretched down to the river.
Vivian carried in a tray from the kitchen and set it on the glass table. “I know Nora’s a capable young woman but she shouldn’t hike by herself, particularly at this time of year, with or without the shocking news of poor Alex. If Devin Shay is with her…” She hesitated, lifting a white pottery teapot off the tray and placing it on a thick fiery-red pot holder. “He knows the mountains, of course, and he’s an experienced hiker, but I think Nora’s concerned he’s too obsessed with her.”
“She told you this?” Jo asked.
“Not in as many words.”
“What did she say, then? Can you remember her exact words?”
Lowell reached for a white plate of an array of cookies obviously from Three Sisters Café and pushed it more toward Jo’s side of the table. “We’re not trying to get anyone into trouble,” he said. “We certainly don’t believe Devin is stalking Nora.”
“He’s changed,” Vivian said, briskly setting out cups and saucers. “We knew him before Drew Cameron’s death—not well, but enough to see that finding Drew, losing him, affected Devin deeply. Before that he struck us as a happy-go-lucky teenager who didn’t have a clue what he’d do after graduation.” She picked up the teapot and filled Jo’s cup, her expression pained, regretful. “You’re from here, Jo. You must have heard that Devin’s had his struggles.”