Authors: Heather Webber
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths
This is a work of fiction. All of the names, characters, locations, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not construed to be real.
Copyright © 2014 Heather Webber
All rights reserved.
Cover art: Nausika Georgakopoulou [BlackCatDesign]
Formatting: Polgarus Studio
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form whatsoever, except for brief quotations used in articles or reviews, without permission from the publisher.
For my family with much love.
It’s an amazing feeling when friends and family take time out of their very busy schedules to
to read a manuscript, offer comments, corrections, and encouragement. Thank you, Dad (Charlie), Lori, Shelly, and Meredith for all your help whipping this book into shape.
Thanks, copyeditor Cyndy, for your eagle eyes. Any lingering mistakes are all mine.
A shout-out to Nausika at BlackCatDesign for her wonderful cover design.
And a very big thank you to my readers for continuing to inspire me to write more of Lucy’s stories.
t took a lot to shock the hell out of me.
Over the years I’d developed a high tolerance to life’s little surprises thanks to my big dysfunctional (yet loving) family, well-meaning friends, and hot as hell (ha!—recently almost literally
) boyfriend whose heart tended to give out on a moment’s notice. And, of course, there was my work as a psychic. It was my job at Lost Loves, a division of my family’s matchmaking business Valentine, Inc., to use my supernatural abilities to reunite couples who’d been separated by time or distance and everything in between. I also helped find missing persons as a consultant for the Massachusetts State Police. Those both tended to be served with a side of eyebrow-raising bizarro, especially the latter.
I’d become accustomed to dealing with crazy people, both the harmless kind and the psychotic variety. I associated with looney tunes on a regular basis. I’d fought off sociopaths. I thought I’d heard it all, seen it all, and experienced more than my fair share of life’s sneak attacks (some good, some bad).
But as I stood in the doorway of my cottage on that Sunday morning in early June, the birds chirping as though nothing earth-shattering had just been revealed, I stared at the man standing before me. I’d been stunned silent by the words Detective Lieutenant Aiden Holliday had spoken.
“Can we come in, Lucy?” he finally asked.
He didn’t wait for my answer. Brushing past me, he carried inside the little girl he’d just declared to be his daughter.
It felt like I’d been pitched into a blind drop on a steep rollercoaster and was now suspended mid-air, gripping the safety bar for dear life, my mouth open in a silent scream.
“I—” Snapping my mouth closed, I stared and shook my head.
Sure, there were many times in my life I’d been rendered completely speechless. My parents, for example, had the ability to quiet me with only a glance. PI Sean Donahue’s kisses could shut me up fairly quickly. My grandmother Dovie’s nutty behavior often made me bite my tongue. I supposed speechlessness was simply a byproduct of my crazy life, but Aiden’s bombshell had me really struggling for something to say.
There just weren’t words.
Thoreau, Sean’s Yorkie, danced around Aiden’s feet as he headed for the sofa, and Ebbie, a fluffy black cat with vibrant green eyes, ran for the bedroom, squeezing her small body through the narrow opening created by the slightly ajar door. I figured she assumed there was safety in numbers. Sean and Grendel, my three-legged Maine coon, were in there sleeping. She was learning fast. As a new addition to the household, she was still adjusting to things around here.
Using a pair of crutches, I hobbled over to a chair, my big orthopedic boot unwieldy and heavy. I’d recently broken my foot chasing after a purse snatcher (long complicated story). As I passed a mirror, I nearly did a double take at my humorous reflection. My long dark-blond hair could currently be described as finger-in-a-light-socket frizzy rather than curly. My golden-brown eyes were wide and unblinking like some sort of fixated owl. Overall, the surprised look on my face could spark a viral Internet meme it was so comical.
Tugging down the hem of my summer robe, I set my crutches aside, and sat in my favorite swivel rocking chair. I couldn’t stop staring at Aiden and the little girl in his arms.
As surprises went, this was a particularly adorable one. Appearing to be about eighteen months old, she had big blue eyes and short light-blond hair so fine that it looked like silk. Something dried stuck to her plump rosy cheek (cookie residue maybe?), and salty grit had gathered at the corner of her eyelid. Stubby, chubby legs were clad in a pair of denim shorts. A pink tank top and a pair of tiny white sandals completed her outfit. Itty bitty toenails had been painted with a bright pink polish, the color chipped along the edges.
Blinking at me, she clung to Aiden’s neck even tighter, like a koala to a tree. She appeared completely bewildered. Shell-shocked. It was no wonder.
Apparently, the little girl’s mother was missing. And Aiden had just asked for my help in finding her.
I’d met Aiden Holliday last year on a search for a missing little boy. He’d become my boss at the state police not long after, and now he was engaged to one of my best friends, Em Baumbach.
I thought I’d known everything about him.
But I hadn’t known this, and I didn’t think Em had any idea either.
A daughter. Holy shitballs.
“I—you…” Nope. Still couldn’t form a sentence.
“I know,” he said. “I know. I’m still thrown myself, Lucy. I…I didn’t know she existed until a few days ago when her mother dropped her off at my place.”
Dropped her off? Why?
Pressing my hands to my face, my thoughts raced. Aiden had been MIA for the past few days, causing more stress to Em than he could ever imagine. She’d even resorted to spying on him to see if he’d been cheating.
He hadn’t been.
But he had been keeping a secret. A tiny, beautiful one.
“Who?” I managed to say.
Dropping the backpack he had slung over one shoulder onto the floor, he let out a deep breath. “Kira Fitzpatrick.”
Was he serious? “The TV reporter Kira Fitzpatrick?”
Ah. There. That was better. A full sentence at last. Kind of.
Thoreau’s little tail wiggled as he happily sniffed the pack, top to bottom as Aiden said, “We dated for a while a couple of years ago. Met while she was doing an investigative piece on one of my cases.” He tried to extricate the little girl’s arms from around his neck, but she resisted, and he didn’t force it. She blinked up at him, and he smoothed a hand over her hair, soothing her.
My heart melted right then and there, pooling into a sentimental puddle near my booted foot.
“Our relationship was nothing terribly serious. We were both so busy.” Looking troubled, he studied his daughter’s face. “Kira didn’t tell me…”
“What happened?” I asked. “I mean…why do you have her now?”
Summer sunlight streamed through the bank of windows facing the ocean, scattering sunbeams across my wooden floors. Temperatures would skyrocket later, but for now, the windows were open, letting in the breeze and the salty sea air. The crashing symphony of waves played against the cliffs.
My little house was located on Dovie’s expansive estate in Cohasset, on the south shore of Massachusetts, atop a high bluff overlooking the Atlantic. Her place, named Aerie, was a sprawling stunning home full of classic New England charm and her eclectic whimsy. My place started out as an artist’s cottage, then was renovated into a guest house, and now was…mine. It was a fraction of the size of Dovie’s, but I loved every inch of it.
Curtain sheers fluttered as Aiden said, “She knocked on my door Thursday night just after dark.”
Thursday night. Three nights ago.
He went on, his pale blue eyes widening as he spoke. “There was a wild look in her eyes as she handed me a car seat with the baby still strapped in and then went about tossing a couple of duffel bags into the foyer.”
“Wild as in drugs or alcohol?”
“No, Lucy. Wild as in…pissed as hell, but I saw a little bit of fear there, too.”
Kira Fitzpatrick was well-known for being fearless. She was relentless when pursuing a story, and wasn’t above breaking a few rules. “What did she say?”
“She said that she had something to do and would be back as soon as she could. She also told me to keep the baby safe at all costs.”
“That’s it. She kissed the baby, turned, and ran. I didn’t even know the baby’s name until I found her birth certificate in a packet of paperwork in one of the bags. Ava Holliday Fitzpatrick.”
“Pretty,” I said.
Numbly, he bobbed his head in agreement.
Ava, I noticed, had loosened her grip on his neck and was watching Thoreau with curiosity.
“I don’t even know if she’s really mine,” he said softly. “I mean, I’m listed as her father on the birth certificate, but…”
“Oh, she’s undeniably yours. Look at those eyes and that chin. Hell, I’m surprised she’s not holding a Tic Tac box,” I said, referring to his addiction to the little mints. I held out my hands. “Give her to me.”
Suspicion clouded his features. “Why?”
“Because,” I said, “you look like you need a stiff drink or a really long nap. When’s the last time you slept?”
The corners of his eyes wrinkled as he squinted, trying to recall. “Two, no, three days ago.”
“Hand her over.”
“What?” I asked, insulted. “I’m inoculated.”
“What do you know about babies?”
“I know babies,” I insisted. “Remember I once worked in a daycare?” I’d been fired from that job, but this probably wasn’t the best time to regale him with that particular story. Again, I reached over the coffee table and held out my hands.
Reluctantly, he unhooked the girl’s arms from around his neck and handed her over. Ava stared at me as though I had ten heads, but she settled against my chest fairly quickly. She was warm and soft and cozy in my arms. I held on tight as Aiden went into the kitchen and took the bottle of whiskey from the cabinet. It was only a little past seven in the morning, but I wasn’t one to judge him right now. He found a glass and poured.
“We should call Em,” I said.
“No. She’ll freak the hell out.”
It was true. She would. “We still need to tell her. She’s been worried sick about you.” I left out the part where she’d stalked him out of concern. He probably wouldn’t find it too amusing.
He downed the whiskey in one neat shot, then poured another, capped the bottle, and put it away. He was never one to do anything in excess—even therapeutically.
“Plus, she has exams this week,” he said. “She needs to focus on studying.”
She did have exams for her summer classes, but… “I think she’d agree this takes precedence.”
“I don’t know, Lucy.”
Thoreau put his paws on the edge of my chair, and Ava giggled at him, reaching for his head. His tail wiggled as he licked her hand.
Scow, scow, scow
,” she said, suddenly leaning so far forward that she almost toppled off my lap.
I quickly grabbed her, holding tightly. I was glad Aiden hadn’t seen that little display or else I’d be banned from holding her ever again. “You have to tell Em. Let her decide what’s most important to her.”
“Give me a day. Two.” Coming back to the sofa, he rubbed bloodshot eyes and took a sip of his drink. “I can’t deal right now.”
I’d seen him like this a time or two before while working on cases, when he was so involved in his investigation that he lost himself and forgot simple human basics like showering.
His usual blond crew-cut had grown out a bit and now stuck up every-which-way. Slightly reddish stubble covered his strong jaw. His clothes were stained and wrinkled.
Normally Aiden was in complete control. This man…was spiraling out of it.
“I understand not being able to deal,” I said. “I’ve had my fair share of curveballs lately, but this is Em we’re talking about.”
The scent of Johnson’s baby shampoo wafted up, and I greedily sucked it in. There was little I loved more than babies—my grandmother would be beside herself if she knew exactly how much. She’d been nagging Sean and me to get busy having kids so she’d have a great-grandchild, but now that my brother had that situation covered, I was hopefully off the hook for a while. Sean and I had a lot to work out before we moved on to the baby phase. Marriage first would be nice. Hell, an engagement even.
Dragging a hand down his face, Aiden said, “I heard how you were almost roasted like a campfire marshmallow.”