With: Loreth Anne White
When Detective Rebecca North left her rural hometown, she vowed never to return. Her father’s apparent suicide has changed that. The official report is that retired cop Noah North shot himself, knocked over a lantern, and set his isolated cabin ablaze. But Rebecca cannot believe he killed himself.
To prove it, she needs the help of Ash Haugen, the man she left behind. But Rebecca and Ash share more than broken hearts. Something darker lies between them, and the investigation is stirring it back to life. Clues lead them to the home of Olivia West and her deeply troubled twelve-year-old daughter, Tori. The child knows more about the murder than anyone can imagine, but she’s too terrified to say a word.
And as a cold-blooded killer resurfaces from the past, Rebecca and Ash begin to fear that their own secrets may be even harder to survive.
“You told me,” she said. “I got it.”
Rebecca and her legal counsel rounded a marble column. She saw the crowd gathered outside the courtroom. As they neared the courtroom doors Rebecca’s phone buzzed in her jacket pocket. She hesitated. It could be her superior calling again.
“I better take this,” she said quickly to the lawyer.
“You’re up next,” the lawyer said.
“I’ll just be a sec.”
She extracted the phone from her pocket and stepped into the relative seclusion of an alcove. When she saw the caller ID, her heart fell. Her father. Again. She’d allowed his last four calls to kick over into voice mail. She didn’t have time for his paranoid conspiracy theory nonsense right now. She was about to kill his call but faltered. Her dad had not been well. He drank too much—always had, but it was getting problematic. And winters were lonely where he lived in the old family cabin. The closest town was Clinton. Forty-five minutes away on unpaved logging roads that were not routinely plowed.
The rural isolation, the booze, the creeping age, it was all addling his brain and causing confusion and depression. And to fill his long, lonely nights on the farm he wallowed in old cases, obsessively going over and over the ones he’d been unable to solve, cooking up crazy theories he usually forgot by morning. Rebecca connected the call.
“Hey, Dad, listen, can I call you back? I’m about to head into court.”
An odd, weighted silence followed her words.
“Dad? Are you okay?”
“I … need to talk to you, Bec. There … there’s something you need to come clean with me about.”
He was slurring his words. Rebecca glanced at her watch. It was barely noon in her father’s time zone and he was already three sheets to the wind. He’d be passed out cold by the time she was done this evening.
“Look, I’ll speak to you when—”
“No, no, Becca, not over the phone,” her dad whispered. “I’m in the lobby of the Cariboo Lodge, using the courtesy phone outside the Moose and Horn. People might hear.” There was a pause. Rebecca could make out background noise from the pub. “I … I suspect he’s been inside my cabin, took some papers from my case file.”
“Who? What case file?”
The silence outside the courtroom was suddenly loud. Almost everyone had filed inside. Tension strapped across her chest. “Dad,” she said firmly, crisply, “I can’t do this conspiracy stuff right now. I need—”
“Last night. I think he was outside, among the aspens. Watching my cabin. The night before, I think someone followed me home in the dark. I think he knows what I know.”
Rebecca hesitated. The tone underscoring her father’s words was not something she’d heard before. She had little doubt her dad was imagining things, but his fear was real. She had to think about getting him professional help. It was time. She’d go home and deal with it all once this trial was over. But at the same time, returning to the ranch for any extended period was the last thing Rebecca wanted to do. There always remained the possibility she might run into Ash. But she’d put this off as long as she could.
“Dad,” she said more gently. “Look, it’ll be okay. I promise. As soon as this trial is wrapped up, I’ll put in for time and—”
“I know he lied, Becca. You both lied. All those years ago. It wasn’t a riding accident that gashed open his face, was it? What were you protecting him from that day?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Sergeant North—Rebecca!” It was one of the lawyers, eyes flashing with urgency. “Get your ass inside there, now! For Chrissake, Sergeant—do you want to lose this thing for us?”
She pinched the bridge of her nose. “Dad, I’m about to testify. I’ll phone you tomorrow.” He’d be too drunk if she called tonight. “I promise. Now get a room at the lodge, get some sleep. Whatever you do, just don’t drive.” She ended the call and pocketed her phone, but as she hurried after the lawyer, unease dogged her.
He lied. You both lied … it wasn’t a riding accident that gashed open his face.
As she entered the courtroom her mind catapulted back to a late September Sunday more than twenty years earlier. A massive thunderstorm had just broken over what had started out as a typical Indian summer afternoon with the birch and alder trees shimmering yellow and gold over the hills.
Rebecca had been driving home from her weekend job at the vet when rain started coming down in sheets. Gripping the truck wheel, she’d bent forward, straining to peer at the muddy road through smeared wiper arcs across the windshield. Suddenly a man had appeared in front of her truck, walking slowly down the middle of the road, feet bare, arms hanging limp at his sides. His jeans were drenched and his T-shirt plastered to his body.
Rebecca had slowed her truck, coming right up behind him. He’d seemed oblivious to her presence, made no move at all to get out of the road, didn’t even turn.
Thunder had clapped and rolled into the distance. The trees along the road had bent sharply in the wind.
No reaction. Rebecca had hit the brakes and stopped her truck. She’d sat there for a moment, rain thrumming on the metal roof.
What in the hell?
Then, suddenly, he’d turned. And her heart had faltered.
His face—it had been gashed open down the left side. His eye was purple, swollen almost shut. Blood streamed with the rainwater down his cheeks and darkened the front of his T-shirt.
She’d flung open her door and run through the rain to him.
“Ash! What happened? What on earth are you doing out here?”
But he’d just stared, his eyes completely vacant…
Rebecca forced her focus back to the present. But as she took her place in the witness box a chill trickled down her spine. She was barely able to register the court official in front of her, let alone recall how she’d gotten to the box.
“Do you, Sergeant Rebecca North, solemnly affirm that the evidence to be given by you shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”
You both lied.
Loreth Anne White is an internationally bestselling author of thrillers, mysteries, and romantic suspense. A three-time RITA finalist, she is also the 2017 Overall Daphne du Maurier Award winner, and she has won the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, the National Readers’ Choice Award, and the Romantic Crown for Best Romantic Suspense and Best Book Overall, in addition to being a Booksellers’ Best finalist and a multiple CataRomance Reviewers’ Choice Award winner. A former journalist and newspaper editor who has worked in both South Africa and Canada, she now resides in the Pacific Northwest with her family. Visit her at www.lorethannewhite.com.
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