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Authors: Rachel Trautmiller

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BOOK: Aftermath
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“So, you need a favor? Official or unofficial?” She shifted one of the stools and then sat at the island. As if the last two years hadn’t happened. And he was still one pesky G-man she couldn’t shake. Not the love of her life she’d found during a stressful and life-altering period in time.

He sucked in a slow breath.

Sudden nervousness had him fumbling for words. And a place to put his hands. So, he trudged to her side and sat next to her. Close enough to touch her. Breathe in a hint of wild flowers. Press his lips to hers.

He cleared his throat.

When it came to Amanda, he was insane. He’d proved that on several occasions and kept trying to outdo himself. One of these days he’d get it right.

Or fail in the most miserable way possible.

“Official.” Once upon a time he could have expected her to leap at either chance. Saving a life trumped everything for this woman. “Or it will be soon.”

Thanks to Internal Affairs, she was already shaking her head. Didn’t matter that she’d come out of the ordeal squeaky-clean. That there’d never been a
solid
reason to move forward with it, but rules were there for a reason. And as a formality, the state had elected to cross-check Amanda ten ways to Sunday.

For all the world to see.

The well of frustration was back in his gut as fresh as when the investigation into a string of bombings had started. While she’d aided them in catching the serial bomber two Christmases ago, she hadn’t been the same since.

He
hadn’t been the same either.

There was absolutely nothing he could do about it. Couldn’t hit a magical
revert
button, talk sense into the government or even his—Amanda. It scared the spit out of him. Had served as a giant monster in the room between them, at times.

“Three little girls need our help. All I need is an extra set of hands. Detective Brink is useless. And Jonas seems to think—”

“Jonas?” At the mention of the SBI agent who’d helped them with several cases, her eyebrows slammed together. “I thought he went back to Boone.”

“He did. A fourteen-year-old went missing from her home in broad daylight. One minute she was in her room, the next vanished. Local law enforcement brought in search teams. The family has a creek in their backyard. They scoured it with no results. None of the girl’s friends report talking to or seeing her in the twenty-four hours prior to her disappearance.”

Amanda flicked a glance at Riley, still jabbering into a colorful depiction of a cat. “Let me guess. This happened in Boone.”

He nodded.

“What’s her name?”

Every other investigator he’d presented with the details asked a million questions about the facts. Rapid fire. Forced entry. Internet contacts. Club interests. It was the only way to figure out if what Robinson and Jonas had was worthy of more attention.

Connected to the letter, in his jacket that only two people knew about.

They were all important. Every face.

Besides himself, Amanda was the only one who’d asked for a name before everything else. Like him, she wanted more than bland facts. A picture of who this girl was, beyond her victimized status.

And, like every time they’d ever worked together, he couldn’t help the swell of pride.

“Kimberly Rose. Red hair. Five-six. One-hundred-twenty pounds. Likes horses, gymnastics and dance. Honor roll student. Never been in any trouble. She’s the oldest of three girls.”

Amanda grabbed a notepad and pen from the other end of the counter. Jotted something in the neat script he’d seen innumerous times over the years. In case notes, amongst others. The bit of sparkle on her left hand caught his eye.

No. Way. He blinked. Brought her back into focus with no change.

His ring attached to a swollen and red looking finger.

What the…?

Her gaze followed his line of view, then bounced back to him. Panic blossomed in the depths. She used the appendage to tuck her hair behind one ear, and then kept it out of sight. “Do they share a bedroom?” As if there were no deeper issues between them, her voice was steady.

While it frustrated the heck out of him, he had to give her mad props. Fine. He could follow her lead.

He gave a slow shake of his head. Willed his heart to slow a fraction. They were talking, so he’d cling to that a moment. Give himself some time to figure out his next move.

“The younger two bunk together. They’re twelve and ten. Mom says the teen needed her own space.”

Amanda swallowed and turned her attention to the notepad. “Bedroom on the second floor?”

He blew out a breath. “Yup.”

She scribbled something in the margin of the notebook. “Where were the other children when this happened?”

“Outside. Playing in the family’s tree house. In the front yard.”

Her pen paused, mid-sentence. That warm gaze met his, again. Competent. Her eyebrows merged together. “Two young girls playing in the front yard and he goes after the harder target, in a bedroom?”

It didn’t make sense. “We already checked into the parents. They came back clean. Have lived in Boone since getting married. Model citizens. Active in community outreach and their children’s programs.”

“How does Jonas fit in?”

“Local law enforcement is limited. It’s a small town. The family knows him well. Requested his presence.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE

 

 

OF COURSE THE SBI agent’s presence had been requested.

The man was an enigma everybody wanted on their side. Pair Jonas with Robinson and you had a formidable team willing to disassemble even the trickiest puzzle, danger notwithstanding.

In the past, Amanda would have joined their ranks without a second thought. Found whatever evidence needed to form a task force or open a case. Forgone food and sleep to see that end.

Kept the two of them in line. And out of trouble. Or ridden into the thick of it, right alongside them.

She clenched her hand beneath the counter. Came in contact with tender flesh. The questions hadn’t disappeared from Robinson’s face. And, if she knew him at all, they wouldn’t stay hidden long. Not a chance.

Should have stayed in bed.

Everything was different. And taking what Robinson was offering—the closest to normal she’d seen in months she was tired of counting—wouldn’t change anything. It wouldn’t bring back lost lives. Fix skewed views. Forgive old hurts.

It certainly wouldn’t make her boss happy. The man had never come off his
high risk analysis
on the life of Amanda Nettles. Even toeing a tight line didn’t help. There was always something she’d done that wasn’t quite how he would’ve seen it accomplished.

With the government threatening cutbacks and the ever watchful eye of Internal Affairs, the man had more reason to keep a tight leash on his precinct. After the last few years, she couldn’t blame him. Didn’t mean she liked the studded collar he’d picked out.

Or the weekly
accountability
meetings. As if she were an alcoholic in danger of ditching sobriety.

“Homicide is a far cry from kidnapping. At least, at first glance and in most cases. And while our unit deals with missing persons cases, Kimberly’s disappearance isn’t even in my jurisdiction.”

The sentence coated her mouth in bitterness. Maybe she’d add this to her next meeting with her boss.

Told missing girl, out of jurisdiction, to screw off.
Accountability. Check. Heartlessness. Gaining foothold.

Something hard glinted in Robinson’s blue eyes, the flecks of green forming intense bursts of the color. His lips pressed together a second. “I gotta tell you, those words sound like pure bull. Especially, coming from you.”

She straightened. Held back a burst of words bordering on this side of the truth. He was right. And, right now, there wasn’t much she could do about it. Not without making everything worse. Personally. Professionally. Mentally.

“Death is just a knife or bullet away.”

After torture, human trafficking or any number of scenarios. She wouldn’t wish that on her enemy, much less a teenager. Couldn’t hurt to hear him out. Worst case scenario, he left angry. Best case, she gave him ideas he could use to get a head start on this thing.

But she couldn’t, under any circumstances, help him find these girls incognito. There was too much at stake.

Wasn’t a life worth it? A teenage life. An image of Ariana popped into her mind, scared, alone and believing someone would find her. She took a deep breath as she envisioned herself shrugging and shaking her head.

Sorry, honey. You’re not my problem
.

Never gonna happen. “You said there were three.”

MCKENNA BENING APPROACHING.

Crap. Amanda glanced at the door. Her best friend wouldn’t knock. Wouldn’t hold back questions when she saw Robinson perched on the stool next to her. Like old times.

It shouted the makings of a disaster she might not survive. Not if McKenna got some obnoxious, mega-plan in her brain. Operation Amanda-Robinson had already failed, but this moment was...nice.

He wasn’t pushing her for answers she didn’t have. And she wasn’t retaliating with actions that had consequences far beyond herself.

They didn’t need a well-meaning friend to turn it into a high-school-set-up escapade.

“You go, ’Kay.” Riley had Amanda’s cordless phone shoved against her ear, a full-fledged conversation in progress.

Hadn’t she left it on the counter before McKenna had arrived?

“That thing is creepy.” Robinson’s gaze flicked from the toddler to AtEase.

Amanda shrugged. “You get used to it. If you used Addie the way you should...”

“Yeah, yeah.” He held up a hand. “I assume we are withholding the cabinet incident?” That soft drawl tugged on her senses. Nice didn’t sum this up. Casual conversation mixed with collaboration was a pretty good aphrodisiac.

Made the memories of harder times float away.

And the thought of helping someone—really helping—made her a little lightheaded. And then there was Robinson, sitting close enough for her to have no trouble remembering the bold scent of his cologne.

If she leaned forward, she’d be in his embrace. A few moments wrapped in his arms, the air filled with promises they couldn’t have. For reasons that were as concrete as they came.

Focus, Nettles.

“Wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t knocked on my door.”

A lazy smile lit his mouth as one brow hitched higher than the other. “Next time, I’ll call first. See if you have a toddler around that you can’t manage.” The upturn of his lips wasn’t lazy anymore, but full-blown and part smirk.

Damn it. The sudden upward angle spread hazy giddiness through her bloodstream. A twinkle appeared in the most beautiful eyes she’d ever seen. It left his thoughts wide open.

Next he’d be asking for a medal after his awesome save of the day. If it wouldn’t go straight to his head, she’d have no trouble awarding it.

“I doubt this is the first time Riley has accomplished something an adult would have trouble doing. It’s the crazy ideas
your
presence will put in McKenna’s head.”

He laughed, the sound rich and full. “Am I supposed to go hide?”

She tucked a smile out of sight. Tugged the edge of her lips, inward with her teeth. “Would you?”

He crossed his arms. Amusement still danced at the corner of his expression. He shook his head, his jet-black hair styled to just-jumped-out-of-bed perfection. “No chance.”

The knob on the door turned.

Amanda stood. “Too bad. Think of all the fun we could have had.” She paused.
Whoa, watch your words, Nettles.
“I’ll hide instead.”

“That won’t be weird at all.”

Nope. Not in this universe. “Do you want some tea?”

When she would have passed him, on her way to the fridge, he grabbed her wrist. A jolt of electricity shot across her skin.

Intensity blasted from every pore of his body. All of it aimed in her direction. His nostrils flared. “You can’t say something like that and walk away. Offer a drink as if nothing about this encounter is strange.”

It was unfair, for sure. She leaned as close to him as she dared without being sucked in by the Robinson magnet. Kept her voice low. “What’s the matter? Super Spy can’t handle it?”

Shopping bags came through the door first as McKenna shoved her way inside. “I’m sorry it took me forever. The store—” Her gaze landed on Amanda and Robinson. Zeroed in on the masculine hand still holding her wrist. A small smile lit her friend’s face.

So much for staving off ideas.

“Hey, guys. Am I interrupting something?”

“Nope.” Amanda tried to jerk herself free.

At the same time Robinson said, “Yes.” His thumb rubbed a pattern across the inside of her wrist. If things were different, she could stay right here. Sit on his lap and smile at him. Ask if he wanted to grab lunch and talk about his case some more. Or talk about anything, really. It wouldn’t matter.

BOOK: Aftermath
13.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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