Authors: Karen Rose Smith
like to take charge," Emma joked.
"My worst fault," he said with a grin, and she laughed. That laugh made him feel as if he'd won the lottery.
Becky liked noodles. Linc wished he had a camera as Emma's daughter slurped them one by one, chicken lo mein being her entree of choice. Although Emma was putting on a pretense of eating, he noticed that she pushed her food around on her plate more than she ate.
He wiggled a piece of chicken at Becky that he'd dipped in sweet and sour sauce. "Are you interested? These very good nuggets are almost gone."
Becky giggled, snatched it from him and popped it into her mouth. Talking around it, she asked, "Mommy?"
"Can Linc play with me?"
Emma stopped fiddling with her food. "What would you like him to play?"
Emma's smile was indulgent. "I know you'd like to play Barbies, but I'm not sure Linc would. How about a game of Candyland instead?"
Becky thought about that, apparently not happy with having her plans derailed. "Okay, if he reads a story, too."
"You'll have to ask him."
Following her mom's suggestion, Becky looked up at him, obviously seeing no sense in repeating it all. "Can we?"
"You're a real negotiator."
"What's a ne-go-shator?"
Emma responded, "It's someone who tries to get what they want, and you're good at that. Go on to the bathroom and wash your hands before you get out the game."
As Becky slid off her chair, she gave Linc a grin, then darted through the living room.
Immediately, Emma stood and began cleaning up their dishes.
Linc stayed her arm. "You didn't eat much."
"I ate. You just didn't see how much because you were talking to Becky."
Wanting to pull her close instead of letting go, he let go anyway. "You're not fooling me."
She kept her gaze averted as she told him, "I'm fine, Linc. Really." Then she said, "Trash bags are in the closet over there. Grab me one, will you? Thank goodness we used paper dishes. We can just toss it all."
He didn't step over to the closet for the trash bags. Instead, he tipped her chin up so she couldn't evade him. The moment their gazes locked, he felt the kitchen become a lot warmer. "You might be able to distract Becky, but you can't distract me."
When she didn't respond, when she just looked at him as if a distraction was what she wanted most, he kissed her.
It was quick and hard and fast, with a flourish of his tongue, and it wasn't nearly enough. But with Becky not far away, it would have to be.
"I can think of a way to distract us both, but not with a four-year-old chaperone nearby."
He saw answering sparks of desire in Emma's eyes. However, her words contradicted them. "I don't need a distraction. I need some answers."
"What if you don't get any answers?"
"I won't accept that. I'll keep calling the police, I'll keep searching the internet on my own. I will find out what happened to my sister."
"I'm ready," Becky called from the living room.
This scene looked domestic enough. After all, he was getting ready to gather up the trash. The four-year-old in the next room was beginning to like him. Although her mother wouldn't admit it, she was as attracted to him as he was attracted to her. Or was that his arrogance talking? Was he seeing something that wasn't there? Or feeling something that wasn't there?
As he turned to open the pantry door, Emma said, "Linc?" Something in her voice made him turn around again.
"I can't even consider what you're suggesting. Sometimes with Paige missing, I feel as if I shouldn't even smile. I feel guilty when I'm with Becky that I can forget for a little while—or that I can forget when you kiss me."
Ah, so that was it. Good old, make-the-world-spin guilt. He'd known his share of that. After Colleen's abortion, he'd wondered what was lacking in him that she couldn't trust him, that she couldn't have told him that she was pregnant. Maybe his arrogance had played a part in that, too, that Colleen knew he would have tried to control the situation. She would have been right.
But all he said to Emma was, "I understand guilt. But that can't keep you from experiencing happiness. Come on, let's get this cleaned up so we can enjoy some time with your daughter."
Emma looked as if she wanted to hug him, or do more, or say more. But she didn't. She just gave him one of those half-smiles of hers and went back to the table to clean up their supper.
An hour later after three games of Candyland, Linc read Becky a story. Her eyes were already starting to close as Emma took over to help her daughter get ready for bed. Linc went out to the living room, had just settled on the couch with the remote, when his cell phone rang.
When he saw Gillian's number, he answered right away. "What's going on?"
"Where are you?" Gillian's voice sounded urgent.
"I'm with Emma...at her place."
That seemed to give his friend pause, but she only waited a beat before she asked, "Do you think she'd mind if I drop over?"
Linc introduced Jake Donovan to Emma as Gillian stood to one side, giving her a reassuring smile.
Emma's head began to swirl. Something was going to happen. She could feel it. Both Gillian and her partner wouldn't be here if it wasn't. Right?
The little bit she'd eaten for dinner had made her nauseous. But she ignored anything and everything except the firm grip of Jake's hand on hers and the idea that she could find Paige. Linc had done this for her and she was so grateful to him for giving her hope. He'd warned her before Gillian had arrived that this just might be about more details...but details could be everything.
Emma went to the sofa and sat down, not sure her legs were going to hold her up. Gillian sat beside her, but Linc and Jake stood, as if they were waiting for something. Jake was Linc's height, but huskier. Since he was formerly a cop, she'd expected him to be a little removed. But he didn't have the guarded look she'd seen in the detective's eyes she'd dealt with after Paige had disappeared. Maybe that was a good sign.
Gillian began. "I need to talk to you about a couple of things."
"Anything," Emma assured her.
"I spoke with Craig Jamison. I didn't get the impression he'd ever do Paige any harm. He said they broke up because she was too busy with school projects to give them much time to be together. I believe he was telling the truth. I don't think their relationship was more than friendship. So I decided to contact the detective assigned to Paige's case. He didn't tell me much, but he did say since your husband had died just a year ago, they had looked into whether his death and your sister's disappearance could be connected."
Never had anything close to that crossed Emma's mind. "You're not serious!"
"I am. But they couldn't find anything. No connection at all. But that doesn't mean there isn't one."
"How do we figure it out? His accident was one in a chain, when someone stopped suddenly on the freeway. Traffic was backed up for hours."
"They apparently took it apart, looking into every aspect of it. But to tell you the truth, I don't get the feeling that your husband's accident had anything to do with your sister's disappearance."
If that was true, then Emma wasn't sure why Gillian was here.
"The detective pulled your sister's folder and had it on his desk. He, of course, wouldn't let me look at it. But I got this strong sensation he wasn't telling me everything. I had taken along Paige's picture and her necklace. While I was speaking with him, I got the strongest sensation that San Diego is important. Can you tell me if your sister had a connection to San Diego?"
Emma was feeling queasy again...and very tired. But this wasn't the time to be low-energy. She searched her mind for anything Paige might have said about San Diego. But she couldn't think of any reference, none at all. She shook her head.
Now Jake entered the discussion. "Did Paige have a computer?"
"She had a laptop. She took it with her when she left. When I asked the police about it, they said it could have been stolen from her car while it was sitting alongside the highway."
"And her purse?" Jake probed.
"That was gone, too."
Jake and Gillian exchanged a look that Emma didn't understand. Then Gillian asked, "Do you have a computer?"
"Yes, in my bedroom."
"Did Paige ever use it?"
"Sure. When she didn't feel like booting up her laptop, or when her laptop froze up or crashed."
"Do you mind if I take a look at it?" Jake asked.
"No, I don't mind. What do you think you'll find?"
"Old e-mails, and maybe I can access her social networking accounts."
"Social networking? You mean like
?" Although Emma only used her computer for store-related business and some word processing—she really didn't have time for anything else—she knew about the social networking site Paige accessed on a daily basis. Her sister had wanted her to get involved, too, stating it would be good for her business. She'd even given Emma her password so Emma could fish around before deciding to do it. But Emma had just never taken the time to explore, let alone set up an account.
Linc explained, "
Branches, Facebook, Twitter
. Women your sister's age do a lot of that," he said, with half of a smile.
"As well as texting," Jake added. "But I accessed your sister's phone records and its use stopped the day she disappeared. I'm sure the detective on the case did the same thing and checked the numbers for the past few months. I didn't find anything unusual, but there are a couple of her friends that I'd like to interview if you think they'd be willing."
"I can call them."
"I'm bringing Jake in on this," Gillian said, "because his skill set is different than mine."
"I do the hard-assed investigative work," he said wryly, and Gillian made a face at him.
Linc asked Emma, "Are your computer accounts password protected?"
"The passwords are automatically saved so I don't have to look them up each time."
"Not a good idea," Jake told her, shaking his head. "That's what most people do. But it's a security nightmare."
"Come on. I'll show you where it is," Emma offered, rising to her feet, feeling a little hazy as she did. She only managed a few hours of sleep each night and she was just tired. That's all.
"We'll be quiet so we don't wake your daughter," Jake told her. "Linc said she was already in bed for the night."
"She's a sound sleeper. Once she's asleep, she's usually out until around 7:00 a.m."
Gillian rose, too. "You are
lucky. Matthew wakes up if I tiptoe across the carpet. Sometimes I think he's just waiting for us to make a noise so he can call out for us, thinking he's going to play.
put him back to bed. Nathan—he says that that's their guy time—and he plays with him when he wakes up. In the middle of the night! He just hates to see Matthew's crocodile tears."
"That's Nathan. A softie," Linc dead-panned.
He followed them into Emma's bedroom and she wondered what he thought. There was a double bed, a dresser with a mirror, a chest and a computer hutch. The room was neither masculine nor feminine. There were lots of stripes in green-and-navy with beige Berber carpeting. Barrett had chosen the heavy pine furniture and she'd decorated with his tastes in mind. She hadn't wanted to change anything after he died. It had taken her a few months just to give his clothes to Goodwill. She still grieved for her husband. But now when she looked at the room she thought maybe she should have made some changes, maybe she should have been trying harder to move on.
As Jake sat at the computer chair, Gillian stood looking over his shoulder.
"The printer is hooked up to the computer?" Jake asked.
"Yes. Print out anything you need to."
"This is going to take a while," Jake explained. "If you'd rather wait in the living room, that's fine."
"No. I want to see what you're doing. I want to see...everything about my sister."
Suddenly Linc was beside her. Taking her by the hand, he led her over to the bed. There was a chest at the foot of it and they sat on that, side by side, his expensive suit trousers brushing her jeans. This whole scene seemed so unreal, and she felt a little disoriented.
"Are you okay?" he asked, still holding her hand.
She liked the feel of his large, warm hand around hers, the texture of his skin against hers. But she fought against that comforting feel. "I'm fine." She drew her hand away.
Why couldn't she lean into him and just enjoy his protective concern? Because she was still grieving? Because her sister had disappeared? Because she had a daughter to raise, and she had to focus her attention on Becky?