Authors: CJ Lyons
Then she noticed the sweat rolling off his forehead. She touched his cheek with the
back of her hand. Hot. Too hot. He turned his face away, his blush deepening—or was
it the fever?
“I’m sorry I ever got you mixed up in this,” he mumbled, sagging into her arms. She
barely made it to the bed, gently laid him across it. “Should have known I’d screw
up.” His eyes fluttered shut.
“Bernie. Wake up. Bernie!”
No response. It was up to her. No idea what was going on, where to find help—or who
she could trust.
When Caitlyn got back to the VistaView, Paul was right where she’d left him, undisturbed,
nose deep into her laptop at the restaurant on the main floor. “Turns out this freedmen
thing is a big deal,” he said when she slid into the booth beside him. “We’re talking
a lot of money if they become full tribal members, especially if you added it up retroactively.”
“Worth killing for?”
“I guess so.”
“But what would the Reapers have to gain by getting rid of Lena? The Reapers have
no claim with the tribe.”
“Maybe someone with the tribe is paying them to protect their interests?”
She frowned. Sounded desperate. Especially as the court rulings on the Oklahoma case
were mostly in favor of the Cherokee Nation. Why go to such extremes? “No. There has
to be more going on.”
“Well, Lena’s research was correct. Her family and twenty-one others were included
on the tribal rolls of 1883. The other families have all moved away, generations ago.
Even the Hales haven’t lived on the reservation since the only surviving Hale son
returned home from World War One.” He shook his head. “All that history, lost.”
“Not entirely. There must be something left that Lena found. Enough to get her father
And maybe Lena as well,
she didn’t add.
Paul shut the laptop and stood. “We’re late.”
“Aren’t we meeting down here?”
“No. Your uncle is having brunch served up in his penthouse.” He grinned. “I can’t
wait to see the view from up there. He gave me the code to his private elevator. C’mon.”
She groaned but stood and followed him out. “So no leads for me to follow up on?”
“I found a name. A librarian at the tribal archives.” He wove his way through the
crowds around the slots like an old pro and led her to a secluded elevator.
“Good. Who is it?”
He shook his head and punched in the code. The doors opened immediately. “Oh no. I
give you the name and you’ll rush off to ruin some poor librarian’s weekend and leave
me holding the bag with your mother and uncle. Not going to happen.”
“Paul—” Her ears popped as the elevator whisked them to the penthouse suite on the
eleventh floor. Altitude or the effort of swallowing her frustration with him, she
wasn’t sure. “Just give me the name.”
“I’ll text it to you. After we eat.” The doors opened onto a panoramic view of the
Smoky Mountains. “Better yet. I’m coming with you.”
Before she could protest, Uncle Jimmy and her mother rushed into the foyer to greet
“Caitlyn,” her mom said, taking her arm. Today Jessalyn wore a simple navy sheath
dress with a gold-and-navy brocade jacket. “You’re late. What have you been doing?”
She brushed her fingers over Caitlyn’s coat. “There’s mud all over you.”
Being surrounded by bikes in a field could do that to you. “I took a drive, sorry
if we’re late.”
“No matter. We’re all here now. Isn’t this lovely?” Jessalyn gestured at the skyline
and the sumptuous feast waiting on a chrome-and-glass table covered in linen and silver-gilded
china. Caitlyn looked down at her muddy jeans and boots. Brunch. Wasn’t that supposed
to be scrambled eggs and waffles? Maybe throw in a fruit plate?
This looked like the final supper on the
Platters of salmon and roast beef, eggs Benedict, broiled tomatoes and ham, shrimp
bigger than her thumb arranged in a circle around a martini glass filled with cocktail
sauce … and those were only the dishes she could identify. Two waiters flanked the
doors to the kitchen, ready to spring into action. If Jimmy was trying to impress,
Jessalyn appeared to be right at home, walking directly to her seat at the far end
of the table to Jimmy’s right, waiting for Jimmy to pull her chair out for her. Paul
hurried to do the same for Caitlyn, but too late, she’d already taken care of it herself.
Jessalyn threw a disapproving glance her way. Caitlyn ignored it, realizing her stomach
was ready to rebel if she didn’t give it something to digest.
She reached for the eggs. Jessalyn shook her head. Jimmy cleared his throat and raised
a champagne glass filled with a pomegranate mimosa. “It’s not often that I get the
chance to entertain such lovely company.” He nodded to Paul and Caitlyn. “I’d like
to propose a toast. To family.”
Paul and Jessalyn chimed glasses as Caitlyn grabbed hers and did the same. “To family.”
She took a sip, the bubbles tickling her nose, then set the glass down and reached
for the real food once more. That’s when her phone rang.
“Sorry,” she said, glancing at the number and seeing it was a Quantico extension.
“I really need to take this.” She looked longingly at the spread, grabbed a strawberry,
and, ignoring her family’s irritated expressions, headed out to the foyer. “Tierney.”
“You picked the worst day ever to skip work. I hope you’re lying in a hospital bed
somewhere with a doctor’s excuse.”
“Gee, nice to talk to you, too, LaSovage. What’s the problem?”
“The assistant director came to observe the evaluations yesterday. That’s the problem.”
By taking a leave day, she’d left him a man short. “I’m sure you found someone to
fill in as a bad guy.”
“You don’t get it, Caitlyn. It’s not
problem. It wasn’t me he wanted to observe.”
A waiter walked past, asked if she needed anything. She shook her head and mouthed,
“I’m fine.” Then LaSovage’s words penetrated. “Yates was there to see me?”
“Bingo. He heard about what happened Thursday.”
“Thursday?” So much had happened since then she had to rack her brain to remember
what he was talking about. “You mean with those new agents in training?” One of whom
she’d made cry.
“Guess someone told him. Welcome to the new FBI, guaranteed no more tears.”
“But I didn’t do anything wrong—”
“Caitlyn, Caitlyn.” He sighed. “You don’t get it, do you? They want you out. You don’t
have to do anything wrong, you just have to not do everything right.”
“Nothing I can do about it now.”
“Actually, there is. That’s why I’m calling. Yates left a message that he wants you
back here. Today.”
“Is he coming to supervise the training—wait, it’s Saturday, there is no training
“There wasn’t any. But I’m putting together a little extracurricular project.” His
voice brightened. “I think you’d have fun with it, actually. We’re expanding off your
impromptu scenario from the other day.”
Jessalyn appeared, looking angry. Uh-oh. “That’s nice, but I’m tied up with my mom
and uncle. I can’t make it back today.”
“What should I tell Yates if he asks?”
Caitlyn hesitated, torn. Family or job? Choosing either would mean abandoning Lena.
And Caitlyn was the closest thing to family Lena had left.
“Tell him family comes first.” She hung up even as Jessalyn reached out a hand, ready
to snatch the phone from her like she was a nine-year-old again.
“Come here, we need to talk,” her mother said with that she-who-must-be-obeyed tone
Caitlyn loved to rebel against.
“But Jimmy and Paul—”
“Can wait.” Jessalyn led Caitlyn into a large study with a wall of windows, velvet
curtains, chrome-and-glass tables surrounding two large black leather couches. She
whirled on Caitlyn. “You need to quit this foolishness. Right now.”
“You mean looking for Lena?”
“I mean the FBI.” Jessalyn blew out her breath, her lips pursing to reveal wrinkles
Caitlyn had never noticed before. “All I’ve ever wanted is what’s best for our family.
What’s best for you. I’ve sacrificed everything for that.”
“How is my quitting my job what’s best for me or the family?”
Jessalyn’s gaze focused on the scar running up Caitlyn’s sternum toward her throat.
Her souvenir from a psychopath. “The FBI has almost gotten you killed twice now. Sweetheart,
do you have any idea what that does to a mother? Especially after your father—”
She looked away, blinking hard. Jessalyn never could talk about how Sean Tierney died;
in twenty-six years this was the closest she’d ever come. At least with Caitlyn.
“Mom, it’s okay.” Caitlyn’s anger drifted out of reach as she comforted her mother
with a hug. Arguments with Jessalyn always ended this way. “Nothing’s going to happen
“You don’t know that.” Tears brimmed in Jessalyn’s eyes, threatening to spill over.
“You can’t know that. After everything I’ve been through I don’t think it’s too much
to ask. If you like detective work, Jimmy can put you on at the casino. Sneaking around
undercover, catching card cheats. At least it wouldn’t be dangerous. And I could finally
sleep at night without worrying that I’m going to get another call—”
She broke down, collapsing onto the couch without even smoothing her dress to prevent
it from wrinkling. That’s when Caitlyn realized this wasn’t one of their usual melodramatic
arguments about trivial matters blown out of proportion. Jessalyn was truly worried,
Caitlyn heaved out a breath as she sat beside her mother, one arm around Jessalyn’s
shoulders. Her mom never showed this much emotion—drama, yes, but never true tears.
She never let her guard down far enough to expose her heart. It was something she
and Caitlyn had in common.
“Mom, I can’t quit. It’s my job, my life. I’ve fought so hard to get where I am—”
“Your life? You mean your death. Caitlyn, if you don’t quit, that job is going to
kill you.” The tears splashed from her eyelashes down onto her cheeks, streaking her
impeccable makeup. “Please. I’ve never asked anything from you, but I’m asking you
now. Caitlyn, you need to quit. I’m begging you.”
Her mother was right: Jessalyn had never asked her for anything. Although she’d made
it perfectly clear that she’d given up everything when she left Evergreen to give
Caitlyn a better life. Away from all the turmoil surrounding her father’s death. All
her mother had ever expected in return was for Caitlyn to love her and be a good daughter.
Caitlyn was the first to admit that maybe she’d done the first but failed at the second.
Could she refuse her mother’s one request now?
Paul had basically asked her to leave her job as well. And her bosses at the FBI would
love it if she made life easy for them and quit before they had to find a place for
her. They were just biding their time until they could find cause to dismiss her without
embarrassing the Bureau. Did Caitlyn really want to work in that kind of atmosphere?
She slid her arm away from Jessalyn, touched her fingers to the scar at her temple.
Maybe Mom and Paul were right. She couldn’t believe she was even thinking it, but
maybe they were all right. She should quit while she was ahead.
Standing, she turned to the window and drew back the curtain. The mountain vista was
comforting, welcoming her home. To her real home.
A life without the Bureau. She couldn’t even imagine it. Her entire life she’d dreamed
of being a FBI agent. It wasn’t just her dream, it was her dad’s, the one thing she
could do for him, know he would be proud of her even if he wasn’t here to see it.
What would Dad do? She pressed her palm against the cold glass rattling in the winter
wind cutting across the mountain range. Would he want her to quit, take the easy way
Anger spiked through the memory of his face, his blood. Just because he took the easy
way out …
Jessalyn sensed her ambivalence, rose and stood behind her. “You don’t have to decide
now. Take some time off. Go to the beach with Paul. You deserve a break.”
“I can’t. Lena—”
“Lena isn’t family. You don’t even know the girl. She’s none of your concern. Besides,
you said yourself the local authorities could do a better job in finding her. It’s
not your case. You need to take time, focus on what really matters, what you want
for your future.” She lay her hand on Caitlyn’s shoulder, rubbing her arm in slow,
soothing motions, just as she had when Caitlyn was a little girl.
Seemed like Caitlyn had spent most of her life learning how to calm down, swallow
her anger and outrage. Jessalyn had taught her well. Maybe that’s really why she needed
her job. Not just for the prestige of working for the FBI, of living her father’s
dream. She needed it because it let her channel the emotions she kept buried into
something productive, something bigger than her.
A chance to change the world. Stop the bad guys. Maybe save lives.
Even save herself.
The Bureau frowned on the idea of its agents being heroes. Indoctrinated them into
understanding that they were simply well-trained cogs in a paramilitary machine, following
orders, protecting their country and its citizens. They were anything but “special,”
replaceable by the next agent waiting in line to serve and protect.
And Caitlyn refused to serve. At least not blindly. She’d risen fast—promoted to supervisory
special agent years before most—because of her inability to keep her head down and
obey orders. She always had to push things, which is how she’d broken the cases she’d
broken. The Bureau loved the good press she brought them, hated the truths about their
own inadequacies she exposed with her maverick methods, and wanted her either gone
or safely encased in a bubble-wrapped office tied down in red tape where she could
do them no harm.
She’d hit the ceiling at the FBI. Hit it hard, at meteoric velocity.
Shrugging her mother’s hand away, she turned around. “I can’t, Mom.”