Authors: CJ Lyons
“Tierney, you there?” Boone’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Doc’s note doesn’t
say anything about the OD not being self-inflicted, but that doesn’t mean jack.”
“You’ll look into it?”
“Best I can. One thing for sure, it wasn’t those Surenos. They were locked up in the
SHU when Hale OD’d.”
She thought. “Did Hale make any phone calls before his OD?”
“We’re still checking the records—nine hundred inmates, it’ll take another day or
“You guys record outgoing calls, right? When you find it, I’d like a copy.” She had
no official standing to make the request and Boone knew it.
“There’s something you’re not telling me.” His tone was more resigned than accusatory.
“Not really. Definitely nothing concrete.”
“Uh-huh. Guess that’s why they call you guys ‘special’ agents.”
Like she hadn’t heard that one before. “Seriously, if I find anything you need to
know, I’ll call.”
“I’ll be waiting by the phone, breathless with anticipation.” He hung up before she
could come up with an equally snarky reply.
Her order of comfort food arrived on a platter brimming with gravy, accompanied by
a glass of milk so cold it gave her a brain rush with the first gulp. She ate one-handed,
trying to find some semblance of order in Hale’s papers. There were sketches of various
well-known architectural wonders—even an inside-out view of an Egyptian pyramid.
The notebooks were filled with similar sketches along with detailed materials lists
and step-by-step construction instructions. One notebook had every page crammed with
drawings of a house Caitlyn recognized: Hale’s home in Evergreen, North Carolina,
back up on McSwain Mountain. The only house higher on the mountain was her own childhood
home. Above them both was the trout farm, the McSwain family’s first major commercial
enterprise back in early days of the last century.
Her mom and uncle were so proud of the McSwain name. Uncle Jimmy had bought back almost
every parcel of land the family had lost over time; gave Caitlyn’s mom and dad the
two-century-old farmhouse that was the original family homestead as a wedding present.
Caitlyn loved the old place, built so solid it didn’t even tremble in the worst blizzards
or spring storms. Dad was always trying to improve it in his little free time. Tearing
down wallpaper, refinishing the floors, she and Dad together scraping decades of paint
from the original oak cabinets. It’d about broke her heart to leave that house, but
after Dad …
Jessalyn had been upset about leaving Evergreen for different reasons: She was leaving
her family and everyone she knew behind to start over, a newly widowed mother, a thousand
miles away from the only home she’d ever known. Her mother’s sacrifice had become
a sword’s edge that divided her and Caitlyn. After trying and failing for years to
make her mother happy, she finally simply gave up. No one could make Jessalyn happy,
not after Dad was gone.
Thankfully, Uncle Jimmy said he’d keep the old house safe for Caitlyn. If she could
ever bear to return home, walking in the shadow of Dad’s memory, over floorboards
that had been soaked in his blood.
Maybe Uncle Jimmy could help now. The year after she and Mom left Evergreen, he’d
gone on to become the developer in charge of the tribe’s casino, bringing the VistaView
Resort to life from the blank canvas that had been an empty parcel of land along the
reservation’s outer edge. As director of the casino, he knew everything that happened
around Evergreen—all of Balsam County—and most of neighboring Cherokee, as well.
Caitlyn was about to call Uncle Jimmy when she came to the bottom of Hale’s box and
found a pocket-sized address book. Leafing through it, she found Lena’s address and
phone number in Durham and, bingo, the name and cell number for Lena’s roommate.
She finished her meal, ordered cherry pie for dessert, then dialed the roommate. “Melissa
Andersen? This is Caitlyn Tierney. I’m a friend of Lena’s family. I need to reach
Lena as soon as possible.”
“Is it her father?” Melissa sounded like she was in her midtwenties and had a definite
South Carolina accent. “A chaplain called a few days ago, said he was real sick.”
Caitlyn hesitated. Death notifications should go to the next of kin first, but since
that was Lena … “I really need to speak with Lena. Do you know where she is?”
“She left for a little town in the mountains, near Cherokee. Evergreen. It’s where
her family’s from. Hey, wait, did you say Caitlyn Tierney?”
“Oh my God. I know who you are. Lena has a photo of you and her sister sitting right
there on her dresser. You two were so cute as kids. Covered head-to-toe in mud, only
your eyes showing—and your red hair, standing up all over.”
Caitlyn knew the picture well. It was one of her father’s favorites. She hadn’t seen
it in decades, not since after his death when her mom packed everything away and moved
them to Pennsylvania. “That’s me. So Lena left when?”
She’d been missing even longer than Hale suspected. “Did you hear from her? Do you
know where she was planning to stay in Evergreen?”
“No. Sorry. She said she’d only be gone a day or two, but sometimes she loses all
track of time. One time when she was volunteering for the Innocence Project she—”
“Is that what she’s doing now? Working on her dad’s old case?” Maybe Caitlyn could
track her down by going through the people involved in Hale’s trial.
“Oh no, she’s finished with that. Took her years but she finally realized there was
nowhere left to turn. I think she was real angry with her dad—can’t blame her, all
those years she and her mom and sister believed in him, only to realize he really
did kill that man.” Her shudder reverberated through her voice. “Poor thing. She and
her dad had a big fight about it. I think maybe this is her way to get some distance,
“So you have no idea what she was looking for in Evergreen?”
“No, sorry. Her family still owns a house there, maybe she went there?”
“Was she in contact with someone in Evergreen?”
“Sorry, I don’t know. But when you find her, tell her I’ve got her mail here.”
Mail. “Anything in there that might help me find her?”
“Just bills—oh and a letter from a law firm. Must be one of the ones she applied for
a job at. Feels thick, like it might be a contract, so she might want to hurry back
and open it.”
If Lena was accepting a new job, why would she take off? More important, why wouldn’t
she stay in contact with her roommate?
“Hope that helps,” the roommate said. “Tell Lena I’m sorry about her dad being sick.”
“I will, thanks.” Caitlyn hung up, more puzzled than she was before she called. Looked
like she’d have to rely on Uncle Jimmy for info after all.
Only one problem. Other than the occasional Christmas card and a bouquet of flowers
when she was in the hospital last year, she wasn’t exactly close with Uncle Jimmy
or her cousin Bernie. Which meant calling Mom first.
Caitlyn downed the cherry pie, told herself she needed the extra calories for fortitude.
Before she could make the call, her cell rang: Paul.
She hated that she hesitated before answering, almost but not quite long enough for
it to go to voicemail. “Hi there,” she answered in a chipper voice.
“Hey, sorry to bug you at work, but I needed to know if you’d be coming home tonight.”
home. Which lately had somehow begun being translated as
“I’m still in North Carolina,” she hedged. Not that there was any reason why she wouldn’t
be headed back to DC by evening, but she wanted to know why he needed to know.
“Well.” He sighed the word. “I wanted to surprise you, but guess I need to tell you.
With the holiday Monday and the long weekend, I planned a special getaway at the beach.”
Her first thought was, didn’t he have to work Monday? Then she realized he must have
pulled a favor to ask for it off—not like doctors had federal holidays off the way
Quantico instructors did.
Her second was, anywhere but the beach. All her life she’d avoided visiting the beach.
Before he died, her father had promised a family vacation to the Outer Banks, a town
called Duck where his family went when he was a kid. It would have been her first
time seeing the ocean, and he put her to bed every night telling her stories about
the beach and finding seashells and the way the water smelled like magic when the
sun sparkled over it at dawn.
Even now, twenty-six years later, it pained her to think of finding that magic without
him at her side.
But Paul couldn’t know that.
“You still there?” he asked.
“I am. I’m just—wow—I’m shocked. Paul, that was so sweet of you.” It was, it really
was. How the hell was she going to say no? Why should he have to suffer because of
her crazy messed-up father complex?
“I thought we could leave tonight, right after work,” he said. “Wake up to sunrise
on the beach. I got us an oceanfront cottage. Only one bedroom but plenty of privacy.”
An awkward silence hung between them, stretching from North Carolina to DC and back
“You’re not coming, are you?” he finally asked, hurt coloring his voice.
She hesitated, her gaze caught on a picture of Lena sitting on top of the pile of
papers in Hale’s box. The photo was taken at Lena’s college graduation, her cap sitting
at a jaunty angle, the tassel swinging past eyes crinkled with joy. She’d just lost
her mom and sister, had made it through school alone and on her own, and despite everything
still faced her future with undaunted hope and a blinding smile.
“I can’t,” Caitlyn told him, the cherry pie suddenly tasting bitter.
She couldn’t lie, not about this. “No. A family emergency.” Well, almost-family. Kinda.
If not for the part where Eli Hale was responsible for her father’s death. But she
couldn’t let Lena suffer for his mistakes. And Lena didn’t have anyone else. “I have
to go home to Evergreen.”
Another silence, this one more sad than awkward.
“I’m sorry,” she said, and it was the truth. She should never have let him start planning
a life together, should have found a way to leave before it got this far. But he was
so damn easy to be with, and after everything she’d been through last year, she desperately
needed easy and comfortable.
More than comfortable: Paul was safe.
“I understand. Next time we’ll pick a date together so nothing will get in the way.
Drive careful. Call me when you get there.”
What could she say to that? Nothing except “I will.”
“Love you.” He hung up before she had a chance to lie to him again.
Caitlyn stared at the phone in her hand. No more lies. Next time she saw Paul, she’d
tell him the truth. She didn’t love him. She wasn’t sure it was in her to ever love
someone, not the way he deserved. There was just too much of her heart that she always
had to hold back, protect.
There wasn’t enough of her left to give to someone else. No one’s fault, just the
way she was hardwired. Better to end things now before he was hurt.
Who was she kidding? There was no way in hell she was going to be able to end it without
Paul being hurt.
The pie thudded like a millstone in her gut, decadence laced with a heavy syrup of
Might as well call Mom and make the day’s quota of pain and suffering complete.
Lena smiled at her from the photo, adding to her guilt. What if she couldn’t find
her? Poor thing, she didn’t even know her dad was dead.
Christ, she should have gone with Paul to the beach. There was nothing worse than
family death notifications; Caitlyn had learned that when she worked a short stint
with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Her phone rang again. Mom. How the hell did she do that? Somehow she always managed
to call Caitlyn before Caitlyn had a chance to reach out first and earn filial Brownie
“Caitlyn, what’s wrong?” Jessalyn Tierney asked, her tone distraught—not unusual since
she seemed to always call when something was wrong in Caitlyn’s life. Almost dying—twice—killing
a man, emergency brain surgery. Her mom’s psychic radar was a fine-tuned instrument.
“Nothing’s wrong. Why?”
“Paul just called. Wanted to know if there was anything he could do to help. Said
you canceled this weekend because of a family emergency.”
Oh shit. “Paul called you?”
“Of course. Who do you think helped him find the rental at such a great location on
a holiday weekend?” Her mom had inherited the family’s entrepreneurial love of real
estate, just like Uncle Jimmy. After Caitlyn left for college, Jessalyn had moved
back to North Carolina and partnered with Jimmy to open a real estate investment firm
in Charlotte. Not even the housing bubble had slowed their profits.
“You knew about this weekend and you didn’t warn me?”
“He wanted it to be a surprise. I think he’s been shopping for a ring. I already gave
him my blessing, of course. Past time for you to settle down, raise a family of your
“Mom, I’m only—” No. She wasn’t falling into that trap. Arguing with her mom was like
racing along a Mobius strip: Once you got started there was no good end. Ever. “Wait.
Paul talked to you about it?”
“We talk all the time,” Jessalyn replied flippantly. “Well, maybe not all the time.
Three times since Christmas. Which is three times more than you’ve called me.”
Ouch. Jessalyn kept score over everything. “I called you on Christmas.”
“No. I called you. After you couldn’t be bothered to make the trip down to see your
mother for the holidays. Not like you had to work—you said you were basically a substitute
teacher until your bosses decided to fire you or not.”
Caitlyn’s jaws ground together. “I’m not getting fired. And I told you, Paul was on
There was more judgment in her mother’s silence than in a judge’s gavel banging down.
Caitlyn knew better than to try to plead her case—it would just give Jessalyn more
ammunition to use during later skirmishes.