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Keys clutched in her left hand, Detective Katie Randall stared at her vandalized front door. She hadn't noticed it when she'd pulled into the drive; she'd been too busy thinking about her sister's cold case and the man who'd been assigned to help her work on it. Lucy had disappeared fourteen years ago from her front yard and it was time Katie and her family found closure.
Now she'd come home to this.
She'd parked in the drive and grabbed her stuff from the car, still thinking about canceling the meeting she had coming up in about five minutes.
It was only when she'd gotten closer to the house that she'd seen the splintered wood around the doorknob. And the Christmas wreath lying on the porch.
The hair on the nape of her neck spiked, and she stepped back. She set her briefcase and keys on the porch. The chilly December wind found its way under her collar, and she shivered as she mentally flipped through her options at lightening speed.
Her nerves tightened, muscles bunched. She pulled her weapon from her shoulder holster as she backed down the steps of the porch. With her left hand, she snagged her cell phone from the back pocket of her khaki slacks and pressed the speed dial number for Jordan Gray, the man she was supposed to meet in less than five minutes. She couldn't let him walk into a potentially dangerous situation without some warning.
He answered on the third ring. "Almost there."
"Don't pull in the drive. Someone's either been in my house or is still there."
"Give me thirty seconds."
"I'm calling for backup. I'll be inside. Mariah might be here and need help."
Mariah Sims, Katie's friend and roommate. Mariah usually got home before Katie.
She hung up on his protests and orders to wait for him. Hesitating, she debated whether or not to call her partner, Gregory Lee, but decided Jordan, a former FBI agent, would be able to handle this just as well as Gregory.
And he was closer. She dialed 911 and within seconds had backup on the way. Once the address went out, every officer within a ten-mile radius would be on her doorstep.
She made her way up the porch steps again. Christmas lights lined the railing. Katie stood to the side of the broken door and nudged it open. "Mariah? Are you here?"
Silence greeted her call.
Katie whispered up a silent prayer for Mariah's safety.
She glanced over her shoulder as Jordan's car edged to the curb in front of her neighbor's home. He climbed out, weapon in his hand as he jogged over to stand beside her. She'd hired him through Finding the Lost to locate her missing sister. The Finding the Lost organization, founded by skip-tracer Erica James, specialized in locating missing people. From private investigators to contracted FBI agents to police detectives, a plethora of talented men and woman worked tirelessly to help others reunite with lost loved ones.
Katie had hired the organization and then had second thoughts about doing so when she discovered who would handle her case. Jordan Gray. She knew him slightly because of her connection to Erica, his boss, but hadn't realized Neil Gray was his brother. The brother who'd been killed in a jail cell after Katie arrested him for drunk driving.
Before she had a chance to tell Jordan she'd decided she couldn't work with him, he'd called fifteen minutes ago to let her know he was on the way to her house.
He was ambushing her and she hadn't been able to put him off. Now she was glad for his presence. She gestured to the open door. "Will you cover me?"
He didn't waste time chastising her for not waiting on him. "What's the layout?"
"Foyer leads straight into the great room. Two bedrooms and a bath to the right, kitchen and dining to the left. My bedroom is also to the left behind the garage."
"I'll go right, you go left."
Katie stepped into her house and caught her breath. Chaos greeted her. Cushions pulled off her couch and slashed. Bookcase overturned and coffee table shoved on its side. The Christmas tree she and Mariah had decorated lay on its side, ornaments crushed from one end of the room to the other.
A thud from the back of the house caused her to stiffen and shoot a glance at Jordan. "You hear that?" she whispered.
"Yeah. Where'd it come from?" He kept his voice low.
"I don't know."
"Is your roommate here?"
"She usually parks in the garage, but I don't know if her car's in there or not." She would have checked before entering the house, but the windows for the garage had blinds on them. And they were closed.
Katie moved farther inside, sidestepping the mess. Jordan went right, weapon in front of him.
Katie passed the open-area kitchen on her left, rounded the breakfast bar and stepped into the hallway. To her left was the utility room, to the right the half bath and the exit to the back porch that ran the length of the house.
The half bath sat empty. All that was left was her room and bath. Her room looked like the great room area: destroyed.
She ignored the anger at the invasion and headed back to join Jordan. "Freeze! FBI!"
Katie did for a brief second before she realized the yell wasn't aimed at her.
A crash. Running footsteps.
A dark-clothed figure raced past the doorway where she stood and into Mariah's bedroom, with Jordan on his heels. Katie bolted after them.
The intruder leaped over the bed and wrenched the French doors open. Jordan followed and Katie turned to race from the bedroom, back into the great room and out onto the back porch.
The French doors swung open and the figure halted when he realized Katie had him cut off. She pointed her weapon. "Freeze! Police!"
He obeyed for a millisecond, then vaulted over the railing. Again Jordan followed while Katie spun and took the steps two at a time to the yard, where Jordan tackled the man. Sirens screaming, three cruisers pulled up to the curb.
Jordan ducked as a fist swung around toward his face. As the intruder's punch met air, Jordan pulled back his right arm and let his knuckles crunch against the guy's jaw. Dazed, the fight drained from the man, and he lay on his back panting, glaring as the sting of the hit faded.
With her gun in her right hand, Katie used her left to toss a pair of handcuffs to Jordan.
"Let us know if you need help."
Jordan looked up to see three officers, guns drawn, ready to jump in. He sucked in a lungful of air. "I think we got it."
Katie walked over and continued to cover the man until Jordan had him on his stomach, hands cuffed behind his back. "You have the right to remain silent.." Katie read him his rights as Jordan patted the man down. Finding no weapon, he rose to his feet.
When she was finished, she looked at the officers. "This will just take a minute, then he's all yours. She shoved her intruder over to the steps of the porch. "Sit."
Jordan watched the man obey. Reluctantly and with narrowed green eyes that glinted with anger.
Katie looked at Jordan. "You're not FBI. Why'd you identify yourself as such?"
He felt a flush start at the base of his neck. Then gave a small shrug even as the shadows danced across his mind. He pushed them away. "I am again as of last month. Simply doing some consulting work with them."
He spread his hands, palms up. "They asked."
"Right. Well, that should make my lieutenant happier." Jordan knew her lieutenant hadn't been too keen on Katie having access to her sister's files, but he had finally caved, especially when she'd explained that she was hiring an outside organization to help. He'd been intrigued by the idea and finally agreed as long as she kept him updated. And worked the case on her own time. As far as Jordan could tell, she'd kept to that promise.
She stared at him a moment longer, then turned her frown at her intruder. "Who are you, and what were you doing in my house?"
His gaze lowered to the badge on her belt. "You're a cop?"
"And you're FBI?" He directed his question to Jordan, who gave a sharp nod.
"Figures." He clamped his lips and looked away. Jordan decided the guy was younger than he'd originally thought. Maybe in his mid-twenties.
"Your name?" Katie demanded.
"What were you looking for, Mr. Wray?" Jordan asked.
Wesley shrugged. "Whatever I could find. Jewelry, cash, whatever."
Katie snapped his picture with her iPhone and emailed it directly to her office with instructions to find out everything possible about this man. "So this was just a random thing? You picked my house out of all the ones in this subdivision?"
"Yeah, I guess. It looked like an easy hit." He shook his head and muttered, "Didn't know you were a cop."
Jordan saw skepticism skitter across Katie's face and knew she wasn't buying the guy's story. Jordan hauled the man to his feet. "Come on, you can tell the rest of this sad tale downtown."
As he stood, Wesley's gaze landed on Katie's briefcase sitting on the front porch. "Your laptop in there?"
She frowned. "It is. Why?"
Jordan led Wesley to a waiting police cruiser. Jordan recognized Chris Jiles as one of the officers. Chris locked his hand around Wray's upper arm and looked at Katie.
"You all right?"
"Right." He helped Jordan get Mr. Wray secured in the back of the cruiser. She walked over and shook hands with Chris. "I'll be down to the station shortly to fill out a report. Stick him in one of the interrogation rooms and let him sit for a bit."
"Will do. You need a crime scene unit?"
"Why? We caught him red-handed and he confessed. Let's not waste lab dollars on a simple B & E."
He shrugged. "Your call."
Chris drove off with his prisoner, followed by the other officers who'd shown up. Katie turned to Jordan.
Dressed in pressed khaki pants and a blue button-up shirt, she had her straight blond hair pulled back in a po-nytail with a plain band. Her light brown eyes still glinted steel. A faint dusting of freckles and no makeup would make a lot of women look plain. Katie, however, was a natural beauty.
He ignored the zing of attraction he always seemed to get around her and followed her up the front porch steps.
Romance, attraction, whatever it was he felt when he spent time with her was not an option. Katie Randall had killed his brotherat least in his parents' eyesand while he'd work with her on this case, getting personal was out of the question. And besides, she'd gone out her way to avoid him ever since she'd learned he would be the one handling the case.
They stepped back inside and the destruction greeted them.
Even though she'd already seen it, he heard her suck in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Looks like you're going to have your hands full cleaning this up."
She sighed. "Looks like. Fifteen days until Christmas and this. Lovely. Just what I wanted to come home to." She grimaced. "Okay, I'll stop whining now. Sorry."
He gave a short laugh. "I'll help."
Really? And why was he offering to spend more time with her than necessary? She lifted a brow. "I'll probably call a cleaning crew, but thanks."
Relievedyet strangely disappointedhe nodded and looked around. "Mariah's not here, obviously."
"No." She walked into the kitchen and looked out the window into the garage. "Her car's not here. She either stayed late at work or stopped somewhere on her way home."
Jordan tilted his head toward the back of the house. "Your office is trashed, too."
Katie spun on her heel and walked to her office. Trashed was a kind word. "He asked about my laptop. Do you find that strange?"
"Yes. A bit."
Katie walked to Mariah's room. Mariah had gone crazy with Christmas decorations. Decorations that were still in their place, none broken, none touched. Jordan followed. She said, "But he didn't touch anything in here."
"Maybe he just didn't have time to get to it."
"Or he was just interested in your stuff and not hers."
"But why? And why ask about my laptop?"
"I think we'll have to get Mr. Wray to answer those questions."
Katie rubbed her head, hoping the action would push away the building headache. "I guess this means our meeting is on hold."
Katie felt a flush of guilt stain her cheeks. It was true. She'd been putting him off, delaying their getting together. Every time she was around him, she expected him to bring up his brother. And her part in the man's death. Her avoidance of Jordan was unusual. Normally if she needed to address something unpleasant, she did it and got it over with. Not so with this man. "It's not like I planned this."
"No, but you've been avoiding meeting with me. You're the one who came to us, remember? I've been working this case for the past two weeks. I need you to be available to answer questions when they come up. By putting me off, you're making it exceedingly difficult for me to do my job." He studied her. "And after you went to all that trouble to convince your lieutenant to grant us access to files and everything related to Lucy's case."
Katie grimaced at the memory of going to her lieutenant and unashamedly begging him to allow them to do this. "I know. I know," she groaned. "He really didn't want to, but he likes me. Although he did warn me that if this came back to bite him, I'd be checking parking meters until I retired." She rubbed her eyes. "It'll help that you're back with the FBI. He's not like some who get defensive about territory. He welcomes any help he can get."
A faint smile crossed his face, then faded. "Is your reluctance because of Neil?"
Katie stared at him, taken aback by his bluntness. Then a small kernel of anger formed in her belly. She curled her fingers into fists then had to make a concentrated effort to relax. It wasn't his fault she didn't want to talk to him. Not totally, anyway. "Yes, it's partly because of Neil. I didn't really expect Erica to give this case to you." Erica James, the director of Finding the Lost, was one of Katie's closest friends. "She knows what happened with Neil andand I just" She broke off and swallowed hard. "Although I suppose it makes the most sense with your FBI connections." She frowned. "I can drive."
"That's all right, I don't mind. Where will you and Mariah stay until you get this cleaned up?"
"Good question." Relieved not to talk about his brother just yet, Katie pulled her phone out and started to dial Mariah's number when she heard a car pull into the drive. She walked out onto the front porch to see her roommate climb from her vehicle.