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Grace tapped her fingers on the steering wheel, trying to decide what to do. Turn back now and find a hotel or push through and finish this tonight? The smart thing would be to start again in the morning. It was getting late and she was driving down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by corn fields with no signal on her cell phone. She was close though. She hated the idea of giving up now even if it was only for the night.
A fat bug splattered against her windshield, making her jump, and she hit the wipers. God, she was tense. Growing up in St. Louis, she hadn't expected it to be so dark out here. On these back roads, her headlights only lit the road a few feet ahead. The brights, when she tried them, reflected off all the dust kicking up from the dry road and made it harder to see. No city lights. No streetlights. No passing semis. Only the fireflies in the corn and the occasional reflective flash from the eyes of whatever animals lived out here. Paranoia said something was following her, but she hadn't caught much more than a glimpse of movement out of the corner of her eye, gone as soon as she turned her head. Her eyes flicked toward the rearview mirror and she told herself to get a grip.
Nothing out here. Miles upon miles of nothing.
Damn it, Mike, I should be in Hawaii right now. Sun-warmed sand and cool ocean breezes. Mixed drinks. After that last case, she needed time to relax, maybe meet someone else who was lonely but not looking for serious, who wouldn't ask difficult questions about her job or her past. But no, she was in Iowa. Not a palm tree in sight, and the only thing drifting on the breeze was the smell of manure. Pollen. She flinched as another big freaking bug hit the windshield. Were they locusts?
She sighed and rubbed her eyes. She shouldn't blame Mike for doing his job. After all, he did send her most of her paying customers, unofficially. A young and ambitious detective with the St. Louis police department, he was smart enough to recognize her...talent for finding missing children. And to realize that too much scrutiny would drive her away. She liked him, liked his devotion to his work and the way he never pushed her too hard. Even with his dangerous and underpaid, empathy-sucking career choice, he still had a big heart. He was a friend. One of her few friends, and so when he'd called asking for a favorCome on, Grace. Just take a look at the file. One look. It'll take you five minutesshe'd said yes. Sneaky bastard.
He'd hit a dead end in the case of a little girl named Maia Olson. Her mother died a year ago leaving the grandmother with custody, and everything had been going along fine until the child was diagnosed with an unusual form of autism. The grandmother sent a form letter to an old P.O. box requesting the father's medical history and two weeks later the girl was gone. Just poof gone. No witnesses, no evidence. Mike couldn't locate the father, the primary suspect. The grandmother didn't know squat about where he might be living, what he'd been doing for the past five years or who he'd been doing it with. Her contact information was limited to a phone number that had been disconnected three years ago and that P.O. box in Arizona. Grace had politely listened to the story all the while intending to turn him away. She'd earned this vacation. Only a few weeks, but she hoped it would be enough time to pull herself back together.