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"So, who is she?" Art McDonald said. "A murder suspect? Thief, what?"
Bobby Finn glanced at his former Scotland Yard partner then to his assignment: American Grace Fairmont, helpless rich girl whose father didn't want her traveling the U.K. alone.
She sat across the pub from Bobby and Art, leafing through travel brochures and analyzing maps. This was a fancy holiday for her, a diversion from her dull life.
For Bobby, this was a jail sentence. He'd jeopar-dized the Blackwell Group's last case, and he'd been sent back to London as punishment. A private dick working as a babysitter.
"She's a bloody schoolteacher," Bobby explained.
"And a thorn in my side."
"A school teacher?" Art said. "What's she done?"
"Besides bore me to tears?" Bobby swallowed back his ale. "She's nothing, Art. She's not a suspect or an informant."
"I think you're overreacting, mate."
"I should be back in the States, working on a murder case for Blackwell. Instead, I'm stuck fol-lowing that female around for two weeks."
Miss Grace Fairmont had been sitting at a table in the corner for nearly an hour. Her shoulder-length blond hair floated about round cheeks that made her look more like a teenager than a twenty-six-year-old woman. She wore a denim jacket, a purple scarf and soft pink lipstick, accentuating full lips, lips that looked too sexy to be on such a youthful face. A shopping bag sat by her side carrying her spoils from a prestigious lingerie shop.
Bobby had spent the day following a woman on her shopping spree. Could there be a harsher sen-tence?
"It's great to see you," Art said, leaning across the table. "Tell me about Blackwell, give me all the de-tails."
Details of a missing boy, almost lost forever thanks to Bobby?
"I cocked-up, mate. That's why they sent me back."
"You know Max wouldn't punish you for being human. We all make mistakes, Bobby."
Yeah, but Bobby more than most, right? What made him think he could shake his past? Bobby was a failure at protection. Why had Max picked him for this assignment?
He glanced at Art, his mate from the Special Crimes Initiative at Scotland Yard. Art was a good friend, a mentor, and Bobby had missed him. He wished Art had stayed with the private investigative team back in the States, but the man had a wife and kids. He had a life.
Bobby envied him. "What happened?" Art pushed. "We were investigating a case of a missing boy." Bobby leaned forward in the booth. "I looked right into the bastard's eyes, Paul Reynolds was his name, and I didn't realize he was the man who was de-manding the ransom." He hesitated and shook his head. "What the hell's the matter with me?"
"Nothing, it happens to all of us. We misjudge people."
"Not Max, he doesn't make mistakes."
"He's human, Bobby, just like the rest of us. And consider what he had to struggle with to get back on his feet. I can see why you admire him, but don't put him on a pedestal. He wouldn't like it."
He couldn't help it. Max was the man who'd chal-lenged Bobby out of a life of crime and pushed him into a career in law enforcement. Max was Bobby's only father figure, although only ten years his senior. Max had encouraged Bobby, given him a chance.
And Bobby had let him down. "I was doing it by the book, asking the right ques-tions, digging for secrets. I've watched Barnes. He's so analytical and I thought I could learn from him. It all fell into place when Reynolds helped me draw my conclusions."
Bobby had been trusting and gullible. Just like when he'd trusted his mum to come back for him. Bobby should have known she couldn't stand the sight of him, not after what he'd done.
"The man had no criminal background?"Art asked.
"None. He was an upstanding citizen."
"Then you had no reason to suspect him. People lie, Bobby. You can't control that."
"But I don't have to believe them."
Art took a sip of ale.
"The odd thing was," Bobby continued, "even as I drove off with the information Reynolds gave me, feeling all proud of myself, " Bobby hesitated.
"Even as you drove off, what?"
Bobby looked into Art's gray-blue eyes. "I got this feeling, like something wasn't right, like there was something off about Reynolds."
"But you didn't act on that feeling?"
"It's a feeling, mate. Not proof of anything. Barnes always says"
"I'd rather not, thanks."
Art smiled. "Barnes has his way of working cases and you have yours. Max always thought you'd make an excellent investigator because you were able to get into the devilish mind of a criminal."
Sure he could. It was his mind, as well. "Stop thinking so much and follow your gut," Art said.
The waitress served their fish and chips. "Ah, my gut's been missing this," Bobby joked. He forked a piece of fish and took a bite. Closing his eyes, he moaned with appreciation. There were some things about London he missed desperately.
And others he was glad to leave behind, like the shame of his past.
"Uh, Bobby?" Art said.
Bobby opened his eyes as he savored the taste.
"You'd better eat fast. It looks like your girl is leaving."
Bobby glanced at Grace Fairmont's table. Blast, she was handing her waitress her credit card.
"Bloody hell," he muttered, glancing at his full plate of food.
"We'll get the waitress to box it," Art offered. Bobby pulled out his wallet.
"Don't even try it," Art said, not looking at him. Art hailed a waitress and asked for a box. Bobby kept his eyes trained on Grace Fairmont. This was going to be torture, for sure, more waiting while she shopped for sexy nightgowns and bras.
Unbeknownst to Miss Fairmont, her father had hired Blackwell to protect her while on her trip. She was a schoolteacher with a steady boyfriend; she lived an unremarkable life in a suburb of Chicago.
Still, Max had given Bobby the directive: Follow her. Protect her.
From what? Abusing her bloody credit cards? She signed her receipt and grabbed her things: a small red suitcase, light-gray backpack and shopping bag. She headed for the door.
"It was great catching up." Bobby shook Art's hand. He watched Grace leave the pub and head west in the direction of more shopping.
Art smiled. "Remember what I said." "Yeah, I'll be sure to tell Barnes you think we're made for each other," Bobby joked, heading for the door. The waitress handed him his box of fish and chips.
"Behave," Art called after him.
"What, are you kidding?"
GRACE FAIRMONT waited at King's Cross Station for the 6:00 p.m. train to Edinburgh.
This was it.
The beginning of her journey to find answers. She leaned against a wall to do some people-watching. Everyone looked so absorbed in their worlds. A mother knelt down and pointed to the schedule board. Her daughter, maybe six, looked up, eyes wide, so trusting and innocent.
Grace snapped her gaze from the mother and child and caught sight of a man, racing across the station, looking for someone. Maybe his lover?
She thought about Steven back in Chicago, about what he'd be like as a husband and a fatherwon-derful, attentive, loyal. For some reason, that gave her little peace.
What on earth was the matter with her? Steven was a great guy, a little over-protective, like Dad, but he meant well.
Yet Grace could not give herself completely until she understood herself better; understood herself by walking in her mother's footsteps.
Her mother, whom she'd never known.
Grace Fairmont needed to exorcise her ghosts and heal that empty spot in her heart. She needed answers and was convinced this trip to the United Kingdom would bring her closure somehow.
Dad had argued with her, told Grace it was a waste of time, that she was only torturing herself. But once he knew she was determined to do her soul-searching, he relented and gave her a treasured gift: a journal her mom had left behind.
Grace had wondered why Dad had never shared it with her all these years. When she asked him, he said he was trying to protect her, once again, from hurt and pain. That seemed to be his primary focus in life: to protect his little girl.
But Grace wasn't little anymore, and she ached to stand on her own.
Grace had coveted Mom's journal, filled with pri-vate thoughts about her life and her family.
About her baby girl.
She wrote with such love on those pages. Yet she'd only known Grace for a year before being killed by a drunk driver.
Grace shook off the melancholy and headed for the train, anxious to get away and clear her head. If nothing else, this could be a good diversion from her routine life.
She'd always been routine, accountable, the per-fect daughter, probably because she didn't want to risk losing the love of her only parent. Then, after Dad had married Andrea, she'd worked hard to please her stepmother, as well.
But inside something had always felt off, crooked.
Which is what started this self-identity quest. Passengers began to board the train for Edin-burgh. She lined up, feeling a little claustrophobic. At only five foot three inches, she tended to feel that way when surrounded by a large group of people. It was even more hilarious when her eighth-grade science students towered over her.
She let her gaze wander to the passengers board-ing the next car: couples holding hands and families beginning a holiday in Scotland.
Some day, she thought. Some day she'd have a family and take trips with her children. Grace would always be there for her
Something slammed into her, knocking her off balance. She braced her fall with her hand and pain shot up her arm. Adrenaline rushed to her head as she struggled to catch her breath. She looked up to see three teenage boys whizzing away on skate-boards, security officers chasing after them.
Someone touched her shoulder. "You okay, miss?"
She glanced up at a businessman in a gray suit with an angular face and blue eyes.
"Fine, I think," she said.
He pulled her to her feet, his hand pinching her arm. He was trying to be helpful and didn't realize the grip he had on her.
"Thanks," she said.
"Those boys should be strung up for knocking you down."
"They're kids," she excused, knowing how ener-getic teenagers were.
"Yes, well, they should have better sense."
Now he sounded like her father.
"Please." He motioned for her to board ahead of him.
She climbed onto the train, shooting him one last smile of thanks, and made for the first-class section.
She wanted to be pampered, to have someone take care of her for a change.
It had been so long since she'd put herself first. She'd spent her life worrying about Dad, her step-mom, her half sisters, Annie and Claire, and even her students at Inglewood Junior High.
Grace found a seat and settled by the window so she could get a view of the ocean as they got closer to Newcastle.
The helpful businessman took a seat across from her.
"Are you on holiday, then?" he asked.
So much for peace and quiet.