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Okay, so where is he?
Special Agent Hawk Bledsoe paced about the hotel room, which grew progressively smaller by the moment. His frown deepened significantly as impatience drummed through him.
He had a really bad feeling about this.
About all of this.
To say that he had been surprised to hear from Micah Grayson out of the blue yesterday after so many years gave new meaning to the term "understatement." Micah and he both had the very same connection between them that had just recently come to light about the five murder victims: they came from the same region in Wyoming. Micah was born in Horn's Gulf, while he had the misfortune of actually growing up in Cold Plains.
A great place to be from, Hawk thought cynically, the heels of his boots sinking into the light gray carpet. He made yet another complete trip around the room.
Nothing good had ever come from that town. Except for
No! He wasn't going to let himself go there. Those thoughts belonged in his past, buried deeper than the unearthed five victims apparently had been.
The victims, he'd already decided after reviewing the notes made by past agents, had all been buried as if the killer had expected them to be discovered. Eventually, if not immediately.
Why? What was the sense in that? What did these women have in common other than having the bad luck of being from Cold Plains? And of course, other than the fact that they had all been murdered, execution style, with a single bullet to the back of the head. Their sinswhatever they werehad obviously been unpardonable to someone.
And where the hell was Micah, anyway? He was supposed to be here. The urgency in Micah's voice was the reason why he'd driven straight through the night to get here.
It wasn't as if he'd called the mana man who he knew through various sources made his living by hiring out to do things that others either could not or would not door were just unable to do. Be that as it may, it was Micah who had called him, not the other way around.
Called him and had said just enough to get him hooked. That he needed to talk to him about the five murdered women who had been found scattered through isolated areas in Wyoming.
Did that mean Micah knew who was responsible? Or that he at least had a viable theory? He wished he could have gotten Micah to say more, but the man had been deliberately closemouthed, saying he'd tell him "everything" when he got here.
So where was he?
Hawk knew that Micah Grayson had once dated Johanna Tate. Was that why the man had gone out of his way to call him? Had he called in reinforcements? As far as he knew, that wasn't Micah's style.
Either way, it looked as if he wasn't about to find out now. He'd gotten no more out of his one-time friend than that: to come meet him in this off-the-beaten-path hotel. Room 705. Micah didn't believe in saying much over the phone, even one that most likely was one of those disposable models, which could be discardedand rendered untraceableat a moment's notice.
So rather than clear anything up, Micah's call had merely added to the mystery that was already so tightly wound around the dead women it reminded Hawk of a skein of yarn whose beginning was so well hidden, it defied discoveryor unraveling.
Where the hell had that come from? And then he remembered.
She had liked to knit. He'd teased her about it, saying things like it was an old-lady hobby. Carly, in turn, had sniffed dismissively and informed him that it suited her just fine, thank you very much. He recalled being fascinated, watching her fingers manage the needles like a master, creating articles of clothing out of straight lines of color.
As he recalled, she had professed to absolutely love creating things.
Again, he banished the thoughtsthe all-too-vivid memoriesout of his head. But not quite as forcefully this time as he had initially. Hawk supposed that it was inevitable. After all this time, he was about to be dragged back to the little pimple of a town he'd once left behind in his rearview mirror.
He recalled driving away as fast as he could all those years ago. At the time, he'd thought he was leaving permanently. Obviously not.
He was making too much out of this. The thoughts he was having about Carly just went to prove that he was human, just like everyone else. Nothing more.
The problem was, he didn't want to be human. Especially not now of all times. If nothing else, being human, reacting emotionally, got in the way of efficiency. Being human was a distraction, and he had a case to unravel and a murdereror murderersto track down. That had to come first. He couldn't afford to be distracted, not even a little.
Memories and thoughts of what could have beenand hadn't beenhad no place here. Or anywhere in his life.
Though his expression gave no evidence of his emotional turmoil, Hawk was too tense to sit down. So he went on pacing about the small hotel room where Micah had said he would meet him.
He'd been waiting for over an hour.
To the best of his recollection, Micah was never late. It was one of the things they'd had in common. Because of the directions that life had taken them, they both believed that time was a tool to be used, not frivolously ignored or disregarded.
Micah wouldn't be late. If the mercenary wasn't here it was because he couldn't be here.
Which meant that something was wrong.
Which in turn meant that he, as the special agent who had recently been put in charge of this case, couldn't put off the inevitable for very much longer.
The only thing that Micah had confirmed over the phone was what he'd already just learned: that all the victims were women from Cold Plains. In order to conduct the investigation properly, he would have to go up to Cold Plains, Wyoming, himself.
Looks like the prodigal son is coming home, he thought wryly.
Except that, in this case, he hadn't been prodigal so much as smart. Leaving Cold Plains had been the smartest thing he'd ever done. By the same token, returning might turn out to be the stupidest.
Hawk looked at his watch again. When he'd gotten hereand found the room emptyhe'd mentally promised himself to give Micah approximately ninety minutes to show up. But right now, he was feeling way too antsy to wait for sixty more minutes to slip beyond his reach.
With a sigh, he crossed back to the hotel room door that had been deliberately left unlocked for him.
Damn it, Micah, I hope you haven't gotten yourself killed, he thought irritably. Because he was fairly certain that nothing short of death would have kept Micah Grayson from keeping an appointment that he himself had set up.
He needed to see the county coroner before he made his way to Cold Plains, but a visit to Cold Plains was definitely in his immediate future.
Biting off a curse, Hawk let himself out of the room and closed the door behind him.
It seemed rather incredible to Carly Finn that the two times she made up her mind to finally, finally leave Cold Plains, something came up to stop her.
And not some mild, inconsequential "something" but a major, pull-outall-the-stops "something."
The first time she'd been ready to test her wings and fly, leaving this soul-draining speck of a town behind her and eagerly begin a fresh, new chapter of her life with the man she knew deep down in her soul she was meant to be with, her infinite sense of obligation as well as her neverending sense of responsibility to her family had added lead to her wings and grounded her with a bone-jarring thud.
The problem then was that her father had been a drunk, a dyed-in-the-wool, leave-no-drink-untouched, hopeless alcoholic, and while there were many menand womenwith that shortcoming who could be considered by the rest of the world to be functioning alcoholics, her father hadn't fallen into that category. He hadn't been even close to a functioning alcoholic, and she knew that if she left with Hawk, if she accompanied the man she loved so much that it hurt so he could follow his dreams, she would be abandoning not just her father but her baby sister to a very cruel, inevitable life of poverty and, eventually, to homelessness. The baby sister she had promised her dying mother to look after all those years ago.
So she knew that in all good conscience, she had to remain. And remain she did. She remained in order to run the family farm and somehow juggle a job as a waitress, as well, the latter she undertook in order to bring in some extra, much-needed money into the household.
She remained while sending Hawk Bledsoe on his way with a lie ringing in his ears.
There was no other choice. She knew that the only way she could get Hawk to leave Cold Plainsand herso that he could follow his dreams was to tell him that she didn't love him anymore. That she had actually never loved him and had decided that she just couldn't go on pretending anymore.
Because she knew that if she didn't, if she let him know how much she really loved him, Hawk would stay in Cold Plains with her. He would marry her, and eventually, he would become very bitter as he entertained thoughts of what "could have been but wasn't."
She couldn't do that to him. Couldn't allow him to do that to himself.
Loving someone meant making sacrifices. So she'd made the ultimate sacrifice: she'd lied to him and sent him on his way, while she had stayed behind to do what she had to do. And struggled not to die by inches with each passing day.
But the day finally came when she had had enough. When she had silently declared her independence, not just from the farm but from the town, which had become downright frightening in a short period. Cold Plains had gone from a deadend town to a sleek, picture-perfect one that had sold its soul to the devil.
She'd reached the conclusion that she had a right to live her own life. That went for Mia, the baby sister she had always doted on, as well.
She didn't even want to pack, content to leave everything behind just so that she and Mia could get a brand-new start. But she was in for a startling surprise. Somehow, while she was doing all that juggling to keep the farmand themafloat, Mia had grown up and formed opinions of her ownor rather, as it turned out, had them formed for her.
When she had told Mia that the day had finally come, that she'd had enough and that they were leaving Cold Plains for good, her beautiful, talented baby sister had knocked her for a loop by telling her flatly that she was staying.
It got worse.
Mia was not just staying, but she was "planning" on marrying Brice Carrington, a wealthy widower more than twice her age.
"But you don't love him," Carly had protested when she had finally recovered from the shock.
The expression on Mia's face had turned nasty. "Yes, I do," her sister had insisted. "Besides, how would you know if I did or didn't? You're always so busy working, you don't have time to notice anything. You certainly don't have any time for me. Not like Samuel does," she'd added proudly, with the air of one who had been singled out and smiled down upon by some higher power.
The accusation had stung, especially since the only reason she had been working so hard was to provide for Mia in the first place. But the sudden realization that while she'd been busy trying to make a life for them, trying to save money so that they could finally get away from here, her sister had been brainwashed.
There was no other term for it. What Samuel Gray-son did, with his silver tongue, his charm and his exceedingly handsome face was pull people into his growing circle of followers. Pull them in and mesmerize them with rhetoric. Make them believe that whatever he suggested they do was really their idea in the first place.
Why else would Mia believe that she was actually in love with a man who was old enough to be her father. Older. Brice Carrington was as bland as a bowl of unsalted, white rice. He was also, in the hierarchy of things, currently very high up in Samuel Grayson's social structure.
Maybe Brice represented the father they'd never really had, Carly guessed. Or maybe, since their dad was dead, Mia was looking for someone to serve as a substitute?
In any case, if Mia was supposed to marry Brice Carrington, it was because the match suited Grayson's grand plan.