Autumn Trent Series: Book Nine
Traps are meant to be deadly...will someone die in this one?
The pieces of FBI Special Agent Autumn Trent’s life are finally coming together. Her relationship with SSA Aiden Parrish is on solid footing, and she’s finally filed suit against her prior boss for sexual harassment and assault.
The only thing missing is her sister, the little girl who has haunted Autumn for so long. The siblings were forced apart in elementary school, but Autumn has never given up trying to find her.
Never did she dream she’d discover her like this.
Not only has Autumn’s long-lost sister surfaced in Florida, but she’s the primary suspect in a string of murders. Certain this may be her last chance to find her, Autumn rushes south, only to find that she’s vanished again.
But Sarah didn’t flee. She’s the bait in an elaborate trap, and Autumn is the prey. With her sister in danger, Autumn puts her trust in the one man who can destroy her...and the entire team.
Autumn’s Trap, the ninth book in Mary Stone’s Autumn Trent Series, is an exhilarating roller-coaster ride of a thriller right to the shocking finish.
read an excerpt
Tick. Tick. Tick.
The sound of the wall clock in Ms. Pasinski’s office seemed to thunder in Sarah Nichol’s ears while simultaneously grating on her nerves. She hated the ugly thing and everything else in this stupid building. The Department of…something dumb. A place with a long name where serious grown-ups spoke to her and her sister in those fake voices people used when talking to babies, telling them everything was going to be okay.
Sarah’s fists clenched at her side. Ms. Pasinski was lying. She had to be. Why else would Autumn be acting so weird?
She stole a glance at her half-sister, and a chill swept across her body. Autumn’s green eyes shimmered with tears, and they were so big. Big enough to see a white circle all the way around the green.
Brave, tough Autumn, who’d almost died when her mean dad—Sarah’s stepdad—had knocked her headfirst into the coffee table, was more scared in this office than Sarah had ever seen her. More scared even than when she had to get that big operation afterward where the doctor wrapped up her head like a mummy.
Scared enough for her to grab hold of Sarah’s own daddy and beg, “P-please, d-don’t leave me here.”
Even though her own hands were shaking, Sarah lifted her chin. Autumn was always the one trying to protect her, but it was now Sarah’s turn to keep her sister safe. She rushed forward and flung her arms around Autumn. “Daddy, tell her she can come with us!”
She squeezed her sibling with all the might her almost eight-year-old body could muster, trying to reassure Autumn that her daddy wasn’t like Jeffrey Nichol. Her daddy was a nice man, and he would never let the two of them be separated.
When the stupid clock kept ticking without her real father saying anything, Sarah turned toward him. Her heart sank when she spotted the tears in her daddy’s eyes.
Mommies and daddies only cried when something very bad happened.
Or when a bad thing was about to happen.
Sarah grabbed at her father’s shirt sleeve. “Daddy! Please! Tell Autumn that we won’t leave her here. Tell her that you’ll adopt her just like her dad adopted me, and we won’t be Nichols anymore. We’ll be Petzkes, just like you. Tell her, Daddy. Tell her!”
She held her breath, waiting for her daddy to speak up. Before, he’d been so sick that the police had taken her away from him and hadn’t even allowed her to visit. He’d been gone long enough that Sarah had started to believe she’d be stuck with her and Autumn’s mommy and Autumn’s horrible father for the rest of her life.
But Daddy was back now, and he was going to fix everything. She and Autumn would have a new home. A nice one where nobody yelled and hit them for talking too much or laughing too loud. A place where nobody cried.
She yanked his sleeve again, but all her daddy did was hang his head.
“Sarah.” Ms. Pasinski’s voice was gentle. “Right now, your father is only able to take you home with him. We have a very nice foster family picked out for Autumn, and I think she’ll be very happy there.”
A river of ice-cold rage flooded Sarah’s body. How dare Ms. Pasinski sit there with her stupid blonde hair in her stupid blue suit and try to act like she cared about what happened to either one of them?
“No!” Sarah banged a fist on the mean old woman’s desk. “She’s coming with us!”
Ms. Pasinski frowned and touched Sarah’s shoulder. “Oh, honey. I’m so sorry.”
Enraged, Sarah shook off the woman’s hand and banged her fist again, sending papers flying from the wicked witch’s desktop.
Daddy pulled her to his chest. “Baby, we can’t take Autumn with us today.”
Autumn began to sob, which only made Sarah angrier. “No!” She wriggled in her father’s arms and escaped. “She’s my sister! She doesn’t need a foster family. We’re her family!”
Sarah wrapped her arms around Autumn’s waist, locking her fingers together for good measure. She’d hit, kick, and bite anyone who tried to take her sister from her.
Autumn shuddered and squeezed her back before gently pulling away. She placed her hands on Sarah’s shoulders. “It’s okay. It’s just for a little while. Time will go by so fast that you won’t even notice. Then I’ll be with you again. Promise.”
Sarah scowled. Now Autumn was lying to her too. “That’s what my daddy said before he left, and he ended up being gone for so long that I thought he was never coming back.” She grabbed hold of Autumn’s shirt. “I’m not letting go of you. No one can make me!”
Daddy patted her shoulder. “I’m going to do everything I can to bring Autumn to live with us. I promise both of you. You’ll be together again. Soon.” His voice sounded sad as he pried Sarah’s hands off Autumn, who let out a mournful cry and squeezed Sarah so tightly she lost her breath.
“Soon.” Autumn’s chin trembled, and tears poured down her cheeks. “I love you, and we’ll be together soon.”
Daddy scooped Sarah into his arms, and she shrieked as he carried her from the room. “Nooo! I need you! I need my sister!”
“That’s right, bitch. Give me what I need.” A deep growl yanked her back to the present, to the stranger rutting over her.
Sarah’s entire body ached. She longed for this to be over so she could return home and sleep. This John was paying her good money up front, but he’d exhausted her to the point where she could barely utter a soft “oh, baby,” or even a phony, “yes,” to keep him entertained.
The springs in the cheap motel mattress squeaked in a monotonous rhythm. They’d been going at it for hours, and this guy was beginning to creep her out. There was an ever-growing aggression in his behavior. Not fetish aggressive. That kind of kink didn’t bother her.
This was different. This client was starting to act as though he genuinely despised her even as she gave him the paid-for pleasure. She couldn’t shake the feeling that he was imagining someone else beneath him. Someone who had pissed him off.
A hard slap to her ass made Sarah bite back a yelp. They hadn’t discussed this type of rough play beforehand. It cost extra, and she resented the liberties her clients assumed they could take simply because she was a prostitute, as if somehow, that made her less of a person.
Sarah winced as her companion raked his fingernails down her back, tearing into her flesh. This John was really starting to piss her off. Scratches and scars were bad for business.
His grunts filled her ears, and the room stank of sex. She had to find a better job. Strip clubs were a popular venue nationwide, and Tallahassee couldn’t be an exception to that. Sarah hadn’t necessarily wanted to enter any computer system as an employee after finding out someone had been searching for her at her old trailer park, but she’d picked a new name now.
Cara Nicholson was a nobody.
All she had to do was fudge her way past the whole social security number mess. A blow job or two should be enough to handle that tiny detail. She’d get hired because she was pretty, and pretty made money.
Maybe she was a little too skinny right now, but that was nothing that a few weeks of McDonald’s cheeseburgers couldn’t round out. Plus, she didn’t have rotten teeth or crocodile skin. She stayed away from meth and other heavy-duty drugs that ate so many working girls up like cancer.
She was a decent find for any strip club owner, and the benefits of having a real job with rules and limits as to what a man could do to her were huge. All it took was one night with an aggressive jackass like this guy to remind her of just how vital those safety measures could be.
“You’re so good, baby.” Optimism over her upcoming change of occupation gave her renewed energy to play the part. “You’re the best. A real stud.”
Satisfied grunts were her reply.
The mattress squeaked. The man sweat. Sarah slipped away again, recalling the first time she’d been paid for sex. Sixteen years old, but she’d appeared much older. By that point, her dad had been in and out of rehab more than once. Enough times that she’d given up all hope on his ability to ever return to sobriety.
That last time he’d fallen off the wagon, she’d left. She’d intended to start waitressing somewhere. Make just enough money to afford a pay-by-the-week motel room while she figured out a better plan.
Within the first week of job hunting and sleeping on park benches, she’d been approached by a man who promised her a much better money-making opportunity. She could bank some major cash just for sleeping with a dude a few times a week. This kind man assured her that the job came with an apartment.
He’d failed to mention the other thirteen girls who lived there or the fact that she’d be lucky to find a sleeping bag on the filthy floor to use during the hours when she wasn’t hooking.
She’d cried after the first time, to the point where she’d nearly made herself sick. One of the girls who lived in that apartment had told her to focus on the money. Girls like them couldn’t make money like that doing anything else.
“We work with what we’ve got.” She’d gyrated her hips in a suggestive circle, winking at Sarah.
That night, the same girl had offered Sarah her very first line of coke.
Cocaine kept Sarah going through her daily appointments and allowed her to make a decent income. In turn, the money she made from hours spent with strange men ensured her drug addiction stayed well-fed.
At twenty-two, she’d attempted to get clean. She’d searched for Autumn, thinking that maybe they could start over. After all, what had happened to them as children wasn’t their fault. Neither of them could have been expected to go forward making wise choices.
Sarah’s fingers dug into the sheet as familiar bitterness filled her mouth. Because, unlike her, Autumn had made all the right decisions.
Sarah’s father had never bothered to go through the process of reclaiming his legal paternity over her or even bothered to change her last name to his. Sarah’s surname was still Nichols, but Autumn’s was not. Her adoptive parents had cared enough to give her their last name.
It had taken awhile for Sarah to discover that much, and when she’d performed the internet search, she’d discovered her sister was enrolled at VCU in Richmond. The few photos that Google provided informed Sarah that her big sister was healthy. Happy. Beautiful.
Autumn had changed her hair to a vibrant red instead of the blonde that had been their mother’s exact shade. Had that made it easier to forget she had a sister?
The natural joy that had sprung to life in Sarah’s chest was bludgeoned by jet-black bitterness a moment later.
Autumn had abandoned her and gone on to live a great life while Sarah spread her legs for strangers just to stay off the streets. The stark contrast of those two truths twisted an unbearable knife in her gut.
She’d gone straight back to the coke, and there was only one way to support that habit.
“We work with what we’ve got.”
“Aaah!” Sarah yelped as the John clamped down on her lip with his teeth, immediately drawing blood and filling her mouth with the metallic liquid. She didn’t even remember flipping onto her back again, but here she was, staring into blue eyes filled with delight.
He released her lip, licking her blood and breaking into a menacing smile. “That’s the stuff. Let’s have some more of that.” He dove toward her ear, latching onto the lobe and sinking his teeth into the soft flesh.
Pain flared in that spot. Sarah wanted to yank away but feared her ear would rip off in this psycho’s mouth. Terror pinned her to the bed as she thought of the three prostitutes who’d been killed not that long ago.
Was she next?
“Mm.” There was a deep satisfaction in her client’s raspy whisper. “I wanna make you bleed all over, baby.”
The hairs lifted on the back of her neck.
He’s not just an aggressive asshole. He’s demented. And he’s going to tear you to shreds if you don’t get the hell out of here fast.
Adrenaline pumped through her veins. The split second she sensed an opening, Sarah shoved the man backward, writhing out from beneath him and leaping to her feet. She made it one step before he caught a handful of her hair and yanked her back onto the bed.
Kicking, hitting, and clawing at whatever body parts she could reach, Sarah’s panic surged as the John trapped her with his body weight. He laughed in her face, spit droplets flying as maniacal glee lit his eyes.
“Let me go, and we’ll forget this ever happened.”
The man’s laughter only grew louder. “Oh, I don’t think so. I have plans for you, my pet.”
She tried to knee him in the groin, and he responded by backhanding her across the cheek. Her vision blurred into twinkling stars.
A second backhand sent pain exploding along her jaw and nearly knocked her unconscious.
If you pass out now, you might never wake up again.
The man yanked her arms above her head, forcing her wrists together and wrapped something round and round.
Duct tape. He’s duct taping you. You’re going to die.
She jerked her knee up again, this time catching him in his stomach. His furious yell echoed in her ears, but much more unsettling was the sadistic laughter that followed.
Ice slithered down her back. The sick bastard was enjoying her struggle.
Frantic now, she tried to roll off the bed. “Is that how you wanna play, whore?” Rancid breath filled her nostrils as he hovered over her, and Sarah labored for oxygen as a fresh stretch of duct tape was placed across her mouth.
As a sense of helplessness washed over her, Sarah was aware that there wasn’t much in her day-to-day existence to continue living for, but she’d at least hoped her life would end someday in a quiet manner. This wasn’t the way she’d wanted to go.
Still, as black spots danced in front of her eyes, her only true regret was never getting the chance to reunite with her sister.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Autumn’s string-bean legs stretched out as she pumped her swing higher and higher. “I think I wanna be an astronaut and fly through space in a rocket ship!”
Sarah giggled as her sister flung her head back, blonde hair soaring behind her as though she truly were jetting through the cosmos. Sarah didn’t know exactly what she wanted to be. She was only six, and the choice seemed like a pretty big deal.
Yet she could dream.
“I wanna have a giant house full of cats and dogs. I’ll adopt every kitty or puppy that doesn’t have a home, and they’ll each get their own bedroom, and they won’t ever be lonely. I’ll keep them safe inside, so they don’t ever get hit by a car or yelled at by mean people.”
Autumn laughed. “That house sounds like a castle. Do I get a room too?”
Sarah couldn’t believe her sister was even asking. “Duh. We’ll share a room so we can still cuddle at night when I get scared.”
Her sister nodded in approval. “I think when we grow up, we aren’t going to be scared of anything ever again. We’re gonna be tough.”
“Tough sisters!” Sarah let the words out like a war cry and threw a happy fist in the air.
When they grew up, they were going to have the greatest adventures together. She just knew it.
A brutal slap to the cheek returned Sarah to the nightmare of her grown-up life.
“You look at me, whore.” The John’s voice was as cold and dead as her childhood dreams.
Sarah managed to pick out his hazy face through swollen, half-opened eyes.
He wrapped his hands around her throat, digging his fingers into the skin until she started to gasp for air. “You should know, Sarah, that this is all your sister’s fault.” His grip tightened.
The dark spots floating in the air multiplied as she fought to suck oxygen into her lungs. Surely, she’d heard him wrong. She’d told him her name was Cara…and how could he possibly know that she had a sister?
His smile widened. Though her vision was blurring more by the second, she could just make out a bright red drop of blood still clinging to the corner of his lips. “Remember, Autumn did this to you.”
Dizziness and shock spiraled through her head. Autumn. He knew her sister’s name.
With her lungs on fire, Sarah gasped and gasped, to no avail. The lunatic was going to choke her to death.
As blackness reared up to claim her, she succumbed with his mocking voice still ringing in her head.
Autumn did this to you.
Special Agent Autumn Trent’s heart soared as her fellow agent, Bree Stafford, announced the latest development in her private life.
The wide smile on Agent Stafford’s face indicated how over the moon she was about her wife’s pregnancy and the upcoming addition to her family. The joy she radiated brightened the sterile hallway.
The interior of Richmond’s Behavioral Analysis Unit wasn’t a typical venue for sharing birth announcements. Working as an FBI agent in their field meant spending a lot of time buried in assignments, many of which put them in harm’s way. As a result, childrearing often got shoved to the backburner. If an agent decided to risk having kids at all.
“That’s amazing news.” Fighting off a tiny pang of envy, Autumn pulled the much taller and more seasoned agent into a bear hug. It didn’t seem like all that long ago that Autumn was serving up beers behind the bar at The Lyft and making small talk with Shelby, who was engaged to Bree at the time.
If it weren’t for that job at her aunt’s business and for Shelby’s friendliness, Autumn might have never ended up in the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. She’d been in grad school, earning her Ph.D. in forensic psychology while simultaneously minoring in criminal justice. When she was awarded a Juris Doctorate and the official title of Dr. Autumn Trent, her career path had appeared clear.
Enter the small circle of federal agents who used The Lyft as something of a local watering hole, and the entire course of her life, let alone her career, had taken some swift and unexpected turns.
Beside her, Supervisory Special Agent Aiden Parrish stepped forward to offer Bree a congratulatory handshake. “You and Shelby deserve all of the happiness in the world.”
As she absorbed the genuine delight on her boss’s face, Autumn’s own smile turned strained. She agreed with the sentiment. That wasn’t what was causing the pang of uneasiness in her gut, though. The issue arose from the fact that Aiden was also her boyfriend now.
What if his enthusiasm over Bree’s impending motherhood indicated his own longing to become a father one day? Always in the back of Autumn’s mind was the condition she’d been diagnosed with—endometriosis—and the fact that it meant conceiving and carrying a child naturally might never happen for her.
She wasn’t one-hundred-percent certain that she wanted to have children. Not after the childhood she’d endured. Helping others who were suffering was her number one priority in life, and it didn’t exactly leave gobs of time for raising a family of her own.
Autumn had no idea how Aiden felt about children. She also in no way believed it her duty to someday provide him with any. However, if their relationship continued to progress, it seemed only fair to have a discussion about her possible limitations.
Aiden turned toward her as Bree headed off to share her news with more of the team. “Noah and Winter are engaged. Bree and Shelby are expecting. Doesn’t exactly erase the Skinner case from one’s mind, but it’s a nice change of pace.”
Autumn nodded. Four days ago, they’d been in Dearborn, Connecticut, hunting down a kidnapper with a score to settle. The man had lost his son due to a secret ring of debauchery amongst Dearborn’s wealthy citizens, and he’d abducted five of the town’s teenagers as part of his plot for revenge.
A shiver skated across her skin. Their team had succeeded in rescuing four of the victims, but they hadn’t been able to save the fifth. The teen had been brutally murdered—on video—and that imagery wouldn’t fade from Autumn’s psyche anytime soon.
We were able to save Philip’s niece, at least. That’s something.
Since she considered Dr. Philip Baldwin a friend, finding the girl alive had been a monumental relief. Yet that victory didn’t allay the sting of failing the slain victim’s family.
Shaking off the memory, Autumn arched an eyebrow at Aiden. “I’d say there’ve been a few pleasant developments since our return to Richmond.”
Aiden’s cheeks flushed an infinitesimal bit. “Indeed.” The corners of his mouth turned up as he skimmed his hand across the small of her back before regaining his usual stoic expression and striding toward his office.
When they weren’t tending to paperwork at the Bureau, Autumn and Aiden spent a significant amount of time solidifying their relationship and intentions toward each other. Less with words. More with actions.
At times, lots and lots of actions.
Despite not devoting hours on end to dissecting their relationship status, there was no more lingering doubt or confusion about where they stood.
Their affections were mutual with a capital “M.”
“Look at that, Trent. The pieces of your personal life are finally coming together,” Autumn murmured to her empty office.
Just recently, she’d conquered another personal milestone by finally filing suit against Adam Latham for his sexual harassment and assault during a past case in Oregon involving foster children. The legal wheels were in motion, and eventually, justice would be served.
Jumping at her phone’s sudden peal, Autumn’s breath caught in her throat at the sight of Jackie’s name flashing across the screen. She grabbed the phone and beelined out of the BAU office, heading down the hall at a swift pace as she answered the call. “Detective Cohen? How can I help you?”
A deep sigh carried across the line. “Well, Agent Trent, it’s not so much me that I’m hoping you can help. It’s your sister.” Jackie’s tone was grave.
“They found her?” Autumn’s heartbeat thudded in her ears.
Sarah. Her little sister was the last missing piece to completing Autumn’s contentment. She hadn’t seen Sarah since they were forced apart in elementary school, but she’d never given up trying to find her.
Just last week, Autumn had received a message from Detective Cohen, providing her with a disturbing update about her sister.
I’m sorry to tell you that Sarah Nichol is still nowhere to be found, but the prostitute that I mentioned in our last phone call, Cara Nicholson, has been very active. Cara is no longer wanted just for questioning but is an official suspect in the murders of five “customers,” all of whom were found dead after last being seen in her company. The Tallahassee Police have issued a warrant for Cara’s arrest, and while I can’t officially confirm that Sarah is Cara…I’m almost positive she is.
I’ve attached a photo that one of her colleagues gave to local law enforcement. The woman in the picture looks so much like you…I’m so sorry, Autumn. “Cara” should be in custody within the week. I’ll keep you informed.
That had been five days ago, well within the week Jackie had promised. Holding her breath, Autumn prayed that the Florida detective she’d hired to assist her with that goal was calling to share good news. Though Jackie was a major crimes detective in the Criminal Investigation’s Department of the Lavender Lake Sheriff’s Office, she’d been working Sarah’s case on her days off with the diligence of a bloodhound. Autumn couldn’t be more thankful for the dedicated woman’s assistance. If Jackie ever decided to apply for the FBI, Autumn would be the first to write a letter of recommendation.
“No, they haven’t found her.”
Autumn’s heart sank. Dammit. She’d come so close to finding Sarah before, only to spook her sister into running and disappearing once more. Since Sarah was last spotted near Lavender Lake, Florida, neither Jackie Cohen nor Autumn had managed to uncover the tiniest clue as to her whereabouts.
Up until about a month ago, anyway. That was when a prostitute in Tallahassee by the name of Cara Nicholson popped onto law enforcement’s radar as a person of interest when three of her customers were found murdered.
When that number jumped to five, Cara became an official murder suspect. Jackie had emailed Autumn a picture of this “Cara Nicholson.” There was no doubt in Autumn’s mind that Cara was her sister, Sarah. Jackie had further relayed that the Tallahassee police would be bringing Cara into custody as soon as possible.
Detective Cohen cleared her throat. “Police went to the loft apartment shared by Cara Nicholson and five of her colleagues to serve the arrest warrant, but she wasn’t there. None of the women had seen her since last Wednesday in the early morning hours when she left with a man who’d presumably solicited her for sex.”
Autumn bit her lip, staving off tears of exhaustion. She didn’t possess the exact details of how Sarah’s life had spiraled down into sex work and stripping, but Autumn did carry the daily guilt of being adopted by a kind, older couple into a loving home when she was thirteen.
Swallowing the lump in her throat, she forced herself to focus and did the math again. “That’s almost five days. No one has seen Sarah for five days? Did they see the man she left with? The car?”
“It was nighttime.” Jackie sounded almost apologetic. “None of them got a good look at the John, and the best description they could give of the vehicle was that it was black.”
Frustration filled Autumn’s chest. “Four doors? Two?”
“You would hope they’d remember, and maybe some of them are just covering for Cara.” Jackie’s long pause held the obvious promise of an impending letdown. “But most of those girls are high on something while they’re working and even more so when they’re not. It’s a tough profession that usually comes with a lot of coping mechanisms and addiction problems.”
Jackie was right. Prostitution wreaked ruthless havoc on the average sex worker’s emotional health. Alcohol and drugs softened the ugly realities of daily life, and in doing so, made prisoners of souls who might have otherwise broken free from the lifestyle.
She’d often wondered if that was the exact trap Sarah had fallen into.
“So now…” Autumn let the sentence trail off.
“Now,” Jackie’s voice was edged with determination, “the hunt is on for Cara, whom I believe is most definitely Sarah. You need to understand that law enforcement in these parts are convinced that your sister has killed all five of these men. The Chief of Police, Gemma Lowe, is expecting the sixth body to be found any day now. She thinks Cara is on the run.”
Autumn placed a hand across her forehead as the other held her phone tight to her ear. “So much for ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ huh?”
Jackie emitted another long sigh. “They have camera footage of Sarah leaving with all five of the murdered men on the nights before each of their bodies were found. Of course, she can’t be tried and convicted before they’ve even arrested her, and the fact that she may not have killed anyone is a possibility that no one can rule out just yet. As a federal agent, you surely recognize the reasoning behind their suspicions?”
“I do.” Autumn envisioned her tiny sister snuggling under the blankets at nighttime. “And as her sister, I’m going to hold on to hope that Sarah didn’t kill five men. Unless they found footage of the actual murders.” She crossed her fingers. “I’m assuming they didn’t.”
“Nope.” The clicking of Jackie’s keyboard accompanied her words. “I’m sending you everything I’ve gathered from Tallahassee PD on the victims as well as the videos, but I’m urging you to come to Florida yourself. If your sister catches wind that you’re in the area searching for her, she might consider turning herself in to us. Whether she hurt those men or not, you could help clear the matter up before the hunt for Cara Nicholson takes any uglier turns.”
Considering the stakes, there was no question in Autumn’s mind as to what she should do. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.” A thought occurred to her. “Did your officers find my sister’s tooth or hairbrush in the apartment she shared with the girls?”
More clicking of a keyboard. “I like where you’re going with this. Would you be willing to do a DNA comparison to see if Cara is in fact Sarah?”
That’s why I brought it up.
Autumn squelched the sarcastic thought. Jackie was only trying to help. “Yes. Though I’m sure this woman is my sister, I’m sure you’d like the proof.”
“Excellent.” There was more than a little relief in Jackie’s voice. “I’ll get to work on obtaining a sample, if that’s possible. Just remember that it could take days or even weeks before we’ll get the results.”
A sudden notion occurred to Autumn like a beacon of light across dark waters. “Cameras caught all five men leaving with Sarah, and their bodies were found the next day. But the sixth customer, the one who hasn’t been found yet…is there footage of him as well? You said her colleagues had been questioned about his appearance.”
Jackie didn’t miss a beat. “That corner wasn’t covered by any working surveillance cameras, so I’ve been mulling that over myself. Five days with no body and zero footage of the solicitation is a big change from the overnight shop and drops of the other men. You need to get that giant brain of yours down here asap.”
As the call ended, Autumn squeezed her eyes shut and slouched against the wall, allowing the multitude of inner turmoil she normally kept quiet to run rampant in her brain.
Sarah. How have I not found you yet?
How had two sisters practically sewn together by their love and devotion to one another end up in such drastically separate universes?
Beyond their career choices, there was an additional way in which their paths had greatly differed. One that Sarah hadn’t the slightest clue about. After her brain surgery, Autumn had woken with an odd sixth sense that was supposed to be scientifically impossible.
Ever since that day, she’d possessed the ability to glean a person’s emotional state simply from a touch of her hand. She’d despised the change at first. Feared it, even. The burden of taking on another human being’s emotions was no small task, especially for an eleven-year-old child.
In her early adult life, however, she’d encountered a certain high-stakes situation that showed her how she could use her special power for good. Going forward, the gift had helped solve more than one FBI case she’d encountered with Richmond’s Behavioral Analysis Unit.
But it hadn’t enabled her to locate her sister.
With a weary sigh, Autumn straightened from the wall. So far, she’d kept all this developing information about Sarah to herself, but the time had come to share what she knew with Aiden. With the entire team.
Yes, some or maybe all of her coworkers would assume Sarah was the killer. While she didn’t like the idea of that theory circulating throughout the field office, what mattered more was enlisting all possible assistance in finding her sibling.
Innocent or not, Sarah Nichol needed her big sister now more than ever.
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