SHadow's Captive

Shadow Island Series: Book Two

Want a puppy, little girl?


Former FBI agent Rebecca West came to Shadow Island to relax and clear her head, not step into a dead sheriff’s long worn shoes. Here she is, though, Interim Sheriff over a small department grieving for their boss and friend.

But not for long.

Before she can resign from the unwanted position, a little girl goes missing. On vacation with her parents, the eight-year-old was last seen outside her family’s vacation rental drawing on the sidewalk with a box of chalk.

Now she’s gone.

Did the girl wander off and get lost or maybe pulled out by the tide? Was she lured away? Or has she become the victim of something more sinister on Shadow Island, where a darkness simmers just below the paradisiacal surface?

When Rebecca discovers two similar abductions nearby within the week, she fears the worst. With a lot of ground to cover, few deputies to help, and the events surrounding Sheriff Wallace’s death haunting them all, can Rebecca and her team find the young girls before it’s too late?

From the gripping beginning to the startling conclusion, Shadow’s Captive—the second book in the Shadow Island Series by Mary Stone and Lori Rhodes—will ensure you always know where your children are.

more from this series

Shadow's Secret by Mary Stone
Shadow's Captive by Mary Stone
Shadow's Deadline by Mary Stone

read an excerpt

Chapter One

Today was going to be the best day of her life. Sylvie just knew it. Even if it was starting off to be a snoozefest of epic proportions.

Heavenly girth on an onion slice, not too many pickles, and not precise.”

In spite of how annoyed she was at the delay of the best day of her life, Sylvie giggled as her dad’s voice rumbled from the kitchen. Dad was real good at a lot of things, like building sandcastles and playing monsters so she could stomp them flat. But “he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.” At least, that’s what Sylvie’s momma always said.

Even at eight years and ten months old, she knew her dad was singing “Cheeseburger in Paradise” all wrong. How did she know? ’Cause he played it over and over and over in the car whenever they drove to the beach, and he hadn’t stopped belting it out at random ever since.

He’d done it different enough each time that she was pretty sure he didn’t even try to remember the words. With the way he and Momma would crack up as he messed them up, however, she was pretty sure he was doing it on purpose.

Dad was standing at the stove—now that he’d finally woken up—scrambling some eggs while drinking his first cup of coffee. Sylvie had been up for hours already. There was a whole beach out there waiting for them, and her parents had decided to sleep in? Didn’t they know that vacation time was all about having fun?

Where was the fun in staying in bed after the sun came up? There were waves to chase and pretty shells to put in her special glass jar. The ocean was just a few streets away. And where was she?

Stuck here…waiting in agony.

It was awful. She’d waited all winter long and the whole spring too. She’d even waited ’til school let out for the year. Now she had to wait some more for her dad to have his breakfast.

Shnookerdookies!

Smiling as she thought of her favorite curse word, Sylvie took in a long breath, knowing she shouldn’t really complain. Being here might not have happened at all. She’d heard her parents talk about something called a “budget” and how a trip would “blow their budget to smithereens.”

She hadn’t known what that meant, but from the tone of their voices, Sylvie knew it wasn’t good.

Then things had gotten better, and Sylvie had been so excited when Dad told her the thrilling news. They were going on this trip because he’d gotten paid from “overtime.” She didn’t know where “overtime” was located or what kind of job it was, but apparently it paid more than using his blowtorch to weld stuff. It also made him work longer hours, and it had been forever since they’d been able to spend any real time together.

Totally worth it!

She’d spent the last two days, the whole time, hanging out and playing with him and Momma. It had been the best two days of her life.

They’d eaten sandwiches and ice cream, splashed in the water, chased seagulls, and played in the sand. They’d had so much time together that she’d gotten to tell him all about her friends. She’d fallen asleep on the couch last night watching movies but woke up in her bed this morning.

Now, she was eager to do it all again.

Sylvie’s eyes had popped open as soon as the sun lit up her window, ready to start another day of fun and adventures. She’d thrown on her favorite swimsuit, even though it was still a little damp from the day before. It had been a struggle to put on, but Sylvie wasn’t going to wait for Momma to wake up.

She figured the sooner she got ready, the less there’d be for Momma to do, so they could get out of the little rental in a flash. Momma wouldn’t have to worry about gathering Sylvie’s toys and other beach stuff, because Sylvie wanted to prove how grown-up she was and do it herself.

Using a pink scrunchie, she’d brushed her hair back into a high ponytail that was only a little crooked. She’d even dug through the big rainbow-striped bag and found the sunscreen Momma had insisted she wear on every inch of her skin. It was hard. Not as hard as putting on a wet swimsuit, but she managed to do it all on her own. After all, she was a big girl now.

So big that I can go to the beach by myself?

“Just because we’re on vacation doesn’t mean the rules don’t apply anymore.” Momma was always talking about the rules.

But then Dad had bought her a candy apple before their pizza dinner. So maybe some rules didn’t apply when the sand was so near.

It was so tempting, but nope. She’d already been lectured a billion times to “never, ever leave the yard by herself.”

Which was why she was sitting there in total agony, waiting.

Turning to see the big clock on the bedroom wall, Sylvie struggled to read the dang thing. Why couldn’t the world just accept that life was digital and stop with the old stuff already?

Little hand on the ten and big hand on the six. Ten thirty.

Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

That meant the day was practically gone.

Tiptoeing down the short hall, Sylvie peeked into her parents’ bedroom again. Momma was still sleeping. It made Sylvie want to scream.

She didn’t, of course, because she was “the best daughter in the whole wide world” and didn’t want to lose the rep. But really?

Tiptoeing back to the kitchen, Sylvie watched her dad still cooking at the stove. Couldn’t he just have cereal and juice like she did hours ago?

Plus, he wasn’t even ready. For some reason, he had put on normal clothes instead of his beach stuff. He had on a t-shirt and his shorts with all the pockets, which was what he wore back home every day. That just didn’t make any sense to Sylvie.

Maybe all the sun had shrunk their brains?

Tired of waiting for her parents to realize what a beautiful day it was, Sylvie wandered over to the box of toys and started digging. This wasn’t her toy box from home. She’d peeked inside when they’d first arrived but had been too busy having fun to investigate it more fully.

It had to have something good inside, she reasoned.

She found dolls and cars and trucks and coloring books with most of the pages scribbled on. None of those looked interesting, though. Those were inside toys, for when the rain came or for at night when it was too scary to play in the ocean. After just a few more moments of digging, Sylvie found the perfect toy to pass the time.

Clutching the prize, she turned and raced into the kitchen. “Dad, I’m gonna go decorate the sidewalk.”

“You’re going to what?” Her father stopped singing and looked away from the skillet. She showed him the box of sidewalk chalk she’d found. Thankfully, he nodded and waved his egg-caked spatula at the window over the sink. “Oh, okay, baby girl. Just make sure you stay in front of the house where I can see you. Once I’m done eating and get cleaned up, we can go down to the beach and let your momma sleep in some more.”

Sylvie nodded, grabbed her treasure, and finally ran into the sunshine. Being stuck inside all day was nearly as bad as being at school. The sun was up, but it wasn’t too hot yet. It was the perfect time to play in the yard. And unlike their house, this one had a pale gray sidewalk that would be perfect to draw on.

In short order, she was sprawled on her belly, doing her best to draw that cheeseburger from paradise Dad kept singing about. Hopefully, he would see it and remember the rest of the words to the song. She colored the orange cheese and green lettuce.

She was fully caught up in drawing her purple hamburger bun when a little whimper caught her attention. The soft noise sent a jolt up her spine. The neighborhood had been quiet all morning long, except for the seagulls. Looking up, she caught sight of something even better than a beach full of pretty shells.

A fluffy, golden-furred puppy was heading down the sidewalk toward her. His tiny ears bobbed with each step. He was sniffing along the ground at the edge of the sidewalk. Sylvie had to clap both hands over her mouth to contain her squeal of excitement.

Momma said puppies didn’t like to be squealed at. Puppies were baby dogs, so she had to be nice and gentle with them so she wouldn’t scare or hurt the sweet little balls of fur.

With slow and careful movements, Sylvie stood and made her way over to where the puppy was, just a few houses down. As she got close, the puppy noticed her. His tail wagged as he trotted up.

Tucking one chalk piece into the swimsuit strap on her shoulder, Sylvie bent over and held her hand out flat, just like she’d been taught. The little fluff ball inspected it for a moment, giving her a few sniffs. She couldn’t hold back her squeal of happiness as he started licking her toes.

Setting another piece of chalk down on the sidewalk, she stroked his soft fur. “What are you doing out here, little puppy? Where’s your momma?” Sylvie glanced around but didn’t see any other dogs in the area. There was just an old ugly van parked down the street, but that was it. There weren’t even any other people around.

Everyone was probably at the beach already.

Maybe the reason I’m not at the beach right now too is because I’m supposed to save this puppy.

As the thought took hold, Sylvie gathered the dog up into her arms and giggled as the little guy gave her kisses all over her cheeks. “I can’t just leave you here on your own. You’re just a baby dog.” He wasn’t wearing a collar, and every pet that had an owner wore a collar, she knew. That meant he wasn’t anyone’s pet yet, right?

A wonderful idea took hold of Sylvie’s mind. Yes!

“Maybe if I take you back with me, Momma will let me keep you.” Sylvie was, after all, only one year and two months away from her tenth birthday, so she knew she was old enough to have a puppy of her very own. Struggling to keep her grip on the wiggly body, which was heavier than she’d expected, Sylvie turned and headed back toward their little rental house.

Now she needed to come up with some good arguments to convince her parents to let her keep this precious puppy. He clearly already loved her because he kept licking her while wagging his tail.

“If Daddy keeps working at Overtime, I could at least have you to play with me. And if he doesn’t, then we can all play together! Are you hungry, baby? Dad’s making eggs. Do you like eggs?”

“Goldie! Where’d you go, boy? Goldie.”

Sylvie froze in front of the neighbor’s house. With wide, guilty eyes, she stared down at the golden puppy in her arms. He started writhing as if trying to get away.

Oh no.

“Excuse me, little girl, have you seen a golden retriever puppy around here?”

Her head hanging low with embarrassment, and feeling ashamed for taking something that wasn’t hers, Sylvie turned to show the man what she was holding.

“I’m sorry, mister.” She realized she was whispering and raised her voice so he could hear her from so far away. “I…I thought he was lost.” Sylvie snuggled into the soft fur under her chin, not ready to say goodbye. “I was gonna take him home to Momma to see what I should do.”

The man laughed, but not in a mean way. He was tall and bald, and with his back to the sun, Sylvie couldn’t get a good look at his face.

“Oh, he was for a minute there. Thankfully, you were able to find him for me. Can you bring him back, please? I need to take him and the rest of his littermates down to the surf shop. I’m giving them away.”

That perked Sylvie up, and she lifted her head. He was giving them away? Maybe she could keep him after all. Still holding the puppy, she walked back down the sidewalk. He was across the street, waiting by the ugly old van she’d seen earlier. It wasn’t the first time she’d seen the van. Was he one of the neighbors or a visitor like her?

“You’re giving them away? Does that mean for free?”

The man opened the long, rolling passenger door and gestured inside. “Yep, my old bitch, Tammy, had a whole litter.”

Sylvie gaped at the man, shocked at how easily the bad word had rolled out of his mouth. It wasn’t a really, really bad word, though. Female dogs were called bitches, or so Dad said.

“How many do you have?”

The nice man smiled. “Too many to keep.” He chuckled. “There are so many of them, it’s hard to get them all in at the same time. That’s how that little rascal got away.”

Yips and barks came from the back of the van, and Sylvie’s excitement grew. “I love puppies.”

The nice man patted the side of the van. “Would you like to see them?”

Sylvie couldn’t contain her laughter. “Yes, please!”

She knew she wasn’t supposed to cross the street on her own, but she also knew her momma would be proud of her for returning the puppy to his owner. Maybe even proud enough to allow her to keep one of them.

After looking both ways, up and down the street like she’d been taught, she scampered across. The black road was hot on her feet, so she ran as fast as she could. If she could be quiet and fast, Dad wouldn’t even know she’d left the yard.

She barely even looked at the man. He was busy unfolding a blanket and not paying her any attention at all. Rushing to the open door, she peered inside.

It was the weirdest van Sylvie had ever seen. There were no seats in the back, and a black wall blocked off the front seats. Even stranger, all of the windows were coated with something like black paint, so no light came in. It was dark, and Sylvie struggled to see after being out in the sun for so long.

There was some kind of fabric, like the blanket the man was holding, crumpled up on the floor with a small black rectangle on it. It was smaller than a phone, and she could hear the sounds of puppies coming from it.

That was weird.

The pile of cloth didn’t seem big enough to hide a pack of puppies, though. Leaning in while trying not to squish Goldie, she peered into the back to see if they were hiding there.

“It’s okay, puppies. I brought your brother back.” She did her best to whistle, but it didn’t work quite right.

Before she could get any of the puppies to come out of hiding, a black cloth came down and covered her head. Arms wrapped around her sides, pinning her arms down, squishing her and the puppy. He let out a squeak. She was jerked off her feet and into the air. Before she could do anything, or even think, a hand clamped down over her mouth.

Goldie yelped and kicked, trying to get free. She tried to un-squish him but couldn’t push away the one arm that was still holding them both so tight.

Like a flash of lightning, Sylvie became terrified. Her high-pitched whimper joined the puppy’s. It was dark inside the blanket, and she didn’t like it. She tried to kick and wriggle, but she was completely tangled up in the heavy fabric and could barely move. All the sounds were muffled, like when Momma and Dad shut their bedroom door to talk. Still trapped in the arms of the tall, bald stranger, she was shoved into the van. She grew even more scared when she heard the van door slam shut.

She was in the van with the man. Alone. This was bad.

Momma and Dad had always told her to never get into a car with a stranger. She was going to get in so much trouble.

She felt a sting in her arm. It was the same kind of pinch from shots at the doctor’s office. Sylvie started to cry into the fabric still being pressed to her mouth. She couldn’t breathe and soon felt dizzy, like after she’d spun around too many times playing helicopter.

Momma! Dad! Help me!

Those were the words Sylvie’s mind screamed, but the sounds coming from her mouth were nothing but moans.

Goldie still kicked and whimpered, but Sylvie could barely feel him as her eyelids grew heavy. Had he gotten wrapped up in the blanket too? Was that why he felt funny in her arms? She had to get home. Dad was going to be so mad. He’d never let her keep the puppy now.

The last thing Sylvie felt before her world turned black was the puppy licking the tears off her cheeks.

Chapter Two

Rebecca West sat behind the desk in the back of the Shadow Island Sheriff’s Department and tucked a loose strand of blond hair back into her ponytail. It wasn’t her desk, and tomorrow she’d make that official.

The desk belonged to Sheriff Alden Wallace. He was only sixty-seven when he’d died on Tuesday.

Five days. Seems like a lifetime.

Although she didn’t know the deputies of the small department well, Rebecca felt it was the least she could do to hold down the fort while the men and women of Shadow Island grieved the loss of their sheriff, who was more than just their boss. He was a father figure.

Such a tragic loss. More wasted life.

Everywhere I go, people die.

Guilt threatened to overtake Rebecca as the events of that fateful evening played on repeat in her mind. Wallace had signed off on the plan to lure the Yacht Club goons into a meeting. But it had been Rebecca’s idea. And now the sheriff’s body lay in state.

She touched the badge Wallace had given her. How had her vacation turned upside down so drastically? She’d come to the island to relax and clear her head. Instead…a good man was now dead.

Once the autopsy results had come in, Wallace’s funeral was scheduled. It was this evening. Churchgoers could still attend Sunday services and, perhaps, lift an extra prayer or two to their deity on behalf of their sheriff of over forty years.

The front door opened and closed, pulling Rebecca from her depressing thoughts. Who could it be? She’d given the entire department the day off.

Deputy Hoyt Frost was a possibility. He’d talked his doctor into releasing him from medical restriction following an emergency appendectomy, but the man should’ve still been home healing. When a person had been murdered and time was of the essence, though, everyone on the force had dropped what they were doing. Rebecca respected Hoyt’s dedication and had warmed to him throughout the course of the ordeal.

Deputy Darian Hudson should’ve been home on paternity leave. Like Hoyt, the young deputy had come in to help. Now, after such a tragic loss, holding his newborn might offer the glimpse of hope they all desperately needed.

As far as she knew, Deputy Trent Locke was still on desk duty after the shooting. She chose not to spare another thought for that man. Images of him racing down the dune that night sent a shudder through her.

That left the department with precious little in the way of personnel. Still, with everything else taken care of and her duties officially over, she could hand the reins back over tomorrow to the man who deserved to be holding them, which was Deputy Hoyt Frost.

It was a small island with little crime. He should be able to handle the job on his own while she went back to her original plans of relaxing and clearing her head.

While Hoyt wasn’t in top shape yet, he could still stand in as acting sheriff until a special election was called. Or whatever it was they did here on Shadow Island. It wasn’t Rebecca’s problem anymore. Her case was closed.

She’d have to make herself available for the court proceedings, but that would be months away. Until then, she’d be a beach bum just as she’d wanted to be before Sheriff Wallace had come knocking on her door nine days before.

Nine days.

So much had happened during that short span of time.

“Morning, Rebecca.”

Rebecca managed not to jump, but only barely. She’d been so lost in thought that she hadn’t even heard Viviane Darby’s footsteps approaching. Either that or the receptionist and part-time dispatcher was as stealthy as a cat.

Some detective I am.

“Morning, Viviane. I didn’t expect to see you today.” Rebecca tried to return Viviane’s bright smile but failed, her lips threatening to tremble until she pressed them tightly together.

Misery was contagious because Viviane’s cheerful expression melted off her lovely face, growing as somber as the black dress she wore. “To be honest, I couldn’t bear to stay home. I need to stay busy until the funeral. Besides, I feel closer to Sheriff Wallace here…” Viviane glanced around the old sheriff’s office.

Rebecca practically sprang to her feet and rushed around Wallace’s oversized desk. It couldn’t be easy for Viviane to see her sitting there. What had she been thinking? Today of all days.

“There’s fresh coffee in the back. I made it from that new blend you ordered. It’s good stuff.” Rebecca held up her coffee mug as she attempted to change the subject. But the dread of telling her new friend that she was leaving her interim role as sheriff consumed her. She had to tell her new friend and didn’t know how.

“Ohhh, I don’t like that look.” Viviane’s dark eyes were filled with concern. “Are you leaving us?”

Among her many fine traits, Viviane was also intuitive. Rebecca was not surprised. Her heart contracted as she realized just how much she would miss hanging out with Viviane every day. Maybe they could still be friends.

The front door banged open, and boots clomped in double-time on the carpet, their thumping growing stronger with each step.

Rebecca and Viviane exchanged curious stares as Deputy Hoyt Frost charged down the hall, stopping in a huff at the doorway to the sheriff’s office. Taller than her five-ten, he was so lean and wiry that she understood why the other deputies sometimes called him Scarecrow.

“We got a call about a missing little girl a few minutes ago.” He wiped a sleeve over his forehead. “Her parents are going crazy looking for her. Trent’s not answering his phone, and I’m going to need you to drive.”

He spun on a heel and toppled sideways, shoulder hitting the wall. He winced before building up enough momentum to storm back the way he’d come.

“Dammit.” The man might be back at work, but that didn’t mean he was fully healed. Rebecca shook her head and handed her coffee mug to Viviane. She grabbed her keys. “Guess I’ll see you in a little while.”

“Good luck finding the girl.”

This day wasn’t going the way she’d thought it would. She’d planned to cover the office so the others could attend the funeral. Then she was going to resign first thing Monday morning, return to her little beach house, sit on the patio, and relax with a good book until a few glasses of some alcoholic beverage knocked her out.

But how could she do anything close to that, knowing there was a lost little girl out there whose parents had to be going crazy looking for her?

Throwing open the door, Rebecca stepped out into the idyllic summer day and went searching for answers. To her left, she spotted Hoyt before he ducked around the corner of the building, most likely heading to where the department Explorers were parked.

“Wait up. Who’s missing?”

Either Hoyt didn’t hear her, or he was ignoring her, because he kept on going. For a brief moment, Rebecca debated walking away. She’d already done everything she’d said she would. In fact, she had done more. She’d gone above and beyond the call of duty for this island.

Rebecca had agreed to finish the one case involving another missing girl. Cassie Leigh. That case was closed. She’d even gotten a confession out of her killer and stopped him before he killed again. On top of that, she’d arrested two men on charges of transporting minors across state lines. Why shouldn’t she be able to quit?

But Hoyt had said there was a missing little girl. Straightening the badge on her belt, Rebecca reluctantly chased after the deputy. By the time she rounded the corner, he was standing in the open passenger door of one of the Explorers.

“Let’s go, Rebecca…um, West…” His face paled, and he swallowed hard. “Sheriff…Interim Sheriff…shit.”

Compassion nearly swallowed Rebecca whole. It must be hard for him to know what to call her. His boss and very good friend had just died, after all. “Just call me Rebecca.” She shook the keys. “Where are we going?”

He was already sliding gingerly into the passenger seat. “I’ll tell you on the way. I can’t drive. Doc’s orders.”

Moving on instinct, Rebecca slid behind the steering wheel. “Tell me what’s going on.”

“We just got a frantic call from a dad whose little girl has gone missing down at the beach. I’ll give you directions as we go.” He slapped the dashboard. “First things first, start the engine.”

“Roger that.”

Hoyt read from his notepad as Rebecca got the Explorer moving. “Sylvie Harper. Eight years old, long brown hair, brown eyes. Last seen wearing a pink swimsuit with ponies on it and carrying a box of colored chalk. Hair secured in a ponytail with a pink scrunchie. Been missing for more than an hour, they think. Last seen leaving a rental house a couple of blocks from Sand Dollar Beach to draw on the sidewalk with said chalk.” He tucked the notepad into the breast pocket of his uniform. “Do you know what it means when kids go missing while wearing their swimsuits?”

Rebecca swallowed hard as she turned onto Main Street. She knew exactly what happened to little girls who went missing, wearing swimsuits or not. She wanted to keep him talking, though, and get a better understanding of his thought process. “Tell me.”

Hoyt hit the siren. “It means they’re probably heading to the water, or they’re already in it. Her family’s rental isn’t far from the beach. She could easily have walked there on her own. They taught her the route home yesterday in case she ever got lost. And her dad said she’s not a good swimmer.”

Adrenaline raced through Rebecca’s veins as she passed a slow-moving truck, ignoring the double yellow lines.

Hoyt braced his arm against the cruiser’s jerky movements on the frame of the open window. “Shit.”

Keeping her focus on the road, Rebecca studied the man beside her from the corner of her eye. His cursing surprised her, and so did the pained look that settled across his face.

“Are you sure the doc cleared you to come back to work?”

“He cleared me to come back to desk duty if I promised not to drive anywhere or lift any heavy objects. Pretty sure that means I shouldn’t be trying to hold myself still while you’re playing Earnhardt over there.”

Hoyt had one hand on the dashboard and the other on the windowsill. Her driving wasn’t that erratic. He needed to relax.

“If you can’t drive, you can’t run. What good are you back at work?”

“It’s you and me or no one, West. Take the next left. Second right after that.”

A memory from her past was triggered by the comment. A time when she’d been playing on the same beach and had gone in for a dip to cool off. The current had grabbed her and dragged her farther from land, no matter how hard she’d fought to get back. Her mother had had to swim out and save her.

“It’s you and me, baby,” Anna West had said. “I’ll always save you.”

She’d been Rebecca’s hero that day, among many others.

Blood-coated linoleum.

Dried crimson flecks on the cupboard doors.

Slick floor under her feet.

Rebecca pushed away the memory of the last time she’d seen her mother and focused on not hitting any cars as she raced through the small island town.

Hoyt grunted beside her as she made the right-hand turn.

She needed to focus on the here and now. “What’s the tide?”

He grunted again, this time without any sound of pain. “It’s going out.”

“Dammit.”

If the tide was out, it would be easy for a little girl to be pulled out to sea if she was in the water already. When the locals talked about the riptide, they weren’t joking. You couldn’t see it. You couldn’t fight it. You just had to try not to get sucked under until you broke free. Experts claimed the best thing to do was to swim parallel to the shore until you were free of the riptide. But little Sylvie wouldn’t know that.

“Dammit times ten.” Grabbing the radio, Hoyt called the station. “Viviane, can you rustle up Greg and ask him to grab a boat and head out to Sand Dollar Beach? Tell him what we’re doing and that we have a missing little girl who can’t swim.”

“Right away. I’ll tell him to hurry.”

He set the radio back in its cradle. They rode in silence to the wail of the siren and the tires barking as Rebecca bobbed and weaved through traffic, drivers trying ineffectually to get out of their way.

Hoyt didn’t need to tell her which house it was.

The siren caused heads to pop up like a field of prairie dogs after a predator had gotten bored and left. A small crowd of people stood outside what had to be the Harpers’ rented beach house. Even more people hustled up and down the road, searching between houses.

It looked like the neighbors had already gotten in on the action. Which, to Rebecca, wasn’t a bad thing, even if it was a bit of a surprise. “Is this normal?”

Hoyt flicked his eyes over at her and frowned.

“This. All these people.” She gestured at the roving bands of people in the yards.

“A little girl is missing. Why wouldn’t everyone be out and looking for her?” He turned slightly, moving stiffly, to face her. “I would hope this would be normal anywhere. If not….” He let the rest go unsaid.

She wouldn’t disabuse him of his small-town view of neighbors helping neighbors. “Okay. I’ll drop you here to meet the parents and then—”

“What are you talking about?” He pointed to a house with several people standing out front, huddling around a man frantically waving at them.

“Maybe you should get the details while I help with the search. You—”

Hoyt held up a hand. “You’re the commanding officer, not me. I didn’t sign any of that paperwork. You’re in charge. I’m just along for the ride.”

Before she had the car in park or uttered a word in response, the damn man got out and headed toward the gathering that was migrating toward them like herded cattle.

“What the hell?” Rebecca whispered under her breath.

This was a tiny tourist town with a small-town mentality. They didn’t trust outsiders. They especially wouldn’t trust one to lead them. But Hoyt, the most senior deputy on the force, had just told her she was in charge—after ordering her around this morning and complaining about her driving.

It was true, though. She had signed the paperwork. But only because she’d expected to work just the one case. Hell, she’d expected him to want to take over and see the last of her. Looked like she’d gotten caught in the red tape and would now have to work her way out of it.

Rebecca reached into the glove compartment and grabbed the digital camera stored there. Right where Wallace had left it. Maybe being in charge of the expensive tech was normal in a department this small. Or Hoyt was just trying to get away from her as soon as possible.

A shiver ran down her spine as she spotted the man who appeared to be Sylvie’s heartsick father. And it hit her…today was Father’s Day. Her stomach twisted, and she did something she rarely did. She prayed.

 “Please, God, let this case have a happier ending than the last one.”


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