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First pages

Chapter 1

Debra Lambert stopped at the semicircle of trees in the center of the Lambert-Knoll College campus. She pulled out her phone, frowned at the time and dialed hastily.

“Lexi, sorry! I was delayed at school, but if you’re still interested in seeing the campus, can you meet me here instead of waiting for me to pick you up? I’ll be near the trees in front of Lambert Hall. It’s the oldest building on campus in case you get lost. Just ask any student for directions.”

“You’re sure?” her brother’s girlfriend asked.

“Totally. I’m happy to sit and chill. It’s been a day I’d as soon not to have to repeat.”

“Okay. See you soon.”

Debra sighed, out of breath from walking too fast, from the staff parking area, where her family had a permanent parking place. She took a seat on the bench and allowed her gaze to wander from the nearest co-ed dorm on her left to the new library building on the far right, its huge main floor windows providing light on even the dreariest days, at least according to her father. She smiled to herself. Her father’s status as emeritus professor of History made it hard to discern that he had retired, what with all the time he spent in the upper floor stacks. She doubted he would ever really stop writing books on the history of the Pacific Northwest and Idaho’s Inland Empire.

The sound of a distant bell attracted her attention as students began to stream out of one of the newer lecture halls. The benches scattered around the square dominated by a large fountain soon began to fill as students gathered in small groups to chat or wait for friends.

“There you are,” Lexi gasped, plopping down next to Debra. “That hill is something. I felt like a fish fighting the current. So many students were walking down while I was going up.”

“There’s lots of student housing down the hill,” Debra explained. “Let me give you a little history before we go inside. Sawyer will likely focus on academics, but he’s probably still talking with his students. He always seems to have a few who hang around after class.”

An associate professor of philosophy, Sawyer had agreed to show Lexi around when Fletcher’s girlfriend said she was interested in seeing the campus. Debra suspected Sawyer was probably trying to get on Fletcher’s good side. Her older brother hadn’t hidden his less-than-positive impression of her current beau.

Debra launched into the story of how a relative had endowed the college after making his fortune in the lumber business. “Did Fletcher take you past where our great-grandfather first lived—on that street that overlooks the bay?”

Lexi nodded. “I couldn’t believe they lived in a house not much bigger than what I had in Sandy Reach. To think they raised seven children there.”

Debra chuckled, then sobered. “Yes, but only my grandfather and his youngest sister lived to adulthood. She died before I was born. But Grandpapa insisted on following his parents’ lead, getting a college education when that wasn’t nearly as common as it is today.

“Come on. Hardly anyone’s leaving the building now. I’ll bet the halls are mostly empty.”

They headed for Lambert Hall. “I used to visit my dad’s office when it was in this building. We all went to the Campus School. It’s just a quick walk across campus.”

Debra opened one of the double doors. Lexi pulled open the other one and entered. Just as Debra stepped inside the building, a girl with blond hair almost to her waist, bumped her shoulder as she brushed past. Her eyes were red and sobs interspersed quick gasps for air. She stumbled on the first of the big sandstone steps and pitched forward. Debra grabbed her arm and pulled her upright, aware of a too-sweet scent, almost sickly, as the girl passed.

“Careful! These steps can be slippery. Are you all right?”

The young woman’s glazed eyes slowly focused on Debra’s face, as if doing so brought her back from wherever her thoughts had wandered. “Uh, no. Yes. I’m okay.” She jerked her arm away and raced down the stairs before angling in the direction of the street and disappearing behind a copse of trees.

“I wonder why she was so upset,” Lexi remarked. “She bumped you pretty hard. Are you hurt?”

Debra rubbed her shoulder. “A bruise is better than a face-plant on those steps. Follow me. We’ll check out the displays I mentioned. Then we’ll go to Sawyer’s office.”

They had started down the hall when a door opened and an elderly man emerged, a smile suffusing his ruddy face. “Debra Lambert! What brings you to your namesake’s hall this fine day?”

She gave him a quick hug. “Chancellor Middleton. Hello.”

“Malcolm,” he remonstrated. “You know we’re practically family.”

She nodded. “Yes, sir. This is Alexis McCord, Fletcher’s girlfriend.”

“And she’s a new student for the upcoming summer session?” The man beamed.

“No, Lexi’s attending the Culinary Academy, but she wanted to see the campus and Sawyer offered to give her a tour.” She laughed. “Lexi, this is one of my dad’s best and dearest friends.”

“Welcome, Ms. McCord.” The Chancellor focused again on Debra. “Did Fletcher tell you we’re going to appoint him, officially, to the Chancellor’s Board, for the coming academic year?”

She shook her head. “Dad told us. I’m not sure Fletcher’s all that thrilled, but he’ll do his duty. You know how he is about boring meetings, since he’s taken Dad’s place a few times.”

“The bane of all our existences. But it’s in the bylaws. We must have a family representative. Perhaps you’ll want to take his place one of these days. After all, you’re a graduate.”

“We’ll see. Good to see you, Malcolm.” Debra motioned for Lexi to follow her down the hall. They climbed two flights to the third floor and entered a conference room.

“Here they are. Great-grandmother and Great-grandfather, in their late nineteenth century finery.” She pointed to two oversized paintings of an unsmiling pair.

“Oh, wow! She’s wearing a brooch just like my grandmother’s. Like the one Fletcher found. I should look for a high-necked blouse like hers. To show it off.”

“Fletch told me about that brooch. Are you getting any closer to wearing it?” Debra’s heart took a little skip at the hope that Lexi, now blushing prettily, might soon become her sister-in-law.

“You know I want to receive my certificate first. Maybe even go on to get a full-fledged degree.”

Debra patted Lexi’s hand. “Of course. Come on. Let’s meet Sawyer. His office is downstairs one flight.”

After descending to the second floor, they approached a door that was ajar. “I guess Sawyer must have just arrived. Usually he keeps his office door closed. Always makes everyone knock.” She pushed on the door. “Sawyer? We’re here.” She stepped deeper into the office but no one sat behind the big desk centered between tall windows. Papers were strewn haphazardly across the top of the desk. Three pages, unlike the others, were handwritten and torn in half, as if someone— Sawyer, maybe? —had shown his distaste for their contents.

“He’s a hard grader?” Lexi asked, pointing to the torn sheets.

“I’m not sure, but I’ve never known him to destroy a student’s work. He’s more into using a red pen.” Debra picked up the bottom portion of the sheet closest to the edge of the desk. The name, partially torn off, read “Phi”. Phil, maybe?

She placed the page back onto the desk. “This student isn’t going to be happy if Sawyer thought so badly of his work. Maybe he docked points because it wasn’t typed, like the rest of those papers.” She picked up the top half of one of the pages. “And there’s no grade. Maybe he asked him to redo the paper.”

Lexi nodded. “Will Sawyer mind if we sit down and wait for him?”

“Let’s hit the ladies’ first.” Debra closed Sawyer’s door and walked with Lexi into the women’s room. As they entered, the muffled sound of weeping greeted them from one of the stalls.

Debra knocked on the door of the stall at the far end of the room. “Are you okay? Do you need help?” She backed into Lexi when the door opened further and she saw a student leaning forward over the toilet. Blood covered her arms and rivulets of red ran down the young woman’s jeans, dripping into puddles on the floor.

As they gazed in shock, the girl collapsed in a heap, half in and half out of the toilet stall. “Oh, my gosh!” Deb leaned down and touched the girl’s back.

Lexi gasped. “I’ll get help.” She ran out of the room.

“Let me help you,” Debra offered, but the girl didn’t respond.

When the outer door opened again, Debra glanced up at Lexi and the older woman who followed her into the room, her face a pasty white as she stared first at the girl slumped on the floor and then at Debra. “Oh, my. We called 9-1-1, and campus security. Is there anything else I can do?”

Debra reached down and touched the student’s throat to feel for a pulse, aware that her own was galloping. She pulled off the silk scarf from around her neck, wrapped it around one of the victim’s slashed wrists and pressed hard.

“Lexi, can you get me some towels? For her other wrist?”

Lexi nodded, handed over the towels and looked toward the door. “I hope the ambulance gets here soon. She’s lost a lot of blood. Maybe we should get her out of there.”

Debra forced her gaze away from the pools of blood trickling into a nearby drain and froze when she saw the knife. More than twelve inches long, it lay beside the girl’s leg. Antique ivory. Debra’s heart skipped a beat. Could there be another knife like that one? She’d given Sawyer a knife that looked just like it, which he used as a letter opener. But hadn’t it been on his desk, on its ivory holder, when they were in his office?

She reached for the bloody blade, but Lexi stopped her.

“Don’t touch it! The police will want to examine it. For fingerprints and stuff.”

“You’re right.” Debra turned to the chancellor’s shocked secretary. “Maxine, we shouldn’t let anyone else in here.”

“I’ll stay with you.” Lexi stood up from where she had crouched behind Debra, who jerked at a siren’s whoo-hooing sounds that grew louder before stopping.

She closed her eyes as if that would prevent her from fixating on the blood that coated her skirt where she’d knelt next to the injured girl. She’d never liked blood, and there was so much of it!

When she looked up again, Lexi’s pale complexion sent Debra’s stomach churning. “You don’t look so good, Lexi. Maybe you should sit down.”

“No. I’m okay, just—”

“What’s going on here?”

Debra recognized the chancellor’s voice, recently so jolly. But now he looked aghast as he took in the scene. “Gentlemen, in here.” He stepped aside as a pair of police officers entered, followed by two campus security guards.

“I— Lexi, my purse?” Fletcher. I should call him. He’ll know what to do.

Lexi picked up Debra’s prized Michael Kors bag and handed it to her.

She dialed Fletcher’s number, her fingers shaking. Wrong number. She tried again. Voice mail! Without waiting to see if he’d pick up, she mumbled into the phone, “Fletch. Call me. Right away. Something bad’s happened.”

“He must be in conference or in court. I already tried him,” Lexi said.

“Oh.” Her mind whirling, Debra dialed again, forcing her fingers to hit the right keys. Maybe Fletcher’s law partner was available. “Um, Orralee. May I speak with Bernie?”

“He’s in the middle of a deposition. What’s wrong, Debra? You don’t sound like yourself. Are you all right?”

“I need to talk to somebody, like now! Lexi and I are at Sawyer’s office.”

“I’ll send Todd. You wait for him,” Orralee commanded. “Second floor, Lambert Hall?”

“Right.” Debra dropped her phone in her purse and glanced up at the chancellor, the police officers and campus security people, all crowded into the women’s room that now felt too small for all these people.

Why was campus security asking Lexi questions? Did they think she had something to do with this?

Debra glanced up at the woman officer who touched her arm to get her attention. Debra pointed to the student. “I guess you’ll want to get her out of here.”

“If you could step aside.” The police officer took Debra’s place next to the victim.

The outer door opened again and a tall man entered.

Todd? She’d only seen him once since he’d joined her brother’s law firm. But she remembered those intense blue eyes and curly black hair that teased the neck of his suit coat. She felt an immediate sense of relief.

He stepped closer and reached for her elbow when her knees turned to rubber. “Lean against the counter,” he ordered quietly, then slid his arm around her waist to keep her upright.

“Better?”

She nodded.

“Let’s get out of the way so the police can secure the scene.”

Debra forced herself to ease away from Todd, to show him she didn’t need his help. “I have to go back to Sawyer’s office.”

Lexi, standing near the door, said, “I’ll stay here.”

“Where is that office?” Todd asked.

Debra pointed. “Down the hall.”

“Lead the way.” He walked with her. “Mind if I ask why? Are you woozy? Need to sit down?”

“No.” Debra pushed open her boyfriend’s office door. I have to know. Her gaze scanned the desk, still covered in a rat’s nest of papers. She breathed a relieved sigh when she spotted the holder of the walrus tusk scrimshaw knife, carved by an Aleut fisherman. Sawyer often bragged that it was the perfect accompaniment for the knife, placed near the front edge of the desk, so that students coming in during office hours, had to look past it to engage him.

But the letter opener— Debra’s gift to Sawyer, her acknowledgement of his amateur interest in nineteenth century Alaskan history— was no longer there. And the ivory holder lay empty, on its side. She shuffled through papers, hoping to find the knife.

“Oh, God!” she exclaimed.

“What is it?”

“It’s not here. Sawyer’s letter opener, his knife. It’s missing.”

“And?”

“There was a knife that looked just like it in the women’s room.” She glanced up at Todd. “The girl, she must have come here first. That’s what she used on her wrists!”

“You think he had something to do with this?” Todd frowned and motioned for her to take a seat.

“But he’s not here.” Debra leaned forward, braced her elbows on the arms of the chair and rested her head in her hands. “Doesn’t that mean he couldn’t be involved?”

“You stay here. I’ll get one of the police officers.” Todd turned on his heel and left the office.

Chapter 2

Todd looked back at Fletcher’s beautiful sister as she slumped in the chair. The scent he detected when he’d helped her to the counter reminded him of a combination of lilacs and roses, though it was nearly masked by the stench of blood. Her image, one of several of the photos on his law partner’s credenza, didn’t do her justice, he decided, and wished he’d been formally introduced.

This particular meeting didn’t qualify. His concern that she might pass out was set aside when she’d insisted on using her own power to go back to the professor’s office. Wasn’t he her boyfriend? Orralee, the law office’s administrative assistant, had indicated as much when she’d burst into his office and insisted that he go to the college to see what the problem was.

The police vehicles clustered near the back entrance of the building he’d been directed to had confirmed that something was very wrong. He entered the hall and watched as a woman was wheeled out of the women’s room on a stretcher. Blood seeped from a large bandage on one limp wrist.

When he was approached by a campus security guard, Todd anticipated his question and intoned, “Lambert family attorney.” He bobbed his head toward the professor’s office. “Ms. Lambert has some information she should share with the police.”

He was about to enter the women’s room again when Lexi stepped out through the door.

“Oh, Todd. Fletcher’ll be so glad you’re here,” she exclaimed. “Where’s Deb?”

“In that office.” He pointed down the hall and went to speak to the police.

When he returned, Lexi was seated next to Debra, rubbing her shoulders. “We found her,” as if that explained everything. “So much blood. I hope that girl makes it.”

“Ms. Lambert? Debra?” Todd asked. He edged past Lexi when Debra straightened up in her chair. He grasped her hand.

Her too-cool fingers curled around his, as if seeking reassurance. She turned her gaze toward him.

Todd was jolted by her deep brown eyes, so expressive.

“Do you need a doctor? You and Lexi? You’re both so pale.”

Debra stared back at him, as if she wasn’t yet connecting with the words.

Lexi shook her head.

“Why were you here, Lexi?” he asked.

“Campus tour. Deb’s professor friend offered to show me around when Fletcher couldn’t do it because of his big case. But Sawyer wasn’t here. We were going to wait for him after hitting the ladies’. That’s when we found her. A student, right?”

“Maybe.”

The security guard, looking young enough to be a student himself, stepped into the office. “The police say you need to leave so they can get on with their investigation.”

Todd nodded. “Sure. Debra?”

She blinked, then pushed up out of the chair.

“Come on. We’ll find a seat out of the way and you can tell me what happened, why you called the office. You, too, Lexi.” He placed a hand under Debra’s nearest elbow and walked with her and Lexi down the hall. A woman he concluded was a secretary appeared near the stairs and motioned for them to follow her.

“Use this conference room. I’ll tell the police that’s where you went. They said something about taking your statements.” She slid a “Do Not Disturb” sign into a slot on the outer side of the door.

At Todd’s raised eyebrow, she explained, “I’m Chancellor Middleton’s secretary. Maxine. If you need anything, his office is on the first floor. Left side of the hall before you get to the double doors.”

“Thank you, Maxine.”

After the secretary shut the door, Debra took a seat, motioned for Lexi to do the same and Todd pulled another chair closer. “Okay, you two. Tell me what you know.”

Lexi began. “Deb almost touched the knife, what that girl—”

“Sawyer’s knife,” Debra clarified, her voice wobbly. “He uses it as a … letter opener.”

“The blood?” He pointed to the smear on Debra’s skirt.

“The girl’s, not Deb’s,” Lexi explained. “A student, according to one of those campus cops. From an ID card. In her wallet.”

Debra gulped and slid her tongue along the seam of her lips.

Todd wished he’d been warned. Maybe that would have prepared him, enabled him to steel himself against his decidedly masculine reaction to protect Debra. Especially since it looked like she was somehow involved in an assault case. But he didn’t handle criminal cases. Their law office dealt strictly with civil issues, contracts, and the like.

“Do the cops think you had something to do with … um, what happened back there?” He stared at Lexi and then at Debra.

“No!” both women exclaimed.

“We just found her,” Lexi repeated. “We figured Fletcher would know what to say if they ask questions. Right, Deb?”

“Did you touch the weapon, Lexi?”

Lexi cleared her throat. “No. But there was blood everywhere! I didn’t even see the knife until Deb reached for it. She wrapped her wrist, to try to stop the bleeding. Maybe I should tell them it’s Deb’s scarf.”

Debra glanced down at her hand. “That’s why I got her blood on me. When I used the scarf and paper towels to try to stop the blood. There was so much blood.” She shivered and seemed to be reliving her efforts to help.

“Okay. I’m sure the cops have already figured you weren’t involved, except that you found her. But they’ll ask you for details. Both of you. What you did, what you saw, and when.”

Debra sucked in a breath, her face even whiter than before, her eyes dazed. Was she worried about people thinking she was somehow involved? She pressed a hand to her mouth.

“Don’t worry. I’ll stay with you if they take your statements here, or at the police station if—”

“One of them already talked to me,” Lexi interrupted. “I wish Fletcher was here. Isn’t he the family attorney, Deb?”

Todd nodded. “For the time being, I’m assuming that role. Until I can bring Fletcher up to speed.”

“But—” Debra’s words halted when her big brother opened the door, entered and shut it behind him.

“Oh, Fletch!” she cried and launched herself into his arms. Lexi hung back for only a second then rushed him.

Caught in a two-woman sandwich, one sobbing, the other dry-eyed but looking relieved, Fletcher managed to pat both women on their backs while glancing in his associate’s direction, his expression questioning.

“I’ll fill you in,” Todd said. But Lexi and Debra began talking rapidly, speaking over each other and making their explanations impossible to understand.

“Hey,” Fletcher said. “One at a time, please.”

Debra took a shuddering breath and blinked away tears.

Fletcher kissed Lexi. “You start while Deb pulls herself together.”

Todd reached into his pocket for a handkerchief, and handed it to Debra, who looked to be in shock, her shoulders slumped. While Lexi filled in Fletcher, she took the handkerchief and dabbed at her lids and cheeks, creating a smear of mascara on the previously pristine white cloth. Then she blew her nose.

“Keep it,” he said quietly when she tried to hand it back. He gestured for her to sit down and pulled another chair close. When she reached for his hand, as if seeking comfort from his touch, her fingers felt as though she’d just pulled them from a snowbank.

“Thanks,” she whispered.

Todd pulled her close enough to place his arm around her shoulders, to let her know that she wasn’t alone. The least I can do, he explained to his baser self.

After Lexi, and then Deb, shared what they had seen and done since entering the building, Todd glanced at Fletcher. They watched as the women rose and moved away across the room, toward the windows to talk quietly.

“Think someone else might be involved?” Todd asked. “Maybe Deb’s professor? He’s one of the few who seems to have an office in this building. At least according to the signs on the doors I passed. And Debra said she’s sure the weapon belongs to him.”

Fletcher nodded. “That’s one wicked-looking letter opener. If the wounds were self-inflected, she must have gone to his office first, and picked it up. But if he’s involved? The cops need to find him. The fact he wasn’t there when Deb arrived might give him a convenient alibi as far as the cutting is concerned, assuming he can account for his whereabouts this afternoon. Did Deb say anything to you about him?”

“Not really. She seemed focused only on the victim… and the scene.”

Fletcher nodded. “Deb and blood don’t mix. Never have. I’m surprised she didn’t pass out.”

“She looked wobbly, but went into the professor’s office on her own power. Insisted on checking on that knife thing. She obviously recognized it when she saw it lying next to the victim.”

One of Fletcher’s eyebrows rose. “Let’s get them out of here. I’ll tell the police we’ll meet them at the station.” Both men rose and escorted the women out of the conference room.

“Didn’t Deb say Sawyer should have been at his office when she and Lexi showed up?” Fletcher asked.

Todd nodded.

“Thanks for getting here so quickly. Come on. Let’s take the back stairs.” They did so, as student reporters stomped up the main stairs, along with those from the local paper, demanding comments, wanting pictures. Fletcher grinned at his associate. “No need for the girls to talk to any of those reporters.”

“Sort of like rats going after a juicy meal, aren’t they?” Todd held the outer door and closed it quietly, in hopes no one else on the second floor noticed their departure.

~ ~ ~

Two hours after the gruesome discovery in the women’s room, Debra and Lexi left the police station, having given signed statements to the officers. After a heated discussion with Debra, who insisted she was fine and didn’t need watching— “I’m not going to pass out, Fletch!” —he convinced the women to drive back to Deb’s house and stay there, where he’d see both of them later.

Todd and Fletcher repaired to their office to talk over the events of the afternoon.

Fletcher leaned back in his chair and rested his left foot on his right knee. “Not the way I thought the day would end.”

“Not what I was expecting, either. Why didn’t you tell me your sister is drop-dead gorgeous?”

Fletcher’s brows rose and his mouth curved up into a smile. “Oh. Probably because she’s my sister. I saw her in braces, with skinned-up knees, climbing trees and refusing to act like a lady, like her big sister. My mother finally gave up hope.” His expression turned appraising. “Maybe you should be the one to calm her down if the cops need to talk to her again.”

Todd cleared his throat and chose not to glance at Fletcher. “I’d expect her boyfriend will do that, once he’s back on the scene.”

“That tool? I’d as soon he leave Deb alone.” Fletcher shifted in his seat. “That the girl used his letter opener suggests she was in his office, but it doesn’t mean he gave it to her or encouraged her to off herself. Lexi said the door was open when she and Deb got there. Maybe the girl was passing by, saw it, and simply took advantage that it was available.”

“You think she’s a student in one of the professor’s classes?”

“Maybe. Which would mean he’s not exactly out of the picture.”

“Debra kept talking about the knife. Her gift to the professor.”

“I’m guessing she feels guilty. But it wasn’t her fault if it was used for other than opening envelopes.” Fletcher set both feet on the floor. “My dad’s good friends with the police chief. Maybe he’ll give us some information before it comes out in the paper. One of the benefits of a small town. From what Lexi said, that girl was in a bad way.”

Todd nodded. “Don’t you think you should be heading over to your sister’s place? To talk to her? Or would you prefer I go instead of you?” Lame excuse, but then I could see her again.

“We’ll both go. I need to pick up Lexi and get her home. Let’s take both cars.” Fletcher chuckled. “Deb’s not likely to open up to me, not after accusing me of trying to baby her. But she might talk to you.”

Todd rose from his seat and Fletcher followed him out of the law office.

“Oh, and Todd. Why don’t you come to Sunday dinner this week?”

“Aren’t those dinners family only?”

“Mom’s always inviting people to join us. And she’ll want to thank you for stepping in when I was unavailable. You can come as my guest. Mom’ll be happy to see you, to thank you for stepping in to help out Bernie when I went on vacation last year.”

“What about Debra’s boyfriend? Think he’ll show up? I imagine he’d be welcome, given what you said about your mother having introduced him to her.”

Fletcher frowned. “Mom might want him there. If he shows, it would give us a chance to talk to him, find out where he was today.”

“Shouldn’t one of us call the cops so he can explain himself to them? I mean, it is an open case.”

Fletcher nodded. “What I can’t figure is, if he didn’t plan to be in his office for that appointment with Lexi and Deb, why didn’t he call and say he wasn’t available? Unless he ditched the office unexpectedly. Like if that student confronted him and they had words.”

Fletcher leaned against Todd’s car. “Ask Deb where she thinks he is, why he didn’t make the appointment. My younger sister, Elaine, hinted that Deb and Sawyer have been on the outs lately. Wouldn’t bother me if they broke up. In some ways, I think he’s worse than her ex-husband.”

“Debra’s divorced?”

“A disaster from beginning to end. She finally ditched him when she realized Nash wasn’t going to change. I suspect he got physical with her, although Deb denied it. But there’s such a thing as emotional abuse, and he was a master at that, if you ask me. It took her a good two years before she would even consider dating again.”

“Too bad.”

“Professor Numb Nuts isn’t much better, in my opinion.” Fletcher ran a hand through his hair. “Deb needs to dump him and find a nice guy, someone who appreciates her.” He grinned. “Upstanding, with a good job and a solid future, someone her brothers approve of.”

Todd hoped the relaxed grin he gave Fletcher hid how much he wanted to get to know Debra Lambert. “Hey, don’t look at me. I’m happily single. Just got here, remember? I’m still getting used to the place.”

“Right.” Fletcher laid a friendly slap on Todd’s shoulder. “Should you need a wingman, let me know. And now that I’ve found the woman I want in my life, I’m happy to turn you over to some of the ones who tried to get me out of my post-grieving funk after I lost my wife and baby.” He turned toward his car. “On the other hand, I doubt you need my help on the dating front. I’m not like my mother. She’s likely to elevate you to walk-on-water status after she hears that you showed up when I wasn’t available.”

“Does your mom think Lexi walks on water?”

“Not exactly. I committed the original sin—picked a woman without my mother’s help. Someone she actually disapproved of, though Lexi’s set her straight on that score.” Fletcher’s cheeks and neck reddened.

“That took guts. So, when are you two getting married? Assuming that’s your goal.”

Fletcher’s grin turned rueful. “Wish I could tell you. It’s a work in progress. Lexi insists on finishing her program at the culinary academy first.”

“Is that why we keep receiving those great baked goods?”

“Orralee’s the guilty party there. She likes keeping our clients happy. And she thinks the baked goods from Monet’s bakery, where Lexi works, accomplish that.” He grinned and opened his car door. “Can’t say she’s wrong. Put a note in your calendar. Dinner at my folks’ place on Sunday. We usually eat around two. You can follow me to Deb’s place.”

~ ~ ~

An hour after arriving home, Todd closed the case file and shut down his laptop, finally acknowledging his inability to concentrate. He kept thinking about his unexpected introduction to Debra Lambert. He’d have liked to keep holding her hand while her breathing gradually steadied and slowed.

Debra’s glossy dark brown hair reminded him of silk. But her dark eyes when she’d glanced at him told him she was troubled. Was it only because her boyfriend, the professor, didn’t seem to be around? Or was the injury to that student the reason?

Fletcher’s comments about Debra’s ex-husband told Todd she might have welcomed her mother’s assistance in identifying a boyfriend unlike her ex-husband. Then Todd remembered that Debra was a school counselor. She worked at the same high school as Bernie’s wife. A profession that required her to confront unpleasantness in myriad forms. Surely she’d seen kids bloodied in fights. Then again, such minor scuffles weren’t likely to result in the amount of blood he’d seen in that women’s room. It was enough to give even the most stout-hearted person serious pause.

Fletcher’s casual suggestion that Todd might consider dating Debra flitted through his mind again. Bad timing is what this is. Because Debra was already dating someone, the missing professor. And even if he was out of the picture, would Debra be interested in dating someone so soon after the demise of that relationship?

Todd glanced out the windows of his townhome when a car horn sounded. Coming to Pacific Knoll was turning out to offer more than one opportunity. Working with Bernie and Fletch was a professional dream-come-true. He’d always harbored thoughts of being part of a boutique law firm. Now, seven years out of law school, he was where he wanted to be.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Kate Vale lives in the beautiful fourth corner of northwestern Washington state. She enjoys the slower pace of a small city located between Vancouver BC, and Seattle WA. Her stories reflect the many crises that confront contemporary women and men in today's complicated world.. Helping her characters get to a happily-ever-after is a continuing goal.

Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
This series explores the contemporary issues of a large family, consisting of the elderly parents, and their six children. Five are adults when the first book begins; the youngest son is fifteen years younger than his nearest sibs, a pair of fraternal twins.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
In this second book in the series, the female protagonist has to decide if she is strong enough to be her own person while recognizing that the support of others may not be a bad thing.
Q. Why do you write?
A.
In the simplest of replies, because I have to. The characters in my books flit around in my brain, demanding to be given written life via words on the page. More introspectively, exploring contemporary issues via fiction enables me to seek greater understanding of the complexities of modern life.

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