Secrets in Four Corners Debra Webb Ëèòàãåíò HarperCollins EUR Secrets in Four Corners Debra Webb www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) Table of Contents Cover Page (#u88c554fa-a016-5075-8eaa-dc22cb644ebd) Title Page (#u04f45c2e-5de7-5bf7-988e-06f5c2433551) About the Author (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter One (#u754b3137-065b-59a2-b87f-ad9556ac6496) Chapter Two (#u38da55ad-75bf-5148-b99c-1f1fb9a2e37b) Chapter Three (#u0f3856a3-6058-506c-9533-c4e8a57d18af) Chapter Four (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Five (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Six (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Seven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eight (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Nine (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Ten (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eleven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twelve (#litres_trial_promo) Epilogue (#litres_trial_promo) Copyright (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter One Sabrina Hunter fastened her utility belt around her hips. “Eat up, Peter, or we’re gonna be late.” Peter Hunter peered up at his mom, a spoonful of Cheerios halfway to his mouth. “We’re always late.” This was definitely nothing to brag about. “But,” his mother reminded him, “our New Year’s resolution was to make it a point not to be late anymore.” It was only January twelfth. Surely, they weren’t going to break their resolution already. Chewing his cereal thoughtfully, Peter tilted his dark head and studied her again. “Truth or dare?” Bree took a deep breath, reached for patience. “Eat. There’s no time for games.” She tucked her cell phone into her belt. Mondays were always difficult. Especially when Bree had worked the weekend and her son had spent most of that time with his aunt Tabitha. She spoiled the boy outrageously, as did her teenage daughter, Layla. Even so, Bree was glad to have her family support system when duty called, as it had this weekend. She grabbed her mug and downed the last of the coffee that had grown cold during her rush to prepare for the day. Peter swallowed, then insisted, “Truth. Is my real daddy a jerk just like Big Jack?” Bree choked. Coughed. She plopped her mug on the counter and stared at her son. “Where did you hear something like that?” “Cousin Layla said so.” He nodded resolutely. “Aunt Tabitha told her to hush ’cause I might hear. Is it true? Is my real daddy a jerk?” “You must’ve misunderstood, Peter.” Breathe. Bree moistened her lips and mentally scrambled for a way to change the subject. “Grab your coat and let’s get you to school.” Memories tumbled one over the other in her head. Memories she had sworn she would never allow back into her thoughts. That was her other New Year’s resolution. After eight years it was past time she’d put him out of her head and her heart once and for all. What the hell was her niece thinking, bringing him up? Particularly with Peter anywhere in the vicinity. The kid loved playing hide and seek, loved sneaking up on his mother and aunt even more. His curious nature ensured he missed very little. Tabitha and Layla knew this! Bree ordered herself to calm down. “Nope. I didn’t misunderstand.” Peter pushed back his chair, carefully picked up his cereal bowl and headed for the sink. He rinsed the bowl and placed it just as carefully into the dishwasher. “I heard her.” Bree’s pulse rate increased. “Layla was probably talking about…” Bree racked her brain for a name, someone they all knew—anyone besides him. Before she could come up with a name or a logical explanation for her niece’s slip, Peter turned to his mother once more, his big blue eyes—the ones so much like his father’s and so unlike her brown ones—resolute. “Layla said my real daddy—” “Okay, okay.” Bree held up her hands. “I got that part.” How on earth was she supposed to respond? “We can talk on the way to school.” Maybe that would at least buy her some time. And if she were really lucky Peter would get distracted and forget all about the subject of his father. Something Bree herself would very much like to do. She would be having a serious talk with her sister and niece. Thankfully her son didn’t argue. He tugged on his coat and picked up his backpack. So far, so good. She might just get out of this one after all. Was that selfish of her? Was Peter the one being cheated by her decision to keep the past in the past? Including his father? Bree pushed the questions aside and shouldered into the navy uniform jacket that sported the logo of the Towaoc Police Department. At the coat closet near her front door, she removed the lockbox from the top shelf, retrieved her service weapon and holstered it. After high school she’d gotten her associate’s degree in criminal justice. She hadn’t looked back since, spending a decade working in reservation law enforcement. The invitation to join the special homicide task force formed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Ute Mountain Reservation tribal officials had been exactly the opportunity she had been looking for to further her career. Besides her son and family, her career was primary in her life. Not merely because she was a single parent, either, although that was a compelling enough motive. She wanted to be a part of changing the reservation’s unofficial reputation as the murder capital of Colorado. This was her home. Making a difference was important to her. She wanted to do her part for her people. Not to mention work kept her busy. Kept her head on straight and out of that past she did not want to think about, much less talk about. An idle mind was like idle hands, it got one into trouble more often than not. Enough trouble had come Bree’s way the last few years. No sooner had she slid behind the wheel of her SUV and closed the door had Peter demanded, “Truth, Mommy.” He snapped his safety belt into place. So much for any hopes of him letting the subject go. Bree glanced over her shoulder to the backseat where her son waited. She could take the easy way out and say his aunt and cousin were right. His curiosity would be satisfied and that would be the end of that—for now anyway. But that would be a lie. There were a lot of things she could say about the man who’d fathered her child, but that he was bad or the kind of jerk her ex, Jack, had turned out to be definitely wasn’t one of them. “Your father was never anything like Big Jack.” Even as she said the words, her heart stumbled traitorously. “So he was a good guy?” Another question that required a cautiously worded response. “A really good guy.” “Like a superhero?” Maybe that was a stretch. But her son was into comics lately. “I guess you could say that.” Guilt pricked her again for allowing the conversation to remain in past tense…as if his father were deceased. Another selfish gesture on her part. But life was so much easier that way. “Am I named after him?” Tension whipped through Bree. That was a place she definitely didn’t want to go. Her cell phone vibrated. Relief flared. Talk about being saved by the bell, or, in this case, the vibration. “Hold on, honey.” Bree withdrew the phone from the case on her belt and opened it. “Hunter.” “Detective Hunter, this is Officer Danny Brewer.” Though she was acquainted with a fair number of local law enforcement members, particularly those on the reservation, the name didn’t strike a chord. She couldn’t readily associate the name with one department or the other, making it hard to anticipate whether his call was something or nothing. That didn’t prevent a new kind of tension from sending her instincts to the next level. “What can I do for you, Officer Brewer?” “Well, ma’am, we have a situation.” His tone told her far more than his words. Something. When she would have asked for an explanation, he went on, “We have a one eighty-seven.” Adrenaline fired in Bree’s veins. Before she could launch the barrage of homicide-related questions that instantly sprang to mind, Brewer tacked on, “My partner said I should call you. He would’ve called himself but he’s been busy puking his guts out ever since we took a look at the…vic.” Damn. Another victim. Bree blinked, focused on the details she knew so far. Puking? Had to be Officer Steve Cyrus. She knew him well. Poor Cyrus lost his last meal at every scene involving a body. One eighty-seven. Damn. Another murder. “Location?” Bree glanced at her son. She would drop him off at school and head straight to the scene. Hell of a way to start a Monday morning. Frustration hit on the heels of the adrenaline. She’d worked a case of rape and attempted murder just this weekend. As hard as her team toiled to prevent as well as solve violent crimes it never seemed to be enough. “The Tribal Park.” Brewer cleared his throat. “In the canyon close to the Two-Story House. One of the guides who checks the trails a couple of times a week during the off-season found the victim.” “Don’t let him out of your sight,” Bree reminded. She would need to question the guide at length. Chances were he would be the closest thing to a witness, albeit after the fact, she would get. “Did you ID the victim?” She hoped this wasn’t another rape as well. Twelve days into the New Year and they’d had two of those already. Both related to drug use. Bree frowned at the muffled conversation taking place on the other end of the line. It sounded like Brewer was asking his partner what he should say in answer to her question. Weird. “Ma’am,” Brewer said, something different in his voice now, “Steve said just get here as fast as you can. He’ll explain the details then.” When the call ended Bree stared at her phone then shook her head. Damned weird. “M-o-o-o-m,” Peter said, drawing out the single syllable, “you didn’t answer my question.” She definitely didn’t have time for that now. More of that guilt heaped on her shoulders at just how relieved she was to have an excuse not to go there. “We’ll have to talk about it later. That was another police officer who called. I have to get to work.” Peter groaned, but didn’t argue with her. He knew that for his mom work meant something bad had happened to someone. As Bree guided her vehicle into the school’s drop-off lane, she considered her little boy. She wanted life on the reservation to continue to improve. For him. For the next generation, period. As hard as she worked, at times it never seemed to be enough. “Have a good day, sweetie.” She smoothed his hair and kissed the top of his head. His cheeks instantly reddened. “Mom.” Bree smiled as he hopped out of the SUV and headed for Towaoc Elementary’s front entrance. Her baby was growing up. Her smile faded. There would be more questions about his father. She couldn’t think about that right now. Right now she had a homicide to investigate. ONLY A FEW minutes on Highway 160 were required to reach the Ute Mountain Tribal Park. She turned into the park entrance near the visitor’s center, a former gas station that had been repurposed. Getting into the park was easy, reaching the ancient cliff face Ancestral Puebloan dwellings was another story. A rough dirt road barely wide enough for her SUV was the only way besides making the trek on foot or horseback. The SUV bumped over the rutted dirt road. Twice Bree was forced to maneuver around ottoman-sized boulders from a recent rock slide. The road, which was more of a trail, was definitely better suited for traveling by horse or on foot. Since time was of the essence she would just have to deal with the less than favorable driving conditions. Every minute wasted allowed the possibility of trace evidence contamination or loss of that essential evidence entirely. The harsh, barren landscape had a character wholly of its own. Basins with scatterings of sage and juniper and pine forests broke up the thousands of acres of desolation. Gray cliffs and brick-red buttes soaked up the scorching sun that even in the dead of winter and cloaked with snow somehow kept the temps comfortable enough most of the time. Not much otherwise in the way of color, but the amazing Colorado sky made up for it with vivid shades of blue broken only by the snow-capped peaks that added another layer of enchantment. In the distance, providing a dramatic backdrop, was the giant Sleeping Ute Mountain. The name had come from the fact that the mountain’s shape gave the appearance of a giant warrior sleeping on his back with arms crossed over his chest. The stories about the cliff dwellings and the great sleeping warrior who’d become a mountain had kept her enthralled as a kid. At close to fifty degrees, it could have been a nice day. Bree sighed as she caught sight of the official Ute Reservation police SUV. A beat-up old pickup, probably belonging to the guide, was parked next to the SUV. Another murder. The idea that Steve Cyrus wanted her on the scene before he passed along any known details nagged at her again. What was with the mystery? She parked her vehicle, grabbed a pair of latex gloves from her console and climbed out. She headed toward the cliffs where the two-story, sandstone dwelling hung, a proud, crumbling reminder of the residents who built them more than a millennium ago. The dwellings here were every bit as breathtaking as Mesa Verde’s, but this park didn’t get near the tourist flow. Primarily because no one came in without an official Ute guide. Preservation was far too important to her people. Both officers as well as the guide waited some fifty yards from the area where during tourist season folks scrambled up the cliff face to check out the condos of the past. The perpetrator apparently hadn’t been too concerned with concealing the body, though the location was definitely off the beaten path to some degree, particularly this time of year. Yet, most anyone who might have been out here could have stumbled over the scene. Or the act in progress. Just another strange element. As if her instincts had picked up on something in the air, her pulse rate quickened. “Hunter,” Steve Cyrus called out as he headed in her direction. “I need a minute.” He hustled over to meet her. “What’s going on?” She glanced to where Brewer and the old man waited. “You got a body or what?” Cyrus sent an oddly covert glance in that same direction. “Before you take a look there’s something you need to know.” This got stranger by the moment. Bree held up her hands. “Wait—have you called the lab? The coroner?” The realization that no one—no one— else had arrived as of yet abruptly cut through all the confusion. Cyrus shook his head, looked at the ground before meeting her gaze. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t know who the hell to call first. This is…complicated. That’s why I called you before anyone else.” “What the hell are you talking about, Cyrus?” Good grief, it wasn’t like this was the first deceased victim he’d come upon. “The vic…” He scrubbed a hand over his chin. “She’s…” At least Bree now knew that the victim was female. “She’s a federal agent.” Federal agent? “BIA?” Her first thought was that an agent from the Bureau of Indian Affairs had been murdered. The controversy over who was boss, Tribal Affairs or BIA, was an ongoing issue. Things got complicated and damned hot at times. Cyrus shook his head. “FBI. Julie Grainger.” Regret hardened to a lump in Bree’s gut. She’d only met Julie Grainger once. Nice lady. Young, early thirties, like Bree. Hard worker. Loyal. A damned good agent from all indications. “I told you this was complicated.” No kidding. “All right.” Bree rubbed her forehead, an ache starting there. “I’ll take a look and talk to the guide. You call Callie MacBride and get her lab techs over here. Tell her it’s Grainger.” A mixture of frustration and more of that regret dragged at Bree’s shoulders. “Then call the coroner’s office.” Think, Bree. This one will be sticky. Protocol has to be followed to the letter. “You want me to call Sheriff Martinez?” Cyrus suggested. A vise clamped around Bree’s chest. This was Kenner County…of course the sheriff would need to be involved. Bree heard herself say yes. What else could she say? Then she did an about-face, her movements stiff, and headed to where Brewer and the guide waited. Patrick Martinez. No matter that he had been the sheriff of the county for the last six years, somehow she had managed to avoid running into him. They hadn’t spoken in nearly eight years. Eight years! Focus on the job. Special Agent Julie Grainger was dead. She deserved Bree’s full attention. Nothing else mattered right now. Determining why she was dead and who killed her was top priority. “Yeah, do that. But call the others first.” “Morning, Detective,” Brewer said as she approached. “Good morning, Officer Brewer.” “This is Burt Hayes.” Brewer gestured to the guide. Hayes was Ute, as all park guides were. Bree’s family was Ute, as well. Hayes had that aged, craggy look, the one that said he’d spent almost as much time in the scorching Western sun as the Puebloan dwellings. He wore faded jeans and beneath the matching denim jacket an equally faded khaki shirt, along with leather boots that had seen far better days. His graying hair was pulled into a ponytail that reached the middle of his back. “Mr. Hayes.” Bree extended her hand, gave his a firm shake. “I need to take a look around, then I’d like to ask you a few questions.” Hayes nodded. “You Charlie Hunter’s girl?” Most folks around the Four Corners area knew her father. He’d once been an outspoken advocate for the Ute people and tribal affairs…before a stroke had silenced his deep, strong voice. “Yes, sir.” Bree smiled. “And he’s still as ornery as ever.” She turned to Officer Brewer. “Why don’t you assist Mr. Hayes with filling out his statement while I have a look at the scene?” Brewer nodded, didn’t comment or ask any questions, which meant that neither he nor Cyrus had done that part yet. Learning the victim was a federal agent had shaken them both. Complicated. Definitely complicated. The silence felt deafening as Bree tugged on the latex gloves and crouched next to the victim nestled amid the rocks ensconced in the desert sand. Grainger’s slender body was bloated with the ugliness of death, her skin pale and marbleized. One hand had been ravaged by wildlife, probably coyotes. Bree grimaced. They were damned lucky there wasn’t more damage. Bree visually examined the body for indications of the kind of violence done by man. No blood. Redness and bruising on the throat. No other signs of violence were visible except ligature marks on her throat. Bree leaned as close as possible and studied the marks. A unique pattern…not mere twine, certainly not a particularly thin wire. The longer she looked the more familiar the pattern appeared. Maybe a necklace of some sort. She’d definitely seen something like it before. Though Bree felt fairly certain cause of death was strangulation, the coroner would make the final conclusion. She sat back on her haunches and inventoried more details. Jeans, blouse, which, on closer inspection, had a tear in one sleeve as if she’d struggled briefly with her attacker. Hiking boots. But no jacket. Though the weather was definitely tolerable, the last couple of days the temps had hovered in the lower forties. Jacket wearing weather for sure. Bree surveyed the landscape. No vehicle. She wandered wide around the body, careful of every step. No visible shoe imprints. With the dusty terrain and the ever-present wind, that was no real surprise. No purse. No cell phone. Most females carried some sort of purse, even if only a small clutch. And cell phones, hardly anyone left home without them these days. Had the body been dumped here, making this location the secondary crime scene, or had Grainger met someone here who had taken her personal effects and vehicle after taking her life? This part of the park’s entry and exit possibilities via vehicle were limited to say the least. The thought drew Bree’s gaze to the road. A dust cloud bloomed, announcing that someone was coming…fast. An SUV bucked along the trail-turned-road until it skidded to a halt next to Bree’s vehicle. The dust settled and her denial-swaddled brain registered what her eyes had already recognized. Official vehicle. Kenner County. Had Cyrus called the sheriff first? Now that she thought about it, that didn’t add up. There was no way the sheriff could have gotten here this fast unless he’d heard already. Before Cyrus called anyone. The driver’s-side door opened and her heart seemed to stall in her chest. A booted foot hit the ground as the trademark white cowboy hat rose above the open door. Broad shoulders followed that same route…then a tall, lean body gloved in jeans and a brown sheriff’s department jacket moved aside and the driver’s-side door slammed shut. Patrick Martinez. Sheriff Patrick Martinez. Peter’s father. He strode toward her and Bree snapped out of the ridiculous trance she’d slipped into. Focus. She was a professional; he was a professional. There was no need to let personal feelings get in the way of doing the job. She’d considered long and hard what she would do if this situation ever arose. Now was the time to put that plan into action. “Sheriff,” she said, taking the first step. Vivid blue eyes, ones exactly like her son’s, zeroed in on Bree’s like a laser hitting its target. Patrick nodded curtly. “Detective.” “The victim’s over here.” Bree walked back to where Grainger’s body lay waiting to reveal the story behind the final moments of her life. Had Cyrus or Brewer called MacBride yet? Those lab folks should be here. Now. Patrick crouched to get a closer look. Bree did the same. He pulled a pair of latex gloves from his jacket pocket and tugged them on. “Who found her?” The pain in his deep voice reflected the ache of finding one of his own murdered. Every victim was a tragedy, but the loss of a colleague was like losing a family member. “Burt Hayes. Park guide.” Hayes was still giving his statement to Brewer. “He checks the trails every couple of days. Found her this morning. Looks like she may have been here a couple of days.” Patrick nodded. Bree tried hard not to stare at his profile. This wasn’t the time. No time would be right…not for the two of them. Still, she couldn’t look away. Strong, square jaw. He hadn’t taken the time to shave that morning, but the stubble looked good on him. Always had. For a man closer to forty than thirty, he looked damned good. Being so near Patrick after all this time made her even more aware of how very much her son looked like him. “Coroner on his way?” Bree blinked. Concentrate. “Officer Cyrus called the coroner and Callie MacBride at the crime lab just before you arrived.” “But he didn’t call me.” Patrick rose, towered over her before her brain could send the message to her suddenly rubbery legs to stand. He took a long look around the area. “You and your people sure got out here in one hell of a hurry.” The accusation in the sheriff’s eyes when his gaze settled on hers once more ticked her off, exiled all the other emotional confusion of seeing him again after eight years…after the discussion with her son not an hour ago…after everything. “Cyrus was about to call your office when you arrived.” She lifted her chin, sent a lead-filled gaze right back at him. “The initial call came into TPD, Cyrus and Brewer got here first, then called me. Obviously someone called you.” “We got a 9-1-1 call,” he explained. “The caller didn’t identify himself, but there was no question that he was male.” Patrick jerked his head toward the guide. “Any idea why he would call your department and report his discovery, then call 9-1-1?” Bree glanced at the old man. Most of the older folks didn’t bother will cell phones. Many didn’t even have landlines. Chances were he’d gone to the gas station on Highway 160 and made the call from there since the visitor’s center wouldn’t have been open so early. But why call twice? She shook her head. That was something she needed to ask him. Should have already, but she’d only been on the scene a few minutes herself. Still, she felt stupid at the moment. Patrick Martinez somehow always made her feel inept. That had been part of their problem. Here she’d been all caught up in the emotional impact of seeing him again. And he was only concerned with why he didn’t get the call first. Not to mention they should both be focused on the investigation, not some petty pissing contest. Okay, that wasn’t exactly true. His point was relevant. Whatever the case, it was past time to cut to the chase here. “As I said, Officers Cyrus and Brewer were the first on the scene. Cyrus called me immediately due to the sensitivity of the situation. We work together. It made sense at the time. It wasn’t about leaving you or anyone else out. As for the 9-1-1 call, we’ll have to ask Mr. Hayes.” She folded her arms over her chest, refused to waver beneath his iron stare. “Bottom line, this is Ute territory first and foremost. Cyrus’s decision to call me first was the right one.” The stare-off lasted another eight or ten seconds before Patrick looked away. Bree did a little mental victory dance. It hadn’t been her to give this time. “I’ll call my Bureau contact.” Patrick shook his head, rested his gaze on hers once more. “There’s going to be a firestorm over this,” he warned. “There won’t be any straightforward lines of jurisdiction beyond the fact that the Bureau will be lead. We’ll do what they tell us. But everyone will want a part of this. Unfortunately that includes every damned news network in this part of the country.” He spoke as if she were a rookie straight out of the academy. “Was that announcement for your benefit? ’Cause I sure as hell hope it wasn’t for mine. I know how the chain of command works, Martinez. And I also know the full scope of the kind of impact this case will have on the community. I don’t need you or anyone else to tell me how to do my job.” With one long, slow sweep of his dark lashes, he looked her up and down. “If working together is going to be a problem for you, perhaps you should step aside and let one of the other detectives on the special task force take this one.” He had to be kidding. Was he trying to piss her off? Fury boiled up inside her. “I don’t have a problem. You’re the one who appears to have a problem. You rode in here with a chip on your shoulder. I came to do my job. Why don’t you step aside and assign one of your deputies to this investigation? That way we’ll both be happy.” Another ten seconds of dramatic silence elapsed with the two of them staring holes through each other. “I can leave the past where it belongs,” he offered, his tone a little less accusatory but no less bitter. Enough with this game. “What past?” With that she gave him her back and stalked off to do her job. This was murder. The murder of a federal agent. It was way bigger than their foolish past. Time to do more than just talk about it. Chapter Two She hadn’t changed a bit. Patrick watched Bree walk away. Long dark hair always kept in a braid. As a detective she wasn’t required to wear the blue uniform, but she did as a matter of pride. She represented her people as well as the police department. For nearly eight years he had staunchly avoided running into her. Even after the powers that be in Kenner County had persuaded him to come to Colorado and serve as sheriff, in the jurisdiction where she lived, he’d managed to get by without contact. He’d heard that since they’d parted ways she had married a Ute man. It had been fairly easy to pretend he didn’t care. Now here they were…working a case together. And neither one of them was willing to back off. His gaze settled on the place where the victim lay amid the rocks and dirt of the barren landscape. A scrap of desert grass managed to thrive here and there around her position. Bleak was the word that came to mind…both for the place and the victim. Julie Grainger. Patrick hadn’t known the agent other than in passing. He’d met her once at a briefing. Professional, compassionate and dedicated. Now she was dead. Patrick shook his head. An incredible waste. Unable to delay the inevitable any longer, he put through a call to Special Agent in Charge Jerry Ortiz of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Durango field office that represented the Four Corners area. Making this kind of call to someone who no doubt knew the victim well was Patrick’s least favorite duty. But someone had to do it. Ortiz wasn’t in the office so Patrick was patched through to his cell phone. Ortiz had already heard the news from Callie MacBride. He was shocked and devastated. He’d called his people to set things in motion. His staff, those who knew Grainger as well as those who didn’t, would be stunned as well. Patrick ended the call, a sickening feeling in the pit of his gut. A damned shame. He turned all the way around and surveyed the barren land once more. What the hell had Grainger been doing out here? He was certain a highly trained agent wouldn’t have met an informant, much less a suspect, in such a secluded setting. Not without compelling motivation. His initial conclusion was that this had to be the secondary crime scene. Meaning she’d been dumped here like a piece of trash. Fury thundered inside him. As much as he loved the Four Corners area—it was his home—he hated the scum that had recently flocked here. Worse, he despised the lowlifes who were born and bred here. It seemed the harder he worked to clean up the county where he’d been raised, the harder evil worked to worm its way into his territory. He couldn’t stop the spread of drugs and crime; he was, after all, only one man. But he could damned sure do all within his power to slow it down. Officers Brewer and Cyrus were busy securing the scene, which should have been done immediately upon discovery. Patrick could only assume that the officers had been too overwhelmed by the discovery that the victim was a federal agent to act judiciously. He moved cautiously around the perimeter of the zone now officially designated by yellow tape as the crime scene. No tire tracks other than those of the vehicles parked nearby. No shoe imprints besides the ones belonging to those currently on the scene. The folks from the crime lab would sweep the area for evidence but so far he saw nothing but an abandoned soda can and a cigarette pack wrapper. Both of which would be analyzed just in case. A cloud of dust announced the arrival of more official vehicles. The crime lab folks, he hoped. The sooner the scene was searched for clues the greater the likelihood that any evidence left behind would be found. Patrick met the SUV as it skidded to a stop. All four doors opened. Callie MacBride, head forensic scientist at the Kenner County Crime Unit, climbed out of the front passenger-side door. Her face was pale, strained with disbelief and regret. “Callie, this is a damned shame.” Patrick exhaled a heavy breath. There wasn’t a hell of a lot more to say. Not at this point. He had no idea what case Grainger had been working any more than he knew any personal contacts that might have brought her to this place. Callie dipped her head in acknowledgment of his inadequate words. “Patrick, I believe you know most of my team.” She indicated her associates who had emerged from the vehicle. “Miguel Acevedo, Bart Fleming and Bobby O’Shea.” Patrick shook the hand of each man in turn and offered his sincere condolences. He’d worked with about every member of the crime unit the past couple of years. The Four Corners area had needed a crime lab for a good long while before the powers that be finally had the sense to make it a reality. Times like this were the reason. Every single member of the team had made Kenner County home; they knew the land and its people. In the past, law enforcement had had to rely on state facilities from as far away as Denver. These folks would get the job done quickly and thoroughly with the kind of knowledge only gained through life experience with the people and the land. That the victim was one of their own made their work this morning more than a job. This was personal. Faces grim, the team gathered their gear and donned protective wear. There would be little Patrick could do until their work was finished. The crime lab unit was made up of a number of other highly trained personnel. Though Patrick had worked with each of them at one time or another, he dealt primary with Callie on the vast majority of cases. As personal as this case was, Patrick didn’t worry about those personal feelings getting in the way. The Kenner County Crime Unit was small in size and funds were limited for equipment, but the scientists and technicians were top-notch. The best of the best. Particularly Callie. Patrick stayed out of the way and let them do their job. The extended moment of silence as the group acknowledged their fallen colleague was painful to watch. Callie MacBride in particular appeared shaken to the very core. Patrick wondered if she’d known the victim personally as well as professionally. That possibility was very likely, considering the whole staff operated as much as a family as a team of colleagues. While Callie’s people did their work, Patrick turned his attention to the Ute guide who had discovered the body. He doubted the man had seen anything but there were questions that needed to be asked. Like why he’d called the Towaoc police and then put in an anonymous call to 9-1-1, evidently some minutes later. With that in mind, Patrick started in his direction. Bree was interviewing the guide and would no doubt ask those same questions, but it was Patrick’s job to ensure every base was covered. Officers Cyrus and Brewer were maintaining the perimeter. If word got out that a federal agent had been murdered the media would flock to the park like vultures ready to pick the kill. Damn. The reality of what they were doing here hit Patrick all over again. A federal agent was dead. Murder was murder and any loss was one too many, but this loss took the act to a higher level. That Grainger, like all in law enforcement, served this community made the business of murder even uglier. Bree turned to face Patrick as he neared. Judging by her expression there was trouble with the guide’s story. “Mr. Hayes only made one call,” she said. “That call was to the Towaoc Police Department. Your 9-1-1 caller was not Mr. Hayes.” Patrick’s senses moved to a higher state of alert. That meant two things right out of the gate. The recorded 9-1-1 call could very well turn out to be their only tangible evidence. And the caller might just be the killer. “Mr. Hayes,” Patrick addressed the older man, working to keep his composure free of the frustration and impatience despite the anticipation zinging through him. “I’m certain Detective Hunter has already asked, but I need you to think long and hard about the questions I’m going to ask before you answer.” The man nodded, glanced briefly at Bree. Patrick understood that Hayes was anxious as well. This wasn’t a situation anyone wanted to be caught in. Finding a dead Caucasian female on reservation territory was about the last thing a Ute man would want on his plate. The political climate wasn’t that different from a few decades ago when Patrick had been in school and distinct cultural lines had been drawn. The undercurrent of racial differences remained a nagging social challenge that played itself out within the criminal element of the area. “What time did you arrive at the park this morning?” Hayes looked from Patrick to Bree. He’d already answered this question. Patrick understood that, but he needed the man to think…to be absolutely certain of his answers and to give them again. And maybe again after that. Before this case was solved, Hayes would likely be questioned several times. Patrick and Bree could compare his responses later and analyze any possible discrepancies or suggestions of deception. Hayes scratched his head. “Before seven o’clock. I stop at Rudy’s each morning. Six a.m. From there I come here.” “Rudy’s is the service station back at the turnoff to the park entrance,” Bree explained. Patrick knew the place. “Was there a reason you came to this particular place first?” The park was a big place. Patrick needed to know if Hayes had a routine for checking the area. “I check the dwellings first. This one.” He indicated the two-story dwelling. “Then the next. Lately there’s been trouble with teenagers using them as hangouts. So I check them first.” “Did you meet anyone as you entered the park this morning? Anything you might have seen could be important,” Patrick emphasized. He watched the man’s eyes and facial expressions closely. “No matter how unimportant it may seem, there may be something we can learn from the slightest detail. A vehicle parked nearby on the main highway. Anything.” Hayes contemplated the question half a minute before shaking his head. “No one was here except her.” He gestured to where the lab folks were methodically working the scene. “It was quiet. Nobody around. Just the dead woman.” “Mr. Hayes,” Bree interjected, “believes he returned to Rudy’s shortly after seven and made the call to TPD, then he came straight back here and waited for the police to arrive.” That meant the other caller had been here and gone before that since Hayes hadn’t encountered anyone and yet the unknown caller hadn’t reached out to 9-1-1 immediately. His call hadn’t come in until a quarter past eight. Anytime someone discovered a body and didn’t call it in immediately, he was either puking, crying, or he was afraid. Dispatch had indicated the caller sounded male and had no particular accent. Hayes didn’t have an accent per se but his speech pattern was somewhat slow, his words not necessarily the first choice to use by those educated in public schools. Drawing further suspicion, when asked to identify himself the 9-1-1 caller had ended the call—which almost certainly meant he had something to hide. Whether motivated by fear or guilt, the caller had to be found and questioned. “You’re certain you came straight back here,” Patrick pressed. “You didn’t talk to anyone at the store about what you’d found? Not even the owner? Is there any possibility that perhaps someone overheard you?” Hayes shook his head resolutely. “I didn’t talk to anyone. I don’t think anyone heard me. I came back here as fast as my old truck would carry me.” Patrick visually assessed the old truck. Not that fast, he imagined. “What time did you get your call?” he asked Bree. She checked her cell. “Seven-fifty.” Hayes couldn’t have missed the 9-1-1 caller by more than a few minutes. “Thank you, Mr. Hayes.” Patrick wanted to discuss this turn of events with Callie. “We will be in touch with additional questions. This is standard procedure.” Hayes grunted and gave Bree a nod. She thanked the man as well and Officer Cyrus escorted him to his truck to finish his written statement and to obtain pertinent information in terms of how to reach him. “I know how to question a witness.” Patrick’s attention snapped back to Bree. A frown pulled at his brow. “I’m well aware of your abilities as an investigator, Bree.” Bree…he hadn’t said her name out loud in a long, long time. His gut knotted even now as it echoed through him. He’d loved her… But that was a long time ago. Fury etched itself across the delicate lines of her face. A face he’d been hard-pressed to erase from his dreams most every night for nearly eight years now. “There was no need to reask every single question I’d already posed to Mr. Hayes. What you did undermined my authority and my ability. I don’t appreciate it one damned bit.” Patrick didn’t have to remind her that he was the county sheriff and this was his jurisdiction the same as it was hers. Doing so would only anger her all the more. “You did your job and I did mine. Mr. Hayes will be asked those same questions and more by numerous others during the course of this investigation. I’m sure you understand how protocol works when jurisdiction crosses the usual boundaries.” Judging by the deeper shade of red that climbed up her neck and across her face, his explanation hadn’t been what she’d wanted to hear. If she expected an apology, she could forget it. “This conversation is pointless.” She tugged at the lapels of her jacket. “Callie MacBride needs to know about this. The audio recording of the 9-1-1 call will need to be analyzed in a different light. I, for one, would like to hear it for myself.” He threw up his hands in surrender. “You took the words right out of my mouth.” Lips tight, eyes blazing, Bree executed an about-face and stalked off. Patrick followed. All these years he’d told himself that if the situation arose he could work with Bree. At this point, there was no logical reason professionalism shouldn’t override their personal history. So much for logic. Agent Acevedo snapped digital photographs of the scene and the victim. Patrick swallowed hard. Each time he considered Agent Grainger the victim, his gut tightened. Agents O’Shea and Fleming searched the zone within the cordoned-off area and tagged possible evidence. From what Patrick had noted there wasn’t much but for now anything and everything had to be ruled out. A time-consuming process to say the least. Bree approached Callie first. The two stepped aside and Patrick joined the huddle. Bree might not like the fact that he was on this case, but she would simply have to get over it. Once the facts they had discovered regarding the two calls were passed along, Bree added, “I don’t know what we’ll learn from the audio recording, but it’s worth a shot.” “Absolutely,” Callie agreed. “How soon can you arrange to have the recording at your lab?” Patrick glanced at his watch. “It’s almost nine now. I can get the request started while you finish your work here.” When ten or so seconds passed with Callie seemingly lost in thought, he added, “I know the Bureau will be lead on this investigation, but whatever my department can do we’re completely at your disposal.” “The same goes for my department,” Bree assured her. “The task force is working a couple of other homicides, but I’m certain we can manage some additional personnel to support this investigation.” Patrick recognized that Bree was only doing her job. Still, it felt like they were in competition. That was one issue he had to get under control. Clear the air somehow. Evidently, eight years apart hadn’t done the job. “We’ll be here,” Callie finally said, her voice as well as her expression distracted, “for several hours.” She rubbed her forehead, the gesture uncharacteristic for the hard-nosed, professional lady he knew. “Let’s say three o’clock at the lab. I’ll put in a call to Olivia. She can cut through the red tape faster than your office and have the recording available sooner.” This she directed to Patrick. “That’ll work.” Olivia Perez was a go-getter. Like the others on Callie’s team, Olivia wouldn’t rest until her task was accomplished. “Meanwhile,” Bree offered, “I can begin checking with nearby businesses, like Rudy’s, and get a rundown of the customers who come through his station early each morning. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find someone who saw something. The locals stay pretty aware of what’s going on around them. Any strangers or unfamiliar faces will stick out in their minds. Most will talk to me.” When they might not talk to Patrick or his deputies. She didn’t have to say that part. Patrick knew from experience. “I’ll go along with you,” he said to Bree. The way her eyes widened and her breath caught made him relatively certain she would rather swallow broken glass. “We’ll get more done together.” She blinked. “Of course.” She turned to Callie then. “I’ll keep you posted if we learn anything before the meeting this afternoon.” Callie nodded vaguely, then rejoined her team. Patrick watched her unnatural movements. Stiff. Uncertain. Totally opposite the confident woman he’d seen in action many, many times. Something was troubling her. Something more than the fact that a colleague, and perhaps friend, was dead. Right now all they had were questions. What had brought Agent Grainger to this desolate place in the dead of winter…all alone? Had she been tailing a suspect? Or meeting with an informant? There were some signs of a struggle, but not enough to warrant the belief that Grainger had in fact fiercely attempted to defend herself. Whoever her attacker was, he’d moved swiftly and with his victim unaware. For a skilled agent like Grainger, that was no easy task. He dragged his thoughts back to the here and now just in time to see Bree settle behind the wheel of her SUV and slam the door. Damn. She wasn’t going to make any part of this easy. He strode to her vehicle, opened the passenger-side door without waiting for an invitation and said, “I guess this means I’m riding with you.” She started the engine, didn’t spare him a glance. “Suit yourself. I’m always happy to cooperate fully with the sheriff’s department.” Not the slightest bit easy. Going door-to-door might not garner any information, but right now it was their only option. Until they were briefed—if they were briefed—on Agent Grainger’s activities just prior to her death, basic legwork was about the only hand they had to play. As the investigation moved into full swing, the Bureau would lay out the ground rules. Until then, they’d have to play this by the seat of their pants. Patrick glanced at the driver. Maybe, if he were really, really lucky, he’d get through this without saying or doing anything he would regret the way he regretted so much else that had happened between them. Like the past eight years. Chapter Three He was in her SUV. Bree covertly scanned the interior of the vehicle. Had her son left anything lying around? A favorite toy or game? Were there indications she had a child? She didn’t breathe easy until she felt satisfied that there was nothing for Patrick to notice. “Where would you suggest we start?” The deep sound of his voice resonating inside her vehicle almost made her jump. Stay cool. Patrick was far too good at picking up on tension. Especially hers. The last thing she needed was for him to start asking personal questions. “Rudy’s.” Since the visitor’s center wasn’t open, Hayes had made his phone call to TPD from the service station just outside the park. Made sense to begin there. To trace his steps, so to speak. That Patrick didn’t argue told her he agreed. She would like to feel flattered that he concurred with her conclusion but the choice was elementary. It wasn’t like they had that many. Rudy’s Stop and Go had been around for as long as Bree could remember. The one gas stop for a number of miles in either direction. Outside Rudy’s there were a few tourist traps that wouldn’t be open before ten. At this time of the morning an employee could be inside stocking shelves and preparing for the business day to begin, but there was little likelihood anyone would have seen the vehicles passing on the highway. Basically what Bree and Patrick were doing now was going through the motions. Until they knew what cases Grainger may have been working on in the area, or who her enemies were suspected to be, there was no other starting place. The most primitive of police work. Bree parked in front of Rudy’s and climbed out of her vehicle. She didn’t wait for Patrick, the less eye contact and conversation the better. She didn’t need him analyzing her every move. And he was a master at scrutinizing and forming conclusions based on nothing more than his suspects’ body language. She felt exactly like that…a suspect. Perhaps guilt had something to do with her defensiveness. Inside the store the woman behind the counter glanced up as the bell over the door jingled. Bree flashed the cashier a smile then turned to wait for Patrick, who still lingered in the parking lot. He had paused to survey the parking lot and highway beyond. He walked to the west end of the building and peered toward the turnoff to the Tribal Park. She remembered that he liked to get a feel for the vicinity where a crime had taken place. To form scenarios related to the crime. That obviously hadn’t changed. Frustrating the hell out of her was the fact that her gaze roamed the breadth of his shoulders and the height of his tall frame from the cowboy boots to the familiar hat before she could rein in the reaction to seeing him again. But what really burned her was the way her heart pounded a little harder just watching him move. How could the organ be so mutinous? This moment had been inevitable. She had contemplated that realization many times. They worked in the same county. It had only been a matter of time before the two of them ended up on a case together. And still she wasn’t ready for this. When he turned to enter the store, she shifted in the other direction and went in search of Rudy Johnson, the owner. “Good morning, Mr. Johnson.” “Good morning to you, Detective Hunter.” The spry old man hesitated in his inventory duties and shot her a wide smile. “How’s the family?” The instant the words left her lips she could have bitten off her tongue. The bell over the door jingled announcing Patrick’s entrance. Rudy would no doubt return the social gesture and ask about her son. Damn! She had to get her act together. The line she walked was precarious enough without tipping the balance unnecessarily. A wave of uncertainty washed over her. How could she possibly hope to keep this up? Was she making a mistake hiding the truth from Patrick? From Peter? She’d made that decision a long time ago. At a time when her emotions had been particularly raw and she had been terrified of the consequences of telling him he had a son. Too late to turn back now. “The wife’s arthritis is acting up,” Rudy said as he tucked the pencil behind his ear. “But that’s to be expected at our age.” The smile broadened to a grin and his eyes twinkled. “How’s Peter? I still owe him that trip to the cabin.” Patrick came to a stop right beside Bree as if the gods had deemed her guilty as charged and opted to torture her a little as a sneak preview of what was to come. This time the pounding in her chest had nothing to do with his nearness. “He’s doing great. We’ll have to get together soon and schedule that trip to your cabin.” Change the subject! “Unfortunately, I’m here this morning on police business. Sheriff Martinez and I need to ask you a few questions. It’ll only take a couple minutes.” Rudy looked from Bree to Patrick and back. Don’t say any more about Peter, she urged silently. “This about Burt Hayes?” Rudy placed his clipboard atop a row of canned goods and gave Bree his full attention. “He rushed back in here this morning to use the phone. The man was acting a mite strange. I asked him if there was trouble but he rushed outta here like the devil himself was on his heels.” Rudy raised a speculative eyebrow. “I figured there was trouble at one of the dwellings.” “Did Hayes mention any problem?” Patrick inquired before Bree could. Rudy shook his head. “Just asked to use the phone. Lizzy was using the one at the counter so I let him use the phone in the office.” He hitched his thumb toward the door in the back marked Employees Only. “We had a regular morning rush at the time, so I didn’t get to ask him what the problem was.” “Before eight this morning did you notice anyone else behaving strangely?” Bree ventured, unsure just how much Patrick had in mind sharing at this point. “Maybe a little nervous or in a hurry like Mr. Hayes?” Rudy folded his arms over his chest and rubbed his chin as he considered the question. “The usual Monday morning crowd came through. And they’re all always in a hurry.” He shook his head. “I’ll never understand why working folks wait until Monday morning to fill up their gas tanks and then they complain because they’re running late.” “Did anyone stop in that you didn’t recognize?” Patrick asked. “Maybe someone in more of a hurry than the rest?” Rudy shrugged. “There’s always a few strangers passing through. Usually not that many early in the morning. No one at all that I noticed today. Just the regulars.” “If you could provide us with a list of the regulars who were in this morning that would be useful.” Patrick slid the request into the conversation, the maneuver slick as glass. Bree noted the mounting confusion on Rudy’s face. “I know that’s asking a lot, Mr. Johnson, but we…” she glanced at Patrick, he gave her no indication not to proceed “…discovered a body in the park this morning. We have reason to believe some aspect of the crime was carried out between seven and eight this morning. So anyone you or your regulars might have seen in the area could be a person of interest in the case.” Rudy squared his shoulders and lifted his chin as if ready to do battle. “The regulars who come through my store are good people. Not criminals.” The firm set of his jaw warned more so than his words that his hackles were up. “If any one of them had seen or heard anything I would know it.” “That may be,” Patrick cut in, his tone firmer this time, “but we’ll need that list all the same. Choosing not to provide the names constitutes obstruction of justice.” So much for congeniality. “Anything anyone may have seen could prove immensely helpful to our investigation,” Bree explained, hoping to head off a complete lockdown. The Ute people were a proud, stubborn lot. Despite having been raised here, Patrick apparently didn’t understand that as a white man his imposing tone and words could come across the wrong way when dealing with a Ute man. Rudy glared at Patrick a moment before turning his attention to Bree. “I’ll give you the list if it’s that important.” Patrick’s own hackles visibly reared. His jaw tightened and the rigid set of his shoulders announced this loudly. “Sheriff Martinez and I are working together,” Bree clarified. “Your cooperation with the both of us will make our job a lot easier.” Rudy gave a single curt nod. Bree pushed a smile into place, relieved. “Great. I’ll pick up the list later today, if that’s all right. I know you’re busy.” Another tight nod. “Thank you, Mr. Johnson,” Bree offered, understanding that the man’s continued cooperation depended a great deal on her keeping the lines of communication on a level that fostered mutual respect. As much as she hated to admit it, that was the very reason she would have no choice but to work directly with Patrick to some degree as long as they were a part of this investigation. These people knew and trusted her. She was one of them. Patrick represented those who looked down at the Ute people. Unfairly lumped them all in the same category. There was good and bad in all people. No one liked to be judged wrongly because of the actions of others. Patrick and Rudy exchanged one of those male half-nods that was barely civil. At the front of the store Lizzy O’Dell was braced against the counter, busily filing her nails. Bree asked her the same questions they’d asked Rudy. Lizzy had been too busy at the register, she claimed, to notice anything out of the ordinary. Bree thanked her as well and made a path toward the door. If she could get out of here without— “Say hello to Peter for me,” Rudy called after her. Bree managed a decent stab at a smile and assured the man she would. She was out the door and climbing into her vehicle two steps ahead of Patrick in hopes of moving on before any related questions could be posed. “Who’s Peter?” If she hadn’t known that it was physically impossible for her heart to completely stop beating while she continued to breathe, Bree would have sworn that it had done just that. Êîíåö îçíàêîìèòåëüíîãî ôðàãìåíòà. 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