CHAPTER 1

The ringing phone was no surprise to Toni Matthews. It was, in fact, just one more interruption to an already long and frustrating day. Yet, in some ways, Toni welcomed the distraction. Having thrown herself into the business at hand in an effort to forget the aching in her heart, she wondered if she would ever make sense out of the mountains of paperwork staring her in the face. And what if I do? she asked herself as she reached for the phone. Even if I finally manage to figure out what to do with all this . . . mess . . . then what?

She took a deep breath and tried to focus. "Matthews and Matthews Detective Agency, Toni Matthews speaking. May I help you?"

The brief pause was followed by a soft, hesitant voice, obviously that of an elderly woman. "Matthews Detective Agency? Matthews and Matthews?"

Toni suppressed an impatient sigh as she ran her fingers through her short blonde curls. "Yes," she answered. "This is Toni Matthews. How can I help you?"

Another pause. "I . . . I'm calling about Julie Greene, my . . . granddaughter. Is . . . Mr. Matthews available? He knows all about her case."

Hot tears stung her eyes as Toni swallowed the unwelcome lump in her throat. "No," she managed to choke out. "Mr. Matthews is not available. He's . . . deceased. This is his daughter, and I'm taking care of his affairs. I'll be happy to help you if I can, Mrs. . . ."

"Lippincott. April Lippincott. Oh, my dear, I'm so sorry! I had no idea. How did it happen? When?"

Toni sighed. One more client who hadn't read the local obituary columns in the last few weeks. One more explanation to give. One more contract to refer to another agency. She cradled the phone against her shoulder and rubbed her pounding temples. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Lippincott. Let me take your address and mail you a letter explaining the situation. I'm in the process of doing that with all my father's clients. It may take a week or so because Lorraine—my father's secretary—quit about a month ago, just before he . . . just before his heart attack. So I'm filling in. I'll get those letters out in the next few days. Would that be all right?"

"Oh, certainly, my dear. Of course. But . . ." There was that annoying pause again. "It's just that your father was . . . so close to finding my Julie. He was supposed to get back to me a couple of weeks ago and he . . . he seemed so sure of having news for me by then."

Stifling another sigh, Toni grabbed a pen. "I'm sure he was, Mrs. Lippincott. And I'm sure that whatever information he may have found out about your granddaughter is in her file. Let me get that letter off to you with some agency referrals and an explanation of how to obtain the necessary files from my father's office. Now, is that Lippincott with one t or two?"

Finished at last, Toni hung up the phone and looked around at the small but comfortable office. Paul Matthews was never one for decorating. In fact, since his wife, Marilyn, had died of cancer twelve years earlier, little about the familiar two-room business had changed. It was as if Toni's mother were still here, working alongside her husband in the detective agency they had started together soon after they were married. Paul had set up his desk and files in this back room and had done all the agency's field work. Marilyn had her desk in the front office and had served as bookkeeper, secretary, and receptionist. Together they poured over cases, searching for overlooked clues, sometimes late into the night. When Marilyn died, leaving Paul to care for two-year-old Melissa as well as fourteen-year-old Toni, he had resolved to keep the agency going and to retain the name of Matthews and Matthews, hoping that one or both of his daughters would one day join him in the business.

Now, twelve years later, Paul was gone too, having died of a heart attack while on a fishing trip just three weeks earlier. Suddenly Toni, the older of the two remaining Matthews family members, was forced to face the decision she had wrestled with for years. With graduation less than a month behind her and a fresh master's degree in literature under her belt, should she fulfill her father's dreams of keeping the detective agency going? She had, after all—strictly in an effort to please him—obtained the necessary license to do so. But now, with her father gone, should she put the agency up for sale and pursue her own dreams of settling down and marrying her fiancé, Brad Anderson, and teaching part-time at the local college while she attempted to develop the writing career she had longed for since she was a little girl? Thanks to her dad's prudent financial planning, Toni had the financial means to take her time in making that decision.

She shook her head. Enough of this daydreaming and feeling sorry for yourself, she scolded silently. There's work to do—and lots of it. The first thing is to take care of that client before she shows up on the doorstep wanting to know what's taking so long. What was her name again? Lippincott, April Lippincott, asking about her missing granddaughter, Julie Greene, and wanting to see her file. Guess I'd better see what I can find out about this girl before I start on anything else.

The phone rang again. Toni looked at it and decided to let the call go on the answering machine. If it was Brad, she'd hear his voice and pick up. Anyone else could wait. Rising from her chair, she walked over to the gray metal filing cabinet, ignoring the slightly agitated male voice on the answering machine wanting to know who would be taking over the agency's current cases. As Toni pulled out the top drawer marked "Active Cases," the machine beeped, signaling the end of the message. Even as her fingers walked through the files looking for Julie Greene's name, a smile tugged at her lips. Only my dad would insist on keeping his files in this antiquated metal cabinet. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get him to even consider a computer. "Your mother and I bought this office furniture together," he had explained to her many times. "And she set up the filing system. It worked just fine for us then, and it'll work just fine as long as I'm here to keep this office going."

Toni's smile disappeared, and the ache in her heart, as well as the pounding in her head, returned at the reminder of her father's sudden death. Pulling up Julie Greene's file, she shuffled back to the desk and plunked down in the worn leather chair. Reaching into the top right drawer, she rummaged around for a bottle of aspirin, gave up, and then opened the file. Toni gasped at the picture of the pretty young girl staring back at her. The long, curly blond hair, the wide blue eyes, the tentative smile . . . she knew she was looking at a recent picture of Julie Greene, and yet it could almost have been a picture of herself ten years earlier. Toni wondered what her father must have thought when he first saw the picture of this runaway teenager from Colorado. Taking a deep breath, she began to turn the pages. Suddenly the words on a piece of scrap paper, written in bright red ink—obviously her father's handwriting—jumped out at her: "Eagle Lake, 6 a.m., Wednesday."

Toni's headache was forgotten. Eagle Lake? But that's where Dad was when . . . Why would he have put a note about Eagle Lake in Julie Greene's file? And Wednesday? That was the day of his heart attack. Could it have been the same Wednesday? What was supposed to happen at six o'clock on Wednesday morning at Eagle Lake that could possibly have involved both Julie Greene and my dad? Frowning, she began to read through the file. Just who was this Julie Greene anyway? Was there a connection between Julie and Paul Matthews's trip to the lake? If so, did it have something to do with Mrs. Lippincott's assertions that Toni's father was about to close in on Julie's whereabouts?

"Miss Matthews? Excuse me, are you Toni Matthews?"

Toni jumped as the voice penetrated her concentration. Snapping her head up, her blue eyes opened wide at the sight of the tall, broad-shouldered man standing beside her desk, his gray sport shirt open at the collar. From the expression on his face, he appeared almost as startled as Toni.

The young man with the dark eyes and dark, wavy hair cleared his throat. "Are you Toni Matthews?"

Toni found her voice. "Yes, I am. How can I help you?"

"I'm Abe . . . Abe Matthews." He smiled. "No relation, of course."

Toni frowned, ignoring his attempt at humor. "Abe Matthews?" She shook her head. "I'm sorry, but . . . should I know you?"

The concern on his face was obvious. "No, not at all. It's just that I knew your father—not well, of course. . . . Actually, I'm a detective with the River View Police Department, and your father and I met when a couple of our investigations crossed paths, and . . . I was shocked when I heard about his death. In fact, I was at his funeral—not that I'd expect you to remember that, with all those people there and all that was going on, and also with the way you must have been feeling, but—"

"You knew my father?"

He nodded. "Yes. Of course, as I said, I didn't know him well, but we had talked a few times, and . . . anyway, that doesn't matter right now. I was just driving by and thought I'd take a chance and see if your father's secretary was in. I have something of his that I wanted to return, but I didn't feel right bothering you at home so soon after . . ."

His voice trailed off as Toni noticed the book in his hand. "You have something that belonged to my father?"

He held out the book. "It . . . might sound silly, but it's a book on fly fishing. Your dad and I both have—had—a passion for fishing, as you know. . . . Well, as you know about him. Anyway, we got to talking about fishing one day and he lent me this book just before he went on his vacation. I was going to return it to him when he got back, but . . ."

Toni stood up and reached out to take the book. "Thank you, Detective Matthews. I appreciate your bringing it by."

"Abe," he said, placing the book in her outstretched hand. "Please . . . call me Abe, especially when I'm not on duty."

She was annoyed with herself for the flush she felt creeping up her neck and cheeks at the touch of his hand. "Yes, well, thank you again . . . Abe."

They stood silently for a moment until Abe cleared his throat and looked around. "So, where's the secretary? Irene, was it?"

"Lorraine. She quit suddenly, about a month ago. She hadn't been here very long, and she didn't really give any reason for leaving. My dad didn't have time to find anyone to take her place, so I filled in for him while he looked for someone, but then . . . he died. That's why I'm here now, trying to figure out what needs to be taken care of immediately, answering calls, referring contracts, things like that."

"Oh. Sure. There must be a lot of details to take care of and . . . " He cleared his throat again. "Have you . . . decided what you'll do with the agency? I mean, I assume you're going to sell it or . . .?"

Toni shrugged, suddenly feeling very tired. "I don't know," she said, her voice breaking as she fought tears. "I . . . really don't know . . . I . . ."

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked. It's none of my business. It's just that your dad had mentioned how happy he was that you'd gotten your license and how he hoped you'd follow in his footsteps someday, so . . ."

The tears spilled over then as Toni's headache returned with a vengeance. She put her hand on the desk and leaned against it, still clutching the book in her other hand. "No. It's not your fault. Really. It's . . ."

Just as she wondered if her legs would give way, she felt his hands grasping her arms and helping her back to the chair. She collapsed into it and laid her head back with her eyes closed, tears slowly trickling down her cheeks. She was too weary even to be embarrassed by her uncharacteristic show of weakness.

"What can I do?" Abe asked, handing her a tissue from the box on the desk. "Can I call someone or get you something?"

"An aspirin. Please. My head is pounding."

In the couple of minutes it took Abe to retrieve some aspirin from his car, Toni had taken some deep breaths and managed to stop the tears. She gladly accepted the aspirin and the cup of water he brought her from the cooler in the front office.

As she swallowed the aspirin, Abe knelt beside her, his hand on the arm of her chair. "Is there anything else I can do? Someone you'd like me to call or . . ."

Toni shook her head. "No. I'll be fine. Really. I'm just a little tired. There's been so much . . ."

"I can imagine," Abe answered, his voice low. "I'm sorry if my coming here made it worse."

Impulsively, Toni laid her hand on Abe's. "Not at all. I appreciate your bringing the book and—"

They both jumped when they heard the voice and realized they were not alone.

"Toni? What's going on here? Are you all right?"

Toni and Abe looked up at the figure framed in the doorway.

"Brad," Toni exclaimed as she and Abe rose to their feet. "I didn't hear you come in."

Brad raised his eyebrows. "I'm not surprised." He turned toward Abe. "I'm Brad Anderson, Toni's fiancé. And you are . . .?"

Abe stuck out his hand. "Abe Matthews," he said. "I was just—"

"Mr. Matthews is a police detective, and he was a friend of my dad's," Toni interrupted. "He was returning one of Dad's books."

"I see," said Brad, shaking Abe's hand. "That explains why you look familiar. I'm a lawyer, and I'm sure that in a town the size of River View we're bound to have run into each other a few times over the years. It's nice to meet you, Mr. Matthews."

"Yes, well, it's nice to meet you, too, Mr. Anderson." Abe looked at Toni. "Well, Miss . . . Matthews, I've got to run. I'm sorry if I disturbed you. . . ." Nodding his goodbye, he didn't wait for Toni to answer but stepped around Brad and hurried through the door into the outer office. Brad and Toni stared after him until they heard the front door close.

"What was that all about?"

Toni turned toward Brad. Dressed impeccably as always, his off-white summer suit complemented his pale blue shirt and navy tie. She was glad to see him. His familiarity comforted her. But the slight irritation on his face reminded her of how tired she was. She sat back down in her chair.

"He just stopped by to return that," she said, pointing to the book.

Brad picked it up. "Fly fishing?" He turned it over, examining it as if expecting to find some explanation. "I don't get it. He came to return a book about fly fishing?"

Toni nodded, running her fingers through her hair as she tried to pull herself together. "Yes. I guess he borrowed it from Dad."

"So this . . . detective . . . he and your dad were good friends?"

"They knew each other. How close they were, I don't know. He did mention that he'd been at Dad's funeral, but I can't say that I remember seeing him."

Brad raised his eyebrows. "Hmm. Another reason he looked familiar." He paused. "So I gather you two have never met before?"

"I don't believe so. Why?"

"No reason." Brad shrugged. "I thought maybe . . . I don't know; it just seemed as if you two knew each other."

Toni sighed. "No. Don't know him. Just met him today. Look, can we change the subject? I'm really tired. I think maybe I need to get out of here and go get something to eat."

Brad's face brightened. "Great idea. In fact, that's exactly why I'm here. How about an early dinner somewhere? A good steak might be just what you need."

"Oh no, I can't go out looking like this," Toni protested, looking down at her jeans and oversized pink shirt. "You're dressed for it, but I—"

"You look great," Brad insisted. "You always look great. Come on, let's go somewhere really nice. We can go by your place so you can change first if you want."

Toni shook her head. "Seriously, Brad, I can't. I'm just too tired. Besides, Melissa will be home soon. She spent the night with Carrie last night, but she said she'd be home in time for dinner. Why don't you just come and eat with us? It'll be potluck, I'm afraid, but—"

Brad interrupted her. "I've got a better idea. Why don't we pick up some Chinese food on the way home? Melissa loves it, and that way nobody will have to cook or wash dishes."

Toni smiled, grateful for Brad's thoughtfulness. It was one of the many things she loved about him. "You've got a date. Just let me clear a few things off my desk. It won't take long."

As Toni stood and reached out to pick up the files and notes from her desk, she spotted the open file on top and remembered what it was that she had been so engrossed in reading when Abe Matthews had interrupted her.

"Julie Greene," she said, picking up the file. "Something's just not right about this."

"What's not right? Who's Judy Greene?"

"Julie Greene," she answered, pointing to the scrap of paper with the bright red notation. "Look at this."

Brad leaned over Toni's shoulder and read the note out loud. "Eagle Lake, six a.m., Wednesday." He straightened up and shrugged. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I'm not sure," she said absently, still staring at the file. "But . . . that's where my dad was when he had his heart attack. Doesn't it seem a bit strange that this would be in one of Dad's client's files?"

Brad shrugged again. "Not necessarily. Just because that's where your dad was when . . ." His voice caught and Toni felt his hand on her shoulder. "Honey, there are all sorts of reasons why that notation could be in the file. Eagle Lake is a very popular place around here, you know."

Toni nodded and looked up at her fiancé. "I know," she said, her voice soft as she saw the compassion in his hazel eyes. A shock of sandy blond hair fell across his forehead, giving him a vulnerable look that belied the disciplined lawyer's mind that Toni so respected. In spite of herself, she smiled.

Brad's response was immediate. Leaning down, he kissed her gently. "You look exhausted. Come on, let's go get that Chinese food and head over to your place." He took the file from her hands and laid it on the desk, then lifted her to her feet and pulled her close, nuzzling her hair. His voice was husky. "There's nothing here that can't wait until tomorrow."

"Maybe," she murmured. "I suppose. But . . . there's still something strange about this Julie Greene case. A missing teenage girl from Colorado . . ." She lifted her head and looked up at Brad. "How did her case end up in my dad's office, way out here in the Northwest? And why was this girl's grandmother so sure that Dad was about to solve this thing? How does all that tie in with Eagle Lake? I thought Dad's cases were all pretty tame. You know, simple civil cases. He never got involved with anything criminal or dangerous. I just don't get it—"

Brad interrupted her with another kiss, then pulled back and gazed down at her. "You aren't supposed to get it," he said. "Just because you have a license doesn't mean you're a detective, remember? Your dad was the detective. These were his cases, not yours. All you're supposed to do is tie together some loose ends and refer his clients to other agencies so we can get on with our plans. I know it's too soon after losing your dad to set a wedding date, but you know I don't want to wait any longer than we have to. I'd been hoping for a summer wedding, but obviously that's not going to work. Maybe late fall or winter . . .?"

Toni opened her mouth to protest, but Brad placed a finger against her lips. "I know what you're going to say. I've heard the arguments before, and like I said, with what's just happened with your dad, we need to wait a while longer. But, Toni, I've already waited almost ten years!"

She took his wrist, raised his hand to her lips, and gently kissed his palm. "I know," she said. "I know you've waited a long time. You've been telling me since high school that you want to marry me. But there was college and graduate school for me, college and law school for you, and now there's Melissa to think of, besides taking care of Dad's affairs. There's just no time to plan a wedding right now."

"Toni, I've told you a million times. When we're married, I'll be thrilled to have Melissa living with us. She's almost as much of a kid sister to me as she is to you! And besides, we've both agreed we don't want a huge wedding—just something simple, with Pastor Michael officiating, some family and friends. . . . Toni, I don't want to downplay the importance of settling your dad's affairs and dealing with your own emotions, but . . . sooner or later, we've got to pin down a date, don't you think? And as much as I love Melissa, I'd really like to tie the knot before we're too old to think about having kids of our own."

Toni smiled. "So would I. You know I want that too. But—"

"But this is not the time to talk about it. OK, we'll discuss it later." He pulled back and glanced over at the desk. "For now, let's close that file and lock this place up for the night. It'll all be here waiting for you in the morning." Brad let her go and reached over to close Julie Greene's file. "There," he said. "You see how easy that was?" He took her arm and began to walk her toward the door. "Come on, my stomach's growling. And knowing you, I'll bet you haven't eaten anything all day."

"Wait," Toni said, pulling away and returning to the desk. She opened the bottom left-hand drawer and grabbed her purse. "Can't leave without this." She took a step, then turned back once more. "Think I'll just take this along for drill," she added, picking up the Greene file and tucking it under her arm. When Brad rolled his eyes at her, she grinned. "Well, Mr. Anderson, what are we waiting for? Let's go. I'm starved!"

***

Melissa was curled up on the worn floral-print couch, writing in her journal, when they walked in. She looked up and brushed her long auburn hair back from her face, a faint smile touching her lips when she saw them. "Hi, guys," she said, her voice soft with a sadness that broke Toni's heart. The loss of their father had taken a heavy toll on the once bubbly teenager. Seeing the change in her little sister only added to Toni's pain.

"Hi yourself," she said, forcing a cheerfulness into her voice and hoping it was reflected in her face. "Glad you're back. Did you have a good time at Carrie's?"

Melissa shrugged. "Sure. I guess so."

Brad walked over to the couch and bent over to kiss Melissa's cheek. "Hey, kid," he said, holding up the bag of Chinese food. "Brought you some almond chicken."

Her smile widened slightly. "My favorite. Thanks, Bro. You're the best."

"That's what I've been trying to tell your sister," he said, turning to walk toward the kitchen. "Maybe you can help me convince her of that so she'll marry me!"

Melissa laughed and got up to follow Brad. "If she doesn't, I will," she assured him.

Toni couldn't help but notice that, even in jeans and a T-shirt, Melissa was beginning to look more like a young woman than a little girl. She breathed a prayer of thanks for Brad's ability to draw Melissa out of her shell. As she entered the bright, pleasant kitchen where she had spent so many hours of her life, the aroma of Chinese food began drifting up from the cartons Brad and Melissa were opening. "How about paper plates tonight?" she asked.

"Sounds good to me," said Brad.

"Absolutely," Melissa agreed. "And plastic forks too. Why wash dishes when we can just throw them away?"

Brad laughed. "A girl after my own heart. Maybe I should just go ahead and marry you instead of your sister."

"Maybe you should," said Toni, coming up behind them. "But I'm afraid you'd have to wait even longer for a wedding with Melissa than with me."

Brad turned and took the plates and forks from Toni, shaking his head. "I just can't win around here, can I?" He sighed loudly. "OK, OK. No more discussions about weddings. Let's eat this stuff before it gets cold."

They sat down around the old oak table that had been in their kitchen for as long as Toni could remember, then joined hands and bowed their heads.

"Thank you, Father," Brad prayed, "for your loving care and provision for us. We ask you to bless this food, in Jesus' name. Amen."

Melissa grabbed the carton containing the almond chicken, while Toni and Brad pretended to fight each other over the sweet and sour pork. "Oh no, please, go ahead," Brad said, his voice dripping with martyrdom. "I'll wait. After all, I'm very good at waiting, you know."

Toni ignored him and scooped the food onto her plate, then passed the carton to Brad. "I saved you a little," she said, "just because you're soooo patient."

They continued to tease each other as they ate, keeping the conversation light and the mood playful. By the time they were finished, Toni was beginning to feel her strength returning.

"That was great," she said, reaching over to lay her hand on Brad's arm. "Thanks."

Brad smiled and winked at her. "You're welcome . . . as always."

"Yeah, thanks," Melissa added. "You're all right, Bro. I don't care what anybody says."

Brad raised his eyebrows. "Oh yeah? And just what do they say about me, anyway?"

"I'll never tell," said Melissa, standing up and beginning to clear the table. "I've been sworn to secrecy."

"Oh, great," said Brad, getting up to help her. "Not only do my proposals get turned down around here, I can't even defend myself because no one will tell me what 'they' are saying about me."

Toni watched her fiancé and her little sister working and joking around together, and she wondered how she and Melissa would ever make it through all of this without Brad. She knew what a vulnerable time this was for Melissa, who was the same age now that Toni had been when they had lost their mother. Melissa, of course, didn't remember Marilyn Matthews, although she had certainly cried for her when she died. But Toni remembered her, and their father's death only intensified those painful memories.

"So, Melissa," she said, trying to refocus her thoughts, "have you thought about what you might want to do this summer? I know school just got out yesterday, but we probably should talk about your plans soon."

Melissa hesitated as she placed the almost empty food cartons in the refrigerator, then came and rejoined Toni at the table. "Actually, I have thought about it. To tell you the truth, I really wasn't looking forward to almost three months with nothing to do, especially now that . . . Well, you know, I won't have Dad to go fishing with or . . ." She stopped, and Toni knew she was fighting hard to maintain her composure. Then she took a deep breath and continued. "When I was at Carrie's last night, her mom's friend stopped by. You know, Beth Johnson, the receptionist at the dentist's office? She's looking for someone to take care of her little boy, Tyler, for the summer. He's almost seven. They just live two streets over from us, and she works Monday through Friday from eight to five. Mrs. Johnson's mother has been watching Tyler after school but would rather not be tied down all day during the summer, so they need someone as soon as possible. Anyway, she was wondering if Carrie could do it, but the Johnsons have a cat, and Carrie's allergic. So I thought, maybe . . ."

Toni pursed her lips. "Full time? Are you sure you want to make that much of a commitment? I know you're great with kids and you've done some babysitting in the evenings for a few people, but all day, five days a week? That's a lot."

Melissa nodded, her green eyes intense. "I know. And that's one of the reasons I want to do it. I need something to keep me from thinking about . . ." The tears came then, and she dropped her eyes. "Something to keep me busy."

Brad walked over and put his hand on Melissa's shoulder. "I think it's a good idea," he said, looking over at Toni.

Toni nodded. "I suppose you're right. Both of you. But I'll have to talk to Mrs. Johnson first and make sure about all the details."

Melissa looked up. Tears still glistened on her long lashes, but the relief was evident on her face. "Thanks," she whispered. Then she reached up and put her hand on Brad's, which still rested on her shoulder. "And thank you, Bro."

"Yeah, I know," said Brad, lightening the mood as he sat down next to her. "I'm the best—no matter what anybody says!"

Melissa managed a giggle and slugged him playfully in the arm. "Just don't let it go to your head."

Brad grimaced. "Fat chance of that around here. The last time I got any respect around this place was back in April when you all invited me over for a birthday dinner. And then, of course, I only got the respect because of my ancient age."

"Ancient, that's for sure. You're even older than Toni."

"Only by two years," Brad answered defensively. "And it'll be another two years before I hit the dreaded 3-0. What kind of a birthday celebration will we have then?"

"That depends," said Melissa, "on how much excitement they allow at the nursing home."

Brad appealed to Toni for help. "Aren't you going to defend me? Do you hear how your baby sister is picking on me here?"

Toni didn't answer. Brad's mention of the word "April" had sent her thoughts in another direction. April Lippincott and Julie Greene. Wednesday morning at Eagle Lake. I need to look at that file again.

"Toni. Hey!" Melissa snapped her fingers in front of Toni's face. "Hellooo. Where are you? Come back, we're talking to you."

Toni shook her head. "Sorry. I was just . . . thinking."

"No kidding," said Melissa. "About what?"

"Oh, nothing, really. It's just . . . one of Dad's clients. A missing girl and her grandmother and Eagle Lake . . ."

Melissa frowned. "Eagle Lake? That's where Dad . . ."

"I know." Toni forced a smile. "Sorry. I shouldn't have mentioned it. Really. It's not important."

"If it's not important," Melissa asked, "why were you thinking about it?"

Before Toni could answer, Brad intervened. "Hey, I've got an idea. Let's go for a walk and burn off some of these calories we just inhaled. Come on, you two. It won't be dark till almost ten, and it's not raining outside. Around here we have to take advantage of evenings like this. They're few and far between."

"True," said Toni, glad for the change in conversation. "Just let me grab a light sweater. You should too, Melissa. It may not be raining, but it's not what I would call shorts weather either."

"Is it ever in Washington?" asked Melissa.

"Hey," Brad teased, standing up and walking toward the door. "I've seen you wear shorts before."

"Two or three times, maybe," Melissa agreed, getting up from the table, "in the middle of August."

"OK, OK," Brad conceded. "So we don't exactly live in the Sunbelt."

"Now that's an understatement if I ever heard one," said Toni, following them into the living room. As she headed for the hall closet to grab a sweater, she spotted the Julie Greene file lying on the antique cherry coffee table in front of the couch. She stopped, but before she could reach out to pick it up, Brad stepped in front of her.

"Hey there, Miss Workaholic," he teased, "we're going for a walk, remember? That can wait till we get back. Better yet, it can wait till tomorrow."

"But I just wanted to—"

"Later," Brad insisted, taking her by the arm and turning her toward the front door. "Walk first, read the file later." He shook his head and sighed as she pulled her arm away and looked longingly back toward the file. "I knew we should have left that file on your desk with that fishing book."

"Fishing book?" asked Melissa, sliding her arms into her sweater as she waited for them in the doorway. She reached back and scooped her long hair out from underneath the sweater. "What fishing book?"

"Fly fishing," Toni said. "It's a book about fly fishing. It was . . . Dad's."

"Oh." Melissa's chin trembled slightly as she looked at Toni questioningly. "You were reading it?"

Toni shook her head. "No, I—"

"Because if you're not, I'd like to. Dad only took me fly fishing a couple of times, but . . . I'd like to read the book." She paused. "Actually, I'd really rather have it if . . . if you don't want it, that is."

"Of course you can have it," Toni said. "You know me—not much on fishing, I'm afraid. That was Dad's thing—and yours. It's only right that you should have it. I'll bring it home to you tomorrow."

Melissa smiled. "Thanks. I'd like that." She looked at Brad. "So, are we going for a walk, or not?"

"If you can help me tear your sister away from that file."

Grinning, Brad and Melissa each took Toni by an arm and propelled her away from the coffee table. "Come on, Sis, let's get out of here before it gets dark," Melissa said. "Grab a sweater and let's go."

"OK, OK," Toni said with a laugh. "You win. I know when I'm outnumbered."

As Toni pulled a white sweater from a hanger in the closet, Melissa pushed the screen door open, then turned back. "So why did you have Dad's fly fishing book out anyway?" she asked.

"I didn't. Abe . . . Detective Matthews from the River View police stopped by to return it. I guess he borrowed it from Dad."

Melissa's face brightened. "Abe was there?"

Toni was puzzled. "You know Abe Matthews?"

"I sure do. I met him at Dad's office a couple of times. I saw him at the funeral too, but I didn't get a chance to talk to him." She smiled her dreamiest smile. "He is soooo good-looking, don't you think?"

Toni glanced at Brad, who raised his eyebrows as if to say, "Well?"

"I didn't notice," said Toni, pushing past the two of them and stepping out onto the front porch.

"Didn't notice!" exclaimed Melissa, following close behind her. "Give me a break! How could you not notice? I mean, he's gorgeous! Carrie thinks so too. She was with me once when he stopped by the office, and she says he's a real hunk. I don't see how you could not notice a guy like that."

"Well, I didn't," Toni said quickly, shoving her arm into a sleeve. "So, what about this walk you two talked me into? Are we going, or not?"

She hurried down the steps and out the walkway to the sidewalk, avoiding the questioning look she was sure was in Brad's eyes. So what if Abe Matthews was good looking? Why should that matter to her? She would probably never even see him again.

 

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