Vanished(6)

By: Kendra Elliot


“Beautiful.” Ava handed back the phone. “Does Henley have a cell phone?”

“Yes, but she leaves it at home.” Lilian stood up. “Will you excuse me for a minute?”

Ava nodded and watched Lilian leave the room. The birth mom was a slim, athletic-looking woman. Ava knew she was unmarried, but did she have a boyfriend? She heard a door close down the hall from the direction Lilian had gone. Probably a bathroom.

Ava turned her gaze to the couple across the table. Lucas had Robin’s hand in a death grip on the table, and the woman briefly rested her head on his shoulder, her eyes closed. Lucas met Ava’s gaze, his expression grim.

“The three of you seem to get along fairly well for a divorced situation,” Ava prodded.

Robin lifted her head and nodded. “I’d call their divorce rather amicable.” She looked at Lucas, who grimaced and nodded.

“For the most part,” Lucas agreed. “We put Henley first. That was our agreement from the beginning. When Robin and I started dating, Lilian was already in a serious relationship, so it made it easier to handle.”

“Is she still seeing him?” Ava asked.

Robin and Lucas glanced at each other. “No,” Robin answered. “That was two boyfriends ago. She’s not seeing anyone right now.”

“You sound quite certain.”

Robin gave a half smile. “Surprisingly, Lilian and I are pretty close. We both love Henley, and we have a lot in common. It wasn’t hard to become good friends. She keeps me updated on her love life.”

Lucas gave a short nod.

Okay. That has to be odd for him. Ava raised a brow at Lucas. “Worlds colliding?”

He snorted. “It’s really all right. It was a bit weird at first, but Lilian and I have evolved into just friends. Our marriage seems like a lifetime ago. It was such a short period in my life.”

Ava looked to Robin. “You have two daughters together?”

“Yes, Kindy and Kylie are three and five. I had my parents pick them up this morning. And then there’s Jake, who I had with Mason, the state detective I told you about. Jake is a freshman in college.”

“Is he away at school?” Ava asked as Lilian rejoined their group.

“Jake’s upstairs. He’s home for winter break and is absolutely devastated,” Lucas answered. “He’s tight with all his sisters, but he and Henley have a special bond, I’d say.” He glanced at Lilian, who nodded, and fresh tears rolled down her face.

“That’s true,” Lilian agreed. “Even with the seven-year age difference, those two will talk and goof off for hours. Before he left for college, he’d come babysit, and I think he enjoyed it as much as Henley did. Those two geek out over some of the same video games.”

“But there’s no blood relation there,” Ava added for her own benefit, mentally trying to get the correct parents assigned to the correct kid. Lucas and Lilian’s daughter and Robin’s son.

“It’s never mattered. Perhaps they’re closer because there is no relation,” added Robin.

“Jake gets along with his dad?” Ava asked. “He spends time with him?”

Lucas and Robin nodded.

Ava waited for more.

“Mason’s a good dad. He just never had the time for a kid. Before Jake went to college, Mason had him every other weekend,” Lucas offered.

Stepdad has positive things to say about cop dad. Ava thought that spoke well of the detective. “Everyone seems to get along pretty well here,” she said. “You’re not the screaming divorced family from TV.” Almost too good to be true . . .

“We’re relatively sane people,” Lucas said after exchanging a look with Robin and Lilian. “No crazies here. The kids come first. As long as everyone has that priority, it works.”

“Tell me about Henley,” Ava asked gently, looking Lilian in the eye. “What does she love to do?” Ava settled in to the interview, turning up her listening skills as the mother spoke and studying her body language, listening for the words the mother didn’t say. Beside her, Wells continued with his notes.

In her mind, the image of the little girl grew piece by piece, gathering life as Henley’s mother described her daughter’s sunny nature. Ava tuned out the other conversations in the room as she concentrated on Lilian’s stories. With each word, Henley Fairbanks became more to Ava than just a picture on her mom’s phone.





3

Mason paused at his son’s closed bedroom door. He knew his way around the house, but it still felt wrong to be wandering on his own. He’d passed a little girl’s bedroom with two suited agents combing through it and stood aside in the hallway as three agents walked past with their arms full of computer equipment. The FBI wasn’t wasting any time.

He wondered if Lucas’s accounting business would be affected by the sudden loss of equipment. He knew Lucas had an office in Lake Oswego, where agents were probably knocking on the door, questioning coworkers and requesting hard drives. How much work did Lucas bring home with him? Mason figured the accountant had his files backed up somewhere in a database, but it was going to be a pain in the ass to get his work done if the hardware was missing. At least it was December, not April.

He knocked on Jake’s door and waited.

Silence.

He knocked harder, and the door finally opened. His son had a headset with a microphone around his neck and a gaming controller in his hand.

“Hey, Dad.” Jake stood back, holding the door open as an invitation into his room. Mason sniffed. Jake’s room faintly smelled of pizza, and he spotted a few crusts left on a plate on his son’s desk. Mason felt a small wave of familiarity; his son still didn’t eat his pizza crusts.

Some days Mason felt he didn’t know his son. Jake lived primarily with his mom, and Mason had been an every-other-weekend dad for a decade. But right now, he saw the small boy he’d always known. Jake’s eyes were red from crying. He’d always been an empathetic kid.

Mason gestured to the headset. “You gaming with someone?”

Jake pulled it off. “Not anymore. I thought it’d be a good way to take my mind off of Henley, but all my friends are asking questions, and I don’t want to talk about it.” He tossed the headset on his bed, avoiding his father’s eyes. The sag in his shoulders broke Mason’s heart.

“They’ll find her, Jake. The FBI has opened the floodgates. Nearly every agent in Portland is pounding the pavement to search.”