By: Kendra Elliot

His son turned toward him, and Mason wanted to brush the shaggy hair out of Jake’s wet eyes. “She’s just a kid. A little girl. Do you know what kind of sick fucks take little girls?” His voice cracked.

“Don’t swear,” Mason automatically corrected. “I do know who those assholes are. No one knows better than me the sort of sick people who are out there. But you can’t let your mind accelerate to the worst situation. It’ll only pull you down.”

“No one will let me do anything.” Jake dropped the controller next to the laptop on his bed. “I wanted to go talk to the kids at her school, but the cops said I have to stay here.”

“They’re exactly right. They’re taking care of that. They don’t need you in their way. Have the police or FBI talked to you yet? They’ll want to interview every family member in depth. Probably more than once.”

Jake shook his head. “Not really. One guy talked to me for about ten minutes, asking if I had any idea where she might have gone, or if I’d seen anyone hanging around the house in the last few days. I wasn’t even up when she left for school. I didn’t know anything was wrong until Mom came up to ask if I’d heard from Henley.” He sat on the end of his bed, his hands clenched together between his thighs.

Mason had flashbacks of his father when he looked at Jake. Tall, lean, huge hands, and wide shoulders. At eighteen, Jake hadn’t grown into his body. His collarbones protruded through his T-shirt, and he didn’t know what to do with his long arms. He looked like he needed another twenty pounds to fill out properly.

Jake gestured at his laptop. “I looked it up. Seventy-five percent of kids that go missing are killed in the first three hours. By seven days that’s increased to ninety-seven percent.” His eyes pleaded with his father. “You’ve got to help them find her. Can’t you call someone? Like an elite tracker sort of guy? Do you know someone, like a mercenary, who can cut through all the red-tape bullshit? I know Lucas would pay whatever it takes.”

Mason didn’t correct the curse word. He stared at his son. Who did Jake think his father was? Some sort of covert-ops team leader who worked for the state police as his cover? Was Jake’s brain so warped by movies and video games that he truly thought that was possible? Mason slowly shook his head and watched the misery deepen in Jake’s eyes.

Mason sat down next to Jake, feeling like his legs were made of rubber and his heart was about to split open. “I’m sorry, son. That’s not the real world. Our best bet is to let the FBI do what they do best. They know how to look under every rock. I know it feels like nothing is happening, but while we’re sitting here talking, there are a hundred agents out there, beating on doors and searching high and low.”

“But they never found that one Portland boy. The kid who went missing when his stepmom dropped him off at school. It’s been four years!”

“You can’t compare Henley to other cases, Jake. Every situation is different. Those guys downstairs won’t give up, and they have the best resources for this kind of investigation. For your own mental health, you need to stay positive. It hasn’t even been one day. Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

“How can someone stay positive for years?”

“Look at those three girls in Cleveland who were imprisoned for a decade. Or Elizabeth Smart, who was missing for nine months. There’s always still hope as long as they don’t find . . .” Mason swallowed hard. He’d been about to say “a body.”

Jake stared at him with the eyes of a child who’d just been told Santa wasn’t real.

His son was near adulthood, but he still had the soul of a child. He’d always been ruled by his emotions. “Next week is Christmas,” Jake whispered. “I bought her one of those pillow pet things. You know, a stuffed animal that folds up into a pillow. She already has five, but she wants more.”

“We’ll find Henley. I promise you. We’ll get her back in time for Christmas,” Mason swore to his son. He never made promises he couldn’t keep. Never. But he’d just made a promise where he had no control over the outcome.

He felt like a liar.

Jake slumped into Mason’s arms and sucked in deep breaths, his chest heaving, and Mason felt the boy’s hot tears soak through his shirt to his shoulder. He blinked back his own tears, kicking himself for underestimating his son’s attachment to his stepsister. Mason wished he’d paid better attention the few times his path had crossed Henley’s. But she’d been a small child, invisible to him, and he’d overlooked her.

Now she had his full attention.

Mason stopped in the downstairs hallway to catch his breath before rejoining the group in the dining room. His talk with Jake had ripped open in him a deep place he hadn’t known existed. Jake had always been a likable kid and hadn’t struggled with bullies or sports, and Mason had never needed to protect his son; it was a new experience for him. Jake had weathered the divorce well. But five minutes ago, the emotions Mason saw in his son had destroyed him like nothing else. Part of him wanted to find Henley just to mend his son’s broken heart.

Family portraits lined the hall. Mason found the most recent-looking one and stepped closer to study it, his gaze going to his son. Jake looked tall and strong, and pride flowed through Mason which was immediately replaced by a familiar sense of dishonesty. Who’d made Jake the almost-man he was today? Lucas? Mason knew the man deserved some credit, but how much?

The two small dark-haired girls in the happy family picture were mini-Robins. They were painfully young in Mason’s eyes, one about three and the other around five. Mason could never remember which one was Kylie and which one was Kindy.

My Lord, he was an ass.

He couldn’t keep the girls straight, because it’d been weird to see Robin pregnant with another man’s child. So he’d blocked it out, never fully listening when Jake talked about his younger sisters. This morning Robin’s parents had taken the girls to their home for as long as was needed, and Mason had asked if Clackamas County was giving protection. If one daughter had been targeted, the others might be, too.

The county had already parked a deputy in front of the grandparents’ home.

Is Jake safe?

Mason had told him not to leave the house. A person who kidnapped an eleven-year-old girl probably wasn’t interested in an eighteen-year-old gangly man-boy, but Mason wasn’t taking chances or making assumptions. No one knew the motive behind the kidnapping.