Deadly Christmas Duty

By: Virginia Vaughan


Prosecutor Melinda Steele dug through her purse to find the keys that unlocked her office door. Her assistant, Dawn, was out to lunch, and the rest of the suite appeared empty on this Saturday afternoon. She found her keys but stopped when she went to slide one into the lock. Her door was cracked open; the latch never engaged.

Uneasiness prickled her neck. Dawn was always good about making sure everything was locked up before she left for lunch. It was possible she’d been distracted and forgotten, but a sinister dread crept through Melinda as it always did whenever something jarred her out of her normal routine.

Stop being so paranoid, she told herself as she tried to shake off those fears of bygone days when she constantly peered over her shoulder, always watching for the bad thing that was coming for her and her son. But Ramey was now six years old, and the big bad man had never come for them. They were safe here in Daytonville, Alabama, safe in the comfort and anonymity of the small-town life she’d grown to love.

She pushed open her door and walked inside, scanning her office. Everything looked fine. Everything was in its place, and nothing looked askew. That helped reassure her that she was being oversensitive. She touched the photo of Ramey on her desk as she walked by it and sat down. He was fine. They were both fine. They’d escaped the past, and no one was coming for them now. And the door had been locked. Dawn had simply forgotten to pull it shut all the way. It was nothing but a mistake.

She turned on her computer and took out a case file she needed to update as it went through the screens of booting up. A knock on the door grabbed her attention, and she looked up into the most beautiful deep green, long-lashed eyes of a man she’d ever seen. The rest of his face was masculine and his jaw strong. His broad shoulders filled the doorway, but he wasn’t a large man, just fit.

He stepped inside and extended his hand to shake. “Miss Steele? My name is Noah Cason. I’m Nikki Lassiter’s brother. I was hoping I could have a moment to speak with you.”

Nikki’s brother. The former Navy SEAL. That explained the muscles, as well as the hauntingly familiar eyes she’d seen staring at her from a photo on his sister’s mantel.

She stood and gripped his hand. It was strong and intense. “Certainly. Won’t you sit down? I knew your sister very well. She was my son’s teacher two years ago and we became close friends. I’m very sorry for your loss.”

The words seemed empty even to her as she spoke them, but what else could she say? Sorry the man who was supposed to protect your sister was a monster in disguise? Sorry your kid sister has vanished without a trace and is probably dead?

“Thank you.” He sat, but she noticed the way he scanned the room, probably memorizing each and every detail. She smiled, recalling how Nikki had told her about his tendency to do that even before he’d joined the service. He’d been good at assessing people and places and quickly understanding the situation. She’d been proud of her brother, but sad that they had grown apart after he’d left town to join the navy.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Cason?”

“I arrived in town this morning and drove by my sister’s house. Imagine my surprise to see my brother-in-law outside mowing the lawn instead of sitting in a jail cell where he belongs.”

His words had bite, and she flinched at them. She understood his frustration that Wayne Lassiter was still a free man. She even shared it. She’d had confirmation from Nikki herself that her husband was an abusive, violent man.

“Believe me. No one wants to see Wayne Lassiter in prison more than I do.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“Evidence. We don’t have enough. Without a body, we have no crime scene, and without a crime scene, we have no case. Everything we have on him is circumstantial, and it’s not enough to take to court.”

“My sister has been missing for a hundred and twenty-five days. Are you telling me the police in this town haven’t found one shred of evidence to put that monster away?”

“It’s not for lack of trying, Mr. Cason.”

He rubbed a hand over his weary-looking face. “My sister is missing. She’s been missing for months, and no one is doing anything to try to find her?”

“That’s not true. This entire community has rallied together to try to locate her. We held searches, and hundreds of people showed up to help. Nikki was loved by a lot of people in Daytonville.”

He stood and roamed the room, restless energy pulsing off him like a tiger on the prowl. She’d tried to contact him after Nikki vanished, but the man on the other end of the number she had for him informed her he was out of the country on assignment and could not be reached. What it must have been like for him working on the other side of the world to find his only sister had been missing for months without his knowledge.

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