Reckless Whispe(8)

By: Barbara Freethy

When they were kids, she'd mostly seen the friendly side of Nathan, but as they got older, as they moved into their late teens, that had changed.

A woman entered the living room, and the butterfly tattoo on her neck told her it was Josie, Nathan's little sister. Josie's hair was darker than she remembered. Her skin was healthy, her eyes worried, but she looked far more alert now than she had as a drug-addicted teenager.

She'd actually gone with Josie when she'd gotten the tattoo against the wishes of her big brother. Josie had wanted a symbol of freedom, something to strive for, something to believe in, and Bree had wanted that for her, too.

In return, Josie had not treated her very well.

Her relationship with both Bishops had certainly been fraught with problems.

Josie shook her head in bemusement. "Nathan said it was you, but I can't believe it—Bree Larson."

"Actually, it's Bree Adams now."

"You got married?" Josie asked.

"No, I just changed my last name."

"To become an FBI agent?"

"I had a lot of reasons. But, yes, I am an agent. I'm part of a critical action team that assists with child abductions, and I need to speak to Grace." If she could keep this all business, it would be better for all of them.

Josie stiffened, the bewildered look in her eyes turning into protective maternal fierceness. "Grace has already told the police everything she knows, and it upsets her to talk about it. She and Hayley are very close."

"I understand," she said gently. "I know she's scared—as are you, because Grace was so close to Hayley when this happened."

Josie's eyes watered. "It could have been her."

"But it wasn't. Grace is safe, and I promise I will do everything I can not to upset her, but I need to speak to her now."

Josie stared back at her. "You were always so strong. I admired that for a long time. But then you changed into someone else."

"Look, I don't want to cut you off, Josie, but time is important right now. And I'm not here to talk about the past. We need to find Hayley, and we need Grace's help to do that."

"I'll get her. But be careful, Bree. I may not have ever stood up for myself, but I will stand up for Grace."

"The last thing I would want to do is hurt your child."

As Josie left the living room, Bree let out a breath of relief, but her calm was short-lived as Nathan returned to the room.

He'd always been tall, six foot one or two, but he had a much stronger presence now, or maybe she was just very aware of his angry wariness. His eyes were shooting sparks at her, and she didn't know if the emotion was coming from the past or from right now.

But she couldn't find the words to ask. There was too much to say and too little time.

Thankfully, Josie came back into the room with a little girl wearing leggings and a big pink sweater, her long, dark-brown hair loose around her shoulders.

Grace was the spitting image of Josie as a little girl. "She looks just like you," she murmured, the words slipping out before she could stop them. She wanted to keep this professional, not personal, but already she'd stumbled.

Grace blinked and looked at her mom. "She knew you when you were my age, Mommy?"

"Yes," Josie said. "Bree is a—friend—from a long time ago. And like I said, she has a couple of questions to ask you."

"Why don't we all sit down?" Bree suggested, taking a seat on the couch.

Grace and Josie sat down on the sofa facing her, while Nathan took up a protective position by the entryway, his arms folded across his chest.

"I heard you're a really good ballet dancer," she said to Grace, giving the little girl a warm smile. "I always wanted to take ballet, but I never had the chance."

"I'm not as good as Hayley," Grace said solemnly. "Do you know where she is?"

"No. But I'm looking for her. You told the police that you saw Hayley leave through the stage door with someone."

Grace nodded and looked at her mom.

"Just tell her what you remember." Josie put her arm around Grace's shoulder.

"You went to the bathroom with Hayley," Bree encouraged. "What happened after that?"

"Hayley was taking too long. She was really nervous. The bathroom smelled bad, so I left. I went over to our group. Our teacher, Miss Delancey, told us to stay close, because it was almost our turn. When it was time to go on, Hayley wasn't there. I was at the back of the line, so I went to find her, and I saw her going through the door. I thought she decided not to dance. She was scared about forgetting the steps. Then Miss Delancey called me, and I went on the stage. I didn't know someone took her until after our dance."

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