Going home was a bitch.
Maxine Revere had flirted with the idea of flying in solely for Kevin’s funeral so her perfect and dysfunctional family wouldn’t hear about her visit until she was already on a plane back to New York City. Three things stopped her.
Foremost, Max did not run away from uncomfortable situations. She recognized that she wasn’t the same nineteen-year-old who’d defied her family.
She’d also get a kick from walking into the family mansion unannounced and watching a reboot of Dallas, set in California. The Sterling-Revere family could take on the Ewings and win without breaking a nail or going to jail. Being the blackest sheep in the herd was more fun than taking two cross-country flights in one day.
But the primary reason she was staying for the weekend was for Kevin’s sister, Jodi O’Neal. Kevin had been Max’s former best friend and confidante. He’d killed himself and Jodi had questions. She had no answers for the college coed, but she understood why Jodi sought truth where there had only been lies. Max had survived grief, she’d been a close acquaintance to death, and maybe she could give Jodi a modicum of peace.
Traveling first class had advantages, including prompt disembarking. Max strode off the plane at San Francisco International Airport, her long legs putting distance between her and the other passengers. Her two-inch heels made her an even six feet, but her confident stride and stunning looks caused heads to turn. She ignored the attention. Her cell phone vibrated and she ignored that, too.
Her full-time assistant and as-needed bodyguard, former Army Ranger David Kane, easily kept up with her. He turned heads as well, mostly from fear. When he wasn’t smiling, he looked like he’d kill you with no remorse or pleasure. He didn’t smile often. But as Max had learned, looks were a form of lying. David’s steel core protected him as much as her pursuit of truth protected Max.
“I don’t need you,” she told him. “We settled this yesterday, or were you placating me?”
“All I suggested was that I drive you to Atherton before I head to Marin.”
“It’s foolish for you to drive an hour out of your way. I’m not incapable of driving myself.” She ignored David’s subtle smirk. “And I need a car. This isn’t New York where I can walk everywhere or grab a taxi. Go. Emma is waiting.”
“If you’re sure.”
She glared at him. “She’s your daughter.”
“She comes with her mother.”
“I’m not the one who screwed Brittney in a failed attempt to prove I wasn’t gay,” Max said, “and I will not let you use me as an excuse to avoid the selfish bitch.” Tough love. David adored his twelve-year-old daughter, but her mother made their relationship difficult. Brittney wouldn’t let David spend a minute more with Emma than the court mandated, and the flight delay had already cost him two hours.
They wove through the crowd at baggage claim without slowing down, and stopped at the carousel where their luggage would be delivered.
“Emma wants to see you,” David said.
“The funeral is tomorrow. You’ll be on a plane to Hawaii Sunday morning. Enjoy your vacation—when you get back, if I’m still here, we can meet up in the city for lunch and I’ll take Emma shopping.”
David grunted. “She doesn’t need more clothes.”
“A girl can never have too many shoes.” Max doubted she’d have kids of her own, and she enjoyed playing aunt to David’s daughter when Emma visited him in New York.
Max parked herself near the carousel opening because she didn’t want to be here any longer than she had to. Airports were part of her life, but she grew tired of the waiting part. Before leaving Miami, she’d shipped one of her suitcases back home to New York; the second, smaller bag of essentials she’d brought with her to California. She didn’t plan to stay in town long.
“Ms. Revere?” an elderly voice behind her asked.
Max turned and looked down at an older couple. The man, at least eighty and maybe five foot four in lifts, stood with his wife, who barely topped five feet. They both had white hair and blue eyes and would have looked like cherubs if their faces weren’t so deeply wrinkled.
Max smiled politely. “Yes, I’m Maxine Revere.” She expected them to ask for autographs or question what investigation brought her to California. The true crime show she hosted every month on cable television had been moving up in the ratings. When she only wrote newspaper articles and books, few people outside of the business knew what she looked like. Now that she was on camera, people approached her regularly.
There were pros and cons to being recognized. She was on a tight time schedule today, but the couple looked sweet.
“I told you, Henry,” the woman said to her husband. “I’m Penny Hoffman.” Mrs. Hoffman extended her hand nervously. It was cold, dry, and fragile, like the woman in front of her. “This is my husband, Henry. I knew it was you.” She gripped her purse tightly with both hands, the straps worn and frayed. “Do you believe in divine providence?”
Touchy subject. Max answered, “Sometimes.”
David was standing to the side, watching the situation. He was always on alert, even when it was wholly unnecessary. Ever since the incident in Chicago last year when Max had been attacked in a parking garage by someone who hadn’t wanted to hear the truth on her show, David was suspicious of everyone.
Even little old ladies.
“We just flew in from Phoenix,” Henry said.
“For our granddaughter’s wedding,” Penny added. “Last year, we were here for a funeral.”
“My condolences,” Max said.
Penny blinked back a sheen of tears and smiled awkwardly. “Our other grandchild. Jessica’s brother, Jason.”
“Penny,” Henry said, taking his wife’s hand, “Ms. Revere doesn’t want to hear about this now.”
Penny continued. “The police say they have no leads.”
The way she said “no leads” had Max’s instincts twitching. The police may have no leads they shared with the family, but there was always a lead—and it was obvious by her tone that Penny had her own theories.
In Max’s experience, murder was almost always personal. There were stranger murders and serial killers, but they were few and far between. Most victims were killed by those they trusted most. A friend. A spouse. A parent. A child.
David cleared his throat. He grabbed Max’s red case from the conveyor belt. He’d already retrieved his smaller khaki bag. He wouldn’t have checked it at all, except he’d packed a gun.
“They need to go,” Henry told Penny. “It was very nice to meet you, Ms. Revere. Very nice. You’re even prettier in person.”
“Thank you,” Max said. “If you’d like to write me a letter about your grandson’s case, here’s my office address and e-mail.” She pulled a card from her pocket.
She received hundreds of letters and e-mails a week from families wanting her to do any number of things, from proving a loved one innocent to a killer guilty. Most dealt with cold cases and contained few leads. She didn’t have time to investigate all the unsolved murders she heard about, and she couldn’t always solve the ones she investigated.
But she always gave the families whatever truth she found. For better or worse.
She took a pen out of her pocket and wrote on the back. “Here’s my personal e-mail.”
Henry took the card but Penny looked upset. “I have written. Twice.”
By the sound of her voice, she hadn’t received a response. A sliver of anger ran up Max’s spine. Her newest assistant was going to have some explaining to do if she wanted to keep her job. All e-mails and letters must be responded to within a week. Max had drafted four form letters that fit most situations, and what didn’t fit she was supposed to review.
Henry said, “We thought you might be interested in the case since Jason was killed at Atherton Prep.”
Max was speechless—a rarity. She’d graduated from Atherton College Prep thirteen years ago, but no one told her about this murder. The second in the history of the campus.
“When?” she managed to ask.
“The Saturday after Thanksgiving.”
Nearly five months ago.
“I’ll be in town all weekend,” Max said. “I’d like to hear your story. I can’t promise I’ll investigate, but I will listen.”
They both smiled and tears moistened Penny’s eyes. Max didn’t want to see tears. Especially genuine tears, like Penny’s. “Thank you. We’ll be here for two weeks. You don’t know what this means to us.”
Max had Kevin’s funeral tomorrow, she was meeting with Jodi in an hour—she was going to be late—and then there was her own family she had to deal with. That she could put off.
“Where are you staying?”
“The Embassy Suites in Redwood Shores,” Henry said. “Our son said we could stay with them, but they have so many last-minute things to do for the wedding, we didn’t want to be a bother.”
Max smiled. “I’m sure you wouldn’t have been any trouble. I can meet you at your hotel tomorrow morning. Is eight too early?”
Penny said, “We always rise at dawn.”
David was giving Max his version of the evil eye. For him, it was a sterner frown than he normally wore.
Max attached her laptop case to the top of her suitcase and said good-bye to the Hoffmans. She and David stepped out of the terminal and into the spring morning, a cold wind rolling off the Bay that made her shiver. It had been seventy degrees and clear when she left Miami Airport at 6:00 A.M.
They walked down the wide sidewalk toward the rental car shuttle stop.
“Why?” David said.
She didn’t answer his question. “Call Ginger. Tell her to find the letters the Hoffmans mentioned and get them to me, verbatim, before she leaves the office today. I want to know why I didn’t see them in the first place.”
“Maybe she thought you had enough on your plate. Or maybe she didn’t see them at all. They could have come in when Ashley was still in the office. Or Josh.”
Max didn’t want to think about Ashley. What a train wreck. And Josh? Every time she thought about him, she wished she could fire him all over again.
Max didn’t have a great track record with office managers. David had been with her for eighteen months—in that time, she’d gone through six office managers. So far, Ginger had been with her for three months. Two more weeks and she’d win the prize for longest assistant.
They stopped under the shuttle sign. David handed Max his cell phone. “It’s Marco.”
“He’s calling you, not me.”
“Because you haven’t been answering your phone. This is the third time he’s called me.”
Max didn’t take the phone, so David answered. Max tried to ignore the conversation as she looked for any sign that the shuttle was near. It was nowhere in sight.
“She’s right here,” David said. “No, she didn’t lose her phone.”
Max swore under her breath and took David’s phone from his hand. “I didn’t answer my phone because I didn’t want to talk to you.”
“You have to talk to me sometime, sweetheart.” FBI Special Agent Marco Lopez spoke low and clear, working double-time to control his Cuban temper.
“You intentionally left before I saw the news.”
“I told you yesterday I had a funeral in California.”
“You didn’t tell me that you filed your article, and you had plenty of time to record a three-minute spot for the local news. You exposed my informant and jeopardized my case!” His voice rose in volume as he spoke.
Max had a lot of experience remaining calm while talking to Marco. “Your informant put one of his hookers in the hospital for a week and thwarted the investigation into Candace Arunda’s murder.”
“He was my only link to the Garbena cartel!” Though Marco was born and raised in Miami, his parents had both come from Cuba, and when he got angry and spoke fast, he adopted a hybrid Americanized Cuban accent.
“I’m not rehashing this with you,” she said. “I told you why I was in Miami when you asked last week.”
“You should have warned me.”
“Last time I gave you an early copy of an article, your boss attempted to have it scuttled.”
“That was nine years ago!”
“Fool me once,” she said.
“Dammit, Max! You avoided me because you know you overstepped this time.” She pictured Marco pacing his office, his free hand opening and closing.
“Overstepped?” Max took a deep breath. Marco, more than anyone, could raise her blood pressure. “Is that what you call exposing the truth about the brutal murder of an underage prostitute? Is an ‘in’ with the cartel more important than justice for a seventeen-year-old girl?”
“Don’t twist what I said! You know I care. You should have given me twenty-four hours to clean up this mess. Ramirez would have been in prison either way.”
“Your team screwed up, another girl was in jeopardy, and I’m supposed to give you time to fix it because we’re having sex? Garbena is costing you your soul, Marco.”
David cleared his throat. Maxine didn’t care about attracting an audience as much as her assistant, but she stepped farther away from the other travelers waiting for the shuttle.
“You’re the most frustrating woman I’ve ever known!”
“I’ve never lied to you, Marco. I wish you could say the same to me.” She hung up and returned David’s phone.
Her stomach was twisted in knots. She wished she could have left things differently with Marco.
“You should have told him before you left,” David said.
“He knew why I was in Miami, and he lied to me.”
“He couldn’t tell you—”
Max rarely interrupted, but she didn’t let David finish. “He lied. He didn’t say, ‘Max, I can’t talk to you about this case,’ which he’s done in the past and I accept. This time, he deliberately gave me false information to protect his criminal informant, and then he expected me to put it in print. You know as well as I do that Marco and his team want the big fish, and if innocent guppies get eaten in the process, it’s collateral damage.”
“You still should have told him. He shouldn’t have read it in the morning paper.” He glanced at her, understanding narrowing his eyes. “You intentionally sabotaged your relationship. Why?”
She didn’t answer right away because the shuttle pulled up. There were five of them, and Max sat in the back row of the twelve-passenger van. David sat next to her. Maybe because of David’s appearance, or her previous phone conversation, the other passengers crammed into the front.
David was perceptive. She may not have consciously wanted to end her mostly off relationship with Special Agent Marco Lopez, but it was primarily physical. They had a long history. But she couldn’t allow her libido to control her career. She never had in the past, and just because she had feelings for Marco didn’t mean she’d allow it to happen now.
“In the nine years I’ve known Marco I’ve never lied to him,” Max said after the van started moving. “I’ve never told him I was someone I’m not. He thinks he can change me, and every time I see him we screw like rabbits and he tries to get me to bury my story. When I don’t, he accuses me of not caring who I hurt. I’m tired of explaining myself to him, and I’m not going to change just to please him.”
“I give you six months.”
“To find a story to cover in Miami so you have an excuse to go back.”
Max laughed, a deep throaty genuine laugh. “That’s why I love you, David. You remind me that I am flawed.”
He smiled, which made the two-inch jagged scar across his left temple almost charming. “It’s the least I can do.”
The shuttle van pulled up in front of the rental car kiosks. David had previously taken care of the arrangements and handed her the paperwork. While the other passengers disembarked, Max said, “Marco needs to find a sweet Cuban girl who likes his macho bullshit and does what he says when he says it. I’m done.”
She thought saying it out loud would make her feel better, but all it did was remind her how rigid she could be. No matter how much she cared about someone, she couldn’t—she wouldn’t—compromise her core values for them. She had no doubt Marco felt the same way, which left them at an impasse.
A dark sense of melancholy overcame her. It was, truly, over.
Copyright © 2014 by Allison Brennan