She explained, making the story simple, leaving out plenty. She did not say what name she had been living under or where she’d been living. “Unfortunately,” she concluded, “much of my memory is still lost. I do not know what happened the night I was attacked. I don’t know why I was riding my bike through the park. What scattered memories I have are trivial, much like what I suspect most people remember from their early childhoods. Only a flash—a scene, a feeling, sometimes only an impression. I’m hoping to spend a few weeks getting to know my family and friends again.” She took a deep breath. “My parents and I will take questions now.”
The questions flew. Did she intend to stay in Angel Butte? “Probably not,” she said with brevity and dignity. Could she tell them about her life now? “I work in a library and hope to go back to graduate school for a master’s degree in library and information science,” she said, the constraint in her voice obvious. “I also volunteer actively at a shelter for teenage runaways.” Why? Did she believe she’d been running away? “No, but I do have the experience of being homeless and struggling to survive.” She declined to say where she lived or the name of that shelter. No, she preferred not to say what name she had been living under.
Marc Dubeau’s voice got husky as he described the shock and joy of having his daughter returned to her family. “We held out hope for a long time, but had come to believe she must be dead. Near-complete amnesia is so unusual, it never crossed my mind as an explanation. What Captain McAllister did not tell you is that he was also first responder the night she disappeared. He is the officer who found Maddie’s wallet with her driver’s permit still in it. It seems...fitting that he is the one to bring her home. My wife and I...” His voice broke. He cleared it and wiped at damp eyes. “I can only tell you we are grateful to him beyond description.”
Helen said little, but cast occasional, tremulous smiles at her daughter.
Colin got madder by the minute. He kept an eye on Nell, but couldn’t bring himself to look at her parents.
By the time he finally brought the thing to a close, he wasn’t surprised to see that Bystrom had edged his way to the front, where he shook Marc’s hand and kissed Helen’s cheek before beaming at Nell. He made sure his good side was to the cameras. He circled the table and bent as if to kiss Nell’s cheek, too, but she shrank back enough to give even him pause.
To hell with it. Colin put his hand back on her shoulder. The quivering tension he felt beneath his fingers eased a little. He kept his hand right where it was, not giving a damn what anyone else thought.
Bystrom placed his back to any cameras. His eyes glittered with fury. “Grandstanding?” he murmured only for Colin.
Colin’s eyebrows rose. “I let you know as soon as we made the decision to hold a press conference.”
“We’ll talk about this later,” he snapped and turned back to exude good-old-boy geniality for the benefit of Dubeau and the lingering reporters and cameras.
Doing his best to keep his dislike from his voice, Colin introduced the chief to Nell.
She politely shook his hand. “I gather you know my parents?”
His smile was Photoshop-perfect, expressing both delight and sadness because she didn’t remember him. “I’d go so far as to say you considered me another uncle when you were a child.” Of course he made damn sure his voice carried.
Even Marc, bullshit artist, gave Bystrom a sardonic glance.
“I’m so sorry I don’t remember you,” she murmured.
Her mother laid a hand on her arm. “Dear, perhaps we should slip out before one of these reporters tries to corner you.”
“I’ll walk you out,” Colin said.
“I’ll see you in my office in five minutes,” his boss said.
“Chief.” He nodded with a minimum of civility. “Maddie?”
She gave him a startled look. “Ma— Oh. I’m ready.”
They all retrieved coats and gloves, then started out. Nell accepted his casual hand on her back as they walked. A couple of sharp looks came from Dubeau, but he said nothing until they reached his Lexus.
“McAllister.” He held out a hand. “I meant what I said. You have our undying gratitude.”
“That’s not necessary.” Colin shook anyway. “It was chance I saw Maddie on TV. Luck.”
“Yes, indeed. Maddie, would you have dinner with us tonight? It might be a good chance for you to see Duane, too.” Helen Dubeau gazed at her daughter with a wisp of something that might have been yearning. Real or pretend? Colin asked himself cynically.