She waited until he got in and started the engine. “Do you have a plan?” she asked.
Startled, he turned his head, meeting her level gaze. Yeah, she knew what she was asking.
“You mean, how I’m going to get rid of him?” Dangerous words. Even he and Brian Cooper, his counterpart who headed Patrol, left their hopes unspoken. The decision to trust Nell didn’t take a split second. “I’m working on it,” he said.
Nell stayed quiet for most of the drive. He was glad; it was better to put off talking about the partial skeleton found in the park.
A few minutes later, he left her at her car. She promised to be careful. Colin refrained from ordering her to report to him tonight when she got home from her parents’. If Duane were to be there, would he offer to follow her home? That could be good—but Colin was still reluctant to tell anyone where she was staying, including her family.
He hoped she knew he was available if she needed him. But giving himself a little space to figure out what he felt seemed smart right now.
Smart maybe, but he had a bad feeling that tonight, as soon as he heard her coming home, he’d be standing at his front window willing her to head for his front door.
* * *
NELL STARED IN shock at the man who descended her parents’ porch steps in one bound and loped to meet her. “Felix?”
A huge smile dominated his thin face. “Maddie. It’s really you.” He snatched her into his arms and swung her in a circle. When he set her back down, she saw that his dark eyes were wet.
She tried to smile through her own tears. “You couldn’t have done that the last time I saw you.”
He swiped at his eyes, but laughed, too. “I was twelve. And—what?—five feet tall?”
“Skinny, too.” Such joy rose in her, she felt as if she might levitate. “I remember you. Oh, my God. I do.”
“I hope it’s the good brother you remember and not the brat.”
She laughed. “Of course it is!” She sobered. “Felix. You came.”
He mock-scowled. “What, you didn’t think I would?”
“No, I just...I didn’t think,” she admitted meekly. “I was going to call you, but, oh, these past few days have been really overwhelming.”
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “I can’t really imagine.” His eyebrows twitched. “Mom’s at the door.”
Nell found his tone more than interesting. He sounded uncomfortable. As though...well, she didn’t know.
“Did Uncle Duane come?” she asked.
He looked surprised. “No. Was he supposed to?”
Her mother did kiss her cheek. Her father actually hugged her, once they reached the living room. Were they putting on a pretense for Felix’s sake, or actually relaxing into acceptance that she was home? But she lacked the context memories would have given her. Felix had turned out handsome. He was lean, dark and, she suspected, could look wickedly sexy when he tried. All the pictures that filled her head were of a funny, mischievous, affectionate boy. What she couldn’t understand was how he could be so open and good-humored while even as a child she had apparently been withdrawn and lacking in confidence.
Over dinner, her father was expansive, talking about the resort and the economic growth of the city and even touching on politics.
“You don’t like the new mayor?” Felix asked.
Marc waggled one hand. “Can’t tell yet. At least he cut the damn ponytail off.”
Nell blinked. “A ponytail? The mayor?”
Helen gave her husband a repressive look. “He had that when he first moved to Angel Butte and opened a brew pub. He was always very neat.”
“Yeah, his hair wasn’t that long. Just kind of a stubby ponytail.” Felix grinned. “I remember him. It looked good. I thought of growing my hair.”
Helen gave him a fond look. “Don’t tease your father.”
The expression made Nell want to shrivel inside herself. That’s what I did then, she thought. The good little girl, always trying to please her parents. If she’d stuck around, would she have decided to flout them by becoming a wild teenager? She couldn’t quite picture it—but then there was Beck, the boyfriend who might have been a school dropout and who she certainly hadn’t introduced to her parents. Her opening act of defiance?
After dinner, she asked if she could see her bedroom. Felix walked her up. He stood in the doorway, hands shoved in his pockets, one shoulder propped against the frame, as she stepped through a time portal.
It was a young girl’s room, not a teenager’s. There were no posters of rock stars or actors on the walls. In fact, there were no posters at all. The twin bed had a white eyelet canopy as crisp as if it had been washed and starched yesterday. The desk and dresser were painted white with gilt trim and elaborate handles. A few stuffed animals and dolls reposed atop the dresser. The only thing that made her think this really could have been her bedroom was a bookcase painted to match the rest of the furniture but stuffed with books. She crouched in front of it and ran her fingers over the spines. It was a hodgepodge: children’s books, young adult and some adult. Dickens. She smiled shakily. Mrs. Chisholm was responsible for her Dickens phase.