“I’ll hire security.”

“I’m not going. You can’t make me go.”

Grinding my teeth, I round the desk, trying to walk off the emotions I’m not accustomed to feeling, let alone containing.

“We’ll protect her,” Kara promises.

I stop walking and turn to face her. “That’s what you said about finding Ava. Where is she?”

“I know this is frustrating.”

“Spare me the automated replies. We both know that no matter how you try to protect her, you can’t guarantee her safety.”

“I know we’ll do a better job than anyone else would. It’s personal, and in the right way. For you, it’s personal in the wrong way. Give us all the information you have, and let us make it count. We have to work together.”

“You shouldn’t need my information to do your job.” And I have to decide if that means I trust them, or take matters into my own hands more than I already have. “What are you doing about this, right here and right now?”

Kara removes a pair of rubber gloves from her pocket and works one of them over her hand. “I’m overnighting the note and the envelope to the FBI lab for results.”

“There won’t be any prints,” I say.

“You don’t know that for sure,” Crystal says.

“I know whoever dropped that kid off in Long Island without being seen wasn’t an amateur. Professionals don’t leave prints.”

“We have to try,” Kara interjects. “Humans make mistakes, and any chance of finding out who we’re dealing with has to be explored.”

“Even if you learn who did this, you have to actually find them. And considering that Ava’s still on the run, my confidence that that will happen isn’t high.” My eyes shift to Crystal. “I won’t let you end up like Rebecca.”

“Then keep her close to you and us,” Kara says. “Let us protect her.”

The intercom buzzes and Crystal reaches for the button. “Leave it,” I order.

“I’m not letting whoever this is stop me from doing my job,” she says, glaring at me as she punches the button. “Yes, Beverly?”

“Is Mr. Compton there with you?” Beverly asks.

“I’m here,” I say tightly.

“Mr. Murphy hasn’t left. He says he won’t until he sees you.”

“I’ll be right out,” I say.

Crystal lets go of the button. “He’s a problem looking for a headline.”

“Exactly my take,” I say.

“What are you going to do? He has a hundred thousand dollars on the auction table next Saturday.”

“Ninety percent of our problems come from ten percent of our business. We’re getting rid of the problems.” I ask Kara, “Any more word from Luke?”

“Not yet, and I think it’s a bluff by the police. I don’t see how this kid can explain how he disappeared at the same time Ava did, if he truly intends to blame you.”

“My attorney was already in the air on his way here when I heard they’d called me a ‘person of interest.’ I intend to have him take care of this when he lands. I’m done being the focal point for lazy law enforcement who should be looking for the real problem, not a fall guy.”

“We all agree,” Kara says.

“And since I understand Blake is traveling with Detective Grant, make sure he knows two things in light of these new developments. You work for the police—which means you not only won’t receive any notes I have on the investigation, but you also won’t work for me. And I won’t be indulging Detective Grant’s desire to catch up on old times. He can talk to my attorney.”

“Blake stayed on with the district attorney in San Francisco because he wanted to help justice be served for Rebecca,” Kara says. “He had no idea a finger would be pointed at you again.”

“I wasn’t asking for an explanation I’ve already heard. Those are simply my requirements to go forward with Walker Security.”

Kara’s expression tightens. “Understood on all points. We’ll meet those requirements.”

“I’ll need confirmation when he arrives.”

“You’ll get it.”

“I’ll be waiting.” I don’t look at Crystal again. I can’t. Not when there’s something dark and turbulent brewing beneath my surface. I turn and walk toward the door.

“Mark, wait,” she calls, and the instant my hand touches the knob, hers is on my arm, the impact shaking me to the core. “We need to talk,” she says.

“Right now, the only thing I want to do is throw you over my shoulder, carry you to a car, and take you to the airport, where I’ll put you on a private plane out of the country. So unless you want me to do what my gut is telling me to do, let me go clear my head.”

“I . . . oh . . . but—”

“I’m serious, Crystal. Let me go, before I do something you won’t forgive me for.”

She hesitates, but her hand falls away and I exit the office. Quickly traveling the hallway, I enter the lobby to find Mr. Murphy talking to one of our salespeople, a redhead fresh out of school who looks like she wants to crawl under Beverly’s desk.

I stalk forward in time to hear him say, “And what do you think about the counterfeit works? Have they all been located?”

“Mr. Murphy,” I say sharply. He jerks around in surprise. “Obviously you’ve used your status as a customer to gain access to my staff for media purposes. I’ll have Ms. Smith release you from your auction agreement; therefore you no longer have any need for concern.”

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