Page 85 of Forced Alliance

“Sarah Fey Russell,” he muttered with a voice of resignation.

“John, this isn’t a good time. Please, just let me go. Didn’t you recognize my car?”

“All I saw was a set of taillights weaving back and forth on the road like a flag in a high wind,” he drawled, wiggling his hand in the air. “But yes, when you finally stopped, I knew it was you.”

A pickup truck sped past. He glanced toward the receding vehicle then sighed and returned his attention to her. “I have to ask, of course, so just tell me you haven’t suddenly taken up drinking and driving for recreation.” Again, the dry tone, his southeastern Missouri accent as pronounced as usual. His typical expression of serenity was firmly in place, which meant he knew she wouldn’t need to breathe into a tube.

She shook her head, sniffed and dabbed at a few stray tears with her sleeve.

He leaned over and peered at her face more closely. “Hey, cuz.” His tone softened. “You crying? What’s wrong?”

He’d been a rock since Mom and Dad died three weeks ago…. Could Emma be right? Was it possible their deaths weren’t just a tragic accident? “I’ve already blown the guardianship.”


“I’ve lost Emma.”


Sarah reached toward the passenger seat for the printout of the long email she’d found after arriving home from her final, long day of teachers’ meetings to end the school year.

He took the sheet and squinted. “Wow. Save me some time. Give me the short version.”

“She’s driving across the state to Jolly Mill to investigate a rumor that the explosion that killed Mom and Dad was intentional.”

John hunkered down, eyes wide. “Someone thinks your parents were murdered?”

More tears surfaced as Sarah’s throat threatened to close. It was too fresh. Only three weeks since her world had shattered. “Nick Tyler suspects something. He’s Aunt Peg’s son.”

“She was the other person killed in the first explosion. You’ve mentioned Nick. You two were best buds when you lived there, right?”

Sarah hesitated. If John only knew. And perhaps he should. “If Nick suspects something, then I believe there’s something to suspect.” She held up Emma’s note. “There was another explosion the next day and another woman died—a nurse in an infirmary not far from the conference center where Mom and Dad and Aunt Peg were killed.”

John let out a long, low whistle. “There’s no police force in Jolly Mill.”

“That’s probably why Nick’s staying with his dad for a while, just to keep an eye on things.”

“If that’s where Emma’s going, will she be safe there?”

Sarah leaned her forehead against the steering wheel, trying not to think about it. “Her email to me was time-stamped two-thirteen. If she left soon after, she could be there by now.”

He looked at his watch. “Seven now. Yep, she could be.” He blew out a puff of air. “What on earth did that girl think there was to investigate?”

“You know Emma. She wants to be a police officer like her cousin John, so it’s your fault.”

“You’ve tried calling her, of course.”

“She’s not answering her cell.”

Another car sped past, and John grimaced. “Wish we weren’t already two people short tonight. I should go with you. Have you spoken with Nick?”

“All he and I have exchanged since our family moved away from there are sympathy notes after the explosion. Emma spoke with him on the phone.”

“Well, okay, but he is a son grieving the death of his mother. Even the most solid people I know can go a little off-kilter when they’re reeling from that kind of shock.”

“Two explosions a day apart, John. That’s not too much of a stretch. And, John, there’s more.” Sarah hesitated, closing her eyes. “Please promise this doesn’t go anywhere.”

He leaned forward, elbows resting on the car door until he was eye level with Sarah. “How much worse can it get?”

“I know under the circumstances this shouldn’t be an issue, but I’m pretty sure he’s Emma’s father.”