To bring her sister home for the holidays
They’ll put everything on the line.
Private investigator Shawn West is stunned when the attack victim he rescues is Addy Williams—the one woman he never forgot. She’s turning a quiet upstate New York town inside out to bring her missing sister home by Christmas. Shawn offers to help if she'll provide a cover for his own investigation into a suspicious company in town, but can they work together to find Addy's sister…or are they already too late?
From Harlequin Intrigue: Seek thrills. Solve crimes. Justice served.
Discover more action-packed stories in the West Investigations series. All books are stand-alone with uplifting endings but were published in the following order:
Book 1: Pursuit of the Truth
Book 2: Missing at Christmas
Book 3: Christmas Data Breach
Release date: August 24, 2021
Print pages: 256
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Missing at Christmas
Adelaide “Addy” Williams’s feet ached, and a headache throbbed behind her temples as she pulled the restaurant door open. The bells above the door jangled, drawing the attention of the middle-aged man behind the host podium. The smell of fried onions and beef slapped her in the face as she stepped toward the man.
He gave a tight smile, probably annoyed to have a customer come in less than an hour from closing time. “Dining in or taking out?”
“Neither.” Addy pulled the photograph of her sister from the oversize purse she carried. The bottom edges were creased from having been taken in and out of the purse all day, but Cassie’s effervescent smile remained unblemished. “I’m looking for my sister.” Addy thrust the photo at the man. “Have you seen her?”
The man flicked a glance at the photo then back to Addy. “No.”
Addy fought back the annoyance swelling in her chest. She’d gotten the same reaction from at least half the people she’d shown Cassie’s picture to over the last two days. Indifference or outright irritation was the most common reaction from people when she explained her nineteen-year-old sister was missing. She couldn’t help but wonder if she’d have gotten the same reaction if Cassie had blue eyes and blond hair instead of caramel skin and coarse coils.
“Please, look again,” she said, thrusting Cassie’s photo closer to the man.
He sighed, but pulled a pair of glasses from the pocket of his suit jacket and slipped them on before taking the photo from Addy. A lock of dark brown hair fell over his forehead as his studied the picture. After a moment he said, “I’m sorry. I’ve never seen her.”
“Are you sure?” Addy pressed, taking the photo back. She’d been in the restaurant earlier that day and had gotten the same response from the young woman behind the podium at the time, but she’d hoped she might have better luck with the evening staff.
The man sighed. “Yes, I’m sure. Now, I’m sorry about your sister, but if you aren’t going to order something, I have to ask you to leave.”
As if on cue, Addy’s stomach rumbled.
The man’s dark eyebrows rose, making it clear he’d heard her body’s protestations. She’d forgotten to stop for lunch, propelled by the ticking clock metaphorically hanging over her head. Addy knew the statistics. The longer a young woman was missing, the less likely it was that she’d be found alive.
“Kitchen is closing in five minutes, but the dining area is open until nine.”
Addy glanced at her watch—8:25 p.m. Living in Manhattan, it was nearly impossible to imagine a restaurant closing up shop so early. But Bentham, New York, was no Manhattan.
“Miss?” the man said.
“I want to order. I’ll take it to go.”
The man grabbed a plastic-clad menu from the top of the stack on the podium and thrust it into her hands. It listed traditional Mexican fare. She ordered a chicken burrito.
“Have a seat.” The man waved vaguely toward the nearest cluster of tables. “Your order will be out momentarily.” He dropped the menu back on top of the stack and turned.
“Do you mind showing this photo to the kitchen staff? Please?” Addy added at his frown. “She’s my sister.” She fought to get the last words out around the sob lodged in her throat. Showing vulnerability in front of a complete stranger was not something a tough-as-nails corporate attorney from Manhattan did. But if she had to beg this man to help her, she would. She couldn’t leave any stone unturned.
The man’s eyes finally softened. He took the photo from her hand. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Addy watched him disappear through swinging doors she assumed led to the kitchen, then fell into one of the chairs at the nearest table to wait for her dinner.
Cassie taking a day or two to return a call hadn’t alarmed Addy at first. Cassie was nineteen, adventurous and far more impulsive than Addy had ever been. After the first few missed calls and texts, Addy had expected a call from Cassie recounting a fun-filled last-minute trip to the mountains or someone’s vacation house in the Hamptons.
But that call had never come, and Cassie hadn’t answered any of Addy’s subsequent calls or texts. By the fourth day of silence, Addy had become concerned enough to reach out to Cassie’s roommate, Suri. Worry transformed to fear when Suri said Cassie had packed her things and moved out. Addy had resisted the impulse to call Cassie’s boss, not wanting to embarrass her sister at her first real job, but at that point, there was no other choice. Over the phone, Ms. Webb, the head of human resources and Cassie’s boss, informed Addy that Cassie had resigned from her internship with the company almost a week earlier with no notice.
Cassie had been over the moon to land the internship with Spectrum Industries, a leading computer chip manufacturer in the area. For Cassie, who was headed to MIT to study computer science after finishing this gap year between graduating high school and college, the internship was a dream come true. There was no way Cassie would have quit.
Something was very wrong, yet Addy felt in her bones that Cassie was out there somewhere. Alive.
She’d hoped to be heading back to New York, having found some clue to where Cassie was or at least having convinced the sheriff of the urgency of the situation, but she’d accomplished neither. Which meant she’d have to do the one thing she was hoping to avoid.
Addy pulled out her phone and scrolled through her contacts. She tapped Jarod Cunningham’s name and hoped he wouldn’t answer.
Her boss picked up on the third ring.
“Addy? Didn’t expect to hear from you this evening. Is everything okay with the merger?”
That was Jarod. All business. She had no idea where Jarod currently was, since she’d called him on his cell phone, but it wasn’t hard to imagine him in his twenty-second-floor corner office even after eight on a Sunday night.
“Everything is fine with the merger, Jarod. It’s Cassie, my sister. You know she’s gone missing and I spent the weekend in Bentham looking for her. I’m still here, actually, and I’m going to need to stay a few more days.”
She’d avoided requesting time off initially by driving up on Friday after work. Asking the head of the corporate law practice at Covington and Baker for time off was always a fraught endeavor. Despite the firm marketing itself as a place where work-life balance was valued, when it came down to it Covington and Baker, just like every other big New York law firm, expected the balance to come down on the side of work, not life. She had just been assigned to one of the biggest mergers the firm had ever landed, a deal that would make her upcoming partnership vote a given as long as everything went perfectly.
And asking for time off just days before they were scheduled to meet the client wasn’t the way she’d envisioned starting things off.
It wasn’t what Jarod had envisioned, either.
“You can’t be serious,” Jarod bellowed. “Now is really not a good time to take a vacation. We need you here.”
“It’s not a vacation, Jarod. My sister is missing.” Addy let out an angry breath. She’d worked hard to prove her value to Jarod, and she resented the insinuation that she was blowing off a major deal to sip mai tais on the beach.
Although Jarod brought in a lot of the merger business, as his right-hand woman, Addy did most of the work. It was a position she was content, if not happy, to be in. It wasn’t easy to be a Black woman in a large law firm. She was the only Black associate in the corporate practice, one of three Black female senior associates or partners in the whole of the two-hundred-person New York office.
“Of course, of course, and we all feel for you,” Jarod said, his voice lower now but still lacking all hint of sympathy. “But really, isn’t this a job for the police?”
She didn’t disagree, but the authorities didn’t seem to be taking the situation seriously. “The sheriff thinks Cassie will turn up on her own in a few days.” He hadn’t even wanted to take a missing person report. Luckily, seven years as a corporate attorney had given her a lot of experience convincing obstinate men to listen to her.
“If you can just wait two, maybe three weeks,” Jarod continued. “The Browning–Tuffs merger will be done by then. I bet your sister will have turned up by that point as well, and the two of you can take a nice long vacation.”
“My sister is the only family I have. I’m not just going to sit around doing nothing while she’s missing.” She didn’t try to hide the iciness in her tone.
“You wouldn’t be doing nothing, Addy. You’d be doing your job.”
She bit back her reflexive response. He was a talented attorney, but like a lot of powerful men, he was also a major jerk. For maybe the millionth time in the seven years since she’d started working at Covington and Baker, she considered quitting. And like each time before, she pushed the thought away, reminding herself how close she was to finally making partner and getting out from under Jarod’s thumb and how many medical bills were still left to pay from her father’s illness.
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “We don’t meet with the client until Thursday. I’m ready for the meeting, and I have my laptop with me, so I can do any last-minute changes from here.”
“I don’t like it,” Jarod said, but his hesitation gave her hope.
“Jarod, you know me. You know I can handle it. And I’ll be back no later than Thursday.”
Several silent seconds passed.
“Fine.” Jarod sighed loudly on the other end of the line. “But nothing can go wrong with this meeting, Addy. This deal is just as important for you as it is for me.” He disconnected from the call.
Jarod was not known for his subtlety, but he also wasn’t wrong. She knew the stakes.
She had three days to find Cassie.
The doors to the kitchen swung outward, and the man reappeared, a white plastic bag in one hand and Cassie’s picture in the other.
Addy slid her phone back into her purse and rose. The pity she saw in the man’s face as he drew nearer dashed the hope that had swelled in her chest.
“I showed your sister’s picture to everyone who’s still here, and no one recognized her. I’m sorry.”
Two solid days of showing Cassie’s picture everywhere she could think of in Bentham and nothing. No one remembered seeing her.
“Thanks, anyway.” She didn’t bother trying to muster a smile of thanks. She reached in her purse for her wallet.
“No charge,” he said, thrusting her food and Cassie’s picture at her. “You take care of yourself.”
Addy looked up into the man’s now compassion-filled eyes and wiped away the single tear she couldn’t stop from falling. “Thank you,” she croaked out before turning and fleeing the restaurant before the dam of tears broke.
Silver garlands hung from the streetlamps along with fluttering signs ordering the denizens of Bentham to have a happy holiday. The lamps themselves were spaced too far apart for the weak yellow light they cast off to beat back the dark December night. Five blocks west, cars coasted along one of Bentham’s main thoroughfares, but the street in front of Addy was clear and quiet, the surrounding businesses having long since closed for the night.
She’d left the metallic-blue Mustang she’d rented for the two-hour drive from Manhattan to Bentham in the hotel’s parking lot. It was easier to canvass the neighborhood on foot. All she had to show for her effort were sore feet.
A footstep sounded as she pocketed her phone. Shooting a glance over her shoulder, she squinted into the darkness but saw no one.
You’re just not used to so much quiet, she thought, walking on.
She’d lived in New York City since she was twelve but spent summers on her grandfather’s ranch in Texas. She’d loved the ranch almost as much as she loved the city, but New York wasn’t called the city that never slept for nothing. There was always something to do and see, and she was used to being surrounded by thousands of people, even though she’d been very much alone since Cassie moved to Bentham.
A scraping sound came from close behind her, followed by the unmistakable sound of fast-moving footsteps.
She turned, intending to move to the side, when a hand clamped around her ponytail, jerking her backward against a hard chest.
It took a moment for her brain to catch up with what was happening, and by the time it did, her assailant had taken his beefy hand from her hair and clamped it over her mouth.
Addy fought her rising panic. Like any savvy city girl, she’d taken self-defense classes, but it had been a while since she’d brushed up. She’d never thought she’d actually have to use any of those techniques.
She tried to pull away, but the man’s arm was like a vise around her neck.
“Don’t fight, and I won’t hurt you,” the man growled.
She didn’t believe that for a minute. She’d left the small gun she carried for protection locked in her car’s glove compartment, a decision she regretted now. Who’d have thought the streets of Bentham were more dangerous than Manhattan?
Well, she had no intention of going down without a fight, gun or no gun. She sent up a quick prayer and fisted her hands at the same time a yell came from somewhere in the night.
SHAWN WEST STOPPED at an intersection not far from the offices of the company he’d been sent to investigate.
Half a block away, on the opposite side of the street, a Black woman strolled toward him.
She was too far away to see her clearly, but the tailored slacks, black wool peacoat and dark gray loafers marked her as a professional, probably on her way home from work. A feeling of familiarity washed over him, but he quickly dismissed it. Despite its proximity to Manhattan, he’d never been to or met anyone from Bentham before.
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