She glanced from the phone to the black mark and then back again, this time reading Gwen’s text.


I’M IN THE ATTIC, Isobel thumbed in. She hit the send button.

Her phone hummed loudly in her hand.



She felt her phone buzz a third time, but she ignored the incoming text and shut the device. Then she made her way to the stairs and sped down them.

Placing a hand on the knob, she stopped short of twisting it when she heard a slam, and a harsh clang of bells.

Her first thought was that the woman browsing through the discount bins had left in a hurry.

But the deep, angry voice she heard next told her she’d guessed wrong.

“Where is he?” a man growled. “Wake up, Nobit! We’re going to do this every day. Every day until you tell me where he’s gone. Do you hear me?”


Isobel shrank back from the door.

That voice . . . she knew it. She had heard it yell and threaten like this before.

It belonged to Varen’s father.


Things Buried

Isobel took a timid step forward. She pressed herself close to the door, listening.

“I’m old, but I’m not deaf, Mr. Nethers,” she heard Bruce say. “If you’re going to shout, you can turn around and take yourself back outside. My ears can’t take it.”

“You know what else will be hard to take?” Varen’s dad said. “A lawsuit. For obstruction of justice. That’s lying, Nobit.”

“I haven’t lied to anyone,” Bruce said. “I’m not keeping anything from you. I don’t know where your son is, Mr. Nethers. I’ve already told the police everything I know. In detail. So stop coming into my shop day after day, scaring off my customers and bellowing like a fool. If you weren’t the boy’s father and I didn’t see this for the deferred if not profoundly mangled attempt at parenthood that it is, I’d slam you with a lawsuit of my own. For harassment!”

“You are a liar!” Varen’s dad said, shouting again. The sound of a sharp, rattling bang made Isobel jump. She could picture Varen’s father slamming an enormous palm on the glass countertop. “How am I supposed to believe a damn word you say? You’ve lied to me before when I’ve come in here looking for him!”

“I didn’t lie when I told you I hadn’t seen him. If I haven’t seen him, that doesn’t mean he’s not here. You’ve taught him, however indirectly, to be very cautious with his whereabouts, Mr. Nethers. And I can’t say I blame him for that. Besides, I’m too old to be trekking up and down stairs after teenage boys. He wanted a place to study, undisturbed, and so I gave it to him.”

“Along with too many other excuses not to come home,” Varen’s dad snapped. “That stupid job, for one. That junk-pile car sitting outside.”

Suddenly it dawned on Isobel why Varen’s car had been parked outside the bookshop. When his father threatened to take the car away, Isobel remembered how Varen had argued that Bruce had been the one to cosign the loan, not him. And since the Cougar was here now, that had to mean Bruce must have paid the loan. He must be keeping it on purpose, she thought, believing that Varen would return.

“Your son earned that car, Mr. Nethers,” Bruce said.

Isobel lowered herself to kneel in front of the door. Closing one eye, she peered through the old-fashioned keyhole.

Beyond the open archway, she could see Bruce standing behind the counter, his shoulders stooped and bent at a slight angle. He scowled at the man on the other side of the register, a tall, straight figure dressed in a spotless black business suit. He stood with his broad back to Isobel, his glossy hair shining like coal.

“Earned it how? Working for you?” Varen’s father pointed a finger in the old man’s face. “You are not his family,” he seethed.

Isobel felt her blood surge hot in her veins. Rage flared within her, and she had to clench her hands into fists to keep from tearing the door open and starting her own yelling. The fear of being caught, however, kept her rooted to her hiding place.

“I’m not so certain he has a family,” Bruce said. “He never talks of one. His mother left, that much I do know.” He kept his own voice steady and low, wielding inflection in place of volume. And it seemed his aim had landed true. Varen’s dad turned his head in her direction, almost as though he’d been dealt a slap, and she saw his face for the first time.

His sharp and angular features collapsed before hardening again.

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