“Luke and the truck driver both positively ID’d. There’s an Indian guy on the other side we can’t get info on. He didn’t carry a wallet and the car is registered to the tribe, so that’s no help. The couple in the crushed car…theirs was the first vehicle to hit the semi. Due to speed and lack of visibility, they hit hard and flipped. It’s a real mess.”
Still reeling from the news his cousin Luke was dead, Cam barely nodded to show that he was listening.
Deputy Sayzers trotted over with a piece of paper. “We’ve got a registration name on the car.”
That caught Cam’s attention. “Who did you say?”
“Rex DeMarco. Do you know him?”
“Not personally. His ex-wife put a restraining order on him a few years back before I started working here. He had issues with domestic disturbances.”
“Now I remember. So the woman in the car…who is she?”
Grimly, Cam said, “I’d bet money it’s his ex-wife, Nadia DeMarco.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Domini is friends with Nadia, and Nadia recently started spending time with her ex again. As a matter of fact, Domini agreed to watch their son tonight so they could go out.”
Shortbull whistled. “That poor kid. With both his parents dead, who’s his next of kin?”
“No one. Nadia emigrated from Bosnia so she’s it as far as family.”
“And the father?”
“No local family for him either.”
“I’ll make the call to Social Services and give them the heads up.” Shortbull sighed. “That boy is gonna go through hell.”
Cam’s brain was stuck on breaking the bad news. But something in Shortbull’s tone jarred him. “You ain’t gonna make him ID his parents?”
“No! Jesus, McKay. What kind of monster do you think I am?”
“I don’t. I just…” Cam dry-scrubbed his face. “Shit. Sorry. I ain’t exactly thinkin’ straight.”
They trudged back to the other side. Emergency lights blinked. The ambulances waited silently as the Search and Rescue guys worked on getting Rex’s and Nadia’s bodies out of the car.
Thirty minutes ticked by. Cam paced so much his shirt was damp from sweat and his prosthesis hurt like a bitch. The tow trucks loaded the smashed vehicles onto flatbed trucks. This time of night there wasn’t much traffic, but cars were lined up both directions. Cam had to get to Jessie before someone in the community recognized Luke’s wrecked truck and called her to ask about it.
Dread weighted him down as Sheriff Shortbull said, “Other people can handle this part. You’ll have enough trauma and drama to deal with.”
Cam barely remembered driving to Luke and Jessie’s place—a doublewide trailer on the far edge of the McKay Ranch. A porch light burned. He glanced at the clock before he climbed out. Ten thirty. Christ. Had it only been two hours since he’d gotten the call? It seemed like a lifetime ago.
He lumbered up the steps, inhaling a deep breath before he knocked on the door.
Lexie, Jessie’s dog barked inside the house. A voice hushed her, then a squeaking, sucking noise sounded as the inner door swung open.
Is that what he’d remember of this night? The sound the door made before he gave Jessie the news that’d change her life forever?
A pajama clad Jessie blinked at him with total confusion. “Cam? What are you doing here?”
“Jessie. There’s been an accident.”
Her gaze widened at his deputy’s uniform, realizing he was there on official business. The blood drained from her face. “Luke?”
“Is he all right?”
“No.” Cam forced his body and his voice to stay steady. “Luke didn’t survive. I’m so sorry.”
“What? Luke is…” She swayed but righted herself before Cam could get to her. “When?”
“About two hours ago.”
“Where did this happen?”
“A semi jackknifed in Shep’s Canyon. Because of the fog…there was really nothing he could’ve done. It happened fast.”
“Was anyone else with him?”
Cam shook his head. “There were fatalities in other vehicles that also hit the semi, but Luke was alone.”
“Did you tell Luke’s folks? Or his brothers?”
“Not yet. I wanted to let you know first. I’m sorry.”
When Jessie started to cry, Cam knew the sound of the squeaking door wouldn’t stick in his mind, but the hiccupping sobs Jessie didn’t try to hold in.
Without another word, Cam wrapped her in his arms. She clung to him and for the first time all night, he let himself grieve.
Time was a black void of sorrow, but eventually Jessie eased back and looked at him through red-rimmed, horror-filled eyes. “Will you come with me to tell Brandt? He’ll—we’ll—need to tell Casper and Joan right after, but it’d be…better coming from him than from me.”
“Let’s get this over with.” She stumbled down the deck steps.
Cam said, “Jess, sweetheart, you’re gonna need shoes.”
She froze and stared at her bare feet. Then back at him with an expression Cam recognized as shock.
“Oh. Shoes. Right.” She reversed course and slipped her feet into a pair of muddy ropers that were propped on the welcome mat. Wrapping her arms tightly around her middle, she trudged to the passenger side of the patrol car.
Neither spoke on the short, miserable drive to Brandt’s place. She stared out the windshield as tears dripped down her face.
By the time Cam hit the end of Brandt’s driveway, Brandt waited on the porch steps. Not a lot of social calls this time of night. Cam parked, but neither he nor Jessie attempted to get out of the car.
Jessie’s voice was barely a whisper. “I don’t want to tell him, Cam. This will ruin him. Brandt and Luke are so close.” Her voice caught on a sob. “Were so close. Oh God. I can’t do this.”
“It’s okay. Stay here. I’ll take care of it.” Cam forced himself to open the door. Forced himself to walk the twenty feet to where his cousin stood. Forced himself to look his cousin in the eye.
They stared at each other. Then Brandt said just one word. “Who?”
A pain-filled sound cut the night air.
It sliced Cam to the bone. He whispered. “Jesus, Brandt. I’m so sorry.”
Brandt’s gaze zoomed to the passenger side of the car. “Where’s Jessie?”
She was out of the car and sobbing in Brandt’s arms before Cam could answer.
He had to look away. He had to get away. Yet, he couldn’t leave if they needed him. So he waited in hellish silence as Brandt and Jessie tried to hold one another up.
“Cam?” Brandt said hoarsely.
“Can you do something for me?”
“Anything. Name it.”
“Give me a couple hours to talk to my folks and my brothers before you tell the rest of the family?”
“Anything you need, either of you, just ask, okay? We’re all gonna be here for you. Every one of us in the McKay family. Count on it.”
“I appreciate it.” Brandt draped his arm around Jessie and they disappeared into the house.
He’d been given a momentary reprieve on the family side of being the bearer of bad news. But he still had to get through the conversation with Domini.
With a heavy heart, Cam climbed in his car. But a mile from Brandt’s place he had to pull over on the shoulder. He rested his forehead on the steering wheel and wept.
Domini recognized the leaden tread coming up the stairs. Cam. Not Nadia.
She frowned at the clock. Eleven-thirty. Nadia was never this late picking Anton up. She’d tried to call Nadia’s cell to tell her just to leave Anton over night, but Nadia didn’t pick up. Which was odd.
She released the deadbolt and opened the door for Cam. Without looking at him, she headed for the living room. The climb up the stairs took a lot out of him and he hated her looks of sympathy. “Anton is still here, so I—”
The way he said her name, so seriously, so full of regret and sadness had her spinning toward him.
Her awareness jumped to full alert at the grief etched on Cam’s face.
“There was an accident tonight. A bad accident.”
“And you were called to the scene?”
“I wasn’t first on scene, but everyone was called, including help from other counties.”
She touched his arm, wanting to appease him, not knowing if he’d welcome it. “Oh, Cam. I’m so sorry. That had to be rough.”
“Makes it rough when the victims are someone you know.”
Her stomach lurched. “Someone you knew? Who?”
“My cousin Luke, for one.”
“Oh my God. What can I do?”
Cam shuffled his feet. “Can we sit down? I’ve been on my feet half the damn night.”
“Sure.” Domini led him to the sofa. She wanted to snuggle up, smooth the frown lines from his brow and erase the haggard look from his eyes. But something about his posture made her keep her distance.
“I just left Luke’s wife, Jessie, with his brother, Brandt.” He shuddered. “It about tore me up to tell them. It was just so goddamn surreal. Like this is all happening to someone else.”
“You had to tell them?” Jessie’s sweet face flickered in Domini’s mind. The poor woman. What an awful thing to deal with.
“It’s part of my job.” He took her hands in his. “There’s no easy way to do this. So I’m just gonna say it flat out. Luke wasn’t the only victim tonight.”