I opened my mouth. Nothing came out.
Mom made big eyes at me and nodded toward the table. I dropped my bag on the floor and sat.
“Drink your tea.” Grandma Frida pushed a steaming mug toward Rynda.
Rynda picked up and drank it, but her gaze was fixed on me. Desperation in her eyes turned to near panic. Right.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath from the stomach all the way up, held it, and let it out slowly. One . . . two . . . Calm . . . calm . . .
“Nevada?” Grandma Frida asked.
“She’s an empath Prime,” I said. “I’m upset, so it’s affecting her.”
Rynda gave a short laugh, and I heard Olivia Charles in her voice. “Oh, that’s rich.”
Five . . . six . . . Breathe in, breathe out . . . Ten. Good enough.
I opened my eyes and looked at Rynda. I had to keep my voice and my emotions under control. “Your mother killed an entire crew of Rogan’s soldiers and four lawyers, including two women your age. It was an unprovoked slaughter. Their husbands are now widowers and their children are motherless because of her.”
“A person is never just one thing,” Rynda said, putting the mug down. “To you she might have been a monster, but to me she was my mother. She was a wonderful grandmother to my children. She loved them so much. My mother-in- law doesn’t care for them. They have no grandparents now.”
“I’m sorry for your and their loss. I regret that things went the way they did. But it was a justified kill.” Dear God, I sounded like my mother.
“I don’t even know how she died.” Rynda clenched her hands into a single fist. “They only gave me back her bones. How did my mother die, Nevada?”
I took a deep breath. “It wasn’t an easy or a quick death.”
“I deserve to know.” There was steel in her voice. “Tell me.”
“No. You said you needed my help. Something terrible must’ve happened. Let’s talk about that.”
Her hand shook, and the mug danced a little as she brought it to her lips. She took another swallow of her tea. “My husband is missing.”
Okay. Missing husband. Familiar territory. “When was the last time you saw . . .” Rogan had said his name one time, what was it? “. . . Brian?”
“Three days ago. He went to work on Thursday and didn’t come back. He doesn’t answer his phone. Brian likes his routine. He’s always home by dinner. It’s almost Christmas. He wouldn’t miss it.” A note of hysteria crept into her voice. “I know what you’ll ask: does he have a mistress, did we have a good marriage, does he disappear on drunken binges? No. No, he doesn’t. He takes care of me and the kids. He comes home!”
She must’ve spoken to the Houston PD. “Did you fill out a missing person report?”
“Yes. They’re not going to look for him.” Her voice turned bitter. She was getting more agitated by the minute. “He’s a Prime. It’s House business. Except House Sherwood is convinced that Brian is okay and
he’s just taking a break. Nobody is looking for him, except me. Nobody is returning my calls. Even Rogan refuses to see me.”
That didn’t sound right. Rogan would never turn her away, even if I pitched a huge fit about it. I’d watched the two of them talking before. He liked her and he cared about her. “What did Rogan say exactly?”
“I came to him on Friday. His people told me he was out. He was out on Saturday. I asked to wait, and they told me it was a waste of time. They didn’t know when he would be back. I may be naive, but I’m not an idiot. I know what that means. Two weeks ago, I had friends. I had my mother’s friends, powerful, respected, and always so eager to do Olivia Charles a favor. Two weeks ago, one phone call and half of the city would be out looking for Brian. They would be putting pressure on the police, on the mayor, on the Texas Rangers. But now, everyone is out. Everyone is too busy to see me. There is an invisible wall around me. No matter how loud I scream, nobody can hear me. People just nod and offer platitudes.”
“He didn’t stonewall you,” I said. “He was out of state. With me.
She stopped. “You’re together?”
There was no point in lying. “Yes.”
“The thing with my mother, it wasn’t just a job for you?”
“No. She killed the wife of a man I consider a friend. He works here now.”
Rynda put her hand over her mouth. Silence fell, heavy and tense.
“I shouldn’t have come here,” she said. “I’ll get the children and go.”
“That’s right,” Grandma Frida said.
“No,” Mom said. I knew that voice. That was Sergeant Mom voice. Rynda knew that voice too, because she sat up straighter. Olivia Charles was never in the military, but three minutes of talking to her had told me that she had ruled her household with an iron fist and had very low tolerance for nonsense.
“You’re here now,” Mom said. “You came to us for help, because you had nowhere to turn and because you’re scared for your husband and your children. You came to the right place. Nevada is very good at tracking missing people. Either she’ll help you, or she will recommend someone who will.”
Grandma Frida turned and looked at Mom as if she had sprouted a pineapple on her head.
“Right,” I said. I may not have personally murdered Rynda’s mother, but I made that death possible. And now she was a pariah, alone and scared. She had lost her mother, her husband, and all of the people she thought were her friends. I had to help her. I had to at least get her started in the right direction.