Her head whipped up. “Just what do you think I haven’t told you about Autumn?”
He pulled the big paisley wing chair toward the bed and sat down. He said patiently, “You told me Autumn is ill, that she had to have one pill a day for a week. That leaves today and tomorrow. What will happen if she doesn’t get the full dosage?”
“The ear infection won’t be completely knocked out, I suppose, but in terms of symptoms, maybe she’d have headaches again, earaches, and a high fever.” She shrugged. “I really don’t know. It’s never been an issue before.”
She looked over at him, met his eyes a moment. He saw despair and something more, something buried deep, something that scared the crap out of her.
“I’m told you’re always with Autumn. Think. Did you see anyone who perhaps looked too interested in her?”
“Everyone says she’s very outgoing, friendly, really cute.”
“Yes, that’s true,” she said, and began twisting her hands together.
Ethan left his chair, came down on his knee in front of her. “Look at me.”
Slowly she raised her head, and he looked into eyes bluer than the sky in the middle of summer. “I can think of one very big thing you neglected to tell me.”
She became Lot’s wife, didn’t move a single muscle, didn’t blink.
“It appears that everyone but me knows you and knows Autumn. Why did you imply to me that this was your first time visiting Titusville?”
She had the gall to shrug. He wanted to jerk her up and shake her. “I didn’t tell you because it wouldn’t have helped. Besides, it’s none of your business.”
To keep himself from grabbing her, he jumped to his feet, took a step back. “None of my business? Are you nuts? Think, woman. Someone took your child and you’re telling me it’s not important that people here in Titusville know her? That they could come up to her and say, ‘I remember you, you’re Autumn, right? Long time no see. Hey now, aren’t you a big girl now?’ That didn’t occur to you?”
“No. That’s not what happened.”
He wanted to strangle her. “Why are you playing games with me? This is your daughter’s life in the balance here.”
She leaped to her feet, her fist headed for his jaw. He grabbed her wrist. “Not smart to hit the law, ma’am. We don’t take kindly to it. I strongly suggest you tell me some of the truth now. For your daughter. I want to find her, Mrs. Backman. I want to find her alive.”
She jerked away from him, crossed her arms over her chest, and rubbed her hands up and down her arms, as if she was freezing. She probably was, from the inside out.
“Talk to me, Mrs. Backman.”
SHE OPENED HER MOUTH, then she slowly shook her head. She still wouldn’t look at him square in the face.
He realized she was afraid, not only for her child—there was something else too. Worse, the fear had frozen her. He knew from a good deal of experience that she wasn’t going to tell him anything, probably couldn’t get her brain together enough to figure out her options, at least not tonight.
Ethan pulled a card out of his shirt pocket, wrote his cell number on the back, and handed it to her. She didn’t want to take it, but he was patient, simply stood there with the card held out. She took it. He said, “You know, as unlikely as it seems to you right now, you can trust me,” and he turned and left her room without another word. As he closed the door behind him, he heard her deep, harsh breathing.
He paused a moment in the hallway, praying she’d come running out of the room to catch him, but she didn’t.
He gave a little wave to the dozen people still in the reception area and nodded to Mrs. Daily, who was standing next to the now empty cookie platter.
He was home in seven minutes. When he walked through the front door, Lula and Mackie raced to him, meowing their heads off, Lula trying to climb his leg. He knelt down and let Big Louie lick him to his heart’s content, then went to the kitchen and fetched treats for all of them.
“Big Louie, here’s a bone for you. Think of it as your dental floss.” He started tossing kibble, a game they played every night. The cats ran their paws off to grab the treats out of the air, like kibble Frisbee. He tossed the kibble farther and farther, and watched Lula rip across the wood floor, skid, and bat at the treats, then eat them off her paws. Mackie liked to leap into the air to catch his. “Why won’t the woman talk to me, guys? I’m the law. She’s supposed to trust me. Well, I know why, now don’t I? She’s scared out of her wits. I just wish I knew what her problem was.” He sighed, threw out more treats, listened to Louie gnaw and grind down on his bone. He threw the last treat to Lula, high, six feet behind where she was crouched, and she flew to grab it out of the air. “Enough, guys,” he said, dusted his hands on his jeans, and stood up. “Do you know what? I’m going to find Autumn despite her.”