Lucy’s graduation ceremony was being held outside on the high school’s football field. On the cusp of adulthood, nine hundred eighteen-year-olds sat surprisingly still on the risers framing each side of the temporary stage. Dillon Kincaid shielded his eyes against San Diego’s morning sun, scanning the crowd for his family. He was late because of a last-minute psychiatric assessment of a prisoner who was being arraigned that afternoon.
The principal called the next graduate. “Monica Julian.” A tall, lithe blond walked up the steps to the platform and accepted her certificate.
Good. He hadn’t missed Lucy receiving her diploma. He’d keep an eye on the audience for the largest burst of applause, and that would be where the Kincaid clan had saved him a seat.
The principal went through fifteen more names before announcing, “Lucia Kincaid.”
Dillon smiled, anticipating his beautiful dark-haired baby sister walking up the stairs. She’d worked hard for her grades, and her acceptance to their father’ s alma mater of Georgetown was icing on the cake. He heard a loud raucous cheer in the middle of the right seating section, saw the tallest Kincaid, Connor, standing and hooting.
Circling the field and making his way to where his family cheered, Dillon watched the stage for his sister.
“Lucia Kincaid?” The principal repeated her name and Dillon stopped to scan the graduates. Where was Lucy? He reached the edge of his family’s row of seats as Carina emerged.
“Robert P. Kinney.” The principal went on to the next graduate.
“I’m going to look for Lucy,” Carina told Dillon when she spotted him. Her fiancé, Nick Thomas, was right behind her.
Dillon fell into step next to Nick while Carina made a beeline for the nearest girls’ restroom. She’d graduated from the same high school fourteen years before and knew the campus well. Wearing graduation robes, two girls came out, adjusting their hats. Carina asked, “Is Lucy Kincaid in there?”
“I don’t think so,” one responded.
Carina brushed past her and went into the girls’ room, calling Lucy’s name. “She’s not there,” she stated tersely when she came out.
“Is there another bathroom?” Nick asked.
“Way over on the other side of the field.”
“Let’s check it out.”
They crossed the field behind all the proud families.
“I can’t believe she ditched her own graduation!” Carina sounded both worried and angry.
“You don’t know that she did,” Dillon said. “There’s a logical explanation. Lucy could be sick.”
“And she didn’t come and tell us?” Carina frowned, picked up her pace. “No one’s seen her since eight o’clock this morning. She went to Becky’s house to get ready, saying she’d meet us here.”
“Carina,” Dillon said, “stop being a cop for a minute. Don’t assume the worst.”
“I can’t help it.”
Dillon had the same fears as his sister. Both siblings worked with violent predators every day—Carina as a homicide detective catching killers, Dillon as a forensic psychiatrist trying to understand them. The two had been sent down their career paths by the murder of their nephew. Justin Stanton would also have been graduating today had he not been murdered eleven years ago.
Carina took a deep breath as she walked under the bleachers and toward the restrooms. A group of male graduates was smoking cigarettes around the corner.
“They’re at the ‘N’s now. You’d better get back,” Carina told them.
“Whatever,” one of the kids dismissed her. Carina glared at him, and Dillon pulled her back, reminding her what was important. “Let’s find Lucy.”
The restroom was vacant except for a mother and daughter.
Standing outside the restroom, Carina said to no one, “Where is she?”
“You said she went to Becky Anderson’s this morning, right? The petite blond girl who was at her birthday dinner?”
Carina nodded. “She’s in the third row on the left.”
“Let me go talk to her. You and Nick check the campus.”
Carina looked like she was about to argue with
him—Dillon knew she wanted a crack at interrogating Becky—but he held firm and Nick guided Carina toward the parking lot.
Dillon walked over to the graduates’ seating. He spotted Becky halfway down the third row and waved to catch her attention.
A teacher approached. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave. You can speak to your daughter after the ceremony.”
Dillon cringed. He might technically be old enough to be Lucy’s father, but he knew Lucy was sensitive to being much younger than her six siblings.
“I just need to talk to Becky Anderson. It’s important.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible.”
Dillon caught Becky’s eye and motioned her to come over. She started down the aisle, her face revealing that she knew exactly why Dillon was asking to speak with her.
“Sir—” the teacher began.
“This is about a missing girl. I have to speak with Becky.”
Without giving the teacher another word, Dillon took Becky by the arm and led her away from the crowd.
The petite eighteen-year-old had guilt written all over her face.
“Do you know why I want to talk to you?” Dillon asked, trying to maintain calm while his concern over Lucy continued to grow.
“I—” Becky bit her lip. “I don’t know why Lucy’s late.”
“An hour late?” Dillon asked.
“Well, I . . . she’ll be here,” Becky said lamely.
“What happened after Lucy arrived at your house this morning?”
“Um, she didn’t.”
Dillon exclaimed. “Where was she going?”
“Please, you don’t understand.”
“I need the truth, Becky. Now.”
“She went to meet someone.”
Dillon frowned. “That doesn’t sound like one of her boyfriends.” But he admitted to himself that he’d been too busy lately to keep up with Lucy’s love life.
“He’s in college.”
Dillon tensed. He didn’t like where this conversation was going. “Where did she meet him?”
“Starbucks. The one right around the corner,” she added as if that made it safe. “We always go there.”
“And you lied for her?”
“I didn’t really lie,” Becky said.
Dillon raised an eyebrow, but didn’t have to say anything.“ Lucy knew everyone would throw a fit if they found out she met someone on—” Becky shut her mouth.
“Online?” Dillon prodded.
Dillon pulled out his cell phone and dialed Lucy’s number.
It’s Luce. I’m either talking or sleeping!
Leave a message. Adios.
“Lucy, it’s Dillon. Call me as soon as you get this message. It’s important.”
He hung up.
“What do you know about Trevor Conrad?” Dillon asked Becky.
“He goes to Georgetown. He’s a freshman and from Los Angeles. Lucy met him through an online group at Georgetown. It’s all legitimate. You have to be a student to join. She’s not stupid.” She doesn’t have to be stupid to be in danger
Dillon was now as concerned as Carina had been earlier. Trevor Conrad may be a student at Georgetown and still a threat. Or he could be impersonating a student. Dillon needed to get to Starbucks as soon as possible and talk to the staff.
“When was Lucy supposed to meet this Trevor?”
“Nine,” she said.
“Is there anything else you’re not telling me, Becky?”
She bit her lip, tears rolling over her lashes. “She promised to meet me here fifteen minutes before graduation started. I don’t know what happened. Lucy should be here by now. I’m so sorry.”
Lucy regained consciousness when a reverberating motor changed pitch. Her eyelids wouldn’t open, her limbs were numb, and she was bone cold. She shifted and discovered she’d been tied to a metal pipe.
She was sitting in a low puddle of ocean water, its distinctive salty aroma permeating her senses, waking her fully. The low rumble of a motor and the rise and fall of the floor told her she was on a boat. It wasn’t a big boat, she could tell, but it was big enough to have a couple of rooms beneath the deck.
Her new suede jacket—the one Carina had given her for high school graduation—was torn. Lucy felt a flap of material hanging from...