She couldn’t deny that those first few months of marriage were pure wedded bliss. But that was before Allie had set her sights on the rugged cowboy-turned-stuntman who had married her sister. Soon after the wedding, Allie had tried to set her straight about her new husband by warning Cassie that Trent was a player, that within weeks of Cassie moving to LA, Trent had shown interest in her as well as other girls and women around town.
Allie had even insinuated that Trent had cornered Allie one night while Cassie was still living in Falls Crossing and tried to kiss her and “God knew what else.” Cassie hadn’t believed the story initially, but over time, she’d begun to have doubts.
Had she really been so blind? Had she believed Allie because dealing with Trent and trying to make a relationship work was too difficult? Had she run from her marriage just as she’d run from her life in Oregon?
“I don’t know what to believe.”
“Maybe you should trust your own instincts.” He slid her a glance that she caught.
“You might not like the outcome.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
When he didn’t say anything more, she prodded. “That’s it? All you have to say.”
“For now.” He leaned back in the seat. “We’ve got a long trip ahead of us.” With that, he lapsed into silence.
Which gave her a lot of time to think.
She turned on the radio and her favorite LA station was starting to fade, the long road north stretching out for hundreds of miles, the future uncertain.
Rhonda Nash didn’t put much faith in “hunches” or “gut feelings” or hypothetical “theories.” She was a cold, hard facts kind of cop and those feelings spilled over into her private life, which probably explained why, at nearly forty, she’d never married though she’d gotten close a couple of times. It was just that her bullshit meter was nearly always on alert and a lot of men she’d dated didn’t pass the test.
So when she found a connection in a case she was working on, some little piece of evidence that tied parts of the ongoing investigation together, she experienced a little sizzle of anticipation, a spike of adrenaline that fired her blood and, as was the case in the disappearance of Allie Kramer, propelled Nash into action.
Nash had been contacted by Jonas Hayes, who worked homicide in LA. A woman’s body had been discovered in a parking lot near a club in Venice Beach. She’d been identified as Holly Dennison, who not only had worked with Allie Kramer and Lucinda Rinaldi on Dead Heat, but who had been found wearing a mask, a distorted image of Allie Kramer.
The pictures were disturbing, a set of digital photos of a woman’s dead body wedged between a couple of cars in a parking lot. The first set showed pictures of the corpse wearing the mask. The second set was the victim without the mask, a woman’s face with fixed gaze and ashen skin tones, Holly Dennison, a set designer, who like Rinaldi, had worked on Dead Heat. A third set was of close-ups of the mask, front and back, and the one-word message scrawled on the picture’s back.
All in all, weird as hell.
The cause of death wasn’t yet official, but a single gunshot wound to the torso, a through and through, made an educated guess simple.
Why had the mask been placed on the victim’s face? What connection, other than the obvious movie link, did Dennison have to Allie Kramer?
Now, Nash hurried out of the station house in Portland and felt the slap of cold April rain. At four in the afternoon, rush hour was already in full swing. Cars, trucks, vans, bikes, and buses clogged the city streets, inching from one red light to the next, each vehicle angling around the others in an effort to find a way out of the heart of Portland.
Making her way along the crowded afternoon sidewalk, Nash pulled up the hood of her coat and tried to imagine how Holly Dennison, a dead woman in LA wearing a grotesque mask of Allie Kramer, fit into the case. The connection was obvious. Almost too obvious: the message on the mask’s back side.
A single word: Sister.
Who was Allie Kramer’s sister?
Who fought with Allie on the night she disappeared?
Who felt betrayed by her sister’s involvement with her estranged husband?