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Page 9

“My dad works on the oil rigs in the Gulf,” she said. “He blows through San Francisco every few years. My mom’s living la vida loca in the Mission District with her current boyfriend, but we do best with a little distance between calls and visits.”

Joe and his mom had been incredibly close before she’d died when he’d been ten. And though he never knew how to describe his relationship with his father, they were in each other’s lives, forever bound by the ties of blood and family. Same with Molly. The three of them had many faults, but not caring wasn’t one of them. They were in a love/hate and undoubtedly dysfunctional relationship, but he had no doubt they’d stand at his back in any situation, no questions asked.

Well, okay, there’d be questions. And yelling, lots of yelling, but they’d still be at his back.

It seemed the person Kylie had ever had at her back was gone, and though he knew she wouldn’t want him to feel bad for her, he did. It sucked. It also made her life and her success in the artistic world all the more amazing for the fact that she was accomplishing it on her own. “Tell me more about the fire,” he said, not daring to risk her wrath by offering sympathy. “His entire shop burned? And what about any inventory in it?”

“Everything was destroyed,” she said.

“Which would’ve have made any work of his that had already sold instantly more valuable,” he said. “Right?”

She turned to face him, her brow furrowed. “Yes. I guess I hadn’t thought of it that way.”

“That’s why you’re paying me the big bucks.” He smiled, hoping she knew he was teasing. “Okay, we’ll start with some paperwork.”

She looked startled. And annoyed. “You mean like forms?”

“No, a list,” he said. “How many people knew the both of you? Anyone have anything against either of you, a grudge, a vendetta? Anything?”

She stared at him like he was crazy. “No one had anything against my grandpa. He was the sweetest, kindest, most generous man on the planet.”

Uh-huh. Call him jaded, but everyone had secrets. And everyone had a bad side.

She took in his expression and shook her head. “No one was mad at him.” She paused. “Or me.”

He went brows up.

“Hey,” she said. “I’m a delight.”

He laughed and she rolled her eyes. “Okay, fine, I’m a pain in the ass, whatever. Just find my penguin.”

The way she said that, “my penguin,” like it’d been her most treasured possession, dried up his good humor. He knew what it was like to love family so deeply it hurt and he also knew what it was like to lose them. His dad was still kicking, but Joe had lost him just the same. “So you’re saying no one was pissed off at him or you.”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

“Then let’s try another angle,” he said. “Greed instead of revenge.”

“Okay,” she said slowly. Doubtfully. And Joe got it. Most people didn’t give a lot of thought to motives behind a crime. Most people’s minds didn’t go there.

He wasn’t most people.

“It’s someone who knew the both of you,” he said. “Or someone who might have heard something from someone who knew the both of you, or they wouldn’t have had any idea that this wood thing even existed.”

“Penguin wood carving,” she corrected him. “It’s a penguin wood carving, not a ‘wood thing.’”

“Right,” he said. “Penguin wood carving.”

“My grandpa was simple,” she said. “And quiet. He didn’t go out, didn’t have friends he hung out with. He liked to stay home and be with me.”

Joe was really glad that she’d had him when it seemed as if she’d not been able to count on her parents, but he could only imagine how lonely and sheltered she’d been. “How about employees?”

“He didn’t have any.”

“No one? Not an office helper or apprentice? No one at all?” he asked, finding that hard to believe.

“I handled his phones and the books,” she said, “although he did have apprentices here and there. I didn’t think about them.”

He nodded, not liking the vision he was getting of how her younger years had gone. She’d lived lean and isolated. “Can you list all the apprentices?”

“I think so. But—”

He pulled out his desk chair, gestured for her to sit, and pushed a pad of paper and a pen in front of her.

“Okay.” She bent over the pad in concentration, her long, wavy, light brown hair falling into her face. With a sound of annoyance, she coiled it up on top of her head with an elastic ribbon she’d had on her wrist. She went back to the list and wrote in silence for a few minutes before handing him the pad.

“Here are the apprentices during the time I was with him,” she said. “There are ten. I’ve given you their names and where they were from. One was older than my grandpa and isn’t a viable suspect. Another has passed away. Two are living out of the country. And out of the ones that are left, I honestly can’t see a single one of them doing this. They all loved my grandpa as much as I did.”

This was a biased point of view and as was habit on this job, he ignored all bias and emotion. “Is there anything else I need to know?” he asked.

She pulled her lower lip into her mouth and gnawed on it with her teeth. After a pause, she shook her head.

He resisted a sigh. She was a shitty liar. “Going to actually need the words, Kylie,” he said, holding her gaze, knowing it was next to impossible to hold a lie while looking someone in the eyes and speaking at the same time. At least for someone like Kylie. Him, he could look into the eyes of a saint and give a good run for his money.

But Kylie didn’t hold the eye contact. She looked away as she spoke. “There’s nothing else you need to know.”

Right. He didn’t believe her, of course, but he knew better than to push a woman who’d dug her toes in the sand. Instead, he scanned her list and stilled. “Your boss is on here.”

“Gib? Yeah,” she said. “But I marked him not a possibility.”

“You’ve marked them all not a possibility,” he said dryly. “But let’s start with Gib. Why isn’t he a suspect in your eyes?”

“Because we grew up together,” she said. “My grandpa taught him everything he knows. He considered Gib one of his own, even gave him a place to stay when he needed it.”

“So Gib would know exactly how important the thing—er, penguin wood carving was to you, right?” he asked. “Not to mention what it must be worth.”

“It’s not Gib,” she said stubbornly. “He’s been good to me, very good to me.”

He didn’t like where this was going. “How good is very good?”

“What do you mean?” she asked suspiciously.

Joe’s instincts were razor sharp and they’d gotten that way because he was a master at studying people. He’d been in Reclaimed Woods several times. He’d seen little to no sexual tension from Gib aimed at Kylie, but he still had to ask. For the case, he told himself, and absolutely not for personal knowledge. “You and Gib a thing, Kylie?”

“What does this line of questioning pertain to?” she asked.

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