Read Silenced (Alaskan Courage Book #4) Online

Authors: Dani Pettrey

Tags: #FIC042060, #Alaska—Fiction, #Murder—Investigation—Fiction, #FIC027110, #Mountaineers—Fiction, #FIC042040

Silenced (Alaskan Courage Book #4) (6 page)

BOOK: Silenced (Alaskan Courage Book #4)
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Kayden shifted, looking back at Jake. Now came the really awkward part.

Thankfully Jake took the lead. “We were told Conrad bought his climbing supplies here.”

“Sometimes . . .” Brody’s words dropped off as his face slackened. “I don’t believe this. Don’t believe you.” His intense expression bore into Kayden, and suddenly she was sixteen again—her and Brody sitting on her front porch swing, him leaning in to press his soft lips to hers for the first time.

“We’ve got to ask,” she said.


You
didn’t.”

“Meaning?” She knew exactly what he meant. She could have sent someone else. Could have refused to ask her first
crush, first boyfriend, if he’d played any role in Conrad Humphries’ death.

“The old Kayden would know exactly what I meant.” He shook his head with a sigh. “Can’t believe the rumors are true.”

Don’t ask
. “What rumors would that be?”

“That you’re a cold b—”

“Enough!” Jake roared, shielding her with his body. “Answer the question. Did Conrad Humphries purchase his chalk here?”

“Not for the last three months.”

“Where has he been buying it?”

“Natalie Adams’ place.”

“Imnek Island Adventures?” Kayden asked.

“Yeah. Natalie started carrying a new line of climbing equipment and she’s been underbidding me ever since.”

“Sorry about that,” Kayden said. Owning Last Frontier Adventures, she knew the crunch of being lowballed by a competitor.

“Whatever.” Brody shrugged with taut shoulders. “Our shop sales are a fraction of our intake, and I’ve got a lot of loyal customers. Only a small amount moved to buy from Nat.”

“Any idea when Conrad last stocked up on chalk?” Jake asked.

“Nope. You’d have to ask Natalie.”

Kayden looked at Jake. “Guess we know where our next visit is.”

Jake desperately wanted to comfort Kayden after Brody’s cruel remarks, but he was at a loss. How could he comfort her without making her feel even more uncomfortable?

She glanced back at the climbing gym. “Brody’s reaction was off. He was far too defensive.”

“You and he go a ways back?”

She slipped her hands in her faded jean pockets. “We were friends . . .”

“And then . . . ?”

“We dated in high school.”

“But . . . ?” He was pushing his luck. She’d actually just shared more than she ever had with him intentionally.

“His family moved to Imnek my senior year.”

The year her mom died. “That must have been hard.” He swallowed, knowing she’d either take what he said next as the truth it was or she’d brush it off as if Brody’s words hadn’t stung. He cleared his throat. “What Brody said isn’t true.”

She frowned. “Which part?” She was clearly focusing on the case, not his comments directed at her.

Jake held her gaze, and the depth of emotion she never could hide in her amazing almond-shaped eyes nearly stole his breath away. “The part about you.” He prayed she wouldn’t look away, and shockingly, she didn’t immediately break off eye contact. Simply gave a quick nod—leaving it at that.

Jake inhaled, studying her. What made her tick? What drove her? He excelled at reading people, and over the years he’d come to understand quite a bit about Kayden, but what intrigued him most was the part he couldn’t read. He could predict how she would act, react, in almost every situation, but he couldn’t for the life of him figure out
why
she was the way she was, why she reacted the way she did. It was tied to the loss of her mother, he was sure. But there was more, something deeper, related to that event that drove her. He would probably never know. It was for the man she would
finally decide to open her heart to, and as desperately as he ached for it to be him, he feared it never could be.

Fear
. He’d never fully experienced that emotion until the loss of Becca and the baby. Maybe if he’d had a little more fear before that, they’d still be alive. It’s why he’d tried so carefully when it came to guarding his heart. But any fool could see when it came to Kayden, and the rest of the McKennas, he’d slipped up, let his guard fall. And the desperate fear he could lose the family he’d come to love, the woman he’d come to love, was like a stranglehold on his heart.
Suffocating
.

9

Jake walked beside Kayden, the sun glinting off his fair skin. There was so much she wanted to know.

“It’s okay,” he said with a lopsided smile.

“What is?” She prayed he wasn’t bringing Brody up again. Brody’s words had stung, but she’d shaken them off just like she did everything else. Jake’s concern was thoughtful, and she’d fought hard not to crawl back into her fortress—actually answering his questions with honesty, but one step at a time was frightening enough.

He plucked a wild flower growing by the sidewalk and rolled its stem through his fingers. “I know you’re curious.”

Her brows pinched.
Where is he going with
this?
“About . . . ?”

“Me.” He smiled slowly, in a way he’d never smiled before, and it left her throat suddenly parched. He was so virile, so handsome . . . so . . . so much she shouldn’t be thinking about.

He dipped his head. “It’s okay to ask. If it’s something I don’t want to answer, I won’t.”

She laughed, the tightness in her belly relaxing.

He arched a brow, his lip twitching with a smile. “What?”

She shook her head. “Just sounds like something I’d say.”

“Maybe we’re more alike than you think.”

She bit her bottom lip. “Maybe.”

A knock sounded on his door. Reef smiled. He’d been wondering how long it would take. “Come in.”

Piper stepped inside. “Getting settled?”

“Yes.” He put the last of his things in the dresser, waiting for it.

Piper sank onto the bed. “She’s very nice.”

There it is
. He glanced at the clock. Thirty seconds to bring up Anna. It was a new record. “Yes, she is.”

“So how long have you—”

“Been going to church?”

“I was going to say
known Anna
, but sounds like they happened at the same time, so sure.”

“Three months.”

“She’s—”

“Very different from the girls I usually date.”

Piper threw a pillow at him. “You’re taking the fun out of this.”

He caught the pillow before it smashed him in the face. Her aim was getting better. “Sorry. I just know you too well.”

“And I know you.”

“And . . . ?”

“And I’m really happy for you.”

“But . . . ?”

“But”—she shifted, sitting Indian-style—“I’m just curious.”

He chuckled. “When aren’t you?”

“True.”

He sat on the bed beside her. “So what do you want to know?”

“What made you decide to start going to church?”

“My time here with you all. I saw the difference church makes in your life. I saw the direction my life was headed, and I knew I needed to make a change.”

“That’s great, but it’s not church that makes the difference—it’s Christ.”

Semantics—not worth quibbling over now.

“And Anna?” she prodded.

“Is perfect.”

“Really?”

He frowned. “Why do you say it like that?”

“She seems great, but I—”

“Just don’t see her with someone like me?”

“Actually, I was going to say it the other way around. You’re so full of life and adventure.”

“And it’s time that part of my life settled down.”

“You can settle down in some ways without giving up your love of adventure.”

“I’m not giving it up. I’m just toning it down.” He stood, moving for the window. “You know, I’m surprised. I thought you’d be thrilled.”

“I am. If you’re happy, I’m happy. I just want to make sure you’re truly happy.”

“I’m happy, Piper.” It was just a different kind of happy.

Piper stood. “Good. Then I’m happy for you. Anna is a lovely girl.”

“Who we’ve left waiting long enough.” He followed Piper back down the hall to the room Anna would be staying in—
his old room. He was confused. He’d thought Piper would be thrilled, not concerned. He’d brought home a good girl. He was making good changes. Why the hesitation on her part? Why the questioning? So Anna didn’t love adventure sports—or sports, period. That didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The fact that she loved God was much more important. Didn’t Piper get that? Or was he the one missing the mark again?

Jake followed Kayden into Imnek Island Adventures. They provided services similar to those of Last Frontier Adventures—equipping and guiding Alaskan adventures. Though, while LFA was co-owned and run by the McKenna siblings, IIA was a sole venture run by adrenaline junkie and outdoor enthusiast Natalie Adams.

Natalie was a nice enough gal. She and Jake’s wilderness groups had crossed paths numerous times over the last couple years.

Natalie stood behind the counter, her sandy hair dipping over her eye as she scanned a brochure. A fresh box of them sat on the counter beside her.

The shop was similar in size to Last Frontier Adventures and carried most of the same gear—dry suits, dive tanks, snorkeling gear, ski and snowboard equipment, kayaking and rafting supplies. Natalie’s shop, however, lacked Piper’s fun-loving tropical touches—the leis draped over the Last Frontier Adventure’s display cases, the surfer posters on the walls, even the Hawaiian tunes playing over the speakers. Natalie’s place looked like an Alaskan shop, while theirs looked like it could be in Hawaii or California.

“Hey, Natalie,” Kayden said.

Natalie looked up, blowing the hair from her eyes. “Hey, Kayden, Jake.”

“How’s it going?” Jake asked.

Natalie shrugged. “Can’t complain.” She shifted her gaze to Kayden. “Heard you made a grisly discovery.”

Kayden slipped her hands into her pockets. “Afraid so.”

“Sorry to hear about Conrad. Always a bummer to lose a climber.”

Or any
human life
. Jake understood camaraderie within the sport, but murder was murder. It was always terrible.

Kayden cut straight to it. “We’ve been told Conrad bought his chalk here?”

“Yeah.” Natalie set the brochure back in the box and leaned forward.

“When was that? What day?”

“The afternoon before his climb at Stoneface.”

“Are you certain about the timing?”

“Positive. He dropped by after work. I opened a new package. Gave him half. Used the other half for myself. We both had climbs the next day.”

“Where’d you climb?”

“Over on Tariuk, too, but on the east side.”

“And you had no problems with your chalk?”

“Nope.”

“You got any of the batch left?” Jake asked.

“I’m sure there’s at least a little. I’ll go check. My chalk bag’s in my locker.”

Jake watched Natalie head for the rear of the shop. “It will be a huge break if she has any left, will help us determine when the Dodecanol was added—before or after it left Natalie’s shop.”

“How can we be sure what she shows us really is from the same batch? Especially if it comes up short on Dodecanol?”

“Booth can match the other components.”

Natalie slipped back through the office door with a chalk bag in hand. “Sorry. There’s hardly any left.”

Jake studied the fine dusting of chalk lining the inside of the bag. He smiled. There was enough. “You’d be amazed by what the ME can do with even a small amount.”

“Oh. So you want to take it?”

“Yes, we do,” he said.

Natalie swallowed. “Okay. I suppose that’d be all right.”

“Great.” He took the bag from her before she could change her mind and slipped it into an evidence bag. “Thanks.”

Natalie nodded, her hands clasped tight.

“How well did you know Conrad?” Kayden asked, proceeding with the questioning. Jake smiled. She certainly wasn’t subtle, and he loved that about her.

“Well enough, I suppose.” Natalie moved back behind the counter, putting an effective barrier between them. “I taught Conrad to climb.”

“Really?” Kayden slipped her hair behind her ear. “I thought he learned over at Brody’s gym.”

“He did. I was his instructor there.”

Kayden leaned against the counter, her knee showing through the threadbare portion of her jeans. “You teach at Brody’s?”

“Taught—until I started carrying climbing supplies in the shop.”

Kayden’s beautiful brown eyes narrowed. “Are you saying . . . ?”

“Brody fired me before I could blink.” Natalie scooted
the box of brochures to the side and rested her arms on the granite counter, picking up a pen lying there and twirling it between her fingers.

“Wow. That’s harsh.”

“Brody’s all about loyalty. When he decides you’re being loyal to him, he’ll do anything for you. If he thinks your loyalty has swayed, he’ll turn on you without a second thought.”

“What about Conrad?” Jake asked, his curiosity piqued.

“What about him?”

“He started buying his supplies from you. Wouldn’t Brody consider that disloyal?”

“I imagine he did, but it was just chalk.”

She was right, it hardly seemed enough to kill over, though maybe his intention hadn’t been to kill. Maybe it’d been a form of payback gone terribly wrong. “Don’t suppose he’d try to teach Conrad and you a lesson?”

Natalie’s eyes widened. “By tampering with the chalk I sold Conrad?”

Jake nodded.

She was silent a moment. “Nah,” she said, shaking her head. “Brody can be a real jerk, but endangering another climber goes against all he stands for.”

“Anybody else you can think of that could have wanted to mess with Conrad?” Jake asked, wondering if that was the direction they were headed—someone wanting to teach Conrad a lesson. A lesson that had gone horribly wrong.

“Yeah.” Natalie exhaled with a smile. “Try his wife or mistress.”

“Mistress?” Vivienne hadn’t said anything about a mistress, but maybe she didn’t know.

“Patty Tate,” Natalie said.

“As in expert climber, two-time state champion Patty Tate?” Kayden had pointed her out on their last climb. Patty had quite the reputation for being a tough competitor and a fierce athlete.

Natalie tapped the pen against her flattened palm. “That’s the one.”

“How on earth did those two . . . ?” From what Jake knew of them, they seemed like an odd pairing.

“They met over at Brody’s gym a while back. Been going strong ever since.”

“How long is ‘a while back’?” Kayden asked.

Natalie shrugged. “At least a couple of years.”

“Years?”
Kayden said.

“Did Vivienne know?” Jake asked, wanting to know if she’d purposely withheld pertinent information or if she was still in the dark about the affair.

“Oh, she knows.”

“You sound very confident.”

“Because I saw it.”

“Saw what?”

“Patty and Vivienne having it out a couple months back.”

So Vivienne did know. Interesting omission on her part. “Having it out, how exactly?” he asked.

“Vivienne’s a shrewd woman, I’m pretty sure she’d known for a while but let it go.”

“How could a woman let something like that go?” Kayden asked.

“They’ve been married a long time. Maybe she was invested, maybe she figured it’d be a passing fling, or maybe she’d grown too used to the lifestyle. Who knows.”

“What would have made her change her mind? I mean, why
have it out with Patty if she’d known for a while?” Something had to spark the change.

“Because Conrad stopped being discreet. He brought Patty to the Spring Festival. Vivienne showed up, and if it weren’t for Conrad’s intervention, I think she’d have gouged Patty’s eyes out.”

“I’m pretty sure Patty Tate can hold her own,” Kayden said.

“Regardless, it was loud and ugly and very public.”

“Who’d Conrad leave with?” That was the key to where his ultimate loyalty lay.

“Vivienne.” She smiled but quickly looked away from Jake, staring at her chipped nail polish instead.

“How’d that go over with Patty?” Kayden asked.

Natalie dropped the pen and retrieved a bottle of polish from under the counter. “I saw them together last week, so it must have been okay.” She tapped the bottle against her hand, shaking it up.

Kayden shook her head. “I still can’t picture Conrad Humphries and Patty Tate together.”

“Why?” Jake asked, gathering his evidence bag.

Natalie’s gaze pinned on it for a minute and then quickly shifted back to the bottle of polish. She definitely seemed concerned about the chalk sample she’d given him.

BOOK: Silenced (Alaskan Courage Book #4)
11.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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