A Falcon's Bend Series Novella
Just two months ago, a runaway daughter Keith Pierce never knew he had landed on his doorstep. Seventeen years earlier, Keith Pierce had a brief, intense affair with a woman on the lam. When Keith returns to Kat's hometown of Falcon's Bend to find his daughter's mother, he discovers that Kat disappeared shortly after giving birth to Quinn. Investigator Pete Shasta solves a decade-and-a-half-old missing-person case that's about to turn into murder.
"Soon as she was gone from me
A traveller came by
[He took her with a sigh]"
"I touched a broken girl and knew that marble bled."
~"Oak and Olive" by James Elroy Flecker
"I'm surprised there is a motel in a stupid town this small."
Keith Pierce looked at his daughter. She'd pulled off her jacket and was sitting on the edge of the bed looking around the cheap motel in disgust. As if any of the foster homes she'd been in most of her sixteen-year life had been much better. But Keith knew that look. She wasn't thinking about their accommodations for the night. Something else was worrying her. He'd known her for all of two months, and he surprised himself with this revelation.
Quinn had the face of an angel…and the tongue of a viper. She'd spent many years of her life searching for him when the system hadn't been able to locate him and so had given up. She'd found a listing of Keith Pierces around the country and called every one of them. Keith would never forget that call, nor opening his door in the dead of the night to find her there claiming she was his daughter. If she hadn't said the words she had in explanation, he would have assumed she was insane.
After so many years of being passed from hand to hand, Quinn had become jaded and untrusting--traits that frequently translated into impatience, discontent, and resentfulness. The glimpses Keith saw of her vulnerability had been the only things that kept him from sending her back to the foster home she'd run away from to find him…at least he told himself that.
"What's up, kid?" he asked quietly, stopping with his boot half off to face her once more.
She'd dyed her long straight hair a strange combination of strawberry and white, but it suited her almost as much as her evasive expression did. Keith watched her lie on her stomach across the other bed nearest the door. "When will we get there tomorrow?"
"Early. It's only an hour from here." They'd stopped for the night when she'd complained his motorcycle was unbearably uncomfortable. He wondered now if she'd wanted to stop for more reason than that. Their decision to come had been spur of the moment earlier this afternoon. He'd called his boss, ready to lose his job if need be, but was surprised when he'd been granted an indefinite leave of absence; and he'd called his cousin Jen to tell her to expect them soon.
"So you grew up in Falcon's Bend?" Quinn asked like she couldn't care less.
Keith shook his head. "Not exactly." He finished removing his boots. When he glanced at her again, she'd pulled a cigarette out of the pack in his leather jacket. He'd smoked since he was twelve years old--what right did he have to forbid her?
"I've got relatives in Falcon's Bend, so I spent a lot of time there. We were close." He leaned forward and plucked the cigarette out of her mouth just before she lit it. She'd gotten used to him doing it, and she didn't waste a glare on him now.
"A cousin. Jennifer. And her brother. Scott moved to Seattle though. Jen's quite a bit younger than me. She's only twenty-five. She was born when Scott and I were thirteen. She started tagging along with us when she was just a toddler, and we didn't mind most of the time," he told her, tossing the cigarette on the shabby nightstand. He wasn't even sure why he kept the smokes in his jacket anymore. He'd all but quit since he'd gotten temporary custody of Quinn.
"And my mom told you she grew up in Falcon's Bend during your one-night stand?"
Keith frowned and she looked away. She'd asked him a million questions the first night she'd arrived and every day since, yet this one area made them both uncomfortable for some reason. He'd told her the truth--a truth he'd never been ashamed of, and wasn't exactly now.
"It was four nights," he corrected. As she well knew. He'd met Kat--Katerina Fulton--his first day at an annual concert event that took place in mid-July in west-central Wisconsin. That night, she'd been in the tent he'd been camped out in. Everything between them had happened fast. Maybe too fast, but he'd never regretted his first and only encounter with something bordering on love. "And, yeah, she told me she grew up in Falcon's Bend."
"And you never met her when you were hanging out with your cousins in Falcon's Bend?"
Keith shook his head. Falcon's Bend was a small town, but it had over 8000 citizens.
"You think she'll be there, Keith?" Quinn asked, and Keith saw the core of her fears in her dark eyes. She had Kat's eyes. For just that reason, Keith couldn't have turned her away when she'd landed unceremoniously on his doorstep claiming he was her father and she was his long-lost daughter.
Keith had never known Kat was pregnant. She'd disappeared the last day of the event, and he hadn't been surprised by her abrupt departure. Based on what was known, Kat had given birth to Quinn eight months later. Despite coming early, Quinn had been strong and healthy. And Kat had abandoned her newborn daughter inside a church in New York City with a short note that told her daughter's name, Keith's full name and paternity, and her own first name. A lock of hair that had proved to belong to Kat had been attached to the note. None of that made sense.
Quinn was worried her mother had abandoned her because she hadn't wanted her, and here the two of them were, determined to find her and figure out exactly what'd happened all those years ago. Before Keith accepted permanent custody of his daughter, he wanted to talk to Kat. He wanted to know the truth. Almost seventeen years ago, she'd told him she was going home to her brother in Falcon's Bend, Wisconsin, a place Keith well knew. What had happened after that point?
"I don't know, kid. I hope so, but I can't make you any promises."
She didn't move away from him when he mussed up her hair consolingly. He didn't know her well enough to hug her--he wasn't even sure she'd let him. But he knew something had shifted in her when he'd gone out of his way to straighten out the situation with her foster parents. He'd established beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was his daughter. His efforts had meant something to him.
She'd changed him, too, in ways he could never have imagined before her appearance. He'd spent a selfish life, living for the moment and for his own gratification. He'd lived without regrets. Going on as the careless rogue had suddenly seemed wrong to him. He had a daughter. He had a responsibility to more than his own hide.
Quinn smiled at him, that playful grin that made him think of Kat until his heart felt enchained by it. "I still can't believe you let me cut your hair."
Keith chuckled. "I can't believe I did either."
His long hair had been his pride and joy most of his life. Quinn had insisted long hair on men was long gone. Her lecturing and begging had finally prevailed. He'd let her cut his hair last night. His whole head felt different.
"Now all we have to do is get rid of that scruffy beard."
"Scruffy? I'll have you know women have swooned over this face."
"Imagine what they'd do if they could actually see it," Quinn said, her voice like silk. "Do you have a razor?"
"Never touch the evil things."
"We'll get some tomorrow. I'll give you a proper shave."
"Let you put a razor to my neck?"
Quinn rolled her eyes. "If I wanted you dead, I would have bumped you off the night you let me in."
He thought about asking her why she hadn't but instead pulled his shirt over his head. She aimed the remote at the TV, quickly found a music channel, and punched the volume up. A minute later, though, she asked, "So what's your cousin Jennifer like? Is she married?"
"Yeah. She married Warren Jensen--they started dating when they were fourteen. We knew they'd get married right out of high school, and they did. They--and Scott--were my best friends. I went to Falcon's Bend every chance I got." He'd grown up less than ten miles from Falcon's Bend in another dinky town in west-central Wisconsin.
"What do they do?"
"She owns a garage. She's a hell of a mechanic. I bet she'd give you a job for the summer. Keep you out of trouble." Keith had warned his boss he might be gone most of the summer. He had a good feeling it'd take at least that long to find out what'd happened to Katerina seventeen years ago.
"I guess it'll be something to do in a boring town. What about her husband?"
"Warren's a cop for the local police department."
"Geez, Keith, you're gonna have me in a detention center in no time!" She groaned.
Her life of crime had already been well established. Part of the reason she'd been passed around so often was her penchant for finding trouble and following it home.
"Keep outta trouble, kid, and maybe we can find a way to stay together."
She glanced at him, a sober look on her face before she turned back to the fuzzy television screen. He'd been just as wild as she was as a teenager. She'd have to learn her lessons the hard way, the way he always had. Ironically, she was the one who'd taught him that lesson. What goes around comes around, one way or another. And once accountability showed up at your door, there was no way to duck out the back way. It was there to stay.