With relentless suspense and a deft feel for creating men of power and character, Janet Dailey introduces three unforgettable brothers: RJ, Linc, and Deke Bannon.
Cold cases aren't RJ Bannon’s usual line of work. But Ann Montgomery’s long-ago abduction is too intriguing to pass up. Ann was just three when she was taken in the night from her family’s historic Virginia mansion more than twenty-five years ago. The socially prominent Montgomerys launched a heartbreaking search but no trace of the missing girl was ever found.
Bannon knows the chances of finding her now—alive or dead—are slim, yet he can’t stop searching for answers. Especially once he meets Erin Randall. A beautiful, talented local artist, she seems to share some tantalizing connections with the vanished Ann. As the legacy of lies and deception comes to a shocking climax, a hidden menace explodes, and Bannon vows to protect Erin at all costs...even if it puts his own life on the line...
“Fast-paced, compelling romantic mystery.” —Library Journal
Praise For Janet Dailey and her novels
“Dailey confirms her place as a top mega-seller.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Evocative, flavorful…Dailey casts her spell . . .”—Publishers Weekly on Masquerade
“A sure-fire winner.” —Publishers Weekly on Rivals
High clouds drifted above the Blue Ridge Mountains as a hawk
swept down from a barren granite summit, its wings spread
wide, soaring over the rolling terrain below. Wheeling only once,
the hawk flew through vast, moving shafts of light that cast farms
and fields into alternating bands of sun and shadow. Sheltered by
nature, the rich land of Virginia’s valleys had been tilled for generations
and tamed long ago, unlike the ancient mountains that rose
abruptly from them, clad in their namesake haze of indigo. The
hawk made a banking turn, spotting a moving object below. Its
sharp eyes quickly identified a vehicle traveling along Route 231.
But it took no interest in the dark-haired man behind the wheel
and swung west toward the Shenandoah.
With eyes as keen as the hawk’s, the driver saw it lift away, then
refocused his attention on the road ahead, catching glimpses of forest
on the verge of spring. A pair of sunglasses shielded his eyes
from the morning glare. The cut of his cheekbones and jawline
were on the hard side. Although only in his early thirties, RJ Ban-
non looked more experienced than that.
As he let a truck pass him, he glanced again at the steep slopes
of Old Rag, a solitary outcrop of the Blue Ridge, the only one with a
bare rock summit. A smile of remembrance softened the line of his
mouth as he recalled climbing that mountain as a boy, scrambling
over giant boulders to beat his brothers and father to the top.
The experience got him into rappelling and free climbing by the
time he was twenty, something he very much doubted he could do
now, twelve years later.
Bannon sat up straighter when he felt a twinge near his spine, an
unwelcome reminder of the bullet still lodged there. In most respects,
he was as strong as ever, something his brothers had taken
into account when they’d asked him to open the backcountry
cabin the three of them shared. He’d gone up two days ago, a jolting
drive over ruts that the winter had deepened, to look the place
over. Nothing too dire. The roof was still on, minus a few shingles.
The well was working and, after a little persuasion with a wrench,
so was the plumbing. A critter or two had taken up residence beneath
the floorboards—he’d flung open all the windows and gotten
into the crawl space with a flashlight to make sure it had
vacated its winter lodgings. Nothing there but drifts of fur.
After that it had been nice to get out into the air and do the hard
work of clearing away and chopping fallen branches around the
property for firewood and kindling. When he was done, he hadn’t
wanted to leave. But now that he was on the road, he wasn’t sure
when he’d get back out again. With Deke and Linc out of the state
on assignment, Bannon didn’t feel much inclined to hang out at the
cabin on his own.
He drove on, humming some old song to himself, toward
Wainsville. He could see it in the distance. Not his hometown, but
he’d been happy enough there, wanting to live in a town that time
forgot, until Wainsville had been “discovered.” Now its friendly old
houses were overshadowed by condos and too many trees had
been taken down to make room for them. The town even had a
couple of office parks on land that had been bought cheap and developed
with no thought to tradition. The surrounding area was
still beautiful and largely rural, but an influx of hedge-fund titans
who’d cashed out had come here. Their new, outsize mansions
were everywhere and their nouveau riche attitude rankled the locals.
Bannon scowled as he passed a just-built monstrosity that sat on
raw soil, an eyesore from any angle. Construction debris was halfheartedly
controlled by an orange plastic fence that flapped in the
breeze. He didn’t have a good reason to feel superior. After all, he lived in a condo, mostly so he wouldn’t get stuck maintaining a
home. Being a cop, you made decisions like that. He stopped at his
condo long enough to pick up an envelope of paperwork and
headed out again.
The sun grew brighter as Bannon drove through town, turning
left at a small complex of textured cinder-block buildings on the
other side of Wainsville. Someone had made an effort to landscape
around headquarters—yellow daffodils, the eye-popping yellow of
crime scene tape, were blooming in rows of unvarying straightness.
He bet the chief of police approved.
He parked in what had once been his slot and switched off the
engine, looking up at the narrow windows under the eaves. They
were too high to see in from the outside, but it was a safe guess that
everyone was right where they usually were. Except him.
Out of habit he used the reflection of the wire-gridded glass to
look behind him as he went up the front steps. What would it be
like, he wondered, to not feel compelled to check every corner,
every shadow, every movement for danger? But the habit of constant
watchfulness had been drilled into him the hard way.
Bannon spared a fraction of a second to check himself out before
he opened the door. His dark hair was windblown and his jaw
was outlined with stubble after two days up at the cabin. Forget the
uniform. He still wore the torn jeans, scuffed work boots, and
banged-up leather jacket that had served him out in the woods. Too
bad. He was here and he was on time. Chief Hoebel would have to
deal with him the way he was.
His boots were old and they didn’t make much noise on the
gleaming tile floor of the hallway as he walked down to the young
officer on desk duty. Fair-haired and freckled, Kyle Rasmussen was
a rookie, a fact almost anyone could conclude just from his spotless
uniform and shiny new gun belt, laden with forty pounds of
“Can I help you?” Rasmussen studied him with curious, almost
innocent blue eyes.
It took Bannon a second to realize that the new cop didn’t recognize
him. He’d been out of the office for too many months,
thanks to a drug dealer with fairly good aim and a chief who didn’t
like him for being a hero—and for a few other reasons he was beginning
to figure out. Without saying a word, he reached inside his
jacket and flashed his badge. The officer shrugged, looking a little
surprised, and went back to reading a binder with bulleted lists and
line illustrations, a manual on police techniques that no one took
seriously. Bannon suppressed a smile and headed down the hall to
where the chief ’s office was located.
When he reached the outer office, Bannon flicked a glance at
the closed door to the chief ’s inner sanctum, then focused on
Chief Hoebel’s assistant behind the desk. The blond and blue-eyed
Jolene Summer had the phone cradled to her ear—with both
hands. That, and the low flirty tone of her voice, made it easy for
Bannon to guess she was talking to her boyfriend.
Looking up almost indifferently, she cupped a hand over the
mouthpiece and whispered, “The chief had to go out. He said to
leave your paperwork with me.”
“Okay. Here.” Irritated that he’d come this far without getting to
talk to Hoebel, Bannon smiled at Jolene anyway and passed her the
manila envelope with his paperwork.
“I’ll try to get him to sign it today,” she added in the same low
whisper. “It’s not going to be easy. You know he’s got it in for you.”
“Really? I hadn’t noticed.” He winked at her and left her to flirt
with the lucky guy on the other end of the call.
Retracing his steps, he headed back to the front. Near the door
to the basement, he automatically glanced at it and hesitated when
he read the sign there.
Doris Rawling. Case Files Manager.
An image of the fiftysomething woman flashed in his mind—average
height, slim build, iron-dark hair with stylish streaks of silver-
white, warm brown eyes, and lips that were always ready with a
smile for him.
Bannon looked at the new title again, realizing she had been
promoted from evidence clerk sometime in the last several weeks.
But he had a feeling she hated being stuck in the windowless basement
with its chill-inducing cement floor.
As he opened the steel door, he called out a greeting and descended
the studded metal stairs. When there was no reply to his
call, he ventured forward. The floor-to-ceiling metal grates that enclosed
the Evidence Control Unit blocked the lines of sight. Ban-
non looked through them for a person on duty, then swung around
a corner, spotting the top of Doris’s head at a makeshift computer
“Hey, RJ,” she tossed over her shoulder. Doris was about the
only one who called him RJ; to everyone else, except for his
mother, he was just Bannon. Doris put a document from the huge
pile beside her into a scanner and closed the lid. A thin bar of light
moved from one end of the machine to another as the scanner
emitted a faint hum. She looked into her monitor and clicked the
mouse a few times to make the image fit a format, then saved it
with another click. Turning, she flashed him a smile, a pair of reading
glasses perched on her pudgy nose. “It’s been a while. How are
Bannon shot a glance around the area. “Fine. Are you alone?”
Eyes dancing, she peered at him through her half-glasses. “What
the hell do you have in mind, kid?”
He winked at her. “Just wanted to know. Who’s handling evidence
“Hoebel’s son-in-law Petey. He leaves early.”
Bannon nodded, then waved a hand at the tall stacks of file folders
surrounding her. “So what’s all this?”
“We’re going paperless. I’m archiving old case files,” Doris said,
adding, “Hoebel gave me a month. I’ll never finish in time.”
RJ looked over his shoulder, then turned back to her. “I was supposed
to meet with him but he’s out. Want some help, or is that
against the rules?”
“Sure. He doesn’t have to know.” One shoulder lifted in an uncaring
shrug. “Hardly anyone comes down to this dungeon.”
“Good. Hey, I forgot to say congratulations on your promotion.”
He lifted his coffee cup in a salute and caught her faint smile of
“I guess it’s worth the extra work.” She pushed aside the pepperand-
salt bangs that fell into her eyes when she leaned forward to
peer closely at the document on the screen. “The information is
going to be shared with the new national databanks.”
“State and federal, right?” He crumpled up his takeout coffee
cup and tossed it in the nearest wastebasket, then looked over the
files spread out in irregular rows.
“That’s the idea. Connect the dots, catch the criminals.”
“About time,” RJ said. “Some of these old cases could be charged
“The chief thought so. For once I agree with him.” She stopped
what she was doing to swivel her chair and actually look at him. “So
what brings you here?” she asked.
“I had paperwork for Hoebel to sign. Continuance of claim, that
kind of thing.”
“Are you still on official leave?”
“Take your time about coming back, RJ. You did get a settlement
after the shooting, right? Enough to live on?”
“For a while. Not indefinitely.”
Doris sniffed. “After being used for target practice, you should
have gotten plenty.”
“Tell that to the insurance company and the top brass,” he
replied. “Getting better was all I wanted to do.”
“Ever think about catching the guy who shot you?”
“All the time,” he said. “Who did Hoebel assign to the case after
the first guy quit? Hope it’s not the baby boy on the desk.”
“No, it’s not him. I think right now it’s up for grabs, actually,” she
He threw up his hands. “Nice to know a shot cop is such a high
priority around here. Is it me? Is it Hoebel? Is it something I said?”
“Uh, he does think you’re a loose cannon—”
Bannon had to smile. “From him, that’s a compliment. But I
guess he didn’t appreciate my noticing where his new car came
“Refresh my memory, dear.”
“Remember that college kid who set fire to the gas station at the
crossroads just for the hell of it?”
“Yes. The charges were dropped before it ever got to court.”
“Of course. Because his daddy owns the Big, Fast, and Ridiculously
Expensive dealership out on the highway.”
“Ah.” Doris nodded sagely. “I understand. I did notice that
Hoebel was driving a Beefer. Well, he needs the extra belly room.”
“So will I,” Bannon said ruefully, looking down at his midsection
and slapping it. Physically, he was most of the way back to what he
had been, thanks to a rigorous exercise routine he’d devised to
rehab his body. “Someday,” he added quickly. Too late. Doris was
“Yeah, maybe in fifty years,” she teased him. “Anyway, getting
back to you being shot, it’s hard to believe there are still no leads in
the case.” There was an edge of disgust in her voice.
“I do, RJ. Anyway, welcome to Cold Case City. Guess that makes
me its mayor.” She glanced back at her computer screen. “I wish
this was over. I’m only halfway through.”
“Take a break,” RJ said.
“Don’t tempt me.”
“It’s a beautiful day, Doris.”
“And the Art Walk is going on. Wish I didn’t have to miss it.” She
gave him a dejected look. “Days like this make me eager to retire.”
“Really?” he asked. “You don’t look old enough.”
“Aww. Aren’t you sweet,” she mocked in amusement.
RJ returned his attention to the files on the table, wondering if
any of his older cases were among them. They had been laid out in
alphabetical order, he noticed. “Okay. Where do you want me to
“Are you really that desperate for something to do?” She sliced
him a doubting glance.
“What letter are you up to?” he asked.
“M.” She slid off her chair to come over to where he was and
picked a thick, crammed folder from a group. “The Montgomery
case is next. This is the main file.” She set it in front of him.
“It’s a monster.”
“You volunteered,” she reminded him and sighed. “This one’s a
mess, and there are ten others.”
“Mind giving me a summary of it?”
One eyebrow went up. “You can read, right?”
He grinned. “Big type. Small words. You know me, I just sit on a
stump and shoot tin cans for laughs.”
“Don’t make me believe it, Detective Bannon.” She patted the
file. “Get started. Do what you can.”
“How come it’s so big?”
“Oh—there are lots of Montgomerys around here, for one
thing.” He noticed that she had dodged his question. “The family
goes back twelve generations in this part of Virginia. The historical
society even gives tours of the ancestral mansion outside of
Wainsville—one of those big stately homes that got built, oh, in the
eighteen hundreds. Haven’t you seen it?”
“No. I usually get assigned to drug dealers in double-wides, remember?”
“Of course I do.” She nodded, then smiled wryly. “Somehow I
don’t think the Montgomerys would know a double-wide if one
snuck up on them and bit their butts. They’re rich and always have
been.” Her dry tone made the social divide between the Rawlings
and the Montgomerys more than clear. “Still and all, they’re not as
snooty as some of the newcomers around here. And the Mrs. Montgomery
in that file definitely wasn’t a blueblood.”
“You read it?” Bannon challenged.
Her face was a study in patience. “I knew her—not well, though.
We went to the same church when we were younger. Before she
married and I didn’t. Luanne was always nice.”
Something about her thoughtful tone made him curious. Very
curious. “You going to tell me more about that?”
“I’m holding you to that,” he responded.
Doris turned back to her work. “Go ahead and start sorting what
you can. I’ll finish the one I’m working on while you do.”
“Okay. Take your time.”
He took off his leather jacket and slung it across the back of a
folding chair, then settled his long frame into the seat, ignoring a
sharp twinge in his back when he sat down. RJ opened the Montgomery
file and noticed that the earliest forms had been completed
on a manual typewriter. He picked up the first piece of paper and
read the basics.