Mission: Without a Trace - Nicole Edwards

Chapter One

Saturday, October 3, 2020

“So how exactly are we s’posed to refer to you?” Trey asked, his words tipped with amusement. “Officer Walker? Special Agent Walker? Task Force Leader Walker?” He chuckled. “Naw. That last one’s too much for the tongue.”

Brantley Walker cocked an eyebrow, waiting for his brother to finish.

“How ’bout Governor’s Pet?”

“You done?”

Trey tapped a finger on his stubbled chin as though considering it, then grinned wide. “Yeah. I’m done.”

“Mama, you wanna know why I don’t stop in more often?” Brantley turned to look at the woman flitting about the kitchen. “Him.”

Iris smiled. “Your brother’s harmless.”

Brantley snorted. “Maybe. Doesn’t mean he’s not annoying.”

Trey moved into the kitchen, smacking Brantley on the back of the head when he passed. “You say that like it’s a bad thing. And you know I don’t live here, right?”

Brantley cocked his head to the side. “Yet you’re always here.”

“Munchkin alert!” someone shouted from the living room.

Brantley turned on his barstool to see his nephew racing into the room. Without warning, the little boy donning his favorite cowboy boots and his daddy’s trucker cap—which was several sizes too big for his head—launched himself in Brantley’s direction.

Chuckling, he caught Eric, his sister Tori’s boy, swung him up, and planted his butt on the bar. “What’s up, kid?”

“Nothin’,” Eric said, his grin revealing the fact he’d lost both his front teeth.

“Now why don’t I believe that?”

“’Cause Mama said to play it cool,” he whispered loudly.

“Play what cool?”

“She wants to know where Reese is.”

That must’ve been the trigger word, because both his mother and Trey turned to look at him expectantly.

“Who’s Reese?” Brantley asked his nephew, feigning ignorance.

The little boy shrugged, clearly just the messenger. “Maybe he’s the chocolate and peanut butter guy.”

Leave it to a six-year-old to think that.

“Like Reese’s Pieces,” Trey noted.

“Eww, no.” Eric wrinkled his nose. “Not those, Uncle Trey. The peanut butter cups.”

Great. Reese would forever be thought of as candy in this house.

“Why don’t you go tell your mama to mind her own business,” Brantley suggested, depositing the kid on the floor before turning his attention to his mother. “Anyone ever tell Tori she’s nosy?”

“Mama! Uncle Brantley said to mind your own business!” The giggle that followed made Brantley smile.

Before Trey could launch his own questions, Brantley held up a hand. “Reese is off-limits.”

Trey sulked. “For how long?”

“Until I say otherwise.”

And he didn’t intend that to be for a while. Right now, his relationship with Reese Tavoularis was new. The last thing he wanted to do was jinx himself by flapping his gums. While they weren’t technically an item, they were exploring to see where this might lead. And Brantley was determined to enjoy the hell out of the journey.

“What I wanna know is why in heaven’s name are you here on a Saturday night?” Frank inquired, joining them in the kitchen. “Shouldn’t you be takin’ that boy out or somethin’?”

Now his father was going to give him a hard time. Great.

Brantley shot a glare in Trey’s direction. This was his doing.

He should’ve known his brother would run his damn mouth to the entire family. No one else knew about Reese. The only reason Trey did was because he’d swung by the house to check in after Brantley’s last mission, when they had successfully located Kate Walker and delivered her back to her frantic parents. Brantley had suffered one of his migraines that night and Reese had apparently sent everyone on their way so he could take care of him. His brother had read into it how he chose to, then spread the word accordingly. Brantley wouldn’t be surprised if his mother was gearing up to plan their wedding.

“Tell me this,” Trey said, stepping up to the counter and passing over a beer.

Brantley waved him off. He wasn’t staying.

Trey offered the beer to their dad, who accepted it easily.

“If you’re seein’ Reese,” Trey asked casually, “does that mean Cyrus is fair game?”

Curious, Brantley studied his brother. “You interested in Cyrus?”

“Hey, it’s just a question.”

A question that had drawn the attention of everyone in the kitchen, taking the heat off Brantley. Thank God.

“What?” Trey glanced from one face to another. “Just a question. Damn.”

Frank chuckled, evidently enjoying making his oldest son squirm.

“For the record,” Brantley stated, “Cyrus has always been fair game. I’ve got no claim to him.”

Trey glared his way. Probably pissed that Brantley hadn’t simply said so in the first place.

Content he’d done his duty in putting his brother in the hot seat, Brantley got to his feet. “Well, I think I’ll