Meg and Charlie Schock return for another intriguing case. This one hiding a secret that could wreck Charlie’s life.
The newborn son of popular D.C. morning show host Carl Havers and his wife was kidnapped fifteen years ago. Charlie Schock, then an FBI agent, solved the open-and-shut case, returning Ethan to his parents. Now, the young man shows up at Schock Investigations with a DNA test proving Charlie got it wrong—he’s not the Havers’ son. His parents are still out there…so is the real Ethan Havers…and he wants to find them, no matter what.
Did she get it wrong all those years ago? Charlie won’t stop until she’s solved the case all over again, regardless of the personal cost. The mystery takes her and Meg on an investigation steeped in deception, danger, and possible redemption. Will their combined skills be enough to bring a lost boy home?
★★★★★ “WOW!!! I couldn't put this book down!” ~Linda, Goodreads reviewer
★★★★★ “This pair of authors is phenomenal together…” ~ Goodreads reviewer
★★★★★ “The finale had me gripping my Kindle…” ~ JoAn, Goodreads reviewer
★★★★★ “The powerhouse writing duo…once again delivers…” ~Becky, Goodreads reviewer
★★★★★ “What a ride!” ~ Goodreads reviewer
★★★★★ “I’m more than willing to be immersed in the world of the Shock sisters’ mysteries time and again.” ~ Goodreads reviewer
After a crazy, surreal day at work, the last thing I want to do is jump into a fresh case.
The universe has different plans.
Welcome to my world. I’m Charlize Schock, private investigator, and, like my last name, shock is what I experience as the next few seconds unfold.
The air outside is that in-between state of early spring—not truly warm, yet not cold either. The night is cool and crisp, but I feel the heat of summer approaching.
My sister, Meg, and I are just leaving the office when a young boy wheels into the parking lot of Schock Investigations on a bicycle.
“Who’s that?” she asks.
She survived an attack by a psychotic killer earlier today and needs a relaxing bath and twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep. I could use the same.
“No idea.” I motion for her to stay at the car and grumble when she ignores me. We walk forward as I ask, “Can I help you? Are you lost?”
“Are you Charlie Schock?”
Under the parking lot’s solar lights, he looks to be a teenager. Curfew’s in an hour. The whole thing seems off, my gut warning me he saw the news about us and Billy Ray Wilson and wants an interview for his class project. “We’re closed. Call our number and leave a message. We’ll get back to you.” Or we won’t, if you’re a freak.
Some days, I hate myself for being so paranoid, but it comes with the territory. As a former FBI profiler with a Ph.D. in forensic psychology, the list of nutjobs in my background is extensive. My meter is sensitive and it’s in the red zone at the moment.
“I left a message. Several in fact.” He gets off the bike, releasing the kickstand, and reaches into his jacket. “You didn’t return them.”
Gun. It’s my first instinct and I back up, putting my hand on the butt of my own weapon. At the same time, I throw my other arm out to protect Meg. Instinct. She’s my little sister.
The kid pulls out a folded piece of paper and holds it out to me. “I need your help.”
The magic words. The ones I can never resist, especially when I move closer and see the pleading look in his eyes. Maybe the shadows under them are from the ghostly lighting, or maybe he hasn’t slept in a while either.
My fingers itch to reach for the paper hovering in the air between us. Meg moves by my side, sizing up the situation.
“With what, kid?” I ask, dropping my protective arm.
“I need you to explain this.” He unfolds the white, official looking sheet and holds it out again. “I’ve been over these tests results a dozen times, and I understand what they mean, but they don’t make sense.”
I see DNA markers, three sets of them. “Why is that?”
He shifts his weight, those eyes still imploring me to take the paper. “I’m Ethan Havers. Do you remember me?”
It only takes a heartbeat for the name to click and then I look the boy over from head to toe. “Carl and Lily Havers’ son?”
The first kidnapping case I caught as an FBI agent.
“Wait, Carl Havers, the talk show host?” Meg studies Ethan inquisitively. “I did the age progression on you.”
Fifteen years ago, Carl was an up and coming reporter for a local D.C. news channel. His good looks and winning on-air personality moved him swiftly into the anchor seat, where he’s been ever since. His wife, Lily, also a TV personality, gained wide audience appeal when she became pregnant with their first and only child.
“I chose to do my final project in Biology on DNA,” Ethan says. “My family’s DNA. But there’s a big, big problem, Charlie.”
I take the results from Ethan’s hand. A few days after he was born, he was kidnapped by his babysitter. I returned him to his parents seven years later after tracking her down. Meg did, indeed, create the image of what Ethan looked like at that time, and it led to me finding him. “What is it, Ethan?”
But I know before he even answers. The DNA markers of Carl, Lily, and Ethan dance before my eyes. Meg studies them over my shoulder.
“They don’t match,” the kid says softly. His voice is rough, almost as if he’s about to cry. “My DNA didn’t come from my mom and…from them.”
“Holy shit,” Meg says.
Holy shit is right.
I look up and meet his eyes, speechless. My stomach bottoms out.
“You returned me to the wrong parents, Charlie,” he whispers. “I’m not Ethan Havers.”
Meg looks at me as if she can read my mind. She can. “I’m sure there’s an explanation,” she says.
I’m sure there is but it could be a damn poor one. I bite back my frustration that the Havers refused to do DNA testing eight years ago when I brought Ethan to them. They were convinced he was their son and all the evidence pointed to that as well.
“Why don’t you go on home?” I suggest to Meg. My thoughts are running ahead of me, ninety miles an hour. “Ethan and I have some catching up to do.”
“The hell I will.” She motions at the back door to our building. “We need to get to the bottom of this.”
Meg is my sister, my best friend, my rock. She’s an accomplished forensic sculptor who barely survived Billy Ray’s attack a few hours ago, but here she is, ready to dive into my mess as if it’s just another day—or night at this point—at the office.
If the results in my hand are accurate, there is no bottom to find. There will be hell to pay, and my ass will be the one doing it. The Bureau won’t take any responsibility, nor help me fix this, since I no longer work for them.
“My dad did a news segment where he submitted his DNA to see what countries his family originated from and revealed the results on his show,” Ethan says softly. “He convinced Mom to do it, too. It was really interesting because Dad thought he was English—British, you know?—and German. His results showed he’s forty percent Norwegian and doesn’t have a drop of German in him.”
Many people discover similar results. I’ve seen it hundreds of times as a genealogy hobbyist. “That’s why you wanted to do it for your final.”
He nods. “Most of the kids already knew my parents’ results because of the news segments. It was fun.” His gaze goes to the paper. “I thought it’d be cool to see how much of each of their DNAs I had.”
I take a deep breath, stopping the spinning hamster wheel in my brain. I’m getting ahead of myself. I did not make a mistake eight years ago. I saw the age progression Meg did and it was nearly an exact match to Ethan. There's a simple explanation. There has to be.
Sleep would allude me now even if I went home and crawled into bed. Meg and I exchange a glance and she nods, reading my mind again. Looks like we have a new case.
Except we don’t take cases from minors.
Giving Ethan a reassuring smile, I motion for him to follow. “Let’s go inside.”
Schock Investigations contains three offices, Meg’s art/workroom, a tiny kitchenette, bathroom, and the receptionist area. I tap buttons on my phone to turn off our security and use my key to let us in.
Meg goes in first, slapping on the lights, Ethan in her wake. His backpack is high-end, expensive, just like his designer jeans and sneakers.
Although Meg and I are both single with no kids, she’s got a maternal streak and chats with him about the weather, curfew, etc., as I lock us in, turn the alarm back on—the brush with a serial killer has my paranoia in overdrive—and grab a water for Ethan.
Meg sits in one of the two chairs across from my desk. Ethan takes the other. His backpack now rests against the desk, and he accepts the bottle when I hand it to him, but doesn't open it.
I’m far from being a DNA expert, but my side hustle is reuniting lost families, which involves studying genetic results and family trees. While my father is the one who ignited this hobby for me when I was a kid, Ethan’s case all those years ago is the reason I plunged back into tracking people’s ancestry as an adult.
Everyone is quiet as I study the paper. It’s not a complete evaluation, but it paints a clear picture all the same. There is a brief, impersonal written analysis and I read it several times, trying to wrap my brain around this situation.
When I finally look up, Meg stares a hole through me. Ethan has set the water on the desk, crossed one ankle over his knee and is picking at the rubber on his sneaker.
“I can’t tell my parents about this,” he says quietly. “They're having problems…with their marriage…and this would be, like, too much on top of everything else." He glances at me, guilt clouding his face. “It's my fault—I mean, I'm the reason it’s on the rocks. Seeing this?” He points to the paper and shakes his head. “Way, way too much.”
Too much, indeed. Unfortunately, his parents will have to be told if we're going to pursue the truth.
Ethan uncrosses his legs and sits forward, rubbing his hands on his jeans. “How did you figure out who the kidnapper—Amelia—was?" he asks. “How did you know for sure I was theirs when you found me?"
He deserves to know, but his parents should be the ones to share that information. The case is long closed, and many of the specific details where suppressed from the public, even though it was big news in the media. He's probably already done a search and found numerous pages of hits. It garnered world-wide attention, but legally, I'm on shaky ground, unless I get the FBI, and/or the U.S. district attorney to sign off on it.
“Look, Ethan, inaccuracies crop up from time to time. The legitimate testing companies do their best to provide accurate information, but samples get contaminated, software glitches occur, or there can be a biological element that doesn’t jive, and just needs further analysis.”
“Like what?” There’s a glimmer of hope in his eyes.
“Have you studied chimeras in biology class?”
He shakes his head.
I give him a Charlie Schock assignment. “Go home and look up genetic chimeras. There’s a famous trial case—Lydia Fairchild. Tests proved her children weren’t biological matches even though she claimed they were. Eventually, prosecutors discovered she carried two sets of DNA—weird, right? But it’s possible, and that type of thing can screw up results. I’ll look into the lab and verify their procedures, but the thing I recommend is running a new test at a different facility and comparing the results. That’ll require consent from your parents and samples from all of you again.”
He reaches for the backpack and withdraws a paper and a plastic zipper bag with three hairbrushes in it. “I have the original consent form and hair from all of us.”
Smart kid. “Sorry, but no. I need new consents, but let’s not do anything until I talk to the lab and look into possible reasons the results don’t match, okay? Go home, stop worrying—there’s a simple answer to this—and I’ll call you tomorrow.”
His protest is cut off by a sharp dinging from my phone. The security camera out back has caught someone pulling into the parking lot. I open the app and watch as JJ Carrington parks and gets out of his big, black SUV. He saunters to the back door, waving at the camera.
I shut off the alarm and sigh.
Meg sits forward, her face creasing with concern. “What is it?”
It was only two days ago when Billy Ray walked into our offices as if he owned the place. I'm not the only one whose paranoia is going crazy right now.
“Nothing," I lie. JJ is the U.S. attorney for D.C., and some days I swear he can read my mind as easily as Meg. Have I somehow conjured him up by thinking about this case?
At my sister’s distressed look, I ease her mind. “It’s JJ.”
The man is my Achilles' heel. My body gives a little cheer seeing him, and I curse under my breath. “I’ll be back in a moment."
At the door, I unlock it but only open it far enough to speak to him. “What?"
Over six feet with dark hair and eyes the color of a perfect summer sky, he gives me a sexy grin. "Can I come in?"
"Meg and I were just on our way out."
"I swung by your place and you weren't there. Just wanted to make sure everything is okay."
Right. I can read his mind too. He wanted to see if I’d let him stay the night. "Everything's fine." Another lie, but I'm not ready to tell him about Ethan. “I’ll call you tomorrow."
Without another word, he grabs my hand, and pulls me out the door and into his arms. “I can’t wait until then.”