She’d often wondered how her own mother could have done the same, but never came up with a satisfying answer to that question, either.

“Dad!” the taller boy yelled in the direction of the screen door, lowering his water gun. His younger brother took that as an invitation to soak his T-shirt, and they were off, laughing and chasing each other through the lengthening shadows.

Angel opened the door, a harried expression on her pretty face. Her long black hair was caught up in a ratty- looking ponytail. Unlike Shay’s, this style appeared deliberate. She also had circles under her eyes, a half-dozen rings in her ears, and a metal-studded leather bracelet around her wrist.

No wonder Dylan had a crush on her.

Clinging like a vine to Angel’s jean-clad legs, there was a small girl with chocolate-colored curls. Her eyes widened when she saw Luke’s badge.

“Hi there,” he said, looking down at the little girl. “What’s your name?”

Too shy to answer, she hid behind her older sister.

“I’m Sheriff Meza,” he offered politely.

Angel stared at him in mute defiance, her hand on the doorknob, as if she was thinking about barring him entry.

“Do you know Miss Phillips?”

“Yes,” Angel said, nodding at Shay.

“Can we speak with your father?”

When panic crossed over Angel’s features, Shay realized the girl thought this visit was regarding her late-night tryst. Fernando must not have told his daughter about the gruesome discovery he’d made this morning.

“It’s not about Dylan,” Shay said to reassure her.

Luke arched a questioning glance in Shay’s direction, and Angel relaxed immediately. “Come on in,” she said, putting her hand on the top of her sister’s head to guide her forward. “He’s just out back.” Angel led them past a family room that looked well used and through a kitchen that smelled of good things to eat. There were chopped vegetables on the countertop and simmering pots on the stove.

Shay’s stomach rumbled.

Angel opened the screen door leading to the backyard, gesturing for them to go on without her.

Fernando was tossing feed to a group of chickens in a small coop. He was a strong man, wiry and compact, with a face that showed plenty of wear and tear. Over the past three years, since Maria left, he’d aged a decade.

When he saw them he straightened too quickly, then grimaced and placed a hand on his lower back, a telling gesture. Despite his weariness, and the lines around his eyes, he was handsome. Hard and handsome and, like a lot of Tenaja’s men, old before his time.

She’d known him for most of her life, but Fernando greeted Luke first, showing deference to his rank. After introductions were exchanged, Fernando invited them both to sit in a couple of green plastic chairs around a matching table on the back patio.

Luke took out his notebook and pen. “Tell me what you remember about this morning,” he requested, “beginning with the time you woke up and ending with the phone call you made to emergency services.”

Fernando paused, collecting his thoughts. Although his kids spoke English without a trace of an accent, Fernando struggled with the language. “I woke well before sunrise,” he said. “It was dark. I clean my rifle and go out to hunt.”

Luke’s brows rose. “What’s in season?”

“Rabbit is always…” He made a gesture with his hands, like a bunny hop, then turned them palms-up, empty. “But not today.”

She waited for Luke to ask Fernando if he had a license, or if he knew hunting any kind of game was illegal on county property, but he didn’t.

“I went to Graveyard, as kids say. I look for bottles and cans to recycle.”

“Did you find any?”

He frowned. “I did not notice. When I drive close, see…


“Her. Yesenia. On the ground.”

“You recognized her.”

He considered his response. “Not at first. I just thought she was a girl in trouble. Maybe drink too much. Or go with boys…” He trailed off, shaking his head. “Then I get close, see her face. Torn clothes. Marks on neck.” He rubbed the back of his own neck with a wince. “I went home to call right away.”

“How close did you get?”

Fernando gave an approximate indication, widening his arms.

“You didn’t touch her?”

“No. Nothing to do. She was already dead.”

“How did you know?”

He thought about it. “Her chest was not moving. Head… turned funny.”

Luke was silent for a moment. “Did you see anyone else this morning? Driving on the road, or in the area?”

“I passed a few cars on the main drag. No one near the Graveyard. No one for miles.”

Luke slanted a glance at Shay. “Anything you want to ask?”

“Fernando, you’re a hunter,” she said, leaning forward. “Did you notice anything unusual at the Graveyard?”

“Si,” he said. “No tracks. No blood.”

“What do you think killed her?”

“Un leon,” he replied immediately.

“Did you see one?”

“No. I have never seen one.”

Shay sighed. The locals would be whispering about vampires and chupacabras. She turned to Luke, not sure what else to ask.

“You said you recognized Yesenia,” Luke continued. “How well do you know her?”

Fernando shifted in his chair, uncomfortable for the first time since the interview began.

“La conoces… o la sabes?” Luke asked.

Shay felt heat rise to her face, and not just because Luke was asking Fernando if he knew Yesenia in the biblical sense. By posing the question in Spanish, he was cutting her out of the conversation, dismissing her as if she weren’t there, and insulting her by assuming she wouldn’t understand. He was wrong. Not only did she catch his meaning, she discovered something new about him: he was not a native speaker of Spanish.

His pronunciation was a little too… hard. Spanish speakers tended to soften some consonants and drop others altogether.

“I didn’t know her very well,” Fernando replied in the same language, choosing to ignore Luke’s insinuation. “But where are my manners?” he said with a smile. “Would either of you like something to drink? There is cold cerveza inside.”

Shay shuddered and Luke declined, standing and thanking Fernando for his time. When they passed through the kitchen once again, she inhaled deeply, wishing such a feast would be waiting at her house.

Instead she’d be met by a sink full of dirty dishes and an empty fridge.

She said good-bye to Angel with a conflicted heart, hoping Dylan wasn’t serious about her. Angel seemed like a nice girl, but she represented the kind of complication her brother didn’t need. Dylan was rebellious, abrasive, and smart as a whip. Shay wanted him to go to college more than she’d ever wanted anything for herself. As much as she loved Tenaja and respected its blue collar men, she wanted better for her brother than a lifetime of backbreaking manual labor under the hot desert sun.

As they walked toward Luke’s pickup, Shay shoved her hands deep into the pockets of her sweatshirt, feeling the heaviness of damp denim against her legs and the weight of the world on her shoulders.

She settled into the passenger side, not bothering with her seat belt, and studied Luke with open interest. He could be of European heritage, she supposed, but with his dark coloring, and a name like Meza, she’d figured

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