Lost And Found: Sample Page

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 LOST AND FOUND wraps family secrets, murder, and medical miracles around the small form of an autistic child. . .” –James Rollins, New York Times bestseller of Bloodline

A young woman races a Texas blizzard to save her autistic nephew from a deadly secret others will kill to protect…

AN AUNT searches for her lost nephew–and dooms her sister. A MOM gambles a miracle will cure–and not kill–her child. A DOG finds his true purpose–when he disobeys.

Animal behaviorist September Day has lost everything–husband murdered, career in ruins, confidence shot–and returns home with her trained Maine Coon cat Macy to Texas to recover. She’s forced out of hibernation when her nephew Steven and his autism service dog Shadow  disappear in a freak blizzard.

When her sister trusts a maverick researcher’s promise to help Steven, September has 24 hours to rescue them from a devastating medical experiment impacting millions of children, a deadly secret others will kill to protect. As September races the clock, the body count swells. Shadow does his good-dog duty but can’t protect his boy. Finally September and Shadow forge a stormy partnership to rescue the missing and stop the nightmare cure. But can they also find the lost parts of themselves?

 

CHAPTER 1
11:42 a.m.

September Day sloshed another half cup of coffee into the giant #1-Bitch mug, and glared out the frosty breakfast nook windows. North Texas didn’t get snow. That’s why she’d moved back home—well, one of several reasons. She shivered, relishing the warmth of the beverage, and toasted the storm with a curse. “Damn false advertising.” Her cat Macy meowed agreement.

The blizzard drove icy wind through cracks in the antique windows and made the just-in-case candles on the dark countertop sputter. She pulled the fuzzy bathrobe closer around her neck. Normally the kitchen’s stained glass spilled peacock-bright color into the kitchen. Not today, though. The reinforced security grills on the windows and dark clouds outside transformed the room’s slate floor, bright countertops and brushed-steel appliances into a grim cell.

Overhead lights flickered on, off and back on again. They’d done that for the past hour. Crap. More stuff for the contractors to fix. One candle guttered in the draft, and September mentally added window caulk to her list. She prayed the electricity wouldn’t go out, since the backup generator in the garage would take finagling to find, let alone to start.

She added a dollop of flavored cream to her cup, and replaced the lid that kept Macy’s paws at bay. The longhair sable and white cat sat like a furry centerpiece on the rose-patterned glass table. He mewed in frustration when September set her covered mug next to the muffin saucer he’d already licked clean. A white paw patted the cup’s lid.

September plopped into one of four wrought iron chairs, and pulled the mug out of the cat’s reach. “Nope, I know where you put your feet.”

Macy paced. His tail dry-painted September’s cheek and wove in and out of her long wavy mane. Green slanted eyes, coffee-dark hair, hidden claws and enigmatic smile—she’d been told more than once that she and the cat matched in both personality and looks. Mom wanted her to dye the white skunk streak at her left temple, but September couldn’t be bothered, not anymore. In Mom’s high-falutin’ social circles of perfectly coifed dowagers it served as a thumb-your-nose warning to keep strangers at bay.

She gave the cat’s elevator-butt pose a final pat, and opened the DayMinder. Macy made a disgusted mffft sound, gathered himself and vaulted to the top the fridge. “Sure, go ahead and sulk. You’re wired enough without caffeine.”

Outside, gusts flailed the November blooms of the Belinda’s Rose against the window beside the new steel door. At least the cold couldn’t sneak through that barrier. In fact, the temperature change had shifted the door frame so much that it took an enormous effort to latch. That was fine with her. If it was hard to latch, the door offered even more security.

The weather not only derailed her schedule, the cold hurt like a bastard. September wrapped both hands around the mug. Her fingernails had already turned blue-white, and she couldn’t feel her toes despite insulated ski socks and slippers. Not even flannel PJs, long underwear and a thick robe proved adequate against the weather. She checked the thermostat for the third time—68 degrees—to save money, for crying out loud. “Screw it.” Some old habits she could afford to break. She cranked the dial to 78, blessing the contractors for the gas-fueled furnace and hot water tanks.

Her DayMinder was choked with appointments, notes, and prompts. She’d entered most of them on her new Blackberry, currently charging on the counter, but preferred the old-fangled paper version. “Busy is good. Except on snowy days.”

Macy mewed again. He always wanted the last word. Damn, she hated deadlines, but hated missed ones more. After convincing the contractors to work around other commitments, she had won the argument with family to host the Thanksgiving dinner in two weeks, but now weather threatened to derail everything.

Nothing she could do about drywall. Hell, she didn’t want to risk the roads in this weather either. But she could damage control other deadlines she’d have to miss. She’d already left a message with the lawyers postponing the deposition on the dog bite case since she couldn’t evaluate the dogs at the shelter until the weather settled. But fast talk and a good phone connection might allow her to keep other appointments. September dialed, sticking her free hand beneath her armpit to warm her fingers.

“WZPP, you’ve reached ZAP105 FM Radio, giving you the best easy-listening 24/7, how may I direct your call?”

“Hey, Anita, it’s September. Could you—”

“Feels more like December.”

September rolled her eyes. “Ha ha, funny lady, never heard that before. C’mon, it’s cold and I’m in a pissy mood. Could you cut the jokes for once?”

“I’ve been here all night, still wondering how to get home, so my bad mood trumps yours, kiddo.” Anita paused to blow her nose. “You want to talk to Humphrey, I guess. I’ll connect.”

Before she could say another word, September was plunged into the station’s easy-listening hell. The thirty seconds lasted a lifetime before Humphrey’s Jolly-Green-Giant voice broke in.

“ZAP, this is Humphrey Fish.”

“It’s me, September. I can’t make it to the station. We’ll have to do a phoner for the Pet Peeves program today.” Before he could protest, she added a sweetener. “I’ll do it for free. And there’ll be a bunch of calls today with everything shut down, so the sponsors won’t care.” Macy chirruped, and dove off his favorite perch to wind around her ankles.

“Did you bring this sucky weather with you?” Humphrey didn’t soften his sarcasm. September imagined him bouncing up and down, a human beach ball with legs. “I thought Hoosiers drove in snow nine months out of the year, and now you’re afraid of a little flurry?”

“There’s a reason I moved.” Let him think the move was only about the weather, she thought, swallowing a slug of the strong coffee. “Have you snuck outside your little glass box lately? It’s the freakin’ ice age out there.”

Humphrey snorted. “Never took you for a weenie, September.”

If only he knew. “I know how to drive. It’s the local amateurs that scare the crappiocca out of me. Texans hit the gas to get out of it quicker.” Macy mewed his agreement and patted her leg.

Humphrey’s exasperation made him sound like a weasel on steroids. “C’mon, in-studio was part of the deal. And you’ve only been here once. Have something against leaving home, do you?” He paused. “Can we hurry this up? There’s a live promo in thirty seconds.”

September bit back a retort. She could leave the house anytime she wanted. It wasn’t as if she lived in fear, not at all. She’d moved home to be closer to family. But when the Chicago habit of looking over her shoulder had been broken in South Bend, look what had happened.

She mentally shook herself. Once her hands and feet adjusted, she’d better tolerate the cold, and could run over to the radio station as promised. Besides, the Reynaud’s episodes never lasted for long. And she wanted the radio platform. Her breath quickened at the thought of leaving the house. She hated driving on snow, that was why—but she told herself anything worthwhile came with hurdles.

“Okay. I’ll get there. Just let me get caffeinated first. Oh, and put the state police on speed dial, ready to have them thaw me out of a drift come next May.” She heard him snort back a chuckle and her shoulders relaxed. She wouldn’t have to leave the house.

“Okay, okay already, you win. But call in five minutes before. No, make that ten minutes before air. Use a landline. Cell phones are shit on air. We’ll run with expanded Pet Peeves, and double-up on the calls. I’ll promo between now and then to get email questions to start us off. Frog-on-a-stick, gotta run.”

The sudden dead air ended the conversation. The ten-minute weekly pet advice show got the word out better than paid ads; although the tiny stipend Humphrey called a paycheck barely covered the cost of caffeine. Her pet behavior consulting business included advice by phone, although in-person training was ideal, and the radio show and her regular column in the local paper drove more than enough clients to her subscription-only pet advice website.

Besides, she didn’t need much, and never would again. Chris had seen to that. She took a shuddering breath. Just a random thought bushwhacked her emotions. Christopher Day was supposed to have been part of her dreams, THEIR dreams.

September chugged half of the too-sweet coffee. She cradled the oversize mug, treasured for more than the warmth. Chris had bought it for her at a dog show. They’d often exchanged crap gifts for no reason, just to make each other smile. It was his last gift.

She set the mug down with a clunk. Macy grumbled and pressed his forehead against her socks. She stooped to smooth his fur, and her tight throat relaxed. “Thanks, buddy, but I’m fine.”

Macy dashed across her foot on the way to the window. Outside, a cardinal—cat toy—fluttered against the glass before it disappeared into the white swirl. The cat peered into the snow, gazed up at September, mewed and pawed the glass.

“No way, Macy. Go grab Mickey, or maybe a real mouse. Do something productive. The snow will drive critters inside, guaranteed.” She grinned, and offered a bribe. Bribes were legal with cats. “Later we’ll play laser tag, okay?”

The cat reacted to the “play” word, and leaped onto the wrap-around counter that edged three-quarters of the kitchen proper. He trotted to the corner cupboard next to the fridge, and pawed open the door. Macy scrabbled inside, his plume tail drawing figures in the air, and backed out dragging the stuffed mouse toy by one ear. He pushed the toy to the edge of the counter, dropping Mickey at her feet, and meowed with expectation.

Confinement bored the active Maine Coon cat, never mind he slept away most of the day. The Victorian house’s renovations offered too many hidey holes where Macy could disappear behind a wall. Until work was complete, she confined the cat to kitchen-jail, and pet gate barriers made the stairway and entries to her office and front parlor off limits.

Today she could spend the day with Macy in the kitchen, the warmest room in the house, especially while the nearby clothes dryer shared its heat. She stooped, caught up the Mickey, and made eye contact with Macy. She waved one finger at the cat. He sat up and “begged.”

“If you want it, then speak, Macy.” When he meowed on cue, she tossed the toy across the room. “Kill it, kill it!” Macy raced after it, grappled the toy, fell on his side and bunny-kicked Mickey into submission.

September gulped another slug of coffee and checked her watch. Time enough for a hot shower before the radio show. Before she’d shuffled halfway across the kitchen, the Blackberry chirruped. September hurried to grab the phone where it charged on the countertop before Macy decided to attack it like his toy.

September glanced at the display, sighed, and answered. “Hello, Mom.”

“Holy catfish, we’ve already got six inches and it’s still dumping everywhere! What’s the weather like there?”

“I live seven miles away from you. What do you think?” The overhead lights remained a bright, steady glow. “I’ve got a generator in the garage if it gets worse, but so far the heat and lights are good.” She watched Macy grab his Mickey and stash it back into his favorite cupboard.

“But you still have drywall to do. Doesn’t the weather have to be good for drywall work?” She hesitated before rushing on. “I know you wanted the housewarming on Thanksgiving, dear. Maybe next year instead.”

“Not a housewarming. We’ve been over this. I’m having the whole family here for Thanksgiving.” Macy left the cupboard and returned to paw September’s leg, one claw snagging the fabric. She bent to unhook the nail.

“There’s two weeks to get it done, Mom.”

“I’d have Thanksgiving here except it’s our year for Christmas. I don’t want to miss the grandbabies opening their presents.” She wheedled. “Can’t have the little ones toddling through open walls at your work-in-progress.”

September ran a hand through her hair. Grandbabies trumped everything in the January clan, and since all she had were “fur-kids” she ranked low on the totem pole.

“We could gather at your brother’s, or even one of the girls’.”

“Mom, stop.” She bit her lip, and struggled to keep her temper in check.

“I’ll make some calls, honey. Don’t you worry a bit.”

“I said no.” September took a breath. “Look, Mom, let me do this. I need to do this. It’ll be fine.” She’d only been back in Heartland for a few months, but it didn’t take long to remember why she’d left home and stayed away for ten years. “I’ve got everything planned. The kitchen’s finished, plumbing and electrical passed inspection, and the security system works great. Remember, I told you and Dad the password when I gave you the extra keys?” She kept talking when her mother would have interrupted. “Dining room furniture will be here next week.” She noticed the candles dripping wax on the new granite countertop, and blew them out. “Macy’s pet gates work just as well for kids.”

“Don’t be stubborn and spoil the holiday for everyone.”

The doorbell bonged, followed by immediate pounding that made September’s pulse thrum. “Mom, someone’s at the door. Don’t worry, Thanksgiving will be great. For once, just trust me.”

She punched off the phone to stop further argument. Pounding knocks took turns with the doorbell chimes. Nobody in their right mind would be out in this mess. She carefully stepped through and latched the pet gate before hurrying to the front entry.

Three deadbolts secured the stained glass front door. September peered through wavy glass and her heart leaped with sudden nerves. This couldn’t be good.

Two uniformed cops stood on the front step, their shoulders powdered with white. September tightened the belt of her robe and smoothed unruly hair as though that would calm her racing pulse. She pressed the button beside the door to activate the speaker. “Can I help you?”

The bigger man answered. “Ma’am. I’m Officer Leonard Pike, and this is my partner, Officer Jeff Combs.” Pike was almost a foot taller than her own five-feet-six-inches. His bulky long coat didn’t camouflage his extra sixty pounds. A single black unibrow rose above horn-rimmed glasses, and his earflap hat sat too high to fully protect his bald head.

“Do you have identification?” Chris had taught her well. Unexpected visits never brought good news. Police don’t do social calls.

Both men pressed identification against the glass. “Can we come in?”

She unlocked all three deadbolts and cracked the door as far as the chain allowed, but didn’t invite them in. September shivered in the brutal wind. If she invited them in, she could close and lock the door again. But she didn’t want strangers in her house. “What can I do for you?” She hoped they’d take the hint and leave quickly.

“We’re on our way back from an accident.” Officer Combs looked half his partner’s age. Despite the youthful expression and athletic carriage, worry lines and the cleft chin relieved an otherwise too pretty face. “There’s smoke pouring out the side of your house. Over there.” He waved.

“Smoke? Oh crap! Come in already. But lock the door behind you.” She rushed back into the kitchen. “Has to be the clothes dryer.” Septemberfumbled with the pet door into the kitchen, racing to the adjoining laundry room, one of the first rooms the contractors had finished. When she opened the door, white smoke filled the upper half of the room. “Why the hell didn’t my alarm go off?” The contractor would hear about this.

Officer Combs caught her arm to stop her rush into the room. “Do you have an extinguisher? Where’s your breaker box?” He turned to the older officer. “Call it in, why don’t you, Lenny?” He pulled off his hat, and his light brown hair crackled and stood off his head with static electricity.

September jerked away from his touch. “We’ll have it out before they get here in the snow.” She hurried into the tiny room where the clothes dryer nestled against the wall and couldn’t be easily unplugged. “Aw, hell.” She punched buttons on the dryer until it stopped, pulled open the door of the front loader, and watched with disbelief as acrid smoke flowed out. “The machine’s not even three weeks old.”

Bending low, Combs viewed September’s unmentionables. “No fire. Caught it in time.” He straightened with a grin. “I’ve been curious to see theinside of the Ulrich place since I was a kid. Didn’t want it to burn before I got the chance.”

September kicked the dryer and winced, remembering too late she was wearing slippers. “Need to call the company. At least it’s under warranty.” Just want she needed, a game of telephone gotcha with the store. Nothing was easy.

“Ma’am? Do you need us to call for assistance?” Pike leaned his oversize frame against the doorway, pulling off his gloves to fish a tissue from his pocket and honked his nose into it. “That’s some smell. Might want to open the window or crack the door.” He nodded toward the solid door in the nearby breakfast nook. “Smoke will set off your kitchen alarm if you don’t air it out.” Pike looked around the room, tossing the used tissue in the trash before adjusting his cap.

“That door stays locked.” It was too hard to mess with once it finally latched.

“Why?” Pike raised his eyebrow. “Any putz could pop that lock in sixty seconds.”

She flinched, and eyeballed the door. “That’s not what the contractor said.”

He shrugged with a “whatever” gesture. “Locks are a specialty of mine.”

September pulled a step stool out of a cupboard to reach and open the small window. At least there was no intruder danger by leaving it open. Nobody could wiggle through but a Munchkin with wings. She shivered, stepped off and folded the stool.

Combs stared at September. “Are you okay, Ms.—”

“Oh. I’m September Day.”

Pike cocked his head. “September, like the month, and—er, Day likethe—uh, day of the week?” He jabbed Combs with an elbow. “Is she kidding?”

“Yes, the name’s just like the month.” September sighed. Her parents, Rose and Lysle January, cleverly named their kids for their birthday months. Her sisters born in the spring got off easy and by the time baby brother came along in March, Mom and Dad settled for the more conventional Mark. Meanwhile, she’d been stuck with September January, no middle name needed. After 28 years she’d heard every joke possible. Chris teased her that she’d married him just to change her name. She’d joked back they should name their first child Happy. At the time, it didn’t seem important, since she had no interest in starting a family. . .

Combs frowned. “Are you sure you’re all right? You can call me Jeff.” He smiled again.

She shook off the memory and forced a smile. After all, the man had saved her house. “Jeff. Thank you. I’m fine, just pissed.” She shooed them out of the laundry room into the kitchen and followed with the step stool. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got cleanup to do.”

He had kind eyes. Brown. Like Dakota’s. She caught Pike’s amused expression before he coughed into another tissue and looked away. Wasn’t that just dandy.

“You’re one of the January girls, right?” Combs wouldn’t leave it alone. “My sister Naomi went to school with one of your sisters.”

She considered him more carefully. Officer Jeff Combs might be a couple inches shorter than Pike, but his lanky frame and loose gait offered a boyish contrast to his overweight partner. Still tan from the past summer’s sun, he had crow’s feet that advertised humor, stress, or both. Combs was at least five years older than she, maybe more. “Probably May or June?” She’d skipped a couple of grades in high school, so she was younger than most in her class.

“June, that’s right.” He nodded. “You were behind us, but then you took off before graduation on that music tour thing.” He pulled on his hat. “What brings you back to Heartland?”

She urged them to the front door. “Thanks again. Sorry, but I don’t feel real sociable at the moment.” She had come home to start fresh and get away from the ghosts that stalked her—real and imagined. She had no interest in rehashed history.

Pike pulled on heavy gloves, adjusting his hat and turtling his neck down into his collar as he duck-walked to stay vertical on the slick path back to the patrol car.

Combs paused. “Listen, Ms. Day—September. Is it okay to call you September? I wondered, you being new back in town and all—”

“Officer, uhm, Jeff. I don’t mean to be rude, but I’ve got a phone call to make. Thanks again. You saved my bacon.” She started to close the door.

“Sure, I understand. Busy day. Maybe another time?” He handed her his card, and a twinkle lightened the shadow in his expression. “At least it’s a good day to wear hot clothes.” He turned and hurried to the car.

Despite herself, September chuckled. So Officer Combs was a wise-ass; she liked that in a person.

She shut the door, shooting the deadbolts and rattling the knob to be sure it caught. Time enough later to throw out scorched laundry. She needed to call Humphrey Fish five minutes ago, and she’d better be scintillating as hell or he’d make her pay.

September raced back to the kitchen, climbed the step stool, pried the smoke detector off the ceiling and shoved it in a drawer. She didn’t need sirens interrupting the phone call. September cut Anita off before she could say a word. “Patch me through to the studio line. I’m already late.”

“Your ass is so dead.” Anita put her on hold for ten seconds, which forced her to listen to Humphrey’s on-air introduction. She seethed at his tone.

“Why looky there, furry friends and neighbors, September just blew in. She’s finally ready to offer us the best kitty and puppy advice available. Nice of you to join us, your highness. Didja overindulge in the catnip last night?”

“Greetings and salutations your own self, Mr. Fish.” Uh oh, this would be rough. “Catnip’s not a bad idea. It’s a kitty hallucinogen and will take your cat’s mind off the nasty weather.” She hurried on before he could interrupt with another crack. “I hope all the pet parents listening out there have brought their animals indoors for the duration.”

“Hey, they’ve got fur coats, so what’s the big deal?” He laughed. “Not like some of us hair-challenged humans, right?”

She jerked the phone away from her head. He’d turned up the volume to punish her without the audience any the wiser. Two could play that game. “Scaly fish are cold blooded creatures after all.”

“Oooh, so you’re gonna be catty, are you? Pull in your claws and give us some Pet Peeves de-tails.”

“You step on my tail, I’ll hiss back, Mr. Fish.” A breath calmed and settled her into the rhythm of the show. “Even furry cats and dogs risk frostbite or hypothermia in weather like this. See, the fur helps hold body heat next to the skin to keep them toasty. Wind can strip that warmth away, and the wet keeps the fur from insulating them. Their ears, toes, tails, even the scrotum can freeze.”

“Blue balls. I love it when you talk dirty. Let’s take some calls. Hello, you’re on the air with Pet Peeves and September Day, what’s your question?”

September braced herself. God only knew what callers she’d get after that intro.

“Uh, hi, I got a wiener dog. I left him outside overnight. Now he’s a pupsicle.” Maniacal laughter bubbled until Fish disconnected the call.

“That’s a good one. This is Humphrey Fish with September Day’s Pet Peeves. September, what do you have to say to our wiener dog fella? C’mon, I know he’s obnoxious but toss him a bone.”

She winced, but didn’t hesitate. “All jokes aside, the smaller the pet, the greater the danger. Also, y’all may end up with some hit-or-miss potty behavior as a result of the storm, because little dogs just don’t want to squat in a snow bank and get their nether regions cold.”

“We’ve got a theme going.” Fish guffawed, but it was forced. “Let’s take another caller. Hello, you’re on the air with Humphrey Fish and Pet Peeves. Do you have a question for September? Let’s make this one serious.”

“Hey there. Thanks for taking my call.” The man hesitated. “My name is Fred, and I’m worried about my mom’s cats. They pee all over the house. How do you make ‘em stop?”

“How about a cork?” Fish chortled, the best audience for his own jokes.

“Mr. Fish, not everyone’s anatomy accommodates your personal hygiene routines, but I’m sure listeners appreciate the suggestion.” She’d had just about enough of him. “As for the cats, there are several questions to answer before I could help.” She heard a beep-click on the line, and recognized the call-waiting signal. She checked caller ID, and rolled her eyes. “How many cats does your mother have?” September waited for the radio guest to respond.

“Three. She’s had them for years, but it’s only been a problem the past couple months.”

“Three cats, okay. How old are they? And how many litter boxes does she have?”

“One of them is sixteen, I think, because she got Sheba when I was a freshman at the university. The others are two or three. She got them together. They’re all boys. Does that matter?” A breath. “I don’t know how many litter boxes, but they sure ain’t using them.”

Fish broke in. “Thanks for your question. We’ve got to take a station break, but September will be right back with all the answers to your litter box woes. Keep those phone calls coming.” The music swelled and the taped commercial played. “Got you a new attitude today, do you?”

“I’ve had a hellacious morning.” September heard the beep-click again—same caller—and once more ignored it. “This won’t happen again.”

“You don’t understand. The callers love the new edginess. The phone lines lit up. They love your catty comments.”

September stared at the phone. “You’re kidding.”

“Swear to god, September. The bitchy comebacks are great. I can dish it out if you’re up for it.” He paused. “It’s great radio. Trust me. Just keep it clean. Sorta.”

“Uh, sure. Whatever you think works.” She still wasn’t convinced. “Let me get this straight. You’re going to be snide, and I’m supposed to put you down?”

“Exactly,” he said. “Now pin on your sparkly bitch pin, and turn on the wise-ass to answer that litter box question. We’re going live in five.”

A long pause filled the airspace before the Dr. Doolittle “Talk to the Animals” theme came on and faded out followed by Fish’s introduction. “We’re back with Pet Peeves. I’m Humphrey Fish trading barbs with September Day. Me-ouch.”

“Don’t get your tail in a twist.” Better start off mild. She still didn’t trust him and didn’t want to get canned. “Before the break, Fred told us about his mother’s three cats. Since they’ve not been problems before this, I’ll assume they’re neutered. Folks, ninety-eight percent of intact male kitties spray urine like its Chanel Number Five, so nipping those gonads in the bud—or butt, as Mr. Fish might say—takes care of that.”

“I resemble that remark.” Fish opened the door and waited for her comeback.

“I know you do. And I got to tell you, it’s unattractive.” The beep-click interrupted once more. September continued to ignore it. “Sixteen-year-old cats, just like aged humans, can develop health problems that cause increased urination and defecation.”

“Oh please, September, talk dirty to me again.” Fish chortled.

She smiled. This was fun.

“Enough already with the potty talk. We need to go to the next caller.”

“Sure thing. For more information listeners can click on PetPeeves.com.” There. She got in the plug since Fish wasn’t inclined.

“Caller, you’re on the air with Humphrey Fish and Pet Peeves. What’s your question?”

Quick breaths filled the long pause. “Is September there? Please, I need to talk to her.”

“I’m here. What’s your name? And do you have a pet question?” Dang, September hoped another break came before long. She needed her own litter box after so much coffee.

“September? Oh my God, September you’ve got to help me. Please, oh no oh no—”

“Calm down, I can barely understand you. Stop crying and speak up. I’ll try to help if I can.” Forget about the bitchy delivery, this one sounded serious.

“I tried and I tried to call you but your line was busy. The babysitter fell asleep, I could just kill her.” The voice broke. “I’ve looked and looked, but he’s nowhere around the house. You’ve got to track him.”

The call waiting. “April, is that you?” She’d blown off her sister three times. September’s mouth turned to dust.

“Steven’s gone,” April cried. “My baby’s out in the storm, him and the dog both are gone!”

 

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