Home > The Last Sister (Columbia River #1)(12)

The Last Sister (Columbia River #1)(12)
Author: Kendra Elliot

Zander appreciated the backup, since so far the sheriff had been silent.

Paul twisted his mouth as he concentrated. “Sean doesn’t single anyone out. He just talks with whoever is closest.”

“How’d Sean seem on Thursday? Talkative? Was he watching the game?”

“He didn’t say much on Thursday. I think he mainly watched the game, but he’d been here a solid hour before the Osburne brothers came at him.”

Zander spoke to the sheriff. “Osburne brothers?”

Sheriff Greer grimaced. “Troublemakers. Not the brightest bulbs in the box. I’ve dealt with them at least a half dozen times for DUI, fighting, and speeding. They’re usually mellow unless they’re drinking.”

Paul was nodding at the sheriff’s words. “I’ve had to cut them off or ask them to leave a few times. Kyle is an obnoxious drunk. One of my bartenders has had a lot of trouble with him.”

“And the other brother?” asked Zander.

“Billy,” said Greer. “Follows his brother’s lead. Both big guys, but Kyle probably has thirty pounds on Billy.”

“The two of them together don’t create a whole brain,” Paul added.

Sheriff Greer snorted. “You got that right.”

“Okay.” Zander had a good picture of the men. “Who approached who?”

“Well, I didn’t see when it started. I heard the crash and turned around. Sean was on the ground, and his stool was knocked over, with Billy swinging and kicking at him, so I think he approached Sean.”

“What did you do?”

“Grabbed my bat.” He walked around the bar and pulled a hidden bat off a low shelf. “I hollered at them to break it up, but I was on this side of the bar, and they ignored me. Well, Billy ignored me. Sean had gotten to his feet, but he was focused on avoiding Billy’s fists and boots.”

“What was Kyle doing?”

“Holding back the crowd,” said Paul, resting the bat on his shoulder. “A couple people tried to get involved, but few will stand up to Kyle or Billy when they’re pissed. I came round the bar and knocked my bat on a few hips to clear a path. When I got through the crowd, I pointed my bat at Kyle and told him to get Billy off Sean. Both were back on the floor by then. Kyle gave me a shitty grin, grabbed his brother’s shirt, and hauled him off Sean. I ordered them out, and they left.”

“You didn’t call the police?” Zander asked.

Paul glanced at Sheriff Greer. “They got better things to do than bust up a fight. It was over, and Sean could stand upright. I gave him a beer on the house, picked up his stool, and he went back to watching the game. It was handled.”

“Sean wasn’t hurt?”

“Oh, he was hurting. I fixed up a bag of ice for his lip, and I noticed he moved stiffly when he finally did leave.”

Zander made a mental note to ask the medical examiner about abrasions and bruises.

“Did anyone ask him how it started?”

“Dunno. I didn’t. No one is surprised when the Osburne brothers act up.”

“Do you think Sean’s race had anything to do with it?”

Paul scowled. “Don’t know. I didn’t hear what was said between them.” His face cleared. “But I told you one of my bartenders always has a problem with the Osburnes—he’s Mexican. They give him shit about that.”

Two strong guys. Possibly racist.

The Osburne brothers were checking some boxes.

“Did you notice when Sean left?”

Paul thought hard. “He left right after the game. I remember he was disappointed in who won. He tossed down some cash for the beer and left. I can’t believe he’ll never be back,” Paul said in a stunned voice.

“Can you give us some names of other people who witnessed the fight?” suggested Zander.

Paul hesitated.

“We don’t have to say it was you who gave us the names. There were plenty of people there who could have identified others.”

Paul’s face cleared, and he rattled off three names, which the sheriff wrote down.

Checking what time the game had finished would be easy enough. At least Zander knew Sean had still been alive at that point. He spoke to the sheriff. “Can we visit the Osburnes?”

“I’ll show you where they live,” Greer said as he turned to the door.

“Hey, Sheriff,” Paul said. “You gonna make book club tomorrow?”

Zander gawked at Paul. Book club?

Greer paused. “Your wife making the nacho dip?” the sheriff asked hopefully.


“I haven’t read the book yet.”

“You should start it. It’s a good one about a real plot to kill George Washington, but you know it doesn’t matter if you read the book. Just show up.”

“I’ll be there.” The sheriff continued toward the door.

Zander silently followed, reminding himself to never make assumptions.


Emily parked in the quiet clearing and hoped the ghosts would stay away.

The pile of rubble grew smaller every year as it decomposed—rain, sun, and time breaking down the components. Small grains blew away with the wind. Ferns and wild grasses sprouted. In its death, the old house had given life to small glimpses of nature.

After the fire her childhood home had been knocked down, but no one hauled anything away. She wondered what kind of chemicals had leached into the ground. What nonbiodegradables would still be present in a hundred years.

No one cared.

As she stepped out of her car—with new tires—she estimated it had been four years since she visited the spot where her father died and her home burned to the ground.

It still hurt.

Good memories flashed. Hide-and-seek with her sisters. The day her father put in a swing set. Lazy summer days making “homes” in the tall grass. Bug bites. Itchy poison ivy that made her cry. Her mother had tied mittens onto her hands, and Emily had torn at them with her teeth, desperate to scratch.

Not all good memories.

But memories of poison ivy were better than remembering the night her father was murdered.

Flashing police lights. Fire engine sirens. Their hoses and water.

Madison clung to their mother, her face buried in Mother’s coat. The flames lit up their mother’s face as she watched the fire grow higher and the house start to fall in on itself. Shock. Fear. This wasn’t happening. This had to be a dream. Emily hung tight to her mother’s arm. Her mother said nothing, dumbly staring at the flames, and Emily’s gaze searched their surroundings. Firemen ran and shouted. Police did the same.

A policeman approached, his face grim. And Emily knew they’d found her father.

It wasn’t a dream.

Tires crunched as a vehicle approached behind her. Emily turned and her heart sank.


The Astoria Police Department SUV parked, and she saw that her ex-husband wasn’t in uniform. It was Saturday. His day off. After five years she still remembered his schedule. Annoyance shot through her. Why did her brain retain minutiae of her ex-husband’s life?

How does he know I’m here?

He had no reason to be on this property. That meant he’d followed her.

Rage simmered under her skin. But she displayed no emotion.

A habit. A protective habit around Brett.

His door slammed, and he strolled over to her, nonchalantly eyeing the rubble heap and the surrounding trees. His casualness was scripted; he did nothing indifferently. Especially when she was involved.

“Hey,” he said. More indifference.

As if it weren’t odd that they’d crossed paths a mile out of town at the edge of the woods.

Where no one went.


“Saw you drive past me in town. I waved, but you didn’t see me.” He stopped three feet in front of her, his brown eyes locked on hers.

Her stomach twisted. At one time she’d melted when those eyes were turned on her. She’d longed for him to notice her, and when he finally did, she’d believed her world was perfect. Now it meant he was analyzing her, searching for nuance, hunting for subtext in every move she made and every word she said. Studying her like a bug under a microscope.

She held very still.

“You’re right. I didn’t see you.”

“I saw where you turned and knew there could only be one destination.” Concern shone on his face. “Don’t tell me you come up here a lot.”

“I don’t.”

At one time he’d been everything she thought she wanted. Strength. Maturity. Love. He was six years older than she, and she’d adored him since she’d been ten. When she was eighteen, he’d finally looked her way, and he’d liked what he saw. He became the foundation of her life.

And then the ruler of her life.

They married two years later, and it started with small things. Questions about where she had been. Wanting immediate answers to every text. Warnings about her male friends: guys have only one thing on their minds. Asking her to stay in with him instead of attending her regular girls’ night.

She’d done what he asked, flattered he craved her full attention, a result of his deep love for her.

But then the requests slowly tightened around her neck.

Why shouldn’t he have her email password? What was she hiding?

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