A Deeper Fear – Allison Brennan

Jack Kincaid offered his brother-in-law Sean Rogan a beer. Sean accepted, twisted off the cap, and sipped. “Like the new place.” Sean stared out the picture window. “Great view.” Jack opened his own beer and motioned for Sean to follow him out to the back porch. They sat on chairs that boasted the best view of the property. Late May, warm but not too hot. They could see the rolling hills to the north and the sunset to the west. He liked this place more than any other he’d lived in. Probably because he shared it with the woman he loved. Jack and Megan had moved into the house after the first of the year, but the beginning of the year had been hectic for everyone and this was the first time Sean and Lucy had been out to visit. For years Jack had lived with Megan in the condo she’d owned before they were married, in downtown Sacramento. Jack hated it. Not the condo, which was surprisingly spacious, but being in the middle of the city.

When the FBI moved their headquarters from Sacramento to Roseville and Megan had a forty-five-minute commute on good days, they’d started looking for a place. It took time—because of their schedules—but finally they found this five-acre spread in the small rural community of Newcastle and Megan’s commute was cut to less than fifteen minutes. Sean looked out at the yard. “That your barn down there?” “Yep, it’s falling apart. That’s low on my list of things to do.” “Hmm.” “I don’t think I slept a full night in eight years living downtown. Since we moved here, I sleep like a baby.” Still woke up at five thirty every morning without an alarm, but that probably would never change. Sean nodded, but Jack realized he was only half listening.

“I have a lot of work to do on the place before we get to the barn, but we got a great deal. The owners retired to Arizona, a cop and teacher. The house came with a gun safe—I thought that was a plus.” “Um-hm.” “We talked about moving to Texas.” “Huh.” “What’s going on, Sean?” “What?” “You’re not listening. I just said we almost moved to Texas.” “Oh? But you just bought this place.” Jack cleared his throat.

“What?” Sean said. “Your mind is a million miles away. You okay?” “Sure.” “Don’t lie to me, kid.” Sean shrugged, sipped his beer, then said, “It’s been a tough month.” He clearly didn’t want to talk about it. Jack wasn’t a shrink. That was the world of his twin brother. But Sean hadn’t talked to Dillon when he and Lucy were in DC two weeks ago. Normally, Jack didn’t interfere in the personal lives of his family members, but this was one time when Dillon had asked him to find a way to get through to Sean.

“Lucy and Sean will be in Sacramento for a crime conference,” Dillon had said. “You need to get him to talk.” “That’s your expertise.” “This time it’s yours. I tried to discuss this with Kane, but he’s as communicative as a rock.” “You think I’m better?” “With Sean, yes. He respects you, Jack. What happened with Paxton has him twisted up inside. I don’t think he’s shared everything, even with Lucy.” “He’ll talk to her before me.

” “Not this time.” Jack wasn’t a shrink, he didn’t want to be a shrink, but he understood PTSD. He’d been a soldier for fifteen years. He had friends who had blown their brains out or drugged their brains out—same difference in his book, one fast, one slow—because they carried baggage that would make Goliath stumble and wouldn’t, or couldn’t, share the load with anyone. Jack didn’t know how to approach this. He didn’t play games, so he just spoke the truth. “Dillon’s worried about you.” Sean shook his head. “I told him to leave it alone. I don’t want to talk about it.

Some things are better left in the past.” “I don’t disagree,” Jack said. “Just make sure that this is one of those things.” “I am.” Maybe he was right. Jack didn’t know. He watched Sean as he stared at the land. Yes, he was quieter than usual. He’d lost weight. The outward injuries had healed, but Jack knew better than most that the most painful scars were those that couldn’t be seen.

Time to change the subject, though Jack would keep a close eye on Sean while they were here. “What’s Jesse doing this week? He couldn’t come with you?” “He has two more weeks of school, which he can’t miss because of finals and a bunch of activities, then eighth-grade graduation the Friday before his birthday. I finally convinced Nate to move into the rooms I built above my garage and get out of the dump he calls an apartment, so he’s there keeping an eye on Jess.” He paused. “I considered staying, letting Lucy have some time to herself with you and Megan, but she said she’d cancel and stay home. I didn’t want her to do that, especially since she has a presentation and everything.” Jack hadn’t known that Sean wanted to stay home. That was definitely cause for concern—he’d been looking forward to coming out here up until last month. “I, for one, am glad you came.” He glanced at his watch.

“We should get going. I promised Megan I’d join her for the meet and greet.” “I can’t,” Sean said. “I told Lucy I was going to Duke’s.” “Want me to drop you off?” “I have the rental car, I’m good. Thanks.” “I’d join you if I could, but then Megan would be mad at me.” Jack didn’t like crowds. They made him itchy. “No, go, it’s okay.

” “Don’t forget—tomorrow morning is the Pride Tactical presentation, and you know how Ellen is.” “We worked out all the bugs months ago.” “She’s a friend. You told her you would be there to answer questions.” “I’ll be there. But it’s going to be fine.” Sean was usually all over any new tech, and up until his arrest last month, he’d been excited about this project. Pride Tactical had hired RCK and Sean to test a drone, and he’d uncovered and solved half a dozen glitches. He generally liked bragging about his accomplishments, and this was one that he should brag about. “After the demonstration we’re meeting for lunch at DeVere’s Pub.

” “I miss that place. There’s only one decent Irish pub in San Antonio, but nothing like DeVere’s.” “Agree with you there, buddy.” Jack stood, clapped Sean on the shoulder and went inside. Yeah, something was up with Sean, but Jack hoped a few days with nothing on his plate would help. * * * The Bi-Annual California Multi-Jurisdictional Law Enforcement Conference, sponsored by the FBI and open to all sworn officers, was the smaller version of the national FBI conference. Someday Lucy would love to attend the national conference, but space was limited and only six agents from the San Antonio office were attending this summer. She couldn’t really complain about not being chosen, considering that all those attending were senior agents with more than five years’ experience. This smaller conference was the next best thing, even though Lucy knew that her sister-in-law Megan had something to do with Lucy’s presentation. Lucy was speaking on a panel about psychology and modern interrogation techniques.

The only thing that put a damper on this week was that Sean was still out of sorts after his ordeal, which had ended only four weeks ago. She’d offered to skip the conference— she thought maybe they could spend a long weekend at their house in Vail where they’d have the privacy to talk, just them, but Sean said no, he didn’t want her to cancel. If he’d insisted on staying home, however, she would have, because she could tell there was something up with him. Nate, her partner and their closest friend, had moved into the apartment above the garage at Sean’s suggestion. Lucy liked having Nate close by, but it meant they didn’t have as much privacy. It was almost as if Sean had Nate eat dinner with them every night . play video games . go out with Jesse . to avoid being alone with her. Yet .

he was so quiet. Very unlike him. Dillon thought he should talk to someone—a professional—but Lucy knew Sean wouldn’t. Right now all she could do was be there when he was ready to talk. He’d told her a lot about what happened after his arrest last month. The interrogation by the police for a murder he didn’t commit had been emotionally exhausting and humiliating, as well as infuriating. She’d seen the interrogation tapes—thanks to a friend of Nate’s in the Houston FBI—and they had been difficult just to watch, so she could only imagine how Sean felt living through it. Then being in jail overnight. He talked about it— his feeling of being trapped, helpless, unable to convince the police that he was innocent of the charges. In fact, he was very open about the first twenty-four hours of his ordeal, the anger and the fear and the frustration.

But he wouldn’t talk about what happened to him at the hands of former senator Jonathan Paxton, who had orchestrated the whole thing. He wouldn’t talk about how he felt when he learned that one of his oldest friends, Colton Thayer, had helped Paxton set him up. He only vaguely mentioned what happened between him and Paxton. Instead he gave details about the prison break to the authorities, about how they traveled, about Paxton killing Jimmy Hunt. A lot of detail—almost as if to downplay what actually happened to Sean. The only thing he’d said was, “I escaped at one point—late Saturday night. Early Sunday morning, maybe. That’s when they locked me in the cage. Colton wanted to kill me, I know that, but he didn’t.” He claimed he didn’t know why or what they’d had planned for him.

Colton Thayer wasn’t talking or even trying to negotiate a plea deal. Sean also claimed he didn’t know Paxton’s motive, or why he hadn’t killed Sean, though he’d had ample opportunity. He vaguely mentioned revenge, since Sean had been largely responsible for Paxton losing his US Senate seat after Sean helped uncover Paxton’s devious plan to poison prisoners. But he’d never sounded convincing, at least to Lucy. Lucy hated that she thought Sean was lying. Maybe to spare her . she had an idea of why Paxton had gone after Sean. She’d even told Sean what Paxton shared with her, some foolish nonsense about Sean putting her in danger, which was asinine. But there had to have been something else that had deeply affected Sean, and she couldn’t figure it out. The senator loved to talk, especially when he felt he was morally justified.

She of all people knew that. He would enjoy explaining his motives to Sean. Why wouldn’t Sean tell her? She tried to dismiss her anxiety and enjoy the meet and greet, but her mood must have been off-putting because she’d been standing in the corner nursing a glass of wine for the last thirty minutes and no one had approached her. She recognized a few people in the ballroom—mostly from the Sacramento field office, where her sister-in-law Megan served as a supervisory special agent. Over four hundred were registered for the conference in total, and half that number were socializing here tonight. Lucy would have preferred a much smaller group. Sean was the social butterfly, but he wanted to catch up with his brother, which she thought was a great idea. But she realized she missed Sean’s natural gregariousness, his way of making everything fun. Megan was halfway across the ballroom talking to her boss Dean Hooper, one of the three ASACs of the Sacramento office. Lucy knew Dean well—they’d even recently worked on a case together—but she didn’t want to intrude.

As if Megan could tell, she waved at Lucy and motioned for her to approach. Reluctantly Lucy put a smile on her face and walked over. “Great news,” Megan said, “Dean and Sonia are coming to the barbecue on Saturday.” Megan and Jack were having a party of close friends and family the day before Sean and Lucy left. “I haven’t seen Sonia since Sean and I got married,” Lucy said. “She’s looking forward to it,” Dean said. “We both are. Is Sean here?” “He’s visiting Duke and Molly tonight,” Lucy said, referring to Duke’s two-year-old daughter. “Probably didn’t want to be around all these cops,” Dean said. “I wanted to run something by him, cybersecurity-related.

Might have a great consulting assignment for him if he’s game. I’ll catch up with him on Saturday at the party.” Lucy didn’t know what to say. Dean had hit the nail on the head, and she felt so stupid that she hadn’t realized why Sean hadn’t wanted to come to the conference in the first place. It was a law enforcement conference. He’d been arrested for a murder he didn’t commit, broken out of prison by a criminal gang, considered an escaped convict, chased by the police, his name and image spread across the news. It didn’t matter that he was completely cleared of all charges; Sean had always had a simmering distrust of authority, and the events last month didn’t help. She needed to talk to him, tell him she understood. Why hadn’t she thought of it before? Was she so blind to her husband’s fears? Fortunately, her sudden silence wasn’t noticed, because several people from the Sacramento FBI office had come up to talk to Megan and Dean. Lucy politely excused herself and found the appetizers, two large tables in the center of the ballroom.

She put together a plate and was nibbling when she saw her brother approaching, beer in hand. “Showing my face and getting out of here as fast as I can,” Jack said. “You must really love Megan.” “She definitely owes me one.” Jack looked around the room with eagle eyes. Then he did a double take. “I have to introduce you to someone.” Lucy followed Jack to the edge of the room where a woman dressed in black, her long blond hair braided down her back, was wearing a name badge that read ELLEN. “Ellen Dupre.” She grinned widely.

“Jack! You’re the last person I expected to see at a law enforcement conference.” “My wife.” He jerked his finger over to the opposite corner, where Megan and Dean were still talking in a group. “Right, she’s the SSA of violent crime. Damn, I totally forgot, we met last year during a tactical training drill. Um . Megan, right?” “That’s it. And this is my sister, Special Agent Lucy Kincaid, out of the San Antonio office.” Ellen shook Lucy’s hand. “Sean’s wife! I’m so happy to meet you.

” Jack explained, “Ellen and I did basic training together.” “Shush, she’ll know how old I am.” “Older than me,” Jack laughed. “One fucking year,” she said. Ellen turned to Lucy and said, “I’m here with Pride Tactical. A vendor.” “With Pride Tactical?” Jack shook his head. “You own the company.” “Fifty–fifty, with my ex.” “Ouch.

” Ellen laughed. “Marc and I are still friends. In fact, we’re better business partners than marriage partners.” “I’m just glad to see a friendly face that doesn’t have a badge. No offense, sis,” he said to Lucy. “Doesn’t RCK have a contract with Pride?” Lucy asked. “I see your logo on a lot of Sean’s gear.” “Only the best for our company,” Jack said. “I appreciate it,” Ellen said. “We mostly service law enforcement, but of course highend security companies use our gear.

I’m demoing the drone software tomorrow. I asked Sean to do it because we hired him to test it and work out the bugs, he probably knows it better than Marc and me, but he said no.” Lucy glanced at Jack, but he didn’t comment about Sean. He said to Ellen, “I look forward to it. Morning?” “Oh eight hundred, right here. We’re doing the drill outside, I have Sac sheriff’s all-in. We’ll be livestreaming it so everyone can get the full effect—I tested the AV equipment before they set up for this. It’s going to be totally awesome.” She glanced at her watch. “In fact, I should go.

I’m recording a night drill so everyone can see our awesome night-vision camera and the amazing quality of the images. Good to meet you, Lucy. Later, Jack.” She left. “Sean didn’t tell me he was asked to participate.” “He does a lot of work for Pride, which is why we get such a great discount on their equipment,” Jack said. “And they pay him, so it’s a win–win for us.” “Dean said something earlier—that Sean probably didn’t want to be here because of all the cops. After what he went through, I should have realized. I shouldn’t have made him come at all.

” Jack squeezed her elbow. “He’s working through it, Lucy. I’ll keep an eye on him, and he’s planning on being here in the morning for the demo.” “Maybe we shouldn’t push him, Jack.” “Sometimes we all need a kick in the ass, Luce. But I’ll appeal to his geek side. This drone software project was his baby, so to speak. He’s proud of it—should be proud. He needs to be here, if only to make sure everything is functioning the way it’s supposed to.” “I feel like Dillon and me and you we’ve been, I don’t know, pressuring him.

Talk, don’t talk, go back to normal, nothing will be normal again. It’s not only conflicting messaging, but I think it’s constantly reminding him of what he suffered.” “Sean went through hell and he won’t talk about it. That’s fine, to a point. But I think you’re coddling him.” She frowned, shook her head. “I’m not coddling him.” “He knows you’re not going to push him, and neither is Dillon—which is why Dillon wanted me to talk to him. But I can’t—I tried. It’s not who I am.

I can, however, get him to work. I can piss him off, make him angry, and maybe he’ll finally talk about what’s really bothering him. Or maybe he won’t. But RCK is a business, and I can use that to push him out of his head.” Lucy didn’t know the right answer, but she didn’t have a better idea. “I trust you.” “Just be there when he falls.” When, Jack said. Lucy thought Sean had hit bottom last month when she found him locked in a cage, beaten, bloodied. How much did he have to suffer before he was healed? It hurt not to be able to help him, to fix the problem.

Lucy looked over Jack’s shoulder when a familiar face entered. “Excuse me,” she said to her brother. “Abandoning me?” Lucy gestured to where Megan was watching them. “I think Megan wants you to rescue her.” Jack looked over and grinned. “Should I?” “Of course.” Lucy left him and approached Nora, Duke’s wife and also an FBI agent in the Sacramento office. She looked like she didn’t want to be there, either. Lucy didn’t know her well, but when they had spent time together, Lucy appreciated Nora’s down-to-earth common sense. Nora looked relieved when she saw Lucy.

“I didn’t want to come, but Dean said I needed to show my face tonight. One hour is all I promised.” She looked over to where Dean and Megan had drawn a much larger crowd than when Lucy had left them. They were both extroverts and used to socializing; Lucy preferred the one-on-one conversations. “Wine?” she asked Nora. “God, yes.” They walked over to the cash bar and waited in the line. “I assume Megan told you about the party on Saturday.” “She did.” “I don’t generally like parties, but this one will be fun, and I haven’t seen their house since we helped them move in months ago.

I know they’ve been doing a lot of work.” “It looks great,” Lucy said. “The kitchen still needs updating, but Jack said they were going on vacation this summer and letting the contractors rip everything out.” Nora laughed lightly. “Jack? Vacation? I don’t think he knows the meaning of the word.” “That’s why Megan is good for him.” They reached the front of the line. Nora ordered white, Lucy stuck with her preferred red, and they moved away from the crowd. “How’s Molly?” Lucy asked. “I hope you’re bringing her on Saturday.

” “Of course, she’s the joy of my life,” Nora said. “I love my job, but I hate leaving her every day—though Duke is a terrific dad. He’s now working from home almost every day, and when he has to go downtown to RCK he takes her, or we have a terrific babysitter we can call. I can’t believe she’s already two years old.”

.

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