The Summer Children (The Collector #3)(11)

And by Special Agent Ken, I mean a Ken doll in a tiny FBI windbreaker. The photos are excellent in and of themselves, black-and-white compositions with beautiful attention to detail and light, but it’s definitely a Ken doll, and I love it.

We met Priya Sravasti eight years ago, when her older sister was murdered by a serial killer whose victim count ultimately hit sixteen girls. Three years ago, Priya was nearly the seventeenth. She lives in Paris now, attending university, but somewhere over the years our team simply adopted her, and she became family. She also became Eddison’s best friend; despite their age difference, they bonded over being prickly and angry and missing their sisters.

No matter how long it’s been since Faith got kidnapped, Eddison will never stop missing his little sister. There are no photos of her displayed, but there aren’t photos of anyone except Special Agent Ken out where people can see them. Eddison protects the people he loves by hiding their pictures away, where he can look at them when he wants but no one else is likely to find them. Only at work does he keep a picture of Faith, right next to a picture of Priya, and they’re his reminder of why he does this job, why it means so much to him.

Vic has his daughters; Eddison has his sisters, even if he still struggles with naming Priya that way.

I change for sleep, boxers and a T-shirt I accidentally stole from Eddison during a case and declined to return, while he digs through his linen closet. Together, we put sheets and a blanket on the couch. He waves a yawning goodbye and disappears into his room, where I can hear him moving about for a few more minutes as I brush my teeth and scrub off two days of makeup at the kitchen sink.

I’m bone-deep tired, the kind of exhausted where my eyes hurt even when they’re closed, but despite the comfort of the couch I’ve slept on countless times, I can’t seem to fall asleep. I keep seeing Ronnie, his eyes so shattered and wounded within a mask of blood. I shift positions, hugging one of the pillows to my chest, and try to settle.

Eddison’s snores rumble through the silence, courtesy of a long-ago broken nose that he couldn’t be bothered to get set properly. They’re not loud, his snores, it’s never been a problem to share a hotel room with him, but they’re reassuringly familiar. I can feel my bones getting heavier, the stress gathering and slipping away in rhythm with the soft sounds.

Then one of my phones rings.

Groaning and cursing, I roll over and grab it, squinting at the overly bright display. Oh mierda, it’s my tía. I know exactly why she’s calling. Fuck. I don’t want to talk to her right now.

Ever, really, but especially not now.

But if I don’t, she’ll keep calling, and the voice mails will get increasingly shrill. Snarling a little, I accept the call. “You already knew I wasn’t going to call,” I say instead of hello, keeping my voice down so I don’t bother my partner.

“Mercedes, ni?a—”

“You already knew I wasn’t going to call. If you pass over the phone or put it on speaker, I’m going to hang up, and if you keep calling after what has really been a hell of a day, I’m going to change my number. Again.”

“But it’s her birthday.”

“Sí, I know.” I close my eyes and burrow back into the pillows, wishing the conversation was just a part of a nightmare. “It changes nothing. I don’t want to talk to her. I don’t want to talk to you either, Tía. You’re just more aggressively stubborn than she is.”

“Someone has to be stubborn as you,” she retorts. Her voice is surrounded by chaos, the kind of noise you can only get at a birthday party where “immediate family” still means some hundred or so people. The bits of speech I can make out are mostly in Spanish, because the madres and tías and abuelas have rules about using English at home if it’s not for schoolwork. “We never hear from you!”

“Well, it’s hard to be estranged from people if you give them regular updates.”

“Tu pobre mamá—”

“Mi pobre mamá should know better, and so should you.”

“Your nieces and nephews want to know you.”

“My nieces and nephews should be grateful their abuelo is still in prison, and if they’re very lucky, none of the other men will take after him. Stop stealing my contact info from Esperanza, and stop calling. I am not interested in forgiving the family, and I am sure as fuck not interested in the family forgiving me. Just. Stop.”

I hang up, and spend the next several minutes declining her repeated calls.

“You know,” rumbles a sleepy voice from the bedroom doorway. I look up to see Eddison leaning against the frame, his boxers and hair both sleep rumpled. “That’s your personal phone. You can shut that off as long as you keep your work one on. She, uh . . . she doesn’t have your work number, does she?”

“No.” And if I weren’t so fucking tired, I’d have thought of that myself. I always remember that there’s a difference between my two phones; I just tend to forget why that difference is important. After double-checking that it’s my personal phone—identical to my work phone, except for the Hufflepuff case—I turn it off and feel a palpable sense of relief. “Sorry for waking you.”

“Was it anything specific?”

“It’s my mother’s birthday.”

He winces. “How did she even get your number? You just changed it a year ago.”

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