Excerpt: Darkest Wings

“Will you take the case?”

An inflatable red balloon floated past Creighton’s office window. Laughter crept through the thin glass pane. Twenty minutes into the interview, he heaved himself out of his creaky chair and closed the blinds.

The pool disappeared from view. So did the buxom pair sunning themselves at the other end of the horseshoe apartment complex.

Mr. Dubois frowned across the desk. “Mr. Creighton, we need an answer.”

Twenty-five minutes earlier, Dubois and his wife had come in dry-eyed and recounted discovering a farewell note in their eldest daughter’s bedroom. They had exhausted all the proper channels in their attempts to bring her home, from putting out the word among friends and family, to going to the police. LAPD had reluctantly agreed to look into the matter but done little to deliver. At the end of their tether, the Dubois had turned to private detectives, which was how they’d finally gotten their referral to see Creighton.

They sat with backs straight and lips thinned, features pallid in the desk lamp’s jaundiced glow.

Creighton rolled his shoulders, wincing as the joints popped. “I’m tempted to say no.”

“We’ll pay whatever you ask,” Mrs. Dubois interjected, before her husband could. “Please. We’re out of options.”

“I feel for you; I do. But your daughter’s nineteen. I’m not convinced she didn’t just run off with this boyfriend you mentioned. She wouldn’t be the first to think that’s romantic.”

The vast majority of people Creighton was hired to track down left LA of their own free will. A scant minority did it for insurance fraud. In half a decade of doing this job, he’d never once stumbled on a real abduction.

He spared the photo on Mrs. Dubois’s phone another glance. Two boxes containing a more or less irrelevant assortment of Darcy Dubois’s personal effects took up space on his already untidy desk. The digital snapshot wasn’t the only one Mrs. Dubois had shown him, but it was one of the few she hadn’t seen fit to print out.

With her curly blond hair and big eyes, her daughter was certainly photogenic. It was little wonder the man standing beside her in the photo, half cropped out of the frame, had whisked her away. He looked about thirty-something, his complexion darker, his eyes crinkling as he smiled at her, seemingly unaware of the camera.

“Chances are she’ll be in touch before long. Romance loses its shine fast at her age.”

Mrs. Dubois reached across the desk and yanked her phone back. “And if he won’t let her leave? You’re happy to have her on your conscience?”

“Got any reason to suspect he wouldn’t?”

Mr. and Mrs. Dubois traded glances. It was Mr. Dubois who answered. “I don’t mean to sound like I have anything against… Look, he’s not from around here, is he?”

Creighton arched a brow.

“I don’t mean to sound racist, but—”

“Thank you for your time,” Mrs. Dubois cut her husband off and rose smoothly from the visitor’s chair. She slid the smartphone into her purse as she turned for the door.

Nothing about her demeanor suggested defeat. She was going to leave Creighton’s office and go straight to the next name on her list. God only knew there were plenty of PIs to choose from. LA teemed with the breed and most of Creighton’s peers would have no compunctions about taking the Dubois’ money to string them along for a month or two before telling them exactly what Creighton had.

“Wait.” With a sigh, he sat up in his seat. “What did you say the boyfriend’s name was?”

Mrs. Dubois scrabbled for her phone but couldn’t seem to find it. “Oh, I have his number and address here somewhere…”

“Just the name will do.” If it was as easy as calling the guy up or showing up at his place and giving him a good shake, Creighton’s predecessors would’ve done it already. This business didn’t exactly cater to a soft touch.

“I don’t…” Mrs. Dubois gave up on the phone and glanced at her husband. “Darling, do you remember?”

Mr. Dubois rubbed his chin. “Cyrus, I think. Maybe Siam? No, that’s not right either.”

Icy fingertips slid down Creighton’s spine. No, can’t be. “I thought you said you’d met the guy?”

“Well, I know it’s something foreign-sounding,” Dubois sputtered. “It’s not as if we thought much of it when Darcy first brought it up. She worked the cloakroom at the Streetwise—do you know it?” Creighton did not. “Well. It’s supposed to be very good. Darcy liked working there and she made good money. You’d be surprised how many men think tipping generously gives them license to harass a young woman from a good family.”

Creighton missed neither the revolted curl of Mr. Dubois’s upper lip nor his telling use of the past tense. Mrs. Dubois might not have given up hope yet, but her husband seemed to think Darcy was beyond their reach.

If Creighton’s intuition proved correct, he might not be so far off the mark.

“The boyfriend’s name,” Creighton said, pressing his knuckles into the desk, “it wouldn’t be Sirath, by any chance?”

“I’m not sure—”

“Yes,” Mrs. Dubois interjected. “Do you know him, Mr. Creighton?” Her gaze had been flat before, perhaps tinged with skepticism. It brightened with tentative hope at the possibility.

Shit. Creighton shook his head. “Just a hunch. I’ll bill you for the consult, ma’am… for the rest, I’ll work out a fee breakdown for you later this week.” Better to let her believe that he was looking to do her a solid out of pity than raise her expectations.

Mrs. Dubois didn’t quibble. She thanked him before she left, stepping out of the office with her head held high and eyes shielded by wide sunglasses. Her husband’s muffled voice carried through the closed single-pane window. He didn’t sound pleased with the deal they’d made.

Creighton sank into his seat. It had to be a coincidence. Mr. and Mrs. Dubois hadn’t really remembered the name. They were so desperate for the smallest shred of hope they would’ve agreed to anything.

But what if the missus is right?

Nervous energy hummed in Creighton’s gut, every fiber of his being pulsing with certainty. His fingers itched for the pack of cigarettes he kept secreted in the desk drawer.

What if Sirath is back?

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