Twenty minutes later, Nick looked around the kitchen and once again wanted to beat his head against a wall. Richard, Judi, Evie, and Chris were seated at the table with Katherine, talking in low voices. Beth, the missing daughter, was sitting on Chris' lap, eating popcorn and watching everyone with eyes the size of plates. She'd been found at the bookstore, placidly reading a book "Aunt Sha-Na-Na's friend bought her."

From what Nick could glean, the child had been lured away from the other skaters with a promise of meeting with Shannon, a promise that, as it turns out, was kept. The man had taken her to the bookstore near the skating rink and bought her the book. Beth had seen Shannon come into the bookstore and hand the man something. Shannon came over and talked to Beth, telling her everything would be fine and she'd be going home soon. She handed Beth a note and told her to give it to the clerk as soon as the man and her left. The man then took Shannon by the arm and led her out and Beth gave the note to the clerk. Then the police came and it got very busy.

No, Beth couldn't tell them who the man was, but he was a friend of Aunt Sha-Na-Na's because he knew her cats' names and knew where she lived. Beth had provided this information with pride, as though it proved she'd verified the man's identity. Evie and Chris continually touched her, as though confirming for themselves she was still okay. Nick could only imagine the horror they'd experienced when they found out their child had been, briefly, kidnapped.

Detectives Kowalski and Peabody were leaning against the wall, alternately glaring at people and looking confused. Nathan was on the phone. And the three new FBI men--Mera, Johnson, and Benson--were watching them all with growing incredulity.

It was four in the afternoon. Shannon was still missing. That knowledge was like a knife in Nick's gut, twisting him. She was gone. The last time anyone had seen her, not counting a seven-year-old kid, it was one-fifteen and Evie and Judi had watched her drive away. Sensing his anger, they cringed.

Missing for three hours. The police went to the bookstore and no one remembered seeing her. If she'd gotten there, no one noticed. How couldn't they? Nick could, in his mind. He saw her lush body, impish smile, and her mesmerizing pale green eyes. He closed his eyes again, the pain of loss gripping him.

They found Judi's car in the parking lot at the bookstore, locked. The tracing chip on the disk was activated immediately but it led them to a public library where the data had probably been copied to another disk and the disk with the chip had been discarded. The librarian remembered Shannon there, at least. They remembered her and a tall, dark-haired man wearing jeans and a black T-shirt. The two had come in and asked to use one of the public computers and the information desk librarian had showed them to a study room where they could use a computer. They hadn't used it long, the librarian said. Just ten minutes or so and then they were gone. And when the police got there, all they found was a discarded disk in a wastebasket. No Shannon.

At least Evie's daughter was fine. That was something. Nick watched Evie smoothing the little girl's red curls. Thank God for that.

"Nick." Katherine had come to stand next to him. "She'll be okay."

Nick had to bite back the rage threatening to overwhelm him. "You knew?"

"I wasn't sure. She was acting odd. I just wasn't sure." She looked past him to the lawn. "She's so like her father. He always tried to protect us from what he did. She's trying to protect us."

Nick closed his eyes again, willing the pain away. His cell phone rang and he jerked it out from the holder on his belt. "Baxter," he snarled.

"Talk to your woman," an equally snarly voice said.

"Shannon?" Nick's voice cut through all the other voices in the kitchen.

"Hey, Nick." He pressed the conference button and her voice sounded eerily loud in the room. "I'm okay. I wish I had your good luck charm with me." She tried to laugh. Nick stared at the phone, imagining her fright. "And a good book."

"We are verifying the program. When it is confirmed, she will be released," the snarling voice said.

Nick didn't dare ask the question of what would happen if it didn't confirm. "Release her now. She can't help you."

"She is our insurance. We call again in one hour." The connection ended, leaving Nick to stare at a silent phone.