Jason had been out front for the past ten minutes, waiting for Lacey to appear. Two other women had already exited.
The house belonged to Ruben. According to Lacey, he’d agreed with his father’s suggestion to set up shop in his garage. Today had been the big move.
Finally, she appeared at the end of the sidewalk that bordered the garage. Other than when he’d dropped her off this morning, it was the only time he’d seen her today. Knowing she wouldn’t be alone had put his mind at ease.
Last week, he’d pulled up Ivan’s DMV information. Only one vehicle was registered to him: the Nissan 370X that Lacey had mentioned. The cops had never found the motorcycle rider, but apparently he hadn’t been a threat.
As Jason watched Lacey walk toward him, his pulse picked up. The legs of her stretch jeans disappeared into fur-topped boots with a modest heel, and her oversized sweater fell to about mid-thigh. Soft reddish-blond waves brushed her shoulders, bouncing as she walked.
Man, she looked good. Fifteen years ago, she hadn’t affected him that way.
He needed to keep her from affecting him that way now, too. After all she’d been through, she didn’t need her life upended again when he headed back to Oregon.
As she drew closer, she lifted a hand in greeting and smiled. There was an underlying tenseness in both gestures. Something was bothering her.
He watched her slide into the passenger seat. “What’s wrong?”
She frowned. “After all these years, you shouldn’t still be able to read my thoughts.”
“That’ll never change.” He cranked the engine. “Was it Ivan?”
“No, I haven’t heard from him.”
Tension drained from his shoulders. Whatever was upsetting her, it couldn’t be as bad as hearing from her obsessed ex.
As he pulled from the circular drive onto 294, she heaved a sigh. “I got someone fired today.”
“Darla, a single mother with two young children.”
No wonder she was so down. “What happened?”
“I was researching delayed payments and discovered Medicare fraud. Darla’s been adding line items to some of her claims, then apparently cutting herself checks.”
“If she was doing all that, you don’t need to feel bad for turning her in.”
“But I do. I can’t stop thinking about those kids. Best-case scenario, she’s without a means to support them. Worst-case, she’ll go to jail and her kids will be without a mother.”
Jason made a left onto 64 and headed toward town. When he approached Lacey’s house, a beat-up Bonneville sat next to the Sonic. He glanced over at Lacey, who’d gone pale. “Do we need to call the police?”
He reached across the seat and took her hand. “Don’t let her upset you. She’s where she is through her own choices. If she gets threatening, I’ll intervene.”
He didn’t release Lacey's hand until he’d parked behind her Sonic. The tops of two blond heads were barely visible in the Pontiac’s back seat.
The driver door swung slowly open, and a woman stepped out. Her eyes were puffy and red. Jason watched, compassion stirring inside him. As a single parent, her life was probably an unending struggle. Unfortunately, she’d have to face the consequences of her actions.
The woman approached the passenger side of the Escape. “I need your help. Ruben fired me, said I was committing Medicare fraud. It’s not true. I’m coming to you because you’ve always been so nice. And you’re smart. If anyone can help me, you can.”
Lacey shook her head. Her eyes held sympathy, but the suspicion beneath was unmistakable. “Your initials are on every one of those claims, and you write the checks.”
“It’s not me. I swear it.” Tears overflowed her lower lashes, and she swiped them away. “Ruben does the bank recs and the financial statements. If I was writing myself checks, don’t you think he would have noticed?”
“If it’s coded as a client payment, he wouldn’t pick it up on the bank rec or the financial statements. It’s money in, money out, just like the other claims.”
“Please, all I’m asking is that you look into it.”
Lacey stood silent while indecision skittered across her face. Finally she nodded. “All right. Give me your log-in info. I’m not sure I still have the necessary permissions, and I’d rather not involve Ruben since he’s so sure you’re guilty.”
After Darla left, Jason followed Lacey inside. “You should stay out of this.”
Lacey locked the door and turned to face him. “What if it’s one of the other billing people and Darla is innocent?”
“That’s not your problem.”
“She made it my problem when she asked for my help.”
“And what if you get caught? Logging in leaves a trail.”
“If one of the other ladies is guilty, Ruben will fire her and give Darla her job back. He’ll forgive me. If Darla’s guilty and Ruben learns I tried to clear her, he’ll still forgive me.”
Jason heaved a sigh, not even trying to rein in his frustration.
Lacey had enough problems without trying to dig up more at work.
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