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That got her to look at him. "Why? I'm a fully qualified teacher, I assure you."

"I figured, or Welch wouldn't have asked you to do the job. I meant you're not trained."

"At what?"

"Lying, for starters."

Her brow arched as if to say, like you? "I shall be a teacher on a new assignment. That's no fib. I want to become acquainted with my students and their families. That's no fib either."

"But you don't know what the man we're seeking is like. Any who cross him aren't given the benefit of the doubt. They're, well—"

"Dead, like my father."

Dash's vision darkened. "What?"

"Father passed thousands of dollars in Pitch's bogus currency through his bank. His conscience apparently got the better of him, though, because he wanted out of the mutually lucrative arrangement, according to Mr. Welch." She glanced at him. "But as Mr. Welch told me and Mother, no one stops doing business with Pitch. Pitch killed Father on the bank steps. Four years ago."

There weren't sufficient words to express his sorrow. "I'm sorry."

"Thank you for your condolences." She sipped her coffee.

These past four years had not been kind to Abby. Her round cheeks had hollowed, and there was a hardness to her now. Her lips used to be soft and pink, not this thin line of pain, and her eyes, well, they could always blaze fire when she was angry. He'd just never seen so much anger in her before.

"How's your mother?"

"She succumbed to pneumonia a year ago. Natural causes, but I blame Pitch regardless. He broke her heart and stole her will to live. She was not the same person after Father's death."

Ah, no. Mrs. Bracey was a kind woman with soft eyes and a ready smile.

An ache hit him under his rib cage.

Abby had lost so much. She deserved better than to be thrust into the middle of this mess.

Yet the middle was precisely where she seemed to want to be. "Dash, I know what kind of man Pitch is, but Mr. Welch assured me I would be safe because Pitch isn't in Nebraska."

"That may be, but I don't know that it's wise that you go." She was capable, surely, but what if something went wrong?

"Ahem." Welch's tone drew both their gazes. "I do not know how you know one another, nor, to be frank, do I care, but if you cannot work together, I shall find others who will."

"I'm not walking away from my case." Dash gripped his cup.

"I'm certainly not passing an opportunity to help catch my father's killer." Abby pushed away her plate of half-eaten meat and vegetables. "Mr. Welch, you said the operative wouldn't be in Nebraska with me. Is that true?"

"Yes." Welch lifted his cup. "Lassiter will give you the information you require about the students and community, and after that you will not be in contact again until you determine the boy's identity."

Her gaze fixed at the wall for a few seconds. "If you promise to not contact me or come to Wells, Dash, then I suppose I do not require a new operative after all."

"I promise. But I will escort you to the train when you go—don't argue with me, I must report to my superiors that I witnessed you board the train. And you have to stomach me long enough for me to tell you what I know about the boys and their mothers."

"Can you not send a file for me to peruse at my leisure?"

"It's not a ladies' magazine. It's a secret dossier. You'll get an oral report."

"I'll take notes, then."

A thousand times no. "And take them with you? What if the family you live with happens to see them?"

"I'd—hide them in my trunk."

"A place no landlady has ever snooped." Sarcasm dripped like a spring thaw.

Welch smiled. "It's policy, Miss Bracey."

"Oh, well then, of course."

Dash snorted.

The waiter returned, eyebrows lifted halfway to his hairline. "More coffee?"

"No," they all said at once.

This excerpt ends on page 20 of the paperback edition.

Monday we begin the book A Long Time Comin’ by Robin W. Pearson.

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