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By:T. R. Ragan

though, he'd surprised everybody by applying and being accepted into the FBI Academy. Nothing could have shocked her more. Although Jared believed in truth and justice and everything his father believed in, he'd made it clear back when she was dating him that hell would have to freeze over before he'd follow in his father's footsteps. His father had been a police officer, an FBI agent, and a judge. Who would have guessed Jared would swim up the same stream?

"Are you there?" he asked.

"I'm still here. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I quit my position as a board member of the Missing and Exploited Children's organization two years ago. I knew if I had to hear the details of one more kidnapping, had to watch one more family fall apart, I'd lose it for good."

She heard his exhale through the telephone line. Jared was having a hard time spitting it out. That wasn't like him. At least it didn't used to be like him. Why now after all this time? It didn't make sense. "I'm sorry," she said again because she didn't know what else to say. "Why don't you tell me what's going on?" And then I'll apologize again and turn your offer down.

"We've got a missing fifteen-year-old girl. Her name's Sophie Madison. The perpetrator came in through Sophie's bedroom window, took the girl, and left a note."

"Well that's promising. They don't usually leave notes. Maybe that's a good sign and he'll be calling for a ransom."

"I wish it were that easy, but the note is addressed to you, Lizzy."

Monday, February 15, 2010 4:15 PM

Cathy Warner stepped out of the car and instantly got a feel for what the local weatherman had been talking about. The air was chilly, the kind of cold that seeped into her bones. On the news she saw a warning for wind chills in the Sacramento area, a combination of cold air and strong winds that would have the potential of causing hypothermia for those who stayed outside too long.

Cathy followed the other parents into the Aquatic Center, past the front desk and through double doors leading to the indoor pool area. Steam hovered over the water. The scent of chlorine was overwhelming. Most of the girls on the swim team stood on the pool's edge, wrapped in towels. A few girls lingered in the water.

Her daughter, Brittany, stood at the back of the group. Brittany's towel was wrapped tightly over hunched shoulders, her gaze directed at the ground while she sucked on the corner of her towel. Cathy wondered if her daughter was nervous about something.

Coach Sullivan stood a good foot and a half over the girls. He was powerfully built, in good shape for a man in his mid-fifties.

Although Brittany had been swimming competitively since she was five, the coach was relatively new. After finishing his spiel, Coach Sullivan shared a few words with each girl individually before they left for home. By the time Cathy reached Brittany's side, it was her daughter's turn to talk with the coach.

Cathy listened as Coach Sullivan talked to her daughter about what she needed to work on in the coming months. The first time Cathy met Coach Sullivan was two months ago. He had been personable and friendly and especially great with the kids. Brittany tended to be shy, an introvert who had a difficult time making friends in school. Lately, she'd been spending too much time on the computer. Her daughter needed the kind of camaraderie that a team sport provided.

"Brittany is way ahead of the pack," Coach Sullivan said directly to Cathy, yanking her from her thoughts. "Today she broke the record in the 50-meter freestyle and in the 50-meter backstroke."

"Wow," Cathy said, embarrassed by Brittany's apparent disinterest.

He smiled. "Now for the bad news. Unfortunately, as I told the other parents, I need to collect another hundred dollars from each swimmer due to increased rent at the Aquatic Center."

Cathy turned toward Brittany. "Dad's not going to be happy about that."

Brittany shrugged. "Dad's never happy."

Despite the chill in the air, heat spread over Cathy's face. "Not a problem," she assured the coach. "We'll bring a check to the next practice."

Once they were out of earshot, Cathy gave her daughter a stern look. "What's wrong with you?"

"I'm tired and these braces are killing me."

Cathy sighed. She'd forgotten about the braces. Of course Brittany would be in pain. As she waited outside the locker room for Brittany to change out of her bathing suit, she thought about what her daughter had said about Dad not being happy. Part of the problem stemmed from Richard's long hours. It didn't help that the economy was spiraling downward. She and Richard had been arguing a lot-usually about her sister Lizzy. Richard didn't like Lizzy spending time with Brittany. He thought her sister was crazy, which wasn't fair. Poor Lizzy. She'd been to hell and back.

Brittany was right. Dad wasn't happy. Lizzy wasn't happy. She wasn't even sure if she was happy any longer. And the worst part was that Cathy didn't know what the hell to do about it.

Monday, February 15, 2010 9:00 PM

Brittany Warner signed onto her computer and saw that i2Hotti was logged on. Her insides did flip-flops. She instant messaged the boy known as i2Hotti, boldly asking him where he'd been for the past two days.

i2Hotti: Why? Did you miss me?

Brit35: no

i2Hotti: admit it...you missed me

Brit35: ok I missed u

i2Hotti: Have u bought a webcam yet?

Brit35: mom said she'd think about it

i2Hotti: Don't u have $$ of your own?

Brit35: i have a b-day soon

i2Hotti: i know

Brit35: how dyk?

i2Hotti: dyk?

Brit35: LOL acronym for "do you know"

i2Hotti: i know a lot of things about u

Brit35: Facebook?

i2Hotti: ya

Brit35: ROTFL

i2Hotti: swim practice today?

Brit35: yeah lame

i2Hotti: Why?

Brit35: new coach is a creeper

i2Hotti: what does he do?

Brit35: he stares

i2Hotti: because u r so pretty


i2Hotti: r u there?

Brit35: yes

i2Hotti: u should get a webcam

Brit35: why?

I2Hotti: cuz I want to see u at when we chat

I2Hotti: then i can dream about u


i2Hotti: still there?

Brit35: i'm here

i2Hotti: anything wrong?

Brit35: i have braces now

Brit35: i look like a freak

Brit35: i don't want u to see me

i2Hotti: i like girls with braces

Brit35: liar

Brit35: hold on

Brit35: i have to shut my door

Brit35: brb

i2Hotti: brb?

Brit35: LOL

Brit35: "be right back"

Brit35: see, already back

i2Hotti: that was quick. parents r fighting again?

Brit35: yes

i2Hotti: about?

Brit35: lizzy

i2Hotti: lizzy?

Brit35: my aunt

i2Hotti: why?

Brit35: dad thinks she's a loony bird

i2Hotti: what does mom think?

Brit35: mom wants to help her

i2Hotti: what do you think?

Brit35: i like her

Brit35: she's hecka fun to be with

i2Hotti: i want to be with u

Brit35: my parents wouldn't like it

i2Hotti: they don't have to know.


I2Hotti: think about it?

Brit35: i better go now

i2Hotti: tomorrow night, same time?

Brit35: i'll be here

i2Hotti: sweet dreams

Brittany logged off and walked to her window. She hadn't wanted to end her conversation with i2Hotti but she could hear Mom walking around upstairs. Mom liked to randomly pop in to see what she was doing. She didn't allow Brittany to lock her door. If Mom knew she was talking to an older boy she'd go ballistic.

Brittany met i2Hotti on the Internet about a month ago. She'd never met him in person, but he sent her a picture after asking her to friend him on Facebook. If she ever did get in trouble for talking to him, it would be worth it. He was hot with a capital H.

She didn't know why he liked her. She wasn't beautiful. Certainly not the sort of