Chapter 1

Early morning sunlight filtered through the stained glass windows of Mars Investigations, casting yellow and red pools across the floor and walls. The effect was rather soothing, and not at all conducive to productivity. Veronica's eyes strayed longingly towards the shabby old couch against the wall for several seconds, before she turned her attention back to the task at hand.

"How you making out, kiddo?"

Veronica looked up to find her dad standing in the doorway to his office, coffee mug in hand. She stretched a large rubber band around a stack of files, dumping them unceremoniously into the open box beside her. "Well, that's the last of the Goodman files."

Keith Mars grimaced, attempting to hide it by taking a quick sip of coffee. That case had led both of them down unexpectedly perilous paths, and Veronica's involvement in the investigation had nearly gotten her killed. She knew her father still blamed himself for inadvertently putting her in danger, even though she'd spent the last two weeks trying to convince him that it hadn't been his fault.

"As much as I appreciate you coming in here to reprise your role of secretary, today, I think you should go home and get some sleep. It's only-" Keith paused to look down at his watch. "Eight o'clock in the morning, California time."

"Well I'm still on New York time, so it feels like eleven," Veronica replied, waving her hand dismissively. "And FYI, I prefer the term 'administrative tsar'."

Keith smiled at her affectionately, taking another sip of his coffee. He made a face, setting the mug down on top of a nearby filing cabinet. "And would it be beneath the administrative tsar to get her old man a coffee and a danish, from that fancy new joint down the block?"

"Not if you're buying."

He pulled out his wallet and handed her a five. "Here, treat yourself to one of those caramel mocha concoctions your generation is so partial to."

Veronica held up the money doubtfully. "Um, Dad? This might cover the foam on top of the latte."

Keith shook his head in disbelief, handing her a twenty and taking back the five. "Fifty cents, in my day."

"Actually," Veronica corrected. "Fifty Cent is from my day."

She grinned at his bemused expression, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek before heading out the door.

xxXxx

As much fun as she'd had in Manhattan, Veronica hadn't been a fan of the sticky, humid heat. It had risen off the pavement in filmy waves, giving her a new appreciation for the word "sweltering". She took her time walking back to the office, enjoying the familiar feel of the mild California sunshine on her face.

A buzzing sensation against her thigh snapped her back to the present. She set the coffee tray and brown bag down on a nearby bench and retrieved her cell phone from her jeans pocket. The name on the screen brought a smile to her face, and she flipped the phone open to answer the call.

"It's a little early for a booty call," she noted.

"It's never too early for a booty call," Logan corrected. His voice was a bit gravelly; she could tell he'd just woken up.

"Good to know," she teased. "I'll add that intel to your file."

"I only wish you were joking about having a file on me," he replied dryly. "Tell me, what other morsels have you collected? Food allergies? The name of my first pet? The place I'm most ticklish?"

"Shellfish, Gilligan and the backs of your knees," she returned quickly, smiling rather smugly into the receiver.

"Only two out of three?" Logan chided. "Wow, a week apart and it's like you don't even know who I am anymore."

Her mouth dropped open in disbelief. Veronica was certain about the shellfish; she'd been there, once, when a crabmeat appetizer had sent him into anaphylactic shock. And I've never quite recovered from hearing the sad tale of Gilligan the turtle. Which means…

"I know you're ticklish there," she insisted.

"I am," he agreed. "But it's not where I'm most ticklish."

"Well I'm officially launching a thorough investigation," she informed him.

"Mmm, I look forward to it."

The tone of his voice sent a pleasantly nervous tingle through her abdomen. She and Logan were just barely a couple again, but true to form they were settling into their old patterns. Banter, flirt, evade, repeat. Both of us so eager to cover our worn, peeling pasts with a glossy new layer of paint.

Veronica cleared her throat. "Why are you up so early, anyway?"

"What, it's not in my file?" he teased. "It's high tide in twenty minutes."

"Ah," she replied. "And which of your degenerate friends will be joining you on the waves this morning?"

There was a long pause, and Veronica cringed when she realized why. Duncan's gone, Dick's in the Caymans and Cassidy's dead. He doesn't have anyone left to go surfing with.

"I'm, uh, going it alone today," he finally answered, somehow managing to keep his tone even. "Unless you're finally ready to accept those lessons I offered?"

"Not today," she declined. "I'm helping my dad get things organized in the office. You'd think the fine people of Neptune could take it easy on the crime for one measly week, but no such luck. While we were gone, the cheaters cheated and bail jumpers jumped."

"Criminals," he scoffed. "They really are good for nothing."

"Except crime," Veronica amended. "Well, until they screw up and we catch them."

"Right," Logan laughed. "Listen, I've got to run. The tides are sort of punctual. But dinner tonight, right? I want to hear all about your trip."

"Pick me up at seven," she confirmed.

Veronica and Logan said their goodbyes and she continued towards the office, feeling lighter after their conversation. Despite their skilled avoidance at discussing the many looming topics that needed to be discussed, sometimes the knowledge that he'd been through it all with her was just enough to keep her sane.

xxXxx

Veronica arrived back at the building at the same time as a tall man dressed in a well-tailored suit. He held the door open for her, offering a polite smile, and she thanked him and headed up the stairs.

No sooner had she set the coffee down on her desk than did she hear the door to the office open behind her. The suited man stepped into the room, closing the door gently behind him and turning to face her.

"Hello," he greeted in a melodic British accent. The man crossed the room towards her, transferring his briefcase to his left hand and reaching out his right. "I'm Charles Bentley."

She shook his hand briefly, eyeing him with interest. Their usual clientele was decidedly less courteous. And nowhere near as well-dressed. "Veronica," she replied, shaking his proffered hand.

"Pleasure to meet you. I've got an eight-thirty appointment with Mr. Mars, but I'm afraid I'm a bit early."

"Eight-thirty?" she repeated. Veronica glanced down at her desk calendar, affecting an expression of mild confusion as she flipped through the pages. "I'm sorry, Mr. Bentley, I don't seem to have you on the schedule…"

It was a lie; his name was written clearly in her father's neat print on the calendar. She was trying to get him to divulge more information, in an attempt to discover what, exactly, her father had been up to for the past week. Not only had his mysterious case delayed him from joining her in New York for three days, but her dad hadn't disclosed a single detail about it to Veronica.

"Oh, dear, have I gotten the date mixed up?" he asked worriedly. "I do apologize. I could have sworn I had it right."

"Maybe it's under your company name instead?" she suggested. "Who do you work for?"

He eyed her doubtfully. "Charles Bentley Art Appraisals. I'm here to consult on-"

"Mr. Bentley?" her father spoke up, walking forward quickly. "I'm Keith Mars. Thank you for coming in this morning. Please, step into my office." He cast Veronica an exasperated look as Mr. Bentley walked into his office, mouthing the words "nice try". She handed him his coffee and danish with a sweet smile.

Her dad disappeared into his office, shutting the door firmly behind him. Veronica stared at the closed door wistfully. It wasn't like him to miss out on nearly half of their vacation, especially when that vacation had been his special graduation gift to her. And not even a hint to me as to what it was all about. Which means, whatever it was, it was big.

Veronica shrugged off her hoody and slung it over the back of her chair, vowing not to become preoccupied with her father's current case. She placed both hands on her hips as she surveyed the paper-covered desk before her, trying to decide what to tackle next. There was still a lot of work to do.

She'd just begun organizing the files on Terrence Cook when the door to the office swung open, revealing a pretty brunette who looked to be in her early twenties. The woman hesitated at the door for half a moment before closing it behind her and stepping forward.

"Um, hi," she began, offering Veronica a small smile. "I don't have an appointment or anything, but I was hoping to speak with Mr. Mars?"

"I'm sorry, he's with another client right now," Veronica replied. "I'm not sure how long he's going to be. Why don't I take down your information, and-"

"I don't mind waiting," the young woman interjected quickly. "I live sort of far from here, and well, I…" She laughed shortly. "To be honest, I'm afraid if I leave I'll lose my nerve and never come back."

Instantly intrigued, Veronica sat down at her desk, gesturing wordlessly to a nearby chair. The girl took a seat, flashing a grateful look in her direction. Veronica cleared her throat. "Do you mind telling me what this is about?" she asked. "I may be able to get started on your case, while my- while Mr. Mars is occupied."

Veronica was prepared for the usual look of disbelief; that presumption that no one as young as herself could possibly be able to help. Yet, this time, it didn't come.

"That would be great," her new client agreed quickly. "But I don't know where to start."

Veronica pulled a notepad and pen out of the top drawer of her desk. "Let's start with your name."

"Oh, sorry, it's Rose. Rose D'Angelo."

"I'm Veronica. So, what brings you here today?"

"I want to find my mom."

Veronica felt her lips tighten at the words. Lost mothers were still a rather sore subject; her own wounds hadn't quite scabbed over yet. But she kept her tone composed, as her pen hovered over her notepad. "And when did she go missing?"

"Go missing?" Rose repeated.

"Yeah, or when was the last time you saw her?" Veronica clarified.

"When I was born, I guess. She gave me up for adoption," Rose explained.

"Ah. And have you ever searched for her before?"

"No, not really. I mean, I've done a couple of half-assed internet searches, but I've never, like, seriously looked for her."

"Can I ask why you're interested in finding her now?" Veronica questioned.

Rose shook her head slightly. "I'm not even sure myself. I guess I've always been curious, but I didn't want to hurt my dad's feelings. I didn't want him to think he wasn't enough. But now…" She paused, looking down for several seconds. When she glanced back up, her eyes were wet. "He passed away, a few months ago, from liver cancer. And he was… I don't really have anyone else."

"I'm so sorry," Veronica said softly. She reached across her desk to hand a box of tissues to Rose, refusing to dwell on the prospect of losing her own father. She'd thought she had, just two weeks earlier, and it had been the darkest day of her life.

She waited silently while Rose dabbed at her eyes and got her breathing under control. When she appeared to be ready to continue, Veronica spoke. "So when you say your dad, you mean-"

"My adoptive dad, yeah. Frank."

"And where's your adoptive mom?"

Rose shrugged. "Vegas, I think. That's where she was the last time I spoke with her. She left when I was six. My dad raised me by himself."

"So he's the one who told you? That you'd been adopted?"

"No." Rose fidgeted in her chair. "No one's actually told me," she admitted. "But I know that I was."

Veronica tilted her head. "How do you know?"

Rose gave her a wry smile. "I'm doing my post-grad in Genetics, at Stanford," she replied. "And there are just way too many things that don't add up, from a scientific perspective."

"Genetics, wow," Veronica replied, fighting the twinge of jealousy at the mention of Stanford. Up until a few weeks ago, it was where she'd thought she'd be heading, after graduation. Until I blew my last chance at the Kane scholarship. "Impressive."

"It's fascinating," Rose replied, perking up significantly. "Like, I found out when I broke my thumb that I'm polydactyl; I was born with six fingers. The doctor pointed it out on my x-ray. And the crazy thing is that genetically, it's a dominant trait." She held up her left hand. "If you look really, really closely, you can still see the scar."

"Do you always begin conversations this way?" Veronica quoted. At Rose's confused look, she added, "You know, six fingers on your left hand? The Princess Bride?" She waved her hand quickly. "Never mind. Okay, so you're fairly certain that Frank wasn't your biological father?"

"I'm about 99.8% certain," Rose confirmed. "Basically, I'd have to be a complete genetic anomaly for him to be my dad."

"Got it. Okay, so unless Charles Xavier has sent you an evite to his School of Gifted Youngsters, we can safely assume you're not a mutant," Veronica reasoned.

"Unfortunately not," Rose grinned, clearly getting the reference. Her smile faded, and she looked down. "But my dad, uh- he never knew that I knew. I didn't have the heart to tell him."

Ambiguous paternity: a Neptune staple, Veronica thought, jotting down notes on her pad. She'll fit right in, in this town.

It hadn't been so long ago that her own father's paternity had been in question. Thankfully, he'd turned out to be her biological father. But Wallace and Mac weren't so lucky. Veronica stopped writing; she'd never thought about that, before. Just one more thing we have in common, I guess.

She looked up, refocusing her attention on Rose. "And your mother?" she asked. "Have you spoken with her about any of this?"

"No," Rose replied, her expression darkening. "But I know she's not my real mother."

Veronica nodded. Her face remained blankly neutral, while her mind sifted through the facts. She'd dealt with several cases where a suspected adoption hadn't actually been an adoption. And it's no mystery why Rose doesn't want to believe that her mother is really her mother. The woman abandoned her.

More than likely, she would discover that Rose's mother had had an affair, passing Rose off to her husband as his own child. It was far more common than people realized. Yet it was her job to look into every alternative. If Rose's suspicions were correct, and her father wasn't related to her by blood, it was reasonable to consider adoption as a viable possibility.

But first I've got to figure out if her mother is her biological mother. Veronica flipped back through her notes. "You said your mom is in Las Vegas?"

"She was a few months ago," Rose confirmed. "But she tends to move around a lot."

"Do you happen to have her address? I'll also need her full name, date of birth, and any other information you may have on her."

"Deidre D'Angelo," Rose told her. She rolled her eyes. "She kept my dad's last name because she liked the way it sounded. She lives in one of those big retirement communities out there, uh, Sun City I think? She's 'taking care' of her aunt, Ginnie Collins. But really she just wanted a free place to crash."

Sounds charming. "Does she have a job?"

"Yeah, she's waitressing at Caesar's. Before that I think she was at the Mirage."

Rose went on to give her some additional information about her mother, and then Veronica asked her about herself. Rose was twenty-two years old and living off-campus with her roommate up in Woodside. She was taking summer classes, in an attempt to graduate by January.

Once Veronica felt certain that she'd covered all of the essentials, they discussed payment and Rose wrote her a check.

"Here you go," Veronica said, handing her back a receipt. Both girls stood up. Rose was very tall, nearly six feet; she towered over Veronica.

As they shook hands, Veronica studied her closely. Beneath the red-rimmed eyes and mascara smudges was an extremely pretty young woman. Thick brown waves framed a delicate face, complete with creamy skin and high cheekbones. Her wide eyes were bright green, framed by long black lashes. There was something strangely familiar about them.

"I promise I'm not trying to hit on you or anything, but I have to ask- have you ever modeled?" Veronica questioned.

"Are you asking because I'm an Amazon woman?" Rose guessed.

"A very pretty Amazon woman…" Veronica amended.

"I'm just glad you didn't ask if I play basketball. Because I get that one a lot."

"Oddly, I don't have an aching desire to know."

"I appreciate that," Rose said with a grin. "I actually was approached by a modeling agency once, as a teenager. I wanted to do it, but my dad urged me to pursue my education instead. He said it would be a crime to let my mind go to waste." She shrugged. "So I listened to him."

Veronica glanced at her dad's closed office door rather guiltily. Meanwhile, my dad thinks it would be a waste to let my mind go to crime. She looked back towards Rose. "He must have been very proud of you," she smiled. "Was he in the scientific field as well?"

"No, he was a janitor."

Veronica considered that, trying to think of the most delicate way to pose her next question. "So if your father was a janitor and your mom works as a waitress, I'm just wondering-"

"How they could afford to adopt me in the first place?" Rose surmised.

"Well… yeah," Veronica confirmed.

"My dad used to be a contractor," she explained. "One of his employees got into an accident on the job and lost his leg. His family sued and took everything we had." Her expression soured. "That's why my mom left, I think. Before that, she didn't have to work. We had a nice house, a pool…"

Veronica nodded. This sounds familiar. "Got it," she replied. "Well, I've got your number and I'll be in touch."

"Thanks, Veronica." Rose smiled. "I can't wait to hear what you find out." She made her way towards the door.

Veronica hesitated. When her client's hand was on the doorknob, she spoke up. "Listen, Rose… Try not to get your hopes up too much, okay? Private adoptions can be tricky. And even if we do find out who your mother is, she may not be willing to speak with you."

Rose nodded. "I know. But it's worth a shot, right?"

Not always. Veronica nodded, forcing a smile, and Rose shut the door behind her.

A/N Thanks for reading. Please review :)