Setup: A pig dug up the body of Molly's ex-husband in her flower bed and JT, Molly's ex-lover, is the investigating officer....
JT smiled at me as he shucked off his jacket and tossed down his leather gloves. He ran a hand over his cropped hair, then walked into the kitchen, sniffing. "Smells good in here. I didn't believe you could do it, but maybe you can cook, Molly. I'll have to taste it to believe it, though."
I was tongue-tied with sudden infatuation. He was very masculine, so tall and broad-shouldered with his face red from the cold and his hair tousled from working outside, the white curls clipped short but springy. I wanted to wrap my arms around him and hug him, just to feel all that male body against mine.
"You just wait," I managed to say, then I went back into the kitchen, my face flaming with color. Yolanda and Kathy exchanged a smug look but I ignored them, not anxious to examine what I was feeling.
JT fit right in with our group, joking with folks as we ate, then helping me decorate the fireplace mantle, bookcases, and windows. I've always had pets, so have never had a Christmas tree, but I always find plenty of other spots to display my Christmas bangles. JT was impressed with my M&M ornament collection, which I'd been collecting for years and which numbered in the dozens. We lined them up in the windows from oldest to newest, setting them carefully onto the sills high above Mr. T's elderly paws. And JT provided the height when it came to stringing my M&M Christmas lights above the fireplace and in the china cabinet.
My brother Don called as we were decorating. He and his family usually came for a visit in the summer, when travel weather was somewhat predictable. He and JT had a long chat, which I covertly tried to overhear, but Yolanda circumvented me by coercing me into the kitchen to dish out Ike's pie. I wasn't able to shake free in time to pick up any juicy gossip. We ended the afternoon with coffee and pie in the living room. I was feeling drowsy with turkey-drug and good cheer, not to mention the several glasses of wine I'd consumed.
"I was wondering how much you remember about the flower show that day Sam disappeared," JT said.
He was stretched out on the other side of the couch from me. We were sharing a hassock, his long legs almost drooping over the end while mine were comfortably propped up on the edge. The other guests were on the other couch, the love seat and in armchairs. JT's gift to me was in the center of the coffee table, like a magical pot sitting next to my Northern Gardener magazine and the latest copy of Writer's Digest.
"Flower show?" I sipped coffee, willing my brain cells to work.
"I know it's been a long time, but I'd like to put together a time line of what happened that day." JT glanced at Yolanda. "Did you go to the show?"
She nodded. "I've volunteered every year for the past twenty years or more. If I recall correctly, I accepted entries that morning at the main building, then I helped set up displays in the barn. It was hot that day. I remember that. I was afraid the flower arrangements would wilt before they got judged."
I nodded sleepily. "It was one of those Indian summer days. It's really stuck in my mind, because when I found Sam and Bobbi Jo in the shed, I remember thinking it was so hot in there, how could they stand it?"
"Shed?" JT's coffee cup paused on the way to his mouth.
"The shed out at the fairgrounds that the Garden Club used to store supplies—you know, potting soil, tools, stuff like that."
"Insecticide?" he asked.
Something in his voice made me sit up a bit. "Yeah. Why?"
"Were you at the flower show all day?"
I heard something again in his voice, an insistent quality that bothered me. "I was there from about seven in the morning," I said. "I was in charge of the show that year. Shirley was Garden Club President, but she didn't do shit." I frowned at my coffee. "Typical of her, she always delegated everything so other people ended up doing all the work. Anyway, I had to be there from seven in the morning until dark every day of the show. It was a long week of preparation, then the show, all capped off by Sam pulling his little stunt, then leaving." I leaned back on the couch. JT was staring into his coffee cup, his long face thoughtful. "What's up, JT?"
"Can someone verify that you were at the show all day and that you didn't see Sam?" He turned to stare at me. I was surprised by the intent, somber look.
"I can," Amelia said immediately.
"Me, too," Paula confirmed. "We were on the committee with Molly. We all spent each day of the show out at the fairgrounds."
"Do you know who Sam had lunch with that day?"
"Lunch?" I struggled to think back to a day five years previously, but soon gave up. "I have no idea, JT. Let's see, it was a Friday. The Garden Show always went from Thursday to Sunday, and Sam left—" I revised myself, "—Sam disappeared on Friday. I figured he'd just taken a room at the motel, since I didn't think he'd leave town on a weekend." I saw JT's puzzled expression. "Sam was a realtor, he was always showing houses on the weekend. After our fight, I figured he'd go to a motel, then maybe come back, pack up more thoroughly, and move out." I sipped my coffee, remembering JT's original question. "Lunch?"
JT nodded. "I've got his Day Planner from that year. I've read through it, but he must have used abbreviations for his clients or something. He's got a notation in his calendar, but I can't figure out who he was meeting that morning at eleven."
"Why is that important?" Ike asked.
JT stared down at his hands. I followed his gaze, seeing the rough chapped skin and the big knobby knuckles. He stared at me. There was something assessing in his gaze, as though he was trying to make up his mind about a decision he had to make.
"What is it, JT?" I asked.
"Sam didn't die from the pitchfork," he said. "He was poisoned."
By Giselle Renarde
Savannah vaguely recalls meeting her roommate’s father years ago, but it isn’t until Eric shows up unannounced one evening that she realizes a fundamental truth about him: Stacy’s dad has got it going on! His career in humanitarian relief makes him college-girl catnip, and his good looks and hot body only sweeten the deal.
Eric doesn’t visit as often as he should, but after catching his wife red-handed with a younger man, he doesn’t know where to turn for consolation. He’s hurt and vulnerable, and though Stacy does her best to cheer him up, no amount of daughterly compassion’s going to heal Eric’s bruised ego. Savannah knows he needs a special woman to lick his wounds. Too bad nobody warned her Eric would bring more baggage than she'd bargained for.
“I’m not going to the hospital.”
“Yes you are,” Eric replied simply. But instead of pulling off his pajama pants and pulling on his jeans, he collapsed beside her on the couch. “Just give me five more minutes.”
She sighed and reached again for the remote, this time with more care. “See?” she said, turning down the volume. “As long as I don’t move too quickly, I’m fine. I’ll just put another round of ice on my ankle and in the morning I’ll be healed.”
Eric’s eyes popped wide open at the mention of ice. “You know, that’s not a bad idea.” Pressing both hands down on the couch, he pushed himself up and hobbled to the kitchen. He sighed as he opened the freezer. The cold seemed to revive him. He brought the tray out and snapped it back and forth before dumping the ice into a metal mixing bowl. Even before leaving the kitchen, he picked up one piece and traced it along the base of his jaw and down his neck. “That’s better,” he said. “Nothing like ice dripping down your neck to wake a guy up.”
“If you say so.” Savannah chuckled. “That’s never been my game.”
He brought the ice to the TV room and sat on the coffee table before placing the metal bowl on her ankle. She flinched, but she didn’t move her foot away. Anything so unnerving must be a help.
“How does that feel?” Eric teased.
He moved the bowl from her ankle and set it on top of a magazine. From it, he swiped a single cube. Savannah cringed as she watched it coming for her, but when the ice made contact with her skin, she was surprised it wasn’t painfully cold. If anything, it tickled.
“How about this?” Eric asked, tracing the cube around her slightly swollen ankle. “How does this feel?”
The ice melted quickly between his fingers and her flesh. Droplets of water trickled down her foot and dripped from her heel onto the throw pillow underneath.
“Good,” she said. To her surprise, it was true. “It feels really good, actually.”
“What if I do this?” Eric asked, picking up a fresh cube and tracing it up the inside of her calf. Shifting her robe aside, he circled it around her knee before drawing it slowing up her thigh. The cold made her tremble now. She felt its effects more between her legs than she had against her ankle. A whole line of water droplets tumbled down her inner thigh, soaking the terrycloth beneath her. She knew where he was going with this, and she wanted to show him she was on board.
Savannah untied her belt and let her robe fall open at the front. Her breasts were warm and soft with sleep. “Do my tits,” she bid. “With the ice. Make them hard.”
A churlish grin bled upon Eric’s pink lips. “You want me to?”
Now Available from eXcessica, Amazon, All Romance ebooks and many other e-tailers. PAPERBACK Coming Soon to Amazon!
You can now get ANIMAL ATTRACTION and ANIMAL INSTINCT, two of my bestselling books, in one megabook, so get ready to curl up with some sexy paranormal stories and fall in love with the hot and hunky twin werewolves, Hunter and Luke McCall!
ANIMAL ATTRACTION, EPIC AWARD FINALIST and Top Ten Bestseller!
Frustrated when none of the real newspapers will hire her as a reporter, Eliza Bradley takes the only job she can get – at a paranormal magazine. Her first assignment takes her to Fairbanks, Alaska to investigate the possibility that a werewolf has killed two local hikers.
Eliza forgets about the story, however, when she meets Hunter McCall, a local college professor and an expert on wolves. The man is an absolute hunk, and she finds herself spending more time in his bed than worrying about werewolves. That is, until she finds out that Hunter isn’t just an animal in the sack, he’s an animal out of it, too - of the werewolf variety! Talk about a complicated relationship.
But Eliza can’t dwell on Hunter’s little shapeshifting issues. There’s another werewolf out there with a taste for human blood, and she and Hunter are the only ones who can stop him.
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ANIMAL INSTINCT, #1 Bestseller!
Artist Heidi Gibson is spending the summer up in Anchorage doing some painting when she gets attacked by a crazed wolf. She is rescued by golden-eyed wildlife biologist Luke McCall, who calmly informs she has been bitten by a werewolf and will turn into one during the next full moon. Thinking he’s obviously out of his mind, she can’t get away from him fast enough.
When strange things start happening to her, however, she begins to think the ruggedly handsome biologist could be right. Not knowing what else to do, she goes to Luke and is stunned to discover that he knows so much about werewolves because he’s one himself.
As Luke teaches her what she needs to know about being a werewolf, Heidi finds herself falling hard for the Alaskan hunk. But while they’re intent on each other, the werewolf that attacked her comes back into the picture, and he’s not exactly happy that another of his kind is trying to take the woman he believes is his rightful mate.
Can Luke and Heidi's attraction overpower the jealousy of the rogue werewolf?
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"Stories so hot, they'll make your cheeks blush!"
5 Red Roses from Red Roses For Authors:
"If you enjoy medieval you must read this, because it is one of the best. This book completely deserves its five red roses - Linda Sole."
To see more details of this title and my other historical titles please go here.
To see the blurb and cover and excerpt please go here:
To Touch the Knight
As a pestilence sweeps medieval England, a low-born woman has only the sharpness of her wits—and the courage of her heart…
Edith of Warren Hemlet plays a dangerous game. At the knights’ tourneys across the land, among the lords and ladies, she is a strange foreign princess. But in the privacy of her tent with the other survivors of her village, she is but a smith’s widow with a silver tongue. They are well-fed, but if discovered, the punishment is death. And one knight—fierce, arrogant, and perilously appealing—is becoming far too attentive…
Sir Ranulf of Fredenwyke cares little for tourneys: playing for ladies’ favors, when his own lady is dead; feasting, while commoners starve; “friendly” combat, when he has seen real war. Still, one lady captivates him—mysterious in her veils and silks, intoxicating with her exotic scents and bold glances. Yet something in her eyes reminds him of home…and draws him irresistibly to learn her secrets…
Here's an EXCERPT from ''To Touch The Knight', featuring the hero Sir Ranulf and the heroine, the mysterious eastern princess, the Lady of Lilies.
Ranulf recognized the jutting gray beard. "Well met, Sir Tancred."
"Sir Dew of the Moon, if you please." The older man turned on the spot, showing off a costume of loose white and silver robes smothered in pearls and silver coins. He had a cap on, too, that looked very much like a nightcap, but one that trailed more ropes of coins.
"Have you a troop of seamstress with you?" Ranulf asked, grinning to show he meant no ill-will.
"Nay, but my lady guessed it would be unknown knights. It is a popular theme."
"Indeed." A dormant streak of mischief, long banished since he had been a squire, stirred in Ranulf. He knew very well who Sir Tancred's lady was. "Would you swap masks and costumes with me?"
There was a rustle of cloth and coins as the older knight shook his head. "I have promised to escort my lady."
"May I escort her also? We could stroll on either side: Sir Dew and Sir Jade."
"I do not think my lady would like this..."
"If you allow it, I will joust in your amour and you keep the prizes."
As they shook hands, a rattle of drums sounded and a woman robed in yellow, scarlet and blue came down the castle steps, arm in arm with a short, burly man, wearing a mask of tall, sweeping peacock feathers and a feather cloak.
"Lady Rainbow and Lord Phoenix!" roared an iron-throated herald, to a pattering of applause.
Behind these came the other ladies, gaudy in tight, long sleeved gowns of blue and scarlet, purple and gold. Ranulf saw Giles, whom he recognized by his cocksure air and costume of long blue robe and black mask - the role of sea knight, which Giles had played at other jousts - rush to escort a lady who seemed to be a sparkle of gold.
"Beauty needs no foil," he murmured. He wagered that once the ladies unmasked, Giles would be disappointed.
"And are you beautiful, sir knight?" asked a new voice behind him.
"My lady!" Sir Tancred bowed so low that a rope of coins and the tip of his headdress touched the dirt. "We looked for you, Sir Jade and myself. We did not see you come with the other damsels. Where, too, are your attendants?"
"I chose another way, my lord, a way less crowded," came the calm response. "Sir Jade?"
His heart hammering as it never did when he was about to tilt, Ranulf determined to be equally reserved. "You will know jade, my lady, being as you are from far away." He patted his moss-strewn chest. "I am the English kind. But I see you disapprove of me."
He looked down, straight into a veiled face dominated by a pair of brilliant eyes, as large as a falcon's, and as piercing.
"Sir Jade, you are mistaken." Turning away from him without more ado, the lady threaded a narrow hand deftly through Sir Tancred's waiting arm. "I congratulate you on the elegance and wit of your mask and costume, Sir Dew. This fore-noon you will dazzle us all."
She had not answered his question on her lack of servants, but the older man straightened and stroked his white robes as if they were the finest ermine. “It is because of you, my lady. You were my inspiration.”
"What do you think of mine?" Ranulf interrupted. Usually he had no time for such folly; play like this reminded him of Olwen, of what he had lost. Yet this cool veiled green damsel piqued him: perversely he wanted her to think well of him.
The cool bright eyes studied him. "I find you apt, sir. Today I am the lady of jade." She offered him her free hand. "What do you think of me?"
She stepped closer as if daring him to touch. A sweet, rich perfume rose from her as she moved.
"You are as green as Roman glass, my lady," he remarked.
"And as slippery?" she countered.
"As green as jade," Sir Dew/Tancred put in, keen not to be left out of this encounter.
"I did not say that," Ranulf answered, disliking to have thoughts assumed of him, even if they were right. "Are you always veiled?"
"It is the custom of my people. Women go veiled. Some men, too."
"The old and ugly," said Tancred, but Ranulf ignored him.
"Are such loose clothes also the custom?" he asked. She was a pale green shimmer, clad head to toe in a filmy, billowing sheet of something - whether robe, tunic or gown, he could not say.
"These are the clothes I wear and how I wear them when I am walking," she said. "When I am watching the joust, I will be so," and she twisted her arms.
At once the sheet about her settled snugly over her hips and became a single slender rope across her left shoulder, running cross-wise over her narrow waist and surprisingly full breasts. Beside him and around him Ranulf heard the gasps and sensed the stares - he would be gawping, too, he wagered. Beneath the green shimmer, which he could not honestly call a cloak, but then he had no other words to describe it, the lady was all but naked.
She hides her face but still wears less than a tavern wench, was his astonished thought.
Truly, she wore a tiny golden bodice or jerkin over her bosom, cut to show the tops of her arms and breasts, and stopping before the last of her ribs, so that her upper arms and her middle were bare, naked and bare. Ranulf found himself leaning in to her, almost reaching for her slender waist and copper-colored, smooth-as-silk skin. He was reminded now, crudely and starkly, that he had not lain with any woman for months. The blood thumping in his ears and more painfully elsewhere, his mind flashed to the little modest maid of the morning, who had darted off. Two different kinds of challenges.
"You are the very season for lilies, princess, "he said, making a play of breathing in slowly and commenting on her perfume because she expected him to scold or praise her costume.
"Today I am the Lady Jade," she reminded him anew, nodding to a belt of green beads wound about her hips and several bracelets of green bangles. One of the nearby knights started to say something in French, but Ranulf stared at him and the man instantly went quiet. He clasped the hand she offered, amazed that she should be wearing gloves up to her elbows.
"Have you a favor in that costume for me?" he asked, while the knights about hitched their eyebrows at her strange attire and the ladies in masks made a point of not glancing her way.
"Alas, Sir Jade! My favors are all given out."
“Your face-veil is green and we shall soon be unmasking. ‘Tis considered unmannerly to remain masked when the lord and lady are not.”
"Thank you for pointing out that custom, Sir Jade. To be sure, I did not know it."
"To be sure you did, princess." Ranulf squeezed her fingers, tempted to shake her until her bracelets and beads rattled.
"I will remove that veil when we reach the place of tourney," she replied, not in the least discomforted by his outright denial.
They were moving by this time, strolling to the jousting ground, the princess in her fantastic costume floating like a low green cloud between him and Sir Tancred.
"May I claim it?" he asked. "I am jade, as you."
"Huurph!" grunted Sir Tancred.
"Forgive me, sir, but I cannot grant your request. To do so would be to break faith with others."
"I understand completely," Ranulf replied, looking over the princess's veiled head at Sir Tancred. "We must honor our agreements."
Best wishes, Lindsay T
Lindsay Townsend, historical romance.
THE VIRTUAL VALENTINE, Minx Tobin Mysteries Case 4
Author: Susanne Marie Knight
Genre: mystery romance
Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing
Blurb: Online serial dater turns out to be a serial killer. But when Death claims this murderer, why is Minx also in danger?
The sight of another man pawing at his woman caused Gabe to clench his teeth. Or perhaps he should amend that thought. His would-be woman. His would-be woman who seemed to get around. The fitness instructor, Dallas Porter, in no way could be mistaken for the military figure that had knocked -- and been admitted to -- Minx's apartment in the early hours of the morning.
"Am I interrupting something?" Gabe couldn't hide the sneer in his voice.
"Not at all. I was just leaving." Porter stood smoothly, then leaned over Minx. "Good luck, dear heart," he said in sotto voce.
Gabe waited until the man took his sculpted ass elsewhere, then sat. "So, here we are."
She appeared ill-at-ease, as well she should. Her pale pink lips trembled slightly and her feathery eyebrows drew downward as if with worry. She even nibbled on her lower lip -- an unconscious habit she had whenever she was nervous.
After working her mouth, she finally got words out. "I-I'm surprised to see you so early, Gabe."
He shrugged. "You called earlier, so I thought I'd stop by and see you."
Unspoken hostilities swirled in the air between them. Both of them tap danced around what they really wanted to spit out. It was like having an elephant in the room, yet pretending not to notice.
"How about some coffee?" Minx played the hostess. What else had she played with that midnight soldier?
He shrugged again. "Sure."
While she was up with her back toward him, he feasted his gaze on her curvaceous butt. The tight exercise material hugged every undulating swell, every shapely twitch.
He inwardly cursed. Damn. As he'd thought before, he had it bad.
She returned and set his cup on the table. "Here you go." Then came a pause. "How's the serial killer case going? I heard about the new victim."
So it was back to business. She continued to keep secret her clandestine rendezvous.
Visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTGkLGFbC5c to see a trailer of this book.
Coming December 2011: Minx's next case, The Yuletide Yorkshire.
Hope you enjoy!
Susanne Marie Knight
Read outside the box: award-winning Romance Writing With A Twist!
Ariela suspects the king's death is no accident. And the tyrant who usurped the throne looks guilty as hell. As leader of the Human rebellion against the Mutant rulers, Ariela is desperate for help, and Lord Starro, the handsome Crown Prince of the Star Children, offers the technology the Human faction lacks. But can Ariela trust a spoiled, arrogant foreign prince who never fought a battle, and thinks he is destined to rule the universe? Is she trading one tyrant for another? No matter how kind, handsome, or fascinating, Starro has frightening mental abilities. And this alliance is not safe, especially for Ariela's heart.
She scowled her deep blue eyes at him and pulled the blanket up to his shoulders. "You have not earned the right to die, Lord Starro. Too many lives depend on your survival."
"Please, don't call me lord." He scoffed and grimaced at the stabbing sensation inside his chest. "You don't understand..."
"You will get better." Her stoic confidence didn't boost his.
He clenched his jaw against another spasm. "There is no recovery from this drug. Only slow, agonizing death. I'm already dead."
Ariela steadied his twitching arm with a firm hand. He closed his eyes briefly, enjoying the calming effect of her touch. He wished they had more time. He wanted a chance to know her. But his quick death would prevent his shame and dishonor. She was Human, hence forbidden... yet Beloved.
She frowned at him. "How can you give up hope? I thought the Star Children were models of righteousness."
The criticism hurt more than the cramps in his innards. Starro managed to sit up on the bed and she pulled and fluffed the pillows for him to lean back.
He let out a calming breath, grateful for her soothing presence. "You have no right to judge me or my people."
"You are their prince. You can't give up. Your people need you." Her condemning gaze upset him greatly.
Starro grimaced but noticed the cramps had somehow lessened to an almost tolerable level. "What have you done to me? I should be dead."
The woman's smile illuminated the square room carved into the rock. "I guess it wasn't your time to die."
Starro chuckled and immediately regretted it as pain shot through his body. "Who says when it's time?"
"The Great Engineer of the Universe, that's who." She flashed a devilish grin. "But I like to help whenever I can."
Starro closed his eyes and the golden light caressed the regular planes of his face. "Still no sign of pursuit."
Ariela wrenched her gaze from his athletic body, a hint of shame warming her cheeks. She scrutinized their surroundings. "Assassins use stealth. We must keep our eyes open."
"I don't need my eyes to know there are none close to us." His neutral tone barely covered a subtle impatience.
"What exactly can you do that Humans cannot?" The question had been on Ariela's mind for a while. "If you explain it to me, I won't have to bruise your precious ego at every turn."
"You speak straight as an assassin's arrow." Starro gave a short, nervous laugh. "But it wouldn't be wise to tell our secrets to a foreigner. All foreigners are potential enemies."
Ariela couldn't help the flare of anger in her voice. "I thought we were allies against Lord Kohl and his blasted Mutant freaks!"
He flinched. Did her swearing bother him? Too bad.
His expression turned serious. "We are allies. So, I guess I should tell you." He straightened his long, muscled legs. The loose silk trousers tucked into white boots showed signs of dust, and the trek had scuffed the fine material. "We Star Children do not take these gifts lightly, and keeping them secret insures our advantage when conflicts arise. We pride ourselves in resolving most disputes without bloodshed."
"Blood is shed all the time." Ariela scoffed. "You can't avoid spilling blood, especially in an all out war."
"Yet, our gifts allowed us this luxury... thus far." He sighed. "I fear this is the end of a peaceful era. The specter of war is upon us."
"So what are these mysterious gifts?" The words came out sharper than Ariela intended.
He flashed an uneasy smile then stared at the ground.
Ariela resented his stubborn silence. "What if I give you my word as a warrior never to tell a soul? Will you trust me then?"
"I do trust you, Beloved mine." His warm voice in her mind again. "But even the best of us can be made to talk."
Ariela sighed, finally accepting that he could speak in her mind. "I guess you found that out in Kohl's dungeon."
He lifted his piercing gaze, and his jovial smile returned. "All right. I owe you the truth. We inherited our gifts from a now extinct race called the Estrell."
Award-winning Romantic Science Fiction with a Kick
SETUP: A co-worker has died at the company potluck, and Jessie's brownies were initially suspected. But now she's discovered that Gus Colcannon, a new employee, has been hired to 'look into things at the company'.
Oh -- and Jessie has a habit of doing wycinanki (paper cutting) – when she's nervous.
* * * * *
He put his hands over mine, stilling their motion. "Jessie." His voice was very soft and gentle, almost caressing.
"What happened to Charlie? What's going on? Why are you worried about that hunter? Did my brownies kill him? What--" I suddenly realized he was holding my hands. My eyes jerked upward, to his. He was smiling, his hazel eyes alight with humor and… "What?" My breath hitched.
"Can't a guy be interested in a pretty woman?" He stared at me, his face close to mine. The soft hair of his beard around his mouth was tempting. I knew it would be smooth and silky to the touch.
"Hmm?" I was very, very close to kissing him.
He smiled, crinkle lines appearing like unfolded fans at the side of his eyes. "Jessie?"
I pulled back and regarded him. "Why?"
Now it was his turn to pull back. He released my hands. "What?"
"Why are you interested in me?"
"Well, because--uh--because--" A dark flush started edging up his cheeks.
Disappointment surged through me but I didn't let it show. "What's going on, Gus? You're not the kind of guy to flirt with a woman like me."
"Really?" I saw something in his eyes, a hint of anger or maybe disappointment. "I suppose it would be futile to argue with you."
I brandished my scissors at him. "You bet it would be. Confess."
"Sorry. I'm interested because John asked me to keep an eye on things here. And because Charlie--" I was sure I saw anger flash in his eyes. "I blew that. He shouldn't have been hurt."
"You're not very reassuring about your competence. Are you a cop or something?"
"Keep your voice down, would you?" He looked over his shoulder.
"Well, are you?"
"Sort of. I'm helping the police, let's just leave it at that."
I snipped, tiny bits of paper dropping onto the towel on my lap, my concession to the cleaning crew. I kept my voice low. "I'm not stupid. And I'm not brave. I'm scared. So answer my questions. You think somebody in my company killed Charlie. I want to know what I have to do to make sure I'm not next." I began to sniffle. "Charlie was a nice guy. Do you know how I'm feeling right now?" I wiped at my tears. "Do you? Damn it, say something, Colcannon. Tell me why I should trust you? Tell me--"
He put a hand on the side of my face and wiped away a tear with his thumb. "It's okay. They're not going to hurt you."
I wanted to believe him. I wanted to abdicate responsibility and let somebody else do the worrying for a change, just for a little while. It had been so long since I'd had anyone to share with. I longed for that sense of belonging, that feeling of security.
I sniffled and it woke me back to reality. This wasn't a fairy story. I swallowed hard. "I'm not going to trust you unless I see some kind of badge or ID."
He jerked his hand away as if I'd bitten him. Anger flared in his eyes. "I can't do that."
"Fine." I focused my attention on the paper in my hands.
I refused to meet his eyes. The chair squeaked as he stood up. There was a long pause. I know he was staring down at me.
"I'm sorry, Jessie." He touched my shoulder then left.
I raised my head, the Yellow Submarine forgotten in my hands. I stared out the atrium window, swamped by anger and a twisting sense of failure. I had no right to be so upset but I was. I had thought Gus and I were friends of a sort, united by Charlie's death if nothing else. This refusal to trust me hurt, even though it shouldn't.
A flash of light on the other side of the atrium broke my trance. Brian was sitting at his desk, his back to me. Sunlight was bouncing off the small mirror he had positioned on the top of his monitor. I wondered if he'd seen Gus and me talking.
I didn't hear Gus in his cube. He'd either gone to another meeting or left. I stared at my computer screen for a few minutes then wandered into the mailroom and grabbed magazines and some envelopes from my slot. I came back and stared some more, then gave up. I decided to pack it in and work from home that night.
I bundled up and made for the elevator. Maybe a swim at the gym on the way home would help put me in the right frame of mind.
An hour later, I'd done my obligatory half-hour in the pool. It was as I was lying in the sauna that it struck me. Charlie had said he would give me a copy of his presentation for the conference.
Where was it?
I showered and dressed in record time, emerging from the building with my hair still wet. I pawed through my briefcase in the back seat of the car, pulling out the stack of mail I'd gotten from the office. A 5x7 envelope was inside with my name printed on it in block letters. I opened it with shaking hands and pulled out a CD.
"Holy shit," I whispered.