Authors: Audrey Claire
Tags: #Mystery: Paranormal - North Carolina
Ian leaned toward Bernie with a half smile that did not light the cold eyes. “Summer tourist season must be a good time for you.”
“Yes!” Bernie beamed, as if a man like Ian McClain understanding him was the highlight of his existence. “I love this time of year. Sometimes, when there’s a festival, I can make enough to have a decent winter.”
“And Sadie?” Ian prompted.
Bernie slumped in his seat, his fingers gripping his pants leg. “I hate that it happened. Some of the tourists have already left, and the festival was cut short after it was found out that Sadie was murdered. This is not going to be a good summer for me. I don’t know who hurt Sadie, but I wish I could sock him in the nose!”
Ian leaned back, satisfied, and I was too. I doubted Bernie had seen anything, including me winking out in a panic. He would do nothing to affect his summer business, and if he had seen who had, he would be very quick to turn them in. Mrs. Cavendish was another matter, but between crying for Sadie and trying to ply Ian with tea and cake, I couldn’t get anymore out of her than I had at the police station.
“More tea, Ian?” Mrs. Cavendish offered yet again in a girlish tone.
He flashed a bright smile and murmured, “Please. Thank you.”
I blinked from her to Ian’s full glass and back again. Ian did not drink anything but wine and blood, but I couldn’t tell her that.
Wait, am I jealous?
I thought it over, and it seemed ridiculous, so I dismissed the idea. Ian and I were friends, and to feel anything over this woman’s obvious flirtation with the vampire was silly. Either way, I knew it was time to go.
I stood. “Thank you so much for letting us visit with you, Mrs. Cavendish. Bernie, always a pleasure to chat.”
Bernie scrambled to his feet and dug out a couple of crumpled business cards from his pocket. He handed one to me and one to Ian. “If you ever need a driver, please call me. I’m cheap, and I can be anywhere within about ten minutes or so.”
I couldn’t help the grin on my face, and Ian flicked an eyebrow skyward. Ten minutes was an eternity for both of us to get anywhere in Summit’s Edge.
“Of course,” Ian said and took Mrs. Cavendish’s hand in his. The blush on her face made her look years younger. I thanked her again, and we departed.
“Next?” Ian asked when we were on the street again.
“I guess we can swing by the mayor’s office. It’s getting late, but you never know.”
Ian agreed, and we were lucky again to find Sharon exiting the building. I called to her, and she stopped to look over her shoulder at us. The wary expression made me groan, but as before, the moment Ian began to speak, she melted.
“I don’t think we’ve met before,” Sharon said to Ian, stepping closer. She was of such a small stature, she had to throw her head far back to look into his face. “You’re Ian McClain, aren’t you? All the women said you were cute, but I never imagined…”
I rolled my eyes when Sharon giggled and batted her lashes.
“Ian, this is ridiculous,” I complained.
“Why is she here?” Sharon swept me from head to foot with a glare. I started to feel like I was the one invading her privacy and I needed to let her be alone with Ian.
My partner somehow managed to unhook Sharon’s hand from his sleeve. “Answer Liberty’s questions,” Ian snapped in irritation, and Sharon whirled to face me, her eyes wide and expectant.
I started to speak and then stopped. The glassy look worried me. “You… Ian, you compelled her!”
He made a rude noise under his breath and walked a few steps away. My suspicions were confirmed when Sharon didn’t follow him but stayed there with me, hanging on my next word. I realized it had been a mistake and Ian hadn’t meant it. Sharon’s over-eagerness had gotten to him. My reclusive neighbor was not used to this much social interaction, but hadn’t he demonstrated self-control, even lack of emotion, countless times? Sharon shouldn’t have been able to push his buttons so easily.
“I apologize,” he said, coming back to my side.
“Is this why you don’t come out among the living much? Because we’re all so weak toward you?”
He shrugged. “Partially.”
“You said you can’t turn off the charm.”
“I can suppress myself.”
“What does that mean?” There we were out on the street with Sharon standing like a zombie, and me trying to learn all I could about Ian. I should be home with my son living a normal life. Ordinary didn’t exist anymore, and yet, I was not depressed. I was beginning to accept it, even find fulfillment. Well, after I settled this murder business.
To my surprise, Ian answered my question. I wondered if he did so because he felt guilty for pushing Sharon and going against his promise not to manipulate my interviewees while we were out.
“I can hide myself so that no one can sense me. There are different degrees of this, such as occupying a room while others do not notice. They may walk right by and not see me.
“Interesting. Can you do it whenever you want?”
“Will it work on me?”
“I have not tested it.” He peered at me in the darkness. “I have had no reason to hide from you as yet.”
His statement warmed me, but I shook the feelings away. “Please, undo what you did to her, Ian. I don’t want to rake through people’s minds against their will. It’s not right.”
He flared his nostrils and sighed. I knew his patience also wore thin when it came to my morals, but he gave in. “What I did was not very strong. When I am out of her presence, it will wear off.”
“Good.” I tugged at his arm, and we turned to head down the street at a normal pace. “I remember the women who showed up at your door every day to try to get your attention. I thought it was because of how handsome you are.”
He stopped walking. “Is that your opinion of me?”
I bit my tongue.
“Good night, Ian. I’ll see you tomorrow night.”
I left him standing there alone and retuned to my home in the blink of an eye. Ian’s and my relationship needed no further complications.
I decided it might be better for all involved not to take Ian with me the next time I talked to someone, and since I didn’t get to talk to Sharon at all, I put her at the top of the list. My idea was to invite her out for a jog. I caught her on a day when she was leaving the office early and pretended to be just running by.
“Oh, hey, Sharon,” I called with a bright smile and a wave. “Just out for some exercise. Is this a half day for you? Why don’t you join me?”
My little speech came out too rushed and totally unnatural, but I didn’t have time to kick myself and think of something else. I kept the plastic smile in place and hoped for the best. The harried secretary, who was a bit overweight but nothing more than most of us fought with, bristled. “Are you implying I am fat, Libby Grace?”
“What? No. I-I-I.” This was not the response I had expected. Women were always looking for gym partners or walk buddies, and Monica hated to sweat or exercise. I had never had a problem with that because I enjoyed running alone. However, it never occurred to me Sharon might be offended. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I would never call anyone fat. I just thought we could spend some time together and get to know each other.”
“O-Of course.” Sharon lowered her voice and leaned closer to me. “It’s the mayor. She’s such a cold— You know. There’s no pleasing her. I had to fight to get the afternoon off even though half the time I’m just reading at my desk anyway.”
I recalled the last time I visited the mayor’s office. Sharon had been enjoying a romance novel. I had had the feeling she did so in secret.
“But isn’t this a busy time for you?” I asked. “With the festival and permits and so many tourists in town?”
She waved her hand. “The mayor hobnobs with them not me, and the permits for the vendors are requested and approved or disapproved weeks ahead of time. My part is done.”
“Oh, okay, that makes sense.” I struggled to think of an excuse to get the conversation around to Sadie and her death, but nothing came to mind. “How about I buy you lunch, unless you’re on your way to something important?”
Sharon froze, her lips parted as if she too rushed to come up with an excuse. At last, she shrugged. “Sure, why not. I don’t have any plans.”
We were soon ensconced in a booth at Gatsky’s, the only decent restaurant in town. I ordered iced tea, and Sharon raised her eyebrows at me. The suggestion of lunch had been out of habit before I remembered my inability to eat. One would think it would occupy my mind twenty-four hours a day. I guess I was getting good at pretending to be alive.
“I forgot I’m on a diet,” I lied. “You know the first thing you think of is food in those instances.”
She patted my hand and then jerked away. “Oh, I think you shocked me.”
“Sorry about that.” I tucked my hand in my lap.
“Don’t worry about it, and I know about the diet. I’m not on any diet right now. I’m eating anything I want.”
“Oh.” Any response I made might offend her, so I kept my comments to myself. Instead I lowered my voice and ducked my head with a conspiratorial attitude. “Did you hear what happened to Sadie Barnett?”
At my topic, Sharon looked positively green around the gills. “Um, yes, of course. Everybody’s heard. It’s sad, but I bet no one’s really sorry it happened.”
I heard the sour note, and my suspicions rose. “I agree with you there. She’s always been a nosey thing, and I don’t think there’s a person in Summit’s Edge who hasn’t felt the sting of her loose tongue.”
Sharon’s hackles rose. “
haven’t done anything to ever need her to gossip about me.”
Her words were a dig at me. “Neither have I.” My words sounded hollow and false even to my own ears. “Any idea why anyone would want to kill her?”
Sharon narrowed her eyes at me. “Are you working for Clark now, or trying to help him in his investigation since you two are dating?”
All hope of getting any information out of her died. “We are not dating.”
working for him?”
I felt a stubborn streak come on—and probably childish too. I didn’t have to give her any information since she had offered me none. “Is the burger good?”
She frowned. “The grease doesn’t agree with me. I should have known better.”
“You’re too young to have food affect you in a bad way,” I complained. “Wait until you turn thirty. Then it’s one thing after another. You have to work harder to stay in shape.”
“Is that why you’re always running?”
This seemed to be the day to dig at me, and I was particularly sensitive to it after suffering Mason’s verbal abuse for years. “Could you excuse me for a minute?” I rose before she could answer.
Making my way down the aisle, I glanced around the restaurant and peered through the window to the kitchen. Monica caught my eye, and I signaled her. She popped through the door, offering me a smile. “How’s lunch going?”
“You saw me come in with Sharon?”
She winked and folded her arms over her chest. Monica knew what I was up to from the look she gave me even if she didn’t know all the details. I hadn’t showed her the new letter, but I would later. I took her hand and pulled her into the short hallway near the bathrooms. No one was close enough to overhear or see us.
“I don’t carry money on me,” I explained. “Can you loan me some to pay for lunch? I will cover it the minute I get home. I promise.”
She patted my hand. “I got you covered already.”
“Monica, you are a godsend.” I kissed her cheek, and she beamed.
“Yes, I am!”
I returned to the table with Sharon and tried once more to get her to open up. I even shared my own ancient history with Sadie. Sharon stared hard at me. “So you ki—”
“No!” I thumped a fist on the table. “I wish everyone would stop assuming. Anyway, have you had trouble with her?”
“Maybe it’s you who are assuming,” Sharon said, and she stood up. I protested when she tossed a couple bills on the table. “Thanks for inviting me to lunch. I’m not stupid. I know you’re trying to figure out if I had anything to do with Sadie’s death, but I didn’t, and I’ll thank you to not go around telling people I did, or you’ll find yourself in trouble.”
I gaped at her. “I am not a gossip, nor do I falsely accuse people of wrongdoing.”
She snorted and left me sitting there with nothing to show for my boldness except resentment from the mayor’s secretary. I too had to hope Sharon wouldn’t gossip about me. The mayor was my boss, and she had hired me on a whim. I needed my job because I didn’t have a lot of choices.
Monica stopped by the table and leaned on it, her fists tucked beneath her chin. “Didn’t go so well?”
“No.” I moaned. “And she paid for her own lunch even though I offered. I’ll cover the tip and my iced tea when I get home.”
Monica rolled her eyes. “I can cover a drink. Don’t worry about it. Hey, want to walk me over to the library?”
“You’re leaving early?” I stood up.
She nodded as she removed the half apron around her waist. “Yeah, I have to train a new girl now that Miles has left our happy little town.”
“Think he’ll come back?” I asked, thinking of the man who had been George’s lover and for a while accused of his murder. He had left Summit’s Edge for a job in animation. I was glad for him because I had always liked Miles, and moving on to bigger things seemed to be his dream all along.
“No, he told me ‘See you never, Monnie.’” Monica sighed. “I have the feeling even if he hates it at his new job, he’ll do whatever it takes not to come back here. This wasn’t the place for him. Me, I’m never leaving.”
She smiled, and I matched it. I was glad to hear Monica had no plans to abandon our little town even with its problems.
Monica and I strolled down Main Street and then cut over two blocks just before we reached the police station to reach West First Street where the only library in Summit’s Edge sat. Despite avoiding the building where Clark worked, I blinked in surprise to find Bart Pierce bearing down on us, a scowl marring his face. Monica looked at Bart and then at me. When he drew close, she opened her mouth to speak, but he moved past her to point a finger in my face. I stumbled back a step.