Authors: Ann Bruce
As if she actually had a choice. “Of course,” she said quietly, evenly, stepping back to let them into the narrow foyer.
“We tried to find you at the university, but one of the other professors said you were taking a few days off.”
Augusta nodded absently, as if she was actually hearing and processing the words.
“Is there somewhere we can sit down?”
She blinked, taking a moment to understand his question. “The kitchen?”
“Lead the way.”
Without looking back, Augusta drifted through the double doors just to her left and into the sunlit kitchen, aware of each step, feeling each grain and fiber in the cool hardwood that gave way to chilling tile in the kitchen.
“If you’ll excuse me, I-I’m just going to wash my face.” She swept her hand toward the small breakfast table and high-backed chairs nestled in the nook, which flowed from the long kitchen and looked out on the quiet, tree-lined street. “Please make yourselves comfortable and I’ll be back shortly.”
Without waiting for their response, she ignored the half-bath on the first floor and made her way to the master en suite, locked the door behind her, propped her elbows on the cool marble counter and buried her face in her hands, her eyes shut tight.
After the panicky, suffocating feeling subsided, she lifted her head. She was too tired to cringe from the reflection of the worn woman who was much too young to be feeling so damned old.
A short burst of laughter escaped her. Dear God, she was reaching the point of hysteria if paraphrased Garth Brooks lyrics were running through her head.
The splash of lukewarm water on her face did nothing for the lavender bruises beneath her eyes or for the red puffiness, but it did make her feel better. Augusta rummaged in her drawer and found a silver hair stick to secure her mass of hair in a loose bun at the top of her head. She rinsed out her mouth, took a few calming breaths and left the bathroom.
* * * * *
When Augusta returned to the kitchen, the men rose as if they were there for a social call. She retrieved a pitcher of orange juice from the refrigerator and a glass from a cupboard.
“Juice?” she asked them while pouring a glass for herself. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have any coffee.”
They declined but didn’t return to their chairs. Instead, they waited silently while she finished off half the juice, then clutched the glass with all ten fingers. She leaned back until the edge of the counter dug into the small of her back, but she didn’t move away, suddenly conscious of the New York Rangers jersey ending inches above her knees and how the two men dominated the room with more than their physical presences. Augusta set aside the glass, wrapped an arm about her waist, hugging herself and fingered the hem of the jersey, pulling it down discreetly and failing. Her fingers faltered. The jersey was soft from countless washings because it was her first gift from Drew.
She cleared her throat and blinked to clear the blurred edges of her vision. “I was already questioned yesterday by another police officer. Is there something he forgot?”
It was Detective Murtagh who replied, “We just want to go over a few things again, Dr. Langan.”
“I’ve told the other officer everything I know, answered every question he asked.”
“You might remember something now that you didn’t yesterday.”
Augusta rubbed the line between her brows. She took a slow, deep breath. “All right then. What do you want to know?”
Detective Murtagh pulled out a chair. “Do you want to take a seat? You might be more comfortable.”
Augusta took the proffered seat and the two detectives sat down across from her. She looked from one to the other. Ethan Murtagh was movie star-handsome despite the disheveled blond hair and bloodshot gray eyes.
, she thought.
His partner looked more like a thug than a cop. Nick Markov’s hair was blacker and thicker than hers and cropped close to his head. His eyes were deep set and startlingly blue in his tanned face. His features were rugged, with a broad forehead and cheekbones and square chin. There was a break in the line of his nose, suggesting it had been broken at least once. His sculpted mouth was oddly, erotically sensual in his hard face.
“Dr. Langan?” Detective Murtagh asked.
Augusta gave a small shake of her head. “Sorry.” She lifted her fingers to run them through her hair, recalled it was tamed into a bun and dropped her hands onto the table top. “Where would you like to begin?”
“We can start with your relationship to Andrew Langan,” he said. “But before we start—” Detective Murtagh reached inside his jacket, pulled out a digital voice recorder and placed it on the table. “Do you mind if I record this conversation?”
Is that what it’s called these days?
Augusta waved a dismissive hand. “Of course not.”
He checked the device, activated it and rattled off the date, time and their names. Finally, he looked at her and said, “Describe your relationship with the deceased.”
Her mouth tightened. “Please don’t call him ‘the deceased.’ His name was Drew. Andrew James Langan.”
Red stained the tops of Detective Murtagh’s cheeks. “Sorry.” He cleared his throat. “Please describe your relationship with Andrew Langan.”
“We are—were—” She broke off, took another deep breath and tried again. “We were friends who made the mistake of getting married. Things didn’t work out and we filed for divorce.”
“‘We’?” Detective Markov repeated, startling her with the sound of his low voice and the note of doubt in that single word. More than doubt.
Nick kept his expression bland as he studied the woman across from him. She looked small and vulnerable, except for the eyes that told him to go to hell and made him wish they were alone. However, he had a homicide to solve, and she was a suspect. She was their best suspect, in fact.
“You’re right. I filed for divorce but Drew didn’t contest it.”
“He did at first,” Nick said.
She tilted her head. “You talked to Adam.”
Nick let her read the suspicion in his eyes. “What was the exact reason for the divorce?”
She stiffened, then her large, brown eyes went as carefully blank as her expression. “If you talked to Adam, you already know.”
“Irreconcilable differences,” she said finally.
“Which can mean any number of things.”
Her eyes narrowed and her lips thinned. “Drew came to me six months ago and confessed that he had a brief affair with…someone.”
“How brief was brief?”
“A week—not even. Maybe a one-night stand.”
Her gaze slid away from him and she shook her head. “I don’t know. He never said.”
Augusta Langan was a terrible liar, Nick thought, pleased despite the circumstances. “Was this the first time?”
“Yes.” He could see her delicate throat muscles flex and ripple as she swallowed. “Drew said it would never happen again.”
“But you didn’t believe him.”
“No. I did believe him, but I realized then he and I shouldn’t have married in the first place.”
Augusta leaned back in her chair. “A lot of reasons. His family didn’t approve, which created a lot of tension. They thought I married Drew for his money, which wasn’t true, but I didn’t marry him for love either. I love…loved him, and he loved me, but we weren’t
love with each other.”
She paused, waiting, and after Nick nodded, continued. “We thought we could make it work. It didn’t, and after four years and his affair, I realized that it wasn’t fair to either of us to be tied to each other.”
The corners of Nick’s mouth dipped down further. “We have statements saying that the de—Andrew Langan didn’t want the divorce.”
A faint smile lit her eyes briefly, making Nick want to reach across and feel her smile with his fingers, and then taste it with the tip of his tongue. It was strong, this urge that had stealthily sneaked up on him.
Nick reigned in the absurd impulse, but it was already too late. His heart was beating double time, pumping blood to his lower body and raising his temperature. Nick shifted subtly in his seat, trying to ease the tightness in his jeans—a tightness that had started since the first moment she opened the front door and he was teased with a vision of a tousled mane of inky hair and a body and face still flushed with sleep. Her half-lidded eyes brought to mind that satisfied exhaustion that comes after a bout of hot, sweaty, dirty sex. Nick had instantly become hard, and his erection showed no signs of subsiding any time soon. Thank God she hadn’t bothered to look down past his chest. He hadn’t returned the courtesy. He could still see the long, slim, smooth legs below the masculine jersey. The hockey jersey was much too big for her—at least four sizes too big—yet she didn’t look childish at all. Instead, she appeared fragile…extremely sexy and very, very fuckable. Hell, even her toes were sexy.
Nick shifted again in his seat, trying to control the laughter that threatened to erupt at his sudden absurdity.
She was nothing like the usual women he slept with. First of all, she was too…little. That was the only word for her. His last girlfriend had been a tall, leggy blonde. She had been a perfect thirty-six, twenty-four, thirty-six. Actually, it had been more like thirty-six, thirty-two, thirty-six, but Claudia had always insisted on that twenty-four. Nonetheless, she had been a boyhood fantasy come true. Augusta Langan, on the other hand, looked as if he could break her with one hand even if he only exerted the slightest pressure. But he could just imagine how tight she’d be. How snug. How hot. How wet.
“Drew doesn’t—didn’t—like to give up,” Augusta said, drawing Nick out of his wholly inappropriate erotic reverie. Admiration and amusement colored her tone. Then her smile died. “But he eventually did on the divorce.”
“So everything was amiable between the two of you?” asked Ethan, his expression a studied mix of concern and professionalism.
“Now it is. Was.” Her brows drew together. “I was hurt and angry for two months after he came and confessed, but that’s in the past. I couldn’t stay mad at him for long.”
Nick snorted. It was a sound of clear disbelief.
As if she just had a shot of caffeine to her system, Augusta’s spine went rigid and she lowered her knees, her hands coming to rest on the edge of the breakfast table. She steadily met his eyes.
“What you have to understand, Detective,” she began coolly, “is that Drew Langan and I were friends long before we got married. We were friends for almost half our lives, which is a lot longer than a great number of marriages these days. It was something neither one of us wanted to lose.”
Nick lifted a brow. “Despite the cheating?”
Augusta froze, and Nick watched while she fought with herself. Then she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose without looking away. “Despite the cheating.”
The haunted look that came into her eyes made Nick wish he could take back the question.
“Lifestyle choice,” she said finally.
Nick pushed on with his role. “What kind of settlement were you going to get, Dr. Langan?”
Her expression didn’t change, but any traces of sleepy softness that remained were ironed out. “Nothing.”
“No. Drew and I trusted each other. Besides, I don’t need a man to provide for me, nor do I want one, despite what Drew’s family would have people believe.”
“You teach art, correct?”
She gave a terse nod. “European art history.”
He raised an eyebrow.
“I also consult,” she added.
Ethan cleared his throat. “Dr. Langan, did you see your husband regularly then?”
She waited until her breathing was even once more before she replied, “Not really. He’s been busier than usual lately, but we talked at least once every week.”
“Did you notice anything unusual about him the last couple of weeks?”
“Unusual?’” she echoed. “Not really. I don’t…think.”
“When was the last time you saw him?”
“Three days ago. Monday night, I believe.”
She nodded. “Yes, he came to see me. He needed to get away from work and his family, he said. It’s peaceful for him here. No one calls for him here, except his brother, Adam, and Adam rarely does.”
“How was Andrew Langan that night?”
“Drew was…” Augusta frowned, voice trailing off. Twin lines appeared between her brows.
“He was agitated.”
“He looked exhausted, like he hadn’t slept in days. He seemed nervous, tense. He kept drumming his fingers on the armrest and running his fingers through his hair, and he couldn’t seem to sit still for longer than five minutes. So…unlike him.” She paused. “I asked him what was wrong, but all he said was that it wasn’t anything he couldn’t handle. He said that it was nothing.”