Read Innocent in Death Online

Authors: J. D. Robb

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Crime, #Crime & mystery, #Thrillers & Mystery

Innocent in Death (23 page)

BOOK: Innocent in Death
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“Difficult to admit—to myself, to you. But I didn’t lie when I told you it was done. And still…I’ll lay this out as well. I remember, too, the beautiful young woman in the red dress gliding into a crowded club. The moment of it, the vibrancy of it. It may be that’s what I saw, for that second, the memory of that might be what I was looking at. I can’t erase what was from mind and memory, Eve.”

“No. Okay. Okay. Let’s just—”

“We’re not done here. You’ll hear me out.” As if to hold her in place, he laid a hand over hers. “I had that hole in me, that empty space. I could have lived my life with it, content enough. I wasn’t an unhappy man.”

He kept his eyes on hers as his thumb brushed lightly over the back of her hand. “Then, one day I felt something—a prickle at the back of my neck, a heat at the base of my spine. And standing at a memorial for the dead, I turned, and there you were.”

He turned her hand over, interlocking fingers. “There you were, and it all shifted under my feet. You were everything I shouldn’t have, shouldn’t want or need. A cop for Jesus’ sake, with eyes that looked right into me.”

He reached out, just a whisper of fingers on her face. And the quiet touch was somehow wildly passionate, desperately intimate.

“A cop wearing a bad gray suit and a coat that didn’t even fit. From that moment, the hole inside me began to fill. I couldn’t stop it. I couldn’t stop what rooted there, or what grew.

“She put it in me, you filled it. Can you understand that’s part of this—the connection you worry about? Can you understand that whatever it was I felt for her it’s nothing. It’s so pale, so thin and weak compared to what I feel for you.”

The tears came now. He watched them drip down her cheeks, wondered if she were even aware they leaked out of her. “She was part of my life. You are my life. If I have a regret, it’s that even for an instant you could think otherwise. Or that I allowed you to.”

“When I saw you with her on screen—”

“I was saying good-bye to the girl I’d once fancied, and I think, to the man I’d been who’d fancied her. Only that. Don’t cry. Here now.” He brushed her tears away with his thumbs. “Don’t cry.”

“I feel stupid.”

“Good. So do I.”

“I love you. Scary.” She pushed up again, and this time into his arms. “So fucking scary.”

“I know.” She felt him tremble when he pressed his face to her neck. “Don’t leave me again. God. God. Don’t leave me again.”

“I didn’t.”

“Part of you did.” He moved her back, and his eyes swarmed with emotion. “Part of you left me, and I couldn’t stand it.”

“I’m not going anywhere. We’re not going anywhere.” Needing to soothe, she worked up a smile. “Besides, you’d just drag me back again.”

“Damn right.”

“Or try.” She closed her hands over his, and felt the abraded skin on his knuckles. Lowering them, she studied. “Wow. Beat the hell out of someone?”

“Just a droid. It seems to work so well for you when you’re pissed at me.”

“You should get your R-and-D department to come up with one that regenerates or something.” She touched her lips to them. “You should put something on them.”

“You just did. Look how tired you are,” he said, stroking her cheek. “My Eve. Worn to the bone. And I wager you didn’t eat at all today.”

“I couldn’t. Morris even had homemade brownies. Fudge brownies.”

“We’ll have some soup.”

“I’m too tired to eat.”

“All right, then. No soup, no work. Just sleep.” He slid his arm around her waist, and she slid hers around his as they started out of the room. “Will you let me back in there? Into the work?”

She’d shut him out there, she realized. They’d shut each other out here and there. Little doors closing. “Yeah. I could use some help. Questions about a security system to start.”

“I’m your man.”

She looked over at him, smiled. “Yeah, you are.”

She slid into sleep, then before dawn lightened the sky, slid into love. His mouth woke her, warm on hers. Sweet and warm and welcoming. And steeped in his taste, hers answered. His hands stirred her, so that her heart seemed to sigh. Feeling the beat of his against her, she opened.

In the utter quiet, in the soft, soothing dark, they moved together.

Comfort was sought, and found. Pledges were remade without words. And everything needed was given.

She lay, tucked in the curve of his arm. Drifting.

“I should’ve let you sleep.”

“The way I feel right now, you did just fine. Pretty damn perfect.” So perfect, she thought, she could curl there for the next millennium. “What time is it anyway?”

“Nearly six.”

“You probably have to get up.”

“I’m liking where I am at the moment.”

She smiled in the dark. “I’m starving.”

“Are you now?”

“Seriously starving. I wish I had a damn fudge brownie.”

“It isn’t fudge your system needs.”

“You want to bang again, ace, I need coffee first.”

And, he thought,
We’re back
. “The cat got the best part of two full Irish breakfasts yesterday. Why don’t we try that again, and eat them ourselves.”

“You didn’t eat either?”

“I didn’t, no.”

She smiled again. It was nice to know he’d suffered along with her. But she rolled, bracing on her elbows to look down at him. “Let’s eat. A lot.”

They ate in bed, sitting crosslegged, the plates between them. She shoveled in eggs as if they were going to be banned within the hour.

There was color back in her face, he noted. And those shadows, those hints of wounds behind her eyes were gone. Then she aimed them at him, and he saw there was something else in them.

“What?”

“I don’t want to screw things up, but I want to mention something that’s bugging me.”

“All right, then.”

“Red dress.”

“Fuck.”

“No, no.” She waggled her fork, determined to get through this part without a fight or an emotional crisis. “Just hear me out, okay? You said that when you first saw her she was wearing a red dress. Are you going to buy the coincidence that she was wearing a red dress when you saw her again out of the blue?”

“Well, I doubt she’s worn red all these years, in case we crossed paths again.”

“You’re not thinking. You’ve still got blinders on when it comes to her. Don’t get pissed.”

“It’s hard work not to.” Somewhat irritably, he stabbed a fried potato. “What’s your point?”

“My point is, she set it up. She didn’t just happen to be in that restaurant, at that time, in a red fucking dress, Roarke. She knew you’d be there, and wanted to give you the jolt. Remember, lover? Remember me?”

“Well, how would she know where…” He trailed off, and she saw the blinders fall away.

It took considerable strength of will—and she congratulated herself on it—not to leap up and do a dance of joy and victory on the bed.

“You said she was good, and you probably taught her more. You knew the guy she was with that night, you do business with him. Not that hard, if you want to take some time, to pin down where Roarke has a dinner reservation.”

“No, she could work that.”

“Tags you at home, early morning, then it’s lunch—give me some advice, some help for old times’ sake. I bet she was full of apologies and shame for what she did to you all those years ago.”

She paused a moment, then decided it would fester if she just didn’t say it. “And you’re not going to tell me she didn’t make a move on you. At least test the waters.”

“The waters,” he said, “were not receptive.”

“If they had been, I’d have drowned her in them already.”

“Darling, that’s so…you.”

“Keep that in mind,” she warned, and since she’d finished her bacon, stole a slice of his. “That had to chap her thighs. Then there’s the fact she’s the anti-me.”

“Sorry? The what again?”

Shaking her head, Eve ate the bacon. “That’s too complicated to explain. Forget that. But after you turned down the offer to see her tits—”

“She has very nice ones, as I recall.”

“You’d better shut up.” And when he grinned, Eve felt warm all over. “So, when you turned down her generous offer, what did she do?”

“Stanched her bitter disappointment with a vodka martini.”

“No. Jesus. She bounced to me, gave me a couple of good jabs. Ended with the vid. Mavis said—”

“Mavis?”

Eve toyed with what was left of her eggs. “I went by there last night. I forgot the teddy bear deal.”

“Forgot me as well.”

“No, I didn’t. I needed to see Mavis. I needed to talk to her.”

“All right.” He reached over to touch a hand to Eve’s knee. “That’s fair enough.”

“Mavis ran grifts for a long time. She wasn’t half bad either. She spotted what Magdelana was doing, where I missed it. But when Mavis pushed it in my face, I saw it, too. She set up that vid, Roarke. If you look at it again, you’ll see it. She angled toward the camera, she—Mavis called it cheating—she cheated her face so it caught her just right. It wasn’t just some wild coincidence that some schmuck caught the two of you on camera and got it on screen. She produced it.”

“Summerset said the same, and I blew him off. Even though a part of me thought, Well and sure she did. I blew him off.”

“She wants you back.” Eve took a vicious stab at her eggs because even knowing what she knew, having what she had,that was a pisser. “She’s been through a couple of rich guys, got herself a nice cushion. But you. You’re the grand prize, and she miscalculated before. Ditched you for the bird in the hand. Now you’re…What’s a really big bird?”

“An ostrich?”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t sound right. Anyway, you’re the bird in the big-ass shiny gold nest, and she wants to cozy in with you. Just got to get me out of the way. Maybe see if you can pick up where you left off first…”

“As I said, she may have intimated that possibility, which I, being a faithful husband, nipped even before the bud. And yes,” he added with a nod, “after which, she went to see you, test the ground, make you wonder. It was well played all in all, and caused considerable trouble and grief. Still, I’d made it very clear, I promise you, that you and I were a unit. And committed to being one.”

“She might have figured she could, eventually, convince you otherwise. And in the meantime, she gets to cause trouble and grief. It’s pretty much no lose for her.”

“Yes,” he replied, “that would amuse her. She’s bored by the ordinary, or what she perceives as the ordinary.”

Outlasted the terms of the prenups in both cases, she’d said.

“Marriage would be a means to an end, even a toy.”

“How can I make this work for me?” Eve suggested. “Or failing that, just break it.”

“I’m sorry. Sorry I didn’t see through it.”

“She miscalculated,” Eve said and took his hand.

He linked his fingers with hers. “That she did.”

“I still want to kick her ass.”

“Would it be unseemly if I wanted to watch?”

“Men always want to watch. The problem is, if we make anything of all this, it’s just slop for the gossip pigs. It’s going to have to be enough to know ignoring it pisses her off. Let’s just be done with her.”

“Agreed.”

“Meanwhile, I’ve got to…get that,” she said as her ’link signaled. “Block video. Dallas.”

“Reo, one more time. Got your warrant for Straffo’s residence. Pain in the ass. As a courtesy, the judge agreed no one would enforce it until after eight A.M. this morning.”

“I can live with that. Thanks, Reo.”

“Get something, Dallas. Straffo’s going to cream up in the media otherwise.”

“I’ll get something.”

“Oliver Straffo?” Roarke said when she’d clicked off. “You suspect him in this teacher’s murder?”

“Teachers, as of yesterday. The suspect who was heading our list was killed.”

“Ah.” He was behind, he realized, and it was past time to catch up. “Well, why don’t we start off the day as we so often end it.”

“I thought we just did. That was you who rolled off me a while ago, wasn’t it?”

“As memory serves. Not with sex, Lieutenant, though it is a lovely way to end and begin almost anything. Tell me about the case.”

She told him while they showered, while they dressed, while they wound their way to her office.

And as they walked into it, his pocket ’link beeped. He glanced at the readout, put it back in his pocket.

“Is that how you want to handle her?” Eve asked.

“At the moment. So your theory is Straffo killed Foster because Foster knew about the affair.”

“I wouldn’t call it a theory. It’s one of the possibilities. The other being Straffo’s wife did it, same motive. Or Mosebly did it, because Foster knew about
her
affair.”

“For a school, it’s certainly a hotbed of illicit sex.”

“It’s still possible Williams killed Foster to preserve his career and reputation. Then either of the Straffos or Mosebly tied it off by eliminating Williams. I was going to run probabilities last night, but one thing and another.”

“You’d like me to verify that Straffo could have evaded the security for each murder.”

“If the arrow starts pointing at him, it’d help if I had that in my pocket.”

“Quiver,” Roarke said absently. “You keep arrows in a quiver. I’ll check out the security for you, but it seems to me that killing Foster was putting the cart before the horse. Williams was the primary threat, in your three possibilities.”

“I know that, but I’ve got no evidence or indication that Williams threatened exposure, until he used it on Mosebly on the morning of his death. It’s possible Foster pushed it. Then Williams says, ‘Screw the bastard,’ and kills him. Or…”

“One of the Straffos panics and does so. Or Mosebly.” Roarke worked to line up all the players in his head. “Too many Indians, not enough chiefs.”

“Replay?”

“A lot of suspects, but none of them standing out as the one doing the real work.”

“Yeah. There’s a core problem with all of it. Foster. I can’t find a strong, clear motive. Not really. So I’m going with the murky ones. He was a straight shooter, but he wasn’t a troublemaker. I’ve got a wit who saw him and Williams the morning of Foster’s death, chatting amiably in the teachers’ lounge. Foster couldn’t have pulled that off, not to my way of thinking, if he and Williams were having serious trouble.”

BOOK: Innocent in Death
9.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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