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Authors: J. D. Robb

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

Innocent in Death (9 page)

BOOK: Innocent in Death
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“Did you always do what Craig advised?”

“It wasn’t like that. I trusted his instincts, and they matched my own in this case. To be embarrassingly honest, I was just feeling lonely. I’m not the sort men chase after.”

“Excuse me?” Ben said, and she managed a smile.

“You didn’t have to run very fast.”

“Who was Williams involved with?” Eve asked.

“I don’t know. I couldn’t pry it out of Craig and I gave it a damn good shot. Who doesn’t like some gossip? But he was tight-lipped about it. I don’t think he even told Lissy, because I asked her. Or if he did, he swore her to secrecy. Reed has a reputation. I think he enjoys having one. Ladies’ man. It wasn’t what I was looking for.”

“Excuse me?” Ben said again, and this time got a watery laugh out of her.

“Ben.” She sighed it, leaned her head into him. “Reed’s a good teacher, and he’s very insightful with the students. But he’s not the sort of man I’d trust my heart with.”

Eve wanted thinking time, so closed herself in her office when she got back to Central. She generated a diagram of the school, of the movements of various members of the faculty.

She entertained the notion that perhaps Williams hadn’t limited his games to coworkers. While she believed he’d steered clear of the kiddie pool, maybe he’d dipped into the parental area.

Checking the security log, she noted seven parents had signed in the morning in question. She began runs on all of them, and struggled not to think about what Roarke was doing as she worked.

Tried very hard not to think about him sitting down to lunch with an ex-lover.

6

SHE WOULD BE LATE. IN BUSINESS, ROARKE REMEMBERED, Maggie had been as timely as a German train. When it was personal, when it was pleasure, she enjoyed keeping a man waiting.

It had been a ploy he’d found amusing once, even foolishly charming. She would, always, come dashing into a restaurant, a club, a party, a half an hour after the appointed time, her face alight with laughter and apology. And her eyes full of the knowledge that they both knew what she was up to.

So he’d told her noon, and made the reservation for twelve-thirty.

He arrived a few minutes early, slid into the corner booth waiting for him. Ordered mineral water. He waved away the wine list. He had no intention to drinking toasts to times gone by.

He scanned the restaurant, thinking it was the sort of place Magdelana had loved—and Eve tolerated. Plush, polished, crowded with people who were willing to pay the tab to see and be seen nibbling on overpriced salads.

His temper was still raw-edged from the argument—if that’s what it had been—with Eve that morning. And from the cool disapproval on Summerset’s face. He disliked, intensely, being questioned and doubted by the two people he believed knew and understood him best.

Where had that lack of trust come from? That uncharacteristic flash of jealousy in Eve? Be careful, she’d warned him, he thought—and found himself insulted all over again.

So he couldn’t be trusted to share a meal in a public place with a woman he hadn’t seen in years? Itwas bloody insulting, and the insinuation was intolerable.

And it was damn well something they’d come to terms with in very short order.

Best to put it out of his mind, he told himself. He’d have lunch with the woman who had, he supposed, influenced a portion of his life at one time. And later, he’d deal with the woman who had changed his life.

Magdelana came in as he remembered—in a rush—hair and hips and legs swinging. And with a laugh, she slid into the booth and pecked his cheek. “I’m criminally late.”

“I only just arrived myself.”

“Oh.” There was a pout, just for an instant, then another laugh. “You know me too well.” She brushed her hair behind her shoulders before sending him her quick and wicked smile. “Well enough to remember what I like to drink?”

“Stoli martini, straight up,” he said to the waiter. “Very dry. Twist of lemon.”

“I’m flattered.”

“I have a good memory.”

“And for you, sir?” the waiter asked.

“I’m fine.”

“I’ll be right back with your drink, madam.”

When he left, Magdelana lifted Roarke’s glass, took a small sip. “Water?”

“I’ve afternoon meetings.”

After setting his glass down again, she rubbed her hand over the back of his. “You always did take work so seriously. But then, it looks good on you. In fact, it looks amazing on you. You were rising fast back in our day, but now?”

She sat back, jeweled eyes sparkling. “How does it feel, lover, to be Roarke—a man of insane wealth, power, and position?”

“I have what I want, and having that is always satisfying. And you?”

“Between, and restless and unsure. Just out of my second marriage, which is humbling, as I gave it a hell of a good try.” She gave him a quick, under-the-lashes glance. “I divorced Andre, or he divorced me, years ago. We, in the end, divorced each other. It was revoltingly civilized.”

Casually, Roarke sipped water. “He was a civilized man, as I recall, when we chose him for a mark.”

“You’re angry with me? Still?”

“Why would I be?”

“Oh, well, I’d hoped to get some alcohol into my system before I did this. But we’ll do it dry.”

She shifted so they were face-to-face, and her emerald eyes were direct and steady. “I’m so very sorry for how I ended things, the way I just left you without a word.”

“With the mark.”

“With the mark,” she agreed with a long sigh. “It seemed more entertaining, and more profitable at the time, to marry him rather than steal from him.”

Watching her, Roarke inclined his head. “Playing me instead of him.”

“I didn’t mean it that way, but yes, that’s the way it was at the bottom of it. And I’m sorry.”

“It was a long time ago.”

“All the same.” Again, she laid her hand over his. “I could use youth and foolishness as excuses, but I won’t. It was a terrible thing to do. Selfish and headstrong.” She paused when the waiter brought her drink, poured it from the silver shaker with some ceremony.

“Would you like to hear the specials of the day?”

Another ceremony, Roarke thought. A kind of theater where the dialogue was peppered with sauces and reductions and scents.

She wore the same scent she’d used years before. A signature, perhaps, or a deliberate choice to tease his memory.

She had been young, he thought—not yet twenty. How many selfish and headstrong acts had he committed before the age of twenty? Too many, he could admit, to count.

They’d enjoyed each other once, and he’d cared once. So, he’d take the apology, and let it go.

When they’d ordered, Magdelana sipped her martini, eyes smiling at Roarke over the rim. “Am I to be forgiven?”

“Let’s call it bygones, Maggie. We’ve put a lot of time and distance between then and now.”

“Nearly twelve years,” she agreed. “Now here we sit, and you’re the married one.”

“I am.”

“And to a cop!” Her laugh bubbled out. “You always were full of surprises. Does she know about your…hobbies?”

“She knows what I was, what I did.” Remembering that, he felt the leading edge of his irritation with Eve dull. A little. “I no longer indulge in old habits, and haven’t for some time.”

“Really?” She started to laugh again, then blinked. “You’re serious? You’re out of the game? Completely?”

“That’s right.”

“I always thought it was in your blood. I gave it up because it was fun to have Andre’s money to spend as I liked, without having to do anything for it other than look good and be charming and witty. I never expected you to retire for any reason, at any time. But I suppose your wife insisted.”

“I was nearly all the way out before I met her. It was a simple matter, and a simple choice to close the door on the rest after we became involved. She never asked.”

“No?” Watching him, Magdelana traced a scarlet nail around the rim of her glass. “She must be quite a woman.”

“She is, yes. A remarkable woman.”

“She’d have to be. Would I like her?”

For the first time he laughed. “No. Not a bit.”

“What a thing to say.” She slapped playfully at his arm. “I’m sure I would. We have you in common to start.”

“You don’t.” His gaze was cool and clear. “I’m not who I was.”

Sipping again, she sat back to study him. “I suppose none of us are who we were. I liked who you were then. I…Well.” She shook her head, set down her drink. “That was then.”

“And now? What is it you want?”

“To have lunch with an old friend, and make amends. That’s a good start, isn’t it?” she asked as their salads were served.

“To what, exactly?”

“Well, that hasn’t changed at any rate.” Lifting her fork, she shook it at him. “Your suspicious nature.” When he said nothing, she toyed with her salad. “I’ve missed you, and I admit with the changes in my life recently, I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic. I had a good run with Georges—my second husband—and I was fond of him—am fond of him, really. Our relationship afforded me quite a bit of the style and freedom I’d gotten used to having with Andre. More, actually. For a while.”

“Style you always had.”

Her lips curved. “Yes, but I liked not having to work for it. I never enjoyed that end as much as you.”

“Divorce hasn’t left you destitute.”

“Hardly. I outlasted the terms of the prenup both times and I’m solid.” She shrugged. “And at loose ends. I’d planned to contact you, when I worked up the courage. Running into you last night that way…I nearly turned around and left again. But you saw me, so I braved it out. How’d I do?”

He gave her an easy smile. “Smooth as ever.”

“I was hoping to surprise you, but wanted to prepare for it, set the stage. Tell me, does your relationship with your wife afford you any freedom?”

He understood the question and the very open invitation under it. Nor could he misunderstand the hand she’d laid lightly on his thigh.

“I don’t equate marriage with prison, but see it as a promise. A maze of them. I take promises very seriously.”

“Still…” She touched the tip of her tongue to her top lip. “If promises aren’t flexible, they’re more easy to break.”

There was a challenge in her eyes, and the come-on-let’s-play laughter along with it. He’d found the combination all but irresistible once. “Bending them only changes them into something they weren’t meant to be in the first place. You should know, Maggie, before you say or do anything that would embarrass you, that I’m completely in love with my wife.”

She stared at him for a moment, intensely, as if trying to see the con. Slowly, deliberately, she lifted her hand from his thigh, set it back on the table. “I assumed you had some angle for aligning yourself with a cop.”

“If you knew her, you’d understand Eve is no one’s mark. Regardless, I wouldn’t betray her for anything. Or anyone.”

“Well…” Then she gave that pretty shrug again, that quick and wicked smile. “No harm in trying.”

It was best, he decided, to table that area of conversation. “How long do you plan to be in New York?”

“It depends. You might help me with that.” When he raised a brow, she laughed. “That’s not a proposition, lover. I’d hoped to ask for your advice. Investment advice.”

“I’d think you’d have your own people for that.”

“Georges’s people—and however civil we are, it’s delicate. I have a very nice cushion of disposable income. Unreported assets. I’d as soon not involve Georges’s very efficient and by-the-book advisers in my investments. But an old, trusted friend who’s considerably skilled in this sort of thing. You’re the one who taught me, long ago, the value of…cushions. I was thinking real estate, tucking it under a few layers to avoid the tax dogs.”

“Are you looking for additional income, turning a profit, or sheltering your cushion?”

“All, if I can manage it.”

“How soft is this cushion?”

She caught her bottom lip between her teeth as her eyes danced. “About fifteen that’s tucked—deeply—away. I was fond of Andre and of Georges, as I said, and enjoyed the lifestyles we shared. But I never expected it to last forever in either case. I juggled a bit here and there along the way. And I have some jewelry that doesn’t really suit me. I’d like to turn that liquid. Discreetly.”

“You’d want property in New York?”

“That would be my first choice, unless you’ve a better suggestion.”

“I’ll think about it. I’ll be able to give you some options, Maggie, but you’ll have to create those layers yourself. I can point you in the right direction, and to the right people. That’s all I can do.”

“That would be more than enough.” Her hand touched his arm again, rubbed up and down. “I appreciate it. I’m staying at Franklin’s pied-à-terre for the time being. I’ll give you the address, and my contact numbers.”

“Enjoying the benefits of companionship with a wealthy, older man?”

She forked up salad, flashed a grin. “Wouldn’t be the first time.”

Eve located a single plant in New Jersey that processed castor oil. It was worth the trip, she decided, particularly since she felt cooped up in her office.

Along the way, Peabody caught her up with her own investigative results. “I ran the names of parents or child-care providers who signed in yesterday. Shuffled down the list those who had confirmed appointments with faculty members, and those who signed in and out during the times the vic was known to be in his classroom. Leaves us four potentials.”

“Do any of them connect to Foster?’

“Two had kids in his classes this term. I wanted to check, see if either kid had trouble there, academically, or discipline problems. But Principal Mosebly’s being pissy about sharing the records.”

“Is she really?” The idea gave Eve something like a warm glow. “It’ll be a pleasure to take her down on that. I’ll get a warrant.”

“That’s what I like to hear.”

“Of the other two, one got a knock for assault a couple years ago. She went after some guy with a baseball bat at a Little League game. Broke his shoulder.”

“There’s team spirit.”

“She got off with community service and anger management, paying his medical bills. The guy sued her,” Peabody added, “settling out of court for an undisclosed amount. Want me to get more details on that?”

“We’ll ask her personally.”

“Hallie Wentz, single, one female child, age eight, Emily. Hallie’s a party planner.”

“They pay people to plan parties. I don’t get it. If you’re bound and determined to have a party, how much of a deal is it to have one?”

“Three words: Mavis’s baby shower.”

Eve tried not to squirm. “That went okay.”

“That went uptown because you had somebody, that would be me, handling the details.”

“And did I pay you?”

Peabody frowned, scratched her jaw. “I am forced to say:
Touché
. ”

“Nobody should be forced to say
touché
. ”

“Feeling better?”

“Than what?” Eve countered as she slipped off the turnpike.

“Than you were this morning.”

“I was just having a thing, mostly in my head.” That’s what she’d decided. “Finished with it now.”

It had been stupid, and
embarrassingly
female, to get worked up over some blonde in a red dress. They’d have had lunch by now, she calculated, and he’d be back in his office taking his next meeting to plan global financial domination.

Back to normal. And that was that.

It barely took any effort to put it out of her mind, again, as they badged plant security and waited for clearance. And the manager.

She was a peppy little thing, all of four feet ten in her work boots. She had a wide smile and sparkling eyes that made Eve wonder what she’d consumed during her last break.

“Stella Burgess, nice to meetcha. Something I can help you with?”

BOOK: Innocent in Death
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