Authors: Jane Porter
Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women
“Maybe, but I want you to see what she wrote.” She hesitated. “Just in case. Because if something did happen and I hadn’t warned you—”
“Okay, fine. I’ll read it.”
“Thank you.” She breathed a sigh of relief. “Tomorrow?”
“Can’t do tomorrow. Have something going on. What are you doing now?”
“I’m in San Francisco…staying with my mom.”
“I can come to you there.”
“No.” She said it too quickly and added apologetically, “My mom’s not well.”
“And we both know she wouldn’t like me.”
Kit grimaced. He was right.
“Where do you want to meet?” he asked.
“Do you know the city at all?”
“Can find my way around.”
Kit pictured the Outer Sunset district. It was filled with coffeehouses and restaurants, but at this time of night, the indie
coffeehouses and cute cafés would be closed or closing, leaving just the bars. But then again, Jude would probably prefer a bar. “Ever been to Durty Nelly’s?”
“On Irving Street?”
“That’s it,” she said. He did know his way around. “How about an hour?”
“See you there.”
it told herself she was not nervous as she drove to Durty Nelly’s. She wasn’t nervous and she wasn’t excited and she wasn’t looking forward to seeing him.
Those weren’t butterflies in her stomach, she told herself, parking around the corner on Twenty-fourth; she had indigestion.
Her hand shook slightly as she opened the bar’s distinctive red door.
Not nervous, not nervous, not nervous.
One of the bartenders greeted her as she entered. She smiled fleetingly and turned away, her gaze scanning the pub. It was a quiet night, with just a few people at the long bar and another few at tables.
She spotted Jude almost immediately. He was lounging by the big redbrick fireplace, his long legs stretched out before him, a glass of Guinness in his hand. Kit unwound her scarf and joined him.
“Waiting long?” she asked, hating the breathless note in her voice. Why did she do that when she saw him?
“No. But even if I had, I wouldn’t mind. I like this place. Haven’t been here in a while.”
Kit unbuttoned her coat, slid it off, and sat down. “Haven’t been here in ages either. Used to come quite a bit. Loved the Irish music on the weekends.”
He sipped his Guinness. “What’s wrong with your mom?”
Kit shook her head, unwilling to talk about it with Jude, thinking
these meetings between them weren’t good. Jude wasn’t good for her. She couldn’t think straight around him. There was something about him that discombobulated her. And men in general didn’t have that effect on her. Men in general left her cool, if not cold.
Jude, on the other hand, made her hot.
Frustrating, distracting, unacceptable.
Kit forced herself to look at him. He was watching her. Smiling at her.
“Why are you smiling?” she asked, incredibly annoyed with him for no reason that she could think of, and yet looking at him, sitting with his long legs outstretched, totally unruffled, ruffled her.
“Why are you so mad at me?” He sounded amused.
“Because I’m exhausted and worried sick about everyone and trying to take care of everything and you don’t look as if you have a care in the world!”
“Would you feel better if I looked worried?”
He had the gall to laugh.
Kit ground her teeth, hating him, regretting calling him, regretting caring enough to call him, regretting that something in her found him interesting and appealing when she should find him horrible and revolting.
“Would you like a beer?” he asked when he had finally stopped laughing.
He smiled and stood. God, he was tall and handsome, and Kit saw every female head in the place swivel to watch him walk to the bar to buy her the beer.
He walked like he owned the place.
Walked like he owned the world.
she thought breathlessly, trying not to admire his muscular legs, his big shoulders, his lean hips, his full-on swagger.
And she was doing a pretty good job not being overly impressed until he leaned on the counter to talk to the bartender.
Suddenly there was no air. She couldn’t breathe.
The denim of his jeans hugged his hamstrings and butt, the soft fabric clinging to him like a second skin, outlining all that dense, hard muscle.
Kit had a father and a brother. She’d lived with Richard forever. Knew her way around a gym. A man didn’t get a body like that by sitting around and drinking beer.
He’d worked for that body. Sweated for that body.
She tried not to think of him working up a sweat on her…working her…
Don’t be sexual, Kit, not with him.
Jude returned with the beer. It wasn’t a Guinness, it was a brown ale. She thanked him. She’d never developed an affinity for Guinness despite touring the brewery on her last visit to Dublin five years ago when she’d taken a six-week course at Trinity College on Anglo-Irish literature.
“Have you had dinner?” he asked, sitting down again across from her, his legs extending into her space.
Kit quickly pulled her legs up into her chair, tucking them under her. “I have. Are you hungry?”
“No. Just wanted to make sure you’d eaten.”
“I’m good. Thank you.” She drew a breath. “So Delilah—”
“No. Not Delilah, not yet.”
“But we’re here to talk about Delilah.”
“No, we’re here to talk about Howard. And so we’re going to talk about Howard, and how you know him, because you do know him.”
Kit glared at him for a long moment. “I find you very unlikable.”
“I know. And I’m sorry to hear that.”
Of course his lips would be twitching as he said it. Such a shithead.
“Okay, fine. I’m going to tell you how I met Howard, I’ll tell you everything, but don’t interrupt me.”
She took a quick breath and plunged on before he could say anything. “I met Howard at a bar in Alameda called Z’s. I go there with Polly and Fiona, teacher friends of mine from Memorial, once or twice a month for drinks. He was sitting with Polly’s ex-boyfriend. Apparently they’re neighbors or something, and while Polly and Jon were outside talking, he introduced himself to me. He said his name was Michael, he was from Houston, had just moved here, and didn’t know anyone. He never mentioned he had a family. If anything, he made it sound as if he was single and lonely but I didn’t give him my number or encourage him in any way. And then a few days later he calls me on my cell—”
“How did he get your number?”
She’d told him she didn’t want to be interrupted, but Jude had just asked a very good question. “I don’t know. I even asked him that, and he made a joke out of it, saying he had ‘his ways.’”
Jude said something that very possibly was obscene under his breath.
Kit swallowed and pressed on. “He wanted to take me out that weekend but I was already heading out of town to Capitola—”
“The weekend I met you in the village?”
“That’s right. So we made plans to go out the following weekend, and we did. We went out only once, to dinner. I met him at the restaurant. I drove my own car.”
“Thank God for small mercies,” he muttered.
She ignored him. He wasn’t sticking to her deal, but never mind. “I wouldn’t call dinner pleasant—”
“What does that mean?”
“I guess I found him rather aggressive. If I said something he didn’t like, he’d try to change my mind. But it wasn’t comfortable.
I felt uncomfortable. Almost like I was dealing with a teenage bully.”
Jude’s expression hardened. “He was aggressive with you?”
“Not physically, no, but he didn’t like that I wouldn’t go out with him again since he wasn’t divorced.” She looked into Jude’s eyes. “I didn’t know he was going through a divorce. Would never have gone out with him if I’d known he was still married.”
“He told you he’d filed for a divorce?”
She nodded. “He said it would be final in two weeks, and he blamed his failed marriage on his fifteen-year-old stepdaughter.”
“And that impressed you?”
. I never went out with him again. But he kept calling—”
“Did you tell him to get lost?”
.” She exhaled, rubbed at her forehead. “Then five days after that one date, he showed up in my classroom, announced he was getting back together with Missy and that Delilah would be one of my students.”
“That’s just plain weird.”
“Do you honestly know how weird that is? He’s a freak, Kit Kat. A stalker—”
“That’s why I texted you. I was warning you.”
He dramatically put a hand across his heart. “That FYI you sent me this afternoon was a warning? ‘Forewarned is forearmed’? I’m sorry, Miss Brennan, but I found it rather glib, and devoid of any genuine concern about my personal safety.”
Kit had to fight really hard not to smile. She actually liked his sense of humor. “You have really good diction for a biker who is running from the law.”
“My mom was a teacher.”
Kit sat back in her chair. The way he said it completely disarmed her. “What did she teach?”
“Fifth grade. That was her favorite grade. But she taught almost every grade at one point or another. She just retired last year after forty years.”
“Is she in the area or…?”
“In the area.”
“Where did she teach?”
“Sequoia Elementary.” He said it proudly, without hesitation, and something in Kit shifted, softening.
“What is she doing now?” she asked.
“Reading. Gardening. Playing bridge.”
“Maybe it’s duplicate bridge. She tried to teach me once but it wasn’t for me. The game went on forever.”
Kit tucked a rebellious curl behind her ear. She’d tried straightening her hair tonight but not all curls seemed to have gotten the message. “I can’t picture you playing bridge.”
“I guess she couldn’t either. She gave up after that one lesson. Suggested I stick to poker.”
“Are you a good poker player?”
“No. Not real big on cards. Would rather be outside doing something.”
“Working on my bike. Riding my bike. Heading to the beach.” The corners of his mouth lifted. “You like asking questions, don’t you, Miss Brennan?”
“No more than you do.”
He grinned, swigged his beer. “My mom used to call me Curious George. I used to get into everything.”
“So did I.”
“I used to be so curious about everything. I wanted to know everything, so I’d snoop in my brother’s and sisters’ bedrooms, opening drawers, searching their closets, looking for things.”
Laughter gleamed in his eyes. “Kit Kat was a snoop.”
She nodded, embarrassed.
“So what were you looking for?” he asked.
“Anything. Everything. I just liked looking. Maybe, like you, I was born curious, because I remember looking at everything, even as a little girl. Reading everything. Books, pictures, encyclopedias. I guess I should have been an investigator. I used to pretend I was Nancy Drew.”
“Did your sisters and brother mind having a snoop for a sister?”
“I’m sure they did, when they found out. But they rarely found out. I was good. Discreet. And it was a great way to spend an hour, or an afternoon. My favorite room to explore was my parents’. What did they have in bottom drawers? In the back of drawers? In pockets? In coats? Hidden behind coats?”
“And what did you find?”
“All sorts of things. Coins. Cards. Unwrapped Christmas or birthday presents. Girlie magazines. Dirty handkerchiefs. A handgun—”
“My dad kept one on the top shelf of his closet. But the bullets were in a lavender floral shoe box in Mom’s closet behind her other shoe boxes.”
He smiled, creases fanning from his eyes. “You were worse than I was.”
She blushed. “And those were the safe things I found.” She chewed on the inside of her lip, hesitating. “There were things I wish I hadn’t found.”
“Um. Other stuff. Adult stuff. And it’s time to change the subject, I think.” Aware that her face had to be bright pink, Kit took a massive sip of her beer and then another, wondering what on earth had possessed her to share so much, and how had they gotten
on this topic in the first place? “So Delilah,” she said, desperate to change the subject. “Let’s talk about her.”
why we’re here.”
Kit opened her purse, pulled out the black notebook, and handed it to him to read. “Here. Read.”
She watched his face as he skimmed the lines. There weren’t many. It didn’t take him long.
Jude looked up at her. “She’s quite good at making skeleton heads.”
Kit’s lips curved. Damn him. She wasn’t supposed to find him funny or sexy but she did. She really, really did. “You’re supposed to be reading what she wrote, not looking at the cartoons.”
He handed the journal back to her. “I read it all, and, Kit, I’m okay if Dempsey hates me. The feeling’s mutual.”
“Because he’s a snake. Bad news. Can’t think of one redeeming quality.”
“He has to be intelligent. He’s a petroleum engineer.”
“Did he tell you that?” Jude smiled but his eyes were hard and unforgiving. “Because he’s not. He’s a reliability manager.”
“He helps monitor quality in the manufacturing department. And no, you don’t get there without some effort and experience but Dempsey is no genius. He’s a sick SOB that preys on women. I’d take him out of this life if I could.”
His vehemence startled her. He didn’t sound calm now. “That’s a joke, right?”
Kit blinked. “You can’t really mean that.”
“Then you don’t know me.”
Kit glanced down at Delilah’s entry. “Are they back yet? Have you seen her since they got home?”
“Got home from where?”
“This weekend. Howard called me Friday night from Tahoe, said they’d gone there for a wedding, apologized for not letting the school know that Delilah would be absent—” She broke off as she saw Jude’s expression.