Authors: Debbie Viguie
Mark scowled. “I’ll talk to your business manager. Hopefully we can work something out.”
“Let’s get that taken care of now,” Mark said. “Unless the two of you aren’t finished discussing whatever you were discussing when I came in.”
“No, we were finished,” Jeremiah said quickly.
“Good. The sooner we get this all taken care of the sooner the captain will get off my back.”
Cindy and Mark left together. She stole a quick glance at Marie who was still scowling at her. She hadn’t had a chance to ask Jeremiah what he had been discussing with his secretary when Cindy came in the office. She’d have to remember to do that. Whatever it was, she was positive that Marie had not been urging Jeremiah to marry her.
“That woman glares an awful lot,” Mark noted after they had left the office.
“She doesn’t like me.”
“I’m not sure she likes anybody.”
They walked the rest of the way in silence. They finally reached the church office and Mark walked into Sylvia’s office to talk to her while Cindy made a beeline for Geanie, her friend and the church’s graphic designer.
“What is it? You’ve got a weird look on your face,” Geanie said as she looked up from a bulletin she was proofreading.
“Mark’s asked me to go undercover at a couples’ retreat with Jeremiah.”
“That should be...interesting,” Geanie said with a smirk.
“I shouldn’t do it,” Cindy said. “I’ve got so much work to do in the next week.”
“Consider it officially covered. You know I get bored if I don’t have enough to do anyway and this is a slow time of the year for me.”
Cindy had known that Geanie would be willing to help out. That wasn’t really what was bothering her. It was going to be strange, pretending a level of intimacy with Jeremiah that they didn’t have even though they were in a quasi-relationship, if it could even really be called that.
She took a deep breath. She was worrying when she shouldn’t be. They’d probably be so busy trying to find out what had happened to the missing man that they wouldn’t have time to think about their relationship, let alone discuss it.
Although it might be a good thing if they did. If someone had actually asked her to describe their relationship she wasn’t sure that she could. At least they were actually going to go out on Valentine’s Day. That was something she could hold onto.
It would actually be her first Valentine’s Day that she had someone, and from what Jeremiah had said it sounded like it would be his first as well.
“You’re glowing,” Geanie said, interrupting her train of thought.
“You glow when you think about Jeremiah. You have for a while but lately it’s been so much stronger, you just get this radiant sort of smile.”
Cindy felt herself blushing. “I just hope everything works out at this retreat,” she mumbled.
“A week together at a couples’ retreat bonding, solving a mystery, what could possibly go wrong?” Geanie asked with a grin.
Mark was worried. So many things could go wrong with Cindy and Jeremiah going undercover at the couples’ retreat. He’d stopped counting when he’d reached seventeen possibilities, each of them worse than the last. Half a dozen times he’d decided to march into his captain’s office and tell the man that this was folly and it wasn’t going to happen.
And half a dozen times he’d sat back down. Given how much slack the captain cut him, and all he and the department had done off the books for Cindy and Jeremiah, the three of them kind of owed him.
Cars weren’t allowed at the retreat center, one of their weird quirks. Apparently taking away someone’s means of escape forced them to stay and work things out with their significant other. It was just one more thing that made him nervous about the entire situation. It was also one more thing pointing to foul play being at the heart of whatever had happened to the captain’s friend.
So, Mark had volunteered to drop them off there on Sunday. At least that way he could get a quick lay of the land, know where he had to go if he needed to ride to the rescue, so to speak.
Liam was in court testifying on an older case that had finally come to trial. That left Mark in the office pushing papers around his desk and going slowly out of his mind. It wasn’t pretty. He was staring at one particular file and he realized he’d read the same paragraph three times when he heard a woman address him.
Mark looked up and started, his entire body jerking in shock.
Georgia Dryer was standing there. Tall, slender, and just as aristocratic looking as the last time he’d seen her. She was wearing a tailored charcoal gray suit with a splash of red at her waist.
Georgia had been Paul’s estranged wife, widow now. She had been living on the other side of the country for at least ten months before Paul was killed. She hadn’t come out for the funeral and Mark hadn’t had any communication with her since. He’d left a couple of messages for her, none of which she’d returned. He hadn’t been in any shape to really talk to her anyway right after it happened.
He rose to his feet unsteadily. “Georgia, what can I do for you?”
“Hello, Mark. It’s been a long time.”
He didn’t know what to say. He would have been shocked if she had called him out of the blue, but here she was standing in front of him thousands of miles away from where she should be.
“Yes,” he said, still at a loss for words.
He glanced around. None of the other officers were paying attention. Why would they? He’d only ever seen Georgia a handful of times and Paul had been his partner for years. None of the others had likely ever laid eyes on her.
He forced himself to take a deep breath. “Maybe we should go somewhere that we can talk.”
Mark grabbed his coat off the back of his chair and led the way outside.
“Did you drive?” he asked.
“I took a taxi.”
He got into his car and after a momentary hesitation she got into the passenger’s seat.
, he told himself sternly. If it was anyone’s seat, it was Liam’s now. Paul had been gone for nearly two years. It was strange how in a moment all the pain and confusion of losing his partner and discovering that the man wasn’t who he thought he was could all come roaring back.
“Shall we get some coffee?” he asked, hearing the strain in his voice as his throat clenched.
“I’d prefer not to be seen,” she murmured.
He resisted the urge to point out that she’d shown up at his office. She had probably known he was the only one there who would recognize her. With the rest of the town, though, that might not be the case.
They couldn’t go to his house. Traci and the babies were there and it would be chaos. Plus he wanted to hear for himself what Georgia had to say before dragging anyone else into it.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket and fired off a text to Joseph.
U at home?
came back the reply almost instantly.
Need to borrow your house for a couple of hours.
U know the alarm code.
It was true. Mark did know the alarm code. And at some point during their many misadventures he had even acquired a key which he had kept.
“I know somewhere we can go,” he said, putting his phone away and starting up the car.
As they drove he couldn’t think of a thing to say and she seemed to be content to let the silence stretch on between them. When they finally turned up the drive toward Joseph and Geanie’s mansion she turned and looked at him with sudden curiosity.
“You know the Coulters?”
“Been friends a couple of years now. Traci was one of the bridesmaids in their wedding,” he said.
He certainly had her attention now.
“What is Joseph’s wife like? When I heard about the wedding I couldn’t imagine what type of woman had finally ensnared him.”
“Trust me, the ensnaring was mutual. How did you hear about the wedding?”
“When one of the wealthiest bachelors in the country gets married, it’s news,” she said.
Georgia had always been interested in high society. The irony was that Joseph most certainly was not. Mark had long suspected that she had married Paul because of the family name that came attached and the prospect of inheriting quite a lot when his parents died. It turned out she didn’t like being a cop’s wife, though, and over the years the fights had escalated until she moved to New York where she became the editor at a fashion magazine. She had kept the last name, though, along with the ring which Mark noticed she was still wearing.
As they pulled up in front of the house he saw her eyes grow enormous as she took in the mansion. “What a magnificent place to entertain,” she said at last.
“Yeah. Their Halloween party was killer,” Mark said as he stopped the car and got out.
A minute later they were in the sitting room. Mark was on the couch and she was sitting in a straight back chair. Georgia’s head kept swiveling right and left as she took everything in. Mark was beginning to think this had been the wrong place to bring her. What was done was done, though, and if she had something to say, they had best get to it.
“We haven’t had a chance to talk since...everything,” he said, leaning forward.
She turned and gave him a blank look for a moment before seeming to pull herself together and focus on him instead of the things around them.
“Yes, well, that is partly my fault. I got your messages. I just wasn’t up to talking. It was the strangest thing. All those nights I spent worrying that something was going to happen to him, and when something finally did I couldn’t believe it.”
Mark nodded. Grief struck people in different ways. And while Georgia had always been a cold, calculating woman, he did not doubt that she, too, had grieved in her own way.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” he said.
“Thank you. I think you lost more than I did. Paul was your friend. I envied your closeness. He was always distant with me, never talked to me, told me things.”
“Turns out that was how he was with everyone,” Mark said grimly. “No one knew what was really going on his head. Who he really was,” he paused. He wondered if Georgia had ever had cause to suspect that Paul wasn’t who he claimed to be.
“Did anyone from the department ever contact you after his death?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Only you.”
“Ah. What about his parents, sister, did you hear from them?”
“His sister was the one who called to tell me. I gather he had her listed as next of kin. Strange it would be her and not me.”
“She was local in case of an emergency,” Mark said, struggling to be tactful.
“You’re right, of course. I got your message later that day.”
“Did he ever talk to you about the time as a child when he was kidnapped?”
She blinked at him in surprise. “What an odd question. No, he never talked to me about it. Of course I knew about it. It was in the news when he was taken and again when he made his way home. I tried, once when we were dating and once more after we were married to get him to talk about it, but he refused. When I pushed he just got angry. It was more than that, though. It was like he was afraid.”
“I don’t honestly know, and I guess it doesn’t matter now. I wanted to understand him, to know what he had gone through. Those are the kinds of things you’re supposed to tell your spouse, aren’t you?”
And for the first time since he’d known her, Mark actually felt sorry for her. Maybe some of the coldness she always radiated was a result of being in a marriage with someone who kept her at arm’s length, wouldn’t let her in. If Paul would have told anyone about what really happened to him, it would have been logical that she would have been the one.
But he hadn’t.
Had Paul been afraid that if he told his wife the truth that she couldn’t handle it, or that she’d tell his family? Or was there more? Was it possible he had been trying to protect her?
Paul was gone now, though, and the burden of his secrets fell on Mark’s shoulders. As he sat there staring at Georgia, he debated about whether to tell her the truth. Would she refuse to accept it, like his parents, or would it reinforce her own feelings like it had with Paul’s sister?
“Would you still want to know more about what happened to him?” he asked finally. He had to give her the choice. Some people when they lost someone were just as happy to be left in the dark about things they hadn’t known so that they could remember the deceased as they had known them, and not as the stranger they had known so little about.
She slowly shook her head. “Sometimes knowledge can be a terrible burden. With Paul gone there’s no reason I need to know about the things he wouldn’t share with me. If we’d had children together I might feel differently, but I’m content to let his secrets stay buried along with him.”
She didn’t want to know. Whether or not she suspected she was at least quite clear that she didn’t want to hear the truth.
“Fair enough. So, Georgia, if you’re not looking for answers, what brings you out here. What can I do for you?”
“There’s nothing you can do for me, Mark, but I’m pretty certain there’s something I can do for you.”
He found himself leaning forward, eager to hear whatever she was about to say next.
“About eight months after he died I was contacted by an attorney I had never heard of before. The man actually came to my apartment. He said he’d been retained by Paul years ago and in the event that Paul didn’t check in with him for their yearly meeting then he was supposed to give this to me.”
She pulled a small envelope out of her purse and handed it to Mark. He struggled to keep his hand from shaking as he reached for it. He could feel a tightening in his stomach as his hand closed on it. There was something important inside, he could feel it.
“Have you opened it?” he asked, having to clear his throat to get the words out.
“Yes. I studied the contents for days, but I finally gave up. I put the whole thing away. A couple of days ago I pulled it back out of my closet. I realized I could make no more sense of it now than I could then. That’s when it occurred to me that I should give it to you. Maybe it will mean something to you. As it is, I’m done. I’m moving on with my life and I don’t need anything from the old one holding me back. I’m sorry, that sounded really harsh. I didn’t mean it that way. The truth is, I found someone and I’m getting remarried.”
“Congratulations,” Mark said.
“Thank you. It took me by surprise, actually. After my first marriage I just didn’t think that marriage was for me. I’ve found a man that makes me feel different. He’s French, actually. I must admit the whole thing has been a bit overwhelming. But you see now why I felt the need to give this to you, to close that chapter so I can begin a new one?”
Mark nodded, barely hearing her as he slowly opened the envelope. Inside there were two items. The first was a single sheet of paper with some unintelligible writing on it that was in Paul’s handwriting. He frowned as he stared at it. It looked like some sort of code. The second item was a small brass key.
Before he could say anything, Georgia spoke up. “I have no idea what the key goes to and whatever he wrote it just looks like gibberish to me. Honestly, I can’t even figure out why he bothered to have this sent on by that attorney.”
He wanted this to go to someone in case he died. It was a contingency plan, a safety net
, Mark thought to himself. He wished he’d had the paper and key back when Georgia first received them, but it was okay. He’d do what he could with them now.
“Do you have the attorney’s name and contact information?” he asked.
She nodded and pulled a business card out of her purse which she handed to him. “I kept it in case I ever figured out what it all meant or I needed to ask him something,” she said. “I’m glad to be rid of it all. It kind of disturbed me, there was something almost sinister feeling about it.”
“Was there anything else the attorney told you?”