Authors: T. L. Haddix
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Suspense, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense
“Some.” Zora crossed her arms. “But those are the sorts of things we do keep separate. I don’t honestly think the Satanists practice very many, if any, rituals. Wicca is full of them, though. That’s why I called. The folks in the group are starting to get pretty nervous about all this talk that’s been going around town about ‘devil worshipping’ sacrifices and altars being found. Since I’m the most prominent member of the group – well, maybe the most public would be a better description – certain members wanted me to contact you on their behalf.” She saw Beth’s raised eyebrows, and rushed on.
“There’s this guy, Gordon – I guess he’s the ‘leader’ of the group, if you want to say that. He’s interested in meeting with you, but he’s a very private individual, and there’s no way he’d risk it unless he was fairly certain that you wouldn’t be all gung-ho rabid reporter on him. That’s why he asked me to meet you first, to evaluate you, if you will.”
“I can appreciate his wariness, I suppose. I’ve seen it happen too many times.” Beth turned her now-empty mug around in her hands, thinking. “I’d be more than glad to meet with him, Zora. I think I can safely say that I won’t turn rabid about this, although I am very, very interested in hearing what he has to say. Any idea what he has in mind?”
Zora shook her head. “Like I said, he’s a very intense, very private person. I doubt even his girlfriend or wife knows what he’s thinking most of the time, if he even has a girlfriend or wife. He’s been coming to our meetings for several months now, and we still don’t know even that much about him.”
Beth raised her eyebrows a little at that and pursed her lips. “I would stipulate that wherever we met, it would have to be a public place, not some private or hidden meeting. No offense to your mysterious man, but I’ve learned that it doesn’t pay to be reckless when meeting with a source.”
“I get that. A lot of men don’t understand it, but women have to be more careful. I guess that makes it a little hard for you sometimes.”
“It certainly makes things interesting, I’ll say that. Do you think he would have a problem with that stipulation?”
“No. I can’t see why he would. Gordon’s a pretty reasonable guy. I’ll let him know. That’s pretty much all I needed to say, so I guess I’ll head out now.” She started to stand. When she was halfway out of her seat, she stopped and sank back down. Staring at Beth, her gaze went totally blank for a few seconds. It caused the hair on the back of Beth’s neck to stand on end. Just as suddenly as it came, the look passed and Zora frowned deeply.
“Something’s wrong,” she said bluntly. “Something’s around you. It’s ugly and dark. Are you okay?”
Beth was stunned by the words, and had to gather her scattered thoughts in order to respond. She cleared her throat. “I am, but my apartment was broken into over the weekend.”
The other woman shook her head and continued, obviously concerned. “Be careful, Beth. Whatever this is around you – whoever it is – they’re twisted. It’s not a good energy.”
“I appreciate the warning, Zora. Like I told you, I’m not closed off to the idea of clairvoyance, and especially given what happened this weekend, your words carry some weight.” She pulled a business card out of her notebook and handed it across the table.
“Both my email and cell phone number are on there. I assume you’ll be in touch with Gordon, tell him whether or not I passed muster?”
Zora blushed a little at the words, but nodded.
“Tell him he’s free to call me or email me, whichever he prefers.” As she stood, Beth told her, “I’m glad we met today. You remind me of my sister Joely, and I’ve been missing her.”
“Stay safe, Beth.” Zora moved away from the table and headed out the door without looking back.
As she walked to where she’d parked her SUV, Beth’s mind raced. This mysterious Gordon presented a little bit of a dilemma. She wasn’t sure meeting with him was a good idea, but as long as he was willing to meet in a public place, she wasn’t going to let that stop her. Her gut was telling her he would be able to provide her with a lot of the answers she sought.
Glancing at the dashboard clock, she decided to head to the library and see if they had any books on the occult she hadn’t already checked out. Having as much knowledge as she could about the occult before she met with this mysterious Gordon probably wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Beth had no sooner walked into the library than her phone rang, causing one of the ladies behind the reference desk to shoot her a dirty look. She grimaced and mouthed an apology as she answered. Asking the caller to hold on, she hurried toward the back corner of the main room, which was usually deserted. Alone, she dropped her bag on a table and brought the phone back to her ear and said a breathless hello.
“Ms. Hudson? This is Gordon. I believe you may have heard of me?”
Catching her breath, Beth stood up straighter and glanced around as she answered. “Yes, I have. Zora tells me that you’d like to meet and discuss some things.”
“I would, yes. How’s your schedule looking for tomorrow morning?”
Beth pulled her bulging day planner out of her bag and quickly flipped to the appropriate page. “I have a meeting at eleven. If we met, it would have to be before nine,” she told him. “How early could we meet? Are you local?”
“I can be. My schedule is pretty open tomorrow morning, so why don’t we meet at seven thirty or so? You have the Riverwalk there in Leroy. It will be fairly private at that time of day, but there’ll be enough people around that you shouldn’t be uncomfortable being alone with me.”
“That sounds fine. How will I know you?” she asked.
There was a deep chuckle on the other end of the phone. “I’ll find you.” The line went dead, and the rude beeping that signified the call had ended sounded in Beth’s ear. She held the phone away from her and stared at it for a minute before thumbing back through the call log to see what number Gordon had called from. She wasn’t surprised to see that the number had been blocked.
“Talk about a drama queen,” she muttered under her breath. After slipping the phone back into her purse, she noted the meeting on her calendar and returned it to the bag, as well. That done, she moved to one of the computers. Searching for books about the occult, she found several new possibilities, and she made a note of their catalog numbers before she headed into the stacks. After choosing several books, she took a few minutes to swing by the new releases before she made her way to the front desk to check out.
Stella Moore, Ethan’s mother, was manning the desk, and her face broke into a wide smile when she saw Beth approaching. “Hi, sweetie, how are you?” She reached across the counter to squeeze Beth’s hand.
Beth returned the smile as she set the stack of books on the counter. “I’m doing great, Stella, how about you? What’s going on lately?”
Stella sent her a look that had Beth raising her eyebrows. She leaned across the counter and gestured for Beth to come closer. “There’s a rumor that’s been circulating today that our director is out. Apparently, one of the board members came by late Saturday and caught him in a delicate situation.”
As she knew Stella was not a gossip, Beth was that much more surprised at what she was hearing. “Was he the only one in this ‘delicate’ situation, or did he have someone with him? I presume we’re talking about a situation of a sexual nature?”
Stella nodded. She greeted another patron as they walked up, and Beth moved aside as Stella checked the woman’s selections out. Glancing through her own books, she half-listened to their conversation. Her ears perked up when she heard Zora Mongiardo’s name.
“Yes, she’s my cousin,” the statuesque redhead was saying to Stella. When she noticed Beth watching her, she inclined her head in a polite nod.
Stella handed her the receipt for the books. “Well, welcome to Leroy.” The woman thanked her and nodded at Beth again before walking away toward the front door. Beth moved back over to where she had been standing.
“Who was that?”
“Oh, that was Kathryn Owen,” Stella told her as she scanned Beth’s selections into the computer. “She just moved to Leroy a couple of weeks ago, apparently. She devours books almost as quickly as you do.”
“She’s Zora’s cousin, she said? That’s interesting.”
Beth just shook her head. “Just timing. So about this thing with the director? Do I need to be interviewing someone?”
Stella glanced at her over the top of her glasses, eyebrows raised. “Might not be a bad idea. You know the director doesn’t have the best reputation around here. We’re all hoping it’s true, and that he’s out on his behind.”
Beth thought about some of the incidents Stella had shared with her in confidence. “I can imagine so, after everything you’ve told me. When will you know?”
“Not really sure. Hopefully within a few days at the latest.” As the computer beeped, she turned back to the screen. “Looks like you have a couple of arrived holds. Let me see where they are.” She perused the shelf behind the desk and pulled the books down, processing them. After sliding the stack back across the counter, she handed Beth the receipt. “Take care, honey. I’ll see you around.”
Thanking Stella, she took her books and headed out the door. She hurried to the Beast and quickly slid in out of the rain. As she looked at the stack of books on the seat next to her, she sighed at the thought of another night alone with take-out and research. It wasn’t where she had pictured herself being at twenty-eight, but it was what she had.
Tuesday dawned foggy and cool, thanks to the rain that had fallen well into the wee hours of the night. Beth dug out her long running pants and pulled a hoodie on over her t-shirt. Though she usually walked down to the Riverwalk for her jogs, this morning she decided to drive. She didn’t want to make it easy for this Gordon character to figure out where she lived if it came to that.
After parking at the western end of the path, she got out and stretched, doing warm up exercises as she looked around. There were several other joggers in the park, as well as senior citizens out for their morning walks. She had plenty of time before the meeting, so she decided to stretch her legs and gather her thoughts. Not far down the path, she spied one of her favorite little old ladies walking toward her with her dog, Corkie the Yorkie. Though she was eighty-four, Marta Harrison was a spry young thing, in mind if not in body, and was one of the ladies from the Baptist church. When she saw Beth approaching her, Marta smiled and waved.
“How are you this morning?” Marta asked as they hugged.
“I’m doing very well. How about you? Is Marcus doing better?”
The reply was philosophical, tinged with sadness. “Oh, we’re taking things day-to-day.” Her husband had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and the family was still dealing with the blow. “Are you here for your morning run?” They turned and walked back up toward the parking lot.
“No, I’m meeting someone this morning.” Glancing in the direction of the Beast, she hmmm’d at the sight of the tall, dark-haired man who was leaned up against the front end of her vehicle. “And I think that’s him, Auntie M.”
Marta followed the direction of Beth’s gaze and whistled, pressing a hand to her chest. “Oh, my, now that young man could give Ethan Moore a run for his money any day.” Ethan had always been a favorite of Marta’s with his dark, brooding looks, and she had never hidden her belief that he and Beth would make a good couple. “Is this one your young man, then?”
Beth blushed. “No, he isn’t. This is work related.”
“Well, it’s your own fault if you let it stay that way,” Marta replied tartly, but with a wink to temper her words. “I’ll see you on the flip side, dear.” With a smile and a wave for the man as she passed him, she headed on down to her own car, an enormous Lincoln Town Car. He watched her go, smiling, then turned back to Beth. As he saw the wary look she was giving him, he straightened away from her vehicle and held his hand out. Beth took it with caution, not wanting to step too close to him.
“Gordon, I presume?” she asked dryly. With a quick grin, he nodded. Beth drew in a quiet breath when she glimpsed his eyes, a brilliant and sparkling green that seemed too vivid to be real. Between that and the dimples that winked when he smiled, she conceded that Marta might have a point about his attractiveness.
“None other. That makes you Beth. Somehow I imagined you’d be taller.” He perused her from head to toes and back up. “Your articles tend to make you come across bigger than you are.”
Eyebrows raised, she ignored the comment about her size. “You read the
, then. Interesting,” she said, tilting her head to the side, “because I would swear you aren’t from Leroy.”
He flashed her another grin. “I’m not. Shall we walk? Just standing here might attract more attention than either of us is comfortable with.”
As they started walking, she realized just how imposing he was physically. While she wasn’t a petite woman at five-five, she felt tiny walking next to Gordon, who had to be at least an inch or two over six feet, if not more. With his dark hair and clothing, his was a quite formidable presence.
“So if you aren’t from Leroy, where are you from?” They passed a smiling brunette, dressed in a skimpy running bra and spandex pants despite the cool air. Beth was surprised when the well-endowed woman didn’t draw his attention.
“Around.” His tone indicated that he wouldn’t discuss it further. “I have local connections, so I like to keep on top of things. Among other sources, the
helps me do that.” They reached a wide point in the path, one of the overlooks that jutted out over the riverbank. After moving to the railing, Beth turned to face him.
“We’re in a pretty good spot here. It’s quiet and no one passing by from the road can see us, but there are enough joggers that I don’t feel overly anxious at being alone with you. Why don’t you tell me what’s on your mind?” She spoke bluntly, instinct telling her he would appreciate a more direct approach. When he smiled, she knew she had been right.