Reunion in death, p.1
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       Reunion in Death, p.1

         Part #14 of In Death series by J. D. Robb
 
Reunion in Death


  Reunion in Death

  J.D. Robb

  There are some meannesses which are too mean even for man—woman, lovely woman alone, can venture to commit them.

  W. M. Thackeray, A Shabby Genteel Story

  The surest poison is time.

  Emerson

  CHAPTER ONE

  Murder was work. Death was a serious chore for the killer, the victim, for the survivors. And for those who stood for the dead. Some went about the job devotedly, others carelessly.

  And for some, murder was a labor of love.

  When he left his Park Avenue condo for his regular morning stroll, Walter C. Pettibone was blissfully unaware he was in his last hours of life. He was a robust sixty and a canny businessman who'd increased his family's already considerable fortune through flowers and sentiment.

  He was wealthy, healthy, and just over a year before had acquired a young, blonde wife who had the sexual appetite of a Doberman in heat and the brains of a cabbage.

  His world, in Walter C. Pettibone's opinion, was just exactly so.

  He had work he loved, two children from his first marriage who would one day take over the business he'd taken over from his own father. He maintained a reasonably friendly relationship with his ex, a fine, sensible woman, and his son and daughter were pleasant, intelligent individuals who brought him pride and satisfaction.

  He had a grandson who was the apple of his eye.

  In the summer of 2059, World of Flowers was a major intergalactic enterprise with florists, horticulturists, offices, and greenhouses both on and off planet.

  Walter loved flowers. And not just for their profit margin. He loved the scents of them, the colors, the textures, the beauty of both foliage and blossom and the simple miracle of their existence.

  Every morning he would visit a handful of florists, to check the stock, the arrangements, and just to sniff and chat and spend time among the flowers and the people who loved them.

  Twice a week, he was up before dawn to attend the gardener's market downtown. There he would wander and enjoy, order or critique.

  It was a routine that rarely varied over the course of a half-century, and one he never tired of.

  Today, after an hour or so among the blooms, he'd go into the corporate offices. He'd spend more time there than usual in order to give his wife the time and space to finish preparations for his surprise birthday party.

  It made him chuckle to think of it.

  The sweetheart couldn't keep a secret if she stapled her lips together. He'd known about the party for weeks, and was looking forward to the evening with the glee of a child.

  Naturally he would act surprised and had practiced stunned expressions in his mirror only that morning.

  So Walter went through his daily routine with a smile at the corners of his mouth—having no idea just how surprised he was going to be.

  * * *

  Eve doubted she'd ever felt better in her life. Rested, recharged, limber and loose, she prepared for her first day back on the job after a wonderfully undemanding two-week vacation where the peskiest task facing her had been whether to eat or sleep.

  One week at the villa in Mexico, the second on a private island. And in both spots there had been no lack of opportunities for sun, sex, and snoozing.

  Roarke had been right again. They'd needed the time together. Away. They'd both needed a period of healing. And if the way she felt this morning was any indication, they'd done the job.

  She stood in front of her closet, frowning at the jungle of clothes she'd acquired since her marriage. She didn't think her confusion was due to the fact that she'd spent most of the last fourteen days naked or near to it. Unless she was very much mistaken, the man had managed to sneak more clothes in on her.

  She yanked out a long blue gown in some material that managed to sizzle and sparkle at the same time. "Have I ever seen this before?"

  "It's your closet." In the sitting area of their bedroom, Roarke scanned the stock reports on the wall screen while he enjoyed a second cup of coffee. But he glanced over. "If you're planning to wear that today, the criminal element in the city's going to be very impressed."

  "There's more stuff in here than there was two weeks ago."

  "Really? I wonder how that happened."

  "You have to stop buying me clothes."

  He reached over to stroke Galahad, but the cat turned his nose in the air. He'd been sulking since their return the night before. "Why?"

  "Because it's embarrassing." She muttered it as she dived inside to find something reasonable to wear.

  He only smiled at her, watching as she hunted up a sleeveless top and trousers to slip over that long, lean body he never quite stopped craving.

  She'd tanned herself to a pale gold, and the sun had teased out blonde streaks in her short brown hair. She dressed quickly, economically, with the air of a woman who never thought about fashion. Which was why, he supposed, he could never resist heaping fashion on her.

  She'd rested during their time away, he thought. He'd seen, hour by hour, day by day, the clouds of fatigue and worry lift away from her. There was a light in her whiskey-colored eyes now, a healthy glow in her narrow, fine-boned face.

  And when she strapped on her weapon harness, there was a set to her mouth—that wide and generous mouth— that told him Lieutenant Eve Dallas was back. And ready to kick some ass.

  "What is it about an armed woman that arouses me?"

  She shot him a look, reached in the closet for a light jacket. "Cut it out. I'm not going to be late my first day back because you've got some residual horniness."

  Oh yes, he thought, rising. She was back. "Darling Eve." He managed, barely, not to wince. "Not that jacket."

  "What?" She paused in the act of shoving her arm in a sleeve. "It's summer weight; it covers my weapon."

  "It's wrong with those trousers." He stepped to her closet, reached in, and plucked out another jacket of the same weight and material as the khaki trousers. "This one is correct."

  "I'm not planning on doing a video shoot." But she changed it because it was easier than arguing.

  "Here." After another dip into her closet, he came out with a pair of half-boots in rich chestnut brown leather.

  "Where'd those come from?"

  "The closet fairy."

  She frowned at the boots suspiciously, poked a finger into the toes. "I don't need new boots. My old ones are all broken in."

  "That's a polite term for what they are. Try these."

  "Just gonna mess them up," she muttered, but sat on the arm of the sofa to pull them on. They slid onto her feet like butter. Which only made her eye him narrowly. He'd probably had them hand-tooled for her in one of his countless factories and they surely cost more than a New York murder cop made in two months. "How about that. The closet fairy seems to know my shoe size."

  "An amazing fellow."

  "I suppose it's useless to tell him that a cop doesn't need expensive boots that were probably sewn together by some little Italian nun when she's clocking field time for hoofing it or knocking on doors."

  "He has a mind of his own." He skimmed a hand through her hair, tugged just enough to tip her face up to his. "And he adores you."

  It still made her stomach flop—hearing him say it, seeing his face as he did. She often wondered why she didn't just drown in those eyes of his, in all that wild, wicked blue.

  "You're so damn pretty." She hadn't meant to say it aloud, nearly jolted at the sound of her voice. And she watched his grin flash, fast as fire across a face that belonged in a painting or carved into stone with its strong, sharp bones and seductive poet's mouth.

  Young Irish God, she supposed it would be titled. For weren't gods seductive and ruthless and cloaked in their own power?
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  "I have to go." She got quickly to her feet, and he stood his ground so their bodies bumped. "Roarke."

  "Yes, it's back to reality for both of us. But..." His hands stroked down her sides, one long, possessive move that reminded her, all too clearly, just what those quick and clever fingers were capable of doing to her body. "I think we can take a moment for you to kiss me goodbye."

  "You want me to kiss you good-bye?"

  "I do, yes." There was a lilt of both amusement and Ireland in the tone that had her cocking her head.

  "Sure." In a move as fast as his grin, she took handfuls of the black hair that nearly skimmed his shoulders, fisting, tugging, then crushing her mouth against his.

  She felt his heart jump even as hers did. A leap of heat, of recognition, of unity. And on his sound of pleasure, she poured herself into the kiss, took them both fast and deep with a little war of tongues, a quick nip of teeth.

  Then she jerked him back, stepped nimbly out of reach. "See you, ace," she called out as she strode from the room.

  "Have a safe day, Lieutenant." He blew out a long sigh, then sat back on the couch. "Now," he said to the cat, "what will it cost me for the two of us to be friends again?"

  * * *

  At Cop Central, Eve hopped on a glide to Homicide. And took a deep breath. Nothing against the cliffside drama of western Mexico or the balmy breezes of tropical islands, but she'd missed the air here: the smell of sweat, bad coffee, harsh cleansers, and above all, the fierce energies that formed from the clash of cop and criminal.

  Her time away had only honed her senses for it—the low roar of too many voices talking at once, the steady yet discordant beeps and buzzings of 'links and communicators, the rush of people all having something important to do somewhere.

  She heard someone screaming obscenities so fast they tumbled together into one vicious stew of words that was music to her ears.

  Motherfucklngassholecopbastards.

  Welcome home, she thought happily.

  The job had been her home, her life, her single defining purpose before Roarke. Now even with him, or maybe because she had him, it remained an essential part of who and what she was.

  Once she'd been a victim—helpless, used, and broken. Now, she was a warrior.

  She swung into the detectives' bullpen, ready to fight whatever battle lay ahead.

  Detective Baxter glanced up from his work, let out a low whistle. "Whoa, Dallas. Hubba-hubba."

  "What?" Baffled, she looked over her shoulder, then realized Baxter's leering grin was for her. "You're a sick man, Baxter. It's reassuring to note some things don't change."

  "You're the one who's all slicked up." He pushed himself up, skirted around desks. "Nice," he added, rubbing her lapel between his thumb and finger. "You're a frigging fashion plate, Dallas. Put the rest of us to shame."

  "It's a jacket," she muttered, mortified. "Cut it out."

  "Got yourself tanned, too. Would that be a full-body job?"

  She bared her teeth in a fierce smile. "Do I have to kick your ass?"

  Enjoying himself, he wagged a finger. "And what's that on your ears?" As she reached up, confused, he blinked as if in surprise. "Why, I believe those are called earrings. And they're real pretty, too."

  She'd forgotten she had them on. "Did crime suddenly stop dead while I was gone so that you have time to stand around here critiquing my wardrobe?"

  "I'm just dazzled, Lieutenant. Absolutely dazzled by this fashion presentation. New boots?"

  "Bite me." She swung away on the sound of his laughter.

  "And she is back!" Baxter announced to the sound of applause.

  Morons, she thought as she marched toward her office. The New York Police and Security Department was peopled by a bunch of morons.

  Jesus, she'd missed them.

  She walked into her office, then just stood, one step over the threshold, goggling.

  Her desk was clear. More, it was clean. In fact, the whole place was clean. Like someone had come along and sucked out all the dust and grime and then shined up what was left behind. Suspicious, she ran a thumb down the wall. Yes, that was definitely fresh paint.

  Eyes narrowed, she continued into the room. It was a small space with one stingy window, a banged-up—and now scrubbed—desk, and a couple of chairs with bad springs. The file cabinet, also sparkling, had been cleared off. A green plant that appeared to be thriving stood on top of it.

  With a little yelp of distress, she leaped to the file cabinet, yanked open a drawer.

  "I knew it, I knew it, I knew it! Bastard hit me again."

  "Lieutenant?"

  Snarling, Eve glanced back. Her aide stood in the doorway, as shipshape as the room in her starched summer blues.

  "Goddamn sneaking candy thief found my cache."

  Peabody pursed her lips. "You had candy in the file cabinet." She angled her head. "Under M?"

  "M for Mine, damn it." Annoyed, Eve slammed the drawer shut. "I forgot to take it out before I left. What the hell happened in here, Peabody? I had to read the name on the door to be sure this was my office."

  "Since you were gone it seemed like a good time to have it cleaned and painted. It'd gotten pretty dingy in here."

  "I was used to it. Where's all my stuff?" she demanded. "I had some backlog, and some fives, and the ME's and a sweeper's reports on the Dunwood case should've come in while I was away."

  "I took care of it. I did the fives and caught up with the backlog, and filed the reports." She offered a smile that danced laughter into her dark eyes. "I had some time on my hands."

  "You did all the paperwork?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "And arranged to have my office overhauled?"

  "I think there were multicelled organisms breeding in various corners. They're dead now."

  Slowly Eve slipped her hands into her pockets, rocked back on her heels. "This wouldn't be your way of telling me that when I'm around I don't give you time to take care of daily business."

  "Absolutely not. Welcome back, Dallas. And I have to say that, wow, you look really terrific. Snappy outfit."

  Eve dropped into the chair at her desk. "What the hell do I usually look like?"

  "Is that a rhetorical question?"

  Eve studied Peabody's face—the square, sturdy looks topped with a dark bowl of hair. "I'm trying to think if I missed your smart mouth. No," she decided. "Not a bit."

  "Aw, sure you did. Great tan. I guess you spent a lot of time soaking up the sun and stuff."

  "I guess I did. Where'd you get yours?"

  "My what?"

  "The tan, Peabody. You go in for a flash?"

  "No, I got it in Bimini."

  "Bimini, like the island? What the hell were you doing in Bimini?"

  "Well, you know, vacationing—same as you. Roarke suggested that, since you were heading out, maybe I should take a week off, too, and—"

  Eve shot up a hand. "Roarke suggested?"

  "Yeah, he thought McNab and I could use a little downtime, so—"

  Eve felt the muscle just under one eye start to twitch. It had a habit of doing that whenever she thought too hard about Peabody and the fashion dish from the Electronic Detective Division as an item.

  In defense, she pressed two fingers against it. "You and McNab. In Bimini. Together."

  "Well, you know, since we're trying this whole we're-a-couple thing on for size, it seemed like a good idea. And when Roarke said we could use one of his transpos and this place he has on Bimini, we jumped."

  "His transpo. His place on Bimini." The muscle leaped against her fingers.

  Eyes shining, Peabody forgot herself enough to lower a hip to the corner of the desk. "Man, Dallas, it was absolutely ult. It's like this little palace or something. It's got its own waterfall into the pool, and an all-terrain, and hydroskis. And the master suite has this gel-bed that's about the size of Saturn."

  "I don't want to hear about the bed."

  "And it's really private, even though
it's right on the beach, so we just romped around naked as monkeys half the time."

  "And I don't want to hear about naked romping."

  Peabody tucked her tongue in her cheek. "Sometimes we were only half-naked. Anyway," she said before Eve screamed, "it was mag. And I wanted to get Roarke some kind of thank-you gift. But since he has everything, literally, I'm clueless. I thought maybe you could suggest something."

  "Is this a cop shop or a social club?"

  "Come on, Dallas. We're all caught up with work." Peabody smiled hopefully. "I thought maybe I could give him one of the throws my mother makes. You know, she weaves, and she does really beautiful work. Would he like that?"

  "Look, he won't expect a gift. It's not necessary."

  "It was the best vacation I ever had, in my life. I want him to know how much I appreciated it. It meant a lot to me, Dallas, that he'd think of it."

  "Yeah, he's always thinking." But she softened; she couldn't help it. "He'd get a real kick out of having something your mother made."

  "Really? That's great then. I'll get in touch with her tonight."

  "Now that we've had our little reunion here, Peabody, isn't there some work to be done?"

  "Actually, we're clear."

  "Then get me some cold files."

  "Any ones in particular?"

  "Dealer's choice. I've got to do something."

  "I'm on it." She started out, paused. "You know one of the best things about going away? It's coming back."

  * * *

  Eve spent the morning picking through unsolved cases, looking for a thread that hadn't been snipped, an angle that hadn't been explored. The one that interested her the most was the matter of twenty-six-year-old Marsha Stibbs, who'd been found submerged in the bathtub by her husband, Boyd, when he'd returned from an out-of-town business trip.

  On the surface, it had appeared to be one of those tragic and typical home accidents—until the ME's report had verified that Marsha hadn't drowned, but had been dead before that last bubble bath.

  Since she'd gone into the tub with a fractured skull, she hadn't slid into the froth and fragrance under her own power.

 
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