Shelter in place, p.19
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       Shelter in Place, p.19
 

          

  “That’s Barbara Ellen Dorchet’s place. Just this side of the village, and tucked back some. A riot of lupines in the yard in the summer. Was there a red pickup out front?”

  “Yeah, and a Mercedes G-Wagen.”

  “That’s her son’s. He’s here to help her do some sprucing up before she puts it on the market.”

  “On the … Seriously?”

  CiCi, a little bit psychic, smiled and sipped her latte. “Not such good timing for her, as there won’t be many looking for a place like that on the island late fall or winter when she’s ready to list it. But she lost her husband last year, and doesn’t have it in her to stay. She’s moving south. Her boy moved to Atlanta about twelve years ago for work. She’s got three grandchildren there, so there’s where she wants to be.”

  “She’s going to sell the house.” He let out a half laugh. “I’ve been looking for the right house for years now, and I realized after I got here, saw your place, and the other, they’re why nothing I looked at rang the bell.”

  “Looking in the wrong place.” She added, “You should make her an offer. I can find out her ballpark easy enough.”

  “I wasn’t figuring on…” He trailed off, sipped some of the really excellent latte. “This is downright weird.”

  “I’m a fan of the downright weird. Well, come on, Detective Delicious. I’m going to cook you breakfast.”

  “You don’t have to—” He broke off to study her, the fabulous hair, the amazing eyes. “Do you invite strange men for breakfast often?”

  “Only ones who interest me. Normally, you’d be doing the cooking, but since I didn’t spend the night rocking your world, I’ll make the cranberry pancakes.”

  That got a laugh and a grin out of him, earned him more points. “I’d be stupid to turn down a beautiful woman and cranberry pancakes at the same time. I’m not stupid.”

  “I could tell.”

  “Let me help you down.”

  He climbed down, favoring his right side, wincing just a little before he reached his left hand up for hers.

  “Still hurting?”

  “I get twinges, and I’m still working on range of motion and building back up. Doing physical therapy—exercises—and I’m ferrying back and forth twice a week for the real torture sessions.”

  “You need to do some yoga. I’m a big believer, and of holistics. But we’ll start with pancakes. How do you feel about Bloody Marys?”

  “Don’t spare the Tabasco.”

  “Oh, my man.” She took his left hand, swung arms with him. “To borrow a phrase, ‘This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.’”

  The inside of the house turned out to be as fascinating as the exterior. The color, the light. Jesus, the views.

  “It looks like you.”

  “My, my, aren’t you clever.”

  “No, I mean it.” He wandered, looking everywhere. “It’s bold and beautiful and creative. And…” He stopped beside the bust, stared in wonder at Emergence. “Wow. This is … Wow.”

  “My granddaughter Simone’s work. It is wow.”

  “You can feel the triumph, the joy of it. Is that the right word?”

  “It’s an excellent word. She was in the mall that night, too. My Simone.”

  “I know.” He couldn’t take his eyes off the statue, the face. “Simone Knox.”

  “Have you met her?”

  “Huh? What? Sorry. No. I just, I kept track. Even before I became a cop. I needed to keep track of the people, when I could, the people who were there.”

  “She was there, too.” CiCi touched a gentle hand to the bust before she went into the kitchen to mix the drinks. “That’s the face of the friend Simone lost that night, as Simone imagines her. So yes, triumph.”

  “She was the first nine-one-one caller, your granddaughter.”

  “You do keep up.”

  “The cop who took out Hobart—the first on scene? She became my partner when I made detective. She’s part of the reason I became a cop.”

  “Isn’t the world a fascinating place, Reed? How it intersects, crosses, separates, pulls back? That boy destroyed that sweet girl, and she was a sweet girl. He destroyed all her potential. Simone brought her back, triumphantly, with her talent and the love she had for our Tish. This police officer responds because fate put her right there, and stops that sick boy from taking even more lives than he had, and helped Simone through the start of the awful aftermath.”

  She stepped over, gave him a Bloody Mary. “That same police officer connects with you, and you become a police officer. I’m a little bit psychic,” she said, “and I sense you’re a very good police officer. Then that sick boy’s sick sister kills, and tries to kill you. And here you are, in my house that you admired as a boy. I believe you were meant to be.”

  She touched her glass to his. “I’m a decent enough cook, but my pancakes are exceptional. So prepare to be astonished.”

  “I have been since you sat down on the rocks with me.”

  “I definitely like you. That’s now an absolute, irreversible fact. Sit down while I mix up the batter, and tell me all about your sex life.”

  “It’s flat at the moment.”

  “That’ll change. Exercise, good diet, yoga, meditation, a reasonable imbibing of adult beverages. Some time on the island, and absolutely time with me. You’ll get your mojo back.”

  “Today’s a hell of a start.”

  She smiled. “You rented Whistler’s Bungalow.”

  The Bloody Mary had the kick of an angry mule—just the way he liked it. “You don’t miss much.”

  “Or anything at all. It’s not a bad location, but this is better. After breakfast you need to go back, pack up. You can stay here.”

  “I…”

  “Don’t worry. I won’t Mrs. Robinson you. It’s tempting, but you need to ease back into that area, not start off with the crescendo.

  “There’s a guest suite over my studio,” she continued. “I only let particular people stay there. You’ll have the view, beach access, and my amazing company. Do you cook?”

  He couldn’t stop staring at her. She had a tattoo on her wrist like a bracelet, a purple crystal shaped like a spear around her neck.

  “Not really … at all.”

  “Oh well, you have other qualities. You’d be doing me a favor, too.”

  “How’s that?”

  “Simone lives here, works here most of the time. Since she has, I’ve gotten used to having someone else stir the air around here. Someone simpatico and interesting. You fit. Simone just left the other day for Boston, then New York. Do a lonely woman a favor. I promise not to seduce you.”

  “I might want you to.”

  “That’s sweet.” She sent him a blazing smile as she mixed batter. “But believe me, Delicious, you couldn’t handle it.”

  * * *

  She was a force of nature, Reed decided. How else did a woman he’d just met feed him cranberry pancakes (awesome) and convince him to move into her guest room?

  A force of nature, obviously, as he’d never believed in love at first sight. And now he was a victim of it.

  He unpacked. It didn’t take long, as he hadn’t brought a hell of a lot with him. Still half-dazzled, he looked around the room she’d offered him as cheerfully as someone else might have offered him directions to the local bar.

  Like the rest of the house, like all of her, it burst with color and style. No safe neutrals for CiCi Lennon, he thought. She went deep, rich purple on the walls, then covered them with art. Not the beachy scenes you might expect, he noted, but stylized nudes or mostly nude, male and female.

  He was especially struck by one of a woman who seemed to be waking, reaching up toward the sky with one hand, a sly, knowing look on her face, and the bloom of just unfurling wings on her back.

  The bed, a massive four-poster, gleamed bold bronze with tendrils of vines carved into the posts. The spread had a garden of purple flowers sweeping over bright white. Massed with pillows b
ecause, in his experience, women had a strange love affair with pillows. The bases of the lamps formed the sort of trees he’d expect to see in some magic woods.

  It offered a sitting area with a small sofa covered in a green you might get if you plugged the color into an electric socket, a table supported by a curled dragon—maybe the mate to the one that stood on a stone pedestal and looked ready to breathe fire—and a dresser with curved feet and fairy faces painted on the drawers.

  A magic room, he thought as he took a closer look at the dragon, admiring the detail of the scales, the expression of barely banked power in the eyes.

  But for all its wonders, the room didn’t hold a candle—whatever that meant—to the view. The bay and out to the ocean, the boats, the rocks, the sky, all as much a part of the room as the magical mix of art and color.

  He hadn’t come to the island for adventure, but for the time apart, the time to think, the time to recharge. But in one morning, he’d found the conduit to all of that.

  He cleaned up first—she hadn’t stinted on the bathroom, either, but he bypassed the body jets in the shower. His ribs still troubled him.

  She’d told him to come down to her studio once he’d settled in, so he walked down on steps painted hot pepper red and around to the matching side door flanked by grinning gargoyles.

  She called out, “Come on in,” to his knock. And he entered another wonderland.

  It smelled of paint and turpentine and incense—with a hint of weed. Not surprising, since she held a paintbrush in one hand, a joint in the other. She wore a butcher’s apron splattered with paint, and that amazing hair—about the same color as the guest-room walls—was piled up with what looked like jeweled chopsticks.

  Art supplies and tools were jumbled together on tall red shelves. A long worktable, as splattered as her apron, held more.

  Canvases stood, leaned, hung everywhere.

  He really didn’t know much about art, but he knew spectacular when it was slammed in his face.

  “Whoa. It’s like … nothing else ever.”

  “Just the way I like it. How’s the room?”

  “It’s magic.”

  She sent him a beam of approval. “That’s just exactly right.”

  “Thanks doesn’t cut it. I feel like I—I was going to say walked into the pages of a really cool book, but … What it is? Like I walked into one of these paintings.”

  “We’re going to have a really good time here.” She held out the joint, had him half smiling, shaking his head.

  “CiCi, I’m a cop.”

  “Reed, I’m an old hippie.”

  “Not a damn thing old about you.” He wandered over, let his jaw drop. “This is…”

  “The Stones, circa 1971. That’s just a print. Mick bought the original. It’s not easy saying no to Mick.”

  “I bet. I’m now one degree from the freaking Stones.”

  “You’re a fan?”

  “Definitely. I know some of these album covers,” he added as he wandered. “And posters. I had this poster of Janis Joplin.”

  Intrigued, she drew on her joint. “A little before your time, I’d have thought.”

  “She’s timeless.”

  “We’re made for each other,” CiCi decided, watching as he admired her work, and rubbed the heel of his hand at his right side.

  “Is that where you were shot?” she asked him.

  He dropped his hand. “One of them. Ribs are healing up, but they’re still a bitch.”

  “Got drugs?”

  “I’m giving them a pass for now.”

  She wiggled the joint. “Organic.”

  “Maybe so, but the couple times I tried it in college, after the high and the insane munchies came the ice-pick headache.”

  “That’s a shame. Me, I loved drugs and did them all. I do mean all. You don’t know until you try, right?”

  “I know if I jump off the cliff into the ocean I’m going to die.”

  She smiled behind a thin haze of smoke. “What if there was a mermaid who pulled you out, nursed you back to health?”

  He laughed. “Got me there.”

  “In case you’re worried about the cop part, my drugs of choice for the last decade or so have been weed—I’ve got a prescription for it—and alcohol. No illegal substances stashed around.”

  “Good to know. I should let you get back to work.”

  “Before you do, tell me what you think.” She gestured to the canvas on the easel in front of her.

  He stepped over and his heart gave three hard thuds.

  The woman stood in some sort of glade full of flowers and butterflies and sunlight. She looked at him over her left shoulder, a half smile on her lips, in her golden eyes.

  A sinuous vine grew up the center of her back, spread its arms over her shoulder blades.

  Light and color saturated her, but it was that look in her eyes that made him wish he could step into the canvas and go with her.

  Anywhere.

  “She’s … beautiful’s not strong enough. Compelling?”

  “It’s a fine word.”

  “You wonder who she’s waiting for, who she’s looking at, and what the hell’s taking them so long. Because who in their right mind wouldn’t want to walk down that path with her?”

  “No matter where it leads?”

  “No matter. Who is she?”

  “In this portrait? Temptation. In reality, my granddaughter. Simone.”

  “I have a photo of her in my files, but…” It hadn’t struck him, not like this. “She looks like you. She has your eyes.”

  “That’s a fine compliment, to both of us. That’s Natalie, my younger granddaughter.” She gestured to another canvas.

  Softer colors here, he noted, edging toward pastels to complement a different sort of beauty, a different sort of mood. Fairy princess, he decided, with the jeweled tiara over the gold halo of hair. Eyes of quiet blue in a lovely face that radiated happiness rather than power, and the slim frame draped in a long white gown thin enough to hint at the body beneath.

  “She’s lovely, and looking at someone who makes her happy.”

  “Very good. That would be Handsome Harry, her fiancé. I’m going to give this to him for Christmas. She’d never let him hang it if I’d done a nude, so I compromised.”

  “You love them a lot. It shows.”

  “My greatest treasures. I’m going to want you to pose for me.”

  “Ah, well, hmm.”

  “I’ll ease you into it. It’s hard to say no to Mick. Just as hard to say no to CiCi.”

  “I bet,” he said, stepping back. “I’ll get out of your way.”

  “What do you say to cocktails at five?”

  “I say I’m there.”

  * * *

  She didn’t bring up the posing business over the next couple of days—a relief. When he came back, worn out, from physical therapy, she had her acupuncturist waiting. He balked—needles, for God’s sake—but she’d spoken truth.

  It was hard to say no to CiCi.

  He concluded he’d fallen asleep during the acupuncturing because the PT wore him out and not because of weird-ass needles and aromatherapy candles.

  She roped him into sunset yoga on the beach with a group of others. He felt stupid, awkward, stiff—and nearly drifted off during shavasana.

  He couldn’t deny he felt stronger and clearer of mind after his first week, but that’s what he’d come to the island for. He didn’t argue about the next acupuncture session, especially after neither his physical therapist nor his beloved Tinette dismissed it as hooey, which he’d counted on.

  When CiCi talked him into a bike ride, his ribs and shoulder cursed him, but not as loudly as they had.

  Fall had long since peaked, but he liked the Halloween look of the denuded trees, the way they rattled in the wind. He spotted pumpkins in gardens, and others already carved on porches. The air carried that spicy scent the earth sent out before it went to sleep for the winter.

 
CiCi stopped her bike in front of the other house he’d admired as a child.

  All those rooflines, he mused, and the fussy trim, the spreads of glass leading out to odd little decks, and those double porches. All topped by the ridiculous charm of a widow’s walk.

  “The silvery gray works,” CiCi declared. “And when the lupines and the rest of the garden blooms, it’s the perfect backdrop for them. Me? I’d paint those porches orchid.”

  “Orchid?”

  “But that’s just me. Cody painted them and the trim that dark gray because it’s safer for selling. Can’t blame them. Anyway, they’re expecting us.”

  “They are?”

  “I called Barbara Ellen yesterday.”

  He studied the house, yearned. Shook his head. “CiCi, I can’t buy a house on the island. Cops have to live where they work.”

  “But you want to see it, don’t you?”

  “Yeah, I really do. I just don’t want to put them out.”

  “Cody’s had his mother nipping at his heels for weeks now. They could both use the distraction.” Once they parked their bikes, she took his hand, tugged him along a flagstone walk.

  She crossed the porch that should be painted orchid, knocked on the door—then just opened it and walked in.

  “Barbara Ellen, Cody! It’s CiCi and friend.” She called out over the sound of hammering from up the staircase tucked to the right of the living room.

  The living room boasted a wood-burning fireplace and wide-planked floors he guessed were original, freshly sanded and sealed. It opened straight back to the kitchen, where he expected they’d put a lot of effort into modernizing. The peninsula, the prep island, the counters—sticking with gray in granite—and definitely new cabinets in a clean, simple white.

  He didn’t know why anyone who wasn’t a cooking maniac needed a six-burner stove or double ovens, but they looked impressive.

  “Go ahead and wander,” CiCi told him. “I’ll call them again.”

  He couldn’t stop himself and walked back toward the kitchen, noted the double barn-style doors, slid one open. He definitely couldn’t buy the house, he reminded himself. Not only for obvious reasons, but because he wasn’t worthy of a kitchen with a pantry big enough to hold enough supplies to withstand an alien invasion.

 
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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
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new Nora Roberts book
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