Carolina moon, p.26
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       Carolina Moon, p.26

           Nora Roberts
 

  His sister was dead, and if she wasn't responsible, she was obligated. She'd felt obligated before, and had followed through. The path she'd taken had brought her great joy and shattering grief. She'd slept with another man then, given herself out of careless and innocent love.

  When she'd lost him, lost everything, she'd promised herself she'd never make those choices, those mistakes again.

  Yet here she was, opening herself to all that pain a second time.

  Cade was the kind of man women fell in love with. The kind she could fall in love with. Once that step was taken, it colored everything you thought, everything you did and felt. In the bold hues of joy. In the drowning grays of despair.

  So the step couldn't be taken. Not again.

  She would have to be sensible enough to accept the physical attraction, enjoy the results of it, and keep her emotions separate and controlled. What else had she done, nearly all of her life?

  Love was a reckless, dangerous thing. There was always something lurking in the shadows, greedy and spiteful, just waiting to snatch it away.

  She lifted the glass to her lips, and saw. Beyond the window, beyond the dark. In the shadows, she thought dully. Waiting. And the glass slipped from her fingers to shatter in the sink.

  "Tory?" Cade shot out of sleep, out of bed, and stumbled in the dark. Cursing, he rushed toward the kitchen.

  She stood under the harsh light, both hands at her throat, staring, staring at the window. "Someone's in the dark."

  "Tory." He saw the sparkle of broken glass that had jumped from the sink to the floor. He grabbed her hands. "Are you cut?"

  "Someone's in the dark," she said again, in a voice much like a child. "Watching. From the dark. He's been here before. And he'll come back again." Her eyes stared into Cade's, through them, and all she saw were shadows, silhouettes. What she felt was cold. So much cold.

  "He'll have to kill me. I'm not the one, but he'll have to because I'm here. It's my fault, really. Anybody could see that. If I'd come with her that night, he'd have just watched. Like he'd done before. He'd have just watched and imagined doing it. Just imagined until he got hard and used his hand so he could feel like a man."

  Her knees went out from under her, but she protested as Cade swept her up. "I'm all right. I just need to sit down."

  "Lie down," he corrected. When he put her back on the bed, he hunted up his trousers. "You stay in here."

  "Where are you going?" The sudden terror of being left alone brought strength back to her knees. She leaped up. "You said someone was outside. I'm going to go look." "No." Now the fear was all for him. "It's not your turn."

  "What?"

  She held up both hands and sank down onto the mattress. "I'm sorry. My mind's confused. He's gone, Cade. He's not out there now. He was watching, earlier, I think earlier. When we were . . .”

  It made her queasy. "When we were making love, he watched."

  Grimly, Cade nodded. "I'll look anyway."

  "You won't find him," she murmured, as Cade strode out.

  But he wanted to. He wanted to find someone, and use his fists, use his fury. He switched on the outside lights, scanned the area washed in pale yellow. He walked to his truck, got a flashlight out of his toolbox, and the knife he kept there.

  Armed, he circled the house, sweeping the light over the ground, into the shadows. Near the bedroom window, where the grass needed trimming, he crouched beside a flattened area where a man might have stood.

  "Son of a bitch." He hissed it between his teeth, and his hand tightened on the hilt of the knife. He straightened, spun around to stalk into the marsh.

  He stood on the verge and strained against impotence. He could go in, thrash around, work off some of his anger. And by doing so leave Tory alone.

  Instead he went back inside, left the knife and flashlight on the kitchen table. She still sat there, her fists bunched on her knees. She lifted her head when he came in but said nothing. She didn't have to.

  "What we did together in here was ours," Cade said. "He doesn't change that." He sat beside her, took her hand. "He can't, if we don't let him."

  "He made it dirty."

  "For him, not for us. Not for us, Tory," he murmured, and turned her face to his.

  She sighed once, touched the back of his hand with her fingers. "You're so angry. How do you tie it up that way?"

  "I kicked my truck a couple of times." He pressed his lips to her hair. "Will you tell me what you saw?"

  "His anger. Blacker than yours ever could be, but not .. . I don't know how to explain, not substantial, not real. And a kind of pride. I don't know. Maybe it's more a satisfaction. I can't see it—see him. I'm not the one he wants, but he can't let me stay, he can't trust me this close to Hope.

  "I don't know if those are my thoughts or his." She squeezed her eyes shut, shook her head. "I can't get him clear. It's as if something's missing. In him or in me, I don't know. But I can't see him." "It wasn't a drifter who killed her. The way we thought all these years." "No." She opened her eyes again, turned away from her own grief and toward his. "It was someone who knew her, who watched her. Us. I think I knew that even back then, but I was so afraid I closed it up. If I'd gone back the morning after, if I'd had the courage to go in with you and your father instead of telling you where she was, I might have seen. I can't be sure, but I might’ve. Then it would've been over."

  "We don't know that. But we can start to end it now. We'll call the police."

  "Cade, the police . . ." Her throat wanted to close. "It's very rare that even the most forward-thinking, open-minded cop listens to someone like me. I don't expect to find that particular breed here in Progress."

  "Chief Russ might take some convincing, but he'll listen to you." Cade would make sure of it. "Why don't you get dressed."

  "You're going to call him now? At four in the morning." "Yeah." Cade picked up the bedside phone. "That's what he gets paid for."

  17

  Police chief Carl D. Russ wasn't a big man. He'd reached the height of five-feet-six-and-a-quarter when he was sixteen and had stayed plugged there.

  He wasn't a handsome man. His face was wide and pitted with his ears stuck on either side like oversized cup handles. His hair was as grizzled as a used-up scouring pad.

  He had a scrawny build and topped the scale at one thirty. Fully dressed and soaking wet.

  His ancestors had been slaves., fieldworkers. Later they'd been sharecroppers eking out stingy livings on another man's land.

  His mother had wanted more for him, and had pushed, prodded, harangued, and browbeat until, mostly out of self-defense, he aimed for more.

  Carl D.'s mother enjoyed the fact that her boy was police chief nearly as much as he did.

  He wasn't a brilliant man. Information cruised into his brain, meandering about, taking winding paths and detours until it settled down into complete thoughts. He tended to be plodding.

  He also tended to be thorough.

  But above all, Carl D. was affable.

  He didn't bitch and moan about being awakened at four in the morning. He'd simply gotten up and dressed in the dark so as not to disturb his wife. He'd left her a note on the kitchen board, and had tucked her latest honey-do list in his pocket on the way out.

  What he thought about Kincade Lavelle being at Victoria Bodeen's house at four in the morning, he kept to himself.

  Cade met him at the door. "Thanks for coming, Chief."

  "Oh well, that's all right." Carl D. chewed contentedly on the stick of Big Red gum he was never without since his wife had nagged him into quitting smoking. "Had yourself a prowler, did you?"

  "We had something. Let's take a look around the side, see what you think."

  "How's your family doing?"

  "They're fine, thanks."

  "Heard your aunt Rosie was down for a visit. You be sure to give her my best, now."

  "I'll do that." Cade shone his flashlight on the grass under the bedroom window, waited while Carl D. did the
same, and pondered.

  "Well, could be y’all had somebody standing there playing Peeping Tom. Might've been an animal." He scanned with his light, chewed contemplatively.

  "It's a quiet spot, off the road a ways. Don't see that anybody'd have good cause to be wandering 'round out here. Guess they could come across from the road, or out through the swamp. You get any kind of a look?"

  "No, I didn't see anything. Tory did."

  "Guess I'll talk to her first, then do some poking around. Anybody was out here's hightailed it by now."

  He got creakily to his feet and swept his light over the darker shadows where the live oaks and tupelos closed in the swamp. "Yeah, this here's a quiet spot, all right. Couldn't pay me to live out this-a-way. Bet you hear frogs and owls and such all blessed night long."

  "You get used to them," Cade said, as they walked around to the back door. "You don't really hear them."

  "I guess that's the way. You get so's you don't hear the usual sounds anymore. And something that's not usual gives you a kind of jolt. Would you say that?"

  "I suppose I would. And no, I didn't hear anything."

  "Me, I'm what you call a light sleeper. Least little thing pops my eyes open. Now, Ida-Mae, she won't stir if a bomb goes off." He stepped into the kitchen, blinked at the bright lights, then politely removed his cap.

  "Morning, Miz Bodeen." "Chief Russ. I'm sorry for the trouble." "Don't you worry about that. Would that be coffee I smell?" "Yes, I just made it. Let me pour you a cup."

  "Sure would appreciate that. Heard you had a nice turnout at your store today. My wife sure enjoyed herself. Got one of those wind chimes. Fussed about it the minute I got in the door. Nothing would do but I hang it up right off the bat. Makes a pretty sound."

  "Yes, they do. What would you like in your coffee?"

  "Oh, a half a pound of sugar's all." He winked at her. "You don't mind, we'll sit down here and you can tell me about this prowler of yours."

  Tory shot Cade a look before she set out the coffee and sat. "Someone was at the window, the bedroom window, while Cade and I were ... "

  Carl D. took out his notepad and one of the three chewed-up pencils in his pocket. "I know this is a mite awkward for you, Miz Bodeen. You try to relax now. Did you get a look at the person at the window?"

  "No. No, not really. I woke up, and came into the kitchen for a drink of water. While I was standing at the sink I .. . He was watching the house. Watching me, us. He doesn't want me here. He's stirred up that I came back."

  "Who?"

  "The same man who killed Hope Lavelle."

  Carl D. set his pencil down, and tucking his gum in the pocket of his cheek, picked up his coffee to sip. "How do you know that, Miz Bodeen?"

  Oh, his tone was mild, she thought, but his eyes were the cool, flat eyes of a cop. She knew cops' eyes, intimately. "The same way I knew where to find Hope the morning after she was killed. You were there." She knew her voice was belligerent, her posture defensive. She couldn't help it. "You weren't chief then."

  "No, I've only been chief for going on six years. Chief Tate, he retired, moved on down to Naples, Florida. Got himself a motorboat. Does a lot of fishing. Chief Tate, he always was one for fishing."

  Russ paused. "I was a deputy the summer little Hope Lavelle was murdered. Terrible thing. Worst thing ever happened around these parts. Chief Tate, he figured it was a drifter did what was done to that little girl. Never found any evidence to the contrary."

  "You never found anything," Tory corrected. "Whoever killed her knew her. Just like he knows me and you and Cade. He knows Progress. He knows the swamp. Tonight he came up to the window of my house."

  "But you didn't see him?"

  "Not in the way you mean."

  Carl D. sat back, pursed his lips. Considered. "My wife's granny on her ma's side holds whole conversations with dead relatives. Now, I'm not saying that's the true case or that it's not, as I'm not the one having those chats. But in my job, Miz Bodeen, it comes around to facts."

  "The fact is I knew what had happened to Hope and where she could be found. The man who killed her knows that. Chief Tate didn't believe me. He decided I'd been out there with her, then had run off when I got scared. Left her there. Or that I found her after she was dead, and just went home and hid until morning."

  There was kindness in Carl D.'s eyes. He'd raised two girls of his own. "You were hardly more than a baby yourself."

  "I'm grown up now, and I'm telling you the man who killed Hope was out there tonight. He's killed others, at least one other. A young girl he picked up hitchhiking on the way to Myrtle Beach. He's already targeted someone else. Not me. I'm not the one he wants."

  "You can tell me all this, but you can't tell me who he is." "No, I can't. I can tell you what he is. A sociopath who feels he has the right to do what he does. Because he needs it. Needs the excitement and the power of it. A misogynist who believes women are here to be used by men. A serial killer who has no intention of stopping or being stopped. He's had a run of eighteen years," she said quietly. "Why should he stop?"

  "I didn't handle that very well."

  Cade closed the back door, sat back down at the table. He and Carl D. had walked the property, scouted the edges of the swamp. They'd found nothing, no fresh footprints, no handy torn swatch of material on a tree branch.

  "You told him what you know."

  "He doesn't believe me."

  "Whether he does or not, he'll do his job." "Like they did their job eighteen years ago."

  He said nothing for a moment. The reminder of that morning was always a quick, sharp jab to the gut. "Who are you blaming, Tory? The cops or yourself?"

  "Both. No one believed me, and couldn't explain myself. I was afraid to. I knew I'd be punished, and the more I said, the worse the punishment. In the end, I did what I could to save myself."

  "Didn't we all?" He pushed away from the table, went to the stove to pour coffee he didn't want. "I knew she was out of the house that night. Knew she planned to sneak out. I didn't say anything, not then, not the next day, not ever, about seeing her bike hidden. That night I considered it the code. You don't tattle unless you're going to get something out of it. So what if she wanted to ride off for a couple of hours?"

  He turned back to see Tory watching him. "The next day, when we found her, I didn't say anything. That was self-preservation. They'd blame me, as much as I blamed myself. After a while, there just didn't seem to be a point. We were all missing a piece, and could never get it back. But I can go back to that night, replay it in my head. Only this time I tell my father how Hope's stashed her bike, and he locks it up and gives her one hell of a talking-to. The next morning she wakes up safe in her bed."

  "I'm sorry."

  "Oh, Tory. So am I. I've been sorry for eighteen years. And over that time I've watched the sister I have left do whatever she could to ruin her life. I saw my father pull away from all of us as if being with us hurt more than he could stand. And my mother coat herself with layer on layer of bitterness and propriety. All because I was more interested in my own affairs than seeing to it Hope stayed in bed where she belonged."

  "Cade. There would have been another night." "There wouldn't have been that one. I can't fix it, Tory, and neither can you. "I can find him. Sooner or later, I’ll find him." Or he'll find me, she thought.

  He's already found me.

  "I have no intention of standing by this time while someone else I care about takes foolish risks." He set the coffee aside. You need to pack some things, go stay with your aunt and uncle."

  "I can't do that. I have to stay here. I can't explain it to you except to say I have to stay here. If I'm wrong, there is no risk. If I'm right, it won't matter where I am.

  He wouldn't waste time simply arguing. He’d find a way to arrange it as he thought best.

  "Then I'll pack a few things of my own.

  "Excuse me?"

  "I'm going to be spending a lot of time here. It'll be more convenient to
have what I need close at hand. Don't look so surprised. One night in bed doesn't make us lovers. But that," he said, pulling her to her feet, "is what we're going to be."

  "You're taking a lot for granted, Cade.”

  "I don't think so." He caught her face in his hands, kissed
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