Shelter in place, p.40
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       Shelter in Place, p.40

           Nora Roberts
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  She didn’t know what hit her. Neither will you.

  Don’t think about it now, she told herself. Don’t let a madwoman dictate your life.

  She boxed the shell, carried it downstairs.

  “Is that Reed?”

  “All ready to go.” Simone set the box on the kitchen counter with a little huff from the effort. “I appreciate you giving up a pretty summer day to go with me.”

  “I love a trip to the foundry. All those sweaty men—and women,” CiCi added. “I’ll get some sketches out of it.” She checked her hair in the mirror—long and loose with a trio of enormous hoops showing through at her ears. “And I really am looking forward to hearing Natalie’s wedding chatter. We’ll make it a fun day.” She shouldered on a straw bag the size of the Hindenburg. “Let’s get our pretty boy out to the car. You did tell him we’re going to the mainland this morning.”

  “I’ll text him from the ferry.”

  CiCi narrowed her eyes as they walked out of the house. “Simone.”

  “It gives him less time to worry.”

  “And no time to try to talk you out of going off-island.”

  “Exactly.” Simone settled the box in the cargo area, tossed her satchel back with it, popped on sunglasses as CiCi slid on her rainbow-lensed ones. In the driver’s seat, she cranked up the radio, shot CiCi a grin.

  “Girl trip!”

  “Wee-hoo!”

  Under usual circumstances, Simone might have booked a hotel room near the foundry, instead of pushing the work there to a single day. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust the supervisors, or the workers who were, in their way, artists themselves. But she preferred being in on every step and stage.

  These weren’t usual circumstances, and she didn’t want to be away from Reed and the island, so the push was on.

  He looked after her, she thought, and she looked right back after him.

  Still, she left CiCi to entertain herself on the pouring floor or to wander around the furnaces while she hovered over the worker who placed her piece into the autoclave.

  She’d used the lost wax method, her preference, and the heat and pressure from the oven would force the wax out of its shell.

  If she’d done good work, she thought, The Protector would be perfectly formed inside the empty, hardened shell.

  CiCi joined her when the workers transferred the hot shell to the pouring floor.

  “And here we go,” CiCi said.

  Workers in helmets, face masks, protective suits, thick gloves, and boots always put her in mind of rugged astronauts.

  They secured her work in sand while others heated solid blocks of bronze into liquid. She imagined muscles tensed and rippling inside those thick suits as they stirred that glorious molten bronze.

  Here was art, too, she thought, in the enormous heat, the scent of chemicals and sweat, of liquified metal. And magic in the glowing light as workers lifted the crucible of molten metal out of its furnace.

  And the pour—that moment of truth—always enthralled her. Those quick movements of workers moving in unison, the fluid flow of deep, glowing gold like melted sunlight.

  Inside the shell, her work, her art, her vision filled with that melted sunlight. The negative became positive, and the symbol and study of the man she’d come to love would be born.

  “Not as good as sex,” CiCi murmured beside her. “But it’s a damn fine rush all the same.”

  “Oh boy.” On a long sigh, Simone released her breath.

  Since the shell and the form within required several hours to cool, she drove with CiCi into Portland, had a long lunch—thank God not at the country club—with her mother and sister.

  Wedding talk dominated, but Natalie radiated happy, and that glow reflected on their mother. If you can’t beat them, Simone thought, join them.

  “You saw the pictures I sent of the attendants’ dresses.” Natalie sipped from her second glass of champagne.

  “I did,” Simone told her. “They’re lovely—sleek and elegant, and I love the color.”

  “Boysenberry.” Tulip indulged in more champagne herself. “I had my doubts, and I admit I tried to talk Natalie into something more traditional. But she was right. It’s a striking color, especially with her accent colors.”

  “The blush and pale silver.” CiCi nodded. “You’ve got an artist’s eye when you want one, sweetie.”

  “I was hoping you and Simone would wear the silver. If you’d look for a dress in that color. The boutique I’m using has some really beautiful choices. And there’s still time to customize.”

  “I look good in silver,” CiCi mused.

  “You’re not in the wedding party.” Natalie shifted her gaze to Simone. “But I’d like you to … I want you both to be part of it.”

  “Why don’t we go to the boutique after lunch?” Simone suggested. “You can help me pick out a dress.”

  Natalie blinked. “Really?”

  “You’re the bride, Nat.” Simone tapped her glass to her sister’s, and caught the glint of tears in her mother’s eye. “Let’s all go shopping.”

  Just a dress to her, she thought, but a symbol that mattered to both her sister and mother. And it would fill in another couple of hours while her bronze cooled.

  By the time she and CiCi drove back toward the foundry—with dresses, shoes, bags, wraps for a fall wedding—she felt energized.

  “I actually enjoyed that,” she marveled.

  “It never hurts to get out of our own comfort zones. You made them happy.”

  “We did.”

  “Yes, we did.” She gave Simone an elbow. “Now they owe us.”

  “Big-time.”

  Since she wanted to do the rest of the work herself, and didn’t want to spend her days off-island, Simone had the foundry load the encased bronze back into her car.

  “I’m texting Reed,” CiCi said as they drove onto the ferry. “I want him to know we’re on our way back.”

  “I don’t want him coming back to the house until I’ve done the breaking out and have the bronze back in my studio for the metal chasing.”

  “I’ll hold him off, and I’ll call on a couple of strong men to haul it out on the patio.” As she texted, she glanced at Simone. “I want to be there for the breaking out.”

  “I wouldn’t have it otherwise.”

  Two and a half hours later, Simone swiped sweat off her forehead. Bits and chunks of shell lay over the tarp along with a variety of hammers and power tools.

  And the bronze stood in the early evening light.

  “Gorgeous, Simone. Gorgeous.”

  “He will be.” She’d grind off the sprues, finish the surface with pads from coarse to fine, retexture here and there, and perfect. “Few more steps.” She circled it. “The metal chasing, a good sandblasting, then the patina, but I can see it, CiCi. I can see it’s exactly what I hoped.”

  “So’s he, whether you know it or not.”

  “I didn’t hope for him, that’s the thing. For a while I didn’t hope for anything, and that was useless. Then I woke up and I hoped to be able to do something like this. That was enough, it honestly was because I had you, and this place, and could always come back. And then … he looked at me.”

  She crouched down, traced a finger over the bronze face. “He loves me.”

  “A lot of men, and a few women, have loved me. It’s not enough, baby.”

  “No, it wouldn’t be. It wouldn’t be even though he’s beautiful and kind, he’s brave and smart and so many things. That wouldn’t be enough.”

  She pulled off the bandanna she’d tied over her hair. “But he unlocked something inside me, CiCi. And unlocked, I see more, feel more, want more. He made me believe. I love him because of who he is, and who I am with him.”

  “When are you going to tell him?”

  “When this is finished, and I show it to him.” She straightened. “Is that silly?”

  “I think it’s profound. I’m going to help you clean this up and get this beauty
upstairs.”

  * * *

  While Simone chased metal, Reed rounded up a couple of kids who felt tossing lit firecrackers into trash cans in the public bathrooms was the height of vacation fun.

  He might have let it go with simply confiscating the rest of the cherry bombs and ash cans and a lecture, but the father, who’d apparently enjoyed more than his fair share of booze on the beach, got in his face about it.

  “What’s the big deal? They’re just having some fun. Didn’t hurt anybody. And I paid good money for those cherry bombs.”

  “The big deal is they broke the law, endangered public safety and their own, and destroyed property.”

  “Buncha trash is all.”

  Still trying for some diplomacy, Reed nodded. “Which they’ll clean up.”

  “My boys aren’t janitors.”

  “They are today.”

  “Hell with that. Come on, Scotty, Matt, let’s go.”

  “They’re not going until they clean up the mess they made.”

  Drunk Dad puffed out his chest. “What’re you going to do about it?”

  Diplomacy, Reed concluded, couldn’t always work. “Since they’re minors, I’m going to fine you for contributing to their delinquency and for bringing illegal explosives onto the island.”

  “Bullshit.”

  He smiled an affable smile. “No shit about it.”

  “I’m not paying a red cent to some rinky-dink play cop trying to hose me down and harass my boys on our vacation. I said, let’s go!”

  He turned. Reed shifted to block him.

  Red-faced, riled up, he shoved Reed.

  “Well, we’ll add assaulting an officer to that list.” Only slightly amazed, Reed dodged a wild swing, then settled the matter by spinning the man around and snapping cuffs on his wrists.

  “This is not the way to behave,” Reed told the boys as the older one gawked and the younger began to cry. “Sir, you’re considerably inebriated,” Reed continued as the man struggled and swore—with several in the crowd that gathered taking pictures and videos with the ever-present cell phone. “You’re resisting, are now a public nuisance, not to mention showing yourself to be a bad influence on your minor children. Is your mother around?” Reed asked the boys.

  The younger one blubbered, “It’s our week with Dad.”

  “Okay. Let’s settle all this at the station. Sir, I can perp walk you there, or you can come along quietly.”

  “I’m going to sue your fucking ass.”

  “Perp walk it is. You need to come with us, Scotty, Matt.” He glanced down at the dog, sitting, waiting. “Let’s go, Barney.”

  By the time he got to CiCi’s—he had a dinner invitation—it was after nine, and he wanted a drink like he wanted his next breath.

  “Rough one?” she asked him.

  “Ups and downs, with the deepest down a couple of kids with cherry bombs scaring the crap out of people, and their drunk, argumentative father, who capped it off by puking in my office from a combination of temper and booze. It wasn’t pleasant.”

  “I’m going to get you a beer, then plate you up a spicy barbecue sandwich that’s one of my specialties when I’m not a vegetarian.”

  “I love you, CiCi.”

  “Go sit out, drink your beer, and look at the water. Some Ujjayi breathing wouldn’t hurt.”

  The beer helped, and so did the water—the look, scent, sound of it. Maybe the breathing didn’t hurt. But Simone stepping out—her hair was kind of coppery lately and right now tied up with a blue bandanna—carrying a plate of barbecue and potato salad smoothed out all the rest.

  She offered the plate, tugged on the hair under his cap, bent down to kiss him. “Cherry bombs and drunk vomit.”

  “Yeah.” He gestured to the dog already snoring at his feet. “It wore my deputy out. How are things on the mainland?”

  “I bought a dress for my sister’s wedding—so did CiCi—and we earned major points by letting Natalie and Mom help pick them out. And shoes. I did the sketches—well, several, but settled on the winner—for Natalie and Harry’s wedding topper.”

  “I’d like to see it. It’s happy,” he said. “Happy’s a good way to counteract drunk vomit.”

  “I’ll get it.”

  He ate, watched the water, listened to his dog snore.

  She brought out her pad, sat on the arm of his chair. “This is the one that speaks to me.”

  He studied the sketch of a woman—cotton-candy pretty—in what he thought of as a princess dress. All billowy in the skirt, sparkly up top, it suited the bride with the tiara on her upswept blond hair.

  The groom wore tails in a deep gray, a long silver tie, and that suited his golden god good looks.

  The groom spun the bride into a dance—more billowing from the skirt. And they looked at each other with all that happiness, as if they’d each found the answers to all the questions.

  “You need to frame this for her.”

  “It’s a little rough.”

  “It’s not, and I bet she’d really love having it. Sign it, date it, frame it.”

  “You’re right. She would love it. I’ll have CiCi mat and frame it. I’m going to do the topper in porcelain, and paint it.”

  “From the look of the dress and the tails, this says big, formal, fancy wedding.”

  “Two hundred and seventy-eight—so far—on the invite list. Black-tie apparel for guests. That covers the big and the formal. The rest? As fancy as they can make it.”

  “Is that what you want? An as-fancy-as-you-can-make-it wedding?”

  “I never said I wanted a wedding.”

  “We’ll get to that, down the road a bit. And the three kids we’ll never hand cherry bombs and a fricking match.”

  She felt a flutter in her belly, couldn’t decide if it was anxiety or pleasure. “That’s a lot of projecting, Chief.”

  “It’s just the way I see it. Unless CiCi changes her mind and takes me as her sex slave. Then the deal’s off.”

  “Of course.”

  “Before all that, I have to talk you into moving in with me. That can wait, too. We need to build on a studio for you first. I’m working on that.”

  “You’re—what?”

  “Not working, working. Summer’s too busy for that. I just asked Donna’s cousin—you know Eli, he’s an architect. I just asked him to draw up some ideas for it.”

  He drank some beer, and thought how cold beer and spicy barbecue smoothed out a thorny day just fine.

  “Of course, if CiCi answers my prayers, I’ll just move in here, and we’ll kick you out. It would be awkward for everybody otherwise.”

  He closed his eyes as he spoke. Smoothed out, but, Jesus, he was tired.

  She stared out to the horizon, at the glimmer of moonlight on the water between them and the end of the world. “In this fantasy of yours, do I have any input into the design of the potential studio?”

  “Sure, that’s why Eli’s drawing up a few ideas. Then you can look them over, play with them. Plenty of time.”

  She thought of the sculpture in her studio, and the time she needed to finish it, perfect it, show him. Maybe she should show him now, as it became. The way he’d shown her what could be.

  “I think we should—”

  She broke off when his phone signaled, and shifted so he could pull it out.

  She saw the readout: Jacoby.

  What could be, she thought as she left him to talk of murder, had to wait.

  * * *

  Hobart hit and hit fast in Ohio, in an upscale suburb outside of Columbus. The target, a popular local newscaster, had received the warnings from the FBI, and had taken them seriously.

  He’d never forgotten that night at the DownEast Mall. He’d been twenty-eight, working at the Portland TV station, mostly covering fluff and trying to work his way to hard news. He’d been shopping for a video camera when hell had come.

  He’d taken cover, and he’d recorded some of the carnage, with his own shaking voice
struggling to describe what he saw, heard, felt.

  McMullen had gone one way with her reporter’s luck, and Jacob Lansin another. He’d turned the recording over to the police with his still-trembling hands, but when he got out of the mall, he’d found the crew from his station. He’d given them a firsthand, real-time report.

  He’d moved up the ranks, and snatched the local anchor job in Columbus when it had come his way. He’d married a Columbus native, the daughter of a wealthy businessman.

  He’d achieved fame and fortune.

  Patricia’s luck came when a woman driving and texting a friend that she’d be late for a lunch date struck Lansin’s BMW convertible.

  He suffered a wrenched shoulder, broken ankle, and whiplash.

  Grateful it hadn’t been worse, Lansin took some time off to recover and arranged for in-home physical therapy.

  It only took Patricia two days to determine the therapist wore a bouncy brown ponytail, favored T-shirts and jeans, and carted a massage table when she arrived every day at two in the afternoon.

  Patricia rented a car of the same make and color as the therapist’s and, wearing a brown wig, a simple T-shirt, and jeans, arrived ten minutes early. She angled the massage table to obscure her face.

  Lansin, in his ankle cast, sling, and neck brace, checked his security monitor, disengaged his alarm, and opened the door.

  “Hey, Roni, you’re early.”

  “Right on time,” Patricia told him, and shot him in the chest, adding two head shots when he went down.

  She shoved the table inside, snipped off a lock of hair, closed the door, jogged back to the car. All done in under a minute. Since she intended to dump the car at the airport, she didn’t care if anyone saw her drive off.

  After the dump, she took a cab back to Columbus and bought a secondhand luxury SUV, for cash.

  Time for an island holiday, she thought as she stopped long enough to mail Reed what she intended to be his last card.

  * * *

  Over Fourth of July week, visitors flooded onto the island. Hotels, B&Bs, and rentals ran at capacity, and strips of beach became a sea of umbrellas, blankets, and beach chairs.

  In the little park off High Street, the band shell rang with patriotic music while kids—and more than a few adults—lined up for face painting, snow cones, and funnel cake.

 
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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
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new Nora Roberts book
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