Shelter in place, p.43
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       Shelter in Place, p.43

           Nora Roberts
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  “You always said as an artist I made a good scientist.”

  “So true.” Simone smiled. “But we’ll do it together. Now I’m kicking you out so you don’t miss the ferry.”

  “If anything happens to you—”

  “Positive thoughts.” She took Mi’s hand, led her out.

  “Maybe she’s not here, not on the island. That’s a positive negative.”

  CiCi came in from her studio as they walked down the stairs. “It’s nearly sunset. How about drinks to toast day’s end?”

  “Mi has to go.”

  “I could stay for a drink.”

  “And miss the ferry.”

  “I’ll take the next one.”

  “You’re stalling,” Simone said. “You gave your word.”

  “I shouldn’t have.” Annoyed with herself, Mi picked up her purse. She’d caught the first available plane after Reed’s call, hadn’t even packed a bag. Now she sighed. “He thought I’d just phone you, and he put the hammer down on me when I said I was coming. He’s sneaky and smart. I really like him, Simone. I really like him.”

  “Me, too. You’ll have more time to get to know him when you come back. We’ll have time to show you the house—and by then, finalized plans for my studio. More time,” she added as she walked Mi to the door.

  “I want you to text me tomorrow. Every hour.”

  “If that’s what it takes.”

  “We’re going to look out for each other.” CiCi kissed Mi goodbye. “You come back soon.”

  “I feel like I’m abandoning you,” Mi said as Simone walked her to the car she’d rented in Portland.

  “You’re not. You’re trusting me. This island’s always given me shelter when I needed it. That’s not going to change. Text me when you land in Boston.”

  “And tomorrow—every hour on the hour, Sim.”

  “I promise.”

  Simone watched her drive off, turned back to the house. She caught the movement, stopped, saw the woman walking along the quiet road hesitate.

  “Can I help you?” Simone asked.

  “Oh no. Well, I’m sorry. I was just admiring the house. It’s so beautiful. So unique.”

  The woman laid a hand on the swell of a baby bump, adjusted her sunglasses.

  “I’m being nosy,” she said with a sheepish smile. “I heard in the village a famous artist lives here, and I wanted to see it from up here. I’ve seen it from the beach. Are you a famous artist? CiCi Lennon, the lady in the gallery said.”

  It happened several times a summer—an off-islander wandering by, often taking photos of the house, and hoping to catch a glimpse of CiCi Lennon.

  So Simone smiled. “My grandmother.”

  Blond hair, Simone noted, with a floppy-brimmed sun hat over it. A backpack, expensive hiking shoes, a pink T-shirt that read: BUN IN THE OVEN, and well-toned, athletic legs in mid-thigh khaki shorts.

  “I bet my husband will know her work—Brett’s the art buff. I can’t wait to tell him. We’re here on vacation for a few weeks, from Columbus.”

  No, Simone thought, because there was too much Maine in the voice for Ohio. Columbus, where another survivor had been shot—and the postmark on the last card.

  “I hope you’re enjoying your stay.” Simone took a step back toward the house. She saw it now, despite the dark glasses, the hat, the mound of belly. She saw it in the jawline, the profile, the shape of the ears.

  She knew faces.

  “Oh, so much. It’s our pre-baby vacation! Do you live here, too?”

  “The island’s my home.” Another step back, another, a reach behind for the doorknob.

  She knew faces, she thought again, and saw the change. In the flash of a moment, they recognized each other.

  She bolted inside as Patricia dragged at her pack. She locked the door, leaped toward a stunned CiCi.

  “Run,” she said.

  * * *

  Reed briefed his men again, gave his thanks to the pair of FBI agents Jacoby had sent him. Then he went out to walk the village, the beach. He intended to walk home—keeping visible. Maybe, just maybe, he’d draw Hobart out, he thought.

  He saw Bess Trix through the glass door of Island Rentals, decided to give that another shot.

  “Chief, Barney.” She shook her head. “The answer’s the same as always. And look, Kaylee can back that up. She does a lot of the cottages and cabins, and along with Hester, supervises the rest of the housekeeping crew.”

  “Okay, let’s try this. Have you had anyone—eliminate families, people with kids—anyone who strikes you as strange? Or that one of the crew’s told you about that strikes them?”

  Kaylee rolled her eyes, bent down to pet Barney. “Chief, if I start on the strange with summer people, we’d be here till next Tuesday. There’s the four friends out in Windsurf who pay for three times a week, and I know damn well are swapping partners about as often.”

  “Oh now, Kaylee.”

  “It’s the God’s truth, Bess. You can ask Hester, we clean that one together.” She wound the tip of her braid around her finger as she got into the gossip. “Then there’s the couple easily going on eighty who want daily and go through a bottle of vodka between them every twenty-four. There’s the guy who keeps the second bedroom locked up, and the shades pulled on the windows. The wife says it’s his office, and I have to wonder what kind of work a man does that has him lock everything up.”

  “He keeps the door locked to that bedroom?”

  “Well now, Chief, you’ve got an off-limits room in your place.”

  “I don’t lock the door.”

  “I guess you’re more trusting I won’t—or Hester, either—go poking in.”

  “But he locks the door,” Reed repeated.

  “He does, and works a lot, it seems. That doesn’t stop him from going through a goodly amount of scotch and gin—expensive stuff. Wine and beer on top of it.”

  “Is he on his own?”

  “With his wife. And I’m going to say he’s got a nice-looking young wife, too, but they haven’t cuddled up—if you get me—since they got here. The person who changes your sheets knows.”


  “Well, he’s asking about strange, Bess, and that’s strange. Makes you wonder how the wife got pregnant in the first place. He tosses clean clothes in the hamper, which is better than the group at the—”

  “Let’s stick with the couple in— Where’s the pregnant woman and the secretive husband?”

  “Oh, that’s the Serenity. It’s tucked back in there. Got nice views from the deck off the loft, but it’s a walk to the beaches and the village.”

  “Some want more quiet and privacy,” Bess pointed out.

  “Some do. He likes hiking, and doesn’t he make that poor woman go with him? And if he’s not dragging her off to hike, he’s closed up in his office. At least on the days I clean.”

  “What’s he look like?” Reed asked her.

  “I…” She wound the tip of her braid around her finger again, frowned. “Well, I couldn’t say, now that you ask. I haven’t laid eyes on him.”

  Every muscle in Reed’s back tensed. “You’ve never actually seen him?”

  “I have to say I haven’t, since you ask. I guess that’s strange, too. He’s been in the shower or the bedroom or that other bedroom whenever I’ve come by. Then they head out for a hike. I always start that place in the loft. And I’m done before they get back.”

  “Pull up the booking,” he told Bess. “Have you met him?” he asked her.

  “I don’t think so. He made the booking online. If I remember right, she picked up the keys and package because he’d been delayed a couple days. I’ve seen her around, but … Here it is. Brett and Susan Breen, Cambridge, Mass.”

  “Well now, that’s strange, too,” Kaylee said. “Their car, a nice silver SUV, has Ohio plates.”

  “Make, model, year,” Reed demanded.

  “How’m I to know?”

  “I don’t know the year,
Bess put in. “But it’s a Lincoln. My brother has one. I saw it when she came in. It’s silver, like Kaylee said, and it’s pretty new, I’d say.”

  “Describe her,” Reed snapped at Kaylee.

  “Ah, ah, she’s young and pretty in a made-up sort of way. I’ve never seen her not made-up even with her hair still wet from the shower. Can’t be more than around twenty-six or so. Blond hair, and I guess about my height. I think her eyes are blue, but I haven’t seen that much of her, either. Like I said, they go out when I’m there. She’s pregnant, that’s a fact.”

  Not necessarily, Reed thought.

  He yanked out a card. “Call this number, tell Special Agent Jacoby I need a full run on those names.”

  “The FBI?”


  He rushed out, yanked out his radio. “Matty, I might have something. I want you and Cecil to meet me at the Serenity beach rental. Don’t approach. Just watch. I’m getting my car, and I’m on my way.”

  He beat them there. No car in the drive, he noted, no lights on in the encroaching dusk. He didn’t leash the dog as he circled the house. If trouble came, he wanted Barney to be able to run.

  Through the windows he studied the great room, the open living, kitchen, dining areas. A pair of men’s hiking boots—from the size of them—stood by the door. Funny, he thought. A man who hiked routinely ought to put more wear on his boots. Those looked straight out of the shoebox.

  A single plate, a single glass, sat on the counter by the sink.

  He tried the door—locked.

  He walked to the bedroom windows. Another solo glass—one side of the bed, and the pillows propped up on only one side. A single towel hanging over the doors of the shower, he noted. The door from the bedroom onto a small deck, also locked.

  He walked down to the master bath windows—locked—but through them he saw makeup, a lot of it, scattered on the vanity counter—double sinks—with men’s toiletries shoved in a pile on the opposite side.

  “You put on a good show, Patricia, but not good enough.”

  He tried the back door before rounding the house to the second bedroom windows. He considered the drawn blackout shades, gave the windows a try, found them locked.

  As he reached in his pocket for his penknife, he heard his deputies pull up. “Get out a BOLO on a Lincoln SUV, silver,” he ordered. “Ohio plates. And a blond female, mid-twenties, she’ll look pregnant. Go on around front and do that.”

  Matty eyed him, eyed the shaded windows. “Are you planning to jimmy that window, Chief?”

  “Around front, Deputy.”

  She took out a hefty multi-tool. “This will do the job better and faster than that measly penknife you carry. Is the looks-pregnant Hobart?”

  “We’re going to find out.” Reed took the multi-tool.

  “Oh, shit. We’re going to break and enter?”

  Without glancing back at Cecil, Reed worked on the window. “Get that BOLO in. If I’m wrong about this, we’re going to owe a pregnant woman and her paranoid husband an apology. If I’m not, I’m going to be doing a lot of dancing around probable cause.”

  “Not unless you’re sloppy with the jimmying. That window was unlocked when we got here,” Matty said easily. “And the shade open just enough to see in. Nothing to see? No harm.”

  Reed eased the window open a couple inches, pushed up the shade.

  “My turn for holy shit,” Matty said as she peered in with him.

  “Cecil! Suspect as described is Patricia Hobart. She’s armed and dangerous. I want the ferry shut down.”

  “Shut down?”

  “It doesn’t leave the island again until I clear it. Matty, I want a three-man team sitting on this house—out of sight. Nick, Cecil, and … Lorraine’s solid. Get that started. The rest of us, with our FBI friends, are going to start a manhunt.”

  He pulled out his radio to begin coordinating when his phone rang.

  “Simone, I need you to—”

  “She’s here, at CiCi’s.” The voice breathless with fear turned his blood to ice. “I saw her—she’s blond, wearing a fake pregnancy belly. She’s—”

  He heard wind, the whoosh of water, and the breathless fear in her voice. “Where are you?”

  “Running. The beach, the rocks. I heard glass break, but she hasn’t come out yet. You need to hurry.”

  “Take cover, stay down, stay quiet. She’s at CiCi’s,” he said as he ran for his car. “I want everybody to move in there. Nick and Lorraine out here, on this house, in case she slips through. Shut down the fucking ferry.”

  As if he sensed urgency and trouble, Barney leaped through the open passenger window, but for once, didn’t stick his head back out.

  * * *

  CiCi nearly stumbled when they reached the beach.

  “You’re faster. Go, baby. Go.”

  “Save your breath. We just have to get to the rocks, get behind them.” She risked a glance behind. “She’ll think we’re in the house. She’ll have to look through the house first.”

  Unless she looks out the big windows. Simone gripped the kitchen knife she’d grabbed on the run out. Run, she thought, hide. And when there was no choice, fight.

  They reached the rocks, crouched down behind them. Water soaked through shoes, over ankles and calves; spray buffeted and chilled.

  “Reed’s coming.”

  “I know, baby.” Winded, CiCi struggled to find calming breaths. “You got us out safe, and he’s coming. Tide’s coming in.”

  “We’re strong swimmers. And we may need to swim. She might see our footprints on the beach.”

  Calmer now, determined to stay that way, CiCi shook her head. “It’s getting dark, that’ll make them harder to spot. If she sees them, if she starts down, I want you to swim out, swim toward the village. Now you listen,” she said when Simone shook her head. “I’ve lived my life, and done more than most with it. You do what I tell you.”

  “We sink or swim together.” Simone risked a peek over the rocks, ducked down again. “She’s on the patio. Keep close to the rocks. The sun’s gone down, and the moon’s not up yet. She can’t see us.”

  Knee-deep now, with the tug and pull of the surf dragging at them.

  * * *

  Reed saw the SUV a quarter mile from CiCi’s, took a turn at a speed that had his tires screaming nearly as loud as his sirens.

  Hear that, Patricia? I’m coming for you.

  * * *

  She heard them, but she’d already started down the steps to the beach. Nine-one-one, bitch, she thought on a quick slice of panic. Full fucking circle. She considered making a run—maybe she could get to her car—but odds were against it.

  Maybe she shouldn’t have had that drink before she walked down to the old hippie freak of an artist’s house, she could admit that. And maybe she shouldn’t have stood there watching that bitch and her Asian friend. The way they’d hugged and kissed disgusted her. Lesbians, no question.

  She shouldn’t have started talking to Simone fucking Knox, shouldn’t have moved in that close, but she’d gotten caught up.

  So close, so close. Bang, bang, you’re dead.

  Gone off half-cocked, she thought, just like JJ.

  No point worrying about that now. She just had to be smart, as always, and she’d finish this just a little ahead of schedule.

  As the light dimmed, she edged back toward the rise. It would conceal her until the cops—let Quartermaine be one of them—got at least halfway down the steps. She’d take them out, every last one of the half-assed island cops.

  Take them out, she thought, and unhooked the damp fake belly for more mobility, use the dark for cover, and get to the water. She’d swim to the marina, steal a boat.

  Pull in somewhere down the coast, jack a car. She’d need to get into one of her bank boxes for cash and IDs, another weapon, but she’d figure it out.

  She always figured it out.

  And she would come back one day for the bitch who’d caused this goddamn bul
lshit. Who’d caused it all.

  She considered the rocks, wondered if she could make it before the cops came. Wondered if the bitch and the old hippie freak were hiding there.

  She gathered to sprint, heard the sirens cut off.

  * * *

  “I need to look again,” Simone whispered. “I need to see.”

  “She had to hear the sirens. She has to know Reed’s coming.”

  “I need to see.”

  Simone eased up, strained to see through the encroaching dark. No moon yet, no stars. That in-between slice between night and day.

  Then she saw him, stepping onto the patio, gun drawn and sweeping right, left, right again. Her breath came out on a wave of relief, then stopped again when she saw the movement below the house.

  “Damn it, what’s happening?” CiCi edged up beside her. “Thank the gods and goddesses, there’s our hero.”

  “He can’t see her. He’s coming down for us, and he can’t see her.”

  “What are you doing? Simone, for God’s sake—”

  Simone dragged herself onto the rocks, kicked off her shoes as the surf tried to pull her back. She made it to her knees and shouted for him.

  It happened fast, though he’d relive it countless times in slow motion. He heard her, over the whoosh of the water, saw Simone, the silhouette of her kneeling on the rocks. Even as she waved her arms, pointed, Barney exploded with happy barks, and raced down the beach steps.

  At the base, Barney looked right, went into his protective crouch, and quivered.

  Patricia stepped out and swung left to take her shot.

  Reed took his first. Hers grazed his shoulder, just above the scar. He put three in her, center mass.

  He kept his weapon trained on her as he continued down, kicked her gun away from where it had fallen out of her hand.

  Conscious, breath coming in pants, she stared at him out of blue eyes glazed with pain and fury.

  “Don’t you die on me, Patricia. Call for an ambulance!” he shouted as his deputies poured out onto the patio, and more came from the north side of the beach as ordered. “Suspect’s down. She’s down. I want a couple of you to help get Simone and CiCi in the house so they can get warm, get dry.”

  “Chief.” Matty stopped beside him as he knelt down, applying pressure to Patricia’s chest wounds. “You’re shot.”

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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
new Nora Roberts book
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