Carolina moon, p.46
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       Carolina Moon, p.46

           Nora Roberts
 

  "I don't claim anything." "You were involved in several cases of abducted children a few years ago." "What would that have to do with my mother's murder?"

  "You were friends with Hope Lavelle." Marks picked up the pattern smoothly, slid into a chair himself while his partner remained standing.

  "Yes, very good friends." "And you led her family and the authorities to her body." "Yes. I'm sure you have the reports. There's nothing I can add to them."

  "You claimed to have seen her murder." When Tory didn't respond, Marks leaned forward. "Recently, you enlisted the aid of Abigail Lawrence, an attorney in Charleston. You were interested in a series of sexual homicides. Why?"

  "Because they were all killed by the same person, the same person who murdered Hope. Because each of them was Hope to him, at a different age."

  "You . . . sense this," Williams commented, and drew Tory's gaze. "I know this. I don't expect you to believe me." "If you know this," Williams continued, "why didn't you come forward?"

  "To what purpose? To amuse someone like you? To have what happened to Jonah Mansfield dragged up again and my part in it thrown in my face? You know all there is to know about me, Agent Williams."

  Marks took a plastic bag from his pocket, tossed it on the desk. Inside was a single earring, a simple gold hoop. "What can you tell us about that?"

  Tory kept her hands in her lap. "It's an earring."

  "One of the things we know is you're very cool under fire." Williams stepped forward. "You were interested enough in the murders to gather information on them. Aren't you interested enough to see what you can pick up, let's say, from that?"

  "I've told you all I can about my father. I'll do whatever I can to help you find him." Marks picked up the bag. "Start with this."

  "Was it my mother's?" Without thinking, Tory snatched it out of his hand, broke the seal, then closed her fingers over the earring.

  She opened herself, wanting this last connection more than she'd realized. She shivered once, then dropped the earring onto the desk. "The mate's in your pocket," she said to Williams. "You took them off as you were driving into town, put this one in here." Her eyes tracked up, stayed level. "I'm not required to put myself on display for you."

  "I apologize." Williams stepped forward to pick up the earring. "I do know quite a bit about you, Miss Bodeen. I was interested in the work you did in New York. I've studied the Mansfield case." She slipped the earring back into her pocket. "They should have listened to you." She gave her partner a quiet look. "I intend to."

  "There's nothing more I can tell you." She got to her feet. "Faith, would you show them out please?"

  "Sure."

  Williams took out a card, laid it on the desk, then followed Faith out of the storeroom. Minutes later Faith came back in, took out a fresh Coke, and settled down in the chair Marks had vacated.

  "You could tell that just by touching that earring. You knew it was hers and all that just by touching it?"

  "I have work to do."

  "Oh, get over yourself." Faith took a long swig from the bottle. "I swear, I've never known anybody takes every damn thing so serious. What we ought to do is go buy ourselves some lottery tickets or run on up to the racetrack. Can you tell with horses? I don't see why you couldn't."

  "For God's sake."

  "Well, why not? Why can't you have some fun with it? It doesn't have to be some dark, depressing weight. No, I've got it. Better than horses. We'll go to Vegas and play blackjack. Jesus Christ, Tory, we'd break the bank in every casino."

  "It's not something to profit from."

  "Why not? Oh, of course, I forgot. This is you. You'd rather mope about it. Poor little me." Faith dabbed an invisible hankie under her eyes. "I'm psychic, so I must suffer."

  The insult was so huge, Tory couldn't imagine why her lips wanted to twitch into a ridiculous grin. "I'm not moping."

  "You would, given half a chance. I'm an expert on moping." She edged a hip onto the desk. "Come on over to Wade's with me. You can, like, brush up against him or whatever, and find out what's going on in his head about me."

  "I will not."

  "Oh, be a pal."

  "No."

  "You're such a bitch."

  "That's right, now go away. And put that bracelet back where you got it." "Fine. It's not my style anyway." She leaned over the desk. "What am I thinking right now?"

  Tory glanced up, and her mouth quivered. "It's inventive, but anatomically impossible." She swiveled back to her keyboard. "Faith, thanks."

  With a sniff, Faith pulled open the door. "For what?" "For deliberately annoying me so I wouldn't mope." "Oh, that. My pleasure. It's so easy, after all."

  29

  "Wade, honey?" Faith cocked the phone on her shoulder and peered over the counter toward the storeroom, where it seemed to her Tory had been holed up for ten days. "You busy?"

  "Me? Of course not. I just finished neutering a dachshund. Another day in paradise."

  "Oh. What exactly do you—no, never mind, I don't think I want to know. How's my baby?"

  "I'm just fine, and how are you?"

  "I meant Bee. Is she all right?"

  "Usurped by puppy breath." He let out a weighty sigh for form. "She's enjoying herself. I'm sure she'll tell you all about her first day at work later."

  "I'm having a first day at work, too. Sort of." Faith studied, with a surprising sense of satisfaction, the glass displays she'd polished to a sparkle. "What time do you think you're going to be done over there?"

  "I should be wrapped up by five-thirty. What did you have in mind?"

  "I have Cade's convertible, and I was thinking how it would be if we took us a long drive. It's so hot and sticky. I'm not wearing a thing but that red dress." With a sly smile on her face, she twirled a lock of hair around her finger. "You remember my red dress, don't you, honey?"

  There was a long, long pause. "You're trying to kill me."

  Her laugh was low and satisfied. "I'm just trying to be sure, since we've been spending a lot of time lately having conversations and so forth, that a certain part of our relationship isn't neglected."

  "I can get behind that."

  "Then why don't we take that drive. We could find us a cheap motel and play traveling salesman."

  "What are you selling?"

  This time her laugh was long and robust. "Oh honey, just trust me. The price is going to be right."

  "Then I'm buying. We'd have to drive back late tonight or early tomorrow morning. I have appointments."

  "That'll be fine." She was getting used to this making-plans business. "Wade?"

  "Yeah?"

  "You remember how you said you were in love with me?" "I seem to recollect something of the sort." "Well, I think I love you back. And you know what? It doesn't feel half bad." There was another long pause. "I think I can get out of here by five-fifteen."

  "I'll pick you up." She hung up and danced around the counter. "Tory, come on out of there. Might as well be in jail," she stated, as she pulled open the door.

  Tory merely looked up from her inventory list. "You've never actually had a job, have you?"

  "What would I want one of those for? I have an inheritance." "Fulfillment, self-satisfaction, the pleasure of completing a task."

  "All right, I'll work with you."

  "Have they built a ski lift in hell?"

  "No, really, it might be fun. But we'll talk about that later. Now, you have to come along with me. I've got to run home and get some things together."

  "Go ahead."

  "Where I go, you go. I promised Cade. And we've played here, your way for ... " She checked her watch, rolled her eyes. "Almost four hours."

  "I haven't finished here."

  "Well, I have. And if we stay here the rest of the day, those FBI people might come back."

  "All right." Tory tossed down her pencil. "But I promised my grandmother I'd be at my uncle's by five."

  "That's perfect. I'll drop you off there before I pick up Wade. G
rab us a couple of Cokes, honey. I'm just parched." Faith breezed out to freshen her lipstick in one of Tory's decorative mirrors.

  "Since when do you have a reflection?" Tory asked, sweetly, as she brought out the bottles.

  Unoffended, Faith slipped the top on the lipstick tube and dropped it in her purse. "You're just cross because you've been holed up in your cave all day. You're going to thank me when we get out on the road and I open up that beauty of Cade's. Get some wind in your hair, it might actually have a little style."

  "There's nothing wrong with my hair." "Not a thing. If you want to look like an old-maid librarian." "That's a ridiculous cliché, and an insult to an entire profession."

  Faith stood another moment at the mirror, fluffed her own sleek blond mane. "Have you seen Miss Matilda down at Progress Library lately?"

  Despite her best intentions, Tory's lips quivered. "Oh, shut up," she suggested, and shoved the Coke bottle into Faith's hands.

  "That's what I like about you. Always the snappy comeback." She gave her hair a toss, then started to leave. "Well, come on."

  "You changed things." Tory scanned the shelves, the cases, noted the small shifts in stock.

  Snappy comebacks, Faith thought. And an eye like a damn hawk. "So?"

  She wanted to complain, nearly did on principle. But honesty got the better of her. "It's not bad."

  "Excuse me. I'm so overwhelmed with flattery I feel a little faint."

  "In that case, I'll drive."

  "The hell you will." Laughing, Faith danced out the door.

  As she followed, locked up, Tory realized she was enjoying herself. Dealing with Faith made it impossible to brood. The idea of a fast ride in an open car held a great deal of appeal. She'd focus on that, just that, and worry about the rest later.

  "Fasten your seat belt," she ordered, as she slid into the passenger seat. "Oh, right. The air's so thick you could chew it."

  Faith clicked her belt on, took out her sunglasses, then turned the key. Gunning the engine, she gave Tory a mischievous grin. "Now for some mood music." She punched the CD button, flipping through until Pete Seeger wailed out about rock-and-roll. "Ah, classical. Perfect. We're about to see what you're made of, Victoria."

  Deliberately Tory took out her own sunglasses, slipped them on. "Stern stuff." "Good." Faith waited for a break in traffic, then shot away from the curb in a screaming U-turn. She nipped through the light at the square seconds before it turned red.

  "You're going to get a ticket before you get out of town."

  "Oh, I bet the FBI's keeping our locals plenty busy. Jesus! Don't you just love this car?"

  "Why don't you buy one of your own?" "Then I'd miss the fun of nagging Cade to death about borrowing it." She crossed the town limits, and poured it on.

  The wind whipped over Tory's face, tore at her hair, and thrilled her blood. An adventure, she thought as they streamed around turns. Foolishness. It had been a long, long time since she indulged in simple idiocy.

  Speed. Hope had loved going fast, riding her bike like it was a stallion, or a rocket ship. Daring the devil as she threw her arms high in the air and gave herself to the moment.

  Tory did the same now, throwing her head back and letting the speed and the music pour over her.

  The smells were summer, and summer was childhood. Hot tar melting under the searing sun, still water going ripe in the heat.

  She could race through the fields when the cotton had burst from its bolls and pretend she was an explorer on an alien planet. Do cartwheels across the road and feel the tar go soft under her palms. Into the marsh that was any world she wanted it to be. Running there, running with the ground spongy under her feet, with the moss tumbling down and mosquitoes singing for blood.

  Running. Running away with her heart pounding and a scream trapped in her throat. Running—

  "There's Cade."

  "What?" Tory jerked back, light-headed, clammy, her eyes wide and nearly blind as she swiveled her head.

  "There." Carelessly Faith gestured toward the field where two men stood in a sea of green cotton. She gave the horn a cheerful toot, waved, and laughed. "Oh, he's cursing us now, giving Piney an earful about his crazy, irresponsible sister. Don't you worry," she added smugly. "He'll just figure I'm trying to corrupt you."

  "I'm all right." Tory forced herself to breathe in, breathe out. "I'm fine."

  Faith gave her a longer, more considering look. "Sure you are. You sure go pale though. Why don't you—oh shit."

  The rabbit darted across the road, a brown streak of confusion. Instinctively Faith hit the brakes, swerved. The car fishtailed, squealed, and under her firm hands found its balance again.

  "I just can't stand hitting anything. Though God knows why they run out like that. Seems they wait for a car to come along, and ... " She trailed off as she looked at Tory again. The snicker escaped before she cleared her throat and slowed down. "Uh oh."

  Saying nothing, Tory looked down. Most of the Coke that had been in the bottle was now splattered all over her shirt. With two fingertips she pulled it away from her skin and slanted her gaze to Faith.

  "Well, gee whiz, I couldn't run down the little bunny, could I?" "Just do me a favor and get me home so I can change, okay?"

  Tapping her fingers on the wheel, Faith swung into Tory's lane, kicking dust and gravel into the air as she braked.

  Laughing, but cautious, Faith hopped out of the car. "I'll run some cold water over that shirt while you clean up. Shame to ruin it, even if it is deadly ordinary."

  "Classic."

  "You keep believing that." Pleased with the diversion, Faith strolled up the steps. "You take your time straightening yourself up," she said, as Tory pulled open the door. "You need it more than I do."

  "I don't suppose it takes long to look ready to hop in the next available bed."

  Grinning, Faith followed her into the bedroom, then making herself at home, she opened Tory's closet and poked through. "Hey, some of this stuffs not half bad."

  "Get your fingers out of my clothes."

  "This is a good color for me." She pulled out a silk blouse in a deep, dusky blue, then turned to the mirror. "Brings out my eyes."

  Stripped down to her bra, Tory snatched the blouse and shoved the damp shirt at Faith. "Go make yourself useful."

  Faith rolled her eyes, but headed out to rinse the shirt in the bathroom sink. "If you're not wearing it in the next few days, you could lend it to me. I was thinking Wade and I could have an evening at home tomorrow night. If things go as they're supposed to, I wouldn't have it on that long anyhow."

  "Then it doesn't matter what you wear."

  "A statement like that just proves you need me." Faith splashed the shirt around in the bowl. "What a woman wears is directly related to how she wants a man to respond."

  Tory reached in her closet for a white camp shirt, frowned, then eyed the silk blouse. Well, why not?

  Tory buttoned the blouse and walked to the mirror to brush out her hair. It needed to be tamed and tied back, she told herself. She was going to comfort her grandmother, to do what she could to help hold what was left of her family together. It wasn't the time for the frivolous or the selfish now. Though God, she'd needed just that, and wouldn't forget that Faith had provided it.

  Lifting her arms, she began to work her hair into a braid. The repetitive motion, the hum of the ceiling fan lulled her until her eyes were half closed and she was smiling dreamily into the mirror.

  She saw the rabbit dart out into the road. A panicked brown streak. Running. Fleeing from the scent of man.

  Someone was coming. Someone was watching.

 
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