In The Victim's Shadow

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Chapter 28

Peter was outside tending his rose garden when his daughter and John drove up. He had a gardener who came three times each week to tend to the abundant growth surrounding his property, but the rose garden was his.

The garden had belonged to Amber, his late wife. He used to mock her attention to the garden, always chastising her for doing the gardener’s work. Try as he might, he could not understand her draw to it—until her death.

For the first couple of days following her shocking death, he didn’t come out of his room. When the coroner’s office began hounding him to make a decision regarding her body, he forced himself to find a funeral home. On the day of her viewing, he could not leave her side. When several people pointed out that Katherine needed his help, he had no choice but to pull himself out of his grief.

Amber’s funeral had been a media circus. As much as he had tried, Peter had been unable to shelter his daughter from it. As far as they were concerned, not only was she a close relative, she had witnessed the murder—and that made her a prime target for their inquiries.

On the night they said their final goodbye, Katherine had gone missing. In a panic, Peter had searched everywhere for her, fearful the media had gotten to her. In the end he found her in the rose garden, crying, curled up in a ball in her mother’s favorite lounge chair. She clutched a book tightly against her chest. Peter had taken it from her hands and read the title. Peter Rabbit—Katherine’s favorite. Peter knew Katherine and Amber spent many hours in this garden, had even known she read to her there every day the weather allowed. He picked her up in his arms, asked, “What are you doing here, Kitten?”

She sobbed, laying her head on her father’s cheek, clinging tightly. “Mommy’s here.”

Two weeks after the funeral, the gardener approached him, inquiring as to what he wanted him to do with the rose garden. Peter had instructed him to let it be. He wandered outside, feeling a draw to the garden. Many of the roses had gone to death, like the tender hands that had nurtured them. Peter had spied a small container sitting off to one corner. An investigation into the contents revealed several instruments with which to tend the garden. He picked up a pair of shears, snipped off the dead bud, and watched the petals fall to the ground. A soft breeze suddenly blew, riffling through his hair like long fingers. He could smell the scent of the garden swirl around him. He looked down at the bush he had just trimmed, marveling that even though he had cut life from it, the plant still survived.

He smiled, feeling Amber all around him. Katherine had been right. Her mother lived on in this garden.

Peter heard a car coming up the drive and walked to the edge of the garden, peering out at the approaching car. A smile spread across his face when he recognized John Wheaton’s convertible sports car. He was always up for a visit from John. He was a damned good young man and Peter held out hope that he and Katherine might, as they said these days, “hook up.” He did not care if they married. He wasn’t that old-fashioned, but he did so want a grandchild.

He had once entertained the idea of messing with Katherine’s birth control pills when he had spied them half hanging out of her purse one day. Mary caught him with them in his hands and scornfully demanded to know what he was doing. He grinned and put them back. “I just want a grandchild,” he pleaded. But she had slapped his hand, taken the pills from his other hand, and shoved them back inside Katherine’s purse, but even her hand had hesitated before doing so.

Peter had shaken a finger at her, grinning. “Ah…admit it, Mary—you want a baby, too!”

“Perhaps,” she replied smugly, “but grandchildren come in the Good Lord’s time, not ours.”

Peter reached back inside the purse and held up the birth control pills. “This is not the Good Lord’s time.”

He had left her to ponder the thought.

He took off his work gloves and wandered to the head of the drive, just as the car rounded the curve. To his delight, Katherine hung over the side, waving madly at him. “Hello, Daddy!” she cried.

John stopped the car, and Katherine rushed toward him. Peter outstretched his arms, and she went into them. He held her tight, savoring the feel of her in his arms, then kissed her on the top of the head. “Hello, Kitten,” he said.

“Where’s Mary? We have the best news.” She ran from his arms, calling for Mary all the way to the house.

Mary opened the door, and Baxter and Brittney rushed to greet Katherine, nearly knocking her to the ground. She laughed. “Come on you two. Everyone gets to hear the news.”

She raced them back to her father, circled around him, playing tag. Brittney barked, jumping up on her. She ruffled her head. “Can’t do that anymore.” She gave her a gentle push and issued the command for down.

Peter looked at his daughter, a hesitant grin forming there. Mary came up, scolding Katherine for getting the dogs so excited. “I’m having the dickens of a time getting these bad kids to behave, and then you come over and get them all riled up.”

Katherine kissed her on the cheek. “Sorry, Mary.” She moved to stand by John, grinning at her father and Mary.

Peter raised his eyebrows in an inviting gesture.

Katherine took a deep breath, put on her most radiant smile, and said, “We’re having a baby.”

Mary’s mouth fell open. Peter broke out in a huge grin. Throwing his hands in the air, he whooped with laughter. Suddenly sobering, he said, “Oh, Katherine! You aren’t playing with your old man, are you?”

She shook her head emphatically. “I only just found out this morning.”

Tears flooded his eyes. “Oh, Baby,” he said, hugging her tightly against him. “Did you hear that, Mary? We’re having a baby.” He turned toward Mary, who still stood with her mouth gaping. He nudged her. “Mary?”

Mary, pulled out of her stupor, squealed at Katherine, tilting her head slightly. “I’m so happy for you—well, for all of us,” she added, laughing and waving her hands in the air. She pulled Katherine into her arms, hugging her with all her might. Katherine giggled.

“Now, aren’t you glad we saved all the baby stuff?” Peter asked Mary.

She waved her hand at him. “We’re not using that stuff. It’s too old—styles change,” she narrowed her eyes, “wood ages, rots, fades. They probably aren’t even up to safety code,” she cautioned. She waved both arms through the air, much like a baseball umpire. “We buy all new stuff and paint the nursery.” She frowned at Peter. “No arguments.”

He held his hands up in defeat. “Whatever the women say.”

Mary grinned at Katherine, then at John. She wagged a finger at them. “I had a feeling about you two.”

“Seems everyone knew but us,” Katherine said, looking at John.

Mary took her by the hand. “Come and help me get dinner. We can talk about names. I have a ton of suggestions.”

Katherine giggled. “Do you mind, John?”

He kissed her. “Go ahead. I want to talk to your father.”

The two women raced off, both dogs trotting behind them.

Peter held his hand out to John. “Congratulations. I couldn’t be happier.”

“I was hoping I could improve the situation.”

“How so?”

“I want to marry Katherine.”

“Are you asking my permission?” He chuckled. “I didn’t know we still did things that way.”

“I do,” John said. “I respect you. Katherine is your daughter. It’s only right you approve of the man she marries.”

Peter clapped John on the back. “I’ve waited a long time for you to ask that question.”

“I’m sorry it took so long for me to wake up.” They strolled toward the house. “There’s one more thing. I’m worried about Katherine.”

Peter raised his eyebrows. “Is the pregnancy rough on her?” He remembered Amber’s pregnancy well. She had been so sick they had considered hospitalizing her. He wondered whether that was something passed on to daughters.

John shook his head. “She hasn’t said so. The thing is—there’s a young man that lives in the building. He makes me nervous.”

“Is this the guy from Beth’s birthday party?”

“That’s the one. His name is Chad Simon. I believe he lives in apartment 1073.”

“You want him gone?”

John nodded. “I want him gone. I have a bad feeling about that guy.” He stopped. Peter drew up beside him. John looked into Peter’s eyes. “He’s high-strung—a loose cannon if you know what I mean?”

“I’ll be discreet.”

The two men shook hands. Katherine popped her head out the door. “Are you two coming? Mary made her famous enchiladas, and I’m starved.” She bounced back inside.

“I’ve never seen her happier,” Peter said.

“She’s floating on a cloud. I just hope I can live up to her expectations.”

***

John and Katherine were lying in bed later that evening. Katherine, tracing a circle on John’s naked abdomen with her finger, said, “I hope I’m a good mother.”

“You’ll be a great mother,” John said.

“Do you think I’m too old to have a baby?”

He kissed the top of her head. “You’re not old. Why would you even ask a question like that?”

He felt her shrug. “I don’t know. I was at the doctor’s office today, and many of the expectant mothers seemed young. Do you think it was a bad idea to wait so long?”

He sternly said, “You are not too old to have a baby, and I’m sure there were just as many thirty-something mothers-to-be as there were twenty-something.”

She settled even farther into his shoulder. “Mary thinks we should name him Jonathan.”

“I’m not sure how I feel about that.”

“She said it’s a strong, good name. In her family, all the first-born males are named after their fathers.”

“What if it’s a girl?”

Katherine grinned. “She thinks we should name her Mary.” They both laughed.

“Are you hungry?” John asked.

“A little queasy,” she said. “I don’t think I could eat anything.”

He slid out from beneath her, pulled on his robe. “I’m going to get something. I’ll be right back.”

He was just heading out the door when she called to him. He turned back. She grinned. “Maybe a wee bit of ice cream.”

“Anything you want.”

She heard him rustling in the kitchen, whistling—then the sound of utensils as they clanged together.

He was back moments later, carrying a tray. He set it down in front of her. She cocked a quizzical expression at him. “Sparkling cider and ice cream?”

“There are cheese and crackers, too,” he said. He handed her a package of saltines. “I brought you these for the morning because Mary told me they would help with your morning sickness.”

She lobbed a crooked grin at him. “How thoughtful of you.” She placed the crackers on her bedside table.

John poured cider into both their glasses. “I also heard sparkling beverages are good for calming the stomach.”

“Mm, hmm,” she said—her mouth full of ice cream.

“I had a nice talk with your dad today.”

“Did you? He has always liked you, you know.”

“Yes. He told me so.”

He handed her a glass. “I wish it could be champagne, but well…”

“This is fine,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what we use to toast our baby. It could be milk for all he or she cares.” She held up her glass, waited for him to do the same, but instead, he locked eyes with her. “Is something wrong?” she asked.

He shook his head, as he suddenly took on a serious expression. “I hope not.” Alarm rose inside Katherine.

She set down the glass. “John?”

John felt butterflies dance in his stomach. He didn’t know why this was so hard. He loved her so much he would fly to the moon, to give her anything her heart desired. He knew, of course, it was the fear of rejection that held him back. It was what always stopped him from moving forward in his relationship with her. It was different now, though. She surely must love him or she wouldn’t be here with him. He knew Katherine well enough to know that reassurance. He touched his lower lip. “You have a little ice cream, right here.”

She giggled, reaching down for a napkin. When she did, her fingers touched something hard. Her hand stilled. Her heart froze for a minute and then started beating quickly. She looked at John—her eyes taking on a puzzled expression. She looked down at the beautiful diamond ring sparkling in her hand, so perfect in every way. It had to be at least four karats. Her mouth opened in an O formation.

“I bought it a few days ago, but I haven’t had the courage to ask you. Is it okay? I don’t know much about diamonds, but the sales clerk assured me it was a good buy.” She gawked, nodding because she was still speechless. “I know we don’t have to get married just because you’re pregnant, but I want to, Katherine. I’ve wanted to marry you since law school. I just never knew how to approach you. You were beautiful and smart, and you always seemed to have a boyfriend around you. I was so afraid of rejection—”

She grabbed him by the neck, pulling his lips to her own. “Yes. Yes. Yes!” she muttered between kisses. “I’ll be your wife, John…and we’ll name our son, John Jr., and live happily ever after.”

She laughed, lay back against the sheets and pulled him down with her. John shoved the tray aside. He kissed her passionately, stroking her face with the tips of his fingers. He took the ring from the box, slipped it on her finger, kissed her hand. “Thank you,” he said.

They made love again. Katherine marveled at how different it felt, how sweet and slow it was. She had always wondered why she felt so much impatience in her romantic relationships. She didn’t date long before she would tire of the affair and break it off. However, John had always been there. If she was honest with herself now, she might even say his constant presence had kept her from getting too serious with any man. She was comfortable with John. At least that’s what she always told herself when she’d run to him after a breakup, and they would watch old movies together and eat ice cream by the gallon until Katherine cried her last tear and was ready to move on. Why had it taken her so long to admit her feelings? She knew, of course, it was difficult to move on with her life when so much of the past remained unsettled. She sighed with satisfaction, lying there in John’s arms. If she hadn’t known it before, she knew now they truly belonged together. They fell asleep in each other’s arms, fingers interlaced, content in the safety of their love.

***

In Chad’s apartment, Greasy Charlie worked like mad to break the medical clinic’s private patient files. Chad paced the floor behind him, his anger and frustration mounting. He carried his tennis ball, squeezing the hell out of it, something one of those damned therapists the social workers made him see taught him. “Any luck?”

“I’m almost there,” Charlie said. “Just a few more tries and…” he hesitated, his grin spreading wide across his face. “I’m in.”

Chad nearly pushed him out of his seat. It took him only a moment to look up Katherine’s file. His face paled as his body went rigid.

“What?” Charlie asked. “What does it say?”

Chad’s face turned red as his temper rose. His eyes bulged, and a low growl started from deep within him. He picked up Charlie’s computer and held it high over his head.

“Hey! Hey! Hey!” Charlie said, making a mad dash to save his beloved toy. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” He pulled the computer from Chad’s hands. Charlie shook his head. “I’m outta here,” he said. “You’re a goddamned psycho.”

Charlie rushed out the door, standing and panting on the other side. Chad stormed down to his father’s bedroom, his temper rising with each step. He flung open the door, startling the older man.

“She’s pregnant!”

“Who’s pregnant?” Spencer asked.

“That bitch upstairs. The one who thinks the world owes her something. All she ever does is take, take, take.”

Spencer closed his eyes as a rush of emotion made its way through his body. He didn’t know why he felt such elation at the thought of her being pregnant, but he did. He supposed it might be because he had begun to feel fatherly pride toward Katherine at some point in his journey. He had taken from her the most important thing in the world and still she survived, grew into the beautiful, intelligent woman she was.

“Did you hear me, old man? I said, she’s pregnant.”

Spencer looked at Chad and nodded. “Did you know it’s only two more months to the anniversary?”

Chad stared at him. “Are you for real? Of course, I know—it’s only been thrown in my face for twenty-seven years. She’s had everything her entire life. All I ever get is a sad, pitiful father, mourning over a stupid mistake.”

He raised his hand to strike him but was surprised to see he did not cower. He grinned, lowered his hand and turned to walk away.

“Where are you going?” Spencer asked.

“Out,” Chad spat.

Spencer heard the door slam and flinched.

Chad got into the elevator, spewing expletives. He pushed the call button. A man’s voice answered. “Sorry, I hit the wrong button.”

He needed to burn off steam, needed someone. He got back out and sought out April. He banged on the door so loudly that the tenant next door opened her door. She had a cross look on her face, her glaring eyes boring into him. She cocked her head and jerked her hand in his direction. “What? Are you stupid or something? Obviously, she isn’t home.” Chad took one step toward her, his face red, nostrils flaring. The door slammed shut again. Chad gave one final open-hand slap, flipped his middle finger toward the neighbor’s closed door, and got back into the elevator.

He made his way to the parking garage. He had seen the bastard’s car many times and found it easily enough. For a few minutes, he stared at it. What right did the asshole have to come in and spoil his plan? If he hadn’t interfered, Katherine would have been his for the taking. He was so close to winning her over. Hell, who knew, maybe even she’d be pregnant with his son. Chad’s breathing became quick and shallow, his heart pumping extra fast as the adrenaline pumped through his veins. He took out his pocketknife, opened the blade, and ran his finger down the gleaming shaft. He eyed John’s car, sitting there without a scratch on it, beautiful and sparkling against the fluorescent lights. He checked to make sure no one was around. He walked over to it, took his pocketknife and slashed all four tires. Then he carved into the side of it, standing back to admire his handiwork. The words stood out like a beacon in the night sky. Die Bastard.

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