“What?” he asked, confused by the quick change in tone and subject.
“My head is too muddled right now to deal with more than one thing at a time,” I answered. “So, let’s get to work on solving my father’s murder. All cards on the table.”
“Fine,” he said, heaving a sigh and sinking back into the hard hospital chair. “So talk.”
“Uh-uh. I’ve already shared a couple of things. Now it’s your turn.”
“I don’t think . . .”
“All cards on the table,” I repeated. “I give you my word nothing will appear in print without your permission.”
He raised one of his expressive brows.
“Do you want a blood oath, or what?”
A smile lit his beautiful face. “I don’t think we need to do anything that drastic. Besides, I hate the sight of blood.”
He turned serious. “I have your word?”
“Yes,” I said, exasperated.
He relented. “Bronson Elroy is a blackmailer. He confessed to trying to extort money from both your father and Orson Jenkins, but neither bit.”
“So, it’s possible he’s behind all of this,” I said. Damn! I had been torn between Jenkins and Candy, but I wasn’t about to let Jason know that. “I suspected him all along.”
“Your turn,” he said.
“Milston thinks my father’s secretary Candice Pinkston is behind the murders. He overheard her threatening him on the phone.”
I felt a warm rush of pleasure as I saw the surprise on his face. Ha! I knew something he didn’t.
“And you spoke with her,” he said on a sigh.
“Damn it, Jessie!”
“Hey, I only spoke with her on the phone,” I defended myself, “and she gave me a list of my father’s staff while he was governor.”
“I have that,” he said, “but I hadn’t singled her out.”
“That’s why it’s so important for us work together. I have inside knowledge.”
“Okay,” he said, “point taken. So far, our suspects are Elroy, Pinkston, Jenkins, and Milston. Have you encountered any additional potential murderers?”
“Grant Estes. He was publishing my father’s memoirs. I don’t think he’s involved, but . . .”
Jason rolled his muscular shoulders and dropped his head to one side and then the other, as if he were preparing his body for a round of boxing.
“So,” he said, “we have a prime suspect, but no hard evidence and a whole cast of characters that could also be guilty.”
“You mean you aren’t ready to announce the culprit, Mr. Super-dick?”
“And steal your thunder? I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Bad news, I’m clean out of thunderbolts,” I said.
“We’ll just have to keep digging, then. Good, solid police work will get us there.”
Yeah, but how long would that take? I didn’t want to spend another hour looking over my shoulder, let alone days, weeks, or even months. We were both intelligent, creative adults. There had to be a way to lure our murderer out into the open. It struck me like the bolt I had just claimed not to own. We did have a way to entice him or her out of the shadows.
“I have an idea,” I said grabbing his hand. “We’re going to use me as bait.”
“What?” Jason sprang from the chair, forgetting that he still held Jessie’s hand. The tug to her arm caused her to catch her breath hard and her face contorted in a grimace of pain.
“Oh, Jesus! I’m sorry, Jessie,” he said, sinking down. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
He would just as soon cut off his arm as cause her any more pain. That thought shocked him enough to push him against the chair back. The only other living being he felt that way about was Dalia.
“It’s okay,” she said as her face began to relax. “It’s over.”
“I’ll get the nurse.”
“No, I’m alright.”
“At least use your pump.”
“Not until we get this settled,” she said, “and for that I need a clear head.”
“For God’s sake, can’t you just rest and recover? No one’s going to risk coming after you in here. And even if they did, you’re going to have police protection; no one will be able to get to you. Give yourself time to heal.”
“And more people are going to die while I’m lying here playing Solitaire.”
“Do you really think the VSP is helpless without you? That we can’t solve this case without your input?”
Outrage sizzled along his nerves endings. Did she really believe he was that incompetent?
“Of course not,” Jessie said, her voice softening, “but I think you will have a much better shot of drawing him or her out with my help.”
“This is crazy,” he said. It was ridiculous to even talk about it. “You can’t even get out of bed. How are you going to go after a killer?”
“The doctor said I should be released in a couple of days. Once I am, I’ll casually let it slip to all pertinent parties that I think the police suck, and that I’m going to search Cara’s house for myself. Betcha our murderer won’t be able to pass up the opportunity to catch me alone and unawares.”
Jason wasn’t about to let her put herself in any type of danger, not now.
“But I won’t be alone,” she said. “I don’t really think you suck. You’ll be there, and you can bring the whole department, for all I care. Just stay hidden until someone shows up.”
He wasn’t going to consider Jessie’s scheme. He had almost lost her, and had felt like his entire world had collapsed. There was no way in hell she was going to put him through anything like that again. For the first time in a very, very long time, his heart had allowed someone past the barriers he had worked so hard to erect. He was not going to let her be ripped away.
“You’re being unreasonable,” she said. “This is our best chance for getting to the bottom of everything. What do you think can happen to me with you right there?”
“I’m not going to talk about this,” Jason said, once again rising to his feet. “I’m going for coffee. Take something for the pain, and get some rest. I’ll see you in a few hours.”
“Jason, wait,” she called, but he was already out the door.
He walked out on me! I couldn’t believe it. We were supposed to have a grown-up discussion about solving this case, but when I presented a perfectly rational plan, he wouldn’t even think about it. Probably because it wasn’t his idea.
No, that was unfair, and I knew it. I could tell his overreaction wasn’t about ego. He was frightened for me. He cared about me in a way no one had in a really long time – maybe ever. Fear, cold and stark, shot through me. That was what it meant to have someone care about you, having someone make decisions for you, trying to control you. I couldn’t live like that. But I also didn’t think I could live without Jason Anders in my life. Crap! What was I going to do?
I was going to tackle this like I would any other problem in my life – head on. And with that decided, I gave myself a dose of pain relief and drifted off.
The sound of light snoring pulled me from a dreamless sleep. I took great care in turning to my side, and was relieved to find the pain bearable. Jason had come back, this time opting for the recliner in the corner. He was stretched out, as much as was possible for a big man in a tiny room, and his head was thrown back. Each exhalation made a purring sound that was at odds with his masculine form. I was appalled to find the image was turning my insides to mush. God! I was pathetic!
“Hey,” I called, and watched with satisfaction as he let out a gargled snort before shooting upright.
“Jessie? Are you okay? Do I need to call someone?”
“Relax, I’m fine,” I said.
He scrubbed his face with both hands. “How long was I out?”
“I don’t know, I was out, too. I just woke up.”
He stared, bleary-eyed, at his watch. “A couple of hours. It’s four o’clock.”
“A.M. or P.M.?” I asked. “And what day is it?”
“P.M., and it’s Saturday.”
I had been shot late Thursday night, so I hadn’t really lost that much time.
“And you’ve been here all three days,” I said as the realization hit me. “You haven’t gone in to work?”
“I stepped out to check on Dalia. My daughter,” he explained. “But, no, I’ve called a few times, but I haven’t gone into the station.”
He was sounding very reasonable and sane, so I took a chance and broached the elephant in the room. “I need to help take this guy, or girl, down, Jason.”
“You are helping.”
“No, I need to be involved. I need to be there, be a part of it.”
“And I need you to be safe.”
“You don’t think I need you to be safe?” I said, my voice rising despite my determination to play it cool. I breathed deeply for a moment, letting my anger settle before it could flame. “I’m afraid,” I admitted.
“Then why are you so insistent on doing this?”
“No, Jason, I’m afraid of you.”
His eyes widened to large jade marbles. “Me?”
“Yes, you. Or rather, I’m afraid of what I might become with you. For the first time in my life, I want to be with you more than I want to be alone, and I’m afraid that I’ll end up twisting myself into someone I don’t know in order to keep you.”
I stared into those eyes, willing him to understand.
“It took me years to figure out who I am, what I stand for. Please don’t ask me to be anything else.”
My heart was pounding so hard I thought surely the nurses and doctors would come running, but the hall remained silent and the door remained closed. What if Jason didn’t care about my fears? What if his desire for control was too strong? Would I give in to keep him in my life?
I was going to have to put my faith in him; that’s how you earned faith in return.
“I’ll stay behind if you ask me to,” I said. “I trust you and your judgment. The decision is yours.”
I could see the struggle as a tangle of emotions played across his face. Fear, concern, and uncertainty battled it out with reason, compassion, and an unidentifiable something that caused me to catch my breath. I let it out again when he finally said, “It’s your life, your choice. I don’t want you to do this, but I trust your judgment, too.”
Thank God! Being new to this trust thing, I wasn’t certain it would work. Knowing that I had done the right thing, that Jason was able to meet me halfway, was a huge relief. Now we could work out some compromises on the details.
“Thank you,” I said. “Now let’s get to work.”