Maggie didn’t bother to look like she wasn’t waiting for Rory. Since nine o’clock that morning she’d been prowling the office, peering out windows, and trying very hard not to be too short-tempered with her other employees.
By the time Rory arrived, Maggie was perched on the reporter’s desk chair, staring at the entrance, and making no attempt to hide her impatience. Not a soul in the office dared go near her. In fact, everyone who could manage it found an excuse to leave and work elsewhere. Even Cade had retreated and was working from Livvie’s Coffee Shop across the street where he could watch for Rory without being in Maggie’s line of fire.
“Well?” The moment Rory appeared, Maggie leapt up and bellowed her question. Those still in the office breathed a sigh of relief. Rory met her editor’s eyes, but didn’t say a word until she reached her desk. Maggie shoved the chair at her. “Sit down.”
Rory obeyed, tugging her hair free from the twist as she did so. “That always makes my head hurt. Who made up the rule that a woman had to yank her hair out of her head to look professional?” She threw the bobby pins into her top desk drawer and propped her elbows on the desk, holding her head.
“I don’t know. I don’t care. What happened at the interview?” Maggie was not about to be patient when her cover story – her entire publication for that matter – was at stake.
“He’s an egotistical jerk who holds Julie’s memory way too close. He also thinks he’s God’s gift to women.” Rory spoke to the desktop, her voice tired; but after a moment her professional façade returned, and she sat back up to sift through her briefcase, searching for her notebook with the interview notes.
“He was absolutely guarded and didn’t tell me a damn thing that I didn’t already know. However, don’t count him out. He’s insisting on dinner tomorrow night ‘to catch up,’ so he says, on everything. I said no, but I think I’ll change my mind and call him later.”
“Just expense it.”
“Don’t worry, I know the drill. I’ll start the article tonight, and then add to it as necessary. The funeral service, if they release her remains, which is still questionable, is tentatively scheduled for March twenty-sixth. Here, tell me what you think.” She tossed the notebook to Maggie and slouched down in her chair, staring at her plants and Cade’s empty desk, wanting desperately to go home and bury herself under the covers.
“I can’t read your chicken-scratch for anything,” Maggie groused, scanning the pages. “You write in that damned half-English half-symbol mess that defies all human logic. Didn’t you ever take shorthand in high school?”
“I’m a product of the 1990s school of education. We were lucky to have keyboarding.”
“I’ve seen you type. That’s as creative as your handwriting,” Maggie muttered.
“I didn’t take keyboarding,” Rory replied, her eyes still focused on nothing. “I was in the band.”
“Look, draft it tonight, and get it to me by seven tomorrow morning. I don’t know why I even bother trying to decipher this mess. What’s the rest of your attack plan?”
Have a beer with Cade and let Julie rest in peace, popped into Rory’s mind, and she shook her head to clear it before she answered. Just because he would listen to her did not mean that she had the right to monopolize his time. Just because Fridays had turned into regular dinners at the Rusty Anchor did not mean that any other day should. Besides, she had too much work to do.
“I’m meeting her sister at noon and her stepfather at two. When Julie disappeared, like the idealistic new graduate journalist I was, I kept everything related to the case at the time: every letter, every photo, and every article. I had this morbid need to document it as thoroughly as possible. The burgeoning reporter in me thought that I could put the last few pieces together and solve the mystery. But, without a body, without a motive, I had nothing, and all the media had was a whole lot of conjecture.” She swiveled her chair and stared out the window, crossing her arms over her chest. No need to mention that the memory of their last conversation kept her up at night. No need to tell Maggie that she was the reason Julie was dead.
“I always thought she knew her killer. But witnesses said she left the club alone, leaving Alex there to drink until closing. Don’t even ask; he was cleared of all suspicion. The police were able to account for his whereabouts from the time she left to the time she was reported missing.”
“What about her brother, the artist?”
Richard? After yesterday? Oh, Maggie would love to hear about that conversation. Rory laughed, a short, harsh sound that startled those left in the office. Maggie narrowed her eyes. “Never,” Rory said when she found her voice again. “He was devastated when she disappeared. It almost killed him, in fact. Alex did say something interesting, though: he suggested that Richard was too close to Julie, that he was jealous of her spending time with other people.”
“Anyone besides him.” With her back still to Maggie and the rest of the office, no one saw the look of amusement that crossed her face. “I don’t believe it for a moment. If something was going on, it wasn’t due to closeness.”
How did she even begin to answer that? Rory paused, remembering her last argument with Julie.
Did he do that to you? Did my brother rape you?
Rape? Where the hell did you hear that?
Someone told me.
No. What happened between your brother and me is my business right now, Julie. Don’t listen to the gossip.
Don’t lie to me, Rory, please, did Richard rape you?
“Cullers? You in there?”
She turned around and realized that Maggie was still waiting for the rest of the story.
“Sorry. Just thinking.”
“Why don’t you believe it?”
Rory turned back to the window. “I just don’t.”
He did, didn’t he? You won’t even tell me, your best friend!
“It wasn’t his personality. He wasn’t the possessive type.”
“You said you had letters. Just how well do you know this family?”
Rory hesitated. “Julie and I were friends.”
Maggie said nothing. Friends. Friends! And Rory had said nothing! Her brain felt like it was going to explode at the revelation. Rory had known Julie and that meant that she knew Richard as well as the other Daniels family members. Better, she knew Charles Sarazen. American Faces was about to scoop the others. Her magazine, her baby, was about to win.
“Go get something to eat. Get some coffee or something. You look like hell.” Maggie wanted to scream at her for hiding this crucial bit of information, but she stifled the urge. She’d yell later, when the article was finished. “Keep your emotions in check, Cullers.”
Rory only nodded and continued staring out the window. Maggie walked away. She’d get her answers later. As soon as Maggie’s office door closed, Rory let out a deep breath and turned back to her desk; thankful for a moment to regroup.
She found a bottle of water in her desk drawer and opened it, taking a long drink while she stared at the wall. Closing her eyes, she waited and tried to breathe slowly, tried to focus. But all she saw was Julie’s skeleton, that necklace. What had happened? How do you crush something so beautiful? She opened her eyes and resumed staring at the wall.
Did my brother rape you?
How could she answer that? How could she tell anyone about that night?
No. Drop it, Julie.
Their last conversation, last argument, before Julie disappeared. The topic twisting away from Rory to Julie, to Alex, to Charles, to the control Julie so resented.
You have to live your own life, Jules. You can’t live for them. Sage advice, no doubt, and Rory’s expression contorted in pain at the memory. Live your own life. Tell them to go to hell.
Twenty-four hours later, Julie was gone.
I’m in hell, Rory thought, covering her face with her hands. He’s right. I killed her.
A hand touched her shoulder.
Cade’s voice, low enough for only her to hear.
She nodded, opening her eyes but refusing to look at him.
“Rory, look at me.”
The gentle statement so different from Paul’s commands. “I’m fine,” she said, looking up at him, the corners of her mouth quirking into a small smile. “Really.”
“No, you aren’t. Why don’t you just admit it and get it over with? You aren’t fine.”
“And then what, Cade? Where will it get me?”
“You can’t do this to yourself.”
“You can’t do this alone.”
The small smile returned, but without a trace of humor. “I have no choice, Cayden.”
“You don’t have to be so strong. Not alone, anyway. I’m here, you know.”
Neither of them moved. She wondered at his expression, at the way he looked ready to say something. But then, a door closed, a phone rang, and people were talking, and the moment ended. His hand moved from her shoulder and he returned to his desk. Rory turned her chair away from the wall and started to fuss with papers on her desk.
“You look good,” he commented, sitting down and opening his laptop. Business as usual. “How’d it go? Impress him with your power suit?”
“Didn’t you wear that shirt yesterday?” She started to dig in her desk drawer for the pins she’d just removed, hating the blush that heated her cheeks and the fact that she wanted nothing more than to be in his arms.
Cade chuckled. “Nice. I compliment and you dodge it. Some things never change. Listen, I’m getting a pizza for dinner later, and I know you probably skipped breakfast and will probably skip lunch. If you’re nice to me, I’ll share with you.”
“Okay.” This was easier. More of what she was used to with him.
“Is that a promise to be nice?”
She eyeballed him as she pulled her hair up into a twist again. “Will you promise not to make me yell at you so that I can be nice?”
“Will you promise to yell at me if I don’t?”
“Bite me. Don’t you have any chips in your desk? I need something to hold me over until later.” She looked at her watch and sighed. “Forget it. I’ll get something on the way.” She took off before he had a chance to answer her, since the last thing she needed was to run late for her next interview.
A glance at her desk made him sit back and wait. Within minutes, she was back for her car keys. “Don’t say anything,” she warned.
Cade just grinned at her. “I wouldn’t dream of it,” he replied, tossing her a single-serving bag of chips and laughing when she glared at him.