Rory started early the next day, letting herself into the silent office at six in the morning. Her usual mug of hot peppermint tea in her hands, she stared out the window down onto Carson Street.
Alex had given her the direct impression that he suspected Richard. But she wasn’t stupid; she did her research. Surely he would have taken that into consideration. So why did he neglect to mention that he and Richard we friendly enough to visit each other regularly?
Alex doesn’t want me to talk to Richard alone. Is it because he knows Richard blames me? Is he trying to protect me? The sun started to peep out, flooding the darker corners of the street. Lights in shops came on. People began to gather at the bus stop. The 51C came by, picked up, dropped off, and rolled on. More people gathered. Natalie doesn’t talk to Richard anymore. The 51A came by and took them away. Mr. Senge walked by with his dog. Ms. Werthman turned on the neon sign at Yesterday’s News Vintage Clothing Shoppe. Maybe Cade will have some ideas. What did he mean when he said that’s a good start?
“Confusion now hath made his masterpiece,” she muttered to herself, leaning against the windowsill, wincing only slightly when she bumped her newest bruise – earned last night and hidden by long sleeves – against the sill.
A floor below, the main door squealed as someone opened it.
Cade was another early riser, so it came as no surprise when he walked in a moment later. She was glad for his company, as well as the distraction, and turned from the window to smile at him. “If you distrust someone, would you hang out with him?”
“Good morning to you, too,” he said pleasantly, placing a bag from AB's Bagles on her desk. “Here’s breakfast.”
“Sorry. Good morning. Thank you.” She paused for a moment and turned back to stare out the window, fighting down the urge to think about why he brought her breakfast today. Dinner yesterday. “Cade,” she finally said, speaking to him through the reflection of the window’s pane. “Alex thinks Richard was involved, but the two of them are friends. Does that make any sense to you?”
“Keep your enemies close? Did he say outright that he distrusts him?”
“Well, not really. But you know how you get a feeling about something?”
“Like the feeling that you’re not going to eat without my hounding you?”
“Can you be serious for once?”
“Can you lighten up for once?”
There’s no point, she wanted to shout. Every person I care about leaves me. Instead, she stared out the window again and fought to keep the sudden tears from falling. Cars, buses, people. Cars, buses, people. Why be anything to anyone? Julie was murdered by someone who knew her. Rory was trying to be Paul’s wife, and that was killing her. He loves you, darling. Killing Julie. Killing Rory. One at a time. Just a little bit each day. Who knew what would happen when she finally left him? She wouldn’t be able to hide those bruises.
Last night, Isadora had called while Paul was berating Rory for planning to have dinner with Alex, accusing her of failing as a wife, of not considering his feelings. It’s for work, Paul. Nothing more. And he slapped her.
Rory’s in the shower right now, mum, Paul said, his expression daring her to contradict him. Can she give you a call back? Standing there, listening to them exchange pleasantries, Rory felt the bile rising in her throat as her husband flexed his fist while telling her mother how he hoped to see her soon and that he’d give Rory the message. She watched him hang up and cross the room to her. He grabbed her arm when she tried to escape, his fingers digging in as if to snap bone, and slapped her once more. When are you going to quit making me do this, Aurora?
She shook her head and looked back out the window.
“Fine. Keep it to yourself,” Cade muttered, frustrated by her reticence, particularly given their conversation last night. “I’m not your enemy, Rory. Quit treating me like one.”
She watched his reflection in the glass and saw him grab his coffee mug and storm into the break room. She heard the cupboard door slam and flinched. It was better this way, better to keep him at arm’s length… at least until she was divorced. It’s always better to be a good girl, isn’t it? Right now, however, she wasn’t that sure. There didn’t seem to be much in it for her.
“So what does the E stand for?” He was at it again, back at his desk, and once again prying into her life.
“Elyse,” she replied, not glancing up from her laptop. This morning he’d stalked out of the room. Now, just a few hours later, he was being friendly. What was wrong with him, anyway? After the scene with Paul the previous evening, the last thing she wanted was casual conversation. Particularly with Cade. He made her feel too vulnerable.
Cade studied her. Her face was pale under her make-up, and she looked as if she hadn’t slept. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that look was becoming increasingly common for her – as were her long sleeves and turtlenecks.
Not that they always worked. Sometimes he caught a glimpse of a bruise on her arm or collarbone. Black and blue or fading to yellow. Barely there, but obvious enough to a man who watched her as closely as Cade did.
“Rory Elyse. I like it.”
She kept typing and said nothing for the sake of staying calm.
“Can I call you Lise?
“No. Now let me get my work done. I’d like to get out of here on time tonight. It’s already after three.” And this place is almost empty. The longer we’re here, the more I get to know you, the less wise it seems to be here. Julie’s dead, and no one seems to care except for you.
Yesterday, while they ate dinner, he’d asked questions her husband hadn’t: How are you holding up? Can I help you at all? Do you need to talk?
Worse than the asking, he didn’t believe it when she said she was fine. He didn’t push for more, but he didn’t buy it, either. Call me if you need me, he’d simply said before she left last night. Left? Before she fled. Ran away. Whatever it was, it was an escape from someone whose company she had no right to enjoy as much as she did.
Finish and get out of here, she told herself. You have to get your life in order before anything else.
“What are your plans for this weekend?”
“Want to grab a bite? I’m starving.”
“I’m not hungry right now, Cade. Thank you but no.”
“I don’t think I’ve seen you eat a thing yet today. Certainly not that bagel. You need something in you, Roar, you look like you’re losing weight. Come on, babe. Why not?”
Rory looked up, her expression unreadable. “I’m not your babe, Cayden. I’m your coworker. Besides, I have that dinner with Alex tonight.”
“You’re really going to dinner with that stuffed shirt?”
“Your husband doesn’t mind?”
She shook her head, thinking about how much effort it took not to fight back last night as he’d shaken her, screaming and squeezing her arms until she was sure her bones would snap. He absolutely minded. He always minded when someone inconvenienced him.
She swallowed the need to shout at him. Or cry. “Ransome, I swear to God, you’re getting on my nerves. What the hell is it with you and this need to know my personal life?”
Rather than answer her question, he leaned back in his chair and looked at her, his arms crossed over his chest.
“Well? Why are you so interested in my life?”
“Did it ever occur to you that working yourself to death is unhealthy?”
“I am not working myself to death.”
“From what I can see, you live via that pen of yours.”
She stared, but only for a minute. “You don’t know the first thing about me,” she said quietly as she returned to her article. If he did, he’d never speak to her again.
“I think I do.”
“You don’t know anything.” Her voice began to rise, which Cade found interesting. It was about time she started to show something beyond that calculated control she always seemed to have.
“Don’t underestimate me,” he challenged, warming to the idea of making her lose her temper completely. Leaning forward and pushing the peace lily out of the way, he grinned at her. “I’m rather tenacious.”
Without looking up, she moved the plant back in place. “Don’t waste my time.”
“I’m not. Come on, tell me what’s wrong. You know I’ll just keep at it until you do.”
“Nothing’s wrong, Cayden. Nothing that can’t be solved when people like you leave me the hell alone,” she snapped, finally looking up at him. “Why you need to pry into my life is beyond me. My God, it’s like you’re my husband!”
“Husband?” He roared. This time he didn’t bother with moving her plant aside. Planting his palms flat on the desktop, he stood up and leaned forward. “Husband!”
Smirking, Rory turned her attention back to her laptop. “Why not? You act like it.” Her expression dared him to say more.
He did. “Somebody has to take care of you! For God’s sake, you’re…”
She didn’t give him a chance to finish his sentence. In an instant, she was mimicking his pose. Palms flat on the desk, her face a foot from his. “I’m what? You have no idea what I am, so don’t bother telling me! Don’t think I haven’t figured you out, Ransome!”
She smirked again. “You’re trying to be the hero. The one who knows what’s best for everybody.”
“Hero? That’s a laugh! If you bothered to think about something other than writing, you’d have figured it out a long time ago! Of course, what I really like is how Webster’s asking you out the day after his fiancée’s body is found… and you think nothing of it.”
Rory was caught off guard for a moment, Alex was the last person she expected him to take exception to. She stood up straighter and lifted her chin. “It's work, Cayden. It's nothing to me. He’s nothing to me, Cayden. No more than you are,” she said coldly. The words nearly killed her, but she was a married woman and admitting anything else would kill her.
For a moment, Cade just stared at her.
“Fine,” he said gently, sitting down. “I overstepped my bounds. I apologize.”
She’d been so sure he would have fought back. Not apologize. Men didn’t apologize. Not the ones she knew. Nodding at the foreign words, her eyes blurring, she swallowed and managed to thank him.
“It’s fine, Roar. I’m not mad.”
If it hadn’t been for the fact that she didn’t want to draw any more attention to herself than she already had, she would have probably stayed where she was, staring at him in amazement. As it was, they had a small audience, including Mags. Then again, spats between them weren’t unusual – just not usually so loud. And never so personal. Sinking into her chair, trying to understand the words that she’d shouted, she studiously refused to look up. She didn’t want him to see him wink at her.
Had she looked up, she would have seen that he was equally intent on not looking up. While she was trying to sort everything out in her head, he knew with startling clarity exactly what needed to come next. Though it wouldn’t. Not as long as he didn’t look at her. If he did, if he saw even a hint of emotion, he would have her in his arms, intent on shielding her from everything that could hurt her. He would play the hero, just as she accused him. And he knew if he did so, she would never forgive him.
Moments later, he could hear shuffling and knew she was packing her bag to head home. Her goodnight to him was clipped; she was trying to maintain her control. He nodded without glancing up, knowing he could not stop himself if she looked as vulnerable as he suspected. “Good luck tonight,” was all he said.
Cade thought about following her, then thought better of it. For a minute, anyway. He made it out of the building in time to see her pull out of the parking lot.