SERVER CRASHED. MEET ME AT CITLALI’S FOR DINNER WHEN YOU’RE DONE WITH YOUR MEETING. MY TREAT. YOU DESERVE IT AFTER TODAY!
Rory read Cade’s text and felt herself blush.
With the media surrounding both Paul’s and Julie’s deaths, and Rory’s connections to both of the dead, visits to American Faces’ website exploded and on one glorious day, crashed the server. Despite the temporary inconvenience, Maggie was ecstatic, viewing it as a sign that her magazine and her star writer were coming of age – not to mention what it would do for sales and advertising. Cade used it as an excuse to treat Rory to dinner. He wanted to celebrate. Crashing a server, he said, took some serious talent.
“Time to fess up, Roar, tell me about Primer,” he said as they waited for their meals to arrive. “How much of your blog is real?”
She laughed. “We’ve known each other for how long and you are only asking me now? Finally figure out that I’m the author?”
“Hey, you’re the investigative reporter. Not me.”
She laughed again, a light airy laugh, one that told him just how free she was now. “I’ll never tell, Cade. Just read it and enjoy it.”
Technically, it was just another Friday and just another meal, but it was also their first time out together alone since the day after Paul’s funeral. This time they were on the South Side, at a quiet little Mexican restaurant.
“You need to try something different — something new,” he’d insisted.
Rory had agreed, but not before jokingly suggesting he was looking to get her alone now that she was available. He didn’t argue, not when she was right.
Now, sitting across from him, she could only think about how delicious he looked in his hunter green dress shirt and how she liked the way he rolled his sleeves up and how perfect his arms were and how much she wanted to feel them around her.
She was thinking, too, of the surprise she’d slipped into his briefcase just before they left work. A blank book. Hand-tooled leather, fine and expensive and perfect, an impulse buy. She meant it for his birthday, but had hesitated. Once, it had seemed too much for someone who was merely a friend. Now, without Paul to worry about, she dared think that all those childhood teachings on propriety were too expensive to live by any longer.
“Well? How much is real?”
She shrugged and grinned, digging into her sopapillias – which she ordered instead of dinner, declaring that nothing else looked nearly as appealing.
“Okay, then at least tell me how you choose your characters’ names. Where did Paxton come from?”
She laughed. “I pick names I like. I look at my bookshelves and let the author’s names influence me. But Paxton means peace, which she doesn’t have, and Robel is just one letter off of rebel, which seems appropriate on a few levels.”
She laughed. “She’s rebellious. The rest, Mr. Ransome, is up to you to figure out. I’m not giving away all my secrets.”
“You do play close to the vest.”
Cade watched Rory eat her sopapillias with relish. But the thought that had crossed his mind when he read her blog kept coming back to him. “So how much of Primer is true?”
“What does that mean?”
“I have a good bit of anger within, but you know that already.”
Her quiet, defensive tone wasn’t lost on him.
“I hear you’re poking around Sarazen’s past, too,” Rory said abruptly.
“Oh? How did you hear that?”
“Everyone has connections, you know that. Did you find anything?”
“Nothing significant. A few kickbacks here and there, some accounting comes into question, but there’s nothing big. Nothing worth a murder. He had some enemies, but they weren’t much either. It was mostly mudslinging, a few public battles so they could get some airtime.”
“That’s about all I found, too.”
“Are you going to keep looking?”
“I have to.”
“You don’t have to do anything, you know. You don’t have to solve the mystery.”
“I was the one who told her to live her own life and quit living for Charles. Look where it got her. Look what I did to her.”
“You’re wrong, Rory.” The force in his voice startled her. Bewildered, she looked at him, silent for a moment. “You didn’t do anything.”
Shaking her head, she denied him. “I told her to wait before she got engaged. I told her to experience the world more, so I caused the argument that night. If I had kept my mouth shut, she wouldn’t have fought with him. She’d be alive now, Cade.”
“How do you know what they argued about?”
“I don’t, but I can guess.”
He moved from his side of the table to hers, sliding into the seat, putting his hands on her shoulders and gently forcing her to turn to him. “Is that it? You blame yourself for her being in the wrong place at the wrong time?”
She nodded, and Cade saw her eyes fill with tears. “That’s what Richard said. He screamed it at me.”
“He’s wrong. You didn’t make her do anything.”
“No. Listen. Just listen, honey,” he said, taking her hands in his and staring at her intently. “Julie was not some brainless little angel. She made her own decisions. You didn’t make her leave the club. You didn’t do anything but give your opinion. What she did with that opinion was on her own.”
No one had ever said that to her. Everyone asked what was she thinking? and what made her do that? Never did anyone say she made her own decisions. Rory had never thought of it that way, either. Everyone looked for causes, for outside reasons, for some place to lay the blame. People wanted a why they could understand; not one that chalked up a tragedy up simple human nature. To lay the cause upon Julie’s ability to make her own decisions seemed disrespectful somehow, as if saying the victim was somehow at fault.
Cade watched the emotions play over Rory’s face, watched the tears glisten but not quite fall, and knew she was weighing his words. When she nodded, he knew she believed him – or at least believed as much as she could.
“Thank you,” she said simply.
But before she could say more, and she wanted to say more, to thank him for lifting a weight from her shoulders, the shrill ring of her cell phone made them both jump. The moment broken, they looked at each other and smiled briefly, aware of their proximity. For a moment, Cade looked as if he was going to say something else, but he only grinned lazily and settled back in the seat. From the expression on her face when she saw the caller ID, Cade didn’t need to ask who was calling. “Hi, Alex. No, I didn’t forget. I’ll be ready at five, don’t worry.” She listened for a moment, then bid him good-bye and closed her phone.
“What was that about?”
“We’re supposed to see Crake’s Mephistopheles tomorrow night. He got two tickets through some promotion with his firm and asked if I’d go.”
“Tell me you don’t have a date with that stuffed shirt.”
“Hardly,” she shrugged, dropping her phone back into her purse. “It’s business.” She sighed, “I told Mags if I went that I would cover it if we needed to fill space. Unfortunately, we need to fill space.”
“Was it business at the charity auction?”
“No. He crashed that and then hung around me all night. You know that. I certainly bent your ear about it when that picture showed up in the society column.”
“True. Why didn’t you tell him to leave you alone?”
She gave him one of her looks that told him she’d done exactly that. “Ever try to reason with a gnat that’s buzzing in your ear? They just don’t get it.”
“When did he invite you to this opera?” She refused to look at him, studying the label on her beer bottle instead. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Because I didn’t want to ruin anything. “I just didn’t. He caught me off guard. I said yes only because I couldn’t come up with an excuse to say no fast enough.” Paul had always accused her of running away, of avoiding confrontation – that was his reason for his brand of discipline, to make her face reality. If she would quit running, he wouldn’t have had to be so hard on her. “I just didn’t have a chance yet, Cade. That’s all.”
“I’m not him, you know,” he said quietly, and she knew he meant Paul. “You don’t have to worry about my reactions.”
“I never said I was worried.”
“You never said you weren’t.”
“You know what I mean!”
“Lower your voice, Rory, people are staring.”
For once, she found herself speechless, unable to come up with a reply that would end his prying. “Oh, just bite me,” she cried in frustration.
“Any preferences on location?”
“Just knock it off, will you?”
He gave her a broad grin. “Sure thing. You know I love how cute you look when you get mad. I swear, your eyes get even bluer.” She blinked, and he couldn’t resist his next move. “You look a little baffled there, Roar. Not used to a man flirting with you? Now it’s time for me to get home. Kier has been penned up all day, and you look like you need some time to think.” Standing, he looked at her, his eyes gleaming. “One more thing before I leave,” he said leaning over and kissing her lips. He grinned at her stunned expression. “Good night, sweetheart. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
She was left staring at him, watching him settle the bill and walk out the door, trying to understand what had just happened.
Later that night, while looking for his pen, Cade found the package she’d slipped into his briefcase. Speechless, he studied the wrapped box, knowing it came from her and amazed that she’d do something like this. Opening it left him further at a loss. The obvious quality told him that she hadn’t simply picked it up but that she’d put quite a bit of thought and effort into it. She knew his tastes well, he realized. Very well. Flipping the book open, he found an inscription – dated for his March birthday – in the front.
For all those words left unsaid, use these pages. For all those thoughts that need a voice, pen them here. For all those ideas and dreams and idle musings, flesh them out and give them the weight they need to tell the tales you have within you. I will see you on the bestseller list, my dear Cayden.
Cade closed the journal, thinking he might just really kiss her the next time they were together. To hell with propriety and waiting for dead husbands to grow cold. He loved her.