“He wasn’t what I needed either,” she said after a moment, attempting to sound collected. But she faltered, and he heard the defeat in her voice as she looked at him. “I want him out of my life, Cade. I want his garbage out of my house.”
“We’ll do it together.”
“You don’t have to—”
“No arguments and no questions. I promise.”
She couldn’t refuse. Not when she found herself still overwhelmed with emotion at the realization that she had meant so little to Paul. Picking through his personal items had reminded her of his priorities all too well. There wasn’t a single photograph of her in his wallet, not a single memento anywhere. “I appreciate it, Cade. I do.”
“Good. Listen, I know you, I’m guessing you haven’t…”
For the first time, she smiled. “You want me to eat, don’t you?”
“You’re learning,” he said, pulling her into his arms, loving how soft she was against him, remembering how well they fit together. “Now, before I go back on my promise to help, and we end up doing more than cleaning in this room. Any preferences on the restaurant? We could get something from Shawn’s Place. It’s not fancy, but it’s good.”
“I could eat a horse, myself.”
“I don’t think that’s on the menu anymore.”
He chuckled. “Ever eat there before?”
“No, Paul didn’t believe in… Paul said that he didn’t like that sort of atmosphere.” She felt his arms tense, but he said nothing. What could he say? “That sort of atmosphere” was exactly where he’d been the day he died.
“Hey, look, I’ll be back pretty quickly. Why not give this a rest and get out some paper plates, stuff you won’t have to wash when we’re done?”
Rory nodded, willing to escape the room, even if only for an hour or so, and spend time with someone who wouldn’t pussyfoot around her , or worse, urge her to “cry and get it out of her system” or something of that ilk. “Get something for us to drink, too, Cade. I’m out of everything.”
Now, in her kitchen with the remnants of their dinner between them, she found herself glancing at his hands just as she had at the meeting all those eons ago, this time remembering the gentle strength in them.
“I see you replaced your blinds.”
“The blinds,” he motioned towards the door. “They’re new.” Nodding in response, Rory began cleaning off the table. He watched for a moment, admittedly admiring the way she kept herself together. True, she was as transparent as a pane of glass, but she at least tried. Lesser women would had fallen into hysterics over much less than a cheating, abusive husband and a best friend’s murder.
“What happened to them?”
She dumped the empty plates into the garbage can, and then turned to face him. “Paul.” The defensive note was back in her voice. What he wouldn’t give to have Paul here so he could kill him. What he wouldn’t give to have punched the son of a bitch when he’d had the chance. Punched? No, pummeled. Pounded. Given him a taste of his own medicine.
She shrugged. “It’s over. That’s all that matters. Ready to finish?”
“Why not sit for a few more? Here, have another one,” he slid a bottle of beer at her. “Talk to me for a few minutes. What’s going on with the investigation?”
She twisted the cap off and flipped it onto the table. Subtle, she thought, knowing that he had no intention of letting the matter drop and knowing that part of her didn’t mind: she was tired of carrying her secrets. She took a long drink before answering. “The police said they’re working on it. I’ve talked to a few investigators, but it’s likely going to be classified as a cold case. There’s nothing on Charles. He wasn’t involved, though I probably always knew that. Part of me still wants to talk to Richard, though I’m not sure what good it will do. He’s innocent, I’m sure.” She picked up the cap and toyed with it as she thought for a moment. “They know who didn’t do it, but that’s it.”
“Are they being straight with you?”
She gave a small smile. “I doubt it. You know us writers, we can’t keep a secret. Chief Campbell never liked me anyway. He’s been a little too brilliant at keeping me out of the loop. Paul’s cousin is on the force, too. He’s useless. Worse, my usual source in the department – who hated Campbell – retired to Florida a few months ago, and I haven’t been able to find a new one at the station. I’ve been contacted by a few tabloid writers. They wanted an interview for their cover stories. I turned them down.”
“I saw some of the headlines. Didn’t they announce that the killer was arrested last week?”
“No, last week they said she was alive and living with Elvis.”
“Any real lead on the killer?”
She shook her head. “I still think that Julie knew who killed her. I don’t have a damn thing to go on but gut, though. Did you look at Julie’s file I gave you last week?”
“I’m afraid they got pushed aside. Someone started writing a column and I ended up with the extra workload,” he said, winking at her. “Don’t worry. It’s in my briefcase. I have it packed for that trip I’m taking to Philly tomorrow.”
“That extra workload is necessary. You need the practice.”
Cade laughed and opened another beer, replacing her now-empty bottle. “What about Alex? Have you heard from him?”
“No. Not a word. He sent some roses the next day, which I gave to my neighbor Mrs. Dubois. He hasn’t made any other effort, and I can’t say I’m unhappy about it. The more I get to know him the less I like him. He’s arrogant. It’s like he’s convinced I’ll fall at his feet like Julie must have. He’s... how do I describe him? He’s like the perfect man. He’s impeccably dressed. He’s everything.”
“So why were you dating him?”
She glared at him. “Let’s not use that word, please. He accompanied me to a few social functions. I thought he knew that I didn’t feel anything for him, but apparently I was wrong. I guess being with him was comfortable in a way, kind of non-threatening. I knew, or thought I knew, what to expect.”
“He never acted like that before?”
“No, not that I’ve ever seen. I can’t recall him ever having more than one or two drinks. Ever. You know, Cade, he’s nobody special. Somehow I think he knows it, too, so he tries to compensate. When I interviewed him, I was struck by his averageness. There wasn’t anything memorable about him, not like…” she stopped abruptly, blushing.
You. Good God, was she really going to be that bold? The alcohol was getting to her. She pushed the nearly-empty bottle away. “Let’s get back to work.”
Cade finished his drink and followed her, smiling at how single-minded she was. If she knew how much he liked this side of her, and exactly what he was imagining doing with her instead of packing, he thought, she’d probably try to throw him out again.