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Authors: Carlene Thompson

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BOOK: Last Whisper
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Sam waved his arm. “Don’t take it off!” he said loudly. “You remind me of her in it, all feminine and pretty.”

“Really, I can just go back and put on my jeans,” Brooke protested, deeply embarrassed by her lack of sensitivity.

“Don’t be silly!” Sam boomed. “Laura would love the idea of little Brooke Yeager wearing her robe.”

Vincent, to Brooke’s surprise, gave her an encouraging nod and smile. “It does look pretty on you and she’d probably like to know you were wearing it, instead of it just hanging untouched like a piece of clothing in a museum exhibit.” He looked at his father. “And you don’t have to keep yelling at us, Dad. We’re right here.”

“Was I yelling?” Sam asked innocently. “Damn, don’t tell me my hearing is going, too.”

Vincent knew Sam’s hearing
was
going, but he had seemed in a good mood this morning and Vincent didn’t want to depress him. “I think you’re just exuberant because we have company. You always did get loud when you were happy. Or you’d had a couple of drinks. Did you make Bloody Marys before I got up?”

Sam tossed a towel playfully at Vincent’s head. “I do not start off my mornings with tomato juice and vodka, although now that you’ve mentioned it, it sounds like a pretty good idea. But we’re out of vodka. Have been for years, I think.”

“Then I’ll run right out and buy you some,” Vincent teased back.

Sam laughed, then turned to Brooke. “Vincent and I have already polished off a pot of coffee. The new one should be just about finished.”

“Good. I can’t get going without caffeine in the morning,” Brooke said.

“Do you want it black, or with cream or sugar?” Vincent asked.

Brooke went blank. “Cream, I think.” She blushed. How embarrassing not to remember how she took her coffee.

“There’s plenty in the pot,” Vincent said casually. “We’ll keep trying mixtures until we get it right.”

“Does Denise like coffee?” Sam asked.

Brooke saw Vincent start to correct his father about the dog’s name, then clamp his mouth shut. “No, dogs and caffeine don’t mix too well,” Brooke said. “Elise will just have some water.”

“Fix her some of that fancy French stuff Vincent likes.”

“That isn’t necessary. Tap water will do fine.”

Sam shook his head. “Vincent, get the dog your fancy water. I can’t
imagine
wasting money on foreign water you have to go to the store and buy in bottles when perfectly acceptable water comes right out of the spigot in your own kitchen, but ever since he went to California, Vincent has gotten exotic
tastes
,” Sam said darkly.

Vincent rolled his eyes at Brooke, brought out a bottle of Perrier, and poured the cold water in a bowl for Elise, who acted like she’d never tasted anything so delicious in her life, licking the bowl dry and looking around hopefully for more. “See, Dad,” Vincent said, smiling. “Even
dogs
like it better.”

“She’s just thirsty,” Sam groused. “She’d like anything.” He suddenly turned a sweet smile on Brooke. “You want some breakfast? Laura always said I was a genius at making omelets.”

“Just coffee will be fine,” Brooke said.

Vincent had just poured a cup for her when the doorbell rang. The three of them went still, their eyes widening. Elise barked, snapping them out of their trance. “Well, I don’t suppose Zach Tavell has come to join us for breakfast,” Sam said, rising heavily from his chair and heading for the front door. In a moment, he returned with Stacy and Jay Corrigan.

Stacy led the way, as usual. She headed straight for Brooke and gave her a hug. “Jay heard all about Tavell being here last night and I expected you to look like a ghost this morning. Instead you look ready to pose for a Victoria’s Secret ad.”

Brooke blushed. “I think I’m a bit more covered than the catalog’s models. I forgot my own robe.”

“This one is beautiful.” Stacy smiled at Vincent, then introduced herself to Sam. “I’m Brooke’s best friend. At least I like to think of myself as her best friend. It was so kind of you and your son to invite her to stay last night.”

“It was our pleasure.” Sam beamed at Stacy, who looked like a slim and sophisticated model in a pale green suit and high heels.

She turned to Jay. “I believe you already know my husband. He’s a detective, too.”

“I . . . I’ve heard of him,” Sam said, barely letting his smile falter. Brooke immediately knew he had no idea who Jay Corrigan was. Jay—about five-ten, muscular, and slightly bulky, with an easy smile and heavy sandy eyebrows above bright blue eyes—looked more like Sam’s son than the tall, slender Vincent with his more refined features and startlingly green eyes. Jay extended a hand to Sam. “It’s an honor to meet you, sir. I don’t think a week goes by that I don’t hear about how Sam Lockhart cleared more cases than all of us put together.” Sam made a derisive face, but Brooke could tell he was pleased. “We stopped at a bakery and bought a dozen doughnuts,” Jay said, holding out a box. “I hope you like doughnuts.”

Sam guffawed. “A cop who doesn’t like doughnuts? Does such a being even exist?” Jay laughed along noisily with him. “You two have some coffee with us,” Sam said to Stacy and Jay. “Vincent, get the coffee. Don’t know if Stacy wants one of my omelets, but Jay’s having coffee and a doughnut with me.”

Jay smiled. “I’d love to stay for coffee, sir, if we’re not putting you out.”

“Putting us out? Mostly Vincent and I just quarrel in the mornings and then he goes running and comes in dripping sweat. This is like a regular party.”

Vincent began pouring coffee while Sam, Stacy, and Jay sat at the kitchen table. Brooke saw Vincent slip Elise a doughnut, which she carried to a corner to enjoy in private. “I’m sure we’re a bother so early in the morning,” Stacy said, “but when Jay heard this morning what had gone on here last
night I insisted we come over and check on Brooke. A phone call just wouldn’t do it for me. I needed to see her.”

“That was considerate of you,” Brooke said.

“And here you are calm and pretty as a picture.” Stacy looked down, leaned closer, and said softly, “But exactly
how
scared were you?”

“I’m trying not to think about it,” Brooke whispered.

Stacy gave her a searching look. “You seem so . . . normal. After what happened yesterday . . . well . . . are you sure you’re all right?”

“No. I think the trauma just hasn’t set in yet. But for now I feel okay, and I’m going to enjoy the feeling as long as it lasts.”

Actually, Brooke felt conspicuous, self-conscious, and, most important, frightened to the core. Bad dreams had torn through her bouts of uneasy sleep, and she had to force a smile and keep her hands steady. But she was determined not to look like a weakling. Ever since her mother died, Brooke had tried to prove to her worrisome and not-too-healthy grandmother that she was handling things well. She was strong. She was resilient. The act had become a habit, and she almost believed in it herself.

Stacy hugged Brooke, towering over her in her spike heels, smelling of some delicious perfume she always wore just a trace of on her neck. “You’ll be fine. And I know this horrible man is going to be caught, isn’t he, Jay?”

Jay Corrigan looked up from his doughnut. His smile disappeared and his blue eyes turned serious. With the sparkle gone from his eyes and without his smile, he looked closer to forty than thirty. He had a rough charm Brooke found appealing, but he was also hardy, somewhat brash and dominating. Brooke knew Stacy was perfect for him. No matter how aggressive she was, she would never intimidate this man. He loved her feistiness. A quiet, passive woman would have bored him to tears.

“We’re doing everything in our power to catch Tavell,” Jay told Brooke solemnly. “He’s our number one priority. You should be happy to know that Detective Hal Myers has
been assigned to the case. He’s probably the best cop we have since Detective Lockhart retired.”

“It was a
forced
retirement because of my age,” Sam groused. “I had plenty of good years left in me. But thanks for the compliment, Jay. Hal is my best friend and former partner.”

“I know.” Jay smiled. “That’s one of the reasons I was so happy to be assigned as his new partner last week.”

“You’re Hal’s new partner?” Sam blasted. He slapped Jay on the back. “Well, good for you! You can learn a lot from him.”

“I know, sir,”

“And drop that ‘sir’ business,” Sam said, grinning. “You’re Hal’s partner, so I’m ‘Sam’ to you.”

“Thank you, sir . . . Sam.”

“Sir Sam. I like that,” Sam laughed. “Think I’ll make everyone start calling me that.”

“I won’t,” Vincent teased, delivering mugs of coffee to the table. “Don’t expect anything except ‘Dad’ from me.”

“ ‘
Sir
Dad’ from now on,” Sam answered, smiling. “Okay, Jay, since you’re now one of the chosen ones, you should be privy to some information you’re willing to share. Do the guys have any idea of what happened to Tavell after he left here last night?”

“Around dawn, about two blocks over, a neighbors’ dog set up a howl when it went outside,” Jay said. “Seems there was fresh blood on its doghouse, which the dog never sleeps in anymore. The lab has already determined that it’s human blood. No doubt Tavell was injured and hid in the doghouse. That’s why no one could find him last night. We have no idea how badly injured he was, of course, but nearby a guy said he heard a car with a loud muffler starting about four in the morning on the street in front of his house. He didn’t get a good look at it—no license number, naturally—but it was green, small, kind of battered and at least fifteen years old. There are no reports of stolen cars, though.”

Sam frowned. “That’s odd.”

Jay shrugged. “Maybe someone keeps it stored away and hasn’t noticed it’s missing.”

“I’m sure Tavell didn’t show up in an emergency room,” Sam said.

“No. That could mean the injury was minor.”

“Or maybe we’re lucky and he’s dead,” Stacy added harshly.

Jay gave her a faint smile. “Can’t disagree with you about that being a lucky break as far as I’m concerned, honey.” He looked at Brooke. “He’s probably
not
dead, though, so you need to be extremely careful. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that, but it doesn’t hurt to remind people.” He paused. “The world can be a dangerous place.”

“Which is why there are brave men to protect us like Jay? And Detective Lockhart,” Stacy added with a radiant smile at Sam, who smiled back with equal radiance. Brooke smothered her own smile. Stacy was a flirt, no matter what age the man. But Brooke knew her friend was absolutely loyal to her husband. Besides, Jay wasn’t the jealous type, anyway.

So far, Vincent had been quiet. He’d also avoided looking at her. It’s the robe, she thought. He’s bothered by seeing me in his mother’s robe, no matter what he said earlier. He’s probably boiling inside.

But at last, he spoke. “More coffee, Stacy, Jay?” he asked, holding out a steaming and fragrant carafe.

Jay looked as if he was ready to say “yes” when Stacy answered for both of them. “No thanks. It’s time for Jay and me to be off to work.” Jay looked up, his hand freezing in midair as he reached for a second doughnut. “Jay gets to do all the exciting work, like you did,” she told Sam. “I slave away at Chantal’s downtown.”

“The clothing store?” Sam popped up. “My wife Laura used to shop there sometimes.”

“Really?” Stacy asked, acting fascinated. “Their clothes are very nice, but still overpriced in my opinion. And I just hate catering to some of the snobs who come in there. Not women like your wife, I’m sure. You know—the overbearing type who act like you’re dirt under their feet.” Stacy sighed. “I
should have stayed in nursing school, but I hated being around sick people all the time. I tried college, too—English major with dreams of being a writer like your son—but I’m not the studious type. I dropped out after less than a year. What a mistake. Oh well.” She smiled again and tapped Jay on the shoulder. “We’ve taken up enough of these people’s time. Detective Lockhart, Vincent, thank you so much for taking care of Brooke last night.”

“It was our pleasure,” Sam said.

Stacy moved forward and hugged Brooke again. “And you take care of yourself, young lady.”

“I intend to keep myself safe and sound,” Brooke said, grinning.

But her grin faded quickly. Safe and sound, Brooke thought as she watched Jay help Stacy into their car like a gentleman. That’s what her mother used to say to her. “I want to keep you safe and sound, my baby.”

But Anne hadn’t been able to keep
herself
safe and sound. She certainly couldn’t help Brooke do the same.

2

Madeleine Townsend slowly pulled her white Lincoln into the lot of Townsend Realty, circled the lot twice, then chose the spot closest to the main door. Carefully she stepped from the car, lifted a cane from the backseat with a determined look, took a deep breath and limped toward the office.

Over the years, many people had said Madeleine was the most beautiful woman they’d ever seen, with her wealth of glossy mahogany-colored hair, large eyes like rich brown velvet, and almost perfectly symmetrical face with a small dimple in her chin. At thirty-seven, she could have passed for a vibrant twenty-seven, except for the limp that gave her an oddly swaggering walk. She thought after having lived
with her twisted right leg since she was ten, she would have gotten over it, but she hadn’t. Every time someone looked into her lovely face and smiled, Madeleine watched the smile fade as their gaze traveled down her slender body to her double adjustable elbow crutch and on down to the wrenched leg and foot noticeable even in the slacks or long skirts with boots she always wore. Each time it happened, pain touched her soul. She tried to keep the emotional hurt under control. She didn’t always succeed.

Madeleine held her affected right leg behind her and let her strong left leg bear her weight as she ascended the three steps into the building. The day was bright but muggy, and as she entered the office she gratefully breathed in the air-conditioning. Aaron always kept the temperature a perfect seventy-two degrees. He allowed no one to tamper with the thermostat. She’d heard people grouse about what a dictator he was behind his back, but she’d never told him. She liked that Aaron had created his own private fiefdom in this office that had once belonged to their father, who in his tireless efforts to please everyone was generally thought of as pitifully spineless. Madeleine hated her father’s weakness of spirit. That’s why she’d always encouraged her brother to be as strong as possible, no matter how many people considered him an absolutist. He shouldn’t
care
what other people thought, she told him. And he didn’t, except for her. Madeleine knew her opinion mattered to Aaron more than that of anyone else in the world.

BOOK: Last Whisper
10.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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