A waning moon, p.12
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       A Waning Moon, p.12
 

           Bliss Addison
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  Whit guffawed. “Lyron rests his case.”

  She laughed, too. “I'm sure I'd come up with a name if ya'll give me ten minutes to ponder it.” She looked at Ian, grinning like a man who’d just been bedded. For the moment, she decided to change the subject. “Has anyone come up with any ideas as to why these kids were abducted?”

  Whit shook his head. “Aside from the usual reasons, no.”

  She nodded as she fiddled with her knife. “The usual reasons being of a sexual nature?”

  Lyron pushed himself back from the table and crossed his legs at the knees.

  “Uh-huh.”

  She pondered that a moment. “Have other kids gone missing from the province?”

  “The usual runaways. Teenagers unhappy at home or those scholastically challenged, drop-outs who just up and leave to go out West or to where they think are greener pastures.”

  She looked at Whit, thinking how to phrase her next thought without causing him anguish, not that she had any feelings for the man. She didn't. After a moment's thought, blurting the question seemed the sensible choice. “How about unwilling organ donors? People are paying big money for organs today.” She wondered what a fresh kidney went for on the black market. Fifty thousand? One hundred thousand? “Sure, there would be other factors, but what happens to organs of the legitimate organ donors in the event of an accident. There are always recipients who meet the criteria. Why, we hear the helicopter making organ donor runs to the hospital here all the time.”

  Judging from the looks that passed between the men, no one had thought of the possibility, or perhaps they thought no one but a dumb redhead would have the audacity to voice such a ludicrous reason. She shrugged. “Just a thought. I’m a horror movie buff. What can I say?” She could feel the creep of a blush rising up her neck. Crazy idea, Blossom. Crazeeee.

  Whit turned to Lyron. “An operation, excuse the word choice, such as that would take a relatively large facility, sophisticated equipment, knowledgeable staff, experienced surgeons.”

  He thought too much within the parameters of the area, Blossom surmised. All it would take was a sharp knife, a little alone time, a general idea of anatomy, an ice chest and a buyer. Or maybe she was the one inside the box. Two kidneys, two lungs, two eyes… How much could be gotten from one liver? One healthy, living body could be worth millions on the black market. She looked at Ian.

  He winked at her. “Good thinking.”

  “Really?” She drew her brows together.

  Whit focused his attention on her. “Yes, really.”

  “Just being creative. Happy to help.” She couldn't cover up a smile.

  “Yeah, good thinking,” Lyron said.

  Though he complimented her, his eyes told her something else. What? She studied him a moment, but couldn't read him. Perhaps he was wary of all people, or perhaps he was simply wary of strangers ringing doorbells, inviting themselves in, offering their aid, and dropping ideas, or maybe he just didn't like her, plain and simple.

  “Are there any vacant or recently activated structures in the city or surrounding area that might be used for something like that?” Ian asked.

  Lyron nodded, stared at his empty plate, and puffed air from his cheeks. “There may be.”

  Whit rested his forearms on the table. “You're thinking about the federal building that housed a division of Revenue Canada. Now that it moved to Quebec, it's vacant.” He rubbed his whiskered jaw. “It's too visible to the public, though. They wouldn't want to draw unnecessary attention to themselves.”

  “Hide in plain sight,” Lyron said.

  “True,” Blossom said. “But you're assuming these kids are still in the province. Maybe the abductors scout the area first, have or get access to records, private and personal, giving them insight into family histories, etc. Whit, didn't you say, with the exception of your sister, that none of these teens had anyone who either cared about them or had the resources to look into their disappearances?”

  He nodded.

  “Maybe the abductors didn't know your connection to Mary Ellen. Maybe that's why someone, and by someone, I mean, the ones who abducted her, are trying to kill you.”

  Whit and Lyron stared at each other and on Whit's nod turned to Blossom.

  “You may be on to something.”

  Blossom swallowed the lump in her throat that had formed while she waited for Whit and Lyron's approval and said, “Prudence Anne Ratcliffe.”

  “Who?” Whit asked.

  “An absolutely brilliant blonde. No one in my kindergarten class could sing the ABCs like Prudence Anne.”

  ***

  Unwilling yet to pledge credence to Blossom's hypothesis for the abductions, Whit let his mind wander back in time a couple of hours.

  Lord, he’d almost choked on his saliva when she entered the study. She belonged here. With him. In this house. He knew that as surely as he knew his name.

  He’d recognized her immediately, of course. No memory could compare with the real person, though. He liked everything about her, her height, her weight, her style. God, he even loved how her eyes darted crazily around the room like she stood among lunatics brandishing meat cleavers.

  Women didn't come more beautiful than she. He knew it then, and man, did he know it now. Her freckled nose, the goofy grin, those green eyes, that mouth, those luscious lips, her hands. He’d been kidding himself all these years when he thought another woman would make him happy. He studied her sitting across from him. She wasn't smiling at him exactly, but the way her eyes traveled over his body belied what she wanted him to think.

  She, too, was interested in him. Hallelujah. All these years waiting for her to enter his life again hadn't been a mistake. He would make the most of the time they were sharing and make her see destiny intended for them to be together.

  He watched as her gaze cut a slow path up his chest. He waited patiently when she stopped to study the Windsor knot in his blue and red striped tie, then crept over the cleft in his chin and up to his lips, stopping, studying, moving upward, then changing her mind and giving his mouth a second look, one more appreciative than the last, a sigh, barely audible, then on up the length of his nose and on to his eyes. He was only able to hold contact a second before she looked away.

  She wanted him; she just didn't want to admit it. And the stalker story… a ruse to momentarily derail him. He knew women feigned disinterest at first.

  He would give her all the time she needed.

  Every few seconds, her gaze drifted back to his face. She was curious about him. He could see it. She probably wondered how his lips would feel on hers and whether he was a passionate, tender lover.

  He shook his head to clear his mind of the image of them in a heated embrace and turned to Ian, agreed with something he’d said — what, he couldn't say. When he turned back to Blossom, she was placing her elbow on the table and resting her chin in her cupped hand. She appeared totally relaxed for a moment, then as though chastised by a parent, she bowed her head reverently, looking as fervent as a child saying bedtime prayers.

  Everything considered, he found the evening enjoyable. The love of his life, as cliché as it sounded, was spending the night with him…well, not technically with him, but that would come in time. Winning her over would be a challenge, one he relished undertaking.

  He looked at her in wonderment, and before he could act on his impulse to throw his napkin onto his plate, take her in his arms, and kiss her hard on the mouth, Lyron's cell phone rang.

  Chapter Seventeen

  Whit nodded at Lyron when he pantomimed he needed to take the call. After he disappeared behind the swinging door leading to the kitchen, Whit turned to his guests. “Why don't you make yourselves at home in the study while I clean up here.”

  At another time, he would have accepted Blossom's offer to help him, but he needed time away from her. He couldn't trust himself not to make an overture. It would be reckless of him when she was unsure of him. He could see how his aggression
toward her in college had frightened her. He wouldn't make the blunder again.

  Whit placed the dinner dishes on the serving cart and wheeled it into the kitchen, thinking how life could frighten yet exhilarate simultaneously.

  Lyron, red-faced and holding the counter edge in a white-knuckle grip, turned away from him, mumbled something into the receiver, then flipped the phone closed with a snap.

  “Problems?” Whit asked.

  “Bureaucratic shit.”

  Whit would not follow up the statement with the usual question, knowing instinctively Lyron wanted to huff and puff. When things didn't go as Lyron expected, he fancied himself the big and bad wolf.

  He rinsed the dishes under steaming water and placed them in the dishwasher. “Priscilla hasn't checked in for awhile.”

  Lyron let out a breath. “I'm sure there are no more promising leads, otherwise she would have called, but I'll call her, just in case.”

  Whit bobbed his head, wheeling the trolley to a corner. “I'll be in the study.” He wiped his hands on a tea towel, noticing Lyron's knitted brows. Recognizing he was in for a lecture, he wanted it said and done now rather than later. He heaved a sigh nonetheless. “Spit it out.”

  Lyron wasted no time on diplomacy. “What's the story between you and this Blossom woman?”

  “No story, really. I saw her around campus, wanted to get to know her, but every time I got close, she disappeared. I had no idea she'd misinterpreted my intention.” He stared into space for a moment. “I always felt…” He let his voice trail off. Lyron, who wined, dined, and dropped 'em, wouldn't understand about destiny, love at first sight, or the right place at the right time.

  “Always felt what?”

  Whit shook his head. “Nothing.” When Lyron narrowed his eyes to slits, Whit knew Lyron didn't believe him, but would let the subject drop. For now.

  “When was this?”

  “During my last year in law school,” Whit said.

  “And because you chased after her on a couple of occasions, she thought you stalked her? Don't you find that strange?”

  Whit shook his head and gave a to-each-his-own shrug.

  Lyron raised his eyebrows, prompting Whit to explain how he suspected a woman placed in such a situation might feel. God knew he didn’t understand women, but at least he attempted to, which was more than he could say for Lyron. “Maybe she led a solitary life before college, or maybe, like she said at supper, horror movies give her too wild an imagination. Maybe she thought I was Jack the Ripper reincarnated. Who knows?” He shrugged.

  “I'll check her out.”

  “No.” Without intending to, his answer came out sharp. How could Whit tell Lyron without seeming loony that he and Blossom were destined for one another? He believed that now more than ever. Soul mate. He'd heard the term often enough, but until this moment, never fully grasped the significance. Having her investigated before they got acquainted seemed …well, just wrong, not to mention Blossom looked like a woman who would learn of the investigation, either directly or indirectly. He pictured her confronting him and saying: You had me investigated? How could you? Why didn't you just ask me what you wanted to know! I would have told you, and that would end their relationship. No. He would take no chances where she was concerned. He smiled, happy to having settled the issue. “Why don't we play it by ear, see where it takes us?”

  Lyron nodded. “What's your understanding of this Ian guy?”

  Whit shrugged. “Seems on the up and up.”

  Lyron scowled.

  “What?”

  “You have to ask?”

  Whit walked to the center island across from Lyron, leaned back against it, stuffed his hands in the pockets of his trousers. “Something's been bothering you all night. Out with it.”

  “Their sudden appearance on your doorstep. Their offer to help in the investigation, not to mention the snowstorm that came from nowhere forcing you to offer shelter for the night. And if you don't find that weird, why after three years is the Lamb's grandmother seriously looking into her granddaughter's disappearance?”

  Lyron wouldn't let this go, Whit could see. He furrowed his brows and took on the face of someone deep in thought. “I'm sure it's as they said, and if it turns out that's not the case, we'll deal with it then. The weather, on the other hand….” His attempt to lighten the moment had failed, judging by the scowl on Lyron's face. Whit recognized that Lyron needed at least one concession. He turned serious and said, “I see your point. Look into this Ian character.” Actually, he thought it a good idea now. There was something not right about him. “Keep me apprised of the results.”

  Lyron nodded, shoved off the counter and winced.

  Whit noticed his discomfort. “Shoulder giving you trouble?”

  “Some.” Lyron held the wound with one hand and rotated his arm.

  “Take it easy. Wouldn't want to dislodge those stitches.”

  “Yes, Mother. Shouldn't we get back to our overnight visitors?”

  “Good idea. We'll get them settled in their rooms, then we can all have a night cap in the parlor.”

  “Sounds cozy. Maybe Ian and I should make ourselves scarce so the two of you can get it on.”

  “Nonsense.”

  “Nonsense?” Lyron scoffed. “Do you think I didn't notice how you looked at her? What about Candace?”

  Lardy. Candace. Whit had forgotten about her.

  “Blossom really turned your mind to pulp. Good Lord, man, hup to before you make a complete ass of yourself.” Lyron frowned. “I've never seen you like this. It's scary.”

  Whit rolled up his sleeves. “I'm marrying that woman, Lyron. You can stake your life on it.” He looked off into space, picturing the two of them together.

  “What do you think about her theory on the abductions?” Lyron asked.

  A chill passed through Whit. He envisioned a surgical-garbed man with a scalpel in his hand standing over Mary Ellen, preparing to harvest her organs. Forcing composure he didn't feel, he managed to keep eye contact with Lyron. “We shouldn't discard it. It's plausible. Maybe you should put the word out on the street.” He hoped it wasn’t too late for her already. He raked his fingers through his hair and blew out a lungful of air. “This all seems surreal.”

  Lyron nodded. “It does.”

  “We should get back to Ian and Blossom.”

  “Yes, before they steal into the night with your grandmother's silver tea service.”

  Whit disregarded Lyron's jab as his mind drifted back to Blossom's theory. He didn't want it to be true. Would any reason for the abductions be better than another? One worst case scenario versus another? Would he want his druthers?

  No. He would like to have a little control, but that, too, appeared an unlikely possibility as things were progressing.

  Everywhere he looked he saw images of Mary Ellen's body in his mind, lying like a rag doll across a filthy floor, partially healed jagged incisions closed with slapdash stitches over her torso, gaping holes in sockets that once held her beautiful eyes.

  ***

  At midnight, a full moon, known to some as the moon after Yule, hung low in the sky as Whit followed the path through the trees in his backyard. The worst of the storm had already happened, and the dark, thick storm clouds had moved on to reign down on land or dissipate over the Atlantic Ocean. Snow still fell, just not with the tenacity of a shaken snow globe, and the wind still blew, but without the urgency of an hour ago. Nothing smelled cleaner than the air after a freshly fallen snow. It was Nature at its best.

  His breath frosted before his face. In that moment, he thought it was the most spectacular sight he’d ever seen. Normally, this was the time he liked best, but tonight, he had difficulty appreciating it. His life hadn't been anything near normal since Mary Ellen's abduction. In fact, it was what drew him out from beneath his down comforter…images of her mutilated body flashing on the backs of his eyelids every time he closed his eyes.

  If he had not suggested she live on
campus, she would probably be asleep upstairs in their home right now.

  If he had kept a closer watch on her on campus, would she have been abducted?

  He’d wanted to give her some freedom and to enjoy her college years without him hovering over her like a mother hen.

  A lot had happened since the time he set his feet on the floor this morning: Lyron's release from the hospital, their meeting with Kiki, dealing with Candace, attending to his pre-trial motion, the impromptu television interview, the chance sighting of Blossom, Kiki's beating, Detective Quinn's questioning, Blossom and Ian's introduction into his life. Indeed, the day had been full of the pleasant and the unpleasant.

  All of this, all that had happened, was meant to be, he thought. Destiny. Mary Ellen needed to be abducted to bring him and Blossom together. And how did Mary Ellen profit from the abduction? A life's lesson well learned, perhaps, or maybe the stars were lining up for her, too.

  And Ian — how did he fit? There had to be something in it for him.

  Whit had no idea what it was, but he had the feeling whatever the something turned out to be, it would be sensational.

  Snow dropped from branches of pines to the snow-covered ground as he brushed past. A breeze as pure and soft as a baby's breath blew fat flakes of snow onto his face.

  A coyote howled hungrily in the distance and the distinctive hoot of a great horned owl came from a nearby balsam fir.

  “Stop,” a male voice said at his back.

  Whit halted in his tracks amid a thicket of saplings and shrubs. Something hard pressed between his shoulder blades. A gun, he suspected. His pulse quickened. He made a move to turn.

  “Stay facing forward,” the voice said.

  “This is about my sister, isn't it? Tell me what you want, and I'll get it for you. Just don't hurt her. I beg you.”

  “Your sister is safe.”

  Whit clenched and unclenched his fists, wanting to slug the guy behind him and force Mary Ellen's whereabouts from him, yet knowing in some indeterminable way that if he tried, she would suffer from his rash behavior, probably with her life.

  “If it's money —”

  “This is not about money, at least not for me.”

  Whit remembered Blossom's theory. “Organ donations. You abduct these kids and farm out their organs. That's it, isn't it?”

 
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