A waning moon, p.16
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       A Waning Moon, p.16
 

           Bliss Addison
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  “I still want to keep it between us for the time being.”

  “Okay. You know best.” She'd trust Ian with her life. In fact, she was. “I want to go back to see Jason today. I like him.”

  “Oh?” He raised his right eyebrow.

  “Uncock the brow, mister. He's a friend, and he's gay.”

  Ian placed his hand on his heart. “Thank God. I wouldn't want to be the one to tell Whit you fell in love with someone else. Spend some time with him before you go. Give the man something to dream about tonight. He's becoming unhinged. Since you came into the picture, he forgets sometimes his sister is missing.”

  “He does, doesn’t he? I noticed it, too.” She giggled. “It's almost like he's under a spell.”

  Ian guffawed.

  Fifteen minutes later, Blossom, dressed in a yellow turtleneck, jeans and worn boots, strolled into the study. “Knock, knock,” she sing-songed. Everything was right with her world, and she wanted the same for everyone, even Whit.

  He took a moment to lift his eyes from what he read. She laughed to herself, but only until his face beamed like sunlight from the brightness of his smile. She made him feel that way, and she experienced a moment of guilt for not being able to reciprocate. Maybe in time....

  “Well, hello there.” He stood and offered her a chair at the front of his desk.

  She hadn't intended to spend much time with Whit — her primary focus was on Jason — but now that changed. She wanted to stay. “Thank you for finding my purse.”

  “My pleasure.” He sat back down after she took a seat.

  “I wouldn't want to lose it. The handbag was a gift from my father.”

  “Yes, Ian said.” He leaned forward and rested his forearms on the desk.

  "Did you have a good time with your friends last night?”

  “Friend.”

  She noticed his body going rigidly still before he asked, “Oh?” She wanted to delve into his mind…whoa there…no, she didn't want to go there. “He's gay.”

  His exhaled breath was one of relief, she thought. Was this what love did? Made fools of the intelligent? Reduced the strong to blathering idiots? Had she followed Ian's advice and given Whit something for the poor man to dream about tonight? She considered jumping across the desk and kissing him, but quashed the notion. That would be cruel. “Has there been any news on your sister?”

  He grasped a corner of a sheaf of paper between his thumb and forefinger and flipped the pages. Pppft. Pppft. “Nothing. Quinn paid us a visit yesterday. It seems he investigated your cousin and learned he's dead.”

  She laughed out loud, then covered her mouth with her hand. “Shockin’ that, shockin. He's quite the detective, isn't he?”

  He joined in her laughter.

  “Seems like Quinn doesn't have his priorities in order. He should be focusing his efforts on finding your sister.”

  He grimaced. “I couldn't expect anything more from him.”

  “Don't you find that odd?”

  Frowning, he said, “That Quinn has the IQ of a head of lettuce?”

  “No, that he was assigned to your sister's case. You're well respected in the community, aren't you?”

  “I'd like to think so.”

  She hesitated a moment, watching him preen. “And because of that status, shouldn't you have gotten the best there is, the best the SJPD has to offer?”

  “Perhaps.”

  “Why then was Quinn assigned to Mary Ellen's case? It's almost as though someone doesn't want your sister found.”

  He looked off to a corner of the room, appearing deep in thought for a moment. When he turned back to her, he asked, “What are your plans for today, if you don't mind me asking?”

  “No, not at all. I thought I'd visit my friend —”

  “The gay guy?”

  “The gay guy.” Unable to stop herself, she smiled. Love seemed painful for Whit. He looked like he would suffer a stroke every time she mentioned something or someone who didn't fit into his plans where she was concerned.

  “And then?”

  “I haven't thought that far ahead.”

  “Would you have dinner with me tonight?”

  The idea of suffering through an entire meal alone with Whit seemed undue punishment, but since Ian had asked her to be cooperative, she would agree to his invitation. Ian would repay her in kind, she'd make certain of it.

  “I'd love to.” Whit appeared a man who enjoyed the finer things in life. Believing he wouldn't step foot in a hamburger joint, she scrunched her face and taking on the look of someone infinitely disappointed, said, “I'm afraid, though, I don't have the proper attire for fine dining. I only have jeans with me.”

  “I was thinking McDonald's.”

  “Fine.” Damn but the man shifted gears with the speed of a well-tuned transmission. So could she. “But I get to choose the meal, and I get both toys.”

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Whit watched her walk from the study, staring at the empty doorway long after she left and long after the echo of her footsteps receded to silence. He hadn't wanted her to leave — he would have gladly stayed in the same position all day if it meant time with her — but pushing himself on her would be unwise.

  He stretched his legs and leaned back in his chair, feeling pleased with himself. She'd agreed to have dinner with him — okay, it was only to a fast-food joint, but she'd said yes. He hadn't thought she would accept the invitation, but asked anyway and would have kept asking until she gave in.

  “In lust is hard, isn't it? Pun intended,” Lyron said from the doorway.

  Whit rolled his eyes and scowled.

  “If you want to daydream without interruption, close your door.”

  Whit held a hand in the air when Lyron opened his mouth. “Enough.” The day was off to a terrific start, and he promised himself nothing or no one would ruin his good mood.

  Lyron paced the study. “They're hiding something.”

  Whit knew who he referred to and didn't answer.

  On his next pass by, Lyron turned and looked at Whit. “And whatever it is, they're both in on it. Ian and Blossom.”

  Whit nodded, but remained silent.

  “I could be wrong,” Lyron added. “My gut could be off. There's a first time for everything.”

  “Blossom and I are having dinner tonight,” Whit said.

  Lyron stopped pacing, and his face lit up with excitement. “Great. A little one on one and away from Ian's influence and you might get some answers from her.”

  “Maybe.”

  “You're not sounding convincing. We’re on the same page on this, right?”

  Not even in the same book, Whit thought. “Of course,” he said. Wait long enough and good things happened. Remembering his conversation with Blossom and what she brought up about his status in the community, he asked, “Do you find it strange Quinn was assigned to Mary Ellen's case, given his track record?”

  Lyron shoved his hands in his pockets. “Uh-huh, I do, and after you had me look into his record, I dug a little deeper. The assignment appears on the up and up.”

  “So there was no one more experienced available. Luck of the draw. Best suited for the case and —”

  “Coincidental also that Quinn was the lead on Lamb and Hanscomb disappearances,” Lyron filled in for him. “You know how I feel about coincidences.”

  “They're only coincidences if they're made that way. Let's hope we hear from Baleman soon.” Whit was a take-charge man and all this waiting and depending on this thing or that thing wearied him.

  “It didn't matter to me who got assigned to Mary Ellen's case because I had you working it. Now it seems this has been manipulated from the beginning. It has to be someone in authority …the Chief of Police, the mayor, for the obvious reasons, blackmail, payola…” His voice trailed off to nothingness as he pictured their five-foot, chain-smoking, nail-biting, butt-kicking butterball mayor allowing anyone to blackmail her. “I think we can rule out Her Highness Olympia.”


  “If the mastermind behind this abduction scheme is on the police force, why take Mary Ellen, knowing you have the resources to search for her and knowing the heat you can bring down on the police force?”

  “Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe whoever took her didn't know she's my sister. We don't share the same last names.”

  “I could hire more men, cops I trust who could use a little extra to their paychecks, to keep their eyes and ears open in the precinct.”

  “Let's hold off on that. I'd like to give Baleman a chance to get in touch. I trust you and your instincts, but if someone on the police force is behind this or is assisting the one who is, I don't want to forecast our suspicion.”

  Lyron shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his trousers. “I thought having Quinn assigned to the kidnapping was in our favor. We could use him. Maybe it's the other way around. Maybe he's using us, or maybe someone is using him to use us. We didn't report a prowler, yet he knew about Baleman's visit.”

  That had entered Whit's mind periodically through the night when sleep eluded him. “Someone's tipping Quinn off and that someone has me under surveillance. If we uncover who that is, we'll find who abducted Mary Ellen.”

  “Kiki's saying it might not have been Baleman who beat him up.”

  Whit threw his hands in the air. “Might not?”

  “Wasn't. He has no recollection of seeing his assailant. He was attacked from behind, but he seems to think Baleman administered to, rather than caused, his injuries. I believe him.”

  “How about Jerome?” Whit asked.

  “He understands the risks and that his life's at stake if he comes back to town before we get this cleared up. For now, he's enjoying the vacation you're paying for.”

  “He should. I'd like to go to Aruba sometime, too.” Whit stood, wordlessly calling the impromptu meeting to an end.

  Lyron strode to the door and turned. “I have a couple of things to attend to. I'll check back with you later.”

  After he left, Whit added to his notes on the abduction. He needed to talk to some of St. John’s's oldest prominent citizens.

  He scribbled OLYMPIA and circled it.

  The mayor had previously assured him that Quinn was assigned to the case because he was the only available officer qualified for the job. If she spoke the truth, or if she wasn't being hoodwinked or manipulated, he wondered whether she kept her finger on the pulse of the situation like she promised.

  There was only one way to put his mind at rest.

  He lifted the telephone receiver and punched in the mayor's private number.

  She picked up on the second ring. “Olympia, Whit Hawkes here. How are you this fine winter morning?” He heard her puffing her way through her first pack of the day.

  Five minutes and four tickets to the St. Patrick's day gala later, Whit ended the call, feeling good about his talk with Olympia. She had confided her suspicion of corruption within the police department and had her own investigation going for some time, but had nothing of any consequence to report.

  Looking at the phone, he had one more call to make and couldn't put it off any longer. But before he made that call, he needed to check his voice mail to ascertain how nasty Candace would make this call for him.

  Fourteen voice messages and, with the exception of three loud sighs before the click of a hang-up, all had the same resounding message. “This is Candace. Whit, where the hell are you? Why aren't you returning my calls? Bud needs to know whether you'll be attending Rotary Monday or not.”

  He sighed. His sister had disappeared and was probably being used for some purpose he preferred not to speculate about, and the very people who took an oath to protect and serve may have taken part in her abduction, he was the cause of someone nearly losing his life, and all his girlfriend could think about was his social calendar? Thank God his eyes had been opened before he made a mistake that would inevitably cost him his happiness.

  Candace answered before the end of the first ring.

  “Before you go off on me, which you have every right to do, let me apologize for not getting in touch with you sooner,” he said.

  “Whit, what in hell is going on? It's not like you to be uncommunicative. God. I thought the people who abducted Mary Ellen abducted you. I was about to call in the National Guard, I've been so worried. I ate half a box of chocolate cookies and now I have blotches all over my face! Blotches, Whit.”

  “I'm sorry.” Though the time was early, and he had a few hours of restful sleep he didn't have the energy or the patience to finesse the apology. With little inflection or enthusiasm in his voice, he said, “You can tell Bud I'll be attending Rotary.” As soon as the words left his lips, he knew the mistake he made. To give her the in she needed to make a jab wasn't like him. He usually chose his words carefully with her, which went to show how sleep-deprived he was.

  “I'm not your social secretary, or your secretary for that matter, Whit. Bud only phoned me because he couldn't get a hold of you, and your secretary was unreachable.”

  “Fine. I'll look after it myself.” He wished he could have put off calling her indefinitely, but now was not the time to break it off with her, even knowing how much satisfaction it would give him. She acted like a horse's patootie. He wished he could tell her.

  After he ended the call, he opened the bottom drawer for something to settle his stomach and spied the whiskey bottle lying next to a roll of antacids. While he was debating whether to take a swig, the kitchen door opened and closed. Wondering who was going where, he swiveled in his chair, looked into the backyard and saw Blossom, snowshoes in hand, weaving through the trees as she walked toward the end of the property. Her stride seemed too purposeful for a stroll.

  He watched her fade into the distance until she became a speck to his eyes, and then he grabbed his binoculars from the credenza. The magnified, central-focusing, coated lenses that limited glare and the halo effect, which he debated at the time were too extravagant for bird watching, provided him a clear view of Blossom reaching the opposite side of the lake and climbing the snow bank.

  Where are you going?

  Not realizing how tightly he gripped the binoculars against his eyes until the pressure hurt his cheekbones, he loosened his grasp, adjusted the sights and watched her throw off a tarp covering a snowmobile. “What the hell?”

  ***

  What was she doing, agreeing to have dinner with Whit tonight? And to be playful with him on top of that. T’underin’ Bajaysus.

  Was she out of her frickin' mind?

  Blossom expertly snow-shoed across the frozen, snow-packed lake, cursing herself, but most of all cursing Ian for implanting the notion in her mind to be nice to Whit. She envisioned their tête-à-tête and growled. Never before had any man paid such specific attention to her, speaking directly to her, his eyes never once wandering to her bosom or her lips like she’d grown accustomed to men doing.

  Bajaysus.

  She climbed the gentle, sloping snow bank, got out of the snowshoes, threw the tarp covering the snowmobile over them and hopped onto the machine.

  It was the Curse talking, she knew, manipulating and doing its fiendish work. Still, though, she couldn't help but feel inadequate beneath the weight of her failures.

  Sighing and expelling warm air through the crack in her tightly clenched lips, she maneuvered the snowmachine around turns, up steep slopes, down long, winding hills and through trees toward Jason's cabin, paying particular attention to the dips and crevices hidden by mounds of driven snow.

  As he said it would be, she found the door to the cabin unlocked. “Jason?”

  Blossom threw off her snow boots as soon as she closed the door and headed toward the stairs in stockinged feet. “It's me. Blossom.”

  “I'm up here,” he said.

  She smiled. Of course, he would be. He was too weak to do much of anything. A trip to the bathroom almost did him in. It must have taken every ounce of his strength to check her vitals yesterday when she lay
unconscious on the sofa downstairs.

  When he caught sight of her, he shimmied to an upright position in bed.

  She laid her jacket across the back of a recliner and rushed across the room.

  “Here, let me help you with those pillows.”

  After she made him comfortable, she sat beside him. “Did you have a good night? Sleep well?”

  “Yes, I did, actually, because of you.”

  “Why?”

  “Knowing you would be back today and the prospect of seeing your smile again.”

  “Why, sir,” she batted her lashes, “do I detect a bone or two of heterosexuality within thee?”

  He grinned and held a finger to his lips.

  “Don't worry your secret is safe with me. Now, how about the massage I promised you yesterday?” She stood and lighted the candles on the dressers and tables. Soon, the scents of vanilla, jasmine and cranberry filled the loft. She heated body oil, rubbed it into her hands and fingers and worked the muscles of his legs and arms.

  After the massage and while he rested, she rooted through the loft like a well-intentioned snoop, opening closet doors and dresser drawers, until she found more cheerful bed wear than those dreadful blue and white striped pajamas, buttoned to the neck, that probably, but subliminally, sent him the message he should be confined to bed.

  When she helped him into the freshly laundered clothes — lounging pants and a T-shirt — she gave him an abridged version of how she ended up in St. John’s.

  While she changed his bedding, she told him a few of her if-it's-going-to-happen-to-anyone stories, then took his temperature and pulse, and judging from the bulge of his eyes, almost surprised the life from him.

  “You're a nurse?” he asked, after he found his voice.

  She nodded, laughing at the expression on his face, a mixture of amazement and genuine appreciation.

  “Do you work at the hospital?”

  The question was a simple one requiring a simple answer, either yes or no, but the memories the question invoked were too painful to remember, even after the passing of so many years. She shook her head, tears springing forth to fill her eyes. Jason noticed and inquired if he had said something wrong. “No, of course not.” She patted his hand, hoping to reassure him and was rewarded with a smile.

  “Will I live?” he asked, eyeing the thermometer.

 
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