The law is a lady, p.12
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       The Law is a Lady, p.12

           Nora Roberts
 
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  Marlie grinned before she commandeered the beer again. “Merle thinks she’s the greatest thing to come along since sliced bread.”

  Phil pulled out a cigarette. “You’re seeing quite a bit of the deputy, aren’t you? Doesn’t seem your style.”

  “He’s a nice guy,” she said simply, then laughed. “His boss would like me run out of town on a rail.”

  “She’s protective.”

  With an unintelligible murmur that could have meant anything, Marlie ran her fingers through her disordered cap of curls. “At first I thought she had something going with him.” In response to Phil’s quick laugh she lifted a thin, penciled brow. “Of course, that was before I saw the way you looked at her.” It was her turn to laugh when Phil’s expression became aloof. “Damn, Phil, you can look like your father sometimes.” After handing him the empty can of beer, she turned away. “Makeup!” she demanded.

  “Those are 4Ks,” Tod was telling Tory, pointing to lights. “They have to put that stuff over the windows so the sun doesn’t screw things up. On an inside shoot like this, they have to have something like 175-foot candles.”

  “You’re getting pretty technical, aren’t you?”

  Tod shifted a bit in his chair, but his eyes were excited when they met Tory’s. “Mr. Kincaid had them develop the film I shot in the portable lab. He said it was good. He said there were schools I could go to to learn about cinematography.”

  She cast a look in Phil’s direction, watching him discuss something in undertones with Steve. “You’re spending quite a lot of time with him,” she commented.

  “Well, when he’s not busy . . . He doesn’t mind.”

  “No, I’m sure he doesn’t.” She gave his hand a squeeze.

  Tod returned the pressure boldly. “I’d rather spend time with you,” he murmured.

  Tory glanced down at their joined hands, wishing she knew how to begin. “Tod . . .”

  “Quiet on the set!”

  With a sigh Tory turned her attention to the scene in front of the bar. She’d come because Tod had been so pitifully eager that she share his enthusiasm. And she felt it was good for him to take such an avid interest in the technical aspects of the production. Unobtrusively she had kept her eye on him over the past days, watching him with members of the film crew. Thus far, no one appeared to object to his presence or his questions. In fact, Tory mused, he was becoming a kind of mascot. More and more his conversations were accented with the jargon of the industry. His mind seemed to soak up the terms, and his understanding was almost intuitive. He didn’t appear to be interested in the glamorous end of it.

  And what was so glamorous about it? she asked herself. The room was airless and steaming. It smelled, none too pleasantly, of old beer. The lights had the already unmerciful temperature rising. The two people in position by the bar were circled by equipment. How could they be so intense with each other, she wondered, when lights and cameras were all but on top of them? Yet, despite herself, Tory became engrossed with the drama of the scene.

  Marlie’s character was tormenting Sam’s, ridiculing him for coming back a loser, taunting him. But somehow a rather abrasive strength came through in her character. She seemed a woman trapped by circumstances who was determined to fight her way out. Somehow she made the differences in their ages inconsequential. As the scene unfolded, an objective viewer would develop a respect for her, perhaps a cautious sympathy. Before long the viewer would be rooting for her. Tory wondered if Dressler realized, for all his reputation and skill, who would be the real star of this scene.

  She’s very good, Tory admitted silently. Marlie Summers wasn’t the pampered, glittery Tinseltown cutie Tory had been ready to believe her to be. Tory recognized strength when she saw it. Marlie infused grit and vulnerability into the character that was instantly admirable. And the sweat, Tory continued, was her own.

  “Cut!” Phil’s voice jolted her in her chair. “That’s it.” Tory saw Marlie exhale a long breath. She wondered if there was some similarity in finishing a tense scene such as that one and winding up a difficult cross-examination. She decided that the emotion might be very much the same.

  “Let’s get some reaction shots, Marlie.” Painstakingly he arranged for the change in angles and lighting. When the camera was in position, he checked through the lens himself, repositioned Marlie, then checked again. “Roll it. . . . Cue.”

  They worked for another thirty minutes, perfecting the shot. It was more than creativity, more than talent. The nuts and bolts end of the filming were tough, technical, and wearily repetitious. No one complained, no one questioned, when told to change or to do over. There was an unspoken bond: the film. Perhaps, she reflected, it was because they knew it would outlast all of them. Their small slice of immortality. Tory found herself developing a respect for these people who took such an intense pride in their work.

  “Cut. That’s a wrap.” Tory could almost feel the communal sigh of relief. “Set up for scene fifty-three in . . .” Phil checked his watch. “Two hours.” The moment the lights shut down, the temperature dropped.

  “I’m going to see what Mr. Bicks is doing,” Tod announced, scrambling up. Tory remained sitting where she was a moment, watching Phil answer questions and give instructions. He never stops, she realized. One might be an actor, another a lighting expert or a cinematographer, but he touches every aspect. Rich and privileged, yes, she reflected, but not afraid of hard work.

  “Sheriff.”

  Tory turned her head to see Marlie standing beside her. “Ms. Summers. You were very impressive.”

  “Thanks.” Without waiting for an invitation, Marlie took a chair. “What I need now is a three-hour shower.” She took a long pull from the glass of ice water she held in her hand as the two women studied each other in silence. “You’ve got an incredible face,” Marlie said at length. “If I’d had one like that, I wouldn’t have had to fight for a part with some meat on it. Mine’s like a sugarplum.”

  Tory found herself laughing. Leaning back, she hooked her arm over the back of her chair. “Ms. Summers, as sheriff, I should warn you that stealing’s a crime. You stole that scene from Sam very smoothly.”

  Tilting her head, Marlie studied her from a new angle. “You’re very sharp.”

  “On occasion.”

  “I can see why Merle thinks you hold the answer to the mysteries of the universe.”

  Tory sent her a long, cool look. “Merle is a very naive, very vulnerable young man.”

  “Yes.” Marlie set down her glass. “I like him.” They gave each other another measuring look. “Look, let me ask you something, from one attractive woman to another. Did you ever find it pleasant to be with a man who liked to talk to you, to listen to you?”

  “Yes, of course.” Tory frowned. “Perhaps it’s that I can’t imagine what Merle would say to interest you.”

  Marlie gave a quick laugh, then cupped her chin on her palm. “You’re too used to him. I’ve been scrambling my way up the ladder since I was eighteen. There’s nothing I want more than to be on top. Along the way, I’ve met a lot of men. Merle’s different.”

  “If he falls in love with you, he’ll be hurt,” Tory pointed out. “I’ve looked out for him on and off since we were kids.”

  Marlie paused a moment. Idly she drew patterns through the condensation on the outside of her water glass. “He’s not going to fall in love with me,” she said slowly. “Not really. We’re just giving each other a bit of the other’s world for a few weeks. When it’s over, we’ll both have something nice to remember.” She glanced over her shoulder and spotted Phil. “We all need someone now and again, don’t we, Sheriff?”

  Tory followed the direction of Marlie’s gaze. At that moment Phil’s eyes lifted to hers. “Yes,” she murmured, watching him steadily. “I suppose we do.”

  “I’m going to get that shower now.” Marlie rose. “He’s a good man,” she added. Tory looked back at her, knowing who she referred to now.

  “Yes, I
think you’re right.” Deep in thought, Tory sat a moment longer. Then, standing, she glanced around for Tod.

  “Tory.” Phil laid a hand on her arm. “How are you?”

  “Fine.” She smiled, letting him know she hadn’t forgotten the last time they had been together. “You’re tougher than I thought, Kincaid, working in this oven all day.”

  He grinned. “That, assuredly, is a compliment.”

  “Don’t let it go to your head. You’re sweating like a pig.”

  “Really,” he said dryly. “I hadn’t noticed.”

  She spotted a towel hung over the back of a chair and plucked it up. “You know,” she said as she wiped off his face, “I imagined directors would do more delegating than you do.”

  “My film,” he said simply, stirred by the way she brushed the cloth over his face. “Tory.” He captured her free hand. “I want to see you—alone.”

  She dropped the towel back on the table. “Your film,” she reminded him. “And there’s something I have to do.” Her eyes darted past him, again in search of Tod.

  “Tonight,” he insisted. He’d gone beyond the point of patience. “Take the evening off, Tory.”

  She brought her eyes back to his. She’d gone beyond the point of excuses. “If I can,” she agreed. “There’s a place I know,” she added with a slow smile. “South of town, about a mile. We used it as a swimming hole when I was a kid. You can’t miss it—it’s the only water around.”

  “Sunset?” He would have lifted her hand to his lips, but she drew it away.

  “I can’t promise.” Before he could say anything else, she stepped past him, then called for Tod.

  Even as she drew the boy back outside, he was expounding. “Tory, it’s great, isn’t it? About the greatest thing to happen in town in forever! If I could, I’d go with them when they leave.” He sent her a look from under his tumbled hair. “Wouldn’t you like to go, Tory?”

  “To Hollywood?” she replied lightly. “Oh, I don’t think it’s my style. Besides, I’ll be going back to Albuquerque soon.”

  “I want to come with you,” he blurted out.

  They were just outside her office door. Tory turned and looked down at him. Unable to resist, she placed her hand on his cheek. “Tod,” she said softly.

  “I love you, Tory,” he began quickly. “I could—”

  “Tod, come inside.” For days she had been working out what she would say to him and how to say it. Now, as they walked together into her office, she felt completely inadequate. Carefully she sat on the edge of her desk and faced him. “Tod—” She broke off and shook her head. “Oh, I wish I were smarter.”

  “You’re the smartest person I know,” he said swiftly. “And so beautiful, and I love you, Tory, more than anything.”

  Her heart reached out for him even as she took his hands. “I love you, too, Tod.” As he started to speak she shook her head again. “But there are different kinds of love, different ways of feeling.”

  “I only know how I feel about you.” His eyes were very intense and just above hers as she sat on the desk. Phil had been right, she realized. He wasn’t quite a child.

  “Tod, I know this won’t be easy for you to understand. Sometimes people aren’t right for each other.”

  “Just because I’m younger,” he began heatedly.

  “That’s part of it,” Tory agreed, keeping her voice quiet. “It’s hard to accept, when you feel like a man, that you’re still a boy. There’s so much you have to experience yet, and to learn.”

  “But when I do . . .” he began.

  “When you do,” she interrupted, “you won’t feel the same way about me.”

  “Yes, I will!” he insisted. He surprised both of them by grabbing her arms. “It won’t change because I don’t want it to. And I’ll wait if I have to. I love you, Tory.”

  “I know you do. I know it’s very real.” She lifted her hands to cover his. “Age doesn’t mean anything to the heart, Tod. You’re very special to me, a very important part of my life.”

  “But you don’t love me.” The words trembled out with anger and frustration.

  “Not in the way you mean.” She kept her hands firm on his when he would have jerked away.

  “You think it’s funny.”

  “No,” she said sharply, rising. “No, I think it’s lovely. And I wish things could be different because I know the kind of man you’ll be. It hurts—for me too.”

  He was breathing quickly, struggling with tears and a sharp sense of betrayal. “You don’t understand,” he accused, pulling away from her. “You don’t care.”

  “I do. Tod, please—”

  “No.” He stopped her with one ravaged look. “You don’t.” With a dignity that tore at Tory’s heart, he walked out of the office.

  She leaned back against the desk, overcome by a sense of failure.

  ***

  The sun was just setting when Tory dropped down on the short, prickly grass by the water. Pulling her knees to her chest, she watched the flaming globe sink toward the horizon. There was an intensity of color against the darkening blue of the sky. Nothing soft or mellow. It was a vivid and demanding prelude to night.

  Tory watched the sky with mixed emotions. The day as a whole was the kind she would have liked to wrap up and ship off to oblivion. The situation with Tod had left her emotionally wrung out and edgy. As a result she had handled a couple of routine calls with less finesse than was her habit. She’d even managed to snarl at Merle before she had gone off duty. Glancing down at the badge on her breast, she considered tossing it into the water.

  A beautiful mess you’ve made of things, Sheriff, she told herself. Ah, the hell with it, she decided, resting her chin on her knees. She was taking the night off. Tomorrow she would straighten everything out, one disaster at a time.

  The trouble was, she thought with a half smile, she’d forgotten the art of relaxation over the past few weeks. It was time to reacquaint herself with laziness. Lying back, Tory shut her eyes and went instantly to sleep.

  Drifting slowly awake with the feather-light touch of fingers on her cheek, Tory gave a sleepy sigh and debated whether she should open her eyes. There was another touch—a tracing of her lips this time. Enjoying the sensation, she made a quiet sound of pleasure and let her lashes flutter up.

  The light was dim, deep, deep dusk. Her eyes focused gradually on the sky above her. No clouds, no stars, just a mellow expanse of blue. Taking a deep breath, she lifted her arms to stretch. Her hand was captured and kissed. Tory turned her head and saw Phil sitting beside her.

  “Hello.”

  “Watching you wake up is enough to drive a man crazy,” he murmured, keeping her hand in his. “You’re sexier sleeping than most women are wide awake.”

  She gave a lazy laugh. “Sleeping’s always been one of my best things. Have you been here long?”

  “Not long. The filming ran a bit over schedule.” He flexed his back muscles, then smiled down at her. “How was your day?”

  “Rotten.” Tory blew out a breath and struggled to sit up. “I talked with Tod this afternoon. I didn’t handle it well. Damn.” Tory rested her forehead on her knees again. “I didn’t want to hurt that boy.”

  “Tory”—Phil stroked a hand down her hair—“there was no way he wouldn’t be hurt some. Kids are resilient. He’ll bounce back.”

  “I know.” She turned her head to look at him, keeping her cheeks on her knees. “But he’s so fragile. Love’s fragile, isn’t it? So easily shattered. I suppose it’s best that he hate me for a while.”

  “He won’t,” Phil disagreed. “You mean too much to him. After a while his feelings will slip into perspective. I imagine he’ll always think of you as his first real love.”

  “It makes me feel very special, but I don’t think I made him believe that. Anyway,” she continued, “after I’d made a mess out of that, I snarled at one of the town fathers, bit off the head of a rancher, and took a few swipes at Merle.” She swore with the
expertise he had admired before. “Sitting here, I knew I was in danger of having a major pity party, so I went to sleep instead.”

  “Wise choice. I came near to choking my overseer.”

  “Overseer? Oh, the guarantor.” Tory laughed, shaking back her hair. “So we both had a lovely day.”

  “Let’s drink to it.” Phil picked up a bottle of champagne from beside him.

  “Well, how about that.” Tory glanced at the label and pursed her lips. “You always go first class, Kincaid.”

  “Absolutely,” he agreed, opening the bottle with a pop and fizz. He poured the brimming wine into a glass. Tory took it, watching the bubbles explode as he filled his own. “To the end of the day.”

  “To the end of the day!” she agreed, clinking her glass against his. The ice-cold champagne ran excitedly over her tongue. “Nice,” she murmured, shutting her eyes and savoring. “Very nice.”

  They drank in companionable silence as the darkness deepened. Overhead a few stars flickered hesitantly while the moon started its slow rise. The night was as hot and dry as the afternoon and completely still. There wasn’t even a whisper of breeze to ripple the water. Phil leaned back on an elbow, studying Tory’s profile.

  “What are you thinking?”

  “That I’m glad I took the night off.” Smiling, she turned her head so she faced him fully. The pale light of the moon fell over her features, accenting them.

  “Good God, Tory,” he breathed. “I’ve got to get that face on
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