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Sullivan's Woman, Page 14

Nora Roberts

  overnight trip with lover.

  “Enjoy it while it lasts,” he murmured. Because first thing in the morning, he was calling his divorce attorney and letting him off the leash.

  From now on, he intended to go for the throat.

  He turned into the room they’d fashioned into a library and, as he started to hit the light switch, saw her in a shuddering burst of icy lightning.

  From that moment to the answering bellow of thunder, his mind went blank.


  He slapped at the switch as he lurched forward. Inside him waged a war between what he saw and what he could accept.

  She lay on her side in front of the hearth. Blood, so much blood on the white marble, the dark floor.

  Her eyes, that rich chocolate that had so captivated him once, were filmed glass.


  He dropped down beside her, took the hand stretched out on the floor as if reaching. And found her cold.


  In Bluff House, Eli woke, dragging himself out of the blood and shock of the recurring dream and into sunlight.

  For a moment he just sat as he’d reared up, disoriented, hazy. He stared around the room, remembering as his thumping heart leveled again.

  Bluff House. He’d come to Bluff House.

  Lindsay had been dead nearly a year. The house in the Back Bay was finally on the market. The nightmare was behind him. Even if he still felt its breath on the back of his neck.

  He shoved at his hair, wished he could delude himself so he could just go back to sleep, but he knew if he closed his eyes again, he’d be right back in the little library, right back beside the body of his murdered wife.

  And yet he couldn’t think of a single good reason to get out of bed.

  He thought he heard music—dim, distant. What the hell was that music?

  He’d gotten so used to noises—voices, music, TV mumbling—during the last few months in his parents’ house he hadn’t registered there shouldn’t be music, or anything but the sound of the sea or the wind.

  Had he turned on a radio, a television, something, and forgotten? It wouldn’t be the first time since his long downward spiral.

  So, a reason to get up, he decided.

  As he hadn’t brought in the rest of his bags, he yanked on the jeans he’d worn the day before, grabbed the shirt and shrugged into it as he started out of the bedroom.

  It didn’t sound like a radio, he realized as he approached the stairs. Or not just a radio. He recognized Adele easily enough as he moved through the main floor, but clearly heard a second female voice forming a kind of passionate—and loud—duet.

  He followed the sound, winding through the house toward the kitchen.

  Adele’s singing partner reached into one of the three cloth market bags on the counter, drew out a small bunch of bananas and added them to a bamboo bowl of apples and pears.

  He couldn’t quite get his mind around it, any of it.

  She sang full out, and well—not with Adele’s magic, but well. And looked like a fairy, of the long and willowy variety.

  A mass of long curls the color of walnut tumbled around her shoulders, spilled down the back of a dark blue sweater. Her face was . . . unusual, was all he could think. Long, almond-shaped eyes, the sharp nose and cheekbones, the top-heavy mouth down to the mole at its left corner struck him as just a little otherworldly.

  Or maybe it was just his fogged brain and the circumstances.

  Rings glinted on her fingers. Dangles swung from her ears. A crescent moon hung around her neck, and a watch with a face as round and white as a baseball rode her left wrist.

  Still belting it out, she lifted a quart of milk, a pound of butter from the bag, started to turn toward the refrigerator. And saw him.

  She didn’t scream, but did take a stumbling step back, and nearly bobbled the milk.

  “Eli?” She set down the milk, laid a beringed hand on her heart. “God! You scared me.” With a throaty, breathless laugh, she shook back all that curling hair. “You aren’t due until this afternoon. I didn’t see your car. But I came in the back,” she continued, gesturing toward the door leading out to the main terrace. “I guess you came in the front. Why wouldn’t you? Did you drive up last night? Less traffic, I guess, but crappy roads with the sleet.

  “Anyway, here you are. Would you like some coffee?”

  She looked like a long-legged fairy, he thought again, and had a laugh like a sea goddess.

  And she’d brought bananas.

  He just stared at her. “Who are you?”

  “Oh, sorry. I thought Hester told you. I’m Abra. Abra Walsh. Hester asked me to get the house ready for you. I’m just stocking the kitchen. How’s Hester? I haven’t spoken to her for a couple of days—just quick e-mails and texts.”

  “Abra Walsh,” he repeated. “You found her.”

  “Yes.” She dug a bag of coffee beans out of a sack and began to fill a machine much like one he’d used daily at his law offices. “Horrible day. She didn’t come to yoga class—she never misses. I called, but she didn’t answer, so I came over to check. I have a key. I clean for her.”

  While the machine hummed, she put an oversize mug under the spout, then continued putting away the groceries. “I came in the back—habit. I called for her, but . . . Then I started to worry maybe she wasn’t feeling well, so I walked through to go upstairs. And she was lying there. I thought . . . but she had a pulse, and she came around for a minute when I said her name. I called for an ambulance, and I got the throw off the sofa because I was afraid to move her. They were quick, but at the time, it seemed like hours.”

  She got a carton of cream out of the refrigerator, added it to the mug. “Counter or breakfast nook?”


  “Counter.” She set the coffee down on the island. “That way you can sit and talk to me.” When he just stared at the coffee, she smiled. “That’s right, isn’t it? Hester said a dollop of cream, no sugar.”

  “Yeah. Yes, thanks.” Like a man sleepwalking, he moved to the island, sat on the stool.

  “She’s so strong, so smart, so herself. She’s my hero, your grandmother. When I moved here a couple of years ago, she was the first person I really connected with.”

  She just kept talking. It didn’t matter if he listened, she thought. Sometimes the sound of someone’s voice could be comfort, and he looked as if he needed comfort.

  She thought of the photos Hester had shown her of him, from a few years back. The easy smile, the light in his Landon blue eyes—crystal blue with a dark, dark rim around the iris. Now he looked tired, sad and too thin.

  She’d do what she could to fix that.

  So thinking, she took eggs, cheese, ham out of the refrigerator.

  “She’s grateful you agreed to stay here. I know it upset her thinking of Bluff House empty. She said you’re writing a novel?”

  “I . . . mmmm.”

  “I’ve read a couple of your short stories. I liked them.” She put an omelet pan on the stove to heat. While it did, she poured a glass of orange juice, put some berries in a little colander to wash, bread in the toaster. “I wrote bad romantic poetry when I was a teenager. It was even worse when I tried to set it to music. I love to read. I admire anyone who can put words together to tell a story. She’s so proud of you. Hester.”

  He looked up then, met her eyes. Green, he realized, like a sea in thin fog, and as otherworldly as the rest of her.

  Maybe she wasn’t here at all.

  Then her hand lay over his, just for a moment, warm and real. “Your coffee’s going to get cold.”

  “Right.” He lifted the mug, drank. And felt marginally better.

  “You haven’t been here for a while,” she continued, and poured the egg mixture into the omelet pan. “There’s a nice little restaurant down in the village—and the pizza parlor’s still there. I think you’re pretty well stocked now, but the market’s still there, too. If you need anything and don�
�t want to go into the village, just let me know. I’m in Laughing Gull Cottage if you’re out and want to stop in. Do you know it?”

  “I . . . yes. You . . . work for my grandmother?”

  “I clean for her once or twice a week, as she needed it. I clean for a few people—as they need it. I teach yoga five times a week, in the church basement, and an evening a week in my cottage. Once I convinced Hester to try yoga, she was hooked. I do massages”—she gave him a quick grin over her shoulder—“therapeutic. I’m certified. I do a lot of things, because a lot of things interest me.”

  She plated the omelet with the fresh berries and toast. Set the plate in front of him, added a red linen napkin and flatware. “I have to go, I’m running a little late.”

  She folded the market bags into an enormous red tote, slipped on a dark purple coat, wound a scarf of striped jewel tones around her neck, yanked on a purple wool cap.

  “I’ll see you the day after tomorrow, about nine.”

  “The day after tomorrow?”

  “To clean. If you need anything in the meantime, my number—cell and home—are on the board right there. Or if you’re out for a walk and I’m home, stop by. So . . . welcome back, Eli.”

  She walked to the patio door, turned, smiled. “Eat your breakfast,” she ordered, and was gone.

  He sat, staring at the door, then looked down at his plate. Because he couldn’t think of anything else to do, he picked up his fork and ate.