Key of light, p.26
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       Key of Light, p.26

         Part #1 of Key series by Nora Roberts
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  “Why?” Flynn asked.


  “Why does he have five thousand clowns?”

  “Oh.” Tim, a young reporter who habitually wore suspenders and too much hair gel, creaked back in his chair. “See, his father started the collection back in the twenties or something. It’s like this generational deal. He started adding to it himself, you know, like in the fifties, then the whole bunch of them got passed to him when his father died. Some of his collection is like museum quality. This stuff goes for real bucks on eBay.”

  “Okay, give it a run. Take a photographer. I want a shot of the whole collection with the guy in it. And him with a couple of the more interesting pieces. Get him to give you the history or significance of specific pieces. Play up the father-son connection, but lead off with the numbers and a couple of pieces from each end of the money scale. It could work for the Weekender section. And Tim, try to edit out the ‘you knows’ and ‘likes’ when you interview him.”

  “Got it.”

  Flynn looked over to see Malory standing between the desks holding an enormous pot of rust-colored mums. Something about the sparkle in her eye made the rest of the room fade away.

  “Hi. Doing some gardening?”

  “Maybe. Is this a bad time?”

  “No. Come on back. How do you feel about clowns?”

  “Wrathful when they’re painted on black velvet.”

  “Good one. Tim?” he called back. “Get some shots of any clown paintings on black velvet. Sublime to ridiculous and back again,” Flynn added. “It could be good.”

  She stepped into the office ahead of him, continuing on to set the flowers on his window ledge. “I wanted to—”

  “Wait.” He held up a finger while he tuned in to the call coming out of his police scanner. “Hold that thought,” he told her, and poked his head back out the door. “Shelly, there’s a TA, five hundred block of Crescent. Local PD and EMTs responding. Take Mark.”

  “TA?” Malory repeated when he turned back to her.

  “Traffic accident.”

  “Oh. I was thinking just this morning how much you have to juggle and weigh and shape to put out the paper every day.” She bent down to pat the snoring Moe. “And you manage to have a life at the same time.”

  “In a manner of speaking.”

  “No, you have a very good life. Friends, family, work that satisfies you, a house, a silly dog. I admire that.” She straightened. “I admire you.”

  “Wow. You must’ve had a really good time last night.”

  “I did. I’ll tell you about that, but I don’t want to—what is it—smother my lead.”

  “Bury the lead.”

  “Right.” She stepped over the dog, laid her hands on Flynn’s shoulders. And leaning in, kissed him. Long, long and warm. “Thank you.”

  His skin had started to hum. “What for? Because if it was really good, maybe you should thank me again.”

  “Okay.” This time she linked her hands behind his head and added a bit of heat to the warmth.

  Outside the office, applause broke out.

  “Jesus, I’ve got to get blinds for this place.” He tried the psychological angle of shutting the door. “I don’t mind being the hero, but maybe you should tell me what dragon I slayed.”

  “I read your column this morning.”

  “Yeah? Usually if somebody likes my column they just say ‘Nice job, Hennessy.’ I like your way better.”

  “ ‘It isn’t only the artist holding brush and vision who paints the picture,’ ” she quoted. “ ‘It’s those who look and see the power and the beauty, the strength and the passion, who bring brushstroke and color to life.’ Thank you.”

  “You’re welcome.”

  “Every time I start feeling sorry for myself because I’m not living in Paris and setting the art world on its ear, I’m going to take out your column and remind myself what I’ve got. What I am.”

  “I think you’re extraordinary.”

  “Today, so do I. I woke up feeling better than I have in days. Amazing what a good night’s sleep will do—or a little blue stone under the pillow.”

  “You lost me.”

  “It’s not important. Just something Rowena gave me. She joined our little sleepover last night.”

  “Yeah? What was she wearing?”

  Laughing, she sat on the edge of his desk. “She didn’t stay long enough for the pajama section of the night’s entertainment, but you could say she arrived in the nick. The three of us were fooling around with a Ouija board.”

  “You’ve got to be kidding.”

  “No. Zoe had this theory that maybe the three of us were witches but didn’t know it. Which is why we were chosen . . . and really, it made some sense at the time. In any case, things got very strange. Candle flames rising, wind blowing. And Kane, he got in. Rowena said we’d opened a door, like an invitation.”

  “Damn it, Malory. Goddamn it! What’re you doing playing around with—with mystical forces? He’s already had a shot at you. You could’ve been hurt.”

  He had such a face, she thought. Such a great face. It could change from interested to amused to furious in a split second. “That’s something Rowena made very clear last night. There’s no point in being angry with me about it now.”

  “I didn’t have the option of being angry with you before now.”

  “True enough.” She grunted when Moe, awakened by the temper in Flynn’s voice, tried to jump in her lap. “You’re absolutely right that we shouldn’t have played with something we didn’t understand. I’m sorry, believe me, and it isn’t something I plan on trying again.”

  He reached over to give her hair a quick tug. “I’m trying to have an argument here. The least you could do is cooperate.”

  “I’m too happy with you to argue today. Let’s pencil something in for next week. Besides, I just came by to bring you the flowers. I’ve interrupted your day long enough.”

  He glanced at the mums—the second bunch of flowers she’d brought to him. “You’re sure cheerful today.”

  “Why shouldn’t I be? I’m a woman in love, who’s made what I feel are very good decisions about . . .”

  “About?” he prompted when her eyes went blank.

  “Choices,” she mumbled. “Moments of decision, moments of truth. Why didn’t I think of that before? Maybe it was your house, but my dream perception of perfection turned it around. Made it all fit. More mine than yours. Or maybe that has nothing to do with it. And it’s just you.”

  “What is?”

  “The key. I need to search your house. Is that going to be a problem?”

  “Ah . . .”

  Impatient now, she waved away his hesitation. “Look, if you have anything personal or embarrassing tucked away like skin magazines or adventurous sex toys, I’ll give you a chance to get them out. Or promise to ignore them.”

  “The skin mags and adventurous sex toys are all locked in the vault. I’m afraid I can’t give you the combination.”

  She moved into him, trailed her hands up his chest. “I know it’s a lot to ask. I wouldn’t like anyone poking through my place when I wasn’t there.”

  “Not that much to poke through. But I don’t want any grief about how I should spring for new underwear and use what I’ve got as dustrags.”

  “I’m not your mother. Will you let Jordan know I’m coming?”

  “He’s off somewhere today.” Flynn pulled his keys out of his pocket, worked the house key off the chain. “You think you’ll still be there when I get home?”

  “Why don’t I make sure I’m there when you get home?”

  “Why don’t you? Then I’ll call Jordan, tell him to stay away. He can bunk with Brad tonight, and I can have you all to myself.”

  She took the key, bumped her lips lightly on his. “I’ll look forward to being had.”

  The wicked gleam in her eye kept him grinning for an hour after she’d gone.

  MALORY jogge
d up the steps to Flynn’s front door. She was going to be systematic, slow and thorough, she told herself.

  She should have thought of this before. It was like connecting the dots.

  The paintings reflected moments of change, of destiny. Certainly her life had changed when she’d fallen for Flynn. And this was Flynn’s house, she thought as she stepped inside. Hadn’t he said he’d bought it when he’d accepted his destiny?

  Looking within and without, she remembered as she merely stood and tried to absorb the feel of the place. Inside the house, outside in the yard?

  Or was it more metaphorical, in that she’d begun to see herself inside this space?

  Light and shadows. The house was full of both.

  She could only be grateful it wasn’t full of things. Flynn’s spartan style was going to make the search simpler.

  She started in the living room, automatically wincing at the couch. She looked under the cushions, found eighty-nine cents in loose change, a Bic lighter, a paperback edition of a Robert Parker novel, and cookie crumbs.

  Unable to stand it, she hunted up the vacuum cleaner and a dustrag and began to clean as she went.

  This two-for-one process kept her in the kitchen for more than an hour. At the end of it she was sweaty and the kitchen sparkled, but she hadn’t turned up anything resembling a key.

  She switched gears and headed upstairs. She’d begun and ended her dream upstairs, she recalled. Maybe that was symbolic. And certainly there couldn’t be anything up here in as deplorable shape as the kitchen.

  One glance at the bathroom disabused her of that notion. Even love—of a man and of order—had its limits, she decided, and shut the door without going inside.

  She stepped into his office and was immediately charmed. All the dark thoughts that had damned him for a pig vanished.

  It wasn’t neat. God knew, it needed a good dusting, and there was enough dog hair balled in the corners to knit an afghan. But the walls were sunny, the desk was a beauty, and the framed posters showed an eye for art and style that she hadn’t given him credit for.

  “You’ve got all these wonderful sides to you, don’t you?” She trailed her fingers over the desk, impressed by the stack of files, amused by the action figures.

  It was a good work space. A good thinking space, she imagined. He didn’t give a damn about the state of his kitchen. His sofa was just a place to take a nap or stretch out and read a book. But he took care with his surroundings when it was important to him.

  Beauty, knowledge, courage. She’d been told she would need all three. In the dream there had been beauty—love, home, art. Then the knowledge that it was illusion. And finally the courage to break that illusion.

  Maybe that was a part of it.

  And love would forge the key.

  Well, she loved Flynn. She accepted that she loved Flynn. So where was the damn key?

  She turned a circle, then wandered over to take a closer look at his art collection. Pinup girls. He was such a . . . guy, she decided. A very clever guy.

  There was a sexual punch to the photographs, but an innocence underlying that. Betty Grable’s legs, Rita Hayworth’s mane of hair, Monroe’s unforgettable face.

  Legends, as much for their beauty as their talent. Goddesses of the screen.


  Her fingers shook as she took the first print from the wall.

  She had to be right. This had to be it.

  But she examined every print, every frame, then every inch of the room, and found nothing.

  Refusing to be discouraged, she sat at his desk. She was close. A step off, one way or the other, but close. The pieces were all there, she was certain of it now. She just needed to find the right pattern and make them fit.

  She needed to get out in the air for a while, let it turn over in her mind.

  She would do something ordinary while it brewed in there.

  No, not something ordinary. Something inspired. Something artful.

  FLYNN decided it was time to reverse the roles back to where they had started, and so he stopped off on the way home to buy her flowers. There was a bite of fall in the air, and its nip had already teased color into the trees. The surrounding hills were hazed with reds and golds and umbers over the green.

  Over those hills, a three-quarter moon would rise tonight.

  Did she think of that, he wondered, and worry?

  Of course she did. It would be impossible for a woman like Malory to do otherwise. Still, she’d been happy when she came to his office. He meant to keep her that way.

  He would take her out to dinner. Maybe drive into Pittsburgh for a change of scene. A long drive, a fancy dinner—that would appeal to her, keep her mind off . . .

  The minute he stepped in the front door, he knew something was off.

  It smelled . . . good.

  A little lemony, he thought as he approached the living room. A little spicy. With female undertones. Did women just sort of exude scent when they’d been in a place for a few hours?


  “Back here! In the kitchen!”

  The dog beat him by a mile and was already being given a biscuit, a stroke, and a firm nudge out the back door. Flynn wasn’t sure what made his mouth water, the scents pumping out of the stove or the woman wearing a white bib apron.

  God, who knew an apron could be sexy?

  “Hi. What’re you doing?”

  “Cooking.” She shut the back door. “I know it’s an eccentric use for a kitchen, but call me crazy. Flowers?” Her eyes went soft, almost dewy. “They’re pretty.”

  “You are too. Cooking?” He tossed his embryonic plans for the evening aside without a qualm. “Would that involve anything resembling dinner?”

  “It would.” She took the flowers, kissed him over them. “I decided to dazzle you with my culinary talents, so I went to the grocery store. You didn’t have anything in here that qualified as actual food.”

  “Cereal. I have a lot of cereal.”

  “I noticed.” Because he didn’t own a vase, she filled a plastic pitcher with water for the flowers. The fact that she didn’t cringe while doing so made her very proud of herself. “You also didn’t appear to own any of the usual implements used in preparing actual food. Not a single wooden spoon.”

  “I don’t understand why they make spoons out of wood. Haven’t we progressed beyond carving tools out of trees?” He picked one up off the counter, then frowned. “Something’s different in here. Something changed.”

  “It’s clean.”

  Shock registered on his face as he stared around the room. “It is clean. What did you do, hire a brigade of elves? What do they charge by the hour?”

  “They work for flowers.” She sniffed at them, and decided they looked very sweet in the plastic pitcher after all. “You’re paid in full.”

  “You cleaned. That’s so . . . weird.”

  “Presumptuous, but I got carried away.”

  “No, ‘presumptuous’ isn’t the word that springs to mind.” He took her hand, kissed her fingers. “The word’s ‘wow.’ Should I be really embarrassed?”

  “I won’t if you won’t.”

  “Deal.” He drew her close, rubbed his cheek against hers. “And you’re cooking. In the oven.”

  “I wanted to take my mind off things for a while.”

  “So did I. I was going to play the let’s-go-out-to-a-fancy-dinner card, but you trumped my ace.”

  “You can tuck the ace up your sleeve and play it anytime. Putting things in order helps clear my mind, and there was a lot to put in order around here. I didn’t find the key.”

  “Yeah, I got that. I’m sorry.”

  “I’m close.” She stared at the steam puffing out of a pot as if the answer might appear in it. “I feel like I’m just missing a step somewhere. Well, we’ll talk about that. Dinner’s about ready. Why don’t you pour the wine. I think it’ll complement the meat loaf.”

  “Sure.” He picked up the wine she had b
reathing on the counter, then set it down again. “Meat loaf? You made meat loaf.”

  “Mashed potatoes too—shortly,” she added as she set up the mixer she’d brought over from her own kitchen. “And green beans. It seemed harmonious, considering your column. And I assumed that since you used the meal, you must like meat loaf.”

  “I’m a guy. We live for meat loaf. Malory.” Ridiculously moved, he caressed her cheek. “I should’ve brought you more flowers.”

  She laughed and got to work on the potatoes she’d boiled. “Those will do nicely, thanks. This is actually my first meat loaf. I’m more a toss-some-pasta-together or a sauté-some-chicken girl. But I got the recipe from Zoe, who swears it’s foolproof and guy-friendly. She claims Simon inhales it.”

  “I’ll try to remember to chew.” Then he took her arm to turn her toward him and moved in, slowly, ran his hands up her body until his fingers skimmed her jaw. He laid his lips on hers, softly, sliding her into the kiss the way he might slide her into a feather bed.

  Her heart did one long, lazy roll even as the mists shimmered over her brain. The rubber spatula she held slipped out of limp fingers as everything inside her melted against him, into him.

  He felt it, that shudder and give, that surrender to self as much as to him. When he eased her back, her eyes were blue and blurry. It was woman, he realized, who had the power to make man feel like a god.


  His lips curved as he brushed them over her forehead. “Malory.”

  “I . . . I forgot what I was doing.”

  He bent down to retrieve the spatula. “I think you were mashing potatoes.”

  “Oh. Right. Potatoes.” Feeling a bit drunk, she walked to the sink to wash the spatula.

  “This has to be the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me.”

  “I love you.” She pressed her lips together, stared out the window. “Don’t say anything. I don’t want to make things uncomfortable for either of us. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I know I’ve rushed and I’ve pushed. Neither of which is much like me.” She spoke briskly now as she went back to the mixer.


  “Really, you don’t need to say anything. It’d be enough, more than enough for now, if you just accepted it, maybe enjoyed it a little. It seems to me love shouldn’t be a weapon or a device or a weight. Its beauty is that it be a gift, with no strings attached to it. Just like this meal.”

  She smiled, though the steady way he watched her was unnerving. “So, why don’t you pour the wine, then wash up? And we’ll both just enjoy it.”


  It could wait, Flynn thought. Maybe it was meant to wait. In any case, the words in his head sounded off-key when compared with the simplicity of hers.

  So they would enjoy each other, and the meal she’d prepared in the awkward, homely kitchen with fresh flowers arranged in a plastic pitcher.

  As beginnings went, this one had elements of both of them. Wasn’t it interesting how one managed to complement the other?

  “You know, if you made me a list of stuff I should have in here, I could pick
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