Key of light, p.6
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       Key of Light, p.6

         Part #1 of Key series by Nora Roberts
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  “Sure, she’s just great now that she has visions of somebody using her kid as a human sacrifice.” She punched Flynn in the shoulder.

  “Hey, if you didn’t want somebody to point out the flaws in the plan, you shouldn’t have had your party at my place. So, tell me everything you know about this Rowena and Pitte.”

  He took more notes, managing to hold back any scathing comments on the lack of information.

  “Anybody still got the invitation?”

  He took the one Malory pulled out of her bag. “I’ll see what I can find out.”

  “Did your grandmother’s story say anything about where the keys were hidden?”

  “No, just that they couldn’t be turned by the hand of the gods. Which leaves a pretty open field.”

  Flynn waited until Malory left, then crooked a finger so Dana would follow him into the kitchen.

  As rooms went it was a sad statement, with its ancient coppertone appliances, white-with-gold-speckled countertops and fake-brick linoleum floor.

  “When are you going to do something about this room? It’s awful.”

  “All in good time, my pretty, all in good time.” He got a beer out of the fridge, wagged it at her.

  “Yeah, why not?”

  He got out a second, popped the tops on the wall opener that was in the shape of a bikini-clad blonde with a toothy grin.

  “Now, tell me what you know about the very sexy Malory Price of the big blue eyes.”

  “I just met her last night.”

  “Uh-uh.” He held back the beer. “Women know stuff about women. Like telepathically. The more a woman likes or dislikes another woman, the more she knows. There have been several scientific studies to verify this phenomenon. Give, or no beer for you.”

  She hadn’t particularly wanted the beer, until he’d used it as a hammer. “Why do you want to know about her specifically? Why not Zoe?”

  “My interest in Zoe is more academic. I can hardly start the wild and passionate affair I have in mind with Malory until I know all her secrets and desires.”

  “You’re going to make me sick, Flynn.”

  He merely tipped up his beer, took a long, slow sip, while holding hers out of reach.

  “I’m not your silly dog who’ll beg for cookies. I’m only going to tell you so I can sit back and laugh derisively when she blows you off. I do like her,” she added and held out a hand for the beer. “She strikes me as smart, ambitious, open-minded without being naive. She worked at The Gallery, just got canned over a dispute with the owner’s new trophy wife. Since Malory called the new wife a bimbo, to her face, I’d say she doesn’t always rate high on the tact and diplomacy scale, but calls ’em like she sees ’em. She likes good clothes and knows how to wear them—spends too much on them, which is why she was broke before this morning’s windfall. She’s not currently in a relationship and would like to own her own business.”

  “You really buried the lead.” He took a long, slow sip. “So, she’s not dating anyone. And she’s gutsy. Not only does she tell off the boss’s wife, but she drives alone, at night, to the spookiest house in western Pennsylvania.”

  “So did I.”

  “I can’t have a mad, passionate affair with you, sweetie. It would just be wrong.”

  “Now, there, you have made me sick.”

  But she smiled when he leaned over and kissed her cheek. “Why don’t you move in here for a couple weeks?”

  Her dark chocolate eyes went baleful. “Stop looking out for me, Flynn.”

  “Can’t do it.”

  “If I wouldn’t move in when I was broke, why would I now that I’m flush? You know I like my own space, and you do too. Such as it is. And the goblins of Warrior’s Peak are not going to come down and spirit me away in the night.”

  “If they were goblins, they wouldn’t worry me.” But because he knew her, he eased off. “How about telling your new pal Malory what an amazing man I am. All brainy and sensitive and buff.”

  “You want me to lie to her?”

  “You’re mean, Dana.” He gulped down more beer. “You’re just mean.”

  WHEN he was alone, Flynn settled down in his upstairs study. He preferred the term “study” to “office,” as an office meant work. No way around it. In a study, you could, well, study, or nap or read, or stare into space thinking long thoughts. You could certainly work, but it wasn’t a requirement.

  He’d outfitted the room with a big, brawny desk and a couple of wide leather chairs that he thought felt as if you might sink into them until you disappeared.

  He had files as well, but he disguised them with manly-looking chests. One wall was covered with framed prints of pinup girls from the forties and fifties.

  If all else failed, he could kick back, study them, and pass an enjoyable hour in solitude.

  He booted up his computer, stepped over Moe, who had already flopped in the middle of the floor, and pulled a second beer out of the mini fridge he’d installed under a work counter.

  He’d considered that idea pretty damn clever.

  Then he sat, rolled his head as a boxer might before a round, and got down to some serious surfing.

  If there was anything in the cyberworld about the new residents of Warrior’s Peak, he would find it.

  As always, he got sucked into the sirens’ song of information. His beer went warm. One hour passed into two, two headed toward three, before Moe solved the matter by giving the desk chair a push that shot it and Flynn halfway across the room.

  “Damn it, you know I hate that. I just need a few more minutes.”

  But Moe had heard that one before, and he protested by plopping massive paws and a great deal of body weight onto Flynn’s thighs. “So, maybe we’ll take a walk. And if we happen to wander by a certain blonde’s door, we could just stop in and share currently gathered information. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll pick up some pizza so it won’t be a complete loss.”

  The word “pizza” had Moe tearing to the doorway. By the time Flynn made it downstairs, the dog was by the front door, his leash clamped between his teeth.

  It was a nice evening for a walk. Quiet, balmy, with his little postcard town basking under the late-summer sun. At such moments, when the air was soft, the breeze fragrant, he was glad he’d made the decision to take over the Dispatch from his mother rather than heading out to make his mark at some big-city paper.

  A lot of his friends had gone to the city, and the woman he’d thought he loved had chosen New York over him.

  Or he’d chosen the Valley over her.

  It depended, he supposed, on your point of view.

  Maybe the news here didn’t have the scope or the edge of the news in Philly or New York, but there was still plenty of it. And what happened in the Valley, in the hills and mountains that surrounded it, mattered.

  And just now he scented a story that would be bigger and juicier than anything the Dispatch had reported in the sixty-eight years since its presses began to run.

  If he could help three women, one of whom was a sister he loved very much, flirt with an incredibly attractive blonde, and expose a major con . . . well, that would be a hell of a hat trick.

  “You have to be charming,” he told Moe as they approached the trim brick building that he’d watched Malory enter that morning. “You act like a dog, we’ll never get through the door.”

  As a precaution, Flynn wrapped the leash twice around his fist before going into the twelve-unit building.

  He considered it good luck that M. Price was on the ground floor. Not only would he not have to drag Moe up steps or pull him into an elevator, but the building’s ground level had little patios.

  That gave him the option of bribing Moe with the cookie he’d stuffed in his pocket and staking him outside.

  “Charming,” he said again, sotto voce, giving Moe a narrow stare before he knocked on Malory’s door.

  Her greeting, when she answered, wasn’t what he could call flattering.

  She
took one look at him and Moe. “Oh, my God. You’ve got to be kidding.”

  “I can put him outside,” Flynn said quickly. “But we really need to talk.”

  “He’ll dig up my flowers.”

  “He doesn’t dig.” Please God, don’t dig. “I’ve got a—I can’t say the C word, or he’ll get excited. But I’ve got one in my pocket. I’ll just put him out there, out of the way.”

  “I don’t—” Moe’s nose arrowed straight into her crotch. “Christ.” In defense she skipped back, which was all the invitation Moe required.

  He was through the door, dragging Flynn merrily over an antique Turkish carpet, barely missing slapping his lethal tail into a Deco vase filled with late-summer lilies.

  Terrified, Malory made a dash for her patio door, yanked it open. “Out, out, straight out.”

  It was a word Moe knew. And he objected to going out when he’d just come in to so many fascinating scents. He simply dropped his wide butt on the floor and dug in.

  With dignity no longer an option, Flynn hooked both hands in Moe’s collar and dragged him bodily across the room and out the door.

  “Oh, yeah, that was charming.” Out of breath, Flynn looped the leash around the trunk of a tree. And as Moe began to howl, he dropped to his knees. “Stop it. Have you no pride? Have you no sense of masculine solidarity? How am I going to get my hands on that woman if she hates us?”

  He pushed his face into Moe’s. “Lie down and be quiet. Do this for me, and the world is yours. Starting with this.”

  He pulled out the cookie. The howling stopped instantly, and the tail began to thump.

  “Screw this up and next time I leave you home.”

  He stood up and sent what he hoped was an easy smile toward Malory, who stood warily on the other side of the door.

  He figured it was a major victory when she opened it and let him in.

  “Have you tried obedience school?” she demanded.

  “Ah, well, yeah, but there was an incident. We don’t like to talk about it. This is a great place.”

  Stylish, arty, and female, he decided. Not delicate-little-trinket female but bold-unique-fascinating female.

  The walls were a deep, rich rose, a strong background for the paintings. She favored antiques, or reproductions that looked enough like the real thing to pass. Soft fabrics and sleek sculpture.

  And everything tidy as a shiny new pin.

  It smelled female, classily so, from the lilies and the dried flower petals that women were forever putting in bowls. And, he supposed, from the woman herself.

  She had music on low. What was that . . . Annie Lennox, crooning slyly about sweet dreams.

  It seemed to Flynn that the entire place spoke of very specific, very high-toned taste.

  He wandered over to a painting of a woman rising up out of a dark blue pool. There was a sense of speed about it, of sexuality, and of power.

  “She’s beautiful. Does she live in the sea or on the land?”

  Malory arched her brow. At least he’d asked an intelligent question.

  “I think she has yet to choose.” She pondered him as he wandered around. He seemed more . . . well, male, she supposed, here in her place than he had on the sidewalk or stalking around the largely unfurnished room in his own house.

  “What are you doing here?”

  “First, I came because I wanted to see you again.”

  “Why?”

  “You’re really pretty.” Because he found it both relaxing and entertaining to look at her, he hooked his thumbs in his front pockets and did just that. “You might think that’s a shallow reason, but I like to think it’s simply basic. If people didn’t like looking at attractive things, we wouldn’t have any art.”

  “How long did it take you to think of that one?”

  His grin was fast and appreciative. “Not long at all. I’m pretty quick. Have you had dinner?”

  “No, but I have plans. Why else are you here?”

  “Let’s do this part first. You haven’t had dinner tomorrow night yet. Would you like to have dinner with me?”

  “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

  “Because you’re annoyed with me? Or because you’re not interested?”

  “You’re pretty annoying.”

  Those lazy-river eyes flirted. “Not once you get to know me. Ask anybody.”

  No, she had a feeling he wouldn’t stay annoying. He’d be entertaining and interesting. And trouble. Plus, however attractive he was, he was anything but her type. “I’ve got enough on my plate without dating a man who has terrible taste in furniture and questionable taste in pets.”

  She glanced toward the patio as she said it, then couldn’t stop the laugh as she saw Moe’s ugly face pressed hopefully against the glass.

  “You don’t really hate dogs.”

  “Of course I don’t hate dogs. I like dogs.” She angled her head to study the furry face. “I don’t think that is a dog.”

  “They swore he was when I got him from the pound.”

  Her eyes went soft. “You got him from the pound.”

  Aha, a chink in the defensive wall. He stepped over so they could study Moe together. “He was a lot smaller then. I went in to do a story on the shelter, and he sort of came, well, gamboling up to me, looked at me like he was saying, Okay, I’ve been waiting for you to show. Let’s go home. I was a goner.”

  “What’s does ‘Moe’ stand for? ‘Mountain’?”

  “He looks like Moe. You know, Moe Howard.” When her face stayed blank, Flynn sighed. “Women, they don’t know what they’re missing when it comes to the courageous comedy and wit of The Three Stooges.”

  “Yes, yes, we do know what we’re missing. We miss it on purpose.” Realizing they were standing close, she took a deliberate step back. “Was there something else?”

  “I started running down these people you guys are tangled up with. Liam Pitte, Rowena O’Meara. At least those are the names they’re using.”

  “Why shouldn’t those be their names?”

  “Because when I used my incredible skills and talents, I found no record of anyone under those names that jibes with the new owners of Warrior’s Peak. No social security numbers, no passport numbers, no driver’s licenses, business licenses. No corporate paper trail for this Triad. At least none that connects to them.”

  “They’re not American,” she began, then blew out a breath. “Okay, no passport numbers. Maybe you didn’t find it yet, or maybe they’ve used different names to buy the house.”

  “Maybe. It’ll be interesting to find out, because right now it’s looking like they popped out of thin air.”

  “I’d like to know more about the Daughters of Glass. The more I know about them, the better chance I have of finding the key.”

  “I’ll call my grandmother, get more details of the legend. I can fill you in over dinner tomorrow.”

  She considered him, then looked back toward the dog. He was willing to help, and she only had four weeks. On a personal front, she would keep it simple. Friendly, but simple. At least until she’d decided what to do about him.

  “Would that be a table for two or for three?”

  “Two.”

  “All right. You can pick me up at seven.”

  “Great.”

  “And you can go out that way.” She pointed toward the patio door.

  “No problem.” He walked to the door, glanced back. “You really are pretty,” he said, then eased the door open just enough to squeeze out.

  She watched him unhook the dog, watched him stagger under the weight when Moe leaped up to lavishly kiss his face. She waited until they’d trotted off before she chuckled.

  Chapter Five

  MALORY found Zoe’s little house easily enough. It was a tiny box on a narrow stamp of lawn. But it had been painted a cheerful yellow with bright white trim. A colorful patch of flowers bloomed vigorously along either side of the door.

  Even if Malory hadn’t been sure of the addr
ess, hadn’t recognized Zoe’s car parked at the curb, she’d have known the house by the boy in the yard, tossing a ball high in the air, then racing to catch it.

  He looked almost eerily like his mother. The dark hair, the long-lidded eyes in a pixie face. He had a slight build clad in ripped jeans and a Pittsburgh Pirates T-shirt.

  When he spotted Malory, he stood, legs apart, flipping the ball lightly into the pocket of his glove.

  He had the cautious and somewhat arrogant stance of a boy who’d had “don’t talk to strangers” drummed into his head, and thought he was old enough, smart enough, to handle himself with one anyway.

  “You must be Simon. I’m Malory Price, a friend of your mother’s.” She kept a smile on her face as the boy sized her up—and she wished she knew more about baseball than that it involved a number of men throwing, hitting, and trying to catch a ball and running around a field.

  “She’s in the house. I can get her.” His way of doing so was to trot toward the door and shout, “Mom! There’s a lady out here to see you!”

  Moments later, Zoe opened the screen door, stood there wiping her hands on a dish towel. Somehow, despite the baggy shorts, old shirt, and bare feet, she still managed to look exotic.

  “Oh. Malory.” She lifted a hand to fiddle with one of the buttons of her shirt. “I wasn’t expecting . . .”

  “If this is a bad time—”

  “No, no, of course not. Simon, this is Miss Price. One of the ladies I’m going to be working with for a while.”

  “Okay. Hi. Can I go over to Scott’s now? I finished mowing the lawn.”

  “Looks great. Do you want a snack first?”

  “Nuh-uh.” At her arch look, he grinned, showing a missing tooth and sudden, dazzling charm. “I mean, no thanks.”

  “Go ahead, then. Have a good time.”

  “Yes!” He started to race off, then skidded to a halt when she spoke his name in a tone that Malory assumed mothers developed through hormonal changes during gestation.

  He rolled his eyes, but made sure his back was to Zoe as he did. Then he gave Malory a quick and easy smile. “Nice to meet you, and all.”

  “Nice to meet you, and all too, Simon.”

  He dashed off, like an inmate escaping the prison walls.

  “He’s gorgeous.”

  At Malory’s statement, Zoe’s face lit up with pride and pleasure. “He really is, isn’t he? Sometimes I’ll sneak to the window while he’s out in the yard and just look at him. He’s my whole world.”

  “I could see that. And now you’re worried that what we’ve done could hurt him somehow.”

  “Worrying about Simon is part of my job description. Listen, I’m sorry, come in. I used to spend Saturdays at the salon, so I thought I’d take advantage of
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