Page 22 of Smoke in Mirrors

“It’s my own business.” Osmond dropped down onto the bed and turned his head toward the wall. “If I want to kill myself, I will.”

“Please, don’t talk like that.”

“Get out of here.”

“I think you should talk to your doctor. Or maybe see a therapist.”

“What do you know about any of this? Get out of here and leave me alone.”

The helplessness threatened to swamp her in a sea of despair. There was no point talking to him anymore tonight.

She went out into the hall and quietly closed the bedroom door.

It had been a mistake to come back here. She knew that now. What had made her think that she could establish a relationship with the distant man who was her father? Osmond Kern was not interested in family bonds. He lived in a time warp. The singular, defining event of his life had occurred all those years ago when he had published the algorithm and established his reputation.

Nothing else had ever mattered to him, not even his daughter.

If she had any sense she would leave Wing Cove and go back to her life as a financial analyst in Phoenix.

Every time she started to pack, however, she thought of Ed. Strong, dependable, reliable Ed. She did not know if he would ever see her as anything more than a friend, but she could not stand the thought of leaving town until she knew the answer to that question.

She went slowly along the hall to the door of Osmond’s study and stood looking into the room that seemed to contain the essence of her father.

The plaque he had received for his work in mathematics hung on the wall. His computer sat on his desk. The bookcase was crammed with volumes and notebooks.

There were few personal effects. No pictures of her or her mother. He had not kept any of the cards or letters that she had sent to him over the years.

She sat down in his chair and looked at the computer. She wondered how he had invested the money he had made from his work on the algorithm. He had certainly not asked her to help him with his finances, although she was very good at that kind of thing. She knew that she was not the mathematical genius that he was, but she had gotten some of his talent for numbers.

What had he done with the money?

Curiosity made her reach out and boot up the computer.

Chapter Six

Wrench greeted them at the door. He had a length of badly gnawed rope in his mouth. He dropped it at Leonora’s feet and sat back proudly on his haunches.

“It’s a very nice rope, Wrench.” Gingerly she picked it up by one end, trying to avoid the section that had been soaked with dog slobber. “Thank you.”

Pleased that his gift had been accepted, Wrench prowled back toward the living room.

Leonora followed. And stopped short when she realized that the entire space was infused with warmth and light and rich, vibrant color. Stunned, she halted in the center of the living room and turned slowly on her heel, examining every surface.

“This is incredible.” She had her back to Thomas but she could feel him watching her. “Who did all the tile work?”

“I did. Went a little over the top but it’s a small space. Didn’t take long to cover it.”

She crossed to the nearest wall and ran her fingertips lightly over the thickly applied yellow-gold plaster. Wrench padded after her and leaned heavily against her leg. She patted him again. He leaned a little more heavily. She looked up and saw a handsome crown molding defining the line where wall and ceiling met.

There was an uncanny depth to all the finishes in the room. The palette would have done credit to a Renaissance architect, she thought. The small house was a beautifully cut and polished gem.

“Did you do all of this work?” she asked.

Thomas shrugged. “It’s a hobby. Part-time job. I buy fixer-uppers and remodel them.”

“This is more than a hobby or a part-time job. This is art.”

He smiled and went around the end of the counter.

“How can you bear to put it on the market?”

He shrugged. “I don’t put my houses on the market. Not usually.”

“You don’t sell them?”

“They all sell. In their own good time. But I rarely have to go looking for buyers. The houses always seem to find their own owners. The right ones.”

“Is this how you make your living?” She walked to the counter and sat down on a stool.

“Only a small part of it. In my real life I manage money.”

“Whose money?”

“The money Deke and I made when he sold his software firm a few years ago. I had a big stake in it because I had provided the venture capital.”

“I see.” She waved a hand at the interior of the house. “Where did you learn to do this kind of work?”

“My father was a contractor. My mother was an artist. I got some weird combination of their genes, I guess.”

Absently she traced the bold relief of the design in the tile work that wrapped the edge of the counter. “What happened to your parents?”

“They’re doing fine. They split up when Deke and I were kids. It was one of those nasty divorces. You know, the kind where everyone argues about child support and visitation rights and each person tries to get even with the other. But things have settled down. Dad married his girlfriend. She’s about twenty years younger. Mom joined an artists’ commune. They both seem reasonably happy.”

“But you and Deke got caught in the riptide.”

“That’s the way it goes, sometimes. Deke and I stuck together. We did okay. What about you?”

“My parents died when I was three. I don’t remember them. All I have are some photos. My grandparents raised me. Now there’s just me and Gloria. Gloria is my grandmother.”

He put two brandies down on the counter, positioning the glasses on two napkins. Instead of coming around to her side of the barrier to take a stool he remained standing across from her.

He raised his glass. “Here’s to Grandma.”

She smiled. “I’ll drink to that.”

She took a tiny sip of the potent brandy and thought about how she hadn’t intended to come back here with him tonight. After dinner he had said something about continuing their conversation someplace where they couldn’t be overheard. She had agreed, thinking he intended to take her home to her place.

She had been struggling with the big question of whether she should make a truly bold move, maybe invite him in and offer him tea, when she had finally noticed that they were headed for his place, not hers.

The part of her that didn’t take chances had immediately gone on red-alert status. She had shut down the alarms by reminding herself that there was nothing sexual about their relationship. This was a wary partnership at best, one she had more or less blackmailed him into.

Tags: Jayne Ann Krentz Suspense