Page 28 of Smoke in Mirrors

She picked up the teacup and looked at him over the rim. “But you didn’t, did you?”

He shrugged. “Didn’t think it was important.”

“You may have been wrong about that.”

He gave it a few seconds’ thought. “I may, indeed, have been wrong. Damn. What’s going on here? Where the hell does Alex Rhodes fit into this?”

“I don’t know yet. But I can tell you this much, he was extremely concerned about the precise nature of our relationship.”

“Our relationship?” Thomas frowned. “As in you and me?”

“Yes. You and me. I was in the process of assuring him that we were merely landlord and tenant when you arrived.”

“Well, now.”

“One could, of course, jump to the conclusion that Mr. Rhodes is a fine example of the upstanding, noble sort of male who does not wish to be known for seducing other men’s girlfriends.”

“In other words, he may have been swept off his feet there in the frozen-foods aisle and was merely doing the manly thing, making sure you were single and free, before he attempted to put his hands on your charming derriere.”

“Always assuming that I would have allowed him to put his hands on my charming derriere, even if I happened to be single and free.”

“Assuming that,” Thomas said.

“Anything is possible in this crazy old world.” She heaved a sigh. “But somehow, I don’t think that it was instant and immediate lust that prompted him to buy me tea and attempt to interrogate me.”

Thomas gave her an approving look. “Obviously you have a natural aptitude for this detecting business. Very clever of you not to be deceived by his sneaky tactics.”

“Yeah, I’m smart all right. But I must admit I’m extremely curious about why he bothered to employ such wily tactics in the first place.”

“Me, too. Think maybe he knows about the money Meredith skimmed off the endowment fund? Figures she stashed it somewhere before she died and now hopes maybe he can find it?”

“I hadn’t thought about that.” She wrinkled her nose. “A million and a half bucks could explain a lot of phony lust. But how would he have discovered her scam? She wasn’t the type to confide in a man even if she was sleeping with him.”

“I figured out that she was up to no good,” Thomas reminded her softly. “With a computer and my brother’s help.”

“But you didn’t become suspicious of her until she left town in a very sudden manner and you got a hunch that it might be a good idea to check out the endowment accounts. What would have made Alex question her disappearance?”

“Rhodes may have had his own reasons to suspect that Meredith was running a con.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Got a feeling they might have had a few things in common,” Thomas said evenly. “Meredith was a scam artist. As far as I’m concerned, that antistress formula Rhodes is selling puts him in the same professional category. Takes one to know one.”

“You think Alex is a fraud?”

“Give me a break. The guy charges a fortune for that nutritional supplement he peddles.”

“A great many people believe wholeheartedly in alternative medicine. And with good and valid reasons.”

“Rhodes strike you as the holistic medicine type?”

She hesitated. “All right, let’s say for the sake of argument that he guessed that Meredith was up to something. How would he know about the missing endowment money?”

Thomas shrugged. “Beats me. But we can’t rule out the possibility that he’s looking for it and thinks that you might be able to help him find it.”

“In other words,” she said neutrally, “Alex may have picked me up in the frozen-foods aisle for many of the same reasons that you cornered me in Meredith’s apartment the other day. He knows that Meredith ripped off a million and a half bucks and he knows that she knew me so I might know where the money is.”

Thomas looked irritated by that summary of events.

“The money may have brought us together,” he said, “but it’s not the reason we formed our partnership. If you will recall, you more or less blackmailed me into this arrangement.”

“Oh, yes, that’s right. I forgot.”

“You’ve got a selective memory.”

“My librarian training, no doubt.” She paused. “You know, I’d say it’s just barely possible that Meredith mentioned me to Alex, although not very likely. But I’d stake my last dime that she did not tell him about her scam or the money. She was very cautious with her secrets. I certainly never knew her to confide them to those of the male persuasion.”

He considered that briefly. “Good point.”

“Not to change the subject, but what did you do with Wrench?”

“He’s tied up outside where he can ogle females of the four-footed variety.”

She raised her brows. “You mean he’s still capable of enjoying the opposite sex? I thought when you got a dog from a shelter they made you get the animal neutered.”

“I never explained the details of the operation to Wrench. Figured it would depress him.”

“Thoughtful of you to withhold the facts.”

“He’s my buddy. A guy does stuff like that for a pal. You ready to leave? I’ll walk you back to the cottage.”

“All right.” She got to her feet.

He helped her into her coat. “By the way, while you were busy with your detective work, did you happen to notice Rhodes’s eyes?”

“How could one fail to do so?”

“Weird, huh? I’ve never seen anyone with eyes like that.”

She smiled. “Tinted contact lenses.”

“. . . And center yourself.” Cassie assumed a half-lotus position, one ankle tucked into the crease between torso and thigh. “Ground yourself, clear your mind and allow yourself to sink into the stillness.”

Deke followed instructions, folding himself into the final pose of the session. He tried to concentrate on clearing his mind but the process was, of course, a contradiction in terms. If you concentrated on something, after all, you were not exactly clearing your mind.

That was especially true when his concentration was focused almost entirely on the lush curves of Cassie’s thighs.

The woman had outstanding thighs, full and ripe and elegantly curved. They were excellently showcased in her snug, black tights. But, then, everything about Cassie was outstanding. She was magnificent, in his opinion.