Page 34 of Smoke in Mirrors

There was a distinct chill in the vehicle. He shoved the key into the ignition and fired up the heater.

“That,” he said, pulling out onto the pavement, “was a little close.”

She folded her arms and gazed straight ahead through the windshield. “Well, what can you expect? We’re still new at this detective business. I’m sure we’ll get the hang of it sooner or later.”

Chapter Ten

He brought the car to a halt in her driveway a short time later and switched off the engine. She was very conscious of him sitting there close beside her in the front seat. It was comforting, not to mention extremely reassuring, to have him nearby. There was something solid and substantial about Thomas. She was, she realized, reluctant to let him go.

“I can’t believe we did that,” she said.

“It was a different sort of outing for me, too.” There was no inflection in his words. “When it comes to entertainment, I usually prefer to go down to the hardware store and look at screwdrivers.”

“We could have been arrested.”

“Doubt it.”

She turned her head quickly to look at him. “If Alex had caught us inside his house he would have been perfectly within his rights to call the cops.”

“Sure. But then he would have had to explain that weird mirror, which he obviously swiped from Mirror House. And something tells me he wouldn’t want Ed Stovall going through his cupboards and maybe taking a few samples, the way we did.”

She caught her breath. “You don’t really think Alex is selling drugs, do you?”

“Who knows what the hell that guy is selling? Even if it’s just powdered sugar, he won’t want the word to get out that he’s a complete con. No, I don’t think he’d have called the cops.”

She exhaled slowly. “Nevertheless, in hindsight, it was probably not the brightest thing either of us has ever done.”

“On a scale of one to ten, I’d give it a two.”

“You’ve done dumber stuff?”

“Sure.” He pondered that briefly. “I’d have to rate my marriage as a one. Definitely a dumb thing to do. But, then, I was a lot younger back then. Youth is always a good excuse. Doesn’t work so well these days.”

She nodded. “The only thing that I’ve ever done that was dumber than breaking into that house was get engaged to Professor Kyle Delling.”

“What happened to the engagement?”

“I came home from work one afternoon and found him in my bed with Meredith.”

Thomas winced. “Ouch.”

“She set it up, of course. Called me at the library that day. Told me there was an emergency and that I had to come home immediately. Timed it so that when I walked through my front door, she and Kyle were between the sheets.”

“Why did she do that? Sheer cruelty?”

“Not in her mind. She felt that she had done me a huge favor by showing me that Kyle was weak and couldn’t be trusted.” She rubbed her arms briskly. “But I’m not sure it was a fair test.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I’ve never met the man who was able to resist Meredith.” She summoned up a bright little smile and opened the door. “You know something? Either I got a little too cold running around out there in the fog or my nerves are acting up. Either way, I think I could use a medicinal glass of wine. Care for some of the same tonic?”

“Sure.”

He already had the truck door open, the keys in his pocket.

Relief flooded through her. He wasn’t going to leave her alone with her frazzled nerves just yet. They were partners, after all.

“The fog is getting bad again. You might as well stay for dinner.” She tried to make the invitation sound offhand. “No sense risking your neck trying to drive until this stuff lifts a little.”

“You’ve got a deal.”

She waited for him to walk around the front of the car and join her. They went up the front steps together. It was dark now. She paused to sort keys in her palm with the aid of the porch light.

“Here we go.” She let them into the front hall and switched on a lamp.

She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror when she went to hang up her coat and suppressed a small groan. Not exactly a ravishing sight, she thought. Tendrils of hair had come free of the twist. Behind the lenses of her glasses her eyes had a stark, strained quality, and her cheeks looked hollow. The dark, cable-knit sweater she wore did nothing to brighten the reflection.

Thomas shrugged out of his jacket and came to stand behind her. Their eyes met in the mirror. Unlike her, he looked terrific, she thought. Hard and tough and totally in control. She had to fight an irresistible urge to turn and put her head down on his chest.

His hands closed over her shoulders. “Take it easy. You’re just feeling the aftershock of the adrenaline. It’ll fade.”

“I know.”

The weight of his hands was not having the calming, soothing effect he probably intended. Little sparks of excitement were snapping across her nerve endings. Energy hummed through her.

She suddenly wanted to do a lot more than just put her head down on his shoulder. She looked at his mouth in the mirror and wondered what it would be like to kiss him.

Wondered how his mouth would feel on other parts of her body.

Wondered how his big, competent hands would feel on her br**sts.

Her thighs.

Wondered if he was thinking similar thoughts.

Adrenaline. This is all nerves and adrenaline. Get hold of yourself, woman.

“I’ll pour the wine,” she said quickly.

She rushed into the old-fashioned kitchen, opened the cupboard, grabbed a bottle of red and went feverishly to work with a corkscrew.

By the time she got back to the living room Thomas had the fire going.

She handed one of the glasses to him. When he took it from her, his knuckles lightly grazed hers. Another jolt of electricity sparked along her overstimulated nerve endings. She pulled away so fast she nearly dropped her glass.

“You okay?” Thomas asked, sounding concerned now.

“Just a little tense.” She took a healthy swallow of wine and looked around, searching for something mundane and normal. “Did you buy this place furnished?”

“No.” He frowned. “I rented the furniture. What’s the matter? You don’t like it? There wasn’t a lot of choice. The company had three basic packages. I had to pick one.”

“It’s fine. Just fine.” She took another sip of wine. “Some of the pieces are rather large like I said. The bed barely fits.” Oh, damn, what on earth had made her mention a bed? “But the sofa is great. Really.”

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