Page 35 of Smoke in Mirrors

“Yeah, the bed is kind of large, isn’t it?” he said thoughtfully. “I noticed that when they delivered the furniture. Guess I was thinking of myself when I picked it out. I like my beds big.”

She could not think of any reasonable rejoinder to that comment. She told herself the smartest thing she could do right now was keep her mouth shut.

They stood in front of the fire for a while.

She gazed into the leaping flames and forced herself to concentrate on more important things. Alex’s tinted contact lenses and the strange mirror and the little vials in the cupboard came to mind.

“What in heaven’s name is Alex doing out there?” she asked eventually, when she was sure that the subject of big beds had been forgotten.

“Hard to tell what kind of game he’s playing. But he’s in this right up to his yellow contacts, I’m sure of it.”

She hesitated. “He said he moved here a little over a year ago. That means he was in Wing Cove when Bethany died.”

Thomas thought about that. “As far as I know he and Bethany never even met. I’m damn sure she wasn’t going to him for stress counseling and she wasn’t taking any of that nutritional supplement he’s selling. Deke would have been aware of it. Trust me. He looked after Bethany.”

“Looked after her?”

“She was so lost in her work most of the time that she needed a guardian or a keeper more than she needed a husband.”

“I know what you mean. I’ve met a couple of truly brilliant types who fit that description. They could give you a mathematical explanation for the origin of matter, but they couldn’t match their socks.”

Thomas nodded. “That was Bethany. Deke did everything for her when it came to the regular stuff of ordinary life. He kept track of her dental appointments, shopped for groceries, bought her new clothes when she needed them. Everything.”

“Hmm. Think maybe that was a problem for Deke?”

“What do you mean?”

“Remember I told you that part of his depression might stem from some unresolved issues in his marriage?”

“So?”

“So, just speculating wildly here, but what if he married Bethany because the guardian job appealed to the knight-in-shining-armor side of his nature? What if, eventually, playing keeper all the time lost some of its allure? What if they were having trouble in the marriage and before they could work things out, she died?”

Thomas looked into the flames. “I liked Bethany, but I know I couldn’t have been happy married to her. She never did anything for Deke as far as I could tell. I’m not sure how much she really cared for him, deep down. She was content to let him take care of her and admire her brilliance. I used to wonder if she really loved him or if she just found him convenient.”

“Mind if I ask you what happened to your marriage?” she said softly.

“It ended.”

The complete lack of inflection spoke volumes.

“Sorry,” she said.

He swallowed more wine. “We were married for four years before she left me for my business partner.”

“Aaargh.”

“Yeah. That sums it up pretty accurately. Aaargh. But life goes on.”

“Yes.”

“You know, when my parents got divorced, I told myself I probably wouldn’t ever get married. And if I did marry, I sure as hell wouldn’t have any kids.”

“Because you never wanted to take the risk of putting them through the trauma of divorce?” she asked.

“Yeah. Turns out I should have stuck with my initial decision not to marry. But at least there weren’t any kids to get hurt when I did end up in a divorce court. I got singed, but no one else got badly burned. I learned my lesson.”

Time to change the subject again, she thought. It was depressing to listen to him talk so coolly about how he never intended to remarry or become a father.

“Getting back to the problem of Alex Rhodes,” she said very deliberately. “I think I’ve got an idea.”

“What?”

“I could sign up for some stress counseling.”

“Don’t,” Thomas said flatly, “even think about it.”

“You’re not being logical here, Thomas.”

“Rhodes wasn’t offering stress counseling. He wants to get you into bed.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I know it.”

“Thomas, be reasonable. We need a lead. Alex is a lead.”

“Maybe, but you’re not going to be the one to follow it.”

Anger flared, startling her with its intensity. “Damn it, no one voted you the boss of this operation. I’m willing to discuss things with you, but in the end, we’re equal partners. I make my own decisions.”

“Listen up,” he said, his voice low and rough. “The last woman who had a connection with me and who later went out with Alex Rhodes is dead. Remember?”

Icy fingers slithered down her spine. “Meredith.”

“Yeah. Meredith. No offense, but we both know that she was a lot more capable of dealing with a guy like Rhodes than you will ever be.”

For some reason, probably because she was already tense and on edge, that observation did offend her. A lot. The worst part was that she knew that he was right. Meredith had been much more qualified to handle dangerous men. She knew it, but she didn’t like it and she was not going to admit it.

She whirled around and strode toward the kitchen. “I’ll get dinner going. That fog will probably lift soon and I’m sure you’ll want to get home to Wrench as soon as possible.”

“Hell.” He came after her, halting in the doorway of the kitchen. “You’re mad, aren’t you?”

“I really don’t want to talk about it.”

“And they say men are the ones who don’t do a good job of communicating.”

She jerked open the freezer drawer and removed the package of frozen soybeans. “There’s no need to reduce this to the personal.”

He was very still in the doorway. “In case you haven’t noticed, this thing between us has already become personal. Real personal. At least on my side.”

“No, I hadn’t noticed.”

He left the doorway without warning. Before she realized his intentions, he was only inches away, looming over her, enveloping her in an invisible force field.

“Thomas?”

He slammed his half-empty wineglass down on the counter beside her so hard she wondered that it didn’t shatter. He caught her face between his hands. She could feel the work-roughened skin of his palms against her throat.

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