Page 58 of Smoke in Mirrors

Damn. It would take a small duffel bag to hold it all.

And then there was the matter of Wrench.

He had a vision of himself packing a bag every evening and setting out with Wrench to make the trek to Leonora’s house. A pain in the ass. Be a hell of a lot more convenient if Leonora moved in with him. But he had a hunch she might not go for that pragmatic plan. It meant that she would be the one who had to pack up every night and women always seemed to have more stuff.

Might not be a good idea for him to get too accustomed to having her around the house, anyway. She would probably head back to her own world the minute her adventures here in Wonderland were concluded.

Great. Now he was actively working to make himself depressed.

He viewed his reflection. No getting around the fact that he looked like a train wreck. There was a lot of ugly purpling on his ribs. The beard stubble didn’t hide the crust that had formed over the scrape on his cheek. The area under his left eye was badly discolored and would probably get worse as the day wore on. His hands, especially the knuckles, were pretty roughed up, too.

He turned away from the mirror, picked up his shirt and winced when he caught a whiff. Not real fresh. He had done some serious sweating in it last night during the scuffle on the footbridge. Maybe better to go without this morning.

He finished toweling himself dry, pulled on his trousers and ran his fingers through his hair. Satisfied that was the best he could do under the circumstances, he opened the door and went out into the hall. He needed coffee and some more anti-inflammatories. Food would be nice after that. He was hungry. Hot, sizzling sex with Leonora seemed to have that effect on him.

The sound of a man’s voice emanating from the direction of the kitchen made him forget about both the caffeine and the painkillers.

“This is insanity, Leo. You must be delusional if you’ve managed to convince yourself that Meredith was murdered and that you can find the killer. You need serious psychiatric help.”

“Maybe, but I don’t think my HMO would cover it,” Leonora said mildly. “Would you like some coffee?”

Thomas crossed the living room in a few long strides and halted in the kitchen doorway. He took in the scene in one swift glance.

Leonora was at the counter, pouring coffee for her guest. She had made a pot of tea for herself.

He couldn’t help but notice that, unlike him, she looked terrific this morning. She was dressed in easy-fitting black trousers, a long, scarlet sweater and a pair of fluffy slippers. Her hair was clipped back in the familiar French twist.

An intense-looking man with curly brown hair and sharp features occupied one of the two chairs at the table. He wore an unpressed blue oxford cloth shirt, a pair of khaki trousers and loafers. A well-worn corduroy jacket with suede elbow patches was draped over the back of the chair.

An expensive leather book bag that looked a lot like a purse, but was probably intended to serve as a briefcase, stood against the wall next to him.

The guy might as well have worn a sign on his forehead with the words I’m going for tenure stenciled on it, Thomas decided.

Leonora looked toward the door. “There you are, Thomas.” She gave him a quick visual examination, her eyes clouding with concern. “How do you feel?”

“I’ll live, thanks.”

She did not appear entirely convinced, but she did not argue the point. “Meet a, uh, former colleague. Kyle Delling. You may have heard me mention his name once or twice.”

The ex-fiancé. Just what he needed. Another man in the vicinity who had also gotten tangled up with Meredith. He wondered if Leonora was looking at the two of them here in her kitchen and mentally filing them both under the same subject heading: Meredith’s discards.

Kyle stared at him, nonplussed. Maybe it was the shock of seeing a strange man coming out of his ex-fiancée’s bathroom without a shirt, Thomas thought. It struck him that if he was Leonora’s ex-anything, he’d have a real tough time in Kyle’s place. The thought of her with another man now, after what they’d shared these past few days, would be very difficult to handle.

That realization hit him harder than any of the punches he had taken from Brett Conway last night. Leonora did not fit into the same category as the other women he had known during the years since his divorce. He was not going to be able to stay in the safe zone this time. When this was over he was going to go down hard.

Oh, man, this was serious.

Kyle’s mouth opened. The small action broke into Thomas’s morbid thoughts. He wondered if the professor was going to take a swing at him. He hoped so. Be nice to have an excuse to work off some of this new stress. Nothing like a little exercise to elevate a man’s mood.

Belatedly he recalled that Leonora had said that her ex was a very modern kind of guy. So maybe Kyle wasn’t staring at him with that weird expression because he was jealous. Maybe it was the bruised ribs, black eye and scraped knuckles that were failing to make a great first impression.

Kyle finally managed to get his jaw back in place. “Who the hell are you?”

Leonora blew on her tea and answered for him.

“This is Thomas Walker. He’s a friend.” She put a little extra emphasis on the last word.

Thomas nodded once. “Delling.” Who said he couldn’t be a modern guy?

Kyle appeared deeply troubled by the fact that Thomas had proven himself capable of human speech.

Thomas spotted the little bottle on the counter. He left the doorway and went to help himself to the tablets.

“Probably shouldn’t take those on an empty stomach,” Leonora warned.

She put down her tea, plucked a slice of toast out of the toaster and buttered it with quick, economical motions. When it was ready she handed it to him.

He took a large bite out of the toast and swallowed a couple of pills with the glass of juice she gave him. He made a halfhearted attempt to think of something civil to say to Kyle. When nothing leaped to mind, he abandoned the effort in favor of another bite of toast.

“Cassie called while you were in the shower,” Leonora said. “Margaret Lewis has agreed to see us this morning. Cassie and Deke said they’d pick us up around ten o’clock.”

“Sounds good.” He glanced at his watch. It was seven-thirty. “That’ll give me plenty of time to go back to my place, check in with Wrench and change into some fresh clothes.”

“What happened to you?” Kyle blurted, obviously unable to contain his curiosity for another second. “Run into a brick wall?”

Tags: Jayne Ann Krentz Suspense