“I’ve heard that some of the kids were in and out of jail. The rest...” Landry shrugged.
Suicide, drugs, criminal activity and serial marriage. Alia was sure there were even more interesting problems hiding in their backgrounds.
Abruptly he stood, brushed the seat of his shorts, then extended his hand to her. He pulled with more force than she expected, and she stumbled to avoid stepping on the basket of fruit. She was just inches from him. It was the kind of closeness a woman should take advantage of when it presented itself, and if she didn’t, the man should. But she didn’t, and neither did he, except for continuing to hold on to her hand while his gaze searched hers. He looked hard, intent, seeking—she wasn’t sure what. Pity? Compassion? Revulsion?
Did he think that admitting he’d been raped would affect the way she felt about him?
It did, but not the way he might expect. It stirred up all kinds of emotion—anger, sadness, a fierce need to protect him. Compassion, admiration. She respected the way he’d lived his life, not letting his bastard father destroy it, being who he needed to be, doing what had needed doing. Jeremiah Jackson III had basically told Jeremiah Jackson the demon to go to hell, and she was proud of him for it.
Whatever he saw or didn’t see apparently satisfied him. He let go, picked up the tomatoes and handed them to her, then said, “If you’re lucky, I’ll find some ripe corn and fix you my special grilled dinner.”
“With fried green tomatoes?” she asked hopefully, relieved to set the seriousness aside for a moment.
“When I grill, I grill everything.” He elbowed her. “Don’t pout. They’re even better that way. We’ll have to stop at the store and get a few things.”
“Hey, I’ll happily do all the shopping for a man who cooks. Just lead the way to the corn.”
After a stop at the market, Landry took Alia back to his apartment, where they had about a minute’s debate to decide to cook dinner at her house. She had a great grill, she said, used only during her parents’ visits, and since he wasn’t sure when he’d last washed dishes or cleaned the apartment, he was happy to go elsewhere.
The cottage didn’t have a back porch, just a broad set of steps that led to a yard with grass and a small clump of crape myrtles to one side. The grill was off to the side, too, where Landry left it for the time being. He was sprawled on the steps with a cold beer in hand, eyes closed, and letting the breeze rustle across his skin.
It hadn’t been so bad, confiding in her. He’d thought he would never tell his story to another soul, that Dr. Granville had been absolutely the last. She’d told him it was nothing to be ashamed of, that she wouldn’t advise opening conversations with strangers with it, but the only one paying the price of secrecy, she’d insisted, was him.
In a sense, she’d been right. It must not have haunted any of the bastards responsible. But she’d been wrong, too. Two who’d done it and two who’d known were dead. They’d paid for what they’d done or, in the case of the women, not done.
And he felt better for telling.
He felt better for Alia’s response.
The screen door closed with a bang seconds before she sat down beside him. She had a cold drink, too—something turquoise blue in a tall glass—and carried a handful of mini candy bars, offering him one. “I called Murphy and asked him to hold off on interviewing the Wallace daughters. He rescheduled for tomorrow afternoon.”
Landry acknowledged the news with a nod. He hadn’t spoken to either of them since he’d left home and wasn’t likely to ever get a friendly word from them once they realized he’d told their secret, too.
“I also checked the names you gave me.”
Since they’d arrived at the house, he’d put the chicken in a brown-sugar-and-cinnamon marinade, cleaned the corn on the cob, sliced the tomatoes and kicked back with a beer, while she’d been on the computer. Shifting to one side, she pulled a piece of paper from her hip pocket and smoothed it one-handed. It was covered with blocks of chicken-scratch writing so tiny he couldn’t make out much more than a name here and there. He counted ten blocks. He and Mary Ellen, apparently, didn’t rate inclusion, he presumed, because the cops had already looked at them.
“Of Wallace’s three kids, the oldest is married, no children, does all the same social stuff as her parents. Nothing questionable or notable about her. Daughter number two has been divorced six times, no kids and does none of the same social stuff as her parents. She’s got a few DUIs, a couple of arrests for public intox and a fondness for making a lot of public scenes. Jeffrey has a dozen drug busts, nothing major, and has apparently disappeared off the grid. No activity on his Social Security number, driver’s license is expired, nothing for a couple years.”