“No. But I sure like looking at her.”
“I don’t have time to talk to some college boy for his term paper.”
Mac signed the credit slip without, Lulu noted, looking at the total. “I’ll pay you.”
She heard the faint sound—ca-ching—in the back of her mind. “How much?”
“Fifty an hour.”
“What, are you stupid?”
Shaking her head, Lulu handed him his sack of books. “I’ll think about it.”
When he walked out, she shook her head again. Pay her to talk. Could you beat that?
She was still wondering over it when Mia glided down the stairs. “Too quiet in here today, Lu. I think I’m going to run a cookbook sale upstairs, get people in. Nell could make some samples from some of the books.”
“Whatever. College Boy was just in.”
“Who? Oh.” Mia handed Lulu the cup of tea she’d brought her from the café. “The interesting and yummy MacAllister Booke.”
“Shelled out over a hundred fifty for books without batting an eye.”
Mia’s businesswoman’s heart went pitty-pat. “Bless him.”
“Looks like he can afford it. He offered me fifty an hour to talk to him.”
“Really?” Sipping her own tea, Mia lifted an eyebrow. She knew Lulu had an ongoing love affair with profit, an affection she’d learned at Lulu’s knobby knee. “I should’ve charged him more rent. What does he want to talk to you about?”
“You. Said it was like human interest. How many times I had to swat your butt when you were growing up, that sort of thing.”
“I don’t think we need refer back to the unfortunate incidents of butt-swatting,” Mia said dryly. “But this is interestingand unexpected. I’d thought he’d be pestering and pressuring me to discuss and demonstrate. Instead he’s letting all that sit to one side and offering you a consultant fee to discuss my formative years.”
She tapped a fingertip on her bottom lip. Both were painted bold red. “Very clever of him.”
“He admitted he was, and that it irritated some people.”
“I’m not irritated. I’m intrigued, which is just what he’d hoped for, I imagine.”
“Claims he doesn’t have any designs on you of a personal nature.”
“Now, I’m insulted.” With a laugh, Mia kissed Lulu’s cheek. “Still watching out for me?”
“You could do worse than take a look in his direction. He’s polite, rich, and has brains—and he’s not tough to look at.”
“He’s not for me.” With a little sigh, she rested her cheek on Lulu’s hair. “I’d know if he was.”
Lulu started to speak, then kept her tongue still, hooked an arm around Mia’s waist.
“I’m not thinking of Samuel Logan,” Mia said, though she had been. The only man who’d ever held her heart. The only man who’d ever crushed it. “I’m just not romantically attracted to the interesting, clever, and yummy Dr. Booke. Are you going to talk to him?”
“If you’re worried that I have an objection, I don’t. I can protect myself if I need protecting. And I won’t, not from him.”
There was something else, something not quite clear, that slithered around the edges of home. But it didn’t come from MacAllister Booke.
She drew away, picked up her tea again. “In fact, I may agree to talk to him myself. Fifty dollars an hour.” She let out a low, delighted laugh. “Fascinating.”
Loaded down withportable equipment, Mac plowed through the snow piled on the floor of the narrow forest beside his cottage. The police report and the newspaper stories he’d read cited this as the place Nell had run to when Evan Remington attacked her and Zack Todd.
He’d already completed scans of the kitchen area, the site of the attack. He’d found no negative energy there, no remnants of violence. Which had surprised him until he’d reasoned out that either Nell or Mia would have cleansed the house.
He hoped to find something in the woods.
The air was still and cold. Ice gleamed on the dark trunks and branches of trees. Snow lay on them like fur.
He saw, and was charmed by, what he recognized as deer tracks, and automatically checked his camera to be certain he’d loaded film.
He passed a little brook where trickles of water forced their way over rocks and ice. Though his gauges didn’t register any anomaly, he felt something. It took him a moment to realize it was simply peace. Simply pleasure.
A bird called, flashed by like a bullet. Mac just stood, happy and content. It feltgood here, he thought. A place where the mind could be quiet. A place for picnics or contemplation.
With some reluctance, he continued to walk, but promised himself he would come back and just enjoy.
He wandered, and though he hated to spoil the mood, he tried to imagine what it had been like to run, fleeing in the dark from a man bent on violence. A man armed with a knife already bloody.