Page 89 of Wicked Burn

“What else did she say?” Vic had demanded after a tense silence.

“She asked me to cancel her class tomorrow.” She must have noticed Vic’s reaction, because she added quickly, “But she assured me that she would be back for Wednesday’s class. She said she just needed a little time . . .”

But Vic had been too worried about Niall to give her time. He’d gotten into his truck before dawn had fully broken after a sleepless night and driven up to Chicago to try to find her . . . to try to make things right.

If that was possible . . .

The bartender who approached him looked wary when he noticed the scowl on Vic’s face.

“Can I get you something, sir?”

“Scotch on the rocks.”

He glanced around the crowded restaurant blankly. The bar was the only place that had seating. The museum was filled with tourists. Even though she worked here, it suddenly struck Vic that there wasn’t a more unlikely place to locate Niall than this restaurant.

Maybe he’d try to call Niall’s friend Anne Rothman. She might have a clue as to where Niall might have gone. He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. Surely he still had Anne’s number—

“Don’t I know you?” a man sitting several chairs down from him at the bar asked.

Vic’s gaze ran over the man. He wore a preppy pink button-down and a dark blue blazer with anchors on the gold buttons. A flicker of irritation went through him when he recognized the man’s face.

“No,” he stated flatly before he flipped open his cell phone, pointedly ignoring the intrusion.

The dark-haired man stood and grabbed his drink before he scooted closer down the bar. “No, I do. I’ve met you before—”

“Don’t think so.”

The man’s puzzled transformed into recognition. “Hey, you’re that jerk who ran me out of Niall Chandler’s place.”

Vic gave him a blazing glare of irritation that made speech unnecessary.

Evan Forrester’s pique melted when he saw it. He plopped down into the chair next to Vic’s.

“Ahh, I got nothing agains’ you, I guess,” Evan said. “Niall Chandler’s the kind of woman who turns all men into raving lunatics. You’d think I’d have learned by now to avoid a woman that beautiful.” He took another long draw on his martini and held up the empty glass as a signal for the bartender to get him another.

“She wouldn’t have anything to do with me after that night. She’s a cold one. If I’d a known about her history, I would a steered clear of her. Woman like that’s gotta be a bit . . .” Evan paused and twirled his finger next to this temple. “Still, she’s so gorgeous . . . and despite that frigid thing she’s got going on, she really doesn’t seem too crazy at all,” Evan conceded thoughtfully. “Hope you were luckier than me getting her into the sack, pal.”

Vic felt torn between wanting to hammer the guy’s preppy, drunken face and refraining from the instinct because he needed him conscious in order to explain what he’d just said.

“What’d you mean about her history?” he asked, ignoring the bartender as he set his Scotch in front of him and pinning Evan Forrester with his stare.

Evan raised his black eyebrows significantly. “Guess you never got around to getting to know your pretty neighbor too well, huh?”

That flipped Vic’s “pissed off” switch quicker than he cared to admit. He leaned forward a mere half inch, his eyes boring into Evan.

“I asked you a question.”

Evan’s eyes widened.

“Oh, right.” He laughed too loud, his eyes finding the bartender to check the progress of his martini. “Nobody ever told me the story, either. Niall’s got lots of loyal soldiers around her. But even Niall Chandler Sr. isn’t powerful enough to hush up all the facts about his little princess.

“I read about it in the newspaper a few days ago. Seems that even Niall’s daddy can’t keep the press from reporting the fact that his grandson’s murderer has the dubious honor of being the only man on death row for which the Illinois General Assembly lifted the moratorium on execution. And they’re going to be doing it” —Evan checked his watch drolly—“oh, in about two hours or so.”

“Grandson’s murderer?” Vic managed with the little air he had left in his lungs. Niall had told him that she was an only child. Surely the son that Niall told him had died hadn’t been murdered —

“Yeah, Niall’s kid. Matthew Manning opened fire in front of a preschool about four years ago. Killed seven people, a good portion of them children. Seems Manning was sore about the fact that the courts had granted custody of his five-year-old exclusively to his wife. Go figure, right?” Evan muttered before he reached for the fresh martini that the bartender put down in front of him and took a drink.

Vic resisted an urge to grab the glass from the man’s hand and shake the rest of the story out of him. “The papers said Manning’s kid’s preschool teacher gave testimony about Manning pitching a fit and scaring the kids at school half to death a year before the shooting occurred. She wouldn’t let Manning’s son leave with him while he was so out of control. Manning paid the teacher back a year later by making her one of the victims of the bloodbath.”

“In Barrington? Is that where this happened?” Vic asked, referring to the affluent western Chicago suburb.

He vaguely recalled hearing the horrific story on the news. He’d been living in Montana at the time but the national news had covered it not only because of the violence and the number of deaths, but also because so many of those who died had been innocent preschoolers. It had been one of those news stories that left you feeling confused, raw, and bitter about the potential nature of your fellow human beings.