“Too bad all the perfect shells have tiny creatures living inside,” he said, crouching beside me at the edge of the water while I watched a crab crawling in his mobile home.
“True, but they limit the population of homeless crabs.”
I stood up. So did he. His dazzling smile reminded me of the old toothpaste commercials featuring sparkles bouncing off the model’s teeth. I’d always been a sucker for a great smile. Then he removed his sunglasses, and I looked into the darkest eyes I’d ever seen, crinkled at the corners by a playful grin and visually undressing me.
I’d noticed him the last few afternoons on my daily walk―who wouldn’t? He could give George Clooney a hot run for his money.
“Neal Trainor,” he said, and offered his hand.
I took it and noticed he wore no wedding ring. “Zoe Swan.”
“Which way are you walking?” he asked.
I pointed to my usual turn-around spot. “To the fishing pier and back.”
“Mind if I join you?”
“Sure.” Why not? It’s just a walk. Innocent, right?
We chatted, strolling instead of my usual quick pace. An art history professor from my hometown of Boston on a year’s sabbatical to work on his PhD dissertation, he knew more about art than any person I’d ever known, and I’d been an art major in college.
We met at the same time the next day and the next, when he invited me for drinks and appetizers at a beachfront bar. He spoke Italian to the waiter. I was impressed.
Over mussels and calamari, we spilled out our lives as only best friends or total strangers are apt to do. His wife had left him for a younger man, and he’d raised his three young kids by himself. I mentioned I was separated from my husband, David, and had moved to the beach to write my books.
“You’re that Zoe Swan?” Neal said. “I’ve read your books, gifts from my daughter. Number one bestsellers both. Fun, exciting, and very sexy.”
I blushed profusely at his praise. Who knew someone like Neal had read my books? Critics claimed I’d broken new ground, when my stories were only the fantasy of a neglected, forty-something woman. I decided not to mention that my success contributed to the downward slide of my marriage. Of course my situation was more complicated, but no man wants to hear the nitty gritty details.
Neal told me about his children, his students, and his involvement in the Boston arts scene, and he peppered me with questions about my writing life. No one had been that interested in me in a long time. Especially not David.
Nice guy. And talk about sexy.
Run like the wind, Zoe, away from the physical pull of this man’s gravity. But I couldn’t. Didn’t want to. He made me feel desirable and more interesting than I ever thought I was. So instead of fleeing, I relaxed and enjoyed his company, reminding myself that my husband initiated our separation when writing took me away from the small advertising agency we’d built over the years. Took me away from his controlling manipulations.
“Maybe we ought to separate for a while until you find out what you want to be when you grow up,” David had said.
I surprised both of us by packing my clothes and moving to our condo at Cherry Grove, north of Myrtle Beach, where the only distractions from writing were the sea birds, graceful and elegant, flying overhead, and my daily walks. David smugly expected me to realize the error of my ways and beg him to take me back. But the new Zoe Swan, filled with a newfound sense of confidence, held firm.
After our walk on the fourth day, Neal rested his hand on the small of my back and guided me through the dunes to his rented beach house with the promise of a nice bottle of wine and a wedge of brie. I didn’t think twice, though I knew what was going to happen.
The house, a well-kept two-story on stilts, sat on an oceanfront piece of property, with a huge back deck facing the sea. We climbed the stairs, and he unlocked the door.
“Nice place,” I said. A flash of what I was about to do hit me like a blast of cold air, and I consciously pushed all thoughts of recrimination away.
“I like to enjoy my surroundings,” Neal said.
He ushered me inside the posh great room, and to my delight wasted no time pretending we were there for the wine and cheese. I hadn’t experienced desire like that in, well, forever. Intoxicated by his scent, the way my body felt next to his, I responded, sliding my hands under his shirt, scraping my fingernails down his back, and giggling at his flinch when I tickled the sweet spot on his side. He practically ripped off my tee shirt, awakening me to the dilemma of how I’d get home if he did. His eyes drank me in from head to toe in the same appreciative way I looked at a beautiful work of art.
“There is nothing more tantalizing than a woman’s magnificent body,” he said.
My heart pounded. I could hear it in my ears, feel it thumping in my chest. “Is that the opinion of an art history professor or a professor in the art of seduction?” My teasing voice belied the quaking inside.
My play on words brought a smile to his lips, and he nuzzled into my neck. Oh, God. I thought I’d collapse right there, limp on the white, luxurious carpet.
“No, it’s the opinion of a man who values a beautiful woman.”
Those words went straight to my heart, bypassing my head. I don’t recall how we wound up in the bedroom with the afternoon sun warming our bodies, but there we were, a couple of hours later, drenched in sweat and thoroughly exhausted.
The man loved sex, pure and unadulterated―an odd word to describe it, I thought in one flash of lucidity. He derived as much pleasure in giving as receiving, finding easy and natural many positions long-married couples lost interest in exploring. Never forcing, he easily maneuvered me into situations I’d almost forgotten, except on the written page. I greedily played the part of the willing student taking a refresher course from the knowledgeable professor.
Even though I knew this affair was a blink in my life and nothing would come of it, the small touches and affections―those tender moments that reminded a woman she was still desirable―clarified how hungry I was for the passion missing in my life. They had become nonexistent in my marriage and why I succumbed to the lure of this bronze-skinned Adonis.
I had written scenes like this, had lived them in my imagination. I wanted Neal as much as my love-starved heroine wanted the damaged hero of my last book. Only this wasn’t a book, and for the first time in ages, I wasn’t transposing thoughts onto paper but actually experiencing them, with no inhibitions.
“Now I see you look nothing close to a woman in her forties,” I heard him say in my delirium. “In addition to beautiful breasts, you have a lovely torso and a damn fine ass.”
Wow. All that. Who knew? I gave the guy credit. This was premium bullshit, but I didn’t care. I was floating halfway to the moon.
Maybe it was overly dramatic to think I saw the whole universe at its inception when I climaxed―the Big Bang Theory. No pun intended. I loved everyone. I was a flower child of the sixties, a Hare Krishna, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. I felt beautiful and sexy and desirable, like the woman I wanted to be. Like the heroine of my novels, with Neal the perfect hero. I vacillated between reality and fantasy, mentally transcribing the encounter into a chapter for a book. I’d fit it in somewhere. Write a whole scene around it. Write the whole goddamn book around it.
We lay next to each other for a long, quiet time before he turned sideways and began caressing the soft flesh of my inner thigh. I wanted to scream from pleasure. Then he started all over again. The man was a recharged battery, the Ever-fucking-Ready Bunny. I expected him to collapse on top of me, but he didn’t. Instead, he burrowed his face into my neck and licked inside my ear.
“I just enjoyed the best sex I’ve had in years,” he murmured. “Youth has nothing on experience.”
I couldn’t speak. Really. My tongue was paralyzed in my mouth. I’d never come twice in such a short time and felt as if I could come again. His touch activated my sexual nerve endings. I wanted more.
Neal ran his palm across his forehead. “I need a shower. I want to be fresh for later.”
I could barely think as he stroked my leg. “Later? What’s later?”
He sat up, kissed my lips, and said, “When we do this again. Tonight.”
I felt the pulsating again and kissed him back.
“Or better still,” he interrupted, “instead of a shower, how about a swim? You can swim, can’t you?”
“Right now, I could sprint across the English Channel.”
While biting my earlobe, he whispered, “I’m not that good.”
You have no idea how good you are. “I have an idea. The island on the other side of the channel is beautiful. It’s dead low tide now, and the channel is shallow. We can walk the sandbar most of the way, maybe swim a little, but it shouldn’t be over our heads. We can stroll the pristine beach, as long as we remember to return before the tide starts to come in. The channel is rough then. Have you ever been over there?”
“No. Sounds like fun.”
“It’s private, but now with all the jet skis and boats, people have discovered it. I’ll run home to put on a suit and meet you at the point in half an hour.”
I dressed under his watchful eye, and he walked me to the door. “See you then.”
He cupped my tush from behind, pulled me close, and bid me so long with such a passionate kiss, I considered taking off my clothes again and forgetting the swim all together, but I waved myself out the door and hustled back to the house to change.
Humming a tune from the nineties, I felt twenty-one again, the age of my first sexual encounter. Writing romance had inspired all kinds of fantasies, but here I was, involved in a wild, passionate affair, eager for more and, contrary to what I might have thought whenever David popped into my mind, surprisingly guilt free.
Racing up the three flights of stairs, I changed into my most flattering bathing suit and confirmed my waterproof mascara hadn’t forsaken me. After an appraising twirl in the mirror, I threw on a cover-up and hurried to the point.
The day was surprisingly warm for September. I expected to see Neal waiting, but he hadn’t yet arrived. I breathed in the smell of the ocean I loved so much and waited.
After ten minutes, the afternoon sun still hot enough to burn my shoulders through the cover-up fabric, I decided to walk toward his house. I expected to meet him on the way, but I didn’t. Climbing the path through the dunes, I looked down the street, thinking he might have walked that way instead of on the beach, but I didn’t see him there either. He’d probably taken a call from one of his kids.
Upon arriving at his house, I noted the half-open door at the top of the stairs. I climbed up. “Neal, are you here?” No answer. My skin prickled from the tension wound tightly in the air.
Little confetti-like pieces littered the floor, which I knew from research came from a Taser. I took one tentative step inside when someone from behind the door slammed it into me with enough force to catapult me hard onto the wooden deck. A shooting pain stabbed both my shoulder and backside. Footsteps pounded down the stairs, softening as they crossed the grass and disappeared down the street. By the time I crawled to my knees and twisted around, I saw only a non-descript figure in a hooded jogging suit darting toward Ocean Avenue.
It all happened so fast I couldn’t determine whether the attacker was a man or a woman, other than he or she was in a big hurry. I staggered to my feet, rubbing my shoulder, and called inside. A muffled moan answered. Scared someone else would lurch from behind the door, I pushed it open until it flattened against the wall and entered cautiously, trying to ignore the limp-causing twinge in my hip.
The place was a mess. Furniture overturned, papers and books tossed everywhere. Neal lay on the floor, bleeding profusely from a nasty gash on the side of his head. I ran over and did what cops do in the movies―touched the pulse on his neck, which struck me as stupid, considering his deep-throated groans.
“Neal, are you all right?” Stupid again. The man was bleeding, semi-conscious, and I’m asking if he’s all right. I made another mental note not to put that in a book. Good thing art doesn’t always imitate life. “I’m calling 911.”
He made an attempt to rise and fell back on his elbow. “No, don’t.” His voice was thick and groggy. “The bastard zapped me with a stun gun.”
“I know, I saw the confetti, but your house has been broken into, and you’ve been attacked. You’re hurt. You have to call the police or an ambulance. Something.”
He struggled to sit upright, concern on his face. “Then what, Zoe? There’ll be reporters and cops, and you’ll be involved.”
I hadn’t thought of that. “You call then. I won’t be here when they come.”
“And you think that’ll be the end of it? I don’t know how to tell you this, but we haven’t been exactly invisible this week. When the cops start asking questions, the neighbors will crawl out of their channel houses like Palmetto bugs to add their two cents. ‘Oh, that writer woman was over there one afternoon.’ And what’ll you say to that?”
Neal had a point. I’d been in Cherry Grove for a year. The townies knew me by sight if not by name. “Well at least have your head looked at. You may need a few stitches.”
“I’ll be fine.” He rose unsteadily, touched the wound, and stared at his bloody hand.
I dashed into the kitchen and wet a dishcloth. I examined the cut more closely. “It’s not too deep.” I pressed the towel over the injury.
“Really, I’m okay,” Neal said as he took over pressing the cloth on his head. “I was leaving to meet you and went back inside to grab a towel. I left the door open, and before I knew it, he zapped me and whacked me over the head with something.” He checked the bloody towel. “I thought these things didn’t happen here.”
“They don’t. People leave their doors open, in fact.”
“I did and won’t make that mistake again. It’s a good thing you came along.”
“Now I wish I hadn’t waited so long.” I caressed his cheek.
“I’m glad you did wait. If you’d come earlier, he might have hurt you too.” He staggered to the desk. “I hope he didn’t take my laptop. All my work is in it.” Making a quick tour of the house, he opened closet doors and checked drawers, still holding the towel against his wound.
“I didn’t see him carrying anything, but he pushed me down, and I never got a good look.”
Neal turned his attention to me. “Oh, Zoe, I’m sorry. I’ve been inconsiderate. Are you all right? Did he hurt you?”
“Only my dignity and an impending bruise on my damn fine ass.”
Neal smiled and patted my butt.
“Nothing like being pushed to the ground to make you realize what an easy mark you are,” I said. “Makes me sorry I quit Tae Kwon Do.”
“I’d rather suffer a concussion than let anything happen to you.” He wrapped his free arm around me and rubbed my back. “Do you mind if we don’t take that swim?”
“Are you kidding? Of course I don’t mind. Now, you’re sure you don’t want to report this to the police and have your head checked by a doctor?”
“Yes, I’m sure. It doesn’t look like anything’s been stolen, so I’d rather not make a big deal of it. Besides, I couldn’t give them any better description than you. Let’s forget it. Next time, I’ll be more careful. I’m sure this was a one-time fluke. Now that he knows nothing’s here, he won’t be back.”
“Your decision.” We straightened the furniture and picked up the loose papers on the floor. “What a mess.” I glanced at Neal holding the towel to his head. “How’s that cut?”
“I’ll be fine.” He pulled the makeshift bandage away. “See, it’s already stopped bleeding.”
“You should sit down for a while. I’ll finish straightening up.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’ll take care of it later. Now, how about a drink? This time it’s medicinal.”
“I hate medicine, but I’ll force myself. One drink, then I’d better go and let you rest.”
“The best laid plans of mice and men, huh?” Neal said.
I kept to my usual routine of writing in the mornings but veered off course during the next two afternoons. The veering involved Neal Trainor and hands-on research into the art of erotica.
For a book, of course, knowing full well I was fooling myself. When the rare twinges of guilt surfaced about my immoral behavior, I ignored them in favor of the exhilaration I felt from Neal’s lovemaking. After all, David and I lived apart, separated. The only thing we weren’t was divorced.
My lover didn’t fall into any ordinary category. He was highly intelligent, engaging in conversations ranging from current events to literature, music, and especially art, imparting little-known facts about artists of every period. I listened, enthralled, adding bits and pieces from my own considerable reservoir of information. More importantly, he knew how to treat a woman, and I was definitely treatable, like a case of flu responding to the best medicine money can buy. I basked in his lavish attention and returned it with the same enthusiasm.
We sat naked on the living room rug, a sudden late-afternoon thunderstorm darkening the room to dusk. Lightning zigzagged across the expanse of sky, creating an eerie flicker of illumination. Neal moved into position and entered me as a clap of thunder crashed overhead in concert with my pounding heart.
After, I kissed him, long and hard. “I’ve just decided I love storms.”
“Thunder and lightning. Apropos, isn’t it?”
To prove his point, our long afternoon of lovemaking followed the range of the storm, from its intensity of passion to the gentle mist that glazed our bodies as we lay stretched across the bed, spent. My foot ran the length of Neal’s muscled leg, while he caressed me with a delicate touch, sending pulses of electricity through every part of my body. I equated those with heat lightning.
Centering his dark eyes on me, he said, “Zoe, I have some work to do tonight. I’m so far behind on my dissertation that if I don’t get going I’ll lose my train of thought. Lately, that train has been on your track, and I’m afraid I’m going to have to pull the switch, at least for one evening, or I’ll wreck. What do you say we take a break and pick this up over breakfast?”
My first reaction was that he was getting bored with me, but I tucked away the familiar flicker of insecurity, because what we’d shared together could never be considered boring. “Perfect. I’ve slacked off myself.” I kissed him. “You’re quite the distraction. Come over in the morning. I’ll make a quiche and we can go for a walk…or whatever.” My tone held the promise of whatever. “I mean, you are a quiche man, aren’t you?”
“You mean am I a real man?” He put his hands behind me, pulled me close, and kissed my neck. “I’ll leave the answer to you.”
The kiss shimmied down my spine. I gathered my wits to stay focused.
Neal lingered, his lips near my ear. “Hmm, where was I?” Moving back, he said, “Oh yes, breakfast. Tomorrow at ten, then back to work in the afternoon for both of us. But tomorrow night is mine.”
I leaned over and returned the kiss. “How’s that?”
“Perfect,” he said. “I’ll make dinner. I’m an excellent cook.”
Food? Who cares about food? “Is there anything you’re not good at?”
“I can’t sing worth a damn.”
“You certainly make beautiful music with me,” I said.
Another clap of thunder mirrored the one that rumbled inside me.
* * * * *
I worked most of the evening, but the exhilarating afternoon I’d spent with Neal kept intruding on my concentration. The next morning arrived along with anticipation of what the day would bring. I showered and dressed in time to hear Neal bound up the stairs at exactly ten. He wore a shirt and sweater and carried an expensive-looking leather jacket, which he hung in the coat closet.
“Is it cold?”
“Not really, but the weather report says the temp is going down later.” He locked me in an embrace and planted a serious kiss on my lips. “I like being prepared for everything.”
“You must have been a Boy Scout.”
Neal chuckled. “I’ve been a lot of things, but Boy Scout isn’t one of them.”
Within minutes, we lay entangled on the sofa, making love.
“This is the best breakfast I’ve had in a long time,” Neal murmured between kisses.
“Better than quiche?”
I sniffed the air. What was that― “Oh my God. The quiche. It’s still in the oven.” I leapt off the sofa, grabbed the potholder, and snatched the quiche from the oven not a minute too soon. “Disaster avoided.”
Neal ate the bacon, spinach, and mushroom quiche like a ravenous sailor. When we finished, only a tiny slice of pie remained, which disappeared chunk by chunk while we talked.
“Now I’ve got to walk this off,” Neal said. “How about you? Not that a few slices of quiche will spoil that beautiful figure.”
“You know just what to say, but walking is what keeps me in shape. So let’s go.” I tested the weather on the balcony. “It’s beautiful out. Shirt and sweater weather.”
But when we got onto the beach, the wind off the ocean pierced through my clothes like icy fingers. Neal’s cheeks colored into candied apples on his tanned skin.
“It didn’t seem this cold on the balcony,” I said. “We should have worn jackets.”
“Do you want to turn back and get your coat?”
I rubbed my arms. “Naw, let’s keep walking. That’ll warm us up.”
We reached the pier and turned around, all the while in deep conversation, this time about politics, which we agreed on. I hated when we got to his cutoff. He pulled my sweater more tightly around my chest and pecked my forehead.
“Tonight. Seven-thirty. Steaks on the grill.”
“I’ll be there.”
While walking back to the condo, I wondered how many neighbors had taken note of my new companion. Fortunately, my best friends from home and next-door neighbors in Cherry Grove, Sam and Wanda Early, were on a month-long cruise down the Rhine. I hadn’t met many people here, except some merchants and other condo owners who spent an occasional weekend and attended the yearly association meetings. With my luck, some busybody would mention my dalliance with the stranger to David. Doing my best Scarlett O’Hara impression, I told myself I’d worry about the repercussions tomorrow. Anyway, Neal would stay through his sabbatical and be gone. The realization sent a wave of disappointment rippling through me, but it was also mental preparation for when the time came.
I worked the rest of the afternoon, using my newfound passion to fuel a romantic scene. At six, anticipation bubbling inside me, I showered, dabbed a little perfume in certain places, dressed in my warmest jogging suit, and left at seven-fifteen for the walk to Neal’s, my heartbeat revving up for the moment when he opened the door.
This time when I climbed the stairs to his deck, the door was wide open. “Neal?”
Afraid the hooded intruder had returned to finish whatever he had started, I experienced a moment of trepidation. Cautiously, I stepped inside and called Neal’s name again. Again, silence. The house was dark. Not even a lamp had been turned on. My heart pounded, skin prickled.
Then I saw him.
Neal lay in almost the same place as yesterday, only on his back. A gun lay slack in his hand and blood from a bullet hole to his chest had settled into a large stain under his body. A trail of blood dripped from the corner of his mouth down his jaw, while his open eyes stared blankly at me. Instinctively, I knelt down to touch his inner wrist, recoiling at the cool marble sensation of his skin. I didn’t have to be a medical examiner to conclude he was dead. Stone cold dead.
“No,” I whispered, looking at the macabre tableau before me and remembering the vibrant man who had warmed my bed that morning. “This can’t be happening.” My stomach did an ugly twist, and I thought I might be sick.
Shaky, I stood up, unsure of what to do, until my knees gave way and I stumbled to a chair. Deep breaths, Zoe. Uncontrollable tremors possessed my body like an evil spirit. I’d never seen a dead person, not even at a visitation. I’d paid my respects to the living, always declining to join the procession of gawkers saying their goodbyes to the inanimate presence confined in its eternal prison.
I had no choice but to call the police, even though that meant exposure. If I didn’t call, they’d be calling me. Surely, as Neal mentioned, people had noticed us together the last few days, walking on the beach. Married woman, single man. That’s if he was single. How much did I really know about my perfect man other than what he’d told me?
Without touching anything, I stepped onto the landing, extracted my cell phone from my pocket, and, brushing the tears from my cheeks, punched 911.
Neal’s house teemed with police and medical personnel. I sat on the back deck and watched the surreal scenario through the glass doors in a state of shock. A tech took my fingerprints and checked my hands for gunshot residue. Inside, a pathologist knelt by the body while a crime scene unit dusted for prints.
“You say you walked here from 63rd Avenue?”
The raspy voice broke through my daze. “Huh? Oh, yes, from 63rd.”
“Did you see anyone before you got to the house, anyone at all?”
The cop questioning me looked nothing like the ones in my books. No strong, muscled arms and tight buns. No Greek god for the heroine to fall in love with. This man couldn’t have been more ordinary. Unkempt and stoop-shouldered, carrying too many Krispy Kremes around his middle, he wore a boring brown suit and tie that made him look more like a plumber dressed for jury duty than a policeman.
My words sounded flat and robotic. I couldn’t help it. “An older couple walking a dog and another couple in a golf cart.” I told him about the hooded intruder from the other day.
“What was your relationship with the deceased?”
“We met on the beach and had a drink together.” The cop’s blank expression waited for clarification. “Casual, in case you’re presuming otherwise.” Of course he is. I wouldn’t believe what I said even if I didn’t know I was lying.
“Did he share the house with anyone?”
I forced my gaze from the body. “He said he was alone, working on his PhD dissertation. We hadn’t gotten much further than that, Detective.”
“Sorry. You look like one of the detectives on an old TV show. I can’t recall which one.”
A mischievous twinkle appeared in the cop’s hangdog eyes. “Must be that Magnum guy, what’s his name, Selleck?”
I’d pictured someone more in the line of Columbo but appreciated the man’s attempt to lighten my mood. It didn’t help. “Absolutely. Yes, sir, that’s who it is.”
He questioned me some more, and I answered, avoiding anything that referred to my physical relationship with Neal. “Look, Sergeant, may I go now? I’ve told you everything I know. This has been very upsetting. It’s not every day I find a dead body.”
He answered a question from one of the officers and returned his attention to me. “The officer got your name and telephone number, didn’t he?”
He flicked the side of his nose, a motion to make what followed seem less threatening. “Oh, and don’t leave town. I might have some other questions.”
In spite of the grim situation, I laughed at the cliché request. “I’d’ve bet you were going to say that. All the cops in my books say the same thing.” Cliché, huh? I’d better yank those words from in between the quotation marks.
“You a writer, ma’am?”
“Um, yes. I told that to the young officer.”
“Don’t do much reading other than police reports. My wife’s a big reader―romance novels. Not my cup of tea, but you know how women are.”
I dredged up my best feminist scowl, which he ignored.
“What did you say your name was? I don’t remember offhand.” He opened his notebook and extracted a pen from the inside of his jacket. “Maybe she’s heard of you.”
Oh, why did I mention the word writer? “Zoe Swan. S W A N.” I started for the door, positive my name would mean nothing. His mouth dropped open, and I saw a glint of gold in his back teeth.
“You’re kidding. My wife’s read all your books.”
A fan moment. I don’t believe it. “All two of them?”
“Yeah, she made a big deal about how much she liked the first one. Liked the second one, too. Racy, she said.” The sergeant tilted his head and adopted one of those aw, shucks attitudes. “Hey, I’ve had this idea for a book for years. A real doozy. Based on one of my cases. It’s about―”
“If you don’t mind, Sergeant, I’d really like to go home. I’m a bit shook up. You can tell me your idea some other time, but right now, I can’t concentrate.”
He shuffled his feet, and I pictured a two-hundred-pound Huck Finn. The only thing missing was a piece of straw dangling from between his lips.
“Sure, sure,” he said. “Darn inconsiderate of me. Some other time.” He fumbled in his breast pocket and handed me a card. “If you remember anything else, call. Anytime. When all this settles down, maybe you can come over to our house for dinner. The missus would sure love to meet you.”
“Maybe. Thanks.” I peered at the card. “Sergeant Tedder.”
“Hold on. I’ll get this young officer to give you a lift home. It’s dark out and seems there’s a killer on the loose. I’d do it myself, but I’ve got a few things to do here.”
“If you don’t mind, I’d appreciate it.”
Two EMTs rolled the gurney from the house and lifted it down the stairs and into an ambulance. I moved around the side of the house on the wraparound deck and watched as they drove away. A large lump formed in my throat. Neal Trainor had been so vibrant in life, and now―I’d hold back the tears until I got home, if I could.
Tedder came out of the house, followed by a young uniformed cop. “Officer McDuff will see you home.”
“Thank you, Sergeant.”
I turned to leave but heard Tedder’s voice from behind. “Oh, one more thing.”
From Huck Finn to Columbo in four words. “Yes, Sergeant?”
“Did I mention not to leave town?”
“Yes, you did. Did I mention that you can’t actually hold me to that unless you charge me with a crime?”
A slow smile twisted Tedder’s lips. “Ah, mystery writers. You people know all the angles.”
“We should if we want to get the facts right. But don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere right now.” The sergeant did remind me of Columbo, the cop everyone had a hard time taking seriously. Until he nailed the bad guy’s ass to the wall.
I left Neal’s house under the watchful eye of the baby-faced cop. Did the good sergeant believe a word I’d uttered? Should I have told him the truth? My DNA would be all over Neal Trainor’s house, probably all over Neal Trainor. Within hours the police would find out we’d enjoyed more than a friendly relationship, and I’d be branded a liar. I considered making the cop turn around and confessing everything, but something kept me from doing it. I needed time to think. I was in enough trouble.
“Can I walk you to the door, ma’am?” McDuff asked.
“I’ll be fine,” I said. “Thanks for the ride.”