Excerpt from The Only Good Yankee

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Chapter One

There wasn’t much to begin with in Mirabeau, so I was awful surprised when someone started blowing up parts of town.  I mean, we did need a little excitement – but no one in his right mind thought explosives were required.

The first local landmark to go was Fred Boolfors’s toolshed.  Early one Monday morning it popped open like a jack-in-the-box on fire – spewing trash, back issues of Playboy, and Fred’s unparalleled collection of borrowed lawn-care tools fifty feet in the air.  No one was hurt, but I think his immediate neighbors were pissed that their trimmers were returned in small pieces.

The police were investigating the remains of Fred’s shed when Pepper Tepper’s doghouse got blown sky-high.  I should explain that no one here calls Pepper by her full name except her owner, Clyda Tepper.  Pepper’s the most spoiled, orneriest French poodle you can imagine.  No wonder the French are so rude with dogs like that around.

Pepper is Clyda’s pride and joy – and that woman has spent unholy amounts of money to make that canine look as stupid as possible.  It’s fortunate Clyda never had children.  God only knows how she would have sent them dressed to school.  Probably adorned with giant bows on their heads and asses.  Clyda also spared no expense on Pepper’s doghouse.  It was a miniature version of a French château, complete with wood trim, a slate roof, and a little tiny flagpole with French and Texan flags.  Rumor had it that Clyda had installed a little stereo system to play “La Marseillaise” when Pepper entered.

Anyhow, about three days after Fred’s toolshed kissed the sky, so did Pepper’s château.  Fortunately Pepper was off at Le Pooch Salon in Bavary getting her nails clipped.  She was undoubtedly put out at having to sleep in a common dog bed.  Clyda was sure Pepper was the target of some anticanine campaign and claimed to see poodle-hating Iraqis lurking around every corner.

At that point, with two pipe-bomb explosions in town, people began to get a mite nervous, myself among them.  My name is Jordan Poteet and I run the library in Mirabeau.  I found myself checking if anyone had borrowed books on explosives or if any returned tomes featured wires sticking out of them with attached timers.  (The answer was no.)  I wondered if someone bore long-buried hatred for Clyda (or Pepper) Tepper or Fred Boolfors.  I didn’t wonder long.

I’d spend the night at my girlfriend Candace’s house and I wasn’t quite over the guilt.  I don’t feel contrition about spending time with Candace; her company is pure pleasure.  But I felt guilty about not pulling my weight at home by staying out all night.  See, I came back to Mirabeau several months ago to help take care of my mother.  She’s dying a slow death from Alzheimer’s.  I’d given up a good career in textbook publishing in the faraway land of Boston to come home to this little river town halfway between Austin and Houston.  My sister Arlene (who I just always call Sister) and I split duties on taking care of Mama.  Fortunately, we’d had the recent help of an in-home nurse, so Sister had been able to go off the night shift at the truck stop she cooked at and enjoy a more normal life.  But whenever I was away from the house, and not at work, I felt like a shirker.  Even when I was lying in Candace’s arms.

It was a beautiful Thursday morning, with early-summer light beginning to stream through the louvered shades in Candace’s bedroom.  The first rays fell across my eyes and woke me gently.  I could pick out the details of the room:  her white frilly lamp shade, the clump of friends’ pictures on the wall (I was glad it wasn’t Kodachromes of her parents staring down at us on the sweaty sheets), and delicately flowered blue-and-yellow wallpaper, the comforter that we’d crumpled in the night.  Men won’t admit it, but they love sleeping in a woman’s room.  There’s an indefinable feeling of lying on a lady’s sheet, resting on a lady’s pillow, even breathing the air a lady breathes when she’s in her private place.  I rolled against Candace, buried my face in her sweet-smelling brown hair, and began to nibble at her ear.

She gave up playing possum.  “I never should have let your long legs in this bed,” she said, pushing me away playfully.  Since she’s barely five feet two and I’m a whole foot taller, she can’t push me too far.

“It’s not my long legs you should by worrying about,” I said innocently.

“Hmmm.  Is that so?”  She kissed me and it turned into one of those five-minute, ignore-the-morning-breath affairs, full of heat and groans and raw-edged laughter deep in the throat.  Our relationship was new enough, I told myself, that this fervor made sense.  I kept waiting for the boredom to set in.  Except for one other relationship, monotony had always entered the picture, but it hadn’t yet with Candace.  That worried me no end.  This could be love.  I thought of saying just that to Candace, but the words caught hard in my throat and instead I kissed her.  I’m a show-er, not a tell-er.

I broke the kiss and smiled down at her.  “I probably should get over to the house and check on Sister and –”  I started, but didn’t get to finish.

“I don’t want to hear about your duties right this minute, Jordy.  You have your own duty, right there.”  She was right – I was standing at attention, so to speak.

“I know, honey, but –”

“No buts.  Look, y’all have that nurse now, so quit worrying so much.  You and Arlene are getting a break.  Now you can enjoy it, can’t you?”

I shrugged, leaning back on the pillow.  “I’m trying.  But it’s not easy, even with all this generosity coming from Bob Don.”

Candace rolled over in disgust.  “I’ve always counted patience as one of my few virtues, Jordy, but you have just about exhausted mine with Bob Don Goertz.”

I’d learned a lot since I came home.  I’d learned just how exhausting it was to be a caretaker.  I’d learned being a librarian was a tough job that was underappreciated.  And I’d learned my daddy wasn’t my daddy.  Two months ago I’d landed in the middle of a murder investigation where I found myself a suspect, along with Bob Don Goertz, Mirabeau’s reigning car-and-truck czar.  One of the unpleasant secrets that had come out during that investigation was my mother’s long-ago (hell, not that long ago, I’m only thirty-two) affair with Bob Don when she and Lloyd Poteet were briefly separated.  I was the product of that affair, and Lloyd (who I thought was my daddy) raised me with kindness and love and never let me know.  Since Lloyd had died several years ago, Bob Don had been aching to be a father to me.  Now Bob Don was trying to make up for three decades in two months.  He’d nearly killed me with kindness.  Part of his help was hiring the nurse to take care of Mama so Sister and I could pretend we had normal lives.  Candace had been a pillar during that tough time, but I think she was sick and tired of hearing about Bob Don.

She spoke from beneath her pillow.  “Now what has he done?”

“He insisted on giving me some land.  Several acres down by the river.”  Mirabeau sits on a curve of the Colorado River, pretty and lush and verdant.  The river winds through the gently rolling hills and the stately loblolly pines that encircle Mirabeau and never fail to surprise folks who think Texas is one big desert.  The eastern half of central Texas is like a garden that God made just for us fortunate few that call places like Mirabeau and Smithville and La Grange home.

A blue eye peered at me from under the pillow.  “And him giving you land is a problem?”

“I feel funny about it.  I never owned land before.  What do I do with it?”

“Well, I own plenty and it’s no shame.”  Candace’s folks are the biggest bankers in Bonaparte County.  She works with me at the library on a part-time basis and fills the rest of her time with volunteer work.  The small salaries that annoy librarians are of little worry to Candace.  “What you do with land is simple.  You keep it and let its value climb until someone wants to buy.  Then you sell it and make a little money off of it.”  Having completed her introductory lecture in Candonomics, she threw the pillow at me as I sat up and I caught it.  “Does your guilt about not being a Poteet know any bounds?”

“I haven’t changed my name yet and I don’t intend to,” I answered with dignity.  Jordan Poteet was hardly melodious, but Jordan Goertz?  It sounded like a Danish laxative.

“Well, sugar, if you’re not coming back to bed, go get the paper and scandalize the neighbors.”  Her smile was warm and inviting.  Damn her for complicating my life more.  She was smart, funny, and – with her blue eyes, thick brown hair, and pert nose – gorgeous.  Well, if she was a complication, let my life stay forever difficult.

I leaned down and kissed her rosebud mouth.  “How about I go get the paper, come back in here, open the shades, and then we scandalize the neighbors?”

“Mmmm.  Maybe we’ll make the society page.”

I stumbled over to where I’d shed my clothes last night and kicked into a pair of jeans.  Out of consideration to the blue-haired moral vigilantes of Candace’s neighborhood, I pulled on a shirt.  I brushed my blond hair out of my eyes and opened the door.

The morning sky was hazy with summer clouds and the promise of later heat and humidity.  Birds sang in the trees, obviously early and already gorged with breakfast worms.  A gentle breeze stirred against me as I walked barefoot across the dewy grass.  I savored the early coolness – it wouldn’t last long on a July day.

I saw the curtain in the house across the street dance back slightly, then settle.  Miss Twyla Oudelle undoubtedly had me in her binoculars as I made an immoral spectacle of myself, appearing on Candace’s lawn, fresh from a night of unblessed debauchery.  Miss Twyla was basically harmless and sweet, but she’d been one of my science teachers in high school and I felt a little self-conscious with her watching me on my girlfriend’s lawn.  I bent to get the paper, wondering if I should turn and wiggle my butt at Miss Twyla.  It was just then that the first mailbox exploded.

Across the street and two houses down, a half-oval white mailbox burst open like a flower of dynamite.  I jumped up, stunned, staring at the wooden stump where the mailbox had been.  The percussive noise rang in my ears.

I’ll never admit to having catlike reflexes, and I was so surprised I didn’t move.  I just gaped at the chunks of hot metal that were now in the street.  I hadn’t had the requisite five seconds to find my voice when the neighboring mailbox, this one in Miss Twyla’s yard and right across the street from me, detonated.  Miss Twyla was fond of country décor and she’d mounted her olive-green mailbox on an antique metal milk tank.  The cylindrical urn blew apart like a rocket running into the ground.  I’d halfway turned when I felt a hot pain in my arm and I fell to the ground.

I heard but didn’t see the next two explode.  Pain shot through my arm and I felt Candace’s hands on me, her voice screaming in my ear.  She pulled me inside right before her own mailbox erupted and peppered her front door with shrapnel.

* * * * *

I’d suffered enough.  Not from the pain in my shoulder or arm, although I’d been hit by flying pieces of Miss Twyla’s milk urn.  My suffering was Candace smothering me with the pillow of overworry.

I’d been rushed to the Mirabeau hospital, where I was pronounced damned lucky.  The shrapnel that hit my arm tore no muscle and severed no artery.  The wound was explored and cleaned.  Candace had wrenched my arm pulling me into the house, so I was awfully sore from my wrist to my shoulder.  When I woke up, my arm was bandaged and slinged and Candace was holding my hand.  It didn’t take long for the police and the reporters to show up.  I had been the only person outside at the time and consequently was the only casualty and witness, making me the hub of inquiry.  The attending physician made me stay an extra day to be sure I wasn’t in shock.

When I got out of the hospital, I wanted to see the mess that was in Blossom Street.  Candace walked with me, holding my hand as we surveyed the shattered stumps.  Six mailboxes had exploded in their weird dance, one right after another.   Candace’s fingers trembled against mine.

“God, sweetheart, I think of what could have happened to you…” she said, and I squeezed her fingers.  I didn’t want to contemplate that myself.  I felt luckier than the guy who falls into the outhouse and finds a gold mine.  I poked a sneakered foot at the remains of Candace’s mailbox.

“Hell, now I won’t know where I’m going to have my dirty magazines sent.”  I pretended to pout.

She laughed, nervously, and caught herself in time from giving my arm a playful punch.

“Jordy, dear, I’m so relieved you’re all right.”  Miss Twyla’s booming alto nearly made me jump.  Miss Twyla herself had toddled up behind Candace.  She was still a large woman at seventy, tall and full-figured, with her heavy plait of gray hair pulled back into a long ponytail.  No other elderly lady in Mirabeau wore her hair like that and I always thought it looked great on Miss Twyla.

Miss Twyla hugged me hard and I embraced her back as best I could.  Stepping back, she turned her chocolate-brown eyes on me and set her big hands on her broad hips.  In her trademark khaki skirt and white button-down shirt she looked as formidable as she’d been when you screwed up your lab assignments.  “Jordy, I cannot tell you how upset I am that my mailbox injured you.  I just feel terrible.”

“Good God, Miss Twyla, that’s not your fault.  We obviously have some lunatic running around town.”  I tend to gesture when I talk, and when I forgot, motioning with my hurt arm, I winced.  Miss Twyla frowned in sympathy.  Maybe I’d get some of her famous pecan-spice cookies out of this.

“First a toolshed, then a doghouse, now mailboxes.”  Candace shook her head.  “I don’t get this a t all.  What’s the point?”

“Maybe we just have an unambitious terrorist in our midst,” Miss Twyla conjectured.

“Or he’s working up to something bigger.”  The implication of that comment hung in the air.  Candace squirmed and Miss Twyla frowned again.

One of Mirabeau’s police cruisers pulled up slowly in front of us, driven my Junebug Moncrief, our resident chief of police.  Junebug and I grew up together in Mirabeau and had been close as children.  We’d drifted apart as teenagers, and there had been an old competitive tension between us when I’d returned to town.  After all the hoopla over that murder in the library a couple of months ago (where Junebug had thoughtfully not arrested me although I’d been the prime suspect), our friendship had started up again, albeit a little uneasily.

“Hey, Jordy.”  He nodded to me in his unhurried drawl.  “How are you feeling today?”  He adjusted his eyeglasses to the light, looking every inch a small-town officer with his immaculately pressed uniform, his brown burr of hair, and his weathered Stetson.  His face was a well-crafted one, strong with character, and one that people trusted.

“Fine, thank you.  So what was it?  Dynamite?  Tomahawk missile?  Nuclear detonator?”

Junebug cleared his throat, as unrushed as ever.  “Well, the lady from the Austin Bomb Squad is gonna come back out and take a gander.  Looks like blasting caps with an attached timer and battery.  It left lots of fragments for the folks a the Austin Bomb Squad to analyze.”

I swallowed.  I’d heard that blasting caps – usually used to set off dynamite charges – had been found in the rubble from Fred’s toolshed and the château de Tepper, along with the remains of an eight-inch pipe bomb.  My spine felt a cold tickle, like a ghost’s nip.

Although I’d already given Junebug a statement, he asked me to retrace my steps of that morning – where I was on the lawn, what I saw.  I told him, omitting only that I’d seen Miss Twyla spying on me in the yard.  No need to embarrass my favorite teacher.  Junebug jotted down more notes after I’d finished, then asked me if I’d seen anyone near the mailboxes.  I said no.

“Now, look here, Junebug,” Candace intoned, “this has gone far enough.  Jordy could have been killed.  Just what are you going to do about this?”

Junebug began his monotonous answer, which was what I’d already read in our local paper, and I tuned out.  I wanted a Tylenol and a cup of coffee.  Then I’d go to the library.  Surely that would make for a Safety First day.  Wrong.

* * * *

You don’t want former lovers to come calling.   It’s as awkward and messy as trying to change your oil with two left thumbs.  And you especially don’t want an old lover showing up at work.   Not when your current paramour is there to make the scene complete.

I was in my office, planning the attack to weed rarely used books off our stacks.  We have to go through this agony at least once each year, determining from our records which volumes have gathered the most dust and sparked the least interest.  We sell them to dealers, hoping to make a little money back so we can buy more books.  Lord knows our regular book-buying budget isn’t growing much.

I heard giggles out on the floor from my two newest staffers, Itasca Huebler and Florence Pettus.  I didn’t doubt that some interesting town gossip was being told; I believe Itasca has a satellite dish implanted in her beehive.  Itasca’s in her forties, a funny, big-boned lady with a kind, rosy face and a barbed tongue to rival my own.  Florence is closer to my age, a mother of two, who somehow finds it hard to believe ill of anyone.  She’d grown up poor and black in Mirabeau, odds that didn’t favor success.  She ended up married to Joe Pettus, owner of a big carpet store over in Bavary.  Florence worked at the library because she liked the people, the children, the smell of the books; Itasca was a tad more practical, having already outlived and outspent two husbands.  I was grateful to them both; there’d been no full-time staff when I took over as chief librarian and both women had learned quickly and worked hard.

I listed to the laughter crescendo then abruptly cut off.  No doubt Itasca was flinging the latest mud and Florence, too embarrassed to tell her to stop, had just murmured her standard line about getting back to work.  Florence appeared at my door, apparently barely able to keep the laughter in.

“Oh, Jordy, you have a visitor.  Out at the checkout counter.”

“Who?”  I asked.

“She didn’t say.”  Florence murmured.

Great.  Another book salesperson, no doubt, ready to pitch the latest best-seller that no small rural library could do without.  I put on a smile and sauntered out – and saw Lorna Wiercinski perched on the checkout counter.  The shock value of seeing Lorna was roughly akin to seeing Jesus sitting there with a HI, I’M BACK button.  I confess that my jaw moved up and down without any sound emerging.  I’m sure Lorna appreciated that up-close view of my molars.

“I’ve got something that’s overdue, Tex,” Lorna rumbled in her thick Boston accent.  And yes, rumbled is the right word.  Lorna’s a big girl, nearly six foot, with long alabaster legs, a broad Slavic face, deep-set gray eyes, an admirable bosom (if size matters to you), and a stunning mane of jet-black hair.  Dressed in a miniskirted business suit with black pumps that made her as tall as me, she would have gathered a crowd, not merely stuck out in one.  She leaned back on the counter and fluttered her eyelashes.  “I do declare,” she intoned in an awful pseudo-Southern accent.  “That boy’s got the vapors.”

After a long, arduous search, I found my voice.

“Lorna?  Oh, my God –” I was always one for witty banter.

She smiled, a rich, luxurious smile I’d seen many times before.  It was her patented cat-who-ate-the-canary-and-the-fish grin, full of self-satisfaction at her own cleverness.

“It’s good to see you, too, Jordan.”  She crossed her legs and leaned forward.  “Still breathing, Tex?  Keep those involuntary responses going, babe.  And what the hell happened to your arm?”  I told myself:  Okay, she’s here.  Just deal with it.

I stepped up and hugged her awkwardly, keeping my slinged arm close by me.  I don’t believe in just shaking hands with someone you’ve slept with (albeit in the past) for three years.  She hugged back, a little too warmly for my taste.  When I pulled my head back, she planted a kiss right on my mouth.  A friendly peck, I could have dealt with; Lorna’s hello kiss melted toenails.  My eyes popped wide and I saw a grinning Itasca and a frowning Florence.

Which of course, following today’s theme of “Keep Jordy in Trouble,” was when Candace returned from reshelving the stacks.  To her credit, she didn’t scream or rage or faint.  Oh, no.  What she did was far worse.  She was icy calm and polite.

I broke the embrace and tried to think of a well-mannered way to wipe the kiss off my mouth and not insult Lorna.  I instead sucked my offending lips into my mouth, thinking that hiding them from view might lessen my culpability.  I looked instead like an old man who’d had his dentures yanked right from his gums.

“Candace, hi!”  I said brightly.  She smiled her chilliest smile, the one reserved for people who made a snotty comment about someone she liked.  I stumbled onward, feeling totally uncool:  “This is an old friend from Boston, Lorna Wiercinski.  Lorna this is Candace Tully – um, my girlfriend.”  I gestured feebly toward Candace.

No one could have ever deduced my taste in women from looking at these two.  Lorna was tall, where Candace was petite.  Lorna was dressed like a business-woman in heat, à la the heroine of some Jackie Collins miniseries.  Candace looked like she’d tiptoed out of Laura Ashley University with a bachelor’s in Prim.  Lorna was smiling, Candace was not.  If I’d had one ounce of sense I would have kept talking, but I was a little too rattled by Lorna’s unexpected appearance.

“Candy.  How nice to meet you.”  Lorna offered a hand.

Candace smiled and took Lorna’s hand.  She looked ready to keep it in a jar.  “It’s Candace, Ms. Weirdchintzy.  And how nice to meet you.”

Lorna ignored the mispronunciation jab.  After all, Candace had nearly gotten her name right.

“You’ll have to forgive me, I’ve taken Jordan quite by surprise.  He certainly wasn’t expecting to see me.  I’ve just arrived from Boston.”

“Since he’s never mentioned you” – a glare went Jordyward – “I’m not surprised.  How nice of you to visit.  And what brings you here?”  Candace asked.  I was awful interested in that question myself.  So were Itasca and Florence, who edged closer.

“I stopped by to donate some books,” Lorna said innocently, handing me a plastic bag.  I regarded it with suspicion.  She’d always been one for yanking my chain.  Peering inside, I saw that Lorna felt that the Mirabeau Public Library was missing some key volumes:  The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty (one of my personal favorites), The Tourist’s Guide to New England, and – oh, boy! – the Kama Sutra.  Now, would that go under sports or biology?

“Two of those might be for you, Jordan.  Can you guess which ones?”  Lorna smiled.

Since I already owned a well-worn copy of the Welty, it wasn’t a hard guess.

Itasca made a snatch at the bag.  “Shall I catalog those for you?”

I yanked them back, somehow keeping my smile in place.  “I’ll do that later, thanks, Itasca.”  Candace crossed her arms and one eyebrow went up questioningly.

“I have a proposition for you, Jordan.”  Lorna beamed and the air temperature continued its downward slide.  I’d never thought of Candace as possessive before, but I knew her well enough to sense the seething under her calm exterior.  Like I said before, Candace is plenty smart.  For an old girlfriend to show up, all the way from New England – I took a deep breath.

“Do you now?”  Candace asked.  I drew closer to Candace to show my allegiance.  She leaned (unthinkingly, I’m sure) against my hurt arm.  I winced, but let her stay.

Lorna pulled herself down from the counter.  “Yes, Candy, a business proposition.”  She blinked as though shocked at the thought that she could have any other suggestions for me.  “I’d like to discuss it this evening with you, Jordan – say, over dinner.  Nothing wrong with mixing business with pleasure.”

“Gosh, Lorna, you’ve kind of popped up from nowhere and taken me by surprise.”  I wanted to convince Candace that I hadn’t been expecting Lorna.  “Can’t you tell me what this is about?”

Lorna smiled at Candace.  “I’d prefer to discuss this privately with you, and not during your working hours.”  She glanced around the modest library.  “Not exactly like your old office, is it, Tex?”

I squirmed at the nickname; up north, it had seemed clever and given me the vaguest sense of home; now it seemed silly.  “No, it’s a real different office.  It’s better, if you ask me.”  I hesitated.  “Well, Lorna, why don’t you come to the house?  We can talk there.  Say at six?”  I jotted down the address and directions for her.

“Fine, Jordan.  It’s wonderful to see you again, by the way.  You never did say what happened to your arm.”

“I had a little accident.”   I didn’t feel like discussing Mirabeau’s mad bomber.  “It’s okay.”

“How’s your mother?” she asked unexpectedly.  Lorna had been none too pleased that I’d left Boston – and her – to come home to take care of Mama.

“About the same.”

“I’m sorry.  Well, I’ll see you at six.  Nice meeting you, Candy.”  With that, she turned, nodded at Florence and Itasca, and sauntered out the door, like a hurricane moving in from the coast.  The only difference was that hurricanes are indifferent to the destruction and chaos they cause.

I turned to Candace.  “Now listen to me –”

“Candy!  How dare she call me that, after I told her what my name was.  I’m no confection.”  Her voice was low and cool and anything but sweet.

“I’m sorry you saw her kiss me.  She took me by surprise –”

“How stupid do you think I am, Jordy?  Of course she took you by surprise.  That was all over your face and I could read it like a book.  Or in this case, a comic strip.”

Itasca walked up to me and, very thoughtfully, wiped lipstick off my mouth with a crumpled tissue.  She is always one for attention to detail, even at the worst possible times.

“I liked your friend,” she announced bluntly, shooting a glance at Candace.  I’m fond of Itasca because she’s smart and funny, but I don’t like her resentment of Candace’s money.  Itasca hadn’t been particularly supportive of my relationship with Candace.  “She’s gorgeous and she’s got style.”

“Is that what you call style, Itasca?  Her throwing herself at a man who left her months ago?”  Candace parried.  I handed over the bag of books and she peered inside.

“How transparent,” she finally said.  “Your favorite writer, a guidebook to her stomping ground, and a sex manual.  Honestly, Jordan, is this the kind of woman you dated up north?”  Note she called me Jordan.  Big trouble ahead.

“I’m sure she was just glad to see Jordy,” the generous-hearted Florence piped up.  Itasca rolled her mascara-encased eyes.

“Some people might be critical of a lady like her that takes what she wants.”  Itasca stuffed her tissue back in her purse and took the opportunity to reexamine her own makeup.  “I’m not.”

“Takes what she wants?”  Candace sputtered.  “What on earth makes you think she’s going to get Jordy back?”

Itasca closed her compact with an authoritative air.

“Jordy didn’t seem too broken up to see her, did you, honey?”

Three pairs of eyes trained on me and I felt as embarrassed as a preacher with a broken zipper.  “Look, Itasca, you’re as wrong as wrong can be.  Candace, I’m as surprised as you are to see her here.  Those books are just Lorna’s idea of a joke.  I can’t imagine that she wants me back, and I don’t know anything about her business proposal.”

Florence attempted peace.  “Well, now that she knows Jordy’s involved with someone else, I’m sure she’ll leave him alone.”

“Excuse us, please,” Candace said, taking my good arm and leading me back to my office.  She shut the door.

She crossed her arms, uncrossed them, and crossed them again.  “Just one thing.  You had no idea she was coming?”

“None.  And I don’t know what this secret business proposition is about either.  When I left Boston, Lorna worked for a consulting firm that specialized in real-estate development.  I don’t have any idea why she wants to see me.”

“She’s a good kisser, isn’t she?”  Candace demanded.

“Of course not!”  I bleated.  What did Candace want from me?  An undying pledge of commitment?  We hadn’t discussed future plans – too much had happened in those tense couple of months when we’d come together and realized our feelings for each other.  After the double punch of a murder investigation and learning about my parentage, long talks about the days ahead held little appeal.  I was concentrating too much on past lies and present woes.

“Look, I’ll see her, find out what this is all about.  If it’s just a ploy to get me back in her life, I’ll swat her on the ass and send her on her merry way.”

Her frown didn’t waver.  “C’mon, you trust me to handle her, don’t you?”  I asked.  “Whatever this is it isn’t trouble.  We’ve already had our share of that today.”

She nodded, nearly imperceptibly, then hugged me, being careful of my arm and shoulder.  After a moment she let me go and went off into the tacks.  I sank down into the front desk chair.  My body and mind felt stunned – except for my lips, which tingled from Lorna’s kiss.  No trouble, I told myself, is going to come of this.

Of course, I was dead wrong.  It was trouble, and in the worst way.

© Jeff Abbott

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