Murder Most Foul By Lois Cloarec Hart and C. Paradee

Murder Most Foul
By Lois Cloarec Hart and C Paradee

 

Murder most foul, as in the best it is,
But this most foul, strange, and unnatural – Hamlet: Act 1, Scene 5

 

Chapter One

 

Jaye MacLaren barely noticed the light rain dripping down the neck of her dark trench coat, as she stood motionless, staring at the gleaming mahogany of her aunt’s coffin. All the other mourners had long since departed the gravesite, but the tall, dark-haired woman had no desire to join her aunt’s numerous friends at the post-funeral reception. A husky cough disturbed her deep reverie, and she blinked her blue eyes at the man who gazed apologetically at her from across the open grave, a thick-handled spade in his hand.

“Beggin’ yer pardon, ma’am…”

He trailed off as if unable to give voice to his purpose, but Jaye understood and nodded stiffly. Unable to watch as the mounded earth was shoveled over her beloved aunt’s earthly remains, the woman turned away, her normally graceful gait absent as she plodded back to her vehicle.

Sliding behind the wheel, she closed her eyes in exhaustion. After making all the funeral arrangements by phone, Jaye had driven straight through from Toronto to Tucker’s Way, the small Maine coastal town that had been her aunt’s home for the past forty years. Arriving mere hours before the service, she hadn’t even dropped her luggage at her aunt’s cottage…her place now, she guessed, in the absence of any other living relatives except her own father. Given the cool state of affairs between her American aunt and Canadian father, she doubted that Delia Blake had left Thom MacLaren anything.

Fumbling with her keys, she turned the ignition, cursing under her breath as the old Jeep’s engine failed to catch until the third try.

“I oughta sell you for scrap, Henri.”

The threat was meaningless, but it was second nature to Jaye now. She had a longstanding love-hate relationship with the vehicle that she’d named after an ex-boyfriend who’d been all looks and no substance. More forgiving now that Henri idled steadily, she patted the dash.

“Got me here in one piece though, didn’t you? Auntie D always says…”

A lump rose in her throat and her eyes filled with the tears that were rarely far from surfacing since she had received the news that her aunt had been murdered three days previously. After spending every summer of her childhood under her aunt’s firm, but loving care, Jaye couldn’t believe she’d never again wrap her arms around the softly rounded, diminutive frame; never see her own blue eyes sparkling merrily back at her from under a messy halo of white hair; and never tease her Auntie D about the older woman’s nightly tot of black rum. That brought a smile, even as the tears rolled down her face. Delia swore that rum, always taken neat, kept the chilblains away.

“Didn’t keep the arthritis away though, did it, Auntie D?”

The anger, held at bay until now, swept through her. If not for her aunt’s worsening arthritis, the viper that had been hired to help Delia would never have been allowed into her home. Jaye quivered with fury at the thought of the young woman who had murdered Auntie D.

“Lindsay fucking Daniels…may you rot in hell for all eternity!”

Jaye slammed her hand against the steering wheel, causing the horn to blare and momentarily venting her rage. Taking a deep breath, she put the Jeep in reverse and began the trip to her aunt’s cottage.

Delia’s cottage was in fact a sprawling single story house, with grey siding and white trim, set on the edge of a bluff with a magnificent view of the turbulent Atlantic. Fifteen minutes outside of Tucker’s Way, Jaye’s aunt had owned twenty acres of prime shorefront, the object of more than one developer’s lust.

As Jaye turned off the highway and drove slowly up the long, winding, gravel entrance road, overhung with thick dripping foliage turning fall shades, she allowed herself to imagine for a moment that this was just one more of a thousand times she had come home to Auntie D’s. For a moment she let herself believe that when she rounded the last corner, she’d see her aunt’s small form standing in the doorway, waving an enthusiastic hand and welcoming her back again. Her imagination furnished the enticing scent of Auntie D’s famous homemade peanut butter cookies; and the ache of knowing that she’d never again be welcomed in her aunt’s traditional way threatened to overwhelm her.

Savagely wrenching the gears into neutral, she let the Jeep coast to a stop as her head dropped forward against the steering wheel. Long moments went by as the tears fell to her lap in concert with the rain beating on the canvas roof.

Finally the tall woman sat up, dashing away the tears. “Enough! You’ve cried enough. Now get on with it.”

Even as Jaye instructed herself firmly, she knew she was a long way from the end of her tears. Resolutely, she shifted into first gear and resumed the trip up the driveway. When her aunt’s home came into view around the last bend, she simply bit her lip and tightened her hands around the wheel. She tried not to notice the absence of smoke from the chimney and the forlorn air to the deserted house.

Parking in front, the tall woman wondered absently where her aunt’s elderly Buick was, but put it out of her mind as she unlocked the front door and pushed it open. On automatic pilot, Jaye hung her trench coat in the hall closet then carried her duffel bag to the room that had always been hers. She tossed the duffel at the chair that had traditionally stood beside the door, only to stare dumfounded as the bag hit the floor. Blinking, she gazed around the room, noting the pretty green and white bedspread with matching curtains, the new bureau, and the stuffed animals littering the bed–which most certainly weren’t hers.

A brief hurt swept through Jaye as she realized that her aunt had given her old room to the serpent, but then a morbid curiosity about the murderer took precedence and she began wandering about the large room, examining Lindsay Daniels’ possessions. There was no chance of being interrupted or rebuked since the young woman was safely incarcerated in the Tucker’s Way jail, having been charged with the murder scant hours after Delia’s death.

The tall woman ran her hand lightly over the clothes in the closet, noting absently that the caregiver favored softly tailored clothes in autumn hues. She kicked at an errant hiking boot, whose mate was half under the bed, and made her way to the light oaken bureau. A pretty blue music box sat in the center of the polished top, with delicate crystal knickknacks to the right side. A silver-framed picture sat prominently to the left side, and Jaye picked it up curiously.

Her aunt stood with an attractive, slim, blonde woman on the beach, the green and grey ocean a perfect backdrop for the two. Both women were wind-blown and laughing at the photographer. Jaye stared at the photo, entranced by the sight of her aunt’s arm snugly around the slightly taller blonde. The younger woman had her arm resting casually about Delia’s shoulders, and Jaye suddenly slammed the picture against the bureau, infuriated that the evil bitch had taken such liberties…had taken her place in her aunt’s life.

The glass had barely finished shattering and falling when Jaye heard an unmistakable clucking from behind her. Whirling, the broken frame still in hand, she stared in disbelief. Her aunt’s form stood behind her, hands planted firmly on solid hips as she shook her head disapprovingly at her niece.

“Is that any way to behave, Eeyore?”

Jaye gaped at the apparition, part of her numb brain registering the old nickname that always signaled her aunt’s displeasure, before her knees gave out and she sat down hard on the floor.

“Oh for heaven’s sake, girl, you’re going to cut yourself if you’re not careful!”

Auntie D’s gently chiding tone sounded vaguely like she was talking from the bottom of a barrel, but the voice was unmistakably the same one she’d heard on countless summer days, waking her up in the mornings and calling her in from the forest or beach in the evenings. Jaye blinked her eyes rapidly, but the preternaturally insubstantial form didn’t disappear. She surreptitiously pinched herself, wondering hazily if grief, exhaustion and lack of food had conspired to make her hallucinate. When Delia’s thick, white eyebrows lifted in amusement, she knew she wasn’t imagining it.

Jaye cleared her throat, trying to erase the embarrassing squeak that had come out on the first try. “Auntie D?”

“You were expecting maybe the Pope?” The apparition cocked her head and smiled affectionately at her niece.

“Well, I sure as hell weren’t expecting you either!” Jaye protested as she struggled to get up.

Delia pursed her lips. “No, I don’t expect you were. Didn’t suspect I’d be haunting you either, if you want the truth of it.”

Jaye managed to sit heavily on the edge of the bed, still clutching the picture.

“Um, why are you haunting me, Auntie D?” She hastened to add, “Not that I’m not glad to see you.” Unbidden tears filled her eyes again and she ducked her head. “I miss you so.”

The ghost obviously heard the mumbled sentiment, as her next words were soft and loving. “I miss you too, J-mac. Didn’t expect to be leaving this soon or I’d have insisted you drag your butt home sooner.”

“I’m sorry.” Jaye raised her head and stared at her aunt remorsefully. “I was planning to come home next month, but I shouldn’t have left it so long.” Her lean, angular features darkened. “Maybe if I’d come sooner, I could’ve stopped her from hurting you.”

“Oh pish!” Her aunt’s tone was indignant now. “Surely you don’t believe that nonsense about Lindsay murdering me. Thought you had better sense than that!”

“But…but they have her in jail for your murder. Her fingerprints were on the murder weapon and you wrote her into your will…” Jaye stopped, unable to deal with further evidence that an outsider had usurped her place in her aunt’s life.

The ghost uttered a most unladylike snort. “Oh for heaven’s sake! Like there’s never been a false arrest in the history of mankind. Lindsay didn’t even know I’d changed my will to include her. Bill Webster just jumped to the handiest conclusion. He never was the sharpest tack in the box. His daddy was the dumbest thing in a sou’wester, and young Billy didn’t fall far from the tree. I’m telling you that girl never raised a finger to me, except to help. She’s no more capable of murder than that stuffed lion you’re sitting on!”

Jaye jumped and dug the toy out from underneath her. Tossing it aside, she studied the photo in confusion. Troubled, she looked up at her aunt.

“Are you sure, Auntie D? Did you see who did do it?”

The ghost glared, but Jaye knew it wasn’t directed at her.

“Some slimy, lily-livered, scum-sucking coward, I can tell you that much! Snuck up behind me after I sent Lindsay back to the house to get the goat puppet and hit me over the head with my own hatchet. My own hatchet, for crying out loud!”

The tall woman couldn’t help a tiny grin at her aunt’s indignation. She wasn’t sure if Delia was angrier at the murder or the insult of being killed with her own possession.

Not quite sure how to broach the subject, Jaye glanced around the room, uneasily aware that her aunt’s shade wasn’t reflected in the mirror, before asking tentatively, “So you don’t know now…I mean, being where you are and all?”

“Wouldn’t be hanging around if I did, J-mac. Trouble was I didn’t die right away, so by the time my spirit was released, the culprit was long gone. Saw Lindsay come in and find me though.” The ghost shook her head sadly. “Lordy, I wish she hadn’t had to go through that. Damn near shattered her; and then to have that pinhead sheriff accuse her of the crime…more than the poor kid could handle all at once.” Translucent blue eyes focused on Jaye’s with vivid clarity. “I tried to reach her, but I couldn’t get through, so I need you to go to her for me.”

“Me?” Once again, as she struggled to deal with the abrupt switch from viewing Lindsay Daniels as her aunt’s rightly incarcerated murderer to accepting her as an innocent victim, Jaye was reminded of her aunt’s inimical ability to reduce her to the level of a recalcitrant teenager.

“Yes, you. You know I’d do this myself if I could, but you’re going to have to be my agent until we solve this murder. Lord knows you’ve seen enough crime scenes in your occupation.”

“But I only photograph them!” Jaye protested. The tall woman exhaled explosively and grimaced as she rapidly considered potential courses of action. Finally, shaking her head in exasperation, she looked up and regarded the ghost intently. “You know I’d do anything to help you.”

“I know,” Delia acknowledged affectionately, “and if anyone can do it, you can. You’ve got a terrific head on your shoulders, even if your taste in men is abysmal.” She smiled widely. “Besides, you have me on your side, so you’ll have the edge on the
low-life, snake-bellied weasel who did this.”

A reluctant grin stole over Jaye’s features. “He really pissed you off, eh?”

“Damn right! I had plans, J-mac, and they sure didn’t include departing to the great beyond for another couple of decades, I can tell you that!”

“Okay, I’m in.” Jaye nodded decisively at her aunt, who smiled triumphantly in return. “I’ll just extend my leave of absence from the department and let Ronald know I’ll be delayed getting back.”

Delia rolled her eyes. “Don’t tell me you’re still dating that imbecile?”

Jaye frowned, part of her well aware that as usual her aunt’s perception was dead-on. Ronald was a…convenience at best, but he’d lasted longer than most of the men in her life. Lamely, she argued, “He’s not that bad, Auntie. You just never gave him a chance.”

“He’s handsome all right, but he has shifty eyes. Never trust a man who won’t look you firmly in the eye when he shakes your hand,” Delia instructed firmly. “You can do way better than that, girl.”

Eager to turn the conversation away from her lackluster love life, Jaye said, “Right then, I guess the first step is to get Daniels released.” She could tell by the skeptical look that she hadn’t fooled her aunt for a moment, but Delia allowed her to get away with the switch in topics.

“Yeah. Poor kid’s in such a funk that she isn’t even eating, and believe me, I never thought I’d see that day!”

“Any suggestions for a good lawyer?”

“Go talk to her first and then ask Ed. He should be able to recommend someone.”

Jaye nodded. Ed Romero had been her aunt’s attorney for decades, but only dealt with civil matters.

“Gotta be a pretty flimsy case since I know that she didn’t do it, so it’s just a matter of picking it apart and getting her out on bail until we can track down the real murderer…the yellow swine!”

The tall woman stood, gingerly picking her way through the shards of glass from the broken frame. Catching her aunt’s disapproving eye, she promised, “I’ll clean it up when I get home, honest, Auntie.”

She exited to the sound of her aunt’s muttered, “You’d better. You’re not too old to have your backside tanned, you know.”

Rolling her eyes in amusement even as she decided it was more prudent not to ask how her aunt’s ghost would accomplish that, Jaye returned to her Jeep in a much better frame of mind than she’d left it. She had a goal, and she had her aunt on her side. Beginning the search for justice was enough to return the spring to her step and the determination to her eyes.

When Henri started on the first try, Jaye chuckled. “Well, that’s gotta be a good omen.” Shifting into first, she muttered threateningly, “I’m coming, ya bastard…wherever you are.”

Accelerating away from the house, the newly inducted detective didn’t notice the ghostly form perched comfortably on the roof of the Jeep, tipping her white head back and opening her mouth gleefully, as if catching raindrops. The apparition never even wavered as the vehicle side-slipped in the mud then regained its traction with a roar of the engine. As the Jeep disappeared into the thick woods, the shade reached playfully for passing branches, but the foliage moved only under the impact of the falling rain.
Chapter Two
Lindsay Daniels sat on the cot in the small cell, staring unseeing at the opposite wall. Her normally bright, sparkling green eyes were dull and red rimmed, her shoulders slumped as the young woman grieved deeply for her best friend. Finger-combed only, her short, shaggy blonde hair was disheveled and unkempt.

The blonde ignored the tray of food that had been shoved inside the door, knowing the guard would return for it soon. She’d proclaimed her innocence at the time of her arrest, over and over again, but her pleas had fallen on deaf ears. A tear tracked down her face, surprising Lindsay – she hadn’t thought there were any left.

She had begged the sheriff to attend Delia’s funeral that morning. More tears welled from overflowing eyes as she shuddered at the memory of hate filled eyes and an incredulous voice snarling, ‘You’ve got to be kidding! You kill her and now you want to attend her funeral?’

The young woman heard the sound of the door opening and the tray being removed, but didn’t bother looking up when the deputy spoke.

“You’re gonna starve if you don’t start eating.” The red-headed man sighed audibly and removed the tray.

Moments later, Lindsay jumped as the cell bars echoed from a hard blow. Familiar by now with the sheriff’s habit of announcing his presence with his night stick, she slowly turned her head to hear what venom was going to be directed against her this time.

Webster laughed humorlessly. “You’ve got a visitor.” Inclining his head toward a tall, dark haired woman standing next to him, he added mockingly, “Gonna try telling Jaye here you didn’t kill her aunt?” He crossed his arms, obviously eager to witness a confrontation between the murderer and Delia’s blood kin.

Briefly glancing at the beautiful woman standing expressionlessly next to the thick-bellied sheriff, Lindsay returned her gaze to the wall. She couldn’t even summon any interest at the appearance of the woman she’d secretly been fascinated with. There had been a time she had pumped her friend incessantly for details about her niece, drawn to photos and stories of Delia’s twin sister’s daughter, but that seemed a distant memory now. It was another life. One of innocence, joy and simplicity. Now Delia was dead and buried, and the town had convicted her without a trial.

Lindsay instinctively tightened her shoulders against the onslaught she was sure would come.

“Would you mind leaving us alone?”

The words were spoken quietly, but that didn’t diminish the order’s authority and Lindsay directed her gaze toward her visitor only to find the sheriff glaring at her. She closed her eyes against the malevolent stare and when she opened them again, he was slowly traipsing down the short hall to the outer door separating the two cells from his office.

The blonde looked up and searched the intense blue eyes regarding her solemnly for condemnation, but found none. The gaze wasn’t warm, but troubled and sad. She waited for Delia’s niece to speak.

“Did you kill my aunt?”

Lindsay met the gaze pointedly, anguished green eyes bespeaking her innocence. “I loved Delia. I could never kill her.”

Jaye nodded slowly. “What happened that day?”

After taking a deep breath, Lindsay began talking. “Everyday, your aunt read stories to the children at the library after they got out of school. That day we went in early because we were going to set up, then go check out a new novelty shop that had just opened. We unpacked everything, but couldn’t find the goat puppet.”

Lindsay smiled wanly at Jaye’s raised eyebrow and explained, “She used puppets to act out parts in the story. She was going to read Billy Goat’s Gruff. I told her it would only take me a few minutes to go home and get it.”

Lindsay noticed Jaye’s shoulder’s tighten and suddenly realized why. “It was my home, too. I wasn’t just your aunt’s caregiver; she was my best friend. I loved her and if you can understand that, you’ll know that I’m innocent.”

“History is rife with murder committed in the name of love.”

Gazing sadly at Delia’s niece, Lindsay was unable to dispute the observation.

Jaye shifted uncomfortably and looked away from the younger woman’s gentle scrutiny. Clearing her throat, she asked, “Then what happened?”

Haunted green eyes stared off into the distance as Lindsay related the scene imprinted indelibly in her mind.

“I walked into the reading room. I remember a very strong feeling that something was wrong and when I didn’t see Delia, I became alarmed and called out.

“Delia?”

“I remember wondering where she went. I hadn’t been gone more than a half hour, if that. I walked over to the table her props were on, and glanced behind it. I saw Delia laying face down on the floor…”

Lindsay took a deep breath, desperately trying to maintain her composure. Her hands had instinctively closed into fists, knuckles white with the effort of trying to control her emotions.

“There was a big pool of blood beneath her. I ran around the table and knelt beside her, screaming for help. I carefully turned her over trying to find a pulse, but she was cool…too cool. Then I looked into her eyes…” Lindsay choked back a sob, and buried her face in her hands.

“Oh God! It was horrible. I was too late…I shouldn’t have left her…” Her body was wracked with the pain of remembering and the loss of her friend. Of how she’d cradled Delia’s broken head in her lap, knowing it was too late and murmuring over and over again. “Please no.”

Blue eyes glistening, Jaye nodded abruptly. “All right. If you didn’t do it, then I’ve got to figure out who did.”

Regaining control, Lindsay turned toward Jaye, not sure she’d heard correctly. “You don’t think I did it?”

Jaye shook her head. “The sheriff said no one saw you leave the library or come back. Why?”

“There were a bunch of teenagers at the checkout desk when I left, so Sam never saw me walk out. When I got back, he was in a heated discussion with Adam Norton and never saw me.”

Lindsay stood up and walked over to the bars. Her red-rimmed swollen eyes stood out starkly against her pale face. “Do you believe me?” She held her breath, as she waited for the answer, aware that not being seen leaving or returning to the library had convicted her in most of the town’s people’s eyes.

Pursing her lips, Jaye nodded slowly. “The hatchet…?”

“Of course my fingerprints were on it. Who do you think chopped the wood? We were going to drop it off to be sharpened at the hardware store before we stopped at the new shop. Someone took it out of the car. It was on the backseat. Anyone could’ve seen it and Delia didn’t believe in locking the car or even the house half the time for that matter. Neither does anyone else around here.”

Musing aloud, Jaye commented, “So whoever murdered my aunt had to know she was alone.”

Lindsay nodded in agreement. “Right. Unless it was someone who didn’t know about me. But if that’s the case, it can’t be a local.”

“First thing we’re going to have to do is get you out of here.”

Lindsay snorted mirthlessly. “Fat chance of that. I’m sure everyone in town thinks I did it. No way I’m going to get bail.”

“Leave that up to me. It might take a little while, but I’ll be back. I might need to ask you some more questions so I can figure out who really killed my aunt.”

Reaching through the bars, Lindsay extended her hand to Jaye’s arm, briefly touching her. “Thanks. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have someone believe me.”

Jaye quirked a rueful half smile. “Let’s just say Aunt Delia would expect no less.”

Lindsay furrowed her brow as she watched Delia’s niece turn away. That last comment seemed fraught with hidden meaning, but she shrugged off the feeling attributing it to her roiling emotions.

She didn’t blame Jaye for being so distant, but Lindsay had no intentions of sitting on the sidelines while the tall woman searched for the real killer. She snorted. Providing I get out of here.

Jaye turned back around, and reached into a brown paper bag she was carrying. “Here. You need this more than I do.”

Taking the sandwich, Lindsay smiled for the first time since Delia’s death. “Thanks.”

Watching Jaye walk fluidly down the hall, the blonde felt faint stirrings of hope for the first time since her arrest that justice would prevail after all. She didn’t understand why Jaye had chosen to believe her when no one else did, but she wasn’t about to question it.

Lindsay sat down on the cot, unwrapped the sandwich, and quickly devoured it. Wiping her hands on the napkin, she realized that along with hope, her appetite had returned.

*************************************************

“I hope you gave that murdering bitch a piece of your mind. Killing such a good person as your aunt and all.”

Jaye brushed past Bill Webster. “She didn’t do it.”

“Are you crazy? ‘Course she did it. She was the only one back there with Delia and the hatchet’s got her prints all over it.”

Ignoring the sheriff, Jaye walked out the door narrowing her eyes at his parting words.

“‘You’re a disgrace to your aunt’s memory!”

*************************************************

Jaye thought over her brief conversation with Lindsay Daniels. It was hard to reconcile the laughing, happy young woman portrayed in the picture she’d broken with the devastated, heart broken woman she’d witnessed in the jail cell.

She smiled, remembering the indignation in Lindsay’s voice as she talked about her aunt’s home being her home too. Jaye still wasn’t sure how she felt about that sentiment, but she admired the woman’s spunk.

Navigating around a group of locals ambling across the street, the tall woman mused over the prisoner’s dramatic change when she realized that Jaye believed her. Lindsay’s whole body had been reanimated, and her startling green eyes had regarded her savior with equal measures of hope and wariness. Jaye wasn’t sure how she felt about bearing the responsibility of the younger woman’s tentative trust, but she knew she couldn’t let her down, for her aunt’s sake if nothing else.

She parked Henri in front of Ed Romero’s office a few minutes later and entered the small nondescript building that housed his office.

Jaye stopped in front of the secretary’s desk, not recognizing her. “I’d like to see Ed Romero.”

Brenda Evans opened the appointment book, looking up when the stranger standing in front of her desk spoke.

“I need to see him now.”

“I’m afraid you’re gonna have to make an appointment. He’s not here right now.”

Jaye struggled with her temper for a moment before asking politely. “When do you expect him back?”

Brenda closed the book. “I’m not sure. He went to a friend’s funeral. I would imagine he went to the wake afterwards.”

Jaye turned as she heard the door open, smiling in recognition. “Ed.” She met him midway across the room and returned his embrace.

“It’s good to see you, Jaye. I just wish it were under other circumstances. I didn’t see you at Martha’s house. People were asking about you.”

“I never could see the sense in getting together and eating after a funeral. Seems too much like a celebration to me. Just not my thing.”

Ed nodded, unsurprised. “Come on into my office.” He closed the door, then commented, “I didn’t expect to see you here. The reading of the will isn’t for another couple of days.”

Jaye rolled her eyes in amusement. “I didn’t come about the will. I need a good criminal lawyer. Who’s the best around here?”

Ed stared at Jaye in surprise. “Why? You’re not in trouble are you?”

“Not for me. I need to get Lindsay Daniels out on bond. She didn’t kill my Aunt.”

Ed sighed. “I wish you were right. She always seemed like such a good kid, but there seems to be a strong case against her. What makes you think she’s innocent?”

“Have you met her?”

“Oh, yes. Anyone who knows Delia has met her. Those two were downright inseparable. It was quite a shock when she was arrested, but money makes strange bedfellows.”

Jaye nodded. “True. But I just met with her and this whole thing doesn’t feel right. She says she didn’t do it. I believe her.” Riveting her gaze on her aunt’s friend, she added, “I intend to find out who did it, but I may need Lindsay’s help. So who do I get?”

Ed answered without hesitation. “Frank Collins. He’s young, but smart as a whip. He’s your best bet not to leave any stone unturned.”

“Thanks, Ed. Where do I find him?”

“Over on Main Street next to the courthouse.”

Trailing the tall woman as she moved toward the door, Ed said, “I hope you’re right.”

Jaye looked over her shoulder, a half-smile on her face. “Count on it.”

A few moments later Jaye parked Henri, climbed out of the driver’s seat and made her way toward the small building clearing identifying the occupants in a placard near the door.

She quickly located Frank Collins’ name and entered the structure looking for room 107. Pushing open the door, Jaye pulled up short, finding herself facing a young man sporting a chestnut mustache that matched his unruly hair.

Jaye quickly recovered. “I’m looking for Frank Collins.”

The man cleared his voice and smiled boyishly. “That would be me. How may I help you?”

Smiling inwardly at his enthusiasm, she hoped Ed knew what he was talking about. The mustache did nothing to age his baby face, but she was encouraged by the warm, intelligent gray eyes gazing at her curiously.

“I need to arrange for bail to be set for Lindsay Daniels.”

Frank shook his head. “Who are you? A relative of hers or something? That’s going to be just about impossible. She’s accused of killing one of the most beloved people in this town.”

Jaye extended her hand. “Jaye MacLaren.” After releasing Frank’s hand, she said, “Delia is my aunt.”

Staring, Frank sputtered, “Why…she is accused of killing your aunt! Why would you want her out of jail?”

Jaye shrugged. “Simple. She didn’t do it.”

“Do you have any proof of that?”

Jaye leaned across the desk and spoke slowly. “Since when is someone guilty until proven innocent?”

“I didn’t mean…”

“You could’ve fooled me. Webster found the hatchet with her finger prints on it and is too lazy to look any further. Since the hatchet belonged to my aunt and Lindsay lived there, makes sense it would have her finger prints on it.”

Nodding, Frank commented, “True. But last time Sam saw her was when she and Delia walked into the reading room. Sam would’ve seen her if she left like she claims.”

Riveting Frank with her eyes, Jaye asked, “Even if he was busy?”

“That’s stretching it, because he didn’t see her leave or return.”

“It’s a library. There are always people in the library that time of day.” Jaye walked over to the window, and gazed out for a moment before turning back to the attorney.

“There is nothing I want more than to see my aunt’s murderer brought to justice. But I want the real killer convicted, not an innocent. The hatchet proves nothing. Sam not happening to see her leave or arrive proves nothing. Now are you going to help me get her out of jail or have you already convicted her, too?”

“Of course not!”

“You going to help me then?”

Frank sighed and nodded. “Yes. I’ll help you. I’ll file for a bond hearing and request it be expedited. If I get it, the bond’s probably going to be high since it’s a capital murder case.”

“You get the bond set, I’ll worry about raising the money.”

“Agreed.” Frank shifted from one foot, then to the other, looking at Jaye expectantly.

Jaye pulled a wad of money out of her pocket she just withdrawn from the bank. “How much?”

“$250.00 to cover court costs for the bond hearing and my fee. Then it’ll be a flat $120 an hour until we go to trial. If we do go to trial, I’ll figure out a flat fee that’s acceptable to both of us. Deal?”

Nodding, Jaye peeled off the bills, handing Frank the money. “I’ll call you in an hour to find out what time the hearing is.”

“Wait. I’m not sure the judge will set a hearing right away.”

Jaye smiled. “I’m sure you can convince him how shaky this case is and then insist he expedite the bail hearing.”

“Right. I’ll do my best.”
Chapter Three
Jaye watched as Frank issued instructions to a dazed looking Lindsay. She felt a touch of sympathy for the young woman. Even she’d been surprised at how fast events had transpired. She had expected that her aunt’s caregiver would have to remain in jail for at least another twenty-four hours, but Frank had succeeded in having her released by the end of the day.

With a little help from Dolan and me. Jaye’s smug reflection was interrupted by a distinct chuckle right beside her ear.

“Not bad, J-mac. You’re off to a fine start.”

The tall woman couldn’t help starting as she hissed, “Don’t do that!”

Lindsay and Frank turned to her curiously.

“Uh, a fly, yeah…just a pesky, annoying fly,” Jaye blurted, brushing furiously at the air beside her head. “Um, I’m going to go bring the Jeep around.”

Without waiting for an answer, she strode off, leaving the mildly bewildered pair staring after her.

“Got a bee in your britches?”

Jaye could hear the amusement in her aunt’s voice. Ducking into an alley that would provide a shortcut to the library’s parking lot, she allowed herself to glance over to where her aunt’s ghost floated along beside her.

She gestured at the open air between the ground and her aunt’s feet. “Do you have to do that?”

Delia chuckled. “Well, I’m finding it rather refreshing. I haven’t been able to keep up with you without double-timing since you were eleven years old and turned into a baby giraffe. ‘Sides, it’s not like anyone else can see me.”

Jaye sighed and conceded her aunt the point. Picking up her pace again, she asked, “So you saw what happened today?”

“Yup, every bit of it. I was right proud of you for finding the clues that idiot sheriff overlooked.”

“It was hard to go there…” Jaye’s voice trailed off and her throat closed as she recalled going from Frank’s office to the library reading room earlier that afternoon. A veteran crime scene photographer who had shot some of the worst examples of man’s inhumanities, she hadn’t expected to be as deeply affected as she was.

Jaye left the lawyer’s office and paused on the street to consider her options, barely noticing that the persistent rain had finally let up. Getting Lindsay out of jail was her first objective, but aside from employing Frank to begin that process, she was momentarily stumped as to where to go from there.

Sliding into Henri, Jaye sat quietly considering her next course of action. Deciding she needed to see the crime scene, she drove over to the library. Parking in the nearly empty lot, she surveyed the area. Thick hedges lined the parking lot and two picnic tables sat amidst a small copse of young trees. The building itself was a substantial size for such a small town and the photographer knew her aunt had played a big part in the drive to build and maintain a fine library.

Steeling herself, Jaye walked to the double front doors, pausing to read a handwritten sign; “Closed for Delia Blake’s funeral.” She frowned slightly, but trying the doors, found the right one open. Entering, she saw a thin young man sitting disconsolately at the checkout desk, idly turning a pen over in his fingers. He didn’t even look up as he called out, “We’re closed.”

“Sam.”

The young man’s head jerked up. “Jaye?” He rose and came around the desk, holding out his hand. “I didn’t get a chance to talk to you at the funeral, but I wanted to tell you how sorry I am for your loss…hell, for all our loss. She was a fine woman, your aunt was.”

Jaye nodded. “Yes, she was. None better.” Firmly pushing the resurgent sorrow down, she asked quietly, “Do you mind if I take a look in the back?”

Sam looked a little uncertain. “I dunno, Jaye. They still have the police tape up blocking off the room.”

“I won’t touch anything, I promise. I just need to see where…” Helpless to prevent the tears that filled her eyes, she saw Sam duck his head in sympathy.

“Aw, heck, it can’t hurt anything. Go ahead,” he said roughly, motioning her on.

Ducking under the yellow crime scene tape that blocked the doorway, Jaye crossed to the table at the front of the room and stopped short at the sight of the large, rust-coloured stain on the tan carpet in front of a magnetic white board, still gaily adorned with blue plastic letters and numbers. She felt a wave of nausea, knowing that stain represented her aunt’s final moments of life.

Sucking in a deep breath, she forced herself to conduct a dispassionate survey of the room. The children’s reading room was painted in a bright mixture of yellow and white, with colorful cartoon characters decorating the walls. Short bookshelves filled with children’s stories, games and puzzles lined the room. Two large side windows admitted weak sunlight, filtered through grey clouds that were only now beginning to dissipate.

Thrusting her hands into the pockets of her black, tailored trousers to ensure she didn’t touch anything, Jaye made her way to the windows. If she accepted that Lindsay wasn’t the murderer, which she did–based on her aunt’s words and the young woman’s own demeanor, then whoever had killed Delia had to exit either back through the library—unlikely given that he’d probably been stained with blood—or through one of these windows.

Jaye examined the exterior, noting the proximity of the forest. A killer could have easily vanished there without being detected. Dropping to her knees, the tall woman peered under the metal facing used to raise the window. She felt a thrill as she spied a rust-colored smear on the underside. Halting the instinctive movement of her hand towards the evidence, she rose gracefully to her feet.

“See something?”

Jaye jumped, not having heard anyone approach. Turning, she broke into a broad smile. “Dolan!”

The red-haired deputy sheriff nodded soberly. “Good to see you, Jaye, but you shouldn’t be in here, you know.”

“I know, but I believe a very big miscarriage of justice has occurred, and I had to see if I could find something to set it right.”

The deputy’s shrewd brown eyes regarded her intently. “You don’t think the kid killed her either.”

One ebony eyebrow shot up as Jaye shook her head. Her onetime boyfriend obviously wasn’t convinced of his prisoner’s guilt.

“No, I don’t. I take it you have your doubts too?”

Dolan sighed heavily. “Come with me. I want to show you something.”

Jaye followed the man outside, and squatted beside him as he knelt on the grass beneath the reading room windows. Flowerbeds lined the building, mostly barren at this time of year except for some hardy perennials, and Dolan pointed at the faint impression of a man’s shoe in the wet earth under the window.

“Took a cast of this the afternoon of the murder, and pictures of these spots.” He indicated another couple of blood smears on the exterior of the windowsill. Sighing, he leaned back on his heels. “I’m guessing DNA would show it was Delia’s which won’t help nab the killer, but I found one other footprint that looks the same at the edge of the trees and took a cast of that too.”

Jaye looked at him incredulously. “You had these and you still arrested her? For God’s sake, Dolan, that’s reasonable doubt if nothing else!”

The deputy had the grace to look shame-faced. “I told Bill about these things, but he says the footprints could’ve belonged to one of the workmen who were replacing the gutters last week. Thing is, that’s not a workman’s boot print. That’s a dress shoe, from the look of it.”

“And the blood?” Jaye knew her voice had risen in anger, but she was shaken at the realization that Lindsay should never have been subjected to her ordeal in the town jail.

“Aw, shit. Bill claimed that the kid panicked and started to escape out the window, then realized she’d be caught, so tried to play it like she found the body.”

The tall woman stared at him incredulously. “That is the biggest load of…”

Holding up one placating hand, the deputy nodded. “Yeah, and I wasn’t going to let it go, Jaye. I just figured the kid would be safer in a cell than out where the real killer could get her too. See, I don’t know why anyone would ever want to kill your aunt, and given that those two were practically joined at the hip, I thought if Auntie D was in danger, Lindsay might be too.”

Jaye’s wrath ebbed as she realized Dolan hadn’t gotten stupid or corrupt in the years since they had dated as teenagers during her summer vacations in Tucker’s Way.

“Sorry, it’s just that it’s so wrong.” She shook her head in frustration. “Couldn’t you have gone over that idiot sheriff’s head?”

“Not and kept my job. Hannah and I are expecting our fourth in a couple of months, and I can’t afford to be out of work.” Dolan shrugged apologetically. “I figured I’d just compile all the available evidence and then turn it over to the kid’s lawyer.”

Standing, Jaye smiled affectionately at the deputy. She’d always admired his rugged stoicism and strong personal code of ethics. Even as a teenager, he’d exhibited a definite sense of what lines they couldn’t cross as they prowled the town after dark looking for excitement.

“She has a lawyer now. Frank Collins. He’s making a bail application this afternoon, and he could sure use what you have to buttress his arguments.”

Dolan nodded. “I’ll go see him.” He started to walk away, then turned back with a grin. “I think Uncle Jack has the bench this afternoon. Maybe I’ll keep Frank company when he goes to court.”

Jaye laughed as she watched the husky man amble away. She’d been away from Tucker’s Way so long that she’d almost forgotten how incestuous small towns could be.

Clearing her throat, Jaye murmured to her aunt, “At least it didn’t take long to get her out once we presented the evidence.

Delia snorted. “And didn’t you just love the look on the sheriff’s face when Jack chewed him out for ‘laying charges precipitously’?”

Jaye laughed. “Yeah, I thought he was gonna have a coronary when the judge ordered him to set Lindsay free on bail.” She turned the corner, spotting the library half a block down. “He certainly was nasty about not releasing your car though.”

“That’s okay. It’ll give Dolan more time to check for fingerprints other than Lindsay’s or mine. Besides, Lindsay will be sticking with you until we solve this, so she can ride along in that junk heap you call a vehicle.”

“Hey!” Jaye’s protests over the insult to Henri’s dignity were offset by her aunt’s implications. “Wait a minute…I’m not babysitting her while I try to solve this, Auntie D.”

“Don’t be foolish, Eeyore,” Delia said firmly. “That girl’s mind is just as quick as yours; she’ll be invaluable. She knows what’s been going on around here the last year. You don’t.”

That stung, and Jaye maintained a sullen silence until she was seated in her Jeep. She refused to look at the ghost now comfortably ensconced in the rear seat and mumbled, “We’ll talk.”

“That we will.” The cheerful answer didn’t reassure her. She’d yet to win one of these arguments with her aunt, and she glumly resigned herself to having an unwanted assistant.

Swinging by the front of the courthouse, Jaye picked Lindsay up and drove back out to her aunt’s house. They said little on the drive back from town, two strangers thrown together by circumstances, and extremely uncomfortable circumstances at that. Jaye noticed Lindsay casting the occasional speculative glance her way, but concentrated on her driving.

Delia had vanished from the back seat to…well, wherever she hung out. The tall woman shied away from considering that too closely. Raised on a mixture of her father’s religious conservatism and her aunt’s unstructured spiritualism, she’d long ago thrown up her hands in confusion and declined to incorporate any theological considerations into her life, preferring to live in the here and now. Just one more thing Dad has against Auntie D.

The younger woman stopped her at the entrance to the property to pick up the four days of mail stuffed in the rural mailbox. Their arrival in front of her aunt’s home shook Jaye out of her somber reverie, as she parked in the driveway. The women entered the house, and Lindsay wordlessly set the mail on the sideboard, kicking off her shoes before heading straight for her room.

The blonde was just reaching for the doorknob when Jaye suddenly called out, “Wait!”

Startled, Lindsay turned, her head cocked curiously.

Blushing faintly with embarrassment, Jaye explained, “Um, I sort of broke something in there. Let me clean up the glass so you don’t get cut.”

The tall woman wasn’t sure if she really heard her aunt’s soft ‘I told you so,’ or only imagined it, but she grabbed a broom and dustpan and hastened to sweep up the shards of glass from the broken picture frame.

Jaye stood with the pan full of broken glass and, refusing to meet Lindsay’s eyes, muttered, “Sorry.”

A hand reached out to stop her as she tried to get by the young woman in the doorway. Reluctantly she looked up, startled to see amazing compassion in the soft green eyes regarding her.

“It’s all right. I’d have been just as angry in your shoes.”

Jaye ducked her head in acknowledgement.

“I’m going to grab a quick shower. Why don’t you see if there’s anything in the kitchen we can heat up for dinner? I think I left some stew in the freezer.”

Relieved that the incident hadn’t caused any further difficulties between them, Jaye took the debris to the kitchen and dumped the broken glass into the large dustbin. Suddenly aware that her stomach was reminding her that she’d eaten almost nothing since being notified of her aunt’s death, the tall woman eagerly rummaged in the freezer and dug out a loaf of frozen bread and a plastic container labeled ‘beef stew’.

By the time Lindsay made her appearance, her hair still damp from the shower and dressed in jeans, moccasins and a fisherman’s knit sweater, Jaye had managed to scoop enough of the frozen mixture into a pot to satisfy them both. The loaf was warming in the oven, and the tall woman had put the kettle on for tea.

They consumed the simple meal in relative silence, but once it was done and the dishes cleared away, they settled in to compare notes. After reviewing the basic facts of the case as they knew them, Jaye asked, “Did Auntie D have any run-ins with anyone lately?”

Lindsay considered the questions. “Well, there was Ab Saunders, but she’s been feuding with him for years. We chased him off about a month ago, but I don’t think more than a few weeks go by at a time that we don’t have to run him off again. I really can’t see him committing murder though.”

Jaye nodded, thinking of the cantankerous old outdoorsman whose family had once owned Delia’s property. Ab had never reconciled himself to the loss of his boyhood land, even though his father had lost it for failure to pay taxes over forty years ago. He’d been a thorn in Delia’s side for decades, sneakily poaching and using the land like it was still his own. Her aunt occasionally got angry enough to have Ab arrested, but the slaps on the wrist he received never deterred him for long. Ab was a mouthy eccentric who alternately bragged about his activities and swore vengeance on Delia for imagined crimes, but the tall woman was pretty sure he was all talk.

“Yeah, if he was going to do anything, you’d think he’d have done it years ago. Why would he wait until now? Still, it doesn’t hurt to look into what he’s been up to.”

Lindsay got up and found a notebook in a kitchen drawer, then returned to the table, Jaye watched, amused, as the blonde neatly labeled the first page, ‘Ab Saunders’, then diligently noted down dates and incidents going back a year.

When she was done, Lindsay looked up and smiled a bit sheepishly. “I can’t help it. I’m a compulsive note taker. Delia used to complain that I left stickies all over the house.”

The pair sobered at the thought of the absent woman, before Lindsay sighed and carried on.

“Anyway, as near as I can recall, these are the approximate encounters we had with Ab since I’ve lived here.”

Jaye looked them over and nodded her approval. If nothing else, it would give them ammunition to pass on to Dolan. “So, anyone else? Anything recent that you can think of?”

Lindsay furrowed her brow in concentration and the tall woman remained silent, giving her time to think. The blonde bit her lip in frustration and ran a small hand through her hair.

“I can’t think of anything. I mean, she had a pretty nasty exchange with Derek Mains a little while ago, but she hasn’t heard from him since.”

The name was unfamiliar to Jaye. “Derek Mains?”

The other woman waved a hand dismissively. “Oh, just a land developer who was trying to convince Delia to sell. He wanted to build a resort or something on her land, but of course she turned him down flat.”

Azure eyes hardened as Jaye said slowly, “Tell me more about this Mains character.”

Before answering, Lindsay turned a page and labeled the new one ‘Derek Mains’. Writing as she thought, she filled her companion in.

“He first approached her about three months after I came here to live, so that would be a little over a year ago. Delia let him give his spiel, and he promised her everything under the sun if she’d sell; then she politely told him she wasn’t interested. He wouldn’t take no for an answer though. Kept writing, and approaching her on the streets.”

Jaye laughed. “Oh yeah, I can see where that would’ve gone over well.”

Lindsay chuckled in response. “Uh huh. Delia was about to spit nails by the twentieth time she’d said no. Then Mains got the bright idea that she wouldn’t deal with him because he was an ‘outsider’, so he enlisted local help.”

A groan greeted the recounting of that brilliant ploy. “I’ll just bet Auntie D was impressed by that!”

“No kidding!” Lindsay giggled. “And it didn’t help that he hooked up with Mary Reynolds.”

“Reynolds, Reynolds… The only Reynolds I remember are Neal and Tessa Reynolds and their brood of kids.”

“Well, Stu Reynolds is their third son and he’s married to Mary Fessler, now Mary Reynolds.”

“Not one of the Fesslers?” Jaye shook her head remembering a perpetually whining, discontented brood. “Do they all still have badly dyed hair piled to the skies?”

Lindsay grinned at her. “I take it you’re acquainted with the Fesslers?”

“Unfortunately, yes. Serena Fessler was my age. She had her eye set on Dolan, so when he and I were dating, she kept trying to come between us. Just about drove me crazy one summer!”

To Jaye’s surprise, the younger woman’s good humour seemed to vanish, and she picked up her narrative in a subdued tone. “Anyway, Mary is a local councilwoman, and she tried approaching Delia on the basis that this new resort would be great for the community, and shouldn’t that be Dee’s first consideration. She came on really strong, trying to convince Delia that she was being selfish. Honestly, if her arthritis hadn’t been particularly bad that day, I swear Dee would’ve picked her up herself and thrown her out on her ear. As it was, I was instructed in no uncertain terms to show the greedy money-grubber out.”

Jaye felt a trace of excitement. “Hmm, so Auntie D thought Mary was getting a kickback from Mains?” Money was one of the oldest motives in the book for murder, and the Fessler crowd had never had a scruple to share among them.

“No, not exactly. Actually we talked about that later. It was common knowledge that Mary and Derek were having an affair. They weren’t all that discreet about it. Delia figured Mary thought Derek was going to take her out of this place to live the high-life that was her proper birthright.”

“Money AND sex…even better as motives.”

“I suppose.” Lindsay looked doubtful. “I don’t particularly like either of them, and I feel really sorry for Stu, but I’m not sure I could see them murdering Delia. How would that help their cause? Would you sell to them?”

“Wouldn’t just be my decision, would it?” Jaye asked, a trifle stiffly. She was coming to like this young woman, but her aunt’s inclination to treat Lindsay like family still rankled.

Puzzled, Lindsay asked, “What do you mean? I thought you were Delia’s only living relative?”

“You really don’t know?”

“Know what?”

Jaye could tell that the younger woman was genuinely puzzled, and any lingering doubts about her innocence vanished. “Delia included you in her will. That was supposed to be your motive for killing her.”

Lindsay gaped at her, obviously stunned at the revelation.

Curiously the tall woman asked, “Didn’t they accuse you of that when they arrested you?”

Green eyes dropped. “They accused me of so many hideous things. The sheriff wouldn’t let me clean her blood off me, and he just kept hammering at me hour after hour, trying to get me to confess. I’m afraid I blanked most of it out of my mind. I got the impression that they thought we’d had a falling out or something. They kept asking about arguments we were supposed to have had.” She shook her head, her voice dropping to a whisper. “We’ve never argued once. Not once.”

There was a long silence as Lindsay struggled to regain her composure. Finally, trying to lighten the atmosphere, Jaye asked jokingly, “Not even over her nightly tot? I’d have thought that, as her caregiver, you’d have clamped down on that habit.”

Jaye was inordinately pleased to see that elicit a small grin as Lindsay shook her head.

“Actually, she got me into the same routine. We used to sit outside and watch the stars come out while we had a glass of rum. I’m not a professional nurse or anything. I just needed a job; and I’d had experience looking after my mother when she was ill so when I saw her notice, I applied and was hired.” Her smile grew soft and contemplative. “It was the best decision I ever made. Your aunt was a very special person.”

“Mmm hmm. No question there.” Jaye realized that the affection she’d sensed from her aunt for this young woman hadn’t been one-sided. The two women had obviously developed a close bond in the year and a half they’d been together. Slowly her jealousy faded, to be replaced by a growing sense of gratitude that her aunt had had such a cherished companion in her final months.

Visibly pulling herself out of her thoughts, Lindsay turned a new page and asked, “What about you? Do you know anyone who hated Delia?”

“Aside from my father, you mean?” The dry question got Jaye a raised eyebrow.

“No, he’s not a suspect. He and I were having lunch in Toronto about the time Auntie D was killed.” She paused thoughtfully. “He did thoroughly dislike her, though. He once told me that if my mother hadn’t made him promise on her deathbed to let Delia be involved in my life, he’d have cut her off and never let her see me again.”

“Why did he hate her so much?” Lindsay’s head tilted curiously in a gesture that Jaye was coming to recognize as characteristic.

“You know, I’ve never really been sure. I asked him once, but all he’d say was that she wasn’t a proper influence on a growing girl. Still, I have to give him credit. He kept his promise to Mom and let me stay with Auntie D every summer.” She laughed ruefully. “Mind you, he deprogrammed me rigorously every September. I had to go to church three times a week for the first month after I came back from Tucker’s Way.”

Jaye glanced over at Lindsay, only to see an oddly comprehending look on the younger woman’s face. She was about to question the origin of the enigmatic look when Lindsay closed her notebook firmly.

“It’s late. I think I’m going to call it a day and enjoy sleeping in my own bed tonight. Those jail cots are gawdawful!”

“Okay. I’m going to go have a few words with Mary Reynolds tomorrow, and see if Derek Mains is around right now, too.”

Lindsay paused and turned in the doorway of the kitchen. Fixing Jaye with a stern glance she corrected, “We’re going to go do interviews tomorrow.”

Without waiting for a response she left, and Jaye could hear her walking down the hardwood hallway. The tall woman grunted to herself. She hadn’t thought that she’d get away with unilateral action, but she’d had to at least try.

Deciding that she might as well retire herself, she cleared away the teacups, turned out the kitchen lights and made her way to her aunt’s room. It wasn’t until she was settled in under Delia’s thick down comforter that Jaye remembered she’d forgotten to call Ronald. Feeling mildly guilty that she hadn’t thought of him at all, she justified it to herself. Been a busy day. He’ll understand. I’ll call him tomorrow.
Chapter Four
Lindsay surreptitiously glanced at Jaye as the dark-haired woman maneuvered through the hilly streets to Mary’s house. Her baffling companion vacillated between friendliness and the current aloofness.

“We timed it right. Her car’s here. You ready?”

Nodding, Lindsay said, “Yeah. Even though our visit might seem kind of sudden, Mary’s so money hungry, she won’t question it.”

Lindsay firmly pressed the door chime a moment later, both women determined to elicit information from the greedy councilwoman.

Frowning at the sound of the unexpected doorbell, Mary sprayed a last bit of hair spray onto her hair before even glancing at the door. Reminding herself that Stu was in the shower, she took one last look in the mirror before going to answer it.

Opening the door, Mary stared in amazement and gave an exaggerated gasp. “Don’t even think about coming in my house, you killer! Jaye, you come on in. It’s nice to see you again and I’m so sorry about your aunt. It must have been a terrible shock.”

Lindsay just rolled her eyes, prepared to remain outside, until Jaye smiled sweetly and extended the bait. “I asked her to come, Mary. I’m convinced of Lindsay’s innocence. She’s out on bail and assisting me in plans to sell my property. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have known you and Derek Mains were inquiring after it.”

“Oh. Well, that’s true, we have been. Come in, come in.”

“Both of us?”

“Of course, Jaye. Since she’s with you, I suppose it’s all right.” Mary ushered her two guests into the living room, beckoning them to sit down as she followed suite.

“I hear you got elected to the city council. Congratulations.”

Mary smiled warmly. “Thank you. It was time to get some of that old stagnant blood out of there. We need to attract newcomers to build up the economy, and that takes fresh ideas.”

Barely pausing for breath, Mary continued, “That’s why I was talking to your aunt about that land. She didn’t take kindly to Derek just because he was an outsider, but I knew how important it was for this town’s economy to attract developers like him. See, Derek already has all the financial backing in place to build a brand new resort. Think of all the revenue that would generate from those rich playboys looking for a pristine hideaway. If this town can’t come up with the land, he’ll just take his business and go elsewhere.”

“I’m not so sure that would be a bad thing. He is an outsider. What if he doesn’t have the backing he claims to have? Has anyone checked his background or credentials?”

Mary grinned conspiratorially. “Now don’t you worry about that. He’s definitely got the financing in place.” Seeing the indecision on Jaye’s face, Mary hastened to assure her, “Let’s just say I have some inside knowledge.”

Jaye winked, and said teasingly, “I heard you have more than just inside knowledge. Word’s out that you’ve been getting your information during pillow talk.”

Mary’s eyes shone with triumph as she looked around furtively, placing her finger against her lips. “Shhh. That’s just gossip. Surely you don’t believe everything you hear.”

Jaye drawled, “Well, no, not everything. But when the whole town is saying the same thing…”

Abruptly standing, Mary asked, “Would you like some coffee?”

Lindsay shook her head, and Jaye said, “No thanks, but you go ahead.”

Once Mary left, Lindsay leaned close to Jaye. “Stu must still be here. She’s awfully worried about us mentioning her affair. He’s gotta know about it.”

“Probably so. I feel sorry for him. I expect since he can’t take her any higher up the social ladder, Mary will discard him like an old dishrag the first chance she gets. I’m betting all Derek had to do was wave a few bills under her nose and she fell right into his bed. What a lowlife.”

Coffee cup in hand, Mary walked back into the living room smiling. “So where were we? Oh yes, I was telling you how good such a development would be for the town. You know, if we could come to some sort of preliminary agreement, I could make the announcement at the next council meeting.” She beamed at Jaye.

Lindsay struggled to keep from rolling her eyes. This woman was unbelievable. It was obvious that what the land meant to her was status in the town. That was powerful motivation. So how did Derek fit into the equation?

Jaye returned Mary’s smile. “Did you explain to my aunt how vital it was to the town? I’m sure if she had realized the economic potential for Tucker’s Way, she would’ve been interested in doing her part.”

“Yes. We both explained to her how important it was and she refused to give us the time of day. Why last time we went to her house, she even ordered Derek to leave.” Aggrieved, Mary looked at Lindsay. “Ask her. She was there. Your aunt was getting up in age and I think… No, I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. It’s obvious that you care enough about the town to come to me and offer the property.”

“We’ll, I wouldn’t exactly say I’m offering it. More like selling it. What’s the offer?”

“$100,000. That’s top dollar.”

“Mary, you insult me. That’s only a fraction of what the property’s worth.”

Chuckling, Mary said, “Business is business. Can’t blame me for trying. Derek told me he was willing to go to $200,000, but not a dollar more.”

Jaye shook her head. “The property is worth $350,000 in the private market and triple that in the commercial market. I think you’d better have another discussion with Derek while I’m in the mood to sell. I could change my mind tomorrow.”

Mary stood up. “Now, please don’t be hasty. He’s out of town until tonight, but I’m supposed to meet him at the Seafood Loft for dinner. I’ll talk to him then and see how high he’ll go.”

“Why don’t you just set up an appointment for us to meet?”

“I’ll do that and call you tomorrow morning, okay?”

Jaye and Lindsay stood up.

“That would be fine, Mary. Thanks for your time.”

Lindsay shook her head as they walked toward the car. “She’s a trip. All she cares about is getting her name in the paper. That’s garbage about the resort. This town is doing just fine, and Delia specifically chose not to sell because she didn’t want a big influx of strangers.”

“I know, but Mary bought it. I need to talk to Derek. He just might be in over his head with the investors. If he were, that would give him motive. Mary has a motive too. Status. She’s just using Derek as a stepping-stone to escape this town. Talk about grandiose plans. That woman is so stuck on herself it’s unbelievable.”

*************************************************

Stu sank onto the bed in anguish, and lowered his head to his hands. The whole town knew. Jaye hadn’t even been back in town for two days and she’d already heard the rumors. How was he supposed to face the guys at work, or walk down Main Street knowing the whispers that were going on behind his back? “Stupid, stupid!” Stu pounded his fist against his thigh.

For months now he had tried to ignore the evidence right under his nose, tried to deny that he smelled the scent of an unfamiliar cologne on his wife’s body when she came to bed after late night ‘business meetings,’ tried to overlook the furtive phone calls and hide his hurt at the way Mary avoided his slightest touch.

He wracked his brain trying to figure out where things had gone wrong. He worked all the overtime he could get, so that his wife could enjoy the nice things that she coveted so much. He had never even looked at another woman since they’d been married. None of it mattered, though. It was obvious that Mary had no regard for the sanctity of marriage, and did nothing to hide her indiscretions from the town’s folk.

As Stu rocked back and forth on his bed, his imagination summoned unwanted images of that slimy city slicker fucking his wife, and his agony slowly turned to anger as he pictured the two of them laughing at him, mocking his slow speech and country ways.

When he heard his wife’s car start up, he raised his head, chillingly aware that she no longer even bothered to say hello or goodbye. Standing, he jammed his meaty hands into his coverall pockets and stood by the window watching his wife drive away. His eyes hardened with a new determination. It was personal now. He couldn’t let them get away with what they’d done.

*************************************************

“We’ll be lucky to catch Ab at home. He spends most of his waking hours out in the woods.”

Lindsay grinned mischievously. “It’s still early. We could sit on the front porch and wait for him. I have a feeling he’d know we were there. Ornery as he is, he’ll probably beat feet to chase us off his property for trespassing.”

Jaye chuckled at the image. “You’re probably right. I can just see him come storming out of the woods. Be a good way to catch him off guard.”

Arriving at the end of the rutted, dirt road, Jaye pulled Henri off the lane and the two women exited, making their way to the simple log cabin. Tall pine trees shaded the dwelling, which was fronted by a neatly cleared area.

Lindsay looked around, surprised. “I’ve never been here before. I didn’t expect…”

“Ab’s always been at one with nature. He wouldn’t harm anything he didn’t need. Even when he poaches on Aunt Delia’s property, it’s only for food. He smokes his own meat and pretty much lives off the land.”

“I wonder why he…”

“Hunted on her land? To irritate her, and to show her she could have him arrested all she wanted and he’d still do as he pleased.” Jaye shrugged. “He’s just plain cantankerous.”

“I guess.” Lindsay sat down next to Jaye, who was already perched on the front steps.

“He should be here any time now. Keep your eyes open. I want to see if he comes from the direction of my aunt’s property.”

Lindsay nodded, training her eyes on the trees, but very aware of Jaye’s presence next to her.

They didn’t have long to wait. Ab Saunders came stalking out of the woods, his twelve-gauge shotgun aimed toward his porch.

“Git offa my propaty.”

“Ab, put that gun down. We want to ask you some questions.”

“I ain’t answaing none of yah questions. Now git outta heya.”

“We can leave now. But if you don’t talk to us, you’ll be talking to the sheriff.” Jaye pointed over to the trees. “Over there, where you came out? That’s my property now, and I bet if I go look, I’ll find the dinner you caught for yourself on my land.”

“It ain’t yah land no mowan it was Delia’s. She waited, plottin with the bank to foreclose on it.”

Jaye’s blue eyes started flashing. “Ab! Now you know that’s a lie. She bought it after your Daddy lost it to unpaid taxes so the developers wouldn’t come in here and build it all up. Now you know that. You think just because she’s dead you can go around slandering her?”

Lindsay looked from one to the other. “We only want to ask you a few questions. It won’t take long.”

The stare down continued until seconds turned into minutes. Lindsay briefly touched Jaye’s forearm. “Come on. Let’s go file charges. Bill and Dolan can take care of this.”

Nodding, Jaye turned away and began moving toward the Jeep with Lindsay.

“Wait. What do you want to know?”

Jaye turned around slowly when Lindsay began speaking.

“Where were you the afternoon Delia was killed?”

“Yah gotta be kiddin’ me! Wayah the hell am I everyday? Right here at home.” Ab’s gray eyes drilled into Lindsay. “I heard you done it. If’n yah thinkin’ a puttin’ the blame on me, it ain’t gonna work.”

Jaye snorted. “You know as well as I do, she didn’t do it. You, on the other hand, have been giving my aunt a hard time ever since I can remember. I heard she had you arrested last month.”

“So? Old bitch was always calling the cops on me. Now all of a sudden I’m gonna kill her. Don’t think so. ‘Sides, if I wanted her dead, she’d a been dead a long time ago.”

“She was not always calling the cops on you.” Lindsay felt her temper begin to rise. “I can’t remember how many times she asked you not to poach on her land, and you ignored her every time. If she’d gone to the police every time she caught you out back in the woods, you’d have a rap sheet longer than my arm.”

“Well, if that’s all you wanted to ask, you come to the wrong place. Now you can both just git offin my land.” He turned around and strode back to the cabin, muttering, “Of all the horseshit, tryin’ to pin a murder on me.”

Jaye gazed at Lindsay. “Hey, you okay?”

“Yeah. He just made me mad. Every word that came out of his mouth about Delia was a lie, and I had just had enough. She never treated him unfairly and all he ever did was aggravate her.”

“It’s been that way for years. I just don’t see him harming her, though. Deep down he has to know that she’s protected the land by not selling out to developers. He wanders into town just enough to get the gossip and slips right back out.”

“I didn’t really think he’d done it either, but I still don’t like him.”

Jaye chuckled. “His bark is worse than his bite. I’d be playing in the woods when I was a kid, and he was always trying to scare me. I got pretty good at outsmarting him, and let me tell you, that didn’t go over very well.”

Lindsay smiled. “No, I don’t imagine it would’ve. How about calling it a day? We can’t interview Derek until he gets back to town, and after meeting with Ab and Mary, I need a break.”

“Okay. I need to pick up some groceries, anyway.” Jaye looked at the green eyes gazing at her from underneath a raised eyebrow and amended, “We.”

*************************************************

Jaye tried to ignore the insistent voice of her aunt. In her waking dream she was a child again and trying to sleep in, but Delia kept insisting she get up. If she kept pretending to be asleep, her aunt might give up.

The voice got louder and more insistent. “Jaye, get up right now! The house is on fire!”

As she rose toward consciousness, Jaye smelled the faint tinges of smoke beginning to permeate the air in her bedroom and broke free of the cobwebs of sleep. “What the hell…”

Casting the sheet aside, her feet were on the floor before she realized the ghostly apparition of her aunt was present, and the voice hadn’t been a dream.

Delia frantically said, “Come on, hurry up. You’ve gotta wake Lindsay and get out of here.”

Jaye slid on her loafers, barely hearing her aunt as she raced to the door and down the hallway toward Lindsay’s bedroom. Grabbing the blonde’s shoulder and shaking it hard, she said urgently, “Wake up. The house is on fire.” Ignoring the look of alarm on the younger woman’s face, Jaye literally pulled her from the bed.

She saw comprehension dawn on Lindsay’s face a nanosecond before the blonde began moving of her own accord, jogging next to her down the hall.

Amidst the thickening smoke, Jaye grabbed Lindsay’s hand as they sprinted toward the front door. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the younger woman grab the phone from the coffee table, never missing a step. Impressed with Lindsay’s quick thinking, Jaye finally breathed a sigh of relief when they cleared the steps to the front yard.

Her head jerked to the left at a slight movement near the tree line, and she began sprinting toward a dark figure disappearing into the deep woods. “Call the police!”

*************************************************

Lindsay watched Jaye give chase as she dialed 911, hearing the faint wail of sirens in the distance. She reported the fire, wondering who had already called in the alarm. After requesting the police, she momentarily trained her eyes on the woods where Delia’s niece had disappeared.

As the town’s lone fire truck pulled into the yard, she moved back out of the way. Three of the town’s volunteer firemen quickly dismounted and began pulling hoses from the truck, aiming them toward the growing smoke adjacent to the back door. Within moments, the fire was out, but smoke continued to drift upward.

Chuck Tillman walked up. “You okay, Lindsay?”

Smiling at the fire chief, she answered, “Thanks to Jaye, I’m fine. I don’t know how she woke up so quickly. The smoke wasn’t even bad until we got into the living room.”

“You’re both lucky. Much longer, and that fire might’ve really caught on.” Chuck gestured toward the still smoking woodbin outside the kitchen door. “Not much damage except for smoke. Where’s Jaye?”

“She saw some guy over there by the woods and took off after him.”

“Well, the fire is definitely arson.” Chuck scratched his head. “Doesn’t make sense to set a woodbin on fire. You can smell the kerosene on the kindling.” He snorted. “I see Jaye hasn’t changed. Still rushes headlong into danger.”

Lindsay smiled. “I think she was pissed.”

“Can’t say I blame her…”

*************************************************

Jaye reached the wood line within seconds of the man’s disappearance. She paused momentarily to ascertain the direction of his flight. It was obvious by the noise he was making that he was more intent on getting away quickly than on concealing his presence.

The tall woman was no stranger to these woods and smiled knowingly. From the sounds of it, he was headed toward the Back Bay dock. Made sense that he’d come by boat. Gambling that she’d guessed right, Jaye took a shortcut she’d learned as a child and arrived at the clearing just before Stu Reynolds crashed out of the timber.

His eyes wide, Stu started backing into the woods.

Tensing in case he bolted and she had to give chase, Jaye said what was obvious to her. “It’s not going to do you any good to run, Stu. You’re caught red handed.”

Stu’s shoulders slumped as he stopped. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

Jaye approached Stu and gestured to the woods. “Come on. You can tell that to Dolan.”

As they walked back toward her aunt’s house, Jaye puzzled over the strange events. First her aunt was murdered, and now an old acquaintance had bungled an attempt to set the house on fire.

*************************************************

“Here she comes.” Lindsay frowned. “That’s Stu Reynolds. I wonder what…” She trailed off, puzzled.

Bill Webster pulled into the driveway, exited the police car leaving the emergency lights flashing, and sauntered over to the growing group of people. Scowling at Lindsay, he said coldly, “Fire looks under control. Why’d you tell dispatch you needed the police?”

Lindsay pursed her lips, but was spared from further insult by Jaye’s arrival.

Crossing her arms, Jaye met Webster’s cold eyes with a glare. “Last I heard, it’s your job to protect the citizens of this town.”

“Yeah. So? In case you hadn’t noticed, the fire’s out.”

Chuck interrupted. “The fire was arson.”

“I was just trying to get their attention. Hell, I even called the fire department before I took off.”

Four sets of eyes turned to Stu.

Bill sighed loudly. “Get their attention? You set a fire that could’ve burned down Delia’s house to get their attention? Why don’t you start at the beginning?”

Stu blurted out, “I heard my wife and that damned developer plotting to murder Delia to get her land. Next thing I know, she turns up dead, and they’re just going to walk. I had to do something.”

“So you try to burn down’s Delia’s house. What the hell was that supposed to do?”

Looking down at the ground, Stu murmured, “I was going to frame them for the fire. Had to make them pay for killing Delia somehow. I was careful so they’d have time to get out.”

“I’ve known you, what? Mor’in thirty years now, right?” When Stu nodded, Bill continued, “So can you explain why you just didn’t come and tell me?”

“Would you have believed me? More likely you’d have thought I was just trying to get back at Mary for having an affair with that bastard.”

Nodding, Bill said, “Well, maybe so. I’m gonna have to take you in and charge you. If you’re lucky, you might get released on your own recognizance, but I wouldn’t lay any money on it. Damn stupid thing to do, Stu!” Shaking his head in disgust, Webster glanced at Lindsay and added, “You mighta just got lucky. “Pears I’m gonna have to haul Mary and Derek in for some questioning. Damn outsiders.”

Jaye commented dryly, “It would kill you to say you were wrong, wouldn’t it?” She grinned mirthlessly as the sheriff ignored her and gestured for Stu to follow him to the cruiser.

*************************************************

Lindsay stood next to Jaye, watching all the emergency vehicles leave. “I still can’t believe Mary and Derek would kill Delia. No land is worth someone’s life.”

“People have murdered for less. I hope they both rot in jail for the rest of their miserable lives. It still wouldn’t be enough punishment for killing my aunt out of greed.”

“It’ll depend on what evidence they come up with. I doubt they’re going to confess, and Stu’s statement will be weak. He was right about that. The defense will play up the jealous husband aspect.”

Jaye sighed. “Yeah. But you can testify about Derek’s interest in her property and how he refused to take no for an answer. That should count for something.”

Lindsay nodded, then glancing at Jaye, she tried unsuccessfully to swallow a chuckle.

“Something funny?”

Trying not to laugh, Lindsay commented, “Do you always go chasing people through the woods in your pajamas?”

Jaye glanced down at herself and deadpanned. “At least I had the bottoms on.”

Chuckling, the two women walked into the house to survey the smoke damage.
Chapter 5
Exhausted from the previous night’s excitement, Jaye slept uncharacteristically late and woke to the wonderful aroma of bacon and potent coffee. Smiling, she rolled onto her back and stretched luxuriously. Reflecting on the events of the last few days, she was mildly surprised that her overwhelming grief at her aunt’s death had subsided to a dull ache.

Nailing her killer helped. So had the company of a certain green-eyed blonde. When they had returned from their interviews and shopping the previous day, the two women had spent the afternoon hiking over Delia’s land and along the beach. The sustained activity had pulled Jaye’s focus away from her sorrow for a while, and Lindsay’s tales about her aunt served to further distract her.

The more time the photographer spent with her aunt’s companion, the more she realized how well matched the pair had been. They were both sharp-witted, strong, insightful women. Neither was naïve about the ways of the world, but both had a rugged optimism about life in general.

In the evening, Lindsay and Jaye had poured a ritual glass of black rum, taken it out under the stars and toasted Delia’s life. By the time the chill air drove them back inside to a warm hearth, Jaye’s original rancor had faded entirely and she found herself genuinely enjoying the younger woman’s company. The crackling fire was the perfect backdrop to Lindsay’s stories as she regaled the photographer for hours on end.

Jaye could have sworn she had heard her aunt laughing delightedly at the young woman’s astute but amiable dissection of Tucker’s Way inhabitants and culture. Her affection for the locals was apparent, even as she related their quirks and antics. For all her stories though, Lindsay had said very little about her own past, other than that she came from Oregon, and her mother’s death after a long illness had propelled her into the job with Delia. Even when Jaye had told her about her job as a crime-scene photographer and her relationship with Ronald, the younger woman hadn’t reciprocated with any personal details.

Ronald! Damn. Jaye groaned inwardly, reluctantly tearing her mind from the pleasant memories of the previous night. For all her good intentions, she had forgotten to call her boyfriend again yesterday. Well, it’s not like he bothered to call me, either. Sighing, she dismissed the petulant thought and rolled over to check the clock. Deciding he’d just be getting ready for work, she picked up the bedside phone.

When a woman’s voice answered after a couple of rings, Jaye’s first thought was that she’d misdialed, but then she heard Ronald’s voice in the background.

“I told you not to answer the damned phone!”

“But Ronnie, you were in the shower.” The woman’s whine was cut off as Ronald came on the line.

“Hello? Hello?”

Without a word, Jaye hung up the phone and stared at the receiver. When it rang, she knew he had used his Caller ID to identify her. When the jangling stopped abruptly, she guessed that Lindsay had picked up the kitchen extension. Her supposition was validated when a soft tap came at her door.

“Jaye? Are you awake? There’s a gentleman calling for you.”

“Tell him…” Jaye hesitated. What did she want to tell him? Well, nothing that Lindsay would probably want to repeat. “Tell him I’m not accepting his calls.”

There was a brief silence and then a muted, “Um, okay. Breakfast is almost ready if you are.”

Jaye grunted an acknowledgement, then pulled a pillow over her head to muffle an aggrieved yell.

“Told you he was a lowlife, J-mac. It’s in the eyes. Always check the eyes.”

Groaning, the tall woman tossed the pillow aside and eyed her aunt’s ghost, perched comfortably at the foot of the bed. Scowling, she pushed herself upright and clasped her knees.

“Oh, don’t give me that look. You couldn’t care less that he’s messing around with some bimbo. Your pride is just hurt, that’s all.”

Jaye let her head drop against her knees and considered her aunt’s words. She had to admit Delia was right. Ronald’s cheating wasn’t exactly breaking her heart. If anything, she should be grateful to the anonymous woman for pushing her into a decision she’d been procrastinating over for many months. Her relationship with her now ex had been anemic at best. She had to search her mind to remember what she’d ever seen in him…and when she’d last seen it.

Refusing to give her smug relative the satisfaction however, she snapped, “I do so care.” Then ignoring Delia’s skeptical expression, she continued in a milder tone, “I wasn’t sure if I’d see you again, now that we caught your killer.”

A troubled look came over the weathered features, and Delia shook her head. Jaye was fascinated by the way the white waves of hair rippled just as they had in life. She almost stretched out her hand, before sad realization checked her movement.

“Something doesn’t feel right, but I’m not sure what it is. I just get a sense of something left undone.”

Jaye cocked her head curiously. “But we got the killer, Auntie D. Stu implicated Mary and Derek after we caught him red handed last night.”

The ghost rubbed her forehead in frustration. “I know, and you two did well…”

“But?” Looking expectantly at her aunt, Jaye waited for further explanations. None came, and when she sought elucidation, Delia waved her off.

“Oh, it’s probably nothing, J-mac. Why don’t you go have breakfast? I happen to know that Lindsay is an excellent cook.” With those words, she just vanished, and Jaye shook her head in bemusement. She wasn’t sure she’d ever get used to her relative popping in and out so abruptly.

Making her way out to the kitchen, Jaye paused in the doorway, watching Lindsay work over the stove. The young woman’s movements were deft and graceful as she divided a large omelet onto two plates, added bacon, hash browns and toast and turned to carry them to the table.

The tall woman was warmed by the smile that greeted her when Lindsay saw her. She’d half expected displeasure after she’d used the younger woman to convey the brush-off to Ronald.

“Coffee’s ready. Why don’t you pour a couple of mugs?”

They were halfway through the excellent breakfast before Lindsay remarked casually, “Want to tell me what happened this morning?”

Jaye glanced up sharply, but didn’t see anything except uncritical curiosity in her companion’s face. As she studied the clear green eyes, her aunt’s word resounded in her ears.

It’s in the eyes. Always check the eyes.

Lindsay’s eyes were compassionate, intelligent and guileless. And given her unquestionable attractiveness, Jaye wondered again at the absence of romance in the young woman’s life. Shaking off that line of thought with a touch of puzzlement, Jaye related the details of her abortive phone call to Ronald.

A small hand stretched across the table and covered her own.

“I’m so sorry.”

The simple words crystallized things for Jaye. “I’m not. Auntie D was right. He is an idiot, and I’m better off without him.”

Lindsay said discreetly, “He wasn’t exactly one of her favourite people.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” Jaye chuckled ruefully. “She thought he was all style, no substance, and a few bricks short of a full load to boot…She was right. But then, that’s the story of my life.” She sighed melodramatically, inwardly delighted when Lindsay laughed out loud.

“She did think your taste in men was…”

“Wretched, pathetic, unbelievably off-base?”

“Flawed.” Lindsay gently corrected Jaye’s helpful suggestions with a smile.

Jaye grinned. She suspected her salty-tongued relative had used somewhat more emphatic words, but she appreciated Lindsay’s attempts to soften the well-merited assessment.

Finishing off the last of the fluffy omelet, she asked, “So what about you? Is your judgment any better than mine? Any rocky romances in your past?”

“Oh, you know,” Lindsay said casually, “everyone has things they regret. My last relationship just sort of petered out when my mother got sick, and I haven’t really been looking since.”

“Mmm.” Jaye wasn’t surprised at the noncommittal answer. For someone who spoke easily and openly, the younger woman definitely had her off-limit areas.

“So what did you have on the agenda for today?” Lindsay asked, successfully moving them away from any potential awkwardness.

“I want to go through Auntie D’s papers and get a grasp on any matters that need to be cleared up.” Even as she answered, Jaye was conscious of an acute curiosity about the other woman. For reasons she wasn’t entirely clear about, Lindsay fascinated her, and quite atypically, she wanted to know all there was to know about her companion.

Nodding her understanding, Lindsay began to clear the table, demurring when Jaye offered to help.

“Why don’t you start with her desk? She always did her own paperwork, so I’m not sure what is where, but I assume you’ll find her files in there.” She hesitated, then added, “Would you mind driving me to the graveyard later? I’d like to…”

Her words trailed off, and Jaye regarded her affectionately. “Say good-bye?”

The younger woman just nodded and, head lowered, busied herself at the sink.

“Just let me know whenever you’re ready to go,” Jaye said softly before turning away to allow her new friend the privacy of her grief.

Leaving Lindsay to tidy up the kitchen, Jaye returned to her room to grab fresh clothes before she showered. Once cleaned up, she toured the exterior of the house to confirm her initial impression that Stu’s arson attempt had done little real damage. Daylight showed that part of the woodpile had been destroyed and the adjacent wall was smoke damaged, but the integrity of the building itself hadn’t been undermined. Satisfied, she made a mental note to clean up the affected area later, and made her way inside to the small den which had served as her aunt’s office.

Seating herself on the creaking wooden swivel chair in front of the ancient roll top, Jaye smiled at a childhood memory of spinning circles in her aunt’s chair until she was dizzy. She pushed off and spun once around in homage before settling in to examine her aunt’s record keeping. Luckily, Delia had been a meticulous accountant, and all the household expenses and receipts were carefully filed. A large, old, brown ledger recorded each item through the years in progressively shakier script. The evidence of her aunt’s increasing debilitation saddened the tall woman, but she knew, if asked, Delia would have dismissed any such sentiments. The older woman had enjoyed her life to the fullest, and even severe arthritis hadn’t dampened that pleasure.

Looking for the tax records, Jaye pulled open a lower drawer and paused when she saw a metal lockbox inside. Wondering what her aunt had considered valuable enough to consign to lock and key, she pulled out the box and set it on the desk. The dull and dented metal spoke of its age, and although she couldn’t see a key anywhere, the lock quickly yielded to persistent prying with a letter opener.

Seeing an assortment of ribbon bound letters and old photographs, Jaye shuffled through the contents curiously. Pulling a letter out at random, she saw it was addressed to her aunt at a Boston residence. Checking the postmark, she was surprised to see the letter was over forty years old.

Ignoring a twinge of conscience, Jaye pulled three sheets of brittle paper out of the envelope. Smoothing them open carefully, she scanned the pages. A smile spread over her face as she realized that she was reading a love letter.

“Why, Auntie D, you old dog! So you did have a checkered past after all.” Jaye chuckled as one eyebrow shot up at a particularly provocative passage. Curious to see whom the mystery man was she flipped through the pages to the final passage.

My darling Delia, I know the world will never understand the love between us, and I pray that I may find the strength to stand firm and claim my place beside you. Know that whatever happens, I will always love you with everything that I am. Beloved, wait for me, for I will come to you.
Forever your,
Patricia

Jaye’s mouth dropped open and she stared at the signature, unquestionably a woman’s elegant cursive. Delia’s mystery lover was a woman! Stunned, she dropped the letter and fumbled for another. Pawing frantically through letter after letter, she realized that they were all from Patricia, and all proclaimed without equivocation, the romantic attachment between the two.

“Find everything that you were looking for?”

The casual question from the doorway caused Jaye to jerk and whirl about. “Did you know that my aunt was a lesbian?”

Lindsay flinched at the harsh accusatory tone, but nodded. “Yes, I did.”

“I can’t believe this!” Jaye threw the letter she’d been holding atop the pile on the desk. Standing, she paced angrily. “I bloody well can’t believe this!”

Lindsay edged by her and gingerly picked up one of the letters. The soft smile that came over her face when she read the contents irrationally infuriated Jaye, and she snatched the papers out of the younger woman’s hand. Shaking the crumpled letter in Lindsay’s face, she snarled, “Is that why she thought you walked on water?”

Obviously shaken, Lindsay stood her ground. “We were never lovers, if that’s what you mean.”

Her quiet words calmed the angry woman slightly, and somewhat shamefaced, Jaye mumbled an apology. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to accuse you.” Still reeling, she blurted, “How did you know?”

Lindsay regarded her steadily, obviously considering what to say. Finally she said, “I found Delia’s ad for a companion-assistant in The Rainbow’s End.” When Jaye stared at her blankly, she sighed and clarified, “It’s a national gay magazine.”

“Uh, so then you’re…” Jaye stumbled over the words.

With a wry smile, Lindsay nodded. “Gay, yes.”

Stunned at the unreasonable jealousy and sense of betrayal that swept over her, Jaye spun and stomped out of the room. Blindly she grabbed her jacket and keys from her bedroom and rushed out of the house. Driving in an emotional maelstrom, she found herself on the highway out of town heading north. Without a conscious decision, she’d taken the route leading her back to Toronto.

“Running away, Eeyore?”

Jaye started violently, then scowled at her aunt’s ghost in the passenger seat.

“Go away!”

Delia’s voice was sad, but determined. “Can’t do that.”

Pointedly ignoring her aunt, Jaye focused fiercely on the road, pushing Henri well past the speed limit.

“Dolan’s got a speed trap about ten miles up. You might want to slow down to a sane speed.”

Jaye glared at Delia, who just shrugged. “I’m already dead, J-mac, but I’d hate to see you join me before your time.”

Sucking in a deep breath, Jaye forced her foot to ease off the gas pedal.

“So what’s got your knickers in a knot? The fact that I had a past, the fact that it was with a woman, or the fact that I never told you about it?”

Her aunt’s voice was neutral, but the tall woman was stung by the implication of juvenile behaviour. Rather than answering directly, she asked, “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

Delia sighed heavily. “Because part of the conditions your father imposed for allowing me to stay in your life was that I never mention anything ‘improper’ in your presence, and my former life was most assuredly considered off-limits in his estimation.”

Jaye considered that silently. It did explain a lot of things: her father’s dislike of her aunt, his reluctance every summer to send her back to Tucker’s Way, and his rigid insistence on her church attendance when she returned to Canada. “Okay,” she admitted slowly, “I can see that, but why didn’t you tell me after I’d grown up? He couldn’t have kept us apart then.”

“He had you for ten months of every year. I had you for two. I wasn’t sure how much he’d indoctrinated you to his way of seeing things, and I didn’t want to take the chance of alienating you, particularly as it was irrelevant to my life by then.”

Sneaking a glance at her aunt, Jaye muttered, “I’m not prejudiced, you know.”

“Could’ve fooled me by the way you were behaving back there.”

Delia’s sharp words stung. “I…I was just…I dunno, confused, I guess. I mean you told her, and you never told me.” Jaye knew that she sounded plaintive, even to her own ears, and she ducked her head in embarrassment.

“Silly, old Eeyore.” Her aunt’s words were affectionate, even as they softly chided her. “Considering that Lindsay and I initially connected because we’re both gay, doesn’t it make sense that we knew these things about each other? It doesn’t mean I loved you one bit less. Don’t you know that you were the daughter I never had, especially after your mother died?”

Jaye squirmed a little in chagrin, trying for the first time to understand the source of her jealousy and anger. Was it truly that she was hurt because Delia had never told her, or did it have more to do with what she imagined Delia and Lindsay’s relationship to be? “You two really weren’t involved?”

“Lindsay and I?” Delia’s surprise was evident. “Good heavens, no, child. She’s just a baby, for crying out loud.”

Not really. Jaye’s wry thought was accompanied by a mental image of the young woman she’d abandoned in such haste, but she forced her mind out of that path at her aunt’s pensive follow-up.

“I lost my heart long ago, J-mac, and I never took it back.”

“Patricia?”

“Patricia.”

Before Jaye could ask the questions that were bubbling over in her mind, Delia changed the subject.

“Are you done running yet? ‘Cause there’s a young woman whose feelings you hurt pretty badly, and you’ve got an apology to make.”

Jaye began to decelerate and pulled Henri over to the side of the road. Glancing at her aunt, she admitted, “Guess I do at that.”

“Good.” With that one terse word, Delia popped out and left Jaye shaking her head in exasperation. She had so many things she wanted to ask her aunt, but she obviously wasn’t going to be afforded the opportunity right now.

*************************************************

Lindsay sat in the old wooden chair, her fingers resting on the lockbox and her mind a thousand miles away. The young woman was deeply shaken by the realization that such an extreme reaction from Delia’s niece meant that her own burgeoning fascination with the woman was severely misplaced. She couldn’t believe that anyone who had grown up with Delia’s influence in her life could have turned out as a raging homophobe, but she didn’t know what other interpretation to put on the woman’s angry words and abrupt departure.

Shaking hands had tidied up the mess Jaye left, carefully folding letters back into their envelopes and organizing them by postmark dates before stacking them back into the metal box. Part of her mind noted that the most recent postmarks were only weeks old, but she was too disturbed to follow up on the thought.

“I’m an idiot.”

It was Lindsay’s turn to spin slowly at the words and regard the chagrined woman standing in the doorway. Silently she watched the tall figure squirm under her steady gaze.

“I shouldn’t have run out, and I apologize. I never meant to…I mean, I’m not…I just wasn’t expecting that,” she nodded at the lockbox, “and I overreacted. I really am sorry, Lindsay.”

It wasn’t a polished apology, but as far as Lindsay could tell, it was genuine. The young woman nodded neutrally. “All right.” Having been burned once, she was determined to maintain enough distance not to let it happen again. When she didn’t say anything more, Jaye sidled into the room and gingerly took a chair beside the desk.

“So, um, are you okay?”

Lindsay shrugged. “Why wouldn’t I be? It’s not like I’ve never dealt with bigotry before.”

It was a well-aimed shot, and she could actually see Jaye flinch at the blunt words. Instead of making her feel better however, she simply felt tired and drained.

“I’m not…” Jaye stopped and sighed. “Look, I understand why you’d think that, but it really wasn’t that Auntie D was involved with a woman, it was that I didn’t know anything about that part of her life. I mean, she obviously cherished this woman enough to have kept her letters all these years, yet she never said one thing about her to me.”

“Your father…”

“I know. She explained that.”

Lindsay stared in surprise. “She explained that?”

“Oh shit!” Jaye had a distinct deer in the headlights look. “I mean, I guessed that…that my dad probably censored what she could tell me.”

Frowning, the younger woman accepted the ad-lib, but she didn’t miss how nervously Jaye was avoiding her eyes. Finding no reasonable explanation other than perhaps remorse over her abrupt departure and angry words, Lindsay allowed the matter to drop.

“So what’ve you got there?” Jaye nodded her head at the old photographs under Lindsay’s hand that she hadn’t gotten around to replacing in the lock box.

“I’m not sure. Pictures of Delia and this Patricia, I guess. I haven’t really looked through them.” Fanning the photographs across the desktop, Lindsay looked closer at them, smiling when she saw a young Delia with a tall, slender blonde woman in most of the photos. Many of the pictures were taken in outdoor locales: picnicking, in a boat, at a fair; but the most striking one had been taken in a garden gazebo.

The blonde woman was leaning against one of the upright wooden columns. The light of an afternoon sun illuminated her face and shone off her pale hair. The expression on her face left no doubt that she was enchanted with the photographer, as the camera had caught her eyes soft with love and her lips parted as if waiting for the kiss she knew would soon come.

Staring at the photo, Lindsay murmured, “I know this woman.”

“You do?” Jaye gently took the picture from her grasp and examined it. “She certainly was beautiful, but then Auntie D was pretty good looking herself.”

Lindsay focused on the picture now in Jaye’s long fingers, trying to clear her mind and picture the woman as she might look now. Suddenly, as if a fog lifted, the pieces fell into place.

“Oh my God, she was here!” Excitedly, Lindsay tapped the picture. “She was right here in this house not four months ago!”

“Patricia was here?” Jaye’s surprise was evident. “When? What happened? What did Delia say?”

Controversy forgotten, Lindsay turned to the other woman eagerly. “It was at the beginning of the summer. I remember, because we were concerned about a late frost affecting the seedlings in the garden. We were out looking them over when a big car pulled up out front. We weren’t expecting anyone, so both of us were curious. We went out to greet our visitors, and a man in his thirties and an older woman got out. For a moment, I thought Delia was having a dizzy spell because she kind of swayed. I put an arm around her, but she shook me off and walked up to the pair. It was obvious that she and the woman knew each other. They greeted each other stiffly, but with familiarity.”

Jaye had been following the narrative avidly, leaning forward until her knees were almost touching Lindsay’s. “So was it Patricia?”

Lindsay nodded. “Uh huh. And the man was her son, Gareth.” She curled up her lip in distaste and Jaye chuckled.

“Not one of your favourite people I take it?”

“He was a jerk. He monopolized the conversation through the whole visit, couldn’t stop talking about his political ambitions and the fact that he had his whole career plotted out, and that powerful backers were already talking about his future in the Oval Office.”

“But what did Delia and Patricia say to each other?”

“Not a lot. Like I said, Gareth pretty much monopolized the whole conversation. I could tell Delia was irritated because he cut her off every time she tried to talk to his mother, and he was terribly condescending to both women.”

“And you?”

Lindsay gave a wry grin. “Me he treated like the hired help.” She closed her eyes, trying to recall details of that late spring day. “You know, when they left, I asked Delia who Patricia was. I remember her looking very sad as she told me, “An old friend.” Then she went to her bedroom and didn’t come back out until the next day.”

“Wow. So Patricia came back into her life after all these years,” Jaye mused out loud. “I wonder if they stayed in touch after that.”

Lindsay’s eyes widened, and she turned to the letters she had stacked back in the lockbox. Shuffling through the envelopes, she extracted a handful. “These are postmarked from this summer. They must have started writing after that visit.”

She handed the letters to the other woman, who hesitated before carefully opening the earliest one and reading it. Lindsay was surprised to see tears gather in blue eyes as Jaye perused the pages.

“Jaye?”

The tall woman looked up at her and gestured with the letter. “Patricia was apologizing for not being strong enough, for allowing her parents to force her into a marriage rather than running away with my aunt as Delia begged her to all those years ago. She says she’d never stopped loving her, and finally had to see her again. She asks forgiveness if she’s upset Delia’s life, but prays that they can be friends again.”

Lindsay found her own eyes suspiciously moist as she thought about her friend losing her beloved and retreating to Tucker’s Way for the rest of her life. “Do you think they might have gotten back together again?”

“Well, she says in here that her husband died four years ago, so there wouldn’t have been any impediment to it.”

“Except for Gareth.” Lindsay felt a sour taste in her mouth at the memory of the obnoxious, overweening politician. “I doubt he’d react happily to the thought of his mother coming out and living openly with her female lover.”

The same thought struck both women at the same time.

“You don’t think…”

“What about…”

“Gareth?” they chimed together.

“But last night, Stu implicated Mary and Derek,” Lindsay protested unconvincingly.

Jaye shook her head. “Yeah, but Stu had reason to hate both of them, so I’m not sure we can accept him at his word.”

“So where do we go from here?”

The tall woman thoughtfully tapped the return address on the envelope she held. “Well, we know where Patricia lives.” Her blue eyes troubled, she continued. “We really should let her know about Delia’s death if she hasn’t heard, and maybe talking to her will give us some indication if Gareth was even aware of the connection between his mother and my aunt.”

Lindsay nodded absently. Something was niggling at the back of her mind, something related to the neat stack of letters in the lockbox. Suddenly the picture came into focus. “There’s another one!”

Jaye glanced up from the second recent letter she’d begun reading. “Huh? Another what?”

Excitedly the younger woman explained. “Another letter! The day Delia died, we picked up the mail as we headed into town. I remember her taking an envelope out of the stack and slipping it into her purse with a curious little smile. I just assumed it was something she wanted to read later in private, but I’ll bet you anything it was a letter from Patricia!”

Blue eyes crackled with excitement. “I’ll bet you’re right! Do you know where it is now?”

“If Delia never took it out of her purse, then it must be with her personal effects. Did they turn those over to you at the funeral home?”

Jaye shook her head. “It’s more likely they’ve got them locked up as evidence.”

“Then let’s go sweet talk our way into the evidence room.” Lindsay noted the raised eyebrow that got her. “What? You don’t think we can sweet talk the sheriff?”

“I’d think we’d have a better chance sweet talking a mongoose out of his snake dinner,” Jaye muttered as she tossed the envelopes back onto the desk and rose to follow her companion.

Hearing Delia’s old maxim from her niece’s mouth somehow gave Lindsay a tentative reassurance that they would be able to work together despite the earlier hitch. But as she led the way out of the room, she couldn’t repress a tiny sigh for unborn dreams.
Chapter Six
“Good, only Dolan’s car is here. We’d never get anything out of Webster.”

Jaye nodded in agreement. “I can’t believe this town keeps electing him.”

“That’s only because no one else wants the job. I think once Dolan gets a little more experience, Bill is going to have a fight on his hands to stay in office.”

Pulling open the door and gesturing for Lindsay to precede her, Jaye commented cryptically, “Can’t happen soon enough.”

Lindsay smiled at her tall companion, taking pleasure when Jaye’s scowl morphed into an answering smile. Realizing she’d faltered in her resolution to maintain a safe distance, she shook off the feeling and stepped up her pace down the hallway toward the sheriff’s office.

Dolan spotted the two women coming down the hall and rose from his seat behind the desk. Crossing the office, he wrapped his arms around Lindsay.

“I knew you didn’t do it.” Smiling widely, he released her. “You should’ve seen Bill’s face when he told me to go haul in Derek and Mary.”

Jaye interrupted abruptly. “Did he arrest them?” She ignored the curious look on Lindsay’s face, knowing her tone of voice had been harsh.

“Nope. Told ’em not to leave town, though. He said he couldn’t arrest them on Stu’s testimony alone.”

Lindsay turned her attention to Dolan. “He didn’t have any trouble arresting me on circumstantial evidence.”

“I know, but you know how he is. He’s afraid to make any wrong moves because Mary is a councilwoman and Derek has money behind him. I sat in when they were questioned, and they both said Stu was lying and must have found out about their affair. It was funny when Bill told ’em it wasn’t exactly a secret around town.”

Jaye snorted. “Mary knew damn well it wasn’t any secret. She was proud of her latest conquest.”

Dolan nodded. “So what brings you both here? Not that I’m not glad to see you,” he amended hastily.

Lindsay’s face became pensive. “Could we see Delia’s personal effects? Everything was confiscated for evidence.” When Dolan started to interrupt, Lindsay asked softly, “Just her purse. Jaye never got to say goodbye.”

Running a hand through his hair, Dolan said, “You know I ain’t supposed to let no one touch the evidence.”

Blue and green eyes solemnly met his gaze. Jaye promised, “We won’t take anything. I just want to see her things.”

Dolan sighed audibly. “Oh, okay. But don’t take too long. I want you both gone before Bill gets back.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll be quick.” Lindsay smiled and added, “Thanks, Dolan.”

Grabbing the keys from the desk drawer, the deputy said, “Aw, you’re welcome.”

The three walked into the evidence room, and Dolan went to a shelf marked with the case number assigned to Delia’s murder. He removed the purse, visible in the clear plastic bag in which it was sealed, then carefully recorded his initials next to each item that had been catalogued when the purse was admitted as evidence. Carrying the entire bag over to a desk, he set it down gently in front of the women.

Dolan gestured to the box of surgical gloves on the table. “Make sure you put those on before you touch anything. When you’re done, just pick up that phone and dial one. I’ll come back and check it in.”

Lindsay blanched as she stared at the red stained envelope in the evidence bag. She’d forgotten the letter had fallen from Delia’s purse in the library and her mind began playing a cinemascope of gruesome pictures: Delia sprawled on the floor…the blood running from her head contrasting with the unnatural white complexion of her face. So still, unmoving. Like an observer in a gory horror show, Lindsay saw herself fall to her knees next to Delia and scream for help. She began CPR. There was blood everywhere. Delia just needed a doctor. She would be okay. She couldn’t die.

Tears began running down her face, yet her vision remained inward, glued to the montage of horrific images in her mind, totally oblivious to her surroundings.

“Lindsay?” Jaye shifted uncomfortably, and raised her voice slightly. “Hey, Lindsay?” She walked around her companion until she was facing her, then laid a hand on the smaller woman’s shoulder, her relief apparent when Lindsay raised damp eyes to meet her concerned blue ones.

“I’m sorry. I just… The blood. The memory…it’s still so vivid.”

Jaye instinctively pulled Lindsay close, hugging her and murmuring, “I’m sorry. I should’ve come alone.” Suddenly stiffening, she patted Lindsay’s back awkwardly, and then released her. “How about if you go wait in Dolan’s office. I’ll tell you what the letter says.”

Lindsay shook her head, grateful for the offer, but needing to see the letter.

My darling Delia,
I’ve missed you so much and long to be with you. I broke the news of our planned reunion to Gareth and we had a big row about it. I had really hoped it would go better, but he is so afraid of a scandal. Sometimes I wonder if he’s too ambitious for his own good.

It’s hard to believe that my own son accused me of undermining his political career and informed me that I owed him the respectability of being a normal mother. He knows so little about love. I can’t help wondering if that’s my fault, for I never loved his father. Maybe, somehow, Gareth sensed that. He ranted and raved for over an hour, bombarding me with every possible argument that might make me feel guilty about my feelings for you.

When I explained to him that I was committed to renewing our relationship, he stormed out of the house and hasn’t been back all afternoon. I knew he would be upset, but I didn’t expect such a vile explosion.

I love my son and I want to give him a little more time to get used to the idea. I ask for your understanding that we proceed slowly. You’ve waited so patiently for me for so many years, beloved, that I hate to ask you to wait just a little longer. I was afraid before, bowing to my parents’ wishes, and I did us both an injustice. No one will ever stand in our way again.

Gareth just returned and I suspect it will not be a pleasant evening, but I will weather it because any anguish is worth knowing that we’ll soon be permanently reunited. I do so long for that day. Just remembering the feel of your arms around me and the magic of our connection gives me the strength to do what I must. Soon, darling, we will be waking together, sharing the sunrise and toasting the sunset.

I leave you with this promise – Look for me by moonlight, watch for me by moonlight, I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.

My dearest love, you carry my heart in your hands. I love you today, yesterday and forever,

Patricia

“What a fucker!”

Lindsay covered her mouth to keep a snicker from escaping. She totally agreed, but hadn’t expected the emphatic, albeit off-color, explosion from her normally disciplined companion.

“Well, he is!”

Lindsay nodded. ” You won’t get any argument from me!”

Jaye folded up the paper, put it in the envelope and began shoving it into her pocket. Lindsay laid a hand on her arm. “What are you doing? We can’t take that. Dolan will get in trouble.”

“If I leave this here, anyone could see it.”

Resigned green eyes met Jaye’s gaze evenly. “Do you really think Delia would care?”

Jaye glanced at the envelope, and then ruefully looked up. “Well, she might…”

Soft laughter, audible only to one of the room’s inhabitant’s tinkled across the room. “What’s the matter, J-mac? Afraid someone might think it’s hereditary?”

“NO!”

Lindsay stopped pulling off her gloves and looked at Jaye, startled. “What’s wrong?”

Her face crimson, Jaye muttered, “Nothing.” She shoved the envelope into the evidence bag, removing her gloves as Lindsay called Dolan. Once the deputy arrived, Jaye stalked out of the room followed by her bewildered companion.

*************************************************

Jaye began a silent diatribe directed at Delia, hoping her aunt could hear her thoughts. What are you trying to do? Lindsay’s going to think I’m crazy or something. I wish you wouldn’t pop in like that. At least let me see you first.

Delia appeared next to her window, moving evenly with the car. “Sorry dear, but I couldn’t resist. My body didn’t have time to catch up with my mouth.” Shrewdly, she added, “Besides what do you care what Lindsay thinks? You’ll be out of here at the first opportunity.”

Jaye opened her mouth to protest, but thought better of it. She did intend to leave once they got to the bottom of things. What she didn’t understand was why she wasn’t looking forward to it.

Lindsay was watching Jaye curiously. “We should let Patricia know that Delia’s dead.”

“I know. Boston’s four hours from here. You want to head down there today or wait until tomorrow?”

“Why don’t we go today? If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to talk to Gareth, too. He’s a real jerk and given his ego, he has more motive than anyone else for wanting Delia dead.”

“Sounds good to me.”

Lindsay reached into her purse and pulled out the address she had copied down before leaving the evidence room.

Jaye glanced over at her companion, smiling, before returning her eyes to the road. There was something about the blonde that she found increasingly appealing. Or more like a lot of something’s. Lindsay was genuinely warm and outgoing, but beneath her normally sunny demeanor, there was a sharp mind that missed little.

The raven-haired woman’s thoughts ventured back to the evidence room. She carefully examined what she’d refused to think about then – how good it felt when Lindsay’s body was pressed against her own. She’d quickly relinquished the embrace because her physical reaction to the contact had startled her. Jaye was pulled from her reverie by the sound of Lindsay’s voice.

“Are you okay? You’ve been really quiet.”

Jaye shrugged. “I’m fine. Just thinking. How about you?”

Lindsay smiled shyly. “I’m better. Thanks.”

Quirking a half smile, Jaye switched on the radio. Determined to banish her troubling thoughts, she began singing along with the tune on the radio. A short time later, Lindsay joined in.

*************************************************

Jaye and Lindsay pulled into the driveway of a large stone house, the front yard bordered with well-groomed, evenly shorn hedges. A large two-car garage matching the design of the house was set further down the driveway.

Getting out of the car, Lindsay remarked, “This is some place.”

Jaye glanced over at Lindsay. “Yeah, but it’s too formal looking for me. I like my aunt’s place better.”

“So do I. This house doesn’t have the personality that Delia’s place does.”

Nodding in agreement, Jaye pressed the doorbell.

An aristocratic, slender, mature woman wearing an open-necked white silk blouse and dark blue pants answered the door immediately. Her shoulder length hair was predominantly blonde, although there was a healthy mixture of gray. She was an attractive woman with fine boned facial features, dominated by large hazel eyes.

“May I help you?” A puzzled expression covered the woman’s face. “I’ve met you. Aren’t you Delia’s companion?” Her gaze turned to Jaye. “And you must be Jaye. There are pictures of you all over her house.”

Lindsay smiled warmly, and Jaye confirmed, “Right on both counts.”

“Please, come in.” She looked past the women eagerly. “Is Delia with you?”

The two younger women glanced at each other. Lindsay said quietly, “Why don’t you sit down. I’m afraid we have some bad news.”

Instantly alarmed, Patricia reached out a trembling hand. “Is she sick? Where is she? I’ll get packed. I need to go to her.”

Lindsay laid a comforting hand on Patricia’s arm and steered her toward the couch visible in the adjoining room. “Come on. Let’s go sit down.”

Patricia’s face paled, but she offered no resistance.

Once the three women were seated, Lindsay glanced over at Jaye, who nodded her approval as she settled uncomfortably into a chair opposite the two blondes.

Taking a deep breath, Lindsay said, “Delia was killed last week.”

The older woman’s face lost its remaining color. “No. Please tell me this is a joke. She can’t be dead. Not now. Not when we were so close.”

Lindsay reached for one of Patricia’s hands. “I’m so sorry. We didn’t know or we’d have come sooner. We just found your letters today.”

Jaye gazed at the two women, not sure what to do or say. Tears were tracking down Patricia’s face. Spotting a Kleenex box, she retrieved it and carried it over to the heartbroken woman, who was now wracked by silent sobs.

“Why? Why now? I never got to say goodbye. I loved her so much.”

Sitting down next to Patricia, Jaye said softly, “She loved you, too.”

She looked up to find surprised green eyes regarding her, before they turned back to Patricia. Jaye stood up and walked back to the chair in which she’d been sitting. Returning her gaze to the two women, she saw the shimmering figure of her aunt sitting in the place on the couch she had just vacated.

Delia was looking at Patricia, her features soft with love and her eyes overflowing with boundless devotion, apparent even across the room.

Jaye was overwhelmed by the intense emotion emanating from her aunt’s ghost. The empathy she’d held at arm’s length since learning of Delia’s long-ago lover began to burgeon, flooding her with awareness. These two women shared a very special love for one another. How could that be wrong? She remembered her disdain when one of her friends had talked about soul mates, dismissing it as a non-existent romantic notion.

She’d been wrong. Her disdain and cynicism had grown out of a personal history devoid of meaningful relationships and replete with casual encounters with superficial men. Jaye felt the burdensome yoke of bigotry she’d unwittingly absorbed from her father slip away in the face of the unearthly scene unfolding in front of her. This wasn’t wrong. One thing she’d heard was true. Love truly was blind. Love came from the heart, without regard to the physical manifestation of the human being. Love was love, and knew no boundaries.

She could hear her aunt speaking softly in Patricia’s ear and wondered if the distraught woman could hear Delia even as she felt like an eavesdropper. Jaye wistfully wondered what it would feel like to have someone look at her that way and whisper sweet words into her ears.

Patricia’s tears began to slow and she stood up, Delia’s ghostly form joining her. “Excuse me just a minute.”

When she left, Lindsay said, “I feel so bad. I wish there were something I could say to make her feel better.”

“I know. It’s going to take time.”

“Do you still think it’s wrong?”

Jaye met Lindsay’s eyes squarely. “No, I don’t.” It was uplifting to see the pleased surprise in the green ones gazing at her.

*************************************************

Patricia returned a short time later carrying a tray with a teapot and three cups. After pouring them each a cup of tea, she walked over to a bookcase and pulled open a lower drawer. Rummaging to the bottom of the items in the drawer, she removed a worn photo album and carried it back to the couch.

“I met your aunt when we were both young and so full of love and life. Delia used to tease me all the time about taking so many pictures, but I’m very glad I did. We loved each other so much, and I know that’s hard for some people to understand.”

Patricia glanced up from the album, finding only kindness and concern in the two sets of eyes gazing at her. “Would you like to see some pictures?”

Jaye and Lindsay answered in concert, “We’d love to,” sharing a grin at the unified answer.

The time passed quickly, with Patricia delighting her guests with tales of some of her and Delia’s escapades and adventures. She sadly related her decision to bow to her parents’ wishes and marry Gareth Edwards, Sr., but it was apparent to her visitors that her love for Delia had never faltered.

*************************************************

The three women looked up as a car door slammed, and Patricia hurriedly closed the album, replacing it in the drawer only seconds before Gareth walked into the living room.

“Who’s here?”

Lindsay stared at the ruggedly handsome man standing in the entranceway, noting that her initial impression had been correct. His whole demeanor was arrogant and overbearing. He was wearing a dark blue, tailor made suit, designed to emphasize his fit, muscular body.

Gareth was just short of six feet and stood tall, using his formidable presence to make a memorable entrance. He walked into the room exuding confidence, a fixed smile on his face, taking the time to make eye contact with each individual.

Lindsay met his eyes and the artificially bright smile faded, momentary shock apparent in his eyes before the smile reappeared. Had she not been watching him so intently, Lindsay knew she’d never have seen the brief faltering.

Patricia spoke, breaking the short silence. “Gareth, you remember Lindsay, don’t you? She was Delia’s assistant.” When her son nodded, she continued, “This is Jaye, Delia’s niece.”

Gareth greeted each woman, subjecting both to the prodigious charm and charisma that had been the hallmark of his legal career.

Taking a deep breath, the older woman added, “They came to tell me Delia was murdered last week. Some suspects have been questioned, but charges haven’t been filed yet.”

He walked over and hugged his mother. “Mother, I’m so sorry. I know she was an old friend.”

Lindsay had to bite her tongue. His eyes had shown no warmth and his words had been devoid of any sincerity, making it obvious he was indifferent to the revelation. Gareth’s coldness reinforced his position as the number one suspect on her list.

She glanced at Jaye, noting the scowl. They were definitely on the same sheet of music regarding Patricia’s son.

Gareth led his mother over to the couch, insisting she sit down. “I think it would be best if you left now. My mother’s suffered a terrible shock, and she needs to rest.”

“No. It’s over four hours to Tucker’s Way.” She turned her attention to Jaye and Lindsay. “Please stay here tonight as my guests.”

The entreaty in her eyes was clearly visible to both women. Jaye spoke. “We’d love to. Thank you.”

Gareth interrupted. “I would think you’d have the decency to see that my mother needs some rest.”

“Gareth! This is my house and I want them to stay. Don’t listen to him. He’s just overly protective.”

Jaye glanced from Gareth’s tightly clenched fists to his rigid features, watching as he visibly forced himself to relax and took a seat beside his mother.

“Are you all right, Mother? Is there anything I can do?”

“I’m okay.” Patricia shook her head sadly, her expressive eyes filling with tears again. “I just need time…”

“A change of subject might be in order. It’s not good to dwell on the dead,” Gareth interjected smoothly. Ignoring the visitors, he focused exclusively on his mother. “I went to court on the Falstead case today. I eviscerated the fool’s lawyer until even the jurors were shaking their heads. I can’t believe he thought he could compete with me in a courtroom.” Smiling smugly, Gareth continued, “Of course it was no competition.”

“So you won?”

Lindsay shook her head imperceptibly. She could see that Patricia didn’t really care about some case Gareth was working on right now.

“Indeed. This is the last time he’ll ever accuse one of my clients of breaking environmental laws.”

“But you said your client was guilty,” Patricia said, “I thought you were just going to get a reduced fine for him.”

“He is guilty. So? Why bother with a reduced fine when you can win? I knew I had the jury eating out of my hand. Why not give my client his money’s worth. A reduced fine was only the plan if I was burdened with a jury of environmentalists.”

Jaye glowered at Gareth. Lindsay stood up, wanting to divert Jaye’s attention from the contemptible idiot sitting on the couch.

“Excuse me. I need to use the restroom.”

“Of course. It’s up the stairs on the right side of the hallway about half way down.”

Lindsay smiled at Patricia. “Thanks. I’ll be right back.” She shot Jaye a look, and inwardly sighed with relief when she saw some of the anger fade from the crystal blue eyes.

An hour later, Patricia stood up. “I’m going to start preparing dinner.”

The younger women joined her. Jaye asked, “How about letting us help?”

Seeing the indecision in her eyes, Lindsay raised her eyebrows in entreaty.

“Thank you. I’d like that.”

Lindsay joined Jaye in a sigh of relief. Listening to Gareth for the past hour had been monotonous and boring.

Once dinner was finished, Patricia suggested with gentle firmness, “Gareth, why don’t you go home now? I’m sure you’re tired after your long day.”

Gareth frowned and protested, “But I thought I’d help you entertain our company.”

“You have and thank you, but I want to get our guests settled in and retire early.”

“Well, okay. You be sure to call me in the morning. I’m worried about you.”

“I will, honey. I’m doing okay.” Patricia hugged Gareth and ushered him out the door.

Turning back to her guests, she said, “Now we can talk.”
Chapter Seven
Jaye leaned back in her chair, approaching exhaustion from the long hours of talking. Lindsay had already retired for the night but, sensing that her aunt’s lover still needed to talk, Jaye had stayed up with their hostess. Now, however, she noted that the older woman had drifted off into her own thoughts, and she remained quiet, allowing Patricia the comfort of her memories.

Tired blue eyes shifted to her aunt’s ghost. Delia had been a constant presence since Gareth’s departure, hovering close to Patricia as if to offer ethereal solace. The spirit raised her eyes and met Jaye’s, sorrow mixed with a curious contentment in the wise, old gaze. The younger woman couldn’t help wondering if Delia’s shade would remain at Patricia’s side for whatever years the elegant woman had left.

“I almost feel like she’s here…like I can still feel her love surrounding me.”

Patricia’s wistful remark startled Jaye out of her torpor and without thinking, she blurted, “She is. She’s sitting right beside you.”

“Pardon?”

Hazel eyes had widened in shock and Jaye’s immediate instinct was to quickly recant, but Delia’s nod and half-smile encouraged her.

“My aunt. Well, her spirit anyway…she’s sitting beside you and has been all evening.”

“You can see her?” Patricia’s voice was a mixture of skepticism and desperate hope.

Jaye nodded. “I’ve been able to since the day of her funeral. I almost had a coronary when she first showed up, but she was so pissed off at being murdered when she had big plans for her life, that she insisted I find out who did it. She knew Lindsay had been wrongly accused and wasn’t about to sit still for that kind of injustice.”

Patricia laughed. “That’s sounds like my Dee.” She turned to stare at the spot to which Jaye had gestured. Sadly she reported, “I can’t see her.”

“Tell her to close her eyes, J-mac. Tell her to clear her mind and just let herself feel.”

Obediently, Jaye repeated her aunt’s words, watching as Patricia followed the instructions, an expression of wary hope on her aristocratic features.

Delia raised both hands, cupping her lover’s face and smoothing her thumbs over the lines around her eyes and mouth. Bending forward, she touched her lips to Patricia’s, lingering as if tasting a long-ago sweetness.

Hazel eyes flew open. “I felt her! I really felt her!”

Jaye laughed, delighted that her aunt had gotten through.

Patricia turned eagerly to the younger woman. “Can I talk to her?”

“I’m not sure. I mean, she can hear what you say, but I’m not sure if you’ll be able to hear her replies. Give it a try. I’ll translate if necessary.”

The elegant woman turned back to face the unseen wraith. “Dee…darling, I’m so sorry. If only I hadn’t delayed. Maybe if I’d been with you…”

“No, Patty. You might have gotten hurt, and I couldn’t have borne that.”

Jaye had never heard such tenderness in her aunt’s voice, not even when Delia had comforted her after numerous childhood scrapes. She felt like a voyeur, but when it became clear that Patricia still couldn’t hear her lover’s words, she repeated them.

A strangled half-sob met her recitation. “Only Dee ever called me Patty. I never let anyone else get away with that nickname.” Tears spilled down her cheeks, but her eyes were luminous with joy. “Oh God, she’s really here. Please tell her how much I miss her and how dearly I love her.”

Jaye’s vision was unaccountably misty. “She knows. She can hear you.” She cocked her head as she listened to her aunt. “She says she always knew, even after you left. She never for a moment doubted your love, and she never blamed you.”

Patricia wept bitterly now. “My father…”

Deciding discretion was in order, Jaye decided not to convey the oath that burst from Delia’s lips at the mention of the man who had destroyed the young lovers’ dreams. Instead she frowned at her aunt, silently urging her to let the past go and focus on the despairing woman beside her. She was pleased with Delia’s next words.

“My aunt asks if you remember the time of your Uncle Hannibal’s annual July 4th barbeque.”

Sobs slowed, and a tiny smile curled Patricia’s lips.

“She wants to know if they ever figured out who sabotaged your cousin’s rowboat.”

Jaye was startled to hear Patricia giggle and watched as Delia grinned too. She frowned in puzzlement, wondering what memory was amusing the two lovers.

Noting her confusion, Patricia explained.

“My cousin, Charles, was an obnoxious snob, and he had his sights set on a wealthy young socialite. Dee and I knew the girl, and she was a pretty decent sort. We didn’t want her to get stuck with Charles for life when all he was after was her money and position, so we set out to ensure that she saw the real Charles before she was swept away by his smarmy charm. We knew Charles would take Lillian out on the pond during Uncle Hannibal’s picnic, because that was his standard approach to courting.
The night before, Dee and I snuck out and loosened a couple of the boards in the boat. He only got about ten feet off the dock before the water started pouring in. Not only did he make an utter ass of himself squawking like a terrified child, he abandoned Lillian in the sinking boat and scurried back to shore like the proverbial rat. Well, needless to say, by the time she made it back to land, soaked to the skin and livid about his desertion, there was no danger that she’d ever consider Charles as suitable husband material.”

Through gales of laughter, Delia managed to gasp, “Charles suspected us, but he was never able to prove anything, and Patty and I alibied each other.”

Jaye joined in the laughter, feeling vaguely sorry for the would-be Romeo. She suspected he hadn’t stood much of a chance against these two.

“So who was the brain behind that operation?” Jaye asked, when the hilarity subsided a bit.

“She was!”

The answer in unison reminded Jaye of her and Lindsay, and even as she chuckled at the lovers playfully blaming each other for long-ago mischief, she couldn’t help being distracted. As she absently continued conveying Delia’s words, inwardly approving of how her aunt had lifted Patricia’s spirits, her traitorous thoughts cast Lindsay and herself in the older women’s shoes. She found herself musing on what they would do in the same position, if her father forbade such a relationship. Startled at her train of thought, Jaye forced herself to set it aside and concentrate on her role as relater.

With memories and loving words exchanged between Delia and Patricia, another hour passed before Jaye finally called a halt. Yawning widely, she apologized. “I’m sorry, I can’t keep my eyes open any more. I’m going to have to say goodnight.”

Patricia stood as Jaye did, and surprised the younger woman with a fervent, grateful hug.

“Thank you. You have no idea what a gift you’ve given me tonight. I can never repay you.”

“No need to. I was glad to help.” Jaye smiled, then glanced over to where her aunt still sat.

“Goodnight, J-mac. You’re a good girl, and I’m damned lucky to have you as my niece.”

Her aunt’s gruff approval warmed Jaye, and she bade the lovers’ goodnight. On her way to the stairs, she detoured through the dining room. Patricia had insisted that they leave the dishes, saying that the housekeeper would clear them away in the morning and that they had more important things to do. That suited Jaye perfectly as she carefully wrapped Gareth’s wine glass in a linen napkin and carried it upstairs to her room. Carefully stowing it in her overnight bag, she wearily stripped off her clothes and threw on an oversized t-shirt.

She had opened the bedroom door on her way to the washroom when she heard Delia’s voice from behind her. Turning, she saw her aunt perched on her bed. Without any preliminaries, the ghost said, “I want you to leave off this investigation, J-mac. It doesn’t matter who killed me. What’s done is done, and some day, whoever did it will have to answer to the ultimate justice.”

Momentarily speechless, Jaye stared at her aunt, before bursting out, “Not bloody likely! We’re right on the verge of solving this thing, and you know it!”

“Don’t know anything of the kind, Eeyore.” Delia’s stern voice echoed in the large bedroom.

“Like hell you don’t! We both know Gareth had the strongest motive, and Lindsay and I are going to prove opportunity tomorrow.”

Delia stood abruptly, all the earlier gentleness gone from her sharp eyes. “Jaye Andrea MacLaren…I said let it drop!”

Jaye used every bit of her nearly six feet to tower over her aunt as she snapped, “I will not. There’s no way on God’s green earth that I’m going to let that miserable bastard get away with killing my favourite aunt.”

The ghost shook her head in exasperation, even as her gaze softened slightly. “You don’t understand…”

“I do understand.” Jaye’s voice had dropped in volume too. “You’re willing to let Gareth get away with it, because you don’t want to hurt Patricia. I understand that, Auntie D, but…”

“No buts. That’s the only thing that matters to me, J-mac. She’s suffered so much pain in her life that I can’t bear for her to hurt anymore, particularly because of me. Can’t you understand? Nothing else matters to me.”

“I do understand,” Jaye insisted, her new awareness of the vital, powerful love between the older women foremost in her mind. “That doesn’t mean I’m willing to let a murderer get off scot free.”

“Damn it, girl! If you don’t leave it alone, I’m going to haunt you forever. I’ll do it, you know,” Delia threatened.

Jaye laughed outright, half-chagrined at the thought and half-hopeful that her aunt would stay around. She just hoped that talking to an invisible shade for the next four or five decades wouldn’t eventually land her in the loony bin.

Delia stamped her foot, but it lost any impact when it didn’t even disturb the thick carpet. Abandoning her first approach, she resorted to pleading. “Please, J-mac, please. Won’t you do this for me? It’s the last thing I’ll ever ask of you. If you love me…”

Groaning, Jaye rolled her eyes and hung her head, helpless against the unprecedented pleas. Her aunt had rarely asked her for anything, except to investigate her death, and she couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing her. Exhausted to the point of being unable to think straight, she said simply, “Let me sleep on it, Auntie, all right?”

Delia bit her lip, then nodded. “All right. Go to sleep, girl. We’ll talk in the morning.”

As her aunt’s ghost faded, Jaye turned wearily to the door, only to stop short at the sight of a sleep tousled Lindsay staring at her from the doorway.

“Oh shit! Uh, what are you…I mean, what did you…?”

Lindsay cocked her golden head and regarded her with bemusement. “I heard yelling, so I came to see what was going on, only to find you having a very intense conversation with thin air. Care to explain?”

Jaye groaned, stumbling to the bed where she flung herself down and covered her eyes with an arm. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” She felt the mattress dip as Lindsay sat on the edge of the bed.

“Try me.”

Lying quietly, Jaye processed the simple words, wondering if Lindsay could possibly believe her. She finally uncovered her eyes and peered up at patient green eyes. Suddenly the need to take this young woman into her confidence outweighed any fears of being ridiculed.

“I was arguing with Delia’s ghost over whether or not we should pursue the murderer any further. She doesn’t want Patricia hurt if we nail Gareth for the killing.”

Lindsay nodded slowly, obviously chewing over her words. “So…you’re telling me, you can see and talk to Delia.”

“Yeah.”

“Huh.”

Wryly, Jaye thought she should at least be grateful that her companion hadn’t run screaming out of the room. She rolled onto her stomach and buried her head in her arms, too tired to do more than let the truth hang there, waiting for Lindsay’s evaluation.

“How long?”

“Mmmm?”

“How long have you been able to communicate with Delia?”

“She came to me after the funeral. She was angry that you’d been unjustly imprisoned, and she wanted me to find the real murderer.”

“Mmm hmm.”

There was a long silence, and Jaye almost drifted off before she felt a hand gently rubbing her back. She held still, enjoying the soft touch even as she wondered if Lindsay was conscious of what she was doing.

“So what are we going to do? Should we back off on Gareth?”

Unseen, Jaye’s eyebrow shot up. She rolled over again, coming to rest pressed up against Lindsay’s thigh. “Just like that. You believe me?”

The blonde smiled. “Well, you hardly seem like the sort to see things that aren’t there, and it does explain some things that have happened. Delia and I occasionally talked about the occult, and we both thought there was more to the world than the eye could see. She told me once that she thought she could feel the presence of her twin, your mother, especially when you were spending the summers with her.”

Jaye gaped at her companion. “Well, I’ll be damned.”

Lindsay laughed out loud. “I hope not, but in the meantime, what do we do about Gareth?”

Stunned at how readily she’d been believed, Jaye shook off her weariness to explain the evening’s events with Patricia and the gist of the argument with Delia. By the time she was done, both women were sitting cross-legged on the bed, facing each other, with their knees touching. Jaye tried desperately not to be distracted by the feel of warm, smooth flesh against her own, but found herself hoping that this would be a lengthy conversation. When her eyes strayed to the shadowed thighs under Lindsay’s stretched nightshirt, she had to forcibly wrench her attention back to her companion’s words.

Apparently oblivious to Jaye’s dilemma, Lindsay tapped her finger on the tall woman’s knee as she reviewed their case against Gareth.

“We know that Gareth had a powerful motive, but so far, we don’t have any evidence to support our suspicions. Just because we dislike the jerk, we can’t automatically assume that he’s the one.”

“No, but I may have the smoking gun,” Jaye said with satisfaction, gleeful when that caused Lindsay to squeeze her knee excitedly.

“You do? What?”

“I’ve got Gareth’s wine glass with his prints on it. I know that the killer escaped out the library window, because Dolan and I both found footprints and smears of blood. Odds are that Gareth panicked and wasn’t thinking clearly, which could well mean that he left fingerprints when he went out the window. All we need to do is turn the glass over to Dolan and explain our theory.”

“Hmm, that’s good, but I think we should see what else we could find to buttress our arguments. Gareth is a prestigious man and they’re going to want a solid case to indict him.”

Jaye nodded her agreement, then hesitated. “That presumes that we’re going to go forward with this against Delia’s wishes.”

The two women were silent as they pondered their options. Troubled green eyes met worried blue, as Lindsay spoke softly.

“I think we have to, Jaye. Think of what Gareth was saying tonight. He has his eyes set on the Oval Office eventually. I get the feeling he has some pretty powerful backing to get there, too. Do we really want him as the leader of the free world?”

Jaye shuddered at the thought, very glad that she was Canadian but knowing that whoever was in the White House affected every country in the world, including her own. “God, no!”

“Then we have to stop him now. We simply can’t let him get away with this, no matter how much it hurts his mother.”

Lindsay’s words were urgent and persuasive. Jaye couldn’t deny their truth, but the distressing thought of hurting that lovely woman, not to mention incurring her aunt’s wrath, was hard to bear.

She murmured sadly, “If only you could’ve seen them together tonight.” She raised anguished eyes to meet Lindsay’s compassionate gaze. “They truly loved each other. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the like…at least not in my life.”

A moment of crystal clarity passed between the two women: a fragile moment of unspoken dreams, of a future bright with possibilities, yet fraught with pitfalls; of joy untold for those with the courage to seize it, yet too ephemeral for the fearful to grasp.

Jaye only realized she’d been holding her breath when she saw Lindsay suck in a deep draught of air and jerk her head as if shaking off a prolonged fugue.

“Um…uh, what about a compromise?” Jaye suggested, trying to reorient herself. “What if we gather whatever information we can while we’re here in Boston, and leave the decision about what to do with it until we’re back in Tucker’s Way?”

“Yeah…uh, that sounds good,” Lindsay agreed, as she fussed with her nightshirt and edged towards the side of the bed. “Well, I’ll let you get some sleep now. Talk to you in the morning.”

She left hastily, closing the door behind her. Jaye stared after her, wondering what had just happened, and certain that no matter how tired she was, sleep would be elusive tonight.

*************************************************

Jaye bit her lip as her eyes drifted around the hotel room. Despite the two queen-sized beds, she couldn’t help wondering if it wouldn’t have been wiser to get two rooms…not that she’d argued when Lindsay had suggested getting one to save on expenses.

They had parted from Patricia that morning, leaving her with promises to stay in touch and the impression that they were heading directly back to Tucker’s Way. Instead, they’d found a hotel and taken up temporary residence. One phone call had confirmed that Gareth was in court all day, and now Jaye was waiting for Lindsay so they could pay a call on their prime suspect’s legal firm.

Her companion had gone out an hour ago, citing the need to look appropriate for their visit. Jaye had passed the interval trying to read the complimentary newspaper and flipping aimlessly through TV channels. She’d attempted to discipline her thoughts and focus on their mission, but her mind kept returning to that single revelatory moment the previous evening. She was torn between trying to pin down exactly what she was feeling toward Lindsay, and half-hoping, half-fearing that Lindsay was feeling the same way.

There was no way to tell from the young blonde woman’s demeanor. She’d been friendly since they’d met for breakfast at Patricia’s, but nothing more. Or was there… Jaye had glanced up unexpectedly at one point to find puzzled green eyes focused intently on her, but Lindsay had immediately averted her gaze and struck up a conversation with their hostess.

Hearing the sound of someone at the door, Jaye looked up expectantly, her eyes widening as she saw the woman who entered, carrying a large shopping bag. Lindsay was now outfitted in a smart, tailored, expensive-looking dark gray suit. A form-fitting jacket with a cream, silk, cowl-necked blouse underneath complemented a slightly flared, knee-length skirt. Matching pumps, earrings and clutch purse completed the outfit.

“You like?” Lindsay asked, twirling to give the full effect of the outfit, then setting the bag down.

“Well, yeah…but why the costume?” Jaye felt slightly dazed by the contrast between the serious young business professional that stood in front of her and the casual companion of the past few days.

Lindsay sat carefully on the straight chair nearest the window, crossing her legs primly at the ankles. “Camouflage. When I get to Gareth’s office, I don’t want his secretary to see me as anything out of the ordinary, just another busy professional blending in with the endless stream of people through her boss’ office.”

Jaye mulled that over, then clicked to Lindsay’s choice of pronoun. “Hey! What do you mean when you go to Gareth’s?”

The blonde chuckled. “I was wondering when you’d pick up on that.” Getting serious, she leaned forward, fixing her gaze on her companion. “Jaye, I’m not trying to cut you out, but you have to admit that between the two of us, I’m far less intimidating. I think I can get his secretary to open up much more easily, not to mention that she’s far more likely to remember and report a gorgeous black-haired, blue-eyed Amazon to her boss. If I go in, I’m just one more anonymous, potential client. I hardly stand out in a crowd.”

Jaye couldn’t help a smile at the spontaneously complimentary adjective, but had to bite her lip to keep from protesting that Lindsay would so stand out in any crowd. Aware that she was somewhat biased, she had to concede that her friend was right, particularly about her superior ability to get people to open up. Reluctantly she nodded.

“All right, I guess you have a point. What’s your plan?”

Lindsay stood and paced in front of Jaye. “Well, we need to determine Gareth’s movements on the day Delia was murdered, so I thought I’d come across as piqued because he stood me up that day for a business luncheon, and not entirely sure that I’m willing to rebook, especially with so much money at stake in the deal I was to propose to him. If I work it right, with just the right mix of irritation and snootiness, his secretary will offer excuses and apologies in an effort to keep her boss out of trouble, and hopefully, whatever she says will give us the information we need.”

“Sounds good. While you’re playing Nancy Drew, I’m going to find a Net access and track down a picture of Gareth in the newspaper archives. From what he was saying last night, I have a hunch it won’t be difficult to find pictures of him in the society pages. Once we have that, we can show it around Tucker’s Way and see if anyone spotted him last week.”

Beaming, Lindsay impulsively threw her arms around Jaye and hugged her enthusiastically. “That’s excellent! Between witnesses to place him in Tucker’s Way on the right day, a strong motive, and fingerprints to place him at the murder scene, this should provide a solid case against him.”

Blue eyes widened in pleasant shock as Jaye absorbed the feeling of Lindsay’s warm body against hers. Far too soon for her, the younger woman abruptly released her grasp and stepped back, a blush coloring her fair skin.

“Um, well, I should really get going to Gareth’s office. Shall we meet back here around noon?” Lindsay’s head was lowered as her fingers played nervously with her purse.

Gently Jaye reached out and tipped her chin up, looking deep into chagrined green eyes. She held those eyes for a long moment, resisting mightily the urge to reassure her companion with a kiss. Instead she simply said, “Thank you.” Then, smiling, she withdrew her hand and wished the blonde luck.

She watched Lindsay hasten from the room, exhilarated by the sensations coursing through her body and wistful that neither of them yet had the confidence to pursue what was developing so rapidly between them. The tall woman sighed. Could it be that this was a case of foxhole lust? Had the circumstances and the manner in which they’d been thrown together simply engendered a temporary attraction between them?

Even as her mind posed the questions, her heart rejected that theory. Jaye had occasionally gone straight from a gruesome crime scene shoot to the nearest bar, looking for anyone to remind her for a few hours that she was alive. But this…this feeling that Lindsay so effortlessly aroused was unprecedented in the photographer’s experience. Even as she longed for time to explore this, Jaye couldn’t help wondering if she would have the courage to take the first step.

God knows after the way you reacted to finding out about Auntie D and Patricia, she’s not going to initiate anything! What I wouldn’t give to have those few moments back to do over.

With that vexing thought in mind, Jaye turned to get ready for her detective excursion, only to see a grave-eyed Delia leaning against the window sill, the sunlight apparent through her form. The tall woman groaned inwardly, knowing that the confrontation was going to come sooner than she’d hoped. Steeling herself, she met her aunt’s eyes squarely.

“We can’t. You know we can’t. Remember when I was eight, and you tanned my behind for not stopping Tommy Fessler from picking on that Campbell kid?”

“I remember. Hughie Campbell was a born target for bullies like Tommy Fessler, too slow to understand meanness and too sweet to stand up for himself.”

“And you told me that story about the man who wouldn’t stand up for the Jews when the Nazis came for them because he wasn’t Jewish, then not standing up for the Gypsies or the Catholics or the Gays because he wasn’t any of them; and when they came for him, there was no one left to stand up for him?”

Delia smiled wanly. “Or words to that effect.” She sighed heavily. “I know what you’re saying, J-mac, but it’s going to kill her to find out that her son is a murderer.”

Somberly, Jaye agreed. “And I’d give anything if it weren’t so, but you hammered those ideals into my head at an early age…to stand up for what’s right, no matter what; and to protect those who can’t protect themselves. Auntie D, we can’t just let him get away with this. He’s already proven himself an immoral, opportunistic bastard. Who knows how many innocents he’ll hurt on his climb to the top of the political ladder, and God knows what he’d do with all that power once he was there.”

Reluctantly, the words sounding as if they’d been literally dragged out of her, Delia conceded. “All right. You do what you have to do. All I ask is that you go to her when it’s time and stand by her side. Will you do that for your old aunt, J-mac?”

Jaye nodded solemnly. “I give you my word. We’ll make sure we’re with her when they arrest Gareth.”

It was only after Delia has disappeared that Jaye realized she’d spoken for Lindsay too. Musing about how natural that had felt, she retrieved her wallet from the bedside table and left the room, intent on finding one more piece of the puzzle that would nail Gareth Edwards.
Chapter 8
Lindsay walked down the hall of the modern building, mentally comparing its stark, impersonal appearance with the small, comfortable layout of the City Hall in Tucker’s Way. As she neared Gareth’s office, she went over her strategy one last time before entering the large room.

A brown-haired woman in business attire smiled pleasantly at her. “May I help you?”

Lindsay glanced at the nameplate, which read, ‘Beverly Lindstrom.’ Stifling her natural urge to smile warmly, she replied brusquely yet politely, “I’d like to see Mr. Edwards.”

“He’s in court. Do you have an appointment?”

Lindsay commented acerbically, “I had one last week and it certainly didn’t do me any good. Mr. Edwards never showed.”

The secretary sighed and opened the weekly planner on her desk. “Last Thursday?”

“Yes, it was. I had a luncheon engagement to discuss a donation for his upcoming congressional campaign. I’m having second thoughts now. I’m not accustomed to being stood up without the courtesy of a phone call or an apology.”

“I contacted everyone in his calendar and rescheduled all the appointments.” Glancing up from the planner, she asked, “What’s your name? There’s no one scheduled for lunch that day.”

“Diane Calvin.” Lindsay placed a hand on her hip and allowed irritation to creep into her voice. “And I can assure you that I had an appointment. I spoke with Gareth myself.”

“I am very sorry. He must have forgotten to tell me. He’s totally booked this week, but I can schedule you for next Monday.”

Lindsay commented curtly, “Is he always so irresponsible about his schedule? I would think he would go out of his way to curry favor with financial backers.”

The secretary looked startled. “Mr. Edwards, irresponsible? Oh no. He’s extremely reliable. His day is always planned from start to finish. Last Thursday was highly unusual. He was called away unexpectedly. I’ve worked for him for five years and that was a first.”

Lindsay softened her tone, smiling. “Must have been a rough day.”

“You’re not kidding. I didn’t even get any advance notice. He called at nine and said he wouldn’t be in. I suggested he call some of his more important clients himself, but he insisted I handle it. You’d have thought the cancellations were my fault by the way some of his clients reacted.”

“Doesn’t sound like a very nice guy to work for.”

“Oh no, he’s usually great. That was totally out of character for him. Gareth is normally meticulous to a fault and he was obviously not himself when he came in that night.”

Lindsay raised her eyebrow. “So he did come into work that day?”

“Yes, but it was late. I was still waiting for a return call from one of his VIP clients. You should’ve seen him. He was distraught, and so pale; I thought surely he must have been in accident. I’d never seen him in such a state. He wouldn’t even talk to me, just told me to go home. Seriously, he’d never have stood you up if it wasn’t an emergency of some sort.”

Nodding understandingly, Lindsay said, “Okay. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt this time. I have to go out of town next week. When I get back, I’ll give you a call to reschedule.”

Smiling, the woman said, “Thanks for understanding. I can assure you it won’t happen again. Whatever the emergency was, it really upset him. He wasn’t himself for days afterward.”

Lindsay smiled. “I’ll be in touch.”

Her mind racing, Lindsay left the building en route back to the hotel. She felt bad about misleading Gareth’s secretary, but her desire to help bring Delia’s murderer to justice overshadowed her discomfort at misrepresenting herself. The pieces were beginning to fit together very nicely and she could hardly wait to find out what Jaye had uncovered.

*************************************************

Jaye waited patiently for the picture of Gareth to finish printing out. Although there had been ample pictures of the aspiring politician on local Internet sites, it had been more difficult to find a close up facial shot.

Her visit to both the Boston Globe and Boston Herald’s offices had yielded a wealth of information on their primary suspect. The newspaper databases had been well maintained and were easy to search. Jaye printed out a few of the more comprehensive articles to share with Lindsay, then headed for the downtown branch of the Boston Public Library.

After spending over an hour perusing microfiche and the library database of the smaller local papers, Jaye had gathered what she considered to be a fairly complete picture of the public persona of their primary suspect in Delia’s murder.

She mentally recapped what she’d learned. Gareth had a natural charisma that made him a popular speaker and he’d appeared frequently at fundraisers for candidates for local, state and federal offices for the past several years. He had only recently publicly indicated a desire to run for Congress on the Republican ticket the following year. The larger newspapers spoke favorably of him, but some of the smaller independent papers denounced his stance on environmental affairs and civil liberties.

She’d been particularly struck by his virulent campaign against gay rights. He had urged his followers to combat the “unhealthy and unholy” trend towards equal rights for homosexuals at every turn, stridently preaching the need to stop and repeal even the mildest pro-gay state and federal laws.

He also supported repeal of many of the environmental laws, citing unfair costs to businesses. Gareth’s stance on other issues was more moderate, but always conservative. Jaye found it interesting that his presence and charm seem to outweigh his views on civil liberties with many of his constituents.

She picked up the picture, staring at it. The big question was why? Why would an aspiring politician commit murder? Her dislike of Gareth had escalated proportionally with her discovery of his stand against gays. She shook her head ruefully. A week ago, she hadn’t even paid attention to political candidates’ views on gays. So much had changed. The love between Delia and Patricia had been palpable the night before and her burgeoning feelings for Lindsay were causing her to question her own sexuality for the first time in her life.

Jaye grabbed her jacket, anxious to return to the hotel room and the woman who’d barely left her thoughts since they’d parted earlier that morning. She was as eager to explore her nascent feelings for the blonde, as she was to share her findings on Gareth. Concentrating on the microfiche at the Boston Globe had been nearly impossible as her thoughts continually strayed to the attractive young woman. It had only been with great effort of will that she’d been able to drag her mind off Lindsay and back to the search for a murderer.

*************************************************

Lindsay glanced up from the TV at the sound of the door opening. She’d been back in the hotel room for over two hours and the time had just crawled by. Smiling, Lindsay stood up, trying to ignore her excitement at seeing Jaye. “How’d it go?”

“Gareth’s an interesting character study.” She laid the copied articles on the table. “Wait until you see some of this. Turns out he’s very popular with some of the locals. He just announced he’s going to run for Congress, not that I’d ever vote for him.”

Picking up on the disgust in Jaye’s voice, Lindsay commented, “I take it you didn’t like what you found out?”

Jaye snorted. “Not hardly. Not only does he vote against environmental issues, Gareth is openly prejudiced against gays. He’s actively campaigning for a repeal of laws that have been passed to protect those living an alternative lifestyle, and has sworn to do his best to fight any future proposals initiated that might support gays. What a jerk!”

Stifling a smile, Lindsay said, “You won’t get an argument out of me. I have no respect for people who preach hate and intolerance. You know what makes it so bad? They prey on people’s ignorance and fears, but I don’t have much respect for people who buy into that hatred either.”

Jaye glanced down at the floor, but not before Lindsay saw the reddening of her cheeks.

“I wasn’t talking about you, Jaye.”

“Less than 48 hours ago you could have been. I’ve sure been an idiot.”

Lindsay smiled. “Hey, come on. You apologized. Forget about it.”

“Have you?”

Caught off guard by the question, Lindsay momentarily looked away, only to find her gaze drawn back by intense blue eyes that riveted her to the spot and refused to release her. Lindsay’s heart began racing as the surrounding room faded until she was only aware of the tall, dark haired woman standing in front of her. A small ripple in time became an eternity as a primal connection – forged from the depths of their souls – diminished the space between them.

Lindsay finally regained control of her roiling emotions enough to turn away. Chastising herself for the slip of control, yet confused by the definite interest mirrored in Jaye’s eyes, Lindsay struggled for a casual tone.

“How about if we check out and head back to Tucker’s Way? There’s nothing else we can do here, and we can bring each other up to date on the ride back. Then we’ll be able to start showing Gareth’s picture around first thing in the morning.”

Jaye nodded slowly. “Okay.”

Lindsay was sure she saw a flicker of disappointment cross Jaye’s face, further unsettling her, but she didn’t want to have to handle sleeping only a few feet away from the tall woman that night. Right now she needed some space to try and figure out what to do about her growing feelings for Jaye.

Firmly reminding herself that Delia’s niece would be returning to Toronto once the murderer was brought to justice, Lindsay warned herself there was no future in giving her feelings free rein. She grabbed her overnight bag trying to ignore the empty feeling the logic generated.

Gathering up their belongings, Lindsay prattled nervously. “It’s really nice out today. Hard to believe it’s late October. I bet it’s at least 70. Couldn’t have picked a better day for driving. Do you think that Dolan will believe us? I think we have a much better chance with him than the sheriff. Webster’s so afraid of anyone with power or money, it’s pathetic.”

Lindsay glanced up from packing to find Jaye watching her with a bemused expression on her face. She felt a blush rise on her cheeks. “Guess I was babbling.”

“No.” Jaye zipped up her suitcase, smiling. “Just not giving me any time to answer. You ready?”

“Yep.”

They arrived back in Tucker’s Way at dusk, and drove straight to the Sheriff’s Office.

“I’m glad Webster isn’t here. It’s going to be hard enough to convince Dolan.”

Jaye looked at Lindsay and raised an eyebrow. “Oh, I don’t know. You’re pretty convincing. You did a great job finding out Gareth called off and cancelled all his appointments last Thursday.”

Lindsay smiled at the compliment. “Thanks. I felt bad about deceiving his secretary, though. She was just trying to do her job. I hate lying.”

“That’s not really lying.”

“Yes it is.”

Jaye pursed her lips. “Okay. Technically it is. But some lies are necessary. We had to know if he could have killed my aunt. That was the easiest way to find out.”

“I know. I still didn’t like doing it, though.” She sighed and shook her head. “Anyway, you’ve got the glass right?”

When Jaye nodded, Lindsay muttered, “Here goes nothing.”

Dolan saw the women walked in and smiled. “What are you two up to now? We’ve got the suspects under surveillance.”

Jaye shook her head, “We don’t think they did it.”

Narrowing his eyes, Dolan said, “You heard Stu’s statement.”

“Yeah, and Stu had a perfect motive for setting them up. Revenge.”

“So who do you think did it then, Jaye?”

Lindsay spoke up. “We think Gareth Edwards may have done it. Jaye’s got a glass with his fingerprints on it. I bet if you run them, they’ll match the fingerprints on the window sill of the library.”

Dolan studied them speculatively. “That name sounds familiar. I know who he is. He’s that guy that just made the news in Boston yesterday. Announced his candidacy for Congress.” Discounting their request, he ticked off the flaws as he saw them. “He’s not from here. There’s no motive. It just doesn’t make any sense. I’m afraid you’re barking up the wrong tree, ladies.”

Lindsay countered with their primary evidence. “Gareth never showed for work the day Delia was killed. He called in unexpectedly that morning, leaving his secretary to deal with all his irate clients, never offering any explanation for his absence. She said when he came back in late that evening he was visibly upset.”

“So? I’m sure there are thousands of people who called off work last Thursday and he could have been upset about anything from a bad donut to a tax audit.”

Lindsay glanced at Jaye when she laid a hand on her arm, understanding that her tall companion wanted to explain the underlying reason, as they saw it.

“Dolan, my aunt and his mother were in a romantic relationship years ago. They resumed contact earlier this year and were planning to get back together permanently. Gareth’s father passed away years ago, but he was appalled that his mother would consider a lesbian liaison. He was furious that it might imperil his career aspirations. He is absolutely fixated on his political future and we don’t think he’d let anything stand in his way, even if it destroyed his mother’s happiness. He is totally egocentric.”

Lindsay watched Jaye closely, looking for any sign of embarrassment or discomfort as she related Gareth’s motive to Dolan, but saw no evidence of either. She hid a smile at the startled look on the deputy’s face as he listened.

“Are you sure?” Dolan ran a hand through his hair. “I just never…she didn’t seem…”

Smiling gently, Lindsay asked, “Seem like what?”

“I never suspected, that’s all. Did you know?”

Lindsay nodded. “I did. Jaye didn’t.”

Dolan riveted his eyes on Jaye. “How do you feel about this?”

“I don’t have any problem with it.”

Sitting back in the chair, Dolan shrugged. “Neither do I. It was just a shock, that’s all. Do you have any other evidence? Webster’s never going to buy this.”

Jaye nodded. “There’s a letter in her purse in the evidence room. It verifies what we’ve just told you.”

“Bill is still going to be a hard sell.”

“Even Webster can’t ignore the evidence if those fingerprints match.”

“I’ve got a contact in the lab in Portland. I’ll give him a call and ask him to expedite this. Shouldn’t take more than a day or two. I’ll give you a call when I get the report.”

Lindsay smiled. “Thanks, Dolan.”

“No problem. I want Delia’s killer brought to justice, too. If this guy did it, he’s gonna go down for it, no matter who he is.”

*************************************************

Lindsay looked over at Jaye as she shifted the vehicle into gear. “He took that pretty well.”

“Yeah. Now all we gotta do is find someone who saw Gareth that day. I want an iron clad case.”

“I hear you,” Lindsay sighed as they drove up the long driveway and Delia’s house came into view. “I’m going to miss this place. What are you going to do with it when you go back to Toronto?”

Jaye hesitated. “I haven’t really thought about it.”

Seeing the troubled look on the tall woman’s face, Lindsay said, “I didn’t mean to pry.”

“No. It’s not that.” Jaye parked the car and exited.

Lindsay watched the tall woman stride quickly toward the house and shook her head. She wanted to talk to Jaye about what had happened in the hotel room, but fought the desire. Where would she start? What would she say? What if she was wrong? Shaking her head, she slowly followed.

*************************************************

The next morning, Lindsay got up to the smell of coffee and bacon. Surprised, she made her way to the kitchen. The table was already set, and Jaye was putting bread into the toaster.

She smiled. “Morning. Smells good.”

Jaye shrugged. “I figured if we were going to be walking all over town, it might be a good idea to start off with a good breakfast.”

“It is. Thanks.”

After eating, Lindsay took a sip of coffee. “Are we going to do this together or split up?”

“What do you prefer?”

“I think we should go together.” At Jaye’s steady gaze, she added, “That way if one of us picks up on something the other one missed…”

Jaye smiled. “Right. We can start off at Jake Anderson’s shop and work our way uptown.”

Hours later, tired and discouraged, they pulled into Blevins’ gas station. “I can’t believe no one saw him. I know he did it. I can feel it.”

“If the fingerprints match, that will put him here whether anyone saw him or not. He’s not going to walk if he did it, Jaye.”

“I know. I still want an airtight case. He’s a lawyer. I don’t want him to be able to wiggle out of it with some fabricated story.”

Lindsay gestured toward a group of three men sitting inside the garage next to a heater. “Shall we?”

Jaye plucked the picture from the seat. “Let’s do it.”

Hank Blevins looked up. “Hiya Jaye, Lindsay. Just a minute and I’ll be right there.”

Waving him back to his seat, Jaye smiled. “We’re not here for gas.” She held out the picture. “Any of you guys ever seen this man?”

Hank peered at the photo. “Not that I can recall. Why you askin’?” He handed the picture to Joe Marsh.

“We think he might have killed Delia.”

“I heard Mary and Derek were the prime suspects. So where’d this guy come in?”

“It’s a long story. I want to make sure we’re right, first.”

“S’fair enough.”

Joe handed the picture to Tom Denkins, who glanced at it and shook his head. “Don’t recall seeing him.” He handed the picture back. “Sorry, Jaye.”

“Thanks, anyway.” She glanced at Lindsay, “Might as well head home.”

As they reached the car, Ned White pulled up in his rebuilt 1956 Chevy truck, his two coon dogs grinning from the bed. Lindsay smiled. “He takes those dogs everywhere and they just love it. Why don’t we ask him if he saw Gareth? He usually hangs out here, too.”

Jaye shrugged. “Can’t hurt.”

Lindsay walked over and petted the dogs. “Hi, Ned.”

Nodding his head, the grizzled man said, “Lindsay, Jaye. I was sorry to hear about your aunt, Jaye. She was a good woman.”

“Thanks.”

Lindsay took the picture from Jaye and handed it to the new arrival. “Have you ever seen this guy around here?”

Ned scratched his head. “He looks familiar. Who is he?”

“We think he might have killed my aunt, so we’ve been showing the picture around town. So far, no one’s seen him.”

Narrowing his eyes, Ned said, “Wait. I remember him. I had just come from Doc Farley’s office. Old Blue had to be put down that day. ‘Bout broke my heart to do that, but that cancer was eating away at him and he was in pain. I was wrung out and stopped here to talk to Hank. That guy pulled in a few minutes after I got here. Had to be around one or so. Just interrupted me like I didn’t exist, demanding gas cuz he said he didn’t have time to wait around. Hank sent his boy out to take care of the guy. I remember what day it was because your aunt was killed the same day I had Old Blue put down.”

Lindsay’s eyes sparkled as she grinned at Jaye. “I knew it! Thanks, Ned.”

His weathered face creased with a smile. “Glad I could help. If he did it, I hope you nail the bastard. Good luck.”

The women waved their farewells headed for the Sheriff’s Office. Jaye smiled with relief. “I had just about given up.”

“Me, too. It’s all finally coming together. Now all we need are the results of the fingerprints. If those match, Webster will have no choice but to put a warrant out for his arrest and request extradition from Boston.”

After bringing Dolan up to date, the women arrived home a short time later, satisfied with the deputy’s promises to call in the morning to see if the lab had identified the fingerprints.

Lindsay became pensive as the implications of their hard work sank in. The closer they came to bringing in Delia’s killer, the shorter their time together became.

“You’re kind of quiet.”

“I’m just tired. It’s been a long day. I think I’ll go soak in the bathtub for a while.”

“Feel like pizza?”

“Sure. Get any kind you like. I’m easy.” Lindsay could feel Jaye’s eyes follow her down the hall and resisted the urge to turn around. No sense in playing with fire. It was going to be a long enough night as it was.
Chapter Nine
Neither woman was up when the pounding on the door began early the next morning. By virtue of her room being closest, Lindsay made it to the door first. Flinging it open, she had to cover her eyes to protect them from the bright morning sun. Peeking out between fingers, she saw Dolan grinning at her.

“Good morning, Lindsay. Great day, isn’t it?” Dolan beamed broadly, his eyes cheerfully flicking past the befuddled young woman to the taller form coming down the hall. “Morning, Jaye. ‘Bout time you got up.”

“What rooster bit you in the butt?” Jaye muttered, querulous at being wrenched from a marvelous dream about Lindsay in a tropical paradise. She’d been admiring the very tiny bikini her dream companion was wearing when a large, obnoxious parrot had begun tapping on their beach umbrella. She’d woken to the sound of Dolan’s knocking and wasn’t about to readily forgive her friend for the intrusion.

Chuckling, Dolan brushed by the women, waving a file folder in the air. “Trust me, you’re gonna wanna see what I’ve got here.”

Lindsay and Jaye exchanged puzzled glances, then trailed after Dolan as he marched down the hall toward the kitchen.

The deputy sheriff looked around hopefully. “Got any coffee in here?”

Bemused at the normally laconic man’s obvious excitement, Jaye started for the coffee pot, only to be stopped by a gentle hand.

“I’ll get it,” Lindsay murmured, smiling. “Why don’t you sit down with Dolan and see what’s going on.”

The brief, light touch was all it took to send a thrill rushing through Jaye’s body, and she had to force herself to turn away. Joining her old friend at the kitchen table, she slid into the chair opposite him and tried to still the tingling of her nerve endings.

“So what’ve you got?”

“A match. I’ve got a match on the prints!” Gloating like he’d just won the lottery, Dolan opened the folder and snatched out the top sheet of paper. Slapping it down in front of the tall woman, he pointed at the summary paragraph.

“We’ve got the bastard, Jaye. Two complete and one partial on the window ledge. Perfect match with the glass you gave me. My buddy at the crime lab faxed the report to me last night.”

Jaye hooted victoriously as Lindsay joined them, leaning over the tall woman’s shoulder to read the summary for herself.

“We got ‘im! All right!”

Jaye and Dolan exchanged high fives as Lindsay laughed delightedly. Elated, the tall woman asked, “What’s next?”

Dolan sobered rapidly. “Well, there’s a fly in the ointment.”

“Let me guess,” Jaye snorted. “Its name is Bill Webster.”

“Got it in one. Yeah, once I had this report, I got Ned White to sign a statement swearing to his identification of Edwards on the day of the murder. Then I took all the evidence to the sheriff, including the letter from your aunt’s purse.” The deputy shook his head in disgust. “All he did was rake me over the coals for having the nerve to go off on my own. Wouldn’t even stop rantin’ long enough to look at what I had. Told me if I didn’t stop defying his authority, I could damn well look for a job as the school janitor.”

Jaye shook her head in exasperation. “Damned idiot! All he cares about is his image. God forbid he might actually solve a crime!”

“Oh, Dolan, I’m so sorry,” Lindsay exclaimed. “We never meant to get you in trouble with this.”

“Aw hell, if doing my job right is gonna get me in trouble, then I’m in the wrong job anyway.” Dolan’s chin jutted pugnaciously and Jaye recognized the familiar sign of obstinacy in her old friend. “That jackass’ ineptitude isn’t going to mess things up this time. I’ve got a friend in the Portland DA’s office, and I’ve already talked to him. He wants me to bring everything we have on Edwards to a meeting this afternoon. If he likes the look of it, he’ll convince his boss to issue a warrant that the Boston PD can execute. With the solid evidence we have, we’ll get that murderer extradited to Maine in no time to stand trial. I could use your testimony at the meeting, though, ’cause it isn’t gonna be easy convincing the DA to go after one of Boston’s leading citizens.”

“We’re with you.”

Jaye glanced up, seeking confirmation of her words from Lindsay. She was rewarded with a reassuring smile.

“Of course we’ll go.” Warm green eyes regarded Jaye affectionately as Lindsay softly added, “Besides, we have a promise to keep, remember?”

Overcome with emotion, Jaye simply nodded. She was profoundly moved that Lindsay took her promise to Delia as seriously as she herself did. She wouldn’t have expected less from the compassionate woman, but the blonde’s unwavering loyalty, and her acceptance of a ghostly presence she couldn’t even see, still touched her deeply.

Dolan was looking from woman to woman in confusion. “Promise?”

Lindsay shook her head. “Private matter. Don’t worry about it.” Briskly, she patted Jaye’s shoulder. “I’ll be ready in ten.”

Two sets of eyes followed her as she left the kitchen.

“Good kid,” Dolan said approvingly. “I’m sure glad we have the evidence to clear her once and for all.”

“Yeah, me too,” Jaye agreed, standing up. “I’d better get a move on too. Help yourself to the coffee. Should be just about ready.”

Returning to her room, the tall woman’s thoughts turned to Patricia. This was going to be one of the hardest days of that elegant woman’s life, and she hoped that her and Lindsay’s presence would help ameliorate the pain.

*************************************************

Jaye shifted uneasily in her chair, her eyes sweeping the dark-paneled office as she half-listened to Dolan’s friend, Clint Rouen, debate with the district attorney, Samuel Bradley. When they first arrived in Portland, Clint had listened carefully to their story and examined all the evidence. Convinced there was a case, he had taken them to meet his boss.

Initially the second meeting had not gone well, as the DA, a corpulent, sharp-eyed man, had evinced strong reluctance to indict Gareth Edwards, particularly when he heard the putative motive for the crime. His distaste for the interference of amateurs had been clear from the beginning, and his attitude towards Lindsay and Jaye had been dismissive at best. However, with backing from Rouen, Dolan had carefully laid out the circumstances, including the forensic evidence. Now, Bradley was sitting upright and paying close attention.

The tall woman could see the DA practically salivate over the promise of the high-profile case. She knew he was well aware of the career enhancing potential of such a conviction. The motive, which the attorney had initially dismissed as unsavory, now sounded like a prime ingredient for a sensationalistic, headline-grabbing coup. Even if the ultimate aim was the capture and conviction of her aunt’s murderer, Jaye found the meeting increasingly repugnant. She hated to think of what effects the lurid, invasive publicity would have on Patricia.

Finally losing patience, she spoke up. “Are you going to issue a warrant for his arrest or not, Mr. Bradley?” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Lindsay smother a smile and Dolan roll his eyes.

The DA looked at her patronizingly. “Now, now, Miss MacLaren, we can’t just rush into this willy-nilly. We have to ensure that all the ‘i’s are dotted and the ‘t’s are crossed first.”

“But you will eventually issue that warrant?” Jaye persisted, determined to pin the slippery man down to an answer.

Dolan laid a soothing hand on her arm. “Gareth isn’t going to get away with this, Jaye.”

Lindsay joined in. “Of course he isn’t, Jaye. After all, the press would have a field day if they heard that a murderer got off just because he had political connections.”

Jaye almost laughed out loud at the instant alarm on Bradley’s face, and inwardly she saluted her quick-witted friend.

“Now, now, there’s no question that no one’s going to get away with anything.” Bradley turned to his assistant, who had been listening intently.

“Clint, what’s your opinion on this? Do we have enough to convict?”

Rouen nodded. “I believe so, yes. They’ve laid a solid foundation, and I don’t doubt that once we get our people on it, we’ll be able to lock it up.”

Bradley pursed his lip in apparent deep thought, but Jaye could tell from the gleam in his eye that it was already a go. Standing, she nodded at the men. “If you’ll excuse us, we have things to do. Dolan has our contact information whenever you need to get hold of us.”

Lindsay rose silently and followed her tall companion out of the office. As they walked down the hallway, Jaye apologized. “I’m sorry if I was abrupt, but I really think we should get on the road as soon as possible. It’s a couple of hours to Boston, and we’re going to need time to prepare her for what’s about to happen.”

“I know.” Lindsay bit her lip. “Do you think she’ll try to warn Gareth before the warrant is served?”

“It’s a risk, but one I think we should take. It’ll only be a matter of a couple of hours anyway, and I don’t think Gareth would even run. I get the feeling that Delia was an impulse killing. He’s not a career criminal and he won’t think like one. Even if his mother did warn him, he’d be more likely to try and ride it out.”

“She probably won’t believe us in any event. It’s not going to be easy to persuade her that her only son is a murderer, let alone that he killed the love of her life.”

There was compassion in the younger woman’s voice and Jaye felt a surge of gratitude that she wasn’t alone in this. She knew she’d need every bit of Lindsay’s grace and tact for what was to come next.

*************************************************

As Jaye turned the corner onto the wide, tree-lined street, she noticed a white Lincoln pulling into Patricia’s driveway.

“That’s her,” Lindsay said. She glanced across at Jaye. “Are you ready for this?”

The tall woman shook her head. They had spent much of the drive from Portland going over how to tell Patricia, but hadn’t arrived at a decision. Jaye wanted to simply lay the facts out bluntly, but Lindsay favored a more gentle approach, arguing that the woman needed time to absorb her son’s criminal behaviour.

Steering Henri into the driveway, Jaye parked behind the Continental, acknowledging Patricia’s eager wave. With a whispered, “Let’s wing it,” she climbed out of the Jeep, Lindsay right behind her.

Patricia was pulling several shopping bags out of the trunk, and the two younger women hastened to help her. Laughing, she allowed them to relieve her of her burden.

“Honestly, I’m not usually such a shopaholic, but I needed something new to wear to Gareth’s fundraiser next week, and I got carried away.” Patricia led them up the curving brick walkway. “So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit? I’d hoped to see you again soon, but I didn’t think it would be this soon.” She opened the door and stepped aside so they could enter, adding, “Not that I’m not delighted to see you, of course. Will you stay the night with me? We could go out for dinner if you like, or stay home if you prefer.”

Jaye set the bags she was carrying on the hallway floor, and Lindsay followed suit. Both women shifted nervously as Patricia looked at them curiously.

“Patricia…um, we have something serious we need to speak to you about.”

Looking gratefully at Lindsay for taking the initiative, Jaye nodded her agreement.

Tilting her head inquisitively, Patricia extended a hand towards the living room entrance in invitation. “Why don’t we go in there, then?” Once the three women were settled, she asked politely, “May I get you some tea, or perhaps some coffee?”

Jaye twitched uncomfortably, aware that they’d automatically taken the same seats as on their first visit. Lindsay was sitting on the couch, half-turned to face their hostess, and the tall woman was opposite them in an easy chair. The younger woman reached out and took Patricia’s hand. She was drawing a deep breath to begin when Jaye blurted out, “We know who murdered Delia!”

Lindsay shot her a reproving look, but quietly agreed. “We do have conclusive evidence, Patricia, and the Portland DA will be issuing an arrest warrant very soon.”

Patricia drew in a sharp breath, responding gamely, “I’m glad. It was horrible enough that Dee was murdered, but to have her murderer go unpunished would’ve been unbearable. Tell me…who was it?”

Unable to sit still during this, Jaye sprang to her feet and began pacing. She listened as Lindsay carefully began to lay out the facts of the case.

“You know, at first we couldn’t figure out who would want to kill Delia. She’d spent forty years in Tucker’s Way and knew everyone. She certainly had a sharp tongue at times, but she was a well-respected and genuinely liked member of the community.”

Patricia nodded at Lindsay’s statement. “I know. I simply couldn’t believe it when I heard it. Who could’ve hated Dee so much?”

Jaye interjected, “Someone with a very personal motive.”

“But…” Patricia shook her head in puzzlement.

In a level voice, Lindsay requested, “Just hear us out, okay? Let me go through the whole thing and set it out for you step by step.”

With a little shrug Patricia agreed, casually extending an arm along the back of the couch as Lindsay released her hand. Ticking off the points one by one, but leaving out Gareth’s name for the moment, the blonde went through the discovery of the incriminating footprints and fingerprints, access to the murder weapon, proof of a motive, and the identification of the suspect on the day in question.

“So you’re saying that there’s no question that this man, whoever he is, killed her?”

“None whatsoever.”

“Well, who is he? And why did he do it?” Patricia looked from one woman to the other, a confused look on her patrician features.

Jaye sank to one knee in front of her. “He did it because he thought he had a lot to lose if the truth about your relationship with Auntie D came out. He did it because he believed that the scandal would ruin his future and his political aspirations.”

Dawning comprehension broke over Patricia’s face, swiftly followed by horror and denial. “You’re saying you think Gareth murdered Dee? No! That’s impossible! He’d never do such a thing!”

She pulled back in revulsion, sinking further into the cushions and holding her hands up as if to repudiate the accusation.

Her voice firm but compassionate, Jaye insisted. “There is no doubt, Patricia. Gareth’s prints are at the crime scene, and he was positively identified as being in Tucker’s Way that day. He’s the only one who had a motive—to stop you and Delia from getting back together.”

A strangled noise from across the room interrupted them, and Jaye whirled on one knee, shocked to see Gareth in the hall entrance pointing a gun at the trio.

“Gareth!” Patricia stood up, stepping around Jaye. “What are you doing? Put that thing down!”

“I can’t, Mother. Please—step aside.” Gareth was sweating visibly, red splotches prominent on his pale face, and his crisp, white shirt stained under the armpits. He waved the revolver, trying to get his mother to move out of the line of fire, but she advanced steadily towards him.

Her voice firm, Patricia reassured him. “Son, there’s been some kind of mistake. We’ll get all this resolved, but you need to put that away. Where in heaven’s name did you get a gun, anyway? You know I don’t approve of them in the house. And when did you get here? I didn’t even hear you come in.”

“It was Dad’s gun, Mother. He knew you didn’t like guns, so he kept it locked away in the basement.” Gareth took a step to the side, but Patricia matched his movements, continuing to block his line of fire to the younger women. “I got here half an hour ago. You weren’t home.”

Jaye didn’t move. She knelt on the floor in front of Lindsay, determined to protect the blonde as best she could, and felt Lindsay’s hand close hard on her shoulder. If only she could get close to Gareth…but he was too far across the room. She could see the gun waver in his grip, but she knew that at that range she wouldn’t stand a chance; and if she were killed, Lindsay would be next. All she could do was hold her breath for the moment and hope Patricia could talk some sense into her son.

“Gareth, I know you would never do something like what they’re saying…”

“I didn’t want to, Mother!” Gareth wiped his sleeve over his face. “Beverly told me someone had been around asking questions. I just knew it was her from the description. I can’t let them ruin things now. I’ve come too far…but I can fix things. I can fix everything…”

Patricia stopped short in her tracks, the anguish apparent on her face. “Oh God, no, Gareth… Tell me you didn’t kill Delia! Tell me you wouldn’t do that to someone…to the woman I loved.”

Even as her words begged for reassurance, Jaye knew the reality was sinking in. She shifted discreetly, drawing her leg under her in preparation, waiting for an opening as Gareth’s attention was transferred to his mother.

Frantically, the distraught man pleaded for understanding. “I had to, mother! Don’t you see? It would’ve ruined everything I’ve worked for…everything we’ve worked for all these years. I was going to put us in the White House…but you almost spoiled that.”

His tone grew petulant now, angry words spitting out at his mother. “You’re the perfect lady. You would’ve been irreproachable on the campaign trail! But no, you wanted to throw it all away. And for what? So you could shack up? Jesus, you’re not a kid! What the hell was I supposed to do? Introduce you two to everyone as my mom and her geriatric lesbian lover? For God’s sake, Mother! I’d have been the laughing stock of the party. They’d never have put me on the ticket.”

Patricia drew herself up regally. “I have a right to a life of my own, son. I gave up the one person I ever loved when my father forced me to marry your father for the sake of propriety. I wasn’t going to waste the final years of my life without her.” She softened her stern tone and extended a conciliatory hand towards her progeny. “We would’ve been discreet, Dee and I. We would’ve stayed out of the limelight.”

“Stayed out??” Gareth’s voice rose to a shriek. “There’s no such thing in today’s world! They’d have found you. There would’ve been headlines in all the major newspapers about the dyke’s little boy and his foolish political dreams! They’d have laughed at me, mother! They’d have laughed!! My life would’ve been ruined!”

Jaye wondered if he was going to have a stroke. She could practically see the froth around his lips and a vein was pulsing wildly in his temple. She desperately hoped he would just pass out, even if only for a few seconds, so she could get the gun away. Her hopes were dashed when he calmed himself with an effort, sucking in deep breaths and steadying the gun with both hands.

“I’m sorry, Mother, what’s done is done. But don’t worry; I don’t blame you. You were seduced, but I can fix this. Nobody knows they’re here. I just have to get rid of them and everything goes back to normal. Everything will be fine again.”

Jaye wondered if Gareth truly believed that. Gazing at his eyes, she shuddered. The fanatical, faraway look in them seemed to indicate that he had disconnected from reality, which didn’t bode well for her and Lindsay. She coiled her muscles, prepared to do whatever she could to at least save the young blonde. She felt a fleeting regret for what might have been, then pushed it aside so she could focus.

“You’re wrong, Gareth. The Portland District Attorney’s office is issuing a warrant for your arrest even as we speak. Killing us will only add more counts to the murder indictment.”

Lindsay’s quiet voice startled Jaye, and she eagerly looked to see if the words had made any impact on their captor.

“No…No, you’re wrong,” Gareth insisted. “If I get rid of you two, I can make the rest of it go away. I know people.”

“You can’t make me go away, son. I know what you did, and you have to answer for it. Put the gun down.”

Jaye felt the fingers on her shoulder squeeze and she nodded almost imperceptibly. They were both ready to take advantage of any opportunity that presented itself, but the two main players seemed oblivious, focused only on each other.

“No, I’m not going to listen to you. You always did this to me. Made me make amends and stuff.” Gareth’s voice was distinctly whiny now. “Dad never did. That’s why I always went to him. He knew how to fix stuff. He’d know how to make this right.”

Patricia stood firm, her voice laced with deep sadness, but resolute. “There is only one way to make this right, Gareth. I’ll stand by you. I’ll testify in your behalf, but you have to put the gun down. I won’t let you hurt these women.”

Just then the sound of a car pulling into the driveway could be heard and Gareth swung wildly towards the door. Patricia grabbed for his hands, and the gun boomed. Jaye lunged to her feet, crossing the room in three bounds as Gareth clutched at his mother, the two of them slipping to the floor. He barely seemed to notice when the tall fury wrenched the gun from his hand, ejecting the clip and sliding it across the floor to where Lindsay now stood, frantically dialing the phone.

“No, Mom, no!! Mother, please…I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to, Mom.” He rocked his mother in his arms, her blood staining his white shirt crimson. Looking up frantically at Jaye, he begged, “Help her! Please help her.”

Tears in her eyes, Jaye knelt beside the woman, her eyes quickly assessing the damage. Patricia had taken the force of the blast full in her chest. Jaye had seen wounds like that before and knew that death would only be a matter of moments in coming. She felt Lindsay come up behind her and she looked up, shaking her head at the mute question in grieving green eyes.

Patricia tried to raise one hand…tried to say something to her son, but the vitality ebbed from her eyes and her body stilled. The detectives who had arrived looking for Gareth to execute the warrant, swarmed over the scene scant seconds later, finding him still cradling her body, muttering, “I didn’t mean to, Mother. I didn’t mean to. I’m so sorry, so sorry.” The monotonous repetition didn’t stop even when they pulled him away, giving the newly arrived EMS access to the already cooling body.

When Jaye finished giving her brief preliminary statement to one detective, he jerked a thumb at where Gareth was huddled against the wall, rocking back and forth as he mumbled his endless apology to his dead mother.

“Looks like a prime candidate for the loony bin. Anyway, we’ll need you and your friend to come down to the station. We’ve got the Portland warrant, but he’ll be charged and tried with this murder first before any extradition to Maine.”

The detective moved away, and Jaye wearily leaned against a massive oak hutch as she watched the frenzy of activity. The crime scene experts who had been called in were snapping photographs and collecting evidence. Lindsay was still talking with the other detective, and Gareth was finally being led away in handcuffs. She closed her eyes for a moment, drained by the events of the day. Silently she mourned Patricia’s death, wishing she could have done something to change what had happened, but at the same time grateful that the woman had saved them.

When exhausted blue eyes flickered open, Jaye started in surprise. Across the room, beyond the flurry of activity around the body, stood her aunt’s shade…but this time she wasn’t alone. Two old lovers, finally reunited, stood in a tight embrace. Delia sported a brilliant smile on her worn face, but Patricia’s joy was moderated by the sorrowful, loving gaze she directed after her son. As Jaye watched, despondency and delight battling inwardly for ascendancy, she could have sworn that they grew younger amidst the radiance that surrounded them. Entranced, she didn’t even notice Lindsay crossing the room towards her until the blonde burrowed into her arms as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Jaye wrapped her arms around Lindsay, holding her securely as the young woman wept. She didn’t interrupt, knowing that the tears were necessary, but after a long moment, she leaned down and whispered in one delicate ear.

“They’re together, sweetheart.”

Lindsay’s head jerked up, hope in her wet eyes. “You can see them?”

Nodding, Jaye smiled. “Delia and Patricia. Together. I can see them.”

She gently turned Lindsay in her arms until the young woman faced the right direction. The blonde shook her head in frustration, and Jaye knew only she’d been gifted with the ability to see them. She rocked Lindsay gently, consoling her even as she enjoyed the warmth and softness of the young woman’s body leaning back against her own.

The ghosts regarded Jaye and Lindsay, luminous smiles conferring a benediction on the younger women as they began to disappear. Jaye could’ve sworn her aunt winked, a slightly smug twinkle in her eye. Long after the last image had faded, the tall woman held Lindsay tight, both of them deriving comfort from the embrace.
Chapter Ten
Jaye squinted until the driver of an oncoming vehicle dimmed their headlights. She’d forgotten how dark the Maine turnpike was at night, lined on both sides of the highway with dense woods and an occasional ‘Moose Crossing’ sign.

Concerned blue eyes glanced at Lindsay, who was barely visible in the passenger seat. Jaye had been horrified by Patricia’s death, but the blonde was still recovering from the trauma of finding Delia and had been even more hard hit.

“You doin’ okay?”

Lindsay smiled wanly. “Yeah. What a nightmare. I just don’t know what Gareth was thinking. He must have totally disconnected from reality.” Shaking her head, she added, “How else could he think he could shoot us and just walk away?”

“Too damn bad he didn’t shoot himself and save everyone the trouble.”

“Jaye!”

Jaye quickly glanced at Lindsay. “He wanted to kill us.” She shuddered, remembering her fear of losing Lindsay forever at the hands of that madman.

“Don’t you see? Gareth needs treatment. He’s sick. You heard him. He wouldn’t even shut up when the police read him his rights.”

“I heard him all right. He assumed we were on to him because you were at his office, so the first thing he does is go to his mother’s house to get a gun to murder us with.”

“See what I mean? No sane person would think that killing us would automatically solve everything. He had to be crazy to think he could get away with it.”

Jaye shook her head. Even after all Lindsay had been through, including being charged with murdering Delia, she could still find some compassion for the actual killer, even knowing how coldly he’d planned their demise.

“I think if he’s sane enough to premeditate murder, he’s sane enough to stand trial. For God’s sake! His whole motive revolved around his public image.”

Lindsay briefly laid her hand on Jaye’s arm. “But it’s over now. The cop I was talking to told me that if he were found competent to stand trial, he’d be charged with involuntary manslaughter for killing Patricia. Add to that, probably second degree murder for killing Delia, and he’ll be behind bars for years.”

Jaye grinned. “Makes me happy.”

Lindsay chuckled. “You’re incorrigible.”

“Only…” Jaye clamped her mouth shut, finishing the sentence in her mind. When someone I care about is threatened.

“What?”

She could feel Lindsay’s eyes on her, but resisted the urge to look at her. “Nothing.”

“Do you think you’ll see Delia any more?”

“No. I think she’s at peace now.”

“I’m glad she’s not alone. I mean, I’m really sorry Patricia had to die, but I’m glad they’re finally together. They were true soul mates.”

Jaye looked at Lindsay before returning her eyes to the road and nodding. “Yes, they were.”

Lindsay smiled in the darkness of the car. “So, you are a romantic.”

“Me? A romantic? Nah. You won’t ever see me reading those mushy books and…”

Quiet laughter filled the car. “Okay. Whatever you say.”

The sound was contagious, and Jaye began chuckling. “And just what is that supposed to mean?”

“I don’t think anyone but a romantic would so readily recognize those two as soul mates.”

“I’d have to have been blind not to. I’ve never seen two people love each other so much. If you could’ve seen them…”

Lindsay spoke softly. “I didn’t need to. The way you described them was enough.”

Jaye shrugged, unsure of how to answer that. She didn’t consider herself particularly romantic, but lately–every time she looked at Lindsay–she wanted to hold her and whisper endearments into her delicate ears. She wanted to taste her sweet lips…

“Jaye! You’re gonna miss our exit.”

The tall woman hit the brakes, easing the car into the exit lane. Thankful that the darkness disguised her red cheeks, she muttered, “Must be more tired than I thought.”

They arrived at Delia’s house a short time later, worn out from the tumultuous events of the day and their escalating feelings for each other, and tumbled into bed.

*************************************************

Jaye woke early, after spending a fitful night. She lay in bed gazing at the rising sun, unable to see the beauty in the orange-tinged sky. It was the beginning of the end. A deep, soul-shattering loneliness threatened to consume her. Lindsay had turned her whole life topsy-turvy, and the idea of leaving the blonde filled her with despair. She fought to come up with an idea to delay their parting.

“All you have to do is tell her how you feel.”

Jaye started. She’d been so deeply immersed in her thoughts that she hadn’t even noticed the welcome materialization of her aunt’s ghost. She smiled wistfully, delighted to see Delia again even as she balked at her relative’s uncomplicated advice.

“I’m not sure how I feel…I don’t know…” Jaye shook her head in frustration.

“J-mac, what am I going to do with you?” Delia settled onto the side of the bed and gazed fondly upon her niece. “Are you going to keep fighting it until it’s too late?”

“Do you have to talk in riddles?” Jaye muttered peevishly, though she knew precisely what her aunt was referring to.

Delia raised one eyebrow in a carbon copy of her niece. “No need to take that tone with me, Eeyore.”

“Sorry.”

Delia waved her hand dismissively, then smiled gently. “You shouldn’t be afraid of love, J-mac.”

Jaye sighed. “I’m not.”

“Then why are you fighting so hard against what your heart is telling you?”

“You make everything sound so simple. It’s not like that. Besides, I don’t know how she feels.”

“So that’s what you’re afraid of–rejection.” Delia placed her finger over Jaye’s lips, stilling her protest. “Let me finish.”

Jaye nodded.

“Life’s a gamble, J-mac. If you don’t take chances, you aren’t living, you simply exist; and you’ll go through life unfulfilled and unhappy. I love you like my own daughter, and I don’t want that for you. If you run away now, you’ll always wonder about what might have been.”

Jaye turned troubled eyes to her aunt. “It’s not rejection I’m worried about, so much as my ability to love her like she deserves to be loved. What if I can’t? I don’t want to hurt her.”

“What about Lindsay? Doesn’t she get any say-so?” Delia gazed at Jaye compassionately. “Nothing would make me happier than knowing my two beloved ‘daughters’ will find the same love that Patricia and I share.”

Patricia shimmered into place next to Delia, placing an arm around her lover, who concluded, “This is a decision you have to make, J-mac. Make it with your heart, and you’ll be okay. I have to leave you now.”

“Wait. Don’t go yet.” Jaye beseeched the fading figures.

Delia smiled gently. “It’s time. Remember how much I love you…always.”

Jaye’s parting image was a vision of the two women smiling lovingly at each other as they disappeared for what she knew was the final time.

*************************************************

Blonde hair lay disheveled across the pillow, and green eyes underlined with dark smudges gazed around the room. Lindsay was in no hurry to get up.

Would they say goodbye today?

She’d totally failed at her attempt to maintain a distance, and was completely, utterly in love with Jaye. Her infatuation with the woman that had lived in Delia’s stories had blossomed, even against her will, into something wild and powerful. She was consumed with desire for the woman, but with longing for a lifetime of love. Nothing less would satisfy the bone deep yearning that suffused her.

She knew Jaye felt something for her, too. Lindsay had seen it in her eyes, but was it enough? She fought the urge to go to Jaye’s room and tell her how she felt, fearing her heart would never recover from a second rejection.

Pondering her limited options, Lindsay struggled to overcome the irrational fear. I’ve never been afraid to take chances before, why is this time so different? She sighed, knowing the answer. She’d never been in love before. Not like this. If she lost Jaye, she would lose part of her heart and soul.

Lindsay narrowed her eyes, and fervently vowed, “If I lose you, it’s not going to be because you didn’t know how I felt.” She grabbed the bedding to throw it aside, then suddenly froze as she heard feet padding along the wooden floor of the hallway.

*************************************************

Jaye leaned against Lindsay’s doorframe, her eyes lingering on the sleeping woman as her thoughts turned inward. She’d only intended to go make coffee, but her rebellious feet had brought her to this open door, and no cool, rational logic could drag her away.

The fear that had consumed her—fear of Lindsay’s reaction, fear of her own emotional inadequacies, even fear of loving a woman romantically—all ebbed away as her gaze caressed the disheveled blonde hair and the delicate hand curled around the edge of the quilt. In its place, the love that had been steadily growing with every moment spent in Lindsay’s presence eradicated the last remnants of doubt. A peaceful acceptance settled over her, and she welcomed the overpowering feeling that almost staggered her with its intensity.

Consumed by her own thoughts and emotions, Jaye hadn’t immediately noticed that soft green eyes were now focused on her. Her breath hitched as she realized she’d been caught, her heart so clearly on her sleeve that there could be no more dissembling about her feelings. Momentary panic welled, then dissipated, as she read Lindsay’s unspoken welcome. Emerald eyes that reflected her own passion…an inviting smile that echoed promises her body thrilled to…an outstretched hand that coaxed her to leave her last reservations at the door…

Never breaking their shared gaze, Lindsay sat up–slowly, deliberately, unfastening each button of her nightshirt until it hung loosely, the pale inner swells of her breasts clearly visible through the opening. Jaye felt all the moisture in her mouth dry up, and she took one stuttering step towards the bed then another, her eyes now glued to the tantalizing sight.

Moving on instinct, Jaye’s trembling fingers grasped the bottom of her oversized t-shirt and pulled it up over her head. She was gratified at Lindsay’s audible intake of breath as she fully exposed her upper body.

Green eyes widened, and the blonde’s mouth parted slightly as she watched the tall woman’s slow approach.

In unmistakable overture, Lindsay drew back the quilt in invitation. Reaching the bed, Jaye sank down on the edge, drawing one leg up so that it was touching her lover’s. The distance between them shrank to nothing as Lindsay leaned forward, one hand on Jaye’s pajama clad thigh and the other tracing a line down her throat, across her nude torso, and around the outer edge of her left breast.

Jaye arched into the longed for touch, silently pleading for more, but Lindsay took her time, cupping and teasing the pliant flesh gently until the tall woman thought she would go mad with want.

Laying one hand on Jaye’s chest, Lindsay cocked her head as if listening to the thunder of her tall lover’s heart. She smiled joyfully and slowly drew the dark head down until their lips touched.

Frozen, Jaye could do nothing but revel in the sensation as a warm tongue flicked across her lips in an undemanding request for entry. Eagerly. she inhaled Lindsay’s scent and the taste of her kiss. She was so lost in a sense of wonder, that she almost missed the husky words whispered into her mouth.

“I love you. I will always love you.”

Tears filled crystal blue eyes, and she pulled back enough to cup Lindsay’s face, her long, slender fingers caressing the delicate features.

“Oh, Lindsay, I love you too. I was such an idiot…”

“Shhhh…Nothing else matters now.”

Jaye nodded wordlessly, her throat choked with emotion. Suddenly overwhelmed with the need to feel Lindsay’s skin against her own, she gently pushed the other woman’s shirt back off her shoulders. Shrugging out of it, the blonde tossed it heedlessly to the floor and drew herself up proudly under her lover’s awed gaze.

“My God…”

Jaye was familiar with the naked female form in every media of artistic expression, but she was certain she had never seen such sheer beauty. She knew she’d never in her life been so overwhelmed with desire as her eyes took in Lindsay’s nude body.

Stunned into immobility, she was only brought back to herself by the sound of Lindsay’s low chuckle. Obviously deciding that her partner needed some prompting, the blonde drew Jaye down on the bed and eased on top of her lover’s larger frame.

Jaye groaned at the exquisite sensation of breast against breast, then moaned even louder as Lindsay began a slow, thorough exploration of her body. She closed her eyes and simply absorbed the feelings–the suckling pressure on her rigid nipples, the fingers tracing the lines of her body, the warm, wet tongue blazing a trail straight down from her navel…

Mindlessly, she allowed Lindsay to ease the pajama bottoms off, instinctively spreading her legs as her lover slipped between them. Fingers tenderly explored her, driving her half-mad with anticipation. When finally Lindsay granted her the touch she was burning for, Jaye nearly screamed her pleasure. She was sure that relief was only seconds away, but her lover played her skillfully–bringing her to the edge only to back off–until the tall woman’s hips were straining upwards, begging for the culmination Lindsay withheld.

Kept on the knife-edge of desire by a very adept tongue, Jaye was almost shocked when a tidal wave of ecstasy swept through her, leaving her limp and trembling with aftershocks. Lindsay crawled up the long body, wrapping the tall woman in a tight embrace as she nestled her head into her lover’s neck. Boneless, Jaye simply remained motionless, absorbing the delicious, loving warmth.

When moments later she tried to raise up, intent on giving Lindsay the same delicious pleasure, the blonde just chuckled and murmured soothingly, “Rest for a bit. There’ll be lots of time.”

Jaye sank back into the bed gratefully. Lots of time. Yeah, there will be lots of time now. Lots and lots and lots of time. Turning her head to gaze down at the lithe body curled around hers, she smiled…a euphoric, blissful smile…a smile that acknowledged the absolute rightness of their union.

What God…and ghosts…hath joined together…

 

THE END
Murder Most Foul – Long Version

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