The Deadly Diary
Written by SWW, May 2, 2006
“Remixed” by AD, March 17, 2009
This story is a retelling on Stephanie’s sequel to Puzzles and Pearls, with the big difference being that it is told solely from the point of view of George Sutherland, and submitted as an entry to the “In Another Voice” writing challenge on the Definitive Guide.
I echo Stephanie’s thanks to Donald Bain for having created the character of George Sutherland, one of her personal favorites, to Universal Studios for the character of Michael Haggerty, another personal favorite of hers, and to everyone who took the time to read this story and the original.
The original story contained a warning about mild to moderate violence and adult situations; this version, if anything, has more of the latter. It is for mature readers, and should not be read by anyone under the age of 13.
We were walking along the shore, Jessica and I, the waves rolling up upon the beach and lapping at our bare feet as the breeze ruffled our hair. The sun was setting over the ocean, it’s soft, honeyed rays touching the wave crests with color - coral, gold, scarlet. We paused, hand in hand, to admire this breathtaking view.
“Jessica,” I said, turning to face her and taking both of her hands in my own, “my feelings for you haven’t changed - I am still very much in love with you.”
She looked down then; I couldn’t tell whether she was blushing or if her face was merely turned rosy by the nearly-level rays of the sun. “I think ... no, I know now ... that I love you, too.”
“Are you sure?”
Her eyes were shining as she lifted them to meet mine. “Yes, I’m sure.”
I moved in to kiss her then, a deep, passionate kiss as I took her in my arms, and she responded in kind with no hesitation, no reticence, only the raw, open emotion that she so rarely displayed to anyone but me ...
The ringing of a bell startled me. I looked around, seeking the source, but couldn’t place where the blasted sound was coming from ...
It was the ringing phone that roused me from sleep - I sat up, fumbled for the receiver, and answered it as the last wisps of my dream faded away.
“Sutherland here,” I said groggily.
“Ah, Jessica, it’s good to hear your voice,” I replied dreamily, still half-asleep.
“Did I wake you?” Jessica asked with uncertainty.
“Aye … must have fallen asleep watching the news on the telly.”
“George, it’s only seven thirty there.”
“I’m afraid it was a rather long, problematic day, Jess,” I explained as I stretched and tried to suppress a yawn.
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” Jessica replied sincerely.
“Quite all right, love. It just took a turn for the better,” I said, now much more awake than I had been just moments earlier. She always had that effect on me. “Now, to what do I owe the pleasure of your call?” I asked. “You haven’t found yourself in the middle of another … adventure, have you?”
“No, but I’m afraid that I do have some bad news,” she began to explain reluctantly.
I groaned internally. “Jessica, please don’t tell me that you’re not coming to London next month. I don’t think that I can take that after the day I’ve had.”
“No, I’m still coming. It’s not that.”
“Good, because I’m in dire need of some time away from the office.” And some time alone with you, I added to myself. What could be better than two weeks alone with Jessica in Venice - a city of unearthly riches and the most romantic city in the world? If that last fact had escaped Jessica, it certainly hadn’t escaped me. A gondola gliding beneath the stars, open air cafes, the ancient architecture of the city mirrored on the canals, a gondolier serenading us in the moonlight ... that was how I envisioned our upcoming holiday in the ‘City on the Sea.’ “Now, what’s this bit of bad news, Jess? It certainly can’t be too terrible if you’re still coming to London.”
“George, I’m so sorry, but I can’t go to Venice, at least not this trip,” Jessica said regretfully.
Instantly disheartened, the only thing that I could manage in response was a simple, dispirited, “You can’t?”
“No, I’m afraid not. I have to be back in New York by the sixth and we aren’t scheduled to return until the twelfth, but don’t cancel your holiday,” she added hastily. “We’ll still be taking a vacation, but it will be my surprise to you,” she added enthusiastically.
“Is there any chance that you are going to let me in on this surprise of yours?”
“No. I’m not. That’s why it’s called a surprise. You’ll just have to trust me. I also have someone very special that I want you to meet,” Jessica added.
“I believe we can manage that, as long as I have your word that this is merely a postponement of our Venetian holiday.”
“Of course,” Jessica assured me. “We’ll discuss it in more detail when I get to London.”
“If I have to wait nearly two months for this surprise, surely I’m entitled to a clue or two about where we’re going?” I asked good-naturedly.
“Not a chance, Inspector,” Jessica said, laughing softly. “It’s more fun if it’s a surprise. Now, off to bed with you, George. You sound very tired.”
“I am, Jess, but I rather enjoy hearing your voice.”
“I’ll see you in a few weeks. Now, go to bed and pleasant dreams,” Jessica said.
“Guideen nicht, Jessie,” I replied before we both hung up. I fell back to sleep on the couch, where I did indeed have very pleasant dreams.
As ill-luck would have it, the very day that Jessica was scheduled to arrive in London, I was sent on an assignment to Glasgow, to oversee a crime being investigated there. The notice was short, and created no end of irritation for me: besides not being there to welcome Jessica, it meant that the dinner reservations that I’d made weeks in advance were now likely to be useless.
With what little time I had available, I managed to at least order a gift for her: a collection of fresh fruits, cookies, chocolates, all things I knew were her favorites. I had it delivered to her suite at the Savoy so that it would be there when she arrived. It was only after I’d hung up the phone that I realized I’d forgotten to include a note.
There was no time to recall the order. But I did have one other alternative: I could leave a message for her at the hotel reception desk. So on my way to catch my flight to Glasgow I pulled up to the Savoy’s famous courtyard, dashed inside, and quickly scribbled a note on paper provided by a helpful chap behind the desk:
Welcome to London. Unfortunately, I am unable to see to your arrival in person, as I’ve been called to Glasgow for a few days. Thus with much regret, I will also have to cancel our plans until I return.
I imagine that you have already unpacked and are getting settled in so, I suggest that you enjoy a cup of tea (it should be arriving any moment), something sweet and a relaxing afternoon before you begin that insanely chaotic schedule of yours tomorrow.
It was no substitute for a proper greeting in person, but it would have to do for now.
I had scarcely arrived in Glasgow when news of a curious murder at the exclusive London restaurant Varanasi recalled me to London, it having been determined that I was needed more there than in Scotland. Dutifully I headed back, arriving home late that night. I managed to catch a few hours’ sleep before heading to New Scotland Yard the next morning to get briefed by the lead investigator in the case, Inspector Henderson.
I stopped briefly at my office to deposit my trench coat and briefcase before heading down the hall toward the witness interview rooms, where Henderson was waiting for me.
“Where are we on this, Henderson?” I asked my most junior inspector, who was just about to open the door to one of the rooms.
“Not sure, sir. We haven’t been able to locate any of the victim’s family as of yet, but the neighbor will be here shortly to identify the body. Preliminary findings from the scene indicate a blow to the back of the head as the most likely COD, but there were strange marks on the neck so strangulation is a possibility as well. I was just about to finish my interview with Mr. and Mrs. Haggerty. She was the one who supposedly discovered the victim, but now we have a statement from another woman claiming to have found Mrs. Haggerty kneeling over the victim with her hand on the front of her throat.”
“Why weren’t they interviewed last night before leaving Varanasi?” I asked, slightly irritated that a likely suspect had been allowed by leave the scene without being interviewed in greater detail.
“I spoke to them personally when I arrived, but it wasn’t until much later that the second witness gave her statement to Mills. By then, Mr. Haggerty had already requested that we wait until this morning to speak to his wife further so that she could have some time to recover and to get some rest. Apparently, the stress of discovering the victim was a bit much for her to handle.”
“Poor chap, she still looks to be upset,” I said, slightly distracted by the scene on the other side of the one-way window, which offered us a view of the interior of the interrogation room. Although I could only see the woman from behind, it was clearly evident by her body language that she was not in good spirits.
“What do we know about them?” I asked Henderson.
“They’re newlyweds apparently. He claims to have business here in London before they depart on their honeymoon. He’s Irish, but works primarily in New York City in the financial sector. She’s American, a writer of some kind, also in London on business. So far, it all checks out.”
They sounded like an interesting couple. “Is she your only suspect?”
“No, sir, there are others,” Henderson said. “Along with Mrs. Haggerty, there is an ex-boyfriend, by the name of Andrew Fast, who was working at Varanasi last night as well. He’s an apprentice chef and according to several other employees, he and the victim had an argument earlier in the evening. One of the hostesses reported having seen him storm through the lobby in the general direction of the restrooms not long before the victim was discovered. There is also an actress by the name of Joan Dearlove, who also works there. Apparently the victim beat Miss Dearlove out for a major role in a play that is opening in a few days. Those three top the list for now, but there are dozens of others that haven’t been cleared yet.”
Henderson certainly had his work cut out for him. “Well, Inspector, I suggest you get started then,” I told him, clapping him on the shoulder. “I think you can handle this without any interference from me and I could use a good, strong cup of coffee. I’ll be in my office reading your initial report.”
I did just as I’d proposed to do, setting my cup of coffee down in the center of my desk as I sat heavily in my chair. How annoying it was to have to cancel my plans with Jessica to go to Glasgow, only to be summoned back to London before I could finish what I’d been sent there to do in the first place! All this running back and forth along the length of Great Britain was more than a bit exhausting, I thought as I stretched and yawned. Well, there was no help for it.
Before I had read a single line of the report sitting on the desk in front of me, there was knock on my door. I looked up and saw Henderson.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said.
“Aye, what is it?”
Henderson looked uncomfortable. “Sorry to interrupt, sir, but I believe that I may require your assistance with Mr. and Mrs. Haggerty. I’m not certain exactly what the problem is, but I’m afraid that this woman might be a bit … unstable, sir.”
I sighed internally, rose from his chair and followed my young colleague into the hallway, which led to the interrogation room.
“Sir, please remind me of this if I am ever fool enough to want to get married,” Henderson said as we walked.
“You’ve just to find the right lady,” I replied as I gave the young man a fatherly slap on the back. My thoughts wandered briefly to Jessica - in her I had found the right lady for me, I was sure of it. Now if only I could convince her of the rightness of it all ...
“Her statement is clear, concise and unusually observant, but she hasn’t added anything new to it and continues to tell her husband to ‘straighten out this mess,’” Henderson explained. “He indicated to me privately that she may be on the verge of a breakdown and requested to take her back to their hotel.”
Once we arrived at the interrogation room I took a moment to watch the couple from my vantage point outside of the one-way window. I saw the woman rise from her seat and begin pacing, walking away from the window, all the while continuing to berate her husband. She continued pacing with her eyes fixed to the floor, glancing up only briefly when she turned around to face the window. When she did, the shock of recognition left me thunderstruck. Her blonde hair and attractive features could have belonged to another, but not those bright, piercing blue eyes. Jessica ...!
“That is Mrs. Haggerty?” I asked when I finally found my voice again.
“Are you sure about that, Inspector?”
“And she’s the woman who discovered the body at Varanasi last night?” My head was spinning, leaving me feeling like I needed to sit down.
“You verified her identification?”
“Yes, sir, her passport, she claims not to drive.”
That only confirmed my worst fears. “And you said that they are married and leaving shortly on their honeymoon?”
“Yes, sir,” Henderson replied, as blandly as ever. “It appears that way. His passport and driver’s license have the same address as hers, 698 Candlewood Lane, Cabot Cove, Maine, USA. That is their primary address, but they also have a loft in New York City. They’re registered here in London in the honeymoon suite at the Savoy.”
He handed me a file and two passports, and I inspected the documents carefully. They certainly looked genuine enough. The one belonged to a Mr. Michael Haggerty. The other bore the name of Mrs. Jessica Haggerty. I closed my eyes and rubbed them wearily, hoping that when I opened them again the information staring back at me would have somehow magically changed. As luck would have it, it didn’t. My thoughts were a whirlwind as I began pacing back and forth in the hallway myself: “I’m sorry, George, but I can’t go to Venice … I have a surprise for you … someone special I want you to meet ...”
“Bloody ‘ell,” I exclaimed, much louder than I had intended.
“Sir, is there a problem?” Henderson asked.
“No,” I lied as I took in the scene through the one-way window of the interview room once more. Jessica was still on her feet, pacing. Her hair was slightly messed from running her hand through it in frustration. Haggerty - her husband, I reminded myself - remained seated at the small table in the center of the room, outwardly relaxed and calm.
I found myself staring at the wedding band on Jessica’s left hand. It was ordinary enough, plain, somewhat worn ... it took me several heartbeats to realize the significance of it. Once I did, I came to a decision.
“Henderson, give me a few minutes and then escort Mrs. Haggerty to my office. I will interview her there,” I instructed as I abruptly turned away from the window. Time to end this charade.
“Your office, sir?” Henderson asked with a great deal of uncertainty.
“Aye, it’s highly unlikely that she is too terribly dangerous and I think that I’m more likely to get someplace with her if we conduct this interview in less intimidating surroundings.”
Henderson was unconvinced - clearly Jessica had him rattled, not an easy thing to do. “Not dangerous, sir? Are you sure?”
“Aye, just give me a few minutes. I’ll take her and you can have Mr. Haggerty.”
I returned to my office and waited while Henderson collected Jessica and escorted her down the hallway as per my instructions.
“Yes, Mrs. Haggerty, so good of you to come in this morning,” I said with a slightly forced smile as I rose from my desk and greeted Jessica formally at the door. “Please, sit down.” I indicated one of the two chairs positioned in front of my desk. “Thank you, Inspector Henderson, I will let you know when we are finished,” I then said, dismissing him.
Once he was gone I closed the door and turned to face Jessica.
“Oh, George, I am so happy to see you,” she said as she rose from the chair, crossed the room and hugged me before letting out a noticeable sigh. “But what are you doing here? I thought you were in Glasgow?”
I returned her embrace in only the most perfunctory manner, having decided that until I knew exactly where things stood, I would only show her my most professional side. “I was in Glasgow. I was called back late last night, but perhaps I should be the one asking you what you’re doing here?”
“Of course, you’re right,” Jessica answered soberly, no doubt recalling the murder of the young woman the previous evening.
There was a long moment of silence as I studied her. She was no doubt trying to read my expression in return, because at length she finally asked, “George, is there something wrong?”
“I’d say so,” I answered mildly, though my thoughts were anything but. “What’s going on, Jessica?”
She seated herself once again in one of the chairs in front of my desk and began to relate the events of the previous evening, beginning with being approached by the young woman for her autograph and ending with finding her on the floor of the ladies room. I watched her with great interest and listened without interrupting from where I stood, my arms crossed, leaning against the door, as Jessica described what she had observed including her analysis of the scene.
“George, aren’t you going to write any of this down?” she asked after finishing.
“Jessica, I’ve already read your statement, which was nothing less than clear, observant, concise and objective, as I would expect,” I told her. “If I had wanted to ask you any further questions about that, we wouldn’t be in the privacy of my office right now.”
Jessica met my eyes, trying to read the expression in them. I took the opportunity to search her gaze as well, and to my relief I saw no trace of guile or deception, at least so far as I could see. That was something, at least - but she was still holding something back.
At length, she finally asked, “Does this have something to do with Michael? You’re certainly not jealous of my friendship with him, are you?”
I quirked an eyebrow. “Do I have reason to be?”
“Of course not. Michael and I are just old friends.”
“Jessica, I certainly understand that you have male friends,” I said with a touch of exasperation that she should be so blind to what the problem was. “As a matter of fact, I happen to like Seth and Mort, but this is a tad different. Varanasi is not exactly the type of place that you take a casual friend for dinner. It’s the type of place that I …” I caught myself and quickly amended my words - “that Frank would have taken you for your wedding anniversary or an equally intimate evening.”
“So I discovered,” she replied bitterly. “George, I assure you that Michael is just a friend, nothing more, and I certainly had no idea where he was taking me to dinner. He simply showed up at my book signing yesterday and asked me to dinner. That’s all.”
“Aye, but there’s more to it than that, I suspect. Who is he, Jess?”
“George, I just told you that he’s a friend,” she said, starting to become slightly annoyed by my persistence.
“I understand that … now … although I would have appreciated knowing about the events of last night before you arrived in my interview room this morning,” I said. “What I really want to know is who he is exactly. I’m fairly certain that he is not some banker from New York City and I am also fairly certain that the two of you are not recently married.”
“Of course we’re not.”
“Good,” I commented bluntly. I felt myself relax almost instantly - I hadn’t realized until then how tense I’d been about the subject, or how much I needed to hear Jessica tell me in plain English that the ‘marriage’ was just a sham. “That means that he is probably in the intelligence community then?”
“What makes you say that?” Jessica asked, intrigued by my observation.
“Because they are the only ones who can make counterfeit passports of this quality,” I said as I handed two small blue books to her. “Unless of course Mr. Haggerty is now living in Cabot Cove at your address?”
Jessica looked at the matching passports speechlessly, dismayed and angry all at once.
“Is he with your CIA?” I asked, venturing a guess.
Jessica let out a deep breath, blowing air upward toward her bangs before answering. “He’s MI6,” she finally said.
“Thank you, Jess,” I said, smiling as I crossed the room to finally take a seat in the chair next to hers. “Forgive me for having to interrogate you. I imagine you were sworn to secrecy?”
“You could say that,” she answered. After a long pause, she continued. “His name is Michael Haggerty.”
The name was familiar to me. “That’s the infamous MI6 agent, Haggerty, is it?”
“You know him then?”
“By reputation only,” I said. “He’s a bit of a rogue, Jessica. If you don’t mind my asking, how did you manage to get yourself mixed up with the likes of him?”
“Let’s just say that our paths have crossed a few times over the years,” she said.
“Well then, I guess that gives us something to talk about over dinner tonight.”
“We’re having dinner tonight?” Jessica asked, surprised.
“Unless you already have other plans, we still have a reservation that I neglected to cancel before I left for Glasgow.”
“No, I don’t have any other plans. What time shall I be ready?”
“Half past six, our reservation is at seven o’clock.”
“Where are we going?”
I grinned. “It’s a surprise.”
“George,” she protested, “if you don’t tell me where we’re having dinner, I won’t know what to wear.”
“Hmmm.” I thought for a moment then said, “Did you happen to pack that blue gown that you wore to the theater the last time you were here?”
“The strapless one with the matching jacket?”
“Aye,” I said, raising my eyebrows slightly. “That would be perfect. Now, I’ll have someone take you back to your hotel and I’ll pick you up tonight for dinner,” I said as we stood. I took her by the arm and guided her toward the door.
“George, that’s not necessary,” Jessica said. “Michael can drive me back to the hotel.”
“Actually, Jessica, Agent Haggerty is going to be tied up with Henderson for a bit longer.” At least he will be if I have anything to say about it.
“George, you didn’t really think that Michael and I were married, did you?” Jessica asked almost apologetically as she reached for my hand to delay me from opening the door.
“Perhaps for a moment,” I admitted. “You did catch me somewhat off guard.”
“How did you know?”
I smiled warmly. “Ah, Jess, it was elementary really, but that’s one mystery that I’ll believe I’ll gladly let you solve on your own and be happy knowing that you’re not in any danger while doing so,” I replied before opening the door and escorting her to the entrance where a uniformed officer waited to drive her back to the Savoy.
At exactly half past six I was knocking on the door of Jessica’s suite. I was more than a little surprised when it was answered by none other than the bothersome Michael Haggerty.
“You must be George,” he said as he extended his hand in greeting.
I quickly recovered from my surprise at finding him in Jessica’s suite and extended my own hand to shake his. “Aye, and you must be Haggerty, Michael Haggerty,” I replied, causing him to laugh at my reference to the world’s most famous secret agent.
“So, you’re the one,” Haggerty acknowledged as he motioned for me to come in. “You must know Jessica quite well if you were able to pry that particular bit of information out of her in such a short time.”
“Aye, well enough,” I answered without providing additional details about the nature of our relationship. “Based on the events of last evening, I’d say you obviously know Jessica very well yourself,” I added.
“Very well, indeed,” he confirmed with a sly grin that I did not miss as he led me to the sitting room and took a seat in one of the arm chairs, indicating for me to do the same.
“Speaking of the lovely Jessica, where is she?” I asked, glancing casually around the suite.
“The last time I saw her, she was in the bedroom,” Haggerty answered, indicating the double doors behind us. “She hadn’t quite finished dressing when you arrived.”
I barely managed to suppress the shock and dismay from my expression before I realized that Haggerty was baiting me. Apparently, he wasn’t above a sucker punch when it suited his needs.
“You’ll have to excuse me for talking shop,” he continued after a moment, “but out of professional curiosity and in the spirit of interagency cooperation and all of that, I must ask what minor detail I overlooked this morning?”
“A bit of interagency cooperation would have saved me a boat load of man hours over the past twenty-four hours,” I pointed out, none too impressed with Haggerty’s self-serving attitude.
“I was afraid that that might be a problem,” Haggerty said as he reached into his pocket, withdrew several tri-folded papers and handed them to me. “That’s everything we know about your vic. Now, how about being a sport, Sutherland?”
I unfolded the pages and began to read each carefully, taking my time and letting him dangle on the hook for as long as I could - fitting justice, I felt, for his earlier comment.
“Her ring,” I finally commented off-handedly as I continued to read, mentally filing away details to create a picture of the life of the young woman who now lay in the morgue.
“What does Sophie Potter’s ring have to do with anything?” Haggerty asked, confused.
“No,” I replied, looking at him as though he was a complete idiot - which, as far as I was concerned, he was. “Jessica’s wedding band. It’s the same one she’s always worn. I should hope that even you would buy her a new one had the two of you actually married,” I added, and noticed with satisfaction that my comment had the same effect as if I had just landed a powerful left jab to his jaw.
“So, in other words, there was no real detective work involved, just dumb luck that you happen to know Jessica,” Haggerty observed, landing his own right hook.
Luckily for him, he was saved from my scathing reply when we both heard the door to Jessica’s bedroom open. Both of us stopped abruptly when she entered the room wearing a long strapless, navy gown with a matching sheer jacket.
“Are you boys playing nicely?” Jessica asked, eyeing us both suspiciously before welcoming me with a kiss on the cheek.
“Jessie, you’re stunning,” I said as I stood to greet her.
“Thank you, George. You’re … weill-faured yourself,” she replied with a smile, remembering the Gaelic term for “handsome.”
I glanced at my watch. “Sorry to rush you, Jess, but we should be going if we’re going to make our dinner reservation,” I suggested as I refolded the papers and tucked them into my pocket. “Why don’t I get your coat?”
“Oh, dear, you’re right,” she answered when she realized the time. “It’s in the closet by the front door.”
I went to retrieve it, returning just in time to hear Michael comment on Jessica’s sapphire necklace.
“… that’s quite the little bauble you’re wearing,” he was saying. “It matches the dazzlin’ blue of your eyes.” I noticed that the charming Irish lilt of his voice has become much more prominent.
“Really?” Jessica responded, smiling as she reached up to touch the pendant. “I’ve never noticed. It was a birthday present from George this past spring.”
I helped her into her coat and the three of us left the suite together.
“Sutherland,” Michael said as we paused to take our leave in the lobby, extending his hand and nodding his head slightly.
“Haggerty,” I replied, deliberately mimicking Michael’s gesture.
Turning his attention to Jessica, Haggerty said, “I nearly forgot, Jessica. Doctor Hazlitt called while you were getting ready. I believe that he would like for you to return his call. He seemed a bit concerned about a news report that mentioned your having discovered Sophie Potter’s body.”
“Oh, goodness,” Jessica responded. “He didn’t say anything about coming to London, did he?”
“No. I assured him of your safety and pointed out the fact that there was really no reason for you to become involved in the matter any further.”
“Thank you,” Jessica said, reaching up and giving his arm a light squeeze. “In that case, I’ll be sure to return his call when we get back from dinner.”
“Then my duty is done here,” Haggerty replied. “Jessica, my girl, have a most pleasant evening. I’ll pick you up at seven thirty tomorrow morning for breakfast.” He leaned forward and kissed her goodbye.
“Yes, seven thirty,” Jessica answered in agreement, watching him leave in the direction of the American Bar.
My girl, I thought as Jessica and I drove toward the restaurant.
“George, is there something on your mind?” Jessica asked. “You’re awfully quiet.”
Before I could answer, my cellular phone rang. I glanced at the number displayed - the Yard. Damn it, I thought as I reluctantly took the call.
“Well, Jessica,” I said as I closed the phone and returned it to my pocket. “I’m afraid there’s a bit of a problem at the Yard and I’m going to have to handle it in person.”
“How long will it take you?” she asked.
“A couple of hours, at least,” I answered. “I don’t know whether we’ll be able to salvage any of our evening or not.”
“Actually, I think I might have an idea about that,” Jessica said after a moment’s thought. “What do you think about dinner at your place? We’re not that far away, are we?”
“No, just another half kilometer or so, but by the time I get back and start dinner, it’s going to be quite late. Are you sure you don’t just want me to take you back to your hotel or try to get us a later reservation?” I offered.
“No, I don’t want to go back to my hotel or to reschedule our reservation for later. I’ve never been to your loft and I was thinking that I would do the cooking,” she explained.
Several hours later, I slid his key into the lock, turned it and admitted myself back into the warm confines of my loft. I was instantly met by a medley of delicious smells emanating from the kitchen.
“Jess, I’m back,” I announced as I hung my coat on a brass hook next to the door and headed for the kitchen. Jessica wasn’t there so I set down the small bag of groceries I carried on to the countertop. After placing the contents into the refrigerator, I opened the oven door and lifted the lid from a large pot, which was keeping our dinner warm. Ah, Yankee pot roast, I thought as I replaced the lid.
“Jessica?” I called as I left the kitchen and headed for the living room. “Where are you?”
“In here, George,” she responded from what certainly sounded like my master bedroom.
Hmmmm, I thought to myself, my interest piqued. It was probably too much to hope for that I would find her unclothed and between the sheets of my bed waiting for me, but a fellow can dream, can’t he?
As I entered the room Jessica emerged from the bathroom, her navy blue evening gown draped over her arm. She was wearing one of my white button-down oxford shirts, open at the collar, the sleeves rolled up to just below her elbows. Despite her own better-than-average height the shirt was too large for her; the hem fell all the way to her mid-thigh, partially covering the grey sweatpants she had apparently unearthed from the bottom drawer of my wardrobe. These, too, were too big, as were the athletic socks she’d put on to complete the impromptu ensemble. She wasn’t naked by any means (I’d be dishonest if I didn’t confess to being at least a wee bit disappointed that my initial vision had not come true), yet somehow the baggy outfit of borrowed clothes made her look particularly alluring.
“George, do you have someplace that I can hang this?” she asked.
I snapped myself out of my reverie. “Certainly, let me take it.” I collected the gown from her, opened the wardrobe, slid my shirts to one side and hung it on the rod before closing the door again. “What happened to your dress?” I asked.
“I splashed beef broth on it. I had to clean it before the stain set,” she explained. “I hope you don’t mind that I borrowed some of your clothes?”
“No, not at all. It’s a good look for you,” I said half-jokingly. The truth was, Jessica could wear almost anything and turn it into a good look for her; in my eyes at least she was incapable of looking anything but beautiful, no matter what her attire.
She smiled, shook her head and tried to ignore my teasing. “If you don’t mind my asking, who decorated your apartment?” she asked, changing the subject. “It’s wonderful.”
“Not what you expected?” I said, looking around the room.
“Well, yes…and no. I knew that it would be tasteful, but there is something else about it that is…well, cozy and inviting. It’s definitely masculine, but with just a hint of…I guess I don’t know what it is, but it’s very appealing and I like it very much,” she concluded as she sat down on the edge of my antique pewter bed.
“My niece, Elizabeth, is a designer,” I explained. “She started out with the living room, as an experiment of sorts, and just never stopped until the entire loft was finished. Actually, I think she took pity on her poor uncle. If it wasn’t for her, you’d probably be staring at nothing but four white walls.”
“Well, regardless of her reason, it’s wonderful. I hope you’ll tell her so,” Jessica said sincerely.
“Of course I will,” I responded.
“Ready for dinner?” Jessica asked, jumping up from the bed.
“Of course, it smells wonderful,” I replied as I reluctantly followed her out of the room. Nyod, I thought to myself as I paused for a moment to watch her lead the way. “What is it about Jessie wearing my clothes that is so…cricket, George…bloody sexy, it is…cricket…think cricket.
Minutes later, we were seated at my small cherry wood dining table with plates of pot roast, potatoes and carrots in front of us. Jessica had set the table with simple white china and placed two flickering candles in the middle, dimming the room lights so that they could take center stage.
“George, is there something wrong?” she asked once she noticed that I had barely touched my food.
“Quite the contrary, Jessica, everything is perfect.” Beyond perfect, I thought. Firelight, whether it be from candles or a hearth, did magical things to Jessica’s already-beautiful face, the warm glow lighting her from within and casting her features in ageless perfection. I was reminded of when we sheltered in my family’s hunting cabin, back in Scotland, during her previous trip to the United Kingdom - then, as now, the vision of her face lit by firelight was enough to bring a lump of emotion to my throat. “I was just thinking that I have never seen you quite so…casual and relaxed before,” I said, unwilling to give full voice to my thoughts.
“Well, you don’t look the least bit casual or relaxed. Why don’t you at least take your jacket off? I feel completely underdressed and my pot roast certainly doesn’t call for a suit and tie,” she commented.
“You’re right, but not about your roast. It’s excellent,” I said as I stood, removed my jacket and hung it casually on the back of my chair. I sat back down and loosened my tie slightly. “There, is that better?” I asked.
“Not quite,” she replied. Boldly she reached across the table and loosened my tie further before taking the extra step of unbuttoning the top button of my shirt. “There, that’s a little bit better,” she said before lifting her fork and taking another bite of tender carrot.
You’re killing me, Jessica, I thought silently as a wave of lightheadedness came over me. Cricket, I thought determinedly, willing myself to not read too much into her actions. Jessica had made very clear where she drew the boundaries of our relationship, and I knew full well that if and when she changed her mind about where those boundaries lay, she would tell me. She was a very direct woman - that was one of the many things I admired about her.
That didn’t change the very real frustration I felt on those rare occasions when her actions hinted at more than what she openly said.
Over dinner, we talked about her new book and all of the traveling that she had been doing over the past couple of months to promote it. Eventually, the topic of her book signing the previous morning at Waterstone's Books, where Michael had shown up without warning, came up.
“And what is on your agenda tomorrow?” I asked, suppressing every urge I had to question her further about either that chance encounter or their relationship in general.
“Breakfast with Michael, of course, a meeting with my publisher and then I thought I might do some Christmas shopping in the afternoon,” she answered. She fixed me with her piercing gaze as if she had guessed at the questions I’d left unspoken. “George, are you sure everything’s okay? You’ve been a bit more quiet than usual this evening.”
Without answering her I stood, laid my cloth napkin on the table and reached for her hand. “Let’s go in the living room where we can talk,” I suggested, leading her out of the dining room.
“What about the dishes? We really should clear the table and get them cleaned up,” she said, pulling back a little on my hand with what I guessed to be nervous reluctance.
“Later. You cooked,” I said. “I’ll take care of the dishes, but not right now. Come with me. There’s something that I need to discuss with you.” I led her into the living room, where we sat down next to each other on the sofa.
“Jessica,” I said gently, laying my hand on hers and looking into her eyes. “I owe you an apology for my behavior this morning.”
Jessica averted her eyes “Apology?” she said. “For what? You were right. I should have let you know that I was going to be there and what I witnessed at the restaurant last night. It certainly would have been beneficial for you and your investigation to know as much as possible, as early in the investigation as possible.”
“Actually, Jess, you had no way of knowing that I had been called back to London or that I was involved in the Varanasi case so, there was no reason for you to have let me know that you would be there, but that’s not the issue at hand.” I paused and looked down before continuing. “Jessica, I feel black affrontit of my behavior. You know how much I care for you, but frankly, the nature of your relationship with Michael Haggerty, past or present, is none of my business and I made the mistake of thinking that it was. I hope that you can forgive me for that.”
Jessica continued to listen quietly, giving me space to hear me completely out.
“It just seems to me that Mr. Haggerty feels free to take certain liberties with you that I don’t much care for, specifically the fact that he is willing to put you at risk to suit his own purpose,” I said. Looking up, I once again met her gaze. “Tell me if I’m wrong, but I have a pretty good idea that that is exactly what happened last night at Varanasi and from what you said, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he’s done it before. It would just set my mind a bit more at ease if I knew that you at least trusted him not to put you in harms way again. If past history is any indication, you seem to do pretty well at that without anyone else’s help,” I concluded.
Jessica couldn’t help but to smile at me. “Apology accepted, but not necessary, George. You were simply doing your job and trying to protect my interests and to be quite honest, you’re not completely off the mark as far as Michael is concerned. He has been known to ...” she paused, seeking the right words - “take advantage of our friendship to further his own cause, but I can’t say that he has ever intentionally put me in danger.”
Intentionally? I thought to myself. I felt another flare of anger that Haggerty should be so careless with Jessica’s safety, but tamped it down instead of giving voice to it. Better not go there.
“As long as you trust him, Jess, then I have no other option, but to trust him, too,” I conceded. “Thank you for taking it so easy on me, I really don’t deserve it, you know,” I added before finally smiling at her and giving her hand a squeeze. No wonder I love her so much, I thought as I looked deeply into her bright blue eyes. “Jess, are we all right? I didn’t muck this up too badly, did I?”
“Of course not. We’re fine, George,” Jessica assured me before leaning forward and giving me a quick kiss on the cheek.
I savored the tingling feeling her lips left for a moment before rising from my seat on the sofa. “If you don’t mind, I think I will go change into something more suitable. I wasn’t planning on us having a quiet evening here tonight or else I wouldn’t have worn a suit.”
“Of course,” Jessica answered.
“I’ll be right back,” I said before disappearing into the master bedroom.
I was gone for only a minute, yet by the time I’d emerged Jessica had gone back to the kitchen to clear the table and tidy up. I came up behind her, placed my hands on her shoulders, and leaned forward to speak in her ear.
“Jess, I said I would take care of the dishes later,” I said, reaching around her to remove a plate from her hand and set it down on the countertop. “We’re not going to spend our abbreviated evening together cleaning up the dishes. Come on.” And I escorted her back out of the kitchen, away from the offending mess. “Now, would you prefer to take the grand tour or would you rather just retire to the living room?
“Oh, by all means, I would love to have the grand tour,” she replied, turning her head slightly and looking at me over her shoulder.
“Well, let’s see then. You’ve already become intimately acquainted with the kitchen. You’ve seen the dining room, the living room…the master bedroom and bathroom. That doesn’t leave much.” I paused, deep in thought. What more was there? Then I had an inspiration. “Come with me, I have something to show you,” I said as he took her by the hand and lead her into the master bedroom.
“Have a seat,” I said. “I’ll just be a minute.” I opened the draperies over the sliding glass door that led to my balcony, then fetched the case that held my telescope from the closet and took it outside to set up. “Okay, Jess, come on out,” I called when I had it ready.
As she approached the threshold to the door, I took her hand and guided her onto the balcony. I looked into the telescope’s eyepiece and made a few adjustments, then stepped back. “There, take a look.”
She did so, and gasped in wonder. “Oh, George, it is absolutely beautiful. What is it?” she asked, turning and looking back at me.
“Aquarius and Pegasus, the origin of the Greek myth of the Mares of Diomedes, I found it a few nights ago.”
“I thought you told me that you didn’t have time for star gazing any more.”
“I guess you could say I have had a renewed interest since last spring,” I said knowingly. “Now, for something extra special,” I said as I leaned in over her shoulder, peered into the eyepiece and made a few more adjustments. “Try that,” I said as I relinquished the eyepiece to her once again.
As she looked I could feel her beginning to shiver against the chill in the late October air. Instinctively I wrapped my arms around her to keep her warm.
“We’d better get you back inside before you catch a chill, Jess,” I said. “Ms. Rogers won’t be very happy if you catch cold and have to cancel any of your obligations.”
“No, George, I’m fine,” she said as she continued to peer into the scope.
“Jess, I can feel you shivering. We can do this another time,” I said, leaning in closer and speaking quietly next to her ear.
Jessica turned her head slightly and smiled at me. “I’m much warmer now,” she said, giving my arms, which were still wrapped around her, a squeeze and returning her attention to the telescope.
Cricket, I reminded myself.
We remained on the balcony for a few minutes longer before I once again insisted on returning to the warmth of the loft. Once Jessica was inside, I settled the telescope back into its case and returned it to the closet.
Jessica sat quietly on the edge of my bed, her attention drawn once again to the pictures that hung on the wall above the headboard. “George, these prints are wonderful,” she said. “If you don’t mind my asking, who is the artist?”
“Just a local chap,” I answered as I joined her at the side of the bed.
“Well, do you know where I can see more of his work? I might be interested in purchasing a piece for my guest room. I would love something from the highlands of Scotland or the County Cork.”
“Really?” I asked, surprised (and pleased) by her comment.
“Yes, really. Now, which gallery do you suggest I try?” she asked, still entranced by the pictures before her.
“Afraid you’re standing in it,” I said, letting a slight smile cross my lips.
Jessica looked at me, wide-eyed. “What? You…”
“Aye, me, but they’re really just snapshots, nothing special.”
“No, they’re not. They’re art,” she said, now looking even more closely at the pictures.
“My own private collection of amateurish art,” I corrected her before grabbing her hand and turning to leave the room. “Now, if you’ve finished snooping, we can continue our tour,” I said, suppressing a smile. She likes my photographs, fancy that.
“How could I possibly be snooping with you standing right here next to me? Besides, I’m not finished admiring your niece’s work,” Jessica said, coming to a stop and causing me to stop as well.
“It’s just a bedroom and it’s not like you haven’t already seen it,” I pointed out, giving her hand a little tug. “Come on.” The longer we remained here, the greater the temptation was to ... to do something that I was quite certain violated those relationship boundaries I mentioned earlier.
But Jessica, ever stubborn, managed to wiggle her hand out of mine. “On the contrary, Inspector, I’m learning a great deal about you by spending time in here. For example, the books on your bedside table…hmmm,” she said as she craned her neck to peer at their titles. “’Greatness: Reagen, Churchill and the making of Extraordinary Leaders, nonfiction, your serious side and ‘All Things Wise and Wonderful,’ your not so serious side,” she observed. “And your dresser…”
“That’s quite enough, Jessica. I know what’s in my bureau, as do you, I’m guessing.”
Jessica looked at him with the most innocent expression that she could manage.
“Jessica, you’re wearing my clothes, remember?” I said, raising one eyebrow slightly.
“Speaking of, I thought you were going to change into something more comfortable,” she said, taking note of the khakis and long sleeve polo style shirt I wore.
“Well, considering the fact that you’re wearing the only pair of sweat pants that I keep here at the house, it’s either this or ...” I smiled wickedly - “if you would prefer, I could parade around in my boxer shorts for you. I didn’t think so,” he said as a look of embarrassment crossed her face. “Now, if you don’t come with me I won’t be held responsible for my actions,” I threatened. Just to impress upon her that I was serious, I bent my head down and kissed her gently on the neck.
I felt her shudder slightly as her body reacted to my kisses in spite of herself. “George,” she said weakly.
“Yes, Jessica?” I said, looking at her closely. Give me a sign, lassie, I was thinking desperately. Give me a sign that you want me to continue!
Alas, once again my wishes were to go unfulfilled. Jessica pulled herself together and regained control. “That’s just plain devious,” she finally said.
“But apparently necessary and highly effective. Now, out,” I said, fixing her with a rather serious look and cocking my head toward the door. Cricket, George!
Jessica couldn’t help but smile when as she turned and began to leave the room. I started to follow her (with no small amount of regret that she’d given in so easily), pausing to retrieve a box from the top of my wardrobe. I thought I’d managed to pocket it without Jessica noticing, but she missed nothing.
“George, what was on the dresser that you didn’t want me to see?”
“I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about, Jess,” I said, dissembling.
“Of course you do. You just slipped it into your pocket.”
It was clear that the only way to duck the question was to drop the matter altogether. “Now, I believe that the only other rooms that you haven’t seen are the guest room and the den,” I said, continuing the tour. I took her by the elbow and led her down a short hall to one of the two doors located opposite each other at the far end. Opening the door, I ushered her into the latter room, my den. I left her to explore the Scottish decor on the walls while I rifled through my desk, muttering to myself as I did.
“What did you say?” Jessica asked.
“Oh, nothing,” I said in disgust. “I was just looking for this brooch that I found for you a couple of months ago. Now, where did I put it?” I asked myself out loud.
“Bottom right hand drawer, next to your handgun,” Jessica answered.
I whipped my head around and stared at her in amazement.
Seeing the look on my face, Jessica added in her own defense, “I was looking for your telephone book.”
“And did you find it?” I asked, bemused.
“As a matter of fact, I did. You know, your niece really is a fabulous decorator. She certainly seems to know you well.” Now it was her turn to try and change the subject.
“And did you also read my files on the Varanasi murder?” I asked her, looking down at my desk and tapping the topmost of several manila folders.
“I might have glanced at them,” Jessica admitted.
“And what do you think so far?”
“I’m not quite sure. Sophie Potter seemed to be a very hard working young woman with many friends and no one who had an obvious motive to kill her.”
“You know as well as I do that motives aren’t always obvious and very rarely are they justified,” I told her.
“Yes, I know,” Jessica said. “I just don’t buy the idea that it was the ex-boyfriend, who has no previous history of violence, or the rival actress, who was significantly smaller and weaker than the victim.”
“There’s always Henderson’s number one choice,” I said.
“Who?” she asked. “I didn’t see any other obvious suspects in that file.”
“Well, Henderson seems to think that you’re a likely candidate,” I informed her, trying very hard not to smile.
Stunned, Jessica responded with a simple, “Me?”
“I guess it would be more accurate to say that Henderson thought that you were a likely candidate, at least initially,” I said.
“Don’t scare me like that,” Jessica said, clutching her hands to her chest.
“It’s a good thing I came back from Glasgow or you’d probably be locked up in a cell about now,” I said, continuing to tease her.
“George Sutherland, you’re awful,” she said as she grabbed a small pillow off the couch and threw it at me.
I caught it deftly and asked, “Any other impressions?”
Jessica thought for a moment. “Could it have been an accident?” she asked.
“No. I spoke with the medical examiner tonight and he has ruled Miss Potter’s death as a homicide. Cause of death is strangulation; the weapon looks to have been some sort of chain.”
“What about the head wound. There was blood on the outside of the stall door, on the stool and on the floor.”
“Definitely pre-mortem, probably the result of a struggle with her attacker, during which she struck her head on the stool.”
“Do you have any good leads?”
“Until tonight, nothing promising, but I believe that we might have something fairly solid. Henderson is working on it right now,” I replied.
Is that why you were called back to The Yard tonight?”
“No, that was an entirely different matter altogether. Actually, our one solid lead just happened to fall in my lap earlier this evening.”
“Michael?” Jessica guessed.
“Aye,” I confirmed. “Your friend Haggerty finally decided that a little bit of interagency cooperation was to his liking.”
“And I assume that he wanted something from you in exchange,” she surmised.
“Of course, he did. Apparently he was still a bit puzzled about this morning.”
“You mean Michael still hadn’t figured out that you recognized my wedding band?”
Her comment brought an instant smile to my lips. “You’re so bloody smart,” I said as I stood, picked up the folders from the desk and stepped toward her. “Bloody smart, indeed,” I added, meeting her eyes and lingering there for a moment before holding the files out to her. “These are for you.”
“You made me a copy of your files?” Jessica asked, a bit surprised.
“Aye. I seemed to be a safer alternative than you running around London investigating on your own,” I told her. Not that it will make much difference, but at least I tried. “Did you find anything else of interest while I was out?”
“Actually, I did, but not in here,” she said as she grabbed my hand and lead me back down the hallway to the main entrance of the loft. “This,” she said indicating a gold cross patonce enameled in pale blue with a central ring of crimson, which surrounded an image of King George V. “What is it?” she asked inquisitively.
I gulped slightly at the sight of my knighthood medal - a trinket that I neither looked at nor thought about much. “Nothing really, just my commander’s badge. Why don’t we go have dessert before it gets much later and I have to take you back to your hotel?”I gently directed her back toward the living room, concluding the tour. “You get comfortable. I’ll be right back. It will just take me a couple of minutes,” I said before disappearing into the kitchen.
I returned a few minutes later to find her closely examining the collection of framed photos, books, compact discs and DVD’s that filled the shelves of my entertainment center. Placing the small crystal bowl I carried down on one of the coffee tables, I cleared my throat.
“You’re not snooping again, are you, Jess?”
“Of course not,” she said, breaking off her inquiry. Once she rejoined me on the couch, she noticed the dessert bowl sitting on the coffee table. “Is that what I think it is?” she asked.
“Aye, a ‘guilty conscience,’ or at least the best I could do on short notice,” I confirmed.
Jessica savored the first spoonful of brownie, vanilla ice cream, hot fudge and whipped cream. “Samantha would have approved. I know I do,” she declared before taking another bite. “Aren’t you going to have some?”
“No, thank you,” I declined politely.
“Well, I’m certainly not going to eat it all by myself,” she said before offering me a spoonful. She looked at me in consternation. “George, you hardly ate anything for supper and now you won’t even eat a bite of this irresistible sundae. What’s wrong with you?”
“There’s nothing wrong with me, Jessica. I’m just not particularly fond of chocolate.”
“You’re not serious? You don’t like chocolate?” she asked in utter amazement.
“Well, maybe hot cocoa in front of a warm fire, but that,” I said, indicating the dessert, “is way too much chocolate for me.”
“You don’t know what you’re missing,” she said before having two more bites and declaring that she would certainly have a guilty conscience herself if she ate any more of it.
“Aye, a very fitting title, especially for you, Jessica,” I said with a twinkle in my eye.
“What does that mean?” she asked.
“Jessica, I truly adore so many things about you. You’re intelligent, beautiful, compassionate and inquisitive … but perhaps a bit too inquisitive. Aren’t you feeling the least bit guilty about all of the…exploring that you have done here tonight, especially while I was gone?”
“Well, maybe a tiny bit, but you’ve always agreed with me that we should try to get to know each other better, haven’t you?” she said coyly.
“I guess I can’t argue with you about that,” I sighed before reaching up and brushing a stray lock of hair away from her eyes. She was all those things I had named, and more. “You know what, Jessie? I’m glad that we didn’t go out tonight. I’ve rather enjoyed staying in with you,” I said quietly as I looked deeply into her captivating blue eyes.
“So am I,” she said. “It has been a very enjoyable evening, but I should probably be getting back to my hotel before it gets too much later.”
“You don’t have to go,” I said as I gently ran my finger down her cheek. I felt her pulse quicken, and once again an unbearable longing for her wrung my heart. I framed her face with my hands and leaned forward, kissing her tenderly on the lips. To my pleasant surprise, she responded by kissing me back. The taste of her lips was sweet and faintly reminiscent of chocolate. Our next kiss was deeper and I felt her flush with warmth once again.
Jessica placed her hand against my chest, but didn’t immediately pull away. For a long moment I felt her indecision as she debated whether to accept my invitation - and all that it implied - or not. I held my breath, hoping against hope. Already my mind was racing ahead, hope joining with desire and fantasy.
My mouth followed in the wake of my fingers as they slowly undid the buttons of her shirt, parting the fabric to expose her warm, smooth skin to the touch of my heated lips. Her contented sigh deepened into a moan of pleasure as my hands caressed her.
“George,” she breathed, her own hands searching for my skin beneath my shirt in turn.
I pulled her to me, plundered her mouth, claimed her as my own. She willingly acquiesced to my demanding kisses and melted into my embrace, tipping her head back to bare her throat to me as though daring me to nip at the tender place where her neck met her shoulder. And her shoulders - my hands rested on them just long enough to gently push her down to lie on my bed, her body moving smoothly beneath mine as I pressed against her. She kicked off the oversized athletic socks and allowed me to slide off the sweatpants, revealing a pair of long, sensual legs and perfectly shaped hips which opened for me like a blossoming flower ...
My fantasy came to an abrupt end as Jessica pulled away.
“I’m so sorry, George,” she said softly. “I really can’t. I’m just not …”
I did not let her finish her sentence - there was no need. “I know, Jess, you needn’t apologize or explain,” I said. With an inward groan I stood and helped her to her feet.
Thirty minutes later I dropped her off at her hotel with a promise of dinner and a night at the theatre the following evening. I returned to my loft alone, left to ponder the events of the evening, and fill my sleep with dreams of what might have been.
“How was your day?” I asked Jessica when we met for a quiet dinner before going to see the stage adaptation of her book.
“Busy,” she replied. “First, I met with Grace Young, my British publisher - she’s very energetic, very intelligent - a real pleasure to work with. And like Vaughan Buckley, she never tries to push her ideas for stories on me ... at least until today.”
“And what happened to change her policy on that today?” I asked.
“Well, it was two things, really - the opening of Yours Truly, Damien Sinclair on stage, and Sophie Potter’s murder. Apparently, the not-so-coincidental timing of those two events have caused sales of the book to skyrocket.” She looked uncomfortable as she said this; knowing Jessica as I did, it probably dismayed her that she should profit in any way from such a tragic event as the young actress’s murder, however indirectly. “I fully intended Yours Truly to be the last book featuring Damien, but Grace is of the opinion that my next book should resurrect him.”
“Would that be a problem for you?”
She sighed. “Not really, I suppose. I like the character of Damien. But I was already planning on using the Sydney Opera House as a backdrop for my next book, featuring a librarian as the amateur detective. And once I’ve made up my mind, it’s difficult to shift gears to write something else.”
“Did you tell Ms. Young as much?”
“I did. I promised that I would seriously consider her request, but really, in my mind, the matter is closed - and so is the Damien Sinclair series.”
“Good for you,” I said. “You have always been one to make up your own mind, rather than be swayed by the opinions of others. How did you spend the rest of your day?”
“I went Christmas shopping.”
I looked at her in surprise. “Isn’t it a little early in the season to be doing that?”
“Not for me,” she replied, laughing. “I like to get an early start. And anyway, I didn’t want to waste an opportunity to go shopping in London.”
“Whom did you shop for?” I asked, curious as to whether I was on her list.
“Little Frank,” she said, “and Michael - he was a difficult one to shop for - and you, of course.”
“I don’t suppose you’d give me a hint?”
“Nae oan yer life,” she replied with a coy smile.
“Well, then, how about this - who is the murderer in your play tonight?”
“I’m not telling you that either. You’ll have to figure it out for yourself.”
Later that evening we sat comfortably in a private box at the theater. As the lights dimmed and the curtain began to open, I wrapped my arm around Jessica’s shoulders, leaned in close and whispered into her ear, “The ambassador’s wife did it, didn’t she?”
“I already told you. I’m not telling. Now, shhhh,” she answered, holding her finger to her lips and suppressing a smile.
When the curtain closed again, signaling the end of the second act, and the house lights came up Jessica moved to stand, in anticipation of walking down to the lobby for the intermission. Before she was all of the way up, I quickly looked around to make sure that everyone else had exited their boxes.
“Hold it,” I said as I grabbed her hand and gently pulled her down into my lap. “Now, tell me,” I insisted.
“No,” Jessica answered, playing at being stubborn, as she tried to stand again.
I shook my head and smiled. “Uh, uh, you’re staying right here until you tell me whether or not the ambassador’s wife did it.”
“You don’t really want me to tell you, George,” she said patiently. “That would spoil the entire play for you.”
Reluctantly I let her go, and she stood, turning to pull me up after her. “If you’d wanted to know, you should have read the book,” she added as she led me toward the lobby.
“I would have,” I responded, “but I didn’t want to spoil it.”
“Very clever, Jessica,” I said as we began the short drive back to her hotel after the conclusion of the play. “You were right. I didn’t want to know. I never thought for a moment that the maid was the killer.”
Jessica’s only response was to smile, a knowing, self-satisfied smile that in her case was certainly well-earned. “You look pretty pleased with yourself,” I noted as I parked the car. I shut off the engine and turned to face her, but at that inopportune moment my beeper began to vibrate. “Sorry, Jessica, duty calls,” I said, frowning and removing the device from my suit coat pocket. I instantly recognized the number - Inspector Henderson. What the deuce does he want at this hour? “Do you mind if I return this from your suite? I purposely left my cellular phone at home this evening.”
“Certainly,” Jessica responded.
As we walked through the lobby, I was aware of a sudden silence when we passed the registration counter. A quick glance at Jessica confirmed that she had sensed the strange feeling as well.
“George, did you notice something odd just now in the lobby?” Jessica asked after the elevator doors had closed.
“Aye, like we were being watched,” I answered.
As we stepped out of the elevator and turned toward Jessica’s room, I nearly collided with Inspector Henderson and Constable Mills, who had just exited Jessica’s suite.
“Chief Inspector Sutherland - how did you get here so fast? I just paged you,” he said, surprised by my sudden appearance on the scene.
“I’m aware of that, Inspector, I was just going to return your call,” I said. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m afraid that Mrs. Fletcher’s suite is the scene of a murder,” Henderson explained.
“What?” Jessica exclaimed as she quickly stepped past them to get to her room.
Henderson tried to stop her, but in vain. “Mrs. Fletcher, you can’t go in there,” he called after her, having no affect whatsoever.
I followed her inside the suite and took in the scene of destruction. The living area was a mess, with drawers open, flower vases upturned and papers scattered on the floor. Things were even worse in the bedroom: it was a complete disaster. Jessica’s bags were open and lying in the center of the room, her clothing scattered everywhere. Nearly every drawer was open, the mattress was overturned and what looked to be a man’s body, dressed in a maintenance man’s uniform, lay motionless on the blood soaked carpet next to the desk. In the midst of this chaos Jessica stood with a stunned expression on her face.
“Jess, are you all right?” I asked as I approached her and gently laid my hands on her shoulders.
“I’ve been better,” she admitted. “Who is he?”
“I don’t know yet. Give me a few minutes and I’ll see what I can find out,” I told her, before turning to walk back out to the hallway to talk to Henderson, disregarding the fact that she would be tempted to begin investigating herself.
I had scarcely gotten the sequence of events from Henderson when Haggerty came barreling up to us in as close to a panic as I had ever seen him.
“What happened?” he demanded. “Where is Jessica?”
“In her suite,” I said grimly.
Haggerty went a shade pale. “Is she ...”
“She’s fine,” I snapped. “She’s currently surveying the damage to her rooms and the dead body that someone left for her to find.”
“I think I know who the deceased is,” Haggerty said, motioning us back into the suite’s living room so we had a modicum of privacy. “Geoffrey Adams - one of our agents. I had my suspicions that he may have leaked information about our operation at Varanasi to someone unfriendly to our cause, but I couldn’t prove it.”
“Then what was he doing in Jessica’s suite?” I demanded. “And who was he leaking this information to?”
“The answer to the second question is I don’t know,” Haggerty admitted. “As to the first question, my guess is that he was searching her rooms for something Sophie Potter may have tried to send to Jessica through the post.”
Once again my fury at Haggerty’s foolhardy use of Jessica in his schemes came to the fore. “I can’t believe that even someone as callous as you would dare to endanger her in this way,” I said, my voice, I’m sure, reflecting my anger. “If you hadn’t dragged her into this adventure of yours, none of this would have happened!”
“I would never, ever intentionally place her in harm’s way,” Haggerty countered. “Not if there was any way I could avoid it.”
Intentionally. My father always told me - and rightly so - that the road to Hell was paved with good intentions. But it was the closest thing I would ever get to a reassurance from him. “Just remember this, Haggerty - if any harm comes to Jessica, I’m holding you personally responsible,” I promised, jamming my clenched fists into my pockets to keep from punching his cocky Irish face.
“Don’t worry yourself, Sutherland,” Haggerty responded disdainfully, glaring back at me. “If any harm comes to Jessica I’ll hold myself personally responsible,”
At that point the crime scene investigators, led by the capable Inspector Peter Phillips, arrived and chased everyone out of the suite except for Jessica, who still had some questions to answer. Now joined by Phillips, Henderson, Haggerty and I moved back out into the hallway to continue our discussion.
“So what happens now?” I asked Haggerty. “How much danger is Jessica in?”
Haggerty took a deep breath, as though he didn’t relish what he had to say next. “It’s possible that having failed to find what Adams was looking for in her suite, whoever killed him will come after her next, in hopes of finding it on her person - or coercing the information out of her in person.”
“Or eliminating her altogether?” I asked.
“It’s a possibility,” he admitted.
“Then she’ll need someplace secure to spend the night, and 24-hour police protection,” I decided. “Henderson, can you make the arrangements?”
Henderson looked pained. “I’m afraid that there’s no one available to assign to her until tomorrow morning at the earliest,” he said. “All my resources are tied up here, or on the Varanasi case.”
I looked at Phillips next. “She can’t stay here,” he said. “My boys will be working over the crime scene well into tomorrow.”
I took a deep breath and let it out again. “Right, then,” I said. “I’ll take her back to my flat, and protect her there myself.”
This decided, the group broke up and I went to break the news to Jessica. “Jessica,” I said, “get your carry on bag and whatever you need for the night. We’re leaving.”
“Jessica, please do what I ask,” I told her. “Phillips needs to inventory your bag before you remove it from the suite,” I added.
“George,” Jessica started, planning to protest my unilateral decision.
I took her arms gently in my hands and looked her straight in the eye. “Jessica, when have I ever insisted on anything?” I asked pointedly, hoping to convey to her the gravity of the situation that demanded it now. “Never.”
She must have realized the truth in what I said - that in fact, in all our years together, I virtually never did insist on having my own way. She nodded silently, and without another word went to collect her things.
Jessica, being a well seasoned traveler, had long ago learned to pack her personal travel necessities in a small overnight bag, which she could carry onto an aeroplane with her. Inspector Phillips released her bag once the technician had finished processing it and we were finally able to leave the Savoy.
She was quiet but seemed to be growing more and more tense with every passing minute as we drove through the streets of London toward my loft. Her body language made it evident that she was definitely more upset than she had let on back at the hotel. Fortunately, traffic was light this time of night on a week day and we arrived at the loft a mere twenty minutes after leaving the Savoy.
“Jessica, are you cross with me?” I asked tentatively, breaking the silence as I parked the car. I tried to rationalize my decision, and the reason for my rare imposition of my will on her. “I wish that there was another option, but there simply is no chance of getting police protection assigned to you until morning and forensic services will be processing your suite throughout most of the night. Who knows when they will even allow you back in to retrieve the rest of your things?”
“No, George, I’m not angry with you,” she sighed, sounding exasperated. “I’m angry with … the situation.” What she left unsaid - but which I thought I could guess at - was that she was also angry with Michael Haggerty for landing her in trouble again because of one of his exploits. I certainly couldn’t blame her for that.
I climbed out of the car, walked around to the passenger side and opened her door. Offering my hand, I helped her out, retrieved her bag from the trunk and escorted her up to my loft, where just the previous day we had spent a very enjoyable evening having dinner together. How quickly circumstances can change!
Once inside, I made her comfortable in the living room before disappearing into my bedroom. “Okay, Jessica, you’re all set,” I said as I returned to find her browsing through my music and DVD collection. “You can sleep in my room and I’ll take the guest room.”
“I can’t let you do that,” she replied, shaking her head slightly as she turned to face me. “I’m sure that the guest room is perfectly lovely and will suit me just fine.”
“As a matter of fact, yes, the guest room is perfectly lovely, but I have a couple of phone calls to make yet tonight and at least an hour or more work to finish up in the den and I don’t wish to disturb you so it’s really best if you take my room,” I replied politely while at the same time clearly indicating that there would be no further negotiations on the matter.
“If you insist. I’m far too tired to argue with you,” she answered, retrieving her bag from where she placed it on the floor next to the couch.
“I insist. Now, I believe that you know where most everything is located. Just help yourself to whatever you need. As for me, I’ll be in the kitchen rustling up something to eat. Can I offer you anything?”
“No, you go ahead. I’m not the least bit hungry so I think I’ll just go to bed. I’m sure that I’ll be asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow,” she assured me.
The irony of the situation was not lost on me - that just last night I had invited her to spend the night, and now tonight she was being forced to. I did not want to seem to be taking advantage of the situation in any way, so I was exerting myself to the utmost to keep everything I said and did strictly within the bounds of professional protocol.
“In that case, I will see you in the morning,” I said as I stepped aside to allow her to enter the master bedroom. “And I promise we’ll do our best to get you back to the Savoy as soon as it is safe for you to do so, Mrs. Fletcher.”
“Thank you, George, I know you will,” Jessica said with a slightly forced smile as she sat down on the edge of the bed. The awkwardness of the situation was not lost on her either.
“Good night,” I said, and I closed the door and headed to the kitchen to make myself a sandwich of leftover roast beef on wheat with tomatoes, lettuce and mustard. I added Red Mill cheese curls to the plate and grabbed a Coke from the refrigerator before heading to the den. Good thing Jessica isn’t witness to this nutritionally void midnight snack.
What I had not told Jessica was that I had no intention of sleeping in the guest room that night, or, for that matter, sleeping at all. The seriousness of the situation as described by Michael had made me acutely worried about Jessica’s safety. That someone had managed to take down a seasoned MI6 agent left me very concerned that we were dealing not with rank amateurs but professional killers, used to hitting their marks and melting away. I could not be certain that they had not watched every move we made that evening, even to the point of following us to my flat. No, for me at least, sleep was not an option.
I finished my meal (or what passed for one) and my hour’s worth of work in the den and rose to check on Jessica before taking up my vigil for the rest of the night. I opened the door to the master bedroom and peeked in; Jessica was fast asleep, snuggled deeply into the blankets and quilt of my king-sized bed. In that setting she looked small and vulnerable, and the sight of her sent a pang through my heart. I closed the door softly behind me and went to start a pot of coffee brewing.
I had been playing solitaire and drinking coffee strong enough to stand a spoon in for maybe two hours when I heard the bedroom door open quietly, and Jessica, wearing another of my oxford shirts, came into the living room. I peered at the illuminated dial of my watch: two thirty-six in the morning. I had the lights dimmed in the room - I did not want to attract attention to my vigil - and she didn’t see me; instead she headed for the bookcase next to the fireplace. I watched, bemused, as she perused the contents - classics, biographies, historical nonfiction, and, I knew she would be pleased to see, first editions of her own books. But the book she ultimately chose to examine more closely was one that brought a lump to my throat: The Real Mother Goose, passed down through my family from father to son. It would have passed to my son, had he and his mother lived ...
To my relief Jessica soon returned the book to its place on the shelf and moved on to examine a pair of photographs set on the near side of the mantle - one of Emily and me in our younger days, and one of several generations of my male relatives, dressed in full Scottish regalia and standing before the expansive wooden doors of Sutherland Castle. It was when she selected one of my photo albums - one that I was fairly certain contained embarrassing pictures of me from my university days - that I decided to announce my presence.
“You couldn’t sleep either?”
My voice startled her out of her exploration; she quickly slid the album back into its place and turned to see me reclined comfortably on the couch watching her.
“Come, sit down. You must be chilly,” I said as I stood to leave the room. “Let me get you a blanket.” I fetched a fleece throw for her from the bedroom, which she unfolded and laid over her legs.
“George, can I ask you something?” she asked after I had resumed my seat next to her on the couch.
“Certainly, anything you like. Just consider me an open book.”
The flicker in her eyes made me wonder if I would regret those rash words, but contrary to my fears Jessica’s question was relatively straightforward: “Could you really not sleep or are you actually my police protection for the night?”
“Aye, I am your police protection for the night,” I answered matter-of-factly.
“I figured as much.”
“And what, may I ask, tipped you off to that fact?” I asked.
“Well, first of all, you’re supposed to be sleeping in the guest room, if I’m not mistaken. Yet, here you are on the couch, less than fifteen feet from my door. Secondly, you’re still wearing your work clothes, including your tie, and correct me if I’m wrong, but -” here she smiled almost slyly at me - “you haven’t called me ‘Mrs. Fletcher’ since we first met.”
“Did I really call you that?” I asked in genuine surprise. I had been trying to maintain a professional demeanor, but didn’t realize I’d pulled it off that well!
“Yes, you did.”
“Please forgive me then. I’ll try not to be so polite and respectful in the future,” I said with a hint of a smile of my own. “So far your evidence is pretty thin … Jessica … it would never hold up in court.”
“You’ve also been drinking very strong coffee,” Jessica added. “It looks like tar, by the way, and you’ve been playing solitaire, which leads me to conclude that you have no intention of going to sleep and finally, I believe that that is your handgun sitting on the end table.”
“Guilty as charged,” I conceded. “Now we know why I’m not sleeping. Why are you not sleeping? Thinking about that poor chap in your hotel room are you?”
“Yes, I guess I was,” she admitted. “You never told me if you found out who he was.”
“His name was Geoffrey Adams and he was with MI6. Haggerty thinks that he may have leaked information regarding the operation at Varanasi to a third party, but he can’t prove it and he doesn’t know who that third party was. He thinks that Adams was searching your room for something that Sophie Potter may have tried to send to you through the post.”
“Is there a reason that you didn’t tell me that on the drive over here?” Jessica asked.
I shrugged. “You didn’t really look to be in the mood to talk,” I said.
“You’re right, I probably wasn’t.”
“Does it give you any new ideas?” I asked, always curious to see how her mind worked.
“No, not really,” Jessica admitted.
“In that case, may I recommend that we discuss something else, anything else as a matter of fact?” I suggested in a more lighthearted tone. I then added as a joke, “I’ve already broken my cardinal rule of not bringing work home, quite literally, I might add.”
“You do tend to keep work at the office, don’t you?” Jessica asked.
“Aye, as much as I can,” I replied.
“In that case, why do you keep your commander’s badge here instead of hanging in your office at the Yard?”
Oh, boy, here we go, I thought to myself as I contemplated her question for a moment. “Well, to be truthful, Jessica, in my opinion, displaying it at work glorifies being a clot, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and got himself shot. Keeping it here serves as a reminder of sorts to try not to do anything too terribly idiotic in the future.”
“You were shot? Where?” Jessica asked in surprise.
“Once in Edinburgh and once in London.”
“I meant anatomically … you were shot twice?”
“Aye, unfortunately … or fortunately, I guess it depends on how you look at it,” I said.
“Fortunately? I take it the criminals were apprehended then,” Jessica speculated.
“Aye, they were, but getting myself shot also happens to be how I met Emily,” I explained.
“And was it love at first sight?”
I knew she’d ask that. “Your curiosity certainly has transcended to a new level this evening, hasn’t it?” I said with a gentle laugh. “No, it definitely was not love at first sight. Emily was one of the emergency room nurses when they brought me into the hospital. Honestly, I don’t even remember the very first time that I saw her and I don’t think that she was too terribly impressed by the cheeky … how would you Americans say it -” I searched for the appropriate word - “ah, yes … cowboy, I think you might say … with the gunshot wound.”
“Really?” Jessica said, sitting up with interest. “That doesn’t sound at all like you.”
“Ah, but you happen to know the much older, much wiser me,” I said, “and in my own defense, I had been shot and apparently narcotic pain meds and I don’t mix well, or so I am told.”
“Is that Emily?” Jessica asked, nodding toward the picture that she had previously been admiring on the mantle.
“Aye, it is,” I answered.
“She was a very beautiful woman,” she said.
“Ay, that she was,” I replied, a note of nostalgia in my voice.
Jessica was quiet for a long moment. At length she ventured to ask, “What was she like?”
“Stubborn,” I replied immediately and with a light laugh, “and practical… intelligent…kindhearted and fearless and very, very passionate about life.”
“She sounds wonderful. I think I would have liked her.”
“Aye, I think you would have indeed,” I confirmed. I also was quite certain that Emily would have liked Jessica just as well.
“So,” she said, her eyes shining with curiosity, “how did you manage it?”
“What? Convincing Emily to marry me, you mean?” I thought for a moment before answering, “Well, I guess she liked me a tad better the second time we met, when she rear-ended my car.”
“Well,” Jessica prodded, eager to hear the rest of the story.
“Well … are you sure you really want to hear this?”
Jessica nodded enthusiastically.
I sighed. “Okay then, she was headed home to London for the weekend and I was headed back to Wick. Apparently, when she hit me the radiator was so badly damaged that there was no way that she could drive her car back to London so I asked her to join me in Wick.”
“You did? Then what happened?” Jessica asked on impulse. “Without a chaperone?”
“Of course there was a chaperone,” I said. “Half the clan was home that weekend. Anyway, we’ll just call the rest history, if you don’t mind?”
Jessica looked at me for a long moment, long enough that I finally asked her, “What is it, Jessica?”
“Nothing,” she answered, but I knew the question that was on the tip of her tongue, so I decided to answer it anyway.
“Aye, Jessica, I do miss her, everyday. That’s what you were going to ask, wasn’t it?”
“It was months before I could bring myself to even talk about her after she was killed, but if there was one thing that she taught me in life, it was to live in the present, not the past.” I paused to ruffle her hair with my hand - she was, after all, the most tangible evidence in my life that I had learned the lesson well. “Unfortunately, it took being shot a second time for me to remember that particular piece of wisdom and now that you’ve heard my life story,” I concluded, “why don’t you go back to bed and get a couple of hours of sleep.”
“I’m not tired,” Jessica replied, stifling a yawn.
For the next two hours or so I attempted to satisfy Jessica’s insatiable curiosity. She seemed determined to make the most of my careless offer to “consider me an open book” and learn everything there was to know about me. My tastes in books, music, travel - she asked questions about all of these things and more until at last she fell asleep with my arm still wrapped protectively around her.
As for me, I continued to watch over her until dawn was near.
It was about six in the morning when I carefully slipped my arm out from behind Jessica, gently laying her down on the couch and covering her again with the fleece blanket. I showered, shaved and dressed before going into the kitchen to start a fresh pot of somewhat less toxic coffee than what I had been drinking overnight.
Jessica was still sleeping soundly when I returned to the living room with a steaming cup of French roast.
“Jessica,” I said as I gently shook her shoulder. “Time to get up.”
She stirred a little at the sound of my voice. “What time is it?” she asked without opening her eyes.
“Half past six,” I replied. For just a moment, I allowed myself the luxury of losing myself in the image of her ageless beauty, something I had not permitted myself to do while on duty throughout the night. “We need to leave by a quarter past seven if you are going to get back to the Savoy to meet Ms. Rogers in time to get to your first interview. You are still planning on keeping all of your appointments today, aren’t you?”
Jessica opened her beautiful blue eyes and looked up at me. “Of course, I am, but I don’t think that I am to meet with Miss Rogers until ten thirty,” she said dreamily as she let her eyes drift closed again.
Although I would have liked to have let her continue to sleep, this morning at least it was not in the cards. “Sorry Jess, we have a stop to make first and I have to be back to the office by eight-thirty for a meeting.”
With a sigh Jessica slowly sat herself up on the edge of the couch next to me. “Just give me a few minutes to get myself straightened up and I’ll be ready to go,” she said, standing and stretching. As she did the hem of the shirt she’d borrowed rose high enough to give me my best look yet at her long legs, a view that left me instantly feeling warm all over. She headed back to the master bedroom to shower and dress, leaving me staring after her like a love-struck young swain.
I had managed to remain extremely disciplined while keeping watch over her - not an easy thing to do when the woman you love is lying in your arms dressed in little more than a man’s shirt - but after a long night and no sleep discipline was flagging. How I yearned for her - to hold her, to kiss her properly, to make love to her with the searing passion that even now flamed up in my heart ...
I slipped into the master bedroom, the sounds of my footsteps and my clothes being shed covered by the rush of running water coming from the bathroom. I came up behind her unawares as she was unbuttoning her shirt, placing my hands on her shoulders and pressing my body up against hers - a perfect fit, or so it seemed to me.
“Let me help you with that,” I said, speaking softly in her ear.
She smiled, and dropped her arms to her sides. I reached around to the front of her and undid the last few buttons and then peeled the shirt back, stepping back just long enough to slip it off her shoulders and allow it to slide down her arms, between us to the floor.
I pressed against her once more, this time delighting in the sensation of the heat conducting directly between us. I wrapped my arms around her, keeping her arms pinned to her sides as I again inclined my head to hers. I traced the outer edge of her ear with the tip of my tongue before taking the soft lobe in my lips and suckling it ever so gently. She shivered as I released it and turned my attention to her neck, kissing it with increasing intensity.
“George,” she protested weakly, smiling as she shifted against me.
Still keeping her arms captive, I let my hands roam over her, from her delicate collarbones to the smooth curve of her hips. Only when I had fully explored her did I release her and allow her to turn to face me, taking her face in my hands as I lowered my mouth to hers ...
I shook myself out of my reverie, drained the last of the coffee from my cup in one go, and went to my den to collect my papers for the day. At least the worst of the temptation was over, or so I thought.
Naturally, I was wrong.
At promptly eight o’clock I parked the car in front of Harrods and escorted Jessica to the front doors. “George, what are we doing here?” she asked.
“Sorry, Jess, I forgot to tell you. Forensics isn’t releasing anything from your room for at least another forty-eight hours so, you’re going to have to do some shopping, I’m afraid.”
“George, I don’t think they’re open,” Jessica said uncertainly.
“Not to worry, they are for you, at least today,” I said as Mark Phillips, a friend of mine and frequent tennis partner, appeared at the door.
“Good morning, George,” Mark said as he let us in.
“Hello, Mark,” I replied, shaking his hand. “Thanks for accommodating us this morning. This is Mrs. Jessica Fletcher who, I’m afraid, has been inconvenienced by Scotland Yard to the point that she needs to replenish her wardrobe in order to meet her obligations over the next few days. Jessica, this is Mark Phillips the manager of Harrods Knightsbridge store.”
“Mrs. Fletcher, I am delighted to meet you,” Mark said graciously with a slight bow. “It will be our great pleasure to help you. If you would be so good as to follow me, I’ll introduce you to Diana, who is waiting for us in the ladies’ department.”
Mark led us through the empty store until we found the aforementioned sales associate Diana, and explained to her that Jessica would be needing several outfits ranging from casual wear to professional attire to evening wear.
“Of course,” Diana said pleasantly. “Where shall we start, Mrs. Fletcher?”
“I’m afraid I don’t even know exactly what my schedule is for the next few days,” Jessica said, looking a bit overwhelmed.
I reached into the breast pocket of my suit and retrieved a folded piece of paper, which I handed it to her. “Ms Rogers called this morning, while you were in the shower, after she heard about last night,” I said. “After I explained the situation, she insisted on faxing me your schedule for the rest of the week. Now, you’d better get started. I imagine you have quite a bit to do before your driver gets here at ten o’clock.”
“My driver? George, may I speak with you in private for a moment,” Jessica asked politely, smiling but failing to conceal her mounting irritation.
Uh-oh, I thought as I turned to follow her.
Once we were out of the saleswoman’s hearing, Jessica hissed, “Are you trying to handle me, George Sutherland?”
“Absolutely not,” I answered emphatically. “You would never put up with it. I’m just doing my job.”
“This is your job? I can understand that you want me to have police protection after last night. I don’t like it, but I understand it, but keeping tabs on my schedule and assigning me a driver …”
“Jessica, just calm down for a minute, please,” I pleaded, gripping her shoulders firmly. “I’m not your publicist. Ms. Rogers is. I’m not monitoring your schedule and I certainly didn’t assign you a car or a driver.” Although I would have liked to, I added to myself. “If you have a problem with that, I suggest that you take it up with her. I’m just the messenger. As for this, yes, this I did arrange. Mark Phillips is a mate and is simply doing me a favor and you do need a few things if I’m not mistaken. We’re just fortunate that I let Mark beat me in our tennis match last month. Now,” I said, releasing her, “you’d better get started or you’re going to be late for your interview. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” I strode away purposefully toward the main entrance to brief Constable Fields, who was relieving me, about the developments of the previous evening.
Once Fields had been brought up to speed (and sufficiently warned about not being too overbearing in his protection), I returned to the ladies’ department. Diana flashed me a smile that reassured me that things were going well thus far. Jessica was nowhere to be seen; at my questioning look Diana nodded toward the changing rooms.
“Jess?” I said, rapping quietly on the only closed door.
“Come in,” she responded, turning the handle and allowing me inside.
My jaw must have literally dropped when I saw her standing before me in an elegant red evening gown. “What do you think?” she asked me. “I have to attend a social at he American Embassy tomorrow night.”
Och mah, I thought to myself, once I was able to think clearly again. I stepped further inside the room, closed the door behind me, and took in the sight of the vision before me.
The long, delicate red dress flowed gently to ankle length and featured a surplice neckline. A matching waist length jacket, decorated with an intricately beaded pattern, added to its elegance and immediately drew attention to the bust of the gown, accented with the same delicate beading, which also continued along the edge of a lengthy slit lined with sheer, red tulle. The overall effect was very beautiful, and incredibly sexy.
“Jessie, you are absolutely stunning,” I said, smiling as I stepped closer to her. I couldn’t help myself; this last temptation was too strong to resist. I placed my hands on either side of her face, leaned down and kissed her deeply on the lips, catching her completely off guard.
“George … I … George…what are you doing?” she stammered but once again, she didn’t pull away.
“Sorry, Jess, completely inappropriate, but I couldn’t help myself,” I apologized as I slowly lowered my hands from her face and gently grasped her hands instead. “I promise to never again kiss you in the changing room at Harrods.”
Jessica looked at me suspiciously. “You’re off duty now, aren’t you?”
“Aye, Constable Fields is right outside. He’ll be with you most of the day,” I said, resuming a slightly more business-like manner.
“There is no way of talking you out of this, is there?” she asked.
“No, there isn’t,” I said firmly.
Opting not to argue the point, Jessica instead returned her attention to the gown. “Well, if you really like the dress that well, I believe I shall get it,” she decided.
“Do. It’s very flattering on you,” I said. I was still holding her hands, and still very much wanted to kiss her again. But Jessica had other ideas.
“George, you’d better get going,” she said, wiggling her hands free from mine. “You’re already going to be late for your meeting, and I have a lot more shopping to do,” she continued as she opened the door.
“You’re right, Jess, I’ll call you sometime later today,” I said. I lingering for just a moment longer looking at her, and then turned to leave.
Before exiting the store, I found Mark.
“Ah, George!” he said. “Is Mrs. Fletcher finding everything she needs?”
“She is. Diana has been most helpful to her. I say, Mark, I wonder if you could do me one last little favor?”
“Jessica - Mrs. Fletcher - picked out a gorgeous red evening gown for an embassy function she has to attend tomorrow evening.”
“I think I know the one,” Mark said. “Slitted sheath skirt, matching jacket, beaded accents?”
“Aye, that’s the one,” I said, feeling a slight flush in my cheeks at the memory of seeing Jessica wearing it. “I wonder if it would be too much trouble for me to leave you my credit card information so that I may purchase it for her, together with the shoes and accessories that go with it.”
“I don’t see why not,” Mark said, reaching for a pad and pen. Suddenly a knowing smile spread across his face. “George, you sly devil, you! Why didn’t you tell me you and she were ...”
“Because we’re not,” I said. “We’re friends, nothing more.”
I was quite certain that he didn’t believe me, nevertheless he let the matter drop, thankfully.
“Whatever you say, mate,” he said as he handed my card back to me. I’ll just send Diana a note to let her know.”
Later that afternoon I arrived at the Savoy to pick up Jessica for dinner. As I crossed the lobby Michael Haggerty appeared at my side, and we rode up to her floor in the lift together. We said little until we approached her door, at which point I nodded to the plainclothes man discreetly posted to watch her suite.
“One of yours?” Haggerty asked me.
“Aye. It seemed prudent.”
“I did you one better - I got her publicist to actually hire a body guard to accompany her on her engagements.”
So that was where Jessica’s car and driver had come from! I stopped in the middle of the hall and looked at him in astonishment. “You did what?”
“Got her publicist to hire a body guard. Your lads can’t be at her side every moment.”
“Does she know?”
Michael guffawed. “Of course not,” he said.
“Good. Because if she were to find out, she would rend you limb from limb.”
It took two knocks to bring Jessica to the door; from the tired look in her eyes when she opened it to admit us it was evident that we had awoken her from sleep.
“Hello, Jessica,” I said as I bent my head down and greeted her with a kiss on the cheek. “How was your day? Uneventful, I hope,” I added cheerfully.
“For the most part,” she answered with a slightly forced smile, still not quite awake.
“Jessica, darlin’, how are you?” Michael said before greeting her with a kiss on the hand. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at his theatrics.
“A bit tired,” she admitted as she led us into the living room of her new suite, where she sat down in one of the room’s very comfortable chairs.
“An equally lovely suite,” Michael observed as he took a seat on one of the two sofas. The suite, which was actually larger than her previous one, offered a large fireplace with two loveseats and two comfortable armchairs, a dining room table with seating for four, a working desk and two bedrooms, each with a king size bed and its own private bathroom. The suite was once again decorated in a traditional English style, with plush carpet, beautiful woodwork and several vases filled with fresh flowers.
“Yes, it is,” Jessica agreed, “and I plan on taking full advantage of it later this evening after George and I have dinner and listen to some wonderful live jazz,” she added. As she spoke, I saw her eyeing Michael’s appearance. I wasn’t sure what she found so curious about it; he was dressed more casually than usual, perhaps, in a white oxford shirt, navy blue jacket, and khaki trousers, but nothing about his attire stood out as being obviously out of place, at least to me.
“Actually, Jess, why don’t we order from room service,” I suggested, exchanging a look with Michael. “You could probably use a quiet evening and some rest after last night.”
“Why don’t you look tired?” she asked, realizing that I ought be just as fatigued as she was.
“I caught a couple of hours on a cot at The Yard this afternoon,” I admitted with a shrug.
“I think Sutherland may be right, Jessica, you look like you’ve had a very busy day,” Michael concurred.
Suddenly Jessica’s eyes widened in recognition - of what I wasn’t sure - and in an instant she had metamorphosed from tired and calm to agitated and annoyed. “Out, Michael,” she said, pointing toward the door without getting up.
“What?” Michael said, surprised by the sudden change in her demeanor.
“I would like for you to leave, now,” she repeated, getting to her feet. “Not only did you somehow convince my publicist to hire a body guard, without my consent, but you’ve been following me, lurking in the shadows ever since I left Harrods this morning.” She was really angry now, her eyes blazing as she fixed Michael with an accusatory look. “I just figured it out. You were sitting in a corner booth at the restaurant during my interview; hiding behind a newspaper in the back of the Internet café; and loitering in the history section of the bookstore this afternoon.”
I shook my head. “I warned you,” I told Michael sympathetically.
The moment the words were out of my mouth I knew I’d put my foot in it. Jessica’s head whipped around in my direction, and now I was pinned under the force of her gaze. “What?” she demanded. “You knew what he was up to?”
If I was unused to seeing Jessica angry, seeing her angry at me was a wholly new experience. “I certainly never thought he’d go through with it,” I tried to explain in self-defense, “especially after agreeing that there was no way that you would allow it.”
Jessica seemed to be making a conscious effort to remain calm. “Okay, you two,” she said. “I have just decided to spend the evening enjoying the wonderful amenities of this lovely hotel … alone.” She put extra emphasis on the final word. “I don’t want to see either of you before noon tomorrow, at the earliest, and only after you dispense with the body guard,” she continued, eyeing Michael, “and you cancel the orders for police protection,” she added, looking at me.
Michael started to protest: “But Jessica ...”
“Out,” Jessica said, remaining firm in her resolve. “You, too, Sutherland.”
Sutherland? She had never called me that, never in all the years I had known her. Stunned into silence, I could do little more than watch as she turned on her heel and headed for her bedroom, closing the door firmly behind her.
It took Haggerty touching my arm to rouse me from my dumbfounded stupor. “You know a good pub nearby?” he asked as we exited Jessica’s suite.
“Aye, Knight’s is down the block,” I replied hollowly. I was about ready to kick myself all the way to the pub for my mistake.
“Good, I’ll buy you a pint.”
The bartender slid two foaming pints of Twait’s Golden Charmer onto the bar in front of us. “I’ve got this one,” I said, removing a ten pound note from my wallet and placing it on the black granite-topped bar. The pub, which was frequented by locals and travelers alike, was located next door to one of The Savoy’s many restaurants. The designer had used taupe, silver blue and black in an art deco style, which created a comfortable, cool atmosphere in which to enjoy a variety of food and beverages including sixteen versions of the classic martini.
I raised my glass and looked at Michael: “May yer glass be ever full. May th’ roof over yer head be aye strong.”
“An’ may you be in ‘eaven a full ‘alf an ‘our before the devil knows you’re dead.” Michael finished the traditional toast and we laughed, enjoying another drink before continuing our conversation.
“Once your man, Henderson, wraps up his investigation and has the murderer in custody, Jessica will be just fine,” Michael reassured me. “She never holds a grudge, for too long.”
He sounded confident but I was unconvinced. I responded with a doubtful look before taking another fortifying drink of my beer.
“Believe me, Sutherland, if she were one to hold a grudge, I would be the one to know.”
“In other words, this isn’t the first time she’s been less than pleased with you,” I said, deliberately understating what I already knew to be the case.
Michael laughed. “Of course not,” he answered, “and she always comes around, eventually.” Then he paused in thought for a moment. “You mean to tell me you’ve known Jessica for what, seven or eight years and she’s never once been angry with you?” he asked.
“Not that I’m aware of,” I answered. “She’s certainly never called me ‘Sutherland’ before. That I know for sure.” I looked down at the bar and slid my glass of ale from one hand to the other and back again, an outward expression of my inner anxiety.
“In that case, I have a distinct advantage and you’ll have to take my word for it, mate. If I can have her held in jail on murder charges for several days without any repercussions, I’m fairly certain that she’ll let this pass,” Michael said presumptuously.
This was a tale I had not yet heard. “You had her jailed … on murder charges … for several days?” I asked, astonished.
“It was for her own good,” Michael rationalized.
“I’m guessing that Jessica didn’t see it that way,” I speculated.
“No, as a matter of fact, she did not, but I’m sure that you will. You see, it just so happens that we were both in San Francisco and …”
A pint later Michael finished the amazing tale of how he protected Jessica from assassins with a toast: “To Jessica not being one to hold a grudge.”
I had to admit, as I happily returned Michael’s toast, that the story had reassured me of Jessica’s boundless capacity for forgiveness. “Absolutely no repercussions?” I asked in amazement.
“Well, not initially anyway,” Michael answered, “and she probably never would have returned the favor if the perfect opportunity hadn’t presented itself when I tailed Patrick O’Hansen to Cabot Cove and was arrested for his murder.”
“Ah,” I said guessing as to what happened next, “and I imagine that Jessica left you cooling your heels in jail ‘for your own good’?”
“That was her official line,” said Michael.
A boundless capacity for forgiveness, then, but also a long memory and a wicked sense of irony! “Now, that sounds like the Jessica that we both know and love,” I said with a hearty laugh.
“Yes, it does,” Michael agreed. “She really is quite an amazing lady, isn’t she?”
“Aye, she is at that,” I replied, echoing Michael’s observation.
“Yes, indeed,” Michael said. “If it wasn’t for Jessica, I’d most certainly remain here in London instead of transferring to New York City in December,” he added.
My heart immediately sank at his words. Well, bloody ‘ell, I said silently to myself as I drained the rest of my beer. Haggerty’s transferring to New York to be near Jessica. Bloody wonderful news that is!
Although it was well short of being a full-blown hangover, the headache I awoke with the next morning was a sober reminder of the events of the previous evening, and of the fact that for the first time in my memory I was not in Jessica’s good graces. I could only hope that once the noontime came and went she’d be in better temper and willing to consider at least speaking to me again.
The morning had me running from one department meeting to another, and it was getting on towards eleven before I finally returned to my office. It was a good thing that Inspector Henderson was proving to be a very able investigator or I would most likely not be able to free myself for my scheduled holiday with Jessica in just a couple of day’s time.
If she still wants me to go with her, I thought gloomily.
I had just settled in at my desk to begin chipping away at the mountain of paperwork that seemed to be continuously growing when the telephone rang. I cringed for a moment before realizing that the sound was no longer as loud or as grating as it had been at eight o’clock that morning.
“Sutherland,” I said.
“Excuse me, sir, but there is a Mrs. Fletcher here to see you,” the young woman on the other end of the line informed me.
“Of course,” I answered, slightly perplexed by Jessica’s unannounced presence, well ahead of the noon deadline. “Show her in as soon as you can.”
“No need, sir, she assured me that she knew the way,” the young woman explained only a split second before there was a knock on the door.
Before I had even stood from my chair, the door started to open. “Come in,” I answered, finally standing up from behind my desk.
“Good morning,” Jessica said in friendly greeting as she opened the door fully and stepped into the room, closing it behind her.
“Jessica, what are you doing here?” I asked, slightly thrown. After last night, I was very hesitant to move toward her and greet her as I usually would.
“Is this a bad time?” she asked, sensing that something was off.
“No, of course not, I just didn’t expect to see you until…well, later today,” I said. Could she really have gotten over her wrath from the night before already? “Please, sit down.” I motioned her to one of the chairs in front of my desk before sitting back down in my own chair.
Jessica looked at me with some concern. “George, are you feeling okay?” she asked.
“Yes, I’m well, thank you,” I answered. Confused, I thought to myself, definitely confused ...
“Good, I was afraid that perhaps you and Michael may have … how do you say it …cocked the wee finger too many times last night,” she said. When I looked at her, puzzled, she added, “I heard Michael ask you if you knew of a good pub nearby as you were leaving last night.”
“You don’t miss a thing, do you?” I said, finally starting to feel a bit more at ease. She certainly didn’t seem to be cross. “Actually, I think that we both managed to stop well short of being foolish.”
“In that case, are you up for lunch?” she asked hopefully.
Haggerty was right, I thought to himself. On those rare occasions when she was angry she was implacable, but this was more than counterbalanced by her fundamentally forgiving nature. I was, indeed, a very lucky man. “Certainly,” I replied, sensing that it was safe enough to tease her a little, “but it’s not noon yet.” I glanced meaningfully at the clock, a hint of a smile playing at the corners of my mouth.
“Oh,” Jessica responded with a chuckle, glancing at the clock, too. “About that, I’m sorry that you managed to get caught in the middle, but every once in a while Michael goes a bit too far.”
“No matter,” I said. “Is it safe to assume that you’re not cross with me any longer then?”
“Of course I’m not,” she answered.
“Good,” I said with heartfelt relief as I stood and walked around the desk. “I didn’t much care for it,” I admitted as I offered to help her up from the chair. “Jess, do you think you could do me one little favor?”
“I’ll try, what is it?”
“Please don’t ever call me ‘Sutherland’ again,” I said, in all seriousness.
“I can do that,” she agreed, then she reached up and gave me a friendly - and chaste - kiss on the cheek to assure me that there were indeed no hard feelings.
“Now that that is settled, where are we off to?” I asked as I opened the door to the office and ushered her out.
“That’s up to you. It’s your city. I’m just a visitor,” Jessica replied.
I considered the question for a moment before closing the door behind us. “Are you up for a walk?”
“Always,” she answered.
“How much time do you have?” I asked as we turned a corner toward a side entrance that opened to the employee parking area.
“I have an interview at a LBC late this afternoon,” she replied, “at four o’clock. How much time do we need?”
“I’d say two or three hours,” I said.
“Three hours for lunch?” Jessica asked, surprised.
“I thought you wanted to experience London,” I said, grinning as I opened the passenger door of the car for her.
“You’re right, I do,” she said. “Where are we going?”
“Greenwich,” I answered simply.
After parking as near to Island Gardens as we could, I took Jessica’s arm in mine and we walked toward Greenwich market. Our route took us through a quaint foot tunnel that passed under the Thames River and toward the market. After having lunch at Goddard’s Pie House we strolled leisurely through the market and finally made the uphill climb to the observatory at the top of Greenwich Park hill.
“This,” I proclaimed as we reached the summit, “is the best view of the city to be had from land.”
“It’s a marvelous view,” Jessica agreed.
“Sometime, when we have a full day, we’ll have to take the Red River Rover downriver,” I said. “You haven’t truly seen London until you’ve seen it from the Thames.”
We were quiet for awhile, taking in the sights spread out before us under the clear blue autumn sky.
“So, Jess, are you planning on telling me where you took off to last night after we left?” I asked as we began the descent.
Now it was Jessica’s turn to be surprised - she looked at me quizzically, trying to figure out how I’d known that she’d gone out at all.
“I saw you walking back into the hotel late last night when I was walking back to get my car,” I explained.
“Of course, I was having such a good time, I nearly forgot,” Jessica answered before launching into a long story beginning with Chloe’s telephone call and ending with her morning visit to the London Museum.
“So, you spent the morning sleuthing?” I asked. “I’m not the least bit surprised.”
“Well, I would hate to disappoint you,” Jessica responded playfully. “You know, I really should talk to Inspector Henderson, shouldn’t I?” she added.
“Yes, you should. He should be back in his office by the time we return to The Yard,” I said as I checked my watch, “unless you need some time to rest at your hotel before going to your interview.”
“Actually, walking like this usually increases my energy level,” Jessica said as we continued down the hill. “Do you know what I think, George?”
“No, what do you think, Jess?” I replied contentedly.
“I think that this was the perfect way to experience lunch in London.”
“Chloe Cook, Sophie Potter’s neighbor, contacted me last night,” Jessica said when we met with Inspector Henderson to tell her tale. “She told me that a mere month before Sophie’s murder her father, Samuel Potter, was killed in a car accident. According to Chloe, when Sophie started going through his papers and safe deposit box she started to act very strangely, to the point that she became obsessed with Samuel’s papers, and started to suspect that her father’s death had been no accident. Chloe found the papers in an envelope in her car, which Sophie had borrowed shortly before her own murder; she gave them to me, but cautioned me not to open them in public.”
So far Henderson’s expression was unreadable. “And what was in this envelope Ms. Cook gave you?” he asked.
“Samuel Potter’s journal, for one thing, with notes made my Sophie in the margins,” she said. “After reading them it was clear that Samuel had been involved in creating forged documents for a small group of individuals who intended to threaten the Queen.”
“Were these individuals named?” asked Henderson.
“No; there weren’t any specifics, not even about what form the threat would take. But I did get the impression that at least three other people were involved - a ‘Sy,’ who had been Samuel’s ‘old housemate’ at a place called Bradford House, ‘L,’ who was Sy’s friend, and a third person referred to as ‘L.U.’ or ‘Lu’ - I couldn’t tell which.”
Henderson made some notes as she spoke, frowning.
“And then what did you discover this morning?” I prompted Jessica.
“Well, when I went to the London Library I was able to find Samuel Potter’s Bradford House picture in the 1975 Hargrove College yearbook,” Jessica said. “After a little more searching through the pictures of the Bradford House students I also found Simon ‘Sy’ Williamson, who later went on to become David Littlewood’s Chief of Security.”
“And what does all this suggest to you, Mrs. Fletcher?” asked Henderson.
“That the diary of Elizabeth I that David Littlewood claims as proof that he is the rightful heir to the throne of England is very likely a forgery,” she said. “I tried to speak with Lawrence Underhill at the London Museum to make him aware of what I had found, but he was unavailable - I had to leave a message with one of his assistants, who, I should note, was named Christine Lu.”
Still Henderson looked doubtful. “For pity’s sake, man!” I finally said in frustration. “Mrs. Fletcher has significantly advanced the investigation of Sophie Potter’s murder - not to mention cast an interesting light on the David Littlewood affair - and yet you persist in doubting her!”
“It’s not that I doubt her,” Henderson said stiffly, “it’s just that there is still the matter of her being seen kneeling over the victim’s body ...”
“Again with that? I think we have more than satisfactorily explained how Mrs. Fletcher came to discover Miss Potter’s body,” I said. “Really, Henderson, if you can’t move away from that first theory of yours then this case will never go anywhere.”
Henderson didn’t look pleased, but he had to acknowledge that I was right. His attitude towards Jessica finally softened, and after reviewing her findings more carefully with her, she left to meet her next commitment, and interview at LBC’s radio broadcast studio.
After Jessica had gone, Mills and I met in a small conference room to work on building a dossier on Simon Williamson, in hopes of finding a link between him, Samuel Potter, Geoffrey Adams, and others who might have had a had in Sophie Potter’s death. The Yard’s Fraud Division was now involved as well - even now they were busy reviewing Samuel Potter’s papers and arranging a meeting with Lewis Underhill to apprise him of Potter’s accusations.
We were making good headway when the conference room’s telephone rang; Constable Mills picked it up and answered it.
“Chief,” he said after he had listened for a moment, “an urgent call from dispatch for you.”
Urgent, I thought, slightly perplexed as I walked around the table and took the receiver from Mills.
“Chief Inspector,” the dispatcher said, “999 just received an anonymous tip concerning Mrs. Fletcher.”
“I need details,” I said impatiently.
“No details available, sir. The caller simply said that Mrs. Fletcher’s life may be grave danger.”
I immediately began to pace the short distance the telephone cord would allow in anxiety. “Where did the call originate from?” I asked.
“A telephone booth on the southern end of St. James’ Square.”
“Any indication that it might be a hoax?” I asked hopefully. It didn’t matter what the answer was, of course - there was no way that I was willing to take a chance whether it was Jessica or anyone else who had been threatened.
“Listen very carefully,” I said calmly. “I want a minimum of three officers, in plain clothes, dispatched to the LBC radio station. One each at the front and rear entrances and the other inside the building, outside the interview booth. Are you getting this?”
“I want LBC’s security notified that the MPS is in route and I also want that anonymous caller tracked down ASAP.” I hung up the phone, grabbed my coat, and headed out the door.
I arrived at the LBC studio just as they were going to commercial, which was fortuitous as I was able to enter the booth without creating too much of a fuss - although the radio show’s host, Anna Bell, was discomfited to see me there.
“Hey, you can’t come in here. I’m in the middle of a show,” she said as she rose from her seat in front of the window.
Jessica, who had not seen my come in, pushed her chair away from the console and turned to see who Anna was addressing. “It’s okay, Ms. Bell. I know him,” Jessica assured her. “George, what are you doing here? What’s going on?” she asked me, both confused and concerned by my presence.
I took a step toward her. “Jessica, you need…” Before I could finish my sentence a sudden, loud CRACK reverberated through the booth as a bullet from outside the building shattered the window, sending an explosion of glass showering over everything and everyone. Before I could react a second shot followed the first, hitting me in the shoulder with enough force to spin me around and knock me off balance. My head hit the edge of the booth’s console as I fell, and everything went black.
There is something about intense pain - particularly when combined with head injuries - that takes the orderly, separate realms of dreams and the waking world and muddles them together, much like a child mixes fingerpaints until the original colors can no longer be separated one from the other. So it was for me as I faded in and out of consciousness - I had little sense of what was really happening around me and what was the insubstantial creation of my fevered mind. Only the pain was a constant.
“Why didn’t I ever tell you?” It was Jessica’s voice; I recognized it through the fog of my confusion. My head was pounding and my shoulder burned like fire, but I struggled to respond to her nonetheless - something in her tone made it sound important.
“Tell me what?” I mumbled.
“Oh, George, you’re awake!”
Yes, it was definitely Jessica, but what was she talking about? “Tell me what?” I managed to ask again. Was I really awake? I couldn’t quite open my eyes to find out. I decided that if I was, I’d much rather be asleep again.
There was a pause, during which I was aware that my head was throbbing with the same rhythm as my heartbeat. Then I thought I heard Jessica say, “That I’m in love with you. I am very much in love with you, George.”
She loves me? Really? Fancy that. “Music to my ears,” I said with a weak smile, and then the darkness overwhelmed me again.
My mind wandered down many strange paths, leading me finally to Wick as I remembered it from my boyhood. As I approached the front doors of the castle I saw Jessica sitting on the steps, looking at me.
“Jessie,” I heard myself murmur, “what are you doing in Wick?”
“George, we’re not in Wick,” she answered softly.
“We’re not,” I replied. I opened my eyes then and saw that she was right - I was back in the LBC booth, staring up at the ceiling. What am I doing here? What happened to the castle? And why can’t I get up?
As I became slightly more coherent I became aware of Jessica kneeling next to me, holding me down, and the answer to this last question, at least, became clear. “Jessica, why are you pinning me to the floor?”
“Sorry, George, it can’t be helped. You’ve been shot.”
“No, I haven’t,” I argued, having already forgotten, in the haze of pain, where the pain had come from. “I think I can get up now, if you’ll let me.” I struggled to sit up, but the effort made me lightheaded.
“You’re not going anywhere, not until the paramedics get here,” Jessica told me, placing a hand gently on my chest.
I needed no further convincing. “Okay, whatever you say, love,” I said agreeably. Maybe if I lay back down and closed my eyes, Jessica and I would be back in Wick again. It was worth a try, anyway - so I relaxed and let the darkness claim me once more.
It was light, blinding light, that recalled me fully to consciousness. Some daft fool was shining a torch directly in my eyes! “Get that bloody light out of my eyes,” I cursed, turning my head away and raising my hand to shield my eyes from the irritating glare.
“It’s about time you came around again, Inspector,” a new voice said. In some deep recess of my mind I recognized it as belonging to Ian Jenson, paramedic and head of the central London rescue squad. He had taken Jessica’s place at my side on the floor.
“Don’t even think about trying to sit up,” he added in warning as he finished checking my pupils. “Okay, sir, I believe you know how this works. I need you to answer a few questions for me. We’ll start with your name.”
“Sutherland,” I answered wearily. My head was still pounding with pain, and I reached around to feel the back of it. My hand came away with blood.
“Christian name?” Jenson prodded.
“What is today’s date?”
This was a trickier question that required some thought. “October … no, November … the first.” I wasn’t sure that was correct - later it would prove that it was not - but Jenson let it pass.
“Date of birth?”
“New Year’s Eve,” I replied. Jenson’s assistant, Andy Barnes, did something particularly painful to my shoulder, causing me to cringe in pain and curse at him in turn.
“You know, Sutherland,” Jenson said, just loudly enough for me to hear, “this sure is a hell of a way to try to impress a woman.”
“She’s a lady and I wasn’t trying to impress her,” I mumbled back at him, “but since you mentioned it, did it work?”
“I’m not sure, but you had better hope so because as soon as the adrenaline wears off, you’re going to need every ounce of sympathy that you can get, mate.”
With Jenson’s help and Barnes following with the stretcher close behind just in case, I managed to make my way out of the building under my own power, albeit a bit more wobbly than I would have liked. The ambulance, fortunately, was only a few steps away.
Once Jenson and Barnes had helped me up into the back of the ambulance I saw Haggarty approaching. I didn’t bother to wonder how he had come to be here; instead I asked him the question that was on the tip of my tongue: “Did you get the son-of-a ... hi, Jess,” I added when I belatedly saw that Jessica was with him.
“No,” Haggarty replied. “I’m afraid he was long gone before anyone could catch a glimpse of him.”
While my attention was distracted elsewhere, Barnes made an attempt to clean the wound on the back of my head. I don’t know what kind of antiseptic he had on that cloth, but it stung like hell.
“Hey, watch it,” I scowled at him.
“You’re definitely going to need stitches back here,” Barnes informed me unnecessarily.
“But other than a few nicks, I’m tip top - right, Jenson?” I asked the question solely for Jessica’s benefit, shooting the paramedic a look that dared him to say anything to the contrary.
“Yes, tip top, sir,” Jenson agreed, returning my look with an impassive one of his own.
Satisfied that Jenson had gotten the message not to say or do anything that would worry Jessica, I turned to her and said, “I’ll call you at your hotel once they have me properly patched up.”
It was clear, though, that Jessica had no intention of leaving my side. “I’d like to come with you,” she said, stepping forward with the intent, I’m certain, of climbing into the back of the ambulance. Fortunately, Jenson came through again.
“I’m afraid that’s not possible, ma’am,” he told her.
Good man, I thought.
Jessica tried another tack: “Where are you taking him?” To me: “Michael and I will meet you there.”
I sighed internally. “Can we have a few minutes?” I asked, indicating that I wished to speak with Jessica alone. Obligingly the two paramedics vacated the ambulance, and Barnes gave Jessica a hand up so we could talk in the back privately.
“Jessica, you heard Jenson, I’ll be fine as soon as they stitch up my head and clean the glass out of my shoulder,” I told her. “Why don’t you have Michael take you back to your hotel and I’ll call you when I’m able?”
Still unwilling to leave me, she said, “George, this happened because of me. I can’t just go sit in my hotel while you’re in the hospital.”
“You know hospitals, Jess,” I said. “There’s no telling how long it will take and you have a commitment at the Embassy this evening. And -” I added as she opened her mouth to protest, “don’t even suggest not going.”
Reluctantly, Jessica seemed to give in. “You’ll call me as soon as you can?”
“Okay, George, if you insist.” She gave me a light kiss on the cheek and climbed down from the ambulance.
“Ready?” Jenson asked me.
“Aye,” I replied, giving Jessica a quick wave as she began to walk away. But then I spotted Haggerty about to follow her, and hailed him.
“See that Jessica gets back to her hotel, will you?” I asked him when he returned to the ambulance’s tailgate.
“Of course,” he answered.
“And no detour to the hospital.”
Haggerty looked confused. “What makes you think ...”
I cut him off. “She gave in far too easily,” I explained. “Could you also see to it that she makes it to that Embassy party tonight, with plenty of security. Try not to let her talk you out of it. She’ll be better off there than sitting about worrying over me.”
“You know that’s not going to be easy to manage,” Haggerty pointed out.
“Check the guest list,” I suggested. “If David Littlewood is on it, it shouldn’t take much effort to convince her to attend. If not, be creative.”
Once Jenson closed the doors, finally shutting me from Jessica and Haggerty’s view, I raised a hand to my throbbing head. “You’re a good man, Jenson. I owe you one. Now,” I said as I gratefully lay down on the stretcher, “how about something for this headache? I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.”
I have always hated hospitals, and my experience this afternoon did little to improve my opinion of them. My shoulder was probed, cleansed, and stitched while I was submitted to a barrage of questions and tests to determine how serious my concussion had been. On the bright side Barnes had been wrong about my needing stitches in the back of my head; I was lucky and escaped with merely a clean-up and an ice pack.
It was a few hours before I was permitted the use of a phone so I could ring Jessica.
“George! How are you?” Her voice still ached with worry.
“I’m fine, Jess - just a scratch on the shoulder and a bump on the head,” I told her. “In fact, the good doctor says I’m doing so well that he will release me later on this evening.”
“What a relief! Call me when you’re home, and I’ll come over and see you.”
I knew she was going to say that. “What about the Embassy party?” I asked.
“Forget about the Embassy! You’re much more important than some silly party.”
“Jessica,” I said carefully, “you know that nothing would please me more than to have you nurse me back to health, but I think that in this case, it is much more important that you attend that party - for both of us.”
“Why?” she asked, confused.
“Well, for one thing, I’m sure Michael has told you that the Littlewoods will be in attendance.”
“Yes, but I don’t see how ...”
“I think there is an excellent possibility that in this circumstance, you will be more effective than I in extracting something useful out of one of them, information than Henderson and I need for the investigation. They would never speak freely in front of a Scotland Yard inspector - but they might to a civilian, and such a charming one as you at that.”
I could sense her internal debate in the moments of silence that followed. Finally she said, “All right, if you really think I could be of use.”
“I do,” I assured her warmly. “We’ll catch up tomorrow to talk about what you learned. In the meantime, do try to enjoy yourself at least a little bit this evening ... for me?”
She laughed. “For you,” she said, and rang off.
I was never so grateful to go home, to get away from the noise, the frantic hum of confused chaos, and overall unpleasant atmosphere of the hospital. I wanted, more than anything, to be left alone with my pain.
And my pain was substantial, despite the treatments I’d received. As the local anesthetic wore off, the bullet wound in my shoulder began to pulse and ache again, and my head still pounded as if it was being squeezed in a vice. I wanted nothing more than to down some painkillers and go to bed, but I still had paperwork that had to be finished, injuries or no injuries, by morning.
As I plodded through the reports at my desk in the den, my thoughts frequently wandered back to Jessica. As each hour chimed on the clock I tried to imagine what she was doing at that moment - preparing for the party, making her entrance, chatting with the Littlewoods. It galled me that it should be Haggerty, not me, with her on his arm this evening, wearing that breathtakingly beautiful dress.
The thought of Haggerty escorting Jessica to the Embassy did, I confess, cause me some small amount of fretting. I didn’t trust the man in the least: Jessica’s protestations that he always had her best interests at heart aside, I still felt that he was all-to-willing to manipulate her toward his own ends. And while I was fairly certain I could trust him to keep her safe, that was not to say that I felt Jessica was safe with him. I could tell - it was quite obvious to me, really - that he was crazy about her, and given half the chance and a little encouragement, he’d have her bedded faster than an Irishman can down a Guinness.
But even if I couldn’t trust Haggerty and his intentions, I did trust Jessica and hers. She was not at all attracted to him in the way I knew he wanted her to be; I could read that plainly enough in her eyes whenever she spoke of him. She was fond of him, yes, and more indulgent of his character than I would have been, but there was nothing romantic in her feelings for him. If he tried to use this evening’s opportunity to make his move, he was destined for disappointment.
I was less certain, at the moment, how she felt about me.
“Why didn’t I ever tell you?”
“Tell me what?”
“That I’m in love with you. I am very much in love with you ...”
I had only the vaguest of memories of that conversation. Every time I tried to recall it in better detail the words and images scattered away like dry leaves driven by an autumn wind. Had I dreamt what she’d said? Hallucinated it? Projected my own wishful thinking on to the blank areas of my fragmented recollection of the events?
Merely trying to concentrate on the memory made my head hurt even worse. I decided to take a break from my work and lie down on the couch for a few moments, just to rest my eyes.
I woke by degrees, prodded unwillingly back towards consciousness by the dull throbbing of my shoulder. The pain was compounded by a stiff neck and a sore back, and I regretted that I had not made the effort to go to bed instead of simply succumbing to sleep on the couch in my den.
As I gradually awoke, I became aware of a feeling that I was being watched. In sudden alarm I opened my eyes to see who had intruded and was relieved to see that it was only Jessica, standing in the doorway of the den regarding me with eyes dark with worry.
“Jessica,” I said, swinging my legs to the floor and pulling myself up into a sitting position. “What time is it and what are you doing here?” I tried to massage away the pain in my neck as I craned to get a view of the clock on my desk. It was six o’clock in the morning - indecently early. “You should be at your hotel, sleeping,” I admonished her.
She shrugged. “I did sleep, just not very well.”
I stifled a yawn and patted the place on the leather couch next to me. “Well, come and sit down and tell me why you didn’t sleep very well,” I said.
She accepted the invitation and sat, anxiety radiating off of her as she twisted her hands in her lap. “I couldn’t sleep because I was worried about you, George, and I needed to make sure that you were okay.”
“I’m fine, Jess, just a few stitches and a mild concussion, that’s all,” I assured her, reaching over and giving her hand a gentle squeeze. “I told you that when I rang you last night.”
Jessica was not mollified by my words. “I needed to see for myself and you don’t look fine to me. You’ve bled through your bandage.” I followed her eyes and looked down at my shoulder; sure enough, a fresh stain of dark blood was beginning to spread through the fabric of my shirt.
“Jessica, I really am okay,” I assured her again. “How about if I shower and change this dressing and then we can go have that breakfast I promised you last night. Brown’s Hotel?”
“How about if you get yourself cleaned up and I’ll cook breakfast right here,” Jessica countered. “You certainly need more than a couple of hours of sleep and I doubt if you should be driving so soon after a concussion.”
“You’re right. I probably could use a bit more sleep. Give me fifteen minutes.” I rose from the couch with some effort then turned and offered Jessica my hand to help her stand. She accepted it, her gaze still focused on the bloodstain on my shirt, but allowed me to escort her out of the den and down the hall to the kitchen.
Once she was busy with the task of brewing coffee and making breakfast I retreated to my bathroom to take what I hoped would be a therapeutic shower. The hot water that pulsated from the shower head slowly began to work its magic on my bruised and battered muscles, relaxing some of the tension surrounding my traumatized shoulder. It felt so good - a long, hot shower was exactly what I needed.
I wasn’t sure how long I luxuriated there, but eventually it dawned on me that Jessica was most likely waiting on me for breakfast by now, and would suffer fresh worry if I didn’t reappear before too long. Reluctantly I turned off the water and dried myself as quickly as was possible considering I had only one good arm to use. I was just donning a fresh pair of boxers and trousers when I heard a soft knock on my bedroom door.
As I feared, I must have lingered too long in the shower. “Aye, Jess, I’ll be out in a minute,” I answered through the closed door.
“I thought you might need some help with that dressing. Can I come in?” Without waiting for an answer she began to tentatively open the door.
“Aye, but I think I can manage.” I retrieved a fresh shirt from my wardrobe and laid it out on the bed.
“You could just sit down and let me change it for you, since I’m here,” she suggested as she crossed the room toward me.
“Jessica, thank you for offering, but I really can do it myself,” I told her - exactly how I wasn’t sure, but I would figure something out.
With my shirt off and the bandage gone, Jessica could see the full extent of my injury for the first time, and she was not reassured by what she saw. “George, I’ve already figured out that that isn’t from flying glass,” she said, scrutinizing the stitches on the front and back of my shoulder. “I’m guessing that this is the entrance wound and this is the exit wound. Now, stop being a stubborn Scotsman and sit down please.”
With an internal sigh I sat down on the edge of my bed as she requested and let her apply a fresh dressing.
“Were you planning on telling me that this was a gunshot wound?” she asked me as she applied antibacterial ointment to to wounds with a light fingertip.
I hadn’t even had time to consider whether I would eventually have come clean about how serious my injury was, but the point was moot now anyway.
“Honestly, I’m not sure,” I answered lamely.
“That sounds suspiciously like a ‘no’ to me.”
“I’m sorry, Jess, I just didn’t want to scare you unnecessarily.” I winced as she applied fresh gauze squares over the stitches. “It’s just a little flesh wound. It barely grazed me.”
Jessica wasn’t buying it, if her silence was any indication. I was about to remind her that she had similarly downplayed the severity of her shoulder dislocation when she spoke again.
“George, do you remember everything that happened yesterday at the radio station?”
The question, coming out of the blue as it did, caught me off guard. “Aye, but a few parts are a bit fuzzy still. Why?”
Jessica placed the final piece of adhesive tape on the bandage to secure it, and rephrased her question. “What do you remember from the time you entered the booth?”
“Well…I remember seeing you…and then glass shattering as I stepped toward you. Then, I remember hitting the ground and hearing Haggerty come in and then …” I trailed off.
“Then what?” Jessica prodded, gently placing her hand on mine.
Oh, this is getting awkward! “Then it was … well, dreamlike actually … until the paramedics arrived and Jenson tried to blind me with his pen light,” I added nervously, averting my eyes and trying to be as vague as possible.
But Jessica was not so easily dissuaded. “And what happened in your dream?” she prompted.
I was silent for a moment as I considered how to answer her. I remembered - or at least I thought I remembered - much more than I was letting on. But I was reluctant ... no, to be perfectly honest, I was afraid ... to tell her that I thought I remembered her kneeling beside me, comforting me as I lay on the floor, pain and fire shooting through my shoulder as blood flowed down my arm. I was almost certain that she had, but my head had been throbbing and the memory was unclear. As for the rest of it - had she really told me that she was in love with me? I thought she had, but I was no more sure of it now than I had been the night before.
My confused struggle must have passed visibly across my features because Jessica smiled and reached up to gently graze her finger along the line of my jaw. “It wasn’t a dream, George,” she reassured me as she gazed deeply into my eyes, allowing me to see the serene certainty in her own. “I’m in love with you. I’m sure of it.”
My fear and trepidation vanished, swept away by an overwhelming wave of jubilation. “Oh, Jessie!” I exclaimed as I picked her up with my uninjured arm and whirled her around in a circle. I gently lowered her back to the floor, feeling almost lightheaded with relief. “There are absolutely no words to tell you how happy I am to hear you say that. I was afraid that I had imagined it all.”
Jessica, her eyes shining, framed my face with her hands and kissed me gently on the lips. “Then perhaps you would show me instead,” she said softly as she slowly ran her fingers through my damp hair.
Her proposition rendered me speechless, even as it instantly set off a chain reaction in my body. “You have no idea how much I would like to do exactly that,” I said huskily when I finally found my voice again, “but I need to know that you’re sure, Jess, that you’re really ready.” I gently cupped her chin in my hand and tilted her face up towards mine so that I could search her gaze. “Are you?”
Her answer was refreshingly direct, almost bold: “I wouldn’t be here now if I wasn’t,” she said, “but I need you to understand something.” Only then did she seem to waver, and a blush rose in her cheeks as she unsuccessfully tried to look downwards. “It’s been a very long time ...”
“You’re not going to get shy on me now, are you?” I chuckled. But she was genuinely embarrassed by her confession, so I moved quickly to reassure her: “It’s been a long time for me, too. Fortunately,” I added, “I don’t think it’s changed.” I flashed her a rascally grin, which she returned with a beautiful smile of her own.
Enough words, I thought. Actions speak louder than words. Her body was quivering as I slid my hands down to her waist and pulled her close, lowering my mouth to hers in a kiss that I hoped conveyed the depth of my passion. Jessica willingly allowed herself to be drawn into the kiss, opening her lips to me even as she opened herself to emotions and sensations that had been absent from her life for many years.
I continued to kiss her tenderly as I deftly undid the buttons of her blouse and pulled it free of her skirt. The surge of pleasure I felt feeling her warm, smooth skin beneath my hands was my rich reward when I finally slid the blouse from her shoulders. I cannot believe this is actually happening, I thought in amazement as I dipped my head to taste the hollow of her throat. Jessica returned my tenderness, sending a thrill through me as she brushed my neck and shoulder with her lips.
The blouse had been straightforward enough, but her skirt proved to be something of a stumbling block. I fumbled at the back searching for a zipper that wasn’t there, eliciting a soft laugh from her.
“Over here,” she breathed in my ear, sending fresh tremors of excitement through me as she placed her hand over mine and guided it to the side. With her help I slowly slid the zipper down and eased the skirt off her hips.
Lifting her up from where her clothes were now pooled on the floor, I settled her into the middle of my bed. My heart was practically shouting for joy at the sight of her there; every dream was coming true.
“I love you, Jessie,” I whispered before letting my lips journey down the slender column of her neck. With exquisite care my hands swept over her, painting desire across the canvas of her body in broad, gentle strokes. Her breath caught and was released as a shuddering sigh in response, and she reached up to pull me down against her.
“Not yet,” I said as I eased back and eluded her grasp. “I want to look at you for a minute.” Poised above her, I hungrily drank in the sight of her. “I can hardly believe how perfect you are,” I told her quietly as I explored her face softly with my fingertips.
Knowing that I delayed at my peril, I removed my hands from her just long enough to discard what clothes I had pulled on earlier, casting them aside before taking her back into my embrace. Desire, pleasure and indulgence intertwined as I gave myself over to the heady sensation of flesh against flesh. Jessica’s own hands roamed over me as she tenderly explored my body in return, leaving fire in their wake. My heart was pounding feverishly yet I waited, patiently watching her face, keeping my pace slow and deliberate until finally, at her murmured approval, I buried myself within her in one smooth, intense motion.
She drew a sharp breath and held it, closing her eyes and biting her lip; clearly she had not been overstating things when she’d told me it had been a very long time for her. Unfortunately, neither had I: after my wife’s death I couldn’t contemplate intimacy with another woman, and then once I’d met and fallen in love with Jessica the idea of being intimate with anyone but her was unthinkable. My body, therefore, was demanding to make up for lost time, and it was only with a supreme effort of will that I was able to pause and hold myself motionless, giving her time to adjust.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, she released her breath in a long sigh and I felt her relax beneath me. Her eyes opened and met mine; my voiceless question was in my gaze as I searched for the answer in hers. Without looking away she gave a slight nod - permission to continue, to finish what we had started.
The desire to unleash my pent-up passion and take her with wild, forceful abandon was strong but I held myself in check, moving carefully at first, and then increasing the intensity by degrees so as to not cause her any unnecessary pain. My efforts did not go unrewarded. I could feel Jessica climbing with me, steadily, brilliantly, and then plunging off that unfathomable edge with a cry and a violent spasm that shook her entire frame. Only then did I permit myself my own release and allow her to pull me over the edge with her, joining my mouth once more to hers as we fell freely together.
I have no idea how long it took for Jessica’s tremors to subside; I had very little awareness of anything, in fact, except for the rapid beating of my heart in time with hers. Only when I dimly felt her hands slide from my back did I finally return to myself and shift to move off of her, drawing her close and kissing her on the forehead. Neither of us said anything; the experience seemed to have left Jessica as exhausted as I, and all was quiet save for the gentle patter of rain against my window.
Every dream was coming true - that was my last thought, before the sound of the morning rain shower lulled me to sleep. But if it is nothing but a dream, please, please may I never wake up.
I awoke sometime later, unsure how long I’d been asleep, to find Jessica gently disentangling herself from my embrace. Before she could succeed I caught her and pulled her close to me again. “Nae oan yer life, Jessica,” I told her, my Scottish brogue coming out thick and pure. “Yoo’re nae gonnae anywhaur.” I looked down into those beautiful blue eyes. “Guid laird, Jessie, yoo’re bonnie,” I whispered quietly as I traced a finger along her cheek. “Ur ye aw reit?”
When she didn’t answer, panic set in. Maybe I hurt her, I thought, my heart sinking. I had tried to be careful, but circumstances being what they were, I couldn’t honestly say that I’d been able to remain completely in control of myself. That was bad enough, but then an even more awful thought occurred to me: Maybe she regrets what we did. “Jessie, ur ye aw reit?” I asked again, fearing the worst.
She smiled, finally, laying the worst of my fears to rest. “Yes ... yes, I’m fine.” With a contented sigh her eyes drifted closed and she allowed her head to fall against my chest once more. “I’ve just never heard your accent come through so strongly,” she explained. “For a moment, I wasn’t even sure you were speaking English.”
“Of course, I’m spikin English,” I responded as I brought my mouth down to her ear and gave it a gentle nip. She shifted slightly in my arms as a thrill ran through her in response, but made no effort to pull away. “It only happens when I’m exceedingly tired or exceedingly happy ... and I happen to be both at the moment.” I nuzzled her hair; it held a faint scent of jasmine that was both soothing and intoxicating all at once. “Now, are you sure you’re all right?” I asked, speaking carefully so that she would understand me. “You’re not ... hurt in any way?”
“Heavens no, I’m perfectly fine.” She lifted her head so that she could better see my face. “Absolutely terrific,” she added faintly.
I fixed her with a serious look. “Then where were you off to in such a hurry, may I ask?”
“Just to put a few things away in the kitchen, and I also thought that I’d let you get some rest,” Jessica replied.
Breakfast and rest were the last things on my mind. “Aye, our breakfast, I forgot about that. It’s no wonder that I adore you so, my ever practical Jessica. I guess we’ll just have to have brunch instead.” After a moment’s pause, I kissed her lightly on her forehead and asked, “Did you just say ‘terrific’?”
“Yes, I said terrific,” she answered with a light laugh.
Good, I thought, and began to kiss her more suggestively, gently nibbling along her jaw line and brushing the most feather-light kisses down her throat. I immediately felt her flush, a response that was as fetching to me as it was arousing.
“George, what are you doing?”
I paused, my lips halfway along her collarbone. “I think that’s fairly obvious, Jessica, but since ye asked, Ah was thinkin’ that noo we’d try for ootstandin’,” I replied, letting my voice slide back into a deep burr. “Perhaps magnificent,” I continued as my mouth traveled back up her neck, “or maybe even phenomenal.” I found her lips again and kissed her slowly, teasingly, before raising my eyes to meet hers and grinning.
“Now?” Jessica asked weakly. “I have an interview today and your shoulder ...”
I had completely forgotten about my injured shoulder in the excitement of the moment and the deep, peaceful calm that had come after. “I believe we’ve established that my shoulder is doing quite well, thank you, and -” I paused as I peered at the clock on the bedside table briefly - “your interview isn’t for another four and a half hours. And unless my memory is failing me, there isn’t anything else on your schedule the remainder of the day.”
I brought my lips to hers once again in a passion-stoked kiss, which I deepened slowly and convincingly, drawing in not only her body, but her heart and mind as well.
“No, not a thing,” she finally replied dreamily, her breathing now deep and relaxed.
“Guid. Then we should ‘ave plenty ay time fur phenomenal,” I said, and kissed her again, this time meeting no resistance to my intentions.
We reached “magnificent” with significantly less pain on Jessica’s part than on our way to “terrific.” And when we achieved “phenomenal” she experienced no pain at all.
I would have happily remained in bed with Jessica all day, but she was not about to shirk her commitment regarding the upcoming interview, and I did still have some paperwork I had to complete for the Yard, so by late morning we reluctantly got up.
“I’ll make lunch,” Jessica said as we returned to the kitchen.
I stepped up to her, leaned forward, and kissed her. “Please, love, let me make our lunch. After all, you made breakfast.”
“A breakfast we never ate,” she reminded me.
“Aye, that’s true, other things came up. But that doesn’t change the fact that you went through the effort.”
She smiled at the mention of these “other things.” “All right,” she said, relenting. “You can make lunch. Would it be all right if I used your computer to check my e-mail while you do?”
“Please, feel free.” I told her how to access the internet and sent her off to the den to catch up on her correspondences.
Twenty minutes later I approached the den and looked in on her. “Jessica, lunch is ready,” I announced.
She didn’t answer or even acknowledge that she’d heard me, but continued to stare at the computer screen with the saddest expression I had ever seen marring her beautiful face.
“Jessica?” I said in concern. “Is there something wrong back home?”
This time my voice managed to bring her back to the present. “Oh ... no ... everything is fine back home,” she said. She quickly began to close the windows on the computer, but not before I caught a quick glance of the current day’s news headlines.
“Jessica, you made the front page of the Times!” I exclaimed, joining her at the computer to see what had captured her attention. “Well, that certainly has the potential to cause some distractions during your interview this afternoon, now, doesn’t it? But,” I added soberly, “that’s not what’s the matter, is it?”
“No,” she said slowly. She paused and seemed to make a conscious effort to pull herself together. “No, there’s nothing the matter,” she said with a forced smile as she clicked closed the last window and disconnected from the internet. “Let’s have some lunch. I’m starving.”
She stood up from my desk and moved to leave the den, but I stepped directly into her path and gently placed my hands on her arms.
“Jessica, I know there’s something wrong,” I said gently. “I can see it in your eyes - something has made you very sad.” I tipped my head forward so that my forehead rested against hers. “I don’t like to see you sad, Jess, but I will respect the fact that you don’t wish to discuss it, for now. Just remember that when you do, you can talk to me about it, whatever it may be.” I planted a soft kiss on her brow and drew her into my arms, holding her tight for a long moment.
“Ready for lunch, then?” I asked when I released her.
To my relief, her expression was much brighter. “Of course,” she replied. “I’m famished.”
“Lead the way,” I said, and followed her out of the room.
I had prepared a veritable feast of a brunch - after the exertions of the morning, I rather felt that we were both entitled to it. Croissant French toast accompanied by soft caramel apples, crisp bacon, and eggs scrambled to perfection shared the table with fresh orange juice and coffee.
“George, where in the world did you learn to cook like this?” Jessica asked as she began to clear the table of the empty dishes.
“Where did I learn to cook? I guess I just picked it up somewhere,” I replied vaguely as I loaded the dishwasher.
Jessica shook her head in disbelief. “You’re stalling.”
I sighed. “You mean specifically, then?”
“Yes,” she answered determinedly, “I mean specifically.”
I paused, then said with no small amount of reluctance, “I guess I’d have to say in my grandmother’s kitchen.”
“Your grandmother’s kitchen?” Jessica asked in surprise.
“Aye,” I said. “It just so happens that peeling potatoes in my grandmother’s kitchen was the Sutherland equivalent of the modern day grounding.”
I had feared that she would laugh at the notion of me learning the finer points of the culinary arts at my grandmother’s knee, but she did nothing of the sort. “Just how much time did you spend being grounded?” she asked. “Because that French toast was scrumptious,” she added as she replaced the orange juice in the refrigerator.
“No more than any other Sutherland lad,” I replied, now warming to the subject. “I wasn’t a little hooligan by any means, Jess, although my sisters might disagree with that statement.” I closed the dishwasher and began to fill the sink with warm, soapy water.
“I nearly forgot,” Jessica said as she soaked a washcloth in the sink and began to wipe down the table. “Your sister, Alana, stopped by while you were in the shower earlier. You know, she had quite a scare when she read the morning paper.”
“I’m sure she did,” I said, but privately I thought the notion of Alana being concerned about my well-being was a bit far-fetched. I had learned long ago that it was best to keep my sisters “in the loop,” so to speak, at least as far as my more serious adventures went. The alternative was to have six mother hens hovering over me whenever my name showed up in the newspaper. This being the case, I had made certain to call Alana the previous evening, both to reassure her and to spread the word to my other sisters that both Jessica and I had escaped yesterday’s incident without serious injury. It only now occurred to me, in light of Alana’s early morning impromptu visit, that perhaps it had been a mistake to mention Jessica’s name as part of my dutiful report. “And after you assured her that I was perfectly fine ...?
“Actually, we had a very pleasant conversation,” Jessica said simply, exchanging the washcloth for a dry towel.
Aye, I’ll bet they did. “In that case, I imagine we’ve been invited to afternoon tea later today?”
Jessica looked up at me in bewilderment, causing me to laugh.
“How did you know that?” she asked.
Instead of answering her I crossed the room and gave her a light kiss on her forehead. “Jessica, my love, you are clearly about to be ambushed,” I told her with a sad shake of my head.
I nodded. “Ambushed,” I reiterated, emphasizing the word.
Jessica considered that for a moment. “George, there is no possible way that she could have known that we ...” She trailed off helplessly, afraid to give voice to her dawning concern.
“Of course not, but they certainly suspect it,” I told her. “Think about it, Jessica, You answered the telephone the other night when Collette called and the door today when Alana dropped in unexpectedly. Surely, if our positions were reversed and I answered your telephone and your door, whether it was true or not, your brothers would suspect that something was up.”
“Yes, I’m sure they would,” Jessica sighed. “But George, you have to be exaggerating just a bit. I’m sure that having afternoon tea with your sisters will be a very pleasant experience. It might even be fun. Alana and Collette both seem like very nice people.”
“Yes, they are,” I said, “and so are Rebecca, Tessa, Ailsa, and Brigitte and I have every confidence that you can handle the lot of them.” I encircled her waist with my arm and led her out of the kitchen. “Now, enough about my family for a bit - it’s getting late and I have something I’d like to give to you before we head back to your hotel.”
I guided her into the living room, retrieved a small wooden box from the top shelf of the bookcase, and handed it to her.
“It’s beautiful, George.” Jessica’s eyes shone as she turned the delicately carved box in her hands, admiring the craftsmanship. “Now I remember! This is what you hid in your pocket the other night.”
I couldn’t help but smile at her cleverness. “Aye, it is. As I’ve said before, you never do miss much, but the box is only one half of the gift. Open it.”
She noticeably hesitated; for what reason I could not fathom. “It’s not going to bite you,” I assured her as I lifted the hinged lid of the box for her.
“The brooch!” Jessica exclaimed, with no small amount of relief - and it was only then that I realized that her hesitation was most likely due to fear that the box might contain a ring. “It’s really lovely, George.” She rose up and kissed me on the cheek. “Thank you.”
“You recognize it then? The very same brooch that you unearthed when you were snooping through my desk the other night,” I reminded her teasingly.
“I really was looking for your telephone book,” she said, causing me to laugh.
“It makes for a good cover story, but that’s not important,” I said. I removed the brooch from its box and held it up. “I found this in a little shop in Edinburgh and it made me think of you,” I said. “Do you know what it is?”
“I can’t say for sure,” she said softly. “It looks like a shield knot, but it isn’t Celtic, is it?”
“No, it’s Scottish, but the idea is the same,” I explained as I turned the delicate silver brooch over in my fingers.
Jessica gave me a shrewd look. “And you thought of me when you saw it because you think that I need to be protected.”
“Actually, Jessica, the fact that you are a fiercely independent woman happens to be one of the things that I adore about you,” I assured her. “Mostly, I thought that you would appreciate and enjoy a beautiful piece of jewelry, but,” I added, “the other did play a small part. I must admit that on occasion ... well, quite a bit over the past few days to be honest, I do feel the need to protect you.”
Jessica reached up and touched my cheek softly. “My brave, gallant knight, Sir George,” she sighed.
I froze instantly. “What did you just call me?”
“My brave, gallant knight?” Jessica answered. From the smile playing on her lips I knew she was playing with me.
“No, Jess, the rest of it.”
“Oh, you mean the ‘Sir George’ part,” she answered, clearly very pleased with herself. “You are ‘Sir George,’ aren’t you?”
I stared at her wordlessly for a moment, and then burst out laughing. “Less than four blood days!” I exclaimed. “I was sure it would take a week, maybe a month, but not four days.” I shook my head. “I can’t believe it.”
Jessica looked relieved at my response. “You’re not the least bit annoyed that I inadvertently dug into your past then?” she asked.
“Of course not, I said. “I love you too much to intentionally keep secrets from you, Jessica; besides, you’d just dig them up eventually anyway. I might consider it under the most extreme of circumstances, to keep you safe, but otherwise no. Actually,” I said, taking her hand in mine, “I was going to mention it the other night, but I was hoping to save it as a sort of surprise.”
“What kind of surprise?”
“Well,” I said, “each June, there is a formal ball at Windsor Castle, to which I am invited. I thought that you might enjoy attending and I was hoping that I could entice you to accompany me this year.” I sighed. “Aside from enjoying the ball, it never occurred to me that it would be important to you. It’s just a title, one I don’t even use unless absolute necessary because it’s really not who I am.” I gave her hand an affectionate squeeze. “Now, tell me how you figured it out. You Googled me, didn’t you?”
“Not exactly,” she replied. “The London Times has a fairly extensive online version of its archives. There was a link from this morning’s front page.”
“I should have guessed that.” I paused at the look she was giving me with shining eyes. “Jessica, what are you staring at?”
“You,” she answered simply. At my look of obvious confusion she said, “You really don’t see it, do you? That is exactly who you are - not the fussy title, but everything else, You’re selfless, loyal, humble, honest, and brave.”
Embarrassed, I reached up and attempted to loosen the collar of my shirt with one finger, and loosened my tie a bit. Then I glanced at my watch. “Jess, we should be going,” I suggested. I placed the brooch back into its box, closed the lid, and handed it back to her before leading her to the front door.
“George?” Jessica asked as I helped her into her coat.
“Your gift is lovely and means a great deal to me. Thank you.” And she kissed me gently on the lips.
The drive back to the Savoy was much too short; before I knew it I was turning into the courtyard at the entrance of the grand hotel.
“Sir George,” Jessica said aloud, giving the words her full consideration.
I groaned in defeat and dismay and let my head fall back against the headrest of my seat.
“You don’t mind if I call you that, do you?” she said teasingly.
“There would have to be specific conditions,” I replied, turning my head to look at her.
“Let’s hear them, then.”
I sat up straight again and faced her. “Only in private,” I said.
I have no idea why I said what came out next: “My second condition would be that you agree to be Lady Jessica.”
My words went right over her head. “Very funny, George,” she said, patting me on the arm. Clearly she had no idea what I had really been asking her. “Now, I really need to run or I’m going to be late for my interview. I’ll call you when I get back?”
I never really heard what she was saying; my mind was still reeling from what I had just done, and how she had responded.
She didn’t say ‘no,’ I thought to myself, stunned.
Don’t be daft, Sutherland, she didn’t even think you were serious. Then again, her first instinct wasn’t to say ‘no.’
What could you possibly have been thinking?
I wasn’t thinking. The words just came out.
Is this good or very, very bad? I have no idea.
Okay, George, perhaps a bit more planning and preparation are in order next time and make sure you’ve got the bloody ring with you!
“George?” Are you all right?” Jessica asked.
I shook myself from my reverie. “Aye, sorry, Jess. What were you saying?”
“I’ll call you when I get back,” she repeated.
“Aye, when you get back,” I confirmed, nodding my head and trying to look as if I’d heard every word she’d said - which, of course, I hadn’t.
Jessica looked at me with concern. “George, are you sure you should be driving? You are on mandatory medical leave and you did hit your head pretty hard yesterday.” Clearly she thought that my lapse in concentration was due to the effects of my concussion.
“Yes, Jessica, I’m perfectly fine,” I assured her. “If I’m not at home when you finish, you can ring me on my cellular. I have a couple of errands to attend to yet today so I’ll be out for a bit.”
I helped her out of the car and escorted her up to her suite, leaving her there with a soft farewell kiss. Then, despite her insistence that I not go to the office, I headed for Scotland Yard anyway.
I didn’t accomplish much there, of course. My mind kept wandering back to Jessica and the fact that she hadn’t said ‘no.’
Later on an impromptu meeting of Scotland Yard investigators and MI6 agents convened, conveniently enough, in Haggerty’s suite at the Savoy. He and I were in the midst of reviewing a ballistics report when my cell phone rang.
“Sutherland,” I said, answering it.
“George, it’s me, Jessica. I just wanted to let you know that I’m back in my suite at the hotel. I’ll be here and ready to leave for tea whenever you are.”
“Almost finished here,” I replied distractedly as I noticed Haggerty giving me a sour look - he must have figured out who I was talking to.
“I thought you were running errands this afternoon. It sounds to me like you’re working,” Jessica chided.
I headed for the door of Haggerty’s suite. “Just trying to wrap up a couple of things before we leave on holiday,” I said as I stepped out into the hallway. Jessica’s suite was just steps away, and within moments I was knocking on her door.
“I won’t bother to remind you that you’re on mandatory medical leave,” she said.
“You just did,” I pointed out. “Better answer the door, Jess.”
There was a hesitation as she realized what I was up to. “I don’t think I should,” she said playfully. “It might not be safe.”
“Just open the bloody door, will you?” I said, feigning annoyance. When she finally opened the door I was grinning from ear to ear. “Hi, Jess.”
“Where were you just now?” Jessica asked once I had stepped inside and she had closed the door.
“Down the hall,” I replied, indicating Michael’s suite. “Haggerty might be able to help us match the slugs that the crime scene lads collected from LBC.”
“Michael?” Jessica asked, slightly surprised.
“Aye, he has access to some information that I don’t.”
The implications of my words suddenly made her uneasy. “Are you saying that you think that it was a professional assassin?” she asked.
I wrapped my arm around her shoulders and gave her a reassuring squeeze. “I’m just covering all of the possibilities,” I told her.
“And that’s why Constable Fields is posted outside my door again?” Jessica surmised.
She didn’t miss a trick! “Aye, how was your interview?” I asked, trying to change the subject with deliberate haste.
“Good, thanks to Susan’s creativity and quick thinking,” Jessica answered.
“What do you mean?”
“Come into the living room for a few minutes and I’ll explain.”
When we were settled on the sofa together Jessica handed me the picture of the two of us at the theater in the Star.
“Interesting,” I commented as I looked at it and the accompanying headline, ‘Famed Mystery Novelist Cozies Up to Scotland Yard Inspector.’ “I believe that when this photo was taken I was actually asking you the time ... though I can see how it could easily be misinterpreted.”
“Well, take that and add to it the front page article from the Times, and you have the makings of a major society story,” Jessica said. “Susan warned me that it would probably be Topic A for the interview unless we took some precautions and set some ground rules.”
“Such as ...?” I asked.
“She struck a deal with the reporter. If she avoided asking me questions about you, Michael, the LBC incident or the Sophie Potter case, she would get an exclusive interview with me if I end up being the one who solves Sophie’s murder. Susan’s logic was that with my track record, she’d be foolish not to agree - and she was right.”
“Very resourceful, this Susan,” I said. “I can see why she is such a successful publicist.”
Jessica was quiet for a moment and then asked, “Have you seen the Times’ society page today?”
“I don’t generally read the society page,” I answered in response. “Where is it?” I asked, now quite curious.
“Right here,” Jessica said, picking up the newspaper from the end table next to her and handing it to me.
I was not entirely surprised to see that someone had managed to capture a picture of Jessica and Michael Haggerty, dancing what appeared to be the tango, no less. “Ah,” I said, nodding slightly. “I can see where this might have caused some problems, considering the photo of us in the Star. Your Ms. Rogers certainly handled the situation well.”
“Yes, she did,” Jessica agreed.
I had to shake my head as I looked at the photograph - it was a wonder that the Ministry of Intelligence entrusted any government secrets to Haggerty, what with the way his thoughts were written so plainly on his face. Underneath the gentlemanly exterior it was plain that he desperately wanted to seduce the lovely Jessica, and had probably been hoping for a chance to do so from the moment I entrusted him with her safekeeping. Sorry, mate, I thought to myself with smug satisfaction.
It finally dawned on me that my quiet moment of reflection upon the photo was turning into a long, uncomfortable moment of silence for Jessica. Sure enough, when I looked at her, her expression was one of apprehension.
“Jessica, are you concerned that I might be upset by this photo?” I asked her.
“The thought had crossed my mind,” she admitted.
“Well,” I informed her, “based on all of the evidence in my possession, I’d have to say that that particular photo depicts nothing more than two friends enjoying a dance together at the American Embassy party last night.”
“All of the evidence in your possession?” Jessica asked.
“Aye, all of the evidence. First off, I can tell you for a fact that Haggerty is more than a wee bit cranky today, not his usual cheery self, you could say. And second, I know you well enough to realize that if there was anything more to that photograph than meets the eye, you never would have come to my loft this morning and we never would have…done our own version of the tango,” I finished.
Jessica couldn’t help but laugh, as I had intended for her to do. “I am curious about one thing, though,” I admitted.
“What’s that?” Jessica asked hesitantly.
I grinned wolfishly at her. “When am I going to get to see you in that red dress again?” I leaned in close and kissed her tenderly on the lips. “Do you have any idea how amazing you look in that dress?” I whispered in her ear. It was having quite an effect on me, and I was looking at nothing more than a bloody newspaper photo!
“I’m starting to,” Jessica replied as I started to kiss her on the neck, sending shivers through her body. “George, we’re going to be late for tea.”
“We don’t have to go,” I murmured.
“Of course, we do,” Jessica asserted.
“What if I told you I’ve had a pounding headache all afternoon?”
“I’d offer to get you some aspirin and recommend that you get a good night’s rest…after we have tea.”
“Okay, you win, Jess,” I said reluctantly as I pulled away from her, “but I will remember exactly where we left off.” I gave her one last kiss, a promise of things to come.
“I have no doubt about it,” Jessica responded. “Do you still need that aspirin?”
“Aye, if you have it. I wasn’t putting on about the headache.”
I parked the car in front of my sister Alana’s house, an unassuming two-story brick home set on the corner of the street. The sky was overcast and had released a few drops of rain during the drive, but the downpour that had been predicted had yet to become a reality - still, I grabbed an umbrella from the back seat, just in case.
As we walked toward the front door Jessica said, “You look nervous.”
“Me? Not a bit,” I answered, unconsciously loosening my collar with one finger. “As a matter of fact, I just realized that this might very well be fun,” I added with a sly smile.
“Good, I’m glad you feel that way,” Jessica responded, “you were starting to make me nervous.”
“No reason to be nervous, Jess, I’m sure I won’t be too far away,” I reassured her as we climbed the four concrete steps that led to the front door. At Jessica’s baffled expression, I couldn’t help but laugh. “You don’t honestly think that they’re going to allow me to hang around, do you?” I said as I knocked on the door. “They will likely have dispensed with me in no more than five minutes.”
“Now you’re trying to make me nervous,” Jessica replied uneasily before the door opened and Alana invited us inside.
Before we could all finish exchanging greetings my nephew, a tall, lanky youth of seventeen, bounded down the oak stairs that led to the second story.
“Bravo, Uncle George,” he said, handing a copy of another tabloid newspaper to me. “Keys?” he asked, turning his palm up and smiling excitedly.
“Quinn!” his mother exclaimed. “That’s not a proper welcome for your uncle and Mrs. Fletcher!”
“Sorry, mum,” he pouted, “but Uncle George promised that I could drive his Jaguar.” Still, he recalled his manners and extended his hand to Jessica, introducing himself politely.
“As I recall, there were conditions,” I reminded him.
Before the words were even out of my mouth, Quinn withdrew his provisional license from his wallet and handed it to me for inspection.
“You’ve written your theory test?” I asked.
“Aye, and I figured you’d want to be my licensed driver,” he added. “Keys please,” he asked again, clearly pleased with himself.
I sighed. “Jessica, do you mind?” I asked.
“Not at all,” she answered, giving my arm an affectionate squeeze. “You boys have fun while we ladies enjoy our tea.”
I reluctantly removed my keys from my pocket and tossed them to Quinn. “Not a scratch,” I warned him as the boy bolted out the door and down the steps.
The whistle of a tea pot could be heard coming from the kitchen. “George, you’ll show Jessica into the dining room before you go, won’t you? I should tend to things in the kitchen,” Alana said, excusing herself.
“Of course,” I answered. Once she was gone I turned to Jessica. “You’re sure?”
“Positive,” Jessica replied before giving me a kiss on the cheek. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting all of your sisters. Now, you’d better show me to the dining room before Quinn leaves without you.”
“Good point,” I replied before escorting Jessica into the dining room, introducing her to Colette, Rebecca, Tessa, Ailsa, and Brigitte, and assuring each of them I hadn’t been injured too badly. “I trust you ladies will be on your best behavior while I’m gone,” I cautioned them, and then I left Jessica entirely in their hands - not the most comfortable feeling for me, I should say.
Quinn’s driving had significantly improved since the last time I had ridden with him - either that or he was being exquisitely careful with my car. Either way, our short sojourn around the neighborhood was not nearly the white-knuckled experience I had feared it would be.
“So, Uncle George, are you planning to marry her?” Quinn asked without preambl as he made the final turn on the return drive to the house. There was no need, in his mind at least, to specify who he was referring to.
“Just pay attention to what you’re doing and watch the bloody road,” I said, shaking my head.
After a moment’s thought, Quinn asked me rather pointedly, “So, it’s all right if we discuss my love life, but we can’t discuss yours?” He slowed slightly as he checked the intersection for oncoming traffic.
“You don’t have a love life,” I pointed out, also checking for traffic.
“Well, not at the moment, but that’s not the point. You’ve always told me that we can talk about anything and that I can ask you anything and now you’re changing the rules,” he protested as he slowed and parked the car in front of the house. “So, are you?” he asked again, undeterred.
He did have a valid argument - I had to concede him that. “Do you think that I should?” I asked in response.
“How am I supposed to know?” Quinn answered with a shrug.
“Well, some help you are then,” I snorted as I opened the door to get out.
As Quinn walked around the car to meet me on the cobble stoned sidewalk, he considered the question. “Well, mum says she’s beautiful and looks much younger than she probably is. That’s obviously important, but she should be able to cook as well.”
I looked at him in disbelief. “Are those your only criteria for marriage?” I asked as we started up the walk.
“Well, a nice personality is always an added bonus,” he answered much to my dismay.
“We need to have a serious talk, lad,” I said as we reached the base of the steps, “a serious talk.”
“You still haven’t answered my question?” Quinn pointed out.
I wondered, briefly, if Alana had put Quinn up to this unorthodox line of questioning. “Does your mother have anything to do with this?” I asked, eyeing him suspiciously.
“Of course not,” the young man answered with a sniff. “I’m no traitor.”
“Between us then, yes, I intend to marry her, but don’t tell your mother that.”
“Because, if history is any indication, it may take a great deal of time to convince her,” I explained as I reached for the door knob and opened the door.
We removed our coats and hung them in the hall closet. Having noticed that Tessa’s car was gone, I asked, “I wonder where your aunt has run off to?”
“You never know with her,” Quinn replied as we headed for the kitchen in search of something to eat. “Mum, where did Aunt Tessa go?” he hollered into the dining room as he rummaged through the refrigerator, retrieving a plate of extra sandwiches and handing them to me.
“A press conference at the London Museum,” Alana answered when we entered the dining room where she, Colette, Ailsa, Brigitte and Rebecca were still enjoying each other’s company.
The London Museum ... oh, dear God, not there ...
“Not much trouble she can get herself into at a museum,” Quinn commented as he sat down next to Rebecca.
“Jessica seems to be a responsible woman. I’m sure she’ll keep your aunt from getting into too much trouble,” Alana assured him.
“George, are you okay? You don’t look well,” Colette said, seeing my pallor. “Why don’t you sit down.”
“No, I’m fine,” I said shaking my head. I turned to Alana and asked her, in a very serious tone, “Where did you say they went?”
“The London Museum,” she answered. “Don’t worry, George, I’m sure Tessa will be just fine.”
“It’s not Tess that I’m worried about,” I admitted. “Unlike our dear sister, Jessica doesn’t have to go looking for trouble to find it. It just sort of follows her around, wherever she goes, and it’s usually far more serious than any of the trouble that Tessa has ever gotten into.” Without explaining my cryptic remarks to my sisters I said, “I think that I should probably set off. I have a bad feeling about this.”
“Before you go, Jessica asked that I give this to you. She thought that you would find it interesting,” Alana said, holding a book out to me.
I opened it to the page bookmarked by Jessica’s note. As I read the note and looked closely at the photograph, I’m sure my expression clearly reflected my heightened concern over her safety.
“He’s clearly in love with her,” I heard Brigitte whisper to Ailsa, confirming my suspicions.
“I know. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be over-reacting right now,” Ailsa whispered in return.
“You know, it’s sort of sweet when it isn’t one of us that he’s worried about,” Brigitte added quietly before I looked up from the book.
Ignoring my sisters, who were obviously whispering for my benefit, I said, “I’m going to have to take this with me.” Not waiting for a response, I hurriedly retrieved my coat from the hall closet and rushed out of the house to my car.
When I reached the London Museum I bypassed the main auditorium, which had already cleared out following Underhill’s announcement, and headed for the smaller lecture rooms in the basement, which I knew from previous experience were often utilized as speaker ready rooms before lectures and presentations. As I proceeded down a dimly lit hallway the bustle of the main area of the museum faded to silence that was broken only by the sound of a few voices emanating from somewhere ahead of me in the depths of the building.
I turned a corner; the voices sounded nearer. They seemed to be coming from a room at the end of another long corridor. A small shaft of bright light escaped from the room through a small gap, where the door had been left slightly ajar. As I approached, I recognized one of the voices, unmistakably, as Jessica’s.
“Actually, this might be a good time for Mr. Underhill to start talking, as he had nothing to do with Miss Potter’s death,” she was saying.
“Of course, I didn’t,” Underhill answered adamantly.
“You don’t have any proof that any of us had anything to do with her death,” Margaret Littlewood’s voice shot back.
“But I do,” Jessica said, as calm and unruffled as ever. “I am sure that when Scotland Yard analyzes the shoulder strap on your purse that they will find that you used it to strangle her.” By ‘her’ I knew she could only mean the late Sophie Potter. “I imagine that it was an impulsive act. The chain was probably broken when you struggled with her and after she struck her head, you used it to strangle her.”
“You can’t prove that.”
“I think I can,” Jessica said. “Early in the evening when you were seated at your table, your purse looked much as it does today, with the strap intact, but when you found me in the ladies room with Sophie Potter’s body, the chain was missing. It didn’t register until today when you placed the strap over your shoulder before leaving the press conference. You must have repaired it.”
“Very observant, Mrs. Fletcher,” Margaret admitted. “You’re surprisingly accurate in your assessment of the events that led to Miss Potter’s demise.”
“Margaret, how could you do this?” I heard David Littlewood ask. “Are money and prestige so important to you that you’d murder someone?”
“Four someones,” I heard Underhill corrected him.
“Simon took care of the others,” Margaret clarified, “and I’ll probably let him take care of Mrs. Fletcher, too, to make up for his mistake at the radio station. That is unless she gives us any more trouble before he arrives.”
My heart skipped a beat - I was not a moment too soon. Margaret Littlewood was clearly a cold-hearted woman who would not hesitate to kill Jessica, now that she had uncovered her guilt.
“Where is Simon and what do you mean he ‘took care of the others’?” David asked.
“He’s cleaning up a few loose ends. You know, David, destroying the paper trail, like he’s done for you so many times in the past with your businesses,” Margaret answered.
I had heard enough, and stepped into the open doorway with my weapon drawn and aimed. “I suggest you drop your weapon, Mrs. Littlewood,” I said.
Turning, Margaret saw me with my gun pointed directly at her. After considering her limited options, she eventually placed her handgun on the floor.
“Jessica, would you be so kind as to slide that over this way?” I asked without letting my sights waver from Margaret Littlewood. Using her foot, Jessica slid Margaret’s weapon across the floor where it came to rest in the hallway, just beyond my feet. “And now, if I may, I suggest that you come out here, too,” I said; Jessica was more than relieved to do so.
The sound of shoes pounding on the tile floor echoed down the hall as Inspector Henderson, Constable Mills, Michael, and Constable Fields, all with weapons drawn, ran toward us. Tessa, having discarded her heels so she could keep up with them, followed closely behind.
“Slow down, lads,” I said, still not looking at anyone other than my three perpetrators. “Everything is under control here.”
“Have you read them their rights,” Henderson asked, once he had joined me just outside the door.
“I was just getting around to that,” I said, “but I seem to be a bit short on handcuffs.”
“If you don’t mind, sir, I’ll take it from here,” Henderson suggested. “I’m sure you’d like to make sure that Mrs. Fletcher is unharmed.”
“Aye, it’s your show then,” I said. I lowered my weapon and turned to find Jessica still observing the scene from close by. “Jess, are you all right?” I asked quietly as I ran my hands up and down her arms.
“Yes, I’m fine,” she assured me. “How much did you hear?”
“More than enough,” I answered before pausing. “I was a bit worried about you,” I said before sliding my hands down to her waist, drawing her close and kissing her on the lips.
I remained at Jessica’s side as two additional uniformed officers arrived and assisted Mills and Fields in escorting the trio of suspects outside to the waiting patrol cars. After Jessica had given her account of the events, Inspector Henderson informed her that because of the information that she had provided, a warrant had been issued for Simon Williamson, who was now being detained at New Scotland Yard for suspicion of murder as well as numerous other charges.
“Mrs. Fletcher,” Henderson said at last, once the interview was concluded, “I was incorrect to suspect you of having a hand in Miss Potter’s death, and doubly wrong to persist in clinging to that belief even after events proved otherwise. I hope you will accept my apology.”
“No apologies are necessary, Inspector,” Jessica replied graciously. “I know you were just doing your job.”
“Nevertheless, it was only with your assistance that we were able to bring this case to a successful conclusion. You have my heartfelt thanks for that.”
“I knew that tea with my sisters was a bad idea,” I said with a slight grin as Tessa, Jessica and I exited the museum. Michael Haggerty, who Jessica had called when she had been unable to reach me, was also in our company.
“What do you mean? Tea was a wonderful idea,” Jessica said. “Next time you’ll just have to stick around so you don’t miss any of the fun,” she added with a laugh.
“George, would you mind giving Jessica a lift back to her hotel?” Tessa asked. “I have a dinner engagement at eight thirty and I don’t want to be late.”
“Of course,” I answered. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” I added as I wrapped my arm around Jessica’s waist. “Haggerty?” I asked, indicating that there was room for him as well.
“Thank you, no. I have transportation,” Michael said, declining the offer.
As Jessica and I turned away, out of the corner of my eye I saw Haggerty offer Tessa his arm and ask, “What would be more to your liking, Petrus, Chez Bruce or The Ivy?”
Haggerty and my sister? What the Deuce ... I wanted to say something, but Jessica touched my arm as though reading my thoughts, and I held my tongue ... for now.
After we arrived back at Jessica’s suite, she quickly discarded her coat and opened the closet to hang it.
“What time shall I pick you up in the morning?” I asked.
Surprised, Jessica paused with the coat hanger in her hand and turned to face me. “You’re leaving?”
“Jessica, love, you know that I would rather stay,” I began as I wrapped his arm around her shoulder and walked her into the living room, “but we’re leaving in the morning and I still need to pack, which may prove to be a monumental undertaking as you still haven’t told me where we’re going?”
“You should at least stay and join me for dinner,” Jessica suggested after we were seated on the sofa. “You can pack after.” She leaned in and began to kiss me lightly, starting with my cheek and working her way toward my lips.
I groaned inwardly. “I can’t believe that I’m about to say this to you,” I muttered.
“Say what?” Jessica asked. “That you’re exhausted and you still have a headache?”
I looked at her in astonishment. “How did…”
Jessica reached up and placed her hand on my cheek. “Because you look dreadful,” she said with complete sincerity. “And it’s hardly a surprise after a concussion and only a few hours of sleep last night. That is why you are going to take some time to eat something and relax for a bit before you leave.”
“No ‘buts’, George,” Jessica said, effectively halting my protest. “Now, I’m going to order us something for dinner and you’re going to lie down on the sofa and rest until it gets here. Better yet, why don’t you go lie down in the bedroom?” she suggested. “If you lie down here, you’ll probably add a sore neck to the mix.”
Not having the energy to argue with her, I reluctantly rose from the sofa. “Promise you’ll wake me if I fall asleep?”
“Yes, I promise I’ll wake you,” Jessica said as she, too, stood and patted me on the arm. “Now, go lie down.”
Not wanting to impose upon Jessica’s space, I opted to take my rest in the second bedroom, not hers. I lay down on the bed, closed my eyes, and an instant later I was sound asleep.
The next thing I knew, Jessica was shaking my shoulder to wake me.
“George,” she said. “You need to get up if we’re going to have time for breakfast.”
“Breakfast?” I asked, suddenly wide awake and sitting myself up in bed. “You were supposed to wake me up if I fell asleep.”
“If I’m not mistaken, I just woke you up,” Jessica replied, her eyes sparkling with silent laughter.
“Jessica, you knew exactly what I meant,” I said, trying to sound stern as I sat up on the edge of the bed. “What time is it?”
“Six thirty. Breakfast is at seven.”
Six thirty! “I don’t have time for breakfast. I have to pack,” I replied as I stood and took several long strides toward the door.
“You’re already packed,” Jessica informed me, causing me to stop in my tracks.
“You packed for me?” I asked in disbelief as I turned to look at her.
“Tessa helped me,” Jessica clarified as she joined me by the door. “Your overnight bag is on the bench next to the window,” she said, gently turning me in that direction, “and your clothes are hanging in the closet,” she added before kissing me on the cheek. “The rest of your bags are in the living room, which is where I’ll be when you’re ready to go.”
Having had all my reasons for a panicky exit soothed, I agreed to use her bathroom to shower and freshen up for the day. I emerged fifteen minutes later, carrying an overnight bag in one hand and a garment bag in the other.
“Ready?” I asked when Jessica looked up from where she was reviewing our travel itinerary.
Unable to resist, Jessica commented on my wardrobe, which Tessa no doubt had picked out for me. “Very GQ, George,” she said, “but you didn’t shave,” she added when she noticed my full day’s growth of beard.
Shaking my head, I replied, “I’ll say it again. Tea was a very bad idea. And I didn’t shave because you didn’t pack my razor.”
Jessica folded our itinerary and tucked it into her purse before standing and joining me. “We’ll have to remedy that as soon as we get to Southampton,” she said.
“Actually, I was thinking that this might be a good time to grow a beard,” I said, rubbing my chin and thinking that this might be an appropriate payback for her letting me sleep the whole night unawares. “Two weeks should be plenty of time to get a good one started.“
“Oh, no, you don’t need to do that. I’m sure we can find you a razor,” Jessica said before realizing that I had been teasing her.
I set down my bags and joined her on the couch. “We could order breakfast up,” I suggested. “That would give us a little more time to take advantage of this beautiful suite of yours,” I added before kissing her tenderly on the cheek.
“It sounds to me like this suite isn’t what you’d like to take advantage of,” Jessica responded just before I found my way to her lips.
“You’re right, of course, but you have to admit that it is a much better idea than having breakfast in the restaurant,” I said before standing, pulling Jessica up with me and wrapping her in my arms. Now that I had a full night’s rest behind me I was feeling refreshed, and I commenced kissing her with renewed vigor, my hands caressing her back as I held her close to me.
“We’re meeting someone,” Jessica reluctantly informed me as I reached for the top button of her blouse.
“We are?” I said, unable to mask my own disappointment.
As we entered the restaurant, my disappointment quickly turned into surprise when I saw Michael Haggerty and my sister Tessa waiting for us. By the time we had finished our meal, my suspicions, which I had first had an inkling of the evening before, were beginning to grow. Still, I held my peace ... for now.
After we had said our goodbyes in the lobby, Jessica sensed that I was about to ask Haggerty for a moment of his time, but before I could make a move she hooked her arm in mine and maneuvered me away from them. Very quietly and discreetly she warned me, “Don’t say a word.”
“I have to, Jess, she’s my sister,” I replied, looking around to see where Tessa and Haggerty had gone.
“She’s a grown woman who is fully capable of handling herself and of handling Michael Haggerty,” Jessica assured me as she offered a wave to them as they headed out the front entrance. “Besides, you should be more worried about what you’re going to say if Grady starts asking questions about the two of us.”
“Grady?” I asked, clearly confused.
“Yes, George, he and Donna are meeting us in Southampton. You’ll have five full days aboard the Queen Mary II to get to know them.”
“Splendid,” I answered with as much enthusiasm as I could muster at the thought of being on the receiving end of a warning that might be even remotely similar to the one that I had just moments before intended on offering to Michael Haggerty.
Later that day, after boarding the Queen Mary II and being shown to our individual cabins, I heard a knock on my door. After hanging up several shirts that I had been unpacking I answered it, but was surprised to see that there was no one there. Hearing the knocking again as I walked back toward the closet, I realized that it was coming from the wall that I shared with Jessica, whose cabin was next door.
“George, open the door,” I heard Jessica say from her side of the wall.
Looking up and down the wall, I finally located a small handle cleverly set flush with the panelling that I had not noticed previously. After turning the lock, I slid the door open to find Jessica on the other side.
“Well, this is mighty convenient,” I said as a broad, mischievous grin spread across my face.
“I didn’t plan it this way,” Jessica assured me.
“Sure, you didn’t,” I said, not fooled by her innocent expression. “It looks to me like you’ve been planning to use your seductive wiles on me for weeks.”
“I was not,” she protested, blushing furiously. “It’s just a fortunate coincidence.” Still, she stood aside and invited me through the wall into her cabin.
“What’s that?” I asked, noticing a rectangular, ivory box sitting on Jessica’s bed.
“A bon voyage present from your sister, Tessa,” Jessica said. “It was just delivered from one of the onboard shops.”
“What is it?” I asked curiously as I reached for the box.
“You’ll have to wait until tonight to find out,” she answered, grabbing the box before I could.
“Is it silk?” I asked, lifting one eyebrow.
“You’ll find out…later,” Jessica answered, hiding the box behind her back.
“It would be a shame if it was made of silk,” I said as I leaned in close and reached around Jessica’s waist to reach the box.
“Why would it be a shame?” she asked, intrigued by my comment.
“Because you’re not likely to get to enjoy it for very long before it ends up hanging on the back of a chair or lying on the floor,” I explained before kissing her on the lips.
Jessica placed her fingertips on my chest and lightly pushed me away. “What are your intentions, Inspector?” she asked me.
“Well, since Grady and Donna have headed off to explore the ship and won’t be looking for us until the first seating for dinner, I thought that maybe you and I could ...” I let my words trail off with a suggestive look.
“That’s what I thought,” Jessica said. “We’re not doing anything until you’ve shaved first.”
“But Jess ...”
“I’m serious,” she said, pushing me back through the portal in the wall to my cabin. “Knock when you’re finished, and not before.” And she firmly shut the door behind me with a click.
With a sigh I turned to my bag to fetch the razor and shaving cream I’d purchased just before boarding. It was a good thing that I had been joking about my intentions to grow a beard, because it was clear that Jessica’s preference for me clean-shaven was absolute.
Ten minutes later I had completed the ritual and tentatively knocked on the door between our respective cabins. “Jess?”
She opened the door and ushered me in. “Much better,” she said, her voice warm with approval.
“Aye, much better indeed,” I echoed faintly, feeling weak in the knees as I looked at her. “I thought you were going to make me wait until tonight to find out what Tessa’s gift was?”
“Well, I must admit that I was curious to see how I looked in it myself,” she said.
“There are no words to describe how you look in it,” I said. I had to tip my hat to Tessa - she had spent less than an afternoon in Jessica’s company, yet she had clearly taken note of the color of her eyes. How else could she have picked out a silk negligee that exactly matched that bewitching shade of blue?
“You like it, then?”
“Very much so.” The shimmering blue silk clung to every curve of her body, held up by two spaghetti-thin straps that crisscrossed over her back. Jessica had looked very sexy wearing my shirts, but that was nothing compared to how she looked in this exquisitely feminine garment. It positively took my breath away.
Seeing that I was effectively rooted to the ground, Jessica took the initiative and advanced a step toward me, close enough that our hips were almost touching. I felt a jolt like electricity course between us, leaving me feeling very warm and lightheaded in its wake.
“I hope you don’t like it too much,” she said softly as she reached up and loosened the knot of my tie.
I swallowed hard. “Why?” I managed to say.
Jessica succeeded in undoing the knot and slid the tie from around my neck in a smooth, almost languorous motion. “Because if you like it too much, it may not end up hanging on the back of a chair or lying on the floor after all,” she said as she reached behind her to drape it over a door knob.
“I think there’s little fear of that.”
“Oh, good,” she said as she opened my collar and delicately ran her fingers along my throat. “Otherwise I might have to go back to wearing your shirts.”
She leaned in then and began to kiss my neck, softly at first and then with more intensity as she moved up toward the line of my jaw. In response I bent my head forward and inhaled deeply the sweet jasmine scent of her hair before tipping her face upwards so I could meet her lips with my own. I slipped my hands under the straps where they crossed on her back, sliding them lower and lower until they rested at her waist, my fingers gently massaging the muscles of the small of her back as I pulled her close against me.
“Mmm,” she sighed as she leaned into me. “I didn’t realize how tense I’ve been for the past several days!”
“You are tense,” I agreed as my hands moved even lower to another shapely part of her that the silk clung to in a most suggestive fashion. “One would think that solving two murders - three, actually, if you count Sophie Potter’s father - saving the throne of England, and starting a new relationship were stressful!”
“Then it’s a good thing we’re finally aboard ship for our nice, relaxing crossing,” Jessica said as she worked the buttons of my shirt. “No intrigue -” she relieved me of the shirt, exposing my chest and back for her hands to explore - “no assassins -” her fingernails delicately traced a path down either side of my spine, causing me to shiver - “and no murders!”
“No murders I hope,” I amended, running my hands through her golden hair before moving in for another kiss. I could feel the silk fabric of Tessa’s gift gliding across the bare skin of my chest as Jessica moved against me; it was smooth, luxurious ... and entirely too much in the way. I ended the kiss and gazed deeply into the bottomless blue of her eyes as I fingered the strap at her shoulder. “May I?”
She nodded and stepped back, dropping her hands to her sides so I could slide the straps off her shoulders and down her arms, taking the fabric of the negligee down with it. The silk shimmered like sunlight on water as it fell past her waist, past her hips, and down her long legs to pool at her feet. As beautiful as it was, it was nothing - nothing - compared to the beauty of my beloved as she stood fully revealed before me.
“Oh Jessie,” I breathed as I took her back into my arms, the heat of our passion now flowing uninhibited between us, “truly, I am at a loss for words ...”
“Then don’t speak,” she suggested as she reached up to trace the contours of my ear. “Just feel.”
Good advice, I thought as I kissed her again, more urgently now, moving with her step by step as she led me toward the bed in the center of the cabin. When we reached it I eased her down on to it, cradling her head in my hands as I settled her amidst the pillows. Her hands moved over me, provoking, demanding, even as they deftly avoided touching the still-tender wound in my shoulder. I had to admire the fact that she maintained an awareness of my infirmity, caught up in the moment though we were.
I could not honestly make the same claim. My shoulder wound was probably the farthest thing from my mind as I made full use of fingers and lips to explore her in turn, every rational thought flown away except for one: that I must have her, and have her in a way that would make up for all the years of waiting and longing that had led us to this perfect moment. My heart was pounding - it would surely burst asunder if I waited even a moment longer ...
Not one to be a passive observer in a moment such as this, Jessica arched her back and rose to meet my thrust, clinging to me and entangling her legs with mine so that we were irrevocably bound together. The blood roared in my ears with a sound like a storm wind on the seashore as we set a pace and a rhythm that would carry us both up and over the very edge of ecstasy. When that moment came it was with all the force and power of a cresting wave, reaching its peak only to collapse in a cascade of wild, dazzling glory that ended, at last, with a shuddering sigh as it spent itself upon the beach.
The shuddering sigh was Jessica’s, I realized, as I came back to my senses. She was gazing up at me with deep blue eyes, drowsy with contentment, as she absently brushed my hair back from my forehead with her fingertips. Her breathing was deep and even as she lay relaxed and still beneath me.
As for myself, I felt as utterly spent as my metaphorical wave upon the beach, limp with exhaustion, barely able to raise my head to kiss her gently on her lips.
“Aw reit?” I asked her.
“Aye, aw reit,” she replied, echoing my thick brogue with a smile.
I moved off to the side and curved my body around hers, my arms wrapped securely around her. “What time is the first seating?” I murmured.
“Three hours from now,” she answered quietly.
“We should set the alarm on your travel clock.”
“I already did.”
I chuckled as I gave her an affectionate squeeze. “My ever practical Jessica,” I said sleepily, recalling my words from the previous morning. “It’s no wonder that I adore you so.”
In response she replied, “My brave, gallant knight, Sir George.”
Sir George ...
“You don’t mind if I call you that, do you?”
“There would have to be specific conditions.”
“Let’s hear them, then.”
“Only in private ... my second condition would be that you agree to be Lady Jessica.”
She didn’t say no ...
These were my last thoughts before I, too, drifted off to sleep. As I did, I whispered softly in her ear, “Sleep well ... Lady Jessica.”