The Final Chapter (Behind the Scenes)
-- by Anne and Stephanie
These are scenes Stephanie and I added to the fan fiction story “The Final Chapter” that I wrote over a decade ago. Although they take away much of the mystery of the original, taken all together I think they make for a better story. --Anne
Across the library, a book was knocked over on its shelf by accident. The sound of its fall seemed magnified tenfold in the silence.
Jessica froze in the glow of the desk lamp, wide eyes scanning the space. A cold chill ran down her spine. It was probably just a book that had been shelved improperly, and had picked now to fall over on its side. And yet she was still filled with a fear that this simple explanation could not dispel. For many long moments she stood perfectly still, listening as hard as she could, reluctant to venture out into the darkness. But finally she fought down her rising terror, stepped out of the circle of light …
… and came face to face with a crossbow aimed at her at point blank range. Before she could react, he fired, and the bolt struck her full in the chest.
She staggered back a pace against the shelves under the force of the blow, then fell forward to her knees, dropping the books she was carrying. For a moment she knelt there, looking up at her attacker with almost wonder, tears glittering in eyes bright with pain. Then with a small cry of frustration and agony she collapsed and fell the rest of the way to the floor, where she lay prone, sprawled on her right side, the shaft of the black arrow sticking out of the left side of her chest.
-- “The Final Chapter”
Pain, white hot, faded to the utter blackness of despair and hopelessness. Was this how it all ended?
The next thing Jessica knew, the pain was gone, but she couldn’t move. She lay as she had fallen on the floor of the library surrounded by an odd half-light that illuminated the things around her yet also gave them a transparent quality. Instinctively she knew that at this moment – for her, at least – the veil between this world and the next was very thin. This realization that she was dying didn’t bother her, somehow; in fact, it came as something of a relief.
“You’re willing to die to save Cabot Cove,” a voice said to her, “but are you willing to live for it?”
The voice was familiar. “Frank,” she said faintly.
He knelt down next to her and caressed her forehead, soothing her earlier agitation. “Yes, Bright-Eyes,” he said softly. “It’s me.”
Jessica let out a shuddering sigh.
“You don’t really want to die just yet, do you?” Frank asked her quietly.
“Not really,” she admitted sadly. “I have a lot to live for … but I am badly hurt, Frank, and I am utterly exhausted.”
Frank bent down and kissed her. “I know you are, Bright-Eyes,” he told her. “After this you’ll have a long rest – no more wild adventures, at least for a little while, I promise. Just hang on a little longer – Seth is on his way.”
“He is? How could he possibly know what happened?”
“Through the bond you share with him, of course.”
Sure enough, she could still sense the connection between herself and her best friend. It was weak and getting weaker, but it was still there, pulsing in time with her heartbeat. There was nothing to do now but wait, and hope that he arrived before it faded away altogether.
Seth worked feverishly; Jessica’s vital signs were continuing to spiral downward even as he desperately tried to stabilize her. She had lost a lot of blood and had at least one collapsed lung, and she was continuing to hemorrhage around the shaft of the arrow sticking out of her chest. An IV had been established with shock-rate fluids pouring through it, but her blood pressure continued to fall, as evidenced not just by the monitoring equipment at her bedside but also by the fact that she was growing paler and paler by the minute.
Seth looked up at Jonas Beckwith, the young doctor who was assisting him. “We’ve got to pull the arrow,” he said grimly.
Beckwith hesitated, doubt in his eyes. “If we do, we could kill her,” he replied.
“If we don’t, she’ll die for sure,” Seth countered. “We can’t stop the bleeding or re-inflate that lung unless we do. Hold her down for me, and stand by with that lap sponge to apply pressure directly to the wound as soon as I have it out.”
Beckwith did as he was told, holding the unconscious Jessica down by her shoulders while Seth wrapped his hand around the arrow-shaft, slick with blood. He took a deep breath, and pulled.
The arrow came free, and the pain it inflicted as it did abruptly brought Jessica back to consciousness. She shrieked, fighting blindly against Beckwith’s grip on her while Seth hurriedly pressed the gauze sponge against her chest with one hand and placed the other on her forehead in an attempt to calm her down.
“Jessica!” he barked at her. “It’s me, Seth! Lie still!”
She must have recognized his voice or his touch, because she immediately ceased struggling and became quiet enough for Jonas to let go of her. Her breath came in ragged gasps, occasionally punctuated with fits of coughing that brought up traces of blood. But the monitors showed her vital signs stabilizing at last; they weren’t normal, not yet, but they were no longer falling.
Beckwith noted the change, and looked at Seth with approval. “Good work, Doctor,” he said quietly.
“Well, we’ll see about that,” Seth replied. “Get a sedative on board, call anesthesiology, and let’s get her prepped for surgery. Then we’ll see.”
It had taken over an hour to probe the deep wound and repair the damage the arrow had inflicted, but when it was over the bleeding had ceased, the wound had been closed, and the collapsed lung was re-inflated. Now, in a private recovery room, Seth sat with Jessica at her bedside accompanied by a single carefully-chosen nurse, having chased off the other attendants that usually hovered over a patient recovering from anesthesia and surgery.
The nurse, Laura Garrison, noted the latest set of readings on her chart, then sat back in her chair, rubbed her eyes, and sighed. She had been helping Seth from the moment they had come in, despite being at the end of her shift, out of a sense of loyalty and because Jessica and Seth had once believed in her when everyone else had not. Now it looked like it was going to be a long night for both her and the doctor.
“Is she going to be all right, Dr. Hazlitt?” she asked anxiously.
“I think so,” said Seth. “Nurse Garrison, can I have a word with you?”
Seth fixed her with a serious look. “Someone tried to kill this woman tonight, Laura,” he said, emphasizing the gravity of the situation with the use of her given name. “They very nearly succeeded. I have been thinking over these past few hours, and come to the conclusion that if this person learns that they have failed, they will try again.”
“You’re saying that she’s still in danger, then.”
“Ay-yuh, very much so,” said Seth. “For that reason, I think it would be best if we … not let the word get out that she is still alive.”
It took a few moments for the significance of Seth’s words to sink in. “You mean, pretend like she actually died tonight?” she asked.
Seth nodded. “Exactly,” he replied. “It will mean some subterfuge on our parts, but hopefully just for a few days. For her own safety, the only people who will know that Jessica lives will be you, me, Dr. Beckwith, and Sheriff Metzger. Can I trust you to keep this secret with us?”
Laura looked at Jessica lying pale against the white pillows of the hospital bed, then up at Seth again. “Yes, Doctor,” she said quietly. “You can count on me.”
An ocean away, George Sutherland was roused from a fitful sleep by a jagged, piercing sensation in his chest. Once fully awake, the intense feeling of pain that he had experienced was replaced by a wave of anxiety and despair.
As he lay in bed, he thought immediately of Jessica. Was she in trouble? Was she hurt? He mentally waved off the idea and rolled onto his side, hoping to go back to sleep. Jessica was safely tucked away in Cabot Cove; probably researching a new book, enjoying dinner with friends, or attending a city council meeting or other community affair.
Despite his best efforts, sleep was elusive and at four o’clock, he finally dragged himself into the kitchen to brew a very potent cup of coffee. The Times had not yet arrived and the nagging feeling that had spilled over him upon first waking was not receding.
He downed half a cup of dark roast and headed for his office where he picked up the telephone and dialed Jessica’s Cabot Cove number. It was probably just heartburn, he chided himself as he waited for her to answer. That’s what I get for eating Indian food right before going to bed.
The telephone rang repeatedly and eventually the answering machine picked up. Deciding that she was likely out with friends, George left a vague message, “nothing important,” he had said before wishing her a good night. He could call Seth or Mort, but that would be taking it a little too far.
Convinced that he
was indeed overreacting, George pulled a manila file from his briefcase.
In a few short hours, he would be testifying in a murder trial – a gruesome
crime in which a
As Jessica clung to her fragile connection to life and the land of the living she sensed her surroundings growing dimmer and dimmer until all around her it was completely dark. She would have panicked then, except that the pulsing of her link with Seth was once again growing stronger and brighter, so she concentrated on that and tried to ignore the rising blackness. Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, the pulse became strong enough to wake her up.
It would have been nice if upon waking she found that the pulse was merely the quiet beating of her heart, reassuring her that she was still alive. Unfortunately, it was the significantly more painful throbbing of her chest wound that had brought her back to consciousness. She shifted in an attempt to ease her discomfort, which was when she realized that she had no idea where she was. She opened her eyes to a darkened room that she didn’t recognize immediately – it certainly wasn’t her own.
A gentle hand to her forehead prevented her from trying to twist around to get a better look at where she was.
“Shh, Jess,” Seth’s soothing voice said to her. “Don’t try to move, or you’ll get that wound bleeding again.”
Jessica looked up and saw his face, and the sight of him smiling down at her made tears spring to her eyes. Moistening her lips, she tried to speak: “Seth … Where …? How …?” Her throat felt like sandpaper, and uttering even a few words made her cough. And coughing made pain shoot through her like liquid fire.
Seth’s smile turned to a frown of concern as he saw her wince. “Is the pain bad?” he asked her.
She nodded, and some of the tears spilled down her cheeks.
“Oh, Jessica.” Seth wiped away her tears once he had adjusted her morphine drip to dull the pain. Before too long the throbbing from the wound had subsided a little bit.
“Better?” he asked her.
“To answer your ‘where’ question, you’re in the recovery wing at the hospital,” Seth told her. “As for the ‘how,’ I had to take you to surgery to get the arrow out of your chest. But you’ll be fine, now that that’s been done.”
This answered Jessica’s most immediate questions, but although there were dozens of other things she wanted to ask she didn’t have the energy – and didn’t want to risk another coughing spell – to give voice to them. She settled for one last one that wouldn’t take a lot of effort:
“Why … so dark?”
Seth sobered further. “Because I don’t want attention drawn to this room,” he replied. “Only a handful of people know you’re still alive. And seeing as how the person who did this to you is still at large, I think it would be best if we keep it that way.”
Jessica nodded; she could certainly see the wisdom in this.
“Are you up for a visitor? Because poor Mort is out in the waiting area wearing a path through the floor with his pacing.”
Jessica nodded again. “Please.”
Mort followed Seth down the hallway grimly, clamping down on the maelstrom of emotions that swirled inside of him. There would be time enough later, he told himself, for grief – first he had final respects to pay to a friend, and then a job to begin to find the person who had done this to her and bring them to justice.
Seth opened the door to a room at the very end of the corridor, and stood aside so that the sheriff could enter. Mort reluctantly stepped into the room, where he received the shock of his life.
Jessica, awake and very much alive, smiled weakly at her friend.
“Hullo, Mort,” she said hoarsely.
Mort stared at her speechless, until Seth poked him in the arm.
“You’ll catch flies with your mouth hanging open like that,” he teased.
“Okay, Doc,” he said at last, “I think you have some explaining to do. Mrs. F, I thought you were dead!”
“Not … yet,” she replied.
Seth outlined what had happened from the time they had arrived at the hospital to the present, including the reasoning that he had previously shared with Laura Garrison. Mort listened intently, his glance straying to Jessica from time to time as if reassuring himself that what he was seeing and hearing was for real.
“So there you have it,” Seth concluded. “I figure we can sneak Jess out of here tonight and hide her at my place while she recovers and we look for the killer. Doctor Beckwith and Nurse Garrison here have volunteered to help keep an eye on her there, since I can’t be with her every minute.”
“Though … no doubt … you’ll try,” Jessica commented.
“That’s enough out of you, woman,” Seth scolded her. “You’re supposed to be recovering from anesthesia.”
Jessica subsided, but shot a wink at Mort.
Mort considered the plan for a few moments. “All right,” he said. “It works for me. Mrs. F, are you comfortable with all of this?” Jessica nodded. “Okay. So, Doc, when do we do this thing?”
The first step was to re-sedate Jessica; otherwise the inevitable jostling involved in moving her would be excruciating. When her breathing had slowed to a relaxed pace indicating that she was once again asleep Seth, Jonas and Laura carefully lifted her from the bed to a gurney and took her through the deserted halls of the hospital outside to Seth’s car. They repeated the process in reverse at Seth’s house, carrying her upstairs to his guestroom and settling her into bed. Jessica slept through the whole transference, blissfully unaware of what they were doing. Finally Seth checked her wound to make sure that the trip had not undone any of his hard work; satisfied with what he saw, he shooed Jonas and Laura off to get some rest themselves, and settled into an armchair to keep watch for the remainder of the night.
Sunlight shining through curtains woke Jessica the next morning. As she lay still in bed enjoying the warmth of it she thought for a moment that perhaps all the horror of the previous night had simply been a very vivid and particularly frightening nightmare. But all too soon reality reasserted itself: her chest still hurt, though not quite as badly as before. And she was not in her own bedroom – the scent of the sheets was different, and when she opened her eyes she was in unfamiliar surroundings.
“Where am I?” she wondered aloud, to no one in particular.
“You’re at my house,” came Seth’s reply. She turned her head and saw him seated next to her bed in an armchair, where he had apparently spent the night. “My guestroom, to be precise – though for the time being, it’s been transformed into your own personal hospital room.”
It had indeed. Her chart lay at the foot of her bed, while a stack of fresh bandages had been set up on top of the dresser next to a pitcher of water and a cup. An IV pole stood next to the head of the bed, a bag of clear fluids suspended from it. After briefly surveying the room, Jessica lay back again and closed her eyes. Even the minimal effort of turning her head hurt, and she felt lightheaded.
“Oh … right.” She remembered the conversation from the night before now, in which it had been agreed that she would continue recuperating at Seth’s where presumably it would be easier to keep her hidden and safe. Last night seemed like a very, very long time ago.
Seth rose form his chair and came around to check the dressing on her wound and increase the drip rate of her fluids a tiny bit.
“You’re going to be flat on your back for several days at least,” he informed her as he lifted her wrist to check her pulse. “You lost quite a bit of blood, and we want to make sure that left lung doesn’t collapse again. But assuming you’re a good patient, you should heal up just fine.”
At the moment Jessica didn’t feel like she had the energy to be anything besides a ‘good patient.’ But that didn’t mean her head wasn’t full of questions. Summoning what little strength she had, she opened her eyes again, looked at Seth, and said,
“The arrow should have killed me … why didn’t it?”
Seth made a satisfied grunt, set down her wrist, and noted down her pulse and other vital signs in her chart. “What saved you,” he said when he had finished, “was this.” He held up the item in question, at which Jessica gave him a confused look.
“Reader’s Digest?” she asked.
Seth chuckled. “Not exactly,” he said. “But something about the same size, shape, and thickness. I couldn’t show you the original, obviously; Mort will have that locked up in his evidence locker, safe and sound.”
Even as weak and exhausted as she was, Jessica quickly put two and two together. “The old book of town ordinances.”
“Exactly,” said Seth. “You fell on it, on your left side, and it applied just enough pressure to your ribcage to keep you from bleeding out. Furthermore,” he continued, “by falling on your left side, gravity kept the blood accumulating in your chest on the side of the wound, where it could leak out slowly instead of filling both sides of your chest and collapsing both of your lungs. It was a very lucky thing.”
“Luck didn’t have everything to do with it,” Jessica told him, shaking her head and giving him a knowing look.
This was news to Seth. “Oh?”
“I wasn’t going to let whoever killed me get their hands on the book as well,” said Jessica. “I fell on it to protect it, so that if whoever it was wanted it badly enough, they would only get it over my dead body … literally.”
Seth looked at his friend with respect. “In the midst of everything that was happening, knowing that you were likely going to die, you deliberately moved to protect that book?”
“The fate of the town was riding on it,” Jessica said. “Wouldn’t you?”
To this Seth had no ready answer.
Later that afternoon, after testifying, George could not shake the disquieting feeling that hung over him like a cloud. As a matter of fact, the cloud had grown like a thunderhead. Immediately after exiting the courtroom, he rang the Cabot Cove Sheriff’s Department.
The line was busy and he tried again, repeatedly, once he reached his office. There was no answer, just another bloody answering machine! Sheriffs’ Departments, not even small departments like Cabot Cove’s, closed. Something was amiss.
After leaving a
message for Mort, George booked the first available flight to
Mort showed up around noontime, looking tired but fairly well satisfied with his work so far that morning. He sat down in the chair next to Jessica’s bedside, stretching his legs out in front of him while and Jessica and Seth watched him expectantly, eager for news. By this time Jessica was feeling much more awake, and with Seth’s assistance she had even managed to sit up in bed.
“Well,” he said, “before I even got off the ground this morning Mayor Booth was in my office, in a snit over the news of your death.”
“No doubt upset over the loss of tourist dollars I draw in,” Jessica said sourly.
The sheriff chuckled. “Now, Mrs. F, give the mayor some credit. He was actually upset by the dawning realization that he just might have been responsible for sending you to your death.”
Both Jessica and Seth looked surprised. “Really?” Seth said. “Sam Booth took responsibility for something that went wrong?”
“You heard it here first,” Mort said. “Anyway, the last thing I needed this morning was a distraught public official taking up space in my office, so I sent him back to his.”
Jessica smiled. “You were gentle with Sam, I hope.”
“Oh yes. I told him that what we needed was his leadership, and that his leadership would be best coming from the Mayor’s Office.” He paused, and sighed. “Then there was Ben Devlin.”
“Oh, oh,” Seth said. “Trouble.”
“Yeah, well, it could have been. He was all set to publish an obit for you, Mrs. F. I had to appeal to his sense of justice in order to overcome his First Amendment rights. But in the end, he did agree to put off publishing anything about what happened last night – which should keep the news off the AP wires.”
“Good,” Jessica said. “I wasn’t looking forward to the damage control that would follow if word of my demise got out into the national press. Grady and Donna would be frantic – and that would just be the start of it!”
Seth wore an expectant grin on his face. “Enough about Ben,” he said. “I want to hear about the good part.”
Jessica looked at him. “The good part?”
The grin widened until it was positively wicked. “His visit to Eve Simpson’s.”
“She was in, of course,” Mort told them. “That big new car of hers was sitting parked right out front of her office. She’d heard about last night, of course; she’d just come back from the beauty parlor, where it was Topic A on the gossip wires.”
“Well, the whole town knows about it by now, then,” said Jessica.
“I told her as much,” Mort agreed. “Anyway, I asked her to tell me what she knew about Todd Maddox and his gang. According to her, they approached her last September about buying the land at Greeling’s Bluff for development. Problem was, they didn’t pay her the full commission she had coming to her.”
“Ohhh,” Jessica said. “That must not have sat well with Eve at all.”
“That’s an understatement,” Mort said. “She’s got her lawyer, Niles Horton, working to get the money out of them, but they’re stonewalling – they told her she’ll get the rest of her commission once the project is finished and making money, and not a day earlier.”
“That gives her a pretty strong motive to do whatever needs to be done to get the development pushed through, I’d say,” Seth commented.
“Yeah, I’d say so too,” said Mort. “Anyway, after that Andy and I headed over to the Hill House to interview the three members of the Limited. After they were finished being outraged over what this whole mess has done to their company’s image, I was able to get around to asking them a few questions.”
“So what did you find out?” Jessica asked, her interest roused.
out his notepad, flipped open to the page he was looking for, and consulted his
notes. “Well, for starters, nobody had a great alibi for the time you were
shot, Mrs. F,” he said. “Bruce Monroe skipped Eve Simpson’s party so he could
participate in a conference call meeting with the firm’s lawyers, who,
conveniently enough, are now out of the country and unreachable. Frances Decker
was meeting with the town’s planning board, but she doesn’t remember what time
that let out. And Todd Maddox says he was at Ms. Simpson’s, but had to ‘step
out’ to make a phone call to his secretary in
“I don’t suppose any of the staff at Hill House happened to see him come back,” Jessica said.
“I’m way ahead of you, Mrs. F – I had Andy ask them that while I was interviewing the three partners. Desk clerk says he didn’t see any of them between seven and nine last night, but there was a solid hour when no one was actually out front watching the lobby.”
“Oh,” Jessica said in disappointment.
“Yeah,” Mort sighed. “It makes it kind of hard to rule anybody in or out as a suspect.”
“Speaking of ruling people in or out as suspects,” Seth said, “What about Eve Simpson herself?”
Jessica looked at him aghast. “I don’t believe for a minute that Eve would ever try to hurt me!”
“Why? Because she’s your friend?” Seth countered. “Her former partner Harry Pierce was also your friend, as you may recall. And he was perfectly willing to do away with you when you found out he’d torched the old Coast Guard station and killed two women to cover it up.”
Jessica visibly winced at the painful memory but didn’t challenge Seth’s words.
“All I’m saying is that we can’t rule out anyone at this early stage,” Seth said reasonably. “I’m not saying Eve is responsible, but I think it would be foolish and dangerous not to look at the possibility simply because she is your friend.”
Mort nodded in agreement. “We need to keep an open mind,” he said. “Fact is, anyone could sneak in or out of one of Ms. Simpson’s big parties without being noticed. That could put a lot of holes in a lot of people’s alibis. We’ll just have to keep working on it, that’s all.”
“Did you get any other pearls of wisdom from your interviews this morning?” Seth asked him.
“Not really,” said Mort. “Todd Maddox passes along his sympathies, if you can call them that. ‘Struck down with a crossbow arrow,’ he said. ‘What a way to go.’ The jerk was positively dripping with sympathy.”
Jessica sighed. “Thank you, Mort,” she said. “Let us know if anything else turns up.”
Mort rose and put on his Stetson to leave. “I sure will,” he said.
“Seth,” Jessica said once Mort had gone, “I’d like you to do me a favor.”
“A favor?” Seth asked suspiciously. “Haven’t I done enough favors for you already?”
Jessica smiled and reached out to pat his hand. “You have, a thousand times over,” she said. “And you have my undying thanks. But next time you run into Eve, I’d like you to plant the idea into her head that I have certain notes on my laptop computer that could potentially change the whole face of the Greelings Bluff controversy …”
“We found some interesting stuff, at the Limited’s field office last night,” Mort told Jessica the next morning. “Some bounced checks, for one thing. And photos of other unfinished projects the Limited was working on, but which their financers were threatening to foreclose on. But the weirdest thing was a series of plans for the proposed project in Cabot Cove – it starts out a fairly small development, and over time it balloons into a huge resort.”
“That’s very strange,” Jessica said thoughtfully. “If the Limited is in financial trouble, why were they expanding their plans instead of doing the logical thing and scaling them back?”
“That’s what I would like to know,” said Seth. “Well, that’s one bit of news I have for you this morning. The other bit, I’m afraid, is something you won’t be too happy to hear.”
Jessica’s face fell. “What is it?” she asked.
“Your house – someone broke in last night and trashed the place.”
To his surprise and Mort’s, Jessica actually looked relieved. “Is that all? Thank goodness,” she said.
The sheriff and doctor exchanged a look. “We, uh, thought you’d be upset about that,” Mort said.
Jessica shrugged. “Well, it’s what we expected would happen, isn’t it? Was anything missing?”
“Near as I can tell, just your laptop computer,” said Mort.
“Good.” She looked at Seth and added, “Someone has taken the bait.”
transatlantic flight, a puddle jumper from
Breaking and entering! He couldn’t believe it. He had neither broken in nor entered Jessica’s house. He probably would have, given the opportunity, but instead, he had been detained as soon as he had rung the doorbell and tried the door knob.
Now, he sat alone in a surprisingly comfortable cell. No telephone call. No Metzger. And most importantly, no Jessica!
In addition, his credentials as a Chief Inspector at Scotland Yard had done him no good. “The telephone lines are down,” Andy Broom had informed him. “As soon as they’re up again, you can make your telephone call and we’ll be able to check with Scotland Yard to see if you are who you say you are?”
“Where is Sheriff Metzger?” George had asked as calmly as possible.
“Investigating a murder.”
“Murder?” George repeated the word to himself as he sank down onto the cot, another wave of uneasiness passing over him.
“Ayuh, and this time, unfortunately, he won’t have Mrs. Fletcher to help him solve it.”
George looked up at Andy, not sure if he wanted the young man to continue or not. Just then, a bell sounded, alerting Andy to the fact that someone had entered the front door, and the deputy excused himself without providing George with any additional information.
Once Jonas Beckwith arrived to take his turn watching over Jessica, Seth and Mort were free downtown for their meeting at Hannah’s.
“I’ve sent a message around to everyone who has been working this case with us,” Mort had told her before leaving. “Doc and I are meeting them all at the coffee shop this afternoon – Hannah’s closing it down so we can have some privacy.”
“I’ve got bad news,” Mort said to Seth as soon as they were safely in the privacy of Mort’s cruiser. “I’ve got George Sutherland behind bars down at the station.”
Seth rolled his eyes. “Oh, that is just perfect! When did he show up?”
“Last night. Andy hauled him in after he found him on Mrs. F’s front steps trying the doorknob. ‘Breaking and entering’ is what we’re calling it for now.”
“That won’t hold him long,” Seth pointed out as Mort pulled out of the driveway. “As soon as he gets his obligatory phone call he’ll contact Scotland Yard and be sprung before you can say boo.”
Mort looked both ways at the stop sign before proceeding across the intersection. “Well, the funny thing about that,” he said, “is that the outgoing phone line at the station is on the fritz. It’s the funniest thing – we can get all our incoming calls just fine, and my private line out works, but he can’t call out ‘til its fixed.” He looked at Seth and grinned, and Seth grinned back.
“How’d the meeting go?” Jessica asked when Seth and Mort returned.
“Fine,” Mort told her. “Actually, it was very enlightening.” He summarized what had been discussed at the coffee shop. “That lawyer, Niles Horton, is the one who trashed your place and took your laptop computer,” he concluded. “I retrieved it from his briefcase, and I’ve got him in custody. So far, the Limited doesn’t have any idea what’s happened to him, though of course we’ll eventually have to let him have his one phone call from jail.”
“I’m not sure his bosses would be the first people he’d call anyway,” Jessica reasoned. “They will not be happy when they find out he’s been compromised, and they’ll probably distance themselves from him and let him take the fall by himself.”
“If Horton took the computer,” Seth mused, “does that mean he’s the one behind all this, and the Limited isn’t involved?”
“No,” Jessica said, “the Limited is very much involved. In fact, one of them is responsible for the arson at the town office, and for my attempted murder.”
“Why not Eve?” Seth asked.
“Because Eve has the best alibi of all for the time I was attacked – she was at her own party, chatting with you,” she replied. “Besides, Eve never had a motive. It would have been in her best interests to see the project scaled back to make it more likely to succeed, not blown out of proportion so that it was certain to fail.”
“So which one of those Limited guys tried to do you in?” Mort asked.
“Todd Maddox,” Jessica said. “He was the only one who knew that a crossbow was the weapon used. The problem,” she added with a sigh, “is proving it. Or shocking him into a confession …” She was silent for a moment, thinking … and then suddenly her face brightened.
Seth, who recognized that expression, was one step ahead of her. “No,” he said flatly.
“Yes,” Jessica countered.
“No,” Seth repeated. “You are too weak to be out of bed, let alone face down a killer. I simply won’t allow it.”
“You’ll have to,” she insisted stubbornly, “if you want to see Todd Maddox arrested and held for more than just arson. Because that’s all we’re going to get and make stick if we don’t shock him into incriminating himself for trying to kill me.”
Mort, who had been sitting in a chair off to the side listening to their debate, frowned at her words. “How do you figure, Mrs. F?” he asked. “I mean, you’re alive to testify against him in court, after all.”
“Because I never saw the face of the person who fired the crossbow,” sighed Jessica. “Without being able to positively identify him, all we have on that score is purely circumstantial evidence.”
“What about Maddox’s slip-up when he mentioned Jess getting shot with a crossbow?” Seth asked. “Isn’t that proof enough that he did it?”
“It’s enough for us to know he’s responsible,” Mort said, “but you wouldn’t want to have only that to take in front of a grand jury.”
“He’s right, Seth,” said Jessica. “As careful as we have been – and we have been very careful, considering how this town thrives on gossip – there is simply no way it can be guaranteed that Maddox didn’t hear that information from someone else.”
“So let me get this straight,” said Mort. “You want us to drop the hint to Maddox that there’s a copy of the ordinance book still in the library, and then when he shows up to torch the place, you step out of the shadows and show him that you’re alive, and surprise him into admitting he tried to kill you.”
Jessica nodded. “Basically, yes.”
“Well, maybe I’m missing something here, but what if he brings along a gun this time? What’s to stop him from finishing the job once he sees you instead?”
“That’s where we call in another favor from Judge Baldwin,” Jessica said. “Before tonight, you get a search warrant for his room at the Hill House, find his gun if he has one, and replace the bullets with blanks.”
“And hope he doesn’t notice the change between then and the time of the big face-off?” Seth demanded.
She shrugged and said, “What reason would he have to check the chambers of his own gun? I think it’s an acceptable risk.”
Seth sighed. “I can tell you’ve got your heart set on this,” he said. “Is there anything I can say that will make you see the light of reason and call off this fool enterprise?”
“Probably not,” Jessica said with a smile. “Really, Seth. I’ll be fine. I’ll only have to be on my feet for a few minutes at most, and as soon as Mr. Maddox confesses you can put me straight back to bed, I promise.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” the doctor grumbled.
Jessica looked supremely satisfied. “Good,” she said. “Now, there are a couple of things I’ll need from my house. A long white nightgown, for one, and my grey cloak …”
A few hours later, Seth returned with the items she had requested. Jessica was sitting up in bed waiting for him.
“Metzger says everything’s in place to drop the word to Maddox that Sam’s got a new avenue of recourse against the development,” he told her. “He should be storming in there, oh, any minute now to find out what’s going on. Mort’s already at the Mayor’s Office, waiting for him.”
Jessica nodded in satisfaction – so far, everything was going according to plan. “If he rises to the bait – and I just know he will – we can get the whole thing wrapped up tonight.”
“I certainly hope so,” Seth said fervently.
Jessica glanced down at her hands in her lap for a moment and smiled. “How did everyone take the news when you told them I was alive?” she asked.
“’Bout like you’d expect,” he said. “They didn’t believe me at first – the silence was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Then everyone started talking at once.”
“You swore them to absolute secrecy, of course.”
“Of course. No sense in letting the word run like wildfire right before the grand finale. They understood – after all, everyone’s put so much work into this case so far, the last thing they’d want to do is see it all go to waste because of a careless word.”
He felt a slight pang of guilt – should he tell her about George having come to Cabot Cove? No, he decided, not yet – it would upset her if she knew he was close by but couldn’t see him, just at the time when she most needed to stay calm and focused. After all this was over, and she was finally out of danger, then, perhaps, she could see him.
After dusk had fallen, Jessica gingerly climbed out of bed and let Seth help her down the stairs and out to his waiting car.
“Jessica,” he began in his sternest physician voice, “you have to promise me that you will do nothing on this fool’s errand that will jeopardize your health. You will let Mort do all the talking, and you will not show yourself until absolutely necessary.”
“I promise,” she said.
“And when the time comes for you to show yourself, you will not come any closer than is absolutely necessary.”
“I promise that too.”
“In general, don’t do anything …”
“Unless it’s absolutely necessary?” Jessica finished for him wryly.
Seth grunted. “That pretty much sums it up, yes.”
At the library they met Mort and his deputies, who had already cased out the interior for the best positions from which to spring the trap. While Seth briefly left to park the car out of sight a few blocks away, Mort escorted Jessica inside and settled her at a reading table tucked into a corner between the stacks, near the main room but completely hidden from view.
All that was left was the waiting.
Perhaps an hour later the silence was shattered by a sound outside the doors of the library as someone cut the chains locking the handles and let them fall to the ground.
“Hear that?” Seth asked in a low whisper.
“Yeah.” Mort put a hand on Jessica’s arm. “Wait here, Mrs. F,” he said. Jessica nodded and remained where she was while Seth and Mort moved to where they could view the entrance. At a signal from the Sheriff, Andy and Floyd also moved into position, deeper into the shadows of the library stacks, leaving Jessica alone to watch and wait.
With a creak the door opened, letting in a breath of chill air and a dark figure momentarily silhouetted against the night sky outside. The door was shut again, and a flashlight beam cut through the darkness, shining about in all directions. Satisfied that he was alone in the building, the intruder set the light down on a reading table, unscrewed the top of the gasoline can he carried, and began to splash the accelerant around the base of the nearby stacks.
Despite being concealed and knowing that her friends were only steps away, Jessica felt her heart beat faster as she saw the flickering flame of a cigarette lighter flare up in the darkness. To her relief, a desk lamp came on in answer, flooding the room with dim light. From the shadows she could see Seth and Mort facing the man who had tried to kill her – Todd Maddox.
"I wouldn't toss that, if I were you," she heard Mort say. "Put it down, nice and easy."
With little choice in the face of Mort’s drawn weapon, Maddox did as he was told and extinguished the lighter, setting it down to rest on the table next to his flashlight.
"Looking for this?" Seth asked, holding up the zoning board book. Even from where she was, Jessica could clearly see that Maddox’s face had paled significantly. Seth saw it too. "Yes, I figured you might be. Because in this book is the written proof that Greeling's Bluff is provided by law to remain forever wild. Greeling's Ordinance. The only thing that was going to stop your godawful condominiums and hotels from going up like toadstools just north of town."
"How - how did you know it was me?" Maddox asked.
"Simple," said Mort. "You arranged for Niles Horton to break into Mrs. Fletcher's house on your cell phone. So we checked the phone company records to see if that same cellular signal was registered at all between seven and nine PM the night she was murdered. It wasn't. You weren't on the phone with your secretary at all.
"A lot of people had a lot to lose if your development went bust, but you had the most by far. We checked on the status of some of your past projects along the East Coast. Five of the seven are closed down construction sites, still unfinished. The two you did come close to finishing are being repossessed by the bank. Not a very good record. No wonder you were so desperate to make this one work."
"I'd bought the land already," Maddox said. "It was with my own personal funds. That part of the deal was done. We pulled out of the other projects, put all of our resources into this project, and made it as big as we could for the best financial return. Everything depended on our making a lot of money on Greeling's Bluff."
"Which is why the plans for the project became bigger and bigger with every adjustment," said the Sheriff.
Time was growing short. Discreetly, Jessica struck a match and lit the candle she had brought with her before carefully extinguishing the match and setting it aside.
"We didn't know until the ink was already dry that there was an injunction on the books prohibiting development! But what were we supposed to do - just sit on all that worthless land? I had to make this project work, so that we could bail out the others."
"So you torched the town offices to get rid of all the written records of the old ordinance," Mort said.
Maddox nodded. "It was cheaper, faster, and easier than trying to get the law removed from the books through the courts. I didn't have the time or the money for a legal battle. Besides," he sneered, "after all the resistance we encountered from this ignorant backwater town, we figured you had it coming to you anyway."
Jessica remained in the shadows, out of sight, shielding the candle with her hand as she listened to what transpired in the common room beyond.
"What about Jessica Fletcher?" she heard Seth ask. "Did she 'have it coming' to her as well?"
"What are you talking about? I wasn't even here the night she was shot."
Liar, Jessica thought to herself.
"No?" Mort said. "We talked to the librarian; she swears she never saw you set foot in this building since you've been in town."
"There. You see?" said Maddox.
While they were speaking, Jessica rose to her feet, slowly and painfully. For a moment she steadied herself, holding on to the back of the chair, her eyes closed against the wave of dizziness that washed over her when she stood at her full height. Seth was right; she really was too weak to be out of bed. But she had to do this; everything she cared about depended on it. She opened her eyes, picked up her candle with one shaky hand, and took a careful step around the corner into the common area where the others were waiting.
"For a man who's never been inside this library, you certainly knew right away which shelves to douse with gasoline, Mr. Maddox," she said. Continuing toward Maddox, she raised the candle so he could see her face clearly by its light. The cloak hood accentuated the shadows under her eyes, and her face was as pale as her nightgown – taken together, she knew she must look very otherworldly indeed. Her eyes briefly caught Seth’s expression, which was anxious and grim: perhaps she had succeeded too well.
Maddox’s face was a twisted mask of rage and fear. "You!" he exclaimed in shock. "No ..."
"You look like you've seen a ghost, Mr. Maddox," she said, trying to ignore the insistent, painful throbbing of her wound.
Maddox stood there and stared, oblivious to all else. "You're supposed to be dead! I shot you myself! It was the only way – you were jeopardizing this project! It was worth too much!"
Seeing that her unexpected appearance was having its intended effect, Jessica went in for the kill: "Worth enough to commit murder?"
Maddox snarled and pulled out a small gun with a silencer. "If I have to kill you twice, I will!" he said, and fired six times right at her heart. Jessica couldn’t help but flinch just a little at the sound of the muffled shots, but just as she predicted, they were only blanks, not bullets, and she remained unharmed. When Maddox had emptied the gun’s chambers, she calmly set down the candle on the table, blew it out, and walked toward him.
“To quote another writer, Mr. Maddox,” she said, “’rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.’” She reached out and took the gun from Maddox's unresisting hand.
"Mrs. Fletcher survived your attempt on her life," Mort said. "Somehow she knew it would be you showing up here tonight, so we replaced the bullets in your gun with blanks when we searched your room at the Hill House. The only murder here was the murder she wrote.” (That’s an interesting turn of phrase, Jessica thought to herself. I’ll have to remember it.) “Floyd, Andy - get him out of here and book him. Arson and attempted murder."
Andy nodded, and he and Floyd came up to fasten Maddox's hands behind his back with handcuffs. "Come on," he said, and they led him away.
When they had gone, Jessica sagged against the table, wincing, as the last of her strength drained away.
"Pretending to be a ghost more of an effort than you thought it would be?" Seth asked dryly as he came over to help her. "Don't say I didn't warn you."
Jessica shot him a dirty look, which softened when she saw the genuine worry in Seth’s eyes. I really must look terrible, she decided. Still, she had no regrets – they had achieved what they’d come for, and in her own way she had exacted her revenge against the man who had tried to kill her.
"Yeah, but it was worth it to see the look on Maddox's face," Mort said. He draped her trenchcoat over her shoulders and helped her stand up. "Come on, Mrs. F. It's been a long day."
Jessica looked at Seth and asked, somewhat plaintively, “Can I go home now?”
If he’d had his way Seth would have kept her under his roof for one more night to monitor her, but he didn’t have the heart to deny her request.
“Yes,” he said reluctantly, “you can go home.”
When George was finally released the next morning, it was Sheriff Metzger who did the honors of opening his cell.
“It’s a long story, Inspector,” he said as they seated themselves at his desk.
“I’d very much like to hear it,” George answered politely despite his mounting impatience.
When Mort finished, he apologized, one law man to another. “I’m sorry for having to keep you in the dark, but the Doc and I thought it was for the best.”
George listened without commenting.
Mort adjusted his cowboy hat, pushing it back slightly. “In all honesty, we’re lucky that you called and left that message letting me know that you were headed to Cabot Cove. If you had started poking around, someone would have surely noticed. And if you had found Mrs. F at Doc Hazlitt’s, she might have been in even more danger.”
George certainly understood the tight spot that Mort had been in, having been in similar situations numerous times throughout his career, but that didn’t mean that he liked it. Nor did he like the fact that he had been detained in a jail cell and that he still hadn’t been permitted to see Jessica. Despite his personal feelings about the situation, he remained professional and courteous, graciously accepting Metzger’s apology.
“When can I see her?”
“Doc says anytime today but you might want to keep it short,” Mort cautioned.
George nodded, suspecting that the warning meant that Seth would be checking in on Jessica repeatedly throughout the day. “Thus the reason you held me overnight and are just now dropping the charges and releasing me?”
“Exactly,” the Sheriff replied before taking a drink of coffee and relaxing back into his chair. “Doc wanted her to get a good night’s sleep before having any visitors.” After a long moment of silence, Mort looked up at George. “You’re not one to hold a grudge, are you Sutherland?”
George’s answer was honest and direct. “Not as long as Jessica is safe and in one piece.”
“Fair enough,” Mort decided. “Can I offer you a lift over to her house?”
“Aye, that you can.”
Both men were silent as they made their way across town, Mort reflecting on recent events and George still very concerned about Jessica. The Sheriff parked his patrol car in front of Jessica’s house and led George up the walk before cutting through the side yard to the back door. He knocked lightly before opening the door slightly and poking his head inside.
“Mrs. F?” he called out, but not too loudly in case she was resting.
Jessica, who had just begun to boil water for tea, slowly lowered herself into a kitchen chair and waved him in with a brave smile.
“Would you care for tea,” she offered, motioning toward the stove top.
Mort stepped inside and removed his hat. “No, ma’am, I just stopped to bring by a visitor and to see if there is anything that Adelle or I can do for you?”
A visitor, Jessica thought, looking skyward. Seth will have a fit.
Before she could caution Mort to keep this between the two of them, she caught a glimpse of George, hidden partially behind Mort and the frame of the door.
“George!” she exclaimed as she tried unsuccessfully to rise from her seat.
In an instant, he was at her side. “No, Jess, don’t get up,” he pleaded, placing a firm, yet gentle hand on her shoulder.
“Oh, George, how did you get here so quickly?” she wondered quietly as she leaned forward and rested her brow against his.
“Shhhh,” he replied before framing her face with his hands and lifting her head slightly until their eyes met. “It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re okay.”
Jessica smiled, genuinely this time. “I’m feeling better every minute.”
Mort cleared his throat uneasily. “If you don’t need anything then, I’ll be going.”
“Wait a minute,”
Jessica said, suddenly puzzled by George’s presence. She looked from Mort
to George and then back again. “How did you manage to contact George in
“I’d rather the Inspector answer that,” Mort replied as he donned his hat and retreated out the back door.
Jessica sipped her tea while George explained.
“I didn’t think that you believed in ESP or psychic premonitions?”
“I don’t,” George admitted, shaking his head. “And don’t ask me to explain it because I can’t. All I know is that I knew you were in danger – that you had been badly hurt. Somehow I knew.”
Jessica reached across the small table, took his hand and smiled. Before she could respond, there was a light rapping on the door.
“Come in, Seth,” Jessica answered as the door slowly opened.
Seth looked at George and nodded. “Figured I’d find you here.”
“And he’s staying,” Jessica insisted.
“Of course he is,” the doctor replied matter-of-factly as he set his medical bag on the counter and pulled up a chair. He looked directly at George. “As long as he’s willing to cook your meals, keep the house in order, and help me make sure that you abide by doctor’s orders.”
George nodded his agreement and Seth turned his attention back to Jessica. “You will not exert yourself for the next 2 weeks. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Seth,” Jessica replied cooperatively.
“You will not cook, clean, push, pull, or lift anything heavier than a paperback novel.”
“Yes, Seth,” Jessica agreed, now with a hint of impatience.
“You may walk – slowly – no jogging!”
“Seth,” Jessica answered in a warning tone.
He did not reply but simply looked at George who willingly played the role that he had just agreed to.
“Sorry, Jess, doctor’s orders,” George said with a shrug.
That evening after a quiet dinner, the pair strolled around the block hand in hand, neither concerned about the tongues that would surely wag the next day.
The fresh air had felt wonderful but Jessica had fatigued quickly. As she crawled into bed, George poked his head in to say goodnight.
“You’re surely not planning on sleeping across the hall?”
“I don’t recall Seth saying anything about separate beds.”
George sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled the blankets up toward Jessica’s chin. “He didn’t, Love, but I can tell how much pain you’re still having and I would feel terrible if I were to so much as brush up against your sore chest during the night.”
He had a good point, Jessica had to admit (at least to herself).
Jessica looked at him directly. “Did you not agree to make sure that I got plenty of rest?”
“Well, then,” she continued cunningly, “you will most certainly feel worse knowing that I won’t be able to sleep nearly as well with you across the hall as I will with you right here beside me,” she explained as she patted the empty side of the bed.
George smiled and stood. Shaking his head, he walked around the bed and turned out the bedside lamp before crawling under the covers. Jessica curled up next to him, closed her eyes, and sighed contentedly.
“You know, Jess, Seth won’t be so easily convinced.”
“I know…which is precisely why neither one of us is going to mention it.”
One week later
Loretta, dressed in her usual pink smock, carefully styled Phyllis Grant’s short blonde hair. After adding a final touch of hair spray, she removed Phyllis’ cape, shook it out and draped it over an empty chair.
“Yesterday, I saw him removing Jessica’s storm windows,” Phyllis volunteered.
“I saw him at the supermarket, buying her groceries and also at the post office,” Ideal offered.
“Jessica sure is lucky. I heard he cooks and Adelle Metzger saw him at the hardware store buying paint for her fence,” Eve added.
“There you go, hon, all finished,” Loretta said to Phyllis after brushing a few loose hairs from the nape of her neck. “Corrine should be done with Eve’s nails in just a minute.”
“I wonder if Jessica would loan him out?” Phyllis asked as she got up from the styling chair. “My flower beds are going to need a lot of work this spring.”
“I wouldn’t mind spending an afternoon watching him work,” Eve remarked dreamily.
“Why don’t you ask Jessica,” Loretta encouraged Eve facetiously. “She’ll be here in a few minutes and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if you borrowed him for an afternoon.”
“A few minutes?” Eve repeated. “Why didn’t you tell us before now,” she asked, as she adjusted herself to check her make-up and hair in the mirror. “And by the way, even though he’s taken, it doesn’t hurt to look.”
“Relax, Eve, I’m sure he’s not coming along,” Loretta replied as she began to sweep the floor.
Ideal, who was seated under a dryer, pretending to read Ladies Home Journal, finally spoke up again. “I like his voice. It’s deep and sexy…and that accent makes me tingle all over.”
Suddenly, everyone turned to look at her. “It’s true,” she said, blushing profusely and returning to her magazine.
Just then, the jingle of bells over the door alerted everyone to Jessica’s arrival.
Instantaneously, the shop was filled with warm greetings and excited chatter.
Jessica slid into Loretta’s chair and smiled internally at the commotion surrounding her. Eventually, the chatter died down and Loretta went to work trimming and styling Jessica’s hair.
“Perfect as always, Loretta,” Jessica complimented the beautician after viewing her reflection in the mirror.
“He certainly is,” Eve murmured as she watched George cross the street and take a seat on the bench outside.
“Who?” Ideal responded instinctively.
“Jessica’s friend, the Inspector,” Phyllis answered in a low voice.
Having heard the women’s comments, Jessica began to blush. Loretta patted her sympathetically on the shoulder. “They’re all jealous that you have a handsome handyman at your beck and call.”
“Tell us, Jessica, does he really cook?” Phyllis wanted to know.
Jessica opened her purse and removed her wallet. “Yes, he does, and quite well.”
“And he removed your storm windows and painted your fence,” Ideal reminded everyone.
Jessica nodded as she withdrew two crisp bills and handed them to Loretta. “It really has been a Godsend, having him here,” she admitted. “He’s such a dear friend. I don’t know what I would have done without him this past week.”
“Will he be staying much longer?” Loretta asked conversationally. “Phyllis would like to hire him to weed her flower beds.”
Jessica shook her head. “He’s only planning to stay until Seth allows me to start doing some things for myself…which hopefully won’t be more than a few more days.”
Dismayed by Jessica’s response, Ideal asked, “But you don’t really want him to leave, do you?”
“I’m sure he needs to get back to his job,” Loretta reminded Ideal, “just like Jessica probably needs to be getting back to her errands before she is completely worn out.”
Jessica agreed and escaped from the shop amidst a chorus of goodbyes.
“It’s such a shame,” Ideal commented to no one in particular.
“What’s a shame?” Eve asked.
“That Jessica and George aren’t romantically involved. They would make a very attractive couple.”
Dumfounded, Phyllis replied, “I assumed that they were.”
Happy to share an extra nugget of gossip, Ideal continued on, “That’s not what Marjorie Mercier told me. She lives directly behind Jessica and she said that the light in Jessica’s upstairs guest room has been on every evening and she has seen a man’s shadow through the closed curtains. If he’s staying in the guest room, then there’s obviously nothing going on between them.”
“Well, well,” Eve said delightedly, “that changes everything.”
“Tea?” Jessica offered once they had arrived home.
“Aye, but I’ll make it,” George insisted, giving her shoulder a gentle rub. “Why don’t you go and put your feet up for a bit?”
Prepared to protest, she hesitated momentarily. George bent down and brushed a feather light kiss across her brow. “Doctor’s orders,” he added with a playful grin.
Jessica rolled her eyes and headed for the living room. She stopped suddenly and looked over her shoulder to see that he already had the teapot heating on the stove. “You do realize, George, that you’ll only be able to use that excuse for a few more days?”
“Aye,” he answered, glancing back at her. “And I intend to get as much mileage out of it as I can.”
“Speaking of doctor’s orders,” George began after setting a small plate of cookies and two cups of hot tea on the coffee table. “I ran into Seth while you were having your hair done and he said something very strange.”
“What did he say?” she asked after taking a sip and setting the cup down on its saucer.
“He was concerned that under different circumstances I might not feel comfortable staying here with you and he offered me one of his guest rooms the next time that I visit.”
George picked up his cup of tea, giving Jessica an opportunity to explain.
“That was very nice of him,” she replied.
George laughed and shook his head. “You’ve never told him that we’re quite a bit more than just good friends, have you?”
“I’ve wanted to, but it just never seems like the right time.”
George leaned over and placed his hand on her cheek. “Whenever you decide,” he said before kissing her gently on the lips. “But it’s far easier for two people to keep a secret if both of them know it’s supposed to be a secret.”
“True,” she agreed. “Did you tell him?”
George leaned back and shook his head. “No. I thought he should hear it from you.”
Jessica nodded. She thought so, too.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, content to sip their tea and simply enjoy each other’s company.
“Have you told anyone?” Jessica asked as she offered him the plate of cookies.
George smirked slightly and selected a piece of shortbread. “I have neither confirmed nor denied the true nature of our relationship.”
Jessica laughed and set the plate down. “If you have neither confirmed nor denied the fact that we are…a couple, how do you respond when people ask about us? I’m sure your sisters have brought it up a time or two.”
“I simply remind them that ‘a gentleman never tells.’”
“In other words, they know.”
“They think they know,” George corrected her.
A few days later…
Feeling like her old self again, Jessica descended the stairs with an abundance of energy. There, through the living room window, she watched as George finished pruning one of several maples that dotted the yard, and then climbed down from the ladder.
She couldn’t help but admire his work ethic. It wasn’t quite seven o’clock and by the looks of things, he had been working since sunrise. Over the past week and a half, he had finished every chore on his list - a list created by Seth and composed of every chore that Jessica would normally have hired out or that Seth would prefer that she hire out.
Jessica greeted him with a warm smile when he entered through the back door a short while later. He smiled in return and kissed her on the cheek. “You’re looking extremely well this morning.”
“I’m feeling extremely well this morning,” Jessica declared brightly. “Would you care for breakfast?”
“Aye, but I’d like to clean up a bit first,” he decided, looking down at his hands.
“Of course, you go ahead,” Jessica suggested, pleased that he had not insisted on cooking for the two of them.
Over bacon, eggs, toast, and fresh fruit, they agreed to spend the day taking in the sights and sounds of Cabot Cove. Their first stop was Seth’s office, where Jessica received a clean bill of health and instructions to gradually resume normal activities. George, in a private conversation with Seth, had received the physician’s most sincere and heartfelt thanks.
After a long
walk on the beach, they enjoyed lunch at the diner and then spent the afternoon
visiting several of the shops located on
That evening, they had a quiet dinner for two in a cozy little restaurant that had recently been built on a bluff overlooking the harbor.
While the day had been enjoyable, Jessica had sensed that there something bothering George, something he preferred not to discuss.
After brushing her teeth and washing her face, she paused outside the guest room door, where George had originally intended on sleeping and where he had decided to keep his things during his stay as not to clutter her room. She poked her head around the door frame to find George preparing for bed and an open suitcase lying on the bed.
George finished removing his tie and laid it on the bed before crossing the room and wrapping his arm around her shoulders. “You don’t need me anymore, love,” he reassured her as he gave her a comforting squeeze.
“You’ve done nothing but work since you got here,” she protested. “You
should at least spend the rest of the week relaxing before you go back to
“Please, Jessie,” he said, shaking his head. “Please don’t ask me to do that?” he added sullenly as he turned away from her and began to unbutton his shirt.
“George Sutherland, what’s wrong with you? You’ve been acting strangely ever since we left Seth’s office this morning.”
He pulled on a pair of pajama bottoms and a plain white undershirt before apologizing. “I’m sorry, Jess,” he offered with what she detected to be a forced smile.
He guided her out of the room and turned off the light. “I didn’t mean to be short with you. And there’s nothing wrong with me - just a bit tired, really.”
“George, you weren’t short with me,” she said as they entered her bedroom.
He bent down and kissed her on the brow. “Just the same, please forgive me for being distracted all day and for responding discourteously to your suggestion a few moments ago.”
“Thank you,” he answered before making his way around the bed and crawling under the covers.
Jessica opened her topmost dresser drawer and began searching for her pale blue, silk nightgown. Nothing wrong with you? Just tired? She knew him better than that. If he was tired, his brogue would be as thick as molasses.
Has he been called back to The Yard? No, he would have told me about that. Did Seth suggest that it was time for him to leave?”
“So you’ll stay the rest of the week?”
George adjusted his pillows stretched his neck to one side and then the other. “I’m afraid I can’t.”
“The Yard called you back,” she suggested as she slid into bed next to him.
He sighed and shook his head ‘no.’
Concerned by his continued brooding demeanor, Jessica reached over and gently turned his face toward her. “I seem to remember a time not so long ago that you told me that I was free to share my burdens with you. Do you remember saying that?”
“Aye, Jessie, I do.”
“I think it’s time that you took your own advice.”
Knowing she was right, George nodded and then took a deep breath before speaking. “I don’t quite know how to explain this,” he began.
“Start with what’s easiest, something simple and uncomplicated.”
He thought about that for a moment. Simple he could manage. Uncomplicated was asking a bit much. “Well, I guess the simplest thing is that I love you more than anything.”
Jessica’s heart warmed as it always did when he told her that. “And?”
“And…when I came here, I hadn’t planned on staying as long as I have. As a matter of fact, I didn’t plan at all. I just threw a few things into my travel case and jumped on the bloody plane.”
Jessica smiled. “And I’m very glad that you did.”
Her comment made him feel more at ease and he finally relaxed a little bit. “One of the things that I didn’t plan on was that it would be so easy to completely change my life, even for a couple of weeks. But it has been. As a matter of fact, it’s been far too easy and the longer I stay, the more difficult I’m afraid it will be for me to go back. I wasn’t prepared for that and it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks after we left Seth’s office this morning.”
He paused momentarily before continuing. “I know how selfish that must sound, how selfish it is, but if I stay, it’s going to put you in a very awkward and difficult position very shortly.”
“I’m not overly concerned about the Cabot Cove gossipmongers, George.”
“Nor am I.
I’m concerned about us. You have to admit that living on opposite sides
Jessica stared at him, confused.
“Don’t you see, Jessie, if I stay too much longer, I’m afraid that the only way you’re going to be able to get rid of me is to agree to marry me or to insist that I leave. And I don’t wish to place you in that situation.”
wouldn’t change the fact that we live on opposite sides of the Atlantic and
that you have to go back to
“I’m well aware of that.”
Jessica reached up and caressed his cheek. “How many days do you figure we’ve got before I’d be forced to make such a decision?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know…three, maybe four.”
“And if I did ask you to leave,” she said as she tunneled her fingers gently through his hair. “Would you ever come back?”
“Aye, Jessie, I would - whenever you wish.”
Jessica smiled and traced a single feather-light fingertip along the line of his jaw. “Then stay,” she said softly before kissing him tenderly on the lips, “a few more days.”
“One more day,” he agreed, following her lead and brushing soft kisses along the length of her neck. Her gentle touch already had his heart pounding feverishly but his hand remained steady, moving slowly down the length of smooth silk to her waist.
“Two days,” she countered, her breath hitching slightly as his strong, clever hands continued to wander. “That’s my final offer.”
George stopped and looked up at her, smiling broadly now. “Considering recent developments, I may have to give your proposal further consideration.”
Some time later as they lay comfortably intertwined, George made an observation. “I want you to know, Jess, that under the circumstances, no court in the land would hold me to that agreement. As a matter of fact, they might even see fit to convict you of coercion.”
and then suddenly became quite serious. “And I want you to know, George,
that every time I have to leave you in
George hugged her closer. “But somehow, we make it work,” he decided.
“And I’d say we do a bloody good job of it,” she replied, unable to resist mocking him.