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Reunion in Deathby J D Robb
Murder was work. Death was a serious chore for the killer, the victim, for the survivors. And for those who stood for the dead. Some went about the job devotedly, others carelessly.
And for some, murder was a labor of love.
When he left his Park Avenue condo for his regular morning stroll, Walter C. Pettibone was blissfully unaware he was in his last hours of life. He was a robust sixty and a canny businessman who'd increased his family's already considerable fortune through flowers and sentiment.
He was wealthy, healthy, and just over a year before had acquired a young, blonde wife who had the sexual appetite of a Doberman in heat and the brains of a cabbage.
His world, in Walter C. Pettibone's opinion, was just exactly so.
He had work he loved, two children from his first marriage who would one day take over the business he'd taken over from his own father. He maintained a reasonably friendly relationship with his ex, a fine, sensible woman, and his son and daughter were pleasant, intelligent individuals who brought him pride and satisfaction.
He had a grandson who was the apple of his eye.
In the summer of 2059, World of Flowers was a major intergalactic enterprise with florists, horticulturists, offices, and greenhouses both on and off planet.
Walter loved flowers. And not just for their profit margin. He loved the scents of them, the colors, the textures, the beauty of both foliage and blossom and the simple miracle of their existence.
Every morning he would visit a handful of florists, to check the stock, the arrangements, and just to sniff and chat and spend time among the flowers and the people who loved them.
Twice a week, he was up before dawn to attend the gardener's market downtown. There he would wander and enjoy, order or critique.
It was a routine that rarely varied over the course of a half-century, and one he never tired of.
Today, after an hour or so among the blooms, he'd go into the corporate offices. He'd spend more time there than usual in order to give his wife the time and space to finish preparations for his surprise birthday party.
It made him chuckle to think of it.
The sweetheart couldn't keep a secret if she stapled her lips together. He'd known about the party for weeks, and was looking forward to the evening with the glee of a child.
Naturally he would act surprised and had practiced stunned expressions in his mirror only that morning.
So Walter went through his daily routine with a smile at the corners of his mouth—having no idea just how surprised he was going to be.
Eve doubted she'd ever felt better in her life. Rested, recharged, limber and loose, she prepared for her first day back on the job after a wonderfully undemanding two-
week vacation where the peskiest task facing her had been whether to eat or sleep.
One week at the villa in Mexico, the second on a private island. And in both spots there had been no lack of opportunities for sun, sex, and snoozing.
Roarke had been right again. They'd needed the time together. Away. They'd both needed a period of healing. And if the way she felt this morning was any indication, they'd done the job.
She stood in front of her closet, frowning at the jungle of clothes she'd acquired since her marriage. She didn't think her confusion was due to the fact that she'd spent most of the last fourteen days naked or near to it. Unless she was very much mistaken, the man had managed to sneak more clothes in on her.
She yanked out a long blue gown in some material that managed to sizzle and sparkle at the same time. Have I ever seen this before?'
It's your closet.' In the sitting area of their bedroom, Roarke scanned the stock reports on the wall screen while he enjoyed a second cup of coffee. But he glanced over. If you're planning to wear that today, the criminal element in the city's going to be very impressed.'
There's more stuff in here than there was two weeks ago.'
Really? I wonder how that happened.'
You have to stop buying me clothes.'
He reached over to stroke Galahad, but the cat turned his nose in the air. He'd been sulking since their return the night before. Why?'
Because it's embarrassing.' She muttered it as she dived inside to find something reasonable to wear.
He only smiled at her, watching as she hunted up a sleeveless top and trousers to slip over that long, lean body he never quite stopped craving.
She'd tanned herself to a pale gold, and the sun had teased out blonde streaks in her short brown hair. She dressed quickly, economically, with the air of a woman who never thought about fashion. Which was why, he supposed, he could never resist heaping fashion on her.
She'd rested during their time away, he thought. He'd seen, hour by hour, day by day, the clouds of fatigue and worry lift away from her. There was a light in her whiskey-colored eyes now, a healthy glow in her narrow, fine-boned face.
And when she strapped on her weapon harness, there was a set to her mouth—that wide and generous mouth—that told him Lieutenant Eve Dallas was back. And ready to kick some ass.
What is it about an armed woman that arouses me?'
She shot him a look, reached in the closet for a light jacket. Cut it out. I'm not going to be late my first day back because you've got some residual horniness.'
Oh yes, he thought, rising. She was back. Darling Eve.' He managed, barely, not to wince. Not that jacket.'
What?' She paused in the act of shoving her arm in a sleeve. It's summer weight; it covers my weapon.'
It's wrong with those trousers.' He stepped to her closet, reached in, and plucked out another jacket of the same weight and material as the khaki trousers. This one is correct.'
I'm not planning on doing a video shoot.' But she changed it because it was easier than arguing.
Here.' After another dip into her closet, he came out with a pair of half-boots in rich chestnut brown leather.
Where'd those come from?'
The closet fairy.'
She frowned at the boots suspiciously, poked a finger into the toes. I don't need new boots. My old ones are all broken in.'
That's a polite term for what they are. Try these.'
Just gonna mess them up,' she muttered, but sat on the arm of the sofa to pull them on. They slid onto her feet like butter. Which only made her eye him narrowly. He'd probably had them hand-tooled for her in one of his countless factories and they surely cost more than a New York murder cop made in two months. How about that. The closet fairy seems to know my shoe size.'
An amazing fellow.'
I suppose it's useless to tell him that a cop doesn't need expensive boots that were probably sewn together by some little Italian nun when she's clocking field time or hoofing it or knocking on doors.'
He has a mind of his own.' He skimmed a hand through her hair, tugged just enough to tip her face up to his. And he adores you.'
It still made her stomach flop—hearing him say it, seeing his face as he did. She often wondered why she didn't just drown in those eyes of his, in all that wild, wicked blue.
You're so damn pretty.' She hadn't meant to say it aloud, nearly jolted at the sound of her voice. And she watched his grin flash, fast as fire across a face that belonged in a painting or carved into stone with its strong, sharp bones and seductive poet's mouth.
Young Irish God, she supposed it would be titled. For weren't gods seductive and ruthless and cloaked in their own power?
I have to go.' She got quickly to her feet, and he stood his ground so their bodies bumped. Roarke.'
Yes, it's back to reality for both of us. But...' His hands stroked down her sides, one long, possessive move that reminded her, all too clearly, just what those quick and clever fingers were capable of doing to her body. I think we can take a moment for you to kiss me good-bye.'
You want me to kiss you good-bye?'
I do, yes.' There was a lilt of both amusement and Ireland in the tone that had her cocking her head.
Sure.' In a move as fast as his grin, she took handfuls of the black hair that nearly skimmed his shoulders, fisting, tugging, then crushing her mouth against his.
She felt his heart jump even as hers did. A leap of heat, of recognition, of unity. And on his sound of pleasure, she poured herself into the kiss, took them both fast and deep with a little war of tongues, a quick nip of teeth.
Then she jerked him back, stepped nimbly out of reach. See you, ace,' she called out as she strode from the room.
Have a safe day, Lieutenant.' He blew out a long sigh, then sat back on the couch. Now,' he said to the cat, what will it cost me for the two of us to be friends again?'
At Cop Central, Eve hopped on a glide to Homicide. And took a deep breath. Nothing against the cliffside drama of western Mexico or the balmy breezes of tropical islands, but she'd missed the air here: the smell of sweat, bad coffee, harsh cleansers, and above all, the fierce energies that formed from the clash of cop and criminal.
Her time away had only honed her senses for it—the low roar of too many voices talking at once, the steady yet discordant beeps and buzzings of 'links and communicators, the rush of people all having something important to do somewhere.
She heard someone screaming obscenities so fast they tumbled together into one vicious stew of words that was music to her ears.
Welcome home, she thought happily.
The job had been her home, her life, her single defining purpose before Roarke. Now even with him, or maybe because she had him, it remained an essential part of who and what she was.
Once she'd been a victim—helpless, used, and broken. Now, she was a warrior.
She swung into the detectives' bull pen, ready to fight whatever battle lay ahead.
Detective Baxter glanced up from his work, let out a low whistle. Whoa, Dallas. Hubba-hubba.'
What?' Baffled, she looked over her shoulder, then realized Baxter's leering grin was for her. You're a sick man, Baxter. It's reassuring to note some things don't change.'
You're the one who's all slicked up.' He pushed himself up, skirted around desks. Nice,' he added, rubbing her lapel between his thumb and finger. You're a frigging fashion plate, Dallas. Put the rest of us to shame.'
It's a jacket,' she muttered, mortified. Cut it out.'
Got yourself tanned, too. Would that be a full-body job?'
She bared her teeth in a fierce smile. Do I have to kick your ass?'
Enjoying himself, he wagged a finger. And what's that on your ears?' As she reached up, confused, he blinked as if in surprise. Why, I believe those are called earrings. And they're real pretty, too.'
She'd forgotten she had them on. Did crime suddenly stop dead while I was gone so that you have time to stand around here critiquing my wardrobe?'
I'm just dazzled, Lieutenant. Absolutely dazzled by this fashion presentation. New boots?'
Bite me.' She swung away on the sound of his laughter.
And she is back!' Baxter announced to the sound of applause.
Morons, she thought as she marched toward her office. The New York Police and Security Department was peopled by a bunch of morons.
Jesus, she'd missed them.
She walked into her office, then just stood, one step over the threshold, goggling.
Her desk was clear. More, it was clean. In fact, the whole place was clean. Like someone had come along and sucked out all the dust and grime and then shined up what was left behind. Suspicious, she ran a thumb down the wall. Yes, that was definitely fresh paint.
Eyes narrowed, she continued into the room. It was a small space with one stingy window, a banged-up—and now scrubbed—desk, and a couple of chairs with bad springs. The file cabinet, also sparkling, had been cleared off. A green plant that appeared to be thriving stood on top of it.
With a little yelp of distress, she leaped to the file cabinet, yanked open a drawer.
I knew it, I knew it, I knew it! Bastard hit me again.'
Snarling, Eve glanced back. Her aide stood in the doorway, as shipshape as the room in her starched summer blues.
Goddamn sneaking candy thief found my cache.'
Peabody pursed her lips. You had candy in the file cabinet.' She angled her head. Under M?'
M for Mine, damn it.' Annoyed, Eve slammed the drawer shut. I forgot to take it out before I left. What the hell happened in here, Peabody? I had to read the name on the door to be sure this was my office.'
Since you were gone it seemed like a good time to have it cleaned and painted. It'd gotten pretty dingy in here.'
I was used to it. Where's all my stuff?' she demanded. I had some backlog, and some fives, and the ME's and a sweeper's reports on the Dunwood case should've come in while I was away.'
I took care of it. I did the fives and caught up with the backlog, and filed the reports.' She offered a smile that danced laughter into her dark eyes. I had some time on my hands.'
You did all the paperwork?'
And arranged to have my office overhauled?'
I think there were multicelled organisms breeding in various corners. They're dead now.'
Slowly Eve slipped her hands into her pockets, rocked back on her heels. This wouldn't be your way of telling me that when I'm around I don't give you time to take care of daily business.'
Absolutely not. Welcome back, Dallas. And I have to say that, wow, you look really terrific. Snappy outfit.'
Eve dropped into the chair at her desk. What the hell do I usually look like?'
Is that a rhetorical question?'
Eve studied Peabody's face—the square, sturdy looks topped with a dark bowl of hair. I'm trying to think if I missed your smart mouth. No,' she decided. Not a bit.'
Aw, sure you did. Great tan. I guess you spent a lot of time soaking up the sun and stuff.'
I guess I did. Where'd you get yours?'
The tan, Peabody. You go in for a flash?'
No, I got it in Bimini.'
Bimini, like the island? What the hell were you doing in Bimini?'
Well, you know, vacationing—same as you. Roarke suggested that, since you were heading out, maybe I should take a week off, too, and—'
Eve shot up a hand. Roarke suggested?'
Yeah, he thought McNab and I could use a little downtime, so—'
Eve felt the muscle just under one eye start to twitch. It had a habit of doing that whenever she thought too hard about Peabody and the fashion dish from the Electronic Detective Division as an item.
In defense, she pressed two fingers against it. You and McNab. In Bimini. Together.'
Well, you know, since we're trying this whole we're-
a-couple thing on for size, it seemed like a good idea. And when Roarke said we could use one of his transpos and this place he has on Bimini, we jumped.'
His transpo. His place on Bimini.' The muscle leaped against her fingers.
Eyes shining, Peabody forgot herself enough to lower a hip to the corner of the desk. Man, Dallas, it was absolutely ult. It's like this little palace or something. It's got its own waterfall into the pool, and an all-terrain, and hydroskis. And the master suite has this gel-bed that's about the size of Saturn.'
I don't want to hear about the bed.'
And it's really private, even though it's right on the beach, so we just romped around naked as monkeys half the time.'
And I don't want to hear about naked romping.'
Peabody tucked her tongue in her cheek. Sometimes we were only half-naked. Anyway,' she said before Eve screamed, it was mag. And I wanted to get Roarke some kind of thank-you gift. But since he has everything, literally, I'm clueless. I thought maybe you could suggest something.'
Is this a cop shop or a social club?'
Come on, Dallas. We're all caught up with work.' Peabody smiled hopefully. I thought maybe I could give him one of the throws my mother makes. You know, she weaves, and she does really beautiful work. Would he like that?'
Look, he won't expect a gift. It's not necessary.'
It was the best vacation I ever had, in my life. I want him to know how much I appreciated it. It meant a lot to me, Dallas, that he'd think of it.'
Yeah, he's always thinking.' But she softened; she couldn't help it. He'd get a real kick out of having something your mother made.'
Really? That's great then. I'll get in touch with her tonight.'
Now that we've had our little reunion here, Peabody, isn't there some work to be done?'
Actually, we're clear.'
Then get me some cold files.'
Any ones in particular?'
Dealer's choice. I've got to do something.'
I'm on it.' She started out, paused. You know one of the best things about going away? It's coming back.'
Eve spent the morning picking through unsolved cases, looking for a thread that hadn't been snipped, an angle that hadn't been explored. The one that interested her the most was the matter of twenty-six-year-old Marsha Stibbs, who'd been found submerged in the bathtub by her husband, Boyd, when he'd returned from an out-of-
town business trip.
On the surface, it had appeared to be one of those tragic and typical home accidents—until the ME's report had verified that Marsha hadn't drowned, but had been dead before that last bubble bath.
Since she'd gone into the tub with a fractured skull, she hadn't slid into the froth and fragrance under her own power.
The investigator had turned up evidence that indicated Marsha had been having an affair. A packet of love letters from someone who signed himself with the initial C had been hidden away in the victim's lingerie drawer. The letters were sexually explicit and full of pleas for her to divorce her husband and run away with her lover.
According to the report, the letters and their contents had shocked the husband and everyone interviewed who'd known the victim. The husband's alibi had been solid, as were all the background checks.
Boyd Stibbs, a regional rep for a sporting goods firm, was by all appearances Mr. All-American guy, making a slightly better than average income, married for six years to his college sweetie who'd gone on to become a buyer for a major department store. He liked to play flag football on Sundays, had no drinking, gambling, or illegals problem. There was no history of violence, and he had volunteered for Truth Testing, which he'd passed with flying colors.
They were childless, lived in a quiet West Side apartment building, socialized with a tight circle of friends, and up to the point of her death had shown all signs of having a happy, solid marriage.
The investigation had been thorough, careful, and complete. Yet the primary had never been able to find any trace of the alleged lover with the initial C.
Eve tagged Peabody on the interoffice 'link. Saddle up, Peabody. Let's go knock on some doors.' She tucked the file in her bag, snagged the jacket from the back of her chair, and headed out.
I've never worked a cold case before.'
Don't think of it as cold,' Eve told her. Think of it as open.'
How long has this one been open?' Peabody asked.
Going on six years.'
If the guy she was doing the extra-marital banging with hasn't shown in all this time, how do you rout him out now?'
One step at a time, Peabody. Read the letters.'
Peabody took them out of the field bag. Midway through the first note, she let out an Ouch! These things are flammable,' she said, blowing on her fingers.
Are you kidding?' Peabody wiggled her butt into the seat. You couldn't stop me now. I'm getting an education.' She continued to read, eyes widening now and then, throat working. Jesus, I think I just had an orgasm.'
Thanks for sharing that piece of information. What else did you get from them?'
A real admiration for Mr. C's imagination and stamina.'
Let me rephrase. What didn't you get from them?'
Well, he never signs his name in full.' Knowing she was missing something, Peabody stared down at the letters again. No envelopes, so they could have been hand-
delivered or mailed.' She sighed. I'm getting a D in this class. I don't know what you're seeing here that I'm not.'
What I'm not seeing is more to the point. No reference to how, when, or where they met. How they became lovers. No mention of where they boinked each other's brains out in various athletic positions. That makes me pause and reflect.'
At sea, Peabody shook her head. On?'
On the possibility that there never was a Mr. C.'
You have a woman,' Eve interrupted, married for several years, with a good, responsible job, a circle of friends she's kept for, again, several years. From all statements none of those friends had any inkling of an affair. Not in the way she behaved, spoke, lived. She had no time missing from work. So when did said athletic boinking take place?'
The husband traveled fairly regularly.'
That's right, which opens the possibility for an affair if one is so inclined. Yet our victim exhibited all indications of loyalty, responsibility, honesty. She went to work, she came home. She went out in the company of her husband or with groups of friends. There were no unsubstantiated or questionable calls made to or from her home, office, or portable 'links. Just how did she and Mr. C. discuss their next tryst?'
In person? Maybe he was someone at work.'
But you don't think so. Okay, she appears to have been committed to her marriage, but outsiders, even close pals, don't really know what goes on inside someone else's marriage. Sometimes the partner doesn't even know.'
Absolutely true. The primary on this agrees with you and had every reason to do so.'
But you don't.' Peabody acknowledged. You think the husband set it up, made it look like she was cheating, either set up the alibi and snuck home to kill her, or had it done?'
It's an option. That's why we're going to talk to him.'
Eve shot up a ramp to the second-level street parking, muscled her vehicle between a sedan and a jet-bike. He works out of his home most days.' She nodded toward the apartment building. Let's see if he's there.'
He was home. A fit, attractive man wearing athletic shorts and a T-shirt and holding a toddler on his hip. One look at Eve's badge had a shadow moving into his eyes. One that had the texture of grief.
It's about Marsha? Has there been something new?' He turned his face, briefly, into the white-blonde hair of the little girl he carried. I'm sorry, come in. It's been so long since anyone's gotten in touch about what happened. If you want to sit down, I'd like to settle my daughter in the other room. I'd rather she didn't...'
This time it was his hand that moved to the girl's hair. Protectively. Just give me a minute.'
Eve waited until they'd left the room. How old's the kid, Peabody?'
About two, I'd say.'
Eve nodded and moved into the living area. There were toys strewn about the floor and cheery furnishings.
She heard a high-pitched, childish giggle, and a firm demand. Daddy! Play!'
In a little while, Tracie. You play now, and when Mommy gets home maybe we'll go out to the park. But you have to be good while I talk to these ladies. Deal?'
When he came back, he ran both hands through his own dark blond hair. I didn't want her to hear us talk about Marsha, about what happened. Has there been a break? Have you finally found him?'
I'm sorry, Mr. Stibbs. This is a routine followup.'
Then there's nothing? I'd hoped...I guess it's stupid after all this time to think you'd find him.'
You have no idea who your wife was having an affair with.'
She wasn't.' He bit the words off, fury leaping onto his face and turning it hard. I don't care what anyone says. She wasn't having an affair. I never believed...At first I did, I guess, when everything was crazy and I couldn't think straight. Marsha wasn't a liar, she wasn't a cheater. And she loved me.'
He closed his eyes, seemed to draw himself in. Can we sit down?'
He dropped into a chair. I'm sorry I shouted at you. I can't stand people saying that about Marsha. I can't stand knowing people, friends, think it of her. She doesn't deserve that.'
There were letters found in her drawer.'
I don't care about the letters. She wouldn't have cheated on me. We had...'
He glanced back toward the child's room where the little girl was singing tunelessly. Look, we had a good sex life. One of the reasons we married so young was that we couldn't keep our hands off each other, and Marsha believed strongly in marriage. I'll tell you what I think.' He leaned forward. I think someone was obsessed with her, fantasized or something. He must have sent her those letters. I'll never know why she didn't tell me. Maybe, I guess maybe, she didn't want to worry me. I think he came here when I was in Columbus, and he killed her because he couldn't have her.'
He was registering high on the sincere meter, Eve thought. Such things could be feigned, but where was the point here? Why insist the victim was pure when painting her with adultery served the purpose? If that was the case, Mr. Stibbs, you still have no idea who that person might be?'
None. I've thought about it. For the first year afterward, I hardly thought about anything else. I wanted to believe he'd be found and punished, that there'd be some kind of payment for what he did. We were happy, Lieutenant. We didn't have a goddamn care in the world. And then, it was over.' He pressed his lips together. Just over.'
I'm sorry, Mr. Stibbs.' Eve waited a beat. That's a cute kid.'
Tracie?' He passed a hand over his face as if coming back to the present. The light of my life.'
So you remarried.'
Almost three years ago.' He let out a sigh, gave his shoulders a little shake. Maureen's great. She and Marsha were friends. She's one of the ones who helped me through that first year. I don't know what I'd've done without her.'
Even as he spoke, the front door opened. A pretty brunette with an armful of groceries kicked the door shut with her foot. Hey, team! I'm home. You'll never guess what I...'
She trailed off when she saw Eve and Peabody. And as her gaze fastened on Peabody's uniform, Eve saw fear jolt over her face.
—Reprinted from Reunion In Death by Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb by permission of Berkley, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2002, Nora Roberts. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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