Finding Alan

 

Prologue

Friday, March 11, 1994

             Williams returned from the kitchen with a roll of silver duct tape. He ripped off a large piece.

            At the tearing sound, Jeagan jumped, raised her head, and watched in numb horror.

            He grabbed her hands and jerked them behind her back.

“What are you doing!” She struggled unsuccessfully to free herself from his strong grasp.

“Don’t worry about it,” he mumbled coldly. “You’ll know soon enough.” He tore off another piece of the tape and slapped it across her mouth.

She tried to control the rising panic. Her heart pounded in her ears while icy fear spread through her body. Turning, she strained to look out the windows of the family room to see if Madison was still there. He was their only hope. If he didn’t help them, no one could. How could she have been so wrong about him and not have seen through him?

While Agnes held Isabel, Williams ripped more tape and bound Isabel’s hands.

“No, please!” Isabel cried.

Ignoring her, he pulled another piece of the tape across her mouth.

“Let’s get them out to the van,” Agnes said.

Williams grabbed the handles of Isabel’s wheelchair and rolled it toward the kitchen while Agnes pulled Jeagan from the floor and pushed her after them.

Once outside, Jeagan looked toward Madison, who was bent forward with his head in his hands. “Madison!” Jeagan tried to scream through the tape.

“Don’t waste your breath.” Agnes jammed the gun in Jeagan’s back while she steered her through the breezeway toward the garage. “Madison wouldn’t help you even if he could hear you.”

In the garage, Williams lifted Isabel’s slight body into the rear seat of the van and secured the seat belt around her. Her muffled sobs and tear-filled eyes pleaded for him to let her go. He again disregarded her cries and calmly placed her wheelchair in the rear.

Agnes pushed Jeagan, who kicked and struggled, into the van, slapped her hard across the face, and held her while Williams bound her feet with the duct tape and strapped her in the seat.

The door closed with a thunk! Williams moved around the side of the van and climbed behind the wheel.

“I’ll follow you,” Agnes said through the open window. She walked over to her red Cadillac Eldorado, which was parked next to the van.

After a quick nod, Williams backed out of the garage. Sedately, he drove around the side of the house and down the driveway.

Tears burned Jeagan’s eyes. They spilled over onto the raw handprint on her cheek. She tried to blink away the tears so she could see Madison out the window. He hadn’t moved; he still sat on the lounge chair with his head in his hands. He’s useless, she thought. He cares too much to participate in what they’re doing to us but too little to stop it.

She turned toward Isabel. In shock, Isabel stared straight ahead, her eyes glazed and unfocused.

Jeagan thought about her father. I’m sorry, Dad! I love you. I wish I had listened to you instead of running off mad at you. A cold terror gripped her body. When she realized she would never see her father again, especially since they had parted on bad terms, she forced herself to focus on how she could stop Agnes and Williams.

Her mind raced to find some way of escape even as Williams maneuvered the van over the rutted country road behind the estate. Black-and-white cattle grazing in a pasture watched in idle curiosity as the van passed.

After about a mile, the road dead-ended into water. Williams stopped at the water’s edge, got out of the van, and walked around to the rear to wait for Agnes, who soon pulled in behind him.

Jeagan searched for something sharp inside the van. She spotted a piece of metal sticking out of the floor that held the seat belt in place. The edge appeared rough enough to eventually tear a hole in the tape if she could reach it. She stretched her bound hands around to the seat belt fastener and pressed the button to unlatch it. When it popped open, she shifted her body toward the floor and angled herself so she could work her wrists against the metal. The tape tightened and dug into her wrists. Heedless, she continued to saw it against the rough edge.

Seconds later, the rear door of the van flew open. Williams reached in, ripped the tape off Jeagan’s feet, pulled her out of the van, and shoved her into the front passenger seat. She struck out at him with her elbows and feet, but Agnes grabbed her arms while Williams strapped the seat belt around her. Next, Williams moved Isabel to the driver’s seat and strapped the seat belt around her as well.

Jeagan screamed, the sound muffled through the duct tape. No, this can’t be happening! She struggled wildly against the seat belt and tape. Suddenly, her world went black. The last things she remembered were bright sparkling lights and a sharp pain in the back of her head.

Agnes jerked the tape off Jeagan’s hands and mouth and then slammed the door.

Williams waved his hand in front of Isabel’s face. She didn’t even blink. He pulled the tape off her hands and mouth; she would be no problem.

He reached over Isabel’s limp body, started the van, shifted it into drive, backed away quickly, and watched the van coast down the embankment into the cold, rain-swollen lake. Within seconds, the van twisted and bobbed. It slowly sank into the dark, murky water.

 

Chapter One

Saturday, March 19th

           
Jeagan bolted upright and screamed. “No!” Where was she? Frantically, she scanned the room. Home. I’m home now. It’s all over. I’m safe.

Tears stung her eyes as she gasped for breath. She really was home and safe. Tension slowly melted away while she sank against the headboard. She closed her eyes and let her breathing and heart rate slow down.

When she felt calmer, she got up, made her way into the bathroom, and leaned on the vanity. Cold water from the tap helped to cool her flushed cheeks. She blotted the water with a hand towel, watching the reflection that stared back at her. To the girl in the mirror, she said, “It’s over…done. Those nightmares have got to stop!” She took a deep breath, turned on the cold water again, filled the vanity cup, and drank it all. Maybe a nap hadn’t been such a good idea, but she’d been tired after her early morning flight from Memphis to Denver. The idea of an afternoon nap on her own bed in her own townhouse in Highlands Ranch had been irresistible.

She placed her palms on the vanity. “Get a grip!” Standing up straight, she inhaled deeply, and headed for the kitchen. A Coke was what she needed and maybe a few cookies, if she could find any in the pantry. She’d been gone for almost two weeks, so she couldn’t remember exactly what she did and didn’t have.

Almost afraid to look inside, she pulled on the black refrigerator door. Hmm! Thankfully, nothing green or furry jumped out at her, but she spotted several plastic containers, which might need to be discarded in toto without being opened. Coke cans lined a shelf on the door. Ahh! She took one, popped the top, and took a long drink. The instant charge felt good. She bumped the refrigerator door closed with her hip before turning toward the pantry. A box of stale vanilla wafers sat on a shelf, but she dug into them anyway and stuffed one into her mouth. Box and Coke in hand, she headed outside to the patio.

It was good to be home. Now in her own backyard, it was hard to believe she’d ever been in any danger. Those who had hurt her were securely locked away in a jail near Oxford, Mississippi and would be standing trial soon. She hoped against hope that she wouldn’t have to return for the trial, especially since Williams and Agnes had been caught in the act of attempting to drown her and Isabel. And, Madison had confessed to his part in the kidnapping and attempted murder.

She set the can and cookie box on the glass-topped patio table and pulled out a chair. After she sat down, propped her feet on another chair, and leaned back, she felt the warmth of the March sun, set in the cobalt sky, re-energize her chilled body. Unhurriedly, she munched on the cookies and finished her Coke. Then, she got up and roamed around the yard to see what was about to bloom. The lilac bushes wore hundreds of tight red buds, bright green tulip leaves pushed through the layer of bark mulch, and fuzzy caterpillar-like pods dangled from aspen branches, soon to be followed by leaves. Hopefully, a late spring snow wouldn’t kill all the early growth.

Her thoughts turned to Roger Sanderlin, the private investigator her father had hired to keep an eye on her while she was in Memphis. The man who, thank God, had ultimately followed her from Memphis to Oxford and rescued Isabel and her from the submerged van. A shiver ran up her spine when she allowed the reality of what had almost happened to come crashing back.

Stop it! She walked back inside and closed the French doors. It’s over! The empty cookie box and Coke can clunked loudly when she dropped them into the trash can. It was time to unpack.

Returning to her bedroom, she pulled clothes out of the suitcase—sorting by laundry and dry cleaning—and remembered how she had accused Roger of stalking her in Memphis, even had reported him to hotel security and the police. She smiled when she realized how foolish The Peabody Hotel security guard must have felt when Roger whipped out his private investigator’s identification and informed the guard that her father had hired him. Well, how was she to know!

After the fact, she was glad her father had thought she was running off on a tangent when she flew to Memphis to investigate a

possible murder. A murder she believed had occurred fifty years earlier. But, what else was she supposed to think when she had visions of events surrounding the murder when she sat at the antique desk she had recently bought? It was, she soon found out, the same desk young Isabel had used at The Peabody Hotel at the time her lover was killed all those years ago.

Thank goodness Jeagan’s father had had the good sense to send Roger after her. But, she had been right—even if being right had almost gotten her killed.

Her investigation had proved Robert Lloyd, Isabel’s father, had indeed shot her lover fifty years earlier and dumped his body in the Mississippi River, never to be found. Isabel had never known what happened to Alan. Nearly nine months afterwards, under an assumed name, she had given birth to a baby boy in a hospital outside Memphis.

Robert Lloyd had used his considerable wealth and influence to ensure that Isabel was told her baby was stillborn, when in fact the child was alive and well and sold to a Seattle attorney. The attorney who arranged for the baby boy to be adopted by a family far away from Memphis, so the prominent name of Lloyd would not be sullied.

Though she had almost lost her life doing so, Jeagan had uncovered the truth. Isabel now knew what happened to her fiancé all those years ago and knew that her son had been alive at birth. In her early seventies, Isabel had a son who would now be almost fifty.

After the dust had settled from Jeagan’s and Isabel’s narrow escape from drowning in runoff from Sardis Lake, Isabel had commissioned Roger to find her long-lost son. Tonight over dinner, Jeagan and Roger would discuss how to begin the search for Alan—the name Isabel would have given him—with the only known clue: a letter from a Seattle attorney addressed to Isabel’s father. The letter was dated April of 1945, the month Alan was born, and stated that a check for ten thousand dollars was enclosed.

Almost fifty years had passed. Would Alan, or whatever he was named by his adoptive parents, still be alive? If so, was he living in the Seattle area? Would he even want to know about his birth mother? So many questions—questions for which Jeagan and Roger were determined to find answers.

Jeagan switched mental gears. She found it ironic that Roger wanted to have dinner at Pappadeaux, the restaurant where she had ended her engagement to Brandon two weeks earlier. But, it was one of her favorite restaurants, so she didn’t object when Roger suggested it. This time, she felt she could eat and enjoy herself while they talked about ‘the case.’

She glanced at the clock on her nightstand. It was still early, so she continued to unpack and put away shoes and toiletries while her mind raced. Lots to do. Her boss, Lorin Ottonello. She had to call him to explain the situation. Her job as a technical writer was important to her, but working with Roger to find Alan for Isabel took precedence over her job at Caldwell & Ottonello Engineering. 

The suitcases soon were empty. Stop procrastinating! Call him and get it over with. After all, Lorin had been very understanding when she had called him from the Oxford Mississippi Community General Hospital and told him about almost drowning and her concussion. But, she’d been gone almost a week longer than planned. He’d expected her at work on Monday, even if only part-time for a while. 

She wondered if he would be there today, a Saturday. A glance at the small calendar on the nightstand told her that he would be there, considering the office was open on the first and third Saturdays of the month during their busy season. She sat on the edge of her bed, gathered her resolve, and reached for the phone. Brrng! Startled, she jumped like she’d touched something hot. No chance to say hello after she picked up the receiver.

“Jeagan! I just found out what happened to you. Are you okay?”

Brandon! Jeagan’s blood pressure shot up ten points. “Hello, Brandon,” she said as politely as she could manage. “I’m fine. I just got home as a matter of fact.”

            “I’m sure glad to hear that. I ran into your dad at the bank a few minutes ago, and he told me what happened. I’m really sorry you got involved with those people down there and almost got yourself killed. I mean, if you’d listened to me in the first place and returned that blasted desk, none of this would’ve happened. You’d still be wearing my ring, and things would be the way they were before.”

Jeagan was flabbergasted. How dare he? The way they were before! “Brandon, I did what I needed to do. I was right about the desk and the fifty-year-old murder.”

“Yes.” Brandon hesitated as if thinking. “I’ll give you that. You…you were right about the murder, but still you should’ve listened to me and stayed out of someone else’s drama.”

How could I have ever thought I loved this man? Jeagan wondered. “Brandon, you’re unbelievable, you know that?”

“Well, ignoring your tone of voice, I’m taking that as a compliment. I’d like to see you. I’ve really missed you. How about dinner tonight? I’ll even cook for you.”

“No, thanks, Brandon,” Jeagan said, although it had always been hard for her to resist him when he was trying to be sweet, even when she knew he was self-centered and egotistical. “I…I already have a date for tonight.”

“Oh, it’s like that,” he said, a hard edge to his voice. 

Brandon, it’s not like anything.” It struck her again why she had broken their engagement. “I believe I returned your ring before I left for Memphis, so it’s not like anything. We’re not engaged anymore, and I don’t owe you an explanation.”

“Nevermind! Just forget it! I’ll talk to you later.” With that, Brandon slammed down the phone.

Jeagan jerked the phone away from her ear and returned it to the charger. How could I ever have been stupid enough to think I had a future with him? She reached for the phone again. Once again, it rang before she could pick it up. Grand Central Station!

“Hello?” Jeagan said warily, afraid it was Brandon calling again.

“Hey you!” Jeagan recognized Keri Kurtz’s voice, a fellow technical writer and close friend from C&O.

“Hi, Keri. I was just going to call Lorin. How’s it going?”

“It’s wild over here! Lucie’s quit and Sharon’s taken some time off and gone to Alaska to be with Bruce. He got hurt in a plane crash.”

“Good grief, Keri! What happened?”

“He went on one of those week-long fishing/camping trips with Bill and Charlie. The ones where outfitters fly you in by one of those planes that lands on water—”

“You mean a seaplane?”

“Yeah. Anyway, the guys flew into the wilderness area okay, but when they were picked up at the end of the week, the pilot clipped the tops of some trees trying to fly out. The plane crashed.”

“You’re kidding!”

“Nope. The guys were pretty banged up, but I don’t think any of them was hurt badly enough to keep them from going again next year.”

“I leave for two weeks, and the place falls apart.”

Keri laughed. “You’re right about that. And, I hear you almost got yourself killed!”

“Not on purpose. Fortunately, I was unconscious when they tried to drown me, so I don’t remember much about it.”

Keri let out a dry laugh. “You call that fortunate?”

“Considering the alternative, I guess I do.” Jeagan shivered. “So… with Lucie gone and Sharon out, who’s helping you hold down the fort?”

“Just Erin and me for now. Hope you’re going to tell me you’ll be back here soon.”

“Well, like I said, I was about to phone Lorin when Brandon called and then you called.”

Brandon? I thought he was past history… bad Karma… yesterday’s old news.”

Jeagan chuckled. It felt good to laugh. “He is. Believe me.”

“That’s good. He’s…well, you know how I feel about him.”

“I know exactly how you feel about him, Keri. Shyness isn’t one of your virtues. Anyway, getting back to the workload, I’m afraid I won’t be able to help you out.”

“What!”

“I’m sorry, Keri. I’ll be out a little longer.”

“No, don’t tell me that, Jeagan!” Keri whined. “I’m working ten to twelve hours a day and still can’t get it all done. We’re expecting a Request for Proposals from the Department of Energy this week. The proposal will be six to ten volumes. We need you, Jeag!”

Jeagan didn’t want to let her co-workers down when they were in a pinch, but wasn’t finding Alan more important than a proposal? “Well, let me talk to Lorin, if he’s there.”

“Okay, but I better see your pretty face around here soon, or I’m coming after you.”

“You’re the greatest, Keri!” Jeagan laughed. “I’ll see you soon.”

Keri switched Jeagan over to the operator who placed Jeagan on hold while she tried to locate Lorin.

“He didn’t answer the page, Jeagan,” the operator told her when she came back on the line a couple of minutes later. “He must be in a meeting. I’ll grab him as soon as he comes out and have him call you.”

Jeagan thanked the woman, hung up the phone, and went into the bathroom where she turned on the bathtub faucet full blast. A long, leisurely, hot bath was what she needed. She’d missed soaking in a tub while she was in the hospital with only a shower in her room.

Adding a sprinkle of lavender essential oil, Jeagan peeled off her clothes, stepped into the tub, and lay back. She closed her eyes and breathed in the pungent scent of lavender. What I need is a massage, she thought. Wonder if I can get an appointment in the next few days at Shear Art? Just thinking about how Judy could work her magic on knotted muscles with hot stones and scented oils and soft music helped Jeagan to relax.

                                    *  *  *

            At seven o’clock, she answered the door. Roger stood on the porch grinning. Dressed in an olive silk shirt and khakis with his sandy hair falling over his forehead, he reminded her of someonea young Robert Redford? Well, maybe a cross between him and Matthew McConaughey. She smiled to herself. Brandon who?

“Look at you!” Roger stepped inside.

Pleased, Jeagan smiled and closed the door. “At least I look better than I did the last time you saw me.”

“Well,” Roger teased. “I was kinda getting used to that white bandage on your head and the hospital gown with the seven dwarfs on it.”

“Ha! Ha!” Jeagan frowned. “Not funny.” She picked up her handbag and checked her hair in the mirror over the entrance hall table.

Roger helped her on with her black wool coat and opened the door. “Seafood okay with you?”

“My favorite.” Jeagan buttoned her light-weight coat over her ‘little black dress’—the same one, she realized, she’d worn the night she broke up with Brandon. Well, she thought, Roger isn’t Brandon, and I’m not engaged to him. No worries about a breakup tonight.

After closing the door, Roger said, “I just had an interesting phone call from a buddy of mine. He’s retired from the Seattle Police Department.”

“Think he can help us find Alan?” Jeagan walked with Roger along the sidewalk to his black Range Rover.

Roger opened the SUV door. “Don’t know, but he’s interested in trying.” He closed the door after Jeagan slid inside. When he went around to the driver’s side and got in, he continued. “His name’s Will Thompson. He was with the force for more than twenty years, so he knows a lot of the legal eagles and politicos in Seattle. He might be able to dig up some information for us.”

“That’s great!” Jeagan fastened her seat belt. “I sure hope we can find Alan. Isabel’s had enough heartache and pain in her life. She’s due a little happiness before… .”

Roger started the car and turned his head to back out of the parking space. “You mean before she dies?” He chuckled. “Don’t think she’s going anywhere for a while. She’s a tough ol’ gal.”

“I hope you’re right.” Jeagan remembered when she had first seen Isabel in the lobby of the Orpheum Theater in Memphis. Had that only been eleven days ago? It seemed like a lifetime ago. Isabel had been sitting in a wheelchair looking content, confident, and for all the world—well, regal. That was before Jeagan had turned Isabel’s life upside down by telling her that her father had murdered her fiancé.

“Did you talk to your boss?” Roger asked. He checked the side mirror before he pulled into traffic on Highlands Ranch Parkway going east.

“Finally. I didn’t think Lorin was ever going to call back, but he did around four-thirty.”

“How’d he take the news that you weren’t coming back for a while?”

“He wasn’t very happy about it, especially since they’re so short-handed right now with Sharon out. I really hated to ask for more time off.”

“But he was okay with you taking the time?”

In the side mirror, Jeagan watched behind her as the last of the sunset edged the purple mountain tops in orange. It was good to see a Colorado sunset again.

Roger glanced at Jeagan. “Are you with me?”

“Oh, sorry,” she said. “I’m still a little spacey. Uh…after I told Lorin how important this is to Isabel, he gave me another week off.”

“A week? Is that all?”

“Afraid so. I need to be at work a week from Monday. That’s all the time he said he could spare me. They have some really big proposals coming up, and they need me before the first of April.”

“So…that gives us about eight days to find Alan.”

“Something like that,” Jeagan confirmed. “Think we can do it?”

Roger crossed University and continued on Colorado Boulevard toward County Line Road. “We’ll give it our best shot.” He checked the clock on the dash. “Our dinner reservation’s for seven. Looks like we’ll be a little early.”

“We could sit on the patio and have a drink since it’s such a beautiful evening,” Jeagan commented. March could be one of the snowiest months in Denver, but today had been an exceptionally balmy day. Crabapple trees were covered in red buds about to open and the forsythia would soon be covered in bright, yellow flowers. Spring was slow coming to Colorado, at least compared to Memphis, Jeagan realized, but when it finally made its appearance, she knew how beautiful it was going to be.

“That works,” Roger agreed.

When they arrived at the restaurant, Roger seated Jeagan on the patio at a black wrought-iron table before he went to check in with the hostess. “If a waiter comes by,” he said, “order a glass of merlot for me.”         

“Okay.” She listened to the quiet splashing of the waterfall in the center of the patio area while she looked around at the other couples seated on benches or at tables enjoying cocktails. Had it been less than two weeks since she’d met her dad and Brandon here for dinner and had made a fool of herself by stomping out like a bratty teenager? She sat up straighter. Well, yes, she had, but she’d been provoked by her patronizing ex-fiancé and her father. Stop thinking about it, she thought. That’s past history.

“What can I get for you?” a short, dark-haired waiter asked.

“Oh,” Jeagan said, startled. “I’ll have a glass of Asti Spumante.”

“Martini & Rossi okay?”

“That’s fine.”

Roger returned to the table before the waiter left. He ordered his favorite merlot. “Our table will be ready in a few minutes,” he told Jeagan while he pulled out a chair and sat down.

“Why the long face?” Roger asked after the waiter left.

Jeagan shook her head. “Just remembering the last time I was here.”

“When you returned good ol’ Brandon’s engagement ring?”

Jeagan nodded. “That was a particularly black night for me.” She tried to put it out of her mind. “But, let’s not talk about Brandon. When do we leave for Seattle?”

Roger leaned back in his chair. “Is tomorrow soon enough?

 

Chapter Two      

             “Wow! That was quick. Hope you booked an afternoon flight. I’ve got ironing to do.”

“You’ll just have to go wrinkled. The flight’s at 7:45 am.”

Jeagan grimaced. “Not much time to get ready.” Well, she could sleep on the plane.

“Thought you wanted to find Alan?” Roger teased.

“I do, but I’m—” Jeagan looked at him to see the smile that lit his face and the way the dimple on his right cheek showed when he laughed. Oh no! she thought. You just broke off an engagement to someone you thought was perfect until you got to know him. Don’t get yourself involved with someone else, even if he is a Robert Redford look-alike.

Before Jeagan could say anything else, the waiter appeared with their wine. She thanked him and reached for her glass. “Mmm. That’s good,” she commented after a sip.

After Roger tasted his wine, he said, “I’ll be by about a quarter to six in the morning.”

Jeagan groaned, figuring out how early she would have to get up.

“No whining. All you have to do is throw some jeans in a suitcase. Maybe an umbrella since we’ll be in Seattle. Oh, and maybe a sexy nightgown or two.”

Jeagan laughed and raised her hand defensively. “All right, you! Stop right there. There will be no sexy nightgowns. Besides, I sleep in a big Broncos jersey, number 84 to be exact. And, that brings up hotel rooms. I assume you have booked us into a respectable hotel, in separate rooms.”

“Naturally, but I asked for adjoining rooms.” Roger’s eyes twinkled. “Just in case you get scared during the night or need to borrow a toothbrush,” he waved his hands for emphasis, “or something.”

It was good to see the smile on Roger’s face and to feel lighthearted. “As long as there’s a lock on my side of the adjoining door.”

The hostess walked up. “Your table is ready.”

“Thanks.” Roger stood and pulled Jeagan’s chair out for her. “You’re no fun,” he whispered against her hair.

“I can be when I want to be,” she whispered back.

When they were seated inside by a window, which faced west toward the Rockies, Jeagan took the offered menu and scanned it.

“How about an appetizer to start?” asked the waiter, freckle-faced with bright copper-colored hair.

“Oysters sound good.” Roger looked at Jeagan with a question in his eyes. “Tell me you like oysters.”

“Absolutely,” Jeagan answered.

“Thank goodness,” Roger said trying to look serious. “I could never travel thirteen hundred miles with someone who didn’t like oysters.”

“Jeagan?” a voice said behind her.

Startled, Jeagan turned around. “Brandon.” Oh, no!  “What are you doing here? Are you following me?”

Brandon, dressed impeccably as usual in a starched white shirt, navy wool suit, and colorful silk tie, shrugged. “How could I be following you when I’ve been here for an hour sitting at the bar with some of the guys from the office?” He pointed toward the bar.

Jeagan turned her head and noticed about five pairs of eyes looking their way from the bar.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your date?” Brandon asked. He rested his hand possessively on Jeagan’s shoulder.

“Uh,” Jeagan stammered, flustered and angry. She shrugged his hand off her shoulder.

Roger stood and offered his hand. “Roger Sanderlin.”

“Brandon Montgomery, Jeagan’s fiancé.” He reached around Jeagan to shake hands.

Jeagan jerked her head to look up at him. “Ex, Brandon. You left off the ‘ex.’ ”

Brandon dismissed her comment. “Only a matter of time before you’ll be wearing this again.” He pulled out the engagement ring Jeagan had worn only a few weeks before.

Incredulous, she said, “I can’t believe you’re carrying that ring around with you.”

Roger cleared his throat. “If you’ll excuse us, Brandon, I believe our oysters have arrived.”

A waiter set a platter on the table and asked if Brandon would be joining them.

“No,” Jeagan retrieved her napkin, which had slid off her lap to the floor, snapped it, and spread it across her lap.

Brandon patted her on the shoulder. “Well, I’ll let you two get on with your dinner. I’ll see you later, Jeagan.” He made to leave and then turned around, a sly grin on his face. “Nice meeting you, Roger.”

“Same here.” Roger sat down again. “Good-looking guy.”

“Don’t let his looks fool you. Under that expensive suit lies a heart of black coal.”

Nonchalantly, Roger said, “Seems determined to get you back. Can’t blame him for that.” He dipped an oyster into cocktail sauce.

Jeagan picked up a fork and jabbed at an oyster. The shell spun, clattered against the tray, and sailed off the table, barely missing a passing waiter who ducked just in time. Jeagan, her face a brilliant shade of red, apologized to the waiter. She mumbled something unintelligible to vent her frustration and got up to retrieve the shell with her napkin.

Roger calmly dipped another oyster. When Jeagan sat down again and placed the napkin on the table, he said, “So, eat out in public often?”

Jeagan’s face broke into a smile, and then a laugh finished off the remaining anger. Flashes of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman—when she tried to open a clam (or was it a snail?) shell that flew across the room—ran through her mind. “Slippery little devil,” she said, mimicking Julia Roberts, between giggles.

Roger stopped a passing waitress. “Excuse me, could this lady have a clean napkin, please?”

“Of course,” the waitress replied. She removed Jeagan’s napkin and returned momentarily with a fresh one.

“Now,” Roger said, “Where were we?”

Jeagan took a long drink from her wine glass and settled in her chair, determined to relax and not let Brandon spoil her evening. Movement at the bar caught her attention. She glanced up. Brandon looked their way and saluted her as he left the restaurant with his co-workers.

Good! She ignored him, thankful she could now eat in peace.

“I believe we were talking about our trip to Seattle.” She squeezed fresh lemon onto an oyster and dipped it. When she swallowed, she continued. “I can’t believe him.”

“Forget him.” Roger dipped another oyster and added extra horseradish. “He’ll get the message eventually that you’re done with him. Just say ‘no’ when he calls.”

“Ahh. The old ‘just say no’ trick.” Jeagan nodded.

“Yep. If a guy hears it enough, he finally gets the message.”

“I’ll bet you haven’t heard it too many times,” Jeagan teased.

“I’ve had my share of being turned down.”

Curious, Jeagan asked, “Have you ever been engaged?”

“Once,” Roger said. Jeagan watched a shadow pass over his face.

She placed her fork on her plate. “What happened?”

Roger downed the remainder of his wine as if to fortify himself. He set the glass on the table and looked at Jeagan, anger sparking in his eyes. “Angela was killed in a crosswalk downtown on her way to work. Some guy in a black SUV ran a red light and hit her.”

“Oh, Roger, I’m sorry.” Jeagan reached out to touch his hand.

“The guy didn’t stop. Just kept on going. The police never found him.”

“When did it happen?”

“Three years ago.” He continued, his green eyes misty with hurt. “I’d still like to find the guy.”

“Didn’t anyone get a license number?”

Roger shook his head. “It was early in the morning, about seven. Angela was on her way to work at The Post. She’d interviewed one of the top executives at U.S. West the day before, after she’d got wind of a possible buyout. She was anxious to dig into the story and scoop The News. I remember how excited she was.” Memory glazed Roger’s eyes.

Not knowing what to say, Jeagan sat still. She remembered how it hurt losing her mother. Not the same but still a deep loss.

“Excuse me a minute.” Roger got up from the table.

Jeagan watched him stride toward the restrooms at the rear of the restaurant. Another reason, she thought, not to become involved with him. He was still mourning the loss of his fiancée.

“I’m sorry, Jeagan,” Roger said when he returned after a few minutes. His face was damp. He’d obviously splashed cold water on it. “I get mad all over again when I think about the fact that someone ran her down and just kept going.”

“Don’t apologize. You have every right to be angry.”

“If I could only find the guy and get my hands on him.”

“You’ll find him, Roger.” Again, Jeagan touched his hand reassuringly. “I know you will.”

Roger visibly settled down as if by effort. “Yes. I’ll find him someday. Then, I’ll have closure, and he’ll be behind bars where he belongs.”

For the next few minutes, Jeagan and Roger worked on the salads, which the waiter brought after he cleared away the oyster shells. Neither spoke until a slim, thirtyish, dark-haired woman stopped by the table.

“Hi, Roger,” she said, a wide grin on her face.

Roger, his fork in mid-air, looked up. He smiled and laid his fork on his plate. “Shelley? What’re you doing here?” He pushed his chair back and stood.  Shelley wrapped her arms around Roger’s neck and kissed him on the lips. Roger, obviously caught by surprise, placed his hands on her arms and gently pushed her away. 

She laughed. “I came in from Dallas this morning to see Mom and Dad and to get in some skiing. Imagine seeing you here. How are you?” Shelley cut her coffee-colored eyes at Jeagan.

“Good.” Roger noted the cold look Shelley aimed at Jeagan. “Uh…Jeagan, this is Shelley Boswick, Angela’s sister. Shelley, this is Jeagan Christensen.”

“Nice to meet you, Shelley. Roger told me about your sister. I’m so sorry about what happened.”

“Yes, I’m sure you are,” Shelley said, her tone flat and icy. “I see you are moving on, Roger,” she added bluntly.

“I—” Roger started.

“No. It’s not like that,” Jeagan said quickly. “Roger and I are working on a missing person’s case. We’re leaving in the morning for Seattle to search for a man who was taken from his mother and given up for adoption after she was told he was stillborn.” She stopped, her face reddening. “I’m sorry. I’m babbling.”

“How touching,” Shelley commented—her voice still like liquid ice—and slid her hand up Roger’s arm and onto his shoulder. “Call me when you get back in town. I’ll be here for a week or two. You’ve still got my number, don’t you?” she crooned.

Roger, embarrassment flushing his tanned face, nodded. “Yes, I’ve still got your number, Shelley.”

So have I, Jeagan thought.

After Shelley detached herself from Roger and walked away, Jeagan said, “Which sister were you engaged to?”

Roger laughed. “She’s a real nut case. She was always jealous of anything, or anyone, her sister had. When she found out Angela and I were engaged, she started calling me and telling me Angela was seeing someone else and had never been faithful to anybody and would never be faithful to me.”

“Did you ever go out with Shelley?”

“Are you kidding? She’s a vampire. I’d be afraid to be alone with her for more than five minutes.”

Jeagan laughed. She couldn’t imagine Roger being afraid of anyone or anything. She watched him dig into his salad.

He took a few more bites, wiped his mouth, and pushed his plate away. After he rested his forearms on the table, he said, “Enough of my past and yours.”

“You’re right,” Jeagan said, thoughtful. “But maybe we could get Brandon and Shelley together. They’d be a great match. Egotistical jerk and vampiress.”

Roger laughed. “Match made in heaven. All you’d need to do is tell Shelley you’re still engaged to Brandon, and she’d be after him in a flash.” He reached over and covered Jeagan’s hand with his. “But, let’s forget them. We have a job to do with a short time to do it. I’ve got us booked at the… .” He pulled a folded piece of paper out of his shirt pocket and opened at it. “We’re at the Waterfront Marriott.”

Jeagan’s eyebrows rose. “Marriott? Isn’t that going to be pricey?”

“I’ve got a nice expense account for this job, so don’t worry about the money. Isabel will get her money’s worth out of us.”

“Okay.” Jeagan watched while the waitress placed their entrees on the table. She couldn’t wait to bite into her shrimp and loaded baked potato. Real food! She tried to forget the pain and the hospital food she’d had at the Oxford hospital. Although not bad, it was generally tasteless. But, then, she’d been lucky to be alive; therefore, any food was good food.

“Still with me?” Roger studied Jeagan’s face.

“Oh. Yeah, sure. Just enjoying this heavenly food.”

“Well,” Roger cut into his ahi tuna, “if you like seafood, Seattle ought to be right up your alley.”

After dinner, Roger drove Jeagan home. Both were silent, full from dinner and thinking about the coming trip.

“Have you been to Seattle before?” he asked Jeagan while he walked her to her door.

“No. But, I hear it’s beautiful. Dad has told me about his business trips up there.”

“It can be beautiful when it’s not raining. I checked the forecast earlier today. We might get lucky with the weather.”

“Well, thanks for dinner.” Jeagan unlocked her door. Uncomfortable, not knowing what to do when she didn’t feel like this was a date, but maybe more of a business dinner, she stuck out her hand.

Roger grinned and took her hand. He pulled her to him and kissed her on the cheek. “See you in the morning—early.” He released her and stuffed his hands in his pockets as he skipped down the steps and loped across the sidewalk.

“’Night,” Jeagan called.

Roger waved before he got into his Range Rover. She watched him drive away.

The door closed and locked behind her, she kicked off her shoes, grabbed them by the sling straps, and headed for her bedroom. When she dropped them in the closet and her handbag on the vanity, she turned toward her room. The message light on the phone blinked red.

She frowned. “That better not be Brandon again,” she muttered while she crossed the room. After pressing the message recall button, she heard the mature, cultured, southern male voice of someone who identified himself as Mark Edwards, Isabel Lloyd’s attorney.

“Isabel,” he informed Jeagan, “has had a heart attack. She has spoken of you often recently while we’ve been working on her new will, so I thought you’d want to know. She’s at Methodist Hospital Central in the Intensive Care Unit. Please call me on my cellphone when you get this message. If I’m not available, you can call the ICU.”

 

 

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 Copyright 2011, Jonna Turner - All Rights Reserved