Avery cleared his throat. “I might not exactly be sleeping with her, but I’m not chopped liver,” he said.
Kelsey stared at Liam in silence. So did Ted and Jaden.
Jaden cleared her throat and spoke at last. “So—you think that this will make whoever it was give up the quest?”
“No, I don’t. I think that Gary died because of something he knew or saw.”
Jaden gasped and shook her head. “No, no…Cutter was old. He might have had a heart attack no matter what. But…you’re saying Gary White was murdered? We still have the death penalty in this state for murder!”
“True,” Liam said. “But people have committed murder for a lot less than a million dollars.”
“But…” Ted spoke and broke off, confused. “Cutter Merlin died of a heart attack. He was holding a book, this little reliquary and a shotgun.” He looked at them both. “You have the book, right?”
Kelsey nodded. “In safekeeping?” He lifted his hand, staring at Liam. “Don’t tell anyone where. Liam will start accusing of us of stealing another book.”
“I was asking, not accusing,” Liam said. “For all I knew, you might have slipped it out just to borrow it because you needed it for more research, and meant to put it back.”
“Oh, yeah. Jaden and I sit up nights and think about new ways to worship Satan,” Ted said, an edge to his voice.
“It’s on my mind every morning when I wake up, too,” Jaden said.
“Hey,” Liam said. “A man has been murdered. Cutter might have been frightened to death. Give me some slack. I have to ask questions.”
“You’re all old friends. Stop it. Let’s think about it. Where do the books fit in?” Kelsey asked.
“I don’t know. But that’s what we have to find out,” Liam said. “Would you pass the salt, please?”
He sat comfortably in the handsome chair at Cutter Merlin’s desk. Three of them in the house now, and he was still invisible.
What a lovely time.
Last night, he had stood at the door to her room. He had imagined them together, and he had imagined the time when the cop would be there.
He had to be patient. Well, he’d been patient a very long time. Maybe he had never imagined it would really be this long, but in the end, the prize would make up for it all. Watching them…watching the idiots when they had found the body at last…well, that had been a thrill. Watching them—from the house!—while they had been so certain that their new locks, bolts and wary care could keep him out, was worth his effort.
He heard them coming home, and he quickly rose. It would be no good being found at the desk. That could ruin everything.
He turned away, feeling more powerful than Cutter Merlin, Pete Edwards, Satan himself—or the bastard, Liam Beckett.
He was invisible.
He had committed murder, and he was invisible.
He watched, he waited, he stalked.
And he was invisible.
For a moment, he felt a flash of anger so deep it shook him to the core.
He was invisible, yes.
But he hadn’t found the real reliquary.
He gave himself a shake. He could hear their voices. Kelsey knew where the real reliquary was, she had to, or she would. He would wait. Patience. So long, and just a little longer, then. And stalking Kelsey… Well, it was fascinating to consider what the end might finally be.
Despite the discovery of the decomposing body of Gary White, her grandfather’s funeral and Liam’s theory of the events surrounding her, Kelsey woke feeling rested, strong and ready to face anything that came her way. She stretched a hand out over the sheets, found that Liam’s side of the bed was empty and sat up and stretched. She forgot sometimes that he was a cop, high in the city pecking order, with a great deal of responsibility.
She rose and headed to the bathroom to shower, then paused. If he wasn’t in the room, the door was unlocked. She couldn’t get over the need to lock her bedroom door. It was as if a sixth sense kept telling her that she needed to do so.
Last night, Liam had teased her.
“Okay…Avery doesn’t have nightmares and decide to come crawling in, does he?”
They’d both been able to laugh, and she shook her head, and he humored her, as he had all along, and she had locked the door, fallen back into his arms, felt the breathless, heart-pounding emotion of being with him, and then the glorious, starkly carnal, wild and raw wonder of letting the world go away in his arms, lost in sensation, knowing nothing but the earthly force of their bodies. Surely she slept so well, so beautifully, so peacefully, because she was so replete, and because she was in his arms still, flesh damp and touching his, limbs entangled.
Showered, she unlocked her door and went downstairs. Liam was in the kitchen, dressed and ready for work, coffee cup in his hand as he read the paper.
“No way out, I guess. I tried to control the media, but there’s always going to be sensationalism. Don’t take it to heart,” he told her.
She poured her own coffee and came to stand beside him, reading the headline.
Death Strikes Again at Cursed Merlin Estate.
“Hey,” she said, sighing softly. “At least it’s an estate. I’m so sorry for that poor fellow. Is he going to need help…being buried?”
“I’d like to take care of it—or Cutter would, more exactly,” she said.
He set his coffee down and pulled her to him. His chin rested against the top of her head, and there was something wonderfully intimate and tender in the gesture. “That’s nice,” he whispered softly. Then he looked at her. “Hey, I just thought about something. Last night, when I was talking about the book that was missing from the rare-book room at the library and mentioned Richter, it seemed there was something you were going to say, but didn’t.”
“Oh, he’d said something about not having seen Cutter for a while, but his secretary told me he’d been out recently. But I still can’t see how Joe Richter could be responsible for anything…or that he would kill over anything in Cutter’s house. He did have free rein here.”
“After Cutter was dead,” Liam said.
Kelsey studied him for a minute. “How do you know that the people who registered in the rare-book room might have anything to do with this?”
“I don’t. I have to start somewhere.”
“But you don’t even know all the people.”
“I know the names—I’m going to run traces on the people I don’t know. I don’t have evidence, but I have a really good hunch, and I believe I’m right. Jaden really cast a light on things. A million-dollar diamond can create obsession, and an obsession can create a complicated case.”
“Satanism—and diamonds,” Kelsey said.
“Connected somehow,” he assured her.
He was whispering, and they were close together. Touching. Kelsey started at the sound of Avery’s voice.
“All right, all right, enough already,” Avery said, entering the kitchen. He walked past the two of them, heading for the coffeepot. “So, you know, I have to admit, this is an amazing place. I’m a West Coast boy, but this is pretty cool. You’ve got a dolphin that hangs around by your dock, did you know that? Cool creature. I walked out, and it followed me, watching me. I was talking to it, and it’s as if it listens to me.”
Kelsey turned and leaned back against Liam. His arms were around her waist, and she set her arms and hands on his, basking in the comfort of the moment.
Liam said, “Dolphins are incredible creatures. I have a friend at one of the facilities just a few islands up, over the Seven-Mile Bridge. They’ve done amazing research with them. They can count, they know colors and they definitely have personalities. This one may have escaped captivity. I’ll make a few calls.”
“And lock him back up?” Avery asked.
“If he was born in a facility, his life will best be spent in his—or her—home. You didn’t check out the sex, did you?” Liam asked.
“I wouldn’t know how to check out the sex,” Avery said.
“When a male decides to show himself, you know,” Liam said, chuckling. He let go of Kelsey. “I have to go in—I need to do a lot of interviews and try to trace Gary White’s movements. I have officers working on it, but…I need to be out there. Your assignments until I return are to find the shotgun, read the book and search for a little golden reliquary worth a million bucks. Got it?”
Kelsey nodded, smiling at him. “And lock the doors, be careful if we go outside—”
“The crime-scene people were just wrapping up when I walked down to the little beach and dock area,” Avery said.
“I’ll check with them before I leave,” Liam said. “Careful with going out the back entry, too. Keep an eye on any open door.”
“I’ll be watching out for Kelsey,” Avery told him, his tone fierce. He heard the sound of his own voice and tried to lighten the tone. “Hey, what do I animate if she doesn’t draw? And she’s so damned good for my ego. Our superhero is based on my extraordinary good looks.”
“Has his ego, too,” Kelsey said lightly.
Liam smiled at her, kissed her lips and said softly, “Stay safe, watch yourself, watch the doors, stay with Avery.”
“You trust Avery?” she teased.
Liam looked across the kitchen at Avery. “I do.” He grimaced. “I ran a background check. Avery has no ties to Key West. He was at Hollywood High years ago, has two unpaid parking tickets and is otherwise an upstanding citizen.”
“You did a background on me?” Avery said incredulously. He laughed. “Good man!”
Kelsey was surprised to see that Liam gave pause. “I need someone to trust completely,” he said.
He headed toward the living room. “Come on—lock me out.”
Kelsey followed him. He was a few steps ahead of her. Morning’s light was pouring in, and the house did look like a fascinating museum-home, with dusted antiques and curiosities here and there. It felt like the home she had always known and loved, unique but warm.