They were all silent for a moment. Then Bethany said, “Victor, I’m on your couch.”
“You can come to the house,” Genevieve said. Did she sound a little nervous? Thor wondered, or was he imagining it? And if she was nervous, was it because she’d opted to be alone with him, or because Bethany was going to be alone with Victor?
“With the two of you? No, thanks!” Bethany laughed, then yawned. “Come on, Victor. Let’s go to bed. I’ll just get a few things from my cottage for the morning.”
Victor groaned. “Your cottage isn’t a minute’s walk from mine.”
“I need my toothbrush,” Bethany insisted.
“All right, all right,” Victor grumbled.
“Hey, me having a toothbrush is for your benefit, too.”
“Really? Are we getting that close?” Victor teased.
Bethany stared back at him. Victor laughed. “Don’t worry. It would be gross, like sleeping with my sister.”
“Now I’m gross?”
Victor stared at the others. “I can’t win here, can I?” he demanded.
They laughed, but Thor wondered why Genevieve still looked uneasy.
They said their good-nights. Genevieve was quiet as they walked back to her house.
“What is it?” he asked her.
She looked at him, startled. “Nothing—well, other than the fact that the police believe the killer comes from the Keys.”
He shook his head. “Are you worried about Bethany?”
“Of course not! She’ll be with Victor,” she answered too quickly.
“You suspect Victor?” he asked very softly.
“Don’t be silly! I’ve known him my whole life.” She smiled. Her words were both sincere and, somehow, a little uncertain.
He stopped walking.
“If you’re the least bit worried…”
“I’m not,” she insisted. She stared at him, shook her head and smiled. “Really, I’m not. We all know exactly where Bethany is.”
He nodded, and they started walking again. “I wish I knew where Marshall was,” she said softly after a minute.
“Marshall is a big guy. I’m sure he’s fine.”
Again she was silent for a minute. Then she looked at him, and he was certain her worry was just as much for him as for Marshall. “The biggest, most confident, toughest guy in the world can fall…if taken by surprise.”
“Marshall is fine,” he assured her. He believed that, right? So where the hell was the guy?
And just what was he doing?
Thor gritted his teeth silently, forcing an expression of complete calm over his features. He slipped an arm around her shoulders as they walked. “Marshall will show up tomorrow. I promise.”
“He knew about the barbecue, so if he wasn’t planning on coming, he would have said so,” she agreed. “Right?”
Despite her words, she still seemed uneasy. When they reached her house, Thor tried to reassure her again. “Marshall is fine, and so are we.”
She hesitated, then nodded. “Thor, if he doesn’t show up tomorrow, I want to look for him, okay? And we’ll call Jay, too. I can’t help it. I’m worried. Marshall is a social creature. He always hangs around with us.”
“Look,” Thor said softly. “You’re all friends, as close as a pack of siblings—but you don’t date one another. Marshall is a good-looking guy. Maybe he went out on a date, huh?”
She smiled at that. “Yes, that is a possibility.”
“Would you have been so worried if all—” he weighed his words before opting to say “—this wasn’t going on?”
“No,” she admitted.
“All right. Tomorrow, if he doesn’t show for the barbecue, we call the cops, and we look for Marshall. And when we find him, he’ll probably be surprised, and maybe a little pissed, thinking he needs a life, too, and we should have respected that. So let’s give this place a really good once-over—or twice-over, if it makes you happy—and make sure we’re locked in, alone and safe and sound, okay?”
His words seemed to help her. And once they got inside, he did walk through the entire house twice, with her following right behind him.
“Nothing in the closets or under the beds,” he swore. “She’s locked up tight. You’re safe and sound. Except from me,” he teased.
“You still think I’m crazy,” she told him.
He found himself standing in front of her, his hands on her shoulders. “I think you’re beautiful,” he told her softly.
His words were the right ones, and they were true.
He didn’t notice how they made it up the stairs and into the bedroom. It was as if she was instantly in his arms, their clothing melted away rather than taken off, with something like pure, wet, hot, primal fusion taking place. At one point some sense of sanity returned, and he murmured, “I know you’re worried. We don’t have to…we don’t have to…”
Her eyes touched his. A slight smile teased her lips. “I’d crawl into your skin, if I could,” she said, and her lips fell against his again instantly while their flesh burned together and their limbs entwined.
He wasn’t sure how other thoughts managed to stay in his mind as his sexual desire rose with volatile speed to madness. But she was beautiful in so many ways, body, mind and essence. Tall, vital, muscled, competent, proud, unique…lips full and sensual, hips capable of such extraordinary movement…His mouth savored and teased her flesh, his body, heart and head pounded…
It seemed he climaxed in a million ways, that he came to life when he should have been limp, her slightest movement awoke every erotic impulse in his system. Time seemed unending. Then she curled against him. And they slept.
He would never understand what happened then, in the middle of the night. He prided himself on his awareness. He’d started that in the navy, on guard in the Middle East. He’d made it a way of life when diving in foreign ports where safety wasn’t even a suggestion. He usually awoke at the drop of a pin.
Instead, he woke slowly when he felt her shivering, trembling at his side. His mind seemed fogged. He became aware by degrees that he was surrounded by a strange dampness.
It seemed that he could smell the sea.
At last, somehow, he roused himself enough to realize he wasn’t actually holding her, that she was a breath away from him. He wrapped his arms around her, listening then, fighting the mist in his mind.
She didn’t reply. She moved closer. Flesh on flesh so tight she might have crawled into his skin.
“What is it?”
“Nothing,” she whispered.
“A nightmare. But you’re here. Nothing…I’m all right. I’m all right.” The first statement was said with a quiver. The second was stronger.
Her conviction allowed him to draw her tighter. “I’m here,” he said.
“I know,” she murmured. She was silent a minute, close against him. He was amazed to realize how incredible it felt just to sleep beside her.
Just to hold her.
He kissed her forehead, drew her closer.
He was still tired. And sated. And ready for more sleep.
The fog returned. Darkness. Exhaustion. He fought it, waiting for her trembling to cease. And when it did, he gave way to sleep.
He knew when she awoke in the morning. Just as he should have been, he was alert at her first shift, as she slipped from his arms and arose.
She knew he had awakened. She planted a kiss on his lips.
He reached for her, but she slipped away. “It’s late,” she said. “Nearly noon. We’ll have company soon.”
He lay in bed for a few minutes longer, closing his eyes, oddly tired. True, they had spent a lot of the night awake.
But he felt as if he’d been…fighting all night. There was a feeling of exhaustion after sex, but that feeling was good, sated….
Damn, this was strange.
At last he rose himself.
As he did, he paused. There was a hint of something in the air. A teasing scent. He paused a moment; then he knew.
Seawater. The distinctive scent of the ocean.
He gazed at the bed. It was still…damp. He tried to tell himself they’d indulged in some strenuous lovemaking, the kind that couldn’t help but dampen the sheets.
He walked around the bed.
The floor was soaked next to the side where Genevieve had slept. He hunkered down and touched the Persian rug. The scent rose more strongly around him.
“T his is my uncle, Adam,” Audrey announced, entering Genevieve’s house. “And Uncle Adam…this is everyone.”
They were virtually the last to arrive. Jay Gonzalez had been first, with Bethany and Victor right behind him. Zach and Liz had been next. Then Jack, proud as a peacock as he arrived with a perfectly sized grouper, freshly caught that morning. Alex had arrived just seconds before Audrey and her uncle.
Only Marshall still remained among the missing.
And as for Uncle Adam, Thor was suspicious of him from the start, mainly, he had to admit, because he had arrived with Audrey.
Why Audrey irritated him so much, he couldn’t say. It was just the entire idea of being a medium, a soothsayer, a tarot card reader, whatever.
Uncle Adam was tall, thin, almost gaunt, a man of perhaps sixty-something to seventy years in age. For all that, he was a handsome man with strong features and fascinating gray eyes. He was soft-spoken, polite, interested at every introduction.
Except, Thor thought, the guy stared at him a little too long. Made him feel uncomfortable. He’d never in his life felt he was being read before, but that was the impression Adam gave him. He didn’t like it. He liked it even less when he saw the older man speaking with Genevieve, who was smiling back and chatting, looking at the man as if he were her long lost uncle.
“Hey, want to give me a hand with the grouper?” Jack asked.