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23.12.2018

Screaming kids and the lightning-flash mood swings of little girls didn't appear to ruffle Duncan's feathers. In fact, his easy slide through kid world had Phoebe wondering if the man had any feathers to ruffle.

What he did, she noted, was play like a maniac. Whatever it wasvideo arcade, miniature golf, whack-a-mole, he was into it. She liked games as much as the next person, and God knew she'd done her stints at fun centers. But she'd never come out of one, in her memory, without a vague headache, a stomach uneasy from strange combinations of food, and feet that ached like a tooth headed for a root canal.

She had a touch of all three results, and sat herself down on a bench while Duncan took on all challengers in what he called the Champion Round of mini-golf.

Carly was having the time of her life, and the other kids who'd packed along were flocked around him like he was the Pied Piper. And how, Phoebe wondered, did spending hours racing virtual cars or hit ting a red ball through the rotating fans of a plastic windmill equal researching an investment possibility?

Loo dropped down beside her. "I should've gotten a manicure. These places wear me out and I knew that man would talk me into coming."

"Phin's looking a little worn himself."

"Not Phin." Loo sucked diet soda through a straw. "I know all his tricks by now. Duncan. I know all his, too, but damn that man always gets around me."

From her vantage point, Phoebe studied him. He'd sat through an elementary school production of Cinderella with every appearance of being thoroughly entertained. And had capped that off by insisting on buying the redheaded stepsister an ice cream cone. Naturally, Carly was crazy about him.

And now he was giving every appearance of being thoroughly entertained by playing mini-golf with a platoon of overexcited children.

"Duncan doesn't look worn at all," Phoebe observed.

"Probably live here if he could." Loo slipped her own aching feet out of her sandals. "Look at him, crouched down on that old green carpet eyeballing the hole like he's Tiger Woods in the Playland Open. Kids eating it right up like ice cream sundaes, which I warn you, he'll insist on after this is over."

Phoebe pressed a hand to her stomach. "Oh God."

"Won't play real golf. Phin's dragged him out several times, and tells me Duncan says stuff like: 'Where's the windmill?' or 'When do we get to the troll bridge?'" She let out her big laugh. "Bruises our Phin's dignity, which is exactly Dune's purpose."

Because she could hear Duncan say it, Phoebe smiled. "So he just wanted to come out and play. This investment business is a ruse."

"Oh no, he's given it serious thought. He'll be working out the pros and cons now."

Lips pursed, Phoebe studied Duncan as he argued the count of strokes on a hole with Phin. "Yes, I can see that."

"I mean it." Loo gave Phoebe a poke. "He's going to have a good ballpark idea how many kids and adults came through the turnstiles today, which areas got the most play, which didn't. You can bet he's asked the kids we brought, and those of complete strangers, what they like. He'll have himself a baseline before we're sick off ice cream sundaes, then he'll go-or won't go-from there."

"I can't quite fit him into the businessman mold."

Loo's smile was lit with affection. "He's his own mold."

"Apparently."

"Got a nice ass on him, too."

"Unquestionably."

"He's got what my mother calls the calfs eyes for you."

"Does he? It's hard for me to see clearly with all these hearts circling in front of mine. I just wanted a hot affair." She shifted toward Loo, kept her voice low. "I figured, hell, I deserve one."

"Who doesn't?" Loo shifted in turn. "How about some salient details?"

"Maybe some other time. The thing is, I don't know if I can manage what's going on in here." She pressed a hand to her heart. "I don't know if I have the tools or the room or-"

"Why? You're-"

"Wait." Phoebe turned her hand palm out now. "You're married, and happily by every sign. You have a pretty little girl and an ugly dog.

You have a big family, dual careers that complement each other and exceptional taste in shoes."

"I do." Loo pursed her lips at the stacked-heel, copper-toned sandals. "The shoes are the kicker."

"I'm divorced with a career that pulls me in conflicting directions constantly, and a family I love, but that does the same. My foundation is shaky at best, and what I've built on it takes a lot of time and effort to tend. It's never been just me for a lot of reasons. It can never be just me."

"You're thinking Duncan can't handle the complications of your life?"

"I'm not sure he'd want to, or why he would. Right now, he's infatuated and intrigued. And the sex, like the shoes, is quite the kicker. But

I'm a lot to deal with on a daily basis. And there are things I can't change or adjust. I'm just not in a position to."

Loo sucked through her straw, considered. "Do you always analyze everything into tiny pieces, and pick out the harder points?"

"Yes. Occupational hazard, I guess. Tough fit, I'd think, for a man who appears to take in the big picture quickly and find the shiny nuggets. I keep trying to… I'd say talk myself down from all this. Step back from the ledge, Phoebe. Your life's good enough, full enough as it is, so accept that. Take that last step, there's no coming back from it, not without a world of hurt."

"Love as suicide?"

"Maybe it is. Or it's walking out with your hands up in surrender, to take the consequences."

"Or it's coming out free, instead of staying a hostage."

"That's a point. I know what I'm doing, have to know what I'm doing just about all the time. It's annoying, and damn disconcerting, not to know what I'm doing with him."

"Can't tell you. But I think it'd be fun finding out."

Fun was exhausting. Carly gave in to it and sprawled sleeping in the back of Duncan's car on the way home.

"In case she's too zonked to thank you, I can tell you she had a big, bright, red-letter day."

"Me, too."

"I noticed. Boys and toys. She's got a whopping crush on you."

"It's mutual."

"I noticed that, too. Duncan, I have one favor to ask, and I hope you'll understand why I need to."

"Sure. You had too many hot dogs and want me to stop for Pepto."

"I had one hot dog, and I have Turns at home. Duncan, seriously. I'm saying-asking, really-that if things between us take a slide, or we get pissed off and each decide the other is the spawn of Satan, if you'll ease away from Carly. Give her time to adjust. This is a crappy thing to bring up after you've given us such a good day, but-"

"You've got-what's his name?-Ralph stuck in your head."

"Roy," she corrected. "And, yes, that's part of it. I can't think of anyone less like him than you are."

I m

"If that's true, you should already know it's a favor you don't have to ask. I know what it's like to be shut out and shut down."

"You do." She touched a hand to his arm. "I'm a worrying, overprotective mother."

"She's lucky to have one." He aimed a look at her. "Even if you turn out to be the spawn of Satan."

She wiggled her tired toes as he turned toward the house. "How about coming in, having a cool glass of wine in the courtyard?"

"Exactly what I had in mind."

A week later, Phoebe sat in Duncan's garden. Carly was having a sleepover at her new second best friend Livvy's house, which meant her mama could have the adult version of a sleepover.

They'd had a swim, and made love. They'd had dinner, and made love. Now it was nearly midnight-and it didn't matter!-with her sitting out in a lush garden smelling night-blooming jasmine, a glass of wine in her hand. She wore a flimsy excuse for a robe she'd paid entirely too much money for.

But if a woman couldn't splurge for such an occasion, when could she?

The night hummed, the breeze just balmy enough to cut back the heat while a fat old moon sailed over a sky dashed with stars and smeared with filmy clouds. He'd turned music on so that Bonnie Raitt's Deltarich voice oozed out of the garden speakers.

Phoebe sipped wine and gave some lazy thought to making love again.

"I feel like I'm on vacation," she told Duncan.

"I should've put little umbrellas in the drinks." His voice was as lazy as she felt. "Something with steel drums on the stereo. Except I don't have little umbrellas or any steel-drum CD. No, Jimmy Buffett. It should've been Jimmy Buffett and margaritas."

"This is fine. This is perfect. I may never move from this exact spot." She turned her head to smile at him. "You'll have to start charging me rent."

"I'll take it out in trade."

"I'm so glad you didn't want to go anywhere tonight. Clubs, bars, movies. It's so nice to just be."

"Clubs, bars, movies, they're not going anywhere. It's nice to just kick back."

"You had a busy week."

"Ava's a slave driver. Beneath that pretty face is the heart of Simon Legree. I think I looked at every tree and shrub for sale in greater Savannah yesterday. And all those drawings and layouts. Sod. Fountains. Statuary. Birdbaths, feeders, houses. What-all. She doesn't care for the concept of 'do whatever you like.'"

"She mentioned you took her by an old warehouse the other day. That you're converting it into apartments and shops."

"Yeah. Thought she'd get some ideas going on that and be too busy to drag me to another nursery. How about we take a sail in the morning? In fact, we can sail over to Savannah."

"That sounds perfect. Everything's just about perfect."

"Give me a couple minutes." He shifted toward her on the wide chaise, then slid a finger down to open the thin robe. "And I'll make it absolutely perfect."

She didn't have a doubt in the world, not when his mouth found hers, when his hands began to cruise. She reached out blindly until her glass clinked against the table. With her hands free, she tangled her fingers in his hair.

The breeze played along her skin; the music thrummed just under it. When her head fell back so he could run his lips down her throat, there was the white ball of moon overhead.

She moved under him, opened for him so when their mouths met again he slipped inside her. Slow and easy now, loose and lazy. Her eyes stayed open so that she could see herself in his. She felt herself rising and falling, rising and falling, in long, liquid waves of arousal and pleasure. When she spilled over the crest, she was still there, trapped in the blue of his eyes.

Why, she wondered, would she want to be anywhere else? "One more." He murmured it, then captured her mouth again, sumptuously. Her heartbeat thickened, her bones softened.

I love you. The words rose in her throat, ached to be said.

They were good words, Phoebe told herself. Good, strong words that deserved to be said. But perhaps saying them for the first time when still coupled with the man on his garden chaise wasn't the best choice of time and place.

Instead, she framed his face with her hands. "You were right. You made it perfect."

"Being with you…" He turned his head so his mouth pressed to her palm.

The gesture had her heart taking another stumble. Something fluttered inside her belly. "Being with me?"

His gaze leveled on hers. "Phoebe-" Her cell phone rang.

"I jinxed it!" She struggled up. "I should never have said perfect." She thought of Carly, her mother, her brother. Snatched up the phone. "Phoebe MacNamara." The sound of Dave's voice didn't loosen the knots in her gut until she was certain it wasn't her family.

"Bonaventure? Where?" Without pen, paper or much of anything else, Phoebe took mental notes. "Yes. For me, specifically? I'm on Whitfield Island, at a friend's. I'll be there as soon as I can. All right. Yes, all right. I'll be headed out in five minutes."

In fact she was already up and hurrying toward the house as she spoke. "Tell him I'm en route. No, no, don't." She glanced at Duncan as he pushed the door open for her. "I have access to a very fast car, but I'll need a kit. I'll call you back when I'm on the road."

She clicked off.

"I need to borrow your Porsche."

"No problem, but it comes with me at the wheel."

"I can't take you where I'm going."

"Yes, you can," he corrected as they ran up the stairs.

"Duncan." She tossed off her robe as she rushed into his bedroom. "There's a man chained to a grave at Bonaventure Cemetery." She grabbed clothes. "All he's wearing, apparently, is a vest of explosives."

"If he's going to blow himself up, I hope he's already got a reservation. Bonaventure's pretty full up."

"He's the hostage," she snapped back as she pulled on clothes. "He's claiming to be, and he claims whoever strapped the bomb on him ordered him to call nine-one-one at a specific time, and ask for me by name. If I'm not there by one, whoever's holding the trigger pushes it, and he goes up."

"Only another reason I'll be driving. You don't know the car, I doand I know the roads better. I'll get you where you need to be. When's the last time you drove a six-speed?" he demanded when he saw the argument in her eyes.

Phoebe dragged on her shoes, nodded. "You're right. Let's go."

It made more sense to have him driving the Porsche like a hellhound over the island roads toward the bridge. She had her hands and mind free to contact Dave, to take notes.

"He claims he can't give his name, not until you get here," Dave told her. "He's saying he's wired for sound as well as the bomb, and the person behind it can hear everything. He's wearing an ear bud and a mike."

"Is he lying?"

"I don't think so. I'll be there inside five minutes myself, but from the sound of it, my professional assessment would be he's scared shitless. On-scene reports there are a lot of fresh bruises on his face, his torso, arms and legs. So far, he hasn't told us who did it, how, when, why. He can't, he says. He can only tell you."

"The way we're moving, I'll be there inside fifteen. What grave is he chained to?"

"Jocelyn Ambuceau, 1898 to 1916."

"Unlikely that's random. It or she means something."

"Having it run."

"Tell me more about the unidentified man."

"White, mid-thirties, brown and brown. Solid build. Accent sounds local. No jewelry, no tats. Arms and legs in shackles, shackles hammered into the ground with posts. He's in his boxers, barefoot. He's broken down twice since officers arrived. Just cried like a baby. He's begging us not to let him die. Begging us to get you here. Get Phoebe."

"My first name? He calls me by my first name, like he knows me?"

"That's my take, yeah."

"Tell him I'm nearly there." As they roared around a turn, she I braced a hand against the dash. "Make sure if anyone is listening, they can hear I'm nearly there." She looked at her watch. "I know it's nearly deadline, but we'll make it. Make sure they know I'm coming in. Ten minutes, Captain."

"I'm turning in now. I'll hold things until you get here." She clicked off, looked at Duncan.

"You'll make it." His eyes stayed on the road as he took the car down the little two-lane road at a hundred and ten. "Have you ever dealt with something like this before?"

"No. Not like this." She spotted the lights up ahead, got Dave back on the phone. "I see the radio cars. Let them know we're not stopping at the gate. Have one lead us in."

The Porsche fishtailed on the turn, grabbed road and lunged forward again. It was a blur of moss-draped trees, ornate statuary that gleamed under the moon. Heat put a shimmer on the air, on the thin spit of ground fog. Then there were lights up ahead, through dripping arches of trees. The Porsche slammed to a halt behind the radio car, and Phoebe jumped out.

"You have to stay back," she shouted at Duncan as she dashed through gravestones and winged angels.

Dave moved toward her quickly, gripped her arm. "The bomb squad's marked off the minimum safe distance. Nobody goes beyond it. Not negotiable."

"All right, okay. Situation changes?"

"I just got here two minutes ago."

"Let me get started."

She went forward slowly now. Even with the lights there were pockets of dark. Someone handed her a vest, and she shrugged it on as she studied the weeping man sitting on the grave.

An angel looked out over him, her face serene, her wings spread wide. There was a lute clutched against her breasts.

Below, the man hunched with his face pressed to his updrawn knees, the sound of his weeping raw and harsh against the insect buzz. Pink roses-fresh to her eye-were scattered around him. "I'm Phoebe MacNamara," she began, and his head jerked up.

She froze, stopped in her tracks well before reaching the tape strung out by the bomb detail. Everything in her turned to ice, then thawed again in a sudden gush of hot panic.

"Roy."

"Jesus." Beside her Dave clamped a hand on her wrist. "I didn't see his face. I didn't recognize him." Wasn't entirely sure he would have. "Phoebe, you can't approach," Dave said over Roy's wild shouts. "You cannot approach."

"Understood. Understood." But panic sweat sprang onto her skin.

"Roy, be quiet now. You have to calm down. Take a breath and calm down. I'm here now." While she spoke, she wrote quickly on her pad. Check on myfamily! Cop on the door. Carly here. She dashed down Phin's address. "We're going to be all right."

"He's going to kill me. He's going to kill me."

"Who?"

"I don't know. Oh God, I don't know. Why is this happening?"

"Can he hear us, Roy?"

"He says he can hear. Yes, he can hear. You… you fucking bitch. I have to say what he tells me or he'll blow it up."

"It's all right. If he can hear me, can he tell you what he wants?"

"I… I want you to shove some of this C-4 up your twat, you useless cunt."

"Do we know each other?"

"You cost me," Roy said with tears running down his cheeks. "Now I cost you."

"What did I cost you?"

"You're going to remember. Phoebe, help me, for God's sake, help me."

"All right, Roy. All right. Let me keep talking to him. You must be angry with me. Will you tell me why?"

"Not… not time yet."

"You called me out here, and I came. There must be something you want from me, something you want to tell me. If you'll explain to me why-"

"Fuck you," Roy said on a hitching sob.

"I feel as though you don't want to talk to me yet. Is it all right if I talk to Roy? Can I ask Roy questions?"

"He's laughing. He's laughing. He… Go ahead, have a nice chat. I need a beer."

"Roy, how did you get here?"

"He… drove." Eyes swollen from weeping and blows darted around the graveyard. "I think. In my car."

"What kind of car do you have?"

"M-Mercedes. E55.1 just got it a few weeks ago. I just…"

"All right." She scribbled down the make of the car. Find, she wrote. "He drove your car from Hilton Head?"

"I was in the trunk of my car. I couldn't see. Blindfold, gag. Coming home, driving into the garage. In the garage. Gun to the back of my head." He pressed his battered face to his knees again. "Came up behind me. Then, I don't remember. I don't know until I woke up and I couldn't see or talk. Hard to breathe. In the trunk, tape over my mouth. Couldn't find air."

She took one relieved breath when Dave stepped back and wrote All safe. Cop on doors. "How long ago?"

"I don't know. "

"Okay, it's okay. How did you get here, where you are now?"

"Heard the trunk open." He lifted his head again, shivering. Phoebe could see the insects feasting on him. "Something over my face-got dizzy, tried to fight. Hit me, hit me in the face. I woke up, and I was here, like this. He was talking in my head. In my head. I screamed and I shouted, but nobody came. He talked in my head, told me what to do. My phone, he left me my phone, told me to call nine-one-one, what to say. Only that one call, he said, only say what he told me to say, or he'd push the button."

"You never saw him," Phoebe said as she scribbled down Roy's full name, address, telephone number, and wrote How long missing? under it, circled it twice before passing it to Dave.

"Roy…"

But he was sobbing now. "I didn't do anything. Why is this happening?"

"That's not helping, Roy. Roy!" She sharpened her voice enough to get through. "You need to try to stay calm. The important thing is for us to work together so we can resolve this. I'd like to talk to him again, if he's ready. I wonder if he could give me a name-it doesn't have to be his name, just any name he's comfortable with. So I'd have a way to address him."

"I feel sick. I feel… No! No! Don't! Please, don't!" Roy's eyes wheeled as he strained against the shackles. "Please, God… Okay… Okay. I… I'm-I'm tired of listening to you whine, you worthless piece of shit. Keep it up and-and I'll blow you to hell and be done with it."

"If you do that, I won't know why you wanted me out here tonight. Why you're angry. Will you give me a name to call you?"

"He-" Roy's teeth chattered. "S-sure, Phoebe. You can call me Cooper."

Though her throat tightened, she wrote the name clearly on the pad, followed it up with. "All right, Cooper. Since I can't talk to you directly, I can't hear how you feel. Can you tell me how you feel?"

"Powerful. In fucking charge."

"Is being in charge important to you?"

"Damn right."

"Wouldn't it be more direct, more in charge, if you and I talked face-to-face?"

"Not time."

She stared into Roy's flooded eyes, listened to Roy's tortured voice, and fought to get inside the head of a man she couldn't see, couldn't hear.

"Can you tell me how we know each other, Cooper? Where we know each other from?"

"You tell me something."

"All right. What do you want me to tell you?"

"Do you care about this… worthless son of a bitch?"

Tricky, she thought. Care too much or care too little, either could incite. "Do you mean Roy?"

"You know I mean fucking Roy asshole Squire."

"He's my ex-husband. I don't want to see him or anyone else hurt. You haven't really hurt anyone yet, Cooper. We can resolve this without-"

"Tell that to Charles Johnson. You see-you see- God, okay- Did you see how surprised he looked when those bullets hit him?"

"Are you telling me you're responsible for the death of Charles Johnson?"

"Can't you fucking understand fucking English, bitch? I put him in the ground. Not the first time you helped somebody into the ground, is it? Is it? Won't be the last, and that's a promise. Please," Roy wheezed. "Please, please, please." And he shuddered under the spreading wings of the angel.

"Did you know Charles Johnson?"

"Just another worthless gangbanger. But you got him to come out, didn't you? Got him to come out without doing any hostages. Nobody inside that place worth crap, but you saved them, didn't you?"

"Who didn't I save, Cooper? Are the roses for her? Who is it you cared about I didn't save?"

"Figure that out, Phoebe, figure it out and beg for forgiveness. Maybe you'll save yourself."

"I'll beg for forgiveness now. If I wasn't good enough or smart enough to save someone, I'll beg for forgiveness now. Tell me what you want me to say, and I will."

"Better get started. Say… what? No, no, no!" Roy tried to stand, could only kneel. "Please. Okay, okay. Say time's up. Goodbye, Phoebe."

"Cooper, if you-"

The blast lifted her off her feet, shot her back through a hot burst of air. She landed in a heap, across a stranger's grave.

She knew what was whizzing overhead, thudding into the ground. Pieces of an angel, pieces of dirt. Pieces of Roy.

Images flashed through her mind, fast, disjointed. The first time she'd met him, at a party, and the big megawatt smile he dazzled her with. Making love with him on the big bed in the hotel suite where he'd surprised her with a weekend, and roses, and champagne. The instant before their lips met the first time as husband and wife. Dancing.

Lights.

Then blank dark.

Someone was shouting for her.

Phoebe pushed up to her elbows. She caught a blur of movement as Duncan dove. And he was over her, holding her down. Through a tunnel she heard more shouts, pounding feet, the crackle of radio static.

She didn't struggle; there was nothing to struggle for.

"What have I done?" she whispered. "Oh my God, what have I done?"