My vocal chords were galvanized into cooperating as my cheeks turned pink. “You took your time getting back to me.”
I shook my head. “The house is too modern. When you grow up in an 1839 mansion on the Antebellum Trail, a brand new house, no matter how ostentatious, just doesn’t cut it.”
Rafe didn’t answer, but he smiled. I flushed, feeling stupid. He had spent his childhood in a trailer in the Bog, surrounded by leaning walls and a leaking roof, so this place probably looked like a palace.
Then again, Mrs. Jenkins’s house on Potsdam Street, where he lived now – at least from time to time – wasn’t anything to sneeze at, either. Circa 1889, it was a three-story Victorian with a ballroom on the third floor and a circular tower on the southeast corner. It needed a ton of work, some of which he had done, some which he hadn’t gotten around to yet, but it had all the personality this cookie-cutter McMansion lacked.
“So what’s been going on,” I asked, “that you haven’t been over to see your grandmother lately?”
“I spent the night with Tammy Grimaldi.” His voice was so even that it took a moment for the words to sink in. Just as the realization of what he’d said sucker-punched me in the stomach, he added, “So what is it you want, darlin’?”
“Want?” I repeated blankly.
“If you went toe to toe with Marquita, you gotta want something. What is it?”
“Oh. Right. Sorry.” I grimaced. “I wanted to tell you that Lila Vaughn was dead. But if you spent the night with Tamara Grimaldi, I guess you already know that.”
His eyes were opaque. “The subject came up, yeah.”
Try as I might – and I wasn’t trying that hard – my voice came out sounding snippier than I wanted it to. His lips curved.
“Never mind,” I added, with what little dignity I could muster. Goodness, how humiliating! I wouldn’t blame him for thinking I was jealous.
His voice was easy. “You’re giving me too much credit, darlin’. Women like Tammy Grimaldi don’t look twice at somebody like me.”
“You haven’t heard the way she asks questions about you,” I answered.
He laughed. “That ain’t cause she likes me, darlin’. She probably thinks I’m doing something I shouldn’t be.”
“And are you?” The words just fell out of my mouth without conscious thought, and Rafe chuckled.
“I’m sure I’m doing plenty of stuff I shouldn’t be.”
“You sure you wanna know, darlin’?”
I hesitated. For just long enough to make it difficult to say yes. “You said you had things to do this afternoon,” I said instead. “What happened?”
He shrugged. “Change of plans.”
“Well, if you didn’t speak to Marquita and get my message, how did you know I wanted to talk to you?”
That was easy, he didn’t.
“So what are you doing here?” I asked.
“Maybe I just came by to pick up where we left off last week.” He grinned, and I took an immediate step back, fetching up against the nearest piece of antique furniture with a bump that sent the elegant console-table knocking against the wall. He laughed. “Relax, darlin’. After Tammy told me what’d happened to Lila, I wanted to make sure you were all right.”
“I see,” I said. “That’s really quite nice of you, to take time out to check on me. Do you want to go back to her, now that you’ve seen that I’m all right?”
He laughed. “What exactly d’you think we were doing, darlin’? I spent the night in jail. She hauled me in for questioning around 8 o’clock yesterday, kept at me till one in the morning, let me sleep for five hours, and came back to work at seven. Then we kept going in circles till one, when she finally let me leave. I had to tell her you were waiting for me before she’d let me out of her sight. She’s probably outside right now, making sure I’m doing what I said I was gonna do.”
“So you’re only here because you told her you would be?”
He shrugged, looking around. “You alone?”
“No, actually. There’s a young couple around somewhere. They went back that way, to look at the master suite...” I pointed, “it must be ten minutes ago now.”
And they hadn’t come back yet.
Maybe Gary Lee and Charlene had overheard our conversation and decided to make themselves scarce until we had finished. Or maybe they’d exited from the master suite out onto the deck, and had gone around the house to their car that way. Maybe I really was alone. Except for Rafe, who was making me feel just a touch apprehensive. “Why do you ask?”
“Just wondering. Busy day?”
“Not too bad. Seventeen visitors, eighteen with you. I’ve seen worse.”
“You sure you shouldn’t check up on your couple? If you ain’t heard a noise for ten minutes, they could be up to all sorts of trouble. Going through the medicine cabinets, pocketing the silverware, strangling one another...”
I shook my head. “They’re nice kids. Newlyweds looking for their first house. I met them two weeks ago at your grandmother’s open house, and I’ve shown them a couple of homes since then. They have another they want to see tomorrow. They’re not doing anything wrong.”
“It’s almost time to close up, though. You don’t wanna leave nobody behind.”
I glanced at my watch. “If they’re not out here in two minutes, I’ll go look for them. Just out of curiosity, why are you being so helpful? You don’t have a moving truck on standby outside, do you?”
“After what happened to Lila? No, darlin’. I ain’t that stupid.”
“Good to know,” I said, wondering whether he really had just admitted that he’d been involved in the open house robberies or if my imagination was running away with me.
“Course, if you’ve got a hankering for being tied up, I could oblige just to make you happy.”
“After what happened to Lila?” I said. “No, thanks. I’m not that stupid.”
“Good to know,” Rafe said with a grin.
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