THE NIGHT HAD A TEXTURE TO IT, a lush throbbing weight that reminded Matt that there were a lot of living things out in all that blackness. Living things like snakes. Alligators. Big bugs that he wasn’t real fond of. And the only thing between him and them was the thin metal screen of the sleeping porch.
It hadn’t seemed quite as bad the past few nights, but he’d been falling asleep so hard and so deep it was as if he’d died.
Tonight, his head was spinning, trying to separate malicious gossip and rumor from what might possibly be the truth.
Christ, it would make his life a whole lot easier. And, frankly, it explained why the kids were always breaking into the back courtyard. Why the greenhouse was destroyed and why suddenly someone was bold enough to try to get into the house.
Why they wanted a security camera in their garden.
Gems, thousands of dollars in a wall safe.
People did worse for less.
Like you, he thought, guilt eating at the edges of his mind.
He should have said something to Doug, a little something to keep his mouth shut about Savannah. But he hadn’t. He’d walked away and now he was going to use Doug’s gossip against them.
I’m no better than Doug. I’m worse.
He turned on the small camping lantern that Margot had given him because the porch wasn’t wired with electricity. The white sheets on the narrow cot glowed, and other than some gardening pots in the corner of the room where he’d hidden the surveillance photos and files, the porch was empty.
No wall safes. No gems.
Bugs were attracted to the light and buzzed against the screens, beating giant wings against the metal.
Freaked out, he turned off the light, opting for the ghostly half-light of the moon.
Room 3 at Bonne Terre Inn was getting more appealing by the minute.
But there were no chances to study the lovely, wounded and Notorious O’Neill women in room three.
Don’t hurt us any more than we’ve been hurt.[email protected]@@@[email protected]@@@@=======
Why did she have to say that?
Why did he have to feel guilty for doing what was right for his dad? His father, who had been hung out to dry by Vanessa and Richard.
He checked his watch. Dad called him every Wednesday at this time. Jail was a lonely place and these weekly calls were important. To both of them. Joel Woods may not have been the best father, but he’d done the best he could.
Matt grabbed his cell phone, depressed the power button under his thumb and the annoying chime of an activated phone sounded loud in the quiet night.
“Hello, Matt,” his phone said. “You have twenty voice mail messages.”
He groaned and looked down at the display. Erica. Twenty voice mail messages from Erica, trying to get him back to work. Trying to get him to care.
He erased all of them with one push of his finger.
But then the screen illuminated with a text message.
Twenty messages, you jerk. You’ve lost two clients. I’ve paid all the bills I can. Consider this my two weeks notice. Erica.
HE STARED HARD AT the words, trying to make sense of them. Erica was leaving. He searched himself for any emotional reaction, but felt nothing. It was as if it were someone else’s incredibly prized personal assistant leaving.
That whole life, the office and the buildings, the door with his name on it, all of it seemed so far away. So removed from him.
The fact that he didn’t care, not about losing Erica or his clients, actually terrified him.
Who am I becoming? he wondered.
His throat tight, he deleted the message only to have another one pop up that had been sent three hours after the previous one.
Okay. I’ve had a glass of wine and expensed a nice dinner on you. I realize leaving now would be a disaster. For you. You need help, Matt. Lots of help. Charlotte came by the office yesterday. She quit her job and is moving down to Houston with the kids to be with Jack. She says stop sending them money. She says they are fine. I believe her. I’m not quitting. Thanks for the steak.
Fine? He wondered. He tipped his head back and stared through the screen at a filmy white cloud passing over the moon. How is that possible? Charlotte had been an editor at the Post-Gazette—a job she’d loved, had worked so hard for. Jack used to brag about his wife, the mudraker.
Oh, God, he thought, struggling for breath. Another life changed. Another life diminished by what I’ve done.