Bystrom lifted his head and watched her walk across his office and out the door that Colin held open. Then he looked at Colin, hate glittering in his eyes.
Hair at his nape prickling, Colin eased himself out of the office without turning his back and closed the door. The assistant’s desk was still unoccupied and the two of them were able to quietly walk out and to the stairs.
The corner of Jane’s mouth turned up. “I’ve never interviewed a cop before.”
“If his hands had dropped out of sight behind the desk, I’d have been on him.” Not knowing where Bystrom kept his service weapon had kept Colin vigilant. Now, alone in the stairwell, he grinned at Jane. “You did a damn fine job, Detective. You didn’t need me.”
She blushed. “Thank you, Captain. But you’re wrong. Having you for backup gave me confidence.”
He could only shake his head. She’d scared the shit out of their not-so-respected police chief, and now she was blushing at a compliment.
* * *
NELL HADN’T TOLD Colin what she planned for the next day. She might have, if he hadn’t kissed her again after walking her to the apartment door.
This second kiss had been deeper, slower, so sensual that remembering it still made her shiver twelve hours later. His tongue had traced the seam of her lips until she parted them and let him in. Even then he hadn’t been aggressive. Instead of grinding his mouth against hers, he teased and stroked, his hands rhythmically squeezing her upper arms. Stunned by these new sensations, she hadn’t been able to think at all. Finally he’d gentled the kiss further, nuzzled her cheek and murmured, “Sleep tight.”
Dazed and robbed of her voice, she couldn’t do anything but turn, fumble with the key until the door opened and escape within. She knew he hadn’t gone anywhere until he’d heard her turn the dead bolt.
Sleep was a long time coming. She did spend some of that time thinking about her plans. Felix was spending the morning with some friends, so she’d decided this was the perfect time to catch her mother alone.
When she reached the house, though, no one answered the doorbell. Turning and looking up and down the quiet street, she thought, Well, that’ll teach me not to call ahead.
Dad, then, she decided. Maybe he would give her the answers she needed. If not...she’d come back by the house later.
The drive to the lodge felt increasingly natural. I drove out here a few times once I had my permit. As always, the memory was unpleasantly visceral. These memories were whole-body experiences. She felt her death grip on the wheel, the way she had to remind herself to check the rearview mirror. Dad snapping, “Watch it, Nell!” when she wandered toward one line or other. She desperately wanted her driver’s license because it would give her independence, but oh, how she wished there were someone else to teach her. If only Beck....
Oh, God, oh, God. Nell steered to the side of the road and braked, breathing hard, needing to close her eyes and gather herself. Having his name slip so effortlessly into the recollection shook her. He’s there, so why can’t I remember him?
If only Beck...what?
At the hint of a headache, she let go of the question. Both questions. A door had opened, though, and he was on the other side of it. The crack could only widen. When I know, she thought, I’ll know everything. The certainty was more unnerving than anything that had so far happened since she’d come home.
Except maybe Colin, she corrected herself. He was something she had never in a million years expected. She knew in theory what these feelings were, but didn’t yet know how far she dared let herself go with them.
The fleeting thought about Colin, confused though it was, calmed her. He had a way of doing that. Ever since she’d found his picture on the internet, then printed it and hung it on her refrigerator where she could see his face whenever she needed to. The idea of going home to Seattle and not seeing him anymore, having only the picture—that scared her.
Nell gave herself a shake, glanced over her shoulder and, when she found the road to be empty, started toward Arrow Lake again.
When she arrived and went into the main lodge to ask for her father, she first had to endure half a dozen people marveling over her reappearance.
“It’s really Maddie!”
She distracted herself from her discomfiture by surveying the lobby with its open beams and massive fireplace. She’d already known what it looked like, down to the peeled ponderosa log furniture.
At last she escaped to the office suite. The assistant’s desk was at least momentarily unoccupied, and her father’s door stood partially open. The murmur of voices told her he wasn’t alone—and it was her mother in there with him.