Authors: Marta Perry
Adam didn’t speak, but it seemed to her that his very silence was skeptical. She glared at him.
“I did not imagine it. Someone was in the house. I heard him.”
He shrugged, his face impassive. “Could have been a neighbor, dropping something off. Or one of the Amish girls who helps your mother.” He held up his hand, stopping her protest. “Or it could have been a sneak thief, thinking no one was here and scared off when he realized he was wrong. I’ll check the rest of the downstairs more carefully, but it doesn’t look as if anything is missing.”
She should be pleased. She was pleased, except for the fact that Adam probably thought she was letting her nerves get away from her. Or, worse, that she wanted his attention.
She turned toward the desk, not eager to see his face right now. And found she was staring at a blank blue screen.
For a moment all she could do was stare. The computer should have been in sleep mode. It wasn’t. It took only a few keystrokes to show her the truth.
“Something is missing.” She felt numb. All her work, her business files, her personal data. “Someone has wiped my hard drive clean.”
ADAM STUDIED LIBBY’S face. She obviously believed that. But was it really likely that someone had broken into the Morgan house just to damage Libby’s computer?
At his silence, Libby’s cheeks flushed. “I suppose you think I’m making that up.”
“Don’t put words in my mouth, Libby. I don’t think that at all. I can see for myself that the computer has crashed.”
“Everything’s gone.” She raked her fingers through her damp hair. “What a mess. All my photo files—”
“Don’t you have backup?” He took a step closer, impelled by the distress in her face. He didn’t quite get it himself, since he used the computer only when his job required, but he knew people who insisted their whole lives were on their computers.
“Yes, of course.” She managed a feeble smile. “I’m overreacting, I guess. I use an online backup system, so it’s not really lost. Sorry. I didn’t mean to sound as if it was the end of civilization as we know it.”
“That’s okay. You’re entitled, after the time you’ve had lately.”
That flash of the old, spunky kid sister encouraged him, but he was going to have to be careful what he said to her. Libby was fragile, more so than he’d ever seen her.
“Okay, let’s assume someone came in the house while you were upstairs. You didn’t see a vehicle?”
She shook her head. “But someone planning a break-in wouldn’t leave a vehicle in plain sight.”
“True, but it’d also be pretty obvious if he walked in, with the snow cover.” He prolonged the conversation, since Libby looked better for concentrating on possibilities. “I’ll take a look around outside while you get dressed, and then we can do a more careful check of the house.”
She nodded, wrapping the fuzzy robe more tightly around her, as if just becoming aware that she stood there in robe and bare feet, looking as if she’d just stepped from the shower.
. Better not let his mind go there. Maybe getting dressed would help restore Libby’s balance. And the cold air would certainly do him some good right now.
Libby hurried up the stairs without another word, and he went back out the front door. He hadn’t taken the time for a good look around when he’d arrived, too intent on getting to Libby.
The massive wreath on the front door rustled as he closed the door. Adam stood on the front porch, surveying the area. The Morgan place stood in its own acreage some seven miles from Springville, a large, gracious house, set well back from the road. Everything about it screamed out the difference between Libby’s life and his own.
Not that something like that would necessarily stand between them if… Well, that was a stupid train of thought. He’d made too many mistakes with Libby to start over now, and for that matter, she’d never exactly shown a lot of confidence in him, either, jumping to conclusions about his guilt where Sally was concerned.
he ordered himself. The stand of evergreens that screened the house from view might provide cover for an intruder. The lawns were snow-covered in patches, but maybe there was enough bare ground that a man could approach without leaving prints in the snow.
Adam stepped down from the porch to the gravel-covered parking area. Nothing to be seen here, but it would take nerve to drive straight in from the road if you were intent on burglary. Still, there were no neighbors near enough to see, assuming you were sure no one was home.
He started around the house. The Morgan place had begun life as a classic Pennsylvania double-plank farmhouse, but succeeding generations had added on as the family became larger. And more prominent.
He could spot no signs of anyone coming near the house this way, but when he reached the rear, there were too many. Obviously plenty of vehicles had been in and out in the past few days because of the wedding. It was impossible to separate out any tracks that had been made today.
Trying the kitchen door, he discovered without surprise that it was unlocked. Geneva drove Trey crazy with her carelessness about safety. He’d installed a security system at one point, but after several dozen false alarms caused by Geneva’s habit of forgetting to shut the thing off, he’d given up on that.
The kitchen seemed bright and welcoming on even a gray day, with its pale yellow walls and warm wood cabinets. Adam rested a hand on the pine table where he’d had more meals than he could count. Geneva had always acted as if he were half-starved when he was a kid, which had more truth in it than she’d probably known.
The old man hadn’t wanted to waste money on food when it could be better spent, according to him, on drink. Adam’s jaw tightened, and he yanked his attention back to the present.
A basket sat on the counter, the casserole dish it contained covered with a napkin. So maybe a neighbor had been in, and that had been the sound Libby heard.
Libby appeared in the kitchen door. “Did you find anything?” She looked more like herself now, in blue jeans and with her damp hair fastened at the nape of her neck, but she still had a brittle edge that concerned him.
“Too much traffic in and out with the wedding,” he said. He nodded toward the basket. “It looks as if a neighbor might have been here. Maybe that was what you heard.” He suspected that wouldn’t satisfy her.
It didn’t…he could see that from her expression even before she spoke.
“Then what happened to my computer? A neighbor delivering a casserole wouldn’t be likely to touch that.”
“Computers do crash,” he said mildly.
“Yes.” Doubt flickered in her eyes. “But that would be awfully coincidental.”
“Why?” Frustration was getting the better of him. “How could your computer possibly link up with Esther’s letters?”
Her jaw set with typical Morgan stubbornness. “I don’t know. But I still say it’s odd.”
She wouldn’t admit it, he knew, but at least he’d succeeded in planting some doubt in her mind. “You just want to find a mystery in everything. Natural enough. You’re a reporter.”
“Not anymore.” She clamped her lips together, looking as if she regretted saying the words.
“Oh?” He stood. Waited. He could see she wanted to say more, but if he urged her, she’d back off. Libby hadn’t changed all that much, and he knew her too well.
She smoothed still-damp hair back from the perfect oval of her face. “Yes, well, I lost my job. Quit, actually, but it came to the same thing.” Concern drew her brows together. “I haven’t told my mother yet, so don’t say anything.”
“I won’t.” He waited, knowing there was more.
“It had been coming on for a long time, actually.” She shrugged, moving restlessly around the kitchen table to the counter. “Too many crime scenes, too many photos of mangled cars and mangled bodies and burned-out buildings and…
“The last straw was the scene of a gang shooting. The mother, crying over her son’s body. I was snapping shots, trying not to register what I was seeing, and all of a sudden the woman raised her head and looked right at me.”
Her lips trembled, making him want to put his arms around her. She pressed her lips together, hands gripping the edge of the counter.
“I told her I wouldn’t run the photo. I told my editor that. But he did it anyway. Said that was what a news reporter did, and if I couldn’t hack it, I should quit. I just stood there looking at him, and it all gelled in my mind. I didn’t belong there, taking pictures of one disaster after another. So I’m officially unemployed.”
He couldn’t stay away from her any longer, but he contented himself with going to lean against the counter next to her, looking down at her averted face. “Why haven’t you told your mother yet? If I know Geneva, she’s likely to want to give you a medal for that.”
Libby shook her head, still not looking at him. “I…I didn’t want to distract from the wedding. I’ll tell her. Then I’ll figure out what I’m going to do with my life.”
His heart lurched at the bereft sound in her words. He leaned closer, needing to comfort her, wanting to tell her everything would work out—
“Hello?” The front door banged. “What’s going on? Is something wrong?” Geneva’s light voice echoed in the hallway, and then she erupted into the kitchen. “What’s happening?”
“It’s nothing, Mom.” Libby spoke quickly, before he could explain. “I thought I heard someone in the house earlier, so Adam came to check it out for me, but it was nothing.”
Geneva eyed her searchingly, and then she turned the same gaze on him. “Is that all? Are you sure?”
“I checked the whole house,” he said. Obviously Libby wanted to protect her mother from knowing anything about this. Admirable, but not very realistic. Geneva always found out about things, and she could never be persuaded to stay out of anything.
“Nothing was missing?” Geneva glanced around, running a hand through her short gray curls. “How could someone get in?”
“Through the doors you so obligingly left unlocked.” He gave her a stern frown. “What do you suppose Trey would say about that?”
“Well, Trey’s off on his honeymoon, so he won’t know.” She gave him the winsome smile that had half the township ready to do whatever Geneva asked. “And you won’t tell him, will you?”
“Not if you promise to be more careful in the future.” He glanced at his watch. “I’ve got to get back to the office. If anything turns up missing…”
“We’ll call you,” Geneva said promptly. “But why don’t you come for supper? We can talk it over then. Along with whatever you two are trying to keep from me.”
“We’re not—” Libby began, but let it drop at her mother’s look.
“It’s nice of you to invite me, but I’m in the middle of an investigation,” he said quickly, moving toward the door.
“You still have to eat,” Geneva said. “Come back around six. Link and Marisa will be here by then, and we can talk it over while we eat.” She smiled, seeming confident that he’d obey.
Which he would. He couldn’t refuse Geneva anything. He owed her too much for that. She’d looked at the ragged, angry son of the town drunk and seen a person worth cultivating where the rest of the township had seen trash.
He’d never forget what he owed her, as well as the rest of the Morgan family. Which was why any feelings he had for Libby were best buried…too deep to be found.
LIBBY GLANCED LONGINGLY at her bed, something she seemed to be doing a lot lately. She’d spent what was left of the day trying to get her operating system reloaded so that she could start downloading the files from her off-site storage. It had, of course, been a frustrating experience, but once she started, she hadn’t been willing to stop.
Adam would probably say she was being obsessive about it, just as he so clearly thought she was obsessive about the attack on Esther.
Why was she thinking about Adam again? She attacked her hair with the hairbrush. Being home, seeing him again, had brought up feelings she was sure she’d banished ages ago. Well, she’d just have to chase them back out. Anything else just led to problems—witness the fact that she’d opened up to him about her job, when she hadn’t told anyone else yet.