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Authors: Eric Wilson

Dark to Mortal Eyes (9 page)

BOOK: Dark to Mortal Eyes
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Steele Knight loved the royal game. Exhibiting more justice than life itself, it pitted equal forces upon a balanced battlefield in a fight to the death. There were hidden motives, to be sure, but no hidden moves. Oversights, yes, but no true secrets.

Real life was not so tidy. On the plains of human conflict, one secret remained.

The secret of Chance Addison’s journal.

In his mind’s eye, Stahlherz twirled his dark bishop like the chamber of a loaded gun. “You, Chance, you are the one to blame. You may be gone, but after what you did to me, I’ll burn in hell before letting you finish this game that you started. Your family will not go unpunished.”

Did she dare look? She folded her arms, quivering. Sweat trickled along her ribs. With a tentative glance, Josee saw Scooter’s chest rising and falling with the congested rattle in his throat.

What’s wrong with him? Jesus, please don’t let him die
.

Expressed without a sound, her words called up long-suppressed affections—as well as deep-seated doubts. One part of her longed to renew her bonds of faith, while another feared thunderous rejection. She set her chin. Looking upward through damp leaves, she challenged the skies to rain down acceptance.

“Howdy. Anybody down here?”

Josee spun her head to the side and, between the branches, saw a heavyset police officer descending the embankment. With rotating lights at his back, he ducked into the thicket, spotted Scooter on the ground.

“Morning. I’m Sergeant Turney.”

The man’s insignia marked him as a City of Corvallis public servant. Set between fleshy skin, his eyes were Hershey’s chocolate kisses melted deep into cookie dough, and Josee detected empathy there. Actual concern.

“Heard you hollerin’. You two in some sorta trouble?”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with him.”

The officer knelt beside Scooter. His trained hands checked for vital signs.

“It happened so fast.” She paused to steady her voice. “I mean, I’m not even sure what just … Can you tell if he’s okay?”

“Hard to say right off.”

“He’s breathing, isn’t he? Tell me he’s breathing.”

“Barely. We’re gonna need some paramedics down here. His pulse is weak, and it looks for the life of me as though your partner here’s bleedin’ from the eyes.” Sergeant Turney turned his gaze to the branch in Josee’s hand. “Got any ideas why?”

She let the branch fall with a muffled thud.

6
Drum Roll

Kara’s mouth was open, her pain an arrow shooting from her pupils with such force that Marsh recoiled. “What’s going on?” He fumbled with the silken material at her throat. “Tell me what to do!”

“Marsh, I can’t—”

His fingers found a tangled seam. He tugged.

“I’m … choking!”

“How’d you get this around your neck?”

The entreaty in her eyes told him that explanations could wait.
Prioritize
, he told himself.
Get her free of this thing
. Funneling his attention to the cloth noose, he felt a reciprocal tightness in his own larynx; her gasps—and his—were thin and muted. He grappled with the material. Where’d the knot begin and end? He tugged again. Heard a despairing moan. Tried it the other way and whipped the cloth away with the relief of a bullfighter dodging a charge.

“Honey, you okay? What happened!”

Kara coughed. “Why’d you do that?”

Marsh was dumbfounded. “That thing was strangling you.”

“You’re scaring me.”

“I was trying to help.”

“Help? But you almost …” Her eyes turned away. “You’re right. I should go.”

Was she accusing him? “It was this,” he said, shaking the material in his hand. “I have no clue how it got around your neck, but it got knotted up somehow. I had nothing to do with it.”

Contrasted by black silk, the designer signature caught his attention.

J. Dunlary
. It was there in plain sight.

Marsh’s free hand clutched at his chest, and he stared down, realizing that his tie was missing from around his neck. He had wrapped it over his shoulders, with no intention of tying it until his boardroom powwow with Henri Esprit, the vineyard’s esteemed winemaker. Kara had been running her fingers
over the silk. Had she nabbed the tie and playfully slipped it on? She must’ve. Nothing else made sense.

Nevertheless, the picture of his hands at her throat refused to fade.

Marsh had unnerved her. He’d pawed at her, catatonic with fear; he’d thrown his tie to the floor, as though wrestling a creature. And with the conjuring of some crazy scenario, he had brought their conversation to a halt.

His intention most likely. He did nothing without a plan.

Tears stung Kara’s eyes as she hobbled with her sports bag down the stairs, out the brick entryway, and to the Z3 convertible. Marshall’s gift for her fortieth birthday, the car was an attempt to manufacture intimacy with a chunk of pricey metal. He meant well.

Against the vehicle, the sun beat her shadow into a form without identity.

Marsh called to her from the portico. “Still hours until your mother-daughter reunion. What’s the hurry?”

“Shouldn’t matter to you,” she said. “You might as well sign me out like a piece of your equipment, mark me down in case I don’t show back up.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Fairly obvious, I’d think. You don’t want me around.”

She fired the engine, felt raw power purr throughout her body. She thought that this must be why men loved their cars. Her understanding stopped there. She was befuddled by a husband so dedicated to his work, to his father’s memory, to a sense of justice that he erected walls between himself and those closest to him. Didn’t he see the potential rewards of Josee’s return into their lives? Of Kara’s place as his life partner?

No, his staunch objectivity blinded him to such things.

With the Z3’s top down, she corralled her hair in a chiffon scarf and felt the knot settle like a butterfly in the cleft of her throat. She wouldn’t let Marsh’s actions dictate her emotions. This was a day of reunion. Reconciliation. She’d think on that.

The driveway carried her from the manor. On Ridge Road, Kara hugged the corners, followed the dotted yellow line where it zipped through stands of
evergreens and moss-bearded outcroppings. She let the wind and speed shred her troubles.

I’m going to see my daughter. Today. Finally!

She tossed up an uncharacteristic yell.

Entering an S-curve, she downshifted into the descent. Like an apparition, a van appeared in the crisscrossed shadows. The driver was young and …

I’ve seen that face before. A repair guy up at the estate. He was—

He was flagging her down. No time to stop.

Her arms stiffened, hands clamped on the wheel, and she pumped the brakes to avoid a collision. To her left, sunlight glanced off a guardrail at the lip of a gulch and speared her eyes. She flinched. Colors danced. Kara Addison felt the wheels slide, and in the chaos of the moment, her scream melded with the squeal of rubber as the roadster ripped a hole in the air over the ravine.

Dust whirled behind her vanishing sports car. Marsh had tried to explain what he’d seen with the necktie, but she wouldn’t hear of it. Beneath the portico, he drew a Montblanc pen from his pocket and fired an imaginary shot in Kara’s direction. Women. They were like firecrackers—always good for a burst of excitement, but you never knew when one might blow up in your hand.

And you’d think by now I could defuse at least one of them
.

He marched up to his study and punched in the code to open the door.

At the computer, Steele Knight was gone. No surprise. Marsh had lost focus anyway. Rattled by the happenings in the bedroom, he consoled himself with thoughts of a rousing game the following morning.

For the next two hours, Marsh sifted through Wednesday’s paperwork, made phone calls, sketched out an agenda. Finally, with the boardroom powwow ten minutes from starting, he turned to the black tie. Time to don the proper attire. His thumb traced the checkered motif, and he lifted the J. Dunlary over his head. Then paused. The bewilderment he’d been squelching now threatened once more, and he fought a reluctance to noose the silk around his neck.

I don’t trust the darn thing. How crazy does that sound?

The mystery remained. What had gone on at their bedroom window? Kara’s rounded eyes … his hands … the knotted cloth. Figments of imagination? No. The tie was tangible, silken and smooth. Given the proper facts, he was sure he could sort this matter out, but sharpness of dress was less vital than sharpness of mind, and with the latter in jeopardy, he considered ditching the article in the laundry hamper to let Rosie deal with it.

As if a good dry cleaning could exorcise it? Wait, this is ridiculous. This thing’s not going to get the best of me
.

He hoisted the material again, worked it into a tapered Windsor knot. Then, as he started to cinch it, the feeling of horror returned, and Marsh cast off the tie for good.

“You’re loosening up, I see.”

“Come again?”

“Dress shirt and slacks, but”—the wiry winemaker tapped Marsh’s collarbone—”no tie. How long’ve I been trying to convince you it was unnecessary?”

“It’s only temporary.”

“And so are the protocols of business fashion. Take a deep breath, Marshall. Taste the winds of freedom.” In the corridor, Henri Esprit spread his hands, closed his eyes, and inflated his barrel lungs as though partaking in reverent ritual.

Marsh hid a smile. “You’ve been sampling the late harvest grapes again.”

“Sampling, yes. Imbibing, no.”

“For work purposes?”

“Naturally, and of course.” Esprit produced a hand-corked bottle, a reserve of their best Pinot Noir. He decanted and proffered a glass. “Try some yourself. You’ll be impressed.”

About to protest, Marsh found himself wooed by the wine’s bouquet. One sip, and the velvet fruitiness gave way to a waltz of tannins upon his tongue. “Wow. Double wow.” Forget the pretentious blather; this was religious release.

“Winds of freedom.” Esprit’s eyes sparkled. “They only add to the delectation.”

BOOK: Dark to Mortal Eyes
5.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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