Read His Partner's Wife Online

Authors: Janice Kay Johnson

His Partner's Wife (7 page)

BOOK: His Partner's Wife
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Perhaps it was lack of sleep that made her feel so stupid.
"Then … what
you think?"

He shook his head. "I've got to tell you, I don't know
what to think. The fact that there's a connection between Stuart and the dead
man makes me curious. I don't believe in coincidences, and it would be one hell
of a coincidence if our guy, fresh out of prison for dealing, had just happened
to decide to break into your house of all others. And, oh yeah, instead of
walking back out, happy, with your TV and stereo, he instead gets himself
killed in your husband's office."

During this speech, her anxiety had sharpened into a knife
blade of fear. She dampened her lips. "Then he must have been looking for

"That's one possibility," John agreed.

"But what?"

To her dismay, he shook his head again. "I wish I knew,
Natalie. Any ideas would be appreciated. Stuart didn't brag about collecting
anything valuable, did he? Stamps, coins? He didn't tell the whole world that
he had his life savings stored as gold bullion in his house?"

She was shaking her head the whole time he talked. "He
played golf. He liked old car shows. He did tear stamps off envelopes if he
thought they were curiosities—there are a bunch of German ones somewhere
because he had a cousin in Munich, but he didn't know anything about stamps. Or
coins or…" She couldn't even think of what else he might reasonably have
collected. "And his life savings, which weren't all that much, were in a
mutual fund and a twelvemonth CD."

So casually she knew he'd been waiting to slip the question
in, John asked, "What about you? Antique jewelry Stuart might have bragged
to someone else about?"

Again she shook her head hopelessly. "The closest thing
to a valuable antique that I have is a set of early Nancy Drew mysteries. I
can't imagine that your drug dealer wanted
The Secret of the Old Clock."

"That does seem unlikely," he admitted.

"Besides," she pointed out, "Stuart and I
hadn't even met five years ago. So they couldn't have chatted about my
collection of Nancy Drew. And how would they have run into each other since, if
this guy didn't get out of prison until after Stuart was dead?"

"True enough." He rubbed the back of his neck.
"I'm groping here, Natalie."

She nodded, understanding. It was a form of brainstorming,
like sessions they had at the paper.

"What will you do next?" she asked.

"Talk to Floyd's friends or relatives. I'm heading for Tacoma this morning to tell his parents about his death and find out whether they knew a
damn thing about what he was up to. Hell, maybe he wrote them letters about how
he intended to rifle Det. Stuart Reed's house when he was released. And, oh,
yeah, his buddy Bill Doe wanted to help. We should be so lucky."

She nodded.

"Then we'll wait for fingerprint ID," he
continued. "Take a harder look at your house." His tone changed, his
eyes softened. "I'm sorry, Natalie. We need to see if we can find
something Floyd might have been looking for."

"I understand." Strangely, the idea of him
searching her possessions wasn't all that disturbing. She had always found him

If she had been more self-conscious around him yesterday and
today, it was hardly surprising. Their roles had shifted; his job required him
to consider even her as a suspect.

And somehow here in John's home, she was discovering
tensions she hadn't known existed. He clearly harbored some resentment
concerning his mother, for example. His protectiveness toward his children had
seemed both natural and misplaced—except that she didn't know why he was still
angry at his mother. Once she would have said she could ask him anything, but
the guard he'd snapped into place when she asked made her realize their
friendship had been more superficial than she'd realized. There was so much
about the inner man she didn't know. And so much about herself she had never
told him, including a biggie, considering he had been Stuart's friend first. He
had assumed her marriage was completely happy, Natalie knew, and she had never
disabused him.

She came back to the present to realize that he was looking
at her strangely. Had she been staring? Had he said something?

Rushing into speech to fill what must have been a peculiar
silence, she argued, "But mightn't the murderer have taken whatever it

He grimaced. "Unfortunately, that's a possibility, too.
But what the hell could it have been?" Now he sounded frustrated.
"You've surely looked through the records Stuart left. The files in the
desk seemed orderly and totally uninteresting to anyone else. None of the boxes
in the closet had been ripped open. Your place wasn't ransacked. Had
disturbed that you noticed?"

"No." She pressed her lips together. "It was
strange, wasn't it? The house seemed so normal. Untouched. Only, there was this
dead man upstairs. It would almost have been easier if the house
tossed. You know?"

"Violence should spread ripples," he said

She blinked. "Yes. Exactly."

"I need to be on my way." He didn't move.
"What are your plans today?"

"I hadn't thought yet." She hesitated. "I
could watch your kids if that would free your mom to go home."

His dark brows drew together. "I'm not going to use
you. You're a guest."

Puzzled by the edge in his voice, Natalie said, "It's
nice of you to have me here, John, but it won't hurt me to help out a

"You always want to pay your way, don't you?"

"Is that so bad?" she asked quietly.

He got to his feet and looked down at her. "Just this
once," he said, almost harshly, "do me a favor. Accept my help
without baby-sitting my kids, bringing me cookies or knitting me a sweater.

"I don't—"

"Yeah. You do." He reached out, touched her cheek,
the most fleeting of contacts but enough like a caress to steal her breath.
"Friends don't have to be repaid."

She found herself nodding dumbly. "Yes. Okay."

"Do something self-indulgent today. Get a massage. Go
to a movie. Hey, go back to bed."

"I'm going horseback riding." She hadn't known
she'd decided.

His quick, warm smile erased the harshness on a face made
more angular by lack of sleep. "Good girl. Sounds like the right medicine.
You probably don't get enough chances."

"I go two or three times a week."

The one gift from Stuart that she truly loved was Foxfire,
the bloodred Arabian stallion she kept stabled at a ranch just outside of town.
He was probably too much of a handful for her. He wasn't mean, but he danced
and twisted and fussed over the smallest leaf blowing across the path. Despite
his value, she'd considered having him gelded, but everyone who saw him thought
she should put him up for stud. She'd pried out of Stuart the fact that he'd
paid an outrageous twenty-five thousand dollars for the horse, and she was told
she could maybe charge five hundred for each live birth. But to do that, she'd
have to move him to a different farm where workers knew how to handle breeding,
and she guessed if he was being regularly bred, with his blood fired up he
might be even harder to handle. Since she did so love riding her elegant
Arabian, it seemed more bother than it would be worth. She didn't really need
the money. Except that it made sense, of course, to geld him if she
to breed him.

"You should come with me someday," she suggested
impulsively. "Have you ever ridden?"

"I seem to remember a pony ride at the Woodland Park
Zoo when I was five." He shook his head. "No, thanks."


A smile in his blue eyes, John said, "Haven't you heard
that discretion is the better part of valor?"

"That from a man who risks his life day in and day

"We all choose our poison."

"I'm sure we could rent a placid horse that wouldn't
break out of a walk," Natalie coaxed. "Maddie and Evan could go,

He groaned. "Maybe. And don't you dare go behind my
back and prime them."

"Wouldn't dream of it," she promised, crossing her
fingers in her pocket.

"I've got to get out of here." In passing her, he
gripped her shoulder briefly. "Go ride. Then take a nap. I'll try to be
home for dinner."

By the time she followed him out of the office, he had
already disappeared toward the front of the house. She heard his voice, then
the slam of the front door.

"Drive carefully," she murmured.

The woman with soft
flyaway gray hair gazed at him with bewilderment and the beginnings of
horrified understanding. "Ronnie is dead?"

This was the moment John hated most. There was no kind way
to tell parents that they would have to bury the son or daughter who was
supposed to long outlive them. Ronald Floyd might have been a scumbag, but he
was still their son, a baby born in hope.

"I'm afraid so," he said gently.

He stood on the front porch of the small frame house in
south Tacoma, his vision of Marvella Floyd obscured by a screen door. She had
briefly opened it, but when he told her why he had come, it had slipped out of
her nerveless hand and snapped shut between them.

Now she clutched at the door frame, bewilderment still
predominating. "But … what happened? Was it a car accident?" Hope
made her sound eager. She wanted it to have been a tragic accident, the kind
that could have happened to anyone. "He'd gone straight, you know. He said
so. And even in his bad days, he never hurt anybody, not Ronnie."

No, he just helped hook the youth of America on a relentlessly addictive white powder that replaced jobs, family, loved ones as
the very reason for existence. And, oh, yeah, damaged hearts, destroyed nasal
passages, and was generally a fun party favor.

"When you deal drugs, you're coming in contact with
some brutal people." Understatement. "Ma'am, may I come in?"

"What?" She stared at him with dazed eyes.
"Oh. Yes. Of course. I'm sorry." She backed slowly inside the living
room of the small frame house, leaving him to open the screen door and follow.
When he did, she looked over her shoulder with apparent confusion, as if she'd
forgotten where she was or who ought to be here.

"Is your husband home?" John asked. When she
swayed, he reached for her elbow, expecting her to crumple.

Her worn brow crinkled. "I don't know where he
is." She raised a voice that quavered. "Ralph!" Both she and
John listened to the silence. "He was here a minute ago," she
fretted, completely focused on her husband's absence rather than her son's
death. Denial was something John knew well. "Ralph?" she called

"Could he have stepped outside?"

"Oh!" Relief infused her voice. "I think he
did. Tomorrow is garbage day, you know. That's it. He was taking the garbage
out, he said."

"Why don't you sit down," he suggested, steering
her to the couch. "Let me get your husband."

"Oh, but…" She tried to rise again. "The
kitchen is such a mess! We haven't cleaned up from breakfast yet."

"Don't worry." He smiled reassurance. "I'm a
single father. You should see mine."

She sat again but quivered with worry as he cut through the
old-fashioned kitchen to the back door. It swung open before he reached it. A
heavyset, balding man entered, mind on other things until he saw John and came
to an abrupt stop.

"I'm Detective McLean," John said, holding out his
shield. "Port Dare P.D. Your wife let me in. Sorry to startle you."

Worry settled on him, stooping his shoulders. "It's
Ronnie again, isn't it?"

"I'm afraid your son has been killed, Mr. Floyd."

He caught the implication immediately. "How?"

John told him.

Mr. Floyd shook his head. "His mother has always
believed every word that boy said, but the last time he was here I knew he was
going right back to the low road. That was Ronnie—always spoiled. If he could get
it for nothing, that's what he wanted."

BOOK: His Partner's Wife
3.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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