traumas and companionship. Competition.”
“We’ve got plenty of that. So, if you didn’t grow up here, where did you?”
“We moved around a lot. My father’s work.”
“I hear that.” He sampled a nut, kept it casual. “What does he do?”
“He . . . he was in sales.” How else to describe it in polite company. “He could sell anything to anyone.”
He caught it, the hint of pride in her voice, the contrast of the shadow in her eyes. “But not anymore?”
She didn’t speak for a moment, using a sip of her drink as cover until she worked out her thoughts. Simple was best, she reminded herself. “My parents opened a little restaurant in Taos. A kind of working retirement. With work the main feature. And they’re giddy as kids about it.”
“You miss them.”
“I do, but I didn’t want what they wanted. So here I am. I love the Gap. It’s my place. Do you have one?”
“Maybe. But I haven’t found it yet.”
The waitress stopped by. “Another round?”
Laine shook her head. “I’m driving.”
He asked for the check, then took Laine’s hand. “I made reservations in the dining room here, in case you changed your mind. Change your mind, Laine, and have dinner with me.”
He had such wonderful eyes, and that warm bourbon-on-the-rocks voice she loved listening to. Where was the harm?
“All right. I’d love to.”
He told himself it was business and pleasure and there was never anything wrong with combining the two as long as you remembered your priorities. He knew how to steer conversations, elicit information. And if he was interested in her on a personal level, it didn’t interfere with the work.
It wouldn’t interfere with the work.
He was no longer sure she was neck-deep. And his change of mind had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he was attracted to her. It just didn’t play the way it should have. Her mother tucked up with husband number two in New Mexico, Laine tucked up in Maryland. And Big Jack nobody knew just where.
He couldn’t see how they triangulated at this point. And he read people well, well enough to know she wasn’t marking time with her shop. She loved it, and had forged genuine connections with the community.
But it didn’t explain Willy’s visit, or his death. It didn’t explain why she’d made no mention of knowing him to the police. Not that innocent parties were always straight with the cops.
Weighing down the other side of the scale, she was careful to edit her background, and had a smooth way of blending her father and stepfather so the casual listener would assume they were the same man.
No mention of divorce when they spoke of family. And that told him she knew how to hide what she wanted to hide.
Though he regretted it, he pushed Willy’s ghost into the conversation. “I heard about the accident right outside your place.” Her knuckles, he noted, whitened for a moment on her spoon, but it was the only sign of internal distress before she continued to stir her after-dinner coffee.
“Yes, it was awful. He must not have seen the car—with the rain.”
“He was in your shop?”
“Yes, right before. Just browsing. I barely spoke to him as I had several other customers, and Jenny, my full-time clerk, had the day off. It was nobody’s fault. Just a terrible accident.”
“He wasn’t a local?”
She looked directly into his eyes. “He was never in my shop before. I suppose he might’ve come in just to get out of the rain for a few minutes. It was a nasty day.”
“Tell me about it. I was driving in it. Seems I got into town only a couple hours after it happened. Heard different versions of it every place I stopped the rest of the day. In one of them, I think it was at the gas pump, he was an international jewel thief on the lam.”
Her eyes softened with what he could only judge as affection. “International jewel thief,” she murmured. “No, he certainly wasn’t that. People say the oddest