For disclaimers see Part 1.Chapter 8
"Ready for some fun?" Kalani asked in an amused voice from her desk across the room.
"What?" Jake was a little baffled at the question.
"Fun, you do remember the concept, don't you?"
"Are you sure?"
Jake pressed her thumbs into fatigued eyes that had been fighting the urge to sleep. Death by insomnia, she thought. "What have you done now?" she asked sleepily. Her distress was superseded only by Kalani's delight.
"Doctor Raynard called this morning," she revealed.
Jake fell back against her chair, moaning up at the stuccoed ceiling.
"Sorry, this is the first chance I've had to tell you. He wanted to make sure you were attending his lectures in Tucson this weekend and said to tell you he took the liberty of reserving a seat for you."
Jake regarded her assistant careful before speaking: "No, I can't go…I have too much work here."
Easing from behind her desk, she quietly walked over to where Jake was sitting and perched on the edge of her desk. Her eyes were gleaming. "He said he would not take no for an answer. And frankly, neither will I."
"I'm not going, Kalani. End of story." Jake craned her neck around at her assistant. "And just who made you the fun boss?"
Taking a more serious tone, she leaned forward, gently squeezing a hand into Jake's shoulder. "Jake. It'll do you good to get away for a couple of days. The work will be taken care of, you know that. Besides, I already made your reservation at the Radisson. King Suite with a great view and all the room service you can handle."
Seeing no response, Kalani removed her hand and continued on another tack. She was not above doing a shakedown on Jake. "There's something else. I have an ulterior motive for getting you out of town and off the job. I would like to take the two days off you'll be gone if that's all right. I haven't been spending as much time with Teresa as I should. It's just that we have been so busy working on the Jane Doe cases I forget a nine-year-old needs her mother. So we are going to spend some quality time together and do the mother-daughter thing, shop for school clothes, take in a movie, maybe even indulge in a disgusting, artery-clogging hamburger or two. She's already planning the weekend. You don't want to disappoint a nine-year-old, do you, Jake? Hello? Assistant to boss lady.…"
The steady rhythm of a pencil eraser thrummed in time to Jake's thoughts. Paperwork unfinished, distractions from work, guilt about her lack of sensitivity to Kalani's personal life. All week she'd had trouble focusing, unsuccessful in pushing thoughts of a tall, enigmatic Cara Vittore from her mind. And she'd never even thought about the upcoming forensic symposium. Now Kalani's less than subtle reminder: life's simplicity in the eyes of a child. Suddenly, the reality check sank in and she smiled wistfully at her assistant, knowing she'd been steamrolled and that she needed it.
Jake smiled at the cagey Kalani. "Doctor Raynard, your right he is just what I need. Thank you for taking care of the reservation, and you do not need to ask…of course you can have the time off. I know you've been working around the clock on these cases. I'm sorry your time with Teresa has suffered."
"No more than you, Jake. I know you've slept on the couch here again last night and the clothes you have on are the same ones you had on yesterday."
Jake ran a weary hand through her blonde hair. "It's here, I can feel it. It's mocking us, daring us to find it and we will Kalani, we will." Apologetically, she leveled her tired hazel eyes on her friend. "I'm sorry. I haven't been much of a friend lately, have I? I've been insensitive to your needs at home and totally inconsiderate of your social life." Jake raised both hands. "Oh! Forget I said that, neither one of us knows what that word means! You're right, Kalani, the long weekend will give us both a better perspective."
Kalani studied the earnest face of the woman she loved as her best friend. Jake was family. "Is everything alright, Jake? You haven't seemed yourself these past few days, well since the narrow escape from the flash flood." Casting a inquisitive glance toward Jake, "Uh…how is Vittore doing, have you, uh, heard from her?"
She blushed slightly and shrugged, feigning interest in the untouched paper work in front of her to cover her self-consciousness. "Go home, woman, it's late."
She was rewarded with a sparkling smile. "Thanks, Jake. You should take your own advice and go home."
"Go!" Jake boomed in a hearty voice, happy to know that she'd put that smile there.
"I'm going, I'm going!"
Jake drove all thoughts but work from her mind, resigned to clear her desk before leaving to pack for the long weekend in Tucson. I do need a break, she thought. Oh, Matt. I can't deal with you now either. Her thoughts roamed elsewhere, toying with the idea of calling Cara while she was in Tucson. I could invite her for lunch. What would I say? I'll be in Tucson, do you want to go out for lunch? Why am I so nervous about inviting a friend to lunch? We did become friends…didn't we? And what was the night before she left for Tucson all about? Be honest Jake, you didn't want her to leave. I would like to see her or at least call to ask how she is doing. "Damn, it's bad enough she was the bane of my existence for the past two years, okay so it was an unjustified torment. Now I actually miss her!" Jake turned back to her work. "Doesn't matter anyway. She's probably busy."
Matt Peyson had been having an all around bad day. One of his rookie agents had shot a cow under what appeared to be dubious circumstances. Damn rookie doesn't know a four-legged animal from a two legged one! His foreman at the vineyard had quit a few days ago, delaying a small order of wine that should have already been shipped. He was drowning in the bureaucracy of processing a vanload of illegals captured crossing the border near Patagonia, some he was getting to know on a first name basis. A civilian vigilante group over in Sierra Vista was wrecking havoc playing self-appointed BP agent with their satellite up-loads to the Internet. And Jake, well Jake grew increasingly distant with each passing day. Come to think of it, he decided, the past few weeks had been lousy. Now he was pacing the kitchen floor in his mother's café waiting to drive her home as she busied herself with the dough for the morning sweet breads. It was past closing time, and he grappled to contain his growing irritation. "Mama, it's darn near time to come back here, it's late let's go."
"Watch your tone with me. Last time I looked I was an adult and capable of getting myself home, thank you."
"You know I worry, especially now with these unsolved murders on our hands. I will feel better if I know your home safe and sound," Matt grumbled contritely.
Maria studied the rugged, handsome face of her son. "You've been irritable, what's bothering you?"
Drawing in a deep breath and letting it ease out to temper his edginess, he spoke as humbly as he could. "Nothing, Mama. Just work is all."
"Uh huh, and Jake doesn't have anything to do with it, mi hijo?"
Matt started to deny his mother's presumption, but knowing he could never hide anything from her he shrugged. "I have loved her as long as my memory of life is, Mama. I thought I'd lost her to Sam when they got engaged. Then the accident when he was killed and she came home so lost and hurt only to have to face her dad's murder. I just wanted to take the hurt and pain away. I know she needed time, but for a while it seemed we were getting close again. I thought we had a chance, but she holes up in that cocoon she hides in."
"Don't pressure her, son. If it is meant to be, it will happen."
"I know Mama. I'm not complaining, it's just that she seems so preoccupied, so restless lately." A sad, far away look dulled Matt's blue eyes. "I will wait for her as long as it takes. Whatever time she needs."
"They have been working night and day on these terrible murders too, Matt. It can't be easy, dealing with the dead every day. You know she is called La Mujer de la Muerte."
"The Lady of the Dead, I know, Mama."
"She doesn't even have time to stop in the morning for coffee and when she does, it's because she has worked all night and is too tired to drive home. She needs to take a day or so off."
"Well when I stopped in at her office today Kalani told me Jake was going to Tucson tomorrow for the weekend. Maybe when she gets back you could fix up those tamales she likes?"
"You bring her home and I will put some meat on her bones, mi hijo. Go and tell her to have a good time in Tucson. She's in her office; her car is still in her parking space out back. By the time you get back I will be ready to go home." Shooing him toward the door, she ordered, "Now go."
Maria watched the emotions on her son's face. Even as a child, the thoughts behind those clear, blue eyes were always easy for her to read.
Clearing his throat, he headed for the door. "I think I will. Could see if she needs anything done at the ranch while she's gone. And I should tell her that order of wine we were shipping to Santa Fe will be delayed a week or so. She still owns the third her dad left her." He brushed the flour gently off his mother's cheek. "Finish up, Mama, you look tired. I'll be right back to take you home."
Maria watched Matt cut across the back parking lot to Jake's office. A sadness squeezed her heart. You love her so much, but will she break your heart?
Jake held her face in her hands, balancing herself with her elbows on the desk as she stood by the coffeepot. She was exhausted. Her hair was in complete disarray, and her wrinkled lab coat hung loosely over her body. Stretching then straightening up enough to take her coffee mug in her hand, she inhaled the strong aroma of the spicy Guatemala and took a sip.
God, this is strong enough to raise the dead, but that's what I feel like.
She sighed and took another drink. Trying to ward off sleep, she shook her head from side to side, but she couldn't stifle the yawn. Kalani's right, I need a break…and some sleep. Since the discovery of the last girl and her soul-searching encounter with Cara, sleep had eluded her as she chased the shadows of her mind across her bedroom wall. Why have I been thinking about Sam and the accident more lately?
She stared into the cup, transfixed by the steaming blackness that seemed to elicit the memory of her darkest days after her fiancé Sam, was killed in her car in a fiery explosion that was meant for her. He had grabbed her keys by mistake and stomped out of their apartment that day. The argument they'd had was the worst so far. They were both too angry, and he was late for a briefing on a major drug bust his team had been working on for over a year. Instead of going back in to get his own keys, he had jumped into Jake's jeep. The explosion killed five others who were unlucky enough to be on the street that day, including two of their neighbors waiting in front of the apartment for the bus to work. In her mind, it was like yesterday. The blast tore out the windows of the building and toppled cars around as if they were toys. It looked like a war zone. Jake had been knocked off her feet, stunned. When she managed to get outside, the horror she saw was unreal. Her eyes traveled to the hole where the jeep used to be, then to the bloody body parts strewn across the lawn. She remembered thinking before everything went black that they didn't belong there, how oddly out of place they seemed. Three days later, she woke up in the hospital. She was in panic. A respirator, assisting her scorched and edematous lungs with each breath, hissed beside her. Bandages concealed and protected her face. Gauze-wrapped hands burned with excruciating pain when she tried to bend her fingers. Later she learned that she had literally torn the door off a van that was engulfed in flames to get to a mother and her child. The child died, but the mother had clung to life for several days until she learned of her child's death. Then she had just given up and died. Jake's body had healed, and over time, the scars had faded. But the wound in her heart and soul remained.
Lost in her memories and mesmerized by the contents of her cup, she jumped when a knock splintered the silence.
"Who can that be this hour?" she groaned, although she suspected it was Matt. He often stopped in to check on her when she worked late. She grumbled aloud and dragged herself to the outer office door.
An exhausted breath escaped her lips when she saw Matt standing just outside the entry. She attempted to fortify herself, pulling back her tangled sandy hair, holding it in a ponytail.
"Good God, I look like hell. Not that it matters, anyway," she said under her breath and let go of her hair.
"Hi, Matt, What brings you by so late?"
"May I come in?" he asked not making eye contact, but surveying her quietly.
"I'm a mess, but sure come on in." She moved aside, allowing him into her office.
As Jake closed the door, she watched him walk to the chair by her desk, as he always did, calmly waiting as she closed the door.
He is so predictable, so dependable she thought to herself. Any woman would be lucky to have him.
"Can I get you a coffee," Jake asked, stepping back over to her cup.
Matt looked up, expressionless. "Sure. Black would be fine," he replied, scrutinizing her every move.
She got a mug from the cabinet and then filled it. When she turned back around, she was very aware that he was watching her.
"I can't do this tonight," she thought tiredly and walked back to her desk, handing Matt the mug.
Briefly, his fingers caressed hers as he took it from her, still watching her. Matt looked into her eyes again, now with visible desire, and took a slow sip of his coffee; he placed the mug on the desk and rubbed his chin, a habit he had when he was stressed.
"So what are you doing here, Matt?" she asked distractedly.
"Thought I would stop by and see if you needed anything done out at the ranch while you're gone. And a for cup of coffee." She arched an eyebrow at him.
"That is to say, I wanted some coffee with you," he corrected himself, picking up his mug for another sip.
She waited for Matt to tell her what was on his mind as she leaned against her desk.
He put the coffee down. His face took on a more serious expression as he walked to within inches of her. She held her position leaning against the desk. He moved in a little closer, too close. Jake swallowed hard and closed her eyes, trying to compose herself. Not this…not tonight, Matt, she pleaded in her mind. She had no strength to deal with it all tonight. She opened her eyes again to find he had moved in closer, almost touching his lips to hers, but it was the touch of his hand to hers that startled her.
"Please, Matt, stop," she begged.
"Why?" he asked, moving in to brush his lips against hers.
"Because, we've been over this before. Isn't that enough? We agreed to give it some time, Matt, and I'm just too tired right now," she said and stepped away.
"Jake," he whispered pulling her firmly against him "Don't turn away from me."
Tears welled up in her eyes. I can't, she repeated in her mind as warm brown eyes flashed before her instead of blue.
He looked passionately into her eyes, holding her by the shoulders as he moved in to touch his lips to hers. She reached one hand out to caress his cheek.
"I miss you so much, Jake. I lo…." She pressed a finger to his lips to stop him. "Go home, Matt. Please."
"So glad I caught you two." Sandro's voice interrupted, filling the room.
"Christ, Sandro! Why don't you knock before you scare the hell out of somebody!" Matt barked.
Sandro could feel the tension between his two closest friends. He laughed and started to ramble on about going to a club across the line. "It is a matter of great urgency, Mateo, that we get you and this beautiful woman out for some fun tonight."
"Sorry, Sandy. I've got an early trip in the morning, and I don't intend to start it with a hangover and no sleep." Jake informed him.
"Jake's got a conference in Tucson this weekend," Matt explained. "After I get Mama home, we were just going to have a quiet dinner."
Jake shot Matt a look that told him he had overstepped the line.
"I ran into Katarina again this afternoon." Sandro started up again, now more animated. Just the four of us…old times, compañero ."
Jake wasn't fully listening and began to fall back into thoughts of Cara and Tucson when Sandro slipped his hand into hers and tilted her chin up with the other to look into her eyes. "It's been a long time, Jacquelyn. Come, we will have fun, yes, just as always.
"Oh, it's tempting, but no, my friend, "Jake exhaled, and she began to push him toward the door. Sandro held up.
"What do you mean no? The night she is young and just waiting to be enjoyed," his handsome face smiled.
Matt could see Jake had reached her limit with both of them. He hurried Sandro out the door. "Come on, amigo, we will paint the town until dawn and drink the well dry…just as soon as I get Mama home."
Jake closed the door after them. Thank God! she said to herself and threw up her hands, running them through her hair. "I need to get out of here before I explode. The work can wait."
Jake stood before the full-length mirror in her suite at the Radisson surveying her reflection. She had chosen to go comfortable and casual for Dr. Raynard's lecture that afternoon, allowing her sun-streaked hair to hang loosely on her shoulders. After one last look of approval at her light gray summer weight slacks, teal silk long sleeve blouse complimented by Navaho silver earrings and necklace, she slipped on a pair of sandals, tucked the large, manila envelope under one arm, and headed down to the conference room.
Dr. Philip Raynard was one of the leading forensic scientists in the country, and as one of his students at Loyola University Medical School in Chicago, Jake had absorbed everything he had to offer and wanted more. He had become not only her mentor, but a friend and confidant as well. As colleagues through the years, each valued the expertise and perspective of the other and often called upon each other for consultation. Maybe, just maybe, Philip can see something we've missed, Jake thought as the elevator glided down to the mezzanine level.
As usual, Philip's presentation was brilliant, cutting edge, and enthusiastically received. He was eagerly fielding the barrage of questions from excited colleagues. Jake stood across the room smiling, knowing he would devote his time to every question. Catching his attention, she pointed to the lounge door, then to herself and mouthed "later." Then she made her way through the crowd to wait for him in the bar until he was free for dinner. It will be so good to visit with Philip, she thought. He always could calm the storms in my mind. Maybe a fresh pair of eyes, especially with Philip's acuity, will see what I'm missing. I'm too close to it. And too distracted. I'm glad Kalani and Philip wrangled me into taking these few days off. As if on cue, her thoughts wandered to Cara. Should I call her? Maybe invite her to lunch tomorrow? Admit it Jake, you want to see her. An uncomfortable feeling of having to justify herself ran through Jake's mind. Well, I should at least check to see how that wound on her side is, and if she had the stitches removed.
She was on her second Margarita and beginning to feel more relaxed than she had in a long time when she heard a feminine voice with a soft Irish lilt talking to the hostess. "I'll be in the lounge, Rebecca. I'm expecting company about eight. Could you please show my guest to my table? Oh! Before I forget, how did your son's birthday party go last night? Did he like the new play station?"
"I'll say he did, Ms. Quinn! And the game you gave him to go with it was a big hit. Thank you so much." Rebecca smiled with a feigned look of exasperation. "He was the undefeated champion until way past his bed time and was up this morning before dawn at it again. Sorry you couldn't make it. Maybe one night soon you'll come for dinner?
"Oh my, I would have loved to come, your son sounds wonderful. And one night soon, I promise, I'll come for a bit of dinner. Just as soon as I get settled in with the new job."
"Well, Danny and I are looking forward to it," Rebecca smiled jotting down the instructions. "Will it be just the one guest, Ms. Quinn?"
"Yes, but we agreed, please call me McKenzie. She offered a smile as bright as her emerald green eyes. "This is a very special dinner tonight…could we have a table with the view of the mountains and a bottle of your best wine."
"I'll see to it myself Ms. Qui…McKenzie. Do you have a particular wine in mind?
"Hmm, I trust your judgement, and Rebecca will you send a few bottles of the Guinness to my suite?"
"Consider it done." Before turning her attention to a couple waiting to be seated for dinner, Rebecca smiled and whispered to McKenzie, "Good luck, I hope you have a very special evening."
An impish grin pulled at McKenzie's hopeful eyes. "If you're lucky enough to be Irish, then you're lucky enough. But thank you, Rebecca, I'll accept your blessing."
Glancing into the mirror behind the bar, Jake watched as the attractive strawberry blonde sat next to her. She noted the expensive, tailored silk suit that complimented the petite woman's figure. Her eyes strayed to the intricate silver necklace the woman wore. She knew the symbol, an ancient Celtic cross, and she had seen something like it before…somewhere.
"Evening Ms. Quinn, what can I get you tonight," the bartender asked.
"A vodka tonic," turning toward Jake with a friendly smile and a glance at her drink, "and another Margarita for my friend here." She offered her hand to Jake. "Hi, I'm McKenzie."
Jake couldn't help but smile at the open friendliness of the attractive woman. Accepting the gesture, she introduced herself. "Jacquelyn, thank you. That's an interesting hint of an accent you have. Northern Ireland, Belfast?"
"You have a good ear to be that specific. It's been a long time now, and I was educated here in the States. Have you spent time in Ireland?"
Not really wanting to explain how and why she could pinpoint an accent or a dialect with such accuracy, she hedged. Besides, tonight she was not the FBI's Doctor Jacquelyn Biscayne. She was just a woman sharing a drink.
"I was fortunate to be have spent some time there."
"Are you staying here at the Radisson, too" McKenzie asked sipping her drink the bartender had put on front of her.
Stirring her Margarita, Jake answered: "Yes just for the weekend. I'm afraid it's back to work on Monday. You?'
"For a while until I find some serious time to look for an apartment or house. I just relocated from Boston. Learning a new city and job has kept me quite busy, but it's comfortable here at the Radisson. They've made it an easy transition and a real welcome to Tucson."
"Do you know anyone here, any friends who can show you places to look and places not to look," Jake inquired.
Cocking her head and with an arch of one eyebrow, McKenzie allowed her eyes to travel over the woman sitting next to her. What a striking woman, if I wasn't so darn smitten with Cara, she definitely would warrant my interest. "I do have a good friend here, and I have a realtor looking for me. But I've been draggin' my feet." A worried look crept across McKenzie's face. "I am hoping to renew a friendship and possibly…." Her voice drifted off. After a pensive silence, the warm smile returned to her face. "Now tell me a bit about your wonderful Arizona."
Jake and McKenzie rattled on as if they were old friends until Rebecca reappeared in the lounge. "Your guest is here. I've put in your request for the special wine, and the Guinness is already in your suite." Rebecca started to leave but turned back. "Oh, and you have the best table in the house, beautiful views of Mt. Lemmon and the sunset tonight."
"Thank you, Rebecca," McKenzie said, blushing slightly. Turning her attention back to Jake, she asked: "What are you doing for lunch tomorrow, Jacquelyn? Please have lunch with me." She laughed. "Besides, I need you to continue painting all the magnificent colors of this splendid state for me."
Jake thought for a second, hmmm…Philip's presentation isn't until three o'clock tomorrow. "Yes, I would like that. Could we make it, say about eleven thirty?"
"Perfect, where shall we meet?" McKenzie asked.
"Here in the lobby. Now an important decision," Jake said quite seriously. "Do you want to go to this marvelous little pub that serves melt-in-your-mouth boxties and warm stout or try some authentic Mexican food? "
McKenzie's eyes danced with mischief." Well, as they say, 'when in Rome'!"
Laughing along with McKenzie, Jake couldn't help but feel a genuine liking for this impish Irish beauty.
Jake and Philip were enjoying an after-dinner coffee when she spotted McKenzie across the restaurant heading from the direction of the ladies' room. She couldn't suppress her curiosity as her eyes followed the woman back to her table. Hmm, I wonder what her date looks like? She seemed to be on cloud nine. . .with a mission. As McKenzie sat down, Jake realized the decorative plants completely obscured her view of the dinner guest. When she saw McKenzie slip off her shoe and thrust her foot toward the leg, she presumed, of whoever was sitting across from her, Jake couldn't help but chuckle to herself, yes, my Irish friend is on a mission tonight! Quickly she returned her attentions back to Philip. "I appreciate you agreeing to look over the evidence I gave you, Philip. I can't help thinking I am missing something."
"Could be you're not missing anything, Jake. Have you thought of that? You expect so much of yourself. You have some good DNA with this last murder, and if this guy is caught you'll nail him."
"Key word, if we catch him. How many has he killed, how many more? It just isn't these three we happened upon. There are more, Philip, and he has been at it a long time. I just feel it."
Cara was unsuccessfully trying to hide her amusement at McKenzie's flirting as she reached down and caught a foot. "Behave yourself, Kenzie. If you haven't noticed, we're all grown up and not in your father's pub here!" Leaning across the table, her green eyes sparkled with a fetching smile. "I seem to recall you never used to mind where we were. Ya haven't gone and gotten all serious on me now have ya? And might I add, I haven't seen you smile all week." McKenzie softened her voice, "that is what little I have seen of you. I didn't think you were going to accept my invitation to dinner, ya know the one I've extended every day this week. If I could think of a reason, I would think you've been avoiding me." She held her breath, needing to know. "Is there a reason, Cara, for you to avoid me? Are you with someone, seeing someone?"
Cara searched the lovely face of her friend and former lover, remembering the endearing qualities of McKenzie Quinn. The outgoing, outspoken barmaid who became her mentor. The confident law student who without pretense or airs bowled them over at Harvard by graduating number one in her class. She remembered the hours they spent studying and working at the Keltic Knot and the night they became lovers and the tearful day after graduation when she flew home to California, each pledging to keep in touch. There wasn't a reason in the world to avoid McKenzie; they had been good together, no promises were made and each had seen others during the last year of college. Now, looking at the desire on McKenzie's face, Cara realized she had isolated herself too long, living with the guilt of Stephen's death. A reason to avoid Kenzie? No reason at all, except maybe wanting something unobtainable in the face of a hazel-eyed untouchable.
Cara reached over and held her friend's hand. "No, my friend. I'm not with or seeing anyone, and I am truly glad to see you."
These chapters of Incommunicado are an excerpt of the publiblished story by BookEnds Press, distributed by StarCrossed Productions www.starcrossedproductions.com
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