Disclaimers found in part
"Melinda, we need you for a few minutes. Before the rest. Please?"
President Smith moved to grasp the door behind her allowing her to enter
ahead of him. She moved, but stopped when his hand landed on her shoulder.
Glancing up, she caught a barely noticeable shake of his head, and then
he dropped his hand and she moved into the conference room.
Melinda scanned the other faces in the room trying to get a feel for the
next several minutes. Gobal looked like he had a bad case of indigestion,
his face remote and pensive. Even the usually smiling Cassidy looked unapproachable.
The widow looked vaguely sick, though she spared a faint smile as Melinda
pulled out the empty chair and sat next to her.
"I want this settled." Collier turned to Smith. "We still have an issue
with Dr. Cuthridge. I recommend immediate dismissal."
"Not a reprimand?" Cassidy was still disturbed.
When Smith cast his glance to Melinda, she realized that they had waited
until they could also have her input, since she had removed herself from
the candidate selection process. Trouble was she didn't feel much more
objective about Cuthridge at this point either. Perhaps she could delay
the discussion for a few minutes. "Has a decision been reached about who
will fill the position?"
Smith nodded, tapping his pencil against a pad. "Covington will be given
the Pappas chair."
Despite the swell of pride in her partner for impressing the board and
beating the odds, Melinda had to ask it, even as she wanted to cut out
her tongue for tempting Fate this blatantly. "You're justifying his actions?"
Smith shook his head. "We are very impressed with the young doctor and
believe she will be the better asset for the university."
Melinda glanced at Gobal and saw his frown, brief though it was. "A majority
Cassidy laid her hand over Melinda's. "We thought you would be pleased."
Mel withdrew her hand. God, Janice, forgive me. She stood and tried to
explain her position. "It's... not about me. It's about what's best for
this institution." She took a deep breath. "My father spent twenty five
years here, as part of the fabric of this community. The one thing he always
held in high regard was personal integrity. Honesty and compassion were
paramount, for his students and for his colleagues. These were uppermost
in his mind every day. That's why he had the trusts established. That's
why I took his place on a dozen voluntary boards. I didn't do it to enhance
any agenda or myself. I didn't do it because it would allow me to put my
friends in high places. I did it... to honor my father's memory and the
work he devoted his life to." She looked back at the board. "So if you
chose Janice Covington for any reason other than she was absolutely the
best candidate for the position, I will ask you to drop it now."
"Everyone here admired your father a great deal. We are trying to honor
him with this choice." Collier gestured. "Melinda, sit down. We honestly
found your friend's impromptu lecture engaging, dynamic, and filled with
all the sorts of things your father would have exactly admired. She's the
candidate we want."
Finally Smith cleared his throat. "Now, what do we do about Cuthridge?
We had a motion for dismissal. Discussion?"
This portion, prelude to a voice vote, was familiar. Melinda shifted from
emotion to logic and listened to the arguments on both sides.
"He leaves for sabbatical in January," Rachel Dumont began. "It seems pointless..."
"Dr. Cuthridge has show a flagrant disregard for our procedures." Collier
shook his head.
"But Dr. Covington was the better choice," Tyler Jameson mused. "He was
"Irrelevant," Collier retorted. "Procedures are established. He broke them."
"Dr. Collier, you were a professor once," Rachel reasoned once more.
"Which is exactly why I want him out. Dr. Covington can cover his classes
and assume her full duties in the spring semester. Otherwise he sets a
precedent others will exploit."
"You sound like the faculty is just poised for a reason to overthrow us,
Beau," Cassidy admonished. "Certainly this doesn't warrant Gestapo tactics.
A written reprimand should suffice. He's an academic, not a revolutionary.
He got a little carried away with his desire to serve his students."
Melinda shook her head. "I don't believe he got carried away. Dr. Cuthridge
knew what he was doing, and that it was not just unorthodox, but wrong."
Cassidy studied her for a long moment. "You had a discussion with him?
You know this for a fact?"
"We... had words. It took some effort to convince him to bring himself
to President Smith." She removed her glasses and rubbed the bridge of her
nose delicately, trying to ease the tension she was feeling. Replacing
her glasses, she realized everyone was waiting for her to continue. She
looked at Smith. "He spoke with you. That is what prompted this meeting,
Smith nodded. "I thought the fairest resolution would be to bring everyone
back together and make the decisions as a group. Cuthridge understood he
would be reprimanded in some fashion. Perhaps it only remains for us to
decide the manner of it."
Melinda agreed. "All right. What options are available?"
"Written reprimand certainly." Melinda thought it was Mr. Terrence Johns,
the board's least vocal member, who offered that. She thought it perfectly
in tune with his unobtrusive nature that he would prefer to avoid a panel
in front of the faculty board.
"What about his sabbatical? Can we take it away? Or alter it somehow?"
This suggestion came from Gobal.
"Perhaps if he goes without funding..." Collier nodded at his own idea.
"That would send perhaps the strongest message."
Mrs. Dumont nodded. "I can see that."
"All right. Then I move for an end to discussion. I call for a vote." Mrs.
Zeigmacht watched Melinda shift in her seat.
Smith nodded. "Anyone second?"
"I second," she said, her voice sounding small in the brief silence that
had fallen. Janice, I hope you'll understand.
"The choices for reprimand are written censure, or a non-paid sabbatical,"
Smith picked up the thread, his eyes a little surprised. He called each
person by name.
Mr. Gobal: "Non-paid sabbatical."
Dr. Collier: "No pay."
Mrs. Dumont: "Censure."
Mr. Jameson: "Pass." He looked significantly toward Melinda.
Mr. Johns: "Censure."
Mrs. Zeigmacht: "Written censure." Melinda watched Cassidy frown noticeably
before leaning back once more.
Miss Pappas: "Non-paid sabbatical." She weathered the surprised expressions
with her gaze fixed only on Smith, who had addressed her.
"Mr. Jameson? Have you made a decision?" Smith prompted the young man in
a voice Melinda realized held hope that he wouldn't be responsible for
having to break a tie.
"I vote for... the sabbatical option." He cast a confused look at Melinda
but then returned his eyes to Smith. "Sir."
Cassidy interjected. "Hopefully, Dr. Cuthridge will be inclined to explain
himself before he leaves. It bothers me that we don't really have his reasons,
"All right. Well, let's give the news. Send in Doctors Covington and Lipton,"
Harold Gobal stepped to the door and called the two inside. They settled
into chairs opposite one another at the end of the table, quiet and pensive.
Smith then directed his attention to Dr. Collier, the older man briefly
taking a steadying moment to straighten his clothes as he stood.
"We could use a person as both adjunct and to fill the endowed chair. The
history department is among our most popular studies areas. However the
fact is the money is not there for both positions." He gestured to Melinda,
who dropped her eyes briefly. "Thanks to the Pappas Fund we have an endowed
chair. The recipient has very specific requirements, in leadership, experience,
publication, and supervision of student research." He circled around behind
his chair, bracing his hands on the straight back's top edge. His gaze
bored into Janice and he took a deep breath. "It is very unusual, but this
board has decided -- by majority decision -- to award the post to you,
Janice gasped, then stifled herself with a hand across her mouth, studying
faces in rapid succession. Melinda could easily discern the excitement
dancing in Janice's eyes. She felt her heart squeeze in empathy.
"Thank you, Dr. Smith. I hope to serve this institution well."
"Dr. Lipton, your application and resume will remain on file. If we have
another opening, we would like to retain you for consideration."
Drawing his dark blonde brows together, Lipton pushed to his feet. With
exceptional dignity, Melinda realized, he nodded his head. "That is your
"Thank you both for your time today."
Taking that as their cue to leave, Janice and Ted Lipton walked out together.
"Call Cuthridge in." Mrs. Dumont, closest to the entry, stood quietly and
summoned the British professor with a gesture as she briefly held the door.
The academician entered and stood silently at the end of the table, his
hands laced calmly before him.
The university president looked from Collier to Rachel Dumont then to Cassidy
Zeigmacht on his left. Then he began. "Dr. Cuthridge, through your actions,
we have been brought to this pass. The rules of this institution exist
for a reason." He looked away from the professor and glanced at Cassidy.
"Some of us would appreciate an explanation of your actions before judgment
Basil began quietly. "I have served this university and its students for
fifteen years. Perhaps I could claim loss of my faculties. Perhaps you
would even believe it."
He paused. "A member of your own body reminded me that I should have come
to you in the beginning. I did not." He glanced briefly up to Smith. "Had
I been included in the search for my replacement, perhaps my decisions
would have been different."
Gobal challenged. "Would you do this again?"
"Harold!" Rachel Dumont's exclamation briefly drew everyone's eyes away
"No," the businessman stormed, identifying Cuthridge with a resolute finger.
"Would you do such a thing again, sir?"
There was a calm forthrightness to his reply when the professor finally
spoke. "Sir, I can honestly say I doubt that such a situation will ever
arise again." He looked at Smith. "What is the board's decision?"
Requested directly, Smith did not dissemble. Melinda could see Cuthridge
nodding even as the decision was voiced. "By majority decision Dr. Cuthridge,
you are hereby granted your sabbatical period to begin immediately... without
Silence seeped into every corner of the room before Cuthridge cleared his
throat and thanked them. "I appreciate your fairness."
"This meeting is adjourned."
The room's occupants rose almost at once. Melinda paused as Cuthridge approached.
He offered her his hand. "Miss Pappas."
"Doctor." His hand warmed hers. She had not realized how chilled she had
become over the stress. Removing her hand, she watched him walk out. His
shoulders moved strongly under his jacket. A man at peace with his decisions,
he lifted his hat from the tabletop and settled it on his head with economy.
Mel looked away only as the door clicked shut behind him.
She resettled her coat over her shoulders only to look up and see Mrs.
Zeigmacht and Tyler Jameson both approaching.
"Melinda?" Cassidy's concern was evident. Melinda instead shook her head
and backed up from the table.
"I'm all right, Mrs. Z."
"Yes?" Mel did not feel quite like dealing with Tyler, but schooled her
expression to politeness.
"Despite everything, I have to say I was surprised by your vote."
She settled her hat carefully before answering. "He knew what he was doing,"
she said, meaning Cuthridge.
He nodded. After a moment, Tyler asked, "Would you, and Dr. Covington,
consider attending our dinner party on Sunday? We can... welcome her properly
to the community."
If she'll still want to speak to me, Melinda thought. "All right, Tyler.
I will ask her."
"Thank you." He grasped her hand and then dropped it, turning and leaving
Cassidy alone with Melinda.
The older woman stood between Melinda and the door. "Yes, ma'am?" she asked
"You have much integrity for one so young," the widow complimented quietly.
"This town's future would benefit a great deal."
Melinda shook her head, realizing the older woman was back to encouraging
her to spread political wings. "Not right now. I couldn't divide my attention
Zeigmacht patted her arm. "I know, dear. But I will keep trying." She laughed
low and stepped aside, letting Melinda pass finally. "I'll see you, and
Dr. Covington, at the Jameson party."
Smiling carefully, Melinda turned away. "I look forward to it," she offered
dryly, knowing that the widow really was not going to give up. Melinda's
actions today had only strengthened the older woman's arguments about her
innate traits carrying over to elected office. She sighed and left the
Immediately her eyes scanned for a familiar blonde head. Her heart sank
when she saw Janice and Dr. Cuthridge's heads bent close together. Tension
lines were clearly visible in the tanned face. He was talking and from
the storm cloud gathering in Janice's features, Melinda knew he was imparting
the board's decision.
Melinda wondered if she would be painted favorably or unfavorably in the
professor's retelling. After her decisiveness inside the board room, she
discovered her lack of desire to discern the answer to her question unsettling
and waited until Cuthridge had moved off, heading for the exit stairs,
before she moved forward to join Janice.
Why couldn't her heart and her head agree on what was right?
"Will you be leaving town immediately?" she asked quietly.
Cuthridge nodded. "It might be best."
"I still need to get those notes on Cromwell from you," she reminded him.
"I haven't forgotten." Basil's eyes met hers briefly and she knew he saw
the disturbance in them. "Relax. You're in. Everything turned out the way
"You were effectively suspended. You couldn't have meant for that to happen?"
He slowly shook his head. Janice nodded tightly. "All right. Though...
please don't leave town without saying goodbye."
He did smile then. "I promise." With a display of gravity, he shook her
hand and turned on his heel, walking away.
Janice bit her lip, watching him go. Then she felt a presence at her back.
Turning around, she faced Rachel Dumont who offered her a dainty hand.
"Doctor Covington, please accept my congratulations."
"Thank you very much, Mrs. Dumont. I will endeavor to remain true to the
faith you have all placed in me."
"Of course you will, dear." Janice nodded as the older woman left her side
to accept Mr. Gobal's escort to her automobile.
Doctor Collier walked up quietly, having separated from Gobal as he left
with Mrs. Dumont. "Dr. Covington, you were really quite engaging."
"Anything to keep my students' interest, sir." She smiled and was pleased
to see his face crack just the smallest of smiles in return.
"Just so. Just so," he murmured, walking away.
Amused by his reaction, she looked away from him and smiled amusedly, finding
herself caught in penetrating gray eyes. "Mrs. Zeigmacht," she greeted
gently. She wondered if her barely contained laugh had been observed.
"So you're Melinda's European friend," the older woman mused. Somehow on
some level, she realized Cassidy Zeigmacht also had overheard Collier and
reacted similarly herself. There was a dancing light in her eyes that drew
Janice into a familiar circle of warmth.
The sensation relaxed her. "Actually I'm from Philadelphia. My work took
me to Europe. But I'm afraid I've been out of Philadelphia circles for
some time." Mrs. Zeigmacht's gray eyes shaded lighter and widened in question.
Janice elaborated. "I suffered wanderlust early. My first dig... outside
of my grandmother's rose garden... was a Celtic dig two miles northeast
of Surrey, England in '29."
"You are quite a find, Dr. Covington."
The quip made Janice chuckle softly. "Thank you." She accepted the woman's
hand gently and then followed a few steps as the older woman left.
Melinda finally approached. The brunette seemed a bit shell-shocked, she
assessed, noting the careful set of her shoulders and the way her eyes
scanned Janice. The blonde took the burden of the silence between them
and spoke first. "Hi."
"Hello." There was a strain to the single word. Then Melinda inhaled sharply.
"Are you ready to leave?"
Janice didn't have an opportunity to respond. The young man Tyler Jameson--Janice
hoped she remembered correctly--stopped alongside them. "Dr. Covington,
I... was amazed at your energetic presentation."
"Thank you, Mr. Jameson."
"Please, call me Tyler. Melinda and I, after all, are friends."
She caught his adoring glance over to her partner. "Yes, of course. Mist--Tyler.
Please call me Janice."
Tearing his eyes from Melinda, Jameson beamed at her. "Could I presumptuously
invite you to my family home? We are having a dinner party on Sunday afternoon."
"Melinda?" Janice saw her friend nod tightly. "I'm honored by the invitation.
His face lit up, transforming a serious rather plain face into one with
handsome bright features. His brown eyes danced and his hand came up quickly
to shake hers. "I look forward to it. Cocktails begin at four o'clock."
Janice was caught up in his enthusiasm and offered a warm smile of her
own back before he strode away, a perceptible bounce to his step as he
shrugged into his overcoat and tugged on his cap as he pushed out the door.
"Looks like you made another friend." Melinda's voice broke the silence
behind her. "We'll probably want to go shopping tomorrow for something
for you to wear."
Janice shrugged into her borrowed coat and felt the absence of her hat
strongly as she watched Melinda press her own onto her head. "Yes. Time
for me to dress the part."
Out on the sidewalk the mid-afternoon sun and breeze conspired to whip
her hair and dance colorful leaves around them both. "Mel?" Janice asked
as they both settled into the car.
"Are you going to be all right?"
"Yes, of course. I'm fine."
Janice was skeptical. "Are you upset that they cut off Dr. Cuthridge?"
About to put the key in the ignition, Melinda stopped and turned to Janice.
Her blue eyes were troubled, but her tone was certain. "No. It was the
right thing to do."
"You sound like you mean that." Janice tried to bite back her disappointment.
She had hoped that Melinda had not voted with the majority.
Janice considered the possible arguments. "I know he went around the rules,
but don't you agree that a professor deserves some input into his replacement?"
Organizing her thoughts, Melinda set the car in motion. "Whether I do or
not wasn't the point. People can't just go around the rules any time they
feel like it."
Pursing her lips in dismay, Janice countered, "So would you have rather
they just selected Dr. Lipton? Not have conducted the second interviews
This reaction was exactly what Melinda had feared when she spoke up in
the meeting. "Janice, please... understand that I am happy that the board
appointed you to the position. I saw Lipton's file. I found him lacking.
Objectively. But the objective was procedurally obtaining a replacement
for a professor leaving on sabbatical. I'm very angry that Cuthridge didn't
see how much his actions could have endangered your reputation." She spared
a glance at Janice, who had turned away and leaned against the passenger
window, watching the scenery pass.
Working out the issues in her mind the archaeologist knew that she could
never really blame anyone, least of all Melinda, who had, as she said,
operated objectively. It was one of the brunette's qualities Janice liked
most. She knew she got too emotional on occasions herself. She inhaled
and let it out slowly.
"I wouldn't have blamed you if I didn't get the job," Janice said finally,
turning her gaze to study Mel, who focused only ahead while driving down
the road. "In fact, because you challenged things, I have the security
of knowing that I really did earn this myself." She slid her hand down
Melinda's arm until she lightly clasped the back of the long fingers curled
around the gearshift. "That means everything to me."
The brunette's expression, blue eyes unwavering and a muscle twitching
in her cheek, did not change. Janice leaned across the space and brushed
her lips over Mel's cheek. She brushed her fingers over the other woman's
jaw. "I love you. Every noble inch of you." The expected blush pleased
Janice immensely. At least the brunette wasn't moping any longer.
She patted Mel's hand before she settled back into the seat once more.
"So... were you ever going to tell me Tyler Jameson is sweet on you?"
"We weren't talking about Tyler."
"I figured it was time for a change in subject." Janice shook her head.
Continuing mildly, she ruminated, "He seems like a nice fellow."
"I suppose." Melinda's tone was restrained, almost bored.
Janice could tell she was holding something back. "All right. So tell me.
How many times has he asked to marry you?"
The brunette shook her head. "Not counting the years we were in grade school?
Probably a dozen."
With it said so bluntly, Janice couldn't help it. She laughed. "Why didn't
you ever say yes? He absolutely adores you."
"Because I don't love him. He's just a friend."
"It's nice to have friends."
Sharing smiles, the two women rode the rest of the way to Beaufort Oaks
Janice leaned on the upper porch railing watching the moonlight reflect
on the lake ripples, pondering everything that had transformed her life
that day. The full moon made her think of full days to come and hopeful
expectations. She smiled, lingering over the new joys to come. Students
who would look to her for guidance, divining the paths of history through
the writings of those who lived it, books, papers, conversations. Life
was certainly better when those things were included, she thought.
A light dinner of soup and sandwiches sat happily on her stomach. Footsteps
sounded behind her and she glanced over her sweater-wrapped shoulders.
"Are you coming inside?" Melinda, bundled with a down blanket over her
shoulders, leaned on the doorway, studying her. "It's getting cold."
Janice squeezed the railing and stretched her shoulders and back muscles
with catlike content. "Soon. I... You know this is the first time I've
really set down roots in any place?"
Melinda grasped her around the waist from behind, letting the smaller woman
absorb the warmth. "Well you did it."
Janice turned and wrapped her arms around the other woman's waist, dropping
her head into the soft chest and inhaling deeply. "Yeah, I did."
Breathing into the fragrant blonde hair, Melinda tugged her toward the
door. "Come on. I have chocolate and milk about to scald on the stove."
Wrapped around each other they retreated inside the house and down to the
The clouds shifted in front of the moon as two shadows moved across the
lawn toward the lake.
Errands on Friday brought Janice and Melinda into the heart of downtown
Raleigh, on the other side from the university campus. First she opened
a small account at the bank.
The bank manager, a Mr. Thomas Willoughby by the placard next to his door,
stepped out of his office when his secretary informed him, "Miss Pappas
has business, sir."
He gestured the two young women, Miss Pappas whom he knew and the slight
blonde whom he did not, into his office. "How may I be of service to you
today, Miss Pappas?" He fingered the inside lapel of his double-breasted
brown suit and studied the taller of the two women, an almost cherubic
smile on his plump face.
Melinda passed over a set of papers then gestured to her left. "This is
Doctor Janice Covington, newly appointed to the Pappas chair at the university.
I would like to see that the fund disbursements begin."
"Everything meets the requirements, I presume?" He settled a pair of wire-frames
on his nose and glanced at the papers.
"Yes, sir. The board approved her yesterday. She will have to begin immediately
since another professor is departing on sabbatical. Will there be any problems?"
He studied the papers and gestured. "Anything for you, my dear." He paused
and looked up at the slender blonde, who seemed terribly young for such
a vaunted position, but among the papers in his hands was her resume, quite
impressive. "Welcome to Raleigh, Mi-- Doctor Covington."
"Thank you." Janice accepted his offered hand graciously and settled back
once again into her seat.
"Let's take care of the applications." He fished in his desk for a set
of forms. "I'll need your residence, both where you will make your home
and at the university, phone numbers as well. We'll open the account with
the first scheduled transfer from the Pappas fund." He stood after passing
her the papers. "I shall return in few moments."
Janice accepted a pen and then, with careful intent, scanned the documents
and began filling in the requested information. Janice Amelia Covington.
Birthdate: April 29, 1913. Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mother's
Maiden name: Franklin. Occupation: Professor. Workplace: North Carolina
University, Raleigh. She paused at the home residence address. "Melinda,
are you sure you want me to use Beaufort Oaks?"
The brunette answered with assurance. "I am positive, Janice... Unless
you want to move out, I'd like you to stay."
So the blonde wrote in the plantation's route address and telephone number,
before sitting back and awaiting Mr. Willoughby's return. They didn't have
long to wait. Bearing another set of papers Willoughby returned only after
another minute or two. "Miss Pappas, these are the disbursement authorizations.
You'll have to sign them before we can transfer any funds to the active
"Certainly." He showed her where and with a brief controlled flourish,
Melinda signed. He turned to Janice. "Miss--Doctor?" He paused in embarrassment.
She smiled pleasantly, quick to ease his discomfort. "It's all right, Mr.
Willoughby. I'm not offended. You may call me Miss. Even Janice will do."
"Thank you," he replied. He pointed out the home address on the paperwork
she had completed. "Is this address correct?"
"Yes, sir." She held his gaze with a deprecating smile. "Miss Pappas was
kind enough to let me stay with her and her mother until I find someplace
on my own."
He cast a quick glance at Melinda, who said nothing, remaining still and
meeting his gaze evenly. Looking away from the brunette, he returned his
gaze to the blonde. "If everything is in order, perhaps you would appreciate
a few draft notes as an advance?"
Janice nodded. "I do have a bit of shopping to do," she answered. "Recent
travels have depleted my personal funds."
"Then right this way, Miss Covington." He held the door for her and Melinda,
who stood quickly and followed behind. The clicking of adding machines
and quiet voices at the furthest teller station were the only noises in
the entire bank lobby. Willoughby led them to the second teller station
and pushed through a single sheet. "Miss Covington will need drafts on
her account, Miss Hillyard."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Willoughby." The young woman behind the glass and bars looked
up from beneath tidily restrained brown curls at her employer as well as
her new customers.
Leaving the women together, Willoughby retreated once again to his office.
The simple frame door clicked shut.
"Yes." The blonde drew her attention back to the teller. "Twenty dollars
please." The amount would certainly buy her at least a pair of blouses
and a skirt, as well as new shoes and a small proper dressing hat. And
it would leave just enough for her to treat Melinda to a modest lunch.
"I'll leave you at the store, since I have another errand to run," Melinda
said as they stepped once more into the sunshine and breeze, Janice carefully
tucking her new funds away.
"Meet me at the lunch counter in Woolworth's in about an hour?" Janice
inquired, gesturing to the small drugstore across the street.
Leaving Janice in the aisles at the clothier, Melinda quickly walked across
the street to the corner grocer. By chance since the other woman was retrieving
dinner for her family that evening, Melinda met up with Maryann Smith,
the university president's wife, and brought her for lunch.
After introductions and orders, Maryann welcomed Janice to the university
family. "Have you had an opportunity to meet anyone else?"
"Mr. Jameson invited us... both, to the dinner party Sunday evening. Will
you be attending, ma'am?" Janice asked, sipping her strawberry fizz.
"Young Mr. Jameson did indeed extend the invitation to my husband and I."
Maryann seemed pleased. "I'm surprised, Melinda. Generally you don't go
for such affairs."
"I thought Janice would enjoy making some friends in Raleigh," Melinda
"Tyler is quite nice," Janice mused. "I haven't had an opportunity to learn
anything about his parents however. Mrs. Smith?"
"The Jamesons are old Raleigh stock; one of the founding families. The
family plantation is on the north side of town. At one time I think Beaufort
Oaks and Juniper Plantation marched along the same boundary. But time has
whittled away at both." She smiled over to Melinda. "Today a small family
couldn't possibly manage the old vast holdings. Juniper was originally
more than five hundred acres. A good deal of it is now housing and community
centers. About one hundred acres is still retained and worked for the family
"I thought Tyler was a banker," Janice questioned.
"He's head accountant for the company, Jameson Lights."
Janice nodded. "Is the dinner party business or pleasure?"
"With Tyler's father, Justin, everything is business, but Millicent is
a remarkable hostess, so most people forgive Justin's enthusiastic if occasionally
Janice laughed and sipped at her fizz. Melinda remarked, "I know. Just
to get Mr. Jameson to be quiet the last time I visited, I agreed to a total
of sixteen shares in Jameson stock. Millicent's crepes are addictive,"
she chuckled. "When my father would go... he had a way of talking Mr. Jameson
around to everything but tobacco. It was the most amazing thing. If Mr.
Jameson was going to be at a party, or a meeting, or a gathering of any
kind, my father was frequently invited too, just to keep the man in check."
"Your father was quite remarkable," Maryann agreed. "You must tell me about
your adventure in Europe."
Melinda shrugged. "Not much to tell really. Dr. Covington had written,
requesting my father's assistance with several translations. He was..."
Janice watched Melinda swallow calmly holding back her emotions, still
considerably raw when it came to the man she had adored. "Not available.
So I went in his place." If she finished a little too brightly, neither
Janice nor Maryann saw fit to comment.
"I must say it came as quite a shock, dear. But you are home now, in one
piece. Was the war dreadful?"
"Thankfully the Germans had not fully invaded any of the areas where we
traveled. But the situation... was quite uncertain, even at the best of
Janice looked up to catch Maryann's delicate shiver as she reacted to Melinda's
sparse information. Then she found the older woman's pale eyes on her own
face. "Will you be returning to Europe any time soon?"
The blonde shook her head. "With my new position, I won't have to... at
least for a short time. Besides, it would be unsafe. While I'm not afraid
of a little danger, I am not foolhardy." She looked around, at the view
of the street afforded by the drugstore's full-length front windows. "Raleigh
is a nice place. And the university will keep me quite busy."
"Certainly you will be looking for your own place shortly. I can direct
you to any number of tenement homes near the campus," Maryann offered helpfully.
"I have made arrangements for Janice to remain at Beaufort Oaks," Melinda
interjected. "She has agreed to help me go through my father's papers and
construct the last few years of his research." She paused and sipped her
fizz. "He seemed very close to a breakthrough. I hope to publish his work
for him." She nodded to Janice who smiled back briefly. "It'll be easier
for us to work together if she is close at hand."
Maryann lifted her napkin and patted her lips daintily. "I suppose I can
see that. Your mother still lives with you?"
"She is out of town at the moment," Melinda commented.
"Oh, I hadn't heard." The president's wife regarded Mel and Janice for
a brief moment, then nodded. "Do pass along my fond regards when you hear
from her next." She glanced at her watch. "Oh my, I have another appointment."
She looked to Janice as she stood. "I hope you find your new position enjoyable,
Miss... Doctor Covington."
"Thank you, Mrs. Smith. Please extend my thanks to your husband."
"From both of us," Melinda added with a smile.
The older woman discreetly straightened her clothing, slipped her arms
into her coat and nodded to both women. "I will do that. Good day to you
The two-story house rose out of the mists of afternoon rain and wind like
a mountain on the Moorish plains in Spain. And just as incongruously. The
glistening white granite shot skyward, almost glowing because of the effects
of the winter thunderstorm.
Thunder sounded and the claw-like tendrils of a thick bolt of lightning
hit something in the lower hinterlands behind the house. Janice jumped
a bit in surprise as Melinda pulled up to the top of the curved drive and
turned off the engine. The blonde pulled her gaze from where the lightning
had exploded and rested it on the brunette gathering her umbrella and purse
from the seat. Through the gathering steam on the windows, Janice saw two
hunched figures bearing umbrellas move quickly from the house, one to each
side of the car.
"Are you sure we should've left Vida to come home to an empty house on
a night like this?" Janice had seen few storms blow up more quickly or
with such ferocity.
Knowing that it was more Janice's nerves about the coming party than a
worry over the housekeeper, Melinda patted the blonde's forearm reassuringly.
"Beaufort, and Vida, will be fine. So will Juniper. Come on. Once we are
inside you'll never hear the storm." Mel slipped out her door and bent
against the wind and rain with the careful hand of a servant guiding her
Janice took a deep breath and fidgeted with her left heel as she opened
the door. Immediately an umbrella sheltered the opening and she found a
hand thrust into her face. A male voice, soft and thin offered, "C'mon,
miss. I'll take you inside."
There was no sense that he might wish to hurry. Despite the fact that he
was likely getting very soaked, the man carefully helped her out of the
car, waited as she closed the door and then led her up the walk to the
wide-covered porch leading to the huge front entrance. The umbrella was
lowered away from both of them and she looked up into dark eyes over a
welcoming smile. "Thank you."
"You go right on in, Miss. The folks are expecting you." He turned and
she realized he had been posted outside the door, specifically tasked with
bringing guests up from their cars.
Melinda's escort too, moved away to the left of the doorway, shaking out
the umbrella in his hands. His gaze briefly caught Janice's and she smiled
her appreciation of his efforts. Then she nudged at the door, where it
was opened by another servant, and entered the house.
She caught sight of Melinda in the process of slipping off her long beige
raincoat, into the hands of another servant, a young woman, who settled
the coat over a small set of hooks inside a closet door. "We'll dry that
for you, miss," the woman said, looking at Janice as she turned back from
Melinda turned around, lightly settling her hair as she removed her blue
broad, soft brim hat. The dinner dress's long skirt swirled around her
ankles and the long navy blue sleeves hugged her arms to the wrist.
Janice slid her arms from her coat, and laid it over the young dark woman's
outstretched arm. "Thank you," she said. "Your hat too?"
The blonde touched her head, having almost forgotten the white linen hat
covering her hair. The round top was encircled with a paisley scarf, tied
off to the right side where it sloped down over her ear. Now she unpinned
it from her styled blonde curls, and handed it over.
Melinda, who waited for the few seconds it took for this, gestured. "Sounds
like everyone's in the ballroom." As Janice stepped up to her, she leaned
close and commented, "You should wear dresses more often."
Green glanced up into blue and Janice picked nervously at the simple sheer
forest green gown. "I haven't worn a skirt in ages," she whispered back
with a wry expression.
Then suddenly Tyler Jameson and an unfamiliar woman were striding quickly
up to both of them. "Doctor Covington. Melinda, I'm so glad you could make
it." Tyler greeted them and stepped back, cupping his arms around the smaller
older woman at his side. "Melinda, of course you know my mother. Mother,
this is Dr. Janice Covington, a new professor in the history department
at the university. Dr. Covington, this is my mother, Millicent Randall
Janice reached for the offered hand and took it lightly, mindful that this
was a woman, not a male colleague. She met light brown eyes set in a face
elegantly aged with smooth cheeks and a dimple in her chin, but laugh lines
around her lips and creases at the corners of her eyes. "Good evening,
Mrs. Jameson." She caught the sight of the grand staircase rising mammoth
to the second floor with its baroque style railings and its polished Cherrywood
steps amid clean whitewash paint. "You have a lovely home. Thank you very
much for the invitation."
"We are always interested in welcoming the new arrivals in town," Mrs.
Jameson responded with a formal air. "Please, come into the ballroom and
meet the rest of the guests. Dinner will be announced in an hour."
"Thank you," Janice responded sincerely, finding herself between Tyler
and Millicent with Melinda on Tyler's right arm. They passed under an archway
and Janice flicked her eyes over the interior, shying away for the moment
from the curious looks and taking in the grand architecture of the room,
while she settled her nerves.
Immense, with a ceiling easily the home's full two stories high, its open
walls and ceiling to floor windows were draped with green brocade and thin
linen inlays. The wall held electrical sconces, casting a soft glow along
the walls. Glancing up she took a single step back in sheer reaction.
Three massive chandeliers dominated the space; two were composed of seven
gradually smaller circle layers of glass prisms and the center one held
eight circles of prisms. The fixtures were affixed directly into the ceiling,
but the lowest prism circles dangled more than four feet.
Well, so much for my nerves, Janice thought, feeling the flutter she had
managed to calm charge to renewed life. She brought her eyes down and smiled
at Mrs. Jameson who had remained quiet. The woman's patient smile indicated
that she was very used to, and very pleased by, new guests' reactions to
the room. "What beautiful fixtures," Janice offered quietly, with intense
She succeeded in causing the matron to blush faintly. Then Mrs. Jameson
offered a muted, "Thank you."
Tyler and his mother led the two women over to a cluster of guests already
mingling with drinks in hand. As he released Melinda's arm, he asked, "Could
I retrieve something for you ladies? Mother, another? Mel, may I suggest
Janice waited for Melinda to request, determined to make her own choice
the same. "All right," the brunette responded, looking to Mrs. Jameson.
"I'll have the same," Janice added.
"Two it is, then. Mother?"
Millicent Jameson passed over her small empty glass. "And a refill for
me," she told her son. "I'll handle the introductions," she added.
"Yes, ma'am." Tyler smartly turned away and Janice tracked his progress
through the busy throng toward a table near the north side of the room,
overseen by two servants in green and yellow wool uniforms.
"This way," Millicent lightly touched Janice's arm, drawing the blonde's
attention back. Melinda walked a step behind as the matron of the house
took it upon herself to bring the newest resident of Raleigh into the society
in which she lived. She moved around young blacks, male and female, circulating
with platters of hors d'oeuvres. Politely she snitched a cracker with liver
pate and nibbled.
Melinda watched and accepted greetings from those who offered them after
they were introduced to her blonde partner. Her smile brightened when Cassidy
Zeigmacht grandly shook Janice's hand and welcomed her to Raleigh. Cassidy
was in full "city councilwoman" mode, and politely took over Janice's introductions
as the doorbell sounded, announcing another guest that Millicent excused
herself to greet.
Eyes narrowing, Melinda caught an impertinent glance from Josh Dumont,
a twenty year old with a trim mustache and thick dark hair, a lock draped
down over blue eyes that sparkled with an air of mischief. A friend of
Tyler's, he was a devilishly handsome young man with few prospects. The
Dumonts' youngest son, he had neither interest in university or work, preferring
his days filled with horses and spirits. He had been after Melinda's father
for the last years of his life to reopen the Beaufort Oaks stables to a
Now however it was obvious horses were the furthest thing from his mind.
He studied Janice with intensity, obviously taken by her looks in the fine
dress and carefully pinned hair. Then, it wasn't anything that Melinda
could put her finger on, but when Cassidy introduced Janice as "Doctor
Covington," she saw his lip curl slightly and he resumed conversation with
others nearby as soon as they passed.
Others, she was relieved, accepted the academic aspect of her partner with
more aplomb. While few were educated highly enough to converse with Janice
on her area of expertise, these, mostly other professors and their wives,
were accepting of her. She was doubly grateful for Cassidy's presence during
introductions as they made their way around to the businessmen of the community,
among whom Mr. Justin Jameson chatted amiably.
"Imports are going to drive the honest man out of business," he said as
the trio of women appeared at the outside of the clutch.
"Prices going down, Justin, are good for the consumer," Cassidy interjected.
Absently she drew a finger sandwich from a passing tray.
The crowd fell silent instantly. "Ah, Cassidy. Who have you here?" He spotted
Melinda immediately. "Gracious, Melinda, you're back in town." He clasped
the young woman's hands. "Is your mother about?"
"Not at the present, sir," Melinda stepped back, bringing Jameson's attention
to her smaller partner. "May I introduce Doctor Janice Covington?"
"Doctor, eh? Well, well. Come here, girl. What's about you?" Justin chuckled
and then smiled as Janice stepped forward. "Nice look about you. So, what
brings you to Raleigh?"
Janice seemed to take his measure in the moment before he took her hand.
"I thought I would see this part of the country for a while, sir."
"A traveler then? Where's your family from?"
"Philadelphia." She looked over briefly at Melinda, who nodded encouragement.
"Miss Pappas and I met during her business in Europe."
"Yes, sir." The brunette confirmed his look toward her with a nod.
"By profession I am an archaeologist. Miss Pappas ventured out to one of
"Oh dear. What about the war?" Shocked looks from the men's wives fell
on Melinda, who ducked her head charmingly. Janice recaptured their attention.
"We managed to return before it caught up to us," she assured the group.
Changing the subject somewhat and deflecting the several disapproving looks
cast toward Melinda, Janice squared her gaze on Justin Jameson. "I don't
believe you'll have much competition from imports soon, sir. Europe is
quite caught up."
"What do you know about the war?" The question was asked in a tone that
strongly suggested that it wasn't a proper topic for a lady.
Janice caught the intonation and merely shrugged in reply. "Only as much
as you, I expect." Sage nods among the men and the women's pursed lips
told Melinda that Janice had answered mildly enough.
Cassidy caught Melinda's eye and the brunette was almost embarrassed by
the smile the older woman flashed. She was quite a fan of shaking up the
establishment. Melinda did not agree, but her associations with Janice
were gradually changing her mind about a lot of things.
A small dark woman in a prim white apron and hunter green short-skirted
dress stepped into a doorway to the south. A tall man appeared next to
her, his uniformed right arm draped with several pristine white linens.
"Dinner is served," he announced in a deep, carrying voice. Janice recognized
him as the man who had escorted Melinda inside the house when they first
In the press of people as the guests flowed toward the doorway, Janice
lost track of Melinda. Each guest dipped their hands in the bowl the young
woman carried and dried their fingers on the towels. Janice scanned the
group, noticing Tyler near the front and the Colliers behind her. She did
a quick count in the confusion. Approximately fifty people were about to
partake at the "small" dinner party.
If this is small, I can't imagine large, she thought, already forgetting
half the names of those to whom she had been introduced. She wondered where
everyone would fit.
She paused in the doorway drying her hands on the towel. The dining room
could seat probably one hundred cozily. At present however round tables
were scattered across the open space giving each diner considerable room
at tables set for six guests each. She guessed that a larger dinner party
would simply take place in both the dining room and the ballroom. Incredible.
Two chandeliers, which matched the three in the ballroom in style, if not
size, basked the room in a softer glow. Where the ballroom had been fully
illuminated, the dining room's lighting was couched for gentlest effect.
Despite its sheer size there was an intimate feeling about the room. Dark
paneling rose four feet up the walls, and then a light diffusing antique
white paint colored the walls up to where carved porticos ringed the juncture
of wall and ceiling all along the edges of the room. The chairs were highly
polished Carolina oak, the lighter brown beautifully stark against the
hunter green tablecloths.
Janice spotted her partner when she saw Tyler move alongside Melinda. The
son of the hosts guided the brunette to a table at the far end. Janice
then noticed the nameplates elegantly handwritten and propped at the various
table settings. A young man with jet-black hair and a carefully trimmed
mustache approached her. "Miss Covington, may I help you find your seat?"
"I'm sorry, so many names," she began, shaking her head.
"Ah, no matter, certainly we'll know each other by the end of the evening.
Josh Dumont," he supplied, offering his elbow.
The young man led her toward a table almost against the exterior wall where
she found her place. With a tug, he settled her in the chair and seated
himself in one opposite her. She decided not to notice his quick switch
of plates, from one in his hand and the one actually at his seat. She kept
her gaze focused past him watching Melinda settling in at the head table,
conversing quietly with Mrs. Jameson on her left.
"May I provide you with anything?" he asked her.
"Nothing, thank you," she answered distracted, as he stood and hurried
off as a businessman in a gray single-breasted suit and his wife in a blue
flower print dress, arrived at the table. "Good evening," she offered.
"Jean and Margaret Faille," he said in a voice lightly accented with French.
"Janice Covington," she responded.
"Welcome to Raleigh." He reached across the table, and she offered up her
hand carefully. He pressed his lips to the back of her knuckles. "I am
astonished to see such a beautiful woman without escort." He accepted his
wife's hand on his arm.
"I have a friend here," she explained. "The Pappas family has graciously
extended their hospitality."
"Will you be in town long?"
"I have accepted a teaching position at the university for the spring term,"
Janice answered simply. Margaret's eyes flicked over her in an assessing
"You are an academic?" Margaret settled her napkin in her lap as she asked.
"Yes. History." Janice picked up her water glass and sipped.
"We have only just ourselves arrived in Raleigh." Jean acknowledged. "I
work with Monsieur Dumont," he nodded to a gentleman at the next table
where Janice recognized Rachel Dumont beside him. "He invited us this evening."
"I was given to believe that this was a small dinner party," the blonde
admitted. "Certainly doesn't seem like there is anyone left in town."
Jean chuckled. "I too was overwhelmed at first."
Josh Dumont returned at that moment, lowering himself into the seat he
had chosen with a flourish. "Hello, Jean. Mrs. Faille."
"Monsieur Josh. I did not know you would be here."
He shrugged. "Tyler invited me to go hunting in the morning. Suggested
I take in the dinner to start." He cocked a half smile at each of the older
couple and then had to stand even as his gaze fell once more on Janice.
Two new arrivals had, by politeness, forced both Jean and Josh to their
Janice looked up to see another couple in their middle years, well matched
in looks, from the gentleman's black suit to the woman's scoop-necked black
dress, overlaid with a single strand of pearls.
"Constance and Bertram Season," the gentleman of the couple introduced
The others offered their names as well. Just as the Seasons were seated,
Janice cast a last glance up at the head table, hoping to catch Melinda's
eye with a smile. Though simply dressed in a blue cinchwaist dress, the
brunette was easily the visual focal point at the head table seated between
Millicent Jameson and Tyler. On Millicent's left, Justin stood. "A toast,"
"A toast," echoed in the room as other men stood.
"To family and friends."
"Friends!" echoed throughout the dining room.
At her table, Janice offered, "To new friends," which generated warm responding
smiles. Then glasses clinked and everyone settled again as the servants
circulated. The first of the meal's four courses was set before each person.
Janice glanced down. Leek soup, she thought, then tasted it and smiled.
It was early in the main course, Janice having just tasted her sautéed
veal, when there was an interruption at the main table. A servant bent
close to Mrs. Jameson, next to Melinda. Melinda's eyes widened as her head
came up and abruptly she caught Janice's eyes across the room. The brunette
excused herself with a word to Millicent and the servant escorted her from
the dining hall. Janice's eyes went wide around her forkful of veal and
she lowered it slowly back to her plate.
"Is the food all right, dear?" Mrs. Faille asked gently.
"Oh yes. I'm sorry. Would you excuse me, please?" She dusted her hands
on her napkin and tossed it on the table as she stood.
"I'll escort you," Josh offered.
"Thank you." Janice was more concerned by the expression she had seen crossing
Melinda's face than she was with the propriety of being escorted by the
single young man, when it would have been more appropriate to have one
of the married gentlemen take her from the room.
She put it from her mind though as she left the room on Josh's arm and
they scanned quickly down the main hallway. A light from behind a mostly
closed door caught her attention. "Over there."
She pushed open the door and found Melinda standing with her back to them
and a uniformed policeman reaching for her shoulder.
Melinda turned; instantly Janice saw something was terribly wrong. The
sky blue of the brunette's eyes held turmoil, darkened with unspoken worry.
The blonde broke from Josh's side and grasped Mel's hand, feeling the cool
chill of the skin. The brunette was badly scared. She squeezed the long
fingers gently and posed her question directly to the officer. "I'm a houseguest
of Miss Pappas. Could you tell me what happened?"
"We found a vehicle registered in Miss Pappas's name at the train station.
The glass had been broken and there was evidence of a struggle in the front
seat. When they called it in to the station house, we called at the house."
He looked to Melinda. "Your maid told us you had left a note saying that
you should be here."
"You thought that Melinda had been hurt?"
"The car was hers. Certainly it was broken into."
Melinda shuddered. "But it wasn't me." She met Janice's eyes and the blonde
felt Melinda's tightening grip; reassuringly she squeezed back, but Melinda's
voice was still weak. "It had to be Mother."
"What's this?" Josh stepped forward. "Something happen to your mother,
The officer answered him. "We're not certain. Was your mother planning
to go out of town, Miss Pappas?"
"She left the house Wednesday morning, but didn't tell me her destination,"
Janice scanned the badge of the officer on his lapel. "Officer Donner,
could you take Miss Pappas and myself to examine the car?"
"Certainly it isn't a place for a lady, miss."
She turned to the son of their hostess. "Where's a phone?"
Melinda grasped Janice's arm. "Mel, I'm just going to call Vida."
Familiar with the study layout, Josh helpfully pulled the telephone from
a drawer in the study's room-dominating oak desk. Everyone waited with
carefully held breath as Janice dialed the house then gave a relieved grin
when Vida answered the phone. "Vida, goodness. It's all right. Yes. We're
both safe. No. We're going there now."
Melinda's voice was distant, carefully controlled. "Tell her to lock the
Janice nodded. "Yes, Vida. Please. We'll be there as soon as possible."
Josh looked from the brunette to the blonde, to the officer. "Will you
Janice nodded. "Please convey our apologies to the Jamesons." She grasped
Josh's hand. "Please don't give any details except that she was called
home. Until we know more it seems premature to alarm anyone unnecessarily."
Janice watched Melinda's carefully constructed mien begin to crack as the
brunette drew in a shaky breath. Damn. "Let's go." Before she can't hold
in the worry anymore. Knowing Melinda needed her Janice kept tight control
on her own reaction. Where the hell was Melinda's mother and what had happened
at the train station?
"Of course," Josh responded, compelled by the strength in her voice. "Please
let us know if we should do anything."
The two women and the officer met Tyler in the hallway. "Melinda?"
"We're sorry, Tyler," Janice interjected. "But something has come up at
the house." She grasped her coat and then Melinda's out of the closet,
settling both arms quickly into the sleeves before assisting the brunette
with hers. The officer, a little at loose ends, held both women's hats.
Janice watched Melinda mechanically pin hers on but forwent her own, simply
grabbing the brim and turning to the door.
The two young men watched, wrapped up in silent thoughts, as the officer
exited first, followed by Melinda, who leaned against the hand Janice settled
low on her back. Tyler nodded to Josh and the two men returned to the dining
room, in silent accord, to make their excuses and depart as well.
Melinda's mind raced. Janice guided her through the lighter rain to the
passenger side of her car. Through the mist, the brunette studied the officer
walking to his patrol car.
"I'll lead you," he called back.
"Right behind you," Janice answered, settling behind the vehicle's driving
wheel. She reached across Mel, who was bracing against the dashboard straining
to look through the falling rain. She checked that the brunette's door
was snugly shut. "Ready?" she asked, touching Mel's cheek after snapping
up the keys from Mel's purse on her lap.
The brunette nodded tightly, stiffening her chin, but her blue eyes shined
with moisture. "Let's go."
Janice turned the key and listened as the engine sputtered to life and
then settled to an idle. She set the wipers in motion and turned on the
headlamps before swinging the car out onto the road. Flooring the gas pedal
she caught up quickly to the officer's black sedan.
Only vaguely remembering the route to the train depot, not having needed
to make the trip since arriving almost three weeks earlier, Janice judiciously
kept the other car in sight. Melinda's car was unfamiliar in her grip,
but she managed to correct twice when the wheels slipped on the slick roads.
Melinda remained silent for the entire ride, intently leaning forward and
bracing her right hand on the dashboard. Her blue eyes darted back and
forth trying to penetrate the mist and rain to see through the evening
There were two other automobiles in the depot parking lot when Janice pulled
the car to a stop. Melinda was out the door almost before the engine completely
fell silent. Tucking the keys into her sleeve, Janice followed her quickly.
"We found the car over here," Officer Donner said. "After we saw the signs
of struggle we thought you," he cast a glance at Melinda. "We thought you
were hurt. The station called your home. Your woman--" Here he checked
his pad. "Vida... she said that Mrs. Pappas had gone out of town and that
you were at the Jamesons."
"Did you find anything in the car?" Janice asked as they rounded the building
corner. She looked up and immediately saw the damaged vehicle. Its driver
window was smashed; the glass shards glittering with rain and moonlight
were scattered over the ground.
"Our men found nothing. A bit of... blood," he looked to Melinda apologetically.
"We aren't sure who it belongs to."
Janice scanned the ground around the car. When Melinda started forward,
she crouched and held up a stalling hand. "No." Intently, she searched
the dirt and pebbles. The rain and dark were making it difficult to...
Yes. "I need a light," she uttered with sharp command.
Taking a long step backward she grabbed a hand lamp from another officer.
"What did you find?" Donner asked.
"There are prints in the dirt," she explained. "The rain doesn't make it
very clear, but..." She flared her light toward him for a moment. "Bring
me the officers who examined the car."
He turned around and jogged to the other patrol cars and the two milling
Melinda moved, watching where she planted her feet as she came alongside
the blonde. "Janice?"
"I'm stalling." The archaeologist admitted, with that intuitive glint in
her eye, and shook her head. "There are prints, but it's useless, Mel.
Your mother was dragged out of her car." She illuminated a path gouged
in the mud. "She didn't go willingly. Or consciously." Shining the light
inside the broken window, she went on quietly, "The glove box is open.
Were the car's registration papers in there?"
Melinda pushed both hands through her hair. "So why haven't we had a ransom
note, or something?"
"Too recent. Doesn't look like this happened any earlier than maybe noon."
She looked up at the station house. "If we could find out which train your
mother came in on, we'd have a pretty good idea how long they've had her."
She leveled her eyes on Melinda and asked seriously, "Would she hold up
under any types of interrogation?"
Mel pursed her lips and shook her head.
To boost her partner's flagging spirits, Janice quipped, "Don't worry.
She probably talked them to death."
Melinda sniffled but quirked a wan smile. "All right. So where did they
"Depends on if they thought she knew what they wanted to know, or if they
intend to use her to get to you." Janice considered what she had just said.
"They probably headed for the house in either case."
"Oh, God," Melinda suddenly remembered. "Vida's there too."
With sharp determination coloring her words, Janice flashed the light up
into her face and then Mel's. "We're going to get them both back, Mel."
The Raleigh officers jogged up. Janice scanned their shoes and made a quick
show of singling out a set of depressions and the narrow trench. "She was
dragged to another vehicle and driven somewhere."
"We should get you back to the house for a ransom call," Donner suggested
to Melinda. "I'll have one of my men go with you."
Janice needed to separate from the brunette. Only a multiple direction
approach could possibly hope to get them out of this. "Mel, I'll drive
your car back. You and the officers can go on ahead. I want to stop in
and talk with the stationmaster first." She circled quickly around the
building, as if to go inside, but instead raced to Melinda's car and drove
off, the sound covered by the grinding engine of an arriving train.
By the time, Mel and Officer Donner reached the parking lot; Janice and
the car were out of sight.
Having just returned from her impromptu vacation granted by Miss Melinda,
Vida remembered thinking that she should have called ahead. She had been
young once herself and would not wish to surprise the misses, who had no
doubt grown comfortable in the quiet of the big house.
But the house had been empty when she arrived. Not even the front porch
bulb had been left on. Once inside she made her way to the kitchen, put
a serving of leftover soup on the stove over a low flame before the phone
ring had drawn her back to the main hall.
It had been an officer from the town police. A car with Pappas registration
had been found at the train station. Did she know where Miss Pappas was?
She told him that Miss Pappas, and her houseguest Miss Covington had planned
to attend a dinner party at Juniper Hall with the Jamesons.
Returning to her soup, she was just sitting down with a bowl of it, when
the telephone rang again. Miss Janice asked if everything was all right
and told her that they were going to the train station first, but would
be home as quickly as possible.
She had gone, as instructed, to secure the front door.
When she returned to the kitchen, a man was just stepping inside. His weapon
came up instantly to train on a point in the middle of her chest.
"You are the only one in the house?" he demanded, his voice colored with
a mild accent, very similar to the light accent of Mrs. Zeigmacht, who
had occasionally dropped in on Melinda for tea. Miss Melinda probably could
be more specific, but Vida was alarmed only that the man did not appear
to be American.
She obeyed the waving gun and moved away from the stove to the kitchen
table, gingerly sitting down as she tried to both keep the gun in sight
and avoid looking at it. The weapon made her very upset, she acknowledged,
wondering what he intended.
"Are you alone?" He repeated, wagging the barrel from side to side for
Vida was not accustomed to lying and not given to bravado, she shook her
head. "I am alone."
The man's partner, or perhaps only one of them, entered the kitchen, in
time to hear her admission.
"You had better speak the truth," he warned her. His accent was very mild
compared to the younger man. His blonde hair was considerably thicker,
and his blue eyes narrowed on her face. He turned to his partner. "Keep
her under wraps. I'm going to check the rest of the house."
A moment later the soup she had left on boiled over, hissing and spitting.
The young fellow with the gun tried to grab for the pot, burning his hand
on the short metal handle. "Fix it!" he ordered, roaring a bit from the
Vida told him there was ice in the box for his hand as she carefully cleaned
up the stovetop.
She was rinsing the sponge at the sink when the leader returned and confirmed
her earlier statement. "Far as we can tell there isn't anybody around except
her." He followed the direction of his own pointing finger and studied
her for a long silent minute while her stomach flip-flopped. "When will
they return?" he asked.
Her eyes widened in alarm. She sincerely wished that Janice had not told
her they were on their way. To stall, she asked, "What do you want with
He checked the chambers of his gun methodically, snapping the cylinder
and spinning it. She jumped unconsciously at the implied threat. "They
have information that would damage the people I work for. I'm here to see
they don't give it to anyone else."
"How..." Her voice was weak. She swallowed and started again. "How do you
plan to do that?"
"Don't you worry about that. Just cooperate and you'll be fine."
Vida kept her face impassive. She had not heard either Miss Melinda or
Miss Janice talk about any information. She heard, then, as did her captors,
a burst of sudden noise from the front of the house.
She was roughly grabbed by the shoulders and shoved ahead of the two men
as they moved quickly to investigate the situation.
A female voice protested, "I don't know about anything!"
The leader quickly raised his hand, ordering the other to hold back with
Vida. He rounded the corner into the sitting room alone.
"She says she doesn't know." Another male voice, with the same foreign
accent almost completely obscuring his words, spoke up.
"Not this Pappas, you idiot."
"She was the one on the train."
Vida wished the man with his hands wrapped around her upper arms would
be curious enough about the exchange between his companions to enter the
room himself. She wanted to know what was going on. The woman they held
had to be Mrs. Pappas. She had known Brenda went to visit her sister in
Boston, since she left Vida a note to that effect. But the original note
had indicated "a couple of weeks."
She wondered what had caused Mrs. Pappas to shorten the trip. Additionally,
Vida wanted to see if their captors had caused her any injuries.
There was suddenly no more time to think about it. Automobile lights outside
passed through the front curtains and the sound of an engine cutting out
caught everyone's attention.
Her captor prodded her forward.
The leader ordered him back. "Tie her to the kitchen chair and then get
back here." He pulled aside the curtain as she was dragged away. One glance
was all she managed to exchange with Brenda Pappas. But it was enough to
send her heart racing again.
The matron had been liberally spattered with mud and had bruises and cuts
on her face and hands. The long sleeve of Mrs. Pappas's brown flounced
traveling dress had been half torn down her arm.
She found herself tied with her own apron to the chair. Before she could
protest he was gone, checking his ammunition as he disappeared.
A flicker just out of her line of sight caught her attention. As she turned
her head to take in the whole area, the rear door opened slowly.
A handheld lamp led in first, the darkness beyond obscuring the bearer
as the projected beam blinded Vida.
She fought only briefly against the urge to scream, her mouth opened. Squeezing
her eyes shut she sucked in her breath.
From her position next to the wind-blown trees shaped over the rear porch,
Janice scanned the house up to the second floor, judging distance and route,
considering what she was about to do. After speeding away from the train
station, Janice had decided that a direct approach on Beaufort Oaks would
be unwise, probably hurting far too many people in the process. So she
tucked the car off the lane leading up to the house, hiding it among the
oaks and bushes lining the rock-paved drive.
She had lost her shoes in a rain-formed mud hole around the side of the
house, where it appeared a tree had recently been cut out by the gardening
staff. Now, barefoot, chilled and wet, she had only a few minutes before
Melinda would be arriving with the Raleigh officers.
Before then she intended to have as much knowledge as possible about the
situation inside the house. She had seen a small lamp in the sitting room
shining in the front window, and the kitchen light was also on. She heard
movement near the door when she first crept onto the porch and pressed
her ear to the frame, careful to keep her body out of the line of sight.
Grasping the wood of the trellis, she planted her feet and started up,
hand over hand and moving her feet carefully from juncture to juncture.
She blinked against the rainwater that poured off the house's eaves and
down into the collar of her raincoat.
The weight of the wet fabric dragged on her shoulders. God, I am really
out of shape, she thought as the activity already produced a burning sensation
in her muscles. Either that or Vida's cooking is really packing on the
pounds. Finally the railing which circled the second floor balcony was
within a short reach. She would have to throw her body toward it a little,
and trust her reflexes, but she had no other choice.
Taking a deep breath, she threw her upper body to the left and reached
out for the posts holding up the railing. Her left fist closed around one,
but her right missed. Panting lightly she calmed herself while dangling
precariously, feet on the trellis and one hand on the balcony. With effort
she rotated her body enough to bring her right hand to the railing.
"Miss Covington, what are you doing?"
The calm voice in the silence startled her, sounding far too loud. Jerking,
she almost lost her grip. Swinging, since she did lose her footing, Janice
looked down the length of her body to see her dinner company from the Jamesons',
Josh Dumont, dismounting from a dark horse, and staring up at her.
The horse's breath puffed from its nostrils in little clouds of mist. Janice
however tore her eyes from the obviously winded horse and twisted so she
could see Josh's smiling, curious face. "Dumont? What--are you doing here?"
She hissed loudly enough for her voice to carry. "Get out of sight!"
"Have you taken leave of your senses?"
"No, I haven't." Bracing her arms she turned her attention away from him
for a moment, her left arm protesting the lengthy responsibility of suspending
her weight. Janice pulled her body over the railing and landed with a muted
thud on the floor of the balcony. Taking a cleansing breath, she leaned
back over the railing. "Josh, there are some very dangerous people inside."
"All the more reason Tyler and I rode over to help," he countered.
"Tyler is here?" She rubbed her hand over her face feeling suddenly an
age older than the young man who seemed to see this as nothing more than
a hunting lark. "Where is he? And keep your voice down," she hissed in
"Out front. I'm sure he's met up with Melinda and Officer Donner by now."
Janice started calculating, emboldened by the implied number of people
suddenly on the grounds, then shook her head. Unless she found out exactly
what was the situation inside there was little point in trying to plan
an approach, no matter how many people they had outside. "Stay put." She
injected as much command as she could into the hissed whisper. "I'm going
to check inside." She had a thought though. "Here's my light." She dropped
her handlamp into the wet grass. "Do you have an iron?"
"A gun, sidearm. Something that fires bullets?" She knew she was being
sarcastic, but damn it the situation didn't need more unpredictable elements
added to the mix.
His smile in response sent a shiver of dread up her spine. Reaching back
into his mount's saddlebag he withdrew a Colt .45. The moonlight on the
well-polished barrel illuminated the revolver's distinctive lines.
"Is it loaded?" He nodded. "Toss it up." He glanced toward the doorway.
"No!" she barked, then gentled her voice. "There are probably hostages.
Josh, I'm trying not to get anyone hurt here. Just toss it up."
He pulled back on his arm and released the weapon in an easy arc toward
her. Snapping it out of the air, feeling its cool metal solid form fit
into her palm, Janice nodded down to him. "Now, stay by the door. But out
Armed now, Janice ducked through the doorway off the balcony, emerging
into the dark second floor hallway. Carefully she shut the door and focused
on sounds she heard of those also in the house.
There were voices downstairs. Separating the different speakers, she counted
the number of unique voices. There were ... three voices in the kitchen.
She heard a rough German accent in a deep young male voice. Then a nervous
feminine voice with the careful lilt that could only be Vida Brown, the
Pappas housekeeper. A third voice had little accent, was gruff, deeper
and threatening. She edged from listening over the opening to the back
stairs until she stood over the front stairs, now listening to the exchanges
in the front sitting room.
"Where are the plans?" A male voice demanded.
A low, feminine voice answered sharply, "I don't know anything about that."
Surprised by the realization that this was Brenda, the older Pappas woman's
voice was so reminiscent of Melinda's that for a split second Janice thought
Melinda was inside the house. The blonde winced when she heard the slap
of a hand contacting flesh. But Brenda did not react aloud.
Hefting the gun, the archaeologist took a single step forward, onto the
steps going down, then recalled her sense and stepped back up. The voices
from the kitchen shifted, and Janice crouched down, trying to get a look
into the entry hall as the voices converged on those in the sitting room.
With all the sounds now at the front of the house, Janice moved cat-like
down the backstairs and entered the kitchen, crossing to the back door
and hurriedly unlatching it, letting herself out. Careful to make it close
soundlessly behind her, she nearly vaulted out of her skin when a pair
of hands fell to her shoulders and spun her around. With supreme effort
she smothered her startled oath.
Pressing his face close to hers as he pulled her toward the bushes, Josh
asked, "How many?"
"Four. All in the front room."
"All right," he said. "You go around and tell Melinda and Tyler." He tried
to reclaim his gun from her hands.
She wouldn't relinquish it. "No. I have a better chance."
"But you're a woman," he countered. Though the words were stated simply,
Janice felt an implied insult in them and recoiled.
She put on her most winsome smile and tucked her hands, with the gun, demurely
behind her back. "Exactly." She transformed again, putting the steely glint
she had offered to Smythe's men it seemed a lifetime ago in Macedonia.
It made Josh take a step back. "Tell Mel to act like she's just come in
from a date. The less we sound like we have a mini-army out here, the less
likely they will be to shoot first."
As they stood up together, Janice gripped Josh's hand suddenly forcing
him to understand her. She would not put anyone in danger here; he was
not to do anything stupid. "They have both Melinda's mother and Vida, the
house maid, as hostages. It's the safest way."
A smile born of the faint beginnings of admiration touched his lips then
Josh nodded. "Here," he handed over the lamp and ran off into the darkness,
to find Melinda and Tyler.
Janice trained her weapon and the small hand lamp on the door. She watched
the light in the window and waited for a good moment to make her move.
Tuning her ears to the sounds of the night, she filtered out the distracting
pounding of her heart, and tried to catch an indication that Melinda and
Tyler were going in the front door.
Tyler Jameson trotted down the tree-lined drive and came alongside Melinda
in the passenger seat of Donner's patrol car. He dismounted, holding his
stallion's reins as she rolled down the window quickly.
"Tyler, what are you doing here?"
"I came to see how you were. How'd it go at the train station?"
"We found the car. Not much else," she temporized, worried that his presence
would cause problems if there was anyone in the house.
He leaned into the window slightly. "Where's your friend, Dr. Covington?"
"Master Jameson, you should head home," Donner injected.
"I'd rather stay and help Miss Pappas if possible," Tyler responded easily.
Melinda studied the house further up the road. "Can you tell if there is
"Josh went around back to see. I saw your lights and came here first."
She looked over to the officer. "Well, we'd better find out what he discovered."
Donner proceeded to the edge of the drive but his headlamps illuminated
the front walk before he turned them off. Cutting the engine, he got out
as Melinda did the same and Tyler quickly led his horse up from behind.
"I don't like involving more people in this, Miss Melinda." Then he caught
a motion around the west side of the house; a figure burst through the
bushes and stumbled onto the rock surface of the drive.
Donner pulled his gun from his holster, and aimed it, all in the same space
of a moment it took for him to identify Josh Dumont and for the young man
to drop to his knees, arms raised in the air.
"Don't shoot!" Dumont hissed in the silence. "It'll draw attention."
"So there are people inside?" Jameson stepped forward. Donner jerked his
head and allowed Tyler Jameson to grab his friend's wrist and yank him
to his feet.
"Four. Two women hostages." Dumont looked to Melinda. "Your mother and
Donner ordered them to fall back again into the darkness. "Now you three
stay here. I'm going to call for backup." He reached into his patrol car
and lifted up the radio speaker.
"That'll take too long. They have to know someone is already out here."
Dumont objected. "Janice has already been inside. She thinks there's a
way to distract them, and get the drop on them."
Donner looked at him in surprise. "Miss Covington is here?"
Dumont ignored him for the moment and spoke to Melinda. "She thinks you
can pretend to come in from a date, and the less threatening appearance
will prevent them from shooting."
Josh Dumont and Tyler Jameson had known Melinda Pappas for many years and
she had not seemed very different from a dozen other young society-reared
women, given to dancing at parties and mingling with the other women talking
of inconsequential things. But the look that crossed Melinda's smooth features
now reminded them that she had also spent a lot of time off to the side,
alone, observing the groups with hawk-like acuity. Her azure eyes turned
icy, going more gray than blue and she narrowed her gaze first on Dumont
then the house.
"All right. Here's what we're going to do."
"Miss Pappas, I can't support this."
"Fine. Then don't. Call for backup, but I have to go in." She leveled her
gaze on Tyler Jameson now. "Escort me up there."
"You seem rather certain. Is there something you know about this, Miss
Melinda looked back at the officer. "Those are Nazis that have my mother,
"Nazis? Damn.... darn... oh Hell's bells Miss Pappas..." Donner backed
away from his car and wielded his weapon again. She grabbed it firmly in
her hand, reaching to the side so the barrel pointed to the ground.
"Just call for more officers," she interrupted tolerantly.
"Yes, ma'am." He backed up to his car and watched as the young couple walked
casually to the front steps.
Time for an act, she thought, turning to the slender affable man beside
her as she fished through her purse for her keys. "Thank you for driving
me home," she said, a little loudly. Her ears caught a bit of rapid-fire
conversation behind the door.
"My pleasure, Miss Melinda," Tyler took a deep breath and fell easily into
his role. "Can I help you?"
"No, I'll be fine." She fit the key into the lock and started to turn the
"If you're certain..." He stepped toward the hinge side of the door.
"Yes." The door pushed open. Reaching around the corner, Melinda reached
for the front entry light switch. Another hand reached it first and a massive
fist closed around her wrist, dragging her forward.
"Well, well." Melinda cast her eyes to her right and found Tyler in the
firm grips of another man and then returned her eyes to the older blue-eyed
blonde with his fingers bruising her wrist that he held above her head.
"Who are you?" she asked, putting a tremble into her voice.
"I'm hurt you don't remember me." He turned his head to the side and she
noticed the long scabbed over gash from the corner of his right eye down
across the meat of his cheek and a gouge in his cheek. Cutting right to
the point, he settled the gun in the soft skin of her throat. "Now, why
don't you tell me where the papers are, hmmm?" She swallowed, feeling the
barrel slide along the outside of her larynx. "If you don't I'll kill everything
in this house and find it myself. Then how will you tell your government
about the little secret?" He poked her in the throat making her reflexively
gag. "I could just blow your throat out. That'll make sure you never talk."
"I told you on the train that we lost everything in the plane crash," Melinda
reasoned. "I don't have anything else."
"Where's the coat?" Melinda's face screwed up in confusion. "That ratty
old bomber jacket your blonde friend seemed so fond of. Where is it? I
know it made it into the country."
"The coat? We had the papers in the suitcase."
"Blane is a smart one. We tortured it out of him when we told him we had
shot down your plane. He wanted nothing more than to drown in drink. So
we let him. The papers in the suitcase were not the important ones."
Janice, Melinda thought. Janice wore that coat everywhere. Had she known
the leather contained more than the halves of the chakram? Was this man
speaking the truth?
The brunette didn't have another moment to think. A sharp scream interrupted
She kicked free as her captor spun in alarm. Through the narrow line of
sight afforded by his moving body, Melinda saw a blur of blonde and green
dive through the kitchen. And suddenly the scream stopped.
The two men holding them, and a third which had been in the sitting room,
all pulled their guns and dragged Tyler and herself toward the kitchen,
using the two women as shields.
Tyler, bless him, pulled free, by tripping himself on the phone's cord
as they passed the small table where it sat. As the man fell, and his captor
tripped over him, Melinda ducked her head and threw an elbow backward into
a tense stomach. The gun barrel flashed into her peripheral vision and
she smashed her fist down across his wrist, causing the weapon to drop
to the floor and skitter across until it hit a wall and discharged.
Janice swung around the open doorway from the kitchen at the sound and
led with her weapon into the confines of the hallway. She fired once, the
bullet rasping past Melinda's shoulder and embedding with a gurgle in the
throat of the man falling over Tyler Jameson's prone body. Melinda dropped
to the side and tried to keep the gun on the floor in her sights.
"In the sitting room!" she yelled to Janice as she finally closed her hand
over the gun handle and pointed it at the looming figure of her captor.
The downed man next to her groaned as Tyler rolled him over and restrained
him. A flash of motion and she fired on reflex. Heavily the dead man fell
forward, bleeding from a chest wound as he collapsed, still struggling
for the gun he'd managed to grab in his fist before she fired. The strength
of his fight finally ebbed and Melinda tugged the revolver and herself
away from the limp body.
Dazedly she struggled to her feet and leaned hard against the wall. She
hadn't lost her own consciousness this time. With that startling realization,
she dropped the gun and looked down at the man who had attacked her at
the university, and whom now, she had killed.
Tyler grabbed up the gun and charged after Janice, who had disappeared
into the sitting room. Melinda edged there now, having neither heard shots
nor signs that either Janice or the Nazi holding her mother had come to
With Tyler's arrival, the man turned his gun from its sights on Janice
to line up with Jameson's head. He had his left arm wrapped around Melinda's
mother in a chokehold that the older woman could not find the strength
to challenge. Melinda saw red as her mother's face paled and started to
Janice never once lowered her weapon. From this angle, Melinda couldn't
tell what part of his mostly shielded anatomy Janice had the gun sights
"Your partners are dead," Janice warned him, the youngest of the three
men who had taken over the house. "Drop the gun or I'll make you as dead
as they are."
Brenda Pappas went limp from lack of oxygen and probably no little fear.
Janice caught the instant the body sagged and the young man lost control
of her weight. As he released the tension in his arms for the briefest
of moments and Brenda sagged faster, Janice fired.
The bullet pierced his chest where only a split second before, Brenda's
head had rested. His gun canted upward and the reflex in his hands discharged
his gun into the ceiling. The plaster scattered down on top of him. He
fell backward, buried under a small section of collapsed ceiling, staring
up into the second floor unseeing.
"Lord's mercy!" Vida's voice erupted from behind Melinda and the brunette
turned to catch the dark woman as she fell faint.
Across the room, Janice dropped her gun and caught Brenda before the woman's
body could, in her faint, also hit the floor.
Tyler collected his wits and went to check on the pinned man. Checking
for a pulse he found none, and rolled back on his heels. "He's dead." He
looked toward Melinda who cradled Vida in her arms, and then to Janice,
who held Brenda Pappas in hers. "That was some amazing shooting. Do you
two do this often?"
Despite her stomach churning badly enough to almost bring up her dinner,
Janice started to chuckle then bubbled into an honest laugh as she met
Melinda's eyes. "It's over."
"It's only over for now. Unless we get the paper they wanted to the government."
"When was the last time you checked the pockets of your leather jacket?"
The blonde shrugged. "Why?"
"Seems that Blane had more plans. And he put them in it."
"Damn." She looked up, embarrassed by her own outburst, then realized with
relief that Tyler had stepped out of the room. "When will people ever deal
straight with us?"
Melinda did not have an answer for that, and was trying to formulate a
response when Officer Donner and Tyler and Josh entered the sitting room.
Behind Donner two other Raleigh officers followed. All the men surveyed
the damage, shock passing over their rugged faces. "Miss Pappas, what happened
Since the gun was far from her hands because of her sudden drop to catch
Vida, Melinda decided to keep the details simple. "The ceiling collapsed,"
she answered. "I had been planning to have it fixed." The brunette could
see Janice trying to smother a laugh against her mother's shoulder. And
finally Melinda smiled as she saw her mother start to stir. "If you'll
collect those men, officer, I should move my mother and maid to someplace
Tyler helped Donner clear the debris from atop the man in the sitting room,
while the other two officers and Josh removed the bodies from the hall.
Janice was watching the balancing act of Tyler and Donner when she felt
the body in her arms wake up.
Her voice soft, if not exactly lighthearted, Janice asked, "Mrs. Pappas,
are you all right?"
Blue eyes of a shade that almost exactly matched Melinda's blinked several
times so that Janice's heart squeezed, remembering a time she had held
an injured Mel in her arms. Finally Brenda tested her voice. "Is it over?"
"Yes, ma'am. It's over." Janice rubbed lightly on Brenda's back as she
helped the woman sit up carefully. "Does anything hurt? I tried to make
sure you weren't, but... it all happened rather fast."
Brenda examined her arms and legs and mentally catalogued her aches and
pains. "No. I... I think I'm all right. Sore, but..."
Blue eyes met across the room where Melinda was helping a quiet, but awake
Vida also sit up. "Melinda."
"I'm sorry that they hurt you, Mother."
Brenda saw that she really was. And turned her head to study Janice as
if she were ticking over several options in her mind. Finally the older
woman offered, "You saved my life. Thank you."
Green eyes started to shine and a weak smile formed on thin lips. "You're
Josh shook his head, trying to wrap his mind around the evening's events.
He pushed his hands through his hair remembering the scene in the Pappas
home only a few moments past.
Melinda Pappas. God, he had known her for years. Most of their lives actually.
He ashamedly remembered himself at fifteen, standing over his bicycle with
a dozen other boys, each challenging the others to go jump Wreck Ravine,
a rocky slope and chasm out at the county rock quarry.
Studious, bookish Melinda, who had nonetheless been a regular on the edge
of their group, had told them -- well, in particular, she told Tyler Jameson,
the one Josh had been pushing the hardest with the dare -- that the whole
situation was just far too dangerous.
So, in his most spiteful young voice, Josh had called her a name. "Oh,
go ahead and listen to the mouse, Tybaby," he squeaked. "Melinda Mouse
knows everything, doesn't she?"
The other boys joined the chorus. "Tybaby! Melinda Mouse! Baby! Mouse!"
And the brunette girl, who was so slim for her rapidly growing body, had
just quickly tucked her book back under her elbow and walked away, shoulders
stiff, flinching each time an insult landed on her ears.
Tyler Jameson had suffered for months of teasing after that because he
had followed her away while Josh Dumont had just stood there and laughed
until the tears rolled down his face.
Melinda had certainly grown up. Tyler had a beauty in this young woman
that his mother wanted him to marry. Also very certainly she was no longer
a mouse, Josh acknowledged. Vividly he recalled the revolver in her palm,
wisps of smoke drifting from the barrel as she came to her feet.
It was a long way from the easy-to-tease young girl, and Josh wondered
how he had missed seeing the change, though he suspected some of it had
to have been caused in Europe on that spur-of-the-moment trip to meet up
with the enigmatic blonde Doctor Covington.
The blonde was certainly no empty-headed society simpleton. Advanced degrees
both in history and the social sciences. A levelheaded seriousness that
suggested every day of her ten years experience at European archaeological
sites. At least that's what her resumé said, according to Jameson.
He turned around as Officer Donner walked up. "Yes, sir?"
"Do you have any idea what went on here tonight?"
The blonde man amiably shrugged. "Not a clue. Certainly was unusual." The
officer started walking, so out of courtesy, Josh found himself walking
back to the house as well.
"Miss Pappas?" Donner said as they entered the sitting room.
"The men are in custody. It's rather late now, but would you and Miss Covington,
and your mother, please come down to the station tomorrow and give our
detectives your statements?"
"Of course," she responded.
Josh found himself watching Janice help Melinda settle the maid and Melinda's
mother quietly on the couch.
Tyler appeared at the kitchen doorway with glasses of what looked and smelled
to be lemonade, its pungent scent cloying the air. Josh stepped aside and
let him pass.
As his brown-haired friend circulated with the refreshing drinks, Josh
noticed that Covington moved with a forthrightness that seemed a little
out of place on one only a few years older than himself and a woman to
boot. However, each action was followed with a last moment hesitation or
self-correction that seemed to be a bow to conventions she was constantly
He remained by the doorway as Melinda changed places with Janice, the blonde
murmuring something in the brunette's ear that sent the blue eyes wide
with a nod.
He watched Covington shift his borrowed gun from her left to right hands
as she walked directly toward him without really looking up at him. "Thanks,"
he said, reaching for the gun barrel.
She moved it to her other hand, not an exaggerated keep-away but a definitely
subtle, I'm keeping this for the moment. She explained, "I'm going to check
"I'll go with you," he found himself offering as her green eyes finally
swept up and caught his.
Again he watched her start to say something, trip herself to silence and
then close her mouth. She paused and then finally nodded. "All right."
Stepping over to the stair, she led him up. "I just came up to... get a
coat," she said as she crossing onto the second floor landing.
He waited in the corridor as Janice entered one of the bedrooms. She went
immediately to a fir armoire and swung one door wide. What she pulled out
however was the last thing he would have considered. A beaten up, certainly
dirt-laden leather jacket, partially faded in a patchwork's haphazard pattern,
it looked just a little too big to be her personal property.
However, she was not putting it on. She threw the coat on the bed and started
patting it down searching pockets methodically, starting at the collar
and moving out over the yoke and arms.
She paused inside at a point along the inside of the back. Abruptly she
manipulated the leather and even he heard the sound that sounded like paper
crinkling. He heard a very unladylike curse word and wondered where she
had picked it up. With force she pulled at the lining and separated it.
"I can't believe this!" Janice sounded exasperated and angry.
"What is it?" he ventured to ask.
She spun brandishing a single sheet of paper folded in her palm. "Why couldn't
he do as we expected? Just once, once, something should go the way it's
supposed to. That's the law of averages or something, isn't it?" She cast
a quizzical glance toward him.
"What is it?" he asked again.
Studying the paper, she mused over the contents. "I can't make heads or
tails of this." She grabbed the coat, fisted her hand around the paper,
and pushed past him to return to the corridor.
Intrigued he followed her back down the stairs.
"Found it," Janice announced once again waving the paper as she rounded
the corner back into the sitting room.
"Incredible," Melinda moaned, shaking her dark head and closing her eyes.
"What is that?" Tyler asked, reaching for the paper from where he sat on
a chair, opposite a tiny loveseat where Melinda had decided to perch.
Again Janice kept the paper to herself.
"That's what I'd like to know." Josh looked to Melinda. "Would you care
to explain? We did both just put our lives on the line apparently for this...
whatever it is."
Janice and Melinda exchanged long communicating looks. Finally Janice nodded
and Melinda spoke. Everyone remained spellbound. Vida bit her lip and Mrs.
Pappas rubbed her glass across her cheeks at the details of the mess in
Casablanca. Josh and Tyler shuddered at the recollection of the escape
from the downed plane. Melinda told the tale, but Janice offered clarifications,
as she divulged the details of their European adventure.
Melinda was illustrating a point in the air with her hands when Janice
took the space on the loveseat next to the brunette. They shared a warm
look as they sat together.
When they were finished, Brenda reached over and patted Melinda's knee
soothingly. "I'm glad you're home." Janice felt the older woman's eyes
slide to her. The ice flinting the blue was gone. But the older woman didn't
say anything more. It was another thanks more silent and more solemn, as
Brenda seemed to come to terms with everything, including Janice.
The house was at long last quiet. Melinda crawled into bed after talking
with her mother for the duration of the time it took Janice to settle Vida
in the guest room.
"She's... not what I expected," Brenda said uneasily.
"Thank you, Mother." Long fingers intertwined. "Get some rest, I'll see
you in the morning."
"Those boys were quite helpful tonight?" Brenda asked.
"Yes, I sent them home with some of Vida's leftovers."
The older woman chuckled. "An old custom."
Melinda felt her cheeks warm. "Another lifetime ago," she murmured. "But
appropriate, I think."
Now as she rolled onto her side, studying the open doorway into Janice's
room through the bathroom, Melinda wondered where Janice planned to sleep.
The gunshot fired by the man Janice shot collapsed the ceiling which had
been her bedroom's floor.
The voice came from the door and Melinda rolled her head toward it. "Is
"All right." Without additional words, Janice closed the door, setting
the lock quietly, and Melinda raised the sheet and blanket invitingly.
"So... next stop Washington?" she asked as Janice crawled into bed, snuggling
her smaller body into the curves of Melinda's.
Janice's hands drifted over Melinda's face in the moonlit darkness. "I
want a single week of peace and quiet. We'll go after the holidays are
over. Most of Washington is about to breakfor the holiday season anyway."
"Yes, you know. Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Year's." Janice's voice was
low, teasing. Irresistible. So Melinda covered those quirked lips with
a kiss. Deep sensuous and lingering, she nipped and sucked with abandon
that pleasantly surprised her as well as Janice.
"Certainly has been an interesting couple of weeks at home," she said.
"Makes me think we had it all wrong. Travel isn't the only adventure."
Janice rolled atop her longer, larger companion, settling one of her thighs
between Melinda's. "No, it certainly isn't." She bent her head, briefly
tasted Melinda's lips and then trailed kisses down the woman's torso.
And another more intimate adventure began.