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Behind a stack of magazines, he located a framed photograph of his late wife, Annie, and their son, Blake. The sight of his beloved Annie's smile wrenched at his heart. She'd passed away two years ago, a month shy of their fortieth anniversary.
With his thumb, Ray wiped a smudge from the glass and focused on the image of his son. Though Blake was only eight in this picture, his dark brown eyes snapped with impatient intelligence. Gifted wasn't a sufficient word to describe him. And yet, he hadn't chosen a career where he could concentrate on his intellect. At age twenty-five, Blake was part of a Special Forces team working undercover in undisclosed locations.
Setting aside the photo, Ray opened his laptop and typed an e-mail.
My dear son, I loved you from the moment you emerged from your mother's womb with a squall and two clenched fists. Forgive me for what I'm about to disclose…
He was well aware of his pompous phrasing, clearly a defense mechanism to hide his shame. He should have told Blake long ago. After four decades as a psychiatrist, Ray should have been wiser. Unspoken secrets never went away. The lies one told festered beneath the surface and arose in times of stress to bite one's ass.
His e-mail ended with: Take care of Eve Weathers. She needs you.
He hit Send, closed the laptop and took it to the safe hidden behind the bookshelves. Like the rest of his office, the interior of the safe had accumulated a great deal of paper. But these notes were precious; they would tell the whole truth about the story he hinted at in his e-mail.
After locking the safe and closing the hinged section of bookshelves, he went to the window. The red, yellow and magenta tulips in his garden bobbed in the June breezes. The sun was setting behind the foothills west of Denver. So beautiful. He should have spent more time outdoors.
The door to his office opened. A melodic voice said, "Good evening, Dr. Jantzen."
"How did you get inside?"
"Your alarm system is rudimentary. Your locks, pathetic." The extraordinary tonal quality of the intruder's voice hinted at his immense musical talent. "And this office is a rat's nest. How do you work?"
"I like it this way."
"And what does that say about your emotional state? Hmm? Disorganized thinking, perhaps?"
Angered by this mocking analysis, Ray turned away from the window and faced the intruder. His eyes were silver, like the barrel of his Beretta.
Ray lunged for his own weapon. It trembled in his hand. He'd never be able to shoot this young man whom he had known literally since birth.
"You're not a killer." The voice was sheer music. "Put down the gun."
Ray sank into the chair behind his desk and reached for the telephone. Still holding the gun, he hit the speed dial for the security service that monitored his "rudimentary" alarm system. They were guaranteed to respond within ten minutes.
"Hang up the phone, Dr. Jantzen."
"Be reasonable." He aimed the Beretta. "You know what I'm looking for."
Turning over his records wouldn't be enough, and Ray knew it. "I won't remain silent. I can't."
"Then you will die."
Ray squeezed off several shots, aiming high. He hoped to frighten his opponent, though he knew that hope was futile.
Three bullets burned into his chest. Before his eyelids closed, he imprinted his gaze on the photograph of Blake and his beloved Annie.
Eve Weathers had attended many funerals, mostly in the company of her parents, mostly for people she didn't know. Being raised on army bases meant death visited her community with a sad and terrible frequency. But she'd never before stood at the graveside of someone who'd been murdered.
The bright sun of an early June afternoon dimmed, as if a shadow hung over them, as if they all shared in the guilt. The police said Dr. Ray Jantzen had been killed by a burglar. They had no suspects. The killer might even be among them.
While the preacher read from Psalms, she checked out the other graveside mourners. Her mother would have called this a good turnout—close to a hundred people. An eclectic bunch, they appeared to be from all walks of life. There were serious-looking older men who were probably Ray's friends and psychiatrist coworkers, several men in uniform because Ray had worked at the VA hospital, a young man in leather with spiky, black hair and mirrored sunglasses, a couple of teenagers and various family members. Their only common denominator was that Eve didn't know any of them.
Dr. Ray had been in her life for as long as she could remember, literally since she was born. When her parents had applied for an experimental in vitro fertilization program at the army base where her dad had been stationed, Eve had become part of a lifelong study. Every year, she had filled in a questionnaire and had given Dr. Ray an update on her life, both her physical and emotional condition.
They'd only met in person a couple of times before she had moved to Boulder three years ago to take a mathematical engineering position at Sun Wave Labs. For the past two years, she and Dr. Ray had done their updates over dinner. His wife had passed away, and she assumed he was lonely.
The sound of his coffin being lowered startled her. She blinked. Her gaze lit upon a dark-haired man in a black suit who stood beside the preacher. She recognized him from the photo Dr. Ray had carried in his wallet. His son, Blake Jantzen.
She studied Blake with a mathematician's eye, taking his measure. His physical proportions were remarkable. Her mind calculated the inches and angles of his shoulders, his torso and the length of his legs. Though he wasn't splayed out, like Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, Blake Jantzen was close to ideal.
When his gaze met hers, a tremor rippled through her, and she immediately lowered her eyes. She hadn't meant to stare, hadn't intended to intrude on what had to be a terrible day for him. When she looked up again, he was still watching her.
Their eye contact intensified. His dark eyes bored into hers, and that little tremor expanded to a full-blown, pulsating earthquake inside her rib cage. If she didn't look away, it felt as if her heart would explode. This wasn't how she usually reacted to men, even if they were practically perfect.
Pretending to pray, she stared down at her feet. Her toes protruded from her hiking sandals which were really too casual for a funeral, even if they were black. Suddenly self-conscious, she decided her black skirt was too short, showing off way too much of her winter white legs. She buttoned her black cotton jacket over her white tank top, stained with a dribble of coffee from this morning.
Whenever she mingled with the general public, her style seemed inadequate. In the lab, she wore comfortable jeans and T-shirts with nerdy slogans. Her chin-length, wheat-blond hair resembled a bird's nest. None of the guys she worked with cared what she looked like. They were so absorbed in their work that they wouldn't notice if she showed up naked, except perhaps to comment on the small tattooed symbol for pi above her left breast.
The crowd dispersed, and she lost sight of Blake, which was probably for the best. Her mother would have told her that the proper behavior would be to shake his hand and offer condolences, but she didn't trust herself to get that close to him without a meltdown. Was she so desperate for male companionship that she'd hit on a guy at his father's funeral?
She made a beeline for her car. As she clicked the door lock, she heard a voice behind her. "Are you Eve Weathers?"
Without turning around, she knew who that sexy baritone belonged to. "I'm Eve."
"I'm Blake Jantzen. I need to talk to you."
Up close, he was even more amazing. Was there a degree beyond perfection? Most people had incongruities in their facial structure: one eye higher than the other, a bump on the nose or a dimple in one cheek and not the other. Blake had none of those anomalies. Even the shadows of exhaustion beneath his eyes were precisely symmetrical.
She stammered, "I'm s-sorry for your loss."
He acknowledged with a crisp nod. "Come back to the house. My aunt arranged a reception."
"I don't know where you live."
"My father's house," he clarified.
Though she'd planned to return to her office in Boulder, she couldn't refuse without being rude. "I've never been to Dr. Ray's home."
A flicker of surprise registered in his coffee-brown eyes. "I thought you were close to him. He thought highly of you."
"We met for dinner a couple of times, and he was very kind to me. But it was always at a restaurant. He kept his private life, well, private." Her parents never could have afforded her postgrad studies if Dr. Ray hadn't helped her obtain scholarships. "I thought of him as a benefactor."
"Stay here," Blake said. "I'll tell my aunt that I'm riding with you."
Though she obediently slid behind the steering wheel of her hybrid and waited, his attitude irked her. Blake had the arrogant tone of someone who gave orders that must be followed. A military guy. An alpha male. The kind of man who demanded too much and gave little in return. If she ever fell in love, she hoped it would be with a guy who at least pretended to treat her as an equal.
Though she doubted that she and Blake would get along, Eve checked her reflection in the visor mirror. She'd shed a couple of tears, but the mascara around her blue eyes wasn't smudged. She pushed her bangs into a semblance of order.
In a matter of minutes, Mr. Perfect returned to her car and climbed into the passenger side. "At the exit from the cemetery, turn right."
Having issued his order, he leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes.
Eve wished there was something she could do or say to comfort him. Her mother was good in these situations; she knew how to show empathy without being too sentimental. Eve lacked those people skills. She could calculate quadratic equations in the blink of an eye, but the art of conversation baffled her. She pinched her lips and remained silent as she drove.
When Blake opened his eyes and leaned forward, he appeared to be completely in control. "What's your birthday?"
An odd question. "June twenty-second. I'll be twenty-six."
"Mine is June thirtieth. Same year," he said. "And you were born in New Mexico."
"At an army base near Roswell."
"I guess we have something in common."
"More than you know," he said. "Tell me about your relationship with my dad."
Apparently, Mr. Perfect wasn't big on idle chatter. This felt like an interrogation. "I communicated with Dr. Ray once a year, every year. On my birthday, I filled out a status report with forty questions. Some of them were essay questions and took a while to answer."
"Did you ever wonder why?"
"Of course, I did." His terse questions provoked an equally abrupt response from her. "I'm not a mindless idiot."
He gave a short laugh. "I'd bet on the opposite. You're pretty damn smart."
"Tell me what you know about my dad's status reports."
What was he getting at? He must already know this information. "Your father told me I was part of a study group made up of children with similar backgrounds and key genetic markers. He monitored potential and achievement, which was why he helped me get scholarships."
"Take a right at the next light."
She could feel his scrutiny as he studied her. Though she wasn't sure that she even liked this guy, she responded to him with an unwanted excitement that set her heart racing. Her brain fumbled for something to break the silence. "There was a good turnout for the funeral."
"Did you recognize anybody?"
"Not a soul. I kind of expected to see Dr. Prentice."
"How do you know Prentice?"
"He was the other half of the study your father worked on," she said. "As I'm sure you already know."
"Tell me, anyway."
"Your dad correlated the psychiatric data. And Prentice did medical examinations every few years or so. He contacted me about six weeks ago."
She pulled up her mental calendar. "It was April sixteenth, the day after tax day. Prentice said he needed to see me right away. There was an issue about possible exposure to radiation when I was a child."
"And you were scared."
"Terrified." There had been a similar scare five years ago that Dr. Prentice treated with a brief course of mediation. "Radiation poisoning isn't something to mess around with. Turns out that I'm fine. Prentice gave me a clean bill of health."
"What do you remember about the testing?"
"It was a thorough physical." She wasn't about to go into details about the pelvic exam or the part where she'd been under anesthetic. "I went to a clinic after work on a Friday, and I didn't get home until after ten o'clock. Dr. Prentice's assistant drove me and made sure I got into bed."
"Any ill effects?"
Come to think of it she hadn't been feeling like herself lately. Her stomach had been queasy. A couple of times, she'd vomited. "Do you know anything about the testing?"
"Yes," he said curtly.
Her fear returned with a vengeance. What did Blake know? Had he pulled her aside because he had bad news? She might have been poisoned by a childhood exposure, might have some awful disease. Her cells could be turning against her at this very moment. "Why did you say that you needed to talk to me?"
This had to be bad news. "Why?"
He touched her arm, and she recoiled as if he'd poked her with a cattle prod. She wanted nothing more to do with Mr. Perfect. He was toying with her, asking inane questions and hinting at dire circumstances.
She yanked the steering wheel and made a hard right onto a side street with wood-frame houses, skimpy trees and sidewalks that blended into the curb. Halfway down the block, she parked and turned off the engine. Eve preferred facts to innuendo. She wanted the truth, no matter how horrible.
"All right, Blake, I'm parked. If you have something to tell me, get on with it."
His eyes flicked as if he was searching her face, trying to gauge her reaction. "It might be better if I gave you more information. Set the framework."
"Just spit it out." She braced herself. "Am I dying?"
He cleared his throat. "Eve, I have reason to believe that you're pregnant."
She was a virgin.
Posted September 1, 2011
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Posted September 24, 2011
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Posted May 23, 2011
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