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If Jake Norris had ever had a shy bone in his body, six years of interviewing people about traumatic events in their lives had chased it away. He was never at a loss for words and didn't mind asking tough questions with tough answers. He was skilled at getting people who didn't want to talk to do just that and he hadn't yet met the person he couldn't persuade to tell him something.
Until now. Who would have guessed that person would be a teenage girl whose chin barely topped his belly button?
"Look, I just want to talk to Senator Riordan for a couple minutes"five, tops." That was probably about how long it would take Riordan to figure out who he was and throw him out of his office.
"You don't have an appointment," the girl said for the third time.
"I know. I didn't know what time I'd be getting into town today." First lie. He'd spent last night in a motel on the northeast side of Oklahoma City, slept in late and made the final hour's drive into Riverview that afternoon. "But if the senator's not busy."
"The senator only sees people who have appointments."
"Oh, come on. He's a senator. If his constituents drop by to have a little chat, don't tell me he turns them away."
She fixed her gaze, enormous behind a pair of thicklensed glasses, on him. "You're not one of his constituents."
"No," he agreed. "I'm not. But pretend I am. Does the senator have a few minutes to see me?"
"No. Not without an appointment."
Was that Riordan's usual policy? Or had it been instituted sometime in the past week"on Wednesday, maybe, right after Jake had tried to make an appointment with Harold Markham, retired judge and Riordan's good friend?
"Can I make an appointment?"
The girl pulled a business card from the holder on the desk and offered it to him. "Call that number anytime between eight and four."
He glanced at the card. "This is the office number. It rings right here at your desk."
She looked at the phone as if it might ring at any moment and prove him right. "I don't do appointments. I'd better get!" Her voice trailed off as she scurried away from the desk. When she disappeared behind a door at the end of the hall, he sighed and turned away.
He'd driven from his home in Albuquerque to Riverview to conduct interviews, do research and take photos for his next book. He wrote true-crime books, and the subject he'd chosen for his sixth book was one of the town's few claims to fame, along with Senator Riordan and the aforementioned Judge Markham. It was, no doubt, something most of the town would rather leave forgotten in the past" but they weren't still paying for it every day of their lives.
Charley Baker, who woke up every morning behind the walls of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, was. He said he was innocent. Every inmate Jake had ever met said the same thing. But there was a difference: he believed Charley.
Charley didn't have an affair with Jillian Franklin. Didn't kill her. Didn't kill her husband. Didn't leave their threeyear-old daughter alone in the house overnight with her parents'bodies. Didn't send his ten-year-old son in the next morning to "discover" them. Didn't deserve to have spent twenty-two years in prison.
Despite his own bias, Jake's plan for this project was to write an accurate account of the Franklin murders. He just wanted the facts. He wanted to study the details, to know that the authorities had done their jobs fairly, without any agendas of their own. Whatever the evidence told him, that was the story he would write.
If the evidence told him Charley hadn't been wrongly convicted
His fingers knotted into a fist. "Can I help you?" He turned to find himself facing the munchkin again. Standing beside her was a woman"make that a goddess" in blue. She was tall, slender, with blond hair pulled up and back in a kind of sensual mess, with pale golden skin, pink lips and brown eyes. He'd always had a weakness for blondes with brown eyes. Her dress was simple and elegant, her heels low and sensible, and her legs were damn fine.
And she had spoken to him.
"I was trying to get past your guard dog here." he gestured toward the girl, and for an instant he would have sworn she'd bared her teeth "to get a few minutes of the senator's time."
"We pay her to not let anyone past." She sounded as good as she looked"a bit of an Oklahoma twang, feminine, firm. He wondered what her relationship with Riordan was. Purely business? Not likely.
"You're getting your money's worth."
The blonde smiled coolly. "We always do. Lissa, you can get back to work."
The girl returned to her desk, all of ten feet away, but made no secret of the fact that she was watching them.
"I'd like to see the senator."
"When will he be back?"
"Next week." Seeing his skepticism, the blonde went on.
"He's on a well-deserved vacation."
"Let's seeit's too early for his annual ski trip to Aspen and not time yet for his annual hunting trip to Montana. Maybe his annual fishing trip to the Florida Keys?" Just how hard could the man work that he deserved three expensive vacations a year?
A muscle twitched in the blonde's jaw, and steel underlay her voice. "That's private. Can I ask what your business with him is?"
Rocking back on his heels, he grinned. "That's private." "Well, Mr.!" "Norris. Jake Norris." He extended his hand, and she shook it without so much as a hint that she'd rather not. Her skin was soft, her palm warm, her fingers quick to squeeze, then relax.
She didn't recognize his name, which told him two things: she wasn't a reader of true-crime books, and Riordan hadn't mentioned him to her. Because he didn't take Jake seriously? More likely because he thought he could handle Jake. Jim Riordan was accustomed to things going his way. Personally and professionally, he'd always gotten what he wanted. And he probably saw this situation as more of the same. He was in for a surprise.
"Well, Mr. Norris, if you won't tell me what this is about, then I suggest you schedule an appointment with the senator after his return."
"Yeah, right, like that's going to work," he muttered. He would get the same treatment Markham had given him" I'm not interested. Leave it alone. There's nothing to discuss. He considered it a moment, then decided he had nothing to lose by telling her. Riverview was a small town. Everyone would know why he was there by noon the next day. "All right. I want to talk to him about Charley Baker."
She glanced at Lissa, seated in front of the computer. With a flurry of keystrokes, the girl leaned closer to the screen, then began culling facts from the text there. "Charley Bakertried and convicted in the murders of Bert and Jillian Franklinthe senator prosecuted the casetrial lasted two and a half daysjury deliberated twenty minutessentence was life in prison."
"Lissa's working on the senator's biography." The blonde smiled affectionately at her. "She knows everything."
"Everything? How did Riverview get its name? No river, no view!"
Lissa pushed her glasses back into place. "The original town was called Ethelton, after the founder's wife. But no one liked it, so after Ethel died they settled on Riverview. They thought it would attract people to at least visit and that some of them would stay even after finding out there wasn't a river."
She sounded so serious that Jake resisted the urge to grin. He simply nodded as the blonde turned back to him. "It sounds fairly cut-and-dried. What is your interest in Mr. Baker?"
"I'm working on his biography," he retorted, then relented.
"I'm researching a book about the Baker/Franklin case."
"I can't imagine there's enough of an interest there to fill a book."
"Then you should read more."
The steeliness returned. "I can't imagine anyone outside Riverview would be interested."
"People are always interested in other people's suffering."
"And you exploit that." This time she made no effort to hide what she thought.
"Oh, come on. You can't look too far down on me. You work for Senator James Riordan, who buys, sells and trades influence just like the guy down the street does cars. He'd do anything for a vote. He had his fifteen-year-old daughter out on the campaign trail with him only a week after her mother died, parading this grief-stricken kid with puffy red eyes in front of the world so he could get the sympathy vote."
It was too late when he became aware of the change in the air. He could actually feel the anger coming off her in waves. That muscle in her jaw twitched again, and her eyes chilled. She glared at him, her breathing shallow but even. Then, after a moment, utterly controlled, she turned away and walked to the desk. "Would you prefer a morning or afternoon appointment?"
"Afternoon. Late. I'm not a morning person."
She made a note in the appointment book, then on the back of a business card, and handed the card to him. Thursday, 8:00 a.m.
"A little passive-aggressive, aren't we?" he murmured as he slid the card into his hip pocket.
"Be on time, Mr. Norris. The senator doesn't rearrange his schedule for people who can't keep theirs." Turning on her heel, she walked back down the hall and into her office and quietly closed the door.
Moving to the desk, he scanned the appointment book, still open to the next week. "What schedule?" His name was the only one on the calendar pages.
Lissa snatched the book away and closed it. With a curt nod to the girl, he left the office and walked the half block to his truck. He'd been in town less than thirty minutes and he'd already pissed off Riordan's receptionist and whoever the hell the blonde was. He was breaking his own record for bringing hostility in his subjects out into the open.
But he wasn't writing this book to make friends. All he wanted was the truth"for Charley's sake. For his.
Because he was Charley's son. And he'd discovered the Franklins' bodies.
Jake Norris was an arrogant, obnoxious, exploitive, bottom-feeding vulture.
He was also, according to the Internet, an acclaimed author in the true-crime genre. Heir to Ann Rule's thronenonfiction in his capable hands is every bit as captivating as the best thrillershis page-turners set a high standard".
Kylie Riordan sat back in her chair and studied the photograph on the screen. Dark hair short enough to require a trim every few weeks. Eyes much darker than her own. Straight nose. Strong jaw. Nice mouth. His dark coloring hinted at Indian or Latino heritage, and his smile hinted at the arrogance she'd already experienced for herself.
The only bio she could find was short and told little: Jake Norris got his start in the newspaper business. The author of five books, he makes his home in New Mexico. A private man, apparentlywho considered everyone else's lives fair game for his books. Vulture.
Albeit a handsome one.
She signed off and picked up the notes she'd been working on earlier. Before she'd gotten her pen poised to continue, though, she set it and the pad down again and turned her chair to gaze out the window. At her father's insistence, she had the best office in the building, because she spent more time there than he did. Dark wood and hunter-green walls, a sitting area with a fireplace and large windows that looked out on the courthouse square across the street"it was a pleasant place to work.
She could sit there all day watching people come and go and never see a face she didn't recognize. As the senator's daughter, it was her job to know everyone in his hometown; as his aide, it was her job to know everything about them.
She already knew more than enough about Jake Norris. He wanted to write a book about her father, whom he obviously didn't hold in the highest regard. He profited from others' suffering. He was smug. And handsome.
Not that she held looks against a man. She appreciated a handsome man, especially one whose black T-shirt tucked into his snug-fitting jeans to display impressive muscles.
Who didn't look as if he spent too much time at a desk. Who didn't look as if he was always on in case someone happened to recognize him.
No, she was as susceptible to a handsome face as any woman, though she wasn't always free to take advantage. From the time she was in the first grade her mother had repeatedly reminded her who she was"a representative of not only her father and her mother but also of the Riordan and Colby families. She'd lived her entire twenty-seven years thinking of reputations, considering consequences. As a result, Kylie Riordan had led a very dull life.
A man like Jake Norris could change that.
If he wiped that smug smile off his face.
There was a rap at the door, then Lissa came in. "I'm going home unless you need me to stay."
Kylie glanced at her watch. Officially the office closed at four. Realistically it closed when Lissa left, usually sometime after five. Depending on the senator's schedule" whether there was a dinner to attend, a speech to give, an interview to tape"Kylie called it a day around six. When he was out of town, her evenings were her own. Dinner alone. Television alone. Bed alone.
A very dull life. "No, Lissa, go on. Have some fun."
Lissa smiled as if she didn't quite grasp the meaning of Kylie's words, took a step back, then stopped. "That guy who was here todaywhat do you think about him writing a book about the senator?"
"I think he's wasting his time."