Read an Excerpt
It was the rareand what her sisters would probably describe as blessedday when Nora Sullivan was struck speechless. But try as she might, she couldn't articulate any of the thoughts flying through her head. Not after the bombshell Layne had oh-so-casually just dropped.
Luckily her other sister, Tori, had no such problem. "What did you say?"
At the head of the table, Layne tightened the band around her long, dark ponytail. "I asked you to pass the Italian dressing."
Tori shoved the bottle at her. "Before that."
"You mean when I asked if you wanted a beer?" Layne soaked her salad with the dressing, releasing the scent of olive oil, vinegar and seasonings, then licked a drop off the side of her thumb. "Because there's some in the fridge."
"No, smartass. What did you say after that?"
"Oh. You mean that Ross and I are seeing each other?"
"Yeah," Tori said, taking a big bite of her pizza before reaching for a paper napkin from the pile in front of her, "that's what I thought you said."
How could they both be so cavalier? Nora wondered as Layne dug into her salad. This wasn't just huge, it was momentous. Shocking. And possibly the dumbest, most reckless thing Layne had ever done.
"Wait, wait. I think my head's going to explode." Nora pressed her palms against her temples in case her brain went boom! and splattered over their dinner. "You're sleeping with your boss?"
That was so wrong on so many levels, and so unlike her usually cautious sister, Nora didn't even know where to start. Though she was pretty sure Have you lost your freaking mind? was as good a place as any.
"Isn't that against the law?" Tori asked as she got a beer out of the fridge and twisted it open.
"He's my superior officer," Layne said dryly, picking out a second slice of cheese pizza and setting it on her paper plate. "Not my brother. And there are currently no rules against departmental relationships."
Nora speared a cherry tomato from her salad with her fork. "Well, gee, if there aren't any written rules against it, we should all hook up with our bosses and damn the consequences."
Tori dropped the cap from her beer into the trash can. "Considering my boss is a woman, and our father's girlfriend, I guess I'm out."
"This is serious."
"Please. Cancer is serious. Kids going hungry is serious. This is sex between two single, consenting adults. What it should be is fun. Hot. And, if they're doing it right, and often enough, exhausting." She sipped her beer and sat back down, wiggled her eyebrows at Layne. "So, is it any of those?"
Nora deliberately set her fork down so she wouldn't be tempted to stab Tori in the hand. Breathing deeply, she centered herself. "Look," she said to Layne, "Chief Taylor seems very capable"
Tori snorted. "Just how every man dreams of being described in bed."
Nora's lips twitched and she had to clear the humor from her throat. "I meant at his job. God, get your mind out of the gutter." And capable did aptly describe the big, silent, watchful police chief. "But that doesn't mean you should risk your career for for "
"A few rounds of slap and tickle?" Tori interjected helpfully.
Reaching across the table, Layne plucked the beer from Tori's hand and took a long drink. "Whoever said sisters are one of the nicest things to happen to anyone never met you two."
"Hey, I'm on your side." Tori took her beer back. "I don't blame you for wanting some good times with Chief Taylor. He's completely hot. All controlled and commanding and in charge." She gave a little shiver that, if it'd been any other woman, would've looked like a convulsion. But with Tori it was just sexy. "Plus he has a top-notch ass."
"I'll be sure to mention to him you think so."
Tori grinned sharply and shook her hair back. The caramel highlights in the dark, shoulder-length strands caught the setting sun as it streamed through the French doors. "Oh, I'd be more than happy to pass that information on myself," she said in a seductive purr that went perfectly with her tight dark jeans and off-the-shoulder yellow top.
She would, too. Of that, Nora had no doubt. Tori was confident and sensual and used to men falling at her gorgeous feet. Layne, while more reserved, was no less beautiful. When Nora was younger, she'd envied her sisters for their long legs, dark hair and sharp features. Until she'd realized being blonde and curvy had its own rewards.
Like the ability to get away with just about anything because you were pretty and looked as if your head was filled with pink cotton candy, happy thoughts and sug-arcoated dreams.
Nora may not be as brazen as Laynewho bulldozed her way over oppositionor as inherently sensual as Toriwho flirted and charmed her way into getting what she wantedbut she was smart.
Smart enough to have learned long ago to forge her own way instead of following in her sisters' footsteps.
Bobby O, Layne's black Rottie/Lab mix with floppy ears and a squared off snout, nudged the side of Nora's thigh then dropped a worn tennis ball at her feet. She kicked it softly so that it rolled across the wooden floor into the family room. Bobby raced after it, his tail wagging furiously as he skidded to a stop, taking the burgundy-and-brown throw rug with him.
"I'm having a hard time processing this," she said. "Have you considered what could happen to your job, your reputation, once this gets around?"
"Of course I have," Layne said, as if a few of those brain cells Nora had tried to hold back earlier had seeped out anyway. Which was crazy. Because anyone who knew Nora would never accuse her of being stupid. And her sisters knew her best. "I just.. I think he's worth the risk."
"Wow." Stunned, Nora sat back. "You He Wow. Wow."
"Sorry, but you've never been big on the whole relationship thing before."
Any relationship. Layne was a rock, an island in their family. Nora had always thought she preferred it that way. After all, while Nora and Tori shared secrets and clothes, good times and bad, Layne maintained her distance. But maybe that had less to do with her wanting to be alone and more to do with how she'd cared for her sisters from such a young age, had set their bedtimes and helped with homework. Had given them attention, love and, when needed, discipline. Things their father hadn't been around enough to do, their mother was too selfish to do.
Nora wondered if Layne would ever forgive their parents for being so much less than perfect. If she'd ever stop resenting her sisters for needing her.
Layne tore her pizza crust into small pieces. "I tried to ignore my feelings for Ross, hoped that if I pretended I didn't care, whatever I felt for him would go away. But it didn't work. Today he stopped by and I realized what a coward I was being by not taking a chance on him. On us. I don't know what's going to happenwith our jobs or this relationshipand that terrifies me, but." She brushed the crumbs from her fingers. "I'm not willing to let him go."
"Look who realized she can't control everything," Tori said, lifting her bottle in a toast. "I thought this happy day would never come. But I doubt the only reason you invited us over for an impromptu pizza dinner is to share with us that you finally have a sex life."
"I wanted to tell you before it got around town."
Tori picked a carrot slice out of the salad on her plate and popped it into her mouth. "And?"
Sighing, Layne pushed her plate aside. "And I wanted to talk to you about Mom's case."
"Did something happen?" Nora asked, hope rising that after three weeks the Mystic Point Police Department finally had a lead. "Did they find Dale?"
"No." Layne got to her feet and began to pace, Bobby on her heels, the ball in his mouth. "There have been no bank or utility records in his name, no credit card statements, payroll information or tax returns filed. It's as if he ceased to be when he left Mystic Point."
"Why don't you quit chewing on whatever it is you have to say," Tori suggested, "and just spit it out?"
Layne stopped, gripped the back of her chair with both hands. "We have to face the fact that we may never find him."
A roaring filled Nora's head. If they never found Dale York, they'd never punish the man responsible for their mother's death.
"So he gets away with murder?" she asked incredulously, her fingers curling into her palms. "No. Unacceptable."
"It's more than likely Dale skipped the country all those years ago. Or he's dead. The truth is, even if we did catch a major break and find him, the chances of getting a conviction are slim to none. We have no concrete evidence linking him to Mom's murder and no eyewitnesses."
Layne was using her reasonable I'm Assistant Police Chief and therefore know better than you tone. Nora wanted to toss her salad in her sister's face, rub Ranch dressing into her hair. God, how dare she stand there so poised and rational? This wasn't just another case they were discussing. This was their mother. She'd never understand how Layne could stay so detached.
Not that she'd question her sister about it. She'd done that once, the night they'd discovered their mother was dead. She'd never seen Layne so angry with her. So hurt. She'd never felt so guilty for causing that pain. Nora never made the same mistake twice.
"You're just giving up?" Tori asked Layne.
"The case will remain open"
"But you don't believe Dale will ever be found."
Layne met Tori's gaze, then Nora's. "No. I don't. As much as I want to see that son of a bitch brought to justice, we have to realize that this isn't some police show on TV. Not every case gets solved. Real life isn't fair. It isn't easy, tidy or guaranteed to end happily."
"I think we're all familiar with those concepts," Nora snapped. She sure didn't need her sister reminding her of them. But despite the realization that life sometimes sucked the big one, Nora did her best to maintain a positive outlook, to hold on to the hope that no matter how rough the waters got, there'd be smooth sailing ahead.
That motto, combined with a healthy dose of optimism and a natural, sunny demeanor that bugged the hell out of her sistersa nice bonusmade it possible for her to become a fairly well-adjusted adult, despite being abandoned by her mother. She'd done her best to maintain that healthy balance even after she and her family discovered everything they thought they knew about their past had been a lie. Valerie Sullivan, their beautiful, charming, imperfect mother hadn't left her husband and daughters to run off with her lover eighteen years ago.
She'd been murdered.
Brutally attacked and then left to rot in the woods outside of town where her remains were found over three weeks ago. And though the police had little to go on in the way of evidence and the most likely suspect hadn't been seen or heard from in eighteen years, Nora fully believed justice would be served. The truth, after all, always wins out in the end. She'd make sure of it.
"You need to talk to his son again," Nora said. "Make him tell you where Dale is."
Layne gave her a look of exasperation mixed with indulgence. As if Nora was a precocious seven-year-old instead of an intelligent adult with a damn good suggestion. "Ross has already questioned Griffin and his mother and I spoke with Griffin about it when I ran into him a few weeks ago. Neither one of them have heard from Dale since he left town."
"So they claim." But what if they were lying?
Layne crossed her ankles and leaned back against the large, granite-topped center island, one of the few changes she'd made to their childhood home after she'd bought it from their father five years ago. "What would you have me do? Get out my rubber hose and beat the information out of them?"
"Maybe you haven't asked in the right way," Nora said.
"I asked in the only way I know how and it didn't work so don't think you'd have better luck."
Nora widened her eyes. "Did I say anything about my speaking to either of them?"
"You didn't have to." This from Tori. "It's written all over your face."
Nora started to lift a hand as if to wipe her expression clean but then slowly lowered it. Sent a bright smile at her gorgeous, overbearing, irritating sisters. "Now you're both just being paranoid."
Layne and Tori exchanged a long look. Nora hated when they did that. It was as if despite their many, many differences, they still had the ability to read the other's mind. "Stay out of it," Layne told her.
"More importantly," Tori added, "stay away from Griffin York. He is nothing but bad news. Do you understand?"
"First of all," Nora said as she rose and began clearing the table, her movements fluid despite the anger starting to sizzle in her veins, "save that mother tone for Brandon. I'm way past the age where it'll work on me." Not that it had worked on her twelve-year-old nephew lately, either. He was still mighty pissed at Tori for divorcing his father over six months earlier. "Secondly, what on earth gave you the crazy idea that I planned on speaking with Griffin York?"
"Because you always think you can succeed where mere mortals have failed," Layne said.
Tori nodded. "Because you fully believe you can charm what you want out of anyone."
Since both of those statements were true, Nora did her best to project sweetness and light and innocence. "I'm flattered you two think so highly of me. But honestly, you don't have to worry."
"Just promise us you won't do anything stupid," Layne said, watching her carefully.
Nora laid a hand over her heart. "I promise."
An easy enough vow to make. She didn't do stupid. But she did do whatever she had to in order to get her own way. If that meant facing down big, bad Griffin York, then so be it.