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Friday, 5:05 p.m.
The siren song of the end-of-workday bustle on Halifax's historic waterfront did not reach law firm McGrath Barrett. Ensconced in the top two floors of one of the city's landmark office towers, McGrath Barrett co-cooned its staff from the hubbub of the everyday world with plush carpeting, heavily paneled cubicles and glassed-in offices. Perfect working conditions for honing concentration and maximizing billable hours. In theory.
Late afternoon summer sunshine beat through Kate Lange's office window and landed squarely on her back. Even with air-conditioning, the relentless heat dampened her skin. She slid her office chair sideways. Didn't matter. The sun just poured through the glass lining the far wall, issuing the one siren song that McGrath Barrett could not deflect. It urged her to abandon the personal injuries tome on her desk with its impossibly small print.
She rubbed her temple. Just two more cases to review.
Get it over with, Kate. Just like you got through that brutal discovery today. It had finished an hour ago. Her head still throbbed from it, but she needed to check a couple of cases before she could end her workweek in good conscience.
And thena run in the park followed by a night on the town. Hunching over the book, she scowled at the text, mouthing the words. Anything to make them penetrate the late-day haze surrounding her brain.
Ten minutes later, she flipped closed the research book and pushed her chair away from the desk.
Done. It was Friday. It was past 5:00 p.m. It was sunny. As if that weren't enough to please the residents of Halifax, it was the start of the Natal Day long weekend, Halifax's civic holiday. Three days off. In the middle of summer. She was crazy to be sitting at her desk. And from the hush outside her office, it sounded suspiciously as if she was the only lawyer still lingering.
The phone rang while she was shoving files into her briefcase. She stifled a groan. It had better not be a client. With a quick glance at the pure blue sky beyond her window, she snatched the phone off the cradle.
Kate's shoulders relaxed at the sound of Natalie Pitts' throaty voice. "Hi, Nat." She balanced the phone in the crook of her neck and began stacking the reports she would take home with her.
"What're you up to tonight?" Natalie Pitts had been Kate's best friend and roomie during her university years. She had moved away after she finished her degree in journalism, only returning in May with high ambitions and a broken heart.
Kate eyed the pile of case reports she'd assembled. It was disappointingly thick. That's what happens when you don't get your work done, Kate. Well, at least she didn't have to lug home that massive personal injuries book. "I'm heading down to the Economy Shoe Shop later tonight with the gang from workyou know, Joanne and some of the other associates." After Kate saved McGrath Barrett's ass in May, she had suddenly been on everyone's speed dial. And, Kate had to admit, they were a decent bunch of people, despite the professional elbowing. All of the junior associates were younger than she, still on the singles scene. Kate and Joanne were the only associates in their thirties who were partnerless. The ones with kids hurried home on Friday nights, glad to put the workweek behind them. "Do you want to come?"
"Can't tonight. I've got to work tomorrow." Nat had miraculously landed a job as a reporter for the Halifax Post, no mean feat in the internet-plagued newspaper business. "Do you want to go out for supper before you meet your friends?"
Kate hadn't seen Nat since last week. But Alaska, her Siberian husky, had been waiting all day. Even though her dog walker, Finn Scott, took him for walks, she still felt guilty if she didn't come home right after work. "Do you want to come over for a bite, instead? My kitchen is under drop sheets, but we can eat on the deck."
"Sure. You can give me the tour. I'll bring takeout. See you in an hour."
"Can you make it for seven? I've got some errands to do and I'd love to go for a run." Kate smiled. "I was able to do the full route on Wednesday."
"Hallelujah! So the leg didn't bother you too much?" Kate's quadriceps had received a nasty stab wound from a scalpel in Mayone of several injuries she'd sustained in her battle to the death with the Body Butcher, the city's first serial killer.
"Not too much." Kate shrugged. "Anyway, I can't baby it any longer."
"You mean, you won't baby it any longer."
"See you at seven." Kate hung up before Nat could chide her further. Her leg had hurt after the run, but Kate wasn't going to admit it. It was worth the tradeoff. Running was what kept her on an even keel. The rhythmic motion, the synchronization of her heart and lungs with her pumping legs, the fresh air.
There was one other benefit she hoped to gain by resuming her hour-long run: sleep. She hadn't had a full night's sleep since she survived Craig Peters' attack. Dr. Kazowski, the therapist who had begun counseling Kate after the trauma she had gone through, thought that if Kate returned to some of her usual routines, especially ones that helped relieve stress, the nightmares might stop. Or at least decrease in frequency.
It was the only nudge Kate needed. And today the weather was giving her its blessing.
She hurried into the foyer, the pile of case reports haphazardly stacked in her arms, a sheen of sweat on her forehead and a smile of anticipation on her lips. In an hour, she'd be running with Alaska in Point Pleasant Park. She could almost feel the sea breeze on the back of her neck.
The quiet rush of a newly installed water feature was the only sound in the reception area. It provided a stunning foil to the equally new art installation that hung kitty-corner from the elevators, and served as a perfect backdrop to the new, postmodern furnishings.
Kate jabbed the elevator button. A trickle of sweat slid down her spine. The air-conditioning had been turned off for the weekend while she was on the phone with Nat. Warm air had already begun to settle in the reception area.
The lack of human sound prickled the hairs on the back of Kate's neck. Ever since her experience in Keane's Funeral Home, silent places were ominous.
To distract herself, she studied the redecorated lobby. After the hits the former Lyons McGrath Barrett had taken to its standing a few months ago, the firm was working hard to restore its sterling reputation. It needed to recover some of the clients that had fled in the wake of the TransTissue scandal. Managing partner Randall Barrettthe Barrett in McGrath Barretthad hired a public relations company to relaunch the firm under its new name. In an effort to distance itself from the scandal that now tarnished its prestige, McGrath Barrett had redecorated the foyer and launched a new ad campaign.
The campaign zeroed in on the firm's best asset: Kate Langethe woman Randall Barrett had almost fired just months before. The irony was delicious. Kate had become the firm's new poster girl, her Mona Lisa smile featured above the slogan Integrity. Excellence. Caring. The joke in the firm was that Kate cared so much about her clients that she'd kill for them.
Rumor had it that Randall Barrett had chosen the new furnishings in the lobby and Kate had to admit he had a good eye. She wondered what her hundred-year-old house would look like with a postmodern theme. Probably pretty nice.
Too bad she couldn't afford pieces like that. She glanced at her watch. If the darn elevator ever arrived, and the traffic wasn't too heavy, she could stop at the hardware store and get the paint for the kitchen trim before she went for her run.
She shifted the load of files in her arms, rubbing the straining muscles of her right forearm.
The elevator chimed. Kate's nerves jolted. She gritted her teeth. Her reaction to startling noises was driving her crazy. Dr. Kazowski told her it would go away in time, but so far there was no sign of it being in a hurry to leave. She yanked the strap of her briefcase back up to her shoulder, unsettling the pile of reports in the process, and hurried into the elevator.
"Hi, Kate." Randall Barrett stood in a dim corner of the elevator. He gave her a friendly but distant nod, the typical interaction of a senior partner with a junior associate.
"Hi." Kate hugged the reports to her chest, darting a sideways glance at him.
It was the first time she'd seen him in weeks. The first time she'd been alone with him since she'd returned to work in early June.
Randall's face was tense, preoccupied. He did not exude his usual vitality. In fact, he looked exhausted.
Kate stared straight ahead, unwilling to let him see how much his presence got under her skin. Did he sense her tension? she wondered. Whatever you do, don't babble, Kate.
At the fourteenth floor, he broke the silence. "Any plans for the weekend?" His tone was courteous. That was all.
She shifted against the wall. "Not too much. Just painting my house." She nodded toward her overflowing arms. "I'm working on the Great Life case. It's taking a lot of time."
That should make him happy. Lots of billable hours.
He nodded almost absentmindedly. "Good."
The silence grew as the elevator descended. Kate studied the numbers above the door. Eleven, ten. She heard Randall's breathing. The elevator was stuffy. She became aware of the faint scent of his sweat. Something she'd never smelled before. She darted another glance at him. He was oblivious to her.
She turned her face away. For the past three months, she'd wondered if she'd just imagined his interest in her. Then she'd tell herself, no, she hadn't dreamed his visit to her hospital room. And she knew there'd been a tenderness to his gaze the day she returned to work after recovering from her injuries.
But it had all changed. Almost overnight, he had become distant. Had seemed to avoid her. Definitely letting her know by his cool greeting and remote smile that whatever moments had been exchanged between them during the TransTissue file were not going to be repeated.
Maybe he'd been faking it. Maybe he'd just been using her to help shore up McGrath Barrett's rocky reputation after the TransTissue scandal.
He stared at the elevator doors, his shoulders tense, his expression brooding. A man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. She wondered what he did in his spare time. Did he play sports? Read books? Go on dates?
The fact that she knew so little about him was another indication that she should just leave well enough alone. Whatever drew her to him could not be founded on anything that promised a permanent residence for her battle-weary heart.
The elevator stopped at P1, chiming Randall's departure. He moved toward the doors. "Have a good month, Kate." Month?
He must have read the surprise in her face because he added, "I'm beginning my vacation."
"Really?" He didn't have the air of a man about to take a holiday.
He arched a brow. "Really."
The doors slid open.
"Are you going anywhere?"
"I'm going sailing." He stepped out of the elevator. "With my son."
With a brusque nod, he disappeared into the shadowed concrete corridor of the parkade.
Kate watched the elevator doors close. Not even a goodbye.
She exhaled, staring at her dull reflection in the mirrored doors. Fine.
The elevator stopped at her parking level. She strode into the parkade, her step quick and purposeful. But it didn't matter. Her heart pounded. She could park on a different level, close to the elevator, always by an overhead lightbut no matter the tricks she employed to fool her mind, her body always remembered the terror of being chased by a man intent on killing her.
She looked around. The parkade was empty.
That was almost worse.
She hurried to her car and unlocked the door, dumping her files on the backseat, then slid into the driver's seat. Only when the doors were locked and the engine was started did her heart slow down.
She eased her way out of the parkade. The brilliant July sunshine almost blinded her as she drove through the gate. It was surreal, after the dank interior she'd just exited. She rolled down her window. A warm breeze lifted the hair around her face.
This was why Nova Scotians slogged it through the winter. Because there was no better place to be in the summer if the sun was shining.
She felt her fingers relax on the steering wheel. She'd get the paint, enjoy her run, have supper with Nat and go for a few drinks.
No one would stop her from enjoying the sunshine.
Elise Vanderzell stuffed a potato chip into her mouth. Damn, it tasted good. That's what she loved about road trips: the junk food. She knew she shouldn't indulge, shouldn't let her kids indulge, but this was their summer vacation.
And after the hellishness of the months leading up to it, they deserved to enjoy every salt-slicked, grease-laden bite.
She eased the car into the long line of rush hour traffic on Robie Street, glancing in her rearview mirror. Her son, Nick, lounged against the backseat. It was funny how you can see someone all the time and never notice anything different, but then throw a casual look at them one day and realize that the world had shifted.
It took Elise a moment to register what was different. Then it hit her: Nick seemed comfortable in his own skin. His body was filling out, no longer a tangle of gangly limbs connected to gargantuan feet. But it was more than that.