Ice lake gone cold cold.., p.4

Ice Lake: Gone Cold\Cold Heat\Stone Cold, page 4


Ice Lake: Gone Cold\Cold Heat\Stone Cold

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  “What’s going on?” she asked.

  “I was just checking on a job I interviewed for. I didn’t get it.” He couldn’t even look her in the eye as he said it, or as he sat down at the table, where an almost empty drink glass had left a wet circle on the lacquered wood.

  Her husband was a liar.

  Luke had already told her that, and yet it finally hit her. The truth brought shock, disappointment and anger. She had held out hope…for what?

  Tom downed what was left in the glass, and Morgan realized it hadn’t been his first drink.

  “You checked your emails?” he asked, clearly trying to change the subject. No wonder he’d been fine with her checking in at work. He had needed to make a phone call, one that had nothing to do with a job.

  “I take it everything at the newspaper is fine?” There was that slight edge to his voice, reminding her how jealous he was of Luke.

  She nodded as she sat down. He had started to rise so they could leave, but now returned to his chair as he saw she had no intention of going just yet.

  “Do you want a drink? Or would you like to go on back to the cabin?” he asked, clearly hoping she would agree to the latter. “I brought your favorite wine, remember? Or we could open that bottle of champagne from the wedding.”

  The barmaid had come over to their table. Morgan ordered a vodka collins. Tom looked resigned and ordered another black velvet and water.

  “A ditch,” he added, and then smiled at Morgan. “I sound like I’m from Montana, ordering a ditch, huh.”

  As the waitress left, Morgan studied her husband. He was perspiring heavily and nervously rattling the ice in his empty glass.

  No, she thought, you sound like a man from down South, say from Arkansas. “Who was really on the phone?” she asked quietly.

  He slowly put his glass down on the table. “Why don’t we finish our drinks and take this convers—”

  “Who is A?”

  He looked as if he was having a hard time breathing as he raised his gaze to hers.

  She didn’t give him a chance to lie to her again. “I know everything you told me about your past isn’t true,” she said angrily, fighting to keep her voice down. She really didn’t know the man she’d not only fallen in love with, but had married. “You never intended to work at Vi-Tech and you aren’t from Seattle. Apparently you’re from a small town in Arkansas, which would explain the Southern accent you say you don’t have.”

  “How did you—”

  “Does it matter how I found out?”

  “Maybe.” He looked away, the muscle in his jaw bunching. “It might matter if you got this from your friend Luke, the investigative reporter.” Tom turned back to her, his blue eyes cold as ice chips and just as hard. “Morgan, you can’t trust anything he says when it comes to me, don’t you realize that? He doesn’t like me because he’s crazy about you, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you weren’t half in love with him. You can’t go even a day without talking to him. Don’t you think I’ve noticed?”

  She wasn’t going to argue, even if she could have. How she felt or didn’t feel about Luke wasn’t the issue. “This isn’t about him.”

  “He’s who told you that I lied about my past, isn’t he?” Tom didn’t wait for a reply. He must have seen the answer on her face. “Why would he investigate me if this wasn’t about his feelings for you?”

  “Because I asked him to.”

  Tom leaned back, his expression so filled with shock and hurt and disappointment that for a moment she wanted to reach out and comfort him.

  The barmaid returned with their drinks. Tom downed his in one gulp and then got to his feet. “You can take that with you,” he said, nodding toward her drink, which she hadn’t had a chance to touch.

  “I’m not going anywhere with you until you tell me the truth.”

  He stood looking down at her, anger distorting his handsome features. After a moment, he seemed resigned and slowly sat back down. “Do you really want to talk about this in a bar?” he asked quietly.

  “Why did you lie to me?”

  He groaned. “I had my reasons, which I will be happy to share with you if you’ll come back to the cabin with me. Morgan, I’m your husband. I love you. Does anything else matter?”

  “It might. I know you changed your name.” Just as she knew in her heart that his name before he’d changed it had been Eric, even though Luke hadn’t confirmed that. “Who is A?”

  He looked away.

  “Are you having an affair with her?”

  Swearing under his breath, Tom turned back and raked a hand through his thick, sandy-blond hair. He was a good-looking man, funny and smart. She’d thought she was the luckiest woman in the world to have met him, let alone to have him fall in love with her.

  “How can you ask me that?” he demanded.

  “You’ve lied about everything else.” The words came out choked with emotion. She took a gulp of her drink. It was heavy on vodka and burned all the way down.

  “I’m not having an affair,” he said, enunciating each word. “You’re the woman I love, the woman I married for better or worse, till death do us part. Do you really think there is anyone else?”

  Morgan felt him cover her hand with his, and closed her eyes. Her body remembered his tender touch. Her heart pounded, making it hard to draw a breath. She had fallen in love with this man. She’d married him. She couldn’t be wrong about him.

  “Why did she call you Eric?” Morgan asked.

  He sighed. “Because that used to be my name. Can we please go back to our cabin now? I promise I will explain everything. I planned to tell you this weekend, anyway. I know I should have told you before we got married, but Morgan, I was so afraid of losing you....”

  She took another gulp of her drink. “And A?”

  “Allison Stuart. She was my high school girlfriend until a terrible tragedy—” His voice broke. “I can’t talk about it here. Please, Morgan.” He stood up and reached for her hand.

  “A tragedy? And that’s why you had to change your name, lie about your past?” She hated that her own voice broke with emotion and that her heart filled with hope that Tom would give her the reasonable explanation she so desperately needed.

  “You can be the judge of that after you hear what I have to tell you. But I can’t, not here.” He glanced toward a group of people sitting nearby. “Please, Morgan. If you ever loved me…”

  She heard the vulnerability in his voice, saw his blue eyes fill with tears.

  He squeezed her hand. “Please don’t make me tell you here.”

  She downed the rest of her drink, the alcohol firing in her veins, but it was with a chill that she let him lead her out of the bar and lodge.

  Snow was falling harder as they crossed in front of the lodge and walked toward his SUV. They passed a couple who were talking about trying to leave the lodge, but were afraid they would be forced to turn back because of the storm.

  Morgan thought about Luke pleading with her to get away from Tom, away from Ice Lake before the blizzard blew in.

  Too late, she thought, feeling the effects of the wine she’d had with brunch and the strong vodka collins she’d just finished.

  Her friends had always told her what a smart, reasonable woman she was.

  Until she married Tom so quickly.

  Why had she done that?

  Because for the first time in her life she was in love with a man who couldn’t wait to marry her. She’d been so flattered....

  Was she really going to leave the safety of the lodge now, with other people close by, to go with this man she feared she couldn’t trust?

  She saw Tom staring at someone and turned to look. “Do you know that guy?” she asked him. It was the man who’d been watching her earlier, the short, nondescript one.

  To her shock, she saw that he now had the single black glove. Two fingers of it stuck out of his jacket pocket. But it had been the other man who’d approached her with the glove…

nbsp; Tom frowned. “Why would you think I knew him?”

  Morgan glanced again at the man, who quickly looked away. Was there something else Tom wasn’t telling her? Or did she suspect everything and everyone now?

  She stopped walking and pulled her hand free of his as she breathed in the cold, wintry air and tried to think straight. Her head ached, and she felt confused and scared. The clouds were lower, the thick flakes of falling snow almost suffocating.

  She realized she was trembling from the cold, from her fear and hurt. “I don’t know you.”

  “You do know me,” Tom said, moving closer to thumb away her tears and the snowflakes that stuck to her cheeks as she looked up at him. “You know me like no one ever has. You know the man I was always supposed to be.”

  She gazed into his blue eyes. When he took her hand again, his was warm. She clutched it, wanting desperately to believe she hadn’t been wrong about him as she let him lead her to his car.

  He opened the passenger side and helped her in. Before he closed the door, he brushed more melting snowflakes from her cheek, smiling almost regretfully as he closed the door.

  She touched her cheek as she watched him walk around the front of the car, then slide behind the wheel. She knew if Luke were here, he’d be telling her what a fool she was, and she feared he’d be right.

  But when she looked over at her husband, she saw how vulnerable he was, how frightened. How could she not trust this man? She’d shared his bed. She’d married him. Didn’t she at least owe him a chance to explain?

  She hugged herself, fighting to stop the trembling as he started the engine. Snow blanketed the windshield. The wipers cleared it away, only to have the glass instantly covered again. Snowflakes were falling so hard that even with the wipers on high, she could barely see the road ahead as they headed for their cabin.

  Between the clack of the wipers and the wind whipping around the SUV, they couldn’t hear each other talk even if they’d wanted to. Feeling numb, Morgan stared out at the storm. It was the worst one she’d seen in a long time. She realized that Tom had to have known about it before he’d brought her up here. Was he hoping they would get snowed in? Was that another reason he’d picked such an isolated place in the mountains in the middle of winter?

  While he focused intently on his driving, she tried to make sense of what he’d told her. He had admitted that he’d lied to her not only about his past, but about the text message, about a woman he’d been in love with, and even about his real name, because of some tragedy.

  Morgan tried to imagine what. A dozen scenarios flashed through her mind—none of them warranting lies and deceptions, let alone changing his name. And at the heart of it, she feared what else he might have lied about.

  Hadn’t “A” threatened to tell his wife everything? About his past? Or was there something even more damaging?

  The memory came at Morgan like a freight train, even though it had only been a scent. When she’d opened the door to her apartment a week ago, Tom had been standing at the far window, his back to her. She’d frowned as she’d sniffed the air. Perfume. Just not hers.

  “Morgan? I didn’t expect you back so soon,” he’d said, turning in obvious surprise to look at her standing frozen in the doorway. She’d seen something cross his expression. Guilt? Or just concern? “Is something wrong?”

  “Sorry, I just smelled…perfume. I was trying to place the scent.”

  “Oh, that,” Tom had said as he’d gotten up to come toward her. “A neighbor stopped by earlier asking if I’d seen her dog. She reeked of perfume.”

  Morgan had forgotten about it until this moment. The scent had permeated the apartment—and when Tom had hugged her, she’d smelled it on his shirt.

  But back then, she’d still been the trusting girlfriend. Now she felt like a fool—the foolish wife. Why hadn’t she questioned his story about someone in her building looking for a lost dog? Pets weren’t allowed, but then Tom probably didn’t know that.

  He was on the last switchback to the cabin when the SUV fishtailed, the rear tires sliding into the shallow, snow-filled ditch next to the trees. He tried for a few minutes to get the vehicle unstuck. But Morgan had already realized that was futile. They wouldn’t be getting it out anytime soon.

  She had never felt so alone. Or so terrified. It had been a mistake coming back here with him. But she had only herself to blame for ending up deep in the woods, in the middle of a blizzard, with a stranger. Possibly a dangerous stranger.

  It crossed her mind that if she was going to need saving, she was going to have to do it herself.

  LUKE TRIED REPEATEDLY to reach Morgan again. He was running scared. After what he’d learned about Tom Cooper, there was no doubt in his mind that she was in danger.

  Another blizzard warning came over the scanner on his desk. A series of winter storms were coming in, one after another, with blowing and drifting snow, below zero temperatures, and avalanche warnings in the high mountains. Morgan was in the high mountains. The thought shook Luke to his core.

  He couldn’t help but remember the first time he’d seen her. She’d been only a few years out of college, with very little experience, but he’d instantly recognized her talent as a photographer. There was also something about her that had attracted him from the start.

  They’d begun going to lunch together, their first interest in common being unusual foods. They’d tried different restaurants, and over these lunches they’d talked about everything. Morgan had laughed at his jokes, and he’d gotten hers.

  He’d never met anyone who was so fun and enthusiastic—about life and her career as a photographer. He had loved spending time with her.

  It was funny. At first everyone at the paper was positive they were having an affair since he and Morgan had their heads together so much.

  They’d both laughed about that. Maybe that’s when he’d realized he would do anything to keep the relationship they had—even if it meant keeping his feelings to himself.

  Then along came Tom Cooper.

  Luke still cringed when he thought about what he’d done when he’d heard Morgan was planning to marry the guy.

  “Step into the darkroom for a minute,” he’d told her. The space, now out-of-date because of digital photography, was used for storage these days, but it was the only private place in the newspaper office.

  “Is something wrong?” she’d asked, appearing concerned.

  What was wrong was that she was marrying a man she’d known for less than two months. The wrong man, Luke had wanted to say. True, he and Tom hadn’t liked each other from day one.

  He had seen how possessive Tom was of Morgan, putting his arm around her shoulders the first time they’d met, as if staking his claim. But it was more than that. Tom had perceived Luke as a threat from the beginning. Had Tom sensed Luke’s feelings for Morgan? Luke didn’t think the guy was good enough for her. Then again, he would have thought that of any man.

  After that first meeting, Tom had kept Morgan away from newspaper events. She’d promised to come, but would call later to say Tom had surprised her with something else planned for that night.

  Luke had struggled that day in the darkroom to find the right words, but unable to, he’d stepped close to her, grasped her shoulders and kissed her.

  Without a doubt, it had been the stupidest thing he could have done. He was a reporter, a man who worked with words for a living, and yet he didn’t know how to tell Morgan that he’d fallen madly in love with her and didn’t want her marrying Tom.

  As he’d drawn back after kissing her, he had tried to read her expression.

  “What was that?” she’d whispered.

  He’d stammered for a moment, then said, “Something I’ve been wanting to do since the first day you walked in here. Morgan, I—”

  “Luke, I’m getting married Saturday.”

  He should have done his damnedest to talk her out of it. But he’d seen her shocked reaction to the kiss, so he’d said, “Then I wish y
ou all the best.” What a jackass he’d been. Instead of telling her how he really felt, he’d wished her the best?

  On impulse, Luke dialed the number of the Ice Lake Lodge and was surprised when his call went through. “I wanted to check on a guest staying there. She was going to try to leave before the storm got worse. I need to know if she made it out. Her name is Morgan Sinclair.”

  “We don’t have a Sinclair—”

  “Sorry, I should have given you her married name.” He gritted his teeth as he said, “Cooper. Mrs. Tom Cooper.”

  “Oh, yes, here it is. Mr. and Mrs. Cooper.”

  “Could you please ring their room?” Luke knew there was a chance Tom would answer the phone and be furious he had called, even if Luke pretended it was about work. But he had to know that Morgan was all right.

  “I’m sorry, the Coopers are staying in the Mountain Badger Cabin, where there is no phone service. Can I take a message? They might stop by the lodge at some point.”

  Morgan was alone with the man at some cabin, instead of at the lodge? Luke hung up and quickly looked up Ice Lake Resort on his computer. It took him only a moment to find the map of the place, and he swore under his breath.

  Tom had rented the cabin farthest from the main lodge?

  Apprehension washed over him. He tried Morgan’s cell phone one more time, and when he couldn’t get through, he printed out a copy of the resort map and headed to the managing editor’s office.

  “I need to take the rest of the day off,” he said. “I know it’s my weekend to work, but there’s a good chance I won’t be in tomorrow, either.”

  His boss frowned. “Are you sick?”

  “It’s…personal. I need to go somewhere. It could be a matter of life or death.”

  The man’s eyebrows rose. “Where, exactly, are you going?”

  “Ice Lake.”

  The editor leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Isn’t that where your friend at the police station said the stranglers’ victim is recuperating?”

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