If looks could kill, p.4

If Looks Could Kill, page 4


If Looks Could Kill

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  Yes, she was startling, certainly. Attractive, beyond a doubt.

  But, God, oh, God, it was more than that.

  She looked like her mother. Exactly like her mother.

  Longer hair; shorter skirt, but she might have been Lainie.

  Back in the shadows, he felt a grim smile slip onto his face. Funny. She’d always been a little cat. Cute, and more. And he’d always been drawn to her. Yet, curiously, at the same time…

  He’d always wanted to keep his distance. There were too many things that Madison could see. And he didn’t want to be seen.

  Kyle had been doing no more than sipping his beer. Watching Madison, he suddenly downed the rest, then nodded as a bronzed blond waitress in short-shorts came by to silently query him about a refill.

  Madison had been his stepsister. She’d often made him smile with her tart comments on her world, observations that were far too wise for her years. Yet he wondered suddenly if it wasn’t the fact that she was such a dead ringer for Lainie that had really kept him at arm’s length all these years. Was she like Lainie? Lainie’s death had been terrible and tragic, true, but Lainie had also been capable of being one hell of a bitch, heedless of whose life she played with—or destroyed.

  Madison was speaking now. “Welcome, folks, to A Tavern. It’s my dad’s place, for those of you who don’t know, and I’m always happy to be here. There’s something special about Key West. Everybody’s kind of free to be themselves down here, and we take pride in taking the time to smell the flowers—and the sea air and dead fish, of course.” Her patter was casual, as the band members tuned up their instruments. She flashed a quick smile at the young man, Joey King, who had introduced the group, and he smiled back. “Anyway,” she added, adjusting her mike on its stand, “we’re about to get started with one of Joey’s ballads, just fit for the island. It’s called, “Love’s on the Rocks, So I Just Swim in My Beer.” Chime on in with the refrain anytime you so desire.”

  She flashed another of her brilliant smiles. The musicians were suddenly all tuned up, and Madison was swaying with the beat.

  She had a great voice. Fluid, solid, husky. The song had a Jimmy Buffett quality to it, which seemed natural, considering the time and place. The tavern grew crowded as the music wafted out to the street; the crowd laughed with the lyrics, clapped appropriately and sang along as invited. By the time the music ended, the place was so full that Kyle wouldn’t have been able to see the musicians if they hadn’t been standing on a raised stage. The waiters and waitresses, proving themselves to be contortionists, nimbly slid and slithered through the crowd, delivering pitchers of beer, margaritas, and soda, along with food and various outlandish concoctions in souvenir glasses.

  The band did another number, a Top 40 rock hit. Then they played another original, this one a softer ballad called “Getting On with You Gone.” Another Top 40 hit, another original, this one about a no-good son of a gun. A few more songs, and then Madison announced the last number before their break. Again it was slow. People were dancing in the limited floor space between the tables and the stage. Toward the end of that final song, Madison looked his way at last.

  She might be nerve-rackingly psychic, but he could tell that she hadn’t known that he was there. She stared at him, and she suddenly fell silent. Madison could be one tough, sophisticated cookie, but she was staring at him then like a deer caught in headlights. Well, he must have been quite a surprise. They hadn’t seen each other in one hell of a long time. He’d stayed away, and in his healing process, he’d realized somewhere along the line that just because she’d somehow known what was going on in his life, he’d maybe tried to blame her for it. And even now, he’d come here for work, not exactly to make peace. Still, he was ready to admit to the ill manners he’d demonstrated in his grief. Yeah, he was ready. But maybe, he thought with an inner shrug, life didn’t work that way. The way Madison was looking at him, he felt as if he’d been hanging on to a rope—that she’d just cut clean through. Well, what the hell. They both had their own lives. Maybe there was no reason to make amends.

  He lifted his beer glass to her. “Sing,” he mouthed.

  Her fellow band members were staring at her, nimbly covering, playing the same beat and chords over and over. Madison seemed to give herself a mental shake, and her eyes left his.

  She flashed the audience that pure-charm smile of hers and picked up again, singing her heart out.

  Then the music ended, to a burst of applause, and Madison promising that the group would be back.

  Kyle thought she might just ignore the fact that he was there. He was somewhat surprised that no one had told her he was coming.

  Maybe everyone had just assumed that she’d know he was coming down to Miami to work. Hell, Jimmy should have told her. Her father should have told her. But maybe Jordan Adair had thought it wouldn’t mean anything to her, one way or the other.

  And maybe it didn’t, though the look she’d given him suggested otherwise.

  But she didn’t ignore him. She threaded her way through the crowd, acknowledging those who stopped her to speak or compliment her and the band, until she reached his table. By that point he’d moved his legs from the chair where he’d been resting them, but he was still wearing his dark glasses and baseball cap, so she couldn’t have seen much of his features in the darkening shadows of the coming night.

  She stood in front of the table, looking down at him with her perfect features composed in a cold and aloof expression. “What the hell are you doing here?” she demanded.

  “Hello, Madison. It’s great to see you, too.”

  “Right. What are you doing here?”

  He shrugged, smiling. Lifted his hands. “Drinking beer. Listening to music.”

  “What are you doing here, in Key West? In my father’s place?”

  “I’m in the Keys on business. I’m here because your father invited me.”

  He heard a whistling sound as she sucked in her breath with involuntary surprise.

  He used his foot to push out the chair opposite from him. “Have a seat, Madison.”

  She sat. Not because she wanted to be with him, he thought, but because she was so shaken.

  “Want a drink?” he asked.

  She shook her head, blue eyes intently on him. “I’m still working. So…when did this all come about?”

  He shrugged. “I was told last week I was coming down to give some assistance on a local investigation. Your father invited me here for the weekend.”

  “You’re staying at my father’s house?”

  He nodded, wondering why her blunt hostility was so disturbing to him. He ignored that question and instead said, “Your band is good.”

  “Yeah,” she said, still just staring at him.

  “I heard about your divorce. I’m sorry about that. I thought you kids were good together.”

  “It’s all been over quite a while now. You needn’t be concerned.”

  “Look, Madison, I’m really sorry if you have a problem with this. Your dad invited me down. I didn’t know you’d be here, and it wouldn’t have occurred to me that it would upset you even if I had known you were here.”

  “I’m not upset,” she snapped quickly.

  “Angry,” he said.

  “Surprised, is all.”

  “I can’t imagine why your father didn’t mention it to you.”

  Her lashes lowered. Maybe she knew why, he thought. Maybe she and Jordan weren’t getting along. They were both temperamental, and sometimes argued passionately, though they loved one another dearly.

  “Have you talked to your dad this week?”

  Madison didn’t answer. The waitress was hovering near, watching her. “Did you want a soda, Madison? Some mineral water?”

  Madison kept staring at Kyle. “No, I’ll have a draft.”

  “I’m sorry, what?”

  “A draft, please,” Madison repeated.

  “But—” the waitress began. Madison looked at her, and the other w
oman shrugged and walked away.

  Kyle grinned. “I was trying to buy you a drink. Let me put it on my tab.”

  “This is my father’s place. I don’t need to put my drinks on your tab.”

  Kyle straightened in his seat, then leaned forward. “Look, Madison, I’m at fault here. I was pretty rude the last time we met, but—”

  “You weren’t rude, you were hateful.”

  He shook his head painfully. “Madison, my wife had just died.”

  “And I was very sorry,” she said quietly. “And you treated me as if were the Wicked Witch of the West, straight out of Oz, as if I’d somehow caused it to happen.”


  “No, you look, Kyle. I don’t understand my sense of second sight. God knows, I don’t want it. But I can’t make things happen, and I’m not—” She broke off, a look of pain flashing across her beautiful features.

  “You’re not what?”

  She shook her head.

  The waitress returned, setting her beer in front of her. Madison thanked the woman as Kyle leaned forward.

  “I’m not different from anyone else,” she said through gritted teeth. She picked up the beer and drank it down. She didn’t chug, he noticed. Or, if she did, it didn’t look like chugging. Madison was too elegant for that.

  “Madison, I’m trying to say I’m sorry. We were family once, close family—”

  Her mug landed back on the table. “You’re not my family, Kyle. You were my stepbrother, but my mother died. You’re not my family. We’re not related—”

  “We were family, a totally dysfunctional family. Remember? That’s what you always called us. But you’re right, I’m not your brother. Still, death doesn’t change relationships, and I’d like to make peace—”

  “You were the one firing off the ammo,” she reminded him politely.

  “And I’m asking for your forgiveness.”

  “What? Won’t Dad let you use his boat if I don’t think it’s just great that you’re back?”

  He smiled, shaking his head. “Madison, you’re acting like a brat. First, my job pays decently—I could rent a boat if I needed one. Secondly, you’re overestimating your power over your parent. He has his own mind.”

  “Oh, really?” She started to sip her beer, then realized her glass was empty. She looked around, as if she wanted another. Quickly.

  Kyle leaned closer, somewhat amused. “I don’t think you should be drinking yourself silly—over me. Don’t you have another set to do?”

  “I’d never drink myself silly over you, Kyle Montgomery. I’m just so damned mad—”

  “Ah! So you are hostile.”

  “Hostile? That’s an understatement.”

  “I hurt you, Madison. And I’m sorry.”

  “Since we’re talking about overestimating things, I think you’re overestimating your power, Kyle. You don’t have the power to hurt me.”

  He shrugged, looking around. He saw the waitress and motioned to her. “I’ll take another beer, please—honey.”

  He’d added the last on purpose. The waitress didn’t notice, but Madison winced.

  “Madison…?” the girl asked.

  “Ms. Adair is still working,” Kyle said pleasantly.

  “I’ll have another draft, Katie, thanks,” Madison said.

  Katie walked away to fill their order. He couldn’t help smiling as he stared at Madison, except that, as he looked at her, he felt a sudden tremor streak through him, hot as fire, constricting something vital in him. She was angry, nasty, could be bitchy as hell.

  God, he wanted her.

  He exhaled a long breath, staring at her, glad of his roomy denim cutoffs and the table hiding his arousal from her.

  She’d been cute and clever at thirteen. Beautiful in college. He’d felt affection for her when she was a kid, pride when she was older, and, always, a strange pull. Now she was pure, sensual elegance. It was startling to realize the strength of what he was feeling for her at that moment.

  She’d been his stepsister, for God’s sake, he reminded himself. But they weren’t biologically related, for which he was grateful, considering the purely physical reaction she was causing in him now.

  Except that he cared about her, too. Even though part of him wanted to be a million miles away from her. Even if he was…


  That was it. Completely unnerved by her.

  He cleared his throat. “Did you drive here, Madison?” he asked her.

  “Yes, why?”

  “Because you shouldn’t drive home. I’ll wait for you.”

  The beers were set before them. Madison stared at him, her eyes hard. “You’re not my big brother. You don’t need to wait for me.”

  “You’re drinking too much.”

  “Oh, I’m drinking too much. So I should ride home with a beach bum who’s been sitting here drinking for hours?”

  Kyle grinned slowly. “I’ll go to coffee next.”

  “Don’t bother on my account.”

  “Are you staying at your dad’s place?”

  She hesitated. “Yes.”

  “Then I’ll wait.”

  “Maybe I have a date.”

  He looked past her, studying the band members, who were again readying their equipment.

  Kyle lifted his beer. “Are you sleeping with one of them? Joey King, maybe? He looks like your type.”

  “He’s married, with kids.”

  “Glad to hear that would stop you.”

  “Damn you, Kyle—”

  “Sorry, sorry, I just haven’t seen you in a long time.”

  “Who I sleep with is none of your business.”

  “Maybe it’s the natural concern of an older brother.”

  “I thought we’d established that you’re not my brother.”

  He shrugged. “Have it your way. Old habits die hard. I’m just trying to ascertain who you’ll be seeing after your gig.”

  “Maybe I sleep with the whole band. At the same time.”

  He smiled, lowering his head slightly. “Madison, you have the tolerance level of a baby when it comes to alcohol.”

  “Really? You haven’t seen me in more than six years! You think I’m drunk already? You think you know my tolerance levels? Then maybe you don’t want to stick around. I’m Lainie Adair’s child, remember? If I’m so loaded, you should watch out. I might resort to some kind of wild strip show up there.”

  He grinned, tugging on the brim of his baseball cap. “Well, cool. You did just remind me that there’s no blood relation between us. Our kids wouldn’t have two heads, or anything like that. I’ll be watching and waiting.”

  “Our kids? Oh, Kyle, never, not even if the survival of the species depended on it.”

  “I think they’re waiting for you, Madison.”

  She stood up with sudden anger, then bent down, whispering vehemently, “Don’t wait for me.”

  “I’m not having any traffic fatalities on my conscience. I’ll be here when you’re done.”


  “I’ll be waiting, Madison.”

  She straightened. Turned. Wavered.

  She really didn’t have any tolerance for alcohol. None whatsoever.

  She banged into a table on her way back to the stage.

  But she sang just fine. Her voice was great. She moved sensually to the music.

  And when she finished, he was waiting.


  Madison could have kicked herself. She prided herself on looking at life with level, matter-of-fact vision, and here she was, behaving like a two-year-old.

  Because Kyle Montgomery had suddenly stepped back into her life.

  To make it worse, she reflected, he was behaving well. Apologizing. Putting the past in the past, trying to establish a friendship.

  She could be mature, too. She could. He had just taken her by surprise, that was all. And, of course, he did know her. She had no tolerance for alcohol whatsoever—which seemed absurd, considering what he
r father could put away without the slightest slur in his voice. But that didn’t matter; she had a handle on that now. During the second break, she had laced herself with strong black coffee. By the time the group finished for the night, she was clearheaded. Tired, but clearheaded. So much so that she was able to insist with quiet, mature dignity that she could drive her own car home.

  Still, when she drove through the gates to her father’s Key West “bungalow,” Kyle was right behind her. It would have appeared rude to rush in ahead of him and slam the front door in his face, so she stepped from the driver’s seat of her Cherokee, closed the car door and waited. She wasn’t going to appear rude. And she wasn’t going to fight with him like a child. She wasn’t going to embrace him with enthusiasm, however; she was going to be cool, aloof and unerringly polite. Courteous. Naturally, he was welcome in her father’s house. At one time, as he had said, they had been a family, however dysfunctional.

  “So, how is being back home in the land of sun and fun?” she inquired as he stepped from his rented Honda and started along the path toward her. He looked good. As if he spent lots of hours in the gym. There were the larger touches of silver in his dark hair than the last time she’d seen him, as if life had beaten him up a bit. It had; she knew that. His face was more striking now, with a few sun lines working their way around his mouth and eyes. He was tanned. He might use good sense and sunblock now and then, she thought, but vanity would never keep him from the outdoors, which he loved. It was, in fact, strange to think of him spending so much time in the Washington area without coming home. She knew that his house was actually in northern Virginia, near Quantico and the office where he worked most frequently, with a lot of beautiful scenery nearby, as well as museums, theaters and sporting events. But he loved the sun and the things to be done in the sun, swimming, boating, diving, fishing. Maybe staying away had been some self-imposed punishment after Fallon died.

  Nearing her, he arched a dark brow, apparently surprised by—and perhaps wary of—her conversational tone of voice.


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