If looks could kill, p.6

If Looks Could Kill, page 6

 

If Looks Could Kill
 



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“When I need help from you, you little whelp, I’ll let you know,” Jordan grumbled.

  Jassy shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

  “Are you Kyle?” Carrie Anne asked, looking straight at him and inspecting him curiously, the way only children can.

  “Carrie Anne…” Madison murmured.

  “We did forget to introduce them,” Jassy reminded her.

  “Yes, I’m Kyle. And you must be Carrie Anne. I’ve heard very nice things about you. Nice to meet you.” He offered her his hand. She shook it, smiling.

  “It’s nice to meet you. Mom said that Uncle Rafe was nicer, though.”

  “Carrie Anne, I said no such thing—” Madison began, startled and appalled.

  “Did she say that? Well, she’s wrong,” Kyle told Carrie Anne, grinning. “I’m a lot nicer.” He sat back, and though Madison couldn’t see his eyes, she could feel them.

  “I said no such thing,” she protested lamely. She looked quickly to her sister. “Are you coming out on the water, Jass?”

  “I don’t know. Dad’s decided to plan a party tonight—”

  “What?” Madison said, interrupting her.

  “Yeah, I thought a big get-together would be nice,” Jordan said, shrugging. “It’s not too often that so many of our family and friends are around. Rafe and Roger can come on down, Jass is already here, Kaila should make it with the kids in a couple of hours, and her husband is supposed to make it back by about seven.” He hesitated for a minute, looking at Madison. “Darryl’s been down for a few weeks now, but we haven’t had a chance to see him, and—”

  “You invited my daddy?” Carrie Anne said, delighted.

  “You don’t mind?” Jordan said brusquely to Madison.

  She didn’t mind in the least; she and Darryl got along fine. Probably because deep passion—involving love, spite or jealousy—had never gotten in the way of their divorce, as it did with so many people.

  But she felt Kyle watching her, and she flushed. Angry at her own reaction, she said coolly, “It will be fine.”

  “Jimmy Gates will come down,” Jordan continued, “and a bunch of locals. Your band, Madison, and Trent and Rafe can both make it. And Roger Montgomery, of course. It will be like a big family reunion.”

  Right.

  Their big, dysfunctional family.

  Minus Lainie.

  And the other mothers, too, Madison admitted silently to herself. She knew almost nothing about Rafe’s mother, except that she had been sick a long time before she died. Kyle had been just a few years old when his mother was killed in a car accident. Jassy’s mom, at least, was alive and well, in Portland, Oregon, studying the effects of carcinogens on sharks. Jassy had definitely inherited her medical inclinations from her mother.

  As to Madison’s half brother Trent’s mother, she’d been a very gentle scientist working to cure the world of the common cold. Her dedication and nobility had apparently appealed to Jordan as a young man, but marriage—and a life in the remote regions of Montana, where she worked—hadn’t been for Jordan. Trent’s mother had passed away quietly of a heart attack just a few years ago. Madison thought that Trent was the lucky one of her father’s offspring. He had his mother’s slow, easy nature. He was hard to rile, and not as passionate, pigheaded or angry as she could be herself.

  As Lainie had so often been.

  Trent loved literature and had spent most of his formative years with his father. He and Jordan had remained close. He, Jassy, Kaila and Madison met for lunch at least once a month, usually with Rafe. It was a firm date.

  Kyle was the only member of their strange “sibling” group who was consistently missing.

  And now he was here.

  The prodigal son returning. And her father was planning a great feast.

  Curious. Well, Jimmy would be here. Maybe she could learn a little bit about what was going on.

  Jordan turned to his oldest daughter. “There’s no reason for you not to go out on the boat, Jassy. You’ll be back in plenty of time.” He threw up his hands suddenly, shaking his head and turning to Kyle. “Can’t get this one married off. But she makes a great hostess for the old man,” he added affectionately.

  Jassy plucked a grape from a bowl of fruit on the table and made a face at her father. “To some of us, the concept of marriage means monogamy—and those vows, you know? ‘Till death do us part’? Some of us take those things seriously.”

  “Every good woman needs a man, Jassy,” her father told her sadly.

  “Maybe, Dad, she’s holding out for a good one,” Madison said sweetly.

  Jordan sniffed.

  “Then again,” Madison added, sipping her coffee thoughtfully, “maybe she’s found her good man but has the good sense to keep him away from us!”

  Jordan wagged a finger at Jassy. “There’ll be no running off without my knowledge, young lady,” he told her.

  “God forbid!” Jassy said dryly. “I’m only thirty-one.”

  “That’s not young, Auntie Jassy,” Carrie Anne said gravely.

  Madison groaned, but Jassy only laughed. Jordan snickered, and not even Kyle could hide a smile.

  “Carrie Anne, that was a terrible thing to say to your aunt,” Madison chided.

  Her daughter looked at her with wide blue eyes. “Why? Being old is great. You can drive and eat all the candy you want and stay up late and everything.”

  “Yes, but—” Madison began.

  “Maybe we should make our exit now,” Kyle said, rising. “Jass, you coming?”

  Jassy hesitated, looking at the jeans and shirt she was wearing. “I don’t have my suit on—”

  “There’s plenty of stuff on the boat,” Madison said. She wanted her older sister around. “Come with us.”

  “Yeah, why not?” Jassy gave her father a kiss on the cheek. “Bye, Dad.”

  Carrie Anne gave Jordan a fierce hug, and Madison brushed the top of his head with a kiss. He told them all to enjoy their day and watched as they started down the dock.

  Kyle’s gear was on board, already; Madison threw her bag on board, then handed Carrie Anne off to her sister.

  For a moment Madison paused on the deck, startled by the sudden sensation of unease that spilled through her. Despite the penetrating heat of the rising sun, she shivered.

  It’s Kyle. After all these years, it’s Kyle. I should be staying away from him.

  She gave herself a shake, and the feeling was gone, as if it had never been.

  Kyle released the dock ties and revved the motor, and they eased out onto the open water.

  4

  Once past the buoys, Kyle released the throttle, and they motored at a high speed east-northeast. Jassy changed, which Madison checked out the contents of the galley; then she and her sister and daughter took juice in plastic bottles out onto the front deck and stretched out in the sun. They lay in quiet for a while as the boat slashed through the water. The motor drummed, and the sound of the waves against the hull was lulling.

  Jassy rolled halfway over. “It’s good to have him home, huh?”

  “Sure,” Madison murmured, flopping over to tan her back. She heard Kyle cut the motor.

  “I like him,” Carrie Anne volunteered. She sat up restlessly. There was only so much simple sunbathing a five-year-old was going to enjoy. “Mommy, can we do something?”

  “We are doing something,” Madison teased. “We’re out on the boat.”

  “No, can we do something on the boat?”

  Madison didn’t have to answer. She’d brought a bagful of things to do for Carrie Anne; she just needed to gather the energy to roll over and find a few of them.

  “Want to help me fish?” Kyle asked. He’d dropped the anchor and leaped from the small wheel-house to the deck. Madison was glad of her own dark glasses then. She couldn’t resist an assessment. Kyle looked good. Fit in every way. Broad-shouldered, deeply tanned, sleek, well muscled. She reminded herself that she lived in the Sunshine State—it was filled with hard bodies, scantily clad an
d spread out on a multitude of beaches. She modeled for part of her living, sharing her time with some of the best male bodies known to man.

  His was better.

  Real.

  Mature.

  Stop, Madison, she warned herself.

  Despite herself, she imagined him completely naked. She blushed, and was glad of sun and her glasses once again. Carrie Anne, all innocence, was able to look up at Kyle with pure childish pleasure.

  “I can help you fish? Really?”

  “Really. If you’d like.”

  “Sure!” Carrie Anne said excitedly, her eyes alight. “Can I, Mommy?”

  “Maybe Mommy will fish, too,” Kyle suggested.

  “Mommy is going to dive over the side in a bit. You two fish,” Madison said.

  “Jassy?” Kyle asked invitingly.

  Jassy stretched and yawned. “Maybe. In a few minutes.”

  Kyle took Carrie Anne aft. Madison could vaguely hear the deep drone of his voice and her daughter’s happy laughter in return.

  “Five. It’s a great age,” Madison murmured.

  “Umm. It’s before a woman finds out about men,” Jassy replied dryly.

  Surprised, Madison leaned up and looked at her sister. She smiled. “So what is up with you?”

  Jassy shrugged. “Nothing new.”

  “You seeing someone?”

  “Yeah. Maybe.”

  “Tell me!”

  “Umm…give me a little time, huh? I want to make sure it’s not like a…”

  “One-night stand?”

  “Well, ‘three-date deal’ would be more like it.”

  “Are you sleeping with him?”

  “Madison!”

  “Fair question.”

  “None of your business.”

  “If you can’t tell a sister, who can you tell?”

  “It’s private.”

  “Have you or haven’t you?”

  “Okay. Once. Just once.”

  “Whoa! So it’s serious.”

  “I still need to be careful. I have…reasons. God, he’s charming, though!”

  “But who is he?”

  “Not yet! And don’t you dare say a word to anyone, promise?”

  “What can I say? You haven’t told me anything.”

  “Please, I don’t want anyone even knowing there’s a man in my life.”

  “All right, all right! But now I’m going to be eaten alive with curiosity.”

  “Eaten alive with curiosity! Now that will lead to an interesting autopsy!” Jassy said.

  “Ugh.”

  “It’s a fascinating science,” Jassy said seriously.

  “There’s so very much you can learn from the dead when they can’t speak for themselves anymore.”

  “I’ll grant you that.” Madison leaped to her feet. “But look around you. The sun, the sea—it’s a great day. Take a break from the dead, huh? I’m going in. You coming?”

  “Yeah,” Jassy agreed. “I’ll be along in a few minutes.”

  Madison dived in.

  Kyle had brought them to anchor just off a sandbar. They were near a few of the smaller reefs, but even having been away for a while, Kyle would have been careful to anchor far from a coral shelf—anchors damaged the precious living coral. They had remained far to the southwest, avoiding John Pennecamp State Park, an underwater park that protected the reefs and the sea creatures living there. There was no fishing out of Pennecamp, though it was a beautiful place to dive.

  Madison swam down, estimating that they were in about twenty-five to thirty feet of water. The water was perfect, warm near the surface, cool and pleasant beneath. She shot down deep, touched and stirred up the sand, then kicked to the surface again. She looked to the boat, ready to shout to Jassy to come join her.

  But Jassy had moved aft. Madison heard her laughter, Kyle’s deep voice, Carrie Anne’s shrill giggle of delight over something.

  Her invitation to her sister died on her lips.

  “How’s it going, guys?” she called instead, keeping her distance. The fishing lines would run with the current, and she definitely wasn’t in the mood to catch a hook.

  “Mommy!” Carrie Anne cried happily, running to the portside rail to stare down at her. “I just caught a red snapping!”

  “Snapper,” Madison corrected automatically. “Great!”

  Kyle joined Carrie Anne at the hull, bronze chest glazed in a sheen of sweat, eyes shaded by his glasses. “I was just thinking, Madison, you might want to come up. Jassy was telling me they had a shark attack out here last week.”

  She frowned, looking at him. “Kyle, you know that a shark attack is about as common as being struck by lightning. That diver was spearfishing and holding on to the fish he caught by sticking them in his swimsuit. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not carrying any dead fish.”

  “But we’re fishing, and Carrie Anne’s snapper is a pretty big guy. He did some heavy-duty wiggling. Lots of distress signals going out in the water.”

  “I just want to swim over the reefs for a minute. You can see me. I’ll come back in just a few minutes.”

  Kyle shrugged, but didn’t look happy. He wanted her out of the water, but he knew that his argument wasn’t all that strong. Any offsping—or pseudo-offspring—of Jordan Adair had grown up in the water.

  As Madison swam from the boat she could feel his eyes on her. She dived beneath the surface, heading toward the reef.

  Water was wonderful. It was the one great escape still known to man. Under the surface, there were as yet no cellular phones. It was beautiful; it was freeing; it was a different world.

  She surfaced for air, judging that the coral tips were not more than ten feet beneath her trailing toes. She dived again, swimming carefully around the coral, not touching it. A tiny, brilliant yellow tang darted by her; sea fans waved before her. She very carefully skirted a few dusky red-orange stands of fire coral and came upon a monstrous grouper. The fish looked like a plump, outraged British butler.

  She surfaced, then dived again, enjoying herself and oblivious now to the fact that Kyle was watching her from the boat.

  A shy moray eel moved away from her with such speed that it looked as if he’d been sucked back into the coral. She swam on to the outskirts of the reef and noted something lying in the sand.

  Too bad she hadn’t taken the time to put on a mask and snorkel. She couldn’t see the object clearly, and she was running out of air.

  She surfaced, then dived again, going straight for the object in the sand.

  As she neared it, she felt the all-too-familiar cold settling over her again.

  She was somewhere else. Laughing, then not laughing. Laughter turning to fear.

  She was in a hotel room. As a very pretty young redhead.

  Black phone on the side table, Holy Bible beneath the phone. TV remote by the Bible. She’d come because she wanted to come. She’d been so happy, then…

  The flash of steel.

  Madison blinked, desperate to free herself from the vision. She had slipped back into her dream, there under the water. She had to surface.

  But she had thrown herself to the ground. And as she returned to the present, she could see the object.

  It was an arm. Weighed down with a red building brick.

  A human arm, from the elbows to the fingers, with the tips missing. Gnawed. She could see bone at the elbow, raw, puffed, bloated flesh.

  She started to scream, inhaling as she did so, and then began to choke.

  Her vision was clouding again, this time with blackness.

  She couldn’t think….

  Kick…

  Suddenly, someone was with her. Kyle. They were shooting toward the surface. They broke it.

  She gasped for breath. Choked. Her lungs and abdomen were killing her. She breathed deeply. And looked at Kyle.

  In the water, at least, his glasses were gone. His green eyes were impatient and angry.

  “Madison, damn it, I told you to come out, not
scare us all to death by disappearing that way. Jesus Christ! Your daughter is in tears up there! What the hell is the matter—”

  “Arm!” she managed to croak.

  “What?”

  “Kyle, there’s an arm in the water. A human arm. A woman’s arm. Elbow to hand. The fingertips are gone.”

  “Madison, maybe it was an eel. Things beneath the water are distorted—”

  “Damn it, Kyle, do you think I’m an idiot, or that I’m so nearsighted I can’t tell the difference between an arm and a fish? There’s an arm down there!”

  “All right, Madison. Get out, throw me a mask and snorkel. And get me some diving gloves and a few of those large freezer bags from the galley.”

  She nodded, still so unnerved that it seemed to make sense just to obey him.

  She climbed up the ladder at the aft of the Ibis. Jassy was there, her pallor showing that she knew something was very wrong. But Carrie Anne was standing by Jassy, and Madison had to be careful.

  “Carrie Anne, go into the cabin and get one of Grandpa’s masks and snorkels, and a pair of gloves, will you, sweetheart? And hurry for me.”

  Carrie Anne was a child, but not a fool. She stared at her mother and nodded grimly, then ran off to do as she had been told.

  “What is it?” Jassy asked.

  “There’s an arm down there.”

  “What?”

  Madison sighed with exasperation. “There’s an arm down there!”

  “Human?”

  “Yes, human, what the hell do you think I mean?”

  “I’m going down—”

  “You don’t need to. The FBI is on the case.”

  “Yes, but he’s the FBI. I’m a pathologist, for God’s sake!”

  “He’ll bring it to you.”

  That wasn’t good enough for Jassy. Carrie Anne retrieved the mask, snorkel and gloves, and Madison tossed them on down to Kyle, who disappeared.

  A moment later, Jassy dived over the side of the boat.

  “What’s going on, Mommy?” Carrie Anne asked.

  She hesitated. “Somebody had an accident. We’re going to have to go back to shore, honey.”

  Carrie Anne slipped her arms around Madison’s waist as they stared at the water. “I’m sorry, Mommy.”

  She glanced at her daughter, surprised. “Hey, sweetie, I’m the one who’s sorry.”

 

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