The men continued to talk. Claire leaned against the car,
imagining herself sliding off the fender like spaghetti off a plate, congealing
into a lump on the ground. Those little white pills, on top of everything else,
packed a wallop. The men droned on. Watching Jason, she thought he grew two
inches on the spot, and he hadn’t squeaked, mumbled, or shuffled his feet once.
Riley’s easy, matter-of-fact way with the awkward boy surprised her.
Jason blew a warm breath and watched it crystallize in the
air, still basking in Riley’s praise. He rubbed his arms through his
Hal draped his arm over the boy’s shoulders. “We’d better go
in. It’s freezing out here.”
“Yes, sir. Goodnight, Claire, Mr. Riley. Come on, Goodyear,”
Jason said. The dog came to his side, wagging his tail.
Hal raised his eyebrow in a question, offering her a last
chance at rescue.
“Thanks for coming out to check. I’ll be fine.” Nice of him
to be concerned, she thought. He turned to walk his son home. Claire glanced at
Riley, looking hard and tough. Maybe she didn’t need a rottweiler after all.
“I want to check your house,” he said to Claire. “And you
ought to cut down this bush.”
“My lilac? Never.” She loved that bush. Her mother planted
Riley’s dour expression conveyed his opinion. “Maybe the SOB’ll
be allergic to them, but at this time of year, it’s unlikely.”
“The police officer checked all the locks the other night.”
She opened the door and entered the hallway, reached for the lamp switch before
she remembered the missing bulb. “Oh! The light’s—”
Before she could explain, Riley shoved past her into the
dark hall. “Get down!”
Startled, it took her a second to understand. The light. “Wait, the—”
“Quiet,” he mouthed, cutting her off. Crouching, he edged
around the arched opening to the living room.
In the dim light from the porch, Claire glimpsed the gun in
his hand—the last straw. She gulped back tears. In their place, laughter
bubbled up in her throat. Imagining his reaction, she tried to suppress it,
tried hard. Then she heard him trip. She winced, understanding instantly. She’d
left the electric drill on the living room floor when it got too heavy to hold
anymore. Riley would kill her himself, saving someone the trouble. Wild
laughter erupted through her fingers, pressed tightly over her mouth.
Lights flashed on, exposing his humorless expression. “What,
exactly, do you find so funny, Miss Spencer?”
“The light bulb—”
She gasped and interrupted herself with another burst of laughter. Peal after
peal tumbled out of her, until tears rolled down her cheeks.
He grabbed her shoulder—the
left one, fortunately—and swung her
around to face him. “Stop it. You’re hysterical.”
He caught both shoulders and gave her a quick shake.
Pain shot through her. Her eyes opened wide, then closed.
The laughter died on her lips. She stifled a cry, feeling like a punctured
balloon. “I’m sorry,” she managed, still trying to catch her breath.
“Now, would you like to tell me what this is about?” He
lowered his hands, still clenching his fists.
“I gave the light bulb to the policeman. He put it in the
porch light for me. And then the drill, the windows. I was so tired…” A hard lump formed in her
throat. Tears, real ones this time, filled her eyes. She spun out of his reach
toward the kitchen. “I’m going to make a cup of tea,” she said, her voice
strained, and ran.
“Hold it.” Riley pushed past her into the kitchen, glanced
around. “Let me check the house before you go charging off.”
She heard him mutter “Women”
like a curse before he disappeared again. Leaning over the sink, she splashed
cold water on her face. After a minute, she patted her face dry with a paper
towel, took a deep breath, and opened her eyes. Black smudges stained the white
paper. Damn. Dracula’s daughter. She was not a pretty crier.
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