Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyer & Little Brown Publishing own all rights
With a gentle sway of my hips, which pushed my skirt to and fro, I led Edward toward the front of the diner. I glanced over my shoulder and saw that, while he might have said he was immune to my feminine charms, he wasn’t completely able to ignore what was before him. His eyes were focused on my hips and I almost had the moxie to ask if he liked what he saw. Almost. I didn’t want to press my luck; I knew when to turn if off just as well as I knew when to turn it on. Pausing briefly by the door, I removed my stole from the coat rack and started to put it on. Strong hands clamped down on my shoulders and I was briefly startled until I realized it was him. He was suddenly right behind me, moving closer to assist me with my stole.
“Aren’t you nervous someone would walk off with your mink?” he questioned, his body pressed close against mine to allow a man in a seersucker suit and his child to pass us. I lifted my hair off my shoulders while he helped me put the stole on. I could swear his nose grazed my hair but the movement was so quick, it could have been my mind playing tricks on me. My mind wasn’t exactly in a right state since I had found Daddy’s body on Friday.
I shrugged. “I’ve learned to go with the assumption that people are inherently good, unless they prove to be otherwise.” We walked out the glass door together and I waved goodbye to Alice and the other regulars at Lou’s. Alice gave me one last parting look, telling me with her eyes that I had better be careful of the company I kept. Duly noted, Alice, but he’s one of the good guys. I think. I turned my attention back to the man standing next to me. “If someone felt the need to steal it, they probably needed it more than I do. Things can be replaced, Edward. People cannot.”
His hat covered his eyes and I found it a bit disconcerting that I couldn’t see his reaction to my statement. His eyes, the color of light jade, were quite expressive, and quite jaded. It was probably why he felt the need to hide them so often under the brim of his hat; he knew that they were his tell. With a perfectly polished fingernail, I pointed to the car sitting across the street. Emmett was lounging in the front seat, reading a paper and awaiting my return. We crossed the street and he quickly got out of the car to open the door to the cab.
“Miss Hale, Mister Cullen, I expect your meeting was a pleasant one?” Emmett asked. His eyes searched mine out to make sure that everything was, indeed, on the up and up. He was not surprised by Edward’s presence, making me think that he had been watching the diner a bit more than reading the paper now discarded on the front seat. It also did not escape my notice that he referred to me as Miss Hale in front of Edward and I was grateful. Given his profession, Edward would be quick to pick up on little things like that and I didn’t feel it was any of his business what happened in the past between Emmett and me.
“Yes, Emmett. It went well, thank you.” I took his hand as I turned to sit in the car. Sliding over on the bench seat, Edward climbed into the car next to me. Edward looked a bit like a fish out of water, shifting in his seat and not sure exactly where to put his arms. I then realized that this might be his first ride in a car like this one. Not wanting to make the situation awkward, I didn’t ask if it was his first limousine ride but went with the assumption that it was. Emmett returned to his spot in the front and I slid the window open so we could converse with him.
“Hey, pal. First ride in a limo? She’s a beaut, isn’t she?” Leave it to Emmett to point out what I was trying to tactfully avoid. However, Edward looked a bit more at ease and he began to converse with Emmett as the car glided smoothly along the paved city street. The two men spoke through the window in the partition and I sat, half listening, mostly watching. Edward was slouched back on the seat, chatting amiably with Emmett. I saw him move to slide his pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket. I grabbed his hand and he looked at me with what I imagine would have been surprise if I could see his damn eyes. Slowly he pulled his hand from mine.
“Edward, would you mind removing your hat?” I felt a bit silly asking but I couldn’t stop the words from flying out of my mouth. It was torturous not to know what was going on underneath the brim of that hat.
“Why?” he asked, running his fingertips along the brim, but not acquiescing to my somewhat crazy demand.
“It hides your eyes. Daddy always told me that you can tell someone’s true intentions by their eyes. I’m sorry if I’m making you uncomfortable.”
He tilted his hat up with his finger and looked me in the eye, “What else did daddy tell you?”
I thought for a moment, desperate to come up with anything that would lighten the mood. “Not to eat yellow snow,” I offered up with a wicked smile. Actually, I think Jasper might have told me that one.
“I’ve never heard that one before,” he grinned back at me, leaning into the seat and looking a bit more comfortable.
Taking my cue from him, I pushed my back into the seat and demurely crossed my legs while smoothing my skirt around them. “It’s a good rule to follow.”
He pushed a smoke up from his pack of Lucky Strikes once more and pulled it out with his lips. I sighed and moved to stop him a second time. “Now you’re really going to think I’m a demanding shrew, but would you mind terribly not smoking in the car? It’s just that I…”
He took the cigarette from his lips and stared me down, brow furrowed and creases formed on his forehead. “What’s wrong, precious? I won’t catch the mohair on fire.”
I decide to give it to him straight. “Listen, this might not make sense to you but it smells like my father in here. His cigars, his cologne. I just… hope it can stay that way. At least for a little while.” I looked down at my hands, which played with the hem of my skirt. My finger traced one of the roses.
I felt him shift closer to me on the seat and his finger came under my chin, tilting my head up. Looking into my eyes and removing his hand slowly from my chin, he explained, “Just looking for those true intentions, Rosie.” His eyes were soft and, in that moment, any trace of the jaded detective from the diner was gone. I normally hated the nickname ‘Rosie’ but even I couldn’t say anything about his use of it.
“Cohibahs?” He asked, as he casually returned the smoke back into the pack and placed it back in his pocket.
My eyes widened slightly, a bit surprised, although I was quickly learning that nothing he did or said should surprise me. My eyes scanned the seats to look for a discarded wrapper, any indication that could have tipped Edward off to the cigar brand besides the smell. The car was immaculate, as usual, thanks to Emmett’s diligence. “Yes, those are the ones. How did you know?”
He nodded knowingly. “They have a very distinct scent, it will linger for years.” I smiled at the thought.
“And the cologne?” he asked, running his fingers along the side paneling of the door, glancing out the window as we made our way toward Lake Michigan. The estate was about five minutes uptown from where we were.
“It’s Volturi. La Bella, of course. Wouldn’t do us very much good if the CEO was wearing someone else’s cologne, now would it?”
“I imagine not.” His eyes shifted to the front seat where Emmett was trying very hard to look like he was not listening to every word of our conversation. “Emmett seems very… attentive.”
I leaned forward to shut the divider between where we sat from Emmett. Emmett gave me a look in the mirror, which I returned to him as I slid the divider closed. “Yes, like I said earlier, he’s been a good friend to our family through the years.” Edward smirked at me, like he knew there was more to the story than what I was telling him. How would he know that? I didn’t ask.
“Anything else you’d like to share about Emmett?” he queried.
“No. There is not.” I was being short but I wanted the message to come through loud and clear. “He’s one of the few people in our lives that has been nothing but loyal. So if you are insinuating that he had something to do with Daddy’s death, don’t bother. You’re barking up the wrong tree.” I finished my rant and glared at him. Realizing we were just a block away from the house, I sat up and started to collect my things, busying myself. “Do you have any more questions before we get to the estate?”
“How did it end?”
“How did what end?”
“Your relationship with Emmett.” He stated it as though he knew it was a fact.
I was flustered and I’m sure my skin flushed, showing it to the infuriating man sitting next to me. I couldn’t get a read on him and it was frustrating me. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to flirt with him or choke him. “A girl’s got to keep some things to herself, Edward. My past relationships are none of your concern. That’s not what I hired you for.”
“Fair enough, doll. Just know that I never rule anyone out because they had a roll in the hay with my client.”
Choke him. Definitely choke him. “I’ll remember that.” I watched as Emmett got out of the car and opened the black wrought iron fence that enclosed the estate. I was grateful for the distraction so we could leave that uncomfortable topic behind us. He returned to the car and once again we were moving, rolling slowly into the driveway. Emmett opened the door for us and I exchanged a quick glance with him, silently communicating that we would talk later.
The Georgian style estate loomed over us and Edward took in his surroundings, whistling low through his teeth. Still seething from our previous conversation, I started up the pathway headed toward the door, figuring that he would have enough sense to follow behind. The red door stood out starkly from the white house with black shutters and I entered the house, leaving it open behind me so he could enter as well. The post sat on the table and I rifled through it, looking for anything of interest. He stood in the doorway, the wood framing his body like a picture, and looked around the foyer. “What?” I snapped, setting the mail on the low table in the front of the mirror. Catching sight of myself, I fluffed my hair and looked over at him once more. “Do you need a formal written invitation? Come in already.” Emily, our maid, hung my stole and took Edward’s jacket from him to put away in the closet as well.
It didn’t appear that Edward was too phased by the cold shoulder treatment. Instead, he was taking everything in. The staff, the decor, the hardwood floors – his eyes moved quickly and didn’t seem to miss a thing. It looked like he was finally getting down to business.
“Nice pile of bricks. What’s its history? Who lives here with you? Who’s on staff besides Emmett? I need you to tell me anything and everything that might be pertinent to this case.” He pulled a smoke out from his pack and lit it with a quick flash of his lighter.
“Follow me; I’ll show you the study. That might be a good place to start.” Heels clicking on the wood floor, I made my way up the stairs to the study that held my father’s desk and documents. “My father had the house built in 1930, a few years after La Bella went from being a popular regional brand to a national success. Our sales went through the roof in 1925 and soon he knew that expansion was imminent. When he was first starting off, we had a small home near the warehouse where La Bella was based. Once the company started doing well, he bought the office building downtown and had the estate built. It gave Jasper and I a good environment to grow up in. Especially since our mother had passed and he was so busy with work; the staff was here to look after us.” I opened the door to the cherry wood paneled room and gestured for him to walk inside. “Currently, my brother, Jasper, and I are the only Hales living here. But we also have a cook, Sam, and Emily who is the maid. Jacob is the butler although he’s away this week, visiting family out of state, and Riley is the groundskeeper. And you are already quite aware of Emmett.”
Setting my purse down on the desk, I moved to the drink cart that sat below the window. “Can I interest you in a drink? Brandy?”
“Yeah, brandy’s good,” he nodded while nosing around the desk, picking up an invitation to the Children’s Hospital Gala, and sitting down in the plush chair.
Something about this felt very familiar. Then I realized that it was nearly the exact same conversation my father and I had had in this room, on Thursday evening while he looked at the very same invitation to the Children’s Hospital Gala.
The epiphany came crashing down on top of me all at once. It was bizarre how the littlest thing, the smallest piece of the puzzle, can finally bring the whole picture together. It wasn’t finding him in his pajamas on Friday morning that did it. Not the slew of visitors over the weekend. Nor was it laying him to rest next to my mother.
It was Edward Cullen, sitting in my father’s chair, holding the invitation to the Gala and my offering him a drink that did it.
My father was dead. Dead.
He was gone and not coming back. I don’t think my mind fully grasped the concept until just that point in time. The snifter I was holding crashed to the ground and a sob escaped my mouth before I could press the back of my hand to it. Looking up toward the ceiling, I tried in vain to stop the barrage of tears that were already tumbling down my cheeks.
Frantically, my mind tried to process what was happening and what to do about the situation. Warring emotions pulled me in opposite directions. Part of me wanted to sink to the floor and finally let out the harsh ugly cry that had been building up inside of me for four days. Another part of my brain was screaming at me to find Jasper. He was most likely somewhere in the house or on the grounds. Jasper had always been very good at helping me manage my emotions. I considered running from the study to my bedroom, just to remove myself from the situation. From the study. From one of the last memories of my father alive.
The very last thing I wanted to do was to look at the man sitting at my father’s desk.
I looked up from where I was seated at Mr. Hale’s desk when I heard the sound of crystal shattering, and realized dollface was on the verge of an all out crying jag.
Luckily for me, my line of work afforded me a lot of experience with bawling hysterical women.
I went to her, enveloping her in my arms. Experience had taught me that all she needed was some reassurance that we would find out the truth, whatever it might be. I’d seen it a hundred times. I’m sure she was no different. I felt her arms wrap around my waist as her sobs shuddered throughout her whole body. I patted her back in a comforting, brotherly fashion.
“Don’t worry, Rosalie,” I said, using the soft, sincere tone I reserved for times like this. “I’m here to help you, we’ll figure it out.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to go to pieces on you. I just haven’t wanted to believe that he’s gone,” she said sadly, her voice trailing off at the end. “Between the funeral arrangements and company business to attend to, I haven’t had time to grieve, or even just realize he’s really gone,” she sniffled. I pulled my handkerchief from my pocket and gave it to her. She took it gratefully and daintily dabbed the corners of her eyes while she stared at the floor, looking adorably embarrassed. I put a firm finger under her chin and tilted her face up, forcing her to look me in the eye.
“Don’t worry, doll. I’ve taken you on. Just like you wanted, and I won’t you let go,” I assured and flashed a wry grin.
She flushed just a tiny bit, her cheeks coloring just enough to make her live up to her name. Her pupils dilated as her blue eyes widened. In the same instant, I realized how perfectly she fit against me, how her body molded itself to mine like a soft, warm blanket. She smelled like roses too, even though it was January for Christ’s sake. I cleared my throat and tore my gaze away from her, releasing her from my embrace, and searched the room for a place to sit down with her.
I placed my hand gently on her shoulder, leading her to the small settee near the window and nodded for her to sit down. She blotted her eyes, wiping away the make-up crap she had cried off and blew her nose daintily. She crossed her ankles demurely and tucked them under the settee. Her back was rigid and never came close to touching the back of the seat.
She’s got class; a lady. This dame is waaaaay out of my league.
I sat down beside her and took a little notepad and pen from my breast pocket. I tilted my hat up with the pen as I flipped open the spiral notepad. At the click of the pen I looked at her and asked my first question.
“Are you ready to begin again?” I asked gently. She smiled softly and nodded.
“Have you noticed anyone new coming to the house lately? Did your father introduce you to any new acquaintances that struck you as unusual at all?” I began.
She thought for a moment. “No one comes to mind,” she answered quietly.
“Anyone at the memorial service that you didn’t recognize?” I asked carefully.
Her chin twitched ever so slightly before her shoulders squared and she gave her answer. “No,” she said firmly.
Not only classy. Courageous too.
“Do you mind if I pay a visit to the country club and the office? Maybe talk to a few or his friends?” I continued.
“Not at all, Edward. Do what you feel is necessary,” she replied as she dabbed at her nose and stood up to pluck her purse off the desk. Returning to her seat beside me she pulled out a silver compact and clicked it open.
“You know you don’t need that crap, right?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” she asked as she dabbed her delicate cheekbone with the little puff.
“I understand it’s all a part of the job, part of the show, but I like you without all the paint. You don’t have to wear it around me,” I said, and suddenly felt like I’d crossed a line. She turned to look at me and gave me a genuinely grateful look that went straight to my gut.
Before she could say something, I stood and went to the desk, pushing the chair away to make sure I didn’t start the waterworks again with my insensitivity. I picked up the gala invitation and eyed her cautiously. She only watched me intently, still sitting gracefully erect on the settee like a golden Grecian statue.
“Were you planning on going?” I asked and waved the envelope slowly in front of me.
“I was…we were, before…” she whispered but no sign of tears.
“We need to crash this party. Do some people-watching, people-listening. You said he was friendly with everyone, so every joe and their brother is a suspect.” I hesitated for a moment before getting to the meat of the issue, “Would you mind if I escorted you?” I said, as I casually rifled through the top drawer.
“Not at all, Edward,” she said much too softly. I knew better than to look up so I kept my attention on the contents of the drawer I was rummaging through. I pulled out a check register and opened it, skimming through the pages until I came to the last few weeks of entries. There were several checks written to the staff for their pay, a payment to a roofing company for a small repair that had been done to the house, a check written out to Dr. Carlisle Cullen? My hand froze over the page for a brief moment before automatically reaching for my smokes and lighting one hurriedly. I took a long pull and forced myself to focus, plenty of time to mull over the implications of that later. The date on the check was two weeks ago and the memo line read “annual physical”.
“Your father’s visit with his doctor went smoothly? Nothing was found?” I questioned.
“No. Daddy was healthy, he took care of himself like I said. He was firm believer that him image was a reflection on the company.”
“His doctor was Dr. Carlisle Cullen?” I asked, really fucking hoping it wasn’t my father, Dr. Cullen, but knowing full well it probably was.
“Yes, he and his wife Esme have been friends of our family for the last decade or so,” she said and my heart squeezed at hearing my mother’s name spoken aloud. “Is he a relation of yours?” she asked.
“He was once,” I said quickly and took another long drag off my Lucky Strike. Instead of looking up to see her reaction, I continued to pillage the drawers. Towards the back of the second drawer, I pulled out a rumpled and dirty piece of paper and plucked apart the well creased folds.
We want our money, time’s up. We got ya a one way ticket for a Lake Michigan cruise.
“Have you seen this note before?” I said to Rosalie, holding it out for her to examine. She took it from me and read it quickly. As she stood next to me, I caught the scent of her roses again.
“No, never,” she said with alarm, her brow creasing in concern and confusion.
Now I’ve got something.
I took the note, refolded it and put it in my breast pocket. “Is your brother home? I’d like to meet him,” I asked.
“I’m not sure, follow me downstairs,” she said and turned to leave the room. The swishing hem of her skirt as she walked played seductively around her calves. My eyes traveled up to the soft curve of her hips, to her tumble of golden curls and I knew then and there it would be a miracle if I got this case solved and myself away from this Sheba intact.
At the bottom of the stairs she called to the maid, Emily, who scurried into the hall a moment later.
“Is Jasper home?” Rosalie questioned her.
“No he isn’t Miss Rose. He left right after breakfast,” she replied, looking disappointed that she wasn’t more help. Rosalie turned to me, her blue eyes clear and devoid of any evidence of her earlier tears.
“When I see him, I’ll arrange a time for you to meet him. Perhaps sometime tomorrow?” she asked hopefully but didn’t give me time to answer.
“Give me your note pad,” she said taking it gently from my hand. She reached for the pen in my other hand and plucked it from my fingers. Her fingers brushed against my hand and I almostshivered. She quickly wrote something down and handed the pad back to me.
“My phone number,” she explained, “Call me in the morning and I’ll tell you when to come,” she smiled. “Emily, will you get Mr. Cullen his things please and call him a cab. Oh, I broke something in the study, can you please get that taken care of?” Emily bobbed a curtsy and departed quickly.
“Edward… I want to thank you. Not only for taking my case, but for being…understanding upstairs,” she said and took a step toward me. She gently placed her hands flatly on my chest and rose up on her toes. I stood there frozen and a little dazed as I felt her soft red lips place a lingering kiss on my cheek. She pulled away and stepped back.
I cleared my throat and nervously snatched my hat from Emily as she approached with my things. I dropped the hat on my head and shrugged into my coat.
“Thanks, Emily. Be a doll, won’t you, and let the other staff know I’ll be around tomorrow to ask them some questions?” I requested and grinned at her as I adjusted my coat on my shoulders.
“Yes, Sir, anything we can do to help,” she nodded genuinely.
“Until tomorrow, Rosalie,” I said, taking off my hat and bowing slightly. Emily opened the door and I turned on my heel and left.
The cab was freezing and I turned up the collar of my coat as I gave the cabbie my address in the south side neighborhood of Englewood.
I settled into the seat and took a generous swig of bourbon from my flask. As I felt the warmth of the bourbon burn through my chest, I mapped out my plan for the case.
First, I needed to question all of the staff; the help always knew everything. I was hoping they could give me enough that I wouldn’t need to look any farther. Attending that gala meant spending more time with Rosalie, and I really wanted to get out of this case in one piece. That gala with that dame and that crowd… no way I was making it out of there unscathed. The less time I spent with Rosalie Hale, the better.
Since I was never that lucky, I was going to have to visit the country club and pay some friendly calls to the friends Rosalie had mentioned, Walter Montgomery, James Smithe, and Reginald Williams. I’d met Mr. Montgomery and Mr. Williams before, under circumstances that hit much closer to their respective homes. The rich didn’t have a skeleton in the closet, they usually had a whole graveyard. But who was I to talk? I had three or four coffins under my bed too.
The cab pulled up to the curb in front of my building and I paid the cabbie my fare and got out. My apartment was cold and dark once I got inside and I hurried to the old radiator to turn up the heat. As I took off my coat, suit jacket and hat, I snapped on the Victrola and Tommy Dorsey’s Opus One filled the tiny room while I proceeded to empty the contents of my pockets on the desk.
I loosened my tie and pulled my gun out of my holster, placing it softly on my desk as I sat down. The gun’s cold blue steel shimmered as it caught the yellow lamplight and I traced the handle’s outline with my index finger. It was the gun that had started the argument. The argument with my father when I told him I didn’t want to be a doctor and I was leaving. I didn’t want the lifestyle he and mom had, and the social bullshit that came with it. Looking back, he had been understanding, but I let my temper get the better of me and said some things I regretted. That was the last time I saw either of my parents.
Now the possibility I had dreaded for the last ten years had finally happened. I was more than likely going to have to face my father in order to do my job. I picked up my pack and gently shook a cigarette out halfway. I slowly brought the pack to my lips, wrapping them around the filter, and tried not to think about seeing my father.
Should’ve left Chicago months ago, like I wanted to, then I wouldn’t be in this jam.
The song on the radio changed, and I heard my favorite jazz singer, Billie Holiday, crooning “Stormy Weather”.
Thanks Billie, rub it in.
I poured myself some bourbon and took a draw from my smoke. Rosalie Hale.Her chaste little peck before I left her standing in the hall of her mansion played itself over and over again in my mind. I brought my fingers to my face and rubbed, realizing I probably had lipstick on my cheek. For some reason I didn’t mind; not if it was her lipstick.
Rosalie Hale. In one afternoon she had managed to flip everything on its head, and I couldn’t get her out of my head.