All Things Considered

Book Cover: All Things Considered
Part of the Ryn Davis Mysteries series:
  • All Things Considered

No sleep for the wicked.

The police say Ryn Davis is guilty of murder.

Ryn claims she was asleep. Sound asleep. Dead-to-the-world asleep.

An insomniac with a long history of sleepwalking, night terrors, and other sleep disorders, Ryn’s dodging a life-changing decision. Should she leave her iconic rock-star lover? Is his fame and money worth his mood swings? After a particularly explosive argument, she goes to bed. He follows. The argument escalates. Exhausted, she goes to the guest bedroom. She pops a sleeping pill. Technically, a hormone. Not a drug. One melatonin, she rationalizes, determined to think more clearly.

She wakens the next morning, groggy and disoriented. Fragments of a dream fade in and out of memory. Not the argument with Stone … but something more disturbing. When she enters their bedroom, she sees him in bed—a red hibiscus blooming on his chest.

Unable to produce the melatonin bottle, Ryn acts more and more defensive and guilty. The police ridicule her testimony. Definitely bitter, can she prove how an insomniac slept through two bullets?

 

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Excerpt:

PROLOGUE

 

“… already know the Goddamn answer.”

Shouts. Loud. Unclear. Noise. Penetrating her cocoon.

witnessed history …

“Ummm.” She snuggles into the cloud of covers. So long since she slept, but she tries to open her eyes. Can’t. Tries to swim up from sleep. Tired. Too tired. Arms and legs useless.

“Get out. You’re pathetic.” A staccato, furious rush.

Her body jerks. She moans. Feels her heart racing. Too hard. Too fast.

“A loser.” A long, mocking laugh.

… caravan led by …

“Bastard.” Shrill. Leaking tears. Beyond rage.

More asleep than awake, fighting to breathe, she struggles to move. To raise her head. To open her eyes. They’re squeezed tight—allowing no light.

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“What … are … you … doing?” Disbelief rides a note of terror.

“Exactly what you deserve, bastard.” Triumph sings in the quick, short laugh.

A shout. “Noooo.”

“Yessss.” A pause. Nothing.

“Ummm.” Sleep pulls her under on a sigh of relief.

Then nothingness.

 

Chapter 1

 

Beverly Hills – September 27 – 10:56 p.m.

The ninety-five-inch home theater screen shimmered with the blurry, full-frontal shot of the white Bronco. On two seventy-five-inch TVs on either side of the big screen, six LAPD cop cars circled the lone vehicle like a small cavalry.

Static, plus the whap-whap-whap of helicopter propellers, drowned out the CNN reporter. The ’copter dipped. The onboard-camera wobbled but then zoomed in on a young blonde commuter—out of her white BMR on the opposite side of Interstate 405. She held up a cardboard sign with a hand-lettered message: WE LOVE YOU, OJ!!!

Jaw locked, eyes closed, Ryn Davis kneaded the velvet arm on her custom-built theater seat. Anything to take her mind off the image of her marinating in warm buttered popcorn.  The two flavors had comingled during the past three hours and erased all hint of the dozen yellow roses on a nearby table.

You can’t marinate in popcorn.

Okay, swimming in buttered popcorn. Drowning in buttered popcorn. Close to puking. Close to grabbing the remote control. Close to pitching it through the big screen. And then taking out that old-fashioned popcorn maker she’d bought before she lost her mind sniffing butter and popcorn night after night after frickin’ night a quarter of a century after OJ’s great caper.

Calm down. She mashed her fist under her chin to prevent yelling, “I’m sick to death of pretending we have a life together anymore, Stone.”

Next to her, Stone Wall, rock idol to fans around the globe, raised the surround-sound volume. Had he picked up on her choking frustration?

Her jaw buzzed as if she was gnawing on a shard of glass. She opened her eyes. She took a deep breath, exhaled, inhaled, and went back to kneading the armchair. Pulse slowing, she heard the anchor drone words she hated.

“Mile fifty on Interstate 405 and counting …”

Stone took his cue and leaned forward. In perfect sync, pitch, and cadence he intoned—with the news anchor’s gravitas, “How much longer can this go on?”

“As long as birds fly and fish swim and the butter doesn’t go rancid,” Ryn muttered.

“You say something, Babe?” Stone kept his gaze glued to the giant screen.

“Didn’t those people have a life?” Don’t we have a life? You’re watching ancient history.

Stone tilted his head her way and patted her hand. He wasn’t watching the news story of the last century. He was watching the inspiration for his next big hit. Hell, he’d probably create a Broadway musical production that rivaled Hamilton.

She clenched her fingers. What’d she expect? Did she think he’d turn to her and declare, “No, compared to us, they didn’t have a life. I love you.”

“You bored?”

His question surprised her. Almost as much as the pat on her wrist before he changed the video on the lower, right-hand TV.  She jerked her hand out from under his. “What gave me away—besides the cobwebs covering me?”

How long since they had said they loved each other? Maybe every day for a few weeks after Lavender died. Nearly nine months ago. The sudden flash of Lavender’s elfin face brought tears. Ryn scrubbed her eyes. When was the last time Stone mentioned his mother?

Not since he’d become obsessed with the idea of using OJ’s chase for a song that would wow the whole musical world.

“You think Runaway’s too obvious for the new song title?” He inched forward in his chair, his distinguished “stone man” jaw jutting out as he rested his chin in his hand.

Ryn swallowed the laugh that felt like a bird in her throat. She put her hand over her mouth, coughed twice, and mumbled, “Hey. Social relevance is social relevance.”

“Profitable, too, with the right beat, sexy lyrics, and me singing my heart out.” He gave her two thumbs-up and his boyish ear-to-ear grin.

Her breath caught. The old Stone’s still in there.

She opened her mouth, but he talked over her. “Hand me my notepad, will ya?” He tossed his dark head in the general direction of the desk.

To reach it himself, he’d have to turn his back on the video replay of the TV helicopters, the police cavalcade, and the Bronco for about four seconds.

Too much trouble.

But. He raised his arms over his head and jiggled an empty, five-quart enameled bowl. “Refill?”

Speechless, she fought the impulse to smack the bowl and send it crashing down on his head.

“More butter this time, ’kay? Butter always leaves me inspired.” He spared her a glance and winked. The famous black curl—the one that drove teenagers and grown women to the edge of frenzy—dangled in the middle of his forehead, making him look damned near cherubic.

Ryn bit down hard on her tongue, ignored the bowl, and stood. Why start an argument? “I’m going to bed.”

“Howaboutarefill?” He extended the enameled bowl in her general direction.

Mentally counting to ten, she let him hold the bowl—long enough that he glanced away from the chase and finally focused on her. He grinned. Slow. Sexy. “I owe you one, Darlin’ Ryn. Okay?”

His baritone deepened on the innuendo. He hadn’t teased her for a long time, but her skin went hot all over. Her pulse revved up, and her hands felt sweaty on the smooth bowl. How did he do that to her? Make her knees wobble like she wore stilts?

Pathetic. But he didn’t notice her reaction to his power. He was once more totally engrossed in the vintage news story. Heart thumping, she whipped around. She had to concentrate—really put her mind to it—to totter across the room and open the glass windows on the popcorn machine. God, had it been five years since she’d given it to him on his thirtieth birthday? What had happened to them?

“Lotsa butter, please.”

“It’s a wonder every artery in your body—” She stopped herself. He’s an adult. You’re not his mother.

The words triggered a memory of her standing there, three hours earlier in the same spot, making the evening’s first batch of popcorn, listening to Amber’s pointed reminder. You’re not his mother, Ryn. But if you don’t get some sleep—

I will look older than his mother. His dead mother. Ryn dumped popcorn into the hot kettle, slammed the doors, and peered into the glass. Reflections thrown off by the table lamps behind her washed out a clear image of her face. A face with crow’s feet, baggy eyes, and marionette lines. When had she last slept through the night? She yawned. Once. Twice. The first kernel of corn popped. She mentally measured the distance between the popper and her seat.

Might as well jog to Malibu and back. She parked a hip on the nearest bar stool and sighed. Definitely not worth the effort to schlep across the room only to return three and a half minutes later. Did Stone even realize she’d stepped outside his orbit?

The explosive pop, pop, pop slowed. Raising her arm to spill the steaming corn into the bowl required willpower. Sleep. God, she needed sleep. Less stress would help.

How about less melodrama?

Stone accepted the full popcorn bowl with a grunt and no eye contact. I could’ve stroked out. Stifling the impulse to scream, Ryn sat down and tapped out a couple of beats on the arm of her chair and then stopped. Rhythm Stone would notice. Immediately. He’d want to know why, after all the complaining she did about never spending any time together, she couldn’t sit still for thirty seconds?

Ryn jammed her hands in the pockets of her sweater, traced the shape of a small bottle, and closed her fingers around its neck. Damn, another sign of sleep deprivation. She’d slipped the melatonin into her pocket just to get Amber off her back and then forgotten it.

“The gift of sleep,” Amber called the stuff.

“Ah took it ever night on the East Coast tour,” Amber had confided, her Texas drawl thick as peanut butter. “Ah swear Ah slept like a log …”

Ryn bit the inside of her cheek and ran a fingernail around the plastic seal. At least she hadn’t asked Amber if her log-like sleep came from the melatonin or from Stone’s dick sending his back-up singer to logland.

As if they were BFFs, Amber had detailed the research she’d done before buying her first bottle of melatonin two years earlier. “Ah didn’t want Stone to think I was usin’ an illegal substance.”

Her breathy, sing-song cadence jangled in Ryn’s aching head. “When Ah bought a new bottle yesterday, Ah thought, why not buy one for Ryn, too? Maybe help her sleep, too?”

Riiight. Ryn had dropped the bottle in her pocket without a thank-you. Maybe if she went a full month without any sleep and started howling at the moon, she might consider swallowing one of Amber’s little white “gifts.” Or, if she woke up in a time warp where Amber worked side-by-side with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, she might use the melatonin.

Surprising herself, she’d swallowed her sarcasm, mumbled something inarticulate, and buried the fantasy of slipping one or two capsules in Amber’s beer around nine p.m.

By eight-thirty though, Amber had grown so bored with the OJ drama and Stone’s lack of attention, she told Beau she wanted to go home. Both band members left, leaving Ryn to sit in the dim media room staring at the Bronco and cop cars for two more endless hours.

“Okay,” she announced, without waiting for Stone to take a break between handfuls of popcorn, “I’m going to bed.”

“You know,” he said, shaking his head, “the guy should never have run if he wasn’t guilty. You gonna kill someone, don’t run.”

Ryn managed not to snort. The man wrote music half the world thought sounded like a dentist’s drill. He gyrated on stage like a drunk monkey. With money, fame, and movie star-looks, he might as well live in a different galaxy. She clamped her lips together, and her jaw cracked.

Keep your opinion to yourself. She pinched her lips. No matter what she said, unless she agreed absolutely with Stone’s opinion, they’d end up in an argument. Which was even more boring than staring at the damn TV and sitting there like a mute.

“It’s too early for bed.” Stone squeezed her hand—lightly—because he was always careful of his fingers. Creating magic on a guitar required strong fingers.

“I promised Celia Ramirez a private tutoring sess—”

“You spend too much time—and energy—on those women.” He dropped her hand, gave her his back, and picked up the remote. “They take advantage of you.”

The TV cameras tracked the white Bronco one more time.

Don’t say a word. She opened but then snapped her gaping mouth shut, forcing the wonder and resentment into the back of her throat. Don’t remind him he gave her and Lavender the seed money to establish Esperanza House. Don’t remind him the women adored him for the frequent rehearsal concerts he performed for them before kicking off a major tour.

Legs shaking, she inched to the edge of her chair and sat there for a second, willing him to look at her. Tell her what was going on. Let her share his grief for Lavender. Or whatever was driving the wedge between them deeper and deeper.

He muted the TV, and her heart pumped blood to her head so hard and fast she missed his first words. He kept talking as if she were hanging on his every syllable. But. He didn’t touch her. Didn’t give any facial or body clue he wanted to cut through the tension coiled like a snake. Whatever he was saying … she nodded. When the shaking in her legs stopped, she stood and said good night.

Mesmerized by yet another re-run of the white Bronco, Stone either didn’t hear or chose to ignore her remark. She escaped to the foyer. Light bathed the pale apricot walls in a soft glow. Exhaling, she felt the boulder roll off her back. Still hard to believe a twenty-six–room mansion belonged to her. She’d told Stone the house was too much. He’d insisted, “No, it’s not. But if you really feel guilty taking it, then marry me.”

At the top of the circular staircase, Ryn looked down the wide curve at the closed doors into the media room. Should she have married him? He’d begged her—and even persuaded Lavender to plead his case.

How many papers had the sleazoids sold portraying Ryn alternatively as a female Rasputin, a musical genius in her own right, or a groupie-cougar only after money?

“I don’t care what they say about me,” Stone told her one night in bed. “I’m fair game because I get up on that stage. You don’t, and you deserve privacy.”

Ryn entered the master bedroom, and YerMajesty, her orange and white tiger cat, raised her head, opened her mouth, and furled her tongue. Ryn scooped the feline into her arms and kissed the top of the furry head.

“Banishment doesn’t mean a thing to you, does it?” Five months ago, Stone had declared their bed off limits to The Fanged Beast—as he called Maj.

The cat meowed.

“Think he’d notice if we left?” Ryn scratched Maj’s chin. “Think he has a clue I almost left before Lavender …”

She squeezed the cat to her chest, but The Fanged Beast yowled, leaped out of her arms, and raced for the open door. Ryn called, “Sleep tight.”

A few minutes before one, Stone entered the bedroom. “Rip and Repeat say anything about going out tonight?”

Ryn put a finger in the book she was reading. “Not to me.”

“Dammit!” He took a step and then swung his foot up. His black loafer arced high in the air and bounced off the ceiling. He ripped off his gray silk shirt and dropped it in the middle of the floor.  “They should’ve told me they weren’t hangin’ at home tonight. They know we need more practice for South America next month.”

You don’t own them because they play in your band. Ryn opened her book but watched him parade around at the foot of the bed like a naked Hamlet, rising on the balls of his feet, flexing his fingers toward the ceiling.

“If you ever agreed with me, I’d drop dead from shock.” He bent, picked up a shoe, and pitched it toward the dressing room. It thudded off the wall, and he stomped into the bathroom, slamming the door.

The steady rat-ta-tat-tat of the shower synchronized with the furious disbelief tangoing in Ryn’s head. Now, she’d never sleep. Not in the same bed. Chest tightening, she jerked open her bedside table and pulled out the bottle of melatonin. She read the label, following the fine print with her fingernail. The safety seal fit tightly—too tightly to work loose.

In the bathroom, Stone turned on the extra showerheads. Her headache ratchetted up. “A brain tumor,” she whispered. Undiagnosed. Rare and terminal. In its final stage. Stone will be so sorry.

She sucked in air to manage the pain and her imagination through deep breathing. Either she didn’t remember the technique or her brain tumor was beyond the benefits of deep breathing. She pawed through the papers, pens, and junk in the drawer. Worked her nail file out of its leather case. Stuck the sharp end under the plastic seal.

The seal coiled around itself, but she tossed it on the floor and dug out the thick cotton plug and tapped half a dozen identical white pills into her palm. She popped one into her mouth. Her nose wrinkled as the bitter flavor dissolved under her tongue. The extra pills she returned to the bottle, twisted the cap, and set the bottle on the bedside table.

She flipped off her lamp, slid down in the bed, and turned on her right side to face the wall opposite the bathroom. If there was a god, Stone would spend another half hour gargling, singing, washing. And if the planets were in harmonic convergence, the melatonin would knock her out. Eyes closed, she relaxed her muscles. The drum of the shower faded …

“C’mon Ryn. You’re faking.” He smelled of the lavender and citrus aftershave she’d had especially made for him in Paris three years ago. His tongue traced the ridge of her ear. His teeth nipped at the spot behind her earlobe.

She lost the battle with common sense, turned, and opened her eyes to meet his. He came into her embrace and nuzzled the hollow of her throat. She arched her neck. His tongue followed the path along her collarbone.

“Goddammit!” He made a spitting sound and sat straight up, pushing away from her. He bellowed, “When in the name of Christ you gonna get those damn things taken off?” He jerked the neck of her nightgown and poked at a place on her collarbone.

Her fingers found the spot where she had six small moles. All clumped together, they were barely visible—except in a low-cut dress or a nightgown.

“For god’s sake, Stone.” She rubbed the moles; they felt subatomic. “You—”

“I hate those fuckin’ warts.”

“So you’ve said.” She re-buttoned her gown. “Like all the other deaf folk within a ten-mile radius, I heard you the first dozen times.”

“So why didn’t you get the fuckin’ things removed—like I told you a hundred times?”

“How about because I’m not a Barbie doll? They’re moles—not an extra head.”

“Hell, I wouldn’t complain about an extra fuckin’ head. Maybe then you’d show a little common sense.”

Ryn kicked back the covers. “What would it take for you to show a little common courtesy?” She swung her legs over the side of the bed, probing with her toes for her slippers. “Or a vocabulary that didn’t include the F-word?”

“Excuse me, Your Ladyship, but I’ll fuckin’ well use as many F-words as I fuckin’ well please. Since I’m in my own fuckin’ house. In my own fuckin’ bedroom.”

Head down, Ryn fumbled with the belt on her robe. She would not let him see her cry. “Fine. But I need some sleep. I don’t intend to stick—”

“Aw, fuck off, Ryn. You think I give a fuck what you do?”

Halfway to the guest room, she heard a click. Like a soloist in a Greek chorus, the TV announcer’s recorded voice followed her. “What a night of ups and down. We’ve witnessed history tonight. Let’s take one more look at that LAPD caravan led by OJ’s white Bronco …”

 

 

Chapter 2

 

As soon as Ryn walked into the master bedroom the next morning, she saw red.

Propped against the mountain of pillows, Stone sat with his head at an odd angle and stared at the damn TV—turned up way too loud.

“Good morning,” she chirped. She’d be cheery if it killed her.

Of course, he didn’t speak. It was his subtly mature way of telling her he was still pissed.

A spurt of irritation burned her throat, and she opened her mouth to tell him to stop acting like a spoiled brat. But the lush, red hibiscus blooming on his chest shattered thought and froze her tongue to the bottom of her mouth. The metallic smell—sweet and vaguely familiar—punched her in the stomach like a boxer’s fist. She inhaled through her mouth, gulping for oxygen. Stone wasn’t really sitting across from her, pale and handsome, blood on his chest, not breathing.

A nightmare. I’m having a nightmare. A bad one.

A noise—clothes rustling?—whipped her around to stare down the long, dim dressing room. Unable to move, she strained to see Maj, her tail shifting the dresses and shirts and slacks. They hung in perfect, straight rows. Nothing moved.

“Maj! Come out here.” Her voice quivered. She’d spooked herself. She was dreaming Maj was playing hide-and-seek among the shoes. Stone was playing a game, too.

Dry-mouthed, she faced the bed and took a step forward. The floor tilted. The two black centers in the middle of the red flower came into precise focus. Grabbing at air, her sweaty fingers caught the satin bedspread. Her legs buckled. She toppled forward. C-R-A-C-K. Her cheek bounced off the foot of the bed.

“Ryn?” A light tap on the door followed the repetition of her name, but she couldn’t raise her head. Her cheek throbbed. Opening her eyes brought a blinding kaleidoscope of strobe lights. Facedown, squinting, she studied the little valleys in the carpet. Off to her right, Stone’s loafer caused her heart to jump. Icy sweat ran down her face, stinging her eyes.

Was that awful smell coming from her?

“What the hell …”

… was she doing on the floor?

“Ryn?”

“Stone?”

The door handle clicked and the door swung open. A draft sent goosebumps jockeying up her legs.

“Ryn? Celia Ramirez is on the pho—Ogod. Omygod. Omyyyy—”

A scream exploded the pain in Ryn’s cheek and head. Bursts of electricity detonated along her spine. Close to panic, she couldn’t think. Shutting her eyes again, she saw only the red hibiscus on Stone’s chest. The color—imprinted in her brain—blotted out all sound and thought.

***

An hour later, dressed in jeans and an old plaid shirt she had no memory of putting on, Ryn sat in her favorite wing chair in her study. She pressed an ice pack against her pulsating cheek.

She was asleep. Wasn’t she?

She nearly convinced herself she really was sleeping. Except her face ached too much—even for the worst nightmare. Across from her, Astrid wailed and blew her nose on a crumpled tissue. A square-shaped man stood in the middle of the room and scribbled in his little black book.

A TV homicide detective. Ryn’s mind stuttered on homicide, but lasered on this detective’s name. Lieutenant Adam Jericho. A name Stone would love. As if paralyzed in front of an oncoming train, she stared at the door to the hallway. C’mon, Stone. Walk in here. Wake me up.

Jericho waved a stubby finger in front of her nose and asked how she’d found the body. … his third time. She shook off the thought.

“I went in our bedroom. To get dressed ...” Her voice drifted off. To sneak out before Stone woke up. “I had an appointment, and I was late.”

“What time was that? When you entered the bedroom?” Jericho clarified, his yellow eyes hooded by heavy, reptilian lids.

“Nine-thirty.” How long had Stone been— Her mind jumped away from the word.

Nightmare. Has to be … I’m asleep. Asleep. Stone was asleep.

“You’re sure?” Jericho walked with a slow, sideways pace. A musky, heavy cologne preceded him. He closed the distance between them in measured inches.

He smells like the alligator farm Stone and I visited after that Miami concert. Jericho’s sigh jerked her mind back to the study. “The clock in the guest bedroom said nine—”

“Excuse me,” Jericho interrupted, checking his notes, sounding as apologetic as an alligator. “Tell me again why you were sleeping in the guest bedroom?”

“Stone and I argued.” Ryn’s fingers twitched. She wanted to slap his lizard face. He knew damned well why she’d slept in the guest bedroom. She’d told him right away.

“That how you got the gash on your cheek? During the argument?”

“No!”

Astrid’s pale blond eyebrows jumped

Ryn caught her bottom lip between her teeth. She swallowed and continued—her voice shaky despite her determination to show Jericho her self-control. “I told you. I hit my cheek on the bed when …”

When she’d realized Stone would never again feel pain or anger or joy.

“When what, Miz Davis?” Jericho drawled, his head coming up from his notepad.

“I hit my cheek on the bed whenIfainted.” The admission fell out of her mouth in an incoherent rush.

“After you found Mr. Wall, right?”

Stone. Are you hurt?

An invisible knife sliced out a section of her heart. She rubbed the left side of her chest and whispered, “Yes.”

How had she forgotten anger and death went together? She’d already learned that truth. With Mama. Her fingers—massaging the pain under her breastbone—erased the memory.

Jericho consulted his notes. “How’d you know he was dead?”

Her stomach rolled. She tasted salt. “I don’t know.” No way she’d mention the smell. “The blood, I suppose.”

Muted thumps—accompanied by hushed voices—floated in from the hall.

The body. Are they moving Stone’s body? A shudder rippled in her stomach, and the sounds in the hall amped up. Her ears buzzed. Another shudder raced into her chest. She hugged her waist and focused on Jericho.

“You ever see a corpse before?” He didn’t seem to register the hall noises.

“Yes.” Ryn held onto the wide arms of her chair. On her desk, a gold-framed picture of Stone grinned at her, and she fought the impulse to scream, “Stone’s not a corpse.”

Jericho’s yellow eyes slitted. “Murder vics?”

“No.” Cold all over, she kept her voice even and let her hands fall loosely into her lap. Astrid was still crying into her limp tissue.

“Sooo,” Jericho paused, his pupils widening, “how did you know Mr. Wall was dead?”

“The blood? It was everywhere.” Jericho’s mouth twitched, and Ryn’s stomach dropped as if she’d stepped off a cliff. She pushed her back into the chair. She couldn’t lose control. Not over such a stupid point. “I’ve said the blood four times now.”

“How far is the guest bedroom?”

How far from where, you idiot? The North Pole? Patagonia? Ryn let the silence hang for another second before saying, “The guest bedroom is at the opposite end of a forty-eight-foot-long hall.” She knew this factoid because she’d measured the length for the carpet herself.

“The carpet’s got a thick pad under it, I noticed. How about the door?”

“I don’t understand the question.” She didn’t care what he meant as long as he stayed away from asking her again about the blood. If she talked about the carpet for hours, could she forget Stone would never walk on it again? He’d loved “skiing” barefoot from one end of the hall to the other—yipping like a kid.

Jericho’s head—mostly square because of his bad crew cut—came up from examining the blue and cream Chinese runner. She’d swear dollar signs danced in his yellow eyes. “Excuse my lack of clarity, Miz Davis. I understand my questions are stressful.”

Something snapped in Ryn’s brain. She heard it—a neuron misfired. Or maybe her brain simply adjusted for flight from Jericho by zapping her with a mega-dose of adrenaline. More adrenaline than she’d felt the times Stone had called her on-stage to dedicate a song to her. She dug her heels into the rug, fighting her body’s reflexes.

Stay calm. Don’t let him get to you. Don’t respond to his sarcasm.

Jericho arched his brows, silently asking, Something wrong? When she didn’t take the bait, he said, “How thick was the door in the guest room?”

“Four inches.”

“Is that to accommodate your insomnia?” He ambled to the study door, opened it, and measured the thickness against his index finger.

“No.” Why didn’t Jericho come right out and ask her if she killed Stone? Why should she even bother explaining why they’d replaced every door in the house when it was obvious he’d already made up his mind she was the killer?

She clenched her teeth, and a black pain bit through her cheekbone. She said, “The band practiced here. A lot. The doors made the house more livable during the day and at night.” God, how was she going to tell Beau and the others about Stone?

“Is that why you went in the master bedroom, Miss Hansen?” Jericho whipped around to face Astrid, who was patting her eyes. Her white eyelashes had completely disappeared in her raw, puffy lids. “Because you didn’t think either Mr. Wall or Miz Davis could hear you knocking?”

“Yes, sir. The doors are exceedingly tyk.” Astrid’s blue eyes filled with tears as she looked at Ryn. Unlike English, Danish had no words with th. Under normal circumstances, Astrid could have said thick with no more accent than Jericho.

But The Jughead didn’t wait for Ryn’s translation. “I agree the doors are exceedingly thick.” He threw Astrid a smile that turned Ryn’s stomach. “But I still find it hard to believe that an insomniac slept through two shots from a .38.”

Astrid looked from Jericho to Ryn and back to the lieutenant. He sat perched on the arm of the sofa, his legs crossed casually in front of him. Even with her puffy eyelids, bloodshot eyes, and blotched skin, she was a lovely young woman.

“It’s all right, Astrid.” Ryn forced her lips to turn up in what she hoped was a facsimile of a smile. “I think the lieutenant is addressing that comment to me.”

Astrid swallowed, gulped, and nodded. Tears streamed down her scarlet cheeks. “Yes. I-I-I see.”

How much longer before I can cry?

Jericho stood, bending at the waist toward Astrid. She was taller sitting than he was on his feet. “I don’t have any more questions for you right now, Miss Hansen. I’m going to ask a policewoman to accompany you to the carriage house. I’ll call you when I need to speak to you again.”

Oil coated each syllable.

“… when I need to speak with you again.” The phrase echoed in Ryn’s brain, playing and replaying like a tape in a loop. Astrid was an amazing housekeeper, far too mature and dependable for a thirty-year-old who could have made a small fortune over the past three years by leaking details about Stone to the sleazoids.

Under stress, what will she tell Jericho? Ryn shivered as if she’d touched something slimy in the dark. In some corner of her brain, though, she knew she wasn’t thinking clearly. It was only logical that Jericho would want to question each of them separately, right?

Astrid stood and followed him to the door. He opened it, barked a name, and a young auburn-haired policewoman hurried in. Towering a  foot over The Jughead, Astrid nodded as he said something, keeping his voice low, warning her, Ryn guessed, not to talk to anyone about the murder or the conversation in this room. The policewoman took Astrid’s elbow. She stepped into the hall without glancing at Ryn.

Jericho’s big feet turned out penguin-style. Ryn had the sensation he wasn’t really moving toward her chair as his shoes went in opposite directions from his short torso.

“Miss Hansen’s takin’ this pretty hard.” His yellow eyes glittered. “She must have been real fond of your … significant other.

“She loves rock music.” Ryn’s chest tightened. “She adored Stone.”

During the last year, had he preferred adoration to their incessant arguments?

“I s’pose he was used to that kind of thing? Beautiful, young, adoring fans?” Jericho sat down in the spot vacated by Astrid.

Does it still hold her body heat? Ryn repressed her question and replied to Jericho’s insinuation. “Stone had plenty of male fans, too. Astrid’s husband likes The Stoned Gang almost as much as his wife does.”

Believe it or not, Jericho, I loved him, too.

How long ago was that? When Stone believed she loved him?

As if she’d announced the earth was flat, Jericho shrugged. He crossed his legs, his fingers pulling at the crease in his dark gray pants. For the first time, Ryn noticed he wore an expensive, well-tailored, navy wool blazer. Ornate burgundy initials bordered the cuffs of his starched white shirt. Mirror-bright black loafers gleamed on his penguin feet. How old was he? Had he worked for the LAPD in 1994 during the OJ case?

About old enough.

“Does Mr. Hansen work for you like his wife?”

“He’s our chef. Niels Hansen.” Ryn waited until Jericho finished jotting the name in his black book. She added, “He took Astrid’s family name. That’s quite common for men in Denmark.”

Jericho snorted. “Yeah. I’ve heard the Danes are pretty enlightened people. Especially when it comes to sex. Free love. That sort of thing.”

Ryn felt a spurt of anger. Why the hell had she even volunteered the information about Niels? What was she thinking? “Stone and Astrid didn’t have a sexual relationship, Lieutenant. Her father’s a bishop in the Danish Lutheran Church, and Astrid loves her husband very much.”

Ice dripped on the declaration, but Ryn didn’t give a damn. No use telling The Jughead now that she’d also loved Stone very much—even if he wasn’t her husband.

Jericho pursed his lips and anchored his gold pen between his first and middle finger. Rocking the pen back and forth, he watched it like a kid watching a magician. As if mesmerized by his dexterity, he said, ”You must have loved Mr. Wall very much … to stay with him … after he battered you.”

Ryn’s heart missed a beat and she couldn’t catch her breath. God, what a nightmare. She willed herself to breathe, unclenching her fists.

“Once,” she croaked, wishing she could batter Jericho. Smash his face. Knock out his teeth. “And I called the police.”

She clamped her mouth shut so The Jughead couldn’t hear her teeth chattering or the words rattling in her head. Black and red pinwheels of pain shot through her cheek as if someone had shattered it with an ice pick.

Jericho nodded, flipped open his notebook, ran his finger down the page, stopped, and met Ryn’s glare head on. “Didn’t you say, publicly, that if Stone Wall ever hit you again, you’d kill him?”

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