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Cameron stood in front of the mirror, examining his reflection. His hair was slicked back from his forehead, his face cleanly shaven. He had taken an added measure and dabbed cologne on his neck, just a little something extra to make her swoon.
It wasn’t Jessie, but it was a date nonetheless. He had to make a good impression no matter how much he was wishing that the girl having dinner with him tonight was someone else.
It wasn’t that she was unattractive. In fact, his date was quite good looking. She was sweet and had the most amazing laugh. If he could use one word to sum her up it would have been adorable. She was… adorable. She was everything he could ever want in a companion except for one thing. The girl wasn’t Jessica Porter.
How long was he going to let his infatuation with Jessie dictate his life? Hell, he had followed her around like a little lost puppy dog for ten years and she hadn’t given him the time of day. Did he think she was going to wake up one day and realize that he was the one she had been looking for her entire life?
Cameron didn’t even know if she was going to wake up again, ever. She had been in a coma for two and a half weeks in someplace he didn’t even know. Jessica Porter could be dead for all he was aware of. That damned Sheriff Benson hadn’t given him anything, not a shred of information. He had a right to know what condition she was in. And not knowing was killing him.
There was something about Nathan Benson that he just didn’t like. Perhaps it was the fact that the man exuded power and command, he looked as if he was a force to be reckoned with. The idea that the man was handsome as hell only helped stoke the fire of resentment. Cameron always prided himself on being decent looking, being the kind of man that would give his right arm for the people he cared about. Yet, he knew that in the greater scheme of things none of that mattered. He was the type that would do anything for the ones he loved, yet would get his heart trampled on in the end.
No more being a nice guy, Cameron decided. He was through being everyone’s best friend and not stepping on toes in the process. It was time for him to take life by the horns, make his own destiny. To hell with what people thought of him.
And Jessie? He would always love her; always care about what happened to her. But he couldn’t be her knight in shining armor. Cameron could no longer pine for her while she looked past the love he offered her. It was time to move on, to find someone to replace her. And that was what tonight was all about. The girl that he was about to have dinner with probably wouldn’t be Miss Right… but she would be Miss Right Now. That was all he wanted.
Feeling much better, Cameron turned away from the mirror and strode through his apartment, into the kitchen. He glanced under the lids of the pots, the dinner he had prepared simmering and smelling divine. Stirring one of his favorite concoctions, rosemary and garlic potatoes, he replaced the lid and walked into the small dining area.
The table was set, not the finest china but the best dishware he owned, crystal wine goblets, and two maroon candles on either side of the center piece of fresh flowers he had picked up at the florists on his way home from work. The stage was set. Now all he needed was his date.
As if his silent thoughts had been answered, a small knock came from the front door, causing Cameron to smile. He peeked at his watch. She was right on time. On light feet, he strode over to the door and yanked it open, his eyes flicking over the blonde standing in front of him.
“Hi, Cynthia,” he crooned.
“Hey, Cam. Am I late?”
His smile broadened as he lifted his arm and placed it around her shoulder. “Nope. You’re right on time.”
* * * *
Mike sat at his desk, amid mounds of stacked up paperwork. Besides the Ambrose Murders, there were other crimes to be tended to. None had the same magnitude as the triple homicide, but all were just as important. He was almost jealous of Nathan, the first in all the time he had worked with the man. How come he got to protect the pretty girl while Mike had to deal with all of this bullshit? Because he was the sheriff, that was why.
Mike didn’t want to ask if his day could get any worse because he was almost certain that it could. He just wanted to make a quick get away, go home, and put all of the paperwork piling up on his desk behind him. Was that too much to ask? Obviously, it was because as soon as the idea hit him to bail out early, Penny Dyson poked her head into his office, her face oozing with apology.
“What is it, Penny?” Mike groaned, knowing that look far too well.
“There’s a call on line three from Nurse Carol Munson at Stoneybrook Manor.”
“Miss Porter’s grandmother is there,” Penny clarified.
“Oh!” he sighed with recognition. “Thank you.”
Penny nodded and shut the door to his office.
Mike reached over to the telephone and picked up the receiver, pressing the flashing button to line three. “This is Deputy Sheriff Taylor.”
“There’s been a problem here. Ms. Wolfe had another stroke today.”
“Great,” he mumbled to himself.
“The strange thing is, we’ve been doing our best to keep all of the newspapers away from her. Didn’t want her seeing all of that mess about what’s going on with Jessie. Today, a male nurse’s aide brought her in her lunch tray, and handed her today’s paper. Well, she got an eyeful of that article by Isabella Evans and that was it!”
“What article by Isabella Evans?”
“You haven’t seen it?” The female on the line clucked softly. “You should pick it up and read it. My God, those people have no shame! They will sensationalize just about anything to get a story.”
“Is Ms. Wolfe okay?” he forced himself to ask, making a mental note to grab today’s issue of The Gazette and see exactly which article this woman was talking about.
“She’s stable, but it’s not looking too good for her.”
Mike cradled the phone between his shoulder and his ear and rubbed his tired eyes with his fingers.
“There’s something else. The male aide put her call light on and left the building rather quickly. When we started asking around, no one could identify him. We all thought that he was new and so we didn’t question him.”
“Hm. We’ll get some guys over there to stand guard outside of her door, just to be on the safe side.”
“I think that would be for the best.”
“And if anything changes with her condition, please call me immediately.”
Mike set the phone down and stood up, storming out of his office and slamming the door behind him. Everyone in the station looked up at him simultaneously. “Does anyone have today’s edition of The Gazette?” he nearly shouted.
Penny was the only one who dared stand up and step forward with the newspaper in her hand. “Here you go, sir,” she mumbled and took a quick step back.
Mike grabbed the paper and held it up in front of his face, staring at the headline on the front page. He skimmed over the article, not needing to read it thoroughly to get an idea as to what it was indicating. Slowly, he lowered the paper and made eye contact with everyone in the building. “So,” his voice boomed. “No one thought this was important enough to pass it along to me?”
“Sir, we all thought…” Penny began, but hushed instantly when his vehement eyes fell on her. Dropping her head, she took another step back from him.
“First things first,” Mike growled. “Torrance and Gillespie, I need you two to head over to Stoneybrook Manor. You’ll be watching Eugenia Wolfe around the clock for the next twelve hours. Ask for Carol Munson. She’ll fill you in on where to go. Then, Parker and Millstone, you will relieve Torrance and Gillespie. Any questions?” No one spoke, the room still cloaked in silence. “Good,” he nodded, turning to Penny. “I need a home address for Ms. Isabella Evans. ASAP!”
Glaring at everyone in the room one last time, he turned on one heel and sauntered back into his office. Mike couldn’t help but smile a little, in spite of himself. Never had he gotten that much respect here before. It was kind of nice stepping into Nate’s shoes for once. He only hoped he’d get the same kind of quick action as the Sheriff of Deatsville did.
* * * *
Cameron watched Cynthia from across the table, the way the candlelight danced across her features. She was quite the contrast to Jessie, her hair light blonde hair short compared to Jessie’s brown waves that fell carelessly to her back.
“I’m not sure what I was expecting,” Cynthia said softly.
“Oh yeah?” Cameron cocked one brow.
“Yeah. I have to hand it to you, Cam. I didn’t think you had a serious bone in your body.”
He reached over the table and weaved his fingers between hers. “And now?”
A faint blush crept over her cheeks. “You’re full of surprises.”
“And to think, the evening has just began.”
Cameron released her hand and stood up, walking towards her in two long strides. Wordlessly, he knelt down before her and grabbed both of her hands in his. “I want to thank you for having dinner with me.”
“Thank you for asking me.”
“Oh Cynthia,” he whispered as his hand reached up and caressed her cheek. “Believe me when I tell you that the pleasure has been all mine.”
Wordlessly, Cameron leaned forward and planted a gentle kiss on her lips, nothing more. But to his surprise, Cynthia’s arms came around his neck, pulling him close to her as she deepened the kiss. It wasn’t what he was expecting, or what he wanted. And her act only made him realize one thing. She was like all of the rest, nothing more than a whore in heat who wouldn’t think twice about going to bed with him.
Cameron untangled her arms from around his neck and placed his hands on her shoulders, pushing her away abruptly. The look on her face seemed hurt, insulted even. He didn’t care. The last thing he needed was a woman that would spread her legs for nothing more than a romantic dinner between two complete strangers. That was what Cynthia Dawson was… nothing more than a slut.
“Did I do something wrong, Cam?” she asked.
He wanted to spit on her. She could cut the innocent act for someone who believed it. Cameron knew what kind of person she was, shameless and crude. He didn’t feel that it was necessary to explain what she had done wrong. However, if she wanted to throw herself at him, then he would take her. He would take all of her; use her up until there was nothing left.
Standing up, Cameron grabbed her hand and pulled her out of her chair. “The only thing wrong… how many clothes we’re wearing.”
Cynthia let out a low, sultry giggle as she allowed him to yank her towards his bedroom.
* * * *
Nathan stood over the stove, randomly flipping the fresh fish in the pan and adding the right amount of seasoning to bring out the true flavor. He glanced over his shoulder and watched Jessie try to tackle a crossword puzzle; pen resting against her mouth and her brow drew together. As if noticing his eyes on her, she glanced up and offered him a bright smile.
“You’re staring again,” Jessie replied in an accusatory tone of voice.
“Not staring. Just trying to figure you out,” Nathan retorted playfully, throwing her own words back in her face.
“Any luck so far?”
Her smile broadened, her head tilting to the side. “I can’t believe you don’t have a television in this place,” she quipped.
“I don’t come here to watch T.V.,” Nathan explained in a casual tone.
“What do you come here to do?”
“To get away from everyone and everything.”
Jessie chuckled, shaking her head as she set the pen inside of the book, closed it up and pushed it to the side. “That’s obvious. Look at us. We’re out in the middle of nowhere.”
“That’s the idea.”
“But, don’t you get bored being here all alone with nothing to do?”
“I have a lot of things I can do. I can go fishing and hiking. I can go rock climbing or…”
“What do you do at night, I mean?” she cut him off, her smile still firmly in place. “When there is nothing else to do?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. I sleep. That’s what normal people do at night.”
Jessie threw him a mocking grin. “God, you are so frustrating,” she groaned. “Can’t you give a single straight answer?”
“I read,” he blurted out, not that he was ashamed of it. It was just, he didn’t want to admit that one of the many things they had in common was their love of great literature.
“You read?” Jessie asked, her voice almost sarcastic.
“Yes, Jessica. I can read.”
Rubbing her hands together, she sat up straight and tilted her chin obstinately. “Oh yeah? What do you read? The latest edition of Playboy?”
“Steinbeck, Whitman, Shakespeare…”
“I’m impressed. Wouldn’t consider you the type to read Shakespeare.”
Nathan turned the stove off and took a step close to her, kneeling down on one knee and taking her hand in his. “Thou art as wise as thou beautiful.” He kissed the top of her hand and offered her a mischievous smile.
“A man who carries a gun and quotes Shakespeare. You’re quite the catch, Sheriff Benson,” she teased, refusing to admit how impressed she was.
His smile widened. “You don’t have to tell me.” He released her hand and stood up.
Nathan turned his back to her and waltzed over to the refrigerator to grab some vegetables for a salad. He pulled out a head of lettuce, a tomato, two seedless cucumbers, and some strands of green onion, thanks to his caretaker, and carried it all over to the table, dumping his load in front of Jessie.
Without giving her a chance to ask, he darted to the cupboard and reached for the cutting board and knife and carried them to her.
“Why don’t you stop giving me a hard time and make yourself useful,” he growled playfully.
Jessie reached up to take the knife from him, the light from the chandelier flashing across it. Something clicked in her mind, a momentary vision of the past that caused her head to throb.
She closed her eyes, her hands instantly shooting to her aching temple. The image was overwhelming. It seemed so real, as if it was happening in the present not the past. Though, she knew better.
The room began to
spin around her, reality and illusion melding together until she couldn’t
decipher which was which. Her vision blurred, her breathing becoming harsh, and
she felt like she was falling down a long unending spiral, everything spinning
around her. Then, the room and the visions became black, evaporated from her
mind like a mid-morning mist. All she was left with was the apparition of her
house and her walking up the steep drive to the front door.