WARNING: This bonus scene has MAJOR SPOILERS. It is meant to be read AFTER you read Come Rain or Shine.
The Bonus Scene
I knew my death was imminent, but I wasn’t ready to go quite yet.
I still had unfinished business.
I needed to speak to Skeeter Malcolm.
I’d made sure the kids were taken care of, and that Rose would be surrounded by the family of her choosing, but her pregnancy both eased my worries and added additional concerns.
I’d suspected her lover was Skeeter Malcolm from the moment she’d told me about the mysterious man she loved. Why would she withhold his name unless she was ashamed of the relationship? Only I was fairly certain she wasn’t ashamed of it at all. She was merely secretive to protect them both, but from what? The authorities? His associates? His enemies?
All the same, I’d thought that they were over. She’d spent the last two months moping around the farmhouse, and if she’d made any secretive trips to see him, I suspect I would have noticed. I knew all about secretive trips to see a man. I could have written a book on it.
So imagine my surprise when she told me she was pregnant with Skeeter Malcolm’s baby. Maybe the news should have upset me—she wasn’t married, after all, and the father was a criminal—but if anyone could handle having a baby in an unconventional way, it was my baby sister. I was proud that Rose had learned to stop caring what other people thought, or at least she’d stopped caring quite so much. Besides, having a baby out of wedlock wasn’t the scandal it had been even twenty-five years ago when her birth mother had her. But the father presented a whole new set of problems, and I was determined to stick around until I knew Rose and her baby were safe.
Which meant I needed to take matters into my own hands.
When Carly was downstairs making me homemade chicken noodle soup, a task I’d sent her on to buy me some time alone, I used my cell phone to call the pool hall Skeeter owned. I wasn’t surprised when the man who answered told me he wasn’t available, but I knew what card to play.
“Tell him I have information about the Murray portfolio.”
Rose wasn’t the only Gardner with tricks up her sleeve.
“What the hell is that?” the man asked in annoyance.
“Just tell him and let him decide if he wants to talk to me or not.”
Twenty seconds later, a deep, angry male voice snarled, “Who the hell is this?”
“I have information,” I said in a quiet but firm tone, “but I need to make sure I’m speaking to the right person.”
“I don’t know anything about a Murray portfolio, so you’re barking up the wrong tree.” His annoyance rang through loud and clear.
He was lying, not that I was surprised. I hadn’t expected him to admit it so readily over the phone. I could be anyone on a fishing expedition. Only I wasn’t fishing.
“I know there’s two million dollars on the line.” I felt the urge to cough, but I held it back as best I could lest he’d think me weak. “You’ve got a lot riding on it.”
He paused so long I thought maybe he’d hung up. “If I had any idea what you were talkin’ about, I’d be curious how you’d come by this information.”
“I’ll tell you everything I know, but you have to come to me. We meet in person. It’s safer that way.”
He paused again. “Like I said, I’m not sure what you’re talking about, but I’m concerned for the well-being of the county. I’ll meet you at the Holiday Inn in two hours. I’ll text you the room number.”
“Sorry,” I said, my voice tight and raspy from suppressing the cough. “Like I said, you’re gonna have to come to me.”
“And where the hell is that?” he barked.
I couldn’t stop my small smile. He saw my protest as a sign of defiance. He was a man who liked to control people and situations. How else could he have earned his place in the underworld? What I found surprising was that Rose had shucked the cloak of control our momma had wrapped tight around her only to run into the arms of someone even more domineering, not to mention ruthless. Especially after she’d shied away from Joe for showing those very same traits.
But what really piqued my interest, and another reason for this summons, was why he was so interested in her. I loved my sister more than life itself, but I couldn’t understand the appeal she’d have for a man like Skeeter Malcolm. She was pretty but not sexy. She had no illegal ventures of her own for him to exploit. The only reason I could come up with was her visions—which she’d readily admitted he was not only aware of but had used for his own purposes.
“I suspect you can find me without any directions,” I said, trying not to sound smug. “I’m in Rose’s old bedroom.”
His previous silences had held a bit of threat to them. This one seemed different, though, which was confirmed when he said my name.
“Violet?” The bite had gone out of his tone.
“You’ve heard of me?” I asked, and the cough I’d been holding in burst out. It took me several seconds to regain control.
“I’ll come see you,” he said, his tone quiet. “But it won’t be until much later tonight. After midnight.”
“After Rose’s grand jury testimony?”
He hesitated, then sounded unsure. “Yeah.”
“And if I invite you into Rose’s home, should I be concerned for her or Joe’s safety?”
I’d expected him to mull it over, but his answer was immediate. “No. But you can’t tell them I’m comin’ either. Especially Rose. This is between you and me.”
“Do you want me to tell Carly to leave the back door unlocked?”
“No. I can let myself in.”
Did he have a key? Did Joe know?
“Then I’ll see you later tonight, James Malcolm,” I said, using his proper name like Rose always did. “I’ll likely be asleep, but wake me up when you get here.”
He merely hung up, not that I was surprised by the lack of pleasantries. I suspected he was a man of few words. Another reason to question what Rose saw in him.
As the day wore on, everyone tried to shield me from the tension over Rose’s grand jury testimony, but it hung in the air like one of Muffy’s farts. I was relieved when Rose came home and told me she was safe from Mason Deveraux’s treachery…the ungrateful bastard.
I’d expected to be anxious as the evening progressed, but everything felt right, like all the threads of my life were weaving their last row. I wasn’t worried about my meeting with Skeeter Malcolm. I knew I had the upper hand.
I slept better than I had in days, but there was a heaviness in my chest that assured me I’d been right to call him now. I was sure I didn’t have much longer.
Of course, there was a chance he wouldn’t show. He was taking a risk slipping into Rose’s house in the middle of the night—Joe could easily wake up and shoot him—but Skeeter Malcolm didn’t strike me as the kind of guy who’d let a little thing like possible death keep her from what he wanted. Men like Skeeter Malcolm hadn’t gotten as far as they had without taking risks.
What I knew about the Murray portfolio definitely made it worth the potential peril.
He didn’t say anything to wake me, at least not that I noticed. One minute I was asleep and then I was awake, his large frame silhouetted by the moonlight streaming through the sunporch windows.
“Skeeter Malcolm,” I said, my voice raspy. “You’re gonna have to help me sit up.”
He moved closer, granting me a better look at him. He was tall with broad shoulders and enough muscles to ensure he could enforce his orders, yet he didn’t look like a bodybuilder. He was a handsome man and I could understand my sister’s attraction to him. While there was a hardness to his face, his eyes softened as he approached me.
“What do you need me to do?” he whispered.
“Wrap your arm around my back. Then plump my pillows behind me.”
“Do you want me to turn on a light?” he asked, sounding hesitant.
“No, the moonlight seems appropriate.”
He was surprisingly gentle as he lifted me then resettled my pillows. When he finished, he took a step backward, studying me.
“I’m not gonna beat around the bush, Mr. Malcolm,” I said, trying to sound direct. “I need to know what your intentions are with my sister.”
He didn’t look surprised by my question. “If you’re askin’ if I’m an honorable man, I think my actions speak for themselves.”
“That doesn’t answer my question,” I said. “I asked you about your intentions, whether they be devious or loving.”
A sly grin spread across his face. “Who’s to say I’ll be honest?”
“You’d lie to a dyin’ woman?”
“I’ve done a hell of a lot worse.” It wasn’t a threat and it bore no arrogance. It was merely spoken as truth.
“But you won’t lie to me,” I said with more confidence than I felt, then went out on a limb. “You love her too much.”
Something washed over his face. Leeriness? Regret? I knew how he’d reacted to her pregnancy, but I couldn’t help wondering why he’d said those hateful things. His very countenance told me he loved her.
“This needs to stay between us,” he said, his tone turning hard. “You can’t tell Rose anything I say.”
“I’ll take it to my grave, which is right around the corner.”
Surprise filled his eyes, but it was gone just as quickly. “I’m here about the Murray portfolio,” he said, adding a gruffness to his voice. “You know something about it?”
“I do. And what I know is in a sealed file at my attorney’s office.”
He quirked his brow, his shoulders tensing slightly. “I take it you learned this from your husband?”
“He didn’t tell me, if that’s what you’re implyin’, but I was privy to a conversation I wasn’t part of.”
I released a tiny laugh. “I’m not ashamed of it. I’ve spent most of my life eavesdroppin’ to protect my sister from the cruelty in this world. Do I need to protect her from you, Skeeter Malcolm?”
He remained still, his expression unreadable.
“Which brings me back to my original question. What are your intentions with Rose?” I paused, wondering if I should tell him the next part, but I suspected he already knew. “She loves you. She’s been pinin’ for you for two months. And no, she never once told me it was you that she was pinin’ over, and no, it wasn’t obvious, but I know my sister. I’ve spent twenty-five years of my life watchin’ over her.”
“If she didn’t tell you, then why am I here?” he grunted.
“Because while I suspected it was you, she confirmed it when she told me that she was pregnant and that you were the father.”
“She’s tellin’ people?” he demanded, his hands fisting at his sides.
“I’m her sister, Skeeter Malcolm, and on my deathbed to boot. Her secret is safe with me.” I took a breath, already tiring out. “You told her to get an abortion. Did you tell her that in the heat of the moment?”
“No,” he said, his voice tight. “She can’t have my baby.”
“Well, here’s a news flash. She’s not changin’ her mind.”
Some of his edges dulled. “I know.”
“So you either need to man up and marry her or you need to let her go.”
“You really want me to marry your sister?” he asked, sounding incredulous.
“It’s not what I want that matters. It’s what Rose wants for her and her baby.” When he didn’t respond, I gave into my curiosity and asked, “Why don’t you want the baby?”
Anger flashed in his eyes. “My world is dangerous. I already have to shield Rose from it. How in God’s name would I protect a kid? It would never be safe. I’d be forever lookin’ over my shoulder to make sure no one was comin’ for my family.”
“So give it up,” I said, my energy fading. “Marry Rose and run away.”
“You can’t or you won’t?”
“If I run, I’ll be hunted down. It will only make it more dangerous for them.”
“I commend you for realizin’ that. Seems to me that a man in your position would be accustomed to takin’ what he wants, regardless of the consequences.”
“I was that man. Rose changed me. But make no mistake, I’m still mostly selfish. I’m only soft where she’s concerned.”
“So man up and do what you need to do to make sure your family is safe.”
“It’s more than that, Violet. I don’t want a baby.” He must have seen that wasn’t argument enough for me because he continued without prompting. “I had a shitty childhood. I don’t want that for my kid.”
“Rose had a shitty childhood too, but she’ll make an amazin’ mother, so don’t give me that malarkey.”
“I don’t trust myself to be a father. I don’t want my kid to be scared of me, either because of how I treated him or once he found out who I am and what I do. My kid deserves better than that.”
“Then be a better man, James Malcolm. Be the man that Rose and your baby deserve.”
“That’s what I’m tryin’ to do, Violet,” he said, meeting my gaze and holding it, “which is why I’m pushin’ her away.”
And suddenly I understood. “By insisting she get an abortion.”
“There’s no way in hell she’ll go through with it, and the harder I push, the more she’ll pull away.”
“You really do love her,” I whispered.
“More than I’ve ever loved anything in my life. But she deserves better than me. And that baby deserves a daddy, not a criminal who will ruin both of their lives.”
“James.” I stretched my hand out toward him.
He glanced down at it. For a moment, I thought he was going to ignore the gesture, but then he took my hand in his, holding it as gently as if it were a baby bird.
“Rose is no fool. If she loves you, there’s something in you worth lovin’.”
He swallowed. “But sometimes it’s not enough.”
“I wish it were.”
“Me too.” He dropped my hand and took a step back. “The Murray portfolio… what do you plan to do with the information?”
“I’m usin’ it to give Rose full custody of my kids. It will be released upon my death, which is comin’ sooner than I’d expected, so get your Ps and Qs in order, Skeeter Malcolm, because the police are gonna be at your doorstep unless you cover your tracks.”
“You’d really turn on your husband?”
I lifted my chin and tried to give him a glare, but I just didn’t have the energy for it. “He already turned on me.”
“So why are you warnin’ me?”
“Because of Rose.”
My eyelids were heavy, and as my energy fled, I sank back into the pillows. “Make yourself worthy of them, even if they never know, James Malcolm.”
I closed my eyes and seconds later, I felt lips brush my forehead.
“Have a good death, Violet Beauregard,” he said, his voice raspy with emotion. “Your sister will miss you more than you know.”
“She’ll miss us both,” I murmured.
“Yes,” he said, so softly I could barely hear him. “She will.”
Then he slipped out of the room.Return to Bonus Reads