WARNING: there will be spoilers if you haven’t read Little Girl Vanished.
“Good job, Skeeter. It looks like you shut Peterman down,” my attorney said as he poured whiskey into a crystal glass, then quickly downed it. Carter Hale liked the best of the best, and his whiskey was too good to be taken as a shot.
I stretched my legs on the coffee table in his office and slumped back on the dark brown leather sofa. “Until he forgets and tries again.”
Carter had said his theme was English gentleman’s club, and he said he spent enough time here to justify the expense. I wasn’t here for the décor. I was here for a post-mortem on everything that had gone down the last few days.
I considered getting a drink myself, but it was too damn early, and I’d been up for twenty-seven hours. If I drank, I’d probably fall asleep. “We don’t need to worry about Peterman. He’ll be living up in Little Rock, climbing the political ladder by then. I’ll become a distant memory.”
Carter said as he poured himself another drink. “Presuming he gets elected.”
“We both know he’ll get elected. Slimy pricks like him always do.”
That was the way of things. He had money and was amassing power. It served my best interests for him to leave. I might even donate to his campaign, despite the fact he’d tried to blackmail me into doing so weeks ago.
I’d use a few shell corporations to do it, of course.
Carter walked over to the leather chair across from the sofa and took a seat. “I suppose, in the scheme of things, it’s none of our concern.”
“Hmm.” I turned to stare at the landscape hanging on his office wall. I knew he’d paid five figures on it. He liked to invest the substantial amount of money I paid him in art.
I liked to invest in far messier things. Carter earned his money by keeping those messy things in the dark.
Carter lifted his glass as though giving me a toast. “Good job finding the girl. The detective turned out to be useful.”
“She could be trouble.”
Carter shook his head. “This was a one-time deal. Besides, rumor has it she hates it in Jackson Creek. She’ll be gone first chance she gets.”
I grunted. She wasn’t part of the Jackson Creek police force and was unlikely to join the sheriff’s department. The sheriff’s department was always sniffing in my business, and Chief Larson with the JCPD had a burr up his ass as far as I was concerned, but they’d never find anything. I was too damn careful for that.
But something told me that Harper Adams might be a problem I’d have to deal with in the future. I’d bet money I’d see her back in my bar.
He shrugged, then took another sip. “You think Harper’s actually going to stick around Jackson Creek?”
“She’s got nowhere else to go. And even if she had the opportunity to leave, she’s barely functional. She’s got to sort her shit out, and from what I’ve seen, she’s not ready to do that.”
Carter held my gaze. “Still, your bigger concern is Kylie Stuart. Or, more accurately, her cousin.”
I was too exhausted to mull over my lunch shift waitress. “Kylie’s a good kid. She’s got nothing to do with her cousin.”
“Maybe not, but I have it on good authority that the cousin’s been pumping her with questions about you.”
“Let ’em ask. She doesn’t know shit.”
“But it’s concerning that he’s asking.”
Releasing a groan, I sat upright. “You worry too much.”
“We’ve got too much at stake. You can’t afford to let Morris screw this up.”
“Ricky Morris is an idiot. And no one’s gonna suspect that Drew Sylvester, an upstanding officer of the law, had anything to do with the murder of his brother’s girlfriend. She was one of Morris’s drug runners. We need to start putting out some whispers that he was behind it.”
His brow rose. “You really wanna do that?”
I shook my head in disgust. “It won’t stick, but keeping him on his toes will be good. Unlike Chief Larson, the sheriff’s no fool. He’ll soon decide Danny Sylvester offed her, but it’d be good to put Morris in the hot seat.”
He took a sip of his whiskey, then released a breath. “You’re the boss…”
I cracked a hint of a grin. “It’s good you actually remember that from time to time.”
“How could I forget?” he scoffed. “My life would be a hell of a lot easier if you did what I asked.”
I knew he was thinking about the bust I’d set up with the Feds nearly four years ago. The one I’d blown at the last minute. He knew why, and he didn’t fault me for it, but it would have made both our lives a helluva lot easier if I’d been exonerated of all my past deeds.
He finished off his drink, then suddenly found the bottom of his glass fascinating. “Do you ever think about—”
“No.” My tone made it clear it wasn’t up for discussion.
“No.” I got out and headed for his whiskey decanter. Goddamn him. I didn’t like thinking about the bust, and I especially didn’t like thinking about why I hadn’t followed through on my end.
He opened his mouth to say something, then, smart man that he was, he closed it again.
After I gave myself a generous pour from the decanter, I walked back over to the sofa, pausing to refresh Carter’s glass. As I took a seat on the sofa, I placed the decanter on the coffee table between us, then took a generous gulp.
I didn’t like thinking about the ghosts of my past. My life in Henryetta. I’d walked away from all of it. From my businesses to my best friend, to my…
I never planned to go back when I’d walked away from everything. I sure as hell wasn’t going to think about it.
I scrubbed my face, trying to scour the memories away.
“We could leave the country,” Carter said in a hopeful tone. “I’ve got enough foreign bank accounts set up to keep us both drinking Mai Tais on a beach until we’re one hundred and fifty.”
I gave him a dry stare. “Do I look like I’ve ever had a Mai Tai?”
He rolled his eyes. “Fine, a beer.”
“A little relaxation wouldn’t kill you, you know.”
“When have you ever known me to relax?”
“Exactly my point.” He paused, then enunciated his next words. “We don’t need to be here, Skeeter.”
“We’re not leaving.”
Carter sighed and drank down the whiskey in his glass like a shot. “This day is shot to hell. As much as I’ve had to drink, I’ll be stumbling around like Harper Adams.”
While he was right, I felt inclined to cut her slack after forcing her to visit her sister’s rapist and kidnapper in prison the night before. I’d seen how the blood drained from her face when Stevens had walked into the room and how she’d reacted when he’d started talking about the perverted thoughts he’d had. Hell, I’d probably be getting drunk after that too.
“So we stay the course?” he asked, not sounding happy about it.
I caught his gaze. “You don’t have to stay.”
He rolled his eyes again. “Like I’d leave you here to fend for yourself.”
“You still don’t have to stay.”
He gave me a long hard look, then a cheesy grin spread across his face. “I can’t quit you yet, Skeeter Malcolm.”
I couldn’t stop the small laugh that burst out. Carter Hale was probably the most loyal friend I’d ever had. Thick or thin. He’d stuck by my side in bad times and even worse times. Sure, initially, he stayed because he was scared of me, but now he stayed because he didn’t want to leave me alone. And I suspected part of the reason he stayed was because he wanted to see where I’d end up—in prison or on a beach drinking a cold beer.
So why did I stay in Lone County, Arkansas?
Maybe I was still waiting to find out myself.
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