The Dead Room


Page 19


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"It's a deal."


Rudolfo sniffed and left them.


Leslie stared at Joe, smiling again. "You're going to get a prostitute to work here, aren't you? Do you do that often?"


"I believe in this woman," he said simply.


She touched his hand where it lay on the table. "We can try, but we can't always change the world, you know."


He felt a stirring, which he firmly banished. "Let's just say I'm doing this one for Genevieve," he told her.


She nodded, a small smile curving her lips. Her brilliant gaze met his. She did understand.


Lord, it would be easy to fall in love with this woman.


As Matt had.


Back at Hastings House, he walked her to the door. He was surprised when she walked in and left the door open, letting him follow. In the foyer, she turned to look at him. "I find it very hard to accept that what happened was an accident." She hesitated. "Matt was writing about the missing prostitutes, you know. Trying to arouse public awareness and sympathy. I'd really love to know more about the gas lines and how the explosion might have been rigged."


"Well, it's impossible to discover anything now," he said.


"Why?"


"Why?" he repeated, grimacing as he stared at her.


"Why?"


"Leslie, haven't you noticed? Everything in the house has been redone to work with electricity. There are no more gas lines."


"Oh," she said, flushing. "I hadn't noticed."


He frowned suddenly. "Leslie, don't go sharing your suspicions with everyone, all right?"


"I haven't, not exactly, but…"


"Please. Just don't."


"You're suspicious, too."


"And investigating is what I do for a living."


"But I can help."


"Oh?"


"I have…instincts, sometimes. Look, I just don't like to be laughed at, and I hate it when people call me the psychic. I'm not psychic. But I know…things, sometimes. Please, will you let me help? Even with your missing girl?"


He felt his heart pounding.


If it means spending time with you, you bet. Oh, you bet.


No, she was Matt's fiancée.


But Matt was…


Dead.


"Sure, we'll talk," he said. He extended his hand to shake hers good-night. All she needed was Matt's trusted cousin turning into a lech.


But damn, he was only flesh and blood.


Stop.


Forgive me, Matt. God help me, I'll keep my thoughts to myself.


"We'll talk," he repeated. "But if you want to help me, you have to promise you'll be careful about what you say-and what you do."


"Cross my heart," she swore with an enchanting smile.


"All right, then. Now," he said, glancing at his watch-almost eleven. "I'm getting out of here. You can still get a good night's sleep."


"Sure. Thanks. How do I reach you?"


He gave her a card. "Call me anytime."


She smiled.


"What?"


"People seem to think I'm like a hothouse flower. I get that all the time, mostly because people are worried and want to take care of me. But…well, I will call you."


"Good night, then. Lock up."


"You bet."


"Set the alarm."


"Oh, yeah. It's state-of-the-art."


He forced himself not to look back as he exited the house.


Upstairs, television on, back in her nightgown, Leslie walked to the window, almost expecting to see a man leaning against the lamppost.


But he wasn't there.


She smiled. She felt better for having met Joe, though she still couldn't believe he had startled her so badly that she had passed out. But for a minute…just for a minute…she had thought Matt was back. In the flesh.


No, Matt was only in her dreams.


Was Joe right, though? That the explosion hadn't been an accident? The idea had certainly occurred to her time and time again that Matt had been targeted.


And what about Genevieve O'Brien? Could she possibly help Joe find her?


She was excited at the thought, though also a bit chastened by the thought that the only people she'd found to date had been dead.


"Hey," she commanded herself. "Get back to reality here. You still have work to do at the dig."


And she did. She was going to find Mary's grave, then see to it that mother and child were reburied together.


With that thought uppermost in her mind, she climbed into bed to watch the news. She saw her own face on the screen and watched in morbid fascination as a reporter came on to talk about her apparent ability to find bodies, an ability, the reporter claimed, that predated the death of her fiancé and her own terrible ordeal following the explosion at Hastings House.


Luckily, nothing was said about her living there now. People were still keeping mum on that subject.


As soon as the report was over, she found a station that was showing repeats of Gilligan's Island and watched the adventures of the seven castaways until she felt herself drifting off at last.


She turned off the television, then lay awake wondering whether Matt would come to her in her dreams again.


She kept opening her eyes, looking into the shadows, willing him to appear.


Nothing.


At last she drifted to sleep.


And then he came.


Once again, she knew she was asleep, that she was dreaming. But it didn't matter, because he was there. Long and hard and lean, as vital as he had been in life. He touched her, stroked her. She felt his fingers on her naked flesh, followed by the brush of his lips, as real as his kisses had ever been.


A caress down her spine…


Liquid fire on her breasts…


Pressure, thrusting, enfolding arms…


He whispered, "I love you so much, Leslie…. Oh, God, Leslie…"


She wanted the soaring, the hunger, the yearning…the passion, the tenderness and the volatility…to go on forever.


She was filled with the sweetest ache at the sheer intimacy that raged between them, at his natural physical grace. Together they strained, rocked, writhed together. She reveled in the hardness of his body, the shudder of his desire, the sudden explosion of his climax….


And basked in his arms, eternally around her.


His breath was soft against her ear as he sighed in complete sexual satisfaction. She could still feel his body, molded to hers.


She moved in his arms, as she had done so many times before. When they'd lived together they had often kept different hours. He would come in once she was asleep, and slowly, seductively, awaken her by making love to her.


And they would sometimes whisper about their days afterward, lying replete in each other's arms, so it seemed the most natural thing in the world to talk to him now, even knowing it was only in her dreams.


"I met Joe today."


"Joe, huh? Good guy. Sad history, though."


"Oh?"


"He was madly in love with his high-school sweetheart."


"And?"


"She died. Cancer."


"I'm sorry."


"I don't think he's ever given up the ghost."


The ghost.


"He's an interesting guy," she said.


"He is. He's great. Listen to him."


He nuzzled her neck, holding her more tightly.


"I thought he was you for a minute."


"Yeah? I guess we did look alike."


Then his lips found hers, and it started all over again.


It was her turn to whisper to him. "Matt, I love you so much. And I miss you so much, need you so much…."


He drew back slightly, looking down at her. "You can't let yourself need me, Leslie."


"I always will."


"No," he whispered, and then his touch took over. "Forgive me, but I just need a little more time."


"Time?" she repeated.


He didn't reply. Not with words.


She awoke, the dream still so real in her mind, and found herself naked, her bed a rumpled disaster.


She swore softly, deeply embarrassed, even though she was alone.


She closed her eyes, shook her head, then opened her eyes and looked across the room. A soft gasp escaped her.


Matt was there.


Sitting in the wing chair by the fireplace.


"Here I am…but it's wrong. I shouldn't be here," he said.


"What?" Leslie murmured, so stunned that she could barely form the word.


"Sorry. Never mind. He's right, you know."


"What?"


"It wasn't an accident."


"Matt, talk to me, tell me what you know."


"I don't know anything. That's the problem."


She started to rise, tripped on the sheet, and by the time she untangled herself and looked toward the chair, he was gone as if he had never been.


As if their conversation had been nothing more than part of a desperate and wistful dream.


7


T here was dust everywhere; Joe wasn't at all certain that he could have ascertained anything in the gray and vile-smelling room he entered. But he was pleased to be here, doubly pleased because Leslie had called him with such excitement and insisted that he come.


The police presence around the dig was larger than ever, and the press swell had grown to monstrous proportions. But Robert Adair had cut his way through the crowd to reach him, then created a path for the two of them to reach the site and climb down into the strange gaping hole. Despite the work lights, he had been totally disoriented when he'd first entered the underground room. It wasn't exactly the smell of death that had assailed his nostrils when he'd first managed to straighten up in the subterranean room, but more like something stale, the overwhelming odor of simple decay that had been closed up for too long.


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