His daddy was dead. Miss Delia had told him.
His daddy was dead. There would be no more snapping belts or merciless fists. No more shouts to a fever-eyed God to punish the sinners for their transgressions, their laziness, their filthy thoughts.
Miss Delia had sat him down in the bright kitchen and told him, and there had been kindness in her eyes.
He was afraid, so afraid that there would be no end for him but hell. The fiery, screaming black pool of hell his father had often gleefully described. How could he expect forgiveness or a place at the Lord's table when he harbored such an evil secret in his soul? The secret whispered through his brain with the devil's rusty chuckle.
His daddy was dead. And he was glad.
When his tears had come, the tears Miss Delia patiently waited out then wiped away, they weren't tears of sorrow or grief. They were tears of relief. A river of joy and gratitude and hope.
And it was that, Cy thought as he watered the kitchen garden, that which would consign him to hell for all eternity.
He had been responsible for the death of his father. And he wasn't sorry.
Miss Delia had told him he could stay at Sweetwater just as long as he wanted-Mr. Tucker had said so. He didn't have to go home, he didn't have to go back to that house of fear and hopelessness. He didn't have to face Vernon, see his father in his brother's eyes, feel his father's wrath in his brother's fists.
By a single act of cowardice he had wiped out four years of waiting.
His father was dead, and he was free.
Cy hunkered down, the hose soaking grass until it gurgled in a puddle. Rubbing his knuckles in to his eyes, he wept in joy for his life, and in terror for his soul.
The sound of his name had the boy jerking to his feet. It was only quick reflexes that had Burns nipping out of range of the garden hose. They stood facing each other a moment, the water squirting between them, a young boy with a puffy face and frightened eyes and a man who wanted to prove that Cy's father had carved up women in his spare time.
Burns tried his most ingratiating smile, which put Cy immediately on edge.
"I'd like to talk with you for a few minutes."
"I've got to water these plants."
Burns glanced at the soaked greens. "You seem to have done that already."
"I've got other work."
Burns reached down to turn off the water himself. Authority was something he wore as habitually as his tie. "This won't take long. Perhaps we could go inside." Out of the blistering heat.
"No, sir, I can't track all over Miss Delia's clean floor."
Burns glanced down. Any trace of white on Cy's sneakers had been obliterated with grass and dirt stains. "No, I suppose not. The terrace then, around the side." Before Cy could protest, Burns took him by the arm and led him around the flower beds. "You enjoy working at Sweetwater?"
"Yes sir. I wouldn't want to lose my job 'cause I got caught sitting around talking."
Burns stepped onto the slate terrace and gestured toward one of the padded chairs under a striped umbrella. "Is Mr. Longstreet that hard a taskmaster?"
"Oh, no, sir." Reluctantly, Cy sat. "He never has enough for me to do, to my way of thinking. And he's always telling me to slow it down and take it easy, real considerate like. Sometimes if he's around late in the afternoon at quitting time, he brings me out a Coca Cola himself."
"A liberal employer." Burns took out his pad and recorder. "Then I'm sure he wouldn't mind you taking a short break to answer some questions."
"You can ask him yourself," Tucker suggested. He strolled out of the kitchen door with a chilled bottle of Coke. "Here you go, Cy." He set the bottle down in front of the boy. "Wet your whistle."
"Mr. Burns-he said how I had to come on out here and talk," Cy began. His eyes were as panicked as a rabbit's caught in the white stream of headlights.
"That's all right." Tucker touched a hand to his shoulder briefly before scraping back a chair for himself. "Nobody expected you to work today, Cy."
With his lips pressed tight together, Cy stared down at the white table. "I didn't know what else to do."
"Well, for the next few days you do what suits you." Tucker pulled out his cigarettes. He figured he was down to a half pack a day by his current method and ruthlessly tore off half the tobacco. "Now, Agent Burns here's having himself a busy morning." His eyes stayed on Burns's over the flare of his match. There was a warning there, as clear as the message Hatinger had written in blood. "So, why don't you tell him what you can. Then maybe you'd like to drop a line with me for an hour or two."
Burns curled his lip at the idea of taking the boy fishing the day after his father had been killed. "I'll let you know when we're finished, if you'd like to go tie some flies."
Tucker helped himself to a swig of Cy's Coke. "No.
As I figure it, since the boy's working here and staying here for the time being, I'm a kind of guardian. I'll stay, unless Cy wants me to go."
Cy lifted those panic-dazed eyes to Tucker's. "I'd be obliged if you'd stay, Mr. Tucker. I might get something wrong."
"All you have to do is tell the truth. Isn't that right, Agent Burns?"
"That's exactly right. Now-" he broke off as Josie walked out wearing a paper-thin pink robe.
"Well now, it's not often a woman strolls out of her kitchen and finds three men waiting for her." She moved closer to ruffle Cy's hair, but her eyes were all for Burns. "Special Agent, I was beginning to think you'd taken a dislike to me. Why, you haven't been around to talk but one time." She eased a hip onto the arm of Tucker's chair. When she reached over to pluck up one of Tucker's cigarettes, she afforded Burns the best view in the house. "I was about to make something up just so you could investigate me."
He was stuffy, but he wasn't dead. Burns found his throat clogged and his tie too tight. "I'm afraid I have little time for socializing while on a case, Miss Longstreet."
"Now, that surely is a shame." Her voice was as rich and heady as the scent of magnolias. With a flutter of her lashes, she handed Burns the pack of matches, then steadied his hand with her own when he touched the flame to the tip. "And here I've been pining away, hoping you'd find time to tell me all about your adventures. I bet you've had scads of them."
"Actually, I've had a few interesting moments."
"I'm going to have to hear all about them or I'll just explode from curiosity." She trailed a finger down her throat to where her robe met loosely over her breasts. If his eyes had been tied by a string to her hand, Burns couldn't have followed the movement more closely. "Teddy told me you were the very best."
He managed to swallow. "Teddy?"
"Dr. Rubenstein." She sent him a sultry look under heavy lashes. "He was telling me you were the absolute expert on serial killings. I just love talking to brainy men with dangerous jobs."
"Josie." Tucker sent her an arch look. "Weren't you going to get your nails done or something this morning?"
"Why, yes, honey, I was." She shifted to hold out her hands. Her robe crept up another inch. "I don't think a woman can be really attractive if she lets her hands go." She rose then, satisfied that she'd broken Burns's concentration. "Maybe I'll see you in town later, Special Agent. I'm fond of stopping for a cold drink at the Chat 'N Chew after my manicure."
She left him with the distracting image of her hips swaying beneath that thin pink robe.
Tucker tossed his cigarette into a brass bucket filled with sand. "You going to turn that recorder on?"
Burns gave him a blank look, then shot to attention. "I'll be asking Cy questions," he began, but his gaze drifted to the kitchen door. "I have no objection to you being present, but I'll tolerate no prompting."
Tucker gestured with his open hands and sat back.
Burns switched on the recorder, entered the appropriate data, then turned to Cy with a solemn smile. "I know this is a difficult time for you, Cy, and I'm sorry for your recent loss."
Cy started to thank him, then realized he wasn't talking about Edda Lou, but his father. He took refuge in staring at the table again.
"I realize you spoke with Sheriff Truesdale last night, and your information was very helpful. We'll have to talk about that again, but I think we'll start with a few other things. Did your father ever mention Miss Caroline Waverly to you?"
"He didn't hardly know her."
"So he never spoke of her to you, or in your hearing?"
Cy darted a look at Tucker. "He mighta said something on one of the days I brought him breakfast. Some days he said lots of things, like when his mood came on him."
"Mood?" Burns prompted.
"Those hard moods he had, when he said God was talking to him."
"And did he have these moods regularly?"
"Pretty much." Cy chugged down Coke to ease his dry throat. "A.J. used to say that he just liked to beat up on people and used God as an excuse."
"He was often violent with you and other members of your family?"
"He..." Cy remembered Tucker's phrase. "He had a heavy hand." That didn't sound so bad somehow. It was almost like saying he had a head cold. "He didn't tolerate no sass. The Bible says how you're to honor your father."
Tucker said nothing, but he noted that Cy hadn't said father and mother. He didn't imagine Austin had drilled that part of the scripture into his son's brain.
"And he used this heavy hand when he had his moods."
Cy shrugged his thin shoulders. "He used his hands most all the time. It was just worse during the moods."
"I see." Even Burns wasn't unaffected by the casual way the boy described brutality. "And when you were bringing him food and supplies in the culvert, he had these moods."
"I had to do it." Cy's knuckles whitened on the glass bottle. "He'd've killed me if I'd gone against him. I had to do it."
"Agent Burns isn't blaming you, Cy." Again Tucker laid a hand, that soothing, comforting hand on his shoulder. "Nobody is. You didn't do anything wrong."
"No, I'm not blaming you." Burns's voice roughened, and he coughed to clear it. The stark fear on the boy's face appalled him. "No one would. I only want you to tell me if your father spoke of Miss Waverly."
"He said some things." Cy blinked his eyes fast to close off tears. "He said how she was full of sin. How all women were. Like Lot's wife. She got turned into a pillar of salt."
"Yes." Burns folded his hands. "I know. Did he tell you why Miss Waverly was full of sin?"
"He said how..." He shot Tucker a miserable look. "Do I have to say?"
"It'd be best," Tucker told him. "You take your time."
Cy took it by gulping down Coke, wiping his hand across his mouth, squirming in his chair. "He said how she was spreading her legs for Mr. Tucker." His face went beet-red. "And how she was no better'n a whore for it. It was time to cast the first stone. I'm sorry, Mr. Tucker."
"It's not your fault, Cy."
"I didn't know he meant he was going to hurt her. I swear I didn't. He said stuff all the time. It got so you didn't pay much mind to it, as long as he wasn't hitting you. I didn't know he was going after her, Mr. Burns. I swear I didn't."
"No, I'm sure you didn't. Your father hit your mother, didn't he?"
The frantic color in Cy's cheeks ebbed away. "We couldn't do nothing about it. She wouldn't do nothing. She wouldn't let the sheriff help, 'cause a woman's supposed to cleave to her husband. The sheriff'd come by sometimes and she'd just tell him how she'd fallen off the porch or something." His head dropped. Shame weighed almost as heavy as fear. "Ruthanne says how she likes it. She likes getting beat on. But that don't seem right."
Burns decided there was no use trying to explain the psychology and the cycle of abuse. That was a job for social workers and shrinks. "No, it doesn't. Did he hit Ruthanne, too?"
He smirked, the way brothers do over their sisters. "She's pretty good at getting out of the way."
"How about Vernon?"
"They'd whip up on each other sometimes." Cy made a quick, dismissive move of the shoulders. "Mostly they hung together. Vernon was Daddy's favorite. He took the most after Daddy. Inside and out, my ma said. They were alike inside and out."
"How about Edda Lou? Did your father hit her?"
"She was always butting him, daring him, like. She hit back at him. Once she split his head with a bottle when he used the belt on her. That's when she moved out. She moved into town and never came around the house anymore."
"Did he say things about Edda Lou, too? The way he did about Miss Waverly?"
A wasp circled down to investigate Cy's Coke and was batted away. "We weren't supposed to say her name. Sometimes he got worked up and said how she was a whore of Babylon. Vernon would try to get Daddy riled up about her. He wanted to go fetch her from town and bring her home so they could punish her. Vernon would say how it was their duty as her family and as Christians, but I don't think he believed in that like Daddy did. Vernon just likes to hit people." He said it simply, as if he'd just commented that Vernon liked ice cream sundaes. "Then Daddy found out she was seeing Mr. Tucker and he said how she'd be better off dead. And he beat Ma."
Tucker pressed his fingers against his eyes and wondered if the guilt would ever pass.
"Cy, do you remember when your father and Mr. Longstreet argued?"
Tucker dropped his hands. He nearly laughed. The euphemistic "argument" still showed in fading bruises on his ribs.
"I guess I do. Daddy came home with his face all busted up."
"And what about two nights before that." The night Edda Lou was murdered. "Do you recall if he had one of his moods?"
It was the first question Cy had to think about. His eyes lost some of their glassy fear as he considered.
Absently, he took another swipe at the persistent wasp.
"I can't recollect for sure. When he got wind that Edda Lou was supposed to be pregnant, he was real fired up.
But I don't know which night that was."
Burns prodded for a few minutes, trying to jog the boy's memory without tipping him off to the reason. In the end, he backed off. He still had Ruthanne and Mavis Hatinger. Their memories might be keener.
"All right, Cy, just a few more questions. The knife you took to your father. Did he often carry it?"
"Only when he was going hunting and such. A buck's too big to carry as a rule."
"Could you estimate how many times he might have carried it in, say, the last six or seven months?"
"Four or five times. Maybe more. He was partial to squirrel meat."
"Did he ever threaten you or any member of your family with the knife? Did he ever boast about punishing someone with it?"
"He was going to gut Mr. Tucker." Cy covered his face with his hands, muffling his voice. "He said how I had to bring Mr. Tucker back down to the culvert, and he told me he was going to gut him like a rabbit. He was going to carve off his privates. 'Cause it was divine justice. He was going to cut him up like Edda Lou. And if I went against him, if I didn't honor my father, then he'd cut out my eyes because the eye offended him. And the Lord says you're supposed to. Please, Mr. Tucker." He didn't weep, but kept his hands over his face like a kid in a horror movie trying to block out the monster. "Please, I don't want to think about it no more."
"It's all right, Cy." Tucker rose to stand behind him. "Leave him be, Burns."
Burns turned off the recorder, put that and his pad in his pocket. "I'm not heartless, Longstreet." As he pushed back from the table he looked from the trembling boy to the man who stood as his protector. "And I'm very aware that there are more victims here than are buried in your cemetery." He wished fleetingly that he was capable of offering compassion as easily as Tucker, with the touch of a hand. Instead, he nodded at the boy, and though his voice was stiff, the words were sincere. "You did everything that was right, Cy. There's nothing more any man can do. You remember that."
Tucker laid his hands on the boy's shoulders and watched Burns walk away. For the first time since he'd set eyes on the FBI agent, Tucker felt a tug of respect.
"I'm going to get us a couple of poles, Cy. We're taking the rest of the day off."
"Now, fishing," Tucker said as he balanced his pole between his knees and settled back against a cypress stump, "is the thinking man's sport."
"I never used this kind of stuff for bait before." Cy sniffed again at the foil-wrapped package in Tucker's bait box. "What's it called again?"
"Pate." Tucker grinned and pulled his cap farther down over his eyes. "Duck liver in this case." And wasn't Delia going to raise holy hell when she saw it was gone.
"Duck liver." Cy screwed up his face and looked exactly the way a fourteen-year-old boy should. "That's gross."
"An acquired taste, my man. The cats're crazy for it." Tucker smeared some on a cracker for himself, popped it into his mouth, and washed it down with lemonade.
They had settled on the far side of Sweetwater Pond, under the dappled shade of a willow Tucker's mother had planted before he'd been born.
"The cotton looks fine, Mr. Tucker."
"Hmmm." From under the shadow of his cap, Tucker looked at the fields. He spotted his overseer and several hands checking the rows for growth, for weevils. "We've got a good crop this year. The cotton runs this place." He sighed a little. "And running cotton's what spoiled this water here, so we'll have to toss back whatever fish we catch. I've been thinking about getting some of those bugs."
"Bugs, Mr. Tucker?"
"They got these bugs-scientists figured it out. They eat poison and pollution and the God-knows-what that seeps into water and ruins it."
"Poison eating bugs?" Cy gave a snort of laughter. "You're joaning on me, Mr. Tucker."
The boy's chuckle, however weak, lightened Tucker's heart. "It's the God's truth. They put those bugs into the Potomac River and they ate it clean." He looked wistfully out over the dark, deadly water of the lake. "I'll tell you, Cy, it sure would mean something to me to see this water sweet again. My mama used to talk about having a bridge built over it. You know, one of those pretty arching things like they have in Japan. We never got around to it. I'm sorry for that, 'cause she'd've liked it."
Cy didn't know about Japan or arching bridges, but he liked listening to Tucker talk. As far as Cy could tell, he could talk about just anything and make it seem fine.
They fished for a while, drowsily, with Tucker's voice soothing the air like breeze. Cy caught a fish, whooped over it, then tossed it back in.
"I always wanted to go off to places," Tucker said while Cy baited his hook with Delia's prize pate. "I had a scrapbook when I was your age, filled it with pictures out of magazines. Places like Rome and Paris and Moscow. I'm thinking it was a shame I never worked up the energy to go see them for myself." He waited a moment. "You got yourself a wish, Cy? Something you thought about doing?"
"I wish I could go to college." He turned red, waiting for the laughter. When it didn't come, he let the rest out in a flood. "I like school. I'm good at it and all. Mr. Baker, that's my history teacher, he says I got a curious brain and good study habits."
"It's kind of embarrassing when he says it in front of the class and all. But it feels good, too. He even said how maybe I could apply for a scholarship to the state university, but Daddy said I had to quit as soon as the law allowed and work on the farm. He said they taught godlessness in those colleges, and that I wasn't..." He trailed off, remembering his father was gone.
In silence, Tucker yanked a fish out of the water. He held it there a moment, watching it flop and struggle against the inevitable. A boy could feel like that as well, he thought, bringing the catch in, gently removing the hook. He tossed it back in the pond with a splash. It wasn't often that a fish, or a young boy, was given a second chance. It wasn't often that a man was given the opportunity to offer that chance.
Cy was going to college, he decided. He'd damn well see to it.
"Mr. Tucker?" Cy felt the tears rising again and hated them. They made him feel like a whining girl.
"Do you figure I killed him?"
Tucker bit back a sharp denial. He took a careful breath, then pulled out a cigarette. "How'd you come up with that?"
"I didn't do like he told me. I didn't do it, and he ran off. He probably got crazy mad at me, and he went after Miss Waverly. Now he's dead. I didn't honor my father, and now he's dead."
Tucker struck a match, as if considering. "That may be the how and why of it, and it may not. But you've got to ask yourself one question. Do you think that particular commandment means you've got to honor your father by helping him kill an unarmed man?"
"No, sir, but-"
"You saved my life yesterday, Cy." He waited until the boy's gaze lifted to his. "That's a plain fact. If you'd done what he told you to do, maybe he'd be alive, or maybe he'd have gone off after Caroline just the same. But I'd be dead. There's no way around that one, is there?"
"No, sir, I guess not."
"Austin killed himself. There's no way around that either."
Cy wanted to believe that, was desperate to. He fought to keep his voice from breaking. "I'm not sorry he's dead. I'm not sorry. Now I'm going to hell and burn through all eternity because when the sheriff told me he was dead, I was glad."
Christ, Tucker thought as he dragged on the cigarette. This was getting touchy, and when it came to the realms of heaven and hell, he would make a poor teacher. But the boy needed something more than platitudes.
"I'm not much on religion myself. That was a big disappointment to my mama. Maybe there's a hell all right. Christ knows, there's plenty of people who deserve to do time there. But when I think about it, when I sit down and think real hard about it, I can't see people getting sent to hell for feelings they can't help. How you act, how you are with other people, what you make of yourself-all that counts for more, I think."
"But sinful thoughts-"
This time Tucker laughed, and tipping back his cap grinned at Cy. "Son, if you went to hell for thoughts, heaven would be a mighty lonely place to spend eternity." He sobered and brushed at the boy's hair. "I can't say why your father did the things he did. But he was wrong. Hurting you and your ma, those things weren't right, Cy, no matter how much he quoted scripture while he was at it. There's no sin in feeling glad that's behind you."
The raw lump in Cy's gut began to shrink. "My ma, she's not going to be glad."
"You can't take on her feelings. You've got your own. There's something I want to put to you, something I want you to think about."
"I know Delia told you you could stay on here as long as you want."
Panic widened the boy's eyes. "I won't be any trouble, Mr. Tucker. I won't eat much, I promise, and I'll work hard. I can-"
"Hold on. Nobody's pushing you out." Wondering how best to phrase it, Tucker tamped out his cigarette. "I figure Vernon will take over the farm and see to your ma's needs. Ruthanne's nearly grown."
"She's saving up to leave." Cy bit his lip. "That's a secret."
"Nothing I like better than keeping a lady's secrets. Now, I'm thinking you could keep working for me, part-time, when school starts up again. Part of your pay could go to your ma to help her out. And I could add room and board."
Something swelled in his throat. He didn't even recognize it as hope. "You mean I could move in to Sweetwater? For good?"
"Until there's somewhere else you'd rather go. If it's something you want, Cy, I'll do what I can to make it happen. Your ma would have to agree to it, and there'd probably be some kind of legal work to make me a kind of guardian over you. You'd have to want it, though."
Cy only stared, afraid to hope for so much. "I'd do anything you told me. I wouldn't cause you trouble."
"We'll look into it. I guess I'd better come up with some rules so you can see what you're getting into." To give Cy time to compose himself, he heaped more pate on a cracker. If he'd done nothing else right this day, he'd taken the boy's mind off his misery. "No drinking till you're of age."
"No wild parties unless you invite me."
A chuckle escaped Cy, and the sound had him blinking. "No, sir."
"No flirting with my woman." Women, he corrected himself silently. He'd meant women. Hadn't he? But he was thinking of Caroline.
Cy's color rose again, "No, sir."
"And I won't flirt with yours." He winked at the boy and grinned. "Got yourself a girl, do you, Cy?"
"No, sir. Not exactly. I just look sometimes, is all."
"You've got plenty of time to do more than look. Any girl in particular?"
Cy wet his lips. There was no way he could lie to Tucker. It wasn't fear, he realized. Not the way it had been with his father. It was love. "I, ah, well, I kind of look at LeeAnne Hardesty. She grew breasts last year. It sure does make a difference."
Tucker choked on the pate. "By Christ, it does," he agreed. He tiptoed onto boggy ground. "You're just looking?"
"Well..." Face burning, Cy ducked his head. "Once in the lunch line she was behind me and somebody shoved her. Her breasts pushed right into my back. They sure were soft. And she put her arms around my waist a minute, just to get her balance back. And I..." He swallowed the shame. "I couldn't help it, Mr. Tucker. I just couldn't stop it no matter what."
Tucker had an image of Cy tossing LeeAnne Hardesty down on the tiles of the cafeteria and tearing in. "What was it that you couldn't stop?"
"Well, you know. It just happens sometimes, no matter how I try to stop it. It just gets... you know. The tool of Satan."
"The tool of Satan," Tucker repeated slowly. He would have laughed. In fact he was damn sure he'd have rolled on the ground and laughed fit to kill if Cy hadn't had that guilt-stricken look in his eyes.
Austin Hatinger strikes again, Tucker thought, and blew out a long breath.
"I never heard it called that." To hide the grin, Tucker spent a lot of time stroking his chin. "It seems to me since the good Lord put it between your legs, it has more to do with Him than the other one."
"Evil thoughts and wicked women make it hard."
"And thank God for it." Tucker poured more lemonade and wished it were bourbon. "Listen, son, there isn't a man alive who hasn't had his pecker stiffen up on him at an inopportune moment. It's natural." He took a slug and said a quick prayer. "You know, ah, about how babies get hatched and all that, don't you?"
"Yeah." Jim had told him all about it, and he had it from his dad. "She's got the egg and you've got the sperm. It's best if you're in love and all."
"Right." Tucker felt a wave of sweet relief. "It's better, too, if you wait till you're responsible." And wasn't he a fine one to talk? "Looking at LeeAnne and thinking about her breasts, and doing something about it, those are two different things."
"I guess I know." It was fascinating to Cy to say forbidden things right out loud and not get walloped. He edged in a little deeper. "But sometimes, especially at night... I even do all the states and capitals to keep my mind clear of it, but it don't always work. And it gets, you know. It feels like if I don't do something about it, I'll just explode." He shot Tucker a quick look. "Sometimes I do. It's evil, isn't it, to work on yourself that way?"
Tucker scratched his head. "Seems to me a man's got to take matters into his own hand- so to speak- now and again. I don't know that I'd recommend it as a habit, but when an itch just won't go away, it makes sense to scratch it."
"But don't things happen to you if you do?"
"You don't go blind or grow hair on your palms, if that's what you mean."
This time Tucker had to grin. He lifted his hands, examined the palms with care. "Positive," he said, and was gratified when Cy grinned back.
Burns's room in Innocence was small and spartan. As accommodations went, it was merely adequate. He was pleased that Nancy Koons kept it spotless, though. And since he always left a few telltales, he was satisfied that no one came in without his knowledge or went through his things. Everything pertinent to the case was locked in his briefcase unless he was actively working.
He had a twin-size bed, a chest of drawers, and a chifforobe. It had taken him three days to convince Nancy Koons to find him a desk and a sturdy chair. The ceiling fan puffed at the hot air. This inadequate system had prompted Burns to procure an electric fan from Larssons's. Since he'd been fortunate enough to be given one of the two rooms with an adjoining bath, he concluded that he had everything necessary for his stay.
He hadn't expected the bonus.
Stretched beneath him on the iron bed was Josie Longstreet. Burns was still shuddering from their second bout. For the life of him, he wasn't sure how they'd gone from sharing a lemonade at the diner to bouncing on the squeaky mattress. But he wasn't complaining.
He hadn't had that kind of wild, ripping sex since... Actually, he supposed he'd never had that kind of sex. The women he dated were cool and composed in bed and out. Five seconds after Josie had dashed up the back stairs ahead of him, she'd been pawing at his clothes.
Over his head, Josie held up her newly painted nails. Scarlet Sin this time. She found it wonderfully appropriate. Experimentally, she raked her nails down his back, watching the red enamel flow over his white skin like blood.
"Honey," she said, "you just about wore me out. I knew there was a tiger inside that suit."
"You were fabulous." Burns knew women expected compliments at such times, but words nearly failed him. "Incredible."
"I've had my eye on you, Special Agent. Something about a man with a badge turns me on fierce." She thought of Burke and frowned at the ceiling. "You think I'm sexy?"
"I think-" He lifted his head. "You're the sexiest woman alive."
That made her smile and grant him a nibbling kiss. "And pretty, too?"
"No, not pretty," he said, too busy playing with her hair to see the flash in her eyes. "Gorgeous, like some wild Gypsy."
The flash died into pleasure. "You're just saying that because I'm stark naked and your pecker's twitching."
Normally, his sensibilities would have been offended, but she was quite right about the state of his tool of Satan. "I'm saying it because it's true. You're dazzling, Josie."
"I sure like the way you talk." She sighed as he began to nuzzle her breasts. Sweat and sex made her skin sticky, though the fan was aimed directly at the bed. Still, Josie had always figured the best way to beat the heat was to lie down naked. And if you were going to lie down naked, you might as well do something about it.
"Not all men know how to say what women like to hear. You take my first husband, Franklin? After we'd been married a month or two and the bloom had worn off, so to speak, he'd finish up, grunt, then start snoring.
Lots of men are like that. They just take what they want, then pass on."
His response was muffled against her breast. She let him enjoy himself. "A woman's entitled to pretty words. Course, all women don't care about that. Some're just after the same thing some men are after. Appreciating pretty words is the difference between a tramp and a lady, I think."
"You're an incredible lady."
Her smile glowed. "And you're a real gentleman. Smart, too. I love hearing you talk about your cases." Lazily, she stroked his flanks. "But I guess you'll be going back north soon." She snuggled down to find his lips with hers. "It's an awful shame that you and I got together right before you have to leave."
"Actually, things do seem to be winding up."
"I knew it. The first time I saw you I knew you'd solve everything. I could just see how smart you were. I said to myself, now that he's here, we women'll be safe again." She danced her tongue over his. "You're a hero, Matthew."
"I'm just doing my job." He preened as she rolled over on top of him. "It's all been very standard, really."
"Catching a murderer?" She skimmed her lips over his chest. Though he was white as a fish, she thought he had a nice build. "Why, nobody had figured out anything before you came along."
"It's simply a matter of having the experience, the proper equipment."
"I just love your equipment," she purred, wrapping her fingers around him. "Tell me how you did it, Matthew. It just makes me shiver."
His breath started to catch as she guided those clever fingers over him. "First you have to understand the psychology of a serial killer. Their patterns, the stages. Statistics. Most murders are committed on impulse, and for a few standard reasons."
"Tell me." She pressed her lips to his belly. "It makes me so hot."
"Passion," he managed as a red haze coated his vision. "Greed, revenge. Those aren't the motives of the serial killer. For him it's control, power, the hunt. The kill itself isn't as important as the anticipation, the stalking."
"Yes." She licked gently along his inner thigh. She was doing some stalking of her own, and the anticipation was rising like a hot river in a summer flood. "Don't stop."
"He plans, feeds on the plan. He chooses, and he hunts. All the time he does, he may lead a perfectly normal life. Have a family, a career, friendships. But the need to kill drives him. After he destroys his victim, the need to kill begins to build again. And the desire for control, of course." His hand fisted in her hair as she took him into her mouth. "Taunting the authorities, even using them." Burns began to pant as she sucked him deep. "He may want to be caught, he may even suffer from guilt, but his hunger outweighs everything."
She slid sinuously up his body, straddling him. "So he kills again. Until you stop him."
"And you're going to stop him this time?"
"He's already been stopped."
She lifted her hands to her hair, combing it back, arching her breasts to him. "How?"
"Unless other evidence comes to the surface, I'll report this case closed with Austin Hatinger's death."
Josie shuddered as she lifted her hips and took him deep inside her. "You're a hero, Special Agent. My hero." She threw back her head and started the hard ride to paradise.