Just as my eyes were rereading the lipstick-written message on the mirror I heard a crash and felt arms around me.
So I did what any normal girl would do. I slammed my foot onto his toes and jabbed my elbow back-into a very soft spot that made him yell.
“Jagger!” I swung around to see him double over in pain.
Oh, boy. Guess he wasn’t in any mood or condition to congratulate me on my quick self-defense reflexes-which I’d learned from him.
He looked up at me with his forehead wrinkled and his lips pursed. “Put on some clothes.”
Put on some clothes? That was all he could say after I’d been scared to death by a ghostly open window, a lipstick threat, and the door to my room being busted open? As a matter of fact, it did feel cool. In my current brush with fear I’d forgotten that I had been getting ready for bed. I looked down. Oops. I went to yank a towel from the rack, which pulled out of the wall and clattered to the floor, taking said towel with it. When I bent to grab it, I looked up.
Jagger was still staring.
Since I couldn’t get the towel fast enough, I decided to follow my earlier advice and act nonchalant. Act as if nothing had happened. Hell, I’d have on less in a bathing suit. However, I would not be standing in a hotel room (very close quarters with a bed in it) with Jagger ogling me in a bathing suit. I’d be in the wide-open spaces of a public beach where male ogling wouldn’t be so personal.
I did manage to walk into the other room and say, “Stay there until I change.”
“How the hell…can I move…after your…attack?”
Good point. I hurried to throw my jeans and top back on. I didn’t worry about the outside shirt since I probably should be running down to the kitchen to get a bag of ice for Jagger.
Without my shoes on, I went back into the bathroom. “I’ll go get you some ice.”
He glared at me, freezing me on the spot.
“Okay…no…ice. Geez.” Well, obviously I had no idea how a guy felt or at least how Jagger felt and he surely wouldn’t listen to my medical/ nursing voice of reason. “Here. Let me help you to the bed.”
When I went to take his arm, he didn’t pull away but merely sat there. I couldn’t have budged him if I’d wanted to. “Okay. Stay there.” I went to the sink and poured a glass of cold water then turned to hand it to him. “Here.”
He shook his head and winced. This time I know he winced because I at least could read anyone’s body language when it came to pain. Lord how I prayed Jagger was not really injured. Really prayed hard.
For no permanent damage.
“What the hell is a glass of water going to do, Sherlock? Get me some scotch or tequila. That is what I need, not freaking water.”
I set the glass down on the sink. “Sorry. I’m fresh out.”
“Go ask Arlene.”
He pushed himself up to stand, and when I reached out to help, he raised his hands in the air. “Stay away. Go.”
“Well. I was only trying to help,” I mumbled on my way out, but when I looked over my shoulder, I saw Jagger ease himself very slowly onto my bed.
I leaned against the door frame and sighed.
The kitchen was dark and empty, but no surprise. It was late and I knew Arlene lived in the carriage house behind the lodge. When I walked to the back door, I thought I heard someone behind me. “Arlene?” Had to practice on speaking more assuredly with possible “Sam sightings.” “Arlene, is that you?”
A shadow appeared at the door.
My hands flew to my face. I was getting very used to living in this B movie and gasping every other scene. Geez.
“Not Arlene, little lady. It’s me. Mr. Cooper. Just arrived this afternoon and got lost. Looking for the stairway to my room.”
I slung myself against the door frame and pointed. “Behind you, through the dining room and off to the left.”
“Thanks, little lady.”
I smiled although Mr. Cooper probably couldn’t see well enough in the dim lighting to discern that I was not a little lady. Pretty soon I was going to have a s'eance and summon damn Samuel to confront him-and tell him to leave me the hell alone.
The screen door slammed behind me, hitting me in the butt.
“Give it your best shot, buddy. I’m ready for you now.”
All the way to Arlene’s door I kept looking to the sides, behind me, and behind me again. No footsteps sounded on the gravel drive, so I figured I was alone. Still, I walked carefully, since my feet hurt, and headed onto the grass, where I was able to bite back a scream after a darn cat had darted out in front of me. “Shoo,” I whispered, looking around for its owner.
I was all alone.
I shuddered and hurried to Arlene’s front door, grabbing the knocker and slamming it so hard the entire town of Newport probably heard it.
The door swung open. A gigantic Airedale lunged at me, pinning me against the ivy-clad arbor and started licking my face. Eeeeeeyew!
Arlene grabbed at his collar. “Get down, Delilah!”
Make that her collar. “You heard your mom, girl. Down.” I wiped my hand across my cheek. “Hey, Arlene. Jagger…well, he wants…er…needs a glass of liquor. Your choice. He’s in no shape to be picky.”
She looked at me a second, mumbled an “Excuse me” and left. Within seconds she was back with a very expensive looking bottle half full of scotch. When she held it out to me, she smiled.
Hm. She didn’t look the least bit curious as to why he’d need the liquor nor did she ask.
Interesting and so very mysteriously Jagger-like.
“Thanks. I’ll bring the rest back.”
She shook her head. “No you won’t.”
All the way back to my room I wondered if Arlene meant that I would drink some of it too-or she knew Jagger would finish every last drop.
Just how well did she know Jagger?
Once Jagger had finished his last sip of Arlene’s scotch, and wasn’t moaning any longer when he moved, I stood up from the chair near the bed and said, “Can I help you to your room now?”
He raised an eyebrow and for a few seconds only stared.
“Okay. So you don’t need my help. Fine. Go ahead and get up yourself. You know, Jagger, I feel horrible about hurting your…well I’d feel horrible no matter where I hurt you, but it wasn’t on purpose.” I had to concentrate very hard not to let my voice get shaky, and if any traitorous tears started to form in my eyes I was all set to refuse them to materialize.
“I would think you’d be proud of me for taking care of myself, remembering what you taught me, and, well, having great reflexes.”
I wrinkled my forehead. “Excuse me?”
“I said beautiful.” He remained motionless on my bed.
Gulp. “Are you saying I’m pretty or something?” I sat back down in the chair, preparing myself for the answer. Odd that he was talking about that at a time like this though.
Jagger lifted himself up on his elbows, looked directly into my eyes and said, “Beautiful that you think I should be proud of all your accomplishments when you’ve accosted me like this. Just beautiful.” He groaned and eased himself down. “Sure you are beautiful, Sherlock. A real looker. Okay? Happy?”
The stinging in my eyes was getting way too difficult to contain. So I pulled my shoulders straight-as if that would help-refused to let myself cry and said, “Sure I’m happy with the compliment. Would be happier if it were real. Now I’d like to get some sleep. So if you wouldn’t mind returning to your room-”
He reached into his pocket, pulled out a key and flung it at me. “I’m not budging.”
I caught the key, thank goodness, and looked down at it. There usually was no sense in arguing with Jagger. He always won. So I decided to save face and go sleep in his room.
All his stuff would be in his room! And if some identity clue happened to fall out of his suitcase…
“Good night. Sorry, and I do hope you feel better.” I grabbed my robe, threw it over my arm and opened the door.
Before I could shut it, I heard, “And I know exactly just where all my stuff is, Pauline.”
When I opened the door to Jagger’s room, I stood in the threshold for a few seconds. The place was bigger, more gorgeous and opulent than mine. Not Jagger-like in the least. But what had me pause so long was that everything in the place was so neat and in order.
Not Jagger-like at all.
Least not what I would have expected after seeing the inside of his SUV. Another thing that held me there a few seconds too long was the scent-the Jagger-scent that wafted across the room.
I’d either never sleep tonight or I’d have the best damn dream of my life.
Telling myself that I was foolish, and still miffed that he would think I might go through his stuff (okay, miffed that he knew I would), I forced my feet to move toward the bed.
I hoped Arlene or someone had changed the sheets because if Jagger pheromones were still on them-I was a goner.
When I pulled the brown and gold brocaded duvet over, the sheets were tucked housekeeper fashion under the mattress. Good. He hadn’t used it since it was changed.
I scurried under the sheets, leaving one side tucked in and feeling as if I were in some kind of linen envelope, but there was no way I was getting up from there no matter how uncomfortable.
Too tempting to snoop.
And I’d never give Jagger the satisfaction of knowing he was right!
When the sunlight warmed my face, I slowly opened my eyes and sat upright. Where the hell?
Oh, yeah. Well, I had to get out of there before, in my sleepy state, I forgot his order not to snoop. No matter how tempting-and believe me it was-I had to keep Jagger’s trust.
That was a gimme.
I could never work with him, or do anything else with him-I cleared my throat-if we didn’t trust each other.
And, admittedly, I wasn’t that good of an investigator to pull one over on Jagger and cover my tracks of rummaging around his room.
Not sure anyone was that good.
So I got up, pulled my robe over my camisole top despite the fact that I still had on my jeans, and went to the door. With one quick look over my shoulder I burned the scene of his room into my mind in case I needed to have some fantasy later on.
I slowly opened the door to my room, realizing I’d never locked it last night, but not worried since I was sure Jagger could take care of himself. This time the urge to gasp was replaced with widened eyes.
The bed was not only empty, it was all made up.
After I’d showered, dressed in my scrubs, and ate breakfast (where I grilled the young housekeeper, Tina, about if she’d seen Jagger-to no avail), I headed out to Highcliff Manor, but not before wondering (maybe wishfully) if Jagger had sneaked into his room and watched me sleeping.
The thought that Olivia Wheaton-Chandler owned it struck me as I turned down the driveway. What the heck was that about and why would it matter?
And, more importantly, did Jagger know something I didn’t?
And how the heck did he know about her anyway?
I figured he’d never tell me about the last part as I opened the door to the front room, to hear shouting.
Ian was standing behind the desk, yelling at some woman who stood with her back to me. How unlike him, I thought as I tried to walk by unnoticed-yet eavesdropping. His face was the color of his crimson shirt.
“The files are in order, ma’am,” he said so loudly I didn’t even have to strain my ears to hear.
“Print me copies and delete that file, Ian Michael James. Or else.” She swung around and glared at me. “Get to work!”
I started to oblige when words came out of my mouth that even surprised me. “Excuse me? Excuse me?”
“Look, Nurse, I’m not in the best of moods and if you want to keep your job here at Highcliff, get to work.” She started to turn toward the door.
I looked at Ian, who was giving me a “Shut up, Pauline, if you know what’s good for you” look. Who was that woman? Some patient? Some doctor? Some bitch?
I decided to go with the last choice as I said, “I am not an employee of Highcliff Manor. I’m doing private duty, Ms.-”
Ian stepped forward. To this day I don’t know if he was trying to be helpful or just shut me up so the bitch would leave. “Pauline Sokol, this is Mrs. Olivia Wheaton-”
“Chandler,” I mumbled, trying to shrink down to the size of an oyster.
Mrs. Wheaton-Chandler, a woman whom I’m sure never apologized, gave me another look with gray eyes of steel. “Then go tend to your patient, Nurse Sokol.”
She pronounced it like “So-called” so I said, “Sokol,” turned and walked onto the elevator-which I’m certain Saint Theresa had sent for me to save myself since I hadn’t even pressed the up button yet.
Once in Goldie’s room, I collapsed onto his bed next to him, because he hadn’t gotten up yet, and told him about last night, Jagger, Ian, the bitch, and what was wrong with the current president of the United States.
Darling Goldie held me, cooed in my ear, and told me not to worry. He said all the right lies to make me feel better.
If my mother wasn’t around for comforting, Goldie was always my first choice.
Finally he got up when his breakfast was brought to the door. I snuck a croissant and half a glass of tea while he went to brush his teeth. “Hey, Gold. Any questions about your surgery?”
“Stop trying to justify your job, Suga. Get going on your case. Now you have more to investigate. The bitch, that is. And why would Ian have the balls to yell at the owner of this place? Interesting.”
It sure was. I knew Ian was the height of manners, and I hadn’t ever heard him be so rude-well, except maybe to me, but there were extenuating Goldie circumstances there.
Goldie and I chatted awhile until lunchtime. He told me all about his plans with Miles that weekend. Miles was arriving on Friday, tomorrow, and had to leave early Sunday since Goldie needed his rest for Monday’s surgery.
“You two will have a blast here,” I said. “Make sure you take him on one of the mansion tours.” I licked the strawberry jam off my finger.
Goldie reached into the top drawer of the bedside table and pulled out two tickets. “For the works.”
We laughed and watched the local news on television before Goldie said he had a spa appointment in a half hour and wanted to shower first. He got up and pushed the tray table with his dishes toward the door. “You gonna wait around here?”
I finished my tea and shook my head. “No. I need a long walk to clear my head. Think I’ll head in the other direction on Cliff Walk. The ocean’s magic should work wonders for me.”
“I hear you.” He leaned over, kissed me on the cheek and went to gather up his clothes.
I got up and pushed the door open, then walked out, looking all ways in case the bitch was lurking in some dark corner. Laughing to myself, I passed by the reception desk ready to ask Ian what that was all about.
I looked at my watch. It was lunchtime even though Gold had slept in and had such a late breakfast. I chuckled out loud and ignored the odd looks given me by two patients, bandaged to the hilt on their faces from laser surgery, as they walked by. I could still tell the look they gave me was odd even though I only saw their eyes.
“Ladies,” I said and nodded as I walked out the door.
On the way to the side street entrance to Cliff Walk, I decided a walk really was what the nurse ordered. The day was so sunny that I almost wished for a few fluffy clouds to float by and give me a bit of a breather from the sun.
Thank goodness gigantic old trees surrounded many of the mansions there, oaks maybe that kept the streets bathed in shade. At the end of the sidewalk I turned left onto Cliff Walk. It was the part that wasn’t paved, as the first section was, but I felt a bit adventurous today.
Anything to take my mind off things and to clear it.
After a few minutes, and my maneuvering over a rocky section, I noticed a couple walking ahead of me. Good. Made me not allow any stupid fear to materialize about being followed by someone who would attack me. Obviously they were honeymooners by the way he held her and how they stopped to take a picture.
“Want me to take one of both of you?” I asked when I got closer.
“Sure,” the groom said. Both stood with the ocean to their backs, making a beautiful scene that they’d cherish for years while the sun sparkled on their new gold wedding bands.
“Just back up a bit more so you’re not in the shadow of that bush, but be careful,” I said, looking through the camera at what the shot would look like.
I clicked and walked forward to hand them the camera.
“Thanks,” the girl said as she reached out.
I thought she had the camera, so I let it go. With horror, we all watched it drop to the ground and bounce like a child’s ball over the edge.
“Oh…my!” I shouted and hurried closer.
The three of us leaned over-and collectively screamed.
Camera aside, lying on the jagged rocks below-with waves washing over it as the rocks held it captive-was a man’s body.