Read Always Devoted Online

Authors: Karen Rose Smith

Always Devoted (5 page)

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She glanced at Gillian, then back at him.  "
Yes
, I'm still in touch with two of the girls I hung around with in high school.  One of them was a friend from grade school.  Linc, can you tell me why you're asking me all of this?"

He leaned forward in his chair, and his gaze locked to hers unwaveringly.  "First of all, you're a savvy businesswoman or you wouldn't still be in business.  With the economic climate the way it's been, a bank wouldn't have given you a loan as young as you were unless you were a good risk.  You have a core set of customers, who obviously like you and trust what you do.  You have a neighbor who also trusts you, and you trust her.  And if you've hung onto some of your high school friends, you know how to establish bonds and know how friendship can last.  So as far as Craig Jamison goes, I do think you're a good judge of character.  You'd have to be to live the life you're in now."

He shrugged one shoulder at Gillian.

Sitting next to Emma on the sofa, Gillian patted her hand.  "Linc can be my rational side.  So can my partner, Jake, and of course my husband.  They're all experienced in ways I'm not and I trust their judgment.  Linc was just pointing out in his way how I can trust what you say."

Emma ran her hand through her hair, pushing it over her brow.  "Linc, I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to get...prickly."

"Prickly happens," he said easily, respecting the fact that Emma wasn't cowed by him like some women...that she stood up for herself even in a situation like this...
especially
in a situation like this.

"Tell me what you think Paige's most important quality is," Gillian requested.

"She's loyal," Emma answered easily.  "And she's devoted to me as I am to her.  I think she saw me as a second mom, not just a big sister, especially when Mom was sick."

Gillian nodded.  "Okay.  I might have more questions later.  But how about if you show me what you brought me?"

Reaching over the arm of the sofa, Emma grabbed a bag and pulled it to her lap.  She withdrew a royal blue flannel jacket with a hood.  "This was—" she started.

But Gillian shook her head.  "Don't tell me anything about it, not yet anyway."  Gillian took it from her, laid it in her lap and held the material between her fingers and closed her eyes.  After a few seconds, she opened them.  "Your sister had dark brown hair, instead of blond-brown like yours, right?"

"How did you know that?"

Linc placed his hand on Emma's shoulder, as if telling her to hold the questions, at least for now.

She whispered to Linc, "I didn't show her Paige's picture yet."

Gillian smiled.  "You don't have to whisper.  I might have caught a glimpse of her on the news without realizing I did, but I'm just absorbing the sense that she had dark hair and dark eyes and that she liked to run."

"She did run, any chance she got.  When she was home, she'd go to the high school track."

Gillian nodded.  "A controlled atmosphere."

"Paige—"

Again Linc capped her shoulder and he wished he didn’t have to do that, because he felt some kind of current run through him when he did.  And it had nothing to do with intuition or psychic ability.

"Paige liked controlled atmospheres.  Is that what you were going to say?" Gillian inquired.  "She wasn't a risk taker.  She liked planning and making to-do lists."

"Yes, she did," Emma said, her voice just a whisper again.

Linc knew how she felt.  Sort of a little bit in awe.  When Gillian got on the wave length of somebody, it was downright eerie.  Or fabulous.  However you wanted to look at it.

"Do you have any idea of what she was wearing the day she disappeared?"

"She always wore jeans, that kind that look like somebody took a scissors to them.  And she liked beaded T-shirts.  But I don't know specifically what she was wearing."

Gillian stopped fingering the jacket fabric.  "Can I see her picture?"

This time, as Emma drew the photograph from her purse, Linc could see that her fingers were shaking.  He so much wanted to put his arm around her, hold her hand, anything to help her feel better.

When Emma handed the photo to Gillian, she watched her expectantly.

Gillian took the photograph and studied it.  "She's a beautiful young woman."

Linc noticed that she used the present tense.  He wondered if that was for Emma's sake or if Gillian had a feeling that Paige was still alive.  He wasn't about to bring that up or ask.

"Did you bring anything else of hers?"

Quickly Emma retrieved a small envelope and shook a necklace into her hand.  It was a gold unicorn.  "My mother gave her this and she usually wore it.  I'm not sure why she left it behind that weekend, but she did."

Emma carefully laid the necklace into Gillian's palm.  Again Gillian shut her eyes and kept them closed for a little while.

Linc saw the hope on Emma's face, and he suddenly wasn't sure he'd done the right thing by bringing her here.  What if nothing came of it?  Worse yet, what if the news was bad?

But after a little while, Gillian opened her eyes and just gave a slight shake of her head.  "If it's all right with you, I'm just going to hold onto these things.  Energy's a funny thing.  There's no past, present or future with it, so I can get mixed-up messages that don't always make a lot of sense.  For the next week or so, I'm just going to think about your sister, handle her things and keep a journal of all my sensations.  If something specific pops up, I'll give you a call.  If it doesn't, in about a week, I might ask you for a photograph album or something like that.  I might want to come to your house and walk around Paige's room if that's okay with you."

"Whatever you need to do."

Gillian looked straight into Emma's eyes and said honestly, "Nothing might come of this."

"Linc told me you have a good success rate."

"Linc is a dear friend who believes in what I do.  But that doesn't mean I always succeed."

Nodding, Emma stood.  "Call me anytime.  You have my cell number and my home phone."

Gillian rose to her feet, too, and so did Linc.  He knew there was nothing more to be done today.  This process took time.

Gillian held out her hand to Emma.  "It was good to meet you.  I'll be in touch."

And then she walked them to the door.

Linc gave Gillian a hug and led Emma to the driveway.

They stood at her car while he vividly recalled the night before.  He could tell she was remembering, too, because of the golden sparks in her very brown eyes.  He'd seen those sparks last night, just before she'd closed them, just before his lips had settled on hers.

Breaking the silence, he asked, "What do you think of Gillian?"

"I like her.  She's sincere and I believe she wants to help."

"But?" he prompted.

"But I know this a long shot, whether she has a good success rate or not."  Emma's voice was resigned as if she'd convinced herself nothing might come of Gillian's gift.

"You do understand that her partner, Jake Donovan, will be on this too if she comes up with anything?  And maybe even if she doesn't.  Do you want him to go ahead and nose around?"

"I feel so guilty asking them to do this for free."

"It's what they do, Emma."

She must have heard the "you've got to believe me" tone in his voice, because she lifted her chin and said, "This is all new to me.  I don't even know these people.  Yet you want me to trust them."

"Is trust hard for you?"

She seemed surprised by his question.  "No.  Is it hard for you?"

"Yes."

Quick on her feet, she shot back, "In general or in particular?"

"Both.  So when I say I trust Gillian and Jake, just know that that trust didn't come easily.  They both earned it."

Quiet now, Emma seemed to mull that over.  Then she looked up at him again and those golden sparks were back.  He wanted to kiss her much deeper and hotter and wetter than he'd kissed her last night.

Instead, he took a step back while she used the remote to open her car door.

"You'll call me if you hear anything?" she asked.

"Gillian will contact you if she connects in any way."

Emma looked as if she wanted to say more, yet she didn't.  She slid into the driver's seat and shut her door.

Linc almost wished he'd thrown caution to the wind and kissed her again.  But he never threw caution to the wind.  Not ever.

#

The bell over the door chimed as Linc walked into
Occasional Baskets
, wishing he had good news for Emma.  Maybe one of the tips generated form the hotline that had blinked across the TV screen after last night's special would pay off.  All calls were being routed to the detective in charge of the case.  After Emma's interview last night had aired, Linc had thought about calling her.  But he hadn't.  This morning, however, he'd decided to stop by her shop this evening.

The store didn't have much floor space in the strip shopping center, but he could see right away what space it had was well utilized.  He noticed the pleasant scent of candles, not the over-powering heady sweetness that some shops had.  There were all types of baskets in various colors, here, there and everywhere, with everything from lotions and soaps to stationery, potholders and towels.  Balloons flew high above a few.

A mature redhead sat at a writing desk in one corner, a phone at her ear.  Linc could hear her taking an order.  Emma stood behind the cashier's desk speaking with a man who appeared to be in his fifties, with grey hair and wire rim glasses.

As he approached the counter he heard her say, "Thanks, Earl.  No more deliveries today.  We'll start fresh tomorrow."

Earl adjusted his glasses.  "I hope someone calls in about Paige.  You've got to believe she'll be found."

Emma and the man exchanged a few more words, then he left through the rear of the shop.  Linc guessed there was storage space beyond that door and then an outside entrance.

As soon as Emma spotted him, she came around the cashier's desk toward him.  "Is there any word?"

He had suspected she'd be on proverbial pins and needles.  She looked tired with blue smudges under her eyes.  As she settled the basket she'd been holding on the counter, he could see her hands shake.  She was at the end of her rope, whether she knew it or not.

He wasn't throwing caution to the wind today by coming here.  He was just checking up on her.  "The cops are following any tips from the hotline and there's no word from Gillian," he said right away.  "I didn't mean to scare you."

Emma put her hand to her forehead, brushing tendrils of hair away.  He wanted to brush them back himself.  He wanted to run his fingers through that hair again and feel its glossy softness.

"I've been so tempted to call Gillian," Emma confessed.  "But I didn't know if I should."

"I'm sure she wouldn't mind you phoning.  But if she had anything to tell you, believe me, she'd be calling you.  I haven't talked to her because I know the way Gillian works.  Have you had anything to eat today?"

For a few moments Emma looked as if she truly didn't remember.  Then she said, "Toast this morning."

"It's almost 5:00.  Can you leave?  We can go get dinner."

"I can leave, but...I really should get home to Becky.  I put in a lot of hours this week because we were so busy."

Linc ignored the pang of disappointment.  "Is there any chance you and your daughter like Chinese?  There's a good place not far from here and we could take it along to your place."

"We both like Chinese, but you don't have to—"

"I know I don't have to.  I want to.  Unless—"  He lowered his voice.  "If you don't want me to come to dinner, I understand."

Maybe having him at her home once was enough.  Maybe she was careful who she brought around her daughter.  That's the way it should be.  Maybe their kiss had fueled her reluctance to invite him in again.  Who was he to impose?  Except that he did want to make sure that she ate.  This way he could.

"I don't mind," she finally responded, her gaze on his.  "It's just...I'm not very good company right now."

Unable to resist touching her any longer, he took her hand in his.  "With good reason.  I don't have any expectations."

She studied his face so long and hard enough that he felt like shifting from one foot to the other.  Maybe his motives weren't completely stellar, but he also in a way felt responsible for what was happening.

As if resolving something in her own mind, she gave him a bit of a smile.  "Becky was asking me about you this week.  She wondered if you'd visit again."

"So I made an impression?"

Now Emma's smile broke free, dazzling him.  "Stop fishing for compliments.  You know you did.  You're obviously at home around kids and Becky could sense that.  She had a good time while you were there.  Let's face it, I'm not a barrel of laughs these days.  I try to hide my concern and worry, but she picks it up."

"Make me a list of your favorite Chinese entrées.  I'll call in the order and they'll be ready when we drive by."

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