Authors: Miranda Bliss
"There's going to be a police officer here in a couple minutes," he said. "Just routine. They always send out a patrol car when something like this happens. Actually, they should have been here by now--there must have been some delay. If you could just stick around and give the officer your names and addresses . . ." He looked at Eve when he said it, and I thought he was going to ask for her phone number, too, except one of his buddies called to him, and he turned toward the ambulance.
"There's the officer now," Sean said, as he hopped in. He pointed toward the green-and-white patrol car just pulling into the lot. "Thanks for your help, ladies."
"Oh, no. Thank
!" Eve put a hand up to wave.
I slapped it down. "This isn't a speed dating event," I told her from between clenched teeth. I figured we didn't need one of Arlington's finest to find us fighting. "And why did you make up that story about how Drago told us his name as he breathed his last? Why didn't you just tell him the truth about Beyla and the argument--"
"Now, hold on." Eve straightened her shoulder, posing, no doubt, in preparation for meeting the police officer who had stopped the patrol car. "You're the one who insists that Beyla didn't have anything to do with Drago's death. So why mention it? Besides, it made for a better story, don't you think? The dying guy breathing his last words to the women who came to his aid."
"Woman," I reminded her, preparing to launch into a speech about the consequences of lying to a paramedic. But then I realized Eve wasn't listening. Which wouldn't have worried me so much if I hadn't caught a glimpse of the expression on her face.
Eve's gaze was fastened to the patrol car that had just pulled into the lot. The door swung open. Eve's jaw dropped. For a moment, I couldn't tell if she was surprised or angry or--
She grabbed my arm. Tighter than she had when we first found Drago.
More bruises. Just what I didn't need.
I glanced from my friend to the officer just getting out of the car. It was a woman, and though she was wearing a standard uniform hat, I could tell she was a redhead. She also just happened to be gorgeous. The officer was a few years younger than Eve and me. She had a thin nose, high cheekbones, porcelain skin, and a body that didn't have an extra ounce of fat anywhere on it.
"Eve? What's wrong?"
Eve's muscles clenched. She raised her chin and pasted a smile on her face that reminded me of the one I'd seen her use in every beauty pageant she'd ever been in over the years.
The officer closed in on us. Eve spoke, adding a dollop of Southern accent to her voice until her words were as thick as hominy.
"Why, if it isn't Kaitlin," she said. "Officer Kaitlin Sands."
And the pieces fell into place.
I SHOULD EXPLAIN RIGHT HERE THAT EVE HAS HAD
what might be called a checkered love life. Or maybe
is a better word.
Remember Clint? And Joe? Michael? And Scott? Well, that's nothing new.
The thing is that guys love Eve, and Eve loves them back.
She also loves being engaged. She currently was what I charitably called
, but I had no doubt there would be another big announcement sometime soon. As always, it would be followed by a flurry of wedding plans that included me getting fitted for a matron of honor dress that was cut too skintight/was too clingy/showed way too much decolletage for my round figure. But I never worried.
I knew I'd never have to march down the aisle in any one of those dresses.
Because I knew the engagement would be called off. Or more specifically, that Eve would call off the engagement.
Just like she'd done five times before.
But here's the kicker . . . If my memory serves me correctly (and it always does), Eve's been engaged six times.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to do the math. Or to figure out that it was the One Who Got Away who had gotten under her skin and was still causing her to itch.
His name was Tyler Cooper, and at the time of their engagement, he was an Arlington patrol officer. Tyler was smart and cocky. He was dedicated to his career, a real up-and-comer within the department. In fact, I'd heard through the grapevine that since their break up, Tyler had been promoted to detective and was working homicide.
I'd also heard that he was newly engaged to another cop.
A woman by the name of Kaitlin Sands.
"WHAT DOES SHE HAVE THAT I DON'T HAVE?"
It was the next evening. We were back at Tres Bonne Cuisine. And Eve was still obsessing about Kaitlin Sands.
It's not that I'm not sympathetic to Eve's romantic troubles, but let's face it, there's only so much a girl can take. I made a face.
Not to worry, Eve didn't see it. I had my head inside a grocery sack. I was searching for the small (and expensive) packet of fresh chives I'd bought for tonight's three appetizer recipes: grilled goat cheese bundles, vegetables on skewers, and something Jim called "pinwheels under wraps" in the e-mail we'd all received the night before.
I grabbed the chives and looked over at Eve. "A gun?" I suggested.
"That's not funny, Annie, and you know it's not what I mean." Eve reached into her own grocery bag and pulled out a jar of dried chives, a loaf of white bread, and a pound of bacon. The wrapped-in-plastic kind, not the pricey bacon from the butcher counter like I'd bought. "There has to be a reason Tyler chose Kaitlin over me."
This time I couldn't help myself. I sighed, not caring if Eve sensed my frustration. There's a limit to everyone's patience, even a best friend's. I had been listening to her stew for the past twenty-four hours--not to mention the fact that I was still a little uncomfortable with the way Eve had conducted our question-and-answer session with Officer Sands. Eve gave her the same reduced, two-minute version of events she had given Sean the paramedic before dragging me off to the car. I realized Eve would rather eat nails than talk to Kaitlin longer than she had to, but lying to a police officer was serious trouble, even without an ex-boyfriend thrown into the mix.
"We've been through it all before," I reminded Eve. "Tyler didn't choose Kaitlin over you. He'd already broken up with you before he ever met Kaitlin."
Far be it from me to bring up the fact that Tyler had spelled out his reasons at the time of the big breakup: Eve was shallow, he said. Eve wasn't career-oriented. She wasn't the woman of his dreams because the woman of his dreams was smart, and clever enough to reason her way past more than just what color lipstick to wear with which outfit.
"Tyler has mush for brains," I said instead, and my heart went out to my best friend in spite of myself. Eve had a heart as big as Texas, and even though she sometimes exhibited an ego that was just as large, she truly cared about people. OK, so she wasn't a deep thinker. And she wasn't a career woman. So she'd had four different jobs at four different department stores in the last two years. Was it her fault that the economy was sputtering and retail establishments were cutting staff? Besides, the fact that when one employer let her go, another always picked her up proved that her personality outshone her resume.
"He doesn't know what he's missing," I said a little more forcefully, and this time, it was the absolute truth. "He'll live to regret it."
Fortunately, I didn't have to go any further--at that moment, Beyla walked in the room. Eve's eyes narrowed. She leaned in close to me and whispered, "You think she knows?"
"You mean about Drago?" I was whispering, too. I guess there's something about death that demands reverence. "What do you think?"
Eve stood back and cocked her head, studying Beyla. Tonight, just like the night before, she was dressed in black. She wore a black skirt that skimmed her ankles, a long-sleeved black top, and black open-toed shoes. Most women would have looked frumpy in the outfit. Not Beyla. Even with her hair pulled away from her face and not a speck of jewelry or any makeup that I could see, Beyla looked elegant.
But she sure didn't look upset.
Eve wrinkled her nose. "It's the ones who look like they don't know and don't care who you should always suspect."
"Suspect?" I was shocked by her use of the word, and my exclamation came out a little too loud. I slapped my hand over my mouth and looked around, afraid that someone might have heard. None of my fellow students paid me any mind, except for Beyla. When I looked her way, she was staring right back at me, those dark eyes of hers focused on mine as if she could read my mind.
I turned my back on her and lowered my voice.
"Get over it, Eve. Beyla didn't have anything to do with Drago's death. Not unless she knows some mumbo jumbo magic that can cause a guy to have a heart attack even when she's nowhere around."
"But they were fighting. Remember? And he was plenty upset. And sometimes when people get upset, their blood pressure rises and their heart races and--"
Have I mentioned that I've known Eve a long time? Long enough so that when she's thinking, plotting, and planning, I can just about see the wheels turning inside her head. I saw them turning now, and I didn't like where those wheels were headed. Not one bit.
As usual, before I could choke out a protest, Eve had already made up her mind.
"Let's go ask Beyla about Drago." She grabbed my hand and dragged me across the room.
Beyla didn't look surprised to see us. In fact, she basically ignored us. She kept unloading her groceries, carefully grouping them: the goat cheese with the collards, the wooden skewers with the veggies, the bacon with the cream cheese. How she knew what went with what, I hadn't a clue, but then again, she had mentioned that she was a good cook. Maybe that sort of thing is instinctive to someone who knows her way around a kitchen.
"Oh, Beyla . . ." Eve put a sympathetic hand on Beyla's sleeve. That got her attention. She stopped her unloading and turned to us, her expression wooden but her eyes sparking with curiosity. "We . . ." Eve looked my way. "We just had to tell you how sorry we were to hear the news."
Beyla set down the eggplant she was holding and brushed her hands together. "You are talking about what?" she asked. She looked at her little pile of groceries and frowned. This has something to do with the food I have bought?"
Eve's smile was just sympathetic enough. Not too personal, not too flip. "Not about the groceries. About Drago. We heard the news. It's very sad."
A vee appeared between Beyla's perfectly arched eyebrows. "Drago? I know no one by this name."
Eve moved a step closer and lowered her voice. Every one of her words dripped Southern charm. "I know it's hard. When someone dies, I mean. I know you're probably trying to pretend--"
Eve's hand was still on Beyla's arm; Beyla shrugged it away and stepped back. "I do not know what you are talking about."
I could see that Beyla was uncomfortable. "Eve." I tugged my friend's arm. "Beyla doesn't feel like talking about Drago right now. Maybe we'd better--"
"Who is this Drago person you ask about?" Beyla's voice was edged with irritation. "Why you insist on bothering me? I told you, I do not know this man."
Eve raised her chin. I knew we were in for trouble. "Then why were you fighting with him in the parking lot last night?" she asked.
Beyla's top lip curled. On her, it looked good, but it sure wasn't a friendly expression. Though her dark eyes sparked, her voice never wavered. "I do not hang around--that is the expression, yes?--in parking lots. I do not talk to men I do not know. And I do not know this Drago."