Read C's Comeuppance: A Bone Cold--Alive novel Online

Authors: Kay Layton Sisk

Tags: #contemporary romance

C's Comeuppance: A Bone Cold--Alive novel (8 page)

BOOK: C's Comeuppance: A Bone Cold--Alive novel
5.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

She dug behind the seat for the box of tissues and ripped out several. Wiping her face and blowing her nose also served to clear her head. There was some place she could go. Some place no one would find her and where she could sit and ‘get her head on straight’, as her father had told her many times before.

Jemma put the SUV in gear and headed for Norm’s.

 

***

 

The mile-long trek back to the Quik-Lee served to clear Eddie C’s head. He went through Jemma’s list of his faults and straightened each of them out in turn. Like she should judge!

Rude: Yeah, like she couldn’t be rude! Talk about a class A bitch!

Selfish: He deserved to be selfish! He’d worked hard for everything he had, and by God, it was his right and privilege!

Egomaniacal: He was good at what he did, maybe not as high-tone artsy-fartsy as T was becoming, but he could drip music too. If he didn’t showcase his ability, who would?

Belligerent: Didn’t get anywhere in this ol’ world being nice! Miss Jemma Lovelace was a case in point. Just where had she gotten?

Self-centered: Nobody else loved C like C did. The reason seemed to elude him.

Vulgar beyond description: Came with the territory. It was his image. It was Eddie C.

Common: Like she had room to talk!

Snobby: That took the cake! Snobby, his ass! He could talk to anybody any day about anything. Sign autographs, eat at that greasy spoon T married into, take a shower at that no-tell motel Lyla recommended… Snobby? She could just get off her high horse and see what all he did! Bet she wouldn’t take a shower at the Blue Dream Inn. Probably never even been invited to spend an hour there!

As he stepped over Shep, he took note that Tib’s official vehicle was nowhere to be seen. That was all he’d needed: to have the pseudo-law wonder what in hell he’d done with sweet ass-biting frigid-as-hell Jemma!

“Where’s T?” he demanded as he stood in front of the register. Lyla was sitting on the stool casually perusing a decorating magazine. There were two stacks of them beside the register and a book of wallpaper lay open on the counter.

“Well,” she scanned the front parking lot through the plate glass window, “I suppose I could ask, where’s Jemma? Have car trouble? She not have her phone with her? And, of course, you don’t leave home without yours.” She smiled sweetly and waited for his answer.

C laid the piccolo in the open pages of the wallpaper book and wiped his palms down his jeans. “Can I get a glass of water?”

“Certainly.” Her words were measured. “Where’s Jemma?”
“Where’s T?” He saluted her with the glass and turned to fill it from the tank behind the counter.

“Sam went home to get the staff paper we’ve been marking on since I have to stay here till Murph shows up at four. We thought we’d work out the problems on the counter keyboard.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Satisfied? Where’s Jemma?”

“I don’t know where she is now.” He looked around the convenience store, stared at the milk cartons in the cooler, finally turned to her, sipped the water.

“Where was she when you left her?”

“Sitting in her car about a mile from here going toward Norm’s.”

“And you left her sitting there because—”

“She threw me out.” He sat down on the end stool. “Now you happy with your ill-gotten knowledge?”

“I don’t suppose I get to know why she ditched your rear from her car.”

“No.” He leaned on his elbows, blew into his steepled hands. “When will T be back?”

“Any minute now. Was she all right when you left her?”
“She was in one piece.”

“And she was going to Norm’s?”

“How the hell should I know.”

“Perhaps if you explained why the two of you parted ways, I could figure it out.” She eased off the stool and came to stand in front of him but on the other side of the counter. “Like before I call Tib and make a little unofficial inquiry.”

“And you’d do that too, wouldn’t you?” He looked back to the coolers. “Still don’t sell beer?”

“Dry county. And there’s none at the house so don’t even ask.” Lyla reached around the corner into the back hall and got a folding chair, opened it and sat across from her brother-in-law. “It’s me or Tib. Start explaining.”

“You know, I have lived in the environment of high-powered aggressive females for most of my adult life and I have never encountered the likes of pure pushy bitchiness that I’ve found here.”

“Perhaps you’re just not meant to be here.” She pushed away from the counter and started to rise.

“Why don’t you try to get her on her cell phone before you call the law?”

“That’s a good suggestion, but I don’t think I’ll take it.” She reached for her cell phone at the register.

“Okay. I’ll tell you what you want to know, if you tell me what I need to know.”

Lyla turned back to him, her hand stayed. “Want. Need. C, are you playing word games with me?”

“That’s all he’d better be playing.” T stood in the doorway to the back entrance. He tossed the car keys in one hand and held a ream of staff paper in the other. “Jemma dump you here like a stray dog?”

“No, he walked in.”

“Oh.” T didn’t keep the amusement out of his tone. “What’d you do?”
“How come I’m the guilty party here?” C finished his water. “Priss here says she’ll call the warden if I don’t tell her what happened. I’m not even sure.”

“Edward Charles.” T took a seat beside his brother. “Start at the beginning.”

C knew when he was trapped. Looking from T to Lyla and back again, he gave as short a version of the incident as possible without revealing too much. “She called me rude and asked me to exit the vehicle. She actually stopped first so I didn’t have to roll out.”

“I think there are gaps in that story, brother-in-law.”

C rolled his eyes to the ceiling. “Would you be happier to know she called me rude, selfish, egomaniacal, belligerent, self-centered, vulgar beyond description, common and snobby?”

“So succinctly put!”

“Thank you, brother. I dare say the majority of those could fit you too.” T shot him a narrowed look. “At least once upon a time.”

T shrugged in agreement.

“But that was before he had the love of a good woman, C.” Lyla patted her midsection. “And a solid future.”

“You two could make maple syrup go sour.” C went to the refrigerator unit and pulled out a soft drink. “Put it on my tab.” He popped it open. “Are you satisfied about Jemma or do you need to know more?”

“If any dirty details emerge, your ass will be grass.”

“I can’t believe you said that, Lyla.”

“I don’t threaten, C. I promise.”

“Fair enough.” He pulled his head back and emptied half the can in one long swallow. Looking back to her, he nodded. “Your turn. Tell me about Jemma. And this time, I want the truth. I want it all.”

 

***

 

The locks on Norm’s gates were new when his marriage was, and since both had long passed the half-century mark, Jemma had difficulty getting the key to turn. Finally, blowing into the lock to clear the dust out of it worked. She pushed the gate open, got back into the SUV, drove through, got out and closed the gate behind her. She didn’t push the lock shut, just draped it through the chain links. All she needed was to be locked onto Norm’s place and have to call for help.

The road down to the house was deeply rutted and Jemma switched the SUV into four-wheel-drive. It purred like a kitten and took the road easily. Hardwood trees closed in around her.

She emerged from the trees into a clearing that opened up on a lovely view of the surrounding countryside and three small ponds. The white frame farmhouse and unpainted barn were eyesores, but given a strong dose of financial aid, could command views of spectacular sunsets and fine wetlands. She’d suggested to Norm that he donate his land to a nature conservancy, but he’d balked at the idea.

Jemma had no compunctions about entering Norm’s domain. She found the bathroom, a relic of an affair but more than serviceable for her needs and a quick face wash. She pressed the cool washcloth to her eyes and around her neck. She held it to her throat and realized how thirsty her cry had made her.

She rinsed the cloth out, hung it to dry in the utility room and helped herself to a bottle of cold water from the fridge. Everything in the house looked to be in its usual state of disregard. Locking the door behind her, she settled onto the swing on the back porch and started a rhythm with her feet.

The wind was less noticeable on this side of the house, and protected as she was from the road by the grove of trees, there were no civilized noises. There were crickets and birds, the hum of the bees as they finished their fall routine. Butterflies abounded and she watched the last of the grasshoppers finish off what green there was in the yard. Once upon a time, Norm’s wife had hung baskets of flowers from every other hook that still dotted the porch perimeter. Alternate hooks had held a special hummingbird mixture. Jemma remembered coming as a child to sit with her mother as the two older women had gossiped and snapped beans or shucked corn from the farmer’s market. Jemma had counted hummingbirds and butterflies. Norm had even let her ride the old steer once while he held onto her.

Now she found solace of a different sort. She twisted the water bottle cap and took a deep drink. Her throat felt immediate relief, just as her eyes had from the cool of the washcloth, and her soul had from the release of the tears. She slowed her swinging until she sat very still. She had to sort this out and she had to do it now.

First of all, she had to ask the right question. Why did C upset her so? Or, was it: why did it upset her that she was attracted to him? How long had it been since someone had elicited such a gut reaction from her? Had she let herself get so isolated that any man’s touch would upset her? Had she avoided men for so long that she couldn’t recognize when one was toying with her because surely, surely, that’s all it was? Why should a man who could have any woman, want
her
, except as a dalliance?

She knew she was attractive enough. Not anyone’s idea of a ten, for sure, but if she lost a little weight—or perhaps just the right clothes—she might still turn a head or two. She made her own living. She had no debts. She lived with her parents, that was a drawback. But what had started as a refuge was now almost a necessity. Or so they all thought. Maybe it wasn’t.

She gave the swing a little push and began rocking again. Still, she avoided the real question.

Why would anyone want her?

She was used goods. Jemma smiled to herself. She’d probably heard that antiquated term for the first time sitting on this very porch. It would have been whispered by her mother, probably. Someone was “used.” She was used. But nobody knew that. Nobody but her family.

They knew but they didn’t understand. How could they understand the hurt, the shame, the guilt? She’d come home and buried herself. Shut herself off from the outside world, hidden herself in a cocoon of family and work. It wasn’t long before any eligible men were re-treads: divorced, thrown out, separated. Soon the men had stopped dropping by the office or talking to her at church. Soon it was Jemma and her parents and she’d been assigned by the community to the role of spinster. She’d gotten used to it. Maybe she relished it. No one had crawled into her space and made her think otherwise until Eddie C had touched her yesterday. And she’d exploded on the inside. She’d needed to be touched.

But he was insufferable. Really insufferable. She found it insulting that he would mock her and come on to her and not mean it, take her as a weekend challenge, someone to win and bed and forget.

Been there. Done that.

She wasn’t sorry she’d ordered him out of the car. She wasn’t sorry she’d cried afterwards.

But, damn, maybe she should have enjoyed the kiss. Onions and all.

 

 

Chapter Eight

 

“T
ell you about Jemma.” Lyla muttered and blew out a deep breath. “There’s not much to tell.”

“You start with what you know and I’ll break in with questions if it gets too dull.” C sat back down and lined the can up with his empty water glass.
Damn! It had been a long day!
Now that his adrenaline rush from the Jemma-war was over, he needed a good nap. But he was afoot and at T’s mercy. Besides, Lyla was as close to telling all about a subject he wanted to know about as she’d ever been.

“I start high school. Jemma goes to college. By the time I’m a sen—no, junior—” she lowered head, closed her eyes. “I can’t remember. I know she came home before I was out of school, went to work for JT, got her real estate license, and gradually took the place over.”

“Been there, know that. Don’t you know anything else? Like church. You didn’t go to church together? You’re there now.”

“Our church didn’t exist then, okay? Bertie would take me into town to be pianist for the Methodists from the time I was twelve. They paid me so Grandfather let me go.” C saw T’s wince. “But Jemma and her folks went to the Baptist church. She switched when ours opened as a mission about ten years ago.”

“No brothers, sisters?”

“No, there’s James Thomas. He’s older. Married. Banker. One child. Came back here after Jemma did. His wife and Melinda just went into the decorator/floral business together. I plan to keep them busy.” She smiled in T’s direction.

C drummed his fingers on the stool between his legs. “No boyfriends? Never been married?”

“No and no.”


Never
any boyfriends?”

“None that made the gossip rounds since I’ve been attuned to them and that’s been a decade.”

“Why?”

“Well, why should I know, C? Maybe Jemma has enough to do without a man. Not everybody needs one or wants one. And to answer your raised eyebrow, not every woman who doesn’t need nor want a man is a lesbian. Besides, why should you care? Surely you have enough women without trying for a notch on the ol’ bedpost from here!”

T leaned back on the stool. “She probably didn’t jump on the desk and spread her legs in welcome.”

“Sam!”

“I told you you could be vulgar beyond description. I am so glad you’re proving it in the presence of your wife.” C picked up the can and finished the drink. “I don’t think I have to explain myself to you where Jemma is concerned.” He looked directly at Lyla.

BOOK: C's Comeuppance: A Bone Cold--Alive novel
5.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Conjuring Glass by Brian Knight
Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth
Resistance by Allana Kephart, Melissa Simmons
The White Mountain by Ernie Lindsey
The Slow Road by Jerry D. Young
The Price of Everything by Eduardo Porter
When I Forget You by Noel, Courtney