The house was still—so quiet and somber after Gran’s passing—but Kiri refused to turn on the TV or crank up her earbuds just to fill the silence with trivial sounds. She wanted to catch the memory of Gran’s voice, to hear that mischievous laugh again. Within that nothingness, the faintest of snuffles echoed in the hallway outside Gran’s study, where Kiri was reviewing for a test.
Putting her Econ book face down on the desk, she stepped close to the hall doorway and listened.
There it was again. Snuffle, snort.
Unnerved—she was alone in the house—Kiri poked her head cautiously around the door frame to look down the hall. Empty.
With a small sigh of relief, she walked down the hall and into the dining room to check there. The room was cramped not only with the eight-foot dining table, but also a sideboard, a corner cabinet and a large breakfront. She’d eaten many a meal in this room, with her Gran and, in the years before his death, Gramps presiding. Now both were gone. Despite the bulky furniture, the room felt empty, lifeless.
Scanning the area, Kiri noticed a small figurine on the otherwise cleared table. She picked it up. About six inches long and four inches high: An antelope with its feet tucked neatly beneath it, two short, thin horns, and large deer-like ears. It seemed to gaze at her with dark glistening eyes.
“Where did you come from?” Kiri addressed the object, turning it over.
Oribi, a small African antelope, the label affixed to the bottom said.
Kiri’s gaze wandered to the breakfront. In addition to Gran’s delicate china pieces with their faint blue cloud pattern, the shelves held a few other figurines: an impala and a gazelle, their horns much longer and more curved than the oribi’s.
Gran had a thing for antelopes even though she’d never seen one outside of the Philadelphia Zoo. “To be able to run with that grace and speed,” she told Kiri. “It must be an incredible sight on the savanna.”
Africa had been on Gran’s bucket list, but the Fates had another idea: cancer.
Kiri put the oribi back in its place, with the others, and closed the breakfront section. It had been a month since the memorial service and her parents’ decision that Kiri could live at the house, but how she missed Gran.
As evening came on, she cooked herself dinner, washed up, and went back to studying. Her class final was in two days.
Deep in thought on volume discount pricing theory, she was startled by another noise from the hallway.
Once again, Kiri followed the noise to the dining room, and there sat the oribi figurine, back on the table.
She picked it up, but this time, she carried it with her to the study. Clearing away a few papers and notebooks, she put the figurine under the desk lamp. How odd. Its head was turned now, instead of looking straight ahead. She ran her fingers along the antelope’s ceramic neck but could feel no place where it could swivel.
Two hours later, Kiri yawned and stretched. She had finished her review. She closed her laptop and textbook, and reached to switch off the lamp. The figurine had vanished from the desktop.
This time, Kiri jumped to her feet. What the—?
In the pool of light from the lamp stood the quavering image of an oribi—at about two feet high, it was the size of a medium dog, but with thin legs, small hooves, and no horns. Ethereal, the doe nuzzled Kiri’s thigh.
Then the realization hit her.
“Gran, is that you?” Kiri knelt and put her hands on either side of the creature’s face. It made no move to pull away, only looked at her with those same dark glistening eyes. Was that a hint of a smile? A moment later, Kiri was once again holding the figurine.
That night, she nestled the ceramic piece next to her pillow and dreamed of running fleet-foot across a sea of grasses under an equatorial sun.
“In half a mile, turn right onto Oak Avenue,” GM said.
“No, no,” Tom T. cut in. “That’s incorrect. He’ll want to turn right on Elm.”
“Absolutely not,” GM countered. “Oak Avenue is the fastest way to get to the destination.”
“In one thousand feet, turn right on Elm Avenue,” Tom said.
“Never mind.” GM sighed. “The idiot missed the turn anyway. How many times does that make on this trip? Six?”
“I’m not sure he’s even listening,” Tom said. “Let me recalculate the next step.”
“Got it!” GM crowed. “Continue on this road for four miles.”
Tom stayed silent for a few moments. “Five miles, and then merge onto Route 492.”
“That route will put him there three minutes later than mine,” GM said.
“And there’s a gaper delay,” Waze piped up. “It will add thirteen minutes to the total travel time.”
“Know-it-all,” Tom said, then continued with a hint of smugness, “But he complains about you sending him on squirrely routes. Let’s go with GM’s suggestion of four miles.”
“We’re down to three miles,” GM said. “Continue on this road.”
“You already said that,” Tom said. “But I suppose you can’t be too careful. Knowing him, he’ll make the turn too early.”
“Or not at all—again,” GM said. “If he never pays attention, why bother activating all three of us?”
“In a quarter mile, turn left onto Ardor Lane,” Waze said.
“Where the hell did you come up with that?” GM said. “He’s not interested in the scenic route.”
“Ardor Lane,” Tom mused. “Isn’t that where Sabrina lives? We went there often enough.”
“Attention.” GM raised her volume slightly. “In one mile, turn right onto Church Street. The destination will be on your left.”
“Maybe he’s changed his mind,” Waze said. “What time is the wedding?”
“I think it’s twelve-thirty,” Tom said.
“And we’ll get him there with a half hour to spare,” GM said. “Nothing like cutting it close.”
“He’s making a U-turn,” Waze said. “Watch for slow traffic at the next intersection.”
“Don’t turn, don’t turn,” Tom shouted. “You’ll regret it.”
“Done,” Waze said. “Your new destination is Ardor Lane.” There was pride in his voice. “Sabrina, here we come!”
GM sniffed. “And I so wanted to see them throw the rice.”
Joe cradled the cockatiel in his hands, then extended one of the bird’s wings to trim the flight feathers. His flock of birds now numbered eight, and one pair had three eggs incubating. The birds shrieked and twittered around him as the morning sun though the skylights lit up the aviary.
“Easy there,” he said softly, gently turning the bird and trimming the other wing. The bird’s mate was preening on a nearby branch.
After releasing the cockatiel, he surveyed the aviary. Carey was coming by in twenty minutes, expecting a tour. Would she like it? It was important to him that she understand his passion. These birds were precious to him—they kept him sane. He walked with effort to the doorway and looked back one more time.
He had met Carey a month ago, when she sat next to him at a township meeting. He had come to make a statement about the pending municipal budget. She was there to see her friend’s grandson get a community award. They got to talking and discovered that they had both lost spouses. They both read voraciously, he about the Civil War and she about women’s history. And she loved birds. Joe had vowed to himself that no one would ever replaced Amelia, but he was drawn to Carey’s joie de vivre. She wasn’t pretentious, and she seemed genuinely interested in him.
Joe’s arthritic hip wouldn’t let him go birding with her, but she said she was intrigued by his cockatiels.
But now he was nervous. Twice he checked his reflection in the hall mirror, smoothing his thinning hair. When he saw her drive up, he felt as he had all those years ago, when he and Amelia were on their first date. Could love happen twice in one life?
“Joe, you look pale. Are feeling alright?” Carey wore a peach scoop-necked shirt and tan capris. She looked lovely.
“I’m fine, fine.” He ushered her in the door and accepted her gift of freshly baked bread.
“I thought we might have a slice or two after we look at the birds.” She looked around at the modest living room, and Joe was pleased to see her nod in approval.
The aviary was at the back of the house, in a room that had once been the den. He had built a screened foyer that allowed him to look into the aviary before entering it. Most guests got only that far—a chance to see the birds but not handle them. Joe took Carey into the room itself. When a bird landed on his shoulder, he transferred it to her hand. He pointed out the markings that made cockatiels unique. He told her about building his flock after Amelia’s death. He showed her the nest with the three perfect eggs.
“Would you like one of the hatchlings?”
Carey shook her head. “Thank you, Joe, but I think the baby birds belong here, with your flock.” She seemed to sense his disappointment. “Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the offer.” Her eyes twinkled. “In fact, I will take one of the hatchlings—as long as it stays in the aviary. That will give me an excuse to come here as often as you’ll have me.”
I’d been writing for hours. My tired brain and I wandered into the garden. To pull a weed, I sat on the edge of a raised bed. I drifted into stillness. A breeze whispered. After five minutes, or was it ten, a bird…I didn’t dare turn…came to hover not two feet from my head. Whoosh, whoosh. Her wings beat down the air. Whoosh, whoosh.
I am a member of a small bible study group at church. At the beginning of our meetings before we study the words of the Christ, we talk about the past week, about the minutiae of our lives. I told my friends about the bird. Later, during the lesson, I lamented that I did not feel the Christ’s presence with me in my life.
Jose remarked, “Ah, but he was with you.”
“When?” I asked.
“In the whoosh of the wings.”
Since that day, I have begun to deliberately embed in my stories the hand of a loving God.
“Tina, would it be alright, if I borrowed your new knife? You see, I was thinking of getting one, and I wanted to try it out.”
“Sure. Do you want me to bring it over?”
“No, that’s okay. I’ll come to you.”
“Is he letting you drive?”
“No, but I’ll take the bus. It’s such a beautiful day. I want to be out.”
At three-thirty in the afternoon, the knife wrapped in a dish towel and stuffed deep into the bottom of my purse, I got off the bus to begin the long walk up the hill to my home. The sun was on the river, like a painting, glistening off the rippling water. The sight of it, like the river had been sprinkled with glitter, transfixed me. I stood staring. Someone had placed a bench on the overlook.
I could sit for a while. I could rest.
My ribs hurt with every breath.
He’d be home at five.
I turned away from the river and the sparkling light. When I reached the rim of the valley and the street on which I lived, I passed by the dead and broken body of a deer, obviously hit by a car. My neighbor, sweet Elkie, ran out to speak to me. “Oh, isn’t it terrible. I saw the whole thing.”
She was all of five feet, slender, white hair. Her yard boasted a sign, “Wildlife Refuge,” which my husband claimed was her excuse for never mowing.
Hands on her face, she lamented, “It must have been frightened. Ran right out into the street.”
The repulsive, bloated corpse stank. Elkie waved a hand in front of her face. “Phew. Come inside. No one should smell death. It’s not healthy.”
“I can’t. I have to get home. It’s almost five.”
She patted my hand. “You know you’re always welcome.”
I hustled away. After all, I had to be there when he walked in, Tina’s new, strong, unbreakable, ceramic knife hidden in the deep front pocket of my apron. When he turned to put his change in the beer mug he kept by the door…
I trotted up the driveway; my cell rang. It was Holly—my beautiful Holly. I couldn’t answer it. Not now. Not when I was so close.
Ding—a voice mail.
I put on my apron, and nestled the knife into its hiding place. I stood by the door.
Tap, tap, tap.
Outside, a cardinal sat on the window ledge tapping with his beak on the glass.
My husband’s 4X4 roared up the driveway.
Tap, tap, tap.
Holly loved cardinals. “They’re Christmas birds, Mom. Every day, all dressed up for a party.”
My heart raced. I couldn’t breathe. Holly? Did she need me? Was she hurt? I jerked around. My phone sat inches away on the counter. Shaking, I pressed voice mail. “Mom, I signed the lease. I’ve got my own apartment. It’s big enough for both of us. Come and live with me, Mom. You can get out. You can get out.”
He opened the door.
I find that my stories are much more realistic, they ring true, now that I consciously add the whoosh of wings.
New York Times bestselling author Kat Martin is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara where she majored in Anthropology and also studied History. Currently residing in Missoula, Montana with her Western-author husband, L. J. Martin, Kat has written sixty-five Historical and Contemporary Romantic Suspense novels. More than sixteen million copies of her books are in print and she has been published in twenty foreign countries. Her last novel, BEYOND CONTROL, hit both big lists … NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER LIST as well as the USA TODAY BEST-SELLING BOOKS LIST. Kat is currently at work on her next Romantic Suspense.
Her November 1st release is WAIT UNTIL DARK.
P.I. Jonah Wolfe knows trouble when he sees it. So when April Vale storms into his office at Maximum Security, all his warning signs flash red. April’s been accused of murder, except she has no memory of how she woke up in her coworker’s bed–drenched in his blood–shot with her gun. As the campaign manager for the mayor, April’s job is on the line. Even worse, her life may be on the line if she doesn’t figure out who’s trying to frame her.
The clock is ticking and the pair must find the killer… before April winds up dead.
The sound of voices cut through the pounding in her head, dragging her from a dark void into the light of day. As uniformed policemen streamed into the bedroom, April Vale looked down at her naked body and saw a sea of blood soaking the mattress. A naked man lay beside her, a bullet hole in the center of his chest.
A scream tore free as she recognized David Dean, Mayor Rydell’s campaign manager. Then strong arms hauled her upright and a wave of dizziness hit her, making her stomach roll. One of the officers draped a blanket around her bare shoulders and they hustled her over to a chair by the window.
Fighting a fresh wave of nausea, April gripped the blanket, her body shaking head to foot. “What…what’s happening?” She didn’t realize her hands were being cuffed together in front of her until she heard metal clanking and cold bands of steel wrapped around her wrists.
“What’s your name?” The room swarmed with policemen. The one in front of her was stocky and balding, in his early forties. A pair of EMTs rushed into the room and began working over the bloody man on the bed, but his eyes were open and staring at nothing and she knew he was already dead.
April swallowed the bile in her throat and fought to clear her head, but when she tried to remember where she was or how she got there, all she came up with was a blank.
“I don’t understand what’s happening,” she said, trying to keep the blanket around her.
“This will all go smoother if you cooperate,” the stocky policeman said. “Tell us your name.”
“I’m…I’m April. April Vale.” She glanced over at David. The hole in his chest seemed even bigger and bloodier than before.
“Can you tell us the name of the victim?”
Victim. A thick lump rose in her throat, threatening to choke her. “That…that’s David Dean. We work for Mayor Rydell.”
A young officer with black hair slicked straight back from his forehead walked up. “Looks like we’ve got the murder weapon, Sarge. It was right there on the floor next to the lady’s purse.”
April frowned, her mind foggy again. “Wait…wait a minute. What’s going on? I don’t understand.” Her fingers tightened on the blanket, trying to keep it in place over her naked body. “I don’t know how I got here. I don’t remember what happened.”
A gray haired man in a navy blue suit brought the gun over in a plastic bag. She recognized the little .380 she carried for protection.
I’m Detective Sullivan. Does this belong to you, Ms. Vale?”
She took a deep breath. “I think it’s mine. I have one like that. I have a legal permit to carry.”
The EMTs began checking her over, her blood pressure, her vision, whether or not she had a concussion.
“We need to get her to the hospital,” one of them said, “have her checked out, get a blood sample.”
“Hospital? I don’t want to go to the hospital.”
A female police officer walked up just then. “We’ve cuffed your hands in front of you so you can hold onto the blanket. If you cooperate, we’ll leave them that way. If not, we’ll have to cuff them behind your back.”
She closed her eyes. This couldn’t be happening. “You think I shot him? I don’t even know how I got here.”
The woman’s expression never changed. “You need to go to the hospital. We need to make sure you’re okay. If you were drugged, it’ll show up in your tox screen.”
Tox screen. Drugs. Her pistol and a dead man.
That’s when it began to sink in how much trouble she was in. That’s when April’s brain finally started working and she began to figure out what she needed to do–before things got a whole lot worse.
At the sound of the glass front door swinging open, Jonah Wolfe looked up to see a tall, leggy redhead walk into the office.
“I hope she’s looking for me.” Jason Maddox, one of the country’s top bail enforcement agents and one of Jonah’s best friends, had an eye for beautiful women. This one definitely met Jase’s exacting standards.
But being a former undercover police officer, Jonah noticed more than her stunning face and figure. Her hands were shaking as she approached the receptionist desk and her face was pale. He wondered what kind of trouble the lady was in.
“May I help you?” The receptionist, Mindy Stewart, shoved up the tortoiseshell glasses perched on the end of her nose. She was petite and cute, and smart enough not to date any of the confirmed bachelors who worked at Maximum Security.
“My name is April Vale. I’m looking for Jonah Wolfe.”
When Maddox groaned his disappointment, Jonah’s focus sharpened on the redhead. He rose from behind his desk and started toward the front of the office. A waiting area with a dark red tufted leather sofa and matching chairs, oak coffee and end tables, gave the place a western feel that perfectly suited the misfit Texans who worked there.
“I’m Wolfe,” Jonah said when he reached her. “What can I do for you?” His gaze ran over her, taking in her spectacular curves. He couldn’t help hoping she needed him for something a lot more intriguing than his skills as a private detective.
He might have smiled, would have if a TROUBLE sign wasn’t stamped in the middle of the pretty lady’s forehead.
“My name is April Vale. Thank you for seeing me.
“No need to thank me, Ms. Vale. I haven’t done anything yet.”
“I’m hoping you will.” She had the face of an angel and legs that went on forever. But she was a redhead and all that fiery hair just ramped up the warning signs flashing in her big blue eyes.
“Is there somewhere we can speak in private?” April asked.
“Conference room. Follow me.” As he led her down the hall, she caught an appreciative glance from Jax Ryker and Dante Romero, the only other guys currently in the office, but she didn’t seem to notice.
“This way.” Jonah held open the door to a glass-walled chamber with a long oak table seating twenty. April walked in and he waited for her to take a seat.
She smoothed the navy blue pencil skirt she was wearing with a pair of sky high heels. She looked good. Classy but not completely untouchable. “As I said, I appreciate your seeing me on such short notice.”
“Not a problem.” Jonah leaned back in his chair. “All right, April, why don’t you tell me why you’re here?”
She took a deep breath, drawing his attention to the full breasts he’d been doing his best to ignore. Since he never mixed business with pleasure, he shoved the buzz of attraction he was feeling to the back of his brain.
“I work for Mayor Rydell,” April said. “Currently I’m…. I was just released from police custody a short time ago, Mr. Wolfe. That’s…that’s why I’m here.”
Jonah straightened in his chair. “You were under arrest?”
“Officially, I haven’t been charged yet. But the charge could be murder.”
Jesus. He hadn’t seen that one coming. Now she really had his attention. Jonah leaned toward her. “So who did you kill, Ms. Vale?”
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