I TURNED A CORNER, and the canvas bag of groceries on the seat next to me started to topple. My hand shot out in a classic Mommove to prevent the bag from tumbling to the floor by blocking it with the side of my forearm. Keeping my eyes on the road in front of me, I moved the bacon to make the bag less top-heavy.
Barr might be making me dinner, but I planned on making him breakfast the next morning.
He greeted me at the door, laying a big smacker on me and then taking the bag. When he saw what was in it, he waggled his eyebrows in approval and carried it into the kitchen.
"What is that heavenly smell?" I called after him.
"Garlic sauteed in butter," came the answer from the other room.
There was a big bunch of flowers in the living room. They sat on a simple, glass-topped coffee table.
The spool was gone.
I felt a little guilty, complaining about it so much earlier. But not so much that I couldn't handle it.
He returned with two glasses and an open bottle of single malt Scotch. The enticing aroma of smoky peat drifted my way.
"What's for dinner?" I asked.
"You'll see." He sat down on the sofa, and I joined him. He poured a finger of Scotch into each glass and handed me one. We clinked them together.
"To new beginnings," he said.
I looked at the coffee table and smiled. "To new beginnings," I agreed. "Thank you for the flowers. And for getting rid of the spool."
He settled back against the corner cushion. "You're welcome. Now give."
I spent the next hour telling him every detail of my trip to La Conner. He listened carefully, only interrupting a couple of times to clarify a point. When I'd finished, I retrieved Ariel's diary from the tote I'd brought that also contained a change of clothes and basic toiletries.
Handing it to him, I said, "I know it was a bad idea to take this. I'm sorry."
But he didn't look upset. "From what you said, it probably wouldn't come into play in any court case anyway. If it does, you're a private citizen. If Robin or I'd taken it without a warrant, then it wouldn't be admissible, but you're you, and while a judge might not appreciate that you basically stole it, anything in it could still be used in court."
"So I did good?"
He glowered melodramatically from under his eyebrows. "It's wrong to steal."
I grinned. "Sorry."
His face relaxed. "Well, okay, then."
"It must make Robin nuts to work with you."
"If it does, the feeling's mutual."
"Uh-oh. Are things okay between you two?"
He shrugged. "Sure. She's not happy about the Hannah thing taking up so much of my time, but then again, neither am I"
"Still don't know where she is, huh." At least she wouldn't try to talk to me tonight, I figured.
"She's nowhere in Cadyville, and we haven't been able to find her in any of the neighboring towns, either."
"Maybe she left after this morning."
"Maybe." He didn't sound convinced. I didn't believe it, either.
"And Ariel's murder?" I asked.
"Lots of running around, lots of follow up, not much in the way of results. Robin's nearly apoplectic with impatience. But we're making some progress, learning more every day."
Naturally I wanted them to find the killer, but hearing there was a soupcon of trouble in paradise didn't exactly bother me. I nestled my back into the cushions and took a sip of Scotch. Mmm. My favorite: Laphroaig. Barr had thought of everything.
"Do you think Ariel could have had anything to do with Scott's death?" I asked.
"Even if she really did have the mechanical ability to damage his vehicle, he was killed in his patrol car. It would have been awfully risky to sneak into the motor pool to do that."
I sniffed. "`Motor pool.' It's a parking lot behind the police station, Barr."
"Fenced off, with limited access," he said. "It still would have been risky."
"Did he always drive the same car? Or do they switch around?"
Barr gave a facial shrug. "Same one. And he could have taken it home, parked it in the driveway; many officers do. But he liked to leave it at the station, and drove his truck to and from work."
I took another sip of Scotch and changed the subject. "So who are the suspects in Ariel's murder?" I held up my hand and began ticking them off on my fingers. "There's Chris."
"Alibi," Barr said.
"I know. But right now I'm focusing on who might have wanted Ariel dead, not opportunity."
"What, you think someone hired it out?" he asked.
"How should I know? It's a possibility, isn't it?"
"Strangling someone with your yarn? Sounds more like a crime of passion. Though you may be interested that the medical examiner told us Ariel was struck on the head with a blunt object before she was strangled."
I perked up at that. "Really? Was she knocked unconscious?"
"Possibly, but probably not."
"But she might not have been able to fight back, at least not much. Not that she was very big or strong to start with. So whoever strangled her might not have been that strong, either."
"True. And please don't say anything to anyone about the blow to the head. We're trying to keep that under wraps. 11
I nodded my agreement. "So anyway, we have Chris, because Ariel was sleeping with her husband. And Irene, because Ariel was sleeping with her son."
"Right. Then there's Felicia, because she thought Ariel was sleeping with her husband."
"But she wasn't?"
"Apparently not, according to Ruth and Lindsey."
"Then there's Zak," I said. "Because Ariel was sleeping with Scott."
"At least Scott couldn't have done it," Barr said.
"But: Jake could have known about both Scott and Zak. He may have been jealous."
"By giving Felicia an alibi, he's giving himself one."
"Then there's Daphne, her roommate. Ariel owed her a bunch of money, and it didn't look like she'd pay it back anytime soon. Daphne wanted a new roommate right away," I said.
"That's really reaching, Sophie Mae."
"What about the brother?" he asked.
"I didn't get any idea that he had a motive. He adored his sister and seems devastated by her death."
"There was no love lost between Gabi and Ariel, but they live awfully far away."
"It's only an hour drive."
He was right. Why did an hour's drive through the country seem so much longer than the hour's drive to downtown Seattle?
"Okay, put her on the list," I said.
"The friend? Drucker? I'll tell Robin about her tomorrow, so she can follow up"
I shook my head. "She may have more information to give you about Ariel-she clammed up on me all of a sudden at the end of my visit-but I don't see her as the murderer."
Barr took a sip of his drink. "Okay, who else?"
"I can't think of anyone. Can you?"
He sighed. "She'd dated several other men, some of whom were married. But it was all awhile ago. You've hit the current ones. There certainly do seem to be a lot of convenient alibis floating around."
"Somebody's lying," I said.
"Somebody always is.,,
"Well, this somebody's starving. Any chance you're going to feed me anytime soon?"
He stood up and offered me his hand. "Come on, woman. Let's get some victuals in you."
The tiny table in the kitchen was actually set with candles and dishes that matched. It was still light outside, but Barr lit the tapers anyway. Then he served shrimp scampi over rice with a simple salad. It was delicious. He had the good sense to buy a ready-made dessert, and the further good sense to make it cheesecake-only my favorite sweet indulgence in the whole wide world. He garnished it with fresh raspberries. As night fell, we snuggled on the sofa and watched an old black-and-white movie on TV.
I was giddy as a school girl on Valentine's Day by the end of the movie and the wine. And I may have even giggled a bit during the activities that followed. Afterward, relaxed in the crook of Barr's arm with a light breeze curling in the open window, I listened to his deep breathing and thought about how happy I was when I was with him. Maybe this living together thing would work after all.