Home > Thick as Thieves(15)

Thick as Thieves(15)
Author: Sandra Brown

A while back, Crystal had invited a friend, who’d needed a place to stay following a nasty divorce, to move in with her. Rusty delighted in the thought of Burnet’s reaction to that arrangement. Up till then, he’d had Crystal all to himself, anytime he wanted her. His truck hadn’t been out front when Rusty drove past this evening.

He snickered at the thought of Burnet being deprived. Bet he wished he’d married Crystal when he got out of the army. Everybody had expected it. Rusty had spent months after Burnet got home dreading it. He still did. But it hadn’t happened. Burnet wasn’t in sole possession of Crystal yet. Not officially anyway.

Nevertheless the images that Judy—that bitch—had conjured up enraged him. Crystal and Burnet. Naked and sweaty. Her begging for more, more. Him obliging.

If that wasn’t reason enough to want to kill Burnet, he was also now edging in on the Maxwell girl. Arden.

Oh, yeah, Ledge Burnet had been right there with her when she slipped her kid in the produce aisle.

During their conversation in the bar last night, Ledge had acted uninterested in Joe’s youngest, even after Rusty disclosed that he knew Ledge had been there during her emergency situation. Burnet had dismissed his involvement, of course. He was a fucking hero, after all. Modesty went with the territory.

But Rusty wasn’t dumb enough to believe that Burnet’s being Johnny-on-the-spot that day had been a coincidence.

According to people who witnessed the incident and told Rusty about it later, Burnet and Arden had entered the store separately, hadn’t looked at each other, hadn’t spoken. They had appeared to be totally unaware of each other until she went to the floor. He was told that Ledge happened to be nearby and did what any decent human being would do. Someone had said, “Ledge helped out, is all.”

“Bullshit,” Rusty said now as he took a gulp of vodka.

It had been reported to him today that Burnet had been seen on the road that led to the Maxwell property. He’d been headed back toward town, but where had he been? Wasn’t much else out that way except the Maxwells’ place.

The timing of it couldn’t be pooh-poohed, either. Last night he and Burnet had had a lengthy discussion about Arden, and today Ledge had been within a couple miles of her house, when his was on the other side of town?

“No. Uh-huh,” Rusty muttered as he refilled his glass. “I wasn’t born yesterday.”

But what did the Maxwell girl think of Burnet? During the months she’d been back, Rusty hadn’t heard of her making any local friends, socializing, or mixing or mingling anywhere. It seemed she kept pretty much to herself out there and lived like a nun.

Well, she had fucked somebody, hadn’t she? But who? And where was her baby’s daddy now? He remained a mystery. In fact, a lot of mysteries swirled around Miss Arden Maxwell, the chief one being the whereabouts of her thieving father, who had made off with Rusty’s half a mil.

Folks thought Joe had gotten off scot-free.

But in Rusty Dyle’s book, nobody got off scot-free.

The clock on Arden’s nightstand read eleven twenty-two. Her drive-by had made his round, but still she couldn’t sleep.

She was so angry over what she’d learned from the unwitting Lois Miller that she punched her pillow extra hard as she turned onto her side and tried to find a more comfortable position.

From the top of the dresser, an oscillating fan blew a gentle stream of cool air across her. It also provided a lulling white noise. She closed her eyes and willed herself to relax by engaging in a meditative exercise that eased tension out of muscles.

But two minutes into this sleep-inducing drill, a noise shattered her concentration and jerked her bolt upright.

The fan hummed; it didn’t clank.

When the sound came again, she threw off the sheet and slipped out of bed. She crept to the door that connected to the kitchen, where the range light shed a soft glow. The door stood ajar. She peered through the crack.

Ledge Burnet was standing just inside the back door, leaning with his back against it, arms folded, ankles crossed. “See how useless that lock is?”

His arrogance made her want to kill him. She raised her right hand and aimed her pistol at him. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Proving my point.” Upon seeing the pistol, his natural squint had narrowed. Otherwise he remained exactly as he was.

“Get out of my house.”

“You lied about having a gun.”

“Well, I wasn’t going to announce it to a potential intruder, and I was right to be suspicious of you.”

“Do you know how to use it?”


“Who taught you?”

“I had lessons.”

“How long ago?”

“When I bought the gun.”

“And when was that?”

“A few years ago I worked in an art gallery in the French Quarter. Sometimes I had to close up for the night. I thought—Why do you need to know?”

“Because the gun under review is in your hand, and it’s aimed at me.”

“Because you broke into my house.”

“Put the gun down. You’re not going to shoot me.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I told you. I—”

“You could have proven your point about the locks this morning. Why wait until this time of night?”

“So the lesson would be more effective.” He frowned. “But if I’d known about the gun, I might have revised my plan.”

“By calling ahead?”

“No, by coming through an unlocked window and catching you in bed.”

She was ashamed of the images that sprang to mind. They were totally out of keeping with the situation. “Why are you dressed like that?”

“It’s camouflage.”

“I know what it is. Why are you wearing it?”

“Why does anybody?”

“And the face paint?”

“It’s dirt, not paint. The moon came out. I used what was available.” He unfolded his arms and lowered them to his sides. “Set the gun down.”

“Not yet.”

“You’re not going to shoot me.”

“Don’t be so sure.”

“I’m certain you won’t.”

“Oh? How’s that?”

He tipped his chin down toward the firearm. “The thumb safety’s on.”

She reacted by looking down at the pistol. The instant she did, he sprang forward, grabbed her wrist, and literally shook the gun out of her hand and into his waiting palm. She uttered a soft cry. As he released her wrist, he swore viciously.

Glaring at her, he pointed down to the pistol. “This particular model doesn’t even have a thumb safety.” He popped the clip out, then worked the slide. As a round was ejected, he cursed again. “It did, however, have a bullet in the chamber. You could have killed me.”

“Which would have served you right for scaring me half to death.”

“Yeah, well, you scared me, too.” He set the pistol and clip on the table. “Don’t touch those.” Going over to the sink, he turned on the faucet, bent over to wash the soil off his face, and ripped several paper towels from the holder.

“There’s a trash can in the cabinet under the sink,” she said.

He used the towels to dry his face and hands, then tossed them, and turned back to her. “You really shouldn’t have—”

Before he could finish, she interrupted. “Why didn’t you tell me you were in the supermarket that day?”

Chapter 9

Well, fuck.

He didn’t say it out loud. He didn’t say anything for fear of giving away more than she already knew.

“Do you deny it?” she asked.


“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I thought it might make you uncomfortable.”

“It made me uncomfortable learning it from someone other than you.”

“What difference would it have made if you’d known?”

“Exactly!” She jabbed her index finger toward him.

When she did that, her breasts moved beneath her nightgown, and that drew his eyes to them, which made her aware of something he’d been keenly aware of since she’d confronted him: She didn’t have many clothes on.

In fact, the nightie was it.

“Don’t leave until we’ve had this out.” She went into the bedroom and slammed the door behind her.

He ran his hand over his mouth and chin and around the back of his neck. He should have anticipated this. She was bound to find out sooner or later. He’d been busted. He had just as well face the music.

He opened the refrigerator and helped himself to a bottle of water, uncapped it, and chugged it.

When she came back into the kitchen, she was wearing a pair of Christmas-plaid pajama bottoms, a gray hoodie zipped up to her chin, and fuzzy slippers. A knight of the round table couldn’t have been better armored. She set her cell phone—decisively—on the table near the pistol. He supposed that both were to serve as warnings that he had better not get out of line.

“Want some water?” he asked.


He placed his empty in the trash can. When he came back around, she looked ready to launch.

“I went to your uncle’s bar this evening.”

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