The phone rang several times before Josie realized what it was and picked it up. Her voice was so deep and groggy she hardly recognized herself, but the words she heard woke her immediately.
“There’s been another murder,” Hoss said.
“Oh, God! Where?”
“Found the guy in a car along the Interstate. Shot twice, right through the window.”
“Oh, shit. Are you sure?” Josie struggled to open her eyes. It was six fifteen. She’d only had four hours sleep.
“Yep, I heard a little about it on the cop radio, but Juan just called with more details.”
“Yeah, doesn’t it seem like he’s just a little bit too lucky?”
“If you want to call that luck.”
“Well, I’m gonna go home to bed now. Just thought you’d like to know.”
“Thanks, Hoss. I’ll get in there sometime today.”
Josie lay back and closed her eyes, but she couldn’t possibly sleep. Waking to murder two days in a row made her feel a little panicky. Four yesterday, one today. The two on the Fourth of July. That made seven, or nine, if you counted the sisters. My God! Nine people murdered in a month. What was going on? Were the killings related? The story was growing too fast, but Josie’s anxiety was more than professional. She was beginning to feel personally threatened, afraid of who would be next. This, she knew in her gut, is what all of Cade County would be feeling when the news broke
Duke rolled over and threw an arm over Josie.
“What is it?” he mumbled.
Duke didn’t even open his eyes. Soon, he was snoring again, his breath coming in waves like surf crashing on the shore. The rhythm was comforting, and Josie let it wash away her fears. Discussing a story with Duke seemed the most natural thing in the world. Automatic. But seeing
him there, naked in her bed, was startling. She looked at his familiar face, the dark hair tousled over his forehead with just a touch of white at the temples, like early morning frost.
She let her eyes wander down his body, the dark, curly hair thick across his nipples, his tummy bare of hair and slightly soft. Below, the dark hair began again, scarce at first and then thicker, darker, more intimate and forbidden. Reflexively, Josie pulled on the sheet until it covered his groin. She clutched the cool cloth to her bare breasts.
Josie hadn’t awakened with a man since Kurt had left more than a year ago. Now, suddenly, here was this man she had known for all these years, a man she respected and liked but never once considered a potential lover. She replayed the previous evening in her mind, the kissing, the stroking, the hunger. It had happened so fast, and yet moments flashed into her mind in slow motion.
Josie tried to shake the thoughts. He was married. He was married to Sharon, for Pete’s sake. My God, what had they done?
Duke seemed to sense the chill that shook Josie. He grunted and started kissing her neck.
“We shouldn’t,” Josie whispered.
“Oh, but we should,” Duke chuckled and kept kissing her.
“It’s not fair to Sharon.”
“I told you, that’s over,” Duke said, prowling her body under the sheet.
“Please, Duke,” Josie said more firmly, pushing him away with both hands.
“Please continue or please stop?” Duke challenged, his amber eyes piercing her resolve. She let her hands slip off his shoulders and around his neck, burying her fingers in his thick wavy hair as his lips pressed against hers.
So, again they devoured each other with the enthusiasm of a brand new day. When they were sweaty, panting, and satisfied, Duke wrapped both arms around Josie’s tiny, boyish figure and smiled. For now, the murders didn’t matter. Neither did Duke’s marital status. All that mattered was the two of them, seeing each other for the first time.
“So what happened to you and lover boy?” Duke asked as he outlined her nose and eyebrows with his fingertip.
“You mean Kurt?”
“Yeah, he was always acting like he had the prettiest wife, the smartest kid. You know, like his life was better than anybody else’s.”
“So, what went wrong?”
“With him it’s all image. And when you don’t live up to his image of perfection -- when the kid’s got colic or the sink’s stopped up -- he just can’t cope.”
“So, breaking up was his idea?”
“Yeah. It was the last straw when Hammond made me acting city editor after Martin died.”
“Oh, and Kurt wanted that for himself.”
“Of course. It’s bad enough to get passed over, but to have the job given to your wife . . . . He could never have worked for me.”
“But I thought he got this better offer from the city,” Duke said.
“Yeah, and at first I thought that was the perfect solution. But, the damage had been done. All we did was fight that whole last year.”
“I know what you mean.”
“You and Sharon?”
“I can’t do anything to please her anymore.”
“Sounds like we’re both trying to justify this,” Josie said.
Josie nuzzled into Duke’s chest, smoothing the curly chest hairs with her hand. She didn’t want to think of how this would change her life. Whether she would blush when she saw him at work; whether any of this would last a week or a month or the rest of her life. It was happening now, and she wanted to hide in the refuge of this moment.
“I’d like to tell you I can live on love alone,” Duke said suddenly, as he kissed Josie’s forehead, “but right now I need coffee.”
“Oh, no,” Josie said, sitting up. “I don’t have any coffee.”
“I’ll make some,” Duke said, slipping out of bed and fishing among the scattered clothes on the floor to find his underwear.
“I mean I don’t have any coffee,” Josie repeated. “I don’t drink it, and Kurt took the coffee maker.”
“Caffeine curds! How can you not drink coffee?” Duke exclaimed. His hand absently rubbed the stubble on his chin. “Let me guess. Kevin doesn’t shave yet.”
“No,” Josie smiled.
“Okay,” Duke said, stepping into his underwear, then untangling his jeans and pulling them on. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I gotta go.”
“I know,” Josie said, lying back again. “I think I’ll take Kevin to my mother’s. It’s going to be so hectic here. He’ll be better off there for the next week.”
“When will you be back?”
“Probably before five.”
“Okay, I’ll put myself back together and stop by the office. I’ll make sure Juan has this covered, and then I’ll start looking into Franklin. Maybe they’ll even let me visit him. Then I’ll meet you at the office.”
“Listen,” Josie said. “You don’t have to account to me. I mean you don’t have to just because . . . .”
Duke sat on the side of the bed and ran his fingers through Josie’s short, blond hair.
“We didn’t have to do any of this,” he said. “We wanted this to happen. And I want it to happen again. Soon.”
He kissed her and then got up, bustling about the room, tucking in his shirttail and using Josie’s hairbrush to smooth his hair. Josie watched in silence, clutching the sheet to her chest. Duke started out the door, then stopped abruptly and returned to the bedside.
“I know you want me to say something,” he said softly. “But I don’t know what this means.”
“It’s okay,” Josie said, looking away. She didn’t know what she wanted. A declaration of love would be false. Duke pulled her face back toward him and looked into her eyes.
“Listen, I don’t know what makes people start wanting each other any more than I know what makes it stop all of a sudden. I just know that when you lose it once, you’ll never take it for granted again.”