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       Forgotten, p.16

           Catherine McKenzie
 
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  I start to giggle at the thought as I sprint toward my room. I duck under the bed and pull out my suitcase. In one of the zippered pockets my hand grazes against what I’m looking for—a travel first-aid kit I bought to take with me to Africa. It’s full of alcohol swabs and bandages—the only first aid I didn’t need.

  When I get back to the kitchen, Dominic’s sitting at the kitchen table looking pale. Stephanie is pouring him a drink from a fresh bottle of Scotch.

  I pull up a chair and sit down in front of him. “You’re not going to pass out, are you?”

  He grimaces. “No.”

  Stephanie sets a tumbler on the table. “Here’s your medicine.”

  “Thanks.” Dominic drains it in one large gulp. He shivers and places the glass down. “Get on with it, woman.”

  “You might want to be a little nicer to me, given what I’m about to do.”

  “Maybe.”

  He extends his hand. The ends of the tea towel are loose. His cuts have stopped bleeding, but his knuckles look red and ugly. I unzip the first-aid kit and pull out a couple of packages of antiseptic wipes. I rip them open and take his hand in mine. It feels cold and damp, the skin wrinkled from the water. His green eyes watch me steadily.

  “This might sting a little.”

  I swab the top of his knuckles. His hand twitches and he sucks in his breath. He picks up his glass with his free hand and waves it back and forth. “More medicine, please.”

  Stephanie laughs. “Coming right up.”

  She pours him several generous fingers, which he drains in two swallows.

  “That’s the ticket.”

  “Ready?”

  Our eyes meet. His look a little soft around the edges. “Ready.”

  I wipe the rest of the blood off his knuckles. When I’m done, he stares at his angry, red hand with disgust.

  “How the hell am I going to hold my camera?”

  “I’m sure it’ll be better in a couple of days.”

  “That doesn’t help me much.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “I’m going to Ireland tomorrow to finish the shoot for my show.”

  “You are?”

  “I didn’t tell you?”

  I pick up the roll of white bandage, untucking the end with the carefulness of a drunk. “No, you didn’t.”

  “Sorry.”

  “No big deal.” I take his hand in mine and start to wind the bandage around it. “Was it Emily who called?”

  He nods.

  “What did she want?”

  “To dig the knife in a little deeper.”

  The tone of his voice drives my eyes down. I concentrate on wrapping his hand, trying to be as gentle as possible. As his hand warms in mine, I can feel the tension slowly seeping out of him, his fingers growing supple. When I run out of bandage, I secure the end with the clear tacky tape from the kit.

  The whole thing is strangely intimate. When I glance up at Dominic, he has a different look in his eyes, one that reminds me of those moments when we were dancing at New Year’s before Craig-of-the-perfect-timing called.

  I can feel the heat rise in my face. “All better?”

  He flexes his fingers but lets his hand rest in mine. “Right as rain.”

  I give his hand a gentle pat and let go. “You should keep that elevated for a bit, in case it starts bleeding again.”

  “Thanks.”

  “Sure.”

  I stand up and catch Stephanie watching me thoughtfully. I have to admit, I kind of forgot she was here.

  “I should be going,” she says.

  “What? No. We were going to have dinner.”

  “We can do that anytime. You have a patient to take care of. Night, Dominic.”

  “Night,” he replies, still looking at me with that same heat.

  I tear my eyes away and walk with Stephanie to the front door.

  “Just friends, huh?” she mutters.

  “Shut it.”

  Stephanie slips into her oversized puffy coat. “How did the rest of your day go?”

  “Craig came to see me.”

  “And what did he want?”

  “Who cares? Sophie can have him.”

  “Seriously. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

  “You don’t have to go.”

  “Whatever.” She plops her fuzzy hat onto her head. “Call me with the details.”

  Before I can ask her what she means, she turns the lock and darts out into the black night. Cold air floods through the door. My teeth chatter as I watch her walk down the front steps. When she reaches the street safely, I close the door, locking it tight.

  I sense Dominic’s presence behind me an instant before he rests his hands on my shoulders. They feel heavier than Craig’s. More substantial, somehow.

  “Emma,” he says, his voice a request.

  I know what he’s asking, and despite the chill of the entranceway, I can feel my body respond, the warmth spreading from where his thumb is brushing the edge of my neck.

  Dominic takes a step closer, placing his hands on my waist. The bandage catches on the edge of skin between the top of my leggings and my sweatshirt. I close my eyes and lean against him. His arms slip around me as he rests his head on my shoulder. He turns his mouth toward my neck, his breath replacing his thumb’s caress.

  And God, it feels good to lean on a man, to feel wanted, present, the focus of his thoughts. Even if it’s because of loneliness or loss or a smashed hand against a hard surface. I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care.

  His lips touch my neck, his tongue probing lightly. I pivot and Dominic’s mouth is there to meet mine. It feels softer than I would have thought, and his kisses are soft too. His mouth tastes like Scotch, and feels familiar, like somewhere I’ve been before. I twine my arms around his neck and press myself to him. I can smell the aloe and spice of his shampoo, mixed in with the Bactine. He smells clean and dangerous.

  We kiss and kiss, and I revel in the feel of his mouth, his tongue, his teeth. My mouth is absorbed, my lips are molded, my breath is stolen.

  Dominic pulls me closer. His mouth travels along my jaw to my neck. I want his lips, his tongue, his teeth on every part of my skin. I want to feel every inch of his skin against mine. I’m one big pulse, my heart one big thud.

  He moves his mouth to my ear, his breath hot against its edge. And now I’m gripped with fear that he’s going to say something that will break this ridiculous spell we’ve placed ourselves under.

  “Shh,” I whisper against his neck, bringing my finger to his mouth to smother his potential words before they ruin everything.

  And because this moment is perfect, because he is perfect in this moment, instead of speaking, he takes my fingers into his mouth, and a groan of pleasure escapes me. He swallows my moan with his mouth. We kiss and kiss and kiss until my legs are shaking. His hands roam under my shirt, sliding up my back and down, applying gentle pressure.

  Dominic scoops me up like I’m weightless. I open my eyes and look at him. His eyes are dark, his skin is flushed. I place my hands on the side of his face and lean into his mouth as he carries me to the bedroom.

  We don’t say a word.

  Chapter 16: That Was an Invalid Response

  I awake at seven, naked and alone, to the sound of a truck backing up.

  My first thought is, I must be dreaming. But the space next to me feels empty and cold, and even my fuzzy morning brain knows that if this were a dream, there’d be a man lying next to me.

  I concentrate, listening for the sounds of teeth brushing or coffee making, but there’s nothing. Dominic’s gone and I’m alone.

  Even though I shouldn’t be surprised—he told me yesterday he was leaving for Ireland in the morning, right?—this has never happened to me before. I’ve never slept with a man and woken up to find him gone the morning after our first time together. And let me tell you, if you’ve never experienced this particular situation, it feels about as shitty as you’d expect it to
feel.

  And it doesn’t help that last night was amazing in a way first-time-together sex usually isn’t. There wasn’t any of that usual awkwardness of sweaters getting stuck on heads or elbows or hair getting pulled. It was all a seamless flow of hands and skin and lips and tongues.

  The things Dominic did to me with his tongue . . .

  I turn toward his pillow, half expecting to find a note, or at least a depression that confirms I wasn’t dreaming, but it’s empty. The taut pillowcase stretches across it without betraying any evidence he was ever here.

  My body bears the evidence, though.

  Maybe I should think about something else.

  I wrap the sheet around me and put a tentative foot on the floor. It creaks under my weight, and I stop, frozen, as the report echoes around the room.

  Why am I being cautious in my own apartment, like there’s someone sick who’s sleeping in the room, a light sleeper? There’s no one here, Emma. He’s gone.

  I stand up properly and walk to the door, the sheet trailing behind me like a train. Dominic’s door is ajar across the hall. Small particles of dust float in a sunbeam, like it’s been days, weeks, since he was here, instead of hours, maybe only minutes.

  I cross the hall. His bed is made with square hospital corners, and there’s a navy blanket folded at the end of it. The clutter is missing from the dresser, like it was from mine the night I came home. His boxes are lined up neatly under the window. Again, there’s no note.

  I finally find it in the kitchen, sitting propped against the salt and pepper shakers. I pick it up as I sit down, tucking the sheet under me. I stare at my name on the folded piece of paper, trying to decipher whether this note will make me more or less angry. But the neat block letters written in a blue ballpoint pen don’t contain a clue.

  I unfold it.

  Emma, I’m sorry for leaving like this, but I have an early flight. I’ll call you when I get in. Dominic.

  I don’t know what I was expecting, but these simple words don’t relieve the achy feeling in my chest.

  I let the note fall to the table and head to the coffee machine. There’s a half-eaten pizza sitting next to it, its cheese congealed into an off-white mass. I pick up the pizza and put it in the trash. The swinging lid rocks back and forth, squeaking, then settles into place.

  Last night, after, as we lay breathing into the silence, Dominic remembered the pizza in the oven and skittered naked across the floor to rescue it. I followed him with his T-shirt and boxers. We ate the slightly burned pie with silly grins on our faces, letting the cheese burn our tongues. After a couple of slices, we ended up back in each other’s arms, our stomachs forgotten.

  I really should think about something else.

  If only my brain came with an off switch.

  When I get in, the office is full of the usual hustle and bustle of phones ringing, emails pinging, and the clatter of fingers on keyboards. I walk toward the Ejector with the loose-limbed feeling I always associate with great sex, only this time, instead of having a happy glow on my face, I feel furtive and slightly guilty.

  But why? I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m single and so is he. And the fact that it’s probably way too soon for me—or him, for that matter—to get involved with someone only makes me stupid, not a criminal.

  I push my guilt aside, along with the recurring flashes from last night. When I get to the Ejector, I work my way through the night’s accumulation of email, then plan my attack on the ten new files that have appeared on my desk. More boring insurance files from Matt, I assume.

  My phone rings. “Emma Tupper speaking.”

  There’s a click and a mechanized female voice says, “I’m sorry, that was an invalid response. Please press one—”

  I hang up and start working my way through the files. Washer breaks causing flood, blah, blah, blah. I’m having trouble concentrating on the details. I stare out the window at the gray winter sky. The clouds are almost indistinguishable from the air and the earth below. More flashes from last night assault me. The way his skin tasted, a mixture of salt and soap. The way his fingers felt on the depression at the base of my spine. The rough caress of his teeth on my clavicle.

  Why didn’t Dominic wake me up before he left? Better question: Why did he sleep with me in the first place? Was it all just a reaction to the call from Emily? And what about me? What do I want? Was sleeping with him only a way to get back at Craig?

  My phone rings again. “Emma Tupper speaking.”

  “I’m sorry, that was an invalid response. Please press one—”

  You’ve got to be kidding me.

  “Jenny!”

  She arrives in my doorway looking panicky. She’s wearing a military-inspired suit with a super-short skirt. Her hair is piled on top of her head in a messy tumble.

  “Yeah?”

  “I’m getting some kind of automated phone calls. I need you to call Tech Support and have them block the number.”

  “No problem.”

  She turns on her very high heels with a determined look on her face. I watch her through the glass wall, twirling the phone cord around her finger as she flirts with the tech guy. Not that I condone flirting as a technique for getting things, but life would be simpler if a hair twirl could get me what I wanted.

  Maybe that’s why Dominic left? Because I never twirled my hair around my finger?

  What the hell is wrong with me? Seriously. I’m acting the victim with everyone. I should probably be in that group, that victims’ group Detective Nield suggested. What did he say again? That people found it harder getting back into their lives than they expected? Well, he was right about that.

  My distracted gaze wanders around the office. I notice something resting on the chaise longue. It’s the thick file Craig was carrying yesterday. I flip through it; it’s the Mutual Assurance file about the stolen Manet painting, the one Sophie’s working on with Matt. I wonder what Craig was doing with it.

  My phone rings. I consider not answering it, but Jenny’s still on the line with the tech guy. I grab the phone. “Emma Tupper speaking.”

  “It’s me.”

  A knot forms in the pit of my stomach. “What do you want, Craig?”

  He sucks in his breath. “Is this the way it’s going to be now?”

  “Looks like.”

  “That’s not what I want.”

  “Is that why you called?”

  “No. I left a file in your office yesterday.”

  “I have it. I’ll get Jenny to bring it to you.”

  “No, I meant to leave it. Matt and I talked about it, and we’d like you to handle it.”

  “But wasn’t Sophie—”

  “It’s your file if you want it, Emma.”

  Do I want to work on something more interesting than the ABC insurance files littering my office? Hell, yes. Even if it is some guilt-driven act of charity from Craig.

  “Okay, thanks.”

  “No problem. Call me if you have any questions.”

  We hang up and almost immediately my phone rings again.

  “Emma Tupper speaking.”

  “I’m sorry, that was an invalid response. Please press one—”

  Arg! If Jenny’s flirting can’t get this fixed, I’m going to have to get my number changed. This must’ve been how Craig felt when he was getting all those crank calls. No. Fuck that. I will not feel sorry for Craig.

  I put my phone on Do Not Disturb and start googling Victor Bushnell. If I’m going to take over this file, I need to devote 110 percent of my attention to it. Sophie might be the devil, but I’ve never discounted her legal skills.

  Victor Bushnell is a self-made billionaire who got his start by developing an online payment system that made access to pay-per-view porn sites easier. Once he sold that business, he moved into more legitimate online payment services, investing heavily in some of the Internet’s biggest successes. Last year he made a large donation to the Concord Museum so they’d name a gallery after him. Cons
truction was completed in November, and he held an opening gala the night I came home for five hundred of his close personal friends. Bushnell got several of them to loan their paintings for the event. The centerpiece of the collection was his own prized possession—a Manet he’d paid seven million dollars for several years ago. Security discovered the painting missing the next morning. So far, the police haven’t even figured out how the painting was taken, let alone who took it.

  The painting is insured for twenty million dollars, and Mutual is—no surprise—being shirty about paying out. I can see from the file memos that Sophie has spent a lot of time trying to figure out a way for Mutual to void the policy, without success.

  I pull out a picture of the stolen article. It’s a self-portrait of Manet sitting in a boat. He’s painting while a white-robed lady watches him. The water around the boat shimmers like glass. It looks cool and inviting. It’s beautiful and striking, and if I had a spare twenty million, I might just spend it on this painting. Or not.

  I hear the phone on Jenny’s desk ring. She answers it distractedly. “Ms. Tupper’s office. Yeah, she’s here. Hold on a sec.”

  The phone next to me buzzes. “Yes?”

  “It’s for you.”

  “Jenny, when I put my phone on Do Not Disturb, it’s because I don’t want to talk to anyone,” I say a little more testily than I mean to.

  “But he sounds really cute. I’m transferring the call.”

  I make a sound of protest, but before I can stop her, the line clicks over. It has that fuzzy quality overseas calls sometimes have.

  “Emma Tupper speaking.”

  “Hey, Emma Tupper,” Dominic says.

  My tongue feels thick. “Hello, you. How was your flight?”

  “Bumpy.” Dominic’s voice sounds low and serious.

  “I hate that.”

  “Yeah. Look, Emma, about last night.”

  I glance up. Jenny’s watching me.

  “Hold that thought.” I motion for her to close my door, which she does with a knowing smile. “You were saying?”

  He clears his throat. “I was saying . . . I’m sorry I left like that. I had an early flight.”

  “So your note said.”

 
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