"Indeed!" Danny laughed. "To my rich and famous friends! May their luck-and their talent, of course-rub off on me.!"
"Danny, you are wonderfully talented," Jade said.
He grinned with good humor. "Thanks. I think so, too. But even if no one else ever does, the two of you will still act like you know me, right?"
"How can you all stand there and act so silly when something so terrible happened!" Renate exclaimed with disgust. "And you, Rick! You're a cop."
Rick drew in a deep breath, his eyes steady as they fell on Renate. "That's just it, Renate. I am a cop. I either see or hear about awful things every day. You just keep on living and enjoying life, because you know it's fragile."
"Can't you find out more now-"
"Renate!" Jade admonished.
"No," Rick said. "I have to go back in for a few hours tonight."
"You do? Why?" Jade asked. No, you're kidding! she thought. I was finally going to ask you to stay, despite what...
Despite what I felt on the balcony. Or maybe. . . just partially . . . because of what I felt on the balcony.
"There was a bad accident tonight just outside the French Quarter. I'm heading on down to the morgue to find out more about the kid involved."
"Kid?" Jade said softly.
"College kid. I need to find out if drugs were involved, deal with the family...."
"Wow, what a shame," Danny said.
"What a downer," Matt added sorrowfully.
"Yeah, well, that's what I mean."
"Life's a bitch, and then you die," Renate announced.
"Mm, to some. Others say, Life's a bitch; then you get fucked by one; then you die!" Matt told her, smiling.
"Don't you just wish, pumpkin head," Renate said sweetly in return.
"I think I need some air," Jade said. Slipping her arm through Rick's, she eased him out to the balcony with her. She leaned against the brick rail, looking back.
"Oh, thank God, they're not following!" Rick said.
She grinned. "By God, they took the hint."
"And accepted it."
Some really great jazz was coming softly from a place across the street. The moon was high. October. It was a great fall night. Not cold, just cool.
Rick leaned against the brick as well, rolling his champagne flute in his hands, studying her eyes. "You really okay?"
"It was startling to read those headlines."
"Yeah. That is pretty bizarre. You know, Jade, the same people might be involved. They never caught the murderers in Scotland."
"Edinburgh to New York. Seems far-fetched, doesn't it?"
"Yes, and no. It depends. There are serious cults out there. You know that. And if someone backing such a thing has money ..."
"And the murders occurred in a cemetery again."
"Yep." He watched her. "You don't spend your days crawling around cemeteries, do you?"
"Days ... well, I admit, I do sometimes. It's hard to write about old cathedrals and churches without walking through a few old graveyards. So days ... yes. Nights-no. Not anymore. Rick, do you really think it could be the same people?"
"No, I don't really think so. But it's not impossible."
"That's so bizarre about Hugh Riley. If it is him."
"Well, there are lots of colleges in New York. You told me they were all college kids, remember? Frat fellows, football players, smokers, druggies, jokers."
"They were just kids. Wild kids," she told him.
"Unfortunately, the young are not immune to disaster- though they tend to think they are."
"I can't believe you have to go back to work tonight. I was ..." He moved closer, his eyes bright and expectant. "You were . . . ?" She met his gaze squarely. "I thought you might stay."
She nodded and grinned suddenly. "You know, you heard Matt; 'Life's a bitch; then you-' " He interrupted her with a groan, then went to set the champagne flute on a wicker table. It fell from his fingers, crashed to the floor.
She laughed. From inside, they heard the sudden sound of music. And laughter. The party was going to go on without them.
Shanna had seen to it, Jade was certain, that they wouldn't be followed.
"Your beautiful glass," he said.
"It's just a glass," she whispered.
"Right. The hell with it," he murmured, drawing her into his arms. His fingers threaded into her hair. He drew her against the hard warmth of his chest. She felt his heartbeat, felt it quicken. His fingers moved.
His mouth found hers. They'd kissed before, petted before. He was good. Hard, demanding, sensual ...
She kissed him back, moving against him, open-mouthed, ready, waiting, wanting
A sense of arousal.
It didn't come.
It should have! Damn, it should have, should have . . .
She didn't care. One way or another, it was going to happen.
He drew away from her, his eyes hard on hers. She felt air against the dampness of her lips. She met his gaze, her own heart thundering. Please, God, don't let him see that there's nothing there; don't let him know that I'm answering him with a lie, that I'm losing my mind, wanting. . .
"Come back when you finish," she told him.
"I could be really late."
"I don't care."
"Crack-of-dawn late. Into-the-A.M. late. And God knows, I shouldn't be with you. I shouldn't have kissed you. I'm coming down with something."
"I guess. I'm just wiped out. Really tired." He shrugged awkwardly. "Can't seem to shake it off, but I-"
"I don't care if you have a cold."
"I wouldn't want to-"
"I'll take my chances."
"You don't mind me being really late?"
"I'll give you a key."
"It's a deal."
"Kiss me good-bye."
"Let's live dangerously."
He kissed her again. It was stirring; it was passionate. The way he touched her, on a balcony, was almost indecent. ...
He breathed deeply against her hair. "I think I'll go now. And I'll try to get back earlier." She nodded, feeling numb. Hand in hand, they walked back in. Shanna had put on music. She was trying to teach Matt how to tango. Danny, slumped into an overstuffed antique chair, was giving instructions; Jenny and Todd were laughing, doing their best to follow the movements.
On seeing Rick and Jade, Danny leaped to his feet.
"Jade, I was hoping you guys would come back in. I needed to say thanks and good-bye."
"You're leaving already, too?" she asked him.
He nodded, looking at Rick. "I got paged. They need some extra help at the morgue."
The tango music came to a sudden halt as Shanna turned off the disc player.
"Well, it's a Thursday. Work night," Todd said. "I guess we should get going, too, eh, there, Ms. Voice of America?" he queried his wife.
"I suppose," Jenny said. "Jade, thank you." Smiling, she stepped forward, hugging Jade, kissing her cheeks. "Congratulations! And enjoy the moment. Don't start dwelling on the past, on anything bad!" She gave Renate a stern glare.
Renate glared back. "Good night, Jenny."
"Good night, all," Danny said, taking his jacket from the ebony hall tree by the door, and exiting.
Rick followed him, telling Jade, "Might as well catch a ride with Danny." He brushed her lips with a brief kiss, paused, and kissed her once again.
He left with a grin.
Jade was sure her sister saw it.
The Dansens followed. Then Renate decided she had spent the evening with a group of pigheaded, dumb people, and announced she was leaving.
"I guess I'll get going as well," Matt said. "It was a great party, Jade. Thanks. And to both of us, really." He hugged and kissed her.
"Hey-take the caviar," Shanna suggested, making a face.
"Bring it to my place-I love the stuff," Renate said.
"Yeah? Are you actually inviting me to your place?" Matt said.
"Don't go getting too excited-it's just across the main hall," Renate told him. He stood still, looking uncertain. Renate sighed. "Yes, I'm inviting you to my place. Bring the caviar. Hey, Jade, can we grab one of those last bottles of champagne?"
"Sure, knock yourselves out," she said, trying not to grin.
She couldn't help it-when the two left, she and Shanna looked at one another and burst into laughter.
"Shh!" Jade covered her sister's mouth with her hand. "They'll hear you."
They both went silent, then started up again. Shanna swept a champagne bottle from a side table and swigged straight from it, then passed it on to Jade, who followed suit. They collapsed into the large central sofa side by side and passed the bottle back and forth.
"She takes herself so seriously!" Shanna said.
"She can't help it. She feels unappreciated."
"How can she? People rave about her all the time. She's the only one of us whom most people have ever heard of!"
"Because she does talk shows."
"Yeah, well, that's good."
"But how many people do you know who actually buy her books?" Jade asked softly.
"Someone must buy them."