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Truly, Madly, Dangerously

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Jen nodded. “And he does not look very happy.”

Sadie headed for the stairs. “Murder isn’t happy business.”

“Yeah, but he looks really pissed.”

“He probably got called in off the golf course.” Sadie pushed into the lobby, to find that it was quite crowded. Truman stood back a ways, positioned near the door, and a red-eyed Aunt Lillian sat in a rickety chair near the front desk. She’d been upset when Sadie had gone upstairs to dress, but now she was obviously shaken.

The man standing between Sadie and Truman eyed her suspiciously. “I was working a cold case, actually. I don’t golf.”

Sadie saw no reason to respond.

“Investigator Wilson Evans.” The stocky brown-haired man didn’t offer his hand.

“Sadie Harlow.” Instinctively, she looked toward Truman, who remained stony-faced as he fixed his gaze on her.

“We’ve identified the victim,” Evans said, his voice even and cool.

“That’s good.”

In the moment of silence that followed Sadie’s response, she automatically looked to Truman McCain. For a reason she refused to explore, she was glad he’d stayed.

“Aren’t you curious?” Evans looked Sadie up and down with suspicious eyes. She suspected he was sharper than he looked.

Aunt Lillian’s breath hitched and she made an odd noise that caught in her throat, as if she stifled a cry.

“Not really,” Sadie said honestly. “I don’t know many people in Garth anymore, and I seriously doubt…”

“Do you know Aidan Hearn?”

The mention of the banker’s name startled Sadie so much she blinked hard and leaned slightly back. “Hearn? Not really. Was that…” She tried to envision the possibility that the smiling man in the photo at the bank and the grotesque thing she’d found might be one and the same.

“I understand you made a bit of a scene in his office yesterday afternoon.”

Sadie’s eyes cut to Truman again. He didn’t smile, he didn’t offer silent comfort. At the moment he looked as cold as Evans. “I would hardly call it a scene,” she answered.

The detective flipped open his notebook and read from the small page. “You called him a tyrant…”

“He wasn’t there,” Sadie explained.

Evans didn’t so much as slow down. “And you intimated that if he didn’t see you immediately, he’d be sorry.”

“I had an appointment for Thursday.”

“You called his secretary a bimbo…”

“She is,” Sadie said beneath her breath.

“And on your way out of the room you kicked over a small trash can.”

“It had been a long day and the trash can was empty. Mostly.”

Evans flipped the notebook shut. “Do you have an uncontrollable temper, Miss Harlow?”

“Of course not!” she shouted.

Truman crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head, a little, and suddenly Sadie was eleven again, out of place and alone and feeling as if the world was conspiring against her.

“It’s my fault,” Lillian said softly.

All eyes turned her way. “What?” Sadie asked.

“I sent her there to speak to Mr. Hearn. He refused to even listen to my pleas, and I was afraid I’d lose the motel and the café if I didn’t get an extension on the loan. I called Sadie because I couldn’t think of another way.” Lillian lifted her head and looked squarely at Evans. “Sadie might lose her temper, and she might kick over a garbage can or say something she doesn’t mean on occasion. That mouth of hers has gotten her into trouble all her life.”

“Aunt Lillian…” Sadie began. This kind of “help” wasn’t going to help matters at all.

“But she would never hurt a living soul.”

Lillian had no idea how many living souls her niece had hurt. But they had all been bad guys who deserved what they got, and Sadie had never killed anyone in cold blood. Actually, she’d never killed anyone, not even bad guys. But she had wounded more than her share…

It took only a few minutes for Evans to take Sadie’s statement, while Lillian and Truman looked on. It was an oddly informal interview, allowable due to the unusual circumstances. From a certain vantage point in the office, Sadie could look through the window and see the investigators and deputies gathered around room 119. They used crime-scene tape to cordon off the area, and it wasn’t long before an ambulance arrived. They wouldn’t be allowed to move the body until Evans gave the okay, but they were ready. And curious.

Sadie moved to the counter where Conrad would’ve been standing last night. The door to 119 was clearly visible.

“Conrad must’ve seen whoever went into that room with Hearn,” Sadie said. “There’s a street lamp almost directly overhead.”

“We’ve got deputies and ABI agents searching for him,” Evans snapped.

Sadie’s stomach roiled, a little. She had learned always to listen to that gut reaction. “I think maybe you’d better find him quick. I have a feeling that whoever murdered Hearn won’t hesitate to take out anyone they think might be a witness.”

She recognized the new surge of emotion as outrage. Maybe she couldn’t wait to get out of Garth all over again. But by God, it just wasn’t right for people to get murdered here.

Sadie in tight black pants, her hair combed and her cheeks flushed pink, painted an entirely different picture than the tired woman in the ill-fitting pink uniform who’d made such a poor waitress that very morning.

Truman really did want to believe that Lillian was right and Sadie didn’t have it in her to murder anyone. But she did have a temper, and to be honest he didn’t know her anymore. She’d left home a girl and come home a woman, and who knows what had happened to her during the years in-between?

When he’d told Sadie not to leave town, he’d been—at least in part—jesting. When Evans delivered the same order, he wasn’t kidding at all. And Sadie knew it. A local man was dead, killed the same night she’d arrived in town for the specific purpose of seeing Hearn and convincing him to extend her aunt’s loan.

Since she’d cleaned the room, she had a very plausible reason for any of her own fingerprints that were found on the door knob. Not that there would be many fingerprints lifted from any other surface. Sadie—who had been wearing gloves to clean—had scrubbed every surface in the motel room.

She hadn’t touched the bathroom, though, and that was a good sign. And the discovery of the body had obviously disturbed her. Either that, or she had turned into a great actress.

She had definitely turned into a beautiful woman. Sadie wasn’t traditionally pretty, like her cousin. But she was the kind of woman who would always make heads turn, and he was certain that when she walked into a room men between the ages of fifteen and ninety muttered a drawn-out, appreciative damn.

His study of Sadie was interrupted by occasional bouts of hysteria from Lillian Banks. She’d lose it for a moment, then rein herself in and settle into silence. Was that fear in her eyes? Or plain old horror at knowing that a man had been killed in her motel and her niece was—for the moment at least—a suspect.

Logic aside, he didn’t think Sadie was guilty. Not of murdering Hearn, at least. But one thing was clear.

Women like Sadie Harlow weren’t content to stay in a place like Garth. She was here to help her family, but as soon as she was able she’d be gone.
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