“You want to get some coffee?” Noah’s question startled me enough I nearly jumped. I peeled my attention from the tree that took my sister’s life to give him a sideways glance.
“Come again?” I croaked, my voice cracked and broken. Like I hadn’t spoken in quite a while, which when I really thought about it, I might not have.
“Do you want to get some coffee. With me.” He said it less like a question and more like an excuse. Like he was somehow throwing me a rope.
I didn’t know if I wanted his rope. Or his help.
“Here,” he said offering me a folded piece of cloth — a handkerchief — and it was then that I felt the rapidly cooling tears on my face.
I wanted to be rude to him, wanted to ignore his old-man hanky and wipe away my tears with my sleeve. But I didn’t.
I also didn’t snatch the cloth from his hand like I wanted to either. Carefully, avoiding the touch of his fingers, I pulled the hanky from his hand and mopped up my face, glad I hadn’t bothered with makeup this morning.
“You just so happen to keep a hanky in your back pocket? Are you sure you’re not a grandpa in disguise?”
Noah gave me a half smile, a wry upturn to only one side of his mouth. “My grandfather was adamant about them. Always had at least two on him at all times. I guess that just stuck with me.”
It was difficult not to think this behavior was endearing. Hot as he was, I didn’t want to like Noah. Not even a little. But stuff like that made it harder not to.
“So… coffee?” Noah asked again.
Unable to think of a reason not to, I nodded, the pair of us turning from the tree and heading back to our cars.
I followed Noah to a funky little coffee shop on the corner of Jones and Main. The outside of the shop was just as modern as the strip of stores along Main, but Bean There, Done That turned it up a notch. The store’s marquee sign was stamped metal backlit by lime green, making the sign appear to glow. Inside, the décor was as if the fifties and the future decided to make quirky babies, and I loved it.
The shop was about half full, the patrons either of the suit and tie variety or the slacker persuasion.
Noah gestured for me to go first, so I ordered, and then somehow, he maneuvered me to the side before I could pay so he could toss in his order and pay for us both. Sneaky bastard. I didn’t know if I liked that or not, but I let it go.
We sat in a booth at the back corner, red and white vinyl shiny even in the low light. There was only a silent minor scuffle over which one of us was going to sit with our back to the rest of room – which I won by skirting around him and sitting before he could.
Noah gave me a withering look as I pasted the biggest southern girl smile on my face as I settled into the booth, but he sat across from me without a word.
“So, Noah, you got a last name or are one of those one-named people like Cher?”
He gave me another half smile. “It’s Graves.”
I sputtered out a laugh and was glad I hadn’t received my coffee yet. That would have been a spit-take for sure. “You’re a homicide detective with the last name Graves? What? Were all the undertaker positions filled?”
“Wow, I’ve never heard someone make fun of my name before,” he said deadpan, the sarcasm rolling off of him in waves.
“Oh, come on. You officially have either the absolute best or worst hot cop name ever. Embrace it.”
Noah’s face split into a real, honest-to-God smile complete with a pair of dimples high on his cheekbones and a flash of white teeth. “Hot cop, huh?”
His voice had turned a little husky – or huskier than it had been just a moment before – and I tried not to feel that all over.
Do not lust after the incompetent whose running your sister’s case, Gemini. Have some damn dignity.
I rolled my eyes. “You know exactly how hot you are, Detective, and if you didn’t, you’d need to throw that badge in the gutter because you’d be the dumbest bastard on Earth.”
Noah’s smile faded a bit. “I’m sure there was a compliment in there somewhere.”
I pursed my lips and nodded, thankful when the waitress appeared at our table, her tray laden with fabulous-smelling coffee and pastries. As soon as she set my cup in front of me, I attacked it like the coffee junky I was and slurped the nearly too-hot brew.
I was still waiting on the caffeine to work its way into my system when I felt someone staring – not necessarily at me, but in my direction. Scanning the room, my gaze fell on a man walking toward us. Calling him a man was a stretch, the guy couldn’t be more than twenty-five and practically had the words frat boy douche tattooed on his forehead. He wore a black patrol uniform and looked wet behind the ears.
He approached the table, ignoring me completely, his body turned so I mostly only saw his back as he started giving Noah shit.
“Gravy Graves,” he greeted Noah. “Heard the Captain is looking for you. Probably has something to do with you not closing the Clareborne case. The way I heard it, he’s pissed. The coroner called him this morning talking about an autopsy and tox screen.”
Noah’s face turned to stone, and it took everything I had in me not to fly across the table and tackle this guy. Who in the hell talks about an open case in the middle of a coffee shop at top volume? Especially a case that wasn’t his?
I sipped my coffee, my face a placid mask, and I waited.
“I think if the Captain has something to say to me, he’ll tell me himself,” Noah practically growled at his fellow cop. I thought Noah was an idiot when I first met him, now I realized he was probably the smartest cop on the whole damn force.
“Your funeral, man,” the cop said and then snickered. “Graves. Funeral. But seriously, though, you should probably talk to him. His face turned that shade of red that means he’s about to fire someone. Plus, the case is pretty much open and shut. That girl was Darcy Clareborne’s kid. She was probably out slutting it up loaded and crashed.” He pretended to dust off his hands. “Doneskies.”
Do not murder a police officer in public. You will go to jail. Jail is bad.
“Carson,” Noah groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. “How many times have I told you to stop talking about open investigations in public?”
Carson chuckled. “I don’t know, Graves. Probably a hundred.”
“Why is that? Why would talking about open investigations be bad?”
Carson shrugged, and I assumed he still had a dopey, idiot smile on his face, but I couldn’t see it, thank God.
“’Cause someone might hear?” he asked uncertain.
“Right. Carson, meet Gemini Perry. Genevieve Clarebore’s sister. I’m sure she’d love to hear your opinions about her sister slutting it up loaded.” Noah’s tone was scathing, but it didn’t make me feel any better.
Vivi was painted with our mother’s brush, a fact that hurt my heart.
Carson turned – more gracefully than I originally gave him credit for – and looked me over. Brown hair, brown eyes. He wasn’t necessarily dopey, but he didn’t appear too smart either. My gaze fell on his nametag.
Interesting. The Westwoods were old money and connected politically. A senator and a few congressmen in the family tree not to mention a lobbyist or twelve. How in the hell this guy was allowed to be a cop with his family was anyone’s guess.
“Carson, is it?” I asked, but I knew his name. Hell, it was practically tattooed into my brain.
“I got a question for ya,” I began in my best southern accent, the same one I got when I drank too much or got too mad. It was also the one I used when I wanted to strike fear into the hearts of assholes. Nothing is scarier than a pissed southern woman. I may have been born in Connecticut, but Texas was in my blood. “If your sister died in a car accident and she was only in her undies in the middle of a Connecticut winter, wouldn’t you ask some questions?”
Carson looked like a deer in headlights but answered with another 'yes, ma’am.'
“Wouldn’t you want to know if she was drinking or on drugs? Or since she was scantily clad, wonder if she was running from someone, or if she was attacked, or raped? Wouldn’t you want to know everything before you put her in the ground, Carson? If it was your sister? You have a sister, don’t you?”
I wasn’t positive Carson had a sister, but the Westwoods were a large family, and the likelihood was decent enough.
“Yes, ma’am, I have a sister.”
“And what would you do if someone wanted to brush her case under the rug, Carson?”
“I’d probably want to punch ‘em in the face.”
“Well, I won’t be doing that, but I will be having a word with your Captain.” I broke eye contact with him and dug in my purse for a tip to leave on the table. I pulled a five from my wallet and tossed it on the table.
“Thanks for the coffee, Graves, but I got somewhere I need to be.”
With that, I got up from the booth and did my best to not stomp out of the coffee shop.
I was only marginally successful.
Thank you for reading this chapter of Seek You Find Me! New episodes will release on the last Tuesday of each month. If you enjoy this story, you should check out the Shelter Me Series.