From Whatever Remains
They were sitting at the little spectator bench tucked against the back of the barn, the one with the view of the arena beneath the flickering leaves of a paper birch. His girls. Clara was in the grass, playing with a toy horse, dark hair brushed and gleaming and tumbling over her tiny frail shoulders. Jade was on the bench, reclining back against the red barn wall, one leg drawn up, the other swinging below. She was in tan breeches, tall socks and short boots, a loose green tank top with a smudge of dirt on the swell of one breast. She’d been riding: her hair was French braided and she wore no earrings, only a faint touch of makeup, another dirt streak on the high regal line of her cheekbone. Whatever their differences – their bitter misunderstandings – his physical attraction to her had never been an issue. He’d wanted her always, and he didn’t suppose that was ever going to change.
He’d left his jacket in the car and rolled up his shirtsleeves, but felt ridiculous in his tie, wishing he’d changed into street clothes. He shoved his hands in his pockets and watched her eyes – dappled with sunlight and blue as old worn denim – move deliberately over him. They were hard to read. “Hey.”
His voice snatched Clara from her imaginings and she came to her feet light as a fairy, face exploding with delight. She was too young to hate him for his absences. “Hi, Daddy!”
“Hi, love.” He picked her up, because she was too young to be too cool for that yet, and because he’d spent his day talking about a dead girl. “What are you up to?”
“Watchin’ Uncle Remy teach.” She slipped one small arm around his neck and twisted so she could see the arena and her “uncle.” “He’s a good teacher.”
“Yeah. And it’s nice that he gets to be the one doing the riding sometimes.”
Jade cleared her throat; over Clara’s shoulder, her slender dark brows were lifted in silent censure, expression that strange blend of neutral and peeved that still eluded him. “Clara-baby, how ‘bout you run down and ask Remy when he’ll be finished up so I know if I have time to run pop the chicken in the oven.”
Ben put her down, reluctantly, and she went scampering off, a wood sprite flitting through her magical kingdom. He supposed, if a kid had to grow up somewhere, he couldn’t hand pick anyplace better than a horse farm.
“Are you here about the case?” Jade asked. She straightened from the wall, the curve of her spine pulling her shirt tight across her breasts, highlighting the slim dip of her waist, the flare of her hips.
He gave her a flat look, trying to keep his eyes on her face. “You told me to make some time for Clara.”
She frowned, and glanced away to cover it. “You could have called.”
“I could have. But in case you didn’t notice, I’m smack in the middle of a murder.”
“God,” she sighed. “Can you not do that?”
“Pretend to be this injured guy whose kid I’m keeping you from.” He didn’t respond. “The only thing that ever came between you and your daughter was your own black heart and your string of bimbos.”
“I don’t date bimbos,” he countered, leaning back onto the wall and propping a boot against it.
“No.” She snorted. “You don’t ‘date’ anyone. That would be too chivalrous.”
Down at the arena, Clara scrambled onto the rail and Jeremy said something to his student; walked over to meet her, smiling. In a minute, she’d come flitting back to them and Ben would have to either invite himself to dinner or abandon his mission for the day.
“I need to ask you something,” he said, “relevant to the case.”
From the corner of his eye, he watched Jade stretch – the shift of lean muscle and bone beneath her clothes, the spill of shadow between her rounded breasts as they squeezed together – and relax again. One corner of her mouth curled downward in what might have been a frown; he got the impression she was disappointed. “Okay.”