Trey and Paige
He’d been to Rosewood a handful of times at this point, but Trey always forgot where the first floor bathroom was. It was tucked in a hard-to-spot corner, in an alcove between the guest dining room and the entrance to the staff quarters where Ben’s sister-in-law lived with her family.
After he’d dealt with the problem his three beers had created, he paused in the hallway, scratching absently at his hair. Except for a single bowl of salsa, the guys in the game room hadn’t been fed. Well, that wasn’t true, but the main buffet was set up in the great room, where all the present-opening, baby-oohing-and-awing was going on.
Not anything he wanted to get tangled up with.
He ducked left and went into the kitchen, not expecting to find anyone there. Instead, there were two girls at the long kitchen table, arranging cake slices on paper plates. One was Jordan Walker’s wife, Ellie: lots of dark hair, big boobs, pretty dress and heels. Trey had always thought she seemed too sweet, too genuine, to be real. The other one…she belonged on top of a cake, one served at an eight-year-old’s birthday.
Paige Montgomery was subdued – for her – today, in ruffled black dress and knee-high boots. Her long white-blonde hair was pink down one side, and arranged in loose curls down her back. Her earrings were silver hoops with Jolly Rogers dangling at the centers.
Neither of them noticed his entrance. As he went to the fridge, he overheard Ellie: “…doing okay?”
“Fine,” Paige snapped. Her voice was too big for her itty bitty body, and today, it had a bite to it.
“If you don’t want to be here,” Ellie started, “I can –”
“There’s nothing wrong with me, El. Stop acting like I’m about to fall apart.”
Ellie propped a hand on her hip. “Yeah. And you were doing so well not falling apart the other night.”
“I was taking a nap. I have no idea who put the tequila bottle under my arm.”
There was an uncovered cold cut platter in the fridge, probably meant for the party, but Trey didn’t figure they’d miss a few slices. If he just lifted out one, maybe two, slices of roast beef, and peeled them away carefully…
The plate tottered and he made a clumsy grab for it, his wrist knocking against the rim of it. In horrifying slow motion, he watched the platter tip sideways and crash down to the floor. He made a fruitless attempt to catch it. The china shattered on impact against the dark hardwood floor; ham and turkey and beef slices flopped across his shoes and landed on the floor with little flap noises. In the dying echo of the cracking plate, the kitchen rang with startled silence.
“Shit.” He turned to the girls, an embarrassed flush already heating his neck. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean – ”
“It’s fine,” Ellie rushed to assure him, coming to his side. There was a spark of amusement in her translucent gray eyes.
“All that food…” Trey said, pushing a hand through his short, dark hair. “I’m sorry,” he repeated lamely. “I’m not normally that stupid.”
“We have more,” Ellie assured, and crouched down to start picking it up.
“Oh, no, let me get that.” He dropped to his knees to help, but she waved him away.
“I’ll get this, if you’ll take the bits of plate out to the garbage. I don’t want it in the kitchen can; someone could get cut pulling the bag out.”
Trey apologized at least three more times before he had the plate shards consolidated in one palm. Ellie was rolling her eyes at him by the time he headed out the back door toward the big wheeled trash can stationed behind the house.
Outside, the afternoon was layering shades of gray into the low-hanging clouds, the pressure of them intensifying until the lake and sky seemed one great shadow. The wind tugged at his hair and jacket, tumbling leaves across the lawn. It smelled like smoke, decaying vegetation, and a hint of lake water.
He’d always loved this time of year. It reminded him of his high school football days; of his mom’s cooking and his guilty pleasure Starbucks runs. It filled him with restless energy; he wanted to be working, digging, searching. He’d been on a dissatisfied streak lately, and he wanted a real case to come across his desk, something he could really sink his teeth into. Ben had relaxed with him – he even let him drive some of the time – and it was feeling like they were real partners these days and not just teacher and student. He wasn’t the rookie on the squad anymore, and he was feeling an overwhelming need to prove his detective chops; it was a sensation the atmospheric pressure over the lake sent into a mad spiral. The last place he wanted to be was a baby shower, even if it was for Jade, and she more than deserved it.
After he’d dumped the plate fragments, he made his way lazily back to the patio, hands in his pockets, enjoying the afternoon as it waned to charcoal dust. He didn’t expect to see Paige sitting beside the cold fire pit, on a stone bench Chris Haley had built, hugging herself against the chill and nursing a cigarette.
She didn’t have a jacket, and her black dress had thin straps; as he drew closer, he could see the goose bumps on her thin, pale arms. She was tiny, all slim wrists and skinny ankles under her makeup and biker boots. Her blonde and pink hair trailed like a brilliant banner over one shoulder; Trey found himself wondering what color it really was. She brought her cigarette to her painted pink lips and took a drag, hand quivering, smoke leaving her nostrils in thin plumes.
She looks like a fairy, he thought. A little fragile fae creature misplaced from her enchanted forest. She was nothing like the girls he went for, but there was something magnetic about her all the same. She was a curiosity. A piece that didn’t fit into the Rosewood puzzle.
She looked morose too, and like she wouldn’t take kindly to unasked-for company.
He joined her.
Her eyes cut over to him, sweeping across the flagstones first, lifting slowly to his face. They were a vivid, crystal blue, ringed in heavy black liner and smoky shadow. She looked away and said nothing.
He tried again. “I’m – ”
“I know who you are, Detective Kaiden.” A thin curl of smoke danced from the tip of her cigarette, unfurling and melting into the cool air.
“Oh. Well you don’t have to call me ‘detective.’ Trey works fine.”
“Sorry,” she said without feeling, staring at the murmuring tree line. “Didn’t figure you’d want to be on a first name basis. Cops don’t usually like me.” She risked the tiniest of glances, a flirting blue flash on his periphery. “It’s the hair,” she explained. “And the belligerence.”
He wanted to be offended, and instead smiled. “You could change both of those things, you know.”
She shrugged. “Oh, I know.” Idly, she curled a finger through a lock of pink hair.
“So,” Trey started, “you’re a baker?”
“That sounds interesting.”
“No it doesn’t.” She turned to him, unabashed in her challenge. “Why are you out here trying to talk to me?”
Taken aback, he blinked. “Honestly…this whole baby shower thing isn’t my scene.”
Her snort sounded approving. “Me neither.” And turned her attention to the view again.
Clearly, she wasn’t up for social niceties, but he was too curious at this point to go inside. He was a detective, after all; he got a rather sick satisfaction in cracking people open. “Is everything alright? You sounded kinda pissed inside.”
“Maybe I sound like that all the time.”
“Maybe. But Ellie was asking about you in the kitchen.”
“Ooh, big detective,” she said sourly, “got me all figured out.”
“No. I was just going off your obvious…” She pinned him with a murderous glance. “Not-okay-ness,” he finished. “No one with pink hair should be in this bad a mood.”
“I’m fine.” She finished the last nub of her smoke and ground it out on the flagstones beneath the toe of her boot. She sighed, narrow shoulders sagging. A chill rippled through her; her white arms were starting to look bluish. Trey shrugged out of his jacket and draped it over her shoulders. She stiffened under the soft touch of the satin liner; he saw her black lashes flutter. “My boyfriend and I split up,” she said in a miserable whisper. “We’ve been together since high school.”
Her head jerked up, jacket slipping down off her shoulders. “Not that it’s any of your business,” she said, eyes narrowing.
He could still see the hurt in them. “I’m sorry.”
“Not as sorry as me.” She gathered his jacket around her throat. “That bastard wasted the best years of my life!” she said fiercely.
“Aw, c’mon. You don’t look a day over forty.”
Her eyes flared…and then some of the anger in them melted. She grinned and shook her head. “Jade was right.”
“You need speech therapy to learn how to talk around that foot in your mouth.”
He chuckled. If he didn’t focus on the hair, but looked just at her smile, and the pixie lines of her face, she was beautiful.
Trey hated the sound of the back door opening. “Hey, Paige?” Ellie called. “Where’d you put the cupcake toppers?”
“Oh.” Paige leapt to her feet like she’d been caught doing something far less innocent than talking. She let his jacket slide back and puddle on the bench behind her. “Coming!” she called to her friend, and went skipping across the patio to the back steps. She didn’t look back once.
Trey watched the black swirling of her skirt as she closed the door behind her, then gathered up his jacket. He glanced out toward the lake, its water gray and sick-looking, choppy along the pebbled shore.
“Huh,” he said to himself. “That was…different.”