Home > A Bone to Pick (Widow's Island #2)(14)

A Bone to Pick (Widow's Island #2)(14)
Author: Melinda Leigh

Tessa pushed harder. “Did you wake up during the night?”

“No.” Pam shook her head. “Those pills knock me out. I would have slept through an earthquake.”

Noted.

Tessa stood. “Thank you for your time.”

“Of course.” Pam nodded. “Maybe he had a good reason for lying about his name.”

Tessa thought he may have had a hundred thousand of them. “Do you have any ideas?”

“Witness protection?” Pam had spent too much time in Hollywood.

“We’ll look into that. We might need you to answer more questions, but that’s all for now.” They saw themselves out. Tessa led the way back to the vehicle. Behind the wheel, she said, “Pam can’t alibi Steve either.”

“No.” Logan drummed his fingers on the console. “If she took a sleeping pill, Steve could easily have slipped out, killed Dante, and returned without waking her up. Could either Steve or Brad be the man who attacked you in the studio?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t get a look at his face, but they’re both the right size. Both are in decent enough shape.”

Tessa frowned at the horizon. The sun had set, leaving only the faint trace of pink light peeking over the sea. Sundown. The word had taken on new meaning since her mother’s disease had progressed. Mom would get more confused as darkness set in, and Patience should not have to deal with her deterioration alone. Cate would have left when the teenager returned from school. “I need to get home. Can we pick up the investigation tomorrow?”

“Yes. Call me in the morning.”

The thought of spending another day with Logan pleased her. Probably too much, but her life was short on happiness at the moment. She was going to let herself enjoy their time together, even if nothing came of it.

She dropped him off at his vehicle and drove home. Her leg throbbed. The local anesthetic was wearing off. She sat in her vehicle for a minute, staring at the house, summoning the energy to deal with her mother.

It’s not her fault.

But even knowing that, the last thing Tessa wanted to do at that moment was go inside the house. She was exhausted, physically and emotionally, from fighting a battle they were destined to lose.

But what else could she do?

She climbed out of the vehicle, changed her boots on the porch, and headed for the chicken enclosure, almost grateful for the detour. She opened the wire door and stepped inside. A squawk and flutter of feathers was her three-second warning. Killer Hen beelined for Tessa’s legs. She grabbed the broom by the entrance and used it to block the territorial hen’s attack. Once the hen had made her point, she smoothed her ruffled feathers and strutted off. But her swagger and backward glance told Tessa their feud was not over.

Tessa fed the chickens, changed their water, and collected six eggs. The coop and enclosure needed a good raking and fresh straw, but that chore could wait for daylight. She left the chickens and trudged up the porch steps. Leaving her boots outside, she went into the house and hung her jacket on its peg.

The kitchen was too warm, almost stifling. Her mother sat at the kitchen table, peeling carrots. She wore a summer nightgown. Her feet were bare.

Patience pulled a casserole dish from the microwave and carried it to the table. Her long red hair was bound in a ponytail. Without makeup, the teen looked young and heartbreakingly vulnerable. “It was easier to turn up the heat than to make her change her clothes.”

“I understand. It’s fine.” Tessa set the basket of eggs on the counter, removed her uniform clip-on tie, and unfastened the top two buttons of her shirt.

“Cate’s grandmother sent us a lasagna,” Patience said.

“She is so thoughtful.” Underneath her stiff uniform, sweat began to gather under Tessa’s body armor. She turned to her mother. “Hi, Mom.”

Her mother brushed a strand of gray hair away from her eyes. “You’re late.” Her gaze shifted to Patience, then back to Tessa. “Dinner will be cold. Can’t you see we have a guest?”

Tessa glanced at her sister. The teen’s face was tight, her eyes misty. Tessa’s heart ached for her. Their mother’s decline was hard enough for Tessa to handle. A fifteen-year-old should not have to deal with her own mother not recognizing her. Patience needed a break.

Tessa lifted the front of her shirt away from her chest. “I’ll be here all evening if you want to hang out with a friend.”

The teen’s eyes brightened. “There’s no school tomorrow. Mallory asked if I could stay over. Her mom said she’d pick me up after dinner. I’ll be back before you have to leave for work in the morning.”

Tessa had forgotten about the teacher in-service day. “I think that’s a great idea. I’m going to change. I’ll be right back.”

She went to her room, exchanged her uniform for a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, and returned to the kitchen. Her sister was cutting squares of lasagna. They ate with no major blowups. Tessa was grateful for the peaceful meal. A lack-of-sleep headache had formed behind her eyes, and her leg pulsed with pain. She downed two ibuprofen to cover both.

Patience stood and reached for her plate.

“I’ve got this.” Tessa pushed her chair back. “You go get ready.”

Her sister fled the room as if afraid something would happen to cancel her plans. She emerged ten minutes later carrying a flowered backpack. “Mallory’s mom is here.”

Tessa walked her to the front door and waved as her sister jogged out to the minivan and climbed inside. After locking up, Tessa returned to the kitchen and scooped ice cream—a known weakness of her mother’s—into two bowls.

She set both bowls on the table and sat across from her mother. “I need to ask you a few questions.”

“All right.” Her mom picked up her spoon and dug in.

“It’s about Dante Moreno,” Tessa began carefully.

Her mom set down her spoon. “Well, shit. I wanted it to be a surprise.”

Tessa concealed her shock. She’d never heard her swear before. “The painting?”

Her mother nodded.

“Whose idea was it to paint you?”

The papery skin of her mother’s forehead wrinkled. “I don’t remember.”

“Do you remember going to his studio?”

“Oh, yes.” Mom smiled.

“How did you get there?”

“In the beginning, when the weather was nicer, I walked. But once it got cold, Dante picked me up. He was such a nice boy.”

How could Tessa have had no idea what her mother had been doing? But then, how would she? She would have been at work, and Patience was at school. Tessa had assumed her mother hung around the house all day, weeding her garden and talking to her chickens. Obviously, that wasn’t so.

She hadn’t seen her mother happy in a long time, and it broke her heart to have to kill her joy. “Mom, I have some bad news.”

Mom’s smile faltered.

Tessa took her hands. “Dante passed away.”

Shock opened her mother’s mouth. “But he was young. Was it an accident?”

Tessa picked her words carefully. She didn’t want to frighten her mother, but she didn’t want her to hear the news from someone else—even though tomorrow she might forget. “It was very unexpected.”

“That’s horrible.” Mom pushed her ice cream away. “He was such a nice young man.”

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