Still The One (Family Stone #4 Jack)(7)

By: Lisa Hughey

That had been the hardest memory to forget. She’d always been smiling, laughing. She’d told him once that she tried to find joy in every day, and that she tried to live up to her name. Life had certainly been full of bliss when they were together.

Her waist was slimmer and her breasts a little bigger based on the snug, revealing fit of her shirt. That was another thing. She used to be all colors and light, but the suit she wore was a bland, subdued navy, her shirt a plain white button up, as if she’d hidden her lightness behind boring clothes and somber colors. Or was it gone completely?

Bliss was now streamlined and sleek like a racehorse. Lots of curves, full breasts, gorgeous ass, not skinny, but not fat. And she moved with a sensual, serene maturity that had been missing at twenty.

Her body had lost the sweet softness that she’d wrapped around him eagerly. She’d drawn him in, given him a haven, a place to just be, without the responsibility that had been the cornerstone of his existence since the day his father left him in charge of the house and his family.

At fourteen, he’d been overwhelmed, terrified of fucking up, and just plain scared. But he’d stepped up and taken care of his brothers and sister, and to some extent Shelley, his de facto step-mom even though she had the good sense not to marry his father.

But none of that mattered now. Now was all about protecting himself.

He needed to maintain the anger. And keep her angry. He’d seen her start to soften and he couldn’t bear that. He needed her tough, a little mean. Because if she showed her softer side, he might start to lower his defenses. His anger had faded some in the face of her profound changes. This older, subdued Bliss was so radically different from his memories, he couldn’t afford to give in to the urge to touch her, hold her, talk to her.

Jack shook off the need to ask her what had happened to her. This wasn’t about him. Or her. He needed to focus on the case they needed to solve and leave the memories and the questions about what happened to her behind.

This was about Maria Torres. “Are you sure she left Iowa of her own accord?”

“Video surveillance of the ATM machines where she withdrew the money and the store security cameras don’t show anyone with her. We analyzed her facial patterns using a cutting edge technology that measures infrared body temps and reactions and she showed no signs of undue stress. She acted furtive, nervous, skittish, but not afraid.” Bliss clipped out. Her melodious voice had gone flat, monotone.

“And you’re sure that Fernandez knows she escaped the house where he’d held her imprisoned?”

“He definitely knows she’s gone. He’s circling the wagons. He’s back in California, and based on some cell phone taps from this morning he’s looking to tie up loose ends.” Bliss continued to recite facts in a bland, even voice. “He used his receptionist’s cell phone to call someone and order them to observe and apprehend a link to his problem.”

“How do you know it was him?”

“Voice recognition software.”

“How’d you get the taps on associates phones?”

Bliss kept silent.

Jack snapped his fingers. Judge Adams was one of the few who knew exactly what Fernandez was accused of and he was the one who asked Jack to help here. “Judge Adams.”

She gave a little tilt to her head but didn’t verbally acknowledge his guess any other way.

“You still have the tapes?”

Bliss nodded.

“Great. Can I listen to them later?”

“I’ll get you a transcript. Good enough?”

Jack responded. “Fine.”

“Do we know who he called?”

“No. They were using a burner phone.” Bliss said, “We could pinpoint their general location from triangulating the cell towers the call bounced off but we don’t have any idea of their identities. Fernandez was careful not to use any names.”

Jillian Larsen tapped out a text on her smart phone. “Something urgent with another client just came up. I’m going to leave this to you two.”

Bliss’s head shot up from where she was reviewing documents and for one brief moment, Jack saw panic in her eyes. Then he blinked and whatever he thought he saw was replaced by the same bland, unsmiling face that she had been projecting since he walked in.

But what if her indifference to him, to everything, was all a disguise? An act?

Jack felt the uncontrollable urge to shake her up. To rattle that calm facade and see what came tumbling out. To see if that blast of panic was real. “I was ready seven hours ago. I’m just waiting on the expert, Ms. Lee.”

Larsen aimed a fierce look at Jack. “Put aside your issues and work together. This is an important witness.”

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