"You killed my daughter!! You filthy murderer!"
The words rang out across the ballroom, as all eyes focused on the man who stood, finger pointed at Jared. The man took one step forward, hatred and condemnation radiating from his very being. "You killed my daughter. I'd know your face anywhere." He turned to the woman standing beside him, a woman Jared had known for years, and said, "You told me that this was a party welcoming Gilbert Andrews' brother. If this is the man, I want no part of him." Turning back to Jared, he continued, "No part of this," and he gestured around the room, "and no part of you." Without another word, he walked from the room. The woman, his wife Linda, asked no questions. None were necessary.
"Play a tango," Justin ordered the director of the orchestra. "Now."
The horror of the last few moments was washed away by the driving beat of the music, and seconds later, all eyes were on Justin as he led Rosemary through the intricate moves.
"It wasn't your fault," Marty said as she took Jared's arm and led him onto the terrace. He followed automatically, his eyes filled with pain and regret. "Jared, listen to me. It wasn't your fault."
"Tell that to the man who just left here. Tell that to Linda-I didn't know that....oh, god, Marty! Will I ever quit seeing those eyes, hearing that voice in my dreams?" He pushed away from her, and looked out across the fields, his hands gripping the railing as if it was his only hope. "And now it's worse. I dated that woman-I know her! It was her daughter, wasn't it?" At Marty's nod, he continued, "And I'm supposed to just step out onto the dance floor and go on as if nothing happened?"
"No, Jared," Marty told him, her voice calm and logical. "Something happened, and we need to get to the bottom of it."
Angrily, Jared stared at the woman he'd known for all of his adult life, the woman with whom he'd shared many of life's secrets.
"What do you mean, the bottom of it? What happened is simple. I accidentally shot a young girl."
"Listen to yourself, Jared. Accidentally. You didn't deliberately shoot her. Things happen. It was fate that put her there that day, fate or..." Marty paused, a quizzical look tracing across her face. "Fate or something more sinister."
"Don't get started on that," Jared spat, angrily. "I don't want to hear any more conspiracy theories, any more ideas about what might have happened. I know what happened that day. Damnit, I was there! I fired the gun! I saw the girl fall, saw the blood on her white cotton dress. Can't you understand?"
"I understand far more than you think I do," Marty told him, her green eyes blazing with the gleam that Jared would have understood, had he not been more involved in his own problems, to be one of sudden insight. "And, in time, so will you."
"Dance with me?" Jack asked the lovely young woman he'd noticed upon entering the ballroom. Tall and slender, she had long, wavy golden brown hair. Dressed in a flame colored sheath, she was at once the sophisticated woman, and enthusiastic girl. Totally enchanting.
"All right," she smiled at him, her brown eyes meeting their reflection in his. "I hope you dance as well as you look."
The last was more of an aside, but Jack heard it and smiled. "I'm a man of many talents," he told her as they swung instantly into the rhythm of the waltz that was now playing. "And you?"
"Hardly a man."
"For which I'm grateful." Jack held her a little closer, his eyes taking in the rest of the ballroom, ever alert for the slightest hint of danger. He danced them towards the terrace door where he observed Marty and Jared locked in a heated discussion, then, whirled them back into the middle of the floor.
"What was that with Mr. White?" Christina asked, as she caught a glimpse of Jared and Marty. "Did I understand him to imply that Jared Andrews killed his daughter?"
"Was that what he said?" Jack evaded casually. "I wasn't paying much attention at that point." He smiled down into her eyes. "My mind was otherwise occupied."
"You are a flirt, Mr...."
"Johnson," Jack answered. "Jack Johnson. Miss?"
"Castle. Christina Castle."
"How is your family connected to the Andrews family?" Jack swept her around the room, never missing a beat while he skillfully got the answers he wanted.
"My parents, that is my mother, Suzanna Castle, knew Jared and Gilbert back when they were teenagers. They went to school together."
"So how do you know them?"
"I came with Marty Webster," Jack offered, giving the standard explanation for the business. "She's my boss-she's head of Webster, Ethridge and Bates, a consulting company. Jared worked for her."
"What kind of consulting do you do?? I mean, for Mr. White to accuse Mr. Andrews of murder-that's pretty weird."
"I'll say," Jack agreed. "Guess I'll have to look into it."
The music ended, and Jack reluctantly released Christina. "Another dance?"
"This one is mine," came a voice from behind him. Hearing an undercurrent of animosity in the other male voice, Jack smiled and said, "Later, Christina."
"Hello, Scott," Christina greeted, but her eyes stayed on the young man who casually sauntered across the ballroom. Scott Drake also watched, but for very different reasons. Jack Johnson was, he knew, a very dangerous man.
"That was very smooth," Rosemary commented to Justin who had just brought her a glass of champagne. "Thank you for sparing Jared."
Justin looked at his employer and nodded. "Jared seems a decent man-he doesn't deserve that sort of treatment, particularly at his welcome home celebration. Tell me, Rosemary, why did you invite White?"
Shaking her head, Rosemary answered, "I had no idea. Jared has told me little or nothing about what brought him home. I knew that he was unhappy with his job-but I didn't know that there was any sort of trouble-at least not that kind. I mean, what kind of trouble can a consultant get into?"
"That all depends on what kind of consulting a man does," Justin answered, cryptically. He made a mental note to find out, either from Jared or from the woman who had saved his life. There was more at work here than he'd initially thought, and it was time to find out what it was. Better now than later when it might be too late. He'd been that route before and it wasn't fun. No, a bit of investigation was in order. STAT.
"You know," Rosemary mused, "I never thought to ask."
"Why don't you let me look into this?" Justin suggested. "I'll be discreet."
"Could you? I'd hate for Jared to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome in his own home, and I don't want Gilbert to be involved."
"No problem," Justin smiled, lifting his champagne flute. "No problem at all."
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