Forty-four

Ben didn’t argue, didn’t ask, he just drove.  Sephora’s heart thudded against her breast and she couldn’t stop staring at the message she’d gotten, the message that had somehow been routed through headquarters without coming from headquarters.

Hope you found the case.  It’s time for truth.  Everything under the sun, Seph.  The lies end today.

It was Frederick Rose, somehow back from the dead.

She closed her eyes.  It was hard to breathe.  It wasn’t possible, was it?

She rode in the back, her comm cradled in her hands and most of her attention there.  At the same time, she was painfully aware of the concerned looks her estranged husband threw in her direction, the faint crease to his forehead.  It was a familiar look.  He was worried–worried, but for some reason didn’t want to talk about it.

Is he worried about me, I wonder?

Sephora tucked her comm back into her jacket, glancing toward the window and the familiar scenery that flashed by, carefully cultivated trees and broad boulevards.  There had been a time when she’d driven this way home from work every day.  It felt like it had been a lifetime ago.

“I can’t believe you kept it,” Ben said when the silence finally became too much.  He guided the vehicle onto a narrower road that headed along the rocky beach-head toward the narrow spit of land where their onetime home stood.

“My happiest memories are there,” Sephora whispered, tearing her gaze from the white-caps that danced against the water offshore.  The wind was picking up.  Perhaps there would be a storm.  “I just…I stopped going there because there wasn’t anyone to come home to.  Sometimes I stay for a weekend, but I always end up bringing work with me.”  She leaned her head back and sighed.  “It’s still the only place I feel really safe.”

“Your happiest memories,” Ben echoed.  Next to him, Padraig winced.

“I feel like I’m intruding,” the Home Office man said.

“It’s all right,” Ben said, forcing a smile.  “You’re her friend and you’ve been a part of…whatever’s going on…longer than I have.”

Longer in one half of it, anyway, Sephora thought, staring at Ben.  Late to the party in another.

I must be dreaming–crazy.  Ben and I can’t…or maybe we…

She killed that line of thought before it could fully blossom.  The lighthouse was within sight, now, pale against the setting sun.  Her heart lifted slightly and she touched the pocket where she’d tucked her comm.  There had been dozens of nights spent here with she and Ben and Frederick and Daciana, Frederick’s wife, and most of those nights had been pleasant.

Sephora found herself wishing that Padraig hadn’t come along.

Who knows what would have happened if he wasn’t here?

Ben pulled up in front of the lighthouse and they piled out into the chilly seaside air.  Sephora headed for the door, trusting both men to fall in behind her.  She pressed her thumb against the lockplate set flush to the door and let the mechanism scan her print and DNA.  The lock clicked softly open and she pushed the door wide, holding it for Ben and Padraig.  She slipped into her sanctuary behind them and locked the door.

Her estranged husband led the way up the stairs to the sitting room, the room with a commanding view of the ocean–the only view that was better was in their bedroom and shared study another floor up.  Ben fell into his favorite easy chair as Padraig sank down onto the couch, both of them staring at her as she dug her comm back out of her pocket.

“Al right,” Ben said softly.  “Now what’s going on?”

“I got a message,” Sephora said, staring at the screen again.  “It was from Frederick.”

Ben froze and Padraig startled.

“But he’s dead,” Padraig said.

“I know,” Sephora said, scrubbing at her eyes, suddenly stinging painfully.  “Trust me, I know.  I’ve been trying to figure out who killed him and the best answer I’ve been able to come up with was that it was everyone.”

“Seph,” Ben said gently, “sit down.”

“I’m all right.”

“You’re about to fall down.  Sit, sweetheart.”  Ben got up and guided her to a chair, sat her down.  His hands carressed hers even as she gripped the comm between both hands.  He read the message upside down and then looked at her.  “Are you going to answer the dead man?”

She choked on a laugh.  “Don’t you think I should?”

“Of course I do,” Ben said.  “I was just wondering what was taking you so long.  After all, he may have better things to be doing–other people to haunt and all that.”

This time, she did laugh, and the laughter brought tears.  She mopped at them with the heel of her hand and handed Ben her comm.  “Link it into the house network.  The secure one.  You remember how, right?”

“It hasn’t been that long,” Ben said, perching on the coffee table’s edge and poking at her comm.

It had been that long, but she wasn’t going to say that.

“How could he be alive?”  Padriag asked.

Sephora shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I dearly hope we’re about to find out, though.”

No doubt we will.

Ben handed her back the comm and kissed her cheek gently.  “Make the call,” he whispered.

She gave him a brave smile and tapped the message.  “Frederick, if you can hear me, it’s Seph.  Line’s secure.  Talk to me.”

Gods, please talk to me.

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