Blue-Eyed Devil Page 54

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"I didn't know how else to handle you. The truth made you angry."

"I know. But it takes two people to make a good marriage. And I had a lot to deal with — being rejected by your family, having to work like a dog to provide for you — and you always blamed me for not being able to solve your problems."

"No," I protested "Maybe you blamed yourself. But I never felt like that."

"You were never really with me. Even when we slept together. I could tell you were never really into it. No matter what I did, you never responded to me the way other women did. I kept hoping you'd get better."

Damn it, Nick knew how to get to me, how to reawaken the sense of inadequacy I'd struggled so hard to overcome. Nick knew things about me that no one else did. We would always be linked by our shared failure — it was part of our individual identities. It could never be erased.

"Are you dating anyone now?" I heard him ask.

"I don't feel comfortable talking about that with you."

"That means yes. Who is he?"

"I'm not dating anyone," I said. "I haven't slept with anyone. You don't have to believe that, but it's true." Instantly I despised myself for saying it, and for feeling that I was still accountable to him.

"I believe you," Nick said. "Aren't you going to ask about me?"

"No. I don't care if you're dating anyone. It's not my business."

He was quiet for a moment. "I'm glad you're okay, Haven. I still love you."

That brought tears to my eyes. I was so glad he couldn't see them. "I'd rather you didn't call me again, Nick."

"I still love you," he repeated, and hung up.

Slowly I replaced the phone in the receiver, and blotted the tears by doing a deliberate face-plant into the sofa. I stayed that way until I started to smother, and then I lifted my head and sucked in a deep breath.

"I thought I loved you," I said aloud, even though Nick couldn't hear me.

But I hadn't known what love was. And I wondered how you could ever be sure, when you thought you loved someone, if you really did.

The next day, it rained.

During the occasional droughts, Houston got so dry that, as a local joke went, "the trees are bribing the dogs." But when it rained, it rained. And as a virtually flat city built around bayous, Houston had major drainage issues. During a heavy downpour, water collected high in the streets and flowed into storm drains, culverts, and bayous that directed the flow to the Gulf of Mexico. In the past, countless people had been killed by flash flooding, their cars overturned or swept away as they tried to cross the rising water. Sometimes flooding ruptured fuel pipelines, sewer lines, knocked out bridges, and made major roads inaccessible.

A flood watch was announced after lunchtime, and later it was changed to an actual warning. Everyone took it in stride, since Houston residents were accustomed to flash flooding and generally knew which streets to avoid during the evening commute.

Late in the day I went to a meeting at Buffalo Tower to discuss a new online system for processing maintenance requests. Vanessa had originally planned to go to the meeting, but she had changed her mind at the last minute and sent me instead. She told me it was mostly an information-gathering meeting, and she had more important things to do than talk about software. "Find out everything about the system," she told me, "and I'll have some questions for you in the morning." I was pretty sure there would be hell to pay if Vanessa had a question I couldn't answer. So I resolved to find out every last detail about the software program, short of memorizing the source codes.

I was relieved but puzzled that Vanessa had not mentioned one word about seeing me at the Harrisburg the previous night. And she didn't ask about Hardy. I tried to read her mood, but that was like trying to predict the weather, an iffy proposition at best. Hopefully she had decided to consider the subject as something beneath her notice.

Even though Buffalo Tower was only a few blocks from 1800 Main, I drove because the rain was coming down in sheets. The building was one of the older skyscrapers, a gabled red granite structure that reminded me of a 1920s-style building.

As I parked in one of the lower levels of the underground garage, I checked my phone messages. Hardy had called, I saw, and my stomach tightened. I pushed a button to hear his message.

"Hey." His tone was brusque. "We need to talk about last night. Give me a call when you get off work."

That was all. I listened to the message again, and I wished I could cancel the meeting and go to him right then. But it wouldn't take long — I would get through it as quickly as possible, and then I would call him.

By the time the software consultant, Kelly Reinhart, and I had finished, it was a few minutes past six. It might have gone on even longer, except there was a call from the security office to tell us that there had been some flooding in the lowest level of the garage. It was mostly unoccupied, since most people had already left for the day, but there were still one or two cars down there, and they should probably be moved.

"Shoot, one of them's mine," I said to Kelly, closing my laptop and sliding it into my briefcase. "I'd better go see to my car. Is it okay if I call you tomorrow about the last couple of points we didn't get to?"

"Sure thing," Kelly said.

"What about you? . . . Are you going to the garage too?"

"I didn't bring my car today, it's in the shop. My husband's picking me up at six-thirty. But I'll ride down with you in the elevator if you want company — "

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