Grace and Jesse awoke the next morning still wrapped in each other’s arms; Casey having snuck up onto the foot of the bed after the two had fallen asleep and now slept there curled up in a ball. Neither remembered ever feeling what they had felt the night before; during sex or otherwise. The sex had been an incredibly uninhibited act for both of them; to their surprise each had explored and enjoyed the other’s body without the awkwardness that both had secretly worried about feeling if they ever made love. He was a passionate and tender lover; with intimate knowledge of the sensitive parts of a woman’s body, Grace finding this fortuitous, as she could not recall him ever having a girlfriend. Somehow he had grown into a fierce and skilled lover; causing feelings to stir in her that she had never known existed; particularly deep and lustful feelings that she harbored for him; for the sexy, naked man lying in her bed at that very moment. It would be impossible to turn back the clock now; the two would never again be platonic friends. The door had been opened and it was one that couldn’t be closed.
They made love again that morning; everything and everyone else forgotten at that time. All they could see or hear was each other; him seeing her ample breasts and rounded, tight bottom and hearing her moans of pleasure; her seeing the sexy curves of his perfect pectorals and muscled abdomen; her breath taken away as he entered her. The entire time they were together as one nothing else existed. She thought of nothing; all the unbelievable things that had taken place since she arrived in Aurora stored somewhere in the back of her mind, but certainly not taxing to her right then. All she could do – or cared to do – was feel; feel the lust and also the newly found and vastly different love she now felt for him.
Poor Casey was waiting patiently at the back door to be let out when the pair finally emerged from the bedroom. Grace opened the door and she went flying past her out to the yard; her following behind her dog; taking in a huge breath of the fresh and unseasonably cool morning air. The sun was beaming overhead and the azure sky was dotted with puffy, white clouds. She definitely felt a new beginning on the horizon; one that she now thought should have happened a long time ago. She pondered how she could have missed the chemical bond that existed between them and merely been friends for all those years. Was he the one? Was Jesse Durant the man that she was destined to grow old with? Was he the man she was meant to marry? All these questions ran through her mind as she sat on the back steps of what was now her house; hers and Adrienne’s.
She was ecstatic about her newfound love, but she still wished more than anything that her cousin was home to share all her experiences; to see this new life unfolding at ‘Devereaux Downs’; despite the life that was lost there. She hadn’t had the time yet to truly mourn the loss of her grandmother; not with the unbelievable events that seemed to keep happening since her return home. Grace was afraid to allow herself to settle in and live her life. Every time she was convinced that whatever dubious thing had occurred was the last horrible, painful, and scary event that was coming, something else would happen. She never would have believed that in the span of about a week and a half she would have watched her grandmother committed to the earth, seen her cousin in a coma from a gunshot wound to the head, learned that she still had a living grandfather extremely close by, and been kidnapped by her former love; not to mention being made privy to the information that her mother’s death was a homicide rather than a suicide; neither of them easy with which to deal, but if she had to choose…she would choose knowing that her mother didn’t simply decide to leave her behind and wound her more deeply than anything or anyone in her life ever had. She would choose to see her own uncle tried and convicted for the heinous and unnecessary crime; despite how that would probably hurt her cousin. She was of the mind, though, that Adrienne was in full compliance with her about this particular subject.
Thinking about her mother and what she had just learned made her decide to go pay her Uncle Chris a visit where he sat in the county jail awaiting trial for the murder of his own mother and the attempted murder of his own daughter – all done, if it were done by him, in an attempt to cover up the first murder. She imagined that if he were the culprit he was most likely regretting his behavior as he sat in a concrete cell with only a two-by-two window for him to see the outside world of which he was no longer a part; that and a hardened criminal with which he shared the tiny accommodations. She was just coming to the realization that he knew nothing of the conversation between her and his daughter that had taken place the day before. He would be shocked to learn that his long kept secret was out and he was about to have another murder charge tacked on to the already bleak and hopeless case of which he was the defendant. He kept rehashing over and over what got him to where he was and how he was going to prove he didn’t do it to a jury of his peers; most of whom disliked him immensely in the first place. There were plenty of people that would love nothing more than to see him convicted whether he was guilty or not. He didn’t have much hope now and was about to be made aware of circumstances that would make what little hope he had dwindle quickly.
Grace told Jesse of her plans over breakfast; him wishing her good luck and telling her he couldn’t wait to hear about the specifics of her meeting with Chris Devereaux; honestly pleased that he was where he was because he believed he deserved to answer for the awful things he had done throughout his life. He was also more than pleased that he could finally express the deep and lasting love he had felt for her for so many years. He himself wondered why he had waited so long to tell his best friend the truth about his feelings for her. Perhaps both of their lives would have been different – better – than they had been; neither of them having to go through traumatic experiences alone, he surmised. Now he only had to decide what the perfect time and setting would be for the surprise he had in store for her; something he had waited his whole adult life to do; something he had planned years ago, but just now found the courage to share with her. He decided he would have to give that one some thought; wanting everything to be as close to perfect as possible when he moved to the next phase of his plan.
They kissed each other goodbye when he left for work; a deep, lingering kiss that she wished would never end. He left and she headed upstairs to take a long, cool shower; Casey no longer clinging to her in the house, but roaming around every room without reservation; making herself comfortable on the living room sofa – something she was never allowed to do before Genevieve’s death. The smart dog could feel that this house now belonged to them and they could do in it whatever they wished to do; including her taking a nice, long nap on any piece of furniture she chose. Grace finished her shower and got dressed; choosing a dress that hugged every one of her ample curves; allowing herself to again feel sexy. She did her best to cover with makeup the healing scrapes and scratches on her face; noticing a glow on her face despite these. She was breathtakingly beautiful even with her injuries; something she had never really felt about herself. Despite the unending attention she had always received from men, she had never thought of herself as that attractive; feeling average in a world full of good-looking people. In reality, she was anything but average. She was one of the true, rare beauties that existed in the world; her heart a hundred times more beautiful than her pretty face.
After doing whatever she could to avoid leaving the house and visiting her uncle, she finally gave up the mundane chores that could surely wait until more pressing issues were handled and headed out the front door; for once leaving her dog behind as she locked the door and got in her car. Anxiety began to rear its ugly head as she drove the ten or fifteen minute drive to the county jail which sat directly beside the police station; a hallway connecting the two buildings from the inside. Actually, she wanted to check with Detective Scheffield first to discern whether or not Chris Devereaux had been charged with the murder of her mother yet. Nothing would give her more pleasure at this point than to be the one who got to break the news to him; the news that he would only be leaving that jail in handcuffs and shackles – on his way to an even worse fate – a North Carolina state prison; probably for the remainder of his days here on earth with the living.
Walking into the police station, she knew exactly where to find the detective. Ignoring the officer stationed at the front desk, she strolled right past him and through the doors that led to what the officers referred to as “the bull pen”. Luckily she found him seated at his disorganized and overloaded desk; him smiling up at her as she entered; happy to have any distraction from the ennui he was feeling at this moment, but particularly pleased that the distraction provided was Grace Walker.
“Grace. Have a seat. You look well; like you’re healing quickly. How are you?” asked Detective Scheffield; mulling over in his head all of the life-changing things that had recently happened in her life; hoping she was not about to tell him something else bad that had occurred since they last spoke.
“Hi, detective. I’m doing well…considering.” she replied.
“What brings you in this morning?” he inquired; bracing himself for the answer because he knew if it were coming from Grace it could be anything.
“I just wanted to find out if you had charged my uncle yet…you know, with my mother’s murder?” she asked, “I decided that I’m going to pay him a little visit to tell him I know his secret – that everyone will soon know his secret. It’s just that I want more than you can imagine to be the one to break the news to him. It would be closure for me, in a way.” explained a very nervous Grace. “There is nothing I can do to him to avenge my mother’s death except know that he’s rotting in prison for it. The only way I can repay him for what he did is to watch the color drain from his face as I tell him that I know my mother did not commit suicide. I want him to realize what he took from me.” she told the detective; a few tears escaping her big, blue eyes; tears she swiftly wiped away in the hope that they had not been seen. Not even Grace herself could tell anyone what the loss of her mother had done to her psyche; believing for ten years that it was her own, selfish choice; believing her mother simply didn’t love her enough to stick around; believing many awful things about her.
“I can certainly understand where you’re coming from.” began Detective Scheffield, “And no…we have not formally charged him with your mother’s murder. I still want to speak with your cousin and get her take on it; see if she’s willing to testify against him. Without her, our case against him is extremely weak and circumstantial. I just want to be sure we can put the bastard away for this.” he said; believing with all his heart that Chris Devereaux did kill his sister, Vivienne. Now he was starting to remember things he had been told that may help their case in court; things such as the vicious fights between the two siblings that Herbert Mullins had described witnessing. The puzzle pieces were beginning to fit now; helping him to see the big picture…and Chris Devereaux did not come out smelling like a rose.
“Would it be okay for me to tell him or is there a reason you want to hold off on delivering the news?” she inquired; hoping like hell that he would tell her it was fine for her to play the messenger.
“No. It’s okay. You can tell him.” the detective informed her; noticing the look of satisfaction already starting to blossom on her pretty face. “I’ll walk you over, if you like. I wouldn’t mind seeing the look on his arrogant face, either, but I’ll give you the privacy you need for such a conversation.”
“Thank you, detective. Really.” she offered with sincerity.
“I feel like we’ve been through a lot together…please call me Matt. Detective sounds so formal.” he responded with a smile; a smile that held much more feeling than she realized.
“Deal. Matt.” said Grace nervously; seeing an expression on his handsome face that she couldn’t quite figure out.
As she replied, she actually took a good, long look at his face; in a strange way feeling as if she were really seeing it for the first time. She had never noticed before how handsome he truly was; tall and well built; dark hair cropped short that framed his face with its strong jaw and lips that were neither thin nor full, but somewhere in between. He had striking green eyes; a green she had never seen before; light, but still full of color; with long, dark eyelashes; plush and full like those of a young child. They made the color of his large, almond shaped eyes pop even more than they already did on their own. They did live in the south and it was nearing summer, so he was suntanned a dark, golden brown; which made his strong features stand out even more; even his hands were tanned; big, strong hands that looked as if they had seen more than a few days of hard labor. She felt a pang of guilt; thinking about Jesse and the new relationship into which they were evolving, but rationalized that she was only looking; herself not being sure why she was seeing the detective in a different light all of a sudden.
She brushed these thoughts aside as they entered the jail; the smell of the place making her nauseated; its aroma a mixture of sweat, urine, and also a scent resembling something like dirty socks. Detective Scheffield led her to a small room with no windows; furnished only with a metal table that looked as if it were bolted to the floor and two round, metal stools – one on either side of the table - that were also secured to the floor. She sat on the uncomfortably hard stool on the left side of the table; realizing how close she would be to her uncle physically when he was brought in if she sat on the right side. It took quite a while to get him handcuffed, shackled, and out of his cell for the walk downstairs to where his niece was sitting; waiting impatiently to absolutely let him have it. There was so much anger and resentment built up in her from all the years of torment he had inflicted upon Adrienne alone; her recent knowledge of him being the reason her mother was dead only adding to the already huge pile of emotions she was experiencing.
Grace emerged from her thoughts as the door to the stark and claustrophobic room swung open and her uncle was led in, shuffling his feet to walk due to the shackles binding his ankles. The guard walked him to the table and shoved him down onto the empty stool; her noticing that her uncle was not being treated very well, though it was difficult for her to feel any empathy for him in his current situation. She didn’t say a word as his handcuffs were secured to the table; only glared at him across the table; nervous as hell on the inside, but hoping it didn’t show on the outside. She definitely wished to have the upper hand in this situation; though this was already decided by the fact that she was free to leave at any time and he certainly was not. Her uncle sat there with a smug look on his face; a look that she wanted more than anything to slap right off it, but she managed to restrain herself; eager to begin this particular conversation with Chris Devereaux – a man that she was ashamed to have to call her uncle.
“How is Adrienne, Grace? I haven’t been able to find out anything stuck in here. Is she okay?” he asked; yet the expression on his face failed to change enough to make his fake concern believable.
“You have the nerve to ask about Addie? You shot your daughter!” Grace retorted; her voice quickly rising in anger.
“Grace, I didn’t do it!” he exclaimed, “How could you actually believe that about me? You think I tried to kill my own daughter?”
“Yes!” she yelled; even getting the attention of the guard stationed outside the room; adjusting the volume of her rant. She did not want anything to stop her from speaking her mind to her incarcerated relative. “Yes. I think you tried to kill Addie and I think you succeeded in killing Gram”…him interrupting her to speak.
“You know I could never do anything like that. What kind of man do you think I am? You actually think”…her interrupting him in return.
“Oh you don’t know the half of what I think about you.” she said through clenched teeth, “You don’t know the half of what I know about you, so you can save the false concern, Uncle Chris.”
“What are you talking about?” he asked; the smug look he had worn replaced with something a little more like fear. After all, he did have another skeleton that he mistakenly believed still resided in the closet.
“I think you know exactly what I’m talking about.” she tossed back at him; this only adding to the already perplexed and worried expression he wore.
“Grace, I don’t.” he began, “I can understand why you might believe I shot them, but I swear to you…it wasn’t me. I swear I don’t know how somebody got my gun, but they did. Somebody did…somehow.”
“I thought I told you to save it.” she replied; her confidence growing as she saw his dwindling more with each second that passed. “You want to know why I believe it? You want to know why I believe you killed my grandmother and tried to do the same to my cousin?”
“Please…tell me.” he practically begged; not having a clue what she was about to say to him. His mind was on the current case – the one that had landed him in jail; not the ten year old case he thought was long forgotten; not the case that included an eye-witness to help seal his fate.
“I know what happened between you and my mother, Uncle Chris.” she spat out; the look in her eyes so intense that he knew for certain that he had been found out; the time he had feared had inexorably arrived. He had worried every day for ten years that this moment would eventually come, but had gotten away with it for so long that it was still a shock to hear the words come out of his niece’s mouth.
“What are you talking about, Grace?” he inquired; playing dumb, but feeling fairly certain he knew of what she spoke; only hoping that his act was believable.
At this moment, he was praying silently that she wasn’t talking about the murder of her mother – his only sister – because he was well aware of how much more vulnerable he was if she were talking about that very thing. He knew his daughter had witnessed the entire, horrendous act; him strangling his sister until she passed out, then throwing a rope up and over one of the old, wooden rafters in his mother’s barn, making a noose in the thick, braided rope, and placing it around her neck; pulling with all his might until Vivienne Devereaux was off of the dirt floor and swinging through the air; still alive at this point and awakened from her unconscious state when she was hoisted off the ground; death not coming fast enough to prevent suffering on her part, but slow and agonizing. The absolute worst part about the whole scenario was that he could have fastened the noose so her neck would have broken instantly, saving her such misery, but he chose not to do that. Chris Devereaux had deliberately fashioned it in such a way that his sister would have kicked her legs wildly through the air in an attempt to reach the ground and grabbed the rope around her neck; gasping for breath as the noose only drew tighter in her panic. For that, Grace felt he should suffer for the rest of his days just like her mother had to suffer; only his anguish would last for years not minutes.
“You killed my mother.” she stated simply; using every ounce of bravery she could muster trying not to cry. She did not want to give him the satisfaction of knowing he could still hurt her.
“Oh, God.” was all he said; then he dropped his head in defeat; knowing that if she possessed that knowledge she also knew that Adrienne had seen the entire thing.
“God’s the only one who can help you now.” stated Grace emphatically. Now that she had told her uncle the truth, it no longer felt like enough. She wanted to know why; why her mother had had to die; what argument could have been so unresolvable that it resulted in one of the participant’s death.
“Grace, I know you don’t believe me, but I am so sorry.” he stated; sounding genuine; as if perhaps he experienced regret over killing his sister, her mother.
“No. I don’t believe a word that comes out of your foul mouth. Why should I?” she asked of him. “Why are you sorry, Uncle Chris…because you got caught? What exactly are you sorry for? Are you sorry for hanging my mother and allowing me to believe for the last ten years that she did that to herself? Or maybe you’re sorry for being the reason your mother is lying in a casket in the ground. Oh, wait I know…” she spouted sarcastically, “I know. You’re sorry for putting a bullet in your own daughter’s head so she couldn’t tell me your big secret. So which one is it? Please…do tell.”
“Grace, I am responsible for killing Vivienne – and for that I will be forever sorry – but I didn’t shoot Mom and Adrienne. Oh, God, you have to believe me. I didn’t do it. I didn’t.” he insisted; her appalled that it actually sounded like he was telling the truth. She could see a few tears escaping from his tired and worried eyes; this lending a tad more credibility, but not enough for her.
She steeled herself against it and said, “Look. There’s no point in rehashing it. Nothing you can say or do is going to change my opinion of you…or my belief in your guilt or innocence. I just wanted to let you know that I know your secret…and so does everyone else now. I took Addie’s diary to the detective and handed that over; which contains some entries that are pretty damning – and she is planning to testify against you.”
He cut her off; his expression changed from resignation to hope and he asked, “She’s awake?”
“Yes. She’s awake. And okay – no thanks to you.” she replied; surprised that she did feel a pang of sympathy for him, though it was only for a fleeting moment. Then the anger resurfaced quickly and she told her uncle, “Oh. Guess what else I know? I know that Caroline skipped town with your inheritance money.” she said; feeling bad instantly for the words that had just escaped her mouth, for it wasn’t like her to be so cruel and spiteful. She had never been a vindictive person, though it was difficult for her to simply accept the awful acts he had committed and move on with her life.
The visit with her uncle ended then; the guard outside telling him his time was up and he had to return to his cell. She simply looked up at him as he shuffled toward the door and said definitively, “Bye, Uncle Chris”; in a tone that suggested she would not be seeing him again; not until the trial began and she sat behind the table for the prosecution; sending the clear message that she no longer cared to be his niece. Honestly, she wasn’t positive that he was the one who had killed Genevieve and tried to kill Adrienne. There was a part of her that didn’t want to believe someone to which she was related could have committed such unforgivable acts; crimes that definitely branched out and affected many people, some of whom weren’t terribly close to the family, but nonetheless were saddened by these crimes that were committed in their town. Then there was the part of her who knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that he had murdered her mother; this part – this belief - winning over the other right now.
That is what occurs in a small town after a tragedy of any sort; from car accidents to murder and every other awful thing in between. Things like these didn’t happen often in Aurora or Weston – or any other small towns that were dotted across the United States, but when something catastrophic did invade their towns, small town people had a habit of coming together to support each other. In big cities, something huge to a small town was commonplace; having to deal with things like rape, murder, and home invasions every single day. So the residents of the cities become desensitized to it and tend to react in an opposite way; by going off on their own instead of dealing with grief together; by not acting as a savior to someone who screams, “Help!”, but instead merely going about his or her day as if the experience never happened and everything was copacetic. Grace had never been able to wrap her head around that sort of mentality; that “it’s none of my business” kind of attitude. Then again, she had been raised in a small town; tiny, actually, and that’s not how things got done there.
She stopped by to see Detective Scheffield on her way out of the jail; him again at his desk; puttering around trying to look busy. He looked happy to see her, though she thought that a bit strange. It wasn’t strange to the detective. He was discovering that the more time he spent with Grace Walker, the more attracted to her he was becoming. Of course it would be totally unethical if any sort of relationship outside of her involvement in the cases were to develop, but every time he saw her beautiful face and heard her sexy voice, he couldn’t help but let his imagination go to places that it probably shouldn’t be going; places in his mind that he visualized himself kissing her in a way no other man ever had. Though it was unknown to anyone else, including Grace, he was beginning to fall in love with her; a woman with whom he had never even been on a date.
Grace sat down in front of his desk; oblivious to the thoughts presently running through his mind. “I just wanted to say thanks. I know you didn’t have to let me do what you did; you could’ve charged him with my mother’s murder before you let me talk to him.” she offered sincerely.
“It’s no problem. Really. Did you say everything you wanted to say?” he asked of her, “I mean…are you…do you feel any better at least?”
“Yes. I do feel better. I still can’t believe he had the audacity to ask me how Add…Adrienne is doing, but he did.” she explained. “At least I got to say what I needed to say for closure. I think I got my point across. And thank you. Really. It means a lot to me.”
“You’re welcome.” he replied; unable to retrieve more than those two words from his vocabulary at the moment. He found himself at a loss for words whenever she appeared; immediately becoming nervous and stumbling over his words. “If you have a second I’ll walk you out.” he offered; more for selfish reasons than he would like to admit.
“Yes, of course. Thanks.” she answered him.
“Great. Just have a seat and I’ll be back in a sec. I just have to run this upstairs.” he explained as he held a brown file folder up in the air; flashing her a smile.
“Okay. No problem.” was her response.
Grace waited patiently for the two minutes it took the detective to run the file upstairs and come back down. He retrieved her from her post at his desk; sweeping his arm through the air to say “ladies first”. She walked past him and he followed directly behind; finding it impossible not to take notice of her well-rounded curves and small waist. She was wearing a dress that only accentuated her figure more; the detective letting his eyes run down the length of her long, fit legs and back up again to her perfect rear end. He kept chastising himself silently for being so unprofessional, but simply could not help himself. She was, of course, completely unaware that his eyes were roaming all over her sexy body; just putting one foot in front of the other until they reached the door that led outside.
Instead of saying goodbye there, to her astonishment he walked with her all the way through the parking lot to her car - which was parked about as far away from the door as one could park. They made pleasant conversation as they strolled at a leisurely pace; both not willing to admit to themselves that there was electricity in the air between them as they walked side by side. Matt Scheffield had known he felt a certain affinity for her since they had met; one that had been growing in him ever since. Grace was still reeling from what had been happening between her best friend and her for the last couple of days; it was almost more than she could deal with to now feel something occurring between the detective and herself; not quite sure what that something was, but being aware that it had everything to do with the sexual tension she felt between them now; so thick one could cut it with a knife.
Finally reaching her car, she assumed that would be the end of their little stroll and she would be on her way; on her way back home to the man who had spent the last two nights in her bed. That is not what happened, however. She unlocked the car door and leaned in to set her purse and cell phone down on the passenger seat; then backed up out of the car and turned around; finding that he was standing much closer to her than she had expected to find him. In fact, there was less than the standard three feet between them and she found that she was staring directly into his striking green eyes; full of passion for her at this moment; him staring intensely back at her.
For what seemed like an eternity, the two merely stood there – staring at each other, but neither of them moved a muscle. He noticed how the light struck her hair; making her blonde, resplendent highlights shine and how argent and deep her blue eyes truly were. He knew he shouldn’t do what he was about to do, but it was taking every ounce of energy he had to refrain and he knew it was waning nimbly. Grace wasn’t thinking at all right now; she could only feel; feel a magnetic pull in Matt Scheffield’s direction. If she had been thinking, she would have already stopped herself to make sure Jesse did not get hurt and she did not make what would indelibly be a mistake. She turned her attention back to the detective when she felt him move in even closer; felt his hot breath on her lips. She knew she had only a split second in which to make a decision…because she was about to be kissed by another man.