He looked me over. From head to toe and back. If it had been Rafe, the inspection would have been slow, insolent, appreciative, and ending in a killer grin. It would have made my cheeks flush and my stomach quiver. This appraisal made a chill go down my spine. There was no feeling there. No appreciation, no curiosity, no anger—nothing but cold assessment.
I forced myself not to show a reaction. “Sir?”
“I’m looking for Rafe.” His voice was low, harsh, with a hint of an accent. Not Southern. That was different, too. Rafe’s voice is husky and warm. Only when he’s angry do his voice and eyes go dead and flat, like this man’s.
“That’s quite a coincidence,” I said. “So am I. I’m sure Mrs. Jenkins told you we haven’t seen him for more than a month?”
I leaned sideways, to try to get a bead on Mrs. J, in the front seat of the Volvo. Just to make sure she was OK and still breathing. The way this guy was looking at me, I wouldn’t put it past him to have slit Mrs. Jenkins’s throat if he didn’t get the answers he wanted.
She was still alive. Staring straight ahead, her wrinkled face blank. I recognized the expression, or rather, the lack thereof. Clearly, whatever the guy had said or done to her, had scared her practically witless. She’d retreated into this place she goes, where she isn’t living in the same world as the rest of us anymore. She gets a vacant look in her eyes, and she babbles. About old Jim Collier shooting her son Tyrell, about Walker Lamont cutting Brenda Puckett’s throat, about Walker coming after the two of us with a gun… The poor dear has had some tough breaks in her life, and obviously, being related to Rafe isn’t destined to make anything easier for her.
I added, pulling my attention back to the man in front of me, “He left almost six weeks ago. He mentioned Memphis, although that could have been just a ruse. No one’s heard from him since. For all I know, he’s dead.”
The man parted his lips, just far enough to squeeze out a few words. “He ain’t dead.” The unspoken last word of that sentence, I thought, was yet.
It took another superhuman effort to keep my voice from shaking. “I’m sorry. As I told you, we haven’t heard from him. Not since he left. I’m sure he’ll be back sooner or later, but I have no idea when. And I doubt I’ll get advance warning. He usually just shows up. One day I’ll turn around, and there he’ll be.” Please, God…
The man didn’t answer. Just kept looking at me with those dead eyes.
“I’ll be happy to give him a message,” I offered, a little desperately. Maybe that would make him leave. “Whenever he comes home. Or in case he calls.”
The man looked at me again. Up and down. The regard was still impersonal, but his eyes lingered for a second longer than necessary on my legs and on the top button of my blouse. And on my throat. I paled. It was only too easy to guess what he was thinking, and I hadn’t meant that I wanted to be the message.
He must have seen the realization on my face, because he smiled. Chillingly. By which I mean that the corners of his mouth stretched, but his eyes stayed the same. “Tell him to watch his back.”
I nodded. Fervently. “I can do that. When I see him. Or talk to him. Whenever that will be.”
He nodded. And turned on his heel and walked away.