Key of Light Page 11

“Don’t go. We’ll kill the bimbo. A little arsenic in her morning latte and she’s history.” He grabbed at the storage box. “Mal, love of my life, you can’t leave me here.”

“I got the boot. A month’s severance, a pat on the head, and a pack of homilies.” She fought to keep the tears from blurring her vision as she looked around the lovely, wide foyer, the streams of filtered light spilling over the glossy oak floor. “God, what am I going to do tomorrow when I can’t come here?”

“Aw, baby. Here, give me that.” He took the box, gave her a little nudge with it. “Outside, so we can blubber.”

“I’m not going to blubber anymore.” But she had to bite her lip when it quivered.

“I am,” he promised and kept nudging until she was out the door. He set the box down on one of the iron tables on the pretty covered porch, then flung his arms around her. “I can’t stand it! Nothing’s going to be the same without you here. Who will I gossip with, who’ll soothe my broken heart when some bastard breaks it? You notice this is all about me.”

He made her laugh. “You’ll still be my best bud, right?”

“Sure I will. You’re not going to do something crazy, like move to the city?” He eased back to study her face. “Or fall in with bad companions and work in a strip mall gift shop?”

A lead weight landed—ka-boom—in her stomach. Those were the only two reasonable choices she had if she was going to make a living. But because he looked as if he might cry, she waved them away to bolster him. “Perish the thought. I don’t know what I’m going to do, exactly. But I’ve got this thing—” She thought of her odd evening, and the key. “I’ll tell you about it later. I’ve got something to keep me occupied for a while, then . . . I don’t know, Tod. Everything’s out of kilter.”

Maybe she was going to blubber a little after all. “Nothing’s the way it’s supposed to be, so I can’t see how it will be. Getting fired was not in the Malory Price Life Plan.”

“It’s just a blip,” he assured her. “James is in some sort of sexual haze. He could still come to his senses. You could sleep with him,” he added, inspired. “I could sleep with him.”

“I have one thing to say to both of those suggestions. Ick.”

“Profound, and true. How about if I come by tonight, bring you Chinese and a cheap bottle of wine?”

“You’re a pal.”

“We’ll plot Putrid Pamela’s demise and plan your future. Want me to walk you home, sweetie pie?”

“Thanks, but I’ll be fine. Give me time to clear my head. Say good-bye to . . . everybody. I just can’t face it now.”

“Don’t you worry.”

She tried not to worry as she walked home. She tried to ignore the panic that dogged her with every step she took away from routine and closer to that wide, wide canyon.

She was young, educated, hardworking. She had money in the bank. Her whole life was ahead of her, like blank canvas. All she had to do was choose her paints and get on with it.

But right now, she needed to think of something else. Anything else. She had a month to decide. And an intriguing task to perform in the meantime. It wasn’t every day you were asked to find a mysterious key and play a part in saving souls.

She would play along with that until she figured out the rest of her life. She’d given her word, after all, so she’d best get started on keeping it. Somehow. Right after she went home and buried her sorrows in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.

As she came to the corner, she looked back, mistily, miserably, toward The Gallery. Who was she kidding? That had been home.

On a long sigh, she took a step. And landed hard on her butt.

Whatever had collided with her sent her box of possessions flying, then fell on top of her. She heard a grunt, and what sounded like a yip. With the breath knocked out of her, and what felt like a minor mountain pressing on her chest, she stared up into a hairy black face.

Even as she fought for the breath to scream, an enormous tongue rolled out and slurped her face.

“Moe! Stop, heel, get the hell off! Jeez. Jesus, I’m sorry.”

Malory heard the voice, the light panic in it, as she gagged and turned her head to try to avoid the tongue. Abruptly, the huge black mass pinning her down grew arms. Then a second head.

This one was human, a great deal more attractive than the first, despite the sunglasses that slid down a sharp, straight nose and the grim set to the mouth.

“Are you all right? Are you hurt?”

He shoved the massive weight away, then squeezed his body between them, like a defensive wall. “Can you sit up?”

The question was moot, as he was already pulling her from her ungainly sprawl to a sitting position. The dog tried to nose in but was elbowed back. “You lie down, you big sloppy idiot. Not you,” he added with a quick, charming grin as he brushed Malory’s hair back from her face. “I’m sorry. He’s harmless, just clumsy and stupid.”

“What . . . what is it?”

“Moe’s a dog, or that’s the rumor. We think he’s a cross between a cocker spaniel and a woolly mammoth. I’m really sorry. My fault. I wasn’t paying enough attention, and he got away from me.”

She slid her gaze to the right, where the dog, if it was a dog, was hunkered down, thumping a tail as thick as her arm and looking as innocent as anything that homely could manage.

“You didn’t hit your head, did you?”

“I don’t think so.” She found Moe’s owner staring at her with a quiet intensity that made heat rush over her skin. “What?”

She was as pretty as a bakery-shop pastry. All that tumbled blond hair, the top-cream skin, the rosy, bottom-heavy mouth that was in a sexy little sulk. Her eyes were big, blue, and beautiful, despite the temper flames shooting out of them.

He nearly licked his lips when she scowled at him and lifted her hand to shove it through that terrific tangle of hair. “What are you staring at?”

“Just making sure you don’t have little X’s in your eyes. You went down pretty hard. Great eyes, by the way. I’m Flynn.”

“And I’m tired of sitting on the sidewalk. Do you mind?”

“Oh. Yeah.” He stood, took both her hands in both of his, and pulled her to her feet.

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