Lover's Bite Chapter 7

She should have realized it sooner, Topaz thought as she rose to her feet and took her time about brushing the sand from her clothes. She'd been so wrapped up in her own pain that she hadn't taken time, until now, to wonder what made Jack the way he was.

He'd experienced the same kinds of loss and betrayal in his life that she had. He had the same bitterness eating away at his soul, and it stemmed from the all-consuming pain of abandonment. He was still that wounded little boy whose mother had dumped him and never looked back.

She knew that child. She'd been that child.

And now she knew that he was hurt and he was scared, whether he would admit it or not. Knowing that made her feel frightened, too. It was far easier to think of him as a heartless con man out for a buck and some sex on the side-providing the sex was good and hassle free. Now, though, she was seeing him as so much more. That was a dangerous path for her to walk, one that was treacherously steep, booby-trapped with potholes and loose stones, and skirting a bottomless pit. She could fall all too easily, treading this particular path. If she did, she would fall hard, and the landing was going to make the pain she'd felt so far seem like a hangnail.

"So be careful," she told herself. "Just don't fall."

Squaring her shoulders and carrying the folder with her, she trudged through the sand back to the villa. Jack had hit the shower. By the time she'd settled herself on the sofa with the file open on the coffee table in front of her, he returned, and he seemed to have forgiven her for the dime-store analysis. He trotted down the stairs wearing jeans but no shirt. His feet were bare, his hair still wet, though he was rubbing it vigorously with a towel. He wore his usual expression: a smirk that said nothing.

"So, anything interesting so far on our friend the actor?" he asked, nodding toward the file.

"Plenty," she said. She moved over a bit on the sofa, and he took her cue, sitting close beside her. Really close. She didn't move away, either. She liked him close. She cleared her throat and refocused her attention. "Wayne Duncan was married, but as an up-and-coming actor with aspirations of becoming a leading man, he and his handlers opted to keep his marriage secret."

"Not all that unusual, I suppose," Jack said. "Gay actors pretended to be straight, married actors pretended to be single. Some still do."

"It's all about the image," Topaz agreed. "According to the file, his affair with my mother was a long one. Probably could have been great for his career, if it could have been public. But he had to keep it from his poor wife, and he had to keep his poor wife from the public at large." She gave her head a shake. "Can you imagine trying to juggle so many secrets?"

"It would be enough to make some men snap," Jack said softly.

Topaz nodded. "I wonder if my mother knew he had a wife."

"I wonder if his need to keep his secrets was why he didn't fight for custody of you. It would have meant admitting the affair, possibly ruining his marriage."

"Couldn't have been much of a marriage anyway," Topaz said. "The reports here suggest he was very much in love with my mother."

"He'd have been a fool not to be."

Jack was staring at her as he said it, reminding her without a word of his insistence that she resembled her mother, and she felt herself warm in reaction in spite of herself.

"Topaz," Jack said.

She glanced up at him, saw in his eyes that he was about to veer off topic and take this moment into a dangerous direction. Dangerous to her heart, at least. She shook her head slightly, just barely, and then focused again on the file. "No one seems to have known anything about Wayne Duncan's wife," she said. "But there is one photo. Let's see, I just saw it a minute ago." She shuffled papers. "Ah, here it is. Her name's Lucia Duncan. Looks like she's been through the mill, huh?"

She handed Jack the grainy three-by-five black-and-white photo. He took it, stared at it, said nothing.

"It surprises me that he married her. I mean, she's probably his age, but she looks a lot older in that photo, doesn't she?"

"Yes, she does," Jack said softly. "A lot older than the last time I saw her."

Topaz frowned. "Jack? You know her?"

"I don't think I ever knew her." He surged to his feet, and the file folder flew from the table, papers scattering everywhere. The photo landed faceup on the floor. He stared at it for one frozen moment, then spun and paced away.


"Where is he?" As he strode toward the door, Jack snatched his key ring from the rack on the wall with so much force that the entire thing came down. "Where the hell is this actor?"

"Um, the address is in the-" As she spoke she scrambled to gather up the fallen sheets, searching for the actor's last known address. "Jack, what the hell is going on?"

She found the sheet she was looking for and knelt there on the floor, looking up at him.

"That woman," he said, pointing an accusing finger at the photo that lay on the floor, as if he could send a blast of power from his fingertip to annihilate it. "That my mother."

"You need to try to calm down," Topaz said softly. She was driving. She'd insisted on it, because Jack was in no condition to. His jaw was tight and clenched, his entire body trembling with barely contained emotion. He clutched the photo in one hand, crumpling its corner with the force of his grip.

And all Topaz wanted to do was comfort him. God, she knew what he was feeling. She knew it so well. No one could hurt you like your own mother could. No one.

He didn't answer.

"We'll talk to him. Duncan. The actor. We'll just talk to him, right? You can't go in there looking for blood, Jack. Remember, he isn't guilty of anything here."

"Except taking a mother from her only child."

"You don't know that. He may not even have known she had a child. He may have met her after she'd left you." She looked up, increasingly nervous as the actor's house came into view. It was a modest Cape Cod in a quiet suburban neighborhood. There were palm trees lining the edge of the lawn. She reached out a hand to cover one of his. "I'm with you on this, okay? I'm here."

He glanced at her from the corners of his eyes. There was emotion roiling there, but she glimpsed a hint of surprise beyond the unbearable hurt that photograph had dredged up from the depths of him. There might have been a touch of gratitude there, too. She couldn't be sure.

As soon as Topaz stopped the car, Jack got out. She had to hurry to keep up with him as he strode toward the house, knocked on the front door.

"Are you sure you're ready for this? We could have phoned first, given you both time to prepare."

"I just want to look her in the eye and ask her why. It's been a long time coming, Topaz."

She nodded. "I understand." Lowering her head, she whispered, "To be honest, Jack, if I had the chance, I'd want to do the same thing. Look my mother in the eye and ask her how she could leave me. And I suppose it makes even less sense for me to feel that way. She didn't leave on her own. She was taken from me. And yet, it feels the same. It feels like she walked out on me."

She glanced at the door then, but there were no sounds from beyond it. Impatient, Jack stepped closer and pounded on the wood, ignoring the doorbell.

"Coming, coming," a male voice called from somewhere within.

Soft footsteps came closer. Finally the door opened, and Wayne Duncan stood there, a dim echo of the publicity photos in the file. His hair was no longer striking black, but silver. His brows were salt-and-pepper. His face still bore the bone structure that had given him leading-man potential, though he'd never achieved movie-star status. He was thin, but held himself erect and proud, and he was an impressive figure, even in a flannel robe and slippers.

Jack looked him up and down, and then looked past him, scanning the rooms beyond. "Where is she?" he asked.

Clasping Jack's shoulder to try to instill calm, Topaz intervened, taking the confused looking man's attention away from Jack. "Mr. Duncan, I'm sorry to bother you, but-"

"My God," Duncan whispered. His eyes were riveted to her face, and then his hand rose to lightly touch her cheek. "Tanya."

She licked her lips, lowered her eyes.

"You are Tanya. Aren't you?"

"Yes. Yes, I am." She lifted her eyes again and held his gaze. "And this is my friend, Jack Heart."

He ignored the introduction. "I read you were in town, but I couldn't believe it. There were no photos. No proof. Oh, Tanya, I'm so happy to see you."

She nodded and tried to smile. "That's lovely to hear, Mr. Dunc-"

"Wayne, please."

"Wayne," she corrected. "But Jack and I really need to talk to you. Can we come inside?"

He lowered his head, his expression guilty. "Of course. And I know what you want to talk about. You know about the break-in, don't you?"

Jack snapped to attention, his gaze shooting back to the actor. "Yes, we know," he lied. "We know it was you."

He nodded. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I just...I read that tabloid report, and I needed to know what you'd found. What you suspected."

"Why?" Topaz asked.

He sighed, shaking his head slowly. "Come inside. Sit down, and I'll try to explain." He stood aside to let them enter, and they did, side by side.

Save the questions about my mother until he tells us what he knows about yours, Jack's mind whispered to Topaz's. She doesn't seem to be here at the moment, anyway.

Topaz nodded, noting the framed photos of the couple together. One hung from a wall, and two others stood in facing frames on an end table. He led them to a cozy nook, set between curving windows that looked out onto the stars. Four chairs stood there, velour and comfortable, and they surrounded a small wicker table.

"I'll get right to the point, Mr. Duncan," Topaz said softly. "I'd like to know who murdered my mother. Was it you?"

He held her gaze, and she probed his mind. "I loved her. I could no more have hurt her than I could fly to the moon. She was the love of my life, Tanya. But I couldn't be with her. Not fully. I was married, and I couldn't leave my wife."

She nodded, then asked the next question without hesitation. "Are you my father?"

He dropped his gaze. "It's very likely. I never claimed you, never tried to gain custody."

"Because of your wife," she said.

He nodded.

"If you didn't kill my mother, then why the break-in?" Topaz asked. She was amazed at Jack's restraint, and yet he kept silent, just watching, and no doubt probing.

Duncan faced her. "Because I know who did kill her. At least, I think I do. I have no proof, you understand. And yet, I had to know whether you had found any. I thought you might have uncovered-"

"You think your wife did it," Jack said slowly. His patience had run out, and he saw the same things in the aging actor's mind that Topaz did. The difference was, he said them out loud. "You think Lucia found out about your affair and murdered Mirabella DuFrane."

Duncan met Jack's eyes. "Yes. I think it. I've always feared it. It's eaten away at my soul, not knowing. Wondering. Believing it to be true."

"My God." Topaz was stunned to the core. "How could you stay with a woman like that? Why would you choose someone capable of-"

"Lucia was sick, Tanya. Pancreatic cancer. She needed me."

Topaz sucked in a breath, her eyes flying to Jack's. He sat there looking as if he'd been hit between the eyes with a mallet.

"Where is she now, Duncan?" she asked, her voice shaking as she reached her hand out to clasp Jack's as firmly as she could.

And then the final blow fell.

"She died twenty years ago," Duncan said. "She never told me whether or not she'd killed Mirabella. But I believe in my heart that she did."

Jack shot unsteadily to his feet and stumbled from the room. Topaz got up to follow, but he held up a hand behind him, telling her to stay. Then he staggered out the door into the night like a punch-drunk boxer heading for his safe corner.

"Is he all right?" Duncan asked.

"I seriously doubt it," Topaz told him. "Mr. Duncan, Lucia was Jack's mother."


"You didn't know, did you?"

"Lucia had a son?" It was his turn to look blown away. He pressed a hand to his forehead, his eyes wide and inwardly focused. "It can't be. She wouldn't have kept something like that from me. No."

Topaz nodded. "Yes. Her maiden name was Heart. Spelled like the organ, not in the more typical manner." When he shot her a look, she knew he'd known that much. He had to believe her now. "She abandoned Jack to her brother when he was only eight. He never heard from her again, never knew what happened to her."

Wayne Duncan lowered his head, abject agony painted on his face. And he wasn't acting, Topaz was certain. "I never knew her. I never knew her at all, did I?"

"I'm very sorry for your loss, Mr. Duncan, and for bringing you this sort of news. I-" She looked toward the door Jack had left hanging wide open. He was sitting in the car, but at an angle that put his face beyond her sight. "I have to go after him."

"Of course," Duncan said. "Please, Tanya, contact me again before you leave town. I'd like...a chance to get to know you."

She gazed at him, felt her heart clench a little tighter in her chest. "You had the chance to get to know me, Mr. Duncan. But you abandoned me, instead, denied me, kept me a shameful little secret. You abandoned me just the same way Lucia abandoned Jack," she said.

" had a good life. The courts saw to it that-"

"Is that how you sleep at night? By telling yourself I had a good life? My childhood was hell, Mr. Duncan. My mother was taken from me by your wife, because of your lies. I was awarded to a man who knew he wasn't my father, who wanted to use the money I inherited to build his own fortune, and never gave a damn about me at all. You left me to that, even though you knew I was probably yours. And you tell me now that you want to get to know me?"

He swallowed hard, his Adam's apple swelling in his throat. "I'm sorry, Tanya."

"I'm sure you are. But it's too little, too late. You weren't around when I needed you. And now...well, now I don't."

He turned away, but before he did, she thought she saw a tear in his eye. But she had no time for his tears. God knew she'd shed enough of her own to know that they would pass sooner or later.

She had to go to Jack.

Jack rode back to the mansion in utter silence. Aside from asking if he was all right once or twice, Topaz respected his need for stillness. He couldn't talk about it, not yet. He couldn't speak or he might explode.

His mother was dead.

Well, that should come as no surprise. He'd always assumed she'd managed to drink herself to death long before now. But having it confirmed...and knowing she'd left him and gone on to find this Hollywood life for herself, married an actor, lived in a nice home...Why hadn't she sent for him?

He didn't know whether to cry or scream with rage. His mother had murdered Topaz's mother. Good God, that didn't even compute in his mind. He couldn't even grasp it.

When they arrived at Avalon, Topaz parked under the shelter of the portico, looked at him for a long moment, ran her hand briefly over his, and then got out of the car and started toward the house. He didn't follow. He exited the Porsche, then simply stood by the car, hands pressed to the hood, head hanging between them. He was torn between opposing urges to pound something to bits, or to sink to the ground and curl into the fetal position.

And then her hand was on his shoulder, tugging, and against his will, he turned to face her. He didn't want her reading the emotions on his face, didn't want her seeing his weakness or, worse, pitying him.

He didn't get any of those things. Instead, her arms slid around his waist, and she pressed her body tightly to his. One hand slid upward until she threaded her fingers in his hair, moving them there, and it was soothing.

"She's gone," he said, and he said it in a voice that was so carefully controlled that it came out shivering and tight. "I got all worked up to confront her, and she's just gone. She even robbed me of that."

"I know," she whispered, and he knew she truly did. If anyone knew, it was Topaz.

He shook his head beneath her hand. "How can you comfort me? Jesus, Topaz, it looks as if my mother murdered yours."

"Looks that way. That's not you, though."

"I've done just as bad to you."

"Yeah, and you'll probably do it again, given the chance. And yet..." She tipped her head up to his, staring into his eyes, and her own were wide and wanting.

His body responded to that look exactly the way it always had. Before he could think better of it, he was lowering his head, taking her mouth. Her arms twined around his neck, and she stood on tiptoe to reach him better. He hugged her waist close to him, held her so there wasn't room for air to pass between. And the kiss heated and deepened, grew more urgent, until their bodies were straining and they were feeding from each other's mouths.

His hands fumbled with her jeans, and hers with his, until they struggled free of them. He slid his hands down her thighs and lifted them, and she used them to hug his hips. He turned her, settling her backside on the still-warm hood of the car, holding her there, and then he drove into her, and everything in him caught fire.

She clutched his shoulders, let her head fall back. Eyes closed tightly, she moaned his name. "God, Jack. Yes, Jack. More, Jack. Harder. It's been so long, Jack. I've wanted you for so damn long."

And he gave her what she wanted, what she needed, and he knew exactly what she was feeling, because in those moments it wasn't just her body that opened to him. Her mind opened, as well. And his melded with it, until he could feel everything she felt, every sensation, every tingle. And so he knew when the sensations began to build beyond endurance. He knew when her body tightened, clenched and strained for release. He knew exactly how to move, how to touch her to push her over the brink. And he knew how to let her hover there, whimpering and begging and yearning. When he let her come, it was an explosion, and her sensations raged through him and became his own, driving him over the edge alongside her. He sank into her deeply, gathered her into his arms, and held her to him as he emptied himself into her.

Her arms were around him. Her legs enclosed him. Her body milked him. Her essence filled him.

And in those moments, as they clung to each other and slowly came back down from the stratosphere, in those moments when she was vulnerable and open to him and needing him as much as she needed blood to survive, he felt her thoughts, her doubts, the almost paralyzing fear that whispered through her brain as her physical senses and the ecstasy they'd just shared slowly released their hold on her.

Don't you do it, Topaz, her mind warned her. Don't love him again. He'll hurt you, you know he will. Just like he did before. You can't trust him. Not with your heart, never with your heart. God, Topaz, don't. For your own fucking sake, don't love him again. It would kill you this time. It almost did the last time. And if you let yourself believe it would be any different, then you're lying to yourself.
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