Rough Harbor – Caitlyn & Noah’s Story – Book 2
Caitlyn Montgomery carefully let herself in the side door with the key hidden under the flowerpot. Police tape fluttered along the back of the house, the side that faced the water, but here, under the small overhang, there was nothing, only a chilly October breeze and the more distant sound of the water lapping at the rocky shore.
The house was quiet, the silence of sadness. Dusk was falling outside and it was dim inside, but she resisted turning on the lights. Her footsteps echoed across the polished wood flooring of the hallway as she walked onto the marble tiles of the foyer. She knew it well, had almost grown up here, and had spent many nights here in the recent months, playing chess and sipping whisky with an old man.
The door to Maxwell Randall’s study swung silently open. Caitlyn crossed the floor quickly, her sneakered feet sinking into the plush carpet. She came around to Maxwell’s desk, an ornate, obnoxious thing meant to look like something a Gilded Age robber baron would have owned.
It was just as he’d left it. Empty. Maxwell hadn’t been one for bringing work home, she had discovered. His desk was clear; a simple blotter aligned in the middle, with a phone to the right, a brass lamp to the left. A pad of paper and a can of pens and pencils sat within reach. There was no computer, no planner or desk diary. She supposed if there had been one, the police would have taken it.
Slowly, methodically, she leaned over and began to open the desk drawers, her small flashlight illuminating the usual desk stuff. Nothing of interest in the two large drawers flanking the right side, nor in the drawers on the left. She turned her attention to the middle drawer, the thin one. It stuck a bit, and she felt her heart flutter in anticipation. She knelt down to get a better view, pushing a strand of her brown-black hair behind her ear and squinting in concentration as she carefully slid her hands towards the back of the narrow drawer.
“What are you doing?” Light flooded the room.
Her head jerked up, hitting the side of the drawer as she rose to her feet. Her vision danced as she reached out to touch her head.
“You?” Caitlyn said, surprise radiating through her.
There was a pause. Caitlyn drew herself up to her full height and looked at Noah Randall, all six-foot-one of him, standing in the doorway.
“I didn’t think you’d be here.” She spoke the truth, saying the first thing that came to mind. At least not so soon.
Noah’s dark eyes were looking at her, traveling up and down her face and the length of her body. Caitlyn felt herself flushing. There was nothing like being caught red-handed to lose the advantage.
“Maxwell was my father,” he finally answered. “Of course I’d be here.” He lifted a drink to his lips and swallowed. He was drinking whisky.
“I’m sorry. I know.” Caitlyn came around from behind the ornate wooden desk and stood in front of it. Noah had not moved from the doorway, but stood looking at her, surveying her. Beyond him, Caitlyn could see into the foyer where she’d last seen Maxwell alive. She swallowed. It gave her the creeps.
She moved closer to Noah, her natural instinct to reach out, to comfort him, but she held back. It had been a long time, and they hadn’t left on the best of terms. Still, he seemed familiar to her, his face thinner, the features sharper.
“Want a drink?” he finally said.
Caitlyn nodded. She didn’t really, but she wasn’t ready to leave him alone. She hoped he would go out of Maxwell’s study, maybe to the living room where Maxwell had kept more booze, but instead he pushed past, into the room, and went to a cabinet on the wall.
Opening it, he pulled out a glass and splashed some of the amber-colored liquid into it.
“You’ll have to drink it neat,” he said, shoving it into her hand. Their skin touched for an instant, and Caitlyn jumped back from the small jolt.
“Our eternal spark,” Noah said with a grim laugh, throwing himself on the couch.
Caitlyn stood, studying him. He looked the same, sort of. He’d been only twenty, she two years younger, when she last saw him, and he’d been lanky, with shaggy brown hair tipped with blond highlights from a summer spent sailing and swimming. His clothes had always seemed too big on him, as if he had been swimming in them, too.
Now, though, ten years later, he’d filled in. His biceps swelled tight against the fabric of his shirt, and his legs looked lean and muscled under his faded jeans. His hair was darker now, but still kissed by the sun. He was a California guy, a software developer turned CEO turned investor, not the East Coast prepster he’d been raised as. He’d always been confident, self-assured, but there was something else now, an aloofness that hadn’t been there before.
Still now, with just a hint of stubble on his chin and the dark fitted t-shirt that moved with him, Caitlyn could see that, all in all, Noah Randall had filled out very nicely.
“So?” he began again. “Why are you here?”
“I didn’t break in. The key was where it usually was.” Caitlyn took a swallow of the whisky, savoring the slow burn down her throat, thankful too that she had something to keep her hands occupied.
She just hasn’t counted on him being here, at least not so soon. She thought she would have more time to prepare for seeing him. Now, looking at him, she wondered how she thought she’d ever have enough time. Memories threatened to push in, but she shoved them away, far away, locking them tight. She couldn’t afford a trip down memory lane, not now.
“When did you get into town?” she asked instead.
“You can sit, you know. I won’t bite.” He tossed her a smile and waved his hand at one of the couches.
Caitlyn stepped across the rug and sat at the opposite end of the leather couch. Noah, lounging and looking perfectly at ease, gave a short laugh and looked her over.
“You haven’t changed. Much.” The last was said bitterly.
Caitlyn said nothing. She hadn’t wanted to change. That had been Noah.
“I was in New York already,” Noah continued. “The police found my cell phone number among my father’s things. I took a car service and got here as soon as I heard.”
That’s why she hadn’t seen a car. She knew she’d only have a small window of time before everyone came swarming in. The funeral was already set for tomorrow. Sam Harris, Maxwell’s second in command, had handled the arrangements, no one knowing if Noah would be up for the task.
“You were the one who found him?” Noah’s eyes dropped, to stare at his drink, and then lifted back up to hold her gaze.
Caitlyn nodded. “He took me to dinner at the club that night. I drove him home, and… well, when he didn’t come to work the next morning, I came to the house. I knocked and knocked and looked in the windows. His car was here. I didn’t figure he’d be taking a walk.” Maxwell wasn’t big on exercise unless it involved a golf club and some cigars.
“And he was just there, at the bottom of the bluff?”
Caitlyn nodded, swallowing against the memory of seeing him, stiff, blue. “I checked him to be sure, and then called 9-1-1.” After her initial shock, she’d thought about coming to look in Maxwell’s study, but there hadn’t been enough time before the police came.
“So, you were the last person to see my father alive?”
The police had asked her the same question. That and others. What did you two discuss? What was Maxwell’s frame of mind? Did he often smoke cigars and drink while standing so close to the edge of a rocky incline?
None of your business. He was angry. Actually, yes. A nightcap and a whisky, on one of the big Adirondack chairs overlooking the Sound, the lights of Long Island twinkling in the distance, had been Maxwell’s favorite way to end the day, short of a hurricane blowing in. Caitlyn had answered all but the first question truthfully. The police could go to the club and find out that she and Maxwell had been having a heated argument. And that he had a lot to drink, which had been typical behavior lately. And that the club manager wouldn’t give the car keys to Maxwell, only to her. But she was guessing they wouldn’t.
“You weren’t…” Noah looked down at his drink.
Caitlyn glanced up, not comprehending. And then it came to her. “You think Maxwell and I were having a relationship?”
She dissolved into a heap of laughter, shaking so hard that tears were coming out of her eyes. It was the first solid laugh she’d had in days.
“I’m glad you think that’s funny. That’s another one of the questions the police asked me,” Noah said.
Caitlyn stopped laughing and tried to wipe her tears away, surprised to find that they were real tears now. “Maxwell was like a father to me, Noah. We would have dinner together. He was lonely.” And so was she. But not lonely enough to have considered Maxwell anything more than a kindly old man. And then there was Noah, the memory of him that they had in common.
“You let him get drunk,” Noah said, his eyes accusing. He was facing her, the space between them on the couch narrowing, so she could feel the heat from him, smell his scent – something soapy, fresh and clean.
“I didn’t let him do anything. You know that.” They both did. Maxwell got what Maxwell wanted. “He’d been drinking a lot,” she added.
“Why?” Noah asked, leaning forward so that she couldn’t avoid the nearness of him. She felt her stomach clench, her heart skip a beat. A totally normal reaction, she told herself, a remnant of their old attraction.
Caitlyn frowned. “I’m not sure. He seemed upset, depressed about something.” She hesitated. It was nothing, really, but she had felt there was something. For weeks she had known there was something wrong. But that night, she had been sure he was about to confide in her, but he’d gotten drunk instead, angrier, evasive even.
“But I’m sure you knew how to make it all better. You always had all of the answers, didn’t you?” Again, there was that trace of bitterness in Noah’s voice.
Caitlyn shook her head, feeling anger rise in her throat. There had been a time when Noah Randall wouldn’t have thought the worst of her.
“I worked for him. I thought we were close, that he trusted me.” She said nothing of the promises Maxwell had made.
“Why did you come back? Why now?” Noah glanced meaningfully at her left hand.
Caitlyn slid it away. “I was ready for a change,” she said, embarrassed suddenly, though she owed Noah no explanation. She owed him nothing after ten years of silence, of hearing about him only through tidbits on the news, on the Internet. How many times had she wanted to call, to congratulate him, but had stopped, broken off the desire to hear his voice, to know him again? Every time, because she knew he didn’t want to hear from her. He had made that perfectly clear the day he’d left Queensbay.
She said no more. She didn’t need to go into the gory details of why Michael St. John was a bastard. Especially not to Noah. Why had he known about the engagement in the first place? He couldn’t possibly be keeping tabs on her, could he? The thought flooded her with awareness.
Noah nodded. “I see,” was all he said. He took another swallow of his drink. She could feel his eyes on her, feel the way they burned through her, the way he looked at her, with … what, desire? Caitlyn looked up. Perhaps it wasn’t desire at all but something else entirely – a hard, searing appraisal.
Caitlyn shifted in her seat. She wanted to get back to that desk. Maxwell had been worried about something before he died, and she hadn’t been able to get it out of him. Just what sort of mess had he left behind?
“So,” Noah said, sliding closer to her. He smelled good, a mix of aftershave with just a hint of the whisky they were drinking. She breathed it in, trying not to let it go to her head. An image of summer flashed back to her, tangy salt air, a faint taste of sweat and that same aftershave. Caitlyn felt a slight shiver crawl up her spine. Fear, longing? A taste of both, she decided, as he leaned in closer.
His brown eyes held her blue ones. And then he smiled, just a few inches from her. His thigh pressed against hers, and she could see every inch of his face, from the strong line of his chin, to the way his nose turned up a bit at the tip, to the flecks of gold in his brown eyes.
Noah turned so that he was almost on top of her, one arm against the back of the couch, the other on the arm of it. She was trapped, and she felt her cheeks flush. Please, she thought, she was a grown woman, not a horny eighteen year-old, but Noah Randall was having the exact same effect on her now as he had then.
“What does little Caitlyn Montgomery want now? What’s your angle, Caitlyn? Why’d you leave your big life in London to come back to Queensbay? What did Maxwell promise you this time? You know he wasn’t very good at keeping them. Or was that you? It’s hard to remember, after all this time, who betrayed me first – my father or my girlfriend.”
Caitlyn reared back in shock at the ugly words. “Noah, you don’t understand. He really was like a father to me. All these years while you’ve been off, not talking to him, I was there for him. He helped me with everything. With college, with internships, my first job. I owed him everything.”
“And of course, you took what he was willing to give, right, Caitlyn? Why work when you can have it handed to you?” Noah said.
Caitlyn couldn’t breathe. Noah’s words shook her. He above all knew what she had lost. How she would have given everything back to have her grandfather with her still. But Maxwell had stepped in. He’d needed someone to look out for, and she had needed a father figure.
“We understood each other,” Caitlyn whispered, holding Noah’s dark gaze. He moved in a fraction closer, so their faces were just inches apart.
“Well, I guess I’m glad he had somebody.” Noah leaned back, their connection, their heat broken. “You should go now. It’s going to be a long day. You never know what surprises my father will have in store for us tomorrow.”
Caitlyn let out a breath. Noah was looking at her, his face closed. She wouldn’t be able to keep searching now.
“Yes, I’d better go,” she said, putting her glass down. She pushed herself up, and Noah was up with her, facing her again.
“C’mon, aren’t you interested? Even just a kiss for old time’s sake?” He moved in closer, and Caitlyn pushed him back.
“Noah, you don’t mean that. You’re upset. Why don’t you rest?”
“With you around? I don’t think so, Caitlyn. Like I said, you’re working an angle – and I intend to find out what it is.”
“Go to hell, Noah.” Caitlyn turned and walked out of the room. She slammed the door behind her with more satisfaction than she felt.
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