“There you are,” Janice blurted, finding Mel busy in the kitchen with an apron on. “Is that a new look, or are you actually cooking?”
“I can cook, Janice,” Mel responded tightly, peeling a potato. “So. . . did you have a nice time?” She asked crisply.
“Yeah. I actually did. Wayne’s ok . . . for a preacher,” Janice relayed with a smirk. “He wants to have lunch again,“ Janice said, shaking her head in amazement.
“That’s great,” Mel said stiffly with a polite smile and picked up another potato.
“Something I can do to help?” Janice asked, moving around the back of Mel and peeking in the pot full of sliced potatoes. The proximity of the archeologist surprised the southerner, who slightly gasped when she felt a gentle hand on her back. Though the gasp went unnoticed by the archeologist, the slippery potato shooting out of her hand didn’t.
Janice rescued the potato in mid-air and handed it back to the tall southerner. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Yes, well. . . I’ve never heard you offer to help in the kitchen before,” Melinda relayed uneasily, pushing her glasses up awkwardly with the back of her hand, which held the potato peeler.
“Funny,” Janice said flatly, ensuring she kept a safe distance from the tall southerner. What the hell was I thinking?
“So, where is everyone?” The archeologist glanced around.
“My grandparents are at the Redding’s for an anniversary dinner and Ruby has the night off,” Melinda relayed the news, which was both welcome and disconcerting to Janice. “And Brian is in the billiard’s room.”
“Oh,” Janice said flatly.
“There is really not much left to do here. You could go beat Brian at pool,” Melinda suggested with amusement, getting the reaction she expected. A less than thrilled Janice rolled her eyes.
“I’d like to see you try,” Brian blurted with a sharp laugh as he came into the kitchen to get a beer.
Janice looked at Mel blankly. It was going to be another long night in the Pappas mansion.
In the billiards room, Janice racked the balls with an unenthusiastic sigh. Hopefully dinner would be done shortly, she thought.
“Why don’t we make this interesting...” Brian suggested. “How about a little wager?”
“I don’t think so.” Janice eyed him, then carefully removed the triangle.
“Afraid of a little bet?” He taunted.
Janice knew Mel would not appreciate them gambling. She knew Mel would get really mad. She knew Mel had made her feelings on gambling perfectly clear. . . a number of times.
“Ten dollars says you can’t sink one on the break,” Janice said, pulling out a ten and placing it on the bar.
Brian smiled. Easy money. “You’re on,” he placed his ten on hers.
Brian leaned over the pool table and positioned his cue. With a powerful stroke, he hurled the cue ball into the rack with a loud clack. The balls scattered, violently colliding into the banks and each other with great fury.
When the commotion finally stopped, Janice won ten dollars and had the table set up nicely for her.
She smirked and quickly took advantage of the table, swiftly sinking ball after ball, despite her injured left hand. Only after the table was clear did she go to the bar to collect her winnings.
As Brian racked up the next set, he looked up with irritation at the archeologist. “A hundred says you can’t sink one on the break,” Brian offered.
“I’m done betting, Brian.”
“I understand. You know you’ll miss under pressure,” Brian taunted her as he pulled out his wallet and placed it on the bar. She rolled her eyes wondering when the hell dinner was going to be ready.
“Or . . . oh . . . I guess an archeologist wouldn’t have that much money,” he added condescendingly, seeing her eyes briefly flash with anger.
“All right, Brian. I’ll be more than happy to part a fool from his money,” Janice said with a thin smile. He grinned at his success, certain she would buckle under the pressure.
She leaned over the table and focused on the shot. With a firm stroke, the cue ball solidly contacted the rack, causing the balls to scatter, though without the frenzy of the previous break. When the balls finally stopped moving, two had gently plunked into opposite pockets.
Janice glanced at Brian, whose eyebrows furrowed. Maybe that will shut him up, she hoped as she returned her attention to the table.
He watched the archeologist take her time with each shot and sink one after another. “I gather you’ve had a lot of practice,” he realized with a sigh as he scratched the back of his head, having learned an expensive lesson. Don’t bet against Dr. Covington.
“Hmm,” Janice softly grunted as she concentrated on another shot.
He shook his head, thankful he didn’t bet per ball. He should
have known she was good under pressure, he considered, watching the archeologist
command the game.
The way she moved around the table. . . and even before, when she surprised him in the kitchen. She had a presence, he noted. She moved differently than the women he was used to. She had a masculine strength, in abundance, and she made no effort to hide it.
But she was, by no stretch of the imagination, a man, he observed, appreciating her ample chest and full hips. Surprising himself, he found the combination of masculine strength and womanly curves very attractive . . . in addition to her legs . . . and her eyes . . . she had amazing eyes.
Almost done clearing the table for the second time, Janice walked around for the eight-ball shot. Brian was in the way. He smiled weakly when their eyes met. He swallowed hard and slowly moved to the side, barely giving her enough space to make the shot.
What an ass, she thought.
With growing interest, his eyes traveled over her pleasing profile, which was now focused on the shot before her. He considered himself an attractive man and not too bad in bed, he smirked. But he suspected he was no where near as worldly as the woman before him. He didn’t think that would really matter, though, considering she probably had enough experience for both of them. As her petite form leaned over the table, he pondered the fleshly education he could receive from a woman like Janice Covington.
“You really do have nice legs,” he ventured softly, figuring the worldly woman would not appreciate a man who beat around the bush.
Her eyes slowly drifted from her shot and narrowed. Shit.
“I would love to see them again . . . ,” he said with a smirk, gently placing his hand on her back.
Her muscles tensed as she fought the urge to deck Mel’s brother. “Take your hand off me,” Janice growled.
“Why don’t you give me a chance, Janice,” he coaxed her gently, moving his unwanted touch down her back to her firm . . . .
“I did,” Janice blurted flatly before spinning around and driving the end of her cue into his gut.
Crumpling to his knees, he wheezed “You bitch!”
She grabbed his chin and lifted his head up, forcing him to look into her angry eyes. The strength he had admired moments ago was now concerning him.
“I don’t care whose brother you are. Touch me again, and I’ll break whatever it is you are stupid enough to touch me with. Do you understand?” She seethed.
His eyes widened as he nervously nodded yes. She pushed him and his jaw away from her with disgust.
Catching his breath, he stood up slowly, not sure if he should be angry she hit him or thankful she didn’t kill him. Seeing the cold anger in her eyes, he decided to be thankful.
“Dinner is ready,” Melinda announced happily as she entered the room. She immediately felt the tension. “What’s wrong?” She asked, glancing between the two.
“She beat me . . . again,“ Brian offered uneasily, his hand rubbed his sore stomach.
“I told you she would, Brian. Be thankful it was a friendly game and you didn’t make the mistake of betting her,” Mel relayed with a grin. “Have you two worked up an appetite yet?” Mel asked, her smile faded as she looked at Janice, who appeared tense.
Brian looked at the archeologist with concern. When she dropped her gaze and sighed, he realized with amazement that she wasn’t going to say anything.
“I’m starving,” Brian blurted and quickly left the room.
“Janice?” Mel asked, the unmoving archeologist.
“Me too,” Janice exhaled and plastered on a smile.
Mel glanced at her silent dinner companions as she brought the golden brown chicken in on the carving board. Something was wrong but neither of them was likely to tell her what it was, she sighed.
“Would you like to carve, Janice?” Melinda asked with a warm smile, holding up the knife. The offer surprised and disturbed Brian, who really didn’t like the idea of the archeologist armed.
“Maybe Brian should do it. He’s lucky both his hands are still in good shape,” Janice relayed, eyeing him coldly with a thin smile.
“Uh . . . sure,” Brian said uneasily, got up, and took the knife from Melinda, who was growing more frustrated each minute the tension continued.
As he started to carve, his eyebrows furrowed at the pink blood dribbling from the cut. “What the . . . hey sis . . . did you bother to thaw the chicken?” He said snidely, poking the exposed pink meat.
“Oh no,” Mel gasped. Her beautiful chicken. “I’m so sorry . . . ,“ she said, crestfallen.
“We can throw it back in the oven and have the chicken later, Mel. This other stuff looks really good,” Janice said quickly.
“I can’t believe you didn’t thaw the chicken out,” Brian continued unnecessarily, shaking his head. Mel was crushed.
“Brian, it sounds like you might be happier in a restaurant tonight,” Janice said coldly, though her blood was boiling.
Melinda looked at her angry champion with surprise, certain if Brian said one more thoughtless thing, he’d be visiting the hospital this evening.
Brian froze, not sure how to respond. He had promised his grandmother he would stay home, but was not about to lose his life over it.
”Uh . . . yeah. I think I would be,” Brian responded, glancing at Melinda, who was nervously staring back and forth between the two. “I am less tired now,” Brian offered with a weak smile. “I was wanting to go out anyway,“ he admitted truthfully.
“Oh . . . ,” Mel blurted with confusion, not entirely unhappy at the turn of events.
Chapter 16 - Disturbing Revelations
The black-tie affair was everything Mrs. Pappas expected from the Reddings, another prominent family of Columbia. No expense was spared. The plentiful servers, donned in tuxedos, offered trays of hors d’oeuvres and wine to hold the guests over until dinner. Victoria took a glass and smiled when the hostess, Elizabeth Redding, nodded at the lead violin of the string quartet, prompting them to start another set. This time it was Vivaldi - Victoria’s favorite.
This was the life Melinda was born to, she thought with a worried sigh and glancing at the door.
As William chatted with an old Army buddy and his wife, he glanced at Victoria across the room and smiled warmly. She was still a vision of beauty after all of their years of marriage. And she was certainly in her element, he considered as he returned his attention to the discussion about the war in Europe. “I say we have no business over there,“ the retired Major remarked with his wife nodding.
“I don’t think Hitler should be allowed to conquer all of Europe,” William countered. “When will he stop?”
“It’s a shame Melinda couldn’t make it,” Elizabeth Redding noted to her old friend, glancing at another guest with a smile.
“Well, she’s exhausted from her trip,” Victoria responded.
“I was surprised to hear Dr. Covington returned with her,” Elizabeth remarked sipping her champaign. “I wish they could have come tonight. A remarkable woman, from what Melinda wrote. . . .“
“Yes . . . remarkable,“ Victoria said with a heavy sigh and glanced at the door as another guest arrived.
“Victoria, dear, you have been eyeing that door since you got here. Whom are you expecting?”
“Him!” Victoria smiled, eyeing the slender fellow in a tuxedo with a plaid bow-tie and matching cummerbund.
“Edgar, dear!” Victoria met the Pappas family lawyer, who had a large folder tucked under his arm.
“Victoria, don’t tell me you are going to do business at my anniversary party,” the hostess scolded them with a frown as she joined them.
“I have a few loose strings I must take care of, dear. I promise I won’t be long.” Victoria smiled at Edgar and ushered him outside to the porch.
“Are you going to tell me what happened between you two?” Melinda finally asked as they sat down on the living room couch with their coffee.
“Guess he’s a sore loser,” Janice said, giving her a shrug. “You sure he’s your brother?” She asked.
“I’ve asked, but they tell me neither of us was adopted,” she relayed making the archeologist chuckle.
“I’m really sorry about the chicken, Janice,” Mel apologized again. “I thought. . .”
“Mel,” Janice interrupted. “I appreciate the meal. Even without the chicken. Everything else was delicious.”
“Really?” Mel took some solace in that comment and the fact Janice ate healthy seconds of everything.
“Really,” Janice responded softly, making Mel smile.
The two sat silently for a moment, looking in each other’s eyes. When Janice didn’t immediately look away, Mel’s hopes soared. Don’t just sit there, Janice, Mel thought, willing the archeologist to . . . .
“So, you said you did some translating today?” Janice remarked, as her gaze dropped to her cup.
“Yes,” Mel sighed with disappointment, but was unwilling to give up. “Janice, do you mind making a fire?” Mel asked, surprising the archeologist, who thought it was getting a bit warm.
“A little . . . ,” Mel shrugged and glanced away from the interrogating eyes.
“I could get you a sweater,” Janice offered, starting to get concerned. A fire. Mel. The two of them. Alone. “A sweater would probably warm you up quicker,” she volunteered.
Mel rolled her eyes. “I’d really like a fire, Janice,” Mel responded softly.
“Oh . . . ok,” Janice said hesitantly, getting up from the couch.
“I’m getting a southern comfort, would you like anything?” Mel asked, also getting up.
“Sure,“ Janice responded, her eyes traveling up long legs to the alluring curves that slightly swayed as the elegant woman glided across the room. When the mesmerizing motion stopped, a breath escaped the archeologist. Her eyes continued a slow ascent to the womanly swells that had been the inspiration of many a dream.
As the archeologist’s other senses started to envy her sight, which had solely been allowed to appreciate this woman, Janice blinked, startled by the dangerous feelings.
She quickly turned to the fireplace and knelt, almost hitting her head on the large mantel. Mel wants me to start a fire . . . and I’m starting to sweat like a goddamn pig, Janice thought, inspecting her palms and wiping them on her trousers. What the hell am I thinking?
“What would you like?” Mel asked as she held up one crystal decanter from the collection. Janice looked back at the beautiful woman and swallowed hard.
“Surprise me,“ Janice answered with a strained smile and quickly returned her attention to the damn kindling.
Mel poured the drinks with a small grin, hoping to.
“Where the hell are the . . . oh.” Janice muttered with irritation, finding the matches hidden conspicuously out in the open. She looked down at the match box. Fire. Fire. Fire, you idiot. Don’t play with fire, she scolded herself and took a breath to ease her nerves. Striking a wooden match against the box, she managed to break off the lit tip. Fuck, she said just under her breath.
“So . . . which scroll did you work on?” Janice asked with forced nonchalance as she struck another match. This time, successfully igniting it in once piece. Work. Discussing work is good, she considered as she lit the tinder.
“The Ulysses scroll,” Mel offered flatly, returning to the couch with two drinks.
“Oh,” Janice said neutrally, stoking the growing fire. “I thought you were done that one.”
“Not yet,” Mel sighed as she sat down. “I guess I don’t find it all that interesting,” Mel watched Janice turn to her with surprise.
“Not interesting? Ulysses is a great historic figure which our ancestors happened to be involved with.”
“Don’t remind me,” Mel muttered softly.
“You don’t have to remind me, Janice, I know that. Ulysses just doesn’t excite me as much as he does you, apparently,” Mel said tightly.
“Mel, it’s just that the Ulysses scroll provides an important historical context for the scrolls. You know as well as I do that the academic community tends to care more when research involves the big names . . . Ulysses, Caesar. . . .”
“Well, I’m sorry, but I happen to like the stories about two women. Just the two of them and their daily lives. Like the one I started today. . . ”
“Really?” Janice asked with interest as she returned to the couch and sat. “You don’t normally jump around scrolls like that,” Janice offered, sipping her drink.
“I know but . . . “ Mel said uneasily, pushing up her glasses. She wondered if Gabrielle had as difficult a time writing the Ulysses scroll as she had translating it.
“Can I see what you’ve done so far?” Janice asked, making Mel beam.
Away from unwanted ears and eyes, Edgar Rothschild finally handed Mrs. Pappas the thick file.
“Thank you Edgar,” she said with a warm smile. “I knew I could rely on you,” she added, eagerly opening the folder and skimming the pages within.
“That cost more than I thought it would,” Edgar said uneasily.
“Money is no object where my granddaughter is concerned,“ she said as she continued to read. Nodding knowingly, she found what she expected. Page after page, the words confirmed her beliefs about the archeologist.
Janice Covington was nothing but trouble.
She didn’t need these various reports of broken laws, financial troubles, and liaisons . . . with women . . . to tell her that. But she did need it if she were going to fix this . . . situation. “Oh, Melinda,“ Victoria sighed heavily.
“Mrs. Pappas, I don’t see why you should be too concerned, Melinda is an intell . . .” Edgar offered but was interrupted.
“Edgar! Your granddaughter’s reputation is not at stake here. Have you read all of this? Really read it?”
“Yes, ma’am . . . ,“ Edgar said uneasily. It was not a pleasant experience, especially since he had met Mel’s friend and liked her. One thing that did disturb him was not being able to find out why Dr. Covington was wanted in that small African country.
“Then you must agree that it would be best for all concerned if Dr. Covington left. And sooner would be better, before she has a chance to add Melinda to this long list of . . . mistakes,“ Victoria said tightly.
The hostess poked her head out the French doors. “Victoria, please don’t tell me you are still working, for heavens’ sake. Dinner is almost ready.”
“I’ll be right there!” Victoria called cheerfully to her old friend, then turned to her lawyer. “Edgar, thank you. I have one more thing I need. . . .”
As they sat on the couch in front of the fire, Janice read Mel’s notes. Mel watched with anticipation, always eager to share her work with Janice, who was the only one who really appreciated it. Mel knew that Janice would, even if it didn’t involve their ancestors.
When the archeologist laughed at a passage, Mel smiled broadly.
“Where?” Mel asked eagerly, wanting to know exactly which passage caused that laugh. She leaned in over Janice’s shoulder and peered at the page, where the smirking archeologist pointed. Mel chuckled as well and glanced at the archeologist with a delighted smile that took Janice’s breath away.
Their smiles slowly faded as they looked at each other.
The archeologist exhaled uneasily. Her initial thoughts of retreat were undermined by the unmistakable desire in Melinda’s eyes. With the delicate hint of perfume inviting exploration of each intimate place it was applied, the archeologist allowed the distance between them to collapse, like her once firm resolve to never again give her heart away. It was completely Mel’s.
With their lips nearly touching, the archeologist blinked. Fire.
Janice abruptly pulled back and looked at the fireplace.
Mel rolled her eyes in disbelief. What on GOD’s green Earth did she have to DO?? Mel silently moaned before her eyes widened at the increasing stench of smoke.
“The chicken!” Mel blurted and jumped up to rush to the smoke-filled kitchen.
The southerner coughed as she waved away the smoke and approached the oven. Grabbing an oven mitt, she extricated a chicken-shaped lump of charcoal.
Janice opened the kitchen door to let in fresh air. She silently watched as Mel groaned and angrily slammed the smoking foul down on the stove top.
“That’s it! I am never going to have chicken again!” The southerner declared defiantly to the chicken, then coughed as she waved the smoke away.
“Blackened chicken, isn’t that Cajun?” Janice offered.
Mel’s eyes narrowed briefly at the archeologist. But with the amused grin on Janice’s face, Mel allowed a weary chuckle. “I guess I can’t cook,” Mel sighed in resignation, staring at the scorched bird as she shook her head.
“Nonsense. Everything else was perfect,” Janice said. “Well . . . almost,“ she added with an incredibly endearing smile, giving hope to the southerner, who desperately wanted to recapture that wonderfully intimate moment.
“Janice,“ Mel exhaled, then heard a car drive up.
Her grandparents were home.
Chapter 17 - A Little Bit of Heaven
Sunday morning, Mrs. Pappas eyed her watch as Melinda joined the rest of the family for the meal. She was early, Mrs. Pappas smiled, unaware her restless granddaughter had not slept all night. She, however, slept very soundly for the first time in many days.
Ruby smiled at Melinda as she served the usual Sunday morning meal of biscuits and gravy.
“Dr. Covington must love to sleep if she’s willing to miss Ruby’s breakfast,” Mrs. Pappas mentioned with a thin smile, eyeing the place setting for their guest.
“She’s already up and gone.”
“Gone? Gone where?”
“For a walk,” Mel sighed, not knowing where. She had tried to talk to Janice before breakfast but found a note “Gone for a walk, Janice.” Nothing else. Just “Gone for a walk, Janice,” she mulled over the words with irritation.
“So I gather she won’t be joining us for church, either?” Mrs. Pappas inquired in a disapproving tone.
“No,” Melinda sighed. Mrs. Pappas’ eyebrow raised as she wondered what had caused this wave of depression in her granddaughter.
“So how did her day go with Reverend Hammond? I really didn’t get a chance to ask last night when we came home. She seemed to rush off to bed.”
“They had a nice time,” Mel said neutrally, also remembering Janice’s quick retreat last night.
William sighed and turned the page of his news paper. He wondered what Reverend Hammond would speak about today. At least his sermons managed to keep everyone awake, he considered, despite speaking for twice as long as Reverend Baylor.
“That’s nice,” Victoria said flatly, then raised her eyebrow. “Guess who we ran into, last night. Edgar Rothschild.”
Melinda looked up with alarm but smiled politely. “So, how is he?”
“Well, he had interesting stories about his trip to Greece. It’s a shame you couldn’t have met up with him when he was there,” Mrs. Pappas smiled.
“Hmmm,” Melinda responded, sipping her coffee. Perhaps it was a good thing Janice wasn’t here for breakfast, Melinda considered.
“So Grandmother, did you get a speaker for the Historical Society’s luncheon yet?” Brian interjected.
“I’m afraid not dear. It is very last moment. Everyone I spoke to, except Professor Dyer, declined. It’s not surprising they all wanted more than a few days to prepare.”
Mel listened and sipped her orange juice.
William sighed. Another banquet. He thought retirement would be when they could rest and enjoy the leisurely activities he never seemed to get a chance to enjoy during his military career. But Victoria had different ideas. She always seemed to, he considered, glancing at his ever busy wife over the newspaper then returned his attention to the paper.
“I guess we will have to make due with Professor Dyer.”
“You couldn’t get anyone else?” Mel interjected with concern. “He hasn’t been in the field for over fifteen years. Why, Janice could give a talk in her sleep that would be more interesting than anything he could come up with,” Melinda said with conviction, then felt uncomfortable with the quiet stares her grandmother and brother gave her.
“I don’t doubt it,” William affirmed from behind the sports page, having heard Professor Dyer speak before. Good thing he wasn’t a Baptist preacher, he considered, checking his watch.
“It’s a shame Dr. Covington isn’t speaking,” Mrs. Pappas sighed heavily.
“You’d want her to speak?” Melinda asked incredulously.
“I know I would,” Brian smirked and sipped his orange juice.
“Well, if you think she would. It’s only two days away, Mel,“ Mrs. Pappas said hesitantly. Melinda was surprised at her family’s encouragement.
“I could ask her, if you’d like,” Mel said with cautious but growing enthusiasm.
“It would solve one major problem for me,” Mrs. Pappas offered with a shrug.
“Ok . . . I’ll ask her,” Melinda said with a smile, delighted at this opportunity for Janice. It would get the archeologist the attention she deserved . . . and help build that desperately needed bridge between Janice and her family.
Janice looked up at the arch of hub caps over the entrance of Darryl’s junkyard and sighed sadly. She heard Darryl was Larry’s only remaining family. No one should have to suffer a loss like that alone, she thought, hoping it was not too soon for a visit.
“Larry?” She called out and knocked on the office door. After a few moments with no answer, she squinted through the dirty window and noticed the worn “CLOSED” sign dangling in the window. Her eyebrows furrowed with irritation she didn’t notice it before. Once again, her thoughts were preoccupied with a certain tall southerner and not her surroundings.
Not ready to begin her walk back to the Pappas mansion, she let curiosity choose her direction and strolled towards the infamous river.
Through the trees she could see the slow movement of the river’s calm surface, beneath which, she knew lurked a dangerous power. As she walked closer to the edge, her thoughts wandered over the whirlwind of good and bad that happened the past few days. There was a lot of bad, she considered, glancing sadly back at the junk yard.
Then she remembered the look in Melinda’s eyes before they almost kissed.
That was a good thing, wasn’t it?
Based on her past, less-than-successful experiences in the romance department, she had trouble deciding. Her body definitely thought it was a good thing though, she sighed, irritated at how easily it betrayed her. How many times has your body done that, Covington? And how many times did you get hurt? Enough times to make her gun shy, she considered.
But this was different. Mel was different.
You were wrong before, Covington, she argued with herself. How could she trust anyone after Al . . . the last woman she trusted with her heart . . . the woman who made her promise herself never to do that again. But it was too late to worry about giving her heart to Mel, she considered. She suspected she pretty much screwed up that promise to herself by following the tall southerner to the States. She thought she could handle it and not get attached, Janice exhaled wearily, wondering what the hell she was thinking.
But this was different. Mel was different.
With that thought, Janice couldn’t help but smile, remembering the day the southern lady barged in her tent and found a gun fight breaking out before her eyes. Yep, she was different, all right. A normal person would have done an about face and high-tailed it out of Macedonia. But not Mel, the archeologist grinned, thinking of how, ever since that day, that woman stood by her, stood up for her, and even saved her life. The woman who made life bearable. . . no. . . much more than bearable. . . she made life . . . wonderful.
Oh GOD, I’m in love, she silently moaned. Rolling her eyes at the unlikely pairing, she strolled along the water’s edge. If we stay here, I’ll need a job, she thought. And a place other than that museum to live. . .
Janice looked up from the ground with surprise. She found Larry, who got up from his beat-up old chair that was facing the river. She guessed the empty chair next to his was Darryl’s.
“Larry,“ she smiled warmly. “How are you doing?” She asked. He shrugged and motioned for her to join him.
“Taking it easy. Trying not to think too much. . .” He said. His eyes dropped to the beer in his hand. “You want one?” He asked uneasily.
“Sure,” Janice said, making Larry smile. He reached down and grabbed a rope and pulled. At the other end, a box emerged from the river. Janice grinned.
“The river keeps them nice and cold,” he said getting up and retrieving two beers.
“Good idea,” Janice said and took the offering.
“Some people think it’s a sin to drink this early. . . especially on a Sunday,” he said.
“I’ve heard that,” Janice said, sipping the beer. It was nice and cold and appreciated. “Thanks.”
“What brings you to the yard? We. . . I’m not open, but if you need something. . . .“ he offered sincerely
“I’m fine. Just wondering how you were,” she mentioned with a small smile, surprising the man, who didn’t know what to say. “It’s nice out here,” she continued, seeing his sudden discomfort. “Is this how you spend your Sundays?” She asked glancing at the river and taking another sip.
He nodded. “On the seventh day you’re supposed to rest, aren’t you?” He added with a shrug. “We always close the yard and enjoy the day,” he said and sipped his beer.
“You’re not Baptist, I gather,” she smirked.
“Hell no! Oh, uh . . . are you?” He asked uneasily. She held up her almost empty beer and made a face.
“I guess not,” he said with a chuckle. “Sometimes I spit things out before I think . . . ,” he offered with a shrug, scratching behind his neck.
“I suffer from that too, sometimes,” she admitted. “Sounds like you’re not too thrilled with organized religion,” she said.
“We . . . I don’t have anything against religious folk, except when they come bother us about salvation and all that crap.”
“You don’t believe in salvation?” She asked curiously.
“I’m not sure. I just don’t like being told I have to do ‘this’ and ‘that’ to get saved. You know what I mean?” He said wearily. “Why the hell would GOD stop a baby from going to heaven if it wasn’t Baptized?” He spat with irritation.
Janice nodded, understanding his frustration.
“And if GOD did that, which I think is a load of crap, would you want to be in a place that allowed that to happen?” He said.
“Well, some of us won’t have to worry about that, Larry,” Janice smirked and looked down at her empty bottle.
“Well, on the bright side Dr. Covington, we won’t be lonely,” he added, making her chuckle. “You want another?”
“Sure . . . and call me Janice.”
He nodded happily and pulled the rope. “I wonder how Darryl is doing . . . ,“ he sighed, looking out over the river.
“Maybe where he is, it’s always Sunday and there’s a river cooling a crate that never runs out of beer,“ she offered with a warm smile.
Larry smiled and handed her another beer. “Sounds like heaven.”
After the second hour of the sermon, Colonel Pappas looked at his watch and found Mel glancing at hers as well. They both grinned at each other sheepishly.
A few minutes later, Reverend Hammond finally finished his sermon and the congregation rose upon the organ’s opening chords to the final hymn. When the last chord sounded, the church burst with vigorous conversation after the long imposed silence.
“That was truly inspiring,” Victoria exhaled with a smile, as her family funneled out of the pew into the aisle.
“Interesting, death and destruction are not normally inspiring themes,” Mel remarked with a thin smile.
“Only if you do not walk with the Lord, Melinda,” she said superiorly. Mel shot a glance at her grandfather as he rolled his eyes.
“Yes grandmother,” Mel said with a thin smile. The sermon just took too much out of her to argue. On their way outside, Victoria made a point to stop and speak with the reverend. William looked at his watch and sighed.
“Reverend Hammond, that was your best sermon yet,” Victoria enthused, the young man beamed.
Melinda took a deep breath. They would be home soon enough. Hopefully, Janice would be home too, she sighed, wondering if the archeologist was trying to avoid her. Janice went to her room immediately after her grandparents returned home, then this morning, she was up and gone at the crack of dawn, Mel considered, growing worried.
“Well, the book of Revelation is one of my favorites,” he said.
“I am sorry Dr. Covington couldn’t hear you,” Victoria mentioned, getting a sad smile and nod from the Reverend and a surprised look from Melinda.
“Well, perhaps we can change her mind about Baptists,” he said conspiratorially.
“Perhaps,” Victoria said, hiding her amazement at his continued interest in the woman. He’ll change is tune, she considered. “Melinda was going to ask her to speak at the Historical Society for us. I don’t know if you’d be interested but. . . “
“I’ll be there,” he said enthusiastically.
“Grandmother, aren’t you jumping the gun here?” Melinda said uncomfortably, eyeing the excited young man, then her grandmother.
“I was only saying. . . “
“We’ve got to get going Reverend, good job on the sermon,” William blurted, looking at his watch and quickly ushered his family out the church and to their car.
“William, that was rude,” Victoria blurted as they stood at the car.
“Yes dear, get in. The game starts at one, and I still might get to hear the kickoff if we hurry,” he said rushing to the car.
As soon as they entered the house, William and Brian rushed to the billiard room.
“Is Eddy going to join us?” William asked his grandson.
“No, he wanted to get some wiring done at the church before the classroom walls get put up on, Monday,” Brian said as he turned the radio on.
“For crying out loud, it’s Sunday. I thought it was supposed to be a day of rest,” William sighed wearily.
At the front door, Victoria and Mel stared at each other. Mel smiled politely, pushed up her glasses, and started towards Janice’s room.
“I’m sorry about inviting the Reverend, dear,” Victoria mentioned, causing her granddaughter to pause and face her. “I just thought he’d be interested in her speaking. They are friends you know,” Victoria explained.
“Yes. . . I know,” Mel sighed. “Is there anyone else you’ve invited to this luncheon to hear Janice speak?” She asked jokingly.
“Well. . . actually,” Victoria responded hesitantly. Mel’s eyes widened in disbelief.
“She hasn’t even been asked yet!”
“Don’t get mad Melinda. . . I thought you, if anyone, could persuade her. Surely she wouldn’t say no, if you asked nicely,” Victoria said innocently.
“Janice?” Mel called softly as she knocked on the partially open door. She poked her head inside and found the archeologist looking up from the newspaper, sitting in the large chair by her bed.
They gazed at each other an uneasy moment before smiles emerged.
“Did you have fun at church?” Janice asked, folding the newspaper and setting it aside.
“Fun. . . hmmm. Well, if you consider listening to a two and a half hour fire and brimstone sermon fun, then I guess I did.”
“How about you? Did you enjoy your walk?” Mel asked, pulling up the desk chair and sitting down.
“Yeah. I saw Larry. He’s doing ok,” Janice mentioned with a nod, making Melinda’s face light up.
“That’s wonderful, Janice. He was probably glad for your company.”
“Janice?” Melinda asked uneasily.
“Hmm?” Janice responded, alarmed at Mel’s sudden tension.
“I promised my grandmother I’d ask you, but I told her you might say no . . . , “ Melinda started, making Janice more alarmed at the mention of the older woman.
“I think it’s a good . . . ,“ Mel paused, then sniffed the air. Her eyes focused on the source of the strong odor and narrowed. “Janice Covington! Have you been drinking beer?” She asked indignantly.
“It’s only noon . . . on a Sunday!” She scolded the smaller woman.
“I can’t believe you!” Melinda shot up from her chair and paced the room.
“What the hell are you so uptight about, Mel?” Janice asked with annoyance.
“Just tell me one thing. Why did you feel the need to drink, Janice?” Melinda looked uncertain.
“I didn’t feel the need to drink, I just joined Larry for a few,” Janice
blurted with irritation.
Melinda’s face softened slightly. “Janice, if there was a reason you felt the need to drink . . . would you tell me?”
Janice rolled her eyes. “If you keep this up, Mel, I’m gonna need a drink,” Janice blurted, looking up at the tall woman who sharply glared at her.
“That’s not funny,” Melinda said tightly, folding her arms insecurely across her chest.
Time to put her cards on the table, Janice considered, knowing it was the only way this would work.
“Mel, sit down,” Janice commanded without any attempt at pleasantries. “Sit,” she barked when the southerner hesitated, unnerved by the sudden harshness. She sat down slowly.
Janice let out a long sigh, then eyed Melinda, who swallowed nervously and pushed up her glasses.
“Mel . . . I like cigars,” Janice informed the southerner, who nodded uncertainly, already well aware of that. “I like poker. I like beer. I like hard liquor,” Janice continued, not stopping for Mel, who was about to say something. “I like women. I like sex. I like sex with women,” Janice explained with an unwavering gaze. Mel’s eyes widened at the bluntness.
“I don’t like stupid rules. And I think, Miss Pappas, you pretty much knew all of that. And you’ve tried your best to stop me from doing things that I normally do,” Janice said neutrally, though the comment caused the southerner’s brow to furrow. Before she could respond, Janice continued.
“And I think you know, for the most part, I am capable of compromise. But Mel, I will not sit here and be accused of things, like having a drinking problem just because I had a few beers during a time of day YOU thought inappropriate. If you can’t accept that . . . if you can’t accept who I am . . . do us both a favor . . . tell me now,” Janice said forcefully, though her heart raced at the possibility Melinda would say she couldn’t.
Through the archeologist’s tough exterior, Melinda could see a glimmer of vulnerability. She was scared too, Mel realized. With an uneasy breath, Mel pushed up her glasses.
“Janice . . . ,“ Melinda said, cleared her throat.
“I dislike cigars,” she said, surprising Janice, whose eyebrows furrowed, expecting an answer to her question.
“I dislike gambling. I dislike beer,” Mel continued crisply, causing Janice’s heart to sink with each admission, knowing where she must be headed. “I dislike most other drinks, except for an occasional southern comfort and some wine. I like women. I don’t know if I like sex because I’ve never had it. But, I imagine I would very much like sex with a certain woman . . . if she didn’t have an ashtray mouth or beer breath,” Mel said flatly, whose eyes narrowed at the archeologist, whose eyes widened with surprise at the unusually blunt southerner. Never had . . . ?
“I think rules are important. And I think, Doctor Covington, you pretty much knew all of that. And you’ve argued every time I’ve asked you to curb your bad habits. But, as you know, I can compromise,” Melinda said and paused thoughtfully before continuing.
“I wasn’t trying to accuse you of having a drinking problem, Janice. I just wanted to know. . . why you would disappear without a word the morning after we were interrupted from . . . an intimate moment, and come back reeking of beer. If you are having doubts about ‘us’ . . . or where we should go from here, I want to know.”
Janice knew now wasn’t the time to pull punches. “I have doubts, Mel,” Janice said firmly.
“Oh . . . ,“ Mel said with soft surprise, pushing up her glasses, nervously. She felt tears welling up as her eyes glanced everywhere but at the archeologist. “I see,” she said not knowing what to say.
“I don’t think you do. This is not a game for me,” Janice said softly. Mel looked at her finally and saw love in her eyes. Mel took a calming breath. “I’ve never had a successful relationship and I don’t know if I can stand another . . . nightmare,” Janice sighed.
Mel gently touched the archeologist’s cheek. “You just haven’t been with the right woman,” Mel said softly.
“That’s the one thing I’ve managed to figure out, Mel,” Janice smirked, briefly closing her eyes and enjoying the touch.
“Until now,” Mel added, continuing her gentle caress on the soft cheek.
Their eyes met.
“Take your hand off my cheek now, or you’ll be tasting beer.”
Mel blinked, freezing in mid-caress a moment before gingerly withdrawing her hand. She smiled weakly at the archeologist.
“Now, what was it you wanted to ask me?”
“Are you nuts?” Janice asked incredulously, getting up from her chair and pacing.
“I know it is rather unexpected, but the scheduled speaker was unable to make it and Grandmother is desperate to find a . . . .”
“Are you nuts?” Janice continued pacing.
“It would help her out AND give you excellent . . . .”
“Are you nuts?”
“I would love it if you two could get along. This will. . . ” Mel added, making Janice stop and look at her with amazement.
“You are nuts,” Janice interrupted. “YOU don’t get along with your grandmother, Mel. How the HELL am I supposed to get along with her?”
“Your irresistible charm?”
“Well apparently you have no trouble resisting my charm after a few beers.“
“I’m not asking you to kiss her, for heaven’s sake, just speak at the function,” Mel countered, rolling her eyes.
“It really means that much to you?”
“Yes,” Mel said sincerely. Janice was defenseless and knew it, sighing heavily with furrowed brows.
“Yeah. You want to know why?”
Mel looked at her uneasily as Janice slowly leaned to her ear to share the reason.
“Because you’ll owe me,“ Janice whispered and brushed her lips over the southerner’s ear.
“Oh my. . . .”
“We’ve got a lot of work to do . . . if we are going to present anything decent,” Janice announced, quickly standing up with a smirk.
Melinda swallowed, surprised at the effect the archeologist’s warm lips had on places other than her ear. When the words finally caught up to her, Mel blinked and looked up with alarm.
Chapter 18 - Hard Work
The library’s books were scattered across the table where Melinda searched for a passage she remembered.
“Ah HA!” She announced as she got up and placed her finding down in front of the archeologist, helpfully pointing to the text.
“You’re still nuts,” Janice mentioned nonchalantly as she read the passage, trying to ignore the tall southerner leaning over her shoulder.
“No more than you, Janice dear,” Melinda responded softly into Janice’s ear then stood up.
“This works,” Janice croaked, looking up at the incredibly distracting southerner. Mel beamed. “You know, Mel, I’m not sure if you are aware of this but - I haven’t had any beer today.”
“Oh, I’m well aware, Janice,“ Mel’s smile slowly faded as she focused on the archeologist’s lips.
“You two hungry?” Ruby asked, bursting in with a tray of food, startling the southerner. Mel rolled her eyes at the intrusion. The fourth one since they started working that day.
“No thanks . . . ,“ Janice mentioned with a polite smile and got up from the desk to look at the books on the wall. An apartment . . . they needed a quiet apartment, Janice considered.
Melinda looked at Janice with surprise for the southerner was famished.
They had more privacy in the tent they shared in the middle of a bustling camp, Janice considered with annoyance.
“Here you go, honey,” Ruby smiled at Mel as she cleared a spot on the table and placed the tray down. She looked at the pile of books with a raised eyebrow then the southerner, who smiled politely.
“Thank you, Ruby.”
“If you need anything else . . . ,“ Ruby started, glancing at the archeologist, who was still busy searching the bookcases.
Locks. And lots of locks, Janice silently added. Maybe a moat. . . .
“Thank you, Ruby. Please close the door on the way out,” Mel said, sporting a polite smile. Ruby nodded uneasily and left the library.
“You know, I need a job,” Janice mentioned as she returned to the desk.
Mel looked at her with surprise. “Preparing a talk for the Historical Society not enough work for you?”
“A job with money, Mel. I can’t stay here forever,” Janice said with a shrug as she sat down and sorted through her papers.
“Yes you can,” Mel offered uneasily, causing the archeologist to look up.
“Mel, I’ve always supported myself. I’m not going to change that just because you have the means,” Janice informed Mel with a soft but firm voice. Mel sighed and finally nodded. “Besides, I was thinking, a quiet apartment or something might be nice . . . “ Janice added, raising an eyebrow.
Mel smiled broadly. “I should get a job too . . . so you’ll let me split the rent with you,” Mel added with growing enthusiasm. A place of their own, she thought warmly. A cozy place they would call home.
“Mel,“ Janice said, alarming the southerner when she got up from the desk and sat next to her.
“Don’t you want me to live with you?“ Mel asked numbly, her enthusiasm drained away.
“Mel, that’s not it,” Janice’s quick response brought the southerner relief, which rapidly transformed to irritation.
“You don’t think I could get a job!?!” Mel accused.
“Jesus Christ,” Janice blurted wearily.
“You don’t, do you?!?” Mel blurted, then was surprised to find a hand firmly placed on her mouth.
“I didn’t SAY that, Mel! Now if you’ll let me finish what I was going to say without interruptions, I’d really appreciate that. You think you can do that??” Janice asked with a thin smile. Mel looked uncertain but nodded.
“Good,” Janice said, slowly removing her hand.
“What I was going to say was . . . ,“ Janice paused, eyeing the southerner, daring her to speak. Mel rolled her eyes.
“This may be something you are not interested in doing but . . . have you thought about getting a doctorate?” Janice said.
“A doctorate?” Melinda repeated with surprise.
“Yeah, you certainly have done doctorate-level work with the scrolls. You’d probably need a few undergraduate courses, which you’d breeze right through . . . Mel?” Janice stopped, seeing Mel look at her oddly.
“You think I should get a doctorate?”
“I. . . It’s just a thought, Mel. Obviously, a doctorate isn’t necessary for you to work on the scrolls and not everyone wants to put themselves through that grind,“ Janice said quickly.
“You think I could get one?” Mel asked meekly, still amazed at the idea. Janice smiled warmly.
“Absolutely. Frankly, I’m surprised you don’t have one already. You have a genuine talent, Mel. It will be a lot of hard work, but from the past year, I’d say you’re used to it,” Janice said with conviction, becoming confused when the southerner’s eyes started to water. “Mel, are you all right?”
Mel answered by tenderly kissing her.
The phone rang in the hallway, startling a frustrated Ruby who was outside the library doors, unsuccessfully trying to listen. She sighed and picked up the receiver. “Hello, Pappas’ residence,” she answered.
“Is Dr. Covington there?”
After a quick knock on the door, Ruby barged in the library, finding the women at the table . . . reading. She looked at Melinda, who seemed suspiciously uneasy.
“Ruby, what a surprise,” Janice sat back and smiled.
Locks. Their apartment would definitely need locks, Mel thought wearily. She quickly glanced at the beautiful archeologist and looked at the mountain of books on the table, wondering if she would be able to concentrate on anything now.
“You’ve got a phone call, Dr. Covington,” Ruby said.
“Let me guess, Reverend Hammond,” Melinda interjected with a thin smile.
“No, Dr. Chapman . . . the coroner,” Ruby said, dying with curiosity.
Janice looked at Mel, equally surprised.
“Hello?” Janice spoke into the receiver as the tall southerner anxiously hovered behind her.
“Janice? This is Gerald Chapman.”
“Gerry, how’s business?” Janice asked, making Mel roll her eyes.
“Busy, which is why I called. I thought you might be interested in our latest case. It’s an electrocution,” Gerald said enthusiastically.
“Wow. Really?” Janice said with uneasy surprise. “Who?”
“Can’t tell,” he answered.
“Mrs. Pappas?” A blond woman smiled as she entered the Columbia
“Mrs. Wright, please come in and sit down,” Victoria smiled warmly, motioning to the chair. Mrs. Pappas was surprised at this woman’s beauty, wondering why on Earth she would have ever gotten herself involved with Dr. Covington. “Thank you for coming on such short notice.”
“Please, call me Alice. I must admit, I didn’t expect to be traveling to South Carolina but your offer was . . . very generous. Raising a child is rather expensive, even with my husband’s respectable income,” Alice smiled.
“Yes, indeed,” Victoria said approvingly, longing for the day when her granddaughter would have a family.
“I am curious why you need my help. I’ve already spoken to you over the phone about my . . . misfortunes,“ Alice remarked uncomfortably. She pulled a handkerchief from her purse and gently dabbed her now watering eyes.
“Would you like a glass of water?” Victoria said with concern.
“Yes, please,” Alice responded weakly with a sniff, watching the older woman quickly get up and pour a glass. A small smile crept over Alice’s face, which disappeared when Victoria returned with the water.
“Is that your granddaughter?” Alice asked as she took the glass, noting the family picture on the wall and the striking brunette. Janice always did have a weakness for beautiful women, Al considered.
“Yes, that’s Melinda,” Mrs. Pappas said and sighed with worry. “She is thirty-one and, despite my efforts, without any prospects for a husband. Her. . . association with Dr. Covington is . . .“
“. . . disturbing,” Alice suggested solemnly.
“To say the very least,” Victoria responded with a furrowed brow.
Alice nodded in understanding. “It all starts so innocently . . . ,“ Alice offered softly, obtaining Victoria’s undivided attention.
“. . . the heady feeling of complete trust,” Alice said and sighed sadly. “You find you want to please her . . . any way you can. Then the friendship becomes . . . physical,” Alice added after a deliberate and effective pause.
Worry flooded Victoria’s face.
“But that isn’t enough . . . she wants more,” Alice said with a pained grimace. “She asks for some money,” Alice continued, making Victoria shift uncomfortably.
“A small amount at first,” Alice quickly explained. “You give it to her because you want to please her . . . any way you can. Then she asks for more . . . and more. She’ll eventually stop asking and just take . . . and take, until there is nothing left,” Alice said with a furrowed brow that matched Victoria’s.
“Then she finds someone else. Someone who can give her the one thing you wish you could, but can’t. And she taunts you with that, just before she leaves you, feeling used . . . worthless,” Alice exhaled dramatically as well-trained tears streamed down her cheeks.
“Oh child, I’m so sorry,” Victoria said with great emotion, unaware the woman described was sitting right in front of her.
“Isn’t Melinda coming?” Gerald asked as they entered the morgue, noticing the southerner had stayed behind in the hallway.
“Not this time,” Janice said with a polite smile. Gerald nodded as he opened the door to the examining room. Janice’s nose was immediately assaulted with the smell of charred flesh. “God DAMN,” she blurted and cringed, spotting the charcoaled body. She was thankful Melinda elected to wait in the hallway.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought too,” Gerald responded with a smirk. “He was found by power lines last night when the power company went out to investigate a blackout.”
“Guess they found the reason for the blackout,” Janice mentioned. “When will you find out who he is?”
“We have to check the dental records. That could take a few days, and that assumes he lives around here. We may never know who he is, unless someone is reported missing,” Gerald explained, shaking his head. He walked over to his half-eaten sandwich and took a bite of his ham and cheese sandwich.
“He’d have to climb to reach the high voltage cables, right?” Janice said, squinting at the disgusting sight.
“Yeah. So it looks like we have either suicide or. . . we got ourselves a murder.” Gerald said with his mouth-full.
Janice looked at the floor and decided to risk sharing her suspicions. “What about Darryl?”
“The drowning victim?”
“You think he was murdered? But there was no evidence,“ he countered, looking at the blackened body.
“No, there wasn’t,“ Janice admitted.
Gerald laughed without humor. “Not that evidence always helps. The Greenville Police department is still tryin’ to find Ed.”
“The guy who stabbed a business man to death. His secretary found him in his office. He managed to tell her the murderer’s name before he died. They had a sword, fingerprints, and a name, and still couldn’t get the man.”
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 - Conclusion |
Back Top | Index |