Author’s Note: So I really hate this particular stretch of a story. It’s that place that should be easy if you know where you’re going with it, which sometimes I do and the end is clear and almost written from the beginning. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes something happens somewhere in the middle the end I thought I have is not the end I’m facing at all. Other times I don’t even know where my end is, I just started writing and ended up… somewhere.
This is kind the last kind of story. I didn’t know much about it when I started, and I suppose I still don’t, this close to the end.
I wrote one scene today and then started one after it. I got three paragraphs in and jumped to a conversation I know needs to happen if there is to be an ending, and yet that scene wouldn’t finish itself, either. I felt like the conversation went in circles.
So, in the end, I have only this scene to show for today, and I’m not all that happy with it. Oh, well. Maybe I’ll have an ending tomorrow.
“Are you going to threaten to arrest me, too?” Shaelynn asked, shaking her head as she shut her car door. She was starting to think that she was being stalked. The feds might mean well, but she wasn’t thrilled to see Kaplan, not after it took all the restraint she had not to do anything to the woman’s husband for all that love talk.
Kaplan forced a tired smile. “Why would I want to arrest you?”
“Stalking, which everyone knows the laws against that are useless and pathetic. So… Unless Nolan called up with a restraining order—and that’s unlikely—you really don’t have any legal reason to be harassing me. I’m not violating any laws.” Not yet, Shaelynn added silently. “I have a permit for my gun, and this is a public place. I can be here same as everyone else.”
The agent nodded. “I know. I’m not here about the gun or your current location. I don’t have a restraining order—and I don’t think, even if you two had a fight, that Sheppard would do that. He loves you too much for that.”
“You almost make it sound like some messed up case of domestic abuse, one where the one being abused is so convinced that they are in love and that it’s worth all that their abuser does and that he will idiotically come crawling back begging me to stay,” Shaelynn muttered, annoyed.
“No.” Kaplan shook her head. “I know what it’s like to be overly optimistic about the person I’m married to—you don’t want to know the hell that my second husband put me through—but I don’t think that’s what this is at all. He loves you, yes, but he’s not pushing you, and if Raleigh’s right and he asked you to go—then he’s not operating with blinders. He’s not trying to make this something that it isn’t. He’s trying to move on. It’s what you’re doing that’s interesting.”
“Nolan wants to believe it’s over. All of you want to believe it’s over, but I’m not convinced that it is. I don’t think that one woman was behind all of this. I didn’t like her from what I read in that file, but I don’t know that I can accept that she’s organized and connected enough to do all this.” Shaelynn folded her arms over her chest. “I’d go if I thought it was done, but since no one else seems to be willing to keep looking, I’m going to keep watching. I will not let Nolan die.”
“I believe that,” Kaplan told her. She let out a breath. “All the same, you tempt me to arrest you anyway. I don’t know that I’ve seen a worse case of stubborn in my life, and I married Morton, so that’s saying something.”
Shaelynn rolled her eyes. “You can’t arrest someone just for being stubborn.”
“Maybe not, but I should.”
“You and your husband both seem determined to see paranoia as love, which seems like a bad sign where your marriage is concerned. I’m not in love with Nolan. He is and was the only friend I had, but I never loved him. Not when we were kids, not when I was ‘married’ to him, and not now. It’s not about love. It’s about making sure that he stays alive.”
“And the logic of that works… how, exactly? How is it that you don’t care about him and yet it matters if he lives or dies?” Kaplan asked. “You’re willing to do whatever it takes to defend him, aren’t you? You’re ready to take a bullet or use one. You might have to kill. You might end up getting killed. You don’t make that kind of a choice if the person involved doesn’t matter to you. The cost has to mean something—you’re not a sociopath. You know right and wrong. You know legal and illegal. You may have grown up in a place that tried to warp all that, but if you think you walked out of there so battle-scarred that you don’t care about anyone, you’re wrong. You’re not close to anyone else because you don’t want to be close, but Nolan—he’s under your skin and in your blood and no matter how many times you wanted to break those ties, they’re still there. You wouldn’t be here if they weren’t. The fact is—he’s the only thing in your life that matters that much to you. You haven’t rushed back to work or your home—and you can say it’s a threat all you want, but if it mattered so little to you, you’d have left. You’d have trusted us to do our jobs and accepted that it was over. There’s still a very good chance that it is, and you’re just telling yourself that it isn’t because you want an excuse to stay when he told you to go.”
Shaelynn let out a breath. “I think it would have been a hell of a lot easier to lie and say I loved him back then to do this. A lot less annoying as well.”
“The fact that you’re not willing to lie about it says a lot, too. You could have used that as a way of sticking around, but you wouldn’t. You care too much to do that.”
“Do you and your husband have some incurable need to matchmake? Is that what this is?”
Kaplan laughed. “You wouldn’t have said that about either of us not that long ago. We’d both sworn off dating and everything else after our second marriages. We got burned. It happens. It made us both overcautious, though he overcame that before I did. It’s not about the matchmaking. Raleigh is still investigating Cunningham, and you crossed his path in the middle of that. I’m still trying to find two missing girls, though my time for that is running out. You could be caught in the crossfire in either case, and neither of us wants that.”
“Nolan isn’t involved in either case—maybe with Cunningham because he wants to take over the firm, but not in the other one. The connection was thin to begin with, and it’s thinner now. I’m not in the middle of anything except what you keep trying to put me in.” Shaelynn fixed the other woman with a hard glare. “I am not in love with him. My father—well, maybe he didn’t give me to Nolan like I thought, but all the same, that was not a marriage. It was never about love. My father didn’t know what that was.”
“So you think you don’t?” Kaplan didn’t wait for an answer. “Your father doesn’t know what love is. I agree with that. You don’t think you do, but it was obvious from the beginning that you had Sheppard’s. He knows what love is, and he would still give that to you. If you’re not willing to take it… Well, you won’t convince me you’re making the right decision, and you won’t convince me that you’re not afraid—I’ve been there; I know how that is—but I still have a job to do.”
“You don’t seem to be doing it.”
Kaplan smiled, though it was a bit thin. “Be careful. What you’re doing is in a bit of a gray area at best, so watch yourself.”