This is an excerpt from Cold Comfort. Riley has just heard from Claire for the first time and doesn't want to get involved in her problem.
Riley hung up the phone and curled his lip in disgust. "A stalker. The woman watches too much TV. Probably a simple mugging that scared her stupid."
A large, gray-striped cat opened one eye and flicked a notched ear, then returned to his nap on the desk. Absently scratching the cat's scarred head with one hand, Riley picked up a stained mug, only to find the coffee cold. "Damn."
He fished a notepad out of his desk drawer and scribbled Call Ray across the top. The phone sat six inches from the pad. He reread his note and added "Later" in large letters. The numerals on his clock changed to 6:21. Claire Spencer's voice echoed in his head. Mugger or not, fear lent a hollow note to her voice. The pencil snapped in two between his fingers, surprising him. He stood, shoved his chair away, and threw the stub at the fireplace.
|The river outside Riley's house|
Running his hands through his hair, he crossed the room to the window. The river, choppy and gray, gave way to memories. A girl's face, her mouth stretched in a scream, swam into his vision. Christ. He knew the image would keep him awake tonight. Why did Ray give this woman his name? Did he think Riley could handle an easy problem like Spencer's? A quick fix that would lure him back to a job he could no longer do? Not bloody likely.
* * *
At eight thirty the phone rang. Riley swung the ax, sinking it into the log, and went inside to answer. The pile of wood he'd just split ought to last him a month. He brushed his hands on his jeans and grabbed the phone before his "Leave a message" started. "Hold on." He switched off the machine. "Yeah?"
"Dammit, Riley," Ray Bonney's voice boomed over the line, "you could at least talk to her. The woman needs help. She's got a goose egg and stitches in her head, and now the bastard's been in her shop."
"The Spencer woman?" Riley wasn't getting suckered into another job, especially one involving a woman. Especially an injured woman. Never again. "Forget it. I'm through. Tell her to call the police or a private eye."
"She did. The cops can't do anything and PIs are too expensive. Come on, Riley."
"If she can't afford them, she sure as hell can't afford me."
"You don't need money."
"That's not the point. I'm through. No more." Silence. Riley waited, preparing himself for Ray's next argument.
"She's a good lady. My sister Mary works in her store, but there's more. They're friends. I like Claire. Don't want to see her hurt, by anybody." He paused and then said, "I'm asking you, Riley."
Ray's hole card. If he'd use it, the woman meant a great deal to him. Riley traced a finger over the scar next to his heart, then wiped his hand over his face. He couldn't refuse. "You'd better tell me what you know. I didn't get much information."
"That means you didn't want much. She's kind of reserved—a little old-fashioned. You snarl at her?" Ray snorted. "Put her off, most likely."
"If you want me to help her, tell me what's going on—someone might be following her? Someone tried to attack her? She sounded like a flake."