The Legend of Smuggler's Cave

By: Paula Graves

Fire flashed in those gray eyes as she turned to look at him. “Mr. Hale, I don’t know what you think you know about my husband or his murder, but if you think it’s a way to get back at your brother and sister—”

“Don’t call them that.”

Her dark eyebrows notched slightly upward. “You don’t get to tell me what to do. I don’t sugarcoat the truth. You and the chief share a mother. You don’t have to like it. I don’t reckon he likes it much himself, but there you are anyway. And if you’re messing around in my life because you think it’ll piss off your brother, you can just move along and find somebody else to use. I won’t be party to it.”

He wanted to be angry at her for her bluntness, but in truth, he found it something of a relief. Everybody else he knew, friends and colleagues he’d known for years, seemed to walk around on eggshells around him, as if they feared speaking plainly about the train wreck his life had become. He might not like what Briar Blackwood had to say, but at least she was saying it aloud and without apology.

“Understood,” he said with similar bluntness. “But my interest in your husband’s murder has nothing to do with Massey.”

“Then why are you suddenly interested in what happened to Johnny?”

He studied her, wondering if her straightforward style and “call a spade a spade” philosophy extended to her own life. “Why aren’t you more interested, Mrs. Blackwood?”

His question hit the mark. He saw her eyes widen slightly, and her pink lips flattened with annoyance. “What makes you think I’m not?”

“Most people who lose a loved one to murder don’t move on with their lives so easily.”

The fire returned to those gunmetal eyes. “What would you have me do? Bury myself with him? Turn the cabin into a shrine and worship his memory? I have a small son. I have bills to pay and debts to honor. I don’t have time to haunt the police station begging them to solve his case. I was there for the whole thing. I knew how hard they tried to follow leads. But there weren’t any leads to follow. Not here in Ridge County.”

“Where, then, if not here in Ridge County?” he asked softly.

Up flickered those eyes again, changing tone with quicksilver speed. Now they were hard edged and cold as hoarfrost. “What made you come to Maryville at this time of night to ask me questions about my husband? Why tonight, smack in the middle of all this uproar?”

She wasn’t going to tell him what he needed to know, he saw, unless he gave her something in return. The chief was right—she was tougher than she looked. But how much could he tell her without driving her further away?

“I’m investigating the Wayne Cortland crime organization. I assume, as a police officer, you have at least a passing knowledge of the case.”

She nodded quickly. “I do.”

Much of the information he’d gathered over the past few months was highly confidential, but he had a feeling he wouldn’t get far with this woman if he didn’t cough up a little new information. But the newest revelation of his ongoing investigation, the lead that had brought him to Maryville Mercy Hospital in the middle of the night, was something he didn’t think Johnny Blackwood’s widow wanted to hear.

“I’m trying to connect the dots between Cortland and some of the Tennessee groups that may have been working for him.”

“I know. My cousin Blake is part of the Blue Ridge Infantry. Tennessee division.” She spoke in a dry, humorless drawl liberally spiced with disdain. Clearly not a fan of either her cousin or his pretense of patriotism. Good. That made his work here marginally less difficult.

But only marginally.

He paused a moment to size her up again, telling himself it wasn’t an excuse to appreciate once more her tempting curves. But his body’s heated reaction demolished that lie in a few accelerated heartbeats.

He forced his focus back to the problem of her husband’s potential involvement in Cortland’s organization. “How much did you know about your husband’s job?”

She hadn’t been expecting that question, he saw. Her brows furrowed and she cocked her head slightly to one side, countering with a question of her own. “What do you know about my husband’s job?”

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