twenty-three

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Chapter Twenty-three

 

James woke to find Phoebe perched on the side of the bed, combing her fingers through the tangled expanse of her hair. Sunlight streamed through the window, lending a golden sheen to her flawless skin and shimmering hair.

Hungry to hold her again, he leaned forward and snared her about the waist, drawing her back into the bed.

Phoebe giggled as he settled her against the mattress and rolled above her. “I didn’t mean to wake you.” Her haunting eyes locked with his and she smiled up at him gently. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m not sorry. Any morning I wake to the sight of you is a gift.”

A light flush rose in her cheeks and her eyes twinkled with the compliment. “I was thinking about what you said last night,” she said after a moment.

“Oh? What was that?” For the life of him he couldn’t quite remember what they’d discussed.

“I think I would like to extend an olive branch to my brother and let him know I’m here. Maybe he’s had time to cool off and is just waiting for me to reach out.”

James smiled. Her optimism was one of the things he loved about her. She always believed the best of people… himself included. “By all means. There is ink and paper in the desk by the wall. Write the letter and I’ll have it sent over first thing this morning.”

Phoebe beamed and rolled quickly from the bed. She rushed to the desk and began opening the top drawers.

James folded his arms behind his head, enjoying the current view of her backside. He hoped things went well with her brother. All he wanted—

Across the room Phoebe froze, head bent as she stared into an open drawer. Ever so slowly she dipped her hand within.

Oh, no… Oh, bloody hell… She must have found it. He’d all but forgotten about stashing the dreaded relic there after his uncle’s funeral. Pure ice flushed through his veins and he shot upright in bed. “Phoebe…”

She spun to face him, expression a mask of horror. Betrayal and sadness bled from her eyes. Her lips parted but no words came out as she lifted the Heart of the Nile up for him to see. “You lied to me, James. Y-you killed my brother.”

“No, Phoebe, I didn’t. I swear it. I swear it on my father’s grave.”

“Then why do you have this?” The long chain slipped through her fingers until the jeweled pendent swung hypnotically before her. “It went missing the night Patrick died. We always assumed that whoever murdered him had also stolen the pendant.” Her gaze drifted from James to the necklace and then back again. “It was you,” she said with quiet conviction. “I am such a naïve fool.”

“I did not kill Patrick,” he defended firmly. “Tobias did.”

“Your brother?” Phoebe’s wary gaze drilled into him.

He drew a steadying breath. He hadn’t spoken the truth aloud in fifteen years. “Yes.”

“Do you know what happened to my brother?”

“I do,” he replied gravely as those long stuffed away memories rose to the surface of his mind. He gulped, if he concentrated hard enough he could still smell the dew damp grass and woods from that night… he could still hear his brother’s laughter ringing in his ears… as well as Patrick’s angry shouts…

“Tell me,” Phoebe’s strangled words interrupted his miserable thoughts.

Where to begin… James sighed, and shifted to the edge of the bed keeping the sheet around his waist. He raked both hands through his hair and faced Phoebe. “Sit,” he invited.

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