“I’ve got red wine—will that do for starters?” Kip called to Julie from the kitchen, scanning the bottles in the small wine rack she’d built in to the cupboards just above the refrigerator. She took down a Merlot, figuring that was always a good bet for any casual wine drinker. One glass, a few minutes of conversation, and she could send for a car to take Julie home. Julie, yet another of Savannah’s semi-blind dates foisted on her because her loving, meddling cousin thought she ought to be settled down by now. If Savannah wasn’t her best friend and hugely pregnant and always there for her, she’d probably try harder to get out of these empty evenings. Rather than listen to Savannah nagging her every other day, she just surrendered.
All the same, she tried to show her dates a good time. After all, it wasn’t their fault she’d rather work late than spend an evening with a stranger hoping for a connection she didn’t want. This time she’d procured tickets for the final performance of the latest Broadway hit. The show had lived up to its billing, but the rest of the night had held the same sense of déjà vu most of her social life had taken on over the last few years—a been there, done that, and don’t want to do it again quality that left her feeling oddly disconnected and adrift. “Julie? Red okay with—”
She turned at the soft laugh coming from the hall behind her and stopped in her tracks. A very beautiful and unexpectedly naked woman lounged in the doorway. Julie had looked spectacular in a figure-hugging black outfit that displayed her full-bodied assets to perfection and appeared, if possible, even more stunning without the dress.
Julie gave her a confident, knowing look. “I was rather hoping we could save the wine until later.”
Keeping her eyes very deliberately above Julie’s collarbone level, two very nice collarbones indeed, Kip carefully set the wine bottle on the counter. “I think we’re—”
Before she could finish a diplomatic decline of Julie’s generous offer, Julie took two steps into the tiny pocket kitchen and pressed against her, both arms wrapping around her neck.
“I hope you’re thinking what I’m thinking,” she breathed, her lips grazing Kip’s ear.
Kip backed up until her ass bumped into the refrigerator, which wasn’t far considering the size of the galley kitchen. Julie followed as if they were superglued together, her breasts—which deserved star billing, as Kip’s brief and inadvertent glance had assured her—pressed against her chest, and a shapely thigh insinuated itself between her legs. Kip’s pulse shot up higher than her temperature, which was approaching boiling.
“Maybe we should take this—”
Julie’s mouth covered hers, her tongue sweeping across Kip’s lower lip, her teeth tugging just a little too hard before she pulled away. “Mmm, yes. The bedroom.”
A little slower? Like, some other night? Maybe with someone else?
“I think the bedroom would be the perfect place to start,” Julie said, her thigh pressing harder between Kip’s legs.
“Julie,” Kip murmured, her nipples tightening despite her reluctance. She wasn’t immune to the allure of a beautiful woman, and Julie was that and disarmingly seductive as well. Plus, the last time she’d had sex wasn’t quite a distant memory, but it was disappearing in the rearview mirror. All the same, their signals were definitely crossed. If they fell into bed, then what? Good-bye before dawn, which would be Kip’s preference? And if that wasn’t Julie’s picture, where did that leave them? What the hell did a fast hookup mean to Julie—because it meant nothing at all to her, as the last few times without even a hint of an orgasm or any desire to repeat the event had made pretty clear.
Julie’s hand slid down between their bodies and tugged at the zipper on her trousers. “I’ve been thinking about this since I opened the door of my apartment. Savannah was right, you’re hot.”
“Thanks,” Kip said dryly, doing her best not to grab Julie’s wrist and forcibly move her questing hand from between her thighs, while imagining herself throttling her cousin.
“Savannah forgot to mention you’re exactly my type—black hair, blue eyes, lean and sexy.”
“Uh-huh,” Kip murmured, finally slipping sideways and backing toward the hallway. Her third-floor apartment in the East Village was big by Village standards, but not that big. She had nowhere to run. She didn’t always have to be in control in the bedroom, but she didn’t give it up when she barely knew more about a woman than her name either. Usually she didn’t have to worry about that—the women she slept with were generally casual acquaintances, friends who were happy to keep things light. “Let’s slow this down a little bit.”
Following her into the small living room, Julie laughed and gave her an incredulous look. “You can’t be serious.” She ran her hands over her breasts and cupped them both for an instant. “Tell me you’re not interested.”
“I’m breathing,” Kip said honestly. Watching Julie stroke herself made her clit jump. Sweat misted the back of her neck. For a second her libido threatened to win out over her better judgment and she imagined skimming her tongue over the nipple Julie had just teased into hardness, slipping her fingers between her smooth thighs, knowing just how Julie would sound when she made her come. And then, just like so many other times—when the moment’s satisfaction left her empty and confused—the feeling of déjà vu washed over her again in an icy deluge. Reason surfaced. “But I was kind of hoping we could get to know each other tonight. Relax, talk, enjoy some wine.”
“I know everything I need to know.” Julie resumed stalking, making Kip feel like the weakest, slowest antelope in the herd being tracked by a lioness, with nowhere to hide.
“I guess I’m not being clear.” Kip smiled, hoping she could get out of this without causing a major incident with one of Savannah’s friends. “I’m not—”
Kip’s cell simultaneously chimed and vibrated on the coffee table. She almost cried hallelujah. “Sorry, I better get that.”
With a barely muffled snarl, Julie snatched her shirt off a chair and pulled it on, leaving it unbuttoned as she lounged on the sofa, her hungry gaze fixed on Kip.
“Yeah?” Kip sent Julie an apologetic grimace.
“Hey, Kip, it’s Phil.”
“Hi, Phil.” Kip frowned. Why was her cousin, one of the company’s managers, calling her at close to midnight on a weeknight? She was labor, not management, and way down the list of family chain of command. “What can I do for you?”
“I might be out of line, but I thought you ought to know Randy is here at the Oasis with a girl. Girlfriend, I guess. It, uh, looks like he’s had a fair amount to drink. Her too.”
Kip’s jaw clenched. “I’ll be there in ten minutes. And, Phil, thanks.”
“Don’t mention it. I don’t think he knows I’m here, but if they look like they’re leaving, I’ll see if I can talk them up and keep them around long enough for you to collect them. From what I can make out, neither one of them should be driving.”
“I owe you one.” Kip ended the call and shoved the phone into her pocket. Pushing her shirttail back into her trousers with one hand, she scooped her keys off the table with the other. “I’m really sorry, but I need to go. An emergency. You can let yourself out.”
“Why don’t I just curl up in bed and wait for you.” Julie traced one lacquered fingertip along the inside of her thigh and tapped delicately in the area of her clit. “I can finish taking care of this for the moment, and I’ll be ready again by the time you get back.”
Kip paused at the door. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I’m not sure I’ll be back tonight. The door will lock after you when you leave. I’m sorry.”
Julie shot to her feet, fire in her eyes. “Sorry? You should be sorry. You have no idea what you’re missing.” She shook her head and muttered under her breath, “Really, no wonder you need your cousin to set you up on a date. Asshole.”
“Right,” Kip muttered and let herself out. Idiot for trying to keep the family peace when she knew a blind date wasn’t headed anywhere but trouble. Ruthlessly putting Julie’s furious face and undeniably sexy everything else out of mind, she tapped the Uber app on her phone as she took the stairs down two at a time, and luckily, a driver was nearby. She was in the vehicle and on her way to the club in under a minute.
For the millionth time she wondered what Randy was trying to accomplish by breaking every rule and daring anyone to stop him. If he got picked up again, drinking and drugging with his seriously underage girlfriend in a club, he could be looking at real jail time, no matter what strings her father could pull. She checked her watch as the driver cut to the curb in front of the glittering sign for the trendy club on Lexington. Nine minutes. She tipped him a twenty and jumped out. “Thanks.”
The club was in full swing with wall-to-wall hipsters drinking, dancing, jostling, and flying high. She picked Phil out of the crowd at the end of the bar almost at once. Tall and lanky in an open-collared shirt and slim dark pants, with blond hair just brushing his collar and high cheekbones in a narrow face, he was runway handsome and hard to miss. She arrowed through the crowd to his side. “Phil. Thanks for the call. Are they still here?”
“I lost sight of Randy a minute or two ago, but the girl he’s with is still over there.”
Kip followed the direction of his head tilt and sighed. Lindsay Montgomery, another spoiled rich girl looking for trouble out of boredom or rebellion, she wasn’t sure which. Lindsay probably didn’t know either. She and Randy were an on-again off-again couple, mostly off again, but apparently tonight was an exception. “Okay, I’ll take it from here.”
“You want some help?”
“No, Randy will probably be easier to handle if there’s just me.” She didn’t bother to add he’d resent her trying to interfere with his good time, and witnesses to his perceived victimhood would only make him more resistant. She remembered when he’d been small and she’d been his hero. That seemed like another lifetime now.
Lindsay was willowy and blond, her lacy see-through top so low the pale shadows of her nipples were clearly on display. The bottom of her flimsy top rode half an inch or so above the waistband of her skinny jeans. Her heavy dark eye makeup was smeared, her mouth a crimson slash. Bangles, dozens of them, adorned both arms. She looked more like a hooker than an heiress, which Kip figured was exactly her intention. When Lindsay saw her, she cocked a hip and raised an eyebrow.
“My night just got better,” Lindsay said.
“Hey, Lindsay, is Randy here somewhere?”
“Is that any kind of hello?” Lindsay feigned a pout and tapped Kip’s chest, letting her fingers drop along the curve of her breast.
Kip pulled back and reined in her temper. She was a little tired of being played with. “Randy?”
“He went to the little boys’ room. I don’t know what he’s doing in there unless it’s another one of the little boys.”
Kip sighed. Randy was as popular with men as women and didn’t appear to have any preference for either. If it was fun, especially if it was dangerous, he was there. “Stay here, all right? I’ll go get him.”
Lindsay hooked a finger over the top of Kip’s waistband and tugged, trying to pull her closer. “He’ll be back. Why don’t you keep me company. I could use a date who knows what to do with a woman.”
Kip held back from mentioning at barely eighteen, Lindsay hardly qualified as woman. She’d likely get slugged, start a scene, and never get either of them out of the place. She had nothing against Lindsay, but she wasn’t her responsibility. Randy was.
“Just do me a favor and stay right here, okay?”
“Hey, sis, making time with my girl now?” Randy appeared out of the crowd beside them, his dark hair disheveled, his blue eyes hazy and bloodshot even in the yellowish light of the bar. “Can’t get your own pussy?”
“Come on, Randy,” Kip said. “Have a little respect for your girlfriend.”
He snorted and gave a pointed look to Lindsay’s hand, which still rested on Kip’s hip. “Yeah, like you?”
“Come on, I’ll get you guys a ride home.” Randy’s pinpoint pupils signaled he’d been using, and Kip hoped it wasn’t anything more than a line or two of coke. His grungy T-shirt and threadbare jeans looked like he’d been living in them for a week. He’d managed to talk his way out of rehab after his last arrest by swearing he’d stop using, and she’d thought he was cleaning up his game. She’d been another kind of idiot for believing him.
“We got our own ride.” Randy looked at Lindsay. “So what’s it gonna be? Cock or cunt for you tonight?”
Heat surging up her spine, Kip grabbed his arm. “Listen to me, you little moron. You took her out, and you’re responsible for her. You don’t talk to her like that.”
He laughed, a dismissive, scornful sound. “Yeah, like you know so much about women. I don’t see you doing so well.”
“Let’s go.” She couldn’t help trying to reason with him, but any attempt to appeal to the heart she had to believe was hidden beneath anger and contempt was wasted tonight. “We’re leaving.”
Randy yanked his arm away and pulled a set of keys out of his pocket, dangling them in the air. “I told you, we got a ride.”
Kip snatched them from his grasp. “And now so do I. You’re not driving anywhere.” She glanced at the keys to a Hummer. Must be Lindsay’s vehicle. “Where’s it parked?”
“A couple blocks away.”
“Good, maybe the walk will sober you up.”
“We’re not going anywhere.”
“Yeah, we are.” Kip pocketed the keys, grabbed Lindsay’s hand, and gripped the back of Randy’s shirt. “You either come with me, or I call David.”
She had no intention of calling her father’s security chief, but the threat was enough to get Randy moving. He cursed and muttered under his breath the entire way, but five minutes later she poured them both into a black Hummer they’d left parked on the street in a not-very-good neighborhood. “You’re lucky this thing hasn’t been stripped.”
“Yeah,” Randy said expansively, sprawling in the front seat with Lindsay on his lap. “That’s me, lucky.” He slid his hand under the lower edge of Lindsay’s skimpy top and cupped her breast. She wiggled her ass in his crotch and kissed him.
Gritting her teeth, Kip started the engine, pulled out, and headed north toward the Upper East Side, where Lindsay lived with her parents. Or where she would have if they were home, which was rare. As near as Kip could tell, Lindsay’s mother’s personal assistant did most of the parenting. They were three blocks away when a patrol car pulled up behind them and lit them up with the light bar. Kip glanced down at the speedometer. Thirty-five miles an hour in a twenty-five mile an hour zone. “Fuck. Really?”
She pulled over and rolled down the window. Before she could even reach for her wallet, a voice came through the loudspeaker of the cruiser behind them. “Exit the vehicle with your hands in the air.”
“What?” Kip muttered. She glanced into the side mirror and could make out two officers, one on each side of the car, approaching slowly, weapons drawn. “Cripes. Randy, Lindsay, get out of the car, nice and slow.”
“Offer them a hundred bucks,” Randy muttered, his hand still under Lindsay’s shirt. “You weren’t going that fast.”
“Exit the vehicle,” a voice shouted. Two more patrol cars screeched to a halt, fencing in the Hummer, and officers jumped out, weapons trained on them.
“Randy,” Kip said urgently. “This is serious. Get out, both of you, and do exactly as you’re told.”
Something in her voice must have gotten through to him, because Randy shifted Lindsay off his lap and took a look around.
“Guess a hundred bucks won’t be enough.”
“Just do what they say.” Kip opened the door, extended both arms into the air with her hands visible, and stepped down. A female officer a few inches taller than her, making her just shy of six feet but seeming a whole lot bigger at the moment, pushed her against the vehicle with one hand in the center of her back, grabbed her hands roughly, and cuffed them behind her back.
“What is this—?” A hand pushed Kip’s head against the side of the Hummer, hard.
“You’re under arrest for possession of a stolen vehicle. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will…”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” Kip exclaimed, “there’s been a—”
“You have the right to an attorney, if…”
The rest of the Miranda warning went by in a haze. She was pushed into the back of the nearest cruiser, Randy and Lindsay into one of the others. She tried to crane her neck around to check on Randy, but she couldn’t turn enough to see. Two officers piled into the front, slammed the doors, and pulled away, leaving the Hummer at the curb. Kip leaned her head back and closed her eyes.
Stolen. Of course. Another perfect ending to a perfect night.
Kip tried watching street signs as the cruiser sped north past Central Park, but she had trouble seeing much from her cramped position in the back of the patrol car. After a short ride, the officers pulled in behind a squat brick building and the female officer who’d cuffed her initially opened her door, freed the cuffs from the restraining ring, reached in, and grasped her arm.
“Slide on out,” the officer said.
Kip complied. “Where are we?”
“Twenty-fifth Precinct—8th and 119th.”
Kip didn’t see the other cruiser with Randy and Lindsay. That might be a good thing. Or not. She couldn’t be sure of anything right then, other than she didn’t want to ask too many questions—or answer any. Inside, the halls were brightly lit but relatively empty. They delivered her into a large room with a high counter partitioned into several windows like at a bank or the racetrack. Only one space was occupied.
“Name,” the thin, bored-looking officer with a pencil mustache and pronounced widow’s peak asked.
“Catherine Wells Kensington,” Kip said.
He paused and looked up from his keyboard. “Like the apartments or the appliances?”
Both, somewhere in the family. Kip shook her head. “Rotary engines.”
“I’m a mechanic.”
He grinned. “You like cars, I guess.”
Kip unclenched her jaw and waited.
“Date of birth?”
She answered his questions, handed over her wallet and ID, the gold ring her grandmother had given her when she’d graduated from high school, and her watch. He tossed everything into a manila envelope with a printed label bearing her name and gave her a voucher.
Her next stop was another beige room with a few desks, another officer at a computer, and a camera on a tripod. A few minutes later, the female officer—Winobe, according to the black plastic name tag under her badge—escorted her to a cell in a row of them. Only the front wall was barred, the other walls solid, and she couldn’t see who else occupied the neighboring cells. She did catch bits of muffled conversation and the sound of someone vomiting. No one sounded like Randy or Lindsay. Before Winobe locked the cell, she removed her handcuffs.
“I’d like to make a phone call,” Kip said, rubbing her wrists.
“As soon as the paperwork gets into the system, you’ll be able to do that.”
“How long will that take?”
The officer shrugged. “Hard to say—could be a few hours.”
She disappeared and the hall fell silent.
Kip slumped onto the narrow bunk and checked her watch. The watch that wasn’t there. She’d never been arrested before, but she’d thought she knew what to expect. She’d been wrong. She hadn’t figured on the incredible depersonalization of the whole process. The feeling that her identity was being stripped away, one layer at a time. First her belongings were confiscated—not just her identification, her license and credit cards, but the personal items she counted as part of who she was. She’d been herded from one spot to another, told where to stand as cameras flashed, told to hold out her hand as strangers impassively pressed her digits to a screen and printed her, all the while never really looking at her. The common expression seemed to be bored, as if she were already just a number like the one on the card they handed her to put in front of her chest for the photographs.
By the time the process was over, she was numb, struggling to hold on to reality in an unreal situation, fighting to remember who she was outside these walls. If this was how she felt after a few hours, what must it be like to be cast into the system for weeks, months, years? What became of a person who was no longer a person, but simply a number, a body in a long line of bodies moving along on the tide of someone else’s will? She shivered although the building wasn’t really cold.
The cell held a stainless steel toilet, a narrow bunk with a gray sheet that had once been white, a thin wool blanket, and a miniscule sink bolted to the concrete floor in the corner. The wall across from the barred opening was beige and blank. Kip had to struggle to keep from feeling claustrophobic, despite the openings between the bars. She was locked in and no one knew where she was—her life outside this cell had stopped like the hands on a broken watch. Needing to move, to feel her body obey her will just to know there was one last thing she could still control, she splashed cold water on her face at the tiny sink in the corner, pulled the blanket off the bed, and wrapped it around her shoulders. Leaning back against the wall, she stared at the bars and reminded herself she was in New York City and she had rights. She would not just disappear. Her racing heart hadn’t yet gotten the message.
She might’ve drifted, but it didn’t feel like very long when approaching footsteps brought her out of her unexpected half sleep. It had to be close to four in the morning and her body had decided she wasn’t in charge after all. The numbness had reached her brain, apparently. She threw off the blanket and stood, shaking her hands to get some feeling back in her tingling fingertips.
A different officer, this one young, husky, and sporting a friendly smile, unlocked the door again. “You can make three free calls. Come with me.”
He led her back down the hall in the opposite direction from where she’d been before. Kip hurried along beside him, seeing figures in the semidark cells, some sitting as she had been, most curled on the bunks with their faces to the walls. He directed her into a long, narrow room with a row of booths holding landlines perched on narrow oak shelves. He closed the door and stood with his back to it.
“Thanks,” Kip said. He said nothing, so she straddled the backless stool in the farthest cubicle and looked over her shoulder, judging how much of her conversation he could hear. She guessed probably all of it. She picked up the phone and carefully entered her father’s private number.
He answered immediately, sounding surprisingly alert, although he ought to still have been sleeping. She resisted clearing her throat, needing to sound steady and sure, more for herself than for him. “I’m sorry to wake you, Dad. I’m at the police station, and I need an attorney.”
“I’ve been expecting your call. Where are you?”
“The Twenty-fifth Precinct—how did…” She halted when her brain finally started working. Right. “You’ve heard from Randy?”
“Yes. Several hours ago.”
“He’s…doing all right?”
“Your brother,” her father’s cool voice intoned, “is currently packing his bags and will be checking in to a private facility in the morning for some long-overdue medical attention.”
“Good. That sounds…best.” Randy was finally going to get the help he resisted but so desperately needed, as long as she didn’t mention he and his girlfriend had actually stolen the Hummer.
“I assumed you would agree. Have they charged you?”
“I don’t have to tell you not to give any kind of statement. Jeremy Carver will be along to take care of things.”
“Thanks,” Kip said softly as her father said good-bye and rang off. She settled the phone back in the cradle and stared at the dull wall a foot away. He hadn’t asked her if she was hurt or told her he knew she was innocent. He must know that, but then, Randy was the one who needed protecting. Not her.
She rose, turned, and nodded curtly to the guard. “I’m done.”
He lifted a shoulder. “You got two more coming.”
She had no one else to call. “No, thanks.”
“Your decision.” He pushed away, rapped on the door, and someone opened it.
Back in the cell a few minutes later, she stretched out and closed her eyes, hoping to sleep a little like most of her neighbors. She dozed for an hour, maybe a little more, she couldn’t be sure, when the clang of the bars woke her. She was usually good with time, often didn’t need her watch to know the precise time within a minute, but time had twisted since they’d put her in the back of the patrol car, slowed somehow. Everything was just a little skewed, as if the entire world had tilted beneath her and she couldn’t quite get her balance.
They took her to a cubicle not much more than six by six—practically a booth—with a narrow table and a chair on each side. No windows, no TV, no posters on the wall. Blank, like her mind tried to be. Jeremy Carver came in a few minutes later dressed in a navy suit and tie with thin gray pinstripes. His light brown hair was trimmed close on the sides and longer on the top so it slanted just enough across his forehead to look windblown but not messy. His dark brown eyes were bright and intelligent, his face clean-shaven, lightly tanned even though spring had barely arrived, and his expression concerned and businesslike. He held a cardboard cup of coffee in his hand.
“Catherine,” Jeremy said, sliding the coffee across the table to her and propping his briefcase open onto the table. He sat across from her. “Do you have any injuries—anything untoward happen during the detention process? Do you require medical attention?”
“No. Thanks for the coffee.” Kip grasped the cup and sipped despite the steaming temperature. A little life returned with the first scalding swallow. Her brain started to move again like a sluggish river breaking free of an ice floe in the last days of winter. She didn’t know Jeremy well, but his presence felt like a lifeline. “And thanks for coming.”
Jeremy nodded. “Of course. We only have a few minutes before you’re moved to central booking and arraignment is set. I’m going to push for a DAT but—”
“Wait, slow down—translate that.”
“Depending on the arresting officer’s report and the judge’s assessment of the charges, we may be able to get you released tonight, prior to arraignment.”
“I wouldn’t have to spend another night here.” Hope flickered, a flame banishing the cold gripping her insides.
His expression flattened. “I’m afraid it could be a bit longer than that if we can’t get you released.”
“Right. Okay. We’ll hope for option one, then.” Kip took a breath. “Then what?”
“Then we go before the judge and enter our plea.” He smiled thinly. “Want to tell me what happened?”
“My brother wasn’t charged?”
He regarded her steadily. “Not as far as I know. How did you come to be driving a stolen Hummer?”
Kip hesitated. Randy’d had the keys to the Hummer. She’d assumed the vehicle was Lindsay’s. Wrong assumption. “I’d rather not say.”
“You’d rather not say.” He blew out a breath. “The Hummer belongs to Robert Ingram, who happens to live in Lindsay Montgomery’s building. You know him?”
“You’ve been to the building?”
“Yes, for a party now and then.”
“And she’s your brother Randy’s girlfriend.”
“I guess you’d have to ask him that.”
“Were you driving it?”
“Did you know it was stolen?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Where were you going?”
Kip didn’t see any reason not to answer as much as she could, short of dragging Randy back into the middle. He was on his way to rehab, which was what he needed—not a year or more in jail. “I was taking Lindsay home.”
“And the vehicle?”
“I was planning to leave it there.”
“You had no intention of disposing of stolen property?”
As she talked, he tapped into his tablet.
“What were you doing tonight, before they stopped you?”
“I had a date. I was out most of the evening.”
“Your date’s name?”
“Why is that important?”
“We need to establish whether you had access to the vehicle earlier in the evening.”
Kip sighed. “Julie Rothstein.”
“Number?” he asked without looking up.
She told him, wondering how pissed Julie really was over the way the evening ended. Hopefully not enough to forget the details of when and where they spent the night.
“Okay, what time did the two of you part?”
“A little while after midnight.”
“And then where did you go?”
“Right about one.”
“Why did you decide to leave your date and go to a club?”
“I got a call that Randy was there, and I went to get him.”
“How did you get there?”
“How did you get the Hummer?”
“I’d rather not say.”
“Look, Kip, I know you didn’t steal it, and we can argue you had every intention of returning it. But you can do jail time if we let things stand.”
Cold slithered down her spine. “How much?”
“Given the nonviolent nature of the crime and the fact that you’re a first offender, probably the minimum, which still might be a year.”
She swallowed against a surge of bile. With Randy’s record, he wouldn’t get such an easy sentence. “I was driving. I can’t change that.”
He set his tablet down and leaned back in the chair. “If you plead guilty, I can probably get the charges reduced and some kind of probation. We’ll avoid a trial and any further investigation of the actual theft.”
Translated as, Randy’s part in all of it would not come to light.
“I’ll plead guilty.”
“You do understand there’s no guarantee. Are you really willing to risk going to jail for your brother?”
Kip pushed the cardboard cup across the table toward him. “You think I could get another cup of coffee?”
Jordan heard the rooster crowing as soon as she got out of her truck. She hurried to the back gate, unlocked the padlock, and pushed through the wooden door, the newly oiled hinges soundless as it swung closed behind her. She noted the broccoli needed cutting as she angled through the narrow dirt aisles to the plywood and chain-link enclosure tucked under the eve of the big metal garden shed in the right rear corner of the reclaimed lot.
“Hush,” she said as she got closer. “I know I’m a few minutes late, but the damn truck wouldn’t start again. And you’re supposed to be quiet.”
The rooster, a brilliantly plumed dandy with green and purple highlights adorning his wings and tail, paced arrogantly around the six- by six-foot enclosure, his more conservatively hued brown and tan hens milling about in a patch of early morning sunlight, waiting to start their assault on the various and abundant insects populating the nascent garden.
“Just because we don’t have any neighbors close enough to hear you doesn’t mean you can make a ruckus.” Jordan unlatched the door and the flock scampered out single file, the rooster, of course, in the lead. She paused a moment, smiling as always at their comical gaits and energetic busyness. The rooster ignored her, as usual, but at least he stopped crowing.
“It’s not my fault the city has an ordinance against roosters. If you guys weren’t so noisy and didn’t have to announce just exactly how important you were every morning before dawn, we probably wouldn’t have to worry about you getting evicted.” She restocked their pellets, replaced their water with fresh, and checked the half dozen nesting boxes for eggs. Happily, the hens recognized spring had arrived and were starting to lay. Using the tail of her checked cotton button-down as a makeshift apron, she collected the eggs in the fold of fabric and carefully picked her way between wheelbarrows, tools, bags of topsoil, and loops of hose to the refurbished seventeen-foot egg-shaped canary-yellow RV she used as an office. She got them safely into the minifridge tucked under the door balanced on two stacks of crates she used as a desk without losing any along the way. They’d be able to start selling them in quantity soon, and every penny would be welcome. Although just who they’d get to deliver them was a question she didn’t want to ponder so early in the day.
Chickens and eggs secured, she checked the day’s agenda. She needed to make a trip to the nursery for fertilizer, peat moss, and the tomato seedlings but the truck needed gas, probably oil, and possibly divine intervention. Tomorrow would be soon enough for that trip. The nights were still cool enough they had a little window of time to get the ground ready for the tomatoes. She had an eleven o’clock phone appointment with a new restaurant in Soho that was looking for locally sourced vegetables, and another with a caterer on the East Side in the early afternoon. Their list of customers for locally sourced eggs and produce was growing, but it needed to get a lot longer if they were going to be self-sufficient by the end of the summer. Her grant money from the New York Community Reclamation Project was going to run out well before that, and she needed to demonstrate this location could generate income before the funding would be renewed for the next year. She leaned back and rubbed her eyes, columns of numbers sliding across the surface of her closed lids. No matter how she added them up, the bottom line still looked red.
“Morning,” a lilting Jamaican-accented voice called from the open trailer door.
“Tya, hi!” Jordan swiveled in her chair, relieved to be free of her mental calculations and glad for the company. “You’re early.”
The petite woman in denim shorts and a sleeveless navy top nodded, her deep brown eyes shimmering with warmth and perpetual hope, or so it seemed to Jordan. She envied her that optimism, especially on days like this one. Tya passed Jordan a take-out cup of coffee. “Field trip—the kids needed to be dropped off an hour early today.”
“Ah, thanks.” Jordan pried off the lid and took a deep breath of dark-roasted beans and vanilla undertones. “Where are they off to?”
“The Space Museum. Henry isn’t so sure how he feels about that, but Amalia is delighted.”
“She’s still planning to be a pilot someday?”
Tya laughed. “Absolutely. Henry changes his mind along with his T-shirts, but she never loses her focus.” She shook her head, her expression a mixture of pride and wonder. “He can’t wait for summer vacation, and she’s already mourning losing time at school. If I didn’t know they were twins, I’d wonder that they were even related.”
“What are they planning for the summer?”
The gleam in Tya’s eyes dimmed and she pulled her lip between her teeth. “The summer program at school doesn’t really interest either of them, and I don’t really blame them. They’re both too advanced for the classes being offered. My mother offered to watch them for part of the day, but she’s slowing down and though she says she doesn’t mind, it’s hardly fair. She did so much when they were babies, and she deserves a rest.”
Jordan couldn’t imagine raising two kids alone. Tya didn’t need to say she didn’t have the means for any kind of private day camp program. “Why don’t you bring them here?”
“Oh.” Tya’s face lit up again. “You don’t think they’d be in the way?”
“I’m sure we can keep them busy. That is, if you don’t mind volunteering them.”
“Consider them volunteered.” Tya laughed. “That would be wonderful, and good for them too. Amalia spends way too much time in her room reading, and Henry spends his with video games.”
“It’s settled, then.” Tya’s twelve-year-olds would help counter their perpetual lack of help, plus they were great kids and they’d bring their boundless good spirits with them.
Tya sat down in the open trailer doorway and rested her back against the frame. “There’s going to be a lot of work to do here this summer, especially if we’re going to start making deliveries to the restaurants. Have you had any luck finding a driver yet?”
Jordan shook her head. “Unfortunately, what we can afford to pay is not very enticing for most people, especially with the kinds of hours they’ll have to keep.”
“Yeah, four a.m. deliveries don’t appeal to a lot of people.” Tya balanced her cup on her knee. “Once we get established, I’m sure we’ll get more volunteers.”
“We’ll manage somehow,” Jordan said, wondering if she could get by on yet less sleep and deliver their produce herself. She’d known it would take time to establish the community garden and draw in local volunteer help to supplement those she could pay.
“What are we going to do about the greenhouse?” Tya asked.
Jordan forced a smile she didn’t feel. Tya needed this job desperately, and she didn’t want to worry her with the financial concerns of keeping the project going. They’d become friends in the last three months, working side by side clearing the junk from the three-lot parcel just off Ninth Avenue the city had designated as a community garden project. They’d supervised the fence and coop construction and dug decades of rubble from the weed- and rock-infested ground. Now they had half a dozen raised beds, a space mapped out for the greenhouse, and plans to deliver their produce to local food pantries, restaurants, and hotels. But as much as they shared the dream and the labor, the responsibility of keeping the project afloat was hers, and she wasn’t going to let Tya know how tenuous their situation really was.
“We don’t need to worry about that until the end of the summer. We’ve got until frost to get the rest of the lot cleared and the greenhouse up. Then we’ll be able to get our greens and tomatoes ready for the winter. We’ll have plenty to do, don’t worry.”
“Another week we’ll be past a late spring frost, don’t you think?” Tya rose and dusted off the back of her khaki work pants.
“According to the almanac, but then you know how accurate that is.”
“Well, we can’t take any chances with our babies,” Tya said, looking toward the three long rows of fabric-covered greens and seedlings.
“We won’t.” Jordan looked out over the small oasis of life in an otherwise abandoned stretch of windowless buildings, boarded-up stores, and trash-strewn streets. No, she wasn’t going to let anything happen to this little glitter of hope in such a desolate land.
The overhead light came on, signaling something—dawn, the changing of the guard, the morning meal? As Kip’s fellow detainees stirred, the noise level in the cell block climbed with a jumbled chorus of coughs, curses, and surly snarls. Kip rose from her bunk where she’d been staring at the ceiling since Jeremy had left, and leaned against the bars, angling her head to see down the hall. Shadows writhed across the worn tile floor, shapeless, genderless forms that sent a twist of dread through her depths. How long did it take until the shadows crept beneath flesh and into bone, until all of them were reduced to ghosts, inside and out? Them. She was one of them now.
An officer approached her cell, his features coming into focus as he neared. Youngish, multiracial, close-cropped military-style dark hair. She held her breath as he fit a key to the lock on her cell.
“You’re being released,” he said amiably. “You’ll get your belongings returned on your way out.”
“Thanks,” Kip said, her throat dry and scratchy. She hadn’t had anything to eat and nothing to drink since the last cup of acidic coffee Carver had gotten for her. Her stomach was queasy and her head throbbed, but she’d never felt quite so exhilarated in her life. The taste of freedom would be enough to sustain her for a lifetime at this point.
After she’d been handed the manila envelope and told to check her belongings and sign where indicated to confirm everything was there, she was directed to a plain windowless door marked Exit.
Exit. Could it be that easy? She could walk out, but she would never forget the helplessness. She forced herself to walk slowly—she would not become a cornered animal and run. She expected Carver to be waiting for her, but Savannah jumped up and rushed to her with a sharp cry.
“Oh my God, are you all right?” Her cousin grasped her shoulders and pulled her into a tight hug.
“I’m okay, I’m okay.” Kip jolted at the foreign sensation of arms holding her tight, and the rigid control she’d marshaled the last few hours to keep from screaming began to crumble. She took a breath and gently tried to extract herself from Savannah’s embrace. “I must smell pretty bad, so you should probably let me go.”
“Not too bad.” Savannah laughed, her cheek against Kip’s. “Believe me, both of us have looked and probably smelled a lot worse after some of those keg parties.”
Kip tried to remember what it had been like to be younger and carefree, but at the moment, the specter of the bare cell and the stark bars was all she could envision. She finally pulled away. She missed the contact instantly but needed the distance. “Thanks for coming. You didn’t need to.”
“Of course I did.”
“How did you know I was here?”
“Uncle Robert called and asked me to come. I would have been here sooner, if I’d known.”
Desperate to get outside, Kip pushed through the revolving glass doors into a muggy Manhattan morning. The sights and smells of New York came rushing back, and she’d never found them so welcome. “I’m glad you didn’t come sooner. There wasn’t anything you could have done. Did Dad hear anything from my attorney?”
“Yes, you need to be at the courthouse at eleven. I’ve got the address—Uncle Robert is sending a car.”
“What time is it?”
“A little after eight. I’m taking you to my place to get cleaned up and changed.”
With her long blond hair loose and down to her shoulders, Savannah didn’t look much different than when they’d started college. Kip imagined she must look like she’d aged a decade overnight. She felt as if she had. “You shouldn’t be running around doing all this. I’ll get an Uber.”
Savannah clapped her hands on her hips, her baby bump barely perceptible beneath her white button-down shirt and black stretch pants. “You most certainly will not. I’m staying with you until this mess is cleaned up.”
Kip shook her head. “No, you’re not. You’re not getting dragged around the city and sitting in the courthouse all day. I’ll be fine.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You’re not going through this alone. And how the hell did this happen anyhow?” Savannah set her jaw in that way that reminded Kip of a tiny bulldog, stubborn and immovable and unexpectedly powerful.
Kip glanced around. With the usual obliviousness of New Yorkers, passersby skirted around them as if they weren’t both standing in the middle of the sidewalk. She still didn’t want to be overheard and barely registered the newfound paranoia. “I’ll tell you when we get to your place. Let’s get a cab.”
She flagged one down and closed her eyes while the cabbie took them on the brief ride to Savannah’s apartment on the West Side.
“I’ve got clothes that will fit you,” Savannah said as she let them into her apartment.
The place was small but had a multi-million-dollar view of the park, which at any other time Kip would have paused to enjoy. “I really need a shower.”
“Go ahead and I’ll— Have you eaten? What do you want?”
“I’m not hungry.”
“I don’t care. You’re eating something, so either choose or eat what I make.”
Kip grinned, a little bit of normalcy filtering back into her world. Savannah had always been so bossy. Younger than her by only a few weeks, they were more sisters than cousins. They’d gone to the same schools since they were five, shared stories of boyfriends and girlfriends throughout high school, and applied to the same colleges so they could room together. That was where their lives had started to part ways a little. Savannah had managed to escape the tentacles of the Kensington family businesses that employed most of their parents’ and their own generation, pursuing her career in art instead. But still, she was the sibling Randy might have been if things had been different. Randy. She’d failed him, and she still didn’t know why. “Bagels?”
Savannah rolled her eyes. “Of course.”
“That would be good.”
Savannah made a shooing motion. “Get cleaned up and changed. Then you can tell me everything.”
Kip stood for a long time in the shower, her head tilted back, hot needles stinging her face and chest. Even after her skin began to scald and hunger finally drove her from the shower, she couldn’t shake the sense of being not quite clean. Tainted somehow, as if the air in the cell had permeated her pores.
She toweled off her hair, finger combed it, and dressed in the trousers and shirt Savannah had left for her. They were close enough in size that the fit was good, although the waist was a little tight for her. She avoided the mirror, afraid of what changes she might see there.
Settling at the small table tucked into the eating nook facing the park, she opened the window and breathed deeply. The air smelled faintly of blossoms and the ever-present undercurrent of New York—fumes, food, and the sweet musky scents of humanity, of life. “Thanks for everything.”
Savannah slid a buttered bagel and a hot cup of coffee in front of her. “What can you tell me?”
Kip shook her head. “It’s probably better if we let it go.”
“Better for who?” Savannah snapped.
“The fact is I was driving a stolen car.”
Savannah hissed. “Like you would steal a car.”
Kip shrugged. “I made a stupid assumption, and I should have known better.”
“Let me guess—Randy is part of all this.”
“Look, I know you’re not fond of Randy, and—”
“That’s not true. I love him, but he’s…” Savannah sighed. “That’s not the point right now. Is he all right?”
“He’s on his way to rehab. Maybe this time…”
“Maybe. I hope so.” Savannah gripped her hand. “And maybe it’s time you let him stand on his own.”
Kip sighed. “I know, and you’re right. But there’s a difference between tough love and throwing him to the wolves.”
“And what about you? What if—” Savannah swiped at the moisture in her eyes. “God, Kip. What if something bad happens, and you—this is ridiculous. You can’t go to jail!”
“My father wouldn’t have sent Carver if he wasn’t a good attorney, so it’s not going to come to that.” Kip willed herself to believe her own words, but somewhere in the hours between the first click of the cuffs on her wrists and the clank of the cell gate opening, she’d lost the ability to trust, or hope.