The words rise in my throat. Well, you see, Detective, the world requires us to work in order to buy things. Like food. I force down my defiance. “I’m saving up for college, but I don’t see how that’s related to the fire.”
“Would you describe your relationship with Beau Rochester as strictly professional?”
My pulse spikes. A thin neon line on a black screen jumps. “That’s none of your business.”
“This is a police investigation. I need you to answer my questions, even if they don’t feel comfortable to you. And we met in elementary school.”
I open my mouth. And close it. Something deep inside tells me not to trust this man. I don’t like the hard look in his eyes or the presumptive way he speaks. But I don’t know if that fear is coming from my past, from a lifetime of not trusting authority.
Or if it’s good, old-fashioned PTSD from the fire.
“I live in the same house,” I say cautiously. “We see each other every day. We have dinner together. There’s a natural closeness for a live-in nanny that I didn’t expect when I took the job. So I don’t know whether I’d call it strictly professional.”
A memory rises, the dark shadow of Mr. Rochester above me.
“Tell me to stop,” he mutters against my lips.
It’s already a kiss, those words. I close my eyes. A tear leaks down the side of my cheek. It’s not sadness. It’s more than that. It’s desire. It’s feeling anything at all after being numb for so long. I’m more afraid of this than a free fall down the cliff. “Don’t stop.”
“Fuck,” he says, wrapping his hand around my throat. Choking me, but without the pressure. It doesn’t hurt, but it makes me feel strange, as if I’m being possessed. “You’re too innocent for the things I want to do to you.”
“What do you want to do to me?”
My cheeks burn. I’m sure they must be pink right now, but I force myself to keep meeting the detective’s pale blue eyes. “I see,” he murmurs, and I have the disturbing sense that he does see. “He’s driven. Always has been. I suppose you could say we have that in common, with one key difference. I always wanted to make something of myself right here.”
“And he went to California.”
“His own personal Gold Rush, you could say.”
There are undercurrents in his voice. Jealousy? Resentment? I suppose it would be hard to see someone he considered a peer become a rich man. I’m not immune to envy. There were times I wanted a sandwich and fruit roll-ups instead of a hot lunch I paid for with a free lunch number. Times I wanted a birthday party or gymnastic lessons or all the other things girls in my class got to have. Jealous feelings don’t make me particularly noble, but they do make me human.
“Do you hate him?” I ask.
He gives me an impassive look. “Until very recently I didn’t think much about him at all. Though I was curious to find out why he had a nineteen-year-old nanny living under his roof.” He checks his notepad, though I get the sense he isn’t really reading anything. “And I understand you slept across the hall from him. That’s… close.”
“This has nothing to do with the fire.”
“The fire chief believes it might be arson.”
Shock runs through my system. “I still don’t see what this has to do with the fire.”
“Where were you when the fire started?”
“You think I set it?”
“I think there were three people in the house when it started. I intend to question all of them.”
“Why would I set a fire? What possible reason could I have to do that?”
“Now that’s an interesting question. It’s one I’m sure I’ll be thinking about. A fight between lovers, perhaps. Did you think Rochester would marry you?”
A laugh of disbelief escapes me. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Maybe you thought you’d get his money. You and Beau are both alike. A girl like you would fuck him for money and set his house on fire.”
My heart pounds at the sudden change in tone. This isn’t the coldly professional detective who walked in. This is someone else, someone with a personal stake in his questions. There’s a heavy feeling in my stomach. Shock. And dread. “I almost died in that fire.”
“But you didn’t.”
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