Sunday, December 23, 5:25pm
Seth sat tall behind the desk in his tidy office, like a king receiving a subject. “What are you doing here?”
Lydia Galvin leaned back in the uncomfortable metal chair and gave the sheriff a serene smile, surprised to find that she felt no fear at facing him. “Your deputies brought me here.”
Seth glowered. “You know that’s not what I meant.”
“You want the whole story? I needed to get some groceries, so I walked up Delano Road to where I’d parked my car, and apparently your deputies found it and staked it out, because even before I could unlock the door, they jumped out of their vehicle, arrested me, and brought me here.”
“They didn’t arrest you. They just offered you a ride. I wanted to talk to you.” Seth gave Lydia one of his oh-so-familiar looks, the one that said she meant no more to him than an annoying insect.
“How did you know I was in the area?” Lydia kept her voice neutral, not wanting to seem confrontational. No point in arousing the beast in him until absolutely necessary.
“We checked out the bystanders’ videos of the burning crime scene, and there you were.” He drew in a quick breath as if upset with himself for responding. “But you’re supposed to be answering my questions. What are you doing in Rubicon Ranch?”
“Having fun. It’s quite a spectacle out there, you know.” Lydia crossed her legs, and felt a flash of satisfaction when he cut a glance at her thighs. All that running since she’d been fired had paid off—she now had the body she’d always wished for.
He remained calm, but his thinned lips and tensed shoulders told her how much that unruffled air cost him. “Why did you come to Rubicon Ranch?”
“Why do you think I came? To see what other lives you were ruining, of course. I had no intention of staying, I just wanted to check out Melanie Gray—according to the newspapers you two were quite a team—but then I met Nancy and when she let slip that you and she were sleeping together, I thought I’d hang around to see how you got out of that affair when it turned against you.” Lydia made a show of inspecting a fingernail. “I guess I’m lucky. You only ruined my career. Poor Nancy ended up in the morgue.”
“You think I killed Nancy?” Seth cocked his head like an eagle and stared at Lydia for a moment. Then he nodded. “I see. You think that by accusing me, I will assume that you’re innocent, because if you believed I killed her, then you couldn’t have.”
“Did you kill her?” Lydia waited for an answer that didn’t come. “She would have ruined you. She loved nothing but herself and power and money. She loved secrets, too, of course, but only because the secrets gave her power over people and were a source of great income. She said she used to be an actress and a model, but once when we had a few drinks, she admitted that was a front. She’d really worked as a call girl. I figured she gave up the life when she realized how much more lucrative secrets were than her body.”
Seth rose to his feet and paced the office. “You say she would have ruined me. Like you ruined me?”
Lydia forced out a small laugh. “I ruined you? No. You manipulated me. You began by treating me as if I were the most important woman in the world. You flattered me, paid attention to me, offered me words of love and the endearments I hungered for. When I was hooked, you stepped back, left me feeling bereft. And every time I spoke of leaving you, you’d pay attention to me again.” She felt tears beginning to gather behind her eyes. He doesn’t matter. Think of fire. Flames. Heat.
She drew in a deep breath, surprised Seth didn’t jump in to defend himself. He kept pacing the office as if she weren’t even there, which made it easier for her to confess. “You were my grand passion. I know you don’t believe that, but it’s the truth. I never expected you to leave your wife. I just wanted you to notice me. To put me first once in a while.”
Seth stood over her, his eyes icy as they locked onto hers. “But you turned me into the department. Said I misused my authority.”
“You did abuse your authority. I never wanted an affair with you. I had enough trouble with my husband. I didn’t need another abusive man in my life. You never knew about my husband, did you?” Lydia didn’t even try to modulate her bitter tone. “The great detective never noticed that his girlfriend had a husband who beat her. I wouldn’t have told your wife about us. Even though I threatened to tell her, I couldn’t have made our affair public. My husband would have beat me when he found out. And after you dragged your wife to my house so she could confront me, my husband did beat me. I had to go to the emergency room that time. But oh, no, everything that happened was my fault.”
“Good story,” Seth said. “Too bad none of it is true.”
“The all-wise Seth Bryan says it isn’t true, so that means it isn’t true?” Lydia shook her head sadly. “The law might be about what you can prove, but life isn’t like that. Some things are true no matter how much we don’t want to believe them.” Things like her husband’s abuse. Things like Seth’s disregard. Things like death and fire. “You men are all so blind you can’t see what’s in front of your eyes. I loved you but you threw me away, calling me a vituperative bitch. Yet Nancy, who didn’t love you at all and who truly was a vituperative bitch, you kept. But I’m through with all of you now.”
Seth sneered. “Turning into a lesbian?”
“That’s beneath even you, Seth, my love.”
“True. Perhaps the only true thing you’ve said today.” The phone rang. Seth took two long strides to the desk, and grabbed the receiver. “Yes?” A pause, then, “She’s home now? Stay there. Make sure she doesn’t leave. I’ll be there in just a few minutes.”
He hung up the phone, and turned to face Lydia.
She quirked her lips in an unamused smile. “Still on your wife’s leash? I’m surprised you haven’t killed her, too.”
“Just go,” he said wearily. “Keep my office informed of your whereabouts. We still have lots to talk about.”
Lydia rose, straightened her skirt, and settled the strap of her purse firmly on her shoulder. “There’s nothing left to say but good-bye. I didn’t kill Nancy. You did. But don’t worry, I won’t testify against you.