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Книга Third Degree. Страница 21

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All she wanted was a chance to show what she could do.

Laurel’s hands were almost numb. She’d lost the sensation in her feet fifteen minutes ago. When she complained to Warren, he’d assured her that there was no real danger unless her skin turned black. She asked about blood clots in her legs, but he waved away her fears and went back to searching the hard drive in her laptop.

Two improbable facts kept pinging around in Laurel’s brain. First, that someone had told Warren she was having an affair with Kyle Auster. And second, that Warren had believed it. Kyle’s interest in Laurel had been obvious years ago, when Warren entered practice with him. Auster was a well-known ladies’ man who got out of hand when he was drinking. She’d warned Warren about Kyle’s advances, and Warren had told her to be firm with him but not to make a big deal of it, so long as the incidents remained rare. This hadn’t been the answer Laurel was looking for, but they had a lot riding on the success of the partnership, not least the matter of paying back Warren’s school loans. Auster’s interest in her never faded, but he did stop making overt passes, which allowed everyone to settle down to a tolerable undercurrent of anxiety about the issue, if not to put it behind them altogether.

Clearly, someone had resurrected the issue by lying to Warren about an affair. But why would he be willing to view her as Auster’s paramour, rather than a put-upon wife? It must have to do with the identity of the informer. That person must be someone in a position to know about such an affair, if it were really happening. But what reason could someone have for telling such a lie? The longer Laurel thought about it, the more confused she became. According to popular rumor, Auster (who was currently married to his second wife) was involved with a nurse at St. Raphael’s Hospital (blond and busty, naturally) and possibly someone in the office as well. Why anyone would believe that Laurel would waste time on him was beyond her.

Then suddenly she saw the logic. If she was miserable at home, and she blamed Warren for her misery, might not she get involved with Auster simply to hurt Warren? To publicly embarrass him as profoundly as she could? Some wives she knew had played that game. But Danny’s “anonymous” letter hadn’t exactly bolstered this scenario. It had painted a picture of soul mates finding each other after years of searching. But considering Warren’s mental state when he’d discovered the letter, she could understand his glossing over the details.

She thought back over what he’d said about the informer. Supposedly, it was someone who cared about his welfare more than Laurel did. Someone “offended by adultery.” But had that person told Warren to look specifically for a letter? The informer couldn’t have betrayed the existence of Danny’s letter, because no one-not even Danny-knew that she’d kept it. Warren claimed to be certain she was having an affair with Auster, yet how could he be certain without hard evidence? A photograph. Or a tape recording. But if he had seen such evidence, why would he care so much about the unsigned letter he had found in Pride and Prejudice? Instead of searching her computer, he’d be waving the evidence in her face.

The facts didn’t add up. Not as she knew them, anyway. But if Warren had been told to search their house (and he had claimed to be looking for the letter, not anything to do with the IRS audit), then the informer’s warning must have been more general-

Unless there was another letter waiting to be found. A planted letter, whose purpose she could not know. Or maybe it wasn’t a letter. Maybe some other incriminating piece of evidence had been planted in the house, one that Warren had been prompted to find. If so, he had stopped searching for it, because he had stumbled onto Danny’s letter instead.

Laurel thought of voicing her reasoning to Warren, but there was no point. He’d only think she was trying to stop him from searching her computer. Rather than ponder what the planted evidence might be, she focused on who might have planted it. Who could possibly profit from Warren thinking his wife was screwing his partner? A woman who wanted Warren for herself? Laurel couldn’t believe that Warren had given any woman enough encouragement to take such drastic steps.

As she watched him probing her computer, a flash of insight struck her. What if the source of the lie about Laurel and Kyle was Auster himself? If Kyle had committed crimes at work-crimes that had come to the attention of the authorities-he would desperately need to distract Warren while he tried to save his own skin. It would take a lot to distract Warren from an IRS investigation, but a bombshell like marital infidelity would do it. (Witness today’s freak-out.) And once Warren began to hate Kyle for something so personal as cuckolding him, he would be unlikely to see him straight in business matters. Moreover, any subsequent accusations of mismanagement that Warren might make about Auster would be viewed through a distorted lens.

Laurel could admire the logic of the scheme, if she removed herself sufficiently from the reality. As she thought it through from various angles, excitement began to build inside her. If she was right, her salvation might still be waiting in the house for Warren to discover it.

What might Kyle have planted? she wondered. An article of clothing? Underwear? A cuff link? (Auster actually wore French cuffs whenever he went out.) A nude photo of himself? What about a love letter in his own handwriting? A crudely sexy letter, knowing Kyle. Laurel thought back over the past couple of weeks, trying to remember if Auster had visited their house. She didn’t think so, but the house usually stood empty for most of the day, and she wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Kyle had a key of his own. If they had ever lent him a key-and she was pretty sure they had, early on, during a Disney World vacation-then he still had a copy in his possession. Kyle was that kind of guy. Laurel counted herself lucky that he hadn’t simply let himself in one day when Warren was off at a bike race and climbed into the shower with her.

Regardless of how it had happened, the odds were that someone-possibly Kyle Auster-had planted something far more damaging than Danny’s letter in the house, and it was still waiting to be found. Whatever that something was, there was a good chance that it might not jibe with Danny’s letter, since the person who planted it had known nothing of that letter. A strange pair of underwear or a used condom wouldn’t help her case, but a different letter written in a different hand-and outlining a different scenario-might sell Warren on her frame-up theory. Going in that direction was certainly less risky than letting him continue to dig through her computer.

“Warren?” she said evenly. “We need to talk.”

He glanced up, then returned his attention to the screen.

“I think I have an idea what’s really going on here.”

No response.

“I think I know who’s sent you on this wild-goose chase.”

Warren seemed to have frozen in his chair.

“What is it?” she asked, panic fluttering in her chest.

“Well, well!” he crowed. “Isn’t this special. A hidden folder, under the Windows System folder. It’s labeled ROPN. Any idea what this could be?”

Her belly knotted. She wished she could twitch her nose like Samantha Stephens and delete the folder in question. “Look and see,” she said, trying not to sound defensive.

Warren stared at her for several seconds, then clicked on the folder. She didn’t know what he’d expected to find, but his eyes quickly widened as he scrolled through the images and video clips she kept in that folder.

“Where did you get this stuff?” he asked without looking up.

“The Internet.”

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