Annalee slid through the gate at the counter first and stepped over to her desk. Her soft chuckles stopped with a gasp. She stumbled back from her desk, dropping her gloves and scarf.
"What?" Toni almost ran into the gate in her hurry to get through. Then she understood. Words clogged in her throat. There was nothing bitter and sharp enough in her vocabulary to express what she felt right that moment.
Two white roses sat on Annalee's desk, tied together with a white ribbon.
"Jackie?" Toni turned to the girl at the switchboard. She waited until the pigtailed college student looked up from her books. "Who was in here after we left?"
"I don't know. A couple dozen people. We had a run on paper sales, and then a bunch of people wanted to place last-minute classifieds, so Ted was up here for a while and you know what a mess he makes of things. Why?" She started to stand up.
"Annalee left some pictures on her desk and they're gone now, that's all." Toni turned to put herself between Jackie and the desk. She scooped up the roses with a tissue, wrapped an arm around Annalee's waist, and hurried her into the back.
Fortunately, Angela's office was empty. Toni settled Annalee in one of the chairs in front of the editor's desk and hurried out into the newsroom, still clutching the roses.
Curt swore, the first time she'd ever heard such words leave his mouth, when he saw the roses. She didn't have to say anything. He hurried to follow her back to Angela's office, then detoured into the lunchroom. Angela and Loni followed him back into the office a moment later. Loni closed the door and Angela went down on her knees to wrap Annalee in her arms.
Annalee had been silent and pale and still up until that moment. Then she burst into tears, shaking hard enough Toni feared she would have a seizure.
"He got into the office without anybody seeing him," Toni muttered as Curt came back to the corner of the office holding their desks. She looked up from her notepad filled with scribbles and names that were struck off a list.
He knew what that list was. Jackie had tried to list everyone who had been in the office while Toni and Annalee had been gone. There were several strangers who couldn't be accounted for, along with four politicians who had come to talk with Angela about community charity events the Picayune was to cover, three police officers, and more than a dozen people who just wanted to get a paper. In between working on stories for next week's paper, Toni had spent the day trying to track down information on anyone who had come into the office. It didn't help that Jackie had been either busy on the phone and didn't see someone step through the gate and drop the roses on Annalee's desk, or she had stepped away to use the bathroom.
"I think someone did see him, but he had a good reason to be here." Curt rested his hands on her shoulders and whistled when he felt the rock-hard muscles. When he squeezed a few times in a token effort to get her to relax, she groaned and slumped forward over her desk.
"I'll give you an hour to stop."
He laughed and looked around. They were the last ones in the office. He shivered a little at the idea that they could do anything without fear of discovery. Not that there was anything illegal or immoral that they would want to do, but... well, what if he decided to experiment, just find out what it was like, and kiss her?
That thought didn't stun him as much as it should have. Curt pushed it away in favor of dealing with a much bigger problem: convincing Annalee that Chief Cooper and Angela were right, and it was time to change their tactics in dealing with the White Rose Killer's attentions. It wasn't enough to increase police protection around the Grays' house and talk about installing a security camera in the newspaper office. He and Toni agreed that the number of roses and the fact that the stalker was able to get into a public place during the daylight to leave them for Annalee meant he was stepping up the pressure on her, and maybe his timetable. How soon until he either decided she was unfaithful and killed her for it, or he took her away to the private paradise he had promised his other two victims?