“Have you told her you love her yet?” Will asked as he rocked in a chair on Mary’s front porch three days later. “I only ask so I know what not to say when she joins us later.”
Jared sighed and stretched out on the wicker loveseat. “Not in so many words.”
Will snorted. “Man, you are some kind of slow.”
“She just found out her fiancé wasn’t really dead and wasn’t who he said he was. I can’t just blurt out my feelings for her after that. I don’t want her to think that I’m trying to take advantage of her. Besides, she’s got a lot to process. Any declaration from me would be too much for her. It would likely scuttle any chance for a future with her.”
“Sure, just keep telling yourself that, but don’t wait too long. She’s someone worth speaking up for … if you ask me … which you haven’t.” He chuckled.
Jared rolled his eyes. “I know that. Now, what exactly are you going to tell Mary?”
“Tell me what?” Mary cleared her throat. “Hello? Is someone going to answer me?”
Jared jumped at the sound of her voice from behind him. He stood and turned around to see her standing on the porch. Her eyes still held a look of disappointment and sadness, but otherwise, she was as beautiful as ever. “Will, this is Mary. Mary, FBI Special Agent Will Fulton.”
Will rose and crossed to shake Mary’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Jared’s told me quite a lot about you. In fact, I can’t get him to stop talking about you.”
Jared ran a hand over his suddenly hot face. He should have known Will would jib him.
“I wish I could say the same about you, but Jared’s not been forthcoming in that department.” Mary seated herself on a chair to his left. Jared reclaimed the loveseat, propping up his left leg up on the wicker coffee table.
Will retook his seat in the rocker. “He couldn’t tell you anything until now. I know he wanted to,” he looked from Jared to Mary, “but it would have jeopardized the case.”
“Ah, the case.” Mary settled back against the cushions, although her body didn’t relax completely. “From the little that Jared has told me, it involves the man I knew as David Kline and Soul Believers?”
“Not exactly.” Will set the rocker in motion with a push of his foot. “David—for the sake of simplicity, we’ll keep calling him that—was the front man for a big Internet scam. After someone called Wildcat identified eight targets on Soul Believers, David corresponded with them.”
Mary sat silently, her arms crossed and her face partially hidden by the lengthening shadows. Jared might not be able to read her expression, but her body language shouted her discomfort. His heart ached for the pain she must feel hearing about her fiancé’s dalliances with other women.
Will pulled out a folder from the briefcase. He opened it and handed Mary a stack of papers, before opening a small notebook. “David corresponded with,” he looked down and consulted a page, “Wendy Garcia, Dana Jones, Marsha Clime, Teresa Simmons, Patsy Trenton, Nancy Andrews, and Tina Watkins while simultaneously chatting with you.”
# # #
Mary turned over the papers, unable to read the black-and-white the facts of David’s duplicity. “Did he ask them to marry him and go to Peru as missionaries?”
Will nodded. “I’m sorry.”
She sucked in a breath. “And each of these women had something valuable that he prompted them to sell?”
“Yes,” Jared volunteered.
She couldn’t bring herself to look at her long-time friend. If she saw pity or compassion in his eyes, she would lose what little self-control she had left. The grandfather clock in the hallway chimed four o’clock, its soft melody drifting through the open living room windows. Less than three days ago, she was contemplating a new future with a husband and a home in a foreign country, and now that dream had become a nightmare. “Did Sylvia call these other women with news of David’s death, too?”
“Yes.” Will paused. “Unfortunately, David and Sylvia cleaned out the joint bank accounts of two other women, in addition to yours, before we could freeze those accounts. One thing puzzles me. Why was there only ten thousand dollars in the joint bank account you opened for David and yourself when the painting sold for more than a million dollars? Where’s the rest of the money?”
“I put it in a different account.” Mary smoothed out the papers on her lap. “I had the auction house wire ten thousand into the new joint account. David said the main reason he wanted a joint account was so he could access some of the auction money for our honeymoon. He seemed so embarrassed when he brought it up. I fell for it.” She tired to smile but her lips went wobbly from the memory of how gullible she had been and it turned into a grimace. Yet, as Will and Jared explained, certain things began to make sense. Like the way she sometimes thought David purposefully directed their chats to certain topics. Things that at the time she dismissed as leftover effects from living with her grandmother’s paranoia all those years.
“Thankfully, you didn’t fall for all of it.” Jared’s voice soothed her frazzled nerves. “At least you didn’t have all the painting funds go into that shared account.”
“Will you be able to recover the money?” She hated the way her voice trembled, but the last few day left her in a jumbled frame of mind. She had spent more time on her knees than she had in a long time, and her emotions were still raw.
“I’m not sure.” Will leaned back in the rocker.
“Have you arrested him?” She gazed out over the porch at the front yard, which Jared had manicured. The Russian sage and caryoptenis bushes burst with flowers, while the crape myrtle tree dangled its reddish-pink blossoms over the sidewalk.
“I can’t comment on that, but I can say David and Sylvia won’t be contacting anyone for a while.” Will tapped the arm of the rocker. “We’re still investigating and fitting the pieces together. One thing you might be able to clear up is how this Wildcat knew that you had a valuable painting. The other women all carelessly mentioned their assets in their profile. One even posted a photograph of herself wearing an extremely valuable emerald-and-diamond necklace, earrings, and bracelet set.”
“I have no idea.” Mary bit her lip, as she searched her memory of chats with David. In fact, she hadn’t even thought about the painting in years until Jared had noticed it on his first visit. “I never really thought about the art being valuable, as it’s been in the family for generations.”
“You told me your parents had visited Aunt Geraldine before, right?” Jared shifted his left leg on the wicker coffee table.
Mary frowned. In all the stress of the last few days, she had forgotten about the mystery of Louisa and Ed Divers. She had told Jared about their not really being her parents, but they hadn’t discussed it much since then. “That’s what my father, or rather, my cousin, I suppose, told me.”
Will raised his eyebrows. “Father or cousin? I don’t get the connection.”
Jared briefly explained Mary’s background to Will. “Something Mary said weeks ago bothered me.”
“Only one thing?” She fiddled with the fringe on a pillow.
“Well, one thing in relation to your parents,” Jared clarified.
“Go on,” Will said.
“I thought it was strange that she had so little contact with them. I know they were on the mission field in Peru, but I’ve known other missionaries who managed to get letters mailed on a fairly regular basis. Seemed fishy to me that she knew so little about their work. So I did some online sleuthing and made some phone calls about the Divers.”
Mary put her hand to her throat. Jared had a look she well remembered from childhood, an expression that said he had figured out something. “What did you find out?”
“That Louisa and Ed are not, nor have they ever been, missionaries to Peru.”
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.