After coming back from Soul Believers, Jared had worked in the yard for a few hours. While his leg showed signs of improvement, it still ached from the bending and stretching of the day’s work hand-weeding the old flower gardens. At least the ibuprofen seemed to be working, so he could avoid taking Percocet. It had been hard enough to wean off a stronger pain medication after leaving the hospital—he didn’t want to go back down that road again.
He turned up the volume on the radio and then sank down on the couch, laptop resting on his thighs. There was something that nagged his mind about the women Wildcat had targeted on Soul Believers. Pulling up the site, he toggled around viewing the different profiles but his eyelids kept drooping. Maybe closing his eyes for just a moment would help him refocus.
When he awoke, the room had darkened. The radio show had switched from easy listening to Love Letters With Layla. Rubbing his eyes, he stretched as Layla’s soothing voice came over the air.
“Beatrice, you’re live on Love Letters With Layla. What’s on your mind tonight?”
“Layla, my boyfriend proposed to me,” Beatrice said on the radio show.
Jared closed his eyes to focus on Layla’s reply. The show had its hokey moments, but the host kept things from getting too maudlin most of the time.
“That should be happy news, Beatrice, but you sound sad. What happened?”
The concern in Layla’s voice wafted over the airwaves as if she’d laid a comforting hand on the caller’s shoulder.
“I am happy, but my family doesn’t like him.” Audible sniffles from Beatrice emanated over the airwaves.
“Why doesn’t your family like him?” Layla continued her soothing questioning. She would make an excellent counselor. The way she finessed callers and targeted the heart of the problem brought to mind some of the therapy techniques he’d learned in medical school.
“Because they haven’t met him.” Beatrice coughed into the phone.
“Why haven’t they met him?”
Jared opened his eyes. Something about the way Layla asked that question triggered a connection in his mind, like he had heard that voice before. He mentally shrugged. It would come to him, probably as he was falling asleep—if he could go to sleep tonight.
“I met him on one of those Internet dating sites,” Beatrice said. “He lives in Louisiana, and I’m in Arlington, Virginia.”
“Beatrice, have you met him in person?”
Thoughts of what Special Agent Steve Calahan was finding at Soul Believers had him wired and watching the phone, as if that would make Will call with an update sooner. He returned his attention to Beatrice and Layla.
“No, but he’s my soul mate. The things he writes are beautiful, like poetry.”
“How long have you known him?”
Jared sat up. Something had changed in Layla’s voice—it wasn’t as smooth as before. He cocked his head to listen more closely, his brain whirring as he sought to place that voice.
“We met in a chat room in January and have had daily contact since Valentine’s Day.” Beatrice blew her nose audibly. “My family and friends think I’m foolish to follow my heart.”
He wished Mary was listening. Hopefully, Layla would set this woman straight on the dangers of agreeing to marry someone she’d never met—and Mary would see herself in Beatrice’s place.
“Sometimes love takes chances,” Layla said. “You do need to be careful, but if you love him, then you should go for it.”
This was so not what Mary needed to hear. Now Jared hoped Mary wasn’t listening. Layla usually was spot on, but she sounded a bit off with this caller.
“If that’s what your heart is telling you, that’s what you should do.”
“It’s good to know someone’s on my side.”
“Beatrice, I do have one piece of advice. Run a background check on him. You don’t want to marry someone who’s wanted by the law. That’s not a matter of trust but of your safety. I suggest that you both order background checks, one for him and one for you. That should help quell the naysayers.”
“I will. Thanks again, Layla.”
“Now I’m going to play ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ by Elton John and Kiki Dee for Beatrice and her long-distance love. You’re listening to Love Letters With Layla on WMCR-FM in Washington, D.C.”
Jared stood and crossed to the window, pulling back the curtain to see if Mary’s light was on. A faint glow from her upstairs office window indicated she was still at work. What she did for a living, he had yet to find out. His questions about her work had netted him scant information, something about technology and media. But other than that, she was hard to pin down. She was probably too busy to listen to a radio show, and Love Letters With Layla probably wouldn’t be on top of her list anyway. Good thing, too, given how Layla had wimped out with Beatrice.
He returned to the couch and was just pulling up his email account when Layla returned to her show after a commercial break.
“That last caller really struck a nerve. Tons of tweets, Facebook comments, and emails are pouring in.” She blew out a breath. “Most of you are saying that I missed the mark in my advice. However, with all due respect, I stand by my comments. Sometimes our hearts know better than what makes sense to everyone else. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree about this one. Since so many of you said my advice would only lead to heartbreak, I’m going to play a personal favorite, one I used to sing at the top of my lungs as a kid. Here’s Guy Mitchell with ‘Heartaches by the Number.’”
The last piece of the puzzle clicked into place.
As a kid, he had only known one person who could sing all the words to “Heartaches by the Number” by heart.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.