IT WAS DARK WHEN I EMERGED FROM THE COURTHOUSE. WHITE lights twinkled in the trees along rue Notre-Dame. A caleche clopped by, horse sporting red-tasseled ear covers and a sprig of pine. Flakes floated around faux gas lanterns.

Bonne fete! Christmas in Quebec.

Traffic was again bumper-to-bumper. I nosed in and began creeping north on St-Laurent, still high on an apres witness stand rush.

My fingers drummed the wheel. My thoughts ricocheted from topic to topic. My testimony. The pizza basement skeletons. My daughter. The evening ahead.

What might I have told the jury that I hadn’t? Could my explanations have been clearer? Had they understood? Would they convict the guilty bastard?

What would I discover at the lab tomorrow? Would the skeletons prove to be what I knew they were? Would Claudel be his usual obnoxious self?

What was making Katy unhappy? When we’d last spoken she’d hinted that all was not rosy in Charlottesville. Would my daughter complete her final year of university, or would she announce at Christmas that she was dropping out of the University of Virginia without obtaining her degree?

What would I learn at dinner tonight? Was my recently acknowledged love about to implode? Was it love?

At de la Gauchetiere I passed under the dragon gate and entered Chinatown. The shops were closing, and the last few pedestrians were hurrying home, faces wrapped, backs hunched against the cold.

On Sundays, Chinatown takes on a bazaar atmosphere. Restaurants serve dim sum; in clement weather grocers set up outdoor stalls filled with exotic produce, potted eggs, dried fish, herbs Chi- noise. On festival days there are dragon dances, martial arts demonstrations, fireworks. Weekdays, however, are strictly business.

My thoughts veered back to my daughter. Katy loves the place. When she visits Montreal, a trip to Chinatown is nonnegotiable.

Before turning left onto Rene-Levesque, I glanced across the intersection up St-Laurent. Like rue Notre-Dame, the Main was decked in its Christmas finest.

St. Lawrence. The Main. A century ago a major commercial artery, and stopping-off point for immigrant groups. Irish. Portuguese. Italians. Jews. No matter their country of origin or ethnic affiliation, most newcomers put in time on the streets and avenues around St-Laurent.

As I waited out the traffic light at Peel, a man crossed my headlights, tall, face ruddy, hair sandy and tousled in the wind.

Mental ricochet.

Andrew Ryan, Lieutenant-detective, Section de Crimes contra la Personne, Surete du Quebec. My first romantic sortie after the breakup of a twenty-year marriage.

My partner in history’s briefest affair?

The tempo of the finger drumming sped up.

Since Ryan works homicide and I work the morgue, our professional lives often intersect. I identify the vics. Ryan collars the perps. For a decade we’ve investigated gangbangers, cultists, bikers, psychopaths, and people who seriously dislike their spouses.

Over the years I’d heard stories of Ryan’s past. The wild youth. The conversion to the good guys. Ryan’s rise within the provincial police.

I’d also heard tales about Ryan’s present. The theme never varied. The guy was a player.

Often he suggested playing with me.

I have a steadfast rule against amour in the workplace.

But Ryan’s thinking is often at odds with mine. And he likes a challenge.

He persisted, I stood firm. Moving force. Resisting object. I’d been separated two years, knew I wouldn’t be returning to my husband, Pete. I liked Ryan. He was intelligent, sensitive, and sexy as hell.

Four months back. Guatemala. An emotionally battering time for us both. I decided to reassess.

I invited Ryan to North Carolina. I bought the mother lode of skimpies and a man-eater black dress. I took the plunge.

Ryan and I spent a week at the beach and hardly saw the ocean. Or the black dress.

My stomach did that flip thing it does when I think of Ryan. And that beach week.

Add another item to the list of positives. Canadian or not, the guy is Captain America in bed.

We’d been, if not “a couple,” at least “an item” since August. A secret item. We kept it to ourselves.

Our times together looked like the cliched sequences in romantic comedies. Walking hand in hand. Cuddling by fires. Romping in leaves. Romping in bed.

So why the feeling that something is wrong?

Turning right onto Guy, I gave the question some thought.

There’d been long, late-night conversations following Ryan’s return to Montreal from North Carolina. Recently, the frequency of those calls had diminished.

Big deal. You’re in Montreal every month.

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