Excerpt: Truthseeker

Book One of the Worldwalker Duology

“–once upon a time, not so long ago, it was driven by a little old lady I know personally. She drove it to the store weekly, that’s it, so its four thousand miles are gentle ones, ladies. It’s just two years old and has all the extras. You won’t find a better deal than this here or anywhere else. Now, I know the sticker price is eighteen five and you’re not looking to spend quite that much.” The salesman leaned out from beneath his umbrella to get a better look at the V of Kelly Richards’ T-shirt, and smiled. “It’s cutting my own throat, but I think I can knock it down to seventeen flat. It’s a bargain, ladies, a real bargain.”

“Lara?” Kelly folded her arms beneath her breasts.

For a moment Lara found herself studying her friend’s cleavage, though less avidly than the salesman had. Kelly had a lifetime’s experience in using her assets to distract and command, whereas Lara’s own figure had been described as more of a pirate’s treasure: a sunken chest. Clinical curiosity made her wonder what it would be like to take control of a situation just by inhaling deeply.

“Earth to Lara, hello?” Kelly snapped her fingers under Lara’s nose. “Are you in there?”

“Of course I am.” Lara turned her attention back to the yellow Mazda Miata the salesman hawked. Or, rather, to the patter he’d shared, the quick flow of words meant to distract and impress in the same way Kelly’s T-shirt was. Lara thought Kelly had taken the upper hand in dedication to distraction, though. It was too cold, with too much promise of serious rain, to be out without a coat, and the salesman’s gaze kept wandering to Kelly’s chest instead of the vehicle lot. “And he’s lying.”

Offense flew across the man’s face and he clapped a hand over his heart. “How could I lie to two such lovely ladies as yourselves? But all right, all right, maybe a Miata isn’t your style. Something with a little more kick to it, maybe something that makes a real impression when you pull up? I’ve got a Ford 450 over here, it gets thirty miles to the gallon–”

He broke off again as Lara and Kelly both turned incredulous looks on him. “All right, all right, maybe twenty-five in the city. But I can see discerning women like yourselves want better gas mileage than that. I’ve got just the thing for you. This way, please.” He strode down the lot, Kelly at his side and Lara trailing behind, staying just close enough to overhear his routine. Kelly cast regular glances at her, and Lara shook her head each time.

Finally, exasperated, Kelly pointed at a ten-year-old Nissan with a four thousand dollar price tag. “What about that one?”

A spatter of rain hit the salesman’s umbrella and rolled off in a pathetic dribble to match his expression. “Decent gas mileage, but the engine was overhauled by an amateur.”

“How’s it run?”

He muttered, “Fine,” and Lara nodded.

Kelly’s smile lit up. “I’ll take it.”

#

Forty minutes later Lara sat with her elbows on the table and a burger clenched in her hands as Kelly ignored her own lunch to admire her new car through the diner window. “Kel, if you’re bringing me out to the best diner lunch in Boston you might as well eat it, you know? Or am I the only one eating because I came along to play personal lie detector?”

Kelly tore herself from the window to waggle a finger at Lara. “Technically, the Deluxe is in Watertown, not Boston.”

Lara laughed. “All right, the best diner in the greater Boston area. You don’t like it when I get pedantic, so how come you get to do it to me?”

“Because you do it all the time. I’m just getting my own back. Anyway, yes, lunch is for you, not me.”

“You’ve given up eating?”

“Well, no, it’s just, you know. I don’t know how you can eat as much as you do and stay so slim.” Kelly picked up her burger regardless, having been distracted from her car.

“Some of us get Mae West figures, some get fast metabolisms. Want to trade?”

Kelly glanced past her burger into the V of her own t-shirt. “Nah, I guess not. But thanks for coming along. You always know when salesmen are lying.”

“Kelly, anybody who sells used cars is lying. You don’t need me along to tell you that.” Lara squished her burger until bacon and cheese oozed out of the bun, then sank her teeth into it with a blissful sigh.

“Yeah, but you also know when they’re telling the truth.”

Lara shrugged her eyebrows, grateful her mouth was full. Kelly was right, the correctness–the truthfulness–of her statement humming under Lara’s skin like a hive full of bees. She couldn’t remember a time when lies didn’t strike discordant notes. Santa and the Tooth Fairy had not gone over well in her home as a child, and her mother had learned early to explain that such things were stories that people told. Long discussions had helped Lara to understand, but even with understanding, the practice of telling children lies made her uncomfortable.

It would be easier if she could instantly know the truth when someone lied to her. It didn’t work that way, though she’d learned to discern a great deal. The Miata had almost certainly never belonged to a granny, and its four thousand miles were probably the result of the odometer rolling over. She couldn’t know, though, not without a direct statement. Worse, she couldn’t tell the difference between a truth based on misinformation or a genuine truth: if someone believed what he was telling her, it read as true.

As peculiar talents went, it was good for getting her out of jury duty–a perk that Lara found frustrating, as she thought serving on a jury might be interesting to do at least once–and not a great deal else.

“Hey. Hey.” Kelly reached across the table to thump Lara’s forearm. “Look, it’s that guy from the news. The weatherman. Why don’t you go ask him if he’s single?” She nodded out the window, where a slender blond man in a long coat hurried down the street, shoulders hunched against bursts of rain. A cameraman followed, looking irate. “Poor guy, he predicted sunshine today.”

“Oh. Is that why you’re wearing a t-shirt? I thought you were just trying to keep the car salesman off his game.”

“Merely a side benefit. No, I’d have brought a coat if I’d known it was going to be this nasty. Wow, there’s a job that’d suck for you, huh? What if you had to predict the weather and kept getting it wrong? You’d give yourself the heebie-jeebies.”

Lara laughed, lowering her burger as she watched the weatherman cross the street. “I don’t know if it would. I’d be predicting on the best data I had, so it might be okay.”

“Best data.” Kelly snorted. “How many times have I watched the news and it’s said it’s snowing when it’s raining, or when they’re predicting winds when it’s calm as a crypt?”

“Calm as a crypt. Kelly, who says things like that? I don’t know if you watch too much Addams Family or if you’re just planning a career as an undertaker.”

“I’m planning a career as a rich young widow,” Kelly said archly. “See, if you were a really good friend you’d have already found me a rich old man to marry.”

“Most of my clients aren’t old.”

“But they’re rich, right?” Kelly’s eyes brightened. “They have to be, to afford their spiffy custom suits.”

Lara wrinkled her nose and put on a haughty accent. “Please. We at Lord Matthew’s Tailor Shop prefer the term ‘bespoke’ to ‘custom made’.”

“That’s because you at Lord Matthew’s are a bunch of Europhile snobs,” Kelly said cheerfully, and Lara laughed again.

“Steve’s got three hundred years of tradition to live up to. Give him a break.”

“Oh yes.” Now Kelly put on the accent, sniffing disdainfully. “Steven Taylor, eighth in a line of tailors beholden to a Lord Matthew, whose name became so synonymous with quality that even during his lifetime men were referred to “Lord Matthew’s tailor” rather than The Newbury Street Tailor Shop. That’s your party line, isn’t it?” she said in a normal voice. “You have to admit it sounds snooty.”

“It is snooty. But I love it. The way everything fits together flawlessly, it’s like a true thing made real. Someday I’ll make your wedding dress and you’ll understand why it’s so fantastic. No patterns, just your body shape and your every whim conceded to. Except if you try to make a disastrous fashion choice, in which case I’ll politely ignore you and make something suitable. At least I could do that with you. We’ve had clients with no taste at all. A couple of them were even famous.”

“Fortune Five Hundred famous?”

“More like movie star famous.”

Kelly brightened again. “Now, see, if I were even the tiniest bit interested in sewing, I would so make you get me a job. Intimately fitting clothes to movie stars. I want your life.”

“No, you don’t,” Lara said with perfect confidence.

Kelly squashed her lips in mock irritation. “Shush. You’re not supposed to call me on things like that and you know it. People say things like that, Lar. ”

“I know. But you don’t mean it.” If Lara’s high school yearbook had had a category for least likely to develop a sense of humor, her teenage self would have been pictured there. It wasn’t that she lacked one, but even as an adult, the line between teasing and telling lies was a thin one to her sense of truthfulness. She frequently had to stop and consider what she’d been told, investigate it for irony before responding. At work, nearly the only topic of discussion was the work they did, and her fellow tailors had such passion and joy for their creations they rarely joked about it; Lara’s under-developed sense of humor fit in well there.

Outside, in the real world, she was grateful for people like Kelly, who’d recognized Lara’s talent on her own, and wasn’t bothered by it. Building friendships without the polite gloss of white lies was difficult. People simply didn’t tell each other the truth all the time, or even often. When Kelly had protested that they did, Lara had arched an eyebrow and asked, “How often do you say “fine” when someone asks you how you’re doing?” Kelly had shut her mouth on further objections and rarely argued with Lara on matters of truthfulness again.

“Okay, I don’t want your job. I want to hang out with you and meet the rich people you make clothes for,” Kelly said cheerfully. “Is that more accurate?”

Lara laughed. “Much. The trouble with that is most of them never even see me, Kelly. I’d have a hard time introducing you to somebody when I’m effectively invisible.”

“I don’t understand that. They’re the dressmaker’s dummies. How can they not see the dressmaker?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Lara assured her. “I don’t need to be noticed.”

“No?” Kelly cast a glance out the window. “Not even by him?”

Lara followed her gaze to where the weatherman, hair blown askew, shouted enthusiastically into a microphone as rain splashed over him. He was vividly handsome, with angular cheekbones and a pointed jaw, and a well-shaped mouth currently stretched in a rueful grin. His eyes were crinkled against the weather, features animated as he spoke. “Nah. Not that I’d say no….”

Kelly clapped her hands together. “Finish your burger. Come on, hurry up.”

Lara picked up the sandwich and bit in, automatic response to the command, then furled her eyebrows. “What’s the hurry?”

“Look at him, Lar. He’s a pretty-boy TV star, but that coat, those pants.” She tsked, shaking her head, eyes wide with dismay. “The man needs a makeover to reach his full potential, and I know just the woman to give him one.”

“You?”

Kelly gave an enthusiastic pah! of dismissal. “I like my men broad enough to fill doorways. Not that Mr. Weatherman doesn’t have great shoulders, but my mighty thighs would crush those slender hips. I’m going to introduce you.” She dropped a twenty on the table and caught Lara’s wrist, tugging her up.

“Kelly! I’m not done eating! And you don’t even know him!”

“Everybody knows him,” Kelly insisted. “He’s David Kirwen, Channel Four News weatherman, and they’re shutting down filming. It’s now or never. I’ll buy you another burger. Come on, Lara. This is why you never meet guys. You never take any risks. Live a little!” She pulled Lara toward the door, ignoring her protests, and stepped out into the wind-driven rain, t-shirt soaking in a few seconds.

Lara muttered, “He’ll notice you, anyway,” and earned a second dismissive sound from her friend.

“Huge tracts of land aren’t everyone’s fancy, Lar. Excuse me! Excuse me, Mr. Kirwen? My friend here wanted to talk to you about your wardrobe!”

“For heaven’s sake.” Lara spoke the protest under her breath as Kirwen turned to face them, amusement writ large across his face, animating thin lips and brown eyes into pure sensual charm. “I didn’t,” she said to him in embarrassment. “I mean, your trench coat is really well made. The stitches must be oil-skinned, the way water’s beading and rolling off. But really, I didn’t want to talk to you. I’m sorry. My friend is–” She ran out of words, wrapping her arms around herself and shivering. The weatherman was dressed for the pelting rain; Lara, in a t-shirt and jeans, was not.

“An enabler,” Kelly offered. “This is Lara Jansen. She’s a tailor, a bespoke tailor, I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but–”

“I’m only a journeyman,” Lara mumbled, but Kelly went on heedless.

“–it’s custom tailoring, not even a pattern, I can’t remember how it all works, but anyway, Lara can tell you about it, and she thinks you’re cute and well-dressed–”

“Kelly!”

“A tailor who thinks I’m well-dressed. I’m flattered, Miss Jansen. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He turned a megawatt smile down on Lara, evidently unaware of its power. Bells chimed beneath her skin, ringing in the truth inherent in his statement, and Lara put her hand out automatically to meet his as he said, “I’m David Kirwen.”

Pure tones shattered into discord.

From TRUTHSEEKER
Available September 2010
Pre-order it now!

Truthseeker

CE Murphy

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