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By the time I was back down on solid ground, Mack Raphael was bundled into the back of an unmarked police car. The heck with worrying about if he had or hadnt ordered Vera Blaines murder; the cops were not happy when they arrived and found Raphael waving a gun in their direction.

Absalom had gotten ahold of the envelope and the precious photo inside. Youve got Reggie to thank for calling the cops, he said. And Ive got to say, its still about the most harebrained stunt Ive ever seen. You coulda been killed.

I wasnt. My knees were made of Elmers school glue, and I leaned against the pole. I was still trying to catch my breath when another unmarked car careened into the lot, slammed to a stop, and Quinn jumped out.

What is wrong with you? He was screaming at me before he was within ten feet, and my teammates got the message loud and clear; they scattered.

Theres nothing wrong with me, thanks for asking. I pulled myself upright, because if I was going to proclaim that I was fine, I figured I might as well look it. What, were you listening to the police radio again? Thats how you knew what was going on?

I heard Raphaels name mentioned. That was enough to convince me you were involved. He grabbed me by the shoulders, and I think he would have shaken me if he thought he could get away with it. There was green fire in Quinns eyes. I havent even heard half the story yet, and Im pretty sure you just almost got yourself killed.

Youll like the rest of the story. I grinned. I think youre going to be able to close the case on Sammi Santiagos murder. And with any luck, I have a feeling youre going to get to rewrite the Jefferson Lamar case, too. Mack Raphael ordered Vera Blaines murder. Hes the one who framed the warden.

And you-

Yeah, its not polite to interrupt, but I knew if I didnt do something and do it quick, Quinn was going to read me the riot act. I was so not in the mood.

Im fine. You want to check me out?

I want to wring your neck.

I sidled closer. But you wont.

I guess he had to think about it, because he didnt answer right away. Instead, he sighed his surrender. Look, Pepper when I heard the call come in tonight It was just like when I heard the call about the Lake View. Thats when I realized what was going on.

You did? Since I was pretty sure the police call hadnt said anything about Pepper Martins ability to talk to the dead, I couldnt help but wonder what Quinn was getting at. Do you mean-

I mean thats when it finally hit me. When I thought something might have happened to you and I felt my stomach go cold and I realized that if you werent in my life well, things just wouldnt be the same. Thats when I knew it, Pepper. Thats when I knew I loved you.

You love They were words I never thought Id hear from Quinn, and now that I had, I could barely process the enormity of what he was saying. Are you telling me-

Im telling you that though I might want to spend my life with you, I dont want to spend it worrying. I hate it that youre putting yourself in danger. What would happen if next time-

There wont be a next time. Cross my heart. Yeah, it was the easy way out, but it was better to promise than it was to risk ruining the perfect, fairy-tale moment.

Good thing Quinn dragged me behind a nearby van where nobody could see us. He was so busy kissing me, he didnt notice that behind my back, my fingers were crossed.

| Dead Man Talking | c