Innocent Eyes

Tom Parker is a top-notch FBI agent and his 17-year-old niece’s hero. When he suspects a former agent of plotting for revenge, Tom makes full use of Carrie’s interest in his work. Before she knows it, Carrie is living three hours from home, attending a gymnastics camp with the suspected man’s step-daughter. Everyone in the household loves her, except for the person whose help she needs most. Toran Sweeney is a year older than Carrie and the first boy she has ever been interested in. Unfortunately for her, he thinks she is there to work with the step-father he hates. And that is only the beginning. As the summer goes on, Carrie begins to realize that nothing is what it seems. Innocent Eyes beings and ends with a chess game, but it is in between that the true game is played, with much higher stakes than bragging rights.


4. Suspicions

    As promised, Jayna slept late.  She came bounding down into the kitchen around nine forty-five in rainbow leggings and a long light pink shirt.  I admired her sense of style—I wouldn’t have dared to wear that sort of thing for the last ten years.
    Addie paused in the middle of the story she was telling me and gave her daughter a hug.  Jayna hugged her back, then immediately grabbed a packet of Pop-Tarts.
    “Jay, how about you find something healthier?” Addie asked.  
    Jayna dropped the Pop-Tarts into the toaster, pulled herself onto the counter, and grabbed a banana.  She grinned at me, hair springing into a wild dark halo every which way around her face.  “She didn’t tell you about the good breakfast stuff, did she?  There’s frozen waffles in the freezer.  They’re yummy.”
    “You’d better not let Caleb catch you on that counter,” Addie admonished.
    “It’s Monday.  He won’t be home until four.”  Jayna, I noted, was absolutely sure of her answer.  “Anyhow, why are you still here?”
    “Oh, see if I stick around to see you in the mornings anymore.”
    “Mom!” Jayna exclaimed.  “It’s just that you’re usually gone by seven forty-five.”
    I leaned back on the counter and folded my arms, grinning.  So, Caleb, Toran, and Addie are out of the house by seven forty-five and Jayna likes to sleep in, my mind calmly whispered.  Although camp starts at nine thirty after today…  That’s still plenty of time for snooping.
    I yanked myself out of my mind in time to catch Addie’s explanation.  “I don’t have any studio shots until noon, and Shelia wanted some down time to do reviews, so I stayed here.  I got a few sunrise shots, so the morning wasn’t a complete waste.  And I got to spend time with Carrie, of course.”  She smiled at me.  “You missed it, Jayna.  We walked down the road and then made your favorite.  Can’t you smell them?”
    Jayna stuck her nose in the air.  “Snickerdoodles!” she shouted.  “Where are they?”  She all but accosted her mother, curls flying.
    I caught Addie’s eye and winked, then slid out of the kitchen silently.  Note to self: wear socks if sneaking around downstairs.  For one, bare feet stick to slick surfaces.  And for two, the floor is cold!  I took the stairs two at a time, stopped briefly in the bathroom, and then bee-lined for my notebook.  Uncle Tom always said that first impressions were oftentimes the most important, and I had a truckload of those.  

    Toran’s truck pulled into the drive shortly after noon, just as Addie had said.  Jayna and I, who had the house to ourselves by that time, were chowing down on my favorite lunch—peanut butter-jelly-and-chocolate chip sandwiches.  Addie had said there was leftover fruit salad in the refrigerator, and we were taking full advantage of that too.
    “Hey, Toran,” Jayna said, grinning at him from her seat on the counter as he walked into the kitchen.  I was sitting cross-legged on one of the chairs at the table.  His dark eyes flickered, unreadable, from his sister to me and back again.
    “Don’t let Caleb catch you up there,” he said, opening the refrigerator and pulling out a plate of cold pizza.
    “Aw, Tor, you sound like Mom.”
    He gave her a look over his shoulder as he put his food in the microwave and turned it on.  He grabbed an apple and washed it while the pizza heated, then took the plate and turned to leave.
    “Where are you going?” Jayna protested.
    “My room,” Toran replied shortly.
    “But Caleb—”
    “He’ll get over it,” Toran said.  For the briefest second, his eyes met mine.  Then he was gone.
    I hadn’t spoken a single word.  I hadn’t been caught doing something forbidden or even suspicious—unless I was supposed to keep Jayna off the counter.  Toran hadn’t seemed expectant in the least bit when he looked at me the first time, like he was waiting for a greeting.
    No, I’d seen something else in his obsidian eyes, and I would be a fool if I couldn’t recognize it.  Toran was the tall, dark, and handsome type—and that seemed to go hand-in-hand with mysterious, not to mention strong and silent.  I had never seen anyone who fit the stereotype so completely—I’d thought it was just that, a combination of characteristics thought up by romance authors to sell books.  Toran had proved that wrong.  There was more to it than that, though.  He was hostile; he was suspicious.  I didn’t know why, but two things were coming clear.  
    One, if anyone was going to get in my way, Toran would be the one I’d expect to do it.  Something in that neatly masked expression said there was a sharp brain to be reckoned with.  And two, Toran professed—from what I’d heard—to hate his step-father as much as Jayna did.  Yet he’d appeared completely unconcerned about getting in trouble.  I flopped back on my bed, glancing at my watch.  Ten minutes until Jayna and I had to leave.  I’d have to investigate some other time, because Toran either didn’t care what Caleb might do, or he was on the man’s good side to a pretty extreme extent.
    I rolled over onto my sTomach, asking myself the question I didn’t dare say aloud: Is Toran in on it all?
    Someone knocked on the closed door and I jerked, immediately catching myself and smoothing my expression the way I might smooth wrinkles out of a skirt.  “Come in.”
    Jayna slipped into the room and I hid my sigh of relief.  She knocked twice, lightly.  The information catalogued itself.  “Hey,” I said aloud, “almost ready?”
    “I think so,” she said, twirling around once so I could get the full effect of her lime green velvet leotard and purple capri sweatpants.  “This isn’t too much, is it?”
    I stood up and pulled on a t-shirt over my midnight blue leotard with small silver squiggles.  “Of course not.  You look great.”  I looked her up and down briefly.  “Every inch an aspiring young gymnast.  Now, go grab your bag.  Let’s get there early and make a good impression.  Besides, I’m not sure I trust your direction-giving skills.  We may end up late anyhow.”
    Jayna stuck her tongue out at me and skipped out of the room.  I picked up my bag and squared my shoulders.  
    “Thank you, Uncle Tom,” I whispered.  No way would I get lost on my way to Robert White’s gym.  The best lies have truth at their roots, and my interest in gymnastics was something I didn’t have to fake.  The real reasons for me being here aside, this was a dream come true.  
    “Come on, Jayna,” I called out the door.  “Last one to the truck is going to fall on her face today!”
    She shrieked and flew out of her room.  I raced down the stairs on her heels, grabbed my tennis shoes, and ran out through the garage.
    “Youch!” I yelped as I ran across the ten or so feet of gravel to the driver’s side door.
    Jayna was grinning at me from the other side of the truck.  “I so won,” she said, grinning broadly.
    I opened the door, slung my bag into the truck bed, and climbed in, motioning for Jayna to do the same.  “No,” I said, buckling my seatbelt, “I so totally beat you.”
    “Did not.”  Jayna’s seatbelt clicked and she settled back in her seat.
    I fished the keys out of my pocket and grinned back at her.  “Fine.  It was a tie.”
    “Fine.”  Jayna paused, then asked, “Can you really drive this thing?”  She was looking warily at the manual gear shift.  “Mom can’t drive this kind of car.”  
    “Can Toran?” I asked.
    “Yeah, but…” Jayna trailed off.  “Caleb doesn’t like this kind.”
    “My brother taught me, and yes, I really can drive it.  I drove myself here in it, remember?”
    “Yeah.  Oh, okay.”  I could practically hear her thinking.  If my brother had taught me, then it must be okay, because in Jayna’s world, girls didn’t drive manual vehicles.  No need to tell her now that I’d really learned from my mom.  I might introduce that possibility later.  
    “Watch,” I said, pushing in on the clutch and brake before I turned the key.  The truck came to life.  I shifted into reverse and let off the brake, then slowly released the clutch, touching the gas pedal at the end so the engine wouldn’t die.  I backed onto the part of the driveway that lead to the field, then shifted into first gear and pulled onto the road.
    “See?  Easy as pie.”
    “I can’t make pie, either,” Jayna confessed solemnly.  
    I laughed and reached over to turn on the radio.  “That’s okay.  My cooking is horrible.  The only thing I’m really good at making is cookies.”
    Jayna started singing along with the music, so I turned the volume up and joined in.
    “Are you in choir at school?” my passenger asked when the music switched to a commercial.
    I nodded.  “I’m a second alto,” I said.  Choir was one of the only school activities I enjoyed.  “Are you in choir?”
    She laughed.  “I’m a horrible singer.  I can’t keep a pitch at all.  It hurts my own ears.”
    “It didn’t hurt my ears,” I said.
    She grinned.  “The radio was too loud.”
    Oh, Jayna, I thought, please don’t hate me when you find out the truth.
    For a second I was sure she saw the shadow that crossed my face, but Jayna merely went on grinning.  I stopped at a stop sign and took the opportunity to switch channels.  
    “Come on,” I said, not turning the volume up quite so high this time.  “Maybe I can teach you something about singing this summer.”
    Jayna laughed again, unbelieving.  However, we both sang for most of the twenty minute drive.  And then, as I pulled into a parking space and cut the engine, we both turned to look at the other—and gulped.

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