I dropped onto the navy love seat and Luigi jumped in my lap, curling into a ball on my knees. Gino sat across from me in the matching armchair, a line creasing his broad forehead. "You're probably going to hate me for telling you this."
"What? The sauce was too spicy?" I joked.
He didn't laugh. "I should have told you sooner, but you've been so upset, I was afraid it might send you over the edge."
Now he had my full attention. My stomach twisted at his words. "What's wrong? Is someone in the family sick? Lucy or one of the twins?" I didn't think I could handle any more bad news.
Gino shook his head. "It's nothing like that." He exhaled a deep breath. "It's about Dylan."
"What about him?" I asked sharply. "Just say it."
He reached forward to cover my hand with his. "We have reason to believe that Dylan's death wasn't an accident." My body went rigid. There was no sound in the room except for my heavy breathing and Luigi's purring as he snuggled against me. "Are you saying that someone intentionally killed my husband?"
Gino's mouth formed a thin, hard line. "It looks that way. We believe that somebody tampered with his vehicle."
Anger quickly replaced shock. "You said before that it was a car malfunction. How long have you known about this?"
"A few weeks."
"Meaning, since his death." I hated Gino in that moment. For God's sake, he was family. If you couldn't depend on your own family to tell you the truth, who could you trust? "So why am I only hearing about this now?"
"Look, Tess," he said quietly. "It's an ongoing investigation. We don't have all the details, and nothing has been released to the public yet."
Startled, I rose to my feet, forcing Luigi to jump down and scamper out of the room. "Who cares about the public? I'm his wife and you're my cousin! How could you keep this from me?"
Gino's face flushed and he put a hand on my arm."You were so out of it those first couple of weeks. I was afraid if I told you, then maybe you'd do something crazy, like—"
"Like what? Take my own life? Join my husband in the hereafter?" I shook his hand off and moved to stand in front of the bay window, looking out at my lawn covered with its gold and orange leaves. "Please leave."
But Gino didn't leave. Instead, he came up behind me and put his hands on my shoulders. As a result, I crumpled. My shoulders started to sag, and the tears I was holding back finally broke free. So much for my new determination.
He held me in his arms while I cried. "I'm so sorry. I wasn't at liberty to tell you anything at first, and then as time wore on, I was afraid. That's the real reason I came over. Gabby said you seemed almost like your old self yesterday. She mentioned that you stopped by her store last night for the first time since Dylan died."
I straightened up and wiped my eyes. "I brought cookies for her club." Gabby was Gino's younger sister and owned a small bookstore, Once Upon a Book, that was three streets over from where I lived in the center of town. She was my dearest friend, the sister I'd never had.
"Like I said, nothing has been released to the public, but details may have already started to leak." He looked faintly embarrassed. "I've been questioning some people around town, and so has another officer. Unfortunately, he let it slip to someone that the car was tampered with, so it probably won't be long before the news starts to spread."
"I see. In other words, you wanted to make sure you told me before someone else did." Furious, I almost wanted to slap him.
Gino wrapped an arm around my waist and led me back to the couch. "That's not it. I swear that I was going to tell you, but you're right, I shouldn't have waited so long." To his credit, his face was full of misery. "Should I go on?"
I inhaled a large gulp of air. "Yes. Tell me everything." He hesitated for a second. "I don't know everything.
As we told you from the beginning, a fuel leak was the cause. But it looks like someone tampered with his engine by loosening a fitting, which caused the car to catch fire. Passersby reported seeing flames shoot out from under the vehicle right before Dylan crashed."
"Okay, stop." I had lied. I didn't want to hear that part again—not about how my husband had been trapped in a burning car before crashing into a tree. He'd already been dead when the EMTs had pulled him from the wreckage, but I would always wonder what suffering he might have endured in those final moments.
Gino held tightly to my hand. "I did some checking around. Dylan always brought his vehicle to The Car Doctor, right? Matt Smitty wasn't around the day before when Dylan brought the car in, but his mechanic Earl said they only did a tire rotation. He swore he didn't touch the engine." Gino paused, weighing his words before continuing."You know that Smitty's not one of my favorite people." I didn't want to get into this now. Matt had been my high school boyfriend. I'd broken up with him after he became too possessive, and Gino had never liked him. "But..."The words refused to fall from my mouth. I paused for a second and tried to gather my bearings. "That can't be right. Why would someone want Dylan dead?" The thought was incomprehensible.
Gino replied to my question with one of his own."Did Dylan have any enemies?"
I gave him what I hoped was an incredulous look. "How can you ask me such a thing? Everybody loved him."
"Are you sure about that?" Gino's tone was suspicious.
He was using his cop voice, as Gabby called it. "Maybe he screwed up someone's taxes? Reported someone to the IRS for doing something illegal? Did a coworker have it in for him?"
"No. No one I can think of." But Gino had planted a seed of doubt in my head. Maybe there was a disgruntled client Dylan hadn't told me about. "Did someone tamper with his car while he was at We Care? Have you checked out his office?"
"I thought he parked in the garage adjacent to their building. Isn't that for employees only? Plus, there are cameras on every floor."
I nodded, wracking my brain. "He had eaten lunch right before it happened. You were the one who told me his car was parked in the alley behind Slice before he... died." It still hurt to say the word. There was such finality attached, and I suddenly felt as if I was reliving that day once again.