Authors: Jennifer Blake
She allowed him to help her to a sitting position and swallowed the capsule he handed her. As she passed the glass back to him, he failed to take it. His gaze was on her throat, she discovered, as if he'd been watching her swallow. Warm color flooded to her hairline as he lifted his gaze and his eyes met hers.
She held that clear, gray gaze for endless moments, trying to see past the rugged features, the aura of command, the badge of his office. She wanted to know how he thought and felt, to penetrate the normal defenses of human beings to see the man he was inside.
It was impossible.
Embarrassed that she'd tried and a little depressed and confused, she let her gaze slip away. It fell to the holstered gun clipped to his wide leather belt. A shudder, completely involuntary, rippled over her.
“It's there for your protection.”
“Right. I'll try to remember that while I'm having my
stitches removed in a couple of days.” Attack was always her defense of choice against unwanted emotion.
“I didn't start this merry-go-round you're on,” he answered in the same even tone, “but I intend to see that it stops, one way or another.”
“A miracle worker, are you?” The words were husky and not quite even.
“If that's what it takes.”
Tory wished that she could believe him, that she could tell him everything and let him take care of it. To do that, however, she would have to unravel all the events that had led her to Dog Trot, would have to reveal the person she really was behind the facade of attitudes and disguises she'd perfected over the years. How could she do that when she wasn't sure who that woman was herself?
The voice from the open door had the pliant, uncertain cadence of adolescence. A boy stood there, obviously Roan's son since he was almost as tall and his features so nearly identical that it was almost humorous.
“What?” It was a second before Roan withdrew his gaze and turned toward the doorway.
“Truck coming up the drive, probably Kane. Thought you might want to know.”
Roan dipped his head in acknowledgement, then reached out in a beckoning gesture. “As long as you're here, come meet Donna.”
The boy slouched into the room with the leggy awkwardness of a half-grown colt. His sandy hair was cut one length at chin level and his eyes were more hazel than gray. As his father laid a hand on his shoulder, he glanced at it but made no attempt to move away.
“My son Jake, Donna.”
“Hello,” Tory said, extending her good hand. The boy
gave her a quick inspection as he took it, but remained mute. He held her fingers a bare second, as if uncertain what to do with them. Then he broke the contact and stuffed his fists into his pockets.
She tried the effect of a smile. “I'm sorry if my being here is an inconvenience. I'll try not to be too much trouble.”
His gaze slid away again, though whether from shyness or discomfort because she was in a hospital gown, she couldn't tell. He said finally, “It's okay. It's Dad's idea.”
“So I imagined, but still.”
Jake nodded, then looked at his dad. “About Kane? You coming, or you want me to ask him to step up here?”
“I'm coming.” Roan glanced at his watch. “I have to check in with the office anyway, and Donna needs to rest.”
They left without another word. Tory lay staring at the light beyond the lace curtains, watching the light fabric waft in the draft from the air-conditioning and listening to the faint whistle of the cool air blowing out of the floor vents. It was so quiet, so peaceful, and so very comfortable compared to the hospital. She could almost feel her nerves unwinding, feel herself drifting into medicated contentment so great she thought she could sleep forever. She had such a sense of being surrounded by absolute security. Why was it that only Roan Benedict could make her feel that way. Why?
Kane was waiting for Roan at the foot of the outside staircase. He leaned against the sturdy end post of the wrought-iron railing in the shade provided by the big oak that had sheltered them as they played cops and robbers when they were kids. It had been a fine way to pass a long summer's day. They were a hell of a lot busier now, both of them.
Beau, fawning around Kane's feet, abandoned him without visible shame as soon as Roan came down the steps. Roan gave the bloodhound a quick pat before reaching over the dog's head to take his cousin's hand. They exchanged greetings and mutual assessments, all in the space of a few seconds.
“So how've you been?” Roan asked at last in his capacity as host.
“Finer.” Kane grinned, his blue eyes bright. “Getting bigger and more impatient every day. And blaming me for the whole thing.”
Kane had changed, Roan thought. There was a relaxed set to his shoulders that hadn't been there before his marriage to Regina, and his smile was quicker and more frequent. He looked almost as carefree as he had in their teenage years when the whole gang of Benedict cousins had raced boats, played baseball, tinkered with cars, and shared secrets and half-raw fried fish around roaring bonfires on the lake's edge. Roan had little doubt as to what had brought about the change. Kane was a happy man, and his Regina was expecting their first child.
“You're not trying to deny responsibility?” Roan said with mock sternness.
“God, no,” Kane said fervently. “It's all my fault, even if I did have cooperation.”
“Remember that, and you'll be fine.”
“So they tell me.”
“Who, Aunt Vivian and Miss Elise?” It was usually the older women who gave the best advice, in Roan's experience.
“And Granny Mae. Yes, and even April, for crying out
loud, though she's never been any closer to pregnancy than helping deliver a litter of kittens.”
Roan lifted a questioning brow. “She and Luke trying, you think?”
“I didn't ask and don't intend to, since I'd like to live to see the birth of my child,” Kane declared with a grin. “But we're none of us getting any younger.”
Roan replied with the grunt such a crack deserved. A small silence fell, and he filled it by offering his cousin a cup of coffee. Kane declined, saying that Regina was making lunch and if he didn't get home soon, he'd hear about it. Roan acknowledged the excuse with a wry look of masculine compassion. At the same time, he felt a twinge of jealousy. No one was cooking lunch for him.
Stepping over to Kane's truck on the circle drive, he put the base of his spine against the front fender and crossed his booted feet. The visit was not entirely social, Roan was sure; it was too early in the day for that. They had finished the polite ritual that had to be taken care of before they could get down to business. Now it was up to his visitor to state his case.
Kane was a lawyer, so used to choosing his words with care. He was also dressed for the office, in slacks and a well-pressed dress shirt. Regardless, he followed Roan's lead, propping his expensive shoe leather on one of the tall black truck tires and studying it as he spoke. “Regina called me at the office. She said Betsy telephoned her with a story from Johnnie about you being on your way to Dog Trot with a special guest. That wouldn't be true, would it?”
Roan sighed. The Turn-Coupe grapevine was fast, but it was nothing to the jungle drum swiftness employed by the Benedict clan. He supposed Kane had a right to be concerned, however; he and Regina lived in an old Greek Revival mansion just down the road.
“If you're worried about your wifeâ¦”
“You know better than that. It's you we're worried about, your safety, that is. Well, and maybe your sanity.”
“Neither is at risk. I'd invite you in for an introduction so you could see for yourself, but the trip from the hospital was a bit rough and my prisoner is resting just now.”
The look Kane gave him was grim. “You have a female prisoner here in your home, a possible felon, with no security measures?”
“You're forgetting Beau.” The hound, losing interest in their discussion, had flopped down onto the walk and put his head on his paws. At the sound of his name, he gave his tail a sleepy thump.
“So I was. A huge oversight. Unless she takes a notion to murder you in your bed while Beau's outside howling at the moon.”
“She's not going anywhere. She was shot, damn it.”
“By you, right?”
Roan agreed with a curt nod.
“I'd heard it, but couldn't believe it. Not much fun, I'd imagine, for either one of you.”
Kane was silent as he held his cousin's gaze.
“No,” Kane answered himself, then added. “I hope you know what you're doing.”
“I have a prisoner under house arrest here until her court date. That's all there is to it.”
“Except you've never done it before. You sure it's not guilt that's riding you?”
“So what if it is? She still needs help.”
“And I guess it has nothing to do with Carolyn?”
Roan shrugged. The remorse over the past was unremitting, but bothered him most on Jake's birthday when he was reminded that the boy had grown up virtually without
a mother. Hell, he wouldn't know how to act without it on his shoulders.
“You weren't responsible for what your ex-wife tried to do. A lot of people felt you were probably the only reason it didn't happen sooner. Besides, you saved her life.” The sun caught in the iridescent strands of Kane's dark hair as he tilted his head slightly, eyes narrowed against the reflection off the truck's windows. “But that woman in there isn't Carolyn. The way I hear it, she pulled a gun on you. You were justified in taking her down.”
“I'm not confusing the two, if that's what you think,” Roan said, his voice blunt. “Besides, Donna never fired.”
“But you don't know that she wouldn't have, given the chance.”
“Maybe, maybe not. Anyway, I screwed up and the suspect got hurt. Now I'm taking care of her the best way I know how. And that's it.”
Kane gave a slow nod, then glanced away as a blue jay screeched in the oak tree at the far corner of the house, warning all comers away from his territory. Roan, following the same line of sight, wondered if maybe that wasn't what he was doing, too, in his own way.
When Kane spoke again, his voice had the smooth cadence it carried when he was presenting a case. “What about the legalities? For instance, has this woman even been booked? The D.A. will expect to see charges come across his desk soon. You know what a stickler he is, almost as much as you are yourself.”
Roan refused to meet his cousin's intent gaze. “It's not easy to decide on charges since she can't remember enough to answer questions. According to Doc Watkins, her amnesia may clear up as she gets better, but it could be days, even weeks. Or never.”
“You're the sheriff,” Kane said in dry tones. “But I still
think I'll do a little research into the acceptable standards for holding a suspect with amnesia. You may need the info, especially if she escapes or her pals manage to snatch her out of your house.” He hesitated for a moment, as if he expected a response, but it didn't come. Then he added, “What about Jake?”
Roan pushed away from the truck. “You actually think I'd put him in jeopardy?”
“Not intentionally, but you'll have to admitâ¦”
“I admit nothing. The woman upstairs is not dangerous. I'll stake my reputation on it. I'm fully aware that the men she was with may pose a threat, but I can, and will, stop them. That's my job, if you'll remember.” Kane was echoing the family concern, Roan knew, and he was even right in his way. Still, it rankled that his cousin would question his control of the situation.
“You'll post extra men?”
“Cal will take the duty. He wasn't too happy at first, but he's getting more gung ho by the minute. He'll probably show up tomorrow in camouflage and with black grease under his eyes like some commando. Anything to play the hero for Donna.”
Kane stared at him. Then a slow smile curled a corner of his mouth. “You know something, you almost soundâ¦”
“What?” Roan couldn't keep the snap from the voice.
His answer was profane.
“Or maybe you're the one playing hero. April always said you were a sucker for a damsel in distress.”
“It runs in the family, I'd say.” It was a plain reference to the way Kane had met his Regina. A single mother, she'd been sent to Turn-Coupe to spy on Kane's family with her
son held as hostage to insure her compliance. Kane had fallen in love, in spite of his suspicions. He'd broken quite a few laws while riding to the rescue, and even taken a bullet in a desperate rescue of Regina's son from her crooked cousin who'd held the boy. It had ended in a messy legal battle in which Kane was the prosecuting attorney. Luke's romance with April Halstead hadn't exactly been a picnic, either.
“Oh, I'll grant you that,” Kane agreed with a wry twist of his lips. “But that doesn't make keeping a possible felon cooped up in your house an intelligent decision, even if she is drop-dead gorgeous.”
“Johnnie again?” Roan said with resignation.
“Betsy. She got a good look at her during the robbery, if you'll remember.”
“I suppose there's not much use saying that what my prisoner looks like doesn't matter?”
Roan sighed. He took off his hat and ran his fingers through his hair, then settled the headgear into place again. “It's just that she's so damned alone. She drives me nuts with her playacting and high-class airs and prickly, in-your-face bravado, but other times it's all I can do not to pick her up and rock her like a kid. Something is going on with her, something she's not telling, and until I find out what it is, I'm not letting her out of my sight. She's my responsibility and I'm taking care of her. Nothing else matters.”