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Authors: Jennifer Blake

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BOOK: Roan
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“Suppose I have nothing to tell you?”

“I'm sure Doc and I can think of something suitable by way of encouragement.”

Doc Watkins reared back. “Now, Roan—”

“Or maybe I'll wait until he leaves.”

The sheriff was not impressed with her imprisoned princess act. She might have known. She wondered how good he was at seeing through other fabrications.

Time, that was what she needed, time to think, time to plan what she was going to say. If Sheriff Benedict didn't believe she'd been kidnapped, it was a safe bet Paul Van
dergraff would have his doubts. Her stepfather would be even more incredulous when she told him that the man behind it was Harrell Melanka. And if he wouldn't take her word, who would?

Whatever charge the sheriff intended to bring against her would be dropped in due time; Paul would see to that. Her main worry was for what would happen afterward. Her stepfather might well send Harrell to take her home, since he disapproved of the broken engagement. There would be little to keep Harrell from trying to get rid of her again somewhere along the way. He might succeed this time, since she would be in no shape to stop him.

Paul Vandergraff was almost certainly unaware that she'd been abducted or where she was at this moment: though they lived in the same house while on Sanibel, their paths seldom converged. If he missed her at all, he probably thought she'd taken off for a few days as was her habit, joining friends for a sail in the Caribbean or a quick flight to Antibes or the Costa del Sol. He'd expect a call giving her whereabouts eventually, so would be unlikely to put out an alarm for another week, maybe two.

She had a little breathing room then. It was up to her to make the best use of it. The plan taking shape in her mind was simple, really, and the few extra days of recuperation it would gain her could be crucial.

She lowered her lashes and began to pleat the sheet that lay across her waist with her free hand. She willed tears to come, something that was surprisingly easy. “What if,” she said carefully, “this name you've given me, this Donna, doesn't sound familiar? What if I say I don't know who I am?”

The sheriff was quiet for a seconds before he demanded, “
Is
that what you're saying?”

“I remember being shot,” she answered, her gaze still
on the sheet. “Before that, not much—except for the accident and hoping I could use it to get away from the cretins who were holding me. And I seem to remember you taking me in your arms.” She tried the effect of a helpless shrug and was instantly sorry. However, the hiss of her swift-drawn breath was almost blotted out by Doc Watkins's bellow.

“Gawd-a-mighty, Roan, what you been up to with this girl?”

“Nothing,” the sheriff said with a harried glance at the elderly physician. “At least nothing that wasn't absolutely necessary and perfectly innocent.”

Wounded bird: that seemed the best bet. She could do that one in her sleep. She murmured sadly, “That's what they all say.”

“It's what you said, too, if I remember it right,” Roan observed with grim dispassion as he stepped to the end of her bed and braced his hands on the high mattress. “I didn't believe it then, and I don't believe you now. I don't know what you're trying to pull, but it won't work.”

“Don't browbeat my patient, son,” Doc Watkins ordered. “She doesn't need this kind of hassle.”

Roan gave him an impatient look. “I'm not browbeating her or doing anything else to her. Yet. But if you think you can do better, then have at it.”

“Don't see how I could do much worse.” The older man snorted his disapproval, then moved closer and picked up Tory's hand. Patting it a little, he said, “Now, look, love, it's like this. Roan's got a job to do, and he takes his work seriously. He needs a little cooperation from you. You owe him that, don't you think? I mean, he stopped to help you when he could have taken out after the bad guys. What's more, a nice percentage of the blood running through your
veins right now belonged to him yesterday morning. So how about it?”

“He gave blood for me?” Tory couldn't keep the amazement from her voice.

“You're both universal donors, type O positive. You can give blood to any other type, but only take type O yourselves. The hospital was short, and Roan was willing.”

“And maybe feeling a little guilty as well?” she suggested with a glance from under her lashes at the lawman. The tips of his ears turned red as she watched. Whether it was from embarrassment at being caught out in his good deed, or anger that she'd guessed the reason, was impossible to tell.

It was Dr. Watkins who replied. “Oh, he might feel a tad responsible, but that's all. Roan's a regular blood donor. I only mentioned it because I thought it might make a difference in how you look at things. If you could just give us some hint of how to go about finding the two creeps who were with you, it would be a big help. The trouble you've got yourself into can be worked out, I promise, if you'll give us half a chance. But we can't help you if won't trust us.”

It was masterly, that appeal. That it was undoubtedly sincere made it even harder to combat. Trust didn't come easy for Tory, however, especially now.

Harrell would be looking for her as soon as his goons reported that they'd lost her. Her loving fiancé had ordered her kidnapping, possibly even her death, because she'd discovered he had forged her name to legal documents. He hadn't thought she'd mind, he said when she confronted him; they were almost man and wife, after all. It was a tremendous deal he was working on, the chance of a lifetime. He had to keep it hush-hush because the men he was dealing with were heavy players. They were looking for
new capital and had agreed to let him in on the action, but wanted to see serious cash, like her old money inheritance, up-front. It was just a guarantee, the paper he'd signed for her; it didn't obligate her to anything. Anyway, the partnership would make them rich beyond imagining.

She'd refused to condone his act, had threatened to go to her stepfather with what he'd done. Then she'd returned his ring, to his flabbergasted fury. Shortly thereafter, she'd been abducted. It didn't take a member of Mensa to figure cause and effect. After all, a corpse couldn't object to a forged signature.

Trust them, Doc Watkins had said. She had trusted the sheriff for a few brief minutes while he lay holding her on a dirt road, but that was over and done. There was no one she could trust now.

“Donna, honey?”

She forced herself to meet the doctor's eyes. It was hard to lie to him in the face of his kindly concern, harder than she would have believed before tonight. Finally, she said, “I'll be Donna, if that's what you want, but I don't remember anything except what I told you. Please believe me, I really don't.”

He sighed, then nodded, patting her hand again. “That's okay, then, don't you worry about it. Between the gunshot wound and the knot on your head, it's a wonder you're able to think at all. Things will work out, though, you'll see. We'll have you right as rain before you can get your foot back.”

“I…hope so.” A sudden constriction in her throat took her voice. She wasn't used to sympathy, much less the brand of kind acceptance that she heard in his voice.

“Doc,” Roan Benedict said, a warning in his voice.

The physician and the sheriff exchanged a long look before Doc Watkins turned back to her. “Right. I think Roan
has a few more questions, now. I know you probably don't feel up to it, but—well, he's been here since you were brought in last night, so maybe he deserves a hearing.”

How could she refuse without looking both ungrateful and as if she had something to hide? Which she did, of course. Regardless, she managed a nod of agreement.

“Good girl.” The elderly man turned toward the door. “I'll let you two get on with it, then.”

“You aren't leaving?” The very idea of being alone with the sheriff made her stomach muscles clench.

“Don't worry. Roan's bark is worse than his bite. He won't be too hard on you.”

Doc Watkins sent the sheriff a stern look. If the lawman was affected by the warning, however, he gave no sign. He waited until the door had closed behind the white-coated figure of the older man, then he turned to pick up a black plastic case that had been sitting on the floor. As he placed it on the end of the bed, he said, “The main thing I need from you is information about your friends.”

“My friends?” She lifted an ironic brow.

“The two guys in the van with you.”

“Zits and Big Ears.”

“What?” His face mirrored incomprehension.

“My names for them, since they didn't exactly introduce themselves.”

He sighed and looked fixedly at the wall above her head as if collecting his patience. “So we're back to that, are we?”

“Always. Until you believe it.” Her smile was bleak.

“You don't remember your name, but you do remember that you were kidnapped?”

She lifted her uninjured right shoulder to indicate the incomprehensibility of the brain's workings.

“It will go a lot better for you,” he said deliberately, “and for this Zits and Big Ears, if you cooperate.”

She met his gaze for the first time. “Are you saying you have a lead on them?”

“We located the van, which was hot, of course, reported stolen from Miami, though why anybody would bother to rip off such a piece of junk—but never mind. Your Zits and Big Ears dumped it in a parking lot outside town. The lot belongs to a company that runs a shuttle back and forth to the gambling boat over on the Mississippi at Natchez. A local timberman got off the bus after a day on the boat and found the stolen van siting where his brand-new red Ford pickup with big, expensive mud grips had been parked.”

“Too bad.” The comment was automatic as she searched his face. If he intended any added significance by letting her know exactly where the van had been abandoned, she couldn't tell it.

“If the pickup owner finds those two before we do, it will be worse than too bad. We won't have to worry about your pals anymore.”

“Macho to the max,” she said dryly.

“We call it taking care of our own.”

“And you condone that? Seems strange for someone sworn to uphold the law.”

His smile was grim. “I didn't say I condoned it. I just understand the impulse.”

She shivered in an involuntary reaction to something she saw in his face. Looking quickly away, she said, “Yes, well, I don't see what all this has to do with me.”

He stared at her a long moment, then straightened and raked his fingers through his hair so the thick, sun-bleached strands lay in ruffled rows. Finally, he gave a slow nod. “All right. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you were kidnapped….”

“You mean you believe me?” She swung back to meet his gray gaze.

“I did say for the sake of argument. So we have a van that came from Florida. Is that where you live?”

She couldn't admit to that, she thought as she stared at the sheriff. If her stepfather should decide to file a missing person's report after a few days, the sheriff would be sure to spot it. “I don't know.”

“When were you taken?”

“I'm not sure. Maybe three or four days ago?”

“That's a long time. Where were you kept?”

“No place in particular. At least, all I remember is the van.”

He lowered his gaze to the mattress a moment, then his lips firmed. “The doctor who examined you says there was no sign of sexual trauma, no indication of intimate activity of any kind.”

“So much for your bondage theory,” she quipped, lifting a bandaged wrist by way of a reminder, even as hot color flooded her face.

“That isn't why I asked.”

“No? Just curious, were you?”

“It's my job,” he said with heavy emphasis. “The fact that you weren't molested could be important, especially now, with your memory loss.”

“How so?” she snapped, stung as much by his grimly impersonal tone as at the suggestion for some peculiar reason.

“Few kidnap victims are spared, especially those who look like you. It means you were more valuable if left untouched, or else that the three of you were buddies trying the old scheme of squeezing money from whoever holds the purse strings.”

“I have no need to squeeze money out of anybody, thank
you very much!” The look she gave him should have melted his iron man persona where he stood.

The sardonic lift of his right brow made the scar at its end more prominent. “You remember that, do you?”

She'd said too much, and knew it. She had to be more careful. With a moody shrug, she replied, “I don't know, it was just there.”

“Fine.” He studied her for a long moment, then a deep breath swelled his chest, pulling the tan material of his shirt taut across its muscled planes. When he spoke again, it was on a different tack. “So how much ransom were they asking?”

“I've no idea.”

“But they did make a demand of some kind?”

Phone calls had been made late at night, usually from an open booth located outside a country store or some discount outlet parking lot. Regardless, Tory was almost certain ransom had never been part of the plan. Not that she could say so to the sheriff. With a helpless gesture, she answered, “I don't know. It's all so…fuzzy.”

“Who would they have contacted? Who would have had access to enough money to make them think kidnapping you was worthwhile?”

Censure threaded the words. No doubt he was one of those people who had little use for extreme wealth. He looked like a man who had earned every penny he'd ever made through his own hard effort, and was damned proud of it. She respected that in him. It was a great deal more attractive than Harrell's ambition to marry into old money as a stepping stone to an obscene fortune.

BOOK: Roan
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