Carolina moon, p.29
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       Carolina Moon, p.29

           Nora Roberts
 

  "Because?"

  "Because it was my father you saw leaving the store. I gave the money to him so he'd go away."

  "He put that mark on you." When Tory simply stared, Faith drew a deep breath in and out. "Guess it's not the first time. Oh, Hope didn't tell me. I imagine you swore her to secrecy, but I had eyes. I saw you with bruises and welts plenty of times. Always had a story about falling down or running into something, but the funny thing was, I never noticed you being clumsy. As I recall, you had a number of those welts and bruises the morning you came to tell us about Hope."

  Faith walked over to the minifridge, found a bottle of water, opened it. "Is that why you didn't meet her that night? Because he'd walloped you?" She held out the water, gauging Tory's silence. "I guess I've been focusing my blame on what happened back then on the wrong person."

  Tory took the water, soothed her throat.

  "The person to blame is the one who killed her."

  "We don't know who that is. It's more of a comfort to put blame on a face and a name. You can pick up that phone, call the police, and bring charges. Chief Russ'll go after him."

  "I just want him gone. I don't expect you to understand."

  "People never do. But surprise." Considering Tory, Faith eased a hip onto the desk. "My papa rarely raised a hand to me. I think I got a swat on the butt from time to time, and shame the devil, less often than I deserved it. But he sure knew how to shout, and how to strike terror in a young girl's heart."

  Oh God, she missed him. It catapulted into her. The longing for her father.

  "Not because I thought he'd take a strap to me," she said quietly now. "But because he let me know every time I let him down. I was afraid to let him down. That's not the same thing as this, I know it. But I'm asking myself, if he'd been a different kind of father, a different kind of man, and I spent my life being afraid, what would I do?"

  "You'd call the police and have him thrown in jail."

  "Damn right. But that doesn't mean I don't understand why you aren't. When Papa was cheating with that woman, I never told my mother. For a while I actually believed she didn't know, but I didn't tell her. I thought maybe it would all go away. I was wrong, but thinking it gave me some peace of mind."

  Steadier, Tory set the bottle of water on the desk. "Why are you being nice to me?"

  "I have no idea. Never did like you much, but that was mostly because Hope did and I was contrary. Right now you're sleeping with my brother, and it occurs to me that he means more to me than I realized. It makes sense to get to know you so I can see how I feel about all that." "So you're being nice to me because I'm having sex with Cade."

  The dry way it was phrased tickled Faith's humor. "In a roundabout way. And I'll tell you this because it'll piss you off. I feel sorry for you."

  "You're right." Tory got to her feet, grateful the trembling had stopped. "It pisses me off."

  "Figured. You don't like sympathy. But the fact is, no one should be afraid of her own father. And no man has the right, blood kin or not, to leave bruises and scars on a child. Now, I'd better go see what kind of trouble that puppy's gotten herself into out there."

  "Puppy?" Tory's eyes went wide. "What puppy?"

  "My puppy. Haven't named her yet." Faith strolled out, and let out a hoot of laughter. "Isn't that the cutest thing? She's just a little darling."

  The little darling had found the tissue paper and was currently waging a war on it. Casualties were many and scattered like snow over the floor. She'd managed to find a roll of ribbon as well, and most of that was wound around her chubby torso.

  "Oh, for God's sake."

  "Don't take on so. Can't be more than five dollars' worth of supplies. I'll pay for them. There's my baby."

  The pup barked joyfully, tripped over a tail of ribbon, and sprawled adoringly at Faith's feet. "I swear, I never thought a little bit of a thing like this could make me laugh so much. Look at you, Mama's baby doll, all wrapped up like Christmas."

  She lifted the puppy high and made cooing noises.

  "You're acting like an idiot."

  "I know. But isn't she sweet? She just loves me to death, too. Mama's got to clean up this mess now before the mean lady scolds my baby."

  Already on her hands and knees, Tory looked up. "You set that shop wrecker down in here again, I'll bite your ankle."

  "I've been teaching her to sit. She's smart as a new hat. Just watch." Despite the threat, Faith set the pup down, kept one hand on its rump. "Sit. Be a good girl now. Sit for Mama."

  The puppy leaped forward, slapped its tongue against Tory's face, then chased its own tail.

  "Some new hat."

  "Isn't she precious?"

  "Downright adorable. But she doesn't belong in here." Gathering up the bulk of the ruined supplies, Tory rose. "Go take her for a walk or whatever."

  "We were going to buy a nice pretty set of bowls for her food and water."

  "Not my bowls. You are not buying handcrafted pottery bowls designed by artisans for puppy chow."

  "What do you care what I use it for as long as I pay the price?" Only more determined, Faith marched over, scooped up the pup, and picked out two matching bowls of royal blue with bold emerald swirls. "We like these. Don't we, darling? Don't we, sweet-ums?”

  "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."

  "A sale's a sale, isn't it?" Faith crossed to the counter, set the bowls down. "Ring me up, and don't forget to add the cost of the supplies."

  "Forget the supplies." Behind the counter, Tory dumped the tissue in the wastebasket, then dealt with the transaction. "That's fifty-three dollars and twenty-six cents. For puppy bowls."

  "Fine. I'll pay cash. Here, hold her a minute." Faith pushed the pup at Tory so she could dig into her purse.

  Charmed despite herself, Tory gave the puppy a nuzzle. "You're going to be eating like a queen, aren't you? A regular queen bee."

  "Queen Bee. Why, that's just perfect." Faith laid the money on the counter and snatched the puppy back. "That's who you are, Queen Bee. I'm going to get you a fancy collar that sparkles."

  Tory shook her head as she made change. "I'm seeing a whole new side of you, Faith."

  "So am I. I kinda like it. Come on, Bee, we've got places to go and people to see." She gathered up the shopping bag. "I don't think I can get the door."

  "I'll get it." Tory opened it, and after a minute's hesitation, touched Faith's arm. "Faith. Thank you."

  "You're welcome. Your makeup could use a little freshening," she added, and left.

  She didn't intend to get involved. The way Faith looked at it, other people's personal lives were fascinating to speculate about, to gossip about, but all from a safe and smug distance.

  But she kept seeing the way Tory had looked curled up behind the counter, with ribbon and tape and silver cords scattered around her.

  She kept seeing that ugly red mark on Tory's neck.

  There’d been marks on Hope. She hadn't seen them, no one had let her see them. But she'd known.

  She didn't hold with a man pushing a woman around, that's all there was to it. When it was kin, you didn't run to the police. But there were other ways to make things right.

  She bent to kiss Bee's head, then walked straight to the bank to tell J.R. what had happened to his niece.

  He didn't waste time. J.R. canceled his next appointment, told his assistant manager he had to leave on personal business, and set out for Tory's shop at such a brisk pace his shirt was damp with sweat by the time he got there.

  She had customers, a young couple who were debating over a blue and white serving platter. Tory was giving them room, staying on the other side of the shop replacing the candle stands she'd sold that morning.

  "Uncle Jimmy. Is it heating up out there? You're flushed. Can I get you something cold?"

  "No—yes,” he decided. It would give him time to compose himself. "Whatever you've got handy, honey."

  "I'll just be a minute." She went into the back, th
en leaned on the door and cursed. She'd seen it in his eyes. Faith must've made a beeline to the bank. So much for trust, Tory thought, wrenching open the refrigerator. So much for understanding.

  Then drawing a cleansing breath, she carried the can of ginger ale out to her uncle. "Thanks, honey." He took a good long swig. "Ah, why don't I buy you lunch?"

  "It's not even noon, and I brought something from home. I don't want to close the shop in the middle of the day. But thanks. Gran and Cecil get off all right this morning?"

  "First thing. Boots tried to talk them into staying a few days, but you know your gran. She likes to be in her own. Always itchy when she's away from home."

  The young couple started out, with the woman glancing back wistfully. "We'll come back."

  "I hope you do. Enjoy your day."

  "All right, now let me see." The door had hardly closed when J.R. set down the ginger ale and took Tory's shoulders. He studied the raw skin on the side of her neck. "Oh, sweetie. That bastard. Why didn't you call me?"

  "Because there was nothing you could do. Because it was over. And because there wasn't a point in worrying you, which is all Faith's done by running down and telling you."

  "Now, you stop that. She did exactly what was right, and I'm beholden to her for it. You didn't want to call the police, and maybe, well, maybe it's easier on your mother if we don't. But I'm family."

  "I know." She let him draw her into a hug. "He's gone now. All he wanted was money. He's scared, running scared. They'll catch him before long. I just want it to be away from here. Away from me. I can't help it."

  "Of course you can't. I want a promise from you." Gently, J.R. held her out at arm's length. "If you see him around again, even if he doesn't try to get near you, I want you to promise you'll tell me right off."

  "All right. But don't worry. He got what he came for. He's miles away by now." She needed to believe it.

  19

  She believed it for the rest of the day. She covered herself with the thin, battle-scarred armor of that belief through the long afternoon. And though she knew it was foolish, she opened one of the candles wrapped and ribboned on display and set it on the counter.

  She hoped the light and scent of it would help dispel some of the ugly film her father's visit had smeared on the air.

  At six, she locked up, then caught herself scanning the street as she had done for weeks when she'd escaped to New York. It angered her that he could put that cautious anxiety back in her step, that jolt back in her heart.

  Had she really stood in the ruin of her mother's house and claimed she could and would face down her father and all that fear if he dared slither into her life again?

  Where was her courage now? All she could do was promise herself she would find it again.

  But she locked the car doors the minute she was inside, and her pulse jittered as she constantly shifted her glance from the road ahead to the rearview mirror on the drive home.

  She passed cars, even stirred herself to wave at Piney as his pickup rumbled by with a quick toot of the horn. Fieldwork would be done for the day, she thought. Hands would be heading home. And so would the boss.

  So it was with an irritating bump of disappointment that she turned into her lane and found it empty. She hadn't realized she'd been expecting Cade to be there, anticipating it. True, she hadn't greeted his statement that he was basically moving in with any real enthusiasm.

  But the more she thought of it, the easier it had been to accept. And once accepted, enjoyed.

  It had been a very long time since she'd wanted companionship. Someone to share the day with, to talk over inconsequential things with, to find little things to laugh over, complain about.

  To have someone there when the night seemed too full of sound, and movement, and memories.

  And what was she giving back? Resistance, arguments, irritable and unstated agreement.

  "Just general bitchiness," she murmured, as she climbed out of the car. That, at least, she could stop. She could do what women traditionally did to make up for petty crimes. She could fix him a nice dinner, and seduce him.

  The idea lifted her mood. Wouldn't he be surprised when she made the moves for a change? She hoped she remembered how, because it was about time she took back a little control. By doing so she'd take some of the responsibility for whatever was going on between them off his shoulders.

  She'd tried to please Jack that way, and then . . . No. She pushed that train of thought firmly away as she unlocked her front door. Cade wasn't Jack, and she wasn't the same woman she'd been in New York. Past and present didn't have to connect.

  When she entered she knew that was just one more delusion. She knew he'd been there, inside what she'd tried to make her own home. Her father.

  There'd been little for him to destroy, and she didn't think he'd put much effort into it. He hadn't come in to break her few pieces of furniture, or punch holes in the walls. Though he had done some of both.

  Her chair was overturned, and he'd taken something sharp to the underside. The lamp she bought only days before was shattered, the table she'd hoped to refinish tossed into the corner with one of its legs snapped like a twig.

  She recognized the size and shape of the dents in the wallboard. It was his signature mark, left when for whatever reason he chose to use fists on inanimate objects instead of his daughter.

  She left the door open, an escape route in case her instincts were off and he was still in the house.

  But the bedroom was empty. He'd yanked off the bedclothes, ripped at the mattress. She supposed the iron bed frame had been more trouble to him than it was worth, as he'd left it be.

  The drawers of her dressers were pulled out, her clothes heaped in piles. No, he hadn't really wanted to destroy her things, she mused, or he'd have taken that sharp tool to her clothing as well. He'd done that before, to teach her a lesson about dressing appropriately.

  He'd been looking for more money, or for things he could easily sell for cash. If he'd been drinking, it would have been worse. If he'd been drinking, he'd have waited for her. As it was . . . She bent down to pick up a rumpled blouse, then let out a cry of despair when she saw the small carved wooden box she used to hold her jewelry.

  She pounced on it, sinking down when she found it empty. Most of what she'd owned had been trinkets, really. Good trinkets, carefully selected, but easily replaced.

  But among them had been the garnet and gold earrings her grandmother had given her when she'd turned twenty-one. Earrings that had been her own great-grandmother's. Her only heirloom. Priceless. Irreplaceable. Lost.

  "Tory!"

  The alarm in Cade's voice, the rush of footsteps, brought her quickly to her feet. "I'm all right. I'm here."

  He burst into the room, had her pinned against him before she could say another word. Tangled waves of fear and release pumped from him, over and into her.

  "I'm all right," she repeated. "I just got here. Minutes ago. He was already gone."

  "I saw your car, from the living room. I thought—" He tightened his grip, pressed his face into her hair. "Just hold on a second."

  He knew what it was to have terror dig slick claws into his throat. He'd never thought he'd feel it again.

  "Thank God you're all right. I meant to be here before you, but I got hung up. We'll call the police, then you're coming to Beaux Reves. I should have taken you there this morning."

  "Cade, there's no point in all that. It was my father." She drew away, set the box down on the dresser. "He came to the shop this morning. We had words. This is just his way of letting me know he can still punish me."

  "Did he hurt you?"

  "No." The denial was quick and automatic, but his gaze had already landed on the side of her neck.

  He said nothing. He didn't have to. His eyes went dark, narrowed into slits, as violence—she knew how to recognize violence—swam into them. Then he turned away and found the phone. "Cade, wait. Please. I don't want to call the police."


  His head snapped up, and that same narrowed rage snapped out at her. "You don't always get what you want."

 
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