Come sundown, p.38
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       Come Sundown, p.38
 

           Nora Roberts

  Tate tapped a finger on Callen’s chest. “Are you in charge around here?”

  “I guess I am.”

  “Would you tolerate one of the people out leading a trail ride, giving a lesson, tending the stock doing the opposite of what you told them? Getting up in the face of one of the guests here? Disrespecting your authority?”

  Wedged firmly in a corner, Callen heaved out a breath. “All right, you made the point.”

  “And my next is this. He’s as pissed off as it gets. If he comes at you, Cal, I hear about it. I don’t want any bullshit from you here about handling him fine, about him not worrying you. He’s one of mine, and if he comes at you again, I need to hear about it. I can’t have a man who’d do that holding a badge and a weapon and working under me. You got that clear?”

  “Yeah, yeah, I do.”

  “You don’t have to like it.”

  “Well, I don’t. But I understand it.”

  “Your word on it.” Tate held out a hand.

  “Hell.” Boxed in yet again, Callen shook hands. “My word on it.”

  “Then we’re good. I’m going to go talk to Alice.” But Tate stared out at the horses another moment. “Seven children.”

  “She named them off. She named them.”

  “Merciful God,” Tate muttered and walked away.

  When he pulled up to the ranch house, he hoped he’d timed it well. He recognized Dr. Minnow’s car, so that was good. He wanted to hear what she had to say, too.

  When he knocked, Cora came to the door.

  “I hope I’m not intruding, Mrs. Bodine.”

  “Of course not. You went with ‘Cora’ at the hospital, Bob. You stay with ‘Cora’. Ah, Alice is talking with the doctor. With Dr. Minnow. I think they should be almost done. You come right in.”

  He took off his hat as he stepped in. “How’s Alice doing, ma’am, since you brought her home?”

  “I really think better. I do. Ma, look who’s here.”

  “Why, Bobby Tate.” Setting aside some knitting, Miss Fancy patted the cushion on the couch beside her. “You come sit down and give me all the local news and gossip.”

  “I wish I could, Miss Fancy.”

  “Well, I’m going to get you a cup of coffee.”

  “Please, don’t trouble, Miss Fancy.”

  “The day I can’t get a cup of coffee for a good-looking man when he comes calling is the day I meet my Maker.”

  The shirt she wore said:

  WOMEN BELONG IN THE HOUSE

  AND THE SENATE

  Miss Fancy believed both statements with equal fervor.

  “You’re going to have to wait a few minutes anyway,” she added. “Alice is talking to the head doctor upstairs. You sit down, and I’ll get that coffee.”

  “We’re looking for things to do,” Cora said when her mother left the room. “Trying to keep busy. I guess you’d have told me right off if you had anything to tell me.”

  “I’m sorry, Mrs. Bodine—Cora. We’re doing everything we can.”

  “I don’t doubt it. Oh, Dr. Minnow. You’re finished?”

  “We had a good talk. Sheriff.”

  “Dr. Minnow. Is she up for more talking?”

  “Give her a few minutes. She’s doing very well, Mrs. Bodine. I think your instincts, Maureen’s instincts, about bringing her here were right. It’s just the start, but she’s calm.”

  “Can you tell me if she remembers anything about her abductor, her captivity?”

  “She avoids it, and that’s natural, Sheriff. She’s struggling with what he indoctrinated in her, and this reality. This reality she remembers in some part of her mind, and this reality is where she feels safer, even happier. She did talk about the house, and when I asked her if it was bigger than her bedroom—the one upstairs—she said it was about the same, but now she has windows and pretty walls.”

  Celia turned another smile to Cora. “Painting it the way it had been makes her feel comfortable, gives her a sense of ownership, though she doesn’t recognize it as such.”

  And now Celia turned toward Tate. “Her captor didn’t live in the house with her. I’d say it was more the size of a shed than a house. She wasn’t ready to talk about what she could see when she went outside. She mentioned a dog, a mean one, but she closed off on any other details.”

  “An outbuilding and a dog’s more than I had.”

  “Here you go, Bob. Oh, Dr. Minnow.” Miss Fancy carried the coffee to Tate. “Can I get you some coffee?”

  “Thanks, but I have to get back. I’ll be here the same time tomorrow. For now, don’t push her about Rory. We’ll give her some time there.”

  “I’ll get your coat, walk you out.”

  Tate stood with his hat in one hand, the coffee in the other. “Miss Fancy, I’m going to go up and see her, if that’s all right.”

  “The nurse up there is…” Miss Fancy rubbed her temple. “Hell, her name’s slipped my mind.”

  “Don’t worry about that. I’ll see you before I go.”

  He assumed they’d used her old room, and knew where to find it. For a few months long ago he’d pined outside her bedroom window. And sometimes she’d climb out of it to meet him.

  Now, with the years between sitting heavy on her, she sat by the window, working yarn with a hook.

  The woman in the second chair read a book, but rose when he came in. “You have company, Alice.”

  Alice looked up and smiled shyly. “I know you. You came to the hospital. You were very nice and came to visit me. You…” Her eyes twitched. “You can walk on your hands.”

  “I could once.” His heart knocked a little as he remembered making her laugh when he’d walked over the grass on his hands. They’d been sixteen, he thought, and he’d been wildly in love with her.

  “Not so sure I could do it now.”

  “I’ll leave you to talk. I’m in the next room,” the nurse told Tate quietly.

  “You’re drinking coffee. I’m not supposed to drink coffee, but Bodine does. She’s the sister’s daughter. She’s nice, too.”

  “I know Bodine. She’s a fine young woman. Can I sit with you?”

  “The man doesn’t have to ask. The man does.”

  “A polite man asks. Could I sit with you, Alice?”

  She actually flushed a little. “You can sit. I’m making a scarf. It’s for Rory. It’s for my son. He has green eyes. He’s so handsome. He grew so tall.”

  “How long’s it been since you’ve seen him?”

  “We had breakfast. Clementine made biscuits. I … I like her biscuits.”

  “I mean before breakfast. How long since you’d seen him?”

  “Oh, he was just a year old. Just one year. Such a sweet baby. I could keep him and nurse him and bathe him, and teach him to clap his hands. I taught him to walk and say ‘Mama’. Because he’s the son.”

  “You had daughters.”

  “Baby girls. Cora and Fancy and Lily and Maureen and Sarah.”

  “Did you teach them to clap their hands?”

  “I couldn’t. Sir had to take them. He has no use for girls and they can fetch a good price. Maybe you can find them.”

  “I can try.”

  “But not Benjamin. God took him to heaven before he came out of me. And not Rory. I found Rory right here. I’m happy I came here.”

  “Did you have your children in your house? I mean to say were they born in your house?”

  “Only Lily and Maureen and Sarah and Benjamin. Sir provided the house because I gave him a son, as a woman is meant to do.”

  “Where did you have Cora and Fancy and Rory?”

  “In the room downstairs.” Her lips pressed together. “I didn’t like the room downstairs. I didn’t like it. I liked the house better.”

  “It’s all right.” He touched her trembling hand. “You won’t ever go back to that room.”

  “I can stay here with Rory. With the mother and the sister and Grammy … Grammy. Grandpa has M&M’s. He smells like cherri
es, and he has a beard.”

  “That’s right.” It occurred to Tate she wouldn’t know her grandfather had died, so he trod carefully. “Does Sir have a beard?”

  “All over, all over.” She rubbed a hand over her cheeks and chin.

  “Does he smell like cherries?”

  “No, no. Like the soap that stings at first. And sometimes not. Sometimes like whisky. Sometimes like whisky and sweat. I don’t like it. I like making the scarf, I like making the scarf, I like making it, and the window and the biscuits. I like the pink walls.”

  “They sure are happy walls. What color were the walls in your house?”

  “Gray with white spots and lines. I like these better. I’m ungrateful, I’m ungrateful for what Sir provided.”

  “No, you’re not. You’re grateful to be home with your family. Can you tell me something, Alice?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Can you tell me where you were when you met Sir, the very first time?”

  “I don’t know. I have to finish the scarf, finish it for Rory.”

  “That’s all right. I have to go now, but I’ll come back, if that’s all right.”

  “It’s all right. I wanted to come home,” she said as he rose.

  “You’re home now.”

  “I should’ve called Grandpa from Missoula when I got there. He’d’ve come to get me. He wouldn’t be mad.”

  “You were coming home from Missoula?”

  “From … otherwhere. I don’t know. I’m awfully tired now.”

  “I’ll get the nurse for you. You can rest awhile.”

  “They roast turkey for Thanksgiving, but I like Grammy’s ham better. Grammy makes ham for Thanksgiving, and we all make pies. I’m going to sleep.”

  “All right, Alice. Here, I’ll help you.” He helped her to the bed, tucked a throw around her.

  “It’s soft. Everything is soft here. Is the mother here?”

  “I’ll go get her for you. You rest.”

  He went out, signaled to the nurse before he started down for Cora.

  An outbuilding, a dog, somewhere on the road from Missoula to the ranch, sometime around Thanksgiving—though God knew how long ago.

  It was more than he’d had.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

  Time moved. While most of home life centered around Alice—what to say, what not to say, what to do, what not to do—spring glided in with all its sweetness and all its demands. The sun came earlier, stayed later, and those daylight hours increased the work.

  Bodine often thought of that work as an escape from the stress and worry of the eggshell-walking required at home. Then felt guilty for thinking it.

  She thought of the nights she spent with Callen in his narrow bed or at an empty cabin as another kind of escape. And didn’t feel the slightest twinge of guilt. If she analyzed it, as she sometimes did, she concluded he gave her balance, companionship, a good ear for listening, a steadier hand than she’d ever given him credit for.

  And really good sex.

  She liked to think she gave him just the same.

  Most days she saddled up and rode to work with him, then home again. If she could juggle the time, she rode home again midday to give her grannies a little break from Alice.

  “I like her.” Though she had an agenda in mind, Bodine rode easily beside Callen. “Every once in a while something—someone—peeks out from the trauma. And I know I’d like that someone. And the dogs like her, which is a good gauge.”

  “The dogs like Alice?”

  “And it’s mutual. A lot of the time they sprawl and snore at her feet when she crochets. The sheriff came by while I was there this afternoon. He’s got a good way with her, too.”

  “Did he get anything more?”

  “It came out she was twenty-one—just turned twenty-one when she started hitchhiking home. So that gives him a closer when. I don’t know what he can do to close up twenty-six years and find something, but I could see it mattered knowing. She wanted me to stay while he talked to her. She was happy starting out, like we were all having a little visit. She’s making another scarf—for me. She finished Rory’s.”

  Lifting her face to the sky, Bodine shook her head. “I’m all over the place.”

  “Not so much. She likes you, trusts you. She likes Tate. She’s shy with me if I’m around, but I don’t scare her.”

  “It’s the same with Dad and Chase—the shy but not scared. And still she won’t step outside. People are outside, and that’s that.”

  “She needs more time.”

  “I know, and it hasn’t been much time yet. But … We all have to be so careful, and it wears, Callen. It’s helping, but it wears. Some days she knows Rory’s not her son. Others she digs in there like a mama bear. It’s hard on Rory. He’s dealing better than anyone could expect. You forget to give him credit sometimes for his heart. He has such a good heart.”

  “You want to know what I think?”

  “I’m blabbering about it, again, so I must.”

  “You’ve always been tight. God, I admired and envied that all my life. Your family pulls together, and this situation’s made you pull harder. I figure Alice is peeking out from what that fucker made her because she’s got that in her. I know what it’s like to be eighteen and pissed at the world. More than you,” he added.

  “I’ve been pretty lucky in my world.”

  “It’s more than luck, but yeah. I know what it’s like to want to come home, to need to. Nobody stopped me from doing that, nobody stole more than half my life. And it was hard enough to come back.”

  “I never thought of that,” she said quietly. “I never thought it was hard for you coming back.” As they rode, slow and easy, she studied his profile. “I should’ve.”

  “You never know what’s changed, what’s the same, and if you’ll fit back again. It’s the chance you take going and coming back. I’d say the fact she’s able to make her scarves and talk to Tate—to anyone without screaming—to get up in the morning and go to bed at night means whoever she was at eighteen, whatever that son of a bitch tried to turn her into, there’s a hell of a lot of Bodine in there. It’ll do more than peek through.”

  It took her a moment before she could speak. “Do you want to know what I think?”

  “I’m listening to you blabbering, so I must.”

  “I think I might go a little crazy if I didn’t have you to talk to. The things we say, and God knows the things we don’t, at the ranch are always careful now. They have to be. Mom and Grammy are worried about Nana, Dad’s worried about all of them. Chase takes Rory off more than he needs to just to give him some breathing room.”

  “You do the same.”

  “I do, we just don’t say much about any of it. Really can’t. And I bet I’m not the only one leaning on you.”

  “I’ve got good balance.”

  “I was thinking just that.”

  Shifting in the saddle, he gave her a long study. “So you don’t have to think you need to change directions and not keep on the way you were going. We’re already on land that might have been mine if things had been different. They weren’t different. It isn’t mine.”

  “I’m sorry.” She stopped her horse, realized she shouldn’t have been surprised he caught her turning away from his old house. “It seemed like a good idea. Now it doesn’t.”

  He knew the land the same way he knew his own hands. For the moment he was content enough to sit his horse and look at it. “We
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