Carolina moon, p.42
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       Carolina Moon, p.42

           Nora Roberts
 

  you'll change your mind given time."

  "You would choose her over your own family? Your own blood."

  "Without a minute's hesitation. I'm sorry you've never felt that way about anyone. If you had, you wouldn't question it."

  "She'll ruin you." Gathering herself, Margaret looked at Tory. "You think you were clever to hold out. You believe you've won. But you're wrong. In the end he'll see you for what you are, and you'll have nothing."

  The words were there, just there, making her understand she'd only been waiting to say them. "He sees me for what I am. That's my miracle, Mrs. Lavelle. Please don't make him choose between us. Don't make all of us live with that."

  "I had another child who chose you, and she paid a high price for it. Now you'll take a second. I'll make arrangements to leave immediately," she said to Cade. "Have the decency to keep her away from me until they're complete."

  "Well, well." Faith poured a second glass as her mother walked away. "That was pleasant."

  "Faith."

  "Oh, don't give me that look," she said, brushing Cade off. "I don't imagine either of you were particularly entertained, but I was. Enormously. God knows she had it coming. Here." She pushed the wine into Tory's hand. "You look like you could use this."

  "Go talk to her, Cade. You can't leave it like this."

  "If he tries, I'll lose all this new respect and admiration I have for him." Rising to her toes, Faith kissed his cheek. "Looks like she didn't ruin both of us after all."

  He took her hand, held it. "Thank you." "Oh, darling, it was my pleasure." Holding her glass aloft, she dropped into a chair, grinning when Bee leaped into her lap. "I, for one, plan to celebrate."

  "What? Cade's announcement that he intends to marry me, or your mother's unhappiness?"

  Faith tilted her head as she studied Tory. "I can do both, but apparently you can't. You have too much sensibility. And kindness. Oh, she'd hate that. One more thing to celebrate," she decided, and sipped her wine.

  "That's unattractive, Faith," Cade murmured.

  "Oh, let me crow for a minute, will you? Not everyone's as high-minded as the two of you. Good Lord, you really suit each other. Who'd have thought it? I'm happy for you. Imagine that. I'm sincerely happy for you. I believe I feel a little mushy inside."

  "Try to control this embarrassing display of sentiment." Impatient with her, Cade turned to Tory, ran his hands up her arms, down again to her wrists. "I need to get something out of my office, then we'll go. Will you be all right?"

  "Cade, talk to your mother." "No." He kissed her lightly. "I won't be long."

  "Drink your wine," Faith suggested, when they were alone. "It'll put some color back in your cheeks."

  "I don't want any wine." Tory set the glass aside, then walked to the window. She wanted to be outside again, where she could breathe.

  "If you insist on looking unhappy, you'll only spoil this for Cade. He did this because he loves you."

  "And why did you?"

  "Interesting question. A year ago, oh hell, likely a month ago, I might have taken her up on it. That's a powerful chunk of money, and I do like what money can buy."

  "No, you wouldn't have done it, not ever, and I'll tell you why." Tory glanced back. "First, it would have been to throw it back in her face, but second and more than the first, it would have been for Cade. Because you love him."

  "Yes, I do, and love doesn't come easy to either of us. My mother saw to that."

  "Will you blame her for everything?"

  "No, just what she's entitled to. I screwed up my life plenty all on my own. But he didn't. He never did damage to himself, or anyone else. I love him tremendously."

  Surprised, Tory glanced over. Faith's eyes were still bright, but there were tears in them.

  "He didn't say what he did to her to hurt her, but because it was truth. I would have said it to hurt her. Feel sorry for her if you must, but don't expect it of me. He has a chance with you, and I want to see him take it."

  "Why didn't you tell him that?"

  "I'm telling you. I see what he feels for you, and I wish I could feel it for someone. Not to make myself a better person. I like myself the way I am. Still if someone matters that much ... " Contemplatively she studied the wine in her glass, the light that shined through it from the window. "If someone matters that much it's bound to take something out of you." She shifted her gaze to Tory. "Isn't it?"

  "Yes. But I'm beginning to think it's something you don't need anymore. Not if someone loves you back."

  "Interesting. That's a nut to chew on." She looked over as Cade came in. "I suppose you want to be alone now."

  "Yes."

  "Then Bee and I will just take ourselves off, won't we?" She nuzzled the dog, then nudged her onto the floor. "In fact, I think we'll go out and stay out until the air clears." She touched Cade's cheek as she walked by. "I'd suggest you do the same."

  "Not quite yet." He waited until he heard the door close behind his sister, then held out a hand for Tory. "I want to do this here. We can consider it closing a circle."

  "Cade, that was difficult for you, for all of you. I—" "No, it wasn't. And it's done. You and I, we're just beginning." He took a box from his pocket, opened it. The diamond caught the sunlight, exploded with it. "This was my grandmother's, and it came to me."

  Panic choked her. "Don't." She tugged at her hand, but he held her fingers firm in his.

  "It came to me," he repeated, "with the hope that one day I'd give it to the woman I wanted to marry. I didn't give it to Deborah. It never occurred to me to give it to her. I suppose I knew I was keeping it for someone else. That I was waiting for someone else. Look at me, Tory."

  "It's all so fast. You should take more time."

  "Twenty years or two months. Time's never been the point for us. If you can't believe and trust what I say, if it isn't enough to steady you, look at what I feel." He lifted her hand to his heart. "Look in me, Tory."

  She couldn't refuse or resist. And the heat of it slid into her. Warmth and strength. And hope. His heart beat steady under her palm, his eyes never wavered from hers. Trust, she thought. He was trusting her with all that he was. The next step was hers.

  "I wish you could look in me, because I don't know how to tell you what I feel. Scared, because there's so much of it. I never wanted to be in love with anyone again. But I didn't know it could be different. I didn't know it could be you. You're so steady, Cade." Smiling now, she lifted a hand to toy with his hair. "You steady me."

  "Marry me."

  "Oh God." She took a deep breath, had to take a second. "Yes." She looked down as he slipped the ring on her finger. "It's beautiful. I get dizzy looking at it."

  "It's a little big." He ran a thumb around the gold band. "You have delicate hands. We'll have it sized."

  "Not right away. I want to get used to it first." She closed her hand into a fist, then let out a sigh. "She loved him." Her eyes swam as she lifted them again. "Your grandmother. She loved him. Her name was Laura, and she was happy."

  "So will we be," he promised.

  She let herself believe him.

  Carl D. kept the siren on and the speedometer at eighty straight up 1-95. It wasn't called for, of course, but it did give him a nice little kick. And God knew it entertained J.R.

  He shut it down as they approached their turnoff. "Maybe we oughta be doing this on Sundays instead of fishing."

  "Gets the blood moving," J.R. agreed. "Hard to feel like an old fart when you're highballing down the road."

  "Who you calling an old fart? Tell you what I'll do, J.R., if you think it'll make it smoother for you. I'll drop you off at your sister's place, then I'll go on and check in with Sheriff. Give you time to talk to her and for her to get her things together."

  "I appreciate that." J.R.'s mood plummeted, but he did his best to bolster it. "She's not going to want to budge, so it'll take a little doing. I figure I'll tell her we're pretty sure Han's still around Progress, so she'll be closer
to him if she comes on along with me."

  "It may just be the truth. And that being the case, I'm going to put extra patrols on your street. I want you to start using that fancy alarm system Boots talked you into a couple years back."

  "Been using it since you found the Bellows girl. Boots says she doesn't get a minute's rest unless we got it on." He thought of his town, the streets he could walk with his eyes shut, the people he knew by name. And all who knew him. "That's not the way it's supposed to be."

  "No, but sometimes that's the way it is. You and me, J.R., we grew up one way. We've seen the changes come into Progress, and most of them's good. We bend to them, maybe lose a little something when they plant houses in a field where we used to play ball, or put up another Jiffy Mart and talk about goddamn strip malls outside of town. But we bend. Some changes you have to meet another way altogether."

  J.R. smiled a little. "What the hell does that mean?" "Damned if I know. This the turn for her place?"

  "Yeah. Road's rough. You're going to want to mind your oil pan. I'm ashamed for you to see how she's living, Carl D."

  "Put that aside. We've been friends too long for that kind of shit." The cruiser bumped, scraped. Wincing, Carl D. slowed to a crawl. Then peering ahead, his eyes narrowed. "What the hell's this? Goddamn it. There's trouble. Goddamn it," he repeated, and hit the gas so they took the rest of the rutted road in wild bumps.

  Two cruisers sat nose-to-nose outside the house. Yellow police tape was stretched around the scruffy yard. Even as he hit the brakes, the uniform standing on the sagging porch stepped down.

  "Chief Russ outta Progress." He fumbled out his ID, held it up for the uniform to scan. "What happened here?"

  "We had an incident, Chief Russ." The officer's face was pale and coldly set, his eyes concealed behind dark glasses. "I'll have to ask you to stay here. The sheriffs inside. He'll need to clear you."

  "This is my sister's place." J.R. snatched at the cop's sleeve. "My sister lives here. Where's my sister?"

  "You'll have to speak with the sheriff. Please stay behind the line," he ordered, and strode into the house.

  "Something's happened to Sarabeth. I have to—"

  "Hold on." Carl D. grabbed his arm before J.R. could rush forward. "Just hold on. Nothing you can do. Let's just hold on."

  He'd already spotted the dark stain on the dirt outside the chicken coop, and a second smearing near the overgrown grass.

  Sheriff Bridger was a hefty man with a face seamed by years and weather. His eyes were faded blue and set in by lines that looked burned into the skin by the sun. He scanned the area as he stepped out, took a moment to wipe beads of sweat from his brow, then walked toward the waiting men.

  "Chief Russ."

  "That's right. Sheriff, I brought Mr. Mooney here up to fetch his sister. Sarabeth Bodeen. What happened here?"

  Bridger shifted his pale eyes to J.R. "You brother to Sarabeth Bodeen?"

  "Yes. Where's my sister?"

  "I'm sorry to tell you, Mr. Mooney. We had trouble here, sometime early this morning. Your sister's dead."

  "Dead? What are you talking about? That can't be. I talked to her not two days ago. Not two days back. Carl D., you said they had police here, right here, looking out for her."

  "That's right, we did. And I lost a man this morning, too. A good man with a family. I'm sorry for your loss, Mr. Mooney, and I'm sorry for theirs."

  "J.R., you sit down now. I want you to sit until you get your legs under you." Carl D. opened the car door, nudged his friend down on the seat. J.R.'s face was alarmingly red, and his big frame had started to shake.

  "You mind having somebody bring him some water, Sheriff?"

  With a nod, Bridger turned to signal the uniform. "Purty, bring Mr. Mooney here a glass of water."

  "You sit here, now." Carl D.'s knees popped like firecrackers when he crouched down. "Just sit here and catch your breath. Let me do what I can do."

  "I just talked to her," J.R. repeated. "Friday evening. I talked to her."

  "I know it. Just you sit here until I get back." He stepped away from the car, moving until he was out of J.R.'s hearing. "Can you tell me what happened here?"

  "We've been putting it together last few hours. Flint, he caught the two-to-ten shift. We didn't know there was trouble until his relief showed up, and found him. Over there." Bridger gestured toward the coop.

  They'd taken his man off to the morgue, zipped into a black bag. He was not going to forget it.

  "He caught a round in the back. Took him down. He was young, strong. He tried getting back to his unit here, crawled over fifteen feet with that round in him. Had his weapon out. Had his weapon in his hand. Somebody put a gun in his ear and pulled the trigger.

  "He was thirty-three years old, Chief Russ. Got a ten-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl at home. I take responsibility they're without a father now. I sent him out here. We knew Bodeen was dangerous, but we didn't know he was armed. Never used a firearm in any of his other doings. The motherfucker shot my man in the back."

  Carl D. wiped the back of his hand over his mouth. "And Miz Bodeen?" Sarabeth. Sari Mooney, who'd sat on his ma's front porch, ate at her table.

  "My guess is she knew he was coming. Had a suitcase packed. There's an empty coffee can in the bedroom, and looks to me like she might've kept her house cash in it. Gone now. Door was open, unforced. She let him in or he walked in. He shot her twice. Once in the chest, once in the back of the head."

  Carl D. shoved the sorrow aside, eyed the situation of the house, the land. "Guess you've done a canvas."

  "Yeah. Talked to the neighbors. Finally got somebody to say they heard what maybe was gunshots about five, five-thirty this morning. People mind their own around here. Nobody paid any attention to it."

  The heat was merciless. Carl D. dragged out a handkerchief and rubbed it over his face as sweat soaked through his fishing shirt. "How the hell'd he get here?"

  "Can't say. Hitched a ride, maybe. Stole a car. We're looking into it." "For the money in a coffee can? Don't sit right. She had a suitcase packed?"

  "That's right. Her clothes in it, and some of his. She knew he was coming. We're checking the phone records. Gotta figure he called her, and she gave him the lay of the land. She wasn't what you'd call cooperative with the police 'round these parts."

  And he blamed her, though she was dead as Eve, for the murder of his man. "Mr. Mooney going to be up to doing a next-of-kin ID on her?"

  "Yeah." Carl D. rubbed his mouth again. "He'll do it. You inform the deceased's mother yet?"

  "No. I was going to handle that back at the office."

  "I'd appreciate it if you'd let me do that, Sheriff Bridger. Not wanting to step on your ground here, but she knows me."

  "You're welcome to that part of the job. It ain't one I relish."

  "Fine then. I'll take J.R. on by his mama's. It'll be easier for them that way."

  "All right. He's a cop killer now, Chief Russ. If it gives your friend there any comfort, you let him know that bastard won't be able to run far enough or fast enough."

  "You keep me up-to-date, Sheriff, and I'll do the same. I got the federals coming tomorrow or the day after. They'll want to pay you a call."

  "Welcome to. But this is my turf, and that was my man they carried away in a bag this morning." Bridger spat on the ground. "Bodeen better pray to his almighty God the feds get to him before I do."

  Miles away, Hannibal Bodeen tore into a pork chop. He'd gotten it, along with bread and cheese and a bottle of Jim Beam, from a house he'd broken into. It had been simple enough, with the family gone off to church. He'd watched them stroll out of the house in their fancy Sunday clothes and pile into a shiny minivan. Hypocrites. Going to church to show off their material goods. Into the house of the Lord to flaunt themselves.

  God would punish them, just like he punished all the proud and pompous. And God had provided, he thought, as he gnawed the pork bone clean.

  He'd found plenty of
food in that big house. Meat wrapped up from last night's dinner. Enough to restore his body. And drink to sustain him in his hour of need. This was his trial, his test, this wandering in the wilderness.

  He tossed the bone aside and took a long drink from the bottle.

 
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