Carolina moon, p.43
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       Carolina Moon, p.43

           Nora Roberts
 

  For a time he'd despaired. Why was he being punished, a righteous man? Then it all came clear. He was to be tested, he was to prove his worthiness. God had shouldered him with temptation, time and time again. There had been times he'd been weak, times he'd succumbed. But now he was given this chance.

  Satan had lived in his house, under his roof, for eighteen years. He had done his best to drive the devil out, but he had failed. He would not fail again.

  He lifted the bottle, let the heat of the whiskey strengthen him. Soon, very soon, he would complete the task that had been given him. He would rest, he would pray. Then the way would be shown to him.

  He closed his eyes and curled up to sleep. The Lord provided, he thought, and laid his hand over the gun tucked beside him.

  27

  Tory watched Chief Russ's car drive slowly down her lane, make the turn onto the road to Progress. She sat where she had since her uncle had told her about her mother, where she'd lowered herself inch by inch into the old rocker on the front porch.

  It was her stillness that worried Cade. Her stillness, and her silence. "Tory, come on inside and lie down awhile."

  "I don't want to lie down. I'm all right. I wish I weren't so all right. I wish I felt more than I do. There's a blankness inside me where there should be grief. I'm trying to write something on it, and I can't. What am I that I can't feel grief for my own mother?"

  "Don't push yourself."

  "I felt more grief and pity for Sherry Bellows. A woman I met once. I felt more shock and horror for a stranger than I do for my own blood. I looked in my uncle's eyes and I could see the pain there, the sadness. But it's not in me. I've got no tears for her."

  "Maybe you've shed enough of them already."

  "Something's missing inside me."

  "No, it's not." He came around now, knelt in front of her. "She stopped being part of your life. It's easier to mourn a stranger than it is someone who should have been part of you, and wasn't."

  "My mother is dead. They believe my father killed her. And the question in my mind, most prominently in my mind at this moment, is why do you want to take on someone who comes from that?"

  "You know the answer. And if love isn't enough, we'll add sense. You aren't your parents any more than I'm mine. The life we'll begin and build together is ours."

  "I should walk away from you. That's sensible, and I suppose loving, too. But I won't. I need you. I want so much what we might have together. So I won't do the courageous thing and walk away."

  "Darling, you wouldn't get two feet."

  She let out her breath in a shaky laugh. "Maybe I know it. Cade." It was so easy to touch him, to brush her fingertips over the gilt edges of his hair. "Would we have come together, do you think, if Hope had lived? If nothing that happened had happened and we'd just grown up here like normal people?"

  "Yes."

  "Sometimes your confidence is a comfort." She walked to the end of the porch to look at the trees that tucked the marsh into shadows. "This is the second time since I've come home someone has died. The second time I thought it would be me he came for. He'll come yet."

  "He won't get near you."

  Yes, she thought, his confidence could be a comfort. "He'll have to come. He'll have to try." She steadied herself, turned back. "Can you get me a gun?"

  "Tory—"

  "Don't say you'll protect me, or that the police will find him, stop him. I believe all those things as far as they go. But he will come back for me, Cade. I know it as truly as I know anything. I must be able to defend myself if I have to. And I will defend myself. I won't hesitate to take his life to save my own. I might have once. But I have too much at stake now. I have you now."

  There was a sick dread in his stomach, but he nodded. Saying nothing, he walked to his car, opened the glove compartment. He'd started carrying the revolver with him since Sherry Bellow's murder.

  He brought it back to Tory. "This is a revolver, a thirty-eight."

  "It's smaller than I imagined."

  "It was my father's." Cade turned the old Smith & Wesson over in his hand. "What you call a hideout gun, I suppose, because it's compact. Do you know how to fire it?"

  She pressed her lips together. It looked sinister and efficient in Cade's hand. The elegant farmer's hand. "Pull the trigger?" "Well, there's a little more to it than that. Are you sure about this, Tory?" "Yes." She let out a breath. "Yes, I'm sure." "Come on then. We'll go out in the yard and I'll give you a lesson."

  Faith sang in a voice surprisingly light and sweet as she carried groceries up the stairs into Wade's apartment. Bee scrambled after her, sniffing the air that held memories of countless dogs, cats, and pet rodents. Delighted with herself, Faith shifted bags, managed the knob, and bumped the door open with her hip.

  On a ragged pad in the living room, Mongo was lying with his head on his paws. His tail thumped, and his head lifted as Faith walked in.

  "Why, hello there. You're looking lots better, you big old thing. Bee, Mongo's recuperating. Don't chew on his ears. He'll swallow you in one bite." But Bee was already sniffing, nibbling, and nudging

  "Well, I guess the two of you better get acquainted. Where's the doctor?"

  She found him in the kitchen, staring into a cup of coffee. "There he is now." She dumped her bags on the counter, then turned to wrap her arms around his neck from behind and kiss the top of his head.

  "I've got a big surprise for you, Doc Wade. You're going to get yourself a home-cooked supper. And, if you play your cards right, a romantic interlude will follow dessert."

  There was a machine-gun burst of barking from the living room that sent her scurrying out. "Now, isn't that the cutest thing? Wade, you ought to come out and see this. They're playing together. Well, this big dog here's pretty much squashing Bee with one paw, but they're having such a time."

  She was still laughing when she came back, then stopped when she saw Wade's face. "Honey, what's the matter? Did something go wrong with the horse out at the Hill place last night?"

  "No. No. The mare's fine. My aunt—my father's sister—she's dead. She was murdered early this morning."

  "Oh my God. Oh, Wade, that's awful. What is going on around here?" She sat down across from him, wishing she knew what to do. "Your daddy's sister? Tory's mama?"

  "Yes. I haven't seen her in, Christ, I don't even remember the last time. I can't even get a picture of her face in my head."

  "That's all right now."

  "It's not all right. My family's ripping itself apart. For God's sake, Faith, they think my uncle killed her."

  It was the horror in his eyes that had her pushing back her own. "He's a bad man, Wade. A bad and dangerous man, and nothing to do with you. I'm sorry for Tory, I swear I am. And for your aunt and your family. But . . . well, I'm going to say it even if it makes you mad at me. She chose him, Wade, and she stayed with him. Maybe that's a kind of love, but it's a bad kind. It's a sorry kind."

  "We don't know what goes on in other people's lives."

  "Oh, hell we don't. We're always saying that, but we do know. I know what went on in my parents' lives. I know that if either of them had any gumption they'd have made their marriage work, or they'd have ended it. Instead my mother clung to the Lavelle name like it was some sort of prize, and Papa took up with another woman. And whose fault was that? I spent a long time letting myself believe it was the other woman's, but it wasn't. It was Papa's for not honoring his marriage vows, and Mama's for tolerating it. Maybe it's easier to say this is all Hannibal Bodeen's fault. But it's not. And it sure as hell isn't yours, or Tory's, or your daddy's."

  She pushed back from the table. "I wish I could think of nice things to say. Of soft and comforting things to say, but I'm no good at it. I guess you want to go on over to your daddy's."

  "No." He kept his eyes on her face as he had since she'd begun to speak. "He's better off with my mother. She'll know what to do for him. Who the hell would've thought you'd know what to do for me?" He held out a hand.
When she took it, he pulled her close, turned his face into her belly. "Stay, will you?"

  " 'Course I will." She stroked a hand down his hair. Her insides were a little shaky, an odd feeling. "We'll just be quiet awhile."

  He held on, as surprised as she that she would be an anchor for him. "I've been sitting here since my father called. I don't know how long. Half an hour, an hour. Frozen inside. I don't know what to do for my family."

  "You will, when the time comes to do it. You always do. You want me to fix you some fresh coffee?"

  "No. Thanks. No. I have to call my grandmother, and Tory. I have to figure out what to say first." With his eyes closed and his face pressed against her, he listened to the dogs barking in the next room. "I'm going to keep Mongo."

  "I know it, honey."

  "His leg's doing all right. It'll take a while to heal yet, but he'll be fine. A little gimpy maybe. I was going to find him a good home, but .. . I can't." He looked up, puzzled. "What do you mean you know it? I never keep dogs."

  "You hadn't found the right one yet, is all."

  His eyes narrowed on her face, but his dimples deepened as they did when he was amused. "You're getting a little too wise for comfort."

  "It's the new me. I kind of like it."

  "And this new you cooks supper?"

  "On rare occasions. I got us a couple of steaks in there, and the trimmings." She walked to the counter, dug in the bag, and pulled out two white candles. "Lucy down at the market asked me what kind of evening I had planned buying red meat and white candles and a fancy cheesecake in a box."

  He smiled a little, rose from his chair. "And what did you tell Lucy down at the market?"

  "I told her I was fixing a romantic dinner for two, for myself and Dr. Wade Mooney. A number of interested ears pricked at that tidbit of information." She set the candles down. "I hope you don't mind that I was indiscreet, and that we will now find ourselves the subject of considerable talk and speculation."

  "No." He slid his arms around her, laid his cheek on her hair. "I don't mind."

  "Lissy, honey, I don't feel right about this."

  "Now, Dwight, we're paying a grievance call on friends and neighbors." Trying to find comfort, Lissy shifted on the seat of the car, hauling her belly up with one arm. "Tory's just lost her mother, and she'll appreciate some sympathy."

  "Tomorrow maybe." Dwight gave the road ahead a pained look. "The next day."

  "Why, she won't feel up to making herself a decent meal, now, will she? So I'm taking her a nice chicken casserole. Help keep her strength up. Lord, it will be trying for her."

  Despite her pious sigh, there was a lively fascination dancing inside her. Tory's own mother shot dead by her own father. Why, it was just like something out of the tabloid papers, or out of Hollywood. And since she'd dragged Dwight out of the house hardly an hour after the news hit, she'd likely be the first to get a look at Tory.

  Not that she wasn't sympathetic to Tory. Naturally she was. Hadn't she taken that casserole her mother had made for her to heat up after the baby came and brought it along? Food was for death, everyone knew that.

  "She's not going to feel up to company," Dwight insisted.

  "We're not company. Why, I went to school with Tory. The both of us have known her since we were children. I couldn't bear the idea of her being alone at such a time." Or of someone else getting there first. "Besides all that, Dwight Frazier, you're mayor. It's your duty to call on the bereaved. Goodness, watch these bumps, honey. I have to pee again."

  "I don't want you getting too excited or upset." He reached over to pat her hand. "No going into labor out here, Lissy."

  "Don't you worry." But it pleased her that he did. "I've got three weeks left, at least. Goodness, how do I look?" Anxious, she flipped down the vanity mirror. "I must look a fright, rushing out the way I did. A big, fat frightful cow."

  "You're beautiful. Still the prettiest girl in Progress. And all mine."

  "Oh, Dwight." She flushed rosily and fluffed her hair. "You're so sweet. I just feel so fat and ugly these days. And Tory's so slim."

  "Skin and bones. My woman's got curves." He reached over to rub her breast and made her squeal.

  "Stop that." Giggling, she gave his hand a swat. "Shame on you. Now look, we're almost there and you've got me all flustered." She snuck her hand between his legs. "Got yourself flustered, too. Remember how we used to park out this way when we were young and foolish?"

  "And I talked you into the backseat of my daddy's car."

  "Didn't take much talking. I was just crazy about you. The first time we made love it was out here. It was so dark, so sexy. Dwight." She walked her fingers up his leg. "After the baby comes, and I get my figure back, let's have Mama come over and babysit. You and I'll drive on out here and see if you can still talk me into the backseat."

  He blew out a breath. "Keep talking like that, Lissy, and I'm not going to be able to get out of this car without embarrassing myself."

  "Slow down a little. I want to put some lipstick on anyway." She dug a tube out of her purse.

  "Mama said she'd keep Luke overnight. We should go by and see Boots and J.R. after we leave Tory's. I guess they'll have the funeral up around Florence. We'll have to go, of course, represent the town, and so on. I don't have any black maternity dresses. I suppose I'll have to make do with the navy, even though it has that pretty white collar. People'll understand, don't you think, if I wear navy blue? And we'll have to send flowers."

  She chattered until they turned into the lane. Dwight was no longer aroused, but he was getting a vague headache.

  Fifteen minutes, he promised himself. He'd give Lissy fifteen minutes to fuss over Tory, then he was taking her home and making her put her feet up. That way, he could get himself a beer, kick back, and watch whatever was on ESPN.

  Nobody in Progress was going to do any grieving over Sarabeth Bodeen except her immediate family. He didn't see why a death so far removed from him, and his town, need occupy more than the minimum amount of his time, personal or official.

  He'd pay his duty calls, then forget it.

  "I don't know why anybody would want to live way out here without a single soul for company," Lissy said, as Dwight hauled her out of the car. "Then again, Tory always was an odd one. Rare as a two-headed duck, my mama would say. Then again ... " She trailed off and gave Cade's car a significant look. "I guess she doesn't lack for company after all. I swear, I can't see those two together, Dwight, not for a New York minute. They can't have a thing in common, and as far as I can see, Tory's not the kind to keep a man very warm, if you know what I mean. She's good-looking enough if you like that type, but she's nothing compared to Deborah Purcell. I can't for the life of me figure what Cade sees in her. A man in his position could have his pick of women. God knows I've tried to steer him toward plenty of them."

  Dwight said "Hmmm" and "Uh-huh" and "Yes, honey" a couple of times as he got the casserole dish out of the car. It wasn't necessary to actually listen to his wife when she started on one of her ramblings. After several years of marriage he had her rhythm down so that he managed to punctuate her statements at the appropriate times without having a clue what she was talking about.

  The system served them both well.

  "I imagine he'll get tired of her before much longer and they'll drift apart the way people do when they don't have a real bond like we do."

  She fluttered at him, gave his arm a little pat, and he read the signal correctly. He glanced down and gave her a warm and loving look.

  "Once he's shaken loose again, we'll have him over for dinner with, oh, maybe Crystal Bean. I might even be able to find some nice man for Tory, more her kind. That'll take some doing as I don't think there're many men who'll be willing to take on such a strange one. I swear, sometimes she'll just look at me and give me the shivers, if you know what I mean. Tory!"

  She exclaimed it when Tory opened the door, and immediately opened her arms. "Oh honey, I'm just so sorry about your moth
er. Dwight and I came the minute we heard. You poor thing. Now, why aren't you resting? I was sure Cade would have you lying down at a time like this." The embrace was smothering and hot. "I'm all right."

  "Of course you're not all right, and you don't have to pretend with us. Old friends." She flapped her hand against Tory's back. "Now, I want you to sit down, and I'm going to make you a nice cup of tea. I brought you a casserole here. I want you to have a hot meal, keep your strength up during this painful time. Cade."

  She released Tory to turn her attention on Cade as he came in from the kitchen. "I'm glad you're here, seeing to Tory. A time like this she needs all her friends. Now, you come on with me, honey." She slipped an arm around Tory's waist as if to support her. "Dwight, you bring that dish on back to the kitchen so I can warm it up for Tory."

  "Lissy, that's very kind of you," Tory began.

  "Nothing kind about it, not between friends. I know you must be half out of your mind right now, but we're here for you. Whatever's said or done, you count on us, isn't that right, Dwight, honey?"

 
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