Carolina moon, p.47
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       Carolina Moon, p.47

           Nora Roberts
 

  Her arms froze over her head, and the panic tripped her heart. The air went thick, heavy, edged with the faintest taste of stale whiskey.

  She scented him, prey to hunter.

  In one leap she was at the nightstand, and the gun Cade had given her was in her hand. There was a whimper in the back of her throat, but she closed it off. All that came out was the ragged panting of fear. She rushed from the room just as Faith wandered out of the bathroom.

  "I left it soaking. You can wring it out when—" She saw the gun first, then Tory's face. "Oh God" was all she managed before Tory grabbed her arm.

  "Listen to me, don't ask questions. There isn't much time. Go out the front, hurry. Get in the car and go for help. Get help. I'll stop him if I can."

  "Come on with me. Come on now." "No." Tory broke away, swung toward the kitchen. "He's coming. Go!"

  She ran toward the back of the house to give Faith time to escape. And to face her father.

  He kicked in the back door, lurched through. His clothes were filthy, his face and arms raw with scratches and the swollen bites of greedy insects. He swayed a little, but his eyes stayed steady on his daughter's face. He had an empty bottle in one hand, and a gun in the other.

  "I've been waiting for you."

  Tory tightened her grip on the revolver. "I know." "Where's that Lavelle bitch?" Gone. Safe. "There's no one here but me."

  "Lying little whore. You don't take two steps without that rich man's brat. I wanna talk to her." He grinned. "I wanna talk to both of you."

  "Hope's dead. There's just me now."

  "That's right, that's right." He lifted the bottle, then realizing it was empty, heaved it against the wall where it shattered like gunshots. "Got herself killed. Asked for it. Both of you asked for everything you got. Lying and sneaking. Touching each other in unholy ways."

  "There was nothing but innocence between me and Hope." Tory strained her ears for the panther roar of Cade's engine, but heard nothing.

  "You think I didn't know?" He gestured wildly with the gun, but she didn't flinch. "You think I didn't see you, swimming naked, floating in the water, splashing in it so it ran down your bodies."

  It sickened her that he could twist a simple childhood memory into the profane. "We were eight years old. But you weren't. The sin was in you. It always was. No, you stay back." She lifted the gun now, and the trembling ran from her shoulder to her fingertips. "You won't lay a hand on me again. Or anyone else. Didn't Mama give you enough money this time? Didn't she move fast enough? Is that why you did it?"

  "I never raised my hand to your mother unless she needed it. God made man head of the house. Put that down and get me a drink."

  "The police are on their way by now. They've been looking for you. For Hope, for Mama, for all the others." The gun jerked in her hand as he came forward. In her mind there was the hiss and snap of a Sam Browne belt. "You come near me, and we won't wait for them. I'll end it now." "You think you worry me. You never had a lick of gumption."

  "Nobody's ever said that about me." Faith stepped up behind Tory. The little gun gleamed in her hand. "If she won't shoot you, I promise I will."

  "You said she was dead. You said she was dead." He was a big man with a long reach. In panic as much as fury he lunged, knocking Tory hard against the wall. A gunshot rang out, and the smell of blood drenched her senses.

  She stumbled back against Faith as her father howled and stormed out the broken doorway.

  "I told you to go." Teeth chattering, Tory went down to her knees.

  "Well, I didn't listen, did I?" Because her vision was going gray, Faith braced against the wall and shook her head fiercely. "I used Cade's car phone to call the police."

  "You came back."

  "Yeah." Blowing little panting breaths, Faith bent over from the waist to try to get some blood back in her head. "You wouldn't have left me."

  "There was blood. I smelled blood." Instantly Tory was on her feet, jerking Faith upright again. "Are you shot? Did he shoot you?" "No. It was you. You shot him. Tory, snap out of it."

  Tory stared down at her own hand. The gun was still in it, shaking as if it were alive. With a little gasp of shock she dropped it clattering to the floor. "I shot him?"

  "Your gun went off when he shoved you. I think. God, it happened fast. There was blood on his shirt, I'm sure of that much, and I didn't fire. I think I'm going to be sick. I hate being sick. Sirens." Hearing them, Faith rested her back against the wall. "Oh, thank God."

  Then she heard the roar of an engine, and shoved away from the wall. "Oh no. Oh Jesus. Cade's car. I left the keys in the car."

  Before Tory could stop her, she was darting toward the front door. They burst out together in time to see the car squeal onto the road.

  "Cade's going to kill me."

  Tory drew in a breath like a sob, but when it came out it was laughter. Edging toward hysteria, but laughter. "We just chased off a madman, and you're worried about your big brother. Only you."

  "Well, Cade can be pretty fierce." As much to comfort as to support herself, Faith draped an arm around Tory's shoulder. Tory let her head droop, closed her eyes.

  The scream of sirens battered her ears. She saw hands on the wheel of the car. Her father's hands, scored deep with scratches. She felt the speed, the dance of the tires as the car was whipped around.

  Coming back, pushing for speed. The radio blaring hot rock. Lights whirling. You see them in the rearview mirror as your eyes dart up. Panic, outrage, hate. They're getting closer.

  Your arm burns from the bullet and the blood drips. But you'll get away. God's on your side. He left the car for you. Fast. Faster.

  A test. It's just another test. You'll get away. Have to get away. But you'll come back for her. Oh, you'll come back and you'll make her pay.

  Hands slicked with blood. The wheel spins out of your grip. The world rushes at you, shapes tumbling.

  Screaming. Is that you screaming? "Tory! For God's sake, Tory. Stop it. Wake up."

  She came back facedown on the shoulder of the road, her body jerking, screams ripping through her head.

  "Don't do this. I don't know what I'm supposed to do." "I'm all right." Painfully, Tory rolled over, shielded her eyes with her arm. "I just need a minute."

  "All right? You went tearing out to the road when they drove by. I was afraid you were going to run right out in front of them. Then your eyes rolled back in your head and you went down." Faith dropped her head in her hands. "This is too much for me. This is just more than enough."

  "It's all right. It's over. He's dead."

  "I think I figured that part out. Look." She pointed down the road. The flames and smoke pillared up, and the sun bounced off the chrome and glass of the police cars circled in the distance.

  "I heard the crash, then a kind of explosion." "A fiery death," Tory murmured. "I wished it on him." "He wished it on himself. I want Wade. Oh my God, I want Wade."

  "We'll get someone to call him." Steadier, Tory got to her feet, held out a hand for Faith. "We'll go down and ask someone to call him."

  "Okay. I feel a little drunk."

  "Me too. We'll just hold on to each other."

  Arms wrapped around each other's waists, they started down the road. The heat bounced off the asphalt, shimmered on the air. Through the waves of it, Tory saw the fire, the spin of lights, the dull beige of the government car with the FBI agents beside it.

  "Do you see where he crashed?" Tory murmured. "Just across from where Hope . . . just on the bend of the road across from Hope."

  She heard the car coming behind them, stopped, turned.

  Cade leaped out, raced forward to wrap his arms around both of them. "You're all right. You're all right. I heard the sirens, then saw the fire. Oh God, I thought ... "

  "He didn't hurt us." Cade's scent was there, sweat and man. Hers. Tory let it fill her. "He's dead. I felt him die."

  "Ssh. Don't. I'm going to get you home, both of you."

  "I want Wade."<
br />
  He pressed his lips to the top of Faith's head. "We'll get him, honey. Come on with me. Hold on to me for now."

  "He took your car, Cade." Faith kept her eyes shut, her face pressed against her brother's chest. "I'm sorry."

  Cade only shook his head, held her tighter. "Don't think about it. Everything's going to be all right."

  Clinging to control by a thread, he helped them into the car. As he drove forward, Agent Williams stepped out in the road, signaled.

  "Miss Bodeen. Can you verify that's your father?" She gestured toward the wreck. "That Hannibal Bodeen was driving that vehicle?"

  "Yes. He's dead."

  "I need to ask you a few questions."

  "Not here, not now." Cade shoved the truck back in first gear. "You come to Beaux Reves when you're done out here. I'm taking them home."

  "All right." Williams looked past him, toward Tory. "Are you injured?" "Not anymore."

  Her mind went dull for a while. She was aware, in a secondary way, of Cade taking her into the house, leading her up the stairs. She drifted a little further away when he laid her on a bed.

  After a while, there was something cool on her face. She opened her eyes, looked into his.

  "I'm all right. Just a little tired." "I got one of Faith's nightgowns. You'll feel better once we get it on you." "No." She sat up, put her arms around him. "Now I feel better."

  He stroked her hair gently. Then his grip vised around her, and he buried his face in her hair. "I need a minute."

  "Me too. Probably a lot of minutes. Don't let go." "I won't. I can't. I saw y'all go by. Faith driving like a maniac. I was going to blister her good for it." "She did it on purpose. She loves to agitate you."

  "She did, plenty. I stalked back over the fields, vowing to pay her back for it, with Piney walking along with me grinning like an idiot. Then I heard the shot. Liked to stop my heart. I started running, but I was still a good piece from the road and the car when the police went by. I saw the explosion. I thought I'd lost you." He began to rock her. "I thought I'd lost you, Tory."

  "I was in the car with him, in my mind. I think I wanted to be so I'd know the exact moment it was over."

  "He can't ever touch you again."

  "No. He can't touch any of us again." She rested her head on the strong curve of his shoulder. "Where's Faith?"

  "She's downstairs. Wade's here. She can't keep still." He leaned back, let his gaze roam her face. "She'll rev until she falls down, and he'll be there for her."

  "She stayed with me. Just like you asked her to." She let out a sigh. "I have to go to my grandmother."

  "She's coming here. I called her. This is your home now, Tory. We'll get your things from the Marsh House later."

  "That sounds like a very good idea."

  * * *

  Dusk had fallen when she walked the gardens with her grandmother. "I wish you'd stay here with us, Gran, you and Cecil."

  "J.R. needs me. He lost a sister, one he wasn't able to save from herself. I lost a child." Her voice cracked. "I lost her long ago. Still, no matter how you deny it, there's always that stubborn hope that you'll get it all back, put it right. Now that's gone."

  "I don't know what to do for you."

  "You're doing it. You're alive, and you're happy." She clung to Tory's hand. She couldn't seem to stop holding, stop touching.

  "We all have to make our peace with this, in our own way." Iris drew in a steadying breath. "I'm going to bury her here, in Progress. I think that's the way it should be. She had some happy years here, and, well, J.R. wants it. I don't want a church service. I'm holding against him on that. We'll bury her day after tomorrow, in the morning. If J.R. wants it, his minister can say a few words at the gravesite. I won't blame you, Tory, if you choose not to come."

  "Of course I'll come."

  "I'm glad." Iris lowered to a bench. The fireflies were out, bumping their lights against the dark. "Funerals are for the living, to help close a gap. You'll be better for it." She drew Tory down beside her.

  "I'm feeling my age, honey-pot."

  "Don't say that."

  "Oh, it'll pass. I won't tolerate otherwise. But tonight, I'm feeling old and tired. They say a parent isn't meant to outlive the child, but nature, and fate, they decide what's meant. We just live with it. We'll all live with this, Tory. I want to know you're going to take what's in front of you with both hands and hold it tight."

  "I am. I will. Hope's sister knows how to do that. I'm taking lessons." "I always liked that girl. She mean to marry my Wade?" "I think he means to marry her, and he's going to let her think it was her idea."

  "Clever boy. And a steady one. He'll keep her in line without bruising her wings. I'm going to see both my grandchildren happy. That's what I'm holding on to tight, Tory."

  30

  Wade fought with the knot of his tie. He hated the damned things. Every time he put one on, it brought a flashback of his mother, wearing an Easter hat that looked like an overturned bowl of flowers, strangling him into a bright blue tie to match his much hated bright blue suit.

  He'd been six, and figured it had traumatized him for life.

  You wore ties for weddings, and you wore ties for funerals. There was no getting around it, even if you were lucky enough to have a profession that didn't require a goddamn noose around your neck every day of the week.

  They were burying his aunt in an hour. There was no getting around that, either.

  It was raining, a thundering bitch of a storm. Funerals demanded lousy weather, he figured, just like they demanded ties and black crepe and overly sweet-scented flowers.

  He'd have given a year of his life to have crawled back in bed, pulled the covers over his head, and let the entire mess happen without him.

  "Maxine said she'll be glad to look after the dogs," Faith announced. She walked in, dressed in the most dignified black dress she could find in her closet. "Wade, what have you done to that tie?"

  "I tied it. That's what you do with ties."

  "Mauled it's more like. Here, let me see what I can do." She plucked at it, tugged, twisted.

  "Don't fuss. It doesn't matter."

  "Not if you want to go out looking like you've got a black goiter under your chin. My great-aunt Harriet had goiters, and they were not attractive. Just hold still a minute, I've nearly got it."

  "Just let it be, Faith." He turned away from her to pick up his suit jacket. "I want you to stay here. There's no point in your going out in this, or in both of us being wet and miserable for the next couple of hours. You've been through enough as it is."

  She set down the purse she'd just picked up. "You don't want me with you?"

  "You should go on home."

  She glanced at him, then around the room. Her perfume was on his dresser, her robe on the hook behind the door. "Funny, here I was thinking that's just where I was. Is that my mistake?"

  He took his wallet off the dresser, stuffed it in his back pocket, scooped up the loose change. "My aunt's funeral is the last place you should be."

  "That doesn't answer my question, but I'll pose another. Why is your aunt's funeral the last place I should be?"

  "For Christ's sake. Faith, put it together. My aunt was married to the man who killed your sister, and who might have killed you just two days ago. If you've forgotten that, I haven't."

  "No, I haven't forgotten it." She turned to the mirror and to keep her hands busy picked up her brush. With every appearance of calm, she ran it over her hair. "You know, a lot of people, probably most, believe I don't have much more sense than a turnip green. That I'm flighty and foolish and too shallow to stick to anything for longer than it takes to file my nails. That's all right."

  She set the brush down, picked up her bottle of perfume and dabbed scent on her collarbone. "That's all right," she repeated. "For most people. But the funny thing is, I expect you to think
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