Shades of Twilight (Chapter 21)
"What else have you thought of T,
"Nothing," she said, and was proud of how calm she sounded.
"Come down to the intersection and get me. I had trouble with the brakes on my car and ran off the road."
He didn't reply. She heard a violent, muffled curse, then there was a clatter and the phone went dead.
"He's on his way," she said to the girl, and pressed the END button on the phone.
Webb bundled Roanna into his truck, thanked the teenager for checking on her, and drove back to Davencourt so fast that Roanna clung to the overhead strap to steady herself. When they reached the house, he insisted on carrying her inside.
"Put me down!" she hissed as he swung her up into his arms.
"You'll have everyone 'worried to death."
"Hush," he said, and kissed her, hard.
"I love you and you're pregnant. Carrying you makes me feel better."
She looped her arm around his neck and hushed. She had to admit, the warmth and strength of his big body was very soothing, as if she were absorbing some of it through her skin. But as she had predicted, the fact that she wasn't walking on her own brought everyone scurrying, frightened questions on their lips.
Webb carried her into the living room and placed her on one of the couches as carefully as if she were made of fine crystal.
"I'm all right, I'm all right," she kept saying to the chorus of questions.
"I'm not even bruised."
"Get her something hot and sweet to drink," Webb said to Tansy, who rushed to obey.
"Decaffeinated!" Roanna called after her, thinking of the baby.
After assuring himself for the tenth time that she was unhurt, Webb stood up and told her he was going out to have a look at her car.
"I'll go with you," she said in relief at the prospect of escaping from all the cosseting, getting up, but she was immediately drowned out by a chorus of protests from the women in the household.
"You most certainly will not, young lady," Lucinda said, at her most autocratic.
"You've had a shock to Your system, and you need to rest."
"I'm not hurt," Roanna said again, wondering if anyone was actually listening to what she said.
"Then I need for you to rest. It would fret me no end if you went off gallivanting, when common sense says you should give yourself time to get over the shock."
Roanna gave Webb a speaking glance. He lifted one eyebrow and shrugged, not at all sympathetically.
"Can't have you gallivanting," he murmured, and dropped his gaze lower, to her belly, Roanna sat back down, warmed by the silent communication, the shared thought about their child. And while Lucinda was blatantly using emotional blackmail to get her way, it was done out of genuine concern, and Roanna decided there wouldn't be any harm in letting herself be fussed over for the rest of the day.
Webb went outside to get into his truck, and stared thoughtfully at the spot where Roanna's car had been parked. There was a dark, wet stain on the ground, visible even from where he was. He walked over and hunkered down, examining the stain for a moment before touching it with his finger, then sniffing the oily residue. Definitely brake fluid, a lot of it. She must have had only a little fluid left in the lines, and it would have been pumped out the first time she used her brakes.
She could have been killed. If she had gone across the highway instead of into a cornfield, she very likely would have been seriously injured, at the least, if not killed outright.
A cold sense of dread touched him. The shadowy, unknown assailant could have struck again, but this time at Roanna. Why not? Hadn't he done it before with Jessie? And with more success, too.
He didn't use the cellular phone, with its insecure channels, or go back inside to face the inevitable questions. LINDA 1101AARD
Instead he walked down to the stables and used Loyal's phone. The trainer listened to the conversation, his thick, graying brows pulling together as his eyes began to snap with anger.
"You think somebody tried to hurt Miss Roanna?" be demanded as soon as Webb hung up.
"I don't know. It's possible."
"The same person who broke into the house?"
"If her brakes have been sabotaged, then I'd have to say Yes."
"That would mean he was here last night, messing around with her car."
Webb nodded, his expression stony. He tried not to let his imagination run away with him until he knew for certain if Roanna's car had been tampered with, but he couldn't stop the stomach-tightening panic and anger at the thought of the man being so close.
He drove out to the intersection, all the while carefully scanning around him. He didn't think this would be a trap designed to get him out in the open, because there was no way to predict exactly where Roanna's accident would happen. Though he was acutely aware that this was roughly the same location where he had been shot at from ambush, he was more afraid that this hadn't been aimed at him, but specifically at Roanna. Maybe she hadn't simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time the night she'd been hit on the head. Maybe she'd been lucky instead, that she'd managed to scream and alert the household before the bastard had been able to finish the job.
Jessie had been killed, but by God, he wouldn't let anything happen to Roanna. No matter what he had to do, he'd keep her safe.
He parked the truck on the shoulder next to the downed section of fencing and waited for the sheriff. It wasn't long before Beshears drove up, and Booley was riding in the front seat with him. The two men got out and joined Webb, and together they waded through the flattened cornstalks to
where the car sat. They were all grim and silent. After the other two incidents, it was asking a bit much to believe that Roanna's brakes had failed on their own, and they all knew it.
Webb lay down on his back and wormed his way under the car. Broken corn stalks scraped his back, and tiny insects buzzed around his ears. The smell of grease and brake fluid filled his nostrils.
"Carl, hand me your flashlight," he said, and the big flashlight was passed under the car to him.
He turned it on and directed the beam to the brake line, He spotted the cut almost immediately.
"Yall want to take a look at this?" he invited.
Carl lay down and grunted as he squirmed under the car to join Webb, cussing as the cornstalks gouged his skin.
"I'm too old for this," he muttered.
"Ouch!" Booley declined to join them, as the weight he'd added since retirement would have made it a tight fit for him.
Carl hauled himself into position next to Webb and scowled when he saw the line.
"The son of a bitch," he growled, lifting his head to examine the line as close as he could without touching it.
"Cut almost through. A nice fresh, clean cut. Even if she'd managed to make it onto the highway okay, she'd have wrecked when she got to the stop light on 157. Guess it was pure luck she ran into this field the way she did."
"Skill, not luck," Webb, said.
"She took some driving courses in college."
"No fooling. Wish more folks would take something like that, then we wouldn't have to pick pieces of them up off the highway," He glanced at Webb, saw the tightening of his mouth, and said, "Sorry."
Carefully they wormed their way out from under the car, though Carl cussed again when a stalk caught his shirt and tore a small hole in it.
"Did you check the other cars at the house?" Booley asked.
"I took a quick look under all of them. Roanna's was the only one touched. She usually parks in the garage, but she left her car outside last night."
"Now, that's a bit coincidental." Carl scratched his chin, a sign that he was thinking.
"Why didn't she park in the garage?"
"Corliss was parked in her slot. We've had some trouble with Corliss lately, and I told her she had to move out. I started to make her move her car, but Ro told me to leave it alone and not cause a fuss that would upset Lucinda."
"Maybe you should've made that fuss anyway. You reckon Corliss would do something like this?"
"I'd be surprised if she knew a brake line from a fishing line."
"She got any friends who would do it for her?"
"I've been away for ten years," Webb replied.
"I don't know who she hangs out with. But if she had anyone tamper with a brake line, it would be mine, not Roanna's."
"But yours was in the garage." "Corliss has a control for the doors. We all do. If she was behind it, it wouldn't matter if the car was inside the garage or not."
Carl scratched his chin again.
"None of this ties together, does it? It's like we've got pieces from ten different puzzles, and nothing goes together. It just don't make a lick of sense."
"Oh, it all fits," Booley said grimly.
"We just don't know how."
The house was quiet that night when Webb finally entered Roanna's room. As usual, she was curled up in her chair with a book in her lap, but she looked around with a warm welcome in her eyes.
"What took you so long?"
"I had some last-minute paperwork I needed to do. With all the excitement today, I'd forgotten about it." He knelt in front of her, searching her eyes with his.
"Are you honestly okay? You aren't hiding anything from me?"
I'm fine. Not a single bruise. Do you want me to pull off my clothes and show you?"
His eyes turned smoky, and his gaze dropped to her breasts.
She felt herself begin to warm and soften inside, and her nipples beaded the way they always did when he looked at her. He laughed softly, but got to his feet and caught her hands, pulling her up.
She thought they were going to the bed, but instead he directed her to the door. She gave him a confused look.
"Where are we going?"
"To another bedroom."
"Why?" she asked, bewildered.
"What's wrong with this one?"
"Because I want to try another bed."
"No," he said briefly.
Roanna resisted the pressure on her back as he urged her toward the door. She turned and gave him a long, steady regard.
"Something's wrong." She said it as a statement, not a question. She knew Webb too well; she'd seen him angry and she'd seen him amused. She knew when he was tired, when he was worried, when he was aggravated as all hell. She thought she'd seen him in all his moods, but this one was new. His eyes were hard and cool, with an alertness that made her think of a hungry cat stalking prey.
"Let's just say I'd feel better if you were in a different room tonight."
"If I go, will you tell me why?"
That blade like gaze sharpened even more.
"Oh, you'll go," he said softly.
She drew herself up and faced him, not backing down an inch.
"You can reason with me, Webb Tallant, but you can't order me around. I'm not a fool or a child. Tell me what's going on." Just because she loved him to distraction didn't mean she couldn't think for herself.
He looked briefly frustrated, because once she wouldn't have balked at doing anything he told her. But she'd been a child then, and now she was a woman; he needed to be reminded of that every so often. He made a rapid decision.
"All right, but come on. And be as quiet as you can; I don't want to wake anyone. When we get to the other room, don't turn on any lights either."
"The bed won't have any sheets on it," she warned.
"Then bring something to put around you in case you get cold."
She picked up her afghan and went quietly with him down the hall to one of the unoccupied bedrooms, the last one on the left side. The curtains were open, letting in enough light from the quarter moon that they could see how to maneuver. Webb went over to the windows and looked out, while Roanna sat down on the bed.
"Tell me," she said.
He didn't turn away from the windows. -I suspect we might have a visitor tonight."
She thought about it for a few seconds, and her stomach knotted at the obvious answer.
"You think the burglar will come back?"
He gave her a brief glance.
"You're quick, you know that? I don't think he was a burglar. But, yes, I think he'll come. He could see the side lawn from this room, she realized, while from either of their rooms he could have seen only the back.
"If he isn't a burglar, why would he come back?" Webb was silent a moment, then said, "Jessie's killer was never caught."
She was suddenly chilled, and pulled the afghan around her shoulders. "You think … you think whoever killed Jessie was in the house again that night, and hit me?"
"I think it's possible. Your accident today wasn't an accident, Ro. Your brake line had been cut. And someone took a couple of shots at me the other day when I was late getting here for the party. I didn't have car trouble; my windshield was shot out."
Roanna sucked in a deep, shocked breath, her mind reeling. She wanted to jump up and yell at him for not having said something before, she wanted to throw something, she wanted to get her hands on whoever had tried to shoot him. She couldn't do any of that, however. If she wanted him to finish telling her what was going on, she had to sit there and not make a lot of noise. She pulled herself together and tried to reason it out.
"But … why would whoever killed Jessie want to kill you? And me?"
"I don't know," he said in frustration.
"I've gone over and over everything that happened before Jessie died, and I can't think of anything. I didn't know she had a lover until Booley told me she was pregnant when she died, but why would he have killed Jessie? It would have made sense if he'd tried to kill me, but not Jessie. And if Jessie was killed because of something else she was doing, there wouldn't be a reason for the killer to come after you and me. We don't 35 7
know who he is, and after ten years he should feel safe from discovery, so why take the risk of starting it all again?"
"So you don't think her lover is the one?"
"I don't know. There's no reason for it. On the other hand, if I'm the real target and have been all along, that means Jessie died because she was my wife. I thought she might have surprised the killer, the same way you did, and he killed her so she couldn't identify him. I made sure it's common knowledge that you can't remember anything about the night you were attacked, so he wouldn't have that as a reason for coming back. But when your brake line was cut, I knew it had to be more than that. Tampering with your car was directed specifically at you."
"Because we're getting married," she said, feeling sick inside.
"But how could he have found out so fast? We just decided yesterday morning!"
"You started making arrangements yesterday," Webb said, shrugging.
"Think of the people you called, all the people they must have told. News travels. Whoever it is must hate me a lot, to go after first Jessie, then you."
"But Jessie's death had to be unplanned," Roanna argued.
"No one could have known that y'all would argue that night or that you would have gone to a bar. Normally you would have been at home." "I know," he said, exhaling hard in frustration.
"I can't think of a reason for any of it. No matter how I look at it, some of the details don't fit."
She got up from the bed and went over to him, needing his closeness. He put his arms around her and hugged her to him, tucking the afghan more securely around her shoulders. She laid her head on his chest, softly breathing in the warm, musky scent of his skin. It was unthinkable that anything should happen to him.
"Why do you think he'll come back tonight?"
"Because he's made several attempts in a short period of time. He keeps coming back, trying something different. Loyal is watching from the stables. If he sees anything, he'll call me on the cellular phone, then notify the sheriff."
"Are you armed?"
He tilted his head toward the dresser.
She turned her head and in the dimness could see a darker shape lying on top of the dresser. Abruptly she knew what was different about his mood. This was how he must have been when he'd tracked the rustlers into Mexico: the hunter, the predator. Webb was a man not normally inclined to violence, but he would kill to protect his own. He wasn't excited or on edge; the thud of his heart beneath her head was steady. He was coolly, ruthlessly determined.
"What if nothing happens tonight?" she asked.
"Then we'll watch again tomorrow night. Eventually, we'll get him."
She stood with him for a long time, staring out at the moonlit night until her eyes ached. Nothing moved, and the crickets chirped undisturbed.
"You're sure the alarm is on?"
He pointed to the code box beside the veranda doors. A tiny green light was steadily shining. A red light flashed if a door was opened, and if the code wasn't entered within fifteen seconds, the alarm sounded.
Webb appeared to have the patience of Job and the stamina of a marathoner. He stood unmoving, keeping watch, but Roanna couldn't manage to stand still for that length of time. She paced slowly around the dark bedroom, hugging the afghan around her, until Webb said softly, "Why don't you lie down and get some sleep?"
"I have insomnia, remember?" she shot back.
"I only sleep after-" She stopped, and he chuckled.
"I could say something crude, but I won't. I kind of like this strange type of insomnia," he teased. "It gives me incentive."
"I haven't noticed that you needed any."
"After we've been married thirty years or so, I might-" He broke off, every line of his big body tensing.
Roanna didn't hurry to the window, though that was her first urge. She was wearing a white nightgown; her appearance at the window might be spotted. Instead she whispered, "Do you see someone?"
"The son of a bitch is slipping up the outside stairs," he murmured.
"I didn't see him until just now. Probably Loyal didn't either." He took the cellular phone from his pocket and punched the numbers for Loyal's private line. A few seconds later he said quietly, "He's here, coming up to the veranda by the outside stairs." That was all. He closed the phone and returned it to his pocket.
"What do we do?" she whispered.
"Wait and see what he does. Loyal is calling the sheriff, then he's coming over as backup." He shifted his position a little, so he had a better angle to watch the silent intruder. The moonlight slanted across his face. " He's going around to the front … He's out of sight now."
A red light blinked, catching Roanna's attention. She stared at the code box.
"Webb, he's in the house! The light's blinking."
He swore softly and moved across the room to get the pistol from the top of the dresser.
Still watching the light, Roanna said, startled, "It's stopped blinking. It's green again."
He swung around and stared at the code box.