Tess Lockwood, who was kidnapped as a child, isnâ€™t ready
to remember what happened to her. But when another child
goes missing, Sheriff Gabe McCord is convinced itâ€™s
related to her abduction. They will have to work
together to unlock painful memories in order to save
another childâ€”and Tess.
â€śCan I come out now?â€ť Tess called through the back door
Gabe had told her to stay inside and didnâ€™t want her to
see what was in her back yard. As soon as he was done
with the staff meeting tomorrow morning, he was going to
question Ritter, Dane, even Sam Jeffers. Theyâ€™d better
have an alibi to prove they werenâ€™t around here last
night. Could three unmarried guysâ€”loners and eccentrics,
though the woods was full of them around hereâ€”have
colluded on abductions over the years? And wouldnâ€™t they
take grown women instead of young girls?
â€śOh! Gabe, whatâ€™s that horrible thing?â€ť Tess cried,
coming up behind him.
â€śI told you to stay inside.â€ť
â€śI did for a while. Obviously, thatâ€™s a warning to me.â€ť
â€śI called to get your lights back on but it may be early
morning,â€ť he told her, getting up and facing her to put
himself between her and the back cornfield. He snared
her wrist with one hand to pull her away from staring.
â€śTess, please go in your house, grab a couple of things
to spend the night at my place.â€ť
â€śBut canâ€™t you stay here for a while instead?â€ť
â€śWeâ€™d be sitting ducks in the dark. Weâ€™re going to my
place. Iâ€™ve got an extra room, a spare bed. Youâ€™ll be
â€śWeâ€™re going through the cornfield? What if thatâ€™s his
â€śI think heâ€”or theyâ€”just wanted to give you a good scare
and a warning. Just do as I say, okay?â€ť
â€śAll right, but you havenâ€™t confided in me. You want me
to help you, but then I guess I didnâ€™t tell you something
too. I heard a woman or girl scream at the compound, but
I kind of checked it out and got a reasonable explanation
â€”if reason is any part of that place.â€ť
â€śWhat are you, my other deputy? Here, take my
flashlight, go in the house, get your things now, or I
swear, Iâ€™ll arrest you for something and put in the jail
cell in town for safe keeping. Now do what I say.â€ť
Obviously as frustrated with him as he was her, Tess
grabbed the flashlight from him, went in, and slammed
both doors. That infuriated him too, but for one thing.
She was not whimpering in a corner. It was kind of the
spunky, younger Tess again, animated, defiant, a tomboy
before her trauma had crushed her.
He tried to keep his temper in check, but it riled him
especially that he wanted to put his hands all over her
even when she was defying him.
Tess came out with a full paper sack and her purse and
thrust the flashlight back at him. â€śSee, youâ€™ve turned
me into a bag lady,â€ť she said. â€śLike one youâ€™re taking
off the streets because she canâ€™t take care of herself.
But I wasnâ€™t going through that field with my suitcase.â€ť
â€śLetâ€™s go. Weâ€™ll set a timer and argue for an hour, then
hit the rack, or since youâ€™re a bag lady, hit the sack.
Weâ€™re both exhausted, and I canâ€™t believe youâ€™d even
consider staying here alone tonight after this.â€ť
â€śLetâ€™s see, how to put thisâ€¦â€ť she said as they walked
toward the cornfield with him leading. â€śTess is going to
ruin things if she tries to think on her own and help you
find that kidnapped child. She was misled at first
because you said you wanted me to help soâ€”â€ś
â€śI wanted you to remember what happened to you when you
were taken twenty years ago, not take over now. Stop
fighting me! Someone wants you to leave town or worse.â€ť
â€śI was justâ€”just trying to keep my courage up.â€ť
â€śStick close, okay? Right behind me.â€ť
As he turned away to head into the field, he heard her
sniff back tears. He shouldnâ€™t have been so rough, but
she really got to him. Maybe she was right on the edge
of hysteria. Actually, he knew the feeling. How many
times in Iraq had he beat down a screaming fit of fear
when heâ€™d had to dissemble a bomb by hand when the robot
â€śYes, Iâ€™m staying close,â€ť she told him in a suddenly
quiet voice that caught on a half smothered sob as they
headed into the tall, thick corn between their houses.
# # #
Tess drank the hot chocolate he fixed for them in his
kitchen. She remembered how it had once looked, but it
had all been updated, even to stainless steel appliances.
And it was neat, not even dishes in the sink or drain
rack. Heâ€™d pulled down all the blinds so no one could
see in. She felt safe from anything outside now, but
sealed in with him, newly alert and alive as they faced
each other across the wooden kitchen table.
â€śI canâ€™t take you to the early morning meeting at the
police station with me,â€ť he told her. â€śBut since youâ€™re
so involvedâ€”and I didnâ€™t mean to shut you out except to
keep you safeâ€”Iâ€™ll call you right after and tell you what
the three of us have decided.â€ť
â€śIâ€™d appreciate that.â€ť
â€śBut I want you to stay here until the power is restored
at your place.â€ť
She nodded. She was so exhausted her eyes almost crossed.
He went on, sounding nervous, â€śIâ€™d better open up the
extra bedroom for you so it heats up in there. Thereâ€™s
just one bath upstairs. Iâ€™ll get some towels out.â€ť
â€śYour mother would be proud of your hospitality and how
great this place looks. She was always a good hostess.â€ť
â€śYeah. Still is in the trailer park where she lives in
Florida. Too good a hostess at times, I guess.â€ť
She didnâ€™t know what he meant, but bed and bath sounded
so good. And to sleep at night in security, to feel
safe, as she never quite had in the old house the three
nights sheâ€™d been back would be great.
She followed him upstairs as he opened the door to a
Spartan bedroom. Oh, it was his boyhood one, she was
sure of that, though it must have been redone. It was a
bit feminine, maybe in case his mother visited. So he
must sleep in his parentsâ€™ larger one across the front of
â€śDonâ€™t you sleep in front?â€ť she asked, suddenly feeling
awkward again as his eyes swept her. Oh, no, not that
over-the-waterfall sensation again. Sheâ€™d been fighting
it, but feelings flew between them like pounding spray.
â€śNo, I keep that for my home office,â€ť he said but didnâ€™t
open the door to give her a glimpse. â€śIâ€™m down the hall.
I can use the bathroom downstairs, so you just go ahead.â€ť
He got a set of towels from the hall linen closet with an
extra blanket he piled in her arms. He was so close she
could see how thick his eyelashes were. Little flecks of
gold swam in the brown irises of his eyes. He had a
slight scar on the slant of his left cheekâ€”from the war?
But surely a bomb blast had not done that to him, for
that would have been more of a shock, a boomâ€”like his
very nearness was to her.
â€śI canâ€™t thank you enough,â€ť she whispered.
â€śMaybe sometime,â€ť he said. Then before she knew it was
coming, he leaned forward to kiss her.