An hour later she was pushing a pizza in the oven when Yancey walked in. He looked tall and lean in a dark suit. She lifted her eyebrows.
“Wow, don’t you look nice.”
“Thanks, now why don’t you get dressed and we’ll go out to dinner and a movie or something.”
She stared up at him. “I just put a pizza in the oven.
“Mom and Tammy will be thankful. I’ve already discussed my plans with Mom, and she’s going to watch Tammy. We both agree that you need to get out of this place for a while.”
She gave him what she hoped was a stern look. He might as well learn that he wasn’t going to dominate her.
“Your plans? What about my plans? What about what I want?”
He looked startled for a second, and then his eyes flashed, the brows furrowing into one. “Oh, for...Do you want to go or not?”
He hadn’t even considered that she might not want to go. Actually, the idea was appealing - in spite of his clumsy invitation. At least he was getting out of the house. That seemed to be something new. Besides, his volatile nature was as interesting as his spontaneous moods. To a girl who enjoyed surprises, he was a gold mine. So what difference did it make who came up with the idea as long as it was a good one?
“Never look a gift horse in the mouth,” she quipped with a shrug. Tossing the hot pan holder on the counter, she untied the apron. As she brushed by him on her way to her room to dress, she asked over her shoulder.
She stopped and turned to face him. What kind of an evening did he have planned? He was picking up the paper and lowering his frame into a chair when he noticed she had stopped. He grinned as he realized her interpretation of his answer.
“I only meant it would be good to get out of the house, no matter what we went to see.”
She shrugged and went to her room. Why the sudden desire to get out of the house? Up until now he had given her the impression he was a complete hermit. Other than his solitary rides on Diablo, and his ventures into the woods, she only knew of one time when he had left the place - and that was when he took her home...and he wasn’t too happy about that. He said he had talked to his mother. Had they decided they didn’t want her bored and inquisitive?
Slipping into a pale yellow sun dress, she surveyed herself in the mirror. It looked cool and casual, but not provocative.
Unbraiding her hair she brushed it. The hair on her head was thick. The braids not only held it out of her eyes, but thinned the bottom part down enough that it would lay loose across her shoulders and down her back without frizzing. Testing her ankle in a pair of low heels, she nodded silent approval and hurried down the hall.
If she needed any reassurance about her appearance, it was immediately supplied by Yancey’s reaction when she entered the family room. He stood and whistled softly, his gaze taking in her dress and hair.
“Has anybody ever told you that you’re beautiful?”
“Maybe once,” she replied flippantly in a wasted attempt to hide embarrassment.
At the car, he opened the door for her in a gentlemanly way. Maybe he was going to show her he could be a nice guy too. That would be cool.
The restaurant was one that she had heard of, but couldn’t afford to enjoy. She glanced around at the crystal chandeliers and velvet curtains. The mood was Victorian, and the music was classic. It was a few minutes before she became aware that Yancey was watching her. She smiled.
“What a beautiful place.”
“You’ve never been here before?”
“Not hardly. This is a little out of my league.”
She glanced around the room again and did a double take when she saw the man in a dark brown suit. He was sitting at a table across and down from them. She caught her breath. Was it her imagination, or was it the man who drove the black car? The man glanced up and she put a hand to her throat, feeling the blood drain from her face. It was the same man, she was sure of it.
Yancey noticed the movement and followed her gaze to the man. He frowned into his drink.
“Do you know him?”
Her stomach knotted into a ball as she met his searching gaze.
“No.” It was true, she didn’t know him.
Yancey put his glass down and stood, moving around the table to take her by the arm.
“Come on, let’s dance.”
She hesitated before joining him. There was no point making an issue of it. One hand on her waist, the other holding hers lightly, he gracefully led her around. As they blended in with the rest of the dancers, she glanced back at the table where the man sat. He was watching them dance. His hostile gaze met hers. She recoiled inwardly at the malice in his eyes. Did he know she had spied on them? But how could he?
Yancey swirled her around and leaned his head down, speaking in a low voice.
She gasped and glanced up at his face. “What?”
He quirked a brow. “You said you couldn’t dance.”
“Oh,” The air left her lungs in a relieved sigh. “I said I wasn’t a very good dancing partner.”
He lifted the dark brow further, his eyes twinkling with humor. “And why did you say that?”
She looked away and bit her lip. “I don’t know.”
He chuckled softly as he pulled her closer, his hand gently caressing her back.
“I think you are a little afraid of me, Lisa. Why is that?”
Was he teasing her because he suspected how she felt about him, or was he trying to tell her he knew she was aware of his business?
She shrugged. “You’re the one who thinks I’m afraid. You tell me.”
He laughed. “I like to get you going, just to see what you’ll say next.”
When the music stopped, he cupped one of her elbows and led her back to their table. It was so nice to be treated with such respect. Most of the boys she dated would never have thought of practicing the age-old custom of walking around the car to open her door, or guiding her through the crowd with a gentle hand on one elbow. Of course, most of the boys she dated were much younger than Yancey. How old was he, anyway? He looked to be about 25, but he had a 3-year-old daughter. Tammy could have been born when he was very young. Not that it mattered. She stared at her glass. Or did it? For the first time, the idea of marriage crossed her mind. All else aside, would she want to marry a man like Yancey – so moody and secretive? The idea made her smile. Probably, but not right now - although a secretive partner had its appeal.
“So what made you smile that way?”
“Huh?” She glanced up at Yancey. He looked mildly amused. “Oh, I don’t know. Just thinking about something silly.”
He leaned forward. “Why don’t you share it?”
“You’d have to know the whole story. It doesn’t matter. I’m sorry I let my attention drift.”
The next time she glanced at the table where she had seen the driver, no one was there. She relaxed and began to enjoy the evening.
Yancey was an attentive date, always knowing exactly what to say and do. He seemed comfortable with his surroundings, which was surprising in itself. Obviously he was accustomed to socializing on a high level. Then why did he live so far away from everything? Remembering Len’s suggestion that he might be in a witness protection program, she wondered if that innocent kiss might have ultimately put Yancey in danger. But then, there was the exchange at the building. Why would a person want to keep their business secret unless it was illegal? Maybe she should have told Len about the exchange.
More important, why hadn’t Connie responded to her letter? A cold chill crept up her spine, raising the hair on the back of her neck. Maybe Connie had responded. Maybe the letter had been intercepted. No, she had seen the postman drive up every day since she sent out the letter. No one had been to that box before her. Yet nothing had ever been placed in the box. She was letting her imagination run wild again. Len’s comment was proof enough that Connie received the letter. Had she talked to Howard or Len – or both? If Connie didn’t tell Allen where to find her, who did? Yancey? Did he have business with Yancey? Yet someone had told him that she was working for Sarah. Who would have known that but Connie?
The ride back was quiet, but the silence was a comfortable one, only becoming awkward when they reached the door of his house. Lisa gazed up at him in the darkness; acutely aware of the way the moonlight softened the rugged angles of his face. He was a tall dark figure in the night, as he stood looking down at her. It was too dark to see his expression, but it was obvious he was watching her. He was standing close and she was startled by a desire to be swept into his arms again. She spoke quickly, hoping that desire could be covered up by a professional front.
“Thank you for a wonderful evening. I didn’t realize how much I needed to get out.”
“It was nice, wasn’t it?” he answered, reaching for her hand. “We’ll have to do this more often.” His lips brushed the top of her hand lightly.
The night air was chilly on her bare arms and she shivered involuntarily, annoyed at herself because it looked like an obvious ploy.
“Cold?” He asked softly.
“A little, why don’t we go in and I’ll make us some coffee?” She felt disappointed when he released her hand and dug in his pocket for the house key. He opened the door for her and they entered, quietly slipping into the kitchen. The porcelain clock on the wall proclaimed the time as ten minutes until twelve, but it didn’t seem that late. She started the coffee and picked up an empty pop bottle from the counter to discard in the trash. Noticing a deck of cards on the counter, she paused.
“Want to play a game?”
He glanced at the bottle in her hand and lifted an eyebrow.
“Spin the bottle?”
She laughed and tossed the bottle in the trash.
“Why not dispense with all the formalities?”
It was one of those Freudian slips that caused her to blush fiercely.
Yancey, however, was completely unabashed. His eyebrows jerked up in surprise. He hastily reached for the light switch.
“That’s what I say.”
The room went black and his arms instantly surrounded her, drawing her close in an eager embrace. Her face still burning, she lifted her lips to receive his. He didn’t disappoint her. Her arms stole around his neck and she ran trembling fingers through the soft hair on the back of his head. His warm lips left hers and started down her neck, forcing a moan from hers. She snuggled close to him and his lips found hers again. This time she responded passionately, returning his kiss eagerly.
“Daddy?” A timid voice broke into their lovemaking.
“Oh, for...” He reluctantly pulled away. “What is it, Tammy?”
“I’m afwaid. It’s dawk.”
He flipped on the light and Lisa turned to get some coffee cups. He lifted Tammy into his arms. “What is there to be afraid of?”
“Thew’s a bear undow my bed.”
Lisa turned her face away and hoped Tammy didn’t notice her shoulders shaking in a silent laugh. She had a mental picture of a bear trying to squeeze into the narrow space under Tammy’s bed.
The thought must have occurred to Yancey as well, and he reassured Tammy in a voice choked with suppressed humor.
“Well, if he’s under there, he’s going to be stuck there for a while. Let’s go take a look.”
Poor Tammy. All this talk about bears was frightening her. Maybe Yancey would be more careful in the future about using the threat of bears as a method of keeping Lisa away from that building.
That thought spoiled the evening. She had been making out with a man who might be involved in drug trafficking. Not only making out - she was falling in love with him. And what about Yancey? Was he falling in love as well, or was he simply taking what he could get? She touched her lips. If this was love, it was certainly a dangerous love.
The smell of coffee brought Yancey back into the room a little later. Lisa filled a cup for each of them, but Yancey wasn’t interested.
“Let’s see, where were we?” he said with a grin.
“You were putting Tammy back to bed while I was making coffee,” she supplied, dodging his hands.
He stopped and studied her for a moment. “All right.” He dropped into a chair. “By the way, happy birthday.”
It was her turn to do some studying. How could he know of the birthday she had forgotten? She sat down in the chair opposite him and studied her coffee. Keeping her voice conversational, she asked him without looking up.
“How did you know?”
He pulled an envelope from his pocket. “This came for you today. Oh, and the mailbox is a dummy. All my mail goes to a post office box.”
The blood drained from her face.
“You opened my mail?”
“No, it’s sealed. It just looks like a birthday card to me. Again I guessed right. You’re easy, you know that? You never see it coming. Most people will tell you anything you want to know. You just have to act like you already know it.”
She snatched the envelope from his hand. “Thanks for revealing your strategy,” she said in an acid tone.
The chuckle was as welcome as it was unexpected. “You always have a comeback. I like that.” He stood and stretched. “Well, since you just graduated, my guess is that this is your 20’th.”
Examining the envelope, she replied without looking at him. “Well, you haven’t broken your record with me. That’s right, but not until Sunday.”
No sleuth work was involved for him. She told him she was nineteen years old the first day they met. A little memory work might be required, but anyone could count from nineteen to twenty. She kept her eyes on the letter as she spoke.
“What about you, 25?
“Not until next month – and it’s 26. Six years isn’t much difference, especially five years from now.”
She didn’t look up. “Yeah, because I probably won’t even remember you by then.”
He laughed. “I’m going to bed.”
After he left the room, she opened the envelope. At least it was still sealed and it was from Connie. Had there been another? Inside the card was a letter from Connie.
“Sorry I haven’t answered yet. Howard has been trying to answer your question. He hasn’t had much luck yet. Len told me about your car. Scary stuff I’m glad he found a car for you. He sure is a nice guy. I can’t imagine why you chose Allen instead. No, I didn’t tell Allen where you were. I haven’t even seen him since the funeral. Len said he didn’t say anything either. I can’t imagine how Allen knew. I’m sending you this card and hope to see you on your birthday if you can get away.
There was nothing in the letter that Yancey didn’t already know except the reference to a question. He wouldn’t know what that was about. So far, she seemed to be his best source of information. It would be best to contact Connie tomorrow and tell her not to send mail. She put the letter back in the envelope. Why would Yancey have a dummy mail box? No wonder they never got mail. And yet, the mail man always stopped – or was he simply turning around? The post office might know something. Maybe that was a lead Howard could use.