When Sarah learned of her plan to go to the house and pick up some things, she insisted there was no reason to stay. In her words, “Go now so you can be back before dark.” Mom always used to want everyone home before dark – as though anything was out there at night that wasn’t there during the day.
All the same, she left early. Yancey wasn’t back yet when she left, but she didn’t need his approval. After all, he was the one who insisted that his mother was her boss.
At the house, she took her time going through some pictures. She didn’t want the family picture, as that was the one they used in the newspaper. Instead, she collected a few small photos and arranged them all in one frame. Going through the bills on the counter where Connie had promised to leave them, she decided to take them with her. Soon she would need to come back home to get ready for college. Actually, she’d rather get a room than stay in the house. It wasn’t what she would want for herself anyway, and the insurance money would assist in taking care of her schooling.
The doorbell rang, interrupting her thoughts. No one knew she was there except.... She glanced at her watch. Actually, Connie would know. It was getting late. She opened the door without looking, ready to welcome Connie. The smile melted from her lips and her body chilled. It was Allen. She started to shut the door, but he had the storm door open and his foot in the door before she could react. He stepped through the door, his expression less than friendly. At least he didn’t appear to be drunk.
“Well, we finally have the chance to be alone.”
“What do you want?”
He eyed her distastefully. “Don’t worry. All I want is information.”
“About what?” She inched away from him.
“About your boyfriend and his family. Where does he keep it stashed? I know you well enough to know you would have to find out – no matter what the risk. So what’s down that trail?”
Her mouth felt dry and her knees weak. “What trail? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“You know,” his eyes flashed. “The one you dumped me for. And don’t tell me you aren’t playing house with him. You’re living under the same roof.”
“Get out,” she said with as much authority as she could muster.
He took a step toward her. “Not likely. Not until you talk.”
“I don’t know who he is or what he does. All I know is that he’s temperamental, and you’d better stay away from him.”
Allen stared at her for a minute, as though confused. Then he started for her. “Don’t give me that. You’ve been staying with him long enough to know him.”
She darted around him and ran for the door, but he caught her half way. He forced her onto the couch and straddled her. “Get it through your head. You’re not leaving here until I get the information I came for.”
She glared at him, anger taking possession of her body. She kicked her feet and swung at him with her fists.
“I don’t know anything. And if I did, I wouldn’t tell the likes of you.”
The fingers of one hand clutched her throat, while the other warded off her blows.
“You’ll stop fighting when the breath is gone from your body!” His eyes were like burning balls of fire.
She gurgled and choked, engulfed in terror. She beat him with her fists until finally her vision began to fail. Even if she had been willing to talk, she was unable.
“GET OFF OF HER!” a voice boomed.
Allen let go of her and jumped off. “She won’t talk,” he said as he backed away.
The muscles in Howard’s jaws worked with rage. “Get out of here before I kill you.” His voice was low and ice cold.
Lisa rolled over, coughing and gagging, unable to get enough breath at a time to fill her lungs. For a few minutes she thought her windpipe was crushed. Yet the scene continued in front of her.
Allen walked toward the door, his attention divided between Howard and Lisa. Finally he left. Howard made no move to help her. He merely asked if she was alright.
An answer was impossible, even if she could stop coughing long enough. She had neither the breath nor the voice to talk. It took several more minutes before she was able to take deep breaths – even longer before she was able to utter more than a strangled sound. And yet, Howard made no move to call for help. Finally she leaned back sucked her lungs full. Her eyes were filled with tears and her face felt flushed.
“How...did he...know I...was here?”
Howard finally came to her side and helped her to her feet. “I don’t know.”
Her mind was beginning to function somewhere near normal.
“How did you know I was here.”
“Connie said you were coming over to get the bills this evening. It’s a good thing I decided to come here first instead of going home.” He pulled her into his arms.
“Are you sure you’re alright?”
No, she wasn’t sure, but that didn’t seem to matter. His body was the nearest available leaning post, so she helped herself, burying her face in his chest. If he hadn’t come along, she’d probably be dead, and yet, he had done nothing to assist after Allen left. Maybe he didn’t know what to do, or that she needed help. She lifted her head to ask him why Allen was asking questions about Yancey. Before she could get a word out, Howard covered her mouth with his. His kiss was more than friendly. It was the passion of full arousal.
Jerking away from him, she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
“What are you doing?” Her voice was still a rasp.
He reached for her, his expression pure desire. “Lisa.” His voice was as grainy as hers.
“Leave me alone!” The words forced through her vocal chords sounded louder, but still hoarse. She backed up a few steps. The realization came slow and late, but clear. Everyone was right about Howard.
“Not you, Howard,” she said, her eyes burning with tears. “I thought I could trust you.”
The tears spilled from her eyes and ran down her cheeks. “You sent him.”
“I didn’t send him.” He stepped back and raised his hands. “I swear.”
“Then how did he know I was here?”
“I don’t know.”
“But you sent him to get information about Yancey, didn’t you?”
He eyed her warily. “He’s been asking around about him.”
He blinked with surprise. “Because you wanted to know, remember?”
Wiping tears from her eyes with her hand, she failed to suppress a sob.
“I didn’t tell you to send Allen. I asked Connie if you could....” She stopped, realizing she had been the instigator of this. “You must have known what Allen would do to me if he caught me alone.”
His face colored. “I didn’t have any idea he’d do this to you. I never instructed him to ask you anything.”
That might be true, but none of it explained his kiss…and then it finally sank in. He wasn’t trying to find out anything to protect her. He was trying to find incriminating evidence on Yancey. She had provided all the information he needed through Connie.
“Does Connie know you were using her?”
He shrugged. “Probably not.”
She sank to a chair and started to cry. “Leave me alone.”
He stopped at the door. “I’m sorry, Lisa. I never meant to hurt you. I love you.”
“Go away,” she said in a strained voice.
After he left, she went to her room and crouched beside the bed to pray. But words never came to her lips, only long sobs. The one person she thought she could trust had turned on her. Actually, he had simply displayed his true feelings. Everyone had tried to tell her, but she wouldn’t listen. Allen was no surprise. From the time they broke up, she knew it could come to this if he were left to his own devices. What Howard provided was an excuse. He did so unwittingly. She had been the one who had betrayed, and the person she had betrayed was Yancey. Yet Howard said Allen was had been asking around about Yancey. Why?
“Lisa!” Yancey called from inside the house. His footsteps sounded down the hallway and he continued calling her name frantically. When he saw her, he dropped to her side, deep concern in his eyes.
“I banged on the door, but you didn’t answer. It was open, so I came in. Are you alright? What happened? Was Allen here?”
His questions and many of her own tied her tongue. Finally she answered with a question of her own.
“How did you know Allen was looking for me?”
“He called the house and Mom answered the phone. She thought he was a friend and told him you were at the house. I came in a few minutes later and she told me. I couldn’t get you on your cell phone, so I burned the highway getting here. Where’s Len?”
She stared at him blankly. “Len?”
“I left a message for him to check on you.” His troubled gaze held hers. “What happened?”
“Allen came here to ask me questions about you. I told him I didn’t know anything and he tried to strangle me. Howard came in and stopped him.”
His face turned pale and he pulled her close. “God, Lisa. I was so afraid when I found out he called the house. I knew he was capable of something like this. I knew it when he caught you alone beside the pool.”
“You knew him?”
“No,” he said quickly, “but I know his kind. Then when I caught him spying on me at the restaurant in Huntsville...” He sighed. “It doesn’t matter.”
Leaning back, she gazed up into his eyes. “Yes, it does matter. Do you know why he was spying on you?”
“I imagine because Howard sent him.” He lifted an eyebrow. “Do you know why he’d do that?”
The blood drained from her face. She had forgotten who she was confiding in. “I...I didn’t know....” she stammered.
“Well I do. Because he wanted to make me look bad in your eyes. Didn’t you have any idea how he felt about you?”
Her breath came out in a quick sigh. “Not until today.”
So he thought it was all about Howard and a love interest. Well, let him continue to think so. He wasn’t completely wrong. Howard was trying to find something on him. Hopefully, the why of it wouldn’t come out until she could explore that building.
Slipping a hand around her waist, he helped her down the hall and across the living room. As he opened the door, a police car pulled up to the curb.
Len was eyeing Yancey’s car and didn’t see them until they stepped out the door. He dashed forward and grabbed Lisa’s arm on the other side.
Yancey frowned at him. “Allen nearly strangled her to death. Where have you been?”
“I just got the message a few minutes ago.” His attention returned to Lisa. “Here, why don’t you sit down on this chair while I look you over and ask a few questions.”
They both helped her to the chair. Her hands were shaking and her knees wanted to buckle. She felt sick to her stomach. Now that it was over, she was falling apart.
Len knelt in front of her and examined her neck. “You’re going to have some bruises. Can you talk?”
“Talk to me.”
“I’m alright now.”
He nodded and leaned back against the porch post. “How long ago did this happen?”
“I don’t know – maybe thirty minutes ago.”
“Tell me how it happened.”
He listened attentively, asking questions now and then to clarify. She told him about everything but the kiss. He watched her thoughtfully for a few moments.
“Why do you think Howard and Allen would be trying to get information on Yancey?”
Lisa glanced at Yancey, who immediately came to her rescue.
“Because he was trying to dig up dirt on me so she’d leave.”
It wasn’t true, and Len wasn’t buying it, but he said nothing. “Why didn’t Howard call for help?”
“I don’t know,” Lisa answered honestly. “I guess because his focus was on Allen.”
“While you lay there choking.” The statement was delivered unemotionally.
“I don’t know,” she repeated. “Maybe he didn’t realize how bad it was.” She started to cry again.
“Len stood.” Why don’t you come down to the station and file a report. Then get a restraining order on Allen.”
She glanced up at Yancey and wiped her eyes. His expression was unreadable. “I don’t know,” she said. If he was concerned about the police, he gave no indication. Her attention swung back to Len. He was watching her in a strange way.
“Why do you look at Mr. Giddon? Are you frightened of him?”
From the corner of her eye, she saw Yancey look sharply at Len.
“No.” Len suspected or knew something. To his credit, he was keeping his questions and attitude professional.
Yancey cleared his throat. “I think you should file a report, Lisa. If Howard hadn’t come along when he did, Allen might have killed you.”
Lisa gazed up at him. Either he was sticking his neck out to protect her, or he wasn’t involved in anything illegal. She shook her head. “No, a restraining order wouldn’t stop him from finding me if he wanted to, and it might just make him mad enough to do something worse.”
“Worse than strangling you?” Yancey asked.
Len grimaced. “Well, I guess there is nothing I can do.” He glanced at Yancey. “You might want to watch out for him too.”
Yancey nodded. “I will.” He offered a hand and Len accepted it. “Thanks. Since your radio isn’t on, I’m guessing you’re off duty.”
Len smiled amiably. “You’d be guessing right.”
After Len left, she was feeling better. Yancey went inside to get her pictures and mail. By the time he returned, she was waiting at her car. He handed her the pictures and mail.
“Don’t be too hard on Howard. He did save your life, you know.”
Strange he would want to defend Howard after he had tried to dig up information on him. Maybe he was glad Allen had been exposed and he had not.
He sighed. “OK, so he kissed you and you didn’t want him to. So did I. Maybe you feel like we both betrayed your trust.”
It was something she hadn’t thought of in that way. She did feel betrayed by Howard, but not by Yancey. It wasn’t fair. The only difference was that she wanted Yancey to kiss her, not Howard. That and the fact that Howard had paid no attention to her while she was choking. Yet Yancey had been frightened at the very though of it. It didn’t fit. Howard wasn’t the one involved with drugs. And maybe Yancey wasn’t either.
He was watching her intently, looking for some kind of response. She smiled.
“I suppose you’re right. It was just a kiss.” Leaning forward she reached up with one hand and cupped the back of his neck. It took little urging to bring his mouth down to hers. His lips were warm and responsive. It was intended as a short kiss, but it didn’t work out that way. Finally she released him and leaned back to view his reaction.
They gazed into each other’s eyes hungrily for a moment before she turned to the car, her pulse racing.
“Thank you for driving all that way to make sure I was safe. I’m glad you came, but I’m sorry to put you to the trouble.”
“I like the way you say thank you.” A twinkle of humor announced the real Yancey was home. “It was worth the trip.”
Once she was in the car, he shut the door and leaned down to speak. “I’ll follow you back to the house. Are you sure you can drive all right? We can leave your car here and come after it tomorrow.”
“No, I’m all right.”
“Okay. I’ll be right behind you...and drive slowly.”