The drive home provided opportunity to think. The headlights behind provided a sense of false security. Any decision not to become involved with him at this point was posthumous. And yet, despite her feelings, any relationship with him was potentially dangerous. It wasn’t a relationship she had planned or wanted – until now. Now she wanted it more than life itself. That could be a reality. Whether he had arranged things to work out this way or not, her resources had been cut seriously. Howard had been alienated, and trusting anything with Connie was dubious. Len was the only one left she could trust, and she couldn’t tell him anything without implicating Yancey. It was up to her now. She had to get into that building and find out if there was any chance of a relationship with Yancey.
Only weeks remained until college started. She needed to get enrolled, but she had done nothing. After all she had been through, journalism looked less attractive. And yet, it had been her goal for over three years. Dropping it now would be like losing another friend. Writing was her first choice, but everyone knew you couldn’t make a living writing books. She felt suddenly lost.
The line down the highway blurred for a second and she realized she had nearly fallen asleep. Pulling into a well lit empty parking lot, she parked the car to the side. Yancey pulled up beside her and waited while she got out of the car and locked the door. He pushed the passenger’s side door open and she leaned down to look at him.
“Yes. Can you bring me down here tomorrow to get my car?”
“Sure. Hop in.”
He waited while she buckled her seat belt and stashed her things. Then he pulled back out onto the road. She sank into the luxurious seat, enjoying the smooth ride and the smell of leather. “I love this car.”
Sleep came slowly, but waking up was instant. Yancey’s face was over hers.
“Do you want me to carry you inside?”
The idea was so romantically ludicrous that she giggled.
“You’ll strain your back.” She shifted in the seat. “I don’t know why I’m so tired.”
His chuckle was soft. “I don’t either. You’ve only been strangled nearly to death and gone through a terrible scare.”
The silence was uncomfortable until he leaned down to kiss her. The moment his lips touched hers, she was wide awake. Her pulse pounded like a drum in her ears. She leaned into his kiss, completely surrendering to the arms that surrounded her. A microscopic voice inside warned her to stop, but desire put uncontrolled passion into her response. Fortunately, a cool console managed to keep them in separate seats. When he finally broke away, the words escaped her mouth.
“I love you....” She clamped a hand over her mouth and gasped in horror. But the sudden intake of air didn’t recapture the words. His lack of response sent a painful flush into her neck. It was the last thing he would want. He liked things the way they were. She sat up and grabbed her purse. “We better go in.” Hopefully her voice didn’t sound as unsteady to him as it did to her. She opened the door and scrambled out, shutting it without another word. Without looking back, she dashed to the house, past a startled Sarah, and then to her room. There she collapsed on the bed and started to cry – quietly this time. Let him explain all of it to his mother. One thing was sure. She couldn’t. It was a total mystery to her why Len and Howard couldn’t light a fire in her the way Yancey did. Never in her life had she been so attracted to a man – so totally out of control in his presence. Maybe she should pack her things tomorrow, and leave. Facing him again was an unbearable thought. Those eyes would be mocking her, or maybe filled with fear. No, not Yancey. He might feel fear or express it verbally, but it would never be in his eyes.
At some point, the tears stopped and sleep began. Exhaustion forced her to sleep through the night. The next morning she woke, still in her clothing. She immediately looked in the mirror at her neck. Bruises in the shape of fingers reminded her of the ordeal. Her neck was tender and swallowing was painful. Every muscle in her body was sore. She walked stiffly to the closet, deciding quickly on a pair of blue jeans and a light shirt with a collar that would hide most of her neck.
After a warm shower, she felt better. Instead of braids, she brushed her hair into a ponytail. She looked and felt cool, and only part of the bruising was visible. Slipping into a pair of tennis shoes, she headed for the kitchen.
No one was in the kitchen, but a note from Sarah explained that she and Tammy had gone to town shopping again. Her first thought was the path. It was simple enough to wander around outside, as if she were looking for something. When she decided Yancey wasn’t around, she started down the path, keeping close to the trees without breaking her promise not to wander in the woods.
No one was in sight when she reached the building, but the door was open. Cautiously, she crept up to the door and peered around it, jerking her head back instinctively when she spotted Yancey unlocking a door to an inner office. She peeked around the door again just in time to see him walk into the office and close the door. Silently, she slipped into the building. She paused, allowing her eyes to adjust to the dim light. The odor she had smelled earlier hung in the air. She glanced around, noting several objects covered with cloths, as well as a box that sat on a table beside the door.
She tiptoed over to one of the cloth-covered objects, keeping a wary eye on the door, and carefully lifted the cloth. She sniffed. The odor was strong, almost pungent, like...that was it, clay! She squinted at the object and decided it was a sculpture, but she couldn’t make out any detail. Maybe he was shipping drugs inside sculptures. She dropped the cloth and moved to the next object, which was obviously a painting. As she lifted the cover she gasped. It was either an original or an excellent copy, signed by Andy Gordon. Remembering the pictures on the walls in the house, she wondered if it was a forgery. Surely Yancey wasn’t involved in art theft as well. She dropped the cloth as she heard tires crunching on gravel. A quick glance through the window revealed the black car stopping beside the building.
Her pulse raced as she frantically searched for a place to hide. A 55-gallon barrel stood in one corner with rags hanging over the edge. She squeezed behind the barrel as the office door opened. Yancey stepped out and glanced out the window. She cowered into her hiding place, trying to breathe softly in spite of her state of panic. Yancey strode across the room and opened the door, allowing the man in a black suit to enter. The man came right to the point.
“Is the shipment ready?”
Yancey inclined his head toward the table and the man’s eyes followed, lighting up.
“A big one this time.” He eyed Yancey suspiciously. “I didn’t see the girl at the pool. Is she still staying with you?”
Yancey’s expression sharpened slightly. “Yes. Maybe she was in the house. She had a rough day yesterday.”
The man frowned and gave Yancey a stern look. “You need to do something about her.”
Yancey scowled at him. “I’ll do things in my own good time and in my own way,” he responded in a gruff voice.
The man gave him a sharp look. “Just don’t let her interfere with the business.”
Yancey’s yes flashed and his jaw tightened. He crammed his hands into his pockets and answered in a cold voice. “You’ve got a good job as a middle man, but don’t let it go to your head. You’re not running this operation, so you’d best tend to your own business and let me take care of mine.”
The man shrugged and handed Yancey an envelope. “It’s all there, and thanks for the business.” He carefully picked up the box and Yancey followed him out to the car.
Lisa waited until Yancey came back in, but he only locked the door to the office and left, closing the door to the building. She waited for him to get a little way down the path before she slipped from her hiding place and went to the door. She turned the knob, but the door didn’t open. She turned it again, and this time put her weight against the door. It was bolted from the outside.
She glanced around the dimly lit room, desperately searching for a way out. The window was barely large enough for her to pass through, but she might be able to get out that way. She held her breath while she tugged at the window, letting it out in a sigh of relief when the sash lifted quietly. Glancing around to see if Yancey was gone, she spotted him disappearing around the bend, on his way to the house. She unhooked the screen and pushed it out. Wiggling through the small opening, she turned and pulled the sash back down. There was no way to lock the screen, so she simply pushed it shut and started for the house. As she approached, Yancey was no where in sight, so she nonchalantly wandered over to the pool. She carried a chair to a spot that wouldn’t be visible on a course from the path to the door, and sat down.
It was a risk that didn’t pay off. She still had no proof that anything illegal was going on, except that the man in the black suit was concerned about her presence. So that was why he was glaring at her at the dance. He was afraid she would spill the beans. She shivered, wondering what plan Yancey had for dealing with her. There was only one answer, of course. Get out as fast as possible. In the meantime, she had to avoid Yancey while she thought up some excuse for leaving.
Tears burned her eyes as she thought of his deceit. His purpose for bringing her here was unclear. Surely he should have known she would get suspicious. And yet, even after he knew she suspected something, he made no attempt to send her home. Worst of all was the façade of romantic interest. Difficult as it was to believe he was involved in something like this; it was even harder to believe he had no interest in her. Maybe it was vanity, but it was hard to believe his interest in her wasn’t genuine.
“There you are.” Yancey’s voice interrupted her thoughts. She made a fuss of tucking the shirt into her jeans. That was when she noticed the clay on her shirt. She tucked the spot into her jeans, trying not to expose her tears.
“I was beginning to think you went out in the woods again, looking for flowers.”
“I promised I wouldn’t,” she reminded him, still avoiding his gaze.
“Is something wrong?” His tone sounded concerned as he knelt beside her.
She had to look at him. He was going to be suspicious if she didn’t. But if he saw her swollen eyes he’d be asking all kinds of questions. That’s when she thought of it. She turned to him. “I was just thinking – remembering.”
His gaze dropped to her neck and he reached out, lifting her chin to examine it. Letting go of her chin, his intent gaze met hers.
“What were you thinking about that made you cry – last night?”
“No,” she said quickly. “It doesn’t matter.”
He studied her face intently, masking any emotion. “Where were you a little while ago?”
“Didn’t you see me when you walked by?” She could barely breathe.
His expression became wary. “No. You weren’t here.”
She stood suddenly and his attention dropped to her waist. Drat! He saw that stupid clay spot. She stepped around him and headed for the house. So now he knew. If she could get to her telephone, she could call someone for help. But he could kill her and haul her body into the woods before anyone came along.
She reached the door and looked back, expecting to find him right behind her, but he wasn’t. Nor was he beside the chair. He was walking down the path, back to the building. She stared after him. Maybe she had misjudged his intent. Maybe he had no idea she had been there. But he saw the clay on her shirt. She glanced down at her shirt and then laughed with relief. The clay was still hidden. What he was looking at was a button that had worked its way open, exposing her bare stomach. He knew she was not in the chair, but he had no way of knowing she had been to the building. He thought she was crying about last night. Somehow it seemed such a small thing now.
She turned hesitantly. She needed to get her car as soon as possible. What she saw today was proof that she needed it close by. She took a step toward him and called out.
“Yancey.” He continued as if he didn’t hear. “Yancey,” she called louder.
He stopped and turned.
She folded her arms across her stomach and walked closer to him so she didn’t have to yell.
“When will you be able to take me to get my car?”
He shrugged. “Let me go lock the shop.”
But he locked it before he left. She glanced down the trail and nodded. “All right.”
She turned around and walked three steps before it hit her. Dang! He did it again. Her face felt hot and cold by turns and she didn’t have enough saliva to swallow. She wasn’t supposed to know about the building. And now she had put herself in a position where she would be alone with him in the car. She forced herself to walk, not run, back to the house. Once inside, she raced to her room and changed her shirt. Grabbing her cell phone, she called Connie’s number. After several rings, it went to the message.
“Connie, Lisa. Listen, I think he knows I saw something. He’s going to take me to where we left my car last night.” She glanced out the window and saw Yancey was almost to the house. “I’m scared.” She closed the cell phone and stuck it in her pocket as Yancey walked in the door.
He glanced down at her pocket. “Are you ready to go?”
Trying to squelch the fear in her voice, she only nodded.
“Is something wrong?”
A simple shake of the head obviously didn’t satisfy him. He studied her face for a moment, probably finding it a virtual roadmap. Finally he sighed.
“Look, Lisa. You don’t have any reason to be afraid of me. I won’t hurt you.”
She met his scrutinizing gaze. Yep, a roadmap. Was there nothing she could do that didn’t give her emotions and everything else away? She walked by him to the car, mustering up a voice that approached normal.
“I’m not afraid of you.”
They were several miles down the road before either of them spoke. Finally she broke the silence.
“Are you angry with me?”
He glanced at her. “About what?”
So he was still playing mind games. Fine, she could play too.
“About last night.”
“No. What made you think that?”
“You’re so quiet.”
“I’ve got a lot on my mind.” He maneuvered the car around the sharp turn.
The cliff and surrounding mountains were now behind them. She let a breath out slowly. It occurred to her that he might push her off it.
The cell phone rang, its jangling tune startling her out of her thoughts. She dug it out of her pocket and opened it.
“Lisa? This is Connie.”
“Oh, Connie. We’re on the way to get my car.” She described where it was.
“Are you with Yancey? Can he hear me talking?”
“Yes. I don’t think so.”
“What are you afraid of? Did you find something?”
“Yes.” Lisa paused a moment. “Did you talk to Len?”
“Do you want me to call Len?”
“Yes.” Yancey wasn’t watching her, but he was watching the road so intently that she was sure he was trying to extract something from her side of the conversation.
“He was at the house yesterday.”
“Did something bad happen yesterday?”
For a moment Lisa was too stunned to say anything. Howard hadn’t told her. But then, why would he? She was opening her mouth to respond when Yancey pulled over and stopped. Lisa stared at him, too frightened to move.
He got out and leaned down. “Let me know when you’re through talking.” He shut the door and walked away from the car.
“Lisa? What in the world is going on?”
Lisa put the phone back to her ear, still watching Yancey cautiously.
“I don’t know. He’s acting funny today. I went into the building today. It’s full of sculptures and paintings. I hid when this guy drove up. The man told him he needed to get rid of me and Yancey told him he’d deal with me in his own way. I don’t know what he’s doing, but I think it’s something illegal.”
“Does he know you were there?”
“I don’t think so, but I think he suspects.”
“Is he angry? Has he threatened you?”
“I don’t know if he’s angry or not. I’ve never seen him this way before. He won’t talk to me, but he isn’t slamming anything around.”
A short pause. “I’m going to head out that way. I’ll get Howard and call Len. Don’t go back to the house.”
“I have to. He’ll be suspicious if I don’t.”
“He’s already suspicious, isn’t he?”
“I don’t know. I’ll be alright once I get my car.”
“Sure, unless he forces you off the road!”
Of course. It would be the perfect opportunity. And yet, he had allowed her to talk privately. Something else was going on. The pieces of the puzzle simply didn’t fit together. She came to a decision.
“Look, I’m going to go back to the house and pack my things. When you guys get here, I’ll leave with you.”
“Lisa, you’re so bull headed. Once you get away from him, stay away.”
“If he wanted to hurt me, he could follow me in my car. As long as I’m doing what he expects me to do, he’ll have doubt. I’m not so sure he’s up to anything. Maybe I’m blowing this all out of proportion.”
“Alright. We’ll do it your way...but be careful. Is his mother and daughter there?”
“No, they went shopping.”
“Oh great. I’m out of here. Don’t keep him waiting. Nothing makes a man get mad faster.” With that, she hung up.
Lisa opened her door and motioned to Yancey, who immediately returned to the car. Once he was seated and started the engine, she thanked him, but he didn’t respond.
By the time they got to her car, her palms were sweating. Yancey didn’t get out, but he did wait until she had her car started before he turned his car around and headed back to the house. She could have left then, and might have if curiosity hadn’t gotten the best of her. It wasn’t easy to walk away from him – especially now. If he was angry, he certainly wasn’t acting like he usually did. Maybe he was happy to get rid of her. In which case, she needed to get her things and leave.
At the house, she turned her car around and parked so it faced the drive, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Yancey was in the kitchen, getting a cold drink from the refrigerator. He didn’t look at her when she walked through. He had spoken earlier of last night. She looked at him.
“Do you think I’m a tease?”
He glanced at her and then turned his attention back to the can in his hand. He popped the top.
“Fix lunch. Mom will be back soon.”
Without another word, he walked out the door and down the trail.
Tears welled up in her eyes and spilled down her cheeks as she prepared lunch. His silence was worse than his anger. She had been a fool to think there was anything between them. Right now all he wanted out of her was absence. Fine, he could have it. As soon as she finished preparing lunch, she’d pack and leave.
Sarah came home as she was putting the tuna salad into the refrigerator. Lisa went out to help her carry things into the house. Tammy was in the back seat asleep, so she carefully unbuckled her and carried her to the house while Sarah brought in the shopping sacks. Tammy didn’t wake. The warmth of her body; the way her soft breath felt against Lisa’s neck; the baby smell of her. It was all overwhelming. Lisa carried her to the nursery and gently laid her on the youth bed. She knelt beside her, stroking the soft curly hair. Today would probably be the last time she would see her. It was a heart-rending thought. She lifted the tiny hand and kissed it, tears filling her eyes again. She gently replaced the hand and pulled the covers up. Standing, she turned to leave the room. Yancey was standing in the door watching. She kept her eyes on the floor as she walked by him.
“Lunch is in the refrigerator.”
“Lisa.” He grabbed her arm and turned her around to face him. His expression softened when he saw she had been crying. He wiped her cheek with a thumb.
She brushed his hand away and went to her door.
“Aren’t you going to eat lunch?”
“I’m not hungry,” she said honestly, and walked into her room, shutting the door behind her. She didn’t need his pity. She dragged the two suitcases from under her bed and began filling them with clothes from the closet. She used the same suit cases when she came and she had the same clothes, but it didn’t look like there was enough room to put it all in. Maybe one of those brown sacks in the laundry room would work, and she could put the pictures in with it.
She snapped the full suitcase shut and opened her door. Checking to see if anyone was around, she exited her room.