As she was walking down the hall, she heard her name mentioned. She stopped, straining to hear the conversation.
“Are you sure?” Sarah was in the family room with Yancey.
“I had my suspicions the day she fell from the cliff. If she had asked about the building when we passed it, I might have figured she had never seen it, but she pretended she didn’t notice. Then today when I couldn’t find her....” He must have been moving, because his voice faded and then became clear again. “I found the window unlocked.”
“Do you think she’ll say anything?” Sarah asked.
There was a brief pause. “I don’t know. Her friend called today. I thought….” His voice faded again. He must be pacing.
“What about this boy Allen who called yesterday?”
“I think that possibility has been eliminated. He...” mumbling - then something about Len and a cell phone.
“She’ll be going to college next month. She’ll be leaving then.”
There was a long pause. “I don’t intend to let her leave,” Yancey answered gruffly.
Lisa put shaking fingers to her mouth to silence an involuntary cry. No wonder he didn’t ask her to leave. What was it he said that day in the mountains...a body could be lost in those hills forever? Apparently her instincts had been correct when she suspected that he was trying to warn her. She should have listened then. And Sarah was involved? It was hard to believe sweet little Sarah would be involved with anything so sinister.
“Now son,” Sarah spoke calmly. “How do you propose to stop her?”
Would Sarah stand up for her? Lisa waited for his reply in tense silence, but his response filled her with equal anger and pain.
“That’s just it. I’ll propose.”
Lisa clamped a hand over her mouth, her eyes burning with tears. So that was why he was so attentive. Wasn’t there some law that prevented a wife from testifying against her husband? She swallowed a sob as Sarah’s response came.
“And if she doesn’t want to marry you?”
The telephone drowned out his response, and Lisa darted to her room. If they caught her listening to their conversation, there would be no chance to get away. In her room, the tears flowed freely. He cared nothing about her. His only concern was protecting his business, even if he had to marry someone he didn’t love. A horrible thought burst unwanted into her mind. Did he marry Valorie for love, or because she found out about his business? Did she actually die in childbirth?
“Lisa?” Sarah’s voice called down the hall. “Someone wants you on the phone.”
Lisa wiped her eyes quickly. Who would be calling her on his phone again? Surely not Howard.
Opening the door, she kept her face hidden as she walked down the hallway. She took the receiver from Sarah.
“Hello?” she managed through a constricted throat.
“Lisa? This is Connie. Are you sick? Your voice sounds strange.”
“No, I’m fine.”
“I tried to call you on your cell phone, but I didn’t get an answer. We just turned off the highway, so we’ll be there pretty soon. Are you ready?”
“I suppose so.”
“Is he close?”
“Do you want to talk to Len, or Howard?”
Immediately Howard was on the line. “Lisa, are you safe?”
“I don’t know. I think so. I’m sorry about yesterday. I thought….”
“No, you were right. I don’t know what came over me to act that way. I should have known how you felt about him.”
“This isn’t a good time....”
Yancey lifted the telephone from her hand.
“Who is this?”
His voice had an edge to it. He listened for a minute and then his tone was sharp.
“She said it wasn’t a good time, and it isn’t.”
Lisa turned and started for her room. His temper was rising by the second. She’d better find a safe place until they arrived.
“Lisa!” His voice shot out after her and she darted for the bedroom.
Once in her room, she slammed the door and locked it against him. She could hear voices in the hall as Sarah questioned him and urged him to calm down. It must have helped, at least to some degree, because when he spoke again outside her door, his voice was controlled.
“Lisa.” His voice sounded restrained, but she didn’t respond.
She crammed the pictures down into the suitcase. Whatever she couldn’t get into it, she would simply have to leave behind.
He turned the knob and pushed on the door. “Lisa,” he ordered in a calm voice. “Open the door. I want to talk to you.”
“You’ve said quite enough for one evening,” she answered with equal composure.
He was quiet for a minute and she wondered if he’d given up, but no such luck.
“Lisa,” his voice was louder and more demanding. “If you don’t open this door I’m going to kick it open.”
She paused for a moment. He might do it. “It’s your door,” she reminded him in a cool voice.
After a slight hesitation the door burst open with a cracking blow. She leaped back from the suitcase, paralyzed with fear. His face was livid, the veins standing out on his neck. He took one look at the suitcases on the bed and started toward her.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“What do you care?” She backed away from him. Hopefully the fact that help was on the way would make him reconsider any violent action.
He stopped, staring at her. “You can ask that?”
She grabbed a handful of clothes from the drawer and threw them into the other suitcase. Tears were streaming down her cheeks, but she glared at him.
“I quit! You hear me? I quit! Find yourself another sitter to boss and holler at!”
His face turned scarlet and he looked away, running a hand through his hair.
“I’m sorry. I promise to stop yelling.” He fixed a piercing gaze on her. “What happened, Lisa? We were getting along so well.” He grabbed a handful of her clothes from the suitcase and put them back in the drawer. “I don’t want you to leave.”
She grabbed the clothes and started for the suitcase again.
He slammed the lid down. “Let’s talk about this.”
A sob tore at her throat, and she slung the clothes at him.
“I’m not stupid. I know about your secret business and I know you know I know.” The words sounded confusing, even to her.
He calmly picked the clothes up and put them back in the drawer.
“Is that why you’re leaving?”
Lisa stared at him in amazement. “You don’t think that’s enough?”
He still looked confused and then realization lifted his brows.
“Oh, I see. You don’t like being deceived.”
How could he think she would go along with something so criminal?
“Oh, I can understand why you would want to deceive people. I just don’t understand how you can involve your family in such a thing - especially Tammy!”
He looked ashamed. “I thought it was for their own good.”
Lisa’s laugh was harsh. “Oh, come on. That’s the oldest line in the world. You wanted nice things, so you substituted your family for a conscience.”
He stared at her long and hard, his expression intent - probably planning his next move. He stuck his hands in his back pockets and frowned, his gaze searching hers.
“What are you talking about?” he asked in a perplexed tone.
“You know what I’m talking about,” she answered in a voice more certain than she felt. Could she have been wrong about it all?
He regarded her with suspicion before speaking. “No, I don’t think I do. As a matter of fact, I think we’re on completely different planets.”
Her face felt hot. If she was wrong about him...but how could she be? She heard him talking to his mother and she heard his conversation with the man in the black car. They wanted her out of the way, or at least silent.
The doorbell rang and she felt a rush of panic when she heard Sarah answer the door. Maybe he was making something up for their benefit.
She reached for her luggage. Yancey made no move to stop her, but he met her gaze desperately.
“Lisa, I don’t want you to go.”
“Why? Because you want to marry me?”
He opened his mouth to speak but she interrupted him. “I heard you talking to Sarah tonight. You’d do anything to keep me silent - even marry me. Tell me, Yancey,” her voice broke with emotion. “Would you kill me to keep me silent?”
“Lisa!” The word was a singular impression of anguish and surprise. “Is that what this is all about? Do you think I would ever harm you?” He looked hurt and angry at the same time.
She swallowed a sob. Someone was walking down the hall toward them. Yancey glanced that way and then back at her.
“Something is frightening you. What is it? You belong here.”
“Babysitting? I think you made it clear last night. You’re not interested in commitment. You couldn’t even say I love you.”
“Maybe I would have if you hadn’t retracted it as soon as you said it.” They stared at each other for a moment. “I do, you know.”
Her heart leaped and then plunged with his next words. “But not enough to give up my business. It’s a part of me, and if we’re going to have anything together, you’re going to have to accept it.”
“How can you love a business that could get your family killed? Is it the danger you like so much?”
He frowned. “Get my family killed?”
Multiple pairs of feet hurried down the hall and Connie was the first one through the door. “Lisa, don’t you know who he is?”
Lisa glanced at Yancey, who silently divided his attention between Connie and Lisa. The cogs were working behind his eyes. What was he planning? Was he some drug lord? No, Connie wouldn’t be smiling. Then what? She turned questioning eyes on Connie, who shook her head in disbelief.
“His pictures are all over the house. How could you not know?”
Lisa frowned. “Andy Gordon?” Her attention shifted back to Yancey. “But you said...why would you change your name?
A slow smile came to his lips. “I thought you knew.”
“I had no idea. I thought you were....”
“That’s still got me,” he interrupted, frowning. “What did you think my business was?”
Her knees buckled and she sank to the bed, covering her face with her hands. She had a lot of crow to eat and she wasn’t feeling the least bit hungry. Worst of all, she had probably ruined any chance she had with him. She groaned.
“I feel like such a fool.”
She lifted her face to look at him and caught Sarah and Connie making a hasty exit from the room. She had created this problem and now it was hers to face alone.
“Yancey...I’m s....” What words could she use that would adequately express her feelings after such a display of total lack of faith in the person she loved? Sorry wasn’t enough. She swallowed hard and avoided his gaze. “I thought you were involved in drugs or contraband of some sort...you were so secretive. And then I found the powder in your pocket.” She chanced a look at his face only to discover that he was laughing.
“I can only assume the powder you found in my pocket was powdered sugar. I always bring Diablo a sugar cube. One day we were out, so I put some powdered sugar in a bag.”
“But I heard you talking to that man in the black suit when I was in the building. He wanted you to get rid of me.”
He sobered. “Tom? Yeah, he wanted me to get rid of you, all right.” His voice became sour. “He could see I was getting serious, and he was afraid you would draw me away from my work. He was getting paid a percentage just to pick up the artwork and deliver it to my broker. If my work slowed down, that was a loss of dollars for him.”
“And the conversation I overheard between you and your mother tonight? You told her you weren’t going to let me go back to college.”
“I said I didn’t plan to let you leave. I would never stop you from going to college or doing anything else you wanted to do. I have my time and I want you to have yours.”
“Howard said the police wouldn’t tell him anything about you.”
He chuckled. “Covered all the bases, did you? They know who I am, and that I wanted to keep my identity silent. I don’t like publicity and I didn’t want to subject my family to it either. I’ve kept my identity hidden for three years now, but I knew deep down inside that it couldn’t last forever.”
He took her hands and helped her to her feet, his voice becoming soft and gentle; his gaze mystic.
“And then you came along. When I saw you standing there in the road, so beautiful, your hair flowing around you like morning mist, I couldn’t let you walk away. I had to...”
He stopped, tugging her hand urgently as he turned toward the door. “Come on. I’ve got something I want to show you.”
He motioned to the others to follow and they all went down the path to the building - the building she had spent more than a month trying to get into and now was the site of an open house. Flipping a light on, he guided them to a corner and pulled the cloth from a painting.
Everyone gasped in surprise. Lisa caught her breath and stared in amazement. The tall slender girl looked hauntingly sad, and yet proud. The yellow skirt of her sundress was molded to the soft curves one side of her body by a breeze. One hand gracefully held the folds of her dress and the other brushed a wayward curl from her forehead. Tucked into the braids were delicate flowers that circled her head like a golden crown. In the background were the beautiful layered mountains of the White Rock Wildlife Management.
“It’s beautiful,” she breathed. Her face warmed. “So that’s why you were looking me up and down the day we met.”
He chuckled. “And you looked me over defiantly. I simply couldn’t resist you. I had to bring you here so I could paint a portrait. I didn’t think I had a chance of getting someone like you to sit for me. The way it worked out, I had a sitter, mom had help and Tammy had a companion. Meanwhile, you were here where I could observe you for the painting.” He shrugged. “How was I to know you would be so inquisitive? I didn’t want you to see the painting until it was done.”
Len looked around. “I can see why you wanted to keep this a secret. There must be a fortune right here in this building. Do you have any security equipment?”
Yancey laughed. “Actually, I never gave it much thought until I found the window open. Are you ever really off the clock, Len?”
Len colored and glanced at Connie, who dimpled and firmly stated, “Yes.”
“Wooo!” was the response from the crowd, and Len’s blush deepened. Howard slapped Len on the back playfully and turned to leave the building. No wonder Len knew so much about what was going on.
Later, when everyone had left, Yancey took Lisa’s hands in his. They gazed into each other’s eyes for a moment before he spoke.
“I love you. Will you marry me?”
She smiled. “Who is asking, Andy Gordon or Yancey Giddon?”
He dropped her hands and grabbed her waist, pulling her close. “Does it matter?”
“It does to me. I don’t know Andy.”
He cupped her face in his hands and brushed her lips lightly with his own. “Don’t you?”
“I’m not sure, but I think it’s going to be fun discovering.”
He chuckled. “Is that a yes?”
She slipped her arms around his neck and whispered against his lips, “yes.”
Yancey was his pseudonym, and the man she had grown to love. Andy was a gentle and thoughtful father and son – the child prodigy she knew only from the paintings she had admired for years. Maybe it would be wise to separate the two at times. Certainly he had enough moods to fit both. It was an exciting prospect.
She gazed up at him. “What about college?”
He shrugged. “What about it?”
“I want to go to college this fall. I want to major in journalism.”
He made a face. “You mean as in being a reporter?”
She gave him a coy smile. “Maybe. How would you feel about that?”
His smile slipped sideways. “Do you really want to go to college?”
She laughed. “Yes, but I’m really more interested in writing mystery novels.”
He looked relieved. “I can live with that.”
They stood in his workshop for a while and he held her close. It was nice simply being in his arms without guilt or concern. As her head lay on his chest, her gaze drifted around the room. What would the man in the black car – Tom, think about this turn of events? She smiled. Whatever the man thought, Yancey...Andy could handle it. She leaned back and looked up into his face.
“Do you want me to call you Yancey or Andy? Are you going to continue this façade?”
His smile was wry. “It was working just fine until you came along and stirred everything up.” He paused, waiting for a response, but when she remained silent, he shrugged. “You know me as Yancey, what difference does it make?”
Indeed. As a matter of fact, it might be kind of fun to live a double life. It wasn’t as if his cover had been totally blown. Those who knew would remain silent.
She smiled up at him. “All right Yancey, but what will our marriage certificate say?”
He grinned. “Are you worried about the legality of it?”
She wrinkled her nose. “No. If you can collect your wages under a pseudo name, I guess a wife would be just as legal.”
Wages...what about the envelope from Columbia? She frowned. “Have you ever sold anything to Columbia?”
He lifted a brow. “So you were snooping around in my office.”
Her face burned. “I wanted to know if you were doing something illegal.”
He sighed. “I’ve sold something to almost every country, but the last transaction you observed was going to Columbia – and it didn’t contain drugs.” He shook his head. “You sure have a good imagination. Me selling drugs?”
She shrugged. “Allen did.”
He gazed down at her for a moment. “So that’s why you were suspicious of me. Have you ever...”
“No,” she said firmly. “I didn’t know he was selling them. I saw things...but I didn’t put it all together. I thought he was just being kind...It doesn’t matter.”
He pulled her close. “Of course it matters. He deceived you and betrayed your trust. His fingers caressed her back. “But he loved you – in his own selfish way.”
She lifted her head from his chest and met his sober gaze. “How do you know that?”
“Why do you think he had such distain for Howard and me? Why do you think he followed you up here?”
She frowned. “Then why did he try to strangle me?”
He shrugged, humor lurking in his eyes and around his mouth. “Love isn’t perfect.”
She smiled and hugged him. If love was perfect, she wouldn’t have spent so much time investigating him. In its imperfection, love contained mystery and adventure – and sometimes anguish. Love included suffering and the overcoming of it. Nothing could bring back her family, but loving Yancey would certainly help fill the void.
They walked to the house, each with an arm around the other’s waist. Both Tammy and Sarah were delighted with their announcement. They spent the rest of the evening making plans for the life they would all have together. Once again she would have a family, and hopefully, it would grow with their children.
Yancey promised to take therapy for his “artistic” mood swings and reluctantly agreed that she could live at her parent’s home until their marriage next year, when she turned twenty-one. Their summer romance had been so emotional that she wanted the time to be courted. It would give each of them time to learn about the other; Lisa a year close to the college; and Yancey the time to master his emotions.