The next morning her foot felt better and there was no swelling. She stayed around the house, propping her foot up whenever she sat down, and by evening it was only a little sore. By the next day she was ready to resume her normal activities, but Sarah insisted it was Saturday and she should take some time to enjoy herself.
Lisa started for her room to get a book to read and paused in the hallway to look at a photograph again. She felt somehow drawn to the picture of a frail looking girl with dark eyes that looked out hauntingly from a delicately beautiful face. She held a faint resemblance to Tammy.
“Valorie,” Sarah’s voice spoke behind her. “Yancey’s wife.” Her voice sounded faintly annoyed.
“She died when Tammy was born, didn’t she?” Lisa asked as she turned to look at Sarah. “It must have been terrible for Yancey.”
Sarah made a face. “He took it harder than I thought he would, but being able to keep Tammy took the edge off it.”
Lisa glanced down the hallway, but Yancey was still in Tammy’s room. “There was some question that he might not be able to keep his own child?”
“There would have been, if Valorie had lived.”
Lisa returned her attention to the picture, her pulse quickening. Did Valorie discover that Yancey was involved with drugs? Was her death merely a convenience ... or something more? Of course, it would be simple to say she died in childbirth.
Sarah continued. “She left him only a few months after they were married. She said she couldn’t tolerate his moods. If it had been anyone else, I would have accepted that, but she liked to control people. I tried to warn Yancey before they were married, but he wouldn’t listen. In fact, I think my big mouth made him all the more determined. I always did think he felt more pity for her than love. When she didn’t get her way, she’d cry and act like she was afraid of him. She sighed heavily. “I should have stayed out of it. I’ve learned my lesson, though. Never again will I oppose any woman he wants to marry - but I hope the next time, it’s someone like you.”
Lisa jerked her head around and looked at Sarah, a slow flush invading her face. “Me?” Who could blame Valorie for shrinking from Yancey’s temper? Sarah was his mother, so he would be respectful, and if he wasn’t she could always walk away. It would be different with his wife.
Sarah smiled. “You stand up to him.”
Was that what Sarah had found so amusing the first day - the fact that she hadn’t melted under Yancey’s stern gaze? “He does have a formidable temper, you know.” She offered tentatively.
Sarah’s smile broadened until it crinkled her eyes. “Of course I know, and so does he. With Yancey’s kind, there’s no such thing as a mild emotion, neither in anger nor in love.” She hesitated, gazing down the hallway, and her expression grew solemn. “Since his wife left, he’s avoided relationships because he’s afraid of giving his heart again only to drive another love away. He’s trying to change, but it isn’t easy.” She glanced back at Lisa and smiled mischievously. “Every time he lashes out at you and gets his nails clipped in the process, it erases a little more of that fear. You’re the kind of woman he needs - someone who will stand up to him and yet understand his moods.”
Lisa caught her breath. Was Sarah encouraging a relationship between them? The idea gave her a cold chill. Why? If Sarah thought she understood Yancey’s moods, she was mistaken. She had no idea what made him angry one minute and jovial the next. Determination was her motivation to stand up to Yancey. If he thought he could terrorize her, he had another think coming. In any case, Yancey didn’t seem to be all that determined to avoid a relationship.
There could be a number of reasons that Sarah would welcome her as a daughter-in-law, not the least of which was the goings-on down that path. If Sarah suspected that she already knew what was going on and looked the other way, why not welcome her into the family? What was going on? She sighed. Probably nothing like what was on her imaginative mind. Still, if she could get into that building and find out, it might ease her mind. Sarah was right about one thing. She was romantically involved with Yancey.
Lisa retrieved the book from her room and decided to go read out on the patio. As she passed his office, she glanced through the open door. Yancey was working over some papers. So he hadn’t been in Tammy’s room all this time. Had he heard her conversation with Sarah? Not that it mattered. They didn’t say anything he didn’t already know. She tried to slip by quietly, but he glanced up as she passed. He studied her over the rim of his reading glasses, and his eyes warmed with a smile.
“Come in and sit down. I’ll be done in just a few minutes.”
She entered the room and sat in the leather-upholstered chair beside the desk. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
“I was just finishing up.” He signed the paper with a flourish and returned the pen to its elaborate bronze holder. He leaned back in the chair, tossing his glasses on the table. He glanced at her bare legs and she blushed, squirming in the chair.
His eyes mocked her. “You must be getting bored around here. You actually sought out my company - or did you have something earth-shattering to tell me?”
She smiled. Why crush his ego? “No, I’m not bored and I don’t have anything special to say.” She turned and gazed out the window. “It’s so beautiful out here. I wish I could explore the woods.”
He leaned forward in his chair, sobering. “How about going to a dance tonight? Is your ankle up to a two-step?”
She glanced back at him and caught her breath. He was actually asking her out ... like on a real date? Why? To keep her from wandering in the woods?
“I...I’m not a very good dancing partner,” she lied.
He leaned back in his chair again and stretched his legs out, his piercing gaze sorting through the secrets of her mind. Finally he smiled. “All right. Why don’t you protect those fantastic legs with some jeans and I’ll take you to explore the woods.”
She straightened in her chair, blushing. What she needed was a line item veto. Sure, I’d love to go explore the woods with you, but let’s forget about my legs. Instead she accepted the entire package at face value. She favored him with a bright smile.
“Really? I’d love to go.”
At his affirmative nod, she hurried to her room and changed into jeans and sneakers before he could change his mind.
When she met him outside, he was attaching a pillow to his ATV with bunji cords. He glanced up at her frowning face and chuckled. “I promise not to plaster you with mud this time.”
“I hoped we could go for a walk.”
“I know, but humor me. I’ll take you for a ride through more country in a day than you could hope to walk in a week.” He threw a leg over the ATV and settled himself on the seat with a grin. “Hop on. The day isn’t getting any longer.”
She climbed onto the vehicle and settled on the soft cushion. This time she stretched her arms around his waist without hesitation.
He glanced around at her and winked. “That’s better,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “See how much better this is than walking?”
She wrinkled her nose at him. “Lead the way, Romeo, but just remember, it’s the country that I’m interested in exploring.”
He chuckled and started the engine.
This time he followed the main road for a while before dipping off onto a well used trail. He worked the ATV down a steep rocky slope and through overhanging brush that kept her busy dodging limbs and combing cobwebs from her hair. An armadillo stared at them from a rocky ledge as they passed, and a doe and her fawn darted across the trail not more than a hundred yards ahead, disappearing into the brush.
He carefully worked the ATV down a steep washed out trail that threatened to overturn the vehicle several times. As they came out on an open trail, he increased speed. She heard the gurgling water before the creek came into view. He stopped the ATV and shut off the engine.
“The local folks call this spot the writing on the rock. I think you might find it interesting.”
The creek flowed over a succession of rock ledges and formed pools at the edge where tadpoles swam. He led her to a large mossy rock that was etched with a name and date. Some of the letters in the name were backward, but the date was clearly 1872.
She knelt and touched the letters. What would inspire someone to chisel their name into a rock so far from civilization? If they could talk, what tales these hills could tell. She glanced up at Yancey, who was lounging against a tree watching her. “I wonder why they chose this spot. Who would see it?”
He shrugged. “There used to be houses around here long time ago. I’ve found old rock fences, and there’s an old log cabin falling into ruins not too far from here.”
He moved away from the tree. “Come on, I’ll show you something that will take your breath away.”
They climbed back on the ATV and crossed the creek. After a while they were riding around the side of a steep hill through tall grass. A deer watched them from the trees. Lisa tapped Yancey’s shoulder and pointed at it. He nodded and returned his attention to the steep hill. After a long time they came into a clearing on the edge of the mountain. She gasped at the view. He stopped the ATV again and they got off, both gazing in rapt silence. Range after range of mountains began with a mixture of sharp green that gradually faded until the last range was wrapped in the haze of distance. It could have been a tropical rain forest, so densely covered with trees and without a trace of human inhabitants.
“It’s fascinating!” She breathed. “Do you suppose this is what it looked like when the first settlers found it?”
“Probably.” He was studying the mountain ranges intently. “A body could get lost out here and never be found.”
At first she nodded agreement, and then a cold feeling clutched at her heart. Was he warning her again? “But people are out here all the time with ATV’s, aren’t they? I mean, there are so many trails.”
He nodded. “Hunters, mostly.”
She tucked her suspicions back into a corner of her mind. Nothing was going to ruin this magnificent day.
“This area is so full of wildlife.”
He smiled. “No more so than the area round the house. When you’re riding an ATV you can cover more territory, and the animals have grown used to the sound of them. They seem to know man isn’t a threat until the engine is shut off. You’d see less wildlife if you were walking - making more frightening noises to the animals.”
“Do you suppose they don’t smell you coming so quickly?”
“Could be.” He studied her face with amused eyes. “Tell me the truth now. Aren’t you enjoying the ride?”
She laughed softly. “Yes, I’m enjoying it. How far do you think we’ve traveled?”
He shrugged. “As the crow flies, about seven miles, but as the old saying goes, a crow can’t fly through rock. By the time you count the hills, hollows and turns, it’s closer to ten. He laced his fingers behind his neck and stretched in a way that made his upper torso ripple with muscular activity.
She turned away, embarrassed by the rush of excitement the action triggered. She rubbed her lumbar area, vaguely aware of the pain that riding was causing. There was a soft step behind her, and then his hands were on her waist, his thumbs nimbly working the tense muscles. His touch was like an electric shock, forcing her heart to pound. His hands worked up her back moving gradually as he massaged every inch of the muscles on either side of her spine. It was both relaxing and exciting. Finally his big hands left her waist and moved to her shoulders, working out the stiffness in them, and then on to the back of her neck. When his fingers stopped their work, they lingered.
“Better?” His voice was gentle and warm.
“Yes. Where did you learn to do that?” She didn’t care; the purpose of the question was to get her mind on something besides his warm hands resting on her shoulders.
His chuckle was soft as he pulled her gently against him. His warm breath on her neck sent her heart in a flurry of wild beats. He kissed her neck lightly, his arms holding her in a loose embrace.
He knew all the right buttons to push. She stepped away from him, but he grabbed one arm, turning her around to face him.
“Lisa,” his voice was barely more than a whisper as he pulled her into his arms.
She gazed up into eyes that were full of tenderness. Not here - Not now. Her hands protested on his broad chest as he bent his head to claim her lips. In spite of her resolve, her lips responded to his silent quest.
When he lifted his head, she pushed him away. “I thought we came out here to look over the country.” Her heart was racing and her breath came quickly. They had to get away from here - back to the house where there were other people.
“Are you afraid of me, Lisa?” His voice was soft and husky.
“No.” Actually, she was far more afraid of her own response at the moment. “I just don’t think it’s a good idea for us to be out here alone. I mean, not doing this.”
He chuckled softly. “We’ll go, then, and I promise to keep my hands to myself.”
As he had once said, he was a man of his word and he made no more advances. The trip back was every bit as exciting. She smiled. Today she had seen a new side of him. He could be tender and thoughtful, as well as charming - a man of so many moods. Could he actually be involved in anything less than honest? Somehow it seemed contrary to his character - any of them.
They were both surprised to see the blue truck parked in the yard when they returned. Yancey looked down at her as he helped her from the ATV.
“I wish you’d stop acting like I had a thousand guys on the string. It’s insulting.”
He frowned. “I wasn’t suggesting anything like that.”
She said nothing, but when they entered the kitchen to find Len sitting at the table, his expression was wary.
“Hello, Officer Quint.” She was facing Len, but kept Yancey in view. He tensed and glared at her.
Len glanced at Yancey uncertainly and then shifted his attention back to her. “Hello, Lisa. Howard gave me the directions and I thought I’d stop by.” He glanced nervously at Yancey, who was still glaring at Lisa. “I hope I’m not intruding.”
Lisa finally met Yancey’s accusing gaze. “Not as far as I’m concerned,” She spoke to Len without taking her eyes off Yancey.
His smoldering gaze finally shifted to Len. “No, I guess not.”
Len looked uncomfortable. “I’m sorry. I should have called.” He glanced back at Lisa. “I found a car for you. Would you like to come take a look at it?”
Her attention was completely diverted from Yancey. “A car? Yes. Where is it?”
“In Huntsville. It’s a nice one, low mileage and looks to be in excellent condition. The owner is selling it because he bought a truck. I saw it in the paper yesterday and thought since I had Saturday off, I’d come out and look at it for you.”
“Sure, I’ll get my purse.” She started to turn.
“Where is your car?” Len asked.
She glanced at Yancey, who was watching her with a confused expression. She shrugged.
“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you on the way.”
She didn’t look at Yancey when they left. One thing was clear. He didn’t like a police officer there – or her leaving with him, but what could he say? More importantly, what would he say when she returned? Having a car would provide the opportunity to leave at her will instead of his.
On the way to town, she told Len about the car and how she had come to meet the Giddon family. He was silent while she talked. When he spoke, his perspective surprised her.
“It seems you may be romantically involved with this man.”
She stared at him. “Romantically involved? Whatever did I say to make you think that?”
He glanced at her and shook his head. “You’ve never been the impulsive kind. You think things over for a long time before you make decisions – even in small matters. This big handsome galoot comes along and opens his lavish home to you. Even though you know nothing about him, you accept.” He was silent a moment. “I can understand how you might want the closeness of....family, but you seem happy there. When you two walked in, I could feel the electricity. He was jealous.”
Lisa stared at his profile. At least he had found the correct profession. His observance was not only dead-on, it was disturbing. What else did he know or suspect? She chose her words carefully.
“Well, he is possessive – and moody.”
“And somehow irresistible.”
She frowned. “Len, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were jealous.”
He glanced at her and smiled. “I’m not jealous. I’m envious. What does he have that I don’t – besides money and good looks?”
She laughed. “You don’t seem to be doing too bad – in either department. How do you like your job?”
“It’s nice to hear you laugh. There for a while I thought you never would again.”
She sobered and stared down at her hands. “Sometimes I wondered.”
“Whatever makes you happy – I’m for it,” he said with a sigh. He turned into a driveway and shut off the truck. “That’s it over there.”
“It” was a late model blue Toyota Camry. “I like it,” she said instantly.
His laugh was more a snort. “You haven’t seen anything important yet.”
She shrugged. “That’s why I wanted you to look for me. I don’t know a thing about mechanics.”
“I wondered why you asked me to look for it.” He sounded disappointed.
She stared at him, but he didn’t look at her. He started walking over to the car. Of course, he though she was giving him a signal. How could she be so stupid? She hadn’t thought about his feelings or motive to help. He had offered to help in any way possible and she had found a way. It was selfish enough to be embarrassing. She followed him. Apologizing would do no good. He probably thought she had led him on.
She looked over the car and expressed her approval, but her mind was consumed with guilt. How could she have known how he felt? Yet as the world began to open beyond her little circle, she realized that he had been open about his interest all along. She had been so distracted with her own troubles that his interests and needs had been ignored.
“You don’t like it,” he said. “I can tell. I’ll find you something else.”
“I like it. I want to buy it. I was just wondering how to deal with the insurance company when the seller is the owner.” It wasn’t a lie. The thought had crossed her mind – briefly. She needed to talk to him, but not here in front of the owner.
He smiled. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of those details.” He turned to the owner and started negotiating price and terms. When everyone was satisfied, they exchanged names and numbers.
In the truck, on the way home, she was silent a long time.
“Are you sure you liked it?” he asked. “You’re so quiet. It’s not too late to change your mind.”
She took a deep breath. “I like the car.” She paused a moment. “But I don’t like the way I’ve been treating you. I want to pay you for your time. I don’t know what I was thinking of, taking advantage of you that way.”
He shrugged. “I do.”
She studied him. “What?”
“Your family. You were distraught. I offered to help and you accepted my offer. It’s as simple as that. I’m glad you did.”
“You don’t think I betrayed your trust?”
He smiled in a forlorn way. “You didn’t betray my trust. I was just thinking I might have betrayed yours.”
“Well, maybe we both did a little. But at least you had my best interest in mind.” She made a face. “So did I.”
He chuckled. “I suppose that’s only natural. You’ve been through a lot.”
“I’m just beginning to see what I’ve been missing.”
The truck swung into the Giddon drive. “Please be careful,” he said in a quiet voice. “Howard couldn’t find anything on this guy. The more questions he asks, the tighter their lips. I asked a few questions and was quickly told to mind my own business.”
She caught her breath. “Do you think he’s involved in something bad?”
He shook his head. “If I did, I wouldn’t be bringing you back here. Maybe he’s in some witness protection program.”
That didn’t explain what she had seen at the building. She hesitated a moment, wanting to tell him, but thinking she would be betraying Yancey if she did so. She was forming a habit of using people who expressed interest in her – Connie, Howard, Len and now Yancey. It was time to stand on her own two feet. If Howard had not been able to find anything on Yancey, it was probably because there was nothing to tell. Witness protection? It was a thought, especially considering his reclusive behavior. Connie would have told Len about the fact that Yancey didn’t want to give her his phone number. But Len didn’t know all the facts, and that wasn’t fair. On the other hand, she hadn’t asked Len to look into Yancey’s past. Anything else she divulged should go to Howard, not Connie. Since she had given no information to Howard, Connie had to be the one who was talking. Of course, Howard had talked to Len – even given him instructions to the Giddon house. Who else had he told?
“Oh, I forgot to ask.” Did Connie tell Allen where to find me?”
“No, but she did say he visited you. Did he say what he wanted?”
“He didn’t really get the chance. He had been drinking and was being a jerk. Yanc...Mr. Giddon heard him and kicked him off the place. Verbally, not literally. You should have seen Allen’s face. He was scared.”
Len pulled the truck into the yard and stopped. “Yeah, I can imagine. He has a way of looking at you.... Well, as I said. Be careful. You have my number, don’t you?” At her nod he continued. “Call me if you need me – and you won’t be taking advantage of me. I know the score and it’s my choice.”
She smiled. “You’re the sweetest person I’ve ever met.”
“Yeah?” Len grinned. He leaned over and kissed her. “I’ll keep that in mind the next time the sergeant barks at me.”
She returned his kiss. “I’ll let you know if I hear something I think you need to know.” With that said, she got out of the truck and watched him leave. She was still smiling when she walked back into the kitchen.
Yancey was alone in the kitchen. He turned and leaned back against the counter, surveying her with obvious distaste.
“I take it you didn’t like the car.” His tone was sarcastic.
Her smile broadened. “Oh no. I liked it. I decided to buy it. Len is going to take care of the details for me.
“Oh, is that what the kiss was for?”
“Nope. It was because he’s such a sweet guy.” She turned and left the room. Let him stew on that for a while. She headed for her room and a little rest before supper.