A HOMETOWN BOY
Harlequin Super Romance Series , #1825 (January 2, 2013)
Prosecutor David Owen has fond memories of growing up in small-town Washington State. But he outgrew that place—and his family—long ago and hasn't felt the need to return. Until the day a tragedy shakes the town and calls him back to a community desperate for hope and healing. In the emotional fallout, he never expects to find Acadia Henderson again.
For one teenage summer they hovered on the edge of a sweet attraction before she moved away. Now as adults, that same attraction is there…only, hotter and way more intense. This seems like the wrong time to find a connection. But it could be the perfect time to move on…with each other.
How could she still love someone who was the source of most of her misery and grief? Someone who had ruined her life?
Joyce Owen sat behind closed drapes in her living room, the TV flickering but unwatched although Days of Our Lives was on. She had scarcely left the house in two weeks, had become so accustomed to keeping the blinds closed she never noticed anymore how dim the room was. Her world had narrowed gradually as she cut off contact with that hateful Marvella Hatcher first, then the Daleys, Kirk and Marie Merfeld, Alice Simmons, once her dearest friend, the Jurgens…until no one was left. Once she'd enjoyed gardening and talking over the fence with the neighbors to each side, grocery shopping here in town, going to the library, catching up on gossip. It had been years since she'd stepped foot in the Food Emporium here in Tucannon; she drove all the way to Walla Walla now to buy her necessities, just so she didn't have to pretend not to hear the whispers when townsfolk set eyes on her.
All because of Robbie, who couldn't help himself—oh, she knew he couldn't—but he had made her life hard. There was no denying that.
Two weeks ago, she'd had to tell him this was no longer his home, not if he wouldn't take his medicine. He was her oldest, thirty-four years old and no more capable of taking care of himself than a five-year-old. But she had finally become so frightened of him she couldn't live with it anymore.
Since he'd stormed out, she had understood that this wasn't any better. Joyce felt as if a tornado was approaching. The sky was sickly yellow, the stillness absolute, and by the prickling of her skin she knew, knew, that something terrible was coming. She was just waiting to find out what that something terrible was. She slept only in uneasy bursts, every creak of the old house jerking her to wakefulness. Come morning, she did her housekeeping chores out of long habit, hurrying when she had to step outside to water her poor pitiful roses in the backyard or haul the garbage can out to the curb. Then she sat, pretending to watch TV. And all she could think about was what he was doing right now. What he was thinking. How scared he was.
She knew Robbie hadn't left town, the way she'd half hoped he would. She didn't answer the phone, but she did listen to messages. Several neighbors had called to complain that they'd caught him sleeping in their garage or under their lilac bushes beneath the front windows. Sounding mad as hell, Wayne Tindall said, "I looked at him down the barrels of my shotgun and told him if he steps foot on my property again I'd let him have it."
Of course, Wayne hadn't liked the boys even when they were just normal high-spirited kids. He'd called the police when David hit a baseball through his plate-glass window. As if he hadn't known perfectly well that Pete and Joyce would pay for the replacement and then make David work it off in chores. Joyce just plain didn't like Wayne Tindall. She tried to feel sorry for his wife, Betty, living with a man who lacked even a grain of compassion.
Crack. The crack of a gunshot came from so close her entire body spasmed. Joyce dropped to the floor with her heart racing. Oh, God, oh, God, she thought. It had come. Whatever the terrible thing was.
Somebody was screaming, a keen of terror. Crack. The second shot, cutting that scream off, was just as loud, just as near, rattling the window glass. It sounded as if it had been fired right outside her living room.
Or next door, she realized with a shudder. At the Tindalls'.
But she'd heard shotguns fired before, and they didn't sound like this, clean and sharp.
Panic squeezed her chest. Whimpering, she crawled a few feet and then lurched to her feet and ran toward the back of the house. She hardly ever went into Pete's den, only to vacuum and dust every week or so. She hadn't emptied out any of his things since he dropped dead of a heart attack near two years ago. She just…closed the door. She had too much grief already on her mind.
Now she flung the door open and stared in horror at his gun safe, standing open and empty. The key. Robbie had found the key. Pete's hunting rifles were missing, both of them, and Joyce knew without looking that the handgun he kept in the drawer at the bottom of the safe would be gone, too. Lord have mercy on them all.
What had Robbie done?
Right that moment, she didn't even care that he might be coming for her. No, she hoped he would. This was all her fault. Her legs sagged, and she sank down onto the floor right there, in the doorway where she couldn't look away from the awful sight of those missing guns. Tears streaming down her face, she waited for him.
Reeve Hadfield lay on his back on his wooden creeper under the car, Kanye West's "Heard 'em Say" blasting through his earbuds. He wiped sweat from his forehead, not caring that he'd probably smeared grease on his face, then adjusted his light and started to lift the wrench. A glimpse of his watch surprised him. Crap! Walt said he'd probably stop by before one, and it was after that now. He'd have seen that Reeve was under the car, wouldn't he?
Walt Stenten owned the Shell station out by the highway. Reeve had pumped gas through high school and after he graduated had gone to work for him full-time. It wasn't like they were friends, exactly; Walt was probably Reeve's parents' age, maybe forty-five or fifty or something like that. He was this short guy built like a box, who kept his hair in a buzz cut and had crinkles beside his eyes from squinting. They hardly talked at all, and when they did it was mostly stuff like, "Start with the oil change, then let's take a look at the brakes on the Hargers' Voyager."
Reeve had been working on his own car, a '55 Chevy Bel Air. Not a convertible; that would have been even cooler. This was a sedan, but it was in awesome shape considering. Getting parts was the hard thing. Walt had been helping him with that.
Reeve reached down to his waist and turned off his iPod, so he'd hear when Walt did come. The garage door stood open to give him better light to work by, so Reeve knew he wouldn't go to the front door or anything.
Talk about timing: he heard footsteps coming up the driveway. Grinning, Reeve laid down the light and his wrench, then gave a push with his heels to send the creeper shooting out from under the side of the Bel Air. He spun on the wheels and, still on his back, zipped out to the front of the garage, the bumper rearing above him.
Since his eyes had adjusted to the dim light under the car, the brilliant sunlight blinded him for a moment. All he could see was a dark silhouette against the white-hot background.
"Walt?" he said, hearing his own uncertainty. He blinked a couple of times, thinking it was weird that Walt hadn't said anything or moved.
One more blink, and he could see again. Only…it wasn't Walt standing there. It was that freak Rob Owen. And—shit!—he had a rifle slung over his back, a pistol jammed in his waistband, and he was holding another rifle loose in his arms.
His hair was matted and dirty. Was that blood spattering his face and the front of his T-shirt? He stared at Reeve, his face expressionless except for his dark eyes, which burned. He was crazy, everyone knew that. But this…this was horror-movie crazy.
Reeve heard himself start to say, "What the…?" when the barrel of that rifle lifted and took aim at his head or maybe his chest. Owen sighted down it, and, as if time had slowed down, Reeve actually saw a finger tightening on the trigger.
I'm dead, he thought incredulously.
And then, God, a body flew out of nowhere just as the first deafening boom sounded. Slam! Somebody came down on top of him, pushing the creeper backward.
Boom! Another shot.
It was deadweight on him. Completely panicked, Reeve shoved the body off him and propelled himself under the car with a scramble of heels and hands.
Walt. God, that was Walt, he realized in horror. Walt, with blood spilling from his mouth, and his eyes.
Reeve came out the back of the Bel Air and leaped off the creeper, crouching behind the bulk of the car, straining for any sound at all.
Nothing. Damn it. Nothing.
He measured with his eyes the distance to the door going into the house, and knew he had to try for it. His heart was trying to slam its way out of his chest, and he wasn't sure he could hear over the thunder in his ears.
Still crouching, he threw himself forward, up the two steps, turned the knob, yanked the door open and all but fell through, into the kitchen. He didn't hear a gunshot, didn't see anything. Hand shaking, he pushed the stupid-ass little button lock that wouldn't keep out anyone, then ran for the phone. It took him three tries to dial 911.
The operator had already answered, her voice faraway and tinny, when Reeve heard another gunshot. Not right out in front; maybe a couple of houses away.
"Somebody's shot," he babbled. "God! I think he's dead. My address."
"I have your address, sir. Do you see the gunman?"
"No!" he screamed. "I don't know where he went! Just…hurry. Tell them to hurry."
Then he dropped the phone and ran for the bathroom. He'd pissed his pants. He couldn't let anyone see. No one.
Somehow he got himself cleaned up, grabbed jeans from his bedroom and raced for the door to the garage again, still hopping to get the jeans on and buttoned.
Somewhere, sirens had started. Not one, but several.
God. He wanted to go out and see if Walt was alive, but he was too freaking scared to do it. Walt might be bleeding to death, after sacrificing himself to save Reeve, and he didn't have the guts to go back out into the garage.
He'd never learned first aid anyway.
Oh, sure. Good excuse.
The sirens screamed right outside....