Blood Brothers, page 14part #1 of Sign of Seven Series
FOX MADE A RUN TO THE BANK. IT WAS COMPLETELY unnecessary since the papers in his briefcase could have been dropped off at any time-or more efficiently, the client could have come into his office to ink them.
But he'd wanted to get out, get some air, walk off his frustration.
It was time to admit that he'd still held on to the hope that Alice Hawbaker would change her mind, or that he could change it for her. Maybe it was selfish, and so what? He depended on her, he was used to her. And he loved her.
The love meant he had no choice but to let her go. The love meant if he could take back the last twenty minutes he'd spent with her, he would.
She'd nearly broken down, he remembered as he strode along in his worn-down hiking boots (no court today). She never broke. She never even cracked, but he'd pushed her hard enough to cause fissures. He'd always regret it.
If we stay, we'll die. She'd said that with tears in her voice, with tears glimmering in her eyes.
He'd only wanted to know why she was so set to leave, why she was jumpier every day to the point she wanted to go sooner than originally planned.
So he'd pushed. And finally, she'd told him.
She'd seen their deaths, over and over, every time she closed her eyes. She'd seen herself getting her husband's deer rifle out of the locked case in his basement workroom. Seen herself calmly loading it. She'd watched herself walk upstairs, through the kitchen where the dinner dishes were loaded into the dishwasher, the counters wiped clean. Into the den where the man she'd loved for thirty-six years, had made three children with, was watching the Orioles battle the Red Sox. The O's were up two-zip, but the Sox were at the plate, with a man on second, one out. Top of the sixth. The count was one and two.
When the pitcher wound up, she pumped a bullet through the back of her husband's head as he sat in his favorite recliner.
Then she'd put the barrel under her own chin.
So, yes, he had to let her go, just as he'd had to make an excuse to leave the office because he knew her well enough to understand she didn't want him around until she was composed again.
Knowing he'd given her what she wanted and needed didn't stop him from feeling guilty, frustrated, and inadequate.
He ducked in to buy flowers. She'd accept them as a peace offering, he knew. She liked flowers in the office, and often picked them up herself as he tended to forget.
He came out with an armload of mixed blooms, and nearly ran over Layla.
She stumbled back, even took a couple extra steps in retreat. He saw upset and unhappiness on her face, and wondered if it was his current lot to make women nervous and miserable.
"Sorry. Wasn't looking. "
She didn't smile, just started fiddling with the buttons of her coat. "It's okay. Neither was I. "
He should just go. He didn't have to tap in to her mind to feel the jangle of nerves and misery surrounding her. It seemed to him she never relaxed around him, was always making that little move away. Or maybe she never relaxed ever. Could be a New York thing, he mused. He sure as hell hadn't been able to relax there.
But there was too much of the how-can-I-fix-this in him. "Problem?"
Now her eyes glimmered with tears, and Fox quite simply wanted to step into the street into the path of a passing truck.
"Problem? How could there possibly be a problem? I'm living in a strange house in a strange town, seeing things that aren't there-or worse, are there and want me dead. Nearly everything I own is sitting in my apartment in New York. An apartment I have to pay for, and my very understanding and patient boss called this morning to tell me, regretfully, that if I couldn't come back to work next week, she'll have to replace me. So do you know what I did?"
"I started to pack. Sorry, really, sorry, but I've got a life here. I have responsibilities and bills and a goddamn routine. " She gripped her elbows in opposite hands as if to hold herself in place. "I need to get back to them. And I couldn't. I just couldn't do it. I don't even know why, not on any reasonable level, but I couldn't. So now I'm going to be out of a job, which means I won't be able to afford my apartment. And I'm probably going to end up dead or institutionalized, and that's after my landlord sues me for back rent. So problems? No, not me. "
He listened all the way through without interruption, then just nodded. "Stupid question. Here. " He shoved the flowers at her.
"You look like you could use them. "
Flummoxed, she stared at him, stared at the colorful blooms in her arms. And felt the sharpest edge of what might have been hysteria dulling into perplexity. "But. . . you bought them for someone. "
"I can buy more. " He waved a thumb at the door of the flower shop. "And I can help with the landlord if you get me the information. The rest, well, we're working on it. Maybe something pushed you to come here, and maybe something's pushing you to stay, but at the bottom of it, Layla, it's your choice. If you decide you have to leave. . . " He thought of Alice again, and some of his own frustration ebbed. "Nobody's going to blame you for it. But if you stay, you need to commit. "
"No, you haven't. " Absently, he reached out to secure the strap of her bag, which had slipped down to the crook of her elbow, back on her shoulder. "You're still looking for the way out, the loophole in the deal that means you can pack your bags and go without consequences. Just go back to the way things were. Can't blame you for it. But choose, then stick. That's all. I've got to finish up and get back. Talk to you later. "
He stepped back into the florist and left her standing speechless on the sidewalk.
QUINN SHOUTED DOWN FROM THE SECOND FLOOR when Layla came in.
"It's me," Layla called up, and still conflicted, walked back to the kitchen with the flowers and the bottles and pots she'd bought in a gift shop on the walk home.
"Coffee. " Quinn bustled in a few moments later. "Going to need lots and lots of. . . Hey, pretty," she said when she saw the flowers Layla was clipping to size and arranging in various bottles.
"They really are. Quinn, I need to talk to you. "
"Need to talk to you, too. You go first. "
"I was going to leave this morning. "
Quinn stopped on the way to fill the coffeepot. "Oh. "
"And I was going to do my best to get out before you came back, and talked me out of it. I'm sorry. "
"Okay. It's okay. " Quinn busied herself making the coffee. "I'd avoid me, too, if I wanted to do something I didn't want me to do. If you get me. "
"Oddly enough, I do. "
"Why aren't you gone?"
"Let me backtrack. " While she finished fussing with the flowers, Layla related the telephone conversation she'd had with her boss.
"I'm sorry. It's so unfair. I don't mean your boss is unfair. She's got a business to run. But that this whole thing is unfair. " Quinn watched Layla arrange multicolored daisies in an oversized teacup. "On a practical level I'm okay, because this is my job, or the job I picked. I can afford to take the time to be here and supplement that with articles. I could help-"
"That's not what I'm looking for. I don't want you to loan me money, or to carry my share of the expenses. If I stay, it's because I've chosen to stay. " Layla looked at the flowers, thought of what Fox had said. "I think, until today, I didn't accept that, or want to accept it. Easier to think I'd been driven to come here, and that I was being pressured to stay. I wanted to go because I didn't want any of this to be happening. But it is. So I'm staying because I've decided to stay. I'll just have to figure out the practicalities. "
"I've got a couple of ideas on that, maybe just a thumb in the dike. Let me think about them. The flowers were a nice idea. Cheer up a bad news day. "
"Not my idea. Fox gave them to me when I ran into him outside the florist. I cut loose on him. " Layla shrugged, then gathered up the bits o
"Hmm. " Quinn added the information to the think-pot she was stirring. "And you feel better?"
"Better?" Layla walked into the little dining room to arrange a trio of flowers on the old, drop-leaf table they'd picked up at the flea market. "I feel more resolved. I don't know if that's better. "
"I've got something to keep you busy. "
"Thank God. I'm used to working, and all this time on my hands makes me bitchy. "
"Come with me. Don't leave all the flowers; you should have some of them in your room. "
"I thought they'd be for the house. He didn't buy them for me or-"
"He gave them to you. Take some of them up. You made me take the tulips up to mine. " To solve the matter, Quinn picked up one of the little pots and a slender bottle herself. "Oh, coffee. "
"I'll get it. " Layla poured one of the mugs for Quinn, doctored it, then got a bottle of water for herself. "What's the project that's going to keep me busy?"
"We already have the books from the library. "
"Now we have some from Estelle Hawkins's personal store. Some of them are journals. I haven't really scratched the surface yet," Quinn explained as they headed up. "I'd barely gotten home ahead of you. But there are three of them written by Ann Hawkins. After her children were born. Her children with Giles Dent. "
"But Mrs. Hawkins must have read them before, shown them to Cal. "
"Right, and right. They've all been read, studied, pondered over. But not by us, Layla. Fresh eyes, different angle. " She detoured to Layla's room to set the flowers down, then took the coffee mug on her way to the office. "And I've already got the first question on my notes: Where are the others?"
"Ann's other journals, because I'm betting there are more, or were. Where's the journal she kept when she lived with Dent, when she was carrying her triplets? That's one of the new angles I hope our fresh eyes can find. Where would they be, and why aren't they with the others?"
"If she did write others, they might have been lost or destroyed. "
"Let's hope not. " Quinn's eyes were sharp as she sat, lifted a small book bound in brown leather. "Because I think she had some of the answers we need. "
CAL COULDN'T REASONABLY BREAK AWAY FROM the center until after seven. Even then he felt guilty leaving his father to handle the rest of the night. He'd called Quinn in the late afternoon to let her know he'd be by when he could. And her absent response had been for him to bring food with him.
She'd have to settle for pizza, he thought as he carried the takeout boxes up the steps. He hadn't had the time or inclination to figure out what her lifestyle-change option might be.
As he knocked, the wind whistled across the back of his neck, had him glancing uneasily behind him. Something coming, he thought. Something's in the wind.
Fox answered the door. "Thank God, pizza and a testosterone carrier. I'm outnumbered here, buddy. "
"Where's the estrogen?"
"Up. Buried in books and notes. Charts. Layla makes charts. I made the mistake of telling them I had a dry-wipe board down at the office. They made me go get it, haul it in here, haul it upstairs. " The minute Cal set the pizza down on the kitchen counter, Fox shoved up the lid and took out a slice. "There's been talk of index cards. Colored index cards. Don't leave me here alone again. "
Cal grunted, opened the fridge, and found, as he'd hoped and dreamed, Fox had stocked beer. "Maybe we were never organized enough, so we missed some detail. Maybe-"
He broke off as Quinn rushed in. "Hi! Pizza. Oh-oh. Well, I'll work it off with the power of my mind and with a session in the gym tomorrow morning. "
She got down plates, passed one to Fox, who was already halfway through with his first slice. Then she smiled that smile at Cal. "Got anything else for me?"
He leaned right in, laid his mouth on hers. "Got that. "
"Coincidentally, exactly what I wanted. So how about some more. " She got a fistful of his shirt and tugged him down for another, longer kiss.
"You guys want me to leave? Can I take the pizza with me?"
"As a matter of fact," Cal began.
"Now, now. " Quinn patted Cal's chest to ease him back. "Mommy and Daddy were just saying hello," she told Fox. "Why don't we eat in the dining room like the civilized. Layla's coming right down. "
"How come I can't say hello to Mommy?" Fox complained as Quinn sailed off with the plates.
"Because then I'd have to beat you unconscious. "
"As if. " Amused, Fox grabbed the pizza boxes and started after Quinn. "Beverages on you, bro. "
Shortly after they were seated, drinks, plates, napkins, pizza passed around, Layla came in with a large bowl and a stack of smaller ones. "I put this together earlier. I wasn't sure what you might bring," she said to Cal.
"You made salad?" Quinn asked.
"My specialty. Chop, shred, mix. No cooking. "
"Now, I'm forced to be good. " Quinn gave up the dream of two slices of pizza, settled on one and a bowl of Layla's salad. "We made progress," she began as she forked up the first bite.
"Yeah, ask the ladies here how to make tallow candles or black raspberry preserves," Fox suggested. "They've got it down. "
"So, some of the information contained in the books we're going through may not currently apply to our situation. " Quinn raised her eyebrows at Fox. "But one day I may be called on in some blackout emergency to make a tallow candle. By progress, however, I mean that there's a lot of interesting information in Ann's journals. "
"We've read them," Cal pointed out. "Multiple times. "
"You're not women. " She held up a finger. "And, yes, Essie is. But Essie's a woman who's a descendent, who's part of this town and its history. And however objective she might try to be, she may have missed some nuances. First question, where are the others?"
"There aren't any others. "
"I disagree. There aren't any others that were found. Essie said these books were passed to her by her father, because she loved books. I called her to be sure, but he never said if there were more. "
"If there'd been more," Cal insisted, "he'd have given them to her. "
"If he had them. There's a long span between the sixteen hundreds and the nineteen hundreds," Quinn pointed out. "Things get misplaced, lost, tossed out. According to the records and your own family's oral history, Ann Hawkins lived most of her life in what's now the community center on Main Street, which was previously the library. Books, library. Interesting. "
"A library Gran knew inside and out," Cal returned. "There couldn't have been a book in there she didn't know about. And something like this?" He shook his head. "She'd have it if it was to be had. "
"Unless she never saw it. Maybe it was hidden, or maybe, for the sake of argument, she wasn't meant to find it. It wasn't meant to be found, not by her, not then. "
"Debatable," Fox commented.
"And something to look into. Meanwhile, she didn't date her journals, so Layla and I are dating them, more or less, by how she writes about her sons. In what we're judging to be the first, her sons are about two to three. In the next they're five because she writes about their fifth birthday very specifically, and about seven, we think, when that one ends. The third it seems that they're young men. We think about sixteen. "
"A lot of years between," Layla said.
"Maybe she didn't have anything worth writing about during those years. "
"Could be," Quinn said to Cal. "But I'm betting she did, even if it was just about blackberry jam and a trio of active sons. More important now, at least I think so, is w
"She writes of him," Layla said quietly. "Of Giles Dent. Again and again, in all the journals we have. She writes about him, of her feelings for him, her dreams about him. "
"And always in the present tense," Quinn added.
"It's hard to lose someone you love. " Fox turned his beer bottle in his hand.
"It is, but she writes of him, consistently, as if he were alive. " Quinn looked at Cal. "It is not death. We talked about this, how Dent found the way to exist, with this thing. To hold it down or through or inside. Whatever the term. Obviously he couldn't-or didn't-kill or destroy it, but neither could it kill or destroy him. He found a way to keep it under, and to continue to exist. Maybe only for that single purpose. She knew it. Ann knew what he did, and I'm betting she knew how he did it. "
"You're not taking into account love and grief," Cal pointed out.
"I'm not discounting them, but when I read her journals, I get the sense of a strong-minded woman. And one who shared a very deep love with a strong-minded man. She defied convention for him, risked shunning and censure. Shared his bed, but I believe, shared his obligations, too. Whatever he planned to do, attempted to do, felt bound to do, he would have shared it with her. They were a unit. Isn't that what you felt, what we both felt, when we were in the clearing?"
"Yeah. " He couldn't deny it, Cal thought. "That's what I felt. "
"Going off that, Ann knew, and while she may have told her sons when they were old enough, that part of the Hawkins's oral history could have been lost or bastardized. It happens. I think she would have written it out, too. And put the record somewhere she believed would be safe and protected, until it was needed. "
"It's been needed for twenty-one years. "
"Cal, that's your responsibility talking, not logic. At least not the line of logic that follows this route. She told you this was the time. That it was always to be this time. Nothing you had, nothing you could have done would have stopped it before this time. "
"We let it out," Fox said. "Nothing would have been needed if we hadn't let it out. "
"I don't think that's true. " Layla shifted toward him, just a little. "And maybe, if we find the other journals, we'll understand. But, we noticed something else. "
"Layla caught it right off the bat," Quinn put in.
"Because it was in front of me first. But in any case, it's the names. The names of Ann's sons. Caleb, Fletcher, and Gideon. "
"Pretty common for back then. " Cal gave a shrug as he pushed his plate away. "Caleb stuck in the Hawkins line more than the other two did. But I've got a cousin Fletch and an uncle Gideon. "
"No, first initials," Quinn said impatiently. "I told you they'd missed it," she added to Layla. "C, F, G. Caleb, Fox, Gage. "
"Reaching," Fox decided. "Especially when you consider I'm Fox because my mother saw a pack of red foxes running across the field and into the woods about the time she was going into labor with me. My sister Sage? Mom smelled the sage from her herb garden right after Sage was born. It was like that with all four of us. "
"You were named after an actual fox? Like a. . . release-the-hounds fox?" Layla wanted to know.
"Well, not a specific one. It was more a. . . You have to meet my mother. "
"However Fox got his famous name, I don't think we discount coincidences. " Quinn studied Cal's face, saw he was considering it. "And I think there's more than one of Ann Hawkins's descendents at this table. "
"Quinn, my father's people came over from Ireland, four generations back," Fox told her. "They weren't here in Ann Hawkins's time because they were plowing fields in Kerry. "
"What about your mother's?" Layla asked.
"Wider mix. English, Irish. I think some French. Nobody ever bothered with a genealogy, but I've never heard of any Hawkins on the family tree. "
"You may want to take a closer look. How about Gage?" Quinn wondered.
"No idea. " And Cal was more than considering it now. "I doubt he does either. I can ask Bill, Gage's father. If it's true, if we're direct descendents, it could explain one of the things we've never understood. "
"Why it was you," Quinn said quietly. "You three, the mix of blood from you, Fox, and Gage that opened the door. "
"I ALWAYS THOUGHT IT WAS ME. "
With the house quiet, and night deep, Cal lay on Quinn's bed with her body curled warm to his. "Just you?"
"They helped trigger it maybe, but yes, me. Because it was my blood-not just that night, but my heritage, you could say. I was the Hawkins. They weren't from here, not the same way I was. Not forever, like I was. Generations back. But if this is true. . . I still don't know how to feel about it. "
"You could give yourself a tiny break. " She stroked her hand over his heart. "I wish you would. "
"Why did he let it happen? Dent? If he'd found a way to stop it, why did he let it come to this?"
"Another question. " She pushed herself up until they were eye-to-eye. "We'll figure it out, Cal. We're supposed to. I believe that. "
"I'm closer to believing it, with you. " He touched her cheek. "Quinn, I can't stay again tonight. Lump may be lazy, but he depends on me. "
"Got another hour to spare?"
"Yeah. " He smiled as she lowered to him. "I think he'll hold out another hour. "
LATER, WHEN HE WALKED OUT TO HIS CAR, THE air shivered so that the trees rattled their empty branches. Cal searched the street for any sign, anything he needed to defend against. But there was nothing but empty road.
Something's in the wind, he thought again, and got in his car to drive home.
IT WAS AFTER MIDNIGHT WHEN THE LOW-GRADE urge for a cigarette buzzed through Gage's brain. He'd given them up two years, three months, and one week before, a fact that could still piss him off.
He turned up the radio to take his mind off it, but the urge was working its way up to craving. He could ignore that, too; he did so all the time. To do otherwise was to believe there was solid truth in the old adage: like father, like son.
He was nothing like his father.
He drank when he wanted a drink, but he never got drunk. Or hadn't since he'd been seventeen, and then the drunkenness had been with absolute purpose. He didn't blame others for his shortcomings, or lash out with his fists on something smaller and weaker so he could feel bigger and stronger.
He didn't even blame the old man, not particularly. You played the cards you were dealt, to Gage's mind. Or you folded and walked away with your pockets empty.
Luck of the draw.
So he was fully prepared to ignore this sudden, and surprisingly intense desire for a cigarette. But when he considered he was within miles of Hawkins Hollow, a place where he was very likely to die an ugly and painful death, the surgeon general's warnings seemed pretty goddamn puny, and his own self-denial absolutely useless.
When he saw the sign for the Sheetz, he decided what the hell. He didn't want to live forever. He swung into the twenty-four-hour mart, picked up coffee, black, and a pack of Marlboros.
He strode back to the car he'd bought that very evening in D. C. after his plane had landed, and before he'd paid off a small debt. The wind whipped through his hair. The hair was dark as the night, a little longer than he usually wore it, a little shaggy, as he hadn't trusted the barbers in Prague.
There was stubble on his face since he hadn't bothered to shave. It added to the dark, dangerous look that had had the young female clerk who rung up the coffee and cigarettes shivering inwardly with lust.
He'd topped off at six feet, and the skinny build of his youth had filled out. Since his profession was usually sedentary, he kept his muscles toned and his build rangy with regular, often punishing workouts.
He didn't pick fights, but he rarely walked away from one. And he like
He was a gambler, and a smart gambler kept all of his tools well honed.
Swinging back onto the road, Gage let the Ferrari rip. Maybe it had been foolish to toss so much of his winnings into a car, but Jesus, it moved. And fucking A, he'd ridden his thumb out of the Hollow all those years ago. It felt damn good to ride back in in style.
Funny, now that he'd bought the damn cigarettes, the urge for one had passed. He didn't even want the coffee, the speed was kick enough.
He flew down the last miles of the interstate, whipped onto the exit that would take him to the Hollow. The dark rural road was empty-no surprise to him, not this time of night. There were shadows and shapes-houses, hills, fields, trees. There was a twisting in his gut that he was heading back instead of away, and yet that pull-it never quite left him-that pull toward home was strong.
He reached toward his coffee more out of habit than desire, then was forced to whip the wheel, slam the brakes as headlights cut across the road directly into his path. He blasted the horn, saw the other car swerve.
He thought: Fuck, fuck, fuck! I just bought this sucker.
When he caught his breath, and the Ferrari sat sideways in the middle of the road, he thought it was a miracle the crash hadn't come. Inches, he realized. Less than inches.
His lucky goddamn day.
He reversed, pulled to the shoulder, then got out to check on the other driver he assumed was stinking drunk.
She wasn't. What she was, was hopping mad.
"Where the hell did you come from?" she demanded. She slammed out of her car, currently tipped into the shallow ditch along the shoulder, in a blur of motion. He saw a mass of dark gypsy curls wild around a face pale with shock.
Great face, he decided in one corner of his brain. Huge eyes that looked black against her white skin, a sharp nose, a wide mouth, sexily full that may have owned its sensuality to collagen injections.
She wasn't shaking, and he didn't sense any fear along with the fury as she stood on a dark road facing down a complete stranger.
"Lady," he said with what he felt was admirable calm, "where the hell did you come from?"
"From that stupid road that looks like all the other stupid roads around here. I looked both damn ways, and you weren't there. Then. How did you. . . Oh never mind. We didn't die. "
With her hands on her hips she turned around to study her car. "I can get out of there, right?"
"Yeah. Then there's the flat tire. "
"What flat. . . Oh for God's sake! You have to change it. " She gave the flat tire on the rear of her car an annoyed kick. "It's the least you can do. "
Actually, it wasn't. The least he could do was stroll back to his car and wave good-bye. But he appreciated her bitchiness, and preferred it over quivering. "Pop the trunk. I need the spare and the jack. "
When she had, and he'd lifted a suitcase out, set it on the ground, he took one look at her spare. And shook his head. "Not your day. Your spare's toast. "
"It can't be. What the hell are you talking about?" She shoved him aside, peered in herself by the glow of the trunk light. "Damn her, damn her, damn her. My sister. " She whirled away, paced down the shoulder a few feet, then back. "I loaned her my car for a couple of weeks. This is so typical. She ruins a tire, but does she get it fixed, does she even bother to mention it? No. "
She pushed her hair back from her face. "I'm not calling a tow truck at this time of night, then sitting in the middle of nowhere. You're just going to have to give me a ride. "
"It's your fault. At least part of it is. "
"I don't know, and I'm too tired, I'm too mad, I'm too lost in this foreign wilderness to give a damn. I need a ride. "
"At your service. Where to?"
"Hawkins Hollow. "
He smiled, and there was something dark in it. "Handy. I'm heading there myself. " He gestured toward his car. "Gage Turner," he added.
She gestured in turn, rather regally, toward her suitcase. "Cybil Kinski. " She lifted her eyebrows when she got her first good look at his car. "You have very nice wheels, Mr. Turner. "
"Yeah, and they all work. "
NORA ROBERTS SERIES:
Other author's books:
- Vision in WhiteThe Next AlwaysBorn in FireDance Upon the AirJewels of the SunThe WitnessKey of LightBlue Dahlia
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