Southern storm, p.14

Southern Storm, page 14

 

Southern Storm
 



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Morgan got up on her knees and began massaging his shoulders. “You can pray for him, Jonathan. That might be all you can do.”

  “I’ve been praying all night.”

  “Then stop thinking you’re not doing anything. God knows where Cade is.” She kissed his neck, pressed her face beside his. “And I think you should run for mayor. If you weren’t a good candidate, they wouldn’t have asked you.”

  A knock on their door startled them both, and Morgan let him go.

  “What now?” Jonathan asked. “It’s the middle of the night.”

  “Maybe it’s Karen.”

  Jonathan went barefoot to the door, wearing his T-shirt and a pair of gym shorts. Morgan got up and pulled on her robe.

  Karen stood leaning against the casing, her face covered in sweat and her hand over the lower part of her belly. “I know it’s after three, but I think I better go to the hospital.”

  Morgan crossed the room. “How far apart are the contractions?”

  “Five minutes. And they’re hard, Morgan.”

  “Well, then, we’ll go. Let us throw some clothes on.”

  They quickly got dressed and told Sadie they were leaving. Then Jonathan carried Karen’s suitcase to the car as Morgan helped her get in. In the grips of a contraction, Karen couldn’t get the seat belt on. Morgan slipped into the backseat with her and hooked it. “Hurry, Jonathan!”

  Morgan held Karen’s hand. “Don’t tense up, honey. Try to relax. Breathe.”

  Jonathan pulled away from Hanover House, quiet as Karen went through that contraction. When she came out of it, they all breathed a collective sigh of relief.

  “Hold tight, Karen,” he said. “Well be there soon.”

  It was almost dawn when Karen’s labor began to reverse itself. After hours of contractions as close as three minutes apart, their severity began to decrease and slowed to every ten minutes. Exhausted, Karen lay on her side, watching the monitor for the signs of the next contraction.

  Morgan sat like a rag doll in the chair next to the bed, staring into space with eyes red from lack of sleep. Her head had begun to throb, and at this pace the road ahead of them looked long.

  Jonathan had fallen asleep in a chair across the room, his head back against the wall and his jaw slack.

  “Maybe it’s a false alarm,” Karen said in a voice raspy from groaning. “I’m sorry, Morgan. Really, I am.”

  “Don’t apologize. It isn’t your fault.” Morgan got up and went to the door, looked out in the hallway for the nurse. “And we’re not going home until they can assure me you’re not in labor. How long’s it been now?”

  Karen checked the clock. “Fifteen minutes since the last one. And it was too mild to speak of. It’s tapering off. I can’t believe it. After all that.”

  Morgan tried to muster a smile. “Wonder if that says anything about the baby’s personality.”

  “Oh, I know my baby’s personality,” Karen said. “This baby’s a survivor.”

  The statement came out with such conviction that Jonathan woke. “A survivor?” Morgan asked. “Why do you say that?”

  “Because of what we been through.” Karen slid off the bed, stood up with her hand on her back.

  Morgan’s mind was too foggy to follow her. “What have you been through?”

  “With my baby’s daddy,” she said. “See, he had another baby a few weeks ago, with one of his other girls.”

  Morgan’s eyes met Jonathan’s. “He has another girlfriend?”

  She breathed a bitter laugh. “Not just one. But this one, she was pregnant, and she had her baby three weeks ago. That baby’s wishing it’d never been born.”

  While she spoke, Karen paced the length of the bed, stretching the IV tube with her as she did. “She left her baby with him while she went to work. Went back too early, but she had to make a living, you know? He took this week-old baby with him on his drug deals. Somebody somewhere hurt that baby. When she got it back that night, the little thing had a seizure. She got him to the hospital . . . but it was too late. He had a cracked skull, and his brain was swelling. . . .”

  A strange sense of anger and injustice soared up inside Morgan’s chest. Here she and Jonathan were, so far unable to conceive a child, yet people that careless and irresponsible could have as many as they wanted. “Karen, that’s awful,” she managed to say.

  Karen’s eyes filled with tears. “Poor baby’s not but three weeks old. And then Jeffrey, that’s my baby’s daddy, he came to me all mad and upset, breaking things and kicking furniture over, scaring me to death. And I knew I had to get out of there if this baby was gonna be all right. I had to get out of that place, away from him.”

  Morgan crossed the room and put her arms around the girl. “I’m glad you came to us,” she whispered.

  Jonathan stayed where he was, but Morgan saw that he, too, was moved. He leaned forward, elbows on knees, his serious eyes fixed on Karen.

  “I haven’t always lived like this,” Karen said. “I was brought up better than to hang with crack dealers. I was walking the straight and narrow until I got with the wrong man. He got me started on crack myself, and next thing I know, I’m hanging with dealers and walking the streets so I can pay for my habit. I got nobody to blame but myself, but I want you to know that I haven’t always been like this.”

  “And you’re clean now, Karen,” Morgan whispered. “That’s what matters.”

  “That’s right. I been clean since I was arrested. Haven’t used once since I got out of jail. But it’s been hard, when everybody around me was using, and it was like they wanted me to fail, like they wanted to see me back hooked, so I could be just as miserable and ruined as they are. It was just a matter of time if I stayed there, Morgan. Just a matter of time.”

  “You’re right,” Morgan said. “That’s what we always warn the inmates we work with. We always tell you that you have to remove yourself from that environment.”

  Karen looked down at her huge, swollen belly. “I want to be a good mama, Morgan. Like you with Caleb. I want to raise my baby to be smart and healthy and never to run around with anybody who’ll lead him wrong. I want to raise him to think for himself. I want him to know God, Morgan. I’ve prayed so many times for that.”

  Morgan’s eyes misted over, and she smiled down at Jonathan. He was smiling back. “I think your prayers are going to be answered, Karen,” she said.

  Jonathan agreed. “Karen, I know that God sees a willing, obedient heart when he looks at you. I know he sees that you’re trying.”

  Karen hugged Morgan, and the baby kicked. Morgan jumped back. “He kicked me!”

  Karen started to laugh, and Morgan pressed her hands over her stomach and waited for more movement. “Come here, Jonathan. You’ve got to feel this!”

  Jonathan had a grin on his face as he came and touched Karen’s abdomen. As if on cue, the baby stomped.

  Laughter renewed their strength.

  When the nurse came in, she smiled with them. “Glad you’re all in a good mood, because the doctor told me to send you home.”

  Karen’s smile crashed. “You mean I’ll have to go through all this again?”

  “I’m sorry,” the nurse said. “But you don’t want to stay here if it’s not real labor.” She started to remove the IV.

  “Seems like I’m going to be the first woman in history to carry the baby the rest of her life.”

  The nurse laughed. “They all think that, but it can’t be that much longer.”

  Within the hour, the paperwork had been filled out releasing her. They rode home in sleepy silence, just as the sun began to rise.

  Morgan couldn’t wait to lie down, but she knew that the tenants would expect breakfast soon. Jonathan had tours booked on his boat, so he wouldn’t have the luxury of catching up on his sleep. When Karen had gone up to her room, Jonathan stopped Morgan from going into the kitchen. “Tell you what. I’m going to get a few boxes of donuts. It’ll be a treat for everybody, and you won’t have to cook.”

&n
bsp; “Good,” she said. “No argument here.”

  She went up the stairs as he left the house and peeked into Caleb’s room. Sadie was already with him, changing his diaper as he sucked on a bottle. “Hey, Sadie.” Morgan went to kiss her forehead. The girl’s hair was tousled, and she still wore her gown. “Caleb got you up?”

  “That’s okay,” Sadie said. “Have you been at the hospital all night?”

  Morgan bent over Caleb and blew a raspberry on his stomach. He squealed with giggles. “Almost all night.”

  “What did she have?”

  Morgan picked Caleb up and grinned back at Sadie. “Nothing yet. False alarm.”

  Sadie gasped. “All that for nothing?”

  “It wasn’t Karen’s fault. She really was having contractions. They just stopped. That happens sometimes, I understand.” She kissed Caleb, and he closed his little arms around her neck and hugged back in a way that sent her heart into meltdown.

  “You go get ready for school, Sadie. I’ll take over with Caleb.”

  Sadie stood there a moment, raking her hand through her tangled hair. “Morgan, I need to ask you something.”

  “Yeah? What?”

  “Tomorrow night there’s a dance at the Methodist church. Do you think I could go?”

  Morgan smiled. “That sounds like fun. Who with?”

  “Some girls from school. I don’t know them very well, but they invited me. Sharon Zeal and Beth Walker.”

  Morgan tried to place them, but couldn’t. “I guess that would be all right.”

  Sadie looked a little uncertain. “Okay. Good. I’ll go then.”

  “See? I told you you’d make friends.”

  Sadie didn’t answer her as she left the room. Morgan decided she was just a little groggy. She sat down in the rocker and gave the bottle back to the baby, as a sense of peace fell over her.

  Things would work out for Sadie, Caleb was happy and healthy, and Karen’s baby would be born into a safe and loving environment.

  If only they could find Cade, all would be right with the world.

  CHAPTER 25

  Blair wasn’t surprised when she got the phone call from Joe McCormick at the library the next day.

  “Blair, our handwriting expert has confirmed that it was Cade’s writing, all right.”

  Blair picked up her copy. It was dog-eared and wrinkled, for she’d read it so many times, wadded it up, and bitterly thrown it away, then dug it back out of the trash to read it again. “Big surprise, huh?”

  “Not to me. But I thought you’d want to know. And we weren’t able to get any other fingerprints or fibers from the letter, so it didn’t provide any clues.”

  After thanking him for the information, Blair hung up and let out a frustrated yell that shook the small library. What good was it to know he’d written this letter full of lies if it didn’t help them find him?

  The front door opened, and anger surged through her. Who would come in here at a time like this? She didn’t have time to show them where she kept the cookbooks and help them find a recipe for Mud Bottom Pie.

  Storming across the wood floor, she saw that it was Sue Ellen Jargis. “Hey, Blair,” she said. “I was just looking for something that would teach me how to speak Italian. You got anything like that?”

  Rage erupted inside her. Cade was in trouble, suffering somewhere, maybe dying, and this woman wanted a book on Italian?

  “No,” she said. “We don’t have anything like that.”

  “But I was told you had a whole section on foreign languages. That maybe you even had tapes. See, we’re going to Europe next month.”

  “You can’t learn an entire language in a month, Sue Ellen.” She took her arm and escorted her back to the door. “You know what? I just remembered that I need to close early today. Maybe if you come back tomorrow I can help you.”

  “Closing early?” Sue Ellen stopped at the door, resisting Blair’s efforts to evict her. “Well, why? The hours on the door clearly say you’re open until six.”

  “Emergency,” Blair said. “Really, I have to close.” She got her out the door, then started to close it behind her. “You have a nice day now.”

  Before the woman could object, she locked the door and leaned against it.

  Ann Clark, she thought. Ann Clark was the key to the whole thing. The police might need evidence, probable cause, motive, warrants. But she didn’t.

  Cade might not have time for red tape.

  She hurried back to the office and got the letter again, folded it, and shoved it into her jeans pocket.

  She had to get out of this place and think. She had to make a plan.

  She got her keys and locked the library behind her.

  Outside, she saw the sun glaring down on the water, and she longed to see Cade kayaking by, his tanned skin soaking up the rays of the rising sun. There were days when she’d sat on the shore and watched him without his knowing and dreamed stupid dreams befitting of an adolescent.

  But Cade wasn’t here, and those stupid dreams left her with a sense of loss so great that her heart felt too weak to contain it. She’d dealt with many things in her life—pain, humiliation, rejection, deceit. But of them all, loss was the hardest to bear. And this particular loss—the might-have-been kind—pierced so deeply within her that she knew no place to turn for relief.

  What if Morgan was right, and Cade had harbored interest in her? What if there really was one man on this earth who could see past her scars? Wouldn’t it be the height of cruelty for him to be snatched away?

  She was selfish, she told herself. This wasn’t about her. Cade’s vanishing was a tragedy for him, regardless of what it did to her.

  She thought of Oswald, probably standing sentinel over his empty bowls, waiting for his master to come home and put the world back on its axis.

  For now, she was the only one who would do that for the cat, even if she couldn’t do it for Cade or herself.

  She drove to Cade’s house and went around to the backyard.

  Oswald began grumbling and croaking to her in his clipped, agitated meows. “I know, Lee Harvey,” she said as she filled his bowls. “The service is lousy around here, huh?” While he ate, she sat down on the patio chair and looked around at the yard. Maybe she’d borrow Jonathan’s mower and come cut it tomorrow.

  Hugging herself, she scanned the crepe myrtles that weren’t yet in bloom, the azalea bushes that were, and the hodgepodge of untended and unidentifiable plants that grew in his yard.

  How would anyone expect them to think he was bringing a bride back here with no preparation at all? He would have called someone to come and cut the grass, at least. He would have put up his mud-caked boots that sat in one of the chairs. He would have weeded the garden.

  But what if she was giving Cade more credit than he deserved?

  What if the letter was true?

  She pulled the letter out of her pocket and stared down at it again. The possibility that it was, indeed, true had hung in the back of her mind since she’d first seen it, a distant thought that she dared not entertain. What if Cade did have a secret girlfriend and had run off to marry her to counter his depression? A spontaneous act like that wouldn’t have provided for a mowed lawn or a fed cat.

  Was Cade even capable of such a thing?

  He was a man, wasn’t he? She’d had lots of experience with men, though not the kind that most of the women she knew had. Her experience consisted of brush-offs and snubs because of the scars on her face. Men who were attracted to one side of her face while being repulsed by the other.

  She had long ago begun to believe that there was something different about Cade. He was not the womanizer that so many of his cohorts were. He wasn’t what she called a serial dater. He seemed too serious to spend time with a woman if he couldn’t consider her for a wife.

  There had been times lately when, like Morgan, she had sensed his affection for her. He’d called her beautiful, asked her to abandon her plan to leave the island, behaved as
if he cared. But even then, some part of her knew that he would never consider her seriously. Their worldviews were too different. They didn’t have the same core values, the same deep-seated faith.

  But the signs were still there. Was she so deluded that she’d manufactured them in her mind?

  Maybe there had been another woman all along, one he kept secret. He was a private man and wouldn’t have wanted his life to be examined under everyone else’s microscope.

  And it would mean that he was alive and not in danger. Wouldn’t it make her feel better to know that?

  No, she thought. Somehow, the very idea of that made her want to put Cape Refuge in her rearview mirror and never think of it again.

  But the alternative, if the letter was a fake or if he’d been forced to write it, meant that he was suffering, his life in someone else’s hands.

  It all came down to what she believed about Cade.

  She rubbed her unadorned eyes and combed her fingers through her hair, trying to sort out all she knew about him.

  He was kind and wise and diligent and thoughtful. His compassion for William Clark would not have allowed him to blow things off and elope. She knew that for a fact. Wasn’t that why he’d been reading about bloodguilt and the cities of refuge?

  If it turned out she was wrong in proclaiming the letter a fraud, then she’d just have to look like a fool. But if she was right, she had to save Cade’s life.

  First, she had to use all her resources to learn everything she could find on Ann and William Clark. Then she could decide how to proceed.

  She didn’t really care what it cost her.

  CHAPTER 26

  That night, as Sadie prepared to go and meet Trevor, guilt almost unraveled her. But it was too late. The plans had been made, and she had to go. If Morgan had been her age, she would have understood. She might have done exactly the same thing if her parents had been unreasonable.

  She stood in front of the mirror and tried to see herself from Trevor’s eyes.

  Have you looked in the mirror lately?

  She had inherited her mother’s blonde hair and big eyes. She could see that fragile look she’d always seen in her mother—that look that invited men to rescue her. They had rescued her with the drugs of her choice, then turned on her under the strain of those choices.

 
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