Cover


How Little We Know
- Mary Evans learns that life is never as uneventful as one might think it is when two warring brothers ask her to marry them.

Nothing ever happens around here, Mary Evans thought as she stepped out of her house to walk to work. In the town of Evansville, population 250, there was no place that was not within walking or jogging distance. Nothing much changed here, either, she thought as she passed all the familiar turn of the century houses two blocks away on Main Street that had been built for the workers at the Evans’ Bakery in 1802. At her side was her brindle coated mutt, a dog of undetermined breed that the joker of a friend who had gifted him to her had named Thug. A less descriptive name could never be found for the sweet-natured couch potato who shared her home. Since her stepmother had died a year ago, he had been her only companion. “Well, Thug,” she smiled down at the dog that came up to her hip as she zipped up her jacketand made certain her unruly auburn hair was secured in its pony tail, “ready to hit the road?’ Thug yawned up at herand wagged his tail exactly three times before collapsing on the porch. He put his head on his pawsand looked up at her with his ‘who me’ expressionand she laughed. “All right, lazybones. You stay here. I have to go to work.” She waited for him to stirand he refused. “Let yourself back in when you’re ready. You know where the food dish is.” She stepped offand jogged down her street three blocks, waving at the people who came out. There wasn’t anyone in this town she didn’t know except for the boarders at the B&B, unless they were regulars,and people passing through on their way somewhere else. Her ability to remember namesand facesand other vital data made her a valuable secretary for the Sheriff’s Office. She passed the mechanic’s place on the next street downand saw a stranger beside a really sharp-looking black Mustang convertible. Deep brown hair with a touch of redand gold glowed like banked embers as he bent over to look at the engineand the sunlight struck off of it. He had a nice lean frame, like a swimmerand she shook her head to clear it of the attraction that stirred in her. Sam, the shop ownerand head mechanic hailed her,and the stranger looked up so she could see hazel eyes filled with irritation. He was one of those people who thought everyone should cater to them, she thought. “Hey, Sam,” she smiledand stopped. “How are things this morning.” “Were slow till the city boy showed up, Mary Elizabeth,” Sam smiled at her in open admiration. He was the only person in town who called her by her full given nameand she hadn’t the heart to ask him to stop. Mary sighed as the man she had known all their lives, put his arm around her shoulder like she was his best buddy. Since he was shorterand heavier than she was this forced her to stoop. She let him have two seconds before she moved away. “How are things in the Sheriff’s Office?” The man looked at her sharplyand she wondered what he was thinking now. He was far more interested in the word ‘sheriff’ than a passing motorist should be. She didn’t have time to worry about it, though. Today was Sheriff Braden’s last day. He was moving onand he had some detective from Denver coming in to take over the rest of his term until elections. “It’s Sheriff Braden’s last day, Sam,” Mary reminded him. She added with a voice heavy with irony. “We’re looking forward to meeting his stand-in with baited breath.” “Funny girl,” Sam laughedand tugged on her ponytail as he had every day since they were six. “ He looked at her seriously then. “I heard a rumor the city boy is going to clean house when he gets here.” “Not much to clean,” Mary replied. “There’s only the four deputiesand me on staff now with the financial cut-backs.” “But you’re working for free, Mary Elizabeth,” Sam reminded her. “You should really think about that. Pretty girl like you should be thinking of settling downand making a home for some happy man.” “Not me, Sam,” she said firmly. “I’m not ready to go that route yet.” “But, Mary Elizabeth,” Sam laughedand tugged the ponytail again. “I haven’t gotten in this month’s proposaland there’s only two days left to the month.” “I’ll spare your game knee, Samson Henry,” Mary smiled at her friend, “and say no.” She nodded to him. “Gotta run. Say hello to Delilah for me,” she added, referring to his sister who worked for Mary’s aunt in the beauty parlor. She heard a familiar baying soundand sighed. “Here comes the lump,” he laughed as Thug came running. He smiled as Mary crouched downand ruffled his ears. She really was such a pretty thing. He wished she would find a good manand get over what had happened to her. He wished even more fervently that she would look his way. “Finally got off your lazy butt, Thug?” The dog’s tail made its obligatory three wagsand then the hound licked her. “Oof! That was uncalled for you big dope!” “Lucky dog,” Sam laughed. “Only male in town that gets even that close to a kiss with you, Mary Elizabeth.” “And that’s just the way I like it,” Mary nodded. She got back on her feet. “Bye, Sam,” Mary laughedand took off for the Sheriff’s Office. She ran inand went to wash her faceand change into her uniform. She was not an official deputy but she wore the same outfit as they didand had a permit to carry a weapon. The only thing missing was the badge. She had cleaned up the mess the deputies on night duty had left, set fresh coffee brewingand put the doughnuts Sue Ellen Gentry made on the table in the break room before the deputies, twin brothers named Oscarand Theo Baldwin, arrived. The night deputies had clocked out, Mary noted with a frown, before the Sheriff or their replacements had arrived. “Sheriff,” she said as she walked in with a cup of coffeeand two doughnuts on a plate for him as usual without looking at him. She set it downand then laid the wires she’d collected for him from the machine on his desk. “Here’s your coffeeand the latest alerts…” She froze as the man with the expensive car rose to his feet from the couch along the wall the door was inand smiled at her. “I’m sorry. I’m not used to the Sheriff having people in here without my being aware of it. Can I get you a cup of coffee?” “Mary,” Braden said, “this is my cousin, Robert MacGregor. He’s agreed to be my replacement. Robbie, this is Mary Warner, the best damned Office Manager/Secretary a Sheriff could ever have.” “Miss Warner,” Robert bowed his head to her slightly. He looked past her to the lump of dog curled up near her desk. “And your body guard?” “Thug?” Mary laughed, her voice like silver chimes in the wind. “More like I’m his body guard.” She panicked. “He won’t get in the way, Mr. MacGregor. He’s like an unofficial mascot around here.” “Don’t worry, Miss Warner,” Robert said, hiding his amusement, “I don’t plan on making many changes around here just yet.” “Good,” Mary said before she could control her tongue. “I mean,” she blushed as he looked at her quizzically; “you’ve just arrived. You should see how things go around here before you make any changes.” She reddened even more as he looked at her even more closely. “The bookends are here,and the night watch signed out early again.” “Thank you, Mary,” Braden smiled at her. “You know you really should think of finding a man of your own instead of mothering my deputies.” “I’ve already had one marriage proposal this morning, Sheriff,” Mary smiled at her former boss fondly. “Do you want to join the queue of lovelorn swains now that you’re no longer in a perilous job?” “Would I have a chance?” Braden asked her half-joking, half-serious. She was just a kidand he was twice her age at this point in their lives. He knew there was a better man out there for her than him. “If anyone did, Matthew,” she said with honesty, “it would be you. I’ll get to my desk now.” She nodded to Robertand wondered why she was feeling so strange around the man. She caught a look on Braden’s face that confused herand decided to ignore it. “I’m certain there’s a ton of calls from Widow Marvin by now.” Robert watched the girl goand wondered how a child like that happened to be on the staff of the Sheriff’s Office. She couldn’t be more than sixteen. He could see why men were falling all over themselves to gain her attention though. She was a pretty thing. “Nineteen,” his cousin said as Robert turned. There was a knock on the doorand Mary came back with a cup of coffeeand a box filled with creamand sugar. She set it downand left without speaking. “And staked out by the Evans’ boys.” “You’ll have to give me the low down on that,” Robert nodded as he guessed there was a great deal more to Mary Evansand her history than his cousin had said. “Maybe while we’re out on patrol.” “You certainly won’t hear it from Mary,” Braden nodded. He nodded. “She makes the coffee in the morning so it’s excellent. Later, after she leaves, it’s any man’s guess what the coffee will be like.” “So she’s an asset to the Office,” Robert nodded. “I get it, Matt. She’s a wounded angel that I should tread carefully around.” “Hell no,” Braden shook his head. “Mary will not appreciate any man who treats her like she’s fragile. You let her know right off who you areand stay honest with her.” The intercom buzzed. “Yes, Mary?” “Sheriff,” Mary stated, her voice edged with amusement. “Widow Marvin says the imps are back in her petunias. She wants you to come overand tell them to leave her prize flowers alone.” “Tell her I’m on the way,” Braden laughed. “It will be a good chance to introduce my cousin to her.” “Won’t that just make his day,” Mary laughed then. She hung upand Robert saw her talking into the phone with a perfectly serious expression on her lovely face. The woman was an imp herself. “We’ll make the rounds,” Braden told him as he got upand grabbed his holsterand jacket, “so I can introduce you around. Shouldn’t take more than two hours in town, another two on the outliers. We’ll be ready for lunch then.” “Sheriff, I…” Mary quieted as she picked up the phone. “Evansville Sheriff’s Office.” She covered the receiver. “It’s the Widow again, Sheriff.” “Tell her I’m on the way, Mary,” Braden nodded. “Ready, Sheriff MacGregor?” “Yes, Widow Marvin,” Mary was saying in a long-suffering tone as they left, “He’s on his way to help you right now.” Robert got into the car with Braden, deep in thought. She might look like a child, but she had a competenceand calm about her that was reassuring. Braden began to share her history with himand he was astounded by what he was being told. “So she’s had a child?” Robert was astounded. “You didn’t say she was married.” “Married?” Braden shook his head. “No. Sean Evans raped her the night of her sixteenth birthday partyand got her pregnant. The baby was born weakand died a few hours after it was born.” He saw Robert’s look. “It’s a small town, Robbie. Everyone knows everything about everyone else.And sometimes, they even tell you the truth when you ask about it.” “Warning noted, cousin,” Robert nodded. “So this Evans character is still pursuing her?” “He’s practically groveling to convince her to marry him,” Braden replied, looking amused. “He sends her flowers, gifts, notes; anything a man determined to win a wife would do. She has returned every last one of them.” “So why won’t she marry him?” “She’s thinking straight.” He shook his head. “As she puts it ‘only a woman with a dead brain would want an Evans as a husband’.” “He’s the kind of man who doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer?” Robert asked his cousin, his blood iced over from hearing the tale. “He’s an Evans, Robbie,” Braden shook his head. “No one says ‘no’ to an Evans. This is their town.” “I can see now why she is leery of men,” Robert nodded. “She sounds like a remarkable young woman.” “None more so,” Braden nodded. They arrived at the Widow Marvin’s homeand Robert shook his head. The original white picket fence around the cottage motif, he smiled. The silver haired woman who came out with a shotgun in her hands was not exactly what he had expected. She was wearing a mackinawand black rubber boots over her nightgownand big pink curlers in her hair. This woman doesn’t miss anything, Robert thought. “Now Peggy, I’ve told you to leave that shotgun inside. You can’t scare imps with a shotgun.” “Well your fancy imp trap isn’t doing a lick of good,” the Widow complained. She looked over his shoulder at Robert. “Who’s this handsome feller, a new deputy?” “No, Peggy,” Braden shook his head. “This is my cousin, Robert MacGregor. He’s taking over as Sheriff. You remember me telling you about it?” “Well if he’s better at catching imps than you are,” the Widow sniffed, “I guess I can stand him.” “Let me give it a shot,” Robert smiled at the womanand saw her beam at him. He offered her his arm. “If you’ll show me where these imps have been traipsing, Mrs. Marvin?” Peggy showed him to her gardenand he was impressed. It was a showplaceand he could see why she was worried about people or animals walking through it. He looked around the fenceand saw a small break in the boards; just big enough for a child to crawl through. He saw the evidence of hands pulling someone throughand shoe prints. He got out the tape measureand measured them. Then he saw an ID braceletand read the name. He shook his head as he turned it over to Braden. It seemed bad behavior had moved into the next generation of Evans’ family members. “Your imps will be gone by tomorrow, Mrs. Marvin,” Braden told her with conviction. “I’ll see to it personally.” “Thank you, Sheriff,” she nodded to Braden. “You, too, you handsome man!” Peggy beamed up at Robert, totally lost.” “You’re welcome, ma’am.” Robert tipped his hat to her. “Part of the job.” He followed Braden out to the carand did not say a word until they were well away. Braden looked over at himand frownedand shook his head. Obviously this boy had been making a nuisance of himself. “That’s Bobby,” he scowled. “Eric Evans’ boy. He’s inand out of trouble all the time. Mother worked herself into an early graveand the Father lets the kid run wild.” “Sean’s brother?” Robert asked. “Identical twins,” Braden stated. “Sean is bad, but Eric is a real piece of work. He’s pushing Mary to marry him so his son will have a mother again. Since she practically raised the boy, he thinks she is the natural choice.” “That family is warped,” Robert frowned. “Those two go right to the top of my list.” “Very good, Sheriff MacGregor,” Braden smiled. “I think you’re going to fit in here after all.” “Was there a doubt?” They got back to the office at two that afternoonand Robert’s mind was reeling with the namesand particulars of every one of the 250 people in town. They had stayed home to make certain they met the new man, he assumed. He joined Braden in their part of the stationand they were going over situations he needed to be aware of when Braden hissed. He looked up as the front door banged openand frowned. “Good Lord! He would show up today!” Robert watched as a tall, square-jawed, broad-chested man with golden hairand ice blue eyes walked inand went past the gate to stand beside Mary’s desk. The moustached man fairly bristled with menace. Robert started outand Braden held him back, shaking his head. “Just sit backand watch her.” “Eric,” Mary sighed as she looked up to see her brother-in-law standing there. “What a ‘pleasant’ surprise.” “Today’s the day you promised us an answer, Mary,” Eric Evans snapped at her. “What’s it going to be?” “What were those choices again?” Mary asked as she rose to her feet. “Marry Sean or marry you?” she smiled sweetly as she slid out her pistoland put it to the underside of his jaw, making him swallow hard. “Let me add my choice to that list – youand your brother leave me alone, Eric Evans, or I blow your brains out!” She backed upand inclined her head towards the door. “Now get the hell out of my work placeand don’t let me see you again unless you’re sober!” “This isn’t the end of the matter, Mary,” Eric snarled at her but went towards the door. “We mean to have our family landsand properties back one way or the other.” “Your mother left it all to me,” Mary reminded him needlessly, “in memory of the child Sean fathered.” “What are you going to do with it all, Mary?” Eric snapped. He stepped closerand she cocked the gun. “My kidand I are not going to beg you for the funds we need to keep food on the table!” “Why don’t you ask me,” Mary replied tightly, “from the 50 foot distance set by the restraining order?And as far as Bobby is concerned his needs are being met through the trustee I hired to make certain that happened.” Eric stomped outand Mary heard the Sheriff’s door openand looked up at Braden as he put his hand on hersand made her lower the hammerand put the gun back in its holster. “You showed a remarkable restraint, Mary,” he said softly as he squeezed her shoulder. “I would have put a bullet between his eyes.” “He may be a poor excuse for a man, Matthew,” Mary replied, “but he is all the family Bobby has left. I won’t leave the boy without a father.” She sank down in her chair with a sigh of frustration. “He’s drinking again, Sheriff. I could smell it on his breath.” She looked at Robertand he saw her hesitation. She decided to include him. “That pleasant person was my would-be brother-in-law, Eric Evans. As you probably heard, he is not happy with the idea of my inheriting the family estate.” “His mother had the right to leave it to whoever she wished,” Robert replied. He thought about it. “Constantly low on funds, is he?” “He’s lazier than Thug,” Mary nodded as she rubbed the dog with her foot. “His mother left everything to me so Seanand Eric were left stranded. Sean works hard for his living, but Eric’s poor wife was holding two jobs to make ends meet until she died a few months back.” “And you’re taking care of his kid?” Robert looked at herand didn’t know whether to respect her or shake her. “Why?” “Because no child deserves to be left without,” Mary replied. “Bobby is allowed to visit me since I helped raise him, but I won’t go near that house.” She looked at the clock. “Time for me to head home. You’re on your own gentlemen.” Robert watched as she put her gun back in her lockerand left the station. The lazy dog remained exactly where it was for several moments. But when it finally got through his brain that Mary was gone, he stirred. He slobbered all over Robert’s hand until the man opened the doorand ran after hismistress, baying at the top of his lungs. “So, cousin,” Braden smiled as they went back to the desk. “Welcome to Evansville.” Mary got home after a day filled with minor irritationsand a very large headache. Eric had been at the diner with his two friends when she had gone to lunchand smirked at her the whole time she ate with Sue Ellen. Sean had called her seven times on the phone after his brother’s visit to the stationand told her he was going to make her do as he said. She sighed as she saw his pickup parked down the block. This is all I need, she thought as he came striding towards her. “You’re not allowed this near the house or me, Sean,” she told him bluntly. “Go away.” “Not until we get things straight between us, Mary,” Sean snapped. He grabbed her left armand shoved something on her ring finger. “We’ll set the date…” “You can go to hell, Sean,” Mary snappedand threw the ring in his face. “I will NOT, I repeat NOT marry you!” “I’d reconsider that if I were you, Mary,” Sean went quite still. He ran his hand through his thick gold hair. “Mary, I’m afraid Eric is going to hurt you. I can’t protect you unless you let me.” His hand moved up to her cheekand the look in his eyes was one she remembered. “Please, Mary,” he begged her. “I don’t want to see you hurt.” “That’s really funny coming from you, Sean,” Mary snapped at him. “You’ve done nothing but hurt me since we were kids together.” “It wasn’t all bad, Mary,” Sean reminded her as he pulled her closer. “I can recall a few very special moments we had together.” He kissed herand, for a moment she felt all the old attraction rising up. Then she recoveredand she pushed him awayand slapped him across the face. He let her go without any further argument as he saw her angry eyesand she watched as he sauntered back to his pickup. Her aunt called from the kitchenand she went in to see the redhead, still looking as young as Mary ever remembered just laying out supper. “Eric Evans has been bragging all over town,” Lillian said worriedly, “that you are going to be an Evans’ bride by the end of the month, Mary.” “It’s never going to happen, Lil,” Mary told her auntand saw her relax. Her aunt ran the local beauty parlor but the lack of gray in her hair was courtesy of good genetics, not a dye bottle as some of the cattier women in town suggested. She put her head in her handsand tried to still the shaking she could feel coming on her. “I saw you with Sean, Mary,” Lillian told her bluntly. “That was one hell of a kiss.” She looked at her niece sharply. “You sure you don’t still have feelings for that man?” “I don’t want to have feelings for him, Lil,” Mary frowned. “Why did Maxine have to leave everything to me?” “She loved you, Mary,” Lillian replied. “When she married your father after she divorced Seth Evans, she saw you as her child as much as those two sons of hers. It would have pleased her no end to see youand one of them together.” Mary nodded. She had adored Maxine Evans. Her second mother had given her all the loveand attention her own could not because of her illness. When she had died in a car accident last year, it had nearly broken Mary’s heart. “Has Eric pulled the ‘motherless child’ card yet?” Lillian asked as she sat downand made Mary look at her. “Be better for all concerned if Bobby came to you.” “The courts would never give me custody, Lil,” Mary protested, even as a faint hope rose inside of her. “I’m just the woman who practically raised him, not blood kin.” “The boy spent more time with you,” Lillian reminded her, “than he ever did with his motherand father. Smart judge would see that the boy should be with you.” Mary remembered how Joyce had begged her to nurse her baby when she realized she could not produce milk. Holding the boy when she had just lost her own was a pleasureand a pain. Joyce had let her name the boyand used her as a baby-sitter as often as she could. Mary had taken the job with the Sheriff’s Office finally to keep those times to a minimum. She jumped as someone thumped on the front door. “It’s not Evans,” Lillian assured her. She touched Mary’s hand and looked concerned. “You can’t let them do this to you, Mary Elizabeth. I’m coming!” she sighed in frustration as the pounding continued. Mary put her head in her handsand jumped as someone knocked softly on the back door. She answered itand saw Bobby standing there looking terrified. “Bobby?” Mary crouched downand hugged him to her. “What’s wrong, darling?” “The Sheriff came to our home, Mary,” the little boy said as he shut the door, a hunted look on his face. “He told Daddy that he found my ID in the Widow’s garden.” He looked upand Mary saw the bruises. She gaspedand went white. “He said I was a bad boyand I needed to learn to behave.” Lil came backand she saw the child. When she saw the bruise on the boy’s face she got the ice. Mary took her nephew to the tableand made him sit down. Bobby clutched her hand and looked at her in terror. “Please don’t send me back, Mary,” Bobby pleaded with her. “He’ll take out the beltand whip me until I can’t move!” “Oh God,” Mary chokedand pulled him to her. “How long has he been hitting you, Bobby?” she asked the boy. “Since Mama died,” Bobby whimpered. “He’s been so mad since then.” He bit his lipand the tears were flowing. “Mama used to make him happy but she’s not there anymore. I’ve been trying to be good for him,” he was sobbing now, “but he gets mad even when I’m good.” “You poor angel!” Mary sobbed. She kissed Bobby on the forehead. “Don’t you worry, I’ll make him stop! He won’t hit you ever again.” The boy looked at her happilyand she got her jacket. “I’ll be right back, Lil. You keep Bobby hereand don’t let his father inside this house while I’m gone.” “What are you going to do, Mary?” Lil asked worriedly. She saw the shotgun that Mary had taken from over the fireplace; her father’s gun. “You can’t talk to him when you’re this upset.” Mary looked at her dead calm. Lil shook her headand took the gun. “Not like this, sweetheart. You sit downand eat your supperand we’ll discuss what we should do.” Mary took off her jacketand did as she was told. No one argued with Lillian when she got that tone in her voice. They got Bobby fedand left him in the living room watching a movie. Mary went to the phone, watching him as he sat hugging his knees to his chest. He was still so scared, she noted. Well, she was going to do something about that. “Matthew,” she said as she called Braden. “I have a problem.” She bit her lip as she heard what he had to say. “He came to me, Matthew. Bobby said you showed up at their houseand told Eric he’d been in Widow Marvin’s garden. Eric hit him! He says that his father has been hitting him since his mother died.” She was growing angry. “I won’t let him hurt this boy, Matthew! He’s the same kind of sadistic bastard his brother was!” She was shaking for real nowand she knew what she had to do. “I’m going to see him.” She hung up the phoneand got her jacket. She didn’t need the gun so she left it with Liland told her not to be afraid to use it to protect the kids. She walked out of the houseand was not surprised to see a familiar pickup in front. Jonah White, one of Eric’s friends, was behind the wheel. “You brought Bobby here,” Mary guessed, “didn’t you?” “He wants to see you, Mary,” Jonah said as he leaned overand opened the door for her. “The kid is his calling card.” He saw the anger in her eyesand didn’t blame her. “Get in. I’ll take you to him.” She didn’t hesitate. She had a lot to say to the bastardand she was going to say it. They drove out of townand headed to the Evans’ farm. It sat on top of the hill overlooking the town like a castle its village. Mary felt the familiar chill striking her as they went under the signpostand pulled up in front of the main house with its wraparound porch. She had spent nearly two years of her life hereand had no happy memories associated with it. “Good of you to accept my invitation, Mary,” Eric smiled as he rose from the swing on the front porch. He saw the anger in her eyes. “I take it my boy found his way to you.” “You bastard!” Mary hissedand came at him. Jonah held her back. “You’re even lower than your brother. He never hits kids!” “He did, Mary,” Eric told her. She looked at him in shock. “He used to practice on me while we were growing up. I made a vow when I was twelve that I would dedicate my life to destroying him.” He brought his hand up to her cheekand she pulled away from him. Jonah tightened his hold on her. “He knew I wanted youand he got in my way.” “Let me go!” she demanded. “You have no right to treat me like this, Eric!” “Who do you think called the Sheriff when Sean raped you, Mary?” Eric continued as he stroke her hair. The expression in his eyes told her that she was not going to be able to reason with him. “Take Mary insideand keep her quiet,” he said to Jonah as he saw flashing lights coming up the hill. “I’ll see what he wants.” Mary tried to pull free but Jonah was far too strong for her. He got her insideand closed the door. He pressed her into it, his mouth clamped over her mouth so she could not cry for help. She heard a car door openand steps on the stairs. “Twice in one day, Sheriff,” she heard Eric laugh. “To what do I owe this visit?” “You are supposed to stay away from Mary, Evans,” Braden’s voice filled her earand she felt hope flooding into her. “Maryand I are having a serious family discussion, Sheriff,” Eric replied, at his con artist best. He paused a moment as he saw Braden was not moved. “She got mad when she heard I had to discipline Bobby for trespassing.” Mary bit down on the man’s hand but he did not even flinch. She tried to struggleand he tightened his grip. She could feel her skin bruisingand she quieted. He was not letting her go until Eric said he could. Good dog, she thought uncharitably. “You bring her out here now, Evans,” Braden’s voice was filled with quiet menace, “or I’ll be taking you to jail.” “Mary?” Eric said as he opened the door. “Your white knight is here to take you home.” He stepped in a moment. “He didn’t believe me, Mary,” he frowned at her, “so we’re going to have to come to an agreement quickly.” He cupped her chin in his hand and glared at her. “You want me to quit hitting my boy then I will,” he told her; ‘but on one condition.” He saw that she knew where this was going. “That’s right, Mary. You are going to become my wife.” “I will NOT!” Mary snapped at himand kicked him in the shins. “You have no choice,” Eric nodded to Jonahand the man let her go. “You’ll see that soon.” She hurried out of the houseand Eric watched her go, frowning darkly. He met the menace in Braden’s eyesand was relieved at the knowledge that the man would be gone soon. He was going to Denverand his replacement would learn quickly who was in charge in Evansville. “That was a remarkably stupid thing to do, Mary,” Braden said to her as he drove her home. “What would you have done if he hadn’t backed down?” “I had to talk to him, Matthew,” Mary replied. “He’s hitting Bobby! I can’t have that.” The car pulled up in front of her house a few minutes laterand she smiled at him as she kissed his cheek. “Thank you, Matthew.” “Robert is going to keep an eye on the man,” Braden nodded as his worry for her mounted. “But you have to promise me that you will stay away from him, Mary. I don’t want to hear about him hurting you.” Mary noddedand went into the house. She froze as she saw the trustee seated there. Stanley Lane had been practicing law in Evans County since her father’s dayand Mary trusted him with her life. The look on his face warned her that she was in for a fight. “Lil called me when you ran out of here,” Stanley said to her, “and told me what happened.” He peered at her over the top of his glasses. “That was a remarkably…’ “Sheriff Braden already read me the act, Uncle Stan,” Mary sighed as he broke in. Lillian brought her a cup of tea. “Thanks, Lil.” “So what did the mighty man have to say for himself?” Lil asked her as she sat near Stanley. “He said he would stop hitting Bobby when I married him,” Mary told them both bluntly. She saw the censure of Stan’s face. “I can’t let him hurt the boy,” she told them. “What am I going to do?” “It’s been done,” Stanley replied. “I called my old friend, Judge Matson, at the request of Sean Evans;and he had issued a temporary guardianship order. Bobby will be in his uncle’s custody but he will stay with you, Mary, until this issue can be resolved.” He saw her hesitate. “You practically raised him, girl. This is a good thing for everyone.” “I won’t do it unless it’s what Bobby wants,” Mary told him. “I’m not taking a boy away from his father.” “Don’t send me back, Mary,” Bobby said from the doorway. He was wiping his eyesand looking very tired. Mary held her arms out to himand he came to sit in her lap. “Do you understand what Mr. Lane is saying, Bobby?” Mary asked as she looked into his dear little face. He was very intelligent for a four year old, but he was still only a child. “You’ll come hereand live with meand your Daddy won’t be able to touch you.” “Yes,” Bobby nodded. “I’d like that, Mary. You are my best friend.” “All right, Uncle Stan,” Mary nodded as she set the boy on his feet. “I’ll agree to the order. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Bobby needs to be in bed.” “There’s going to be trouble over this, Stan,” Lil sighed as she went to pour him a whiskey. She brought it back to himand sank down at his side. “I don’t want her getting hurt.” “That makes two of us,” Stan noddedand took the drink. “Take the documents to the Sheriff in the morningand let him know how things stand. Sean had asked the Judge to include a caveat that his brother is not to have access to Bobby unless Mary allows itand not without him or the Sheriff present.” He sighed as the alcohol went in. “That hit the spot.” He got to his feet. “You know I could always move in hereand provide a male presence…” “Noted, counselor,” Lillian smiled up at him. She shook her head. “You do more behind the scenes.” She saw his disappointment. “Maybe after this has all settled down, I’ll let you court me again.” “Promise you’ll be careful, Lil,” Stanley said as he left. “He’s the type of man who would come at your niece through the people she cares for.” His hand went up to Lillian’s cheek. “I’d die if anything happened to you.” Eric looked at the paper Robert served him with at his real estate officeand hissed. His brother stood next to the Sheriff eyeing him carefully. Eric crumpled it in his hand and dialed a number. His anger only mounted as his lawyer told him that the order was valid. He had hoped she would see reasonand his brother had blind-sided him. Eric looked at the new Sheriffand saw that the man was quite willing to hurt him to enforce the order. So he focused his anger on his brother. “Visitation in the presence of his auntand his court-appointed guardian,” Eric read. He looked at Sean coldly. “Don’t you think this is low, brother?” He was on his feet. “This your way of getting into her bed, isn’t it, Sean? Every single man in town has tried but she’s shot them all down. Think gratitude is going to do the trick?” “You know Mary as well as I do, Eric,” Sean said his voice deadly calmand filled with warning. “Do you really think she’d let a legal document sway her?” He turned to goand then stoppedand looked back. “You so much as wink at her or say ‘boo’ to your boyand I will have the Sheriff put you in a celland lose the key. Are we clear on that?” “Crystal, brother,” Eric spat. He watched the men leaveand he sank back with a frown. Sean thanked Robert for his assistanceand went to his car. He had hated to do that to his brother, but the boy needed to be with people who wouldn’t use him as a punching bag. Their father had done that to himand Eric growing up, Sean was not going to let Eric continue that tradition. He drove towards Mary’s house so he could assure her he would not interfereand his phone rang. “Tonight is the Founder’s Day Dance,” the man on the other end told him. “If she isn’t your wife in the next three days, Mary Warner is going to be declared a target.” “Jonah,” Sean said tightly as he called the man heand Eric both used as an errand runner. “It’s Sean. You’re going to bring Mary to me tonight. I’ll be at the house near the old mines doing an inspection. Get her to your truck with a story about having a suitcase of Bobby’s thingsand bring her to me.” He frowned as the man asked him something. “Don’t hurt her unless she gives you a fight.” Mary was not certain going to the dance was a good idea, but she had to admit she could use a little fun. When Robert had asked if he could be her escort, she had been thrilled; now she was growing increasingly anxious. She twirled in front of the mirrorand smiled as she heard a whistle. Bobby was standing there with her shawl in his hands. “You look beautiful, Mary,” he said honestly. “I can see why Dad wants to marry you.” He frowned. “I don’t want you to,” he continued fiercely. “No matter what he says.” “Don’t worry, Bobby,” Lillian said from behind him. “His hands are tied. You belong here with us nowand he has no other weapon he can use against our Mary.” She looked at her niece. “He’s right, Mary. You do look beautiful.” “You should come with me,” Mary protested their decision to let her go alone. “What if…” “You need a night out having fun without worrying about what ifs,” Lillian said as she put her hands on Bobby’s shoulder. “This young manand I will be fine here with the lump of dog.” She turned Bobby away. “Come on, Bobby. You’re going to help me make dinner.” Mary smiled at the joy on the boy’s faceand picked up the shawl. She left the house feeling more confident than she had in days. Bobby was her legal ward nowand Eric couldn’t do anything to change that. She had an uneasy feeling suddenly that he was going to try. Robert pulled up in his fancy convertibleand came around to open the door for her. “Your chariot, Mary,” he smiled as he took in the sight of her in the dress. He had only seen her in pantsand he had to admit she had really nice legs. They drove to the school gymnasiumand he helped her out. “Mary Warner!” Sue Ellen, a plump round-faced woman with a perpetual smile on her face, called from the landing. Her black hair gleamed in the overhead lamp. “Leave you to land the most eligible bachelor in town.” “It’s not like that, Sue Ellen,” Mary blushedand let her friend lead her in. “Sheriff MacGregor is just being a friend.” Robert found himself wishing he could be more than a friend to that girl. But he knew she wasn’t ready for a man to make a move on her. She’s lost two childrenand been widowed only a few months ago. She needed time to healand he was too busy learning how things worked around Evansville to dive into an unwise relationship. He danced with every girl that looked in the need of a partnerand kept his eyes on Mary. Every single man in the place was lined up to have a turn with herand he felt jealousy rear its ugly head in him. “Mighty fine girl,” the parson, Eli Wagner, smiled as he came to stand next to Robert. “You could do worse, but you couldn’t do better.” “I don’t think Mary is ready for a full blown relationship, Parson,” Robert replied. “I’m new in townand probably only here temporarily. She needs a man who is going to stick around.” He frowned as he saw a large man with white hair approaching Mary. “Who’s that?” “Jonah White,” Wagner frowned. “The Evans’ family hound. If he’s talking to her, it’s at one of the brother’s instigation.” Robert noddedand moved across the gym. He was waylaid several times on the way so that when he got where Mary had been she was gone. So was the man, he noted as he looked around the room. He hurried outside to see the man getting into a pickup truck with a topper over the backand driving away. There was no sign of Mary anywhere. “What’s your hurry, Sheriff,” a soft voice spoke up behind him. Robert turned to see Melanie Franklin standing there. She worked for Eric Evans. “Lose something?” “You haven’t seen Mary Evans out here,” he asked the long-legged brunette who was poured into the emerald green dress she was wearing. “I needed to talk to her about her nephew.” “Sorry,” Melanie frowned. “I just got here.” She stepped up to himand put her hand on his chest. He could see the invitation in her deep green eyes. “Care to share the moonlight with me, Sheriff?” “I have to get back to work,” Robert said as he backed up. “I’m sure there’s someone in the gym who will take you up on that invite.” Sean was pacing the floor of the old mine owner’s living room as he waited. The phone rangeand he quietedand smiled. He thanked his spyand went out on the porch to see Jonah’s truck coming. He stoppedand opened the back of the topper to pull Mary out. There was an ugly bruise along her jaw. Sean looked at Jonah. “She put up a fight, Sean,” Jonah shrugged. “You said…” “Yes, I did,” Sean nodded. He grabbed Mary’s armand forced her inside. “You can go, Jonah. I’ll take her back.” He looked at Mary sadly as he closed the doorand locked it. “We didn’t get to finish our talk the other day, Mary…” “You have nothing to say,” Mary snapped at him, “that I am interested in hearing.” “You have to marry me, Mary,” Sean laughed as he pulled something out of his pocket. He grabbed her left hand and slid the ring on her finger. Then he kissed her while she struggled to get loose. “It wish it could be a church wedding,” he told her as he stroked her breast, his eyes warming with lust almost immediately, “but time is running out.” “Sean, please…” “I want you, Mary,” Sean broke in. “I have wanted you since we were kids.” His eyes went dark with remembered angerand pain. “I never meant to hurt you that night, Mary. I wanted you so badly that when you said ‘no’, I lost it.” His hand cupped her cheek. “I’ve tried to make it up to you ever since.” “Thank you for that, Sean,” Mary told him honestly. “But that doesn’t give you any claim to me. I don’t want to marry you!” “I wish I could let it go, Mary,” Sean told her, “but some very nasty men tell me they will murder you if I don’t marry you.” He saw her go whiteand wished he could spare her. “This is the only way you’ll be safe.” There was a knock on the doorand he went to open it. Judge Lassiter stood there with his wifeand daughter. They came inand Mary watched as the Judge pulled out his book. He really meant to do this to her? She shook her headand tried to leaveand he held on tight. “I’m not going to insist,” he promised her as he leaned close, “on a true marriage, Mary. I’ll move in with youand the boy,” he told her, “but I’ll take the guest room. I won’t touch you until you want me to.” “Damn you, Sean,” Mary whimpered in protest. “Why are you doing this?” “I told you, Mary,” Sean replied, the regret in his eyes quite evident. “It’s the only way you’ll be safe. I would die if anything happened to you.” He turned her to the Judge. “Bobby needs you to stay alive, Mary,” he added. Mary had no choice, so she noddedand his relief was plain. “All right, Judge. We’re ready.” What followed was the oddest wedding ceremony Mary had ever imagined. Judge Lassiter nodded when they signed their names in his registerand on the certificateand congratulated them with a smile. His wifeand daughter, Mary knew, would have the news spread all over town by the end of the night. “We’re alone now, Mary,” he said as he closed the door behind the Judgeand his family. He locked itand saw her standing there looking very uncertain. “I was going to keep my distance,” he said as he picked her up in his arms, “but its impossible. I’ve waited four years to have you in my arms again.” His lips brushed hers as he carried her up the stairs, teasingand gentle. It was as if the four years were swept awayand they were teenagers again, exploring their attraction to each other. She sighedand his tongue plunged into her mouth making her moan with pleasure. “I want this time to be everything our first time wasn’t,” Sean said as he lowered the straps on her dressand kissed her bared shoulders. The dress slid down her bodyand pooled at her feet. His eyes went warm. “You are so beautiful, Mary.” The moon was high in the sky when they finally left the old mining manager’s home. Sean led her to his carand they drove to her house. They pulled up in frontand he could not stop himself. He kissed her roughly. “It’s what is best for youand the boy, Mary,” he said as he got out to open the door for her. “He needs to be kept away from his father.” “He needs a father who won’t hurt him, Sean,” Mary agreed. She was not at all certain now that she should have let him talk her into this marriage. She looked down at the rings on her fingerand then up at him. “Did we really have to go this far?” “Yes,” Sean nodded. “I had to have you, Mary.” He opened the front door for herand picked her up in his arms. “Welcome home, Mrs. Evans.” He set her downand Mary jumped as the cork on a champagne bottle poppedand people cheered. She turned to see Lillianand all her friends waiting there for them. Sean shruggedand she realized he’d been busy. She was angry at him for doing this to her, but she would not make a scene in front of her friends. “Is this all right, Bobby?” she heard Sean asking his nephew as she passed by with dirty plates on the way to the kitchen after everyone else had gone. “I’ve loved Mary for a long timeand I love you, so I thought we could make our own little family.” “Not with Daddy?” Bobby asked him, his eyes still haunted with fear. He had never been up this lateand he was very excited. “Your Daddy isn’t allowed near you, Bobby,” Sean told him fervently, “unless Maryand I are with you. Okay?” “She’s my aunt now,” Bobby smiled at the thought. “That’s all right, Uncle Sean.” He threw his arms around Sean’s neckand Mary knew she was lost. She wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize Bobby’s safety. She saw Sean turnand his smile died just a bit as she hurried on. “You heard that?” Sean asked as he came in behind her. Mary stood at the kitchen sink putting the dishes in the sink. Mary nodded. “This marriage is about more than just making certain youand the boy are safe, Mary.” “Don’t you think you could do that,” Mary said without turning, “by telling me the truth?” She turned thenand he saw her anger. “Why do these men want to hurt me, Sean?” “Not tonight, Mary,” Sean told her. “When we have timeand we’re alone.” Mary knew him well enough to know he wouldn’t budge. So she noddedand went back out with him. There were several off-color comments about the fact that they had disappeared into the kitchen together. Sean kissed herand put his arm around her waistand she was stunned at how easily he fell into the role of loving husband. She let herself relaxand actually smiled as he leaned in to kiss her again. “Now ain’t this cozy,” Eric snarled as he burst into the house. He was weaving on his feet. In his hand he held a bottle of whiskey. He looked from his brother to Mary. “I didn’t get an invite, little brother. That wasn’t nice.” “You’re not welcome here, Eric,” Sean said as he stood upand moved between the drunkand his new wife. “Go home.” “You have two things here that should belong to me, brother,” Eric snapped. He glared at Mary. “Mary should be my wife!And Bobby is my son!” He brought out his gun. “You are not taking either of them away from me!” “You don’t know how to take care of people without hurting them, Eric,” Sean replied calmly. He started towards his brotherand drew his attention. Mary took advantage of the distraction to move up on the man. “Now put the gun downand let’s talk this out…” “I’m through talking to you, Sean!” Eric roared. “I’m taking what’s mineand you’re not going to stop me!” Mary moved then. She hit Eric lowand fast as he firedand the shot went wild, putting a hole in the wall. Eric hit the ground hardand Mary sat on him as Sean took the gun away. She saw the hatred in his eyes thenand knew she had an enemy. “You can get up off him, Mary,” Robert’s voice sounded in her ear. She went to Seanand they watched as Eric was put in cuffs. “This isn’t over!” Eric hissed at his brotherand Mary. “I’m not going to stop until you both pay for stealing my boy!” “You lost your son,” Robert told the man tightly, “by being a bastard who thinks with his fists.” He nodded to them. “Congratulations on the wedding, Maryand Sean. Sorry about his little interruption.” Sean went to get the doorand he watched as his brother was taken away. He had known Eric was angry, but this behavior was over the top even for him. He shut the doorand turned to see Mary holding Bobby in her armsand assuring him that everything would be all right. “He is not going to stop,” she said later as they stood watching Bobby sleep. “Sean, I’m scared.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “Can we really keep Bobby safe when Eric is willing to murder us to get to him?” “We’ll do our best, Mary,” Sean told her as he turned her towards him. “It’s the best anyone can do.” He saw the hope in her eyesand he wanted to kiss her. He should not push her, his mind told him as he let her goand headed for the guest room. “Good night, Mary.” “Sean.” He knew if he turned there would be no way they were not sleeping together tonight. If he were wise, he would keep going. But his resolve died when she put her hand on his shoulder. He turnedand saw the confusionand the shyness mingling with the vestiges of fear. He pulled her into his armsand kissed her thenand he was lost. “There’s no going back, Mary,” he warned her as he picked her up in his armsand carried her to her room. “If you let me do this, I will be in your bed from this night on.” “Shut up, Sean,” Mary said as she lowered the straps of her dressand let it fall to the floor. “Be my husband.” They had breakfastand got dressed to go to church. Mary heard the hushed comments as they took the Evans’ family pew. She could imagine what people were thinking, especially with the news that Eric had broken into the receptionand tried to kill his brother. But the congratulations after the service were sincere enough. “Always knew he’d win you,” Sam said as he hugged Mary tight. “You let him be good to you, Mary Elizabeth. You deserve the best!” “Thank you, Sam,” Mary smiled at him warmly. She felt someone squeeze her hand and looked down to see Bobby at her side. She went down so they were eye to eye. “Yes, darling?” “Uncle Sean says we can go get ice cream over at Sue Ellen’s,” he smiled at her. He looked at Sam. “You work with the cars.” “That’s right, little man,” Sam nodded. “You have your uncleand aunt bring you over some timeand I’ll show you what I do.” He nodded to Maryand sauntered off. He was leaning on his truck outside the shop down the street when Sean took his wifeand nephew to the restaurant. “Damn, Mary Elizabeth. Why did you have to goand marry him? You were supposed to be mine!” Seanand Mary entered the restaurantand Sue Ellen came forward. She saw them to a table in the corner where they could be aloneand took Bobby with her to choose some ice cream. “Do you still want the truth, Mary,” Sean asked as he held her hand in his. “I was hoping that after last night…” “Mind numbing sex,” Mary broke in, blushing at the memory, “is not going to let you off the hook, Mr. Evans.” She looked around the restaurantand saw far too many people paying attention to them. “But this is not the place.” “We’ll take Bobby riding,” Sean decided. His thumb stroked the pulse point of her inner wristand he felt her shiver. He looked into her eyesand smiled as he saw the desire there. “Tomorrow,” he amended as he felt his own arousal. She opened her mouth to protestand he leaned overand kissed her, leaving her stunned to silence. “Tonight,” Mary said firmly, as her fingers stroked where his lips had just been. “You always were a good kisser, Sean Evans.” “You’re the only girl I ever kissed, Mary,” Sean told her honestly, “so I guess I’ll have to take your word for it.” He saw the shock on her faceand knew she didn’t believe him. “I only ever wanted you, Mary. Eric was the womanizer in our family.” Mary was spared from responding to his comment as Bobby called them. They got up to join him at the ice cream caseand spent the next several minutes helping him choose his treat. Half an hour later, they headed home. Bobby was riding piggyback on his uncle’s back as they approached the house. Sean saw something on the porchand he set Bobby down. “Stay here with your aunt, Bobby,” he said as he met Mary’s eyes. He went up the walkand bit his lip as he saw the dog. His throat had been cut. “Mary, take Bobby to the Sheriff’s Officeand ask MacGregor to come here.” He saw her look. “Stay there until I come get you.” Mary saw from his expression that something bad had happened. So she did what she was toldand walked into the Sheriff’s Office. Eric looked at her from the cell, his eyes hardand cold. He saw his sonand smiled at the boy. “Hey, Bobby,” he said softly. “Come to put in a good word for your old man?” “You’re a bad man,” Bobby criedand turned his face into Mary’s skirts. “Leave me be!” “I see youand my brother have managed to turn his head, Mary,” Eric said coldly. “You’d better stop it! When I get out, I’m taking my boy away from you.” “Let’s go see the Sheriff, Bobby,” Mary smiled down at the frightened boy. She went to the officeand knocked on the door. Robert opened the doorand she walked in with the boy. “Something happened at our house, Sheriff. Sean sent us to ask you to go check it out with him.” “You’re welcome to stay in here, Mary,” Robert nodded as he got his gun beltand hat. “Show Bobby how the radio works.” Mary noddedand watched the man leave. She set Bobby in the Sheriff’s chairand went to the closet to find the small hats they kept for the children to play with. She set it on his headand smiled. “Now you’re a deputy,” she smiled at him. “You ready to help uphold the law?” Robert drove up to Mary’s houseand saw Sean seated on the stairs, green at the gills. The town vet was just covering somethingand Robert knew what he’d see. Someone had murdered Thugand left him on the porch as a calling card. “Not everyone in town is happy about your marriage, Sean,” Robert said as they helped the vet take the dog away. “Mary’s going to be devastated by this.” “This goes way beyond unhappy,” Sean frowned. “My brother may be in that cell, but I’m not at all convinced he didn’t orchestrate this.” He went to get the hoseand cleaned the porch. “It just happened recently,” he noted as the blood washed away easily. He put the hose awayand checked the house with Robert to make certain there were no other surprises. “I’m telling her the dog died of natural causes, Sheriff.” “I won’t argue with that,” Robert nodded. “Mary adored that animal. Whoever killed him knew that.” “If it wasn’t Eric,” Sean asked the man. “Who?” “No one else seemed to have a problem with the two of you, Sean,” Robert frowned. “I’ll ask the neighbors if they saw or heard anything. Why don’t you take Maryand Bobbyand leave town for a few days. Let this cool down.” Sean noddedand went to pack. He was putting the suitcases in the trunk when he heard something whistle past his ear. Robert pushed him down behind the carand Sean saw him pull his gun. Sean did not need to be told to stay put, but he was mad. He went to the side doorand opened the glove compartment. “You let her go, Evans,” a man’s voice rang out, “or you are dead!” There was one more bullet firedand it hit the windshieldand sent glass flying in all directions. “I am driving youand your family to the airfield right now, Sean,” Robert told the stunned man. “I don’t care where you go, but you are not staying here in this town.” He got the suitcasesand put them in his own trunkand then the two silent men drove back to the station. “Sheriff is going to take us to the airfield,” Sean smiled at Maryand Bobby. “We’re going on our honeymoon!” Mary looked at the grim expression on Robert’s faceand heard the forced cheerfulness in Sean’s voiceand knew something was wrong. But she played along. She got in the back with Bobbyand joked with him about being prisoners now. They got on the first plane leavingand she noted Robert did not leave until they were taking off. Sean gripped her hand tight but he maintained a smile for Bobby’s benefit. “Have you ever been to Minneapolis?” Mary asked her husband as they landed. “We’ll take another plane out of here to wherever you’d like to go,” Sean told her as they entered the terminal. “It’s an International Airport. We could go almost anywhere.” “Uncle Sean!” Bobby cried as he saw the pictures of the Mall of Americaand the children’s play center. “Can we go there?” Sean looked at Maryand she shrugged. They checkedand found that there were several nice hotels near the Malland it wasn’t that far from the airport. So he called one of themand got the best room they had available. Once they had their luggage, they took a taxi to the hotel. “We didn’t need anything this fancy, Sean,” Mary said as she looked around the suite with the two bedrooms. “This is our honeymoon, Mary,” Sean said as he came upand took her in his arms. “I want it to be special.” “Most married couples don’t have a four year old with them, Sean,” Mary smiled as she saw Bobby running around. She looked at the clock. “We should get some dinner.” “I’ll order room service,” Sean nodded. “Hey Bobby,” he called to his nephew. “Come help me pick out our dinner, champ.” He kissed Mary on the lips gently. “Why don’t you take a bathand try to relax?” Mary noddedand did just that. By the time she came back, dinner was set out. She smiled as she saw the hot dogsand French fries. Sean shruggedand she knew he’d let Bobby choose the entire menu. Chocolate milkshakes were the beverageand there was apple pie with ice cream for dessert. “Excellent choices,” she congratulated the anxious boy. “Just what people should have on their honeymoon.” Bobby beamed at her praiseand they settled down to eat. She got him ready for bedand came back out to find Sean on the phone. His expression was grim. “What’s going on, Sean?” she asked as he hung up. “Someone doesn’t like the fact that we are married,” Sean told her honestly. He held herand told her about Thug. “I’m sorry, Mary. I honestly believed you would be safe.” “It’s not your fault, Sean,” she assured him. “Let’s just enjoy our time here.” She kissed him willing the fear to go away for a while. They did not speak as he carried her to the bedroomand they chased the darkness away for a few hours. Eric watched them as they took his son through the play centers in the Mall. It hadn’t been hard to figure out where they had run, there were so few planes leaving at the time they had gone. When Robert had let him out of the jail cell, he had made a calland been told where he could find them. He rubbed his upper lipand frowned. He had liked his moustache, but it was necessary to be without it to begin his slow torment of the pretty woman who should be his wife, not his brothers. He was wearing the same thing Sean was, so this should be quite easy. He waited until Seanand Bobby moved away from herand out of sight. He walked up behind herand put his hand on her shoulder. She smiled for a momentand then he saw the frown as she recognized him. Mary always could tell them apart; he had always wondered what it was. He grabbed her wristand yanked her out of her seat. “Don’t make a fuss, Mary,” he said as he led her away. “I am in no mood to argue with youand I don’t want to have to hurt you.” “Eric, please leave me alone,” Mary begged him. “I’m happy with your brother.” “I don’t want him happy,” Eric snapped as he forced her into a maintenance tunnel, “especially not with a woman who is supposed to be mine!” He slammed her up against the wall. “I made you mine when you were sixteen, Mary,and you never realized it!” “No,” Mary shook her head. “You couldn’t have…” “I raped you, Mary,” Eric laughed, “and I let Sean think it was his act.” He kept her moving. “I got him goodand drunkand all enamored with the idea of giving you an extra special birthday present.” Mary shook her head. “He asked you to close your eyes; remember?” Mary nodded, listening to him in mounting horror. “I knocked him out thenand took his place. When I was done, I dumped him on top of youand went to call the Sheriff.” His hand ran over her breastand she began to shudder. “My hands were the first ones to touch your beautiful body, Mary,and mine shall be the last!” “You’re lying!” Mary sobbed. “No one would let his own brother think he was guilty of such a crime!” “I would,” Eric laughed. “I wanted you, Mary,and you were giving yourself to him! That’s why I took the baby away from you. I wasn’t going to let you near our son until you opened your eyesand saw Sean for the bastard I’ve always known he was.” “The only bastard I see here is you, Eric,” Mary snapped at him. He slapped herand she struck him across the face. “Let me go!” “Oh no, darling,” Eric laughed as he yanked her on. “I’m not through tormenting my brother quite yet. You are going to disappear, the victim of a kidnapping.” He opened a doorand she saw that they were out on a loading dock. Two men in ski masks were waiting. “Here she is, gentlemen. Please see her safely to the farmand have Mel make certain she is kept comfortable until I return with my son.” “No!” Mary screamedand slipped free before the men could grab her. She ran out towards the parking lotand looked around desperately for help. A van pulled upand she saw a familiar face behind the wheel. “Oh thank God!” she sobbed as she got in the passenger seat. “You have to help me.” “Don’t worry, Mary,” he smiled as he brought out the ether-soaked rag. “I will always help you.” Several people saw her as she screamedand they were able to tell the police that she had been pulled into a dark van. Three men wearing ski masks had run after itand then gotten into another van to followand the license plate was obscured. Sean was waiting in the Manager’s Office with Bobby asleep in his arms when the FBI arrived. Agent Oliverand Agent Daughtry were a Muttand Jeff team in every particular. Oliver was tall, broadand had a sleepy look about him that would put most people at ease; his partner Daughtry was a slim perky brunette who looked like she was ready to burst from all the energy inside of her. “Have you received any ransom demands as yet, Mr. Evans?” Oliver asked him bluntly. “Only the note telling me to go home,” Sean told him. “They said they won’t contact me again until I get there.” He looked quite annoyed at them. “You can understand why I am eager to go?” “We understand that you were on your honeymoon, Mr. Evans,” Daughtry said to him. “Who is the boy?” “My nephew,” Sean answered her. “My wifeand I were given guardianship of him when my brother proved abusive.” “Would your brother have taken your wife,” Oliver asked the question Sean had been asking himself for the past four hours, “to force you to give the boy back to him?” “My brother is vindictive,” Sean said to the man, “but I hope even he isn’t this big of a bastard.” He stroked Bobby’s hair. “Poor little guy. He was so excited to have her in our family.” “Have you known your wife long, Mr. Evans?” Oliver asked him. “All her life,” Sean told him. “My twinand I were twelve years old when our mother divorced our fatherand married Mary’s father. Mary was fiveand she followed us around like a puppy. When she turned sixteen, I started to date her. Eric was quite jealous but he grudgingly accepted that Maryand I were a couple. We broke upand came together again just recently. All the old feelings were still thereand we decided to marry.” “Your brotherand you are twins,” Daughtry stated. “Identical?” Sean nodded. “Could he have followed you hereand lured your wife away while youand the boy were occupied elsewhere?” “I don’t know,” Sean admitted. “The only thing I know is my wife is missingand our nephewand I want to know where she is.” He heard Bobby whimperand held him close. “It’s all right, champ. Uncle’s here.” “Want Mary,” Bobby whimperedand shook his head. He opened his eyes slowlyand looked at the two strangers warily. “Who are you?” he asked as he clung to Sean. “We’re here to help you find your aunt,” Agent Oliver told him seriously as he held out his hand. “I’m Agent Oliverand that pretty lady is Agent Daughtry.” “I’m Bobby Evans,” Bobby took the man’s hand. “Well Bobby,” Oliver smiled. “What can you tell us about your Aunt Mary. Is she the type to wander off without telling people where she’s going?” “No,” Bobby shook his head. “That’s what bad boysand girls do. Aunt Mary is a good girl.” He looked quite fierce. “We were on our honeymoon. She wouldn’t run away.” There was a knock on the doorand a police officer stuck his head inand beckoned to Oliver. The agent followed him to the play centerand talked to a witness who swore that she had seen Mary Evans being taken to the maintenance tunnels by her husband. “But then I turned aroundand he was over at the other side of the center with the little boy,” the woman said to them. “I hope you find her all right. She didn’t look at all happy to be going with that man.” “Thank you, Mrs. Stone,” Oliver nodded. He had enough now to speak to the brother. It didn’t prove Eric Evans was the kidnapper, but it raised some serious questions. Had he hired the man or men who had kidnapped Mary Evans? He returned to the Manager’s Office. “We’ll take you to Evansville, Mr. Evans,” Oliver told him. “We’ll put a tap on your phonesand wait.” “They might question my having you with me,” Sean looked quite hesitant. “Can’t you come in separatelyand go coordinate efforts with our Sheriff?” He saw their suspicious looks. “I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize my wife. You can understand that, can’t you?” “Uncle Sean,” Bobby looked up at him. “Aunt Mary is going to be upset about Thug.” “Thug?” Oliver asked. “Someone killed her dogand took a potshot at me the day we let town,” Sean told them. He covered Bobby’s ears. “That’s why we were here in Minneapolis. He told me to let her goand or he’d kill me.” “We’ll talk to the Sheriff when we get to your hometown,” Oliver nodded. “It might be your attacker may have changed his mindand decided to take your wife instead.” “Why doesn’t that make me feel better?” Sean asked him. “Uncle Sean,” Bobby giggled, “the air is blowing funny in my head.” “Sorry, champ,” Sean grinned down at him. He took his hands away. “Better?” He stood up with Bobby in his arms. “We’ll go backand pack. I don’t have any trouble with flying home on your jet, but I am asking you to not come directly to the house.” “Agreed.” Mary knew she was awake but she felt like she was floating. She thought of getting up but her body didn’t want to listen. She heard a door openand someone came towards whatever she was lying onand touched her arm. They stroked her hairand she wondered what was happening. “You’re being a very good girl, Mary,” a familiar voice sounded in her ear. “Your husband should be back with your little boy soonand then I will bring him here to you.” “Don’t…hurt…” “I wouldn’t dream of hurting Bobby,” Sam assured her. “He’s your little boy, Mary. He belongs with us. He stroked Mary’s hair gently. “Once Sean divorces you, we can get married.” “No,” Mary shook her head slowly; her movements making her feel like she was swimming in molasses. “I want to go home.” “You are home, Mary,” Sam said to her. “My own darling Mary,” he sighedand leaned over to kiss her. “You know you belong with me. I’m the only one who can protect you.” “Sam, please let me go,” Mary pleaded with him. “I don’t belong here.” “You’re only saying that because you’re confused, Mary,” Sam said calmly. He ran his hand down her armand she felt him taking her rings off. “We’re going to remove everything that he put on youand then,” he continued as he sat her upand began to unbuttonand remove her blouse, “we’re going to remove his scent.” He kissed her. “We can’t be truly one until you are clean.” “Sam, don’t do this to me,” Mary sobbed as the man continued removing her clothing. He let her goand she flopped back onto the bed. She could hear the water running as he came back to get her. He put her in the tuband handed her a sponge. “Every inch, Mary,” he instructed her as he turned to go. “I don’t want to come in contact with any trace of the man.” Mary raised her arm slowlyand saw it shaking with the effort. If she didn’t have Bobby needing her she would have let herself slide under the waterand end this. But since she did, she shampooed her hairand took a bath as she had been instructed. Sam came back inand helped her into a thick terry cloth robe. Then he carried her to the bedroomand combed out her hair. “I used to comb Mother’s hair for her, Mary,” Sam said softly as he admired her in the vanity mirror. “You remember my Mother, don’t you?” Mary nodded slowly. “I have lots of her clothing here. You won’t need anything new.” He finished what he was doingand put her hair up in a ponytail like his mother used to wear. Then he turned her aroundand made up her face. When he let her look, she shivered. Her face was made up like Arlene Henry used to wear it. “Mother would have loved you, Mary.” “Sam,” Mary begged him as he picked her up, “you have to let me go. Seanand Bobby are going to be worried about me.” “No they aren’t, Mary,” Sam shook his head. “When they get home, there is going to be a letter waiting for them telling them that you don’t want to be married to Sean anymore. You are going to Reno to file for a divorce.” “They’ll never believe it, Sam,” Mary protested. “Then Sean will have to die,” Sam told her bluntly. He stroked her cheek. “We can never be together until he is gone.” He put his hands to his temples. “I’m getting a headache arguing with you. I need to make you quiet so I can rest.” He went out of the roomand returned with the bottle. Mary could smell the ether as he dumped it on a cloth. “Good night, honey.” Mary shook her headand tried to push him away. He fell backand the bottle went flying. She stumbled towards the doorand he grabbed herand clamped the cloth over her face as she screamedand fought him. But it was useless. He might be shorter than her but he was far stronger than she was. She collapsedand he put her on the bedand covered her with an afghan. “Pretty Mary,” he sighed as he took off his clothesand got under the afghan with her. He removed the robe she was wearingand held her as she slept, his hands shivering with the need to touch. “Not yet,” he shook his headand moved away from her. He woke earlyand left her something to eat while he went about his work. He could see her moving on the screen in his office hidden in the closetand he checked on her every few minutes. The thought of her in his homeand in his bed was quite heady. He wandered down to Sue Ellen’s at lunch timeand bought sandwichesand soup to go. “You’re mighty hungry today, Sam,” Sue Ellen smiled at him. “Got a hot date?” No,” Sam blushed. “I’m going to be working late on Old Hancock’s Olds, so I thought I’d stock up. You’re a much better cook than I am Sue Ellen. I should hire you.” She smiled at himand he was reminded of his mother. Yes, he thought as he made his way home; she would be a perfect addition to the household. There was small closet off the kitchen he could put a twin bed in for her use. “Hello, darling,” he called as he went upstairs with the food. “I thought I’d eat lunch with you.” He ducked as something came down towards his headand caught her around the waste as she tried to run. “You are feeling feisty today,” he laughed. “That means you want to play.” He set the food down on the table while she squirmed under his armand carried her into the bedroom. He knew she was still under the influence of the Evans’ man so he would have to secure her. He put the shackles he kept hidden behind the headboard on her wristsand pulled her down. He got the ether. “Just enough to quiet you,” he said as he measure it out, “but not enough to make you sleep.” He smiled as he saw her dazed look. “I don’t want to hurt you, Mary, but you can’t do that again. You could harm yourself trying to run away.” He stroked her hair as she cried softly, her eyes filled with tears. Sam pet herand caressed herand kissed her as she struggled weakly. Her struggled only excited him moreand he raped her with a great deal of enthusiasm. Her moans of pain sounded like cries of delight to his demented mindand he left her to return to work with a pleased smile on his face. Sam was driving past the Sheriff’s Office the next morning when he saw Sean inside with his brother. The man looked very angryand he attacked Ericand had to be pulled off of him. Sam smiled at that. It was good to pit the enemies against each other. They would destroy themselvesand he would be free to enjoy his pretty Mary undisturbed. He stopped in back of Sue Ellen’s, made certain that no one was looking,and then knocked on the door. As he waited, he prepared the cloth. “Hello?” Sue Ellen called as she opened the doorand peered out. “Norman Sands, is that you playing tricks again?” She stepped out into the alleyand Sam was on her. She collapsed quicklyand he put her in his trunk. “Mary, darling,” he called as he carried Sue Ellen upstairsand put her in the closet near the kitchen on the bed. He shackled her ankleand made certain the chain was secured. Then he went to get Mary. She was boundand gagged. He freed her anklesand took her to the kitchen closet. “I brought you a servant, darling, so you don’t have to cook for us.” He leaned his cheek against hers. “Wasn’t that thoughtful of me?” He turned her eyes to his. “Wasn’t that thoughtful, Mary?” She noddedand he was appeased. “She’ll keep you company when I have to work,and help you take care of our children.” He sat Mary down at the tableand freed her wrists. She was horrified at his latest act. She had never believed the other kids when they had said Sam Henry was insane. Mary had thought they were just being cruel. But his actions of the past couple of days told her plainly that he was unhinged. It had been bad enough when it was only her, but now Sue Ellen was in danger as well. Mary had to figure out how to get them both out of here before he snapped completely. “We’re moving now, darling,” he said as he drugged her again. He carried her downstairs to his panel vanand laid her on the bed in the back. He went back insideand returned with Sue Ellen. He made certain they were both boundand gagged,and then backed the van outside the garage. When his employees showed up, he told them he was going on an extended vacationand left Homer Simon in charge until he got back. Five minutes later, Sam pulled up in the alley behind Mary’s houseand snuck in. He got Bobbyand a few toysand carried him out to the van. He laid the boy next to his motherand left him free. A four year old boy was not going to be any trouble. Oscar ran into the Sheriff’s Officeand banged on the door. Robert glared at the brothersand they moved away from each other. The alarm on Oscar’s face told him that something bad had happened. “Sue Ellen is missing, Sheriff,” Oscar told him. “I went over to pick up our morning doughnutsand the front door was lockedand the lights were out. So I went around back to go check her apartment. The back door was standing wide openand this was on the ground nearby.” He pulled out a plastic bad with a cloth inside it. The ether smell was quite evident as he cracked it open. “Why would anyone kidnap Sue Ellen?” “Can’t blame this one on me, brother,” Eric snapped at his twin. “You have friends,” Sean retorted. “Perhaps you decided Mary needed a housekeeperand cookand Sue Ellen’s name sprang to mind.” “We have a perfectly competent cook housekeeper up at the farm, Sean,” Eric replied. “If I had Mary there, she’d be taken care of.” He sank back, frowning. “This is getting ridiculous. Who has Mary?” He looked at Sean. “I’m starting to feel very uneasy about all this, brother. Our Mary is in troubleand whoever took her is more than happy to see us at each other’s throats.” “It has to be someone who knows Sue Ellen’s schedule,” Oscar was saying; his worry for the woman. “That means someone whose morning hours are as early as hers are.” “You get a list together, Oscar,” Robert nodded to him. He looked at the brothers. “All right, gentlemen,” he said as he sat down; “seeing as you both appear to be in the clear, I want you to sit downand try to think of someone in this town who would want Mary enough to kidnap herand make it look like one of you was responsible.” They looked up to see Lillian’s car squealing to a halt in front of the building. She was wild-eyed as he ran insideand Sean opened the door for her. Eric made her sit downand she looked at the pair of themand burst into tears. “I was hoping you had taken him, Eric,” she sobbed as she started to calm down. “Who, Lil?” Robert asked. “Bobby,” Lillian said softly. “I went in to wake him up for breakfastand he wasn’t in his bed. She held up a baggy with a familiar cloth in it. “This was on the floor by his bed.” “Damn!” Robert hissedand called the federal agents. “Agent Oliver? This is MacGregor. The man who took Mary in Minneapolis had just added two more people to his collection.” He listened. “Mary’s nephew, Bobby,and the owner of the local diner, Sue Ellen Parker.” He hung up. “Heand Daughtry are on their way.” “We can’t keep this quiet any longer,” Sean told him. “He has three hostages nowand Lord only knows where he’s taking them. If he’s unhinged…” “If?” Eric spat. “Three hostages are going to wear on his nerves,” Sean glared at his brother. “He’s going to have to keep them drugged or bound. Bobby is going to be frightened.” “We have to find them fast!” Eric nodded. “He was just in town. Someone has to have seen a vehicle large enough to stow three hostages being driven out of town.” He saw Homer coming in. “Sheriff,” Homer said to Robert. “I don’t know if I should say anything, given he’s my employer…” “Go on, Homer,” Robert nodded. “Sam just left town,” Homer replied, “with all the cash in the register.” I went upstairsand there was this funny smell in the living room. He looked at the baggy on the desk. “It smelled just like that.” “Theo,” Robert roared. “Oscar. Get on the horn with the State Policeand all the other agencies. We have a kidnapping in progress. Sam Henry has abducted Mary Evans, Bobby Evans,and Sue Ellen Parker. He is to be assumed armedand dangerous. He is mentally unstableand should be approached with extreme caution. Find photos of the victimsand of the perpand get them on the wire immediately.” Oliverand Daughtry arrivedand they helped by coordinating with the Denver FBI. By the time those agents arrived every law enforcement agency in Colorado had been alerted to the situation. People from town arrived to find out how they could help. “Does this Henry own any property out of town?” Daughtry asked as she looked at Sam’s employees. “We don’t know,” Homer said. “Sam was the type that always kept to himself. He was nice enough; knew everything about everyone else, but his own life he kept private.” “Typical,” Oliver frowned. “Nice quiet neighborly fellows always wind up being serial killersand criminals.” He saw Lillian go pale. “He has no reason to kill them, Ms. Warner. He went to all the trouble to provide his main target with a servantand a child. He’s building her a little home somewhere with himself in the role of fatherand husband.” “Mary already has a husband,” Sean snapped. “And Bobby already has a father,” Eric added, equally irritated. He looked at his brother. “How could we not know? We should have realized from the way he always seemed to be around her that he was after her.” “We were too busy fighting each other, Eric,” Sean replied with regret evident in his voice. “That has got to stop.” “Agreed,” Sean nodded. “But let’s put it on the back burner until my sonand your wifeand Sue Ellen are back home where they belong.” “Amen.” Parson Wagner said from where he stood in the doorway. “There are five possibilities so far; all dark panel vans matching the description of Sam’s Dodge heading off in three different directions. So far only two are cleared.” “You know it’s a Dodge?” Oliver asked the parson. “How?” “That’s easy,” Homer spoke up from where he was manning a phone. “Sam only ever owned Dodge vehicles. He wouldn’t be caught dead in anything else.” “How many of the remaining three are Dodges, Parson?” “Let me check,” Parson Wagner looked at the list. He smiled happily. “One, dark blue, with obscured license plate headed north into Wyomingand found abandoned on I-70 near Sheridan.” “He’s switched vehicles,” Oliver frowned. “This man is smart.” “He’ll make amistake,” Daughtry replied. “They always make amistake.” Sam had a headache. The boy had woken upand started to cryand Mary had to be drugged so that he could drug the boy. The old woman had glared at him the whole wayand so he had drugged her to make those accusing eyes quit looking his way. She was too much like his mother. She had always looked at him like that. I’m dumping the old woman he decided when he pulled into a used car lot before the place was open. He broke inand found the keys for an RVand put them all inside it. He drove thirty miles west of townand left her lying on the side of the road, still sleeping. Then he turned southwestand headed towards Idaho. “Where’s Sue Ellen,” Mary asked when she noticed her gone. “Sam?” He looked over at her where he had duct taped herand the boy into the passenger seat. She was so beautiful he sighed to himself. He didn’t want to have to hurt her, but she was getting on his nerves. So he had an idea. “You won’t talk anymore, Mary,” he said to her. “Because if you do, I will dump your boy on the side of the road just like I did the old woman. How long do you think he’ll last out here on his own?” “Sam, please…” “No more talking,” he snappedand slapped her across the face. Mary fell silentand he nodded. “This was supposed to be so perfect, but you aren’t behaving at all like I thought you would.” His mind was spinning. “I have a friend who makes all kinds of drugs. He’ll be able to give me one that will make you behave.” He reached out to stroke her cheekand Bobby bit him. “Don’t you touch my Aunt Mary!” he shrieked. “Nobody hurts her.” “That’s it!” Sam snarled. He pulled off onto the side of the roadand cut Bobby loose. Then he carried him to the door. “No!” Mary struggled to get loose. “Sam, please don’t do this! He’ll be good for me. I’ll make him understand that he needs to obey you.” Sam hesitated. “I’ll show you how much you mean to me now, if you want. Just don’t hurt Bobby.” Sam smiledand he taped Bobby’s wristsand anklesand set him in the bathroom. He tied a rope around his neckand fastened the other end to the shower rod. Then he cut Mary looseand took her to the bed. He was fascinated as she had sex with him in what he believed was an honestand willing fashion. He left her a momentand returned with the ether. “I’m sorry, darling,” he said as he drugged her, “but the boy is bad. We’ll make other children for you to teach how to obey me.” Mary fought him then with all she had but it was too late. She lost consciousnessand he took Bobby outand tied him to a tree by the roadside. He heard the boy screaming at him as he closed the doorand he laughed. He had the only person he really wanted nowand she would behave for him as he meant her to. Ericand Sean were in a car headed after Samand their missing family members when they got the call that Sue Ellen had been found. She had been left abandoned on the roadside heading towards Idaho. While Daughtry remained behind to question her, the others followed the road. It was another hour before someone called out. They stopped the carand Eric ran. He untied the rope around Bobby’s neckand held him until the boy complained he couldn’t breathe. “He said I was bad,” he sobbed as he clung to his father, “so he wouldn’t keep me.” He looked up at Sean. “But he was bad! He hit Aunt Mary cause she asked him where Sue Ellen was.” He cried again. “He hurt her so I bit him!” “Biting people isn’t nice, Bobby,” his father chided him. Bobby lowered his head. “But in this case, Ace, I think I’ll overlook it.” He held him close. “I’m so glad you’re safe, Bobby. I’d die if anything ever happened to you.” He looked at the others. “You can drop us in the next town…” “No, Daddy,” Bobby shook his head. “We has to get Aunt Mary!” “You heard him,” Eric looked at the others. “Let’s go get Mary.” Bobby settled against his father with the bottle of water Agent Oliver pulled out of the cooler in the trunkand sipped at it. He was happy for now, but he wanted his Aunt Maryand no one was going to keep him from going after him. “Poor kid,” Eric said as he held his son later. “He’s been through so muchand he is determined to be there when we find Mary.” He closed his eyes. “I just hope we find her alive. This man is losing it.” “Mary… Pretty Mary…” She shook her headand tried not to scream. He had tied her to the roll bar in the side of the driver’s seat while she was outand was now petting her hair like she was a cat. Sam yanked her up onto her kneesand he leaned down to kiss her. He pulled into an RV Park for the nightand she lay there sobbing as he raped her again. She knew he’d hurt her if she complained but she just did not care. “I want my boy!” she sobbedand tried to shove him away. “Why did you have to do that to Bobby? I told you I’d make him obey you.” “I told you to be quiet, Mary,” Sam snarledand slapped her across the face. “When I get that drug, I’m going to ask him about one that will keep you silent.” He sat on the side of the bedand stroked her bare leg with a smile. “You’re so beautiful, Mary. I don’t want to hurt you.” Mary waited until he had turned completelyand then she brought up her feetand kicked him hard in the center of the back. Sam went flyingand she heard his head hit the sink with a thud. He collapsed to the groundand Mary was off the bed. She grabbed a long coatand held it in her hands in front of her body. She hurt bad from his last attack, but she was not going to let that stop her. She had to catch herself on the door as her feet went out from under her on the stairs. But then she was stumbling back the way they had come, gasping from the pain. Her head began to spinand she knew she was going to pass out. She couldn’t be on the road when she did, she thought as she looked along the tree line. She heard a vehicle comingand turned to see the RV. “Come back here!” Sam screamed as she ran into the trees. The RV squealed to a haltand he was running after her. He caught her when she stumbledand slapped her across the face. “Why did you run, Mary? I’m trying to help you!” He caught her as she collapsedand carried her back to the road. He dumped her between the seatsand bound her wrists to the roll bar in the driver’s side door so she was lying across his lap. He took off againand contented himself with stroking her body. He had to remember to be gentler with her; he chided himself as he saw the bruises. No wonder she had run; he was frightening her. “Pretty Mary…” Her eyes fluttered openand she whimpered in fear as she saw how he had bound her. The painand fear in her eyes made him sad, but it would be gone soon. Warren had promised him that he would have exactly the drug he needed to make Mary his willing woman. He would have preferred her to choose to be willing on her own, but he couldn’t risk her attempting to run again. She might get hurt next time. “I only ever wanted to take care of you, Mary,” he said sadly as he met her eyes. “Now we’re going to have to resort to drugsand my friend has no idea what that is going to do to your mind or your body.” He laid his hand on her abdomen. “We’ll make certain you aren’t pregnant before we start the drugs.” “Please don’t drug me, Sam,” Mary sobbed. “I’ll learn to behave. I’ve just been confusedand frightened.” “I know, honey,” Sam said as his fingers dancedand teased. “I know.” She bit her lip to keep from crying but the tears glistened in her eyes. “I knew you’d begin to see how much I love you.” He cut her wrists looseand let her lip to the floor. “Get up in the passenger seatand show me you can be a good girl.” His fingers pressed on her lips. “No talking.” Mary got into the seatand watched as they pulled off the roadand headed through the trees. They stopped in front of an old barnand she saw a man coming out. He climbed inand Sam smiledand nodded towards her. “Wow, Sam,” Warren beamed as he yanked her upand looked her over. “I can see why you want her willing.” He frowned as he saw the bruises. “I see you were impatient again.” He ran his hand along Mary’s cheekand she tried to pull away. “You really want to bank this one’s fire, Sam. She must be dynamite with her will intact.” “She is,” Sam assured him, remembering how she had responded to him when she had been pleading for her son. He stroked Mary’s hair. “But she likes to run.” “Pity,” Warren sighed. “Bring her inside then. We’ll do the blood work to check for pregnancyand then make certain the drug I give you will not react negatively to her system.” He patted Mary on the cheek. “My women are looking forward to meeting your new woman, Sam.” “Warren Mays,” the Boise FBI agent they contacted supplied a name for them when they met up with him at the border. “He’s been under investigation for the designand distribution of illicit drugs for years. We could never find anyone who was willing to testify against him before.” There was a rustle of papers. “Seems he has a cousin name of Samson Henry who lives in Evansville, Colorado. We’ll lead you in.” They followed his car along the main roadand turned off on a side road. The Boise agent drove aheadand they parked back out of sight. Eric stayed in the car with Bobby, who was sleeping. He liked Mary a lot but his boy was more important to him. He wondered how Sean was going to take to the news that this was his son. He wondered if Mary would forgive him for lying to her about the rape. He still did not know why he had done it. “Hey, Ace,” he smiled down at his son as Bobby opened his eyes. “How are you feeling?” He saw Bobby’s eyes widen even furtherand he turned to see a man standing there with a gun trained on him. He did not argue when the man told him to get out of the carand come with him. “Ace?” “Yeah, Daddy?” “You remember when I said it’s not nice to bite people?” Eric asked his son. “Yeah, Daddy.” “This is one time I want you to disobey me,” Eric said as he looked at his son, “all right?” Eric stopped walkingand the man ran into him. He reached out to shove Ericand he whirled. Bobby bit his hand and the man screamed out in pain. Eric slugged himand he heard people coming their way. He got the man’s gunand stood holding it on him as the man cursed. Bobby clung to his father’s leg, smiling proudly. “One down,” Oliver smiled. “Good job.” “Don’t look at me,” Eric smiled down at his son. “Bobby took him down.” Mary’s head snapped up as she heard the man scream outside. It had been three hours since she had been brought hereand she had been pokedand prodded repeatedly since then. She was battered, she was bruised,and she was hungry; but most of all, she was pissed off. She looked at the shackles holding her seated in the corner of a padded celland she wanted to scream. “We’re about to have company, pretty lady,” Warren smiled as he came in to get her. He released the chains between the shackles from the hook in the walland yanked her up on her feet. “Let’s see if they’re here for you, eh?” Mary found herself being hurried out of the barn to the cars parked outside. She didn’t see Sam anywhere. Warren laughed as she looked around. He pressed her up against the carand ran his thumb along her jaw line as she struggled to get free of him. “Sam won’t be joining us, pretty lady,” Warren said to her. “He is far too provincial for an animal like you.” She bit him as he leaned in to kiss herand he slapped her. “You like it rough, baby? I can oblige you.” He leaned in again. “By the way, you are pregnant. When we get where we are going, I will have it removed from you.” “No!” Mary screamed in anger. She hit him in the faceand he backed up far enough for her to slip past himand run. His man grabbed herand brought her back, screamingand struggling. “I knew it!” Warren laughed in delight. “You are a wildcat!” “Let me go!” Mary screamed as his man shoved her into the foot well in back. Warren got inand put his feet on the small of her back, holding her down as the others got into the car. “That’s Mary!” Sean yelled as they approached the barn. He saw her being shoved into a vehicleand shot out the tires so it could not go. Then he ran to it, yanking open the back doorand pulling out the man holding his wife down. “Mary!” he cried as she came at him like a demon. “Honey, it’s me!” “Sean?” Mary looked at him in confusion. She brought up her bound handsand touched him. Joy flooded into her eyesand she threw herself into his arms. “Oh Sean! It is you!” “Look out!” Eric cried as Warren pulled his gun. He pushed Seanand Mary out of the wayand the bullet struck him in the chest. He sank down against the car with a stunned look on his face. He watched the man being disarmedand cuffed. “Bobby,” he moaned as his boy came to him. “I’m sorry. Your old man is going to have to leave now.” He looked at his brother. “I lied to Maryand to you, Sean, all these years. Mary; I gave Sean a drug that made it impossible to control himself so that he raped you. Then I took your babyand lied about your son dying.” “You don’t need to do this, Eric,” Sean said as he crouched down next to his brother. “Not going to heaven with lies on my record,” Eric shook his head. “Bobby is your son, Sean. Joyce wanted a babyand I wasn’t giving her one. So I stole yours.” He looked at his boy. “Bobby, Seanand Mary are your parents. You’re there little boy, not mine. I always loved you even though you weren’t really mine.” He hissed as pain lanced through him. “I’m so sorry.” “Just hang in there, brother,” Sean chokedand looked over at the agent. “We need an ambulance!” Mary crouched downand kissed Eric on the lips. He smiled at her for a momentand then went white. Bobby hugged himand then went with Mary. It was time for the brothers to say goodbye. She was holding Bobby in her arms when Sean found them. His face was streaked with tears. Mary took his hand and laid it on her abdomen. “We’ll name our next child after him, Sean,” Mary smiled up at him sadly. “Eric or Erica.” “I want a brother,” Bobby said as he hugged her close. “All right, Mommy?” “We’ll see what God sends us, Champ,” Sean smiled as he hugged his family close. “We’ll take Eric homeand bury him with Dadand Joyce on the hill overlooking the farm.” “He’d like that,” Mary smiled sadly. “We shouldn’t have had to lose anyone.” “Daddy saved you,” Bobby smiled up at her. “So you could be my new Mommyand Daddy.” He hugged her tight. “I always wanted you for a Mommy!” “Our little family,” Sean smiled briefly, letting himself feel the happiness this thought brought him. He looked at the boy he had believed was his nephew,and now knew to be his son. Eric had taken him from them,and given him back again at the last. “We’re going to miss Eric.” “He’ll be remembered,” Mary hugged him. “He’s given us our life back.”

Impressum

Texte: M J Marlow
Bildmaterialien: Bookrix
Lektorat/Korrektorat: M J Marlow
Tag der Veröffentlichung: 11.01.2010

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