Tiffany swore she was pregnant, but Chase never knew if she’d lied. Eleven years after her father had had him beaten and ran out of town, Chase couldn’t stand not knowing. Despite the possibility of another beating and the prison sentence they’d promised him if he ever returned, Chase went back and faced far worse than prison.
After eleven years Sydney didn’t cherish the chance to have Chase as much as she feared he would learn too many secrets.
Chase had to decide if the stories so many were so eager to tell him were true. Did Sydney kill to become the only heir to the Gibson fortune? Was her obsessive/compulsive disorder so severe that she’d held on to his child only to trap him or that she would kill again if he made her angry?
A crisp suntan uniform stepped up beside them to interrupt. Though the belly was going to fat, the arrogance was still there. Reed Holmes hooked his sunglasses on his shirt pocket and rested one hand on the revolver holstered at his waist. “I’m surprised you had guts enough to come back here, Lomen.”
“It’s not polite,” Ryan told him, “to call someone by their last name without Mister.”
“I don’t need you to lecture me on manners, kid.”
Sydney’s arms crossed over her chest. “Someone should.”
Reed scoffed. “Seeing you with him doesn’t surprise me. You always did have a thing for him.”
“Right. I’ve pined away all these years because no one…” Her gaze raked Reed from face to the toes of his shiny black shoes and back. “…else could compare.”
An unhealthy red crept up Reed’s neck. “Send the kid off,” he ordered.
Her gaze remained steady on him, and she said nothing to Ryan. Ryan took a huge bite of his hamburger and smirked at Reed.
“Have it your way.” He turned to Chase. “We don’t want any rapist here.”
Sydney answered before Chase could. “You know better than anyone that he is not a rapist, and you’ve got no grounds to order him out.”
“There’s a fugitive warrant—”
“No, there isn’t,” Chase retorted, fighting to control his temper and eleven years of anger. He’d been dogged by a felon arrest all his adult life. If there had been a fugitive warrant—not that he wouldn’t have put it past old man Gibson to have filed one—he would know.
“There can be,” Reed threatened. “Charges can be brought again, and you’re in violation of a restraining order.”
Sydney leaned forward and dropped her voice to a hiss. “The restraining order was to keep away from Tif, and it expired after six months. The statue of limitations expired years ago. If you’re going to stand there spouting off threats, at least make them viable.”
“Here’s one for you,” he hissed back, turned his head, and told Chase, “You better have money in your pocket, a place to live, and a job—or I’m running you in for vagrancy.”
“You do,” Sydney shot back, “and I’ll file charges against you for unlawful arrest, harassment, and violation of his civil rights. I’ll call the media and—”
“You think threatening me will get him for you?”
Sydney shot to her feet and startled Chase as tense as he was with how fast she moved. Ryan, obviously expecting what was coming, quickly moved things as her hands came down. She balanced on her fingertips to lean across the table and told Reed, “When my father and the rest of you framed him, I was too young to do anything. I’m not now, and I’ve got the education. I’m not a child locked away in my room for a month to keep me from telling the truth, you don’t have my father’s influence or Cosby’s guts, and you better not mess with me.”
“If your father was still alive, you wouldn’t be so brave.”
“Makes it easy for you with all of them gone. Real convenient the way your sister disappears, your parents die, and…”
“You better shut up,” Sydney warned over his words.
“…you get his bastard to hold and use to trap him when he shows up.”
“You’d better shut the fuck up,” Sydney growled.
“Uh-oh,” Ryan said softly.
Reed didn’t hear any of it. “I just might re-open the investigation into your folks’ accident.”
“Do,” Sydney retorted, “since all of you sat on your asses and did nothing when it happened.”
Reed turned on Chase. “Where were you when—”
Sydney started after him. Chase, barely able to take in all he was hearing, lunged to his feet. He remembered something else about Sydney; she had a hellacious temper once it was roused, and no fear. Ryan obviously knew the same thing. He moved the same time Chase did. Chase caught and blocked her from the front. Ryan snagged and pulled her back with a hold of her shirttail.
“Hiding behind a woman?” Reed sneered.
“He’s in front of her, you dummy,” Ryan shouted.
Reed made a grab at Ryan. Chase shoved him back. Reed didn’t fall, but he came close. Recovering with a stagger, he snapped free the safety strap on his gun with one hand and gripped the butt with the other. He froze when a hand clamped down over his and a voice growled in his ear.
“You draw that weapon, and I’ll break your arm,” Sheriff Billmore told him. Even with silver gray hair, at six feet six inches, he looked more than able to do it.
“He assaulted an officer!” Reed shouted.
Sydney, held back by Chase’s arm, shouted, “You tried to attack a ten-year-old child!”
“Suppose we take this outside,” Billmore suggested firmly, “and let these folks eat in peace.”
Chase took a quick look around at the faces, reflecting either horror or avid curiosity. He grabbed Sydney by the arm and laid his hand on Ryan’s shoulder in one swift move.
“She used the F-word,” Ryan whispered. “She’s really, really mad.”
“I noticed,” he whispered back.