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Shades of Twilight (Chapter 14)

She didn't know when Webb silently entered the room through the balcony doors and checked on her, listening to her deep, even breathing to make certain she was asleep, watching her for a while, then leaving as quietly as he had entered. On this night, she wasn't awake to watch the hands on the clock sweep inexorably around.

She didn't remember dreaming; she never did.

In the deepest hour of the night she left her bed. Her eyes were open but strangely unseeing. She walked without haste, without hesitation, to her door and opened it. Her bare feet were sure and silent on the carpet as she drifted down the hall, ghostly in her white nightgown.

She wasn't aware of anything until a sudden bursting pain shot through her head. She heard a strangely distant cry, and then there was only darkness.

Webb bolted out of bed, instantly awake and horribly certain that he'd heard Roanna crying out, but the sound hadn't come from her room. He grabbed up his pants and jerked them on, fastening them as he ran out the door. The cry had sounded as if it came from the direction of the stairs. God, what if she'd fallen down them The rest of the family had been awakened, too. He heard a babble of voices, saw lights coming on, doors opening. Gloria poked her head out just as he ran past.

"What's going on?" she asked fretfully.

He didn't bother to answer, all his attention focused on getting to the stairs. Then he saw her, lying crumpled like a broken doll in the front hall that ran at a right angle to the stairs. He turned on the overhead light, the chandelier almost blinding in its brilliance, and his heart almost stopped. Blood, wet and dark, matted her hair and stained the carpet beneath her head.

He heard a clatter downstairs, as if someone had stumbled into something.

Webb looked up and saw Brock standing there blinking sleep from his eyes, not quite understanding what was going on.

"Brock," he snapped.

"There's someone downstairs."

His cousin blinked again, then comprehension cleared his gaze. Without a word he ran down the stairs. Greg didn't hesitate as he followed his son.

Webb knelt beside Roanna and gently pres sec to her neck, hardly daring to breathe. Panic swelled like a balloon, suffocating him. Then he felt her pulse throbbing under his fingertips, reassuringly strong, and he went weak with relief. He ignored the rising crescendo of voices around him and gently turned her over. Harlan was blustering, Gloria and Lanette were clinging to each other and making moaning sounds. Corliss stood frozen just outside her bedroom door, her eyes wide with terror as she stared down at Roanna's limp form.

Lucinda struggled through the press of bodies and sank heavily to her knees beside him. Her color was pasty, and her trembling hand dug into his arm.

"Roanna," she whispered, her voice catching.

"Webb, is she-T' "No, she's alive." He wanted to say she'd just been knocked out, but her injury could be more serious than that. She hadn't regained consciousness, and the fear was growing in him again. Impatiently he looked at Gloria and Lanette, driving each other into higher levels of hysteria, and dismissed them as useless. His gaze snapped over to Corliss.

"Corliss! Call 911. Get the paramedics out here, and the sheriff." She just stared at him, not moving, and he barked, "Now!" She swallowed convulsively and darted back into her suite. Webb heard her voice, high and trembling, as she talked to the 911 operator.

"What happened?" Lucinda moaned, stroking Roanna's face with shaking fingers.

"Did she fall?" "I think she surprised a burglar," Webb said, his voice tight with anger and anxiety, and the fear he was barely holding at bay. He wanted to pick Roanna up in his arms, cradle her against his chest, but common sense told him to let her lie still.

She was still bleeding, her blood soaking into the carpet. A dark red stain was spreading out from where her head lay. 259

"Corliss!" he yelled.

"Bring a blanket and a clean towel!" She was there in just a moment, stumbling over the blanket she was dragging, and simultaneously struggling to pull on a robe over her rather skimpy silk sleep shirt Webb took the blanket and carefully tucked it around Roanna, then folded the towel and as gently as possible slipped it under her head, cushioning it from the floor and positioning the pad so that it pressed against the bleeding wound.

"W-will she be all right?" Corliss asked, her teeth chattering from shock.

"I hope so," he said grimly. There was a savage pain in his chest. What if she wasn't all right? What would he do? Lucinda collapsed backward, her legs folding under her.

She buried her face in her hands and began sobbing brokenly.

Gloria stopped wailing, the sound ceasing as if it had been cut with a knife. She dropped to her knees beside her sister and put her arms around her.

"She'll be all right, she'll be fine," she crooned in reassurance, smoothing Lucinda's white hair.

Roanna stirred, moaning a little as she tried to lift her hand to her head. She didn't have the strength or the coordination, and her arm fell limply back to the carpet. Webb's heart leaped wildly. He picked up her hand and cradled it in his.

"Roanna?"

At his tone, Lucinda pulled away from Gloria, frantically scrambling closer. Her expression was both terrified and hopeful.

Roanna took two deep breaths, and her eyelids fluttered open. Her gaze was unfocused, confused, but she was regaining consciousness, and that was what mattered.

Webb had to swallow a lump in his throat.

"Roanna," he said again, leaning over her, and with an obvious effort she looked at him, blinking as she tried to clear her vision.

"You're fuzzy," she mumbled.

He could hardly breathe, his heart was pounding so violently. He placed her fingers against his rough cheek.

"Yeah, I need to shave." "Not that," she said, her words slurred. She took another deep breath, as if exhausted. "Four eyes."

Lucinda gulped back her sobs, choked laughter mingling with the tears as she reached for Roanna's other hand.

A tiny frown pulled at Roanna's brow.

"My head hurts," she announced in confusion, and closed her eyes again. Her speech was clearer. She tried again to touch her head, but Webb and Lucinda were each holding a hand, and neither of them was inclined to let go.

"I imagine it does," Webb said, forcing himself to speak calmly.

"You've got a hell of a bump back there."

"Did I fail?" she murmured.

"I guess so," he replied, not wanting to alarm her until he knew something for certain, Brock and Greg came panting back up the stairs. Brock was wearing only a pair of jeans, zipped but not snapped, and his sturdy chest gleamed with sweat. He had picked up a poker from somewhere, and Greg had taken the time to get the .22 squirrel rifle from its rack over the fireplace in the den. Webb looked inquiringly at them, and they shook their heads.

"He got away," Greg mouthed silently.

Sirens were wailing in the distance. Greg said, "I'd better put this up before the sheriff gets here. I'll let them in." He went back downstairs to return the rifle to its rack, lest he alarm a deputy already on edge with adrenaline.

Roanna tried to sit up. Webb put his hand on her shoulder and pressed her back down, alarmed at how little effort it took to do so.

"No you don't. You're going to stay right here until a medic says it's all right for you to move."

"My head hurts," she said again, a bit truculently.

It had been so long since he'd heard that tone in her voice that he couldn't help grinning, despite the terror that had been clawing at his insides and was only now beginning to truly subside.

"I know it does, honey. Sitting up will only make it worse. Just lie still."

"I want to get up."

"In a minute. Let the paramedics take a look at you first." She gave an impatient sigh.

"All right." But before the

sirens had wound to a stop outside, she was trying again to sit up, and he knew she was disoriented. He'd seen it before in injured people; the instinct was a primitive one, to get up, keep moving, put distance between yourself and whatever had caused the injury. He could hear Greg explaining as he led a veritable parade of people up the stairs. There were six paramedics and at least that many deputies, with more arriving, from the sound of the sirens as additional vehicles speeded up the road.

Webb and Lucinda were shouldered to the side as the paramedics, four men and two women, gathered around Roanna. Webb backed against the wall. Lucinda clung weakly to him, trembling, and he put a supporting arm around her. She leaned heavily against him, using his strength, and with dismay he felt how fragile her once strong body felt in his grip.

More deputies arrived, and the sheriff. Booley Watts was retired now, but the new sheriff, Carl Beshears, had been Booley's chief deputy for nine years before being elected sheriff, and he had worked on Jessie's case. He was a compactly muscular man with iron gray hair and cold, suspicious eyes. Booley had operated with a sort of good old-boy Andy Taylor kind of manner; Beshears was more brusque, straight to the point, though he had learned to temper the bulldog, straight-ahead tactics he'd learned in the marines. He began gathering the family together, ushering them to the side.

"Folks, let's get out of the medics' way now, and let them take care of Miss Roanna." His steely gaze lit on Webb.

"Now, what happened here?"

Until then, Webb hadn't realized the similarities between what had happened to Roanna tonight and Jessie's death ten years earlier. He had been concentrating on Roanna, terrified for her, taking care of her. The old, cold fury began to build in him as he realized Beshears suspected him of attacking Roanna, perhaps trying to kill her.

He ruthlessly suppressed his anger, though, because now wasn't the time for it.

"I heard Roanna scream," he said in as even a tone as he could manage.

"The sound came from the front of the house, and I was afraid she'd gotten up without turning on any lights and fallen down the stairs. But when I got here, I saw her lying just where she is now."

"How did you know it was Roanna screaming?"

"I just did," he said flatly.

"You didn't think it could be anyone else in the house who'd gotten up?"

Lucinda gathered herself, galvanized by the obvious suspicion in Beshears's voice.

"Not usually," she said in a firm tone.

"Roanna suffers from insomnia. If anyone is wandering around the house at night, it's likely to be her."

"But you were awake," Beshears said to Webb. "No. I woke up when I heard her scream."

"We all did," Gloria put in.

"Roanna used to have nightmares, you know, and that's what I thought was happening. Webb ran past my door just as I opened it."

"You're sure it was Webb."

"I know it was," Brock put in, squarely facing the sheriff.

"I was right behind him."

Beshears looked frustrated, then shrugged, evidently deciding he didn't have a tie between the two events after all.

"So, did she fall or what? The dispatcher said it was a call for the paramedics and the sheriff's department."

"Just as I got to her," Webb said, "I heard something downstairs."

"Like what?" Beshears's eyes sharpened again.

"I don't know. A crash." Webb looked at Brock and Greg.

"Brock and I went downstairs to take a look," Greg said.

"A lamp had been knocked over in the den. I went outside while Brock checked the rest of the house." He hesitated.

"I think I saw someone running, but I couldn't swear to it. My eyes hadn't adjusted to the dark."

"What direction?" Beshears asked briefly, already beckoning to one of his deputies.

"To the right, toward the highway."

The deputy approached, and Beshears turned to him.

"Y'all get some lights and check the yard on the other side 263

T'JNDA HOWARD

of the driveway. There's a heavy dew tonight, so if anybody's been through there, it'll show on the grass. There may have been an intruder in the house." The deputy nodded and departed, taking several of his fellows with him.

One of the paramedics came over. He had obviously leaped out of bed to answer the call; a ball cap covered his uncombed hair, and his eyes were puffy from sleep. But he was alert, his gaze sharp.

"I'm pretty sure she's going to be all right, but I want to transport her to the hospital to be checked out and to have that cut in her head stitched up. Looks like she's got a mild concussion, too. They'll probably want to keep her for twenty-four hours, just to make certain she's okay." "I'll go with her," Lucinda said, but suddenly staggered. Webb grabbed her.

"Lay her down on the floor," the paramedic said, reaching for her, too.

But Lucinda batted their hands away and pulled herself erect once more. Her color still wasn't good, but she glared fiercely at them.

"Young man, I will not lie down on the floor. I'm old and upset, that's all. You tend to Roanna and don't pay any attention to me."

He couldn't treat her without her permission, and she knew it. Webb looked down at her and thought about picking her up and carrying her to the hospital himself, bullying her into letting a doctor check her. She must have known what he was thinking, because she looked up and managed a smile.

"It's nothing to fret about," she said.

"Roanna's the one who needs seeing to."

"I'll go with her to the hospital, Aunt Lucinda," Lanette said, surprising everyone.

"You need to rest. You and Mama stay here. I'll go put on some clothes if y'all will gather up the things she'll need."

"I'll drive," Webb said. Lucinda started to protest again, but Webb put his arm around her.

"Lanette's right, you need to rest. You heard what the paramedic said, Roanna will be all right. It would be different if she were in danger, but she isn't. Lanette and I will be there with her." Lucinda clutched his hand.

"You'll call me from the hospital, let me talk to her?"

"Just as soon as she's settled," he promised.

"They'll have to do X-rays first, I imagine, so it could take a while. And she might not feel like talking," he warned.

"She'll have a hell of a headache."

"Just let me know she's all right."

With that, Lucinda and Gloria went down the long hall to the back bedrooms, to gather the personal items Roanna would need for even a short stay in the hospital. Webb and Lanette went to their own rooms to dress. It took him less than two minutes, and he reached Roanna's side just as they were transferring her to a stretcher to carry her downstairs.

She was fully conscious now, and her eyes were wide with alarm as she looked up at him. He took her hand again, folding her cold, slender fingers against his rough, warm palm.

"I don't like this," she said fretfully. "If I need stitches, why can't I just drive to the emergency room? I don't want to be carried. " "You have a concussion," he replied.

"It's not safe for you to drive."

She sighed and gave in. He squeezed her hand.

"Lanette and I are going to be with you. We'll be right behind the ambulance."

She didn't protest again, and he almost wished she had. Every time he looked at her, he was hit by another wave of panic. She was paper white, what part of her face that wasn't covered by blood. The dark, rusty stain was spread over her face and neck, where it had run down from the laceration on her scalp.

Lanette came hurrying down, carrying a small overnight case, just as they were sliding the stretcher into the ambulance.

"I'm ready," she said to Webb, already moving past him toward the garage.

Sheriff Beshears fell into step beside Webb.

"The boys 265

LINDA HOWAAD

found marks in the dew," he said.

"Looks like someone took out running across the yard. Somebody's been messing with the lock on the kitchen door, too, there's some scratches on the metal. Miss Roanna's lucky, if she came face-to-face with a burglar and a bump on the head's all she got."

Remembering how she had looked like a crumpled little doll lying in the hall, with blood spreading around her, Webb thought Beshears's definition of lucky was different from his own.

"I'll be at the hospital later on to ask her some questions," the sheriff continued.

"We'll do some more checking around here."

The ambulance was pulling out. Webb turned away and strode to the garage, where Lanette was waiting for him. It took several hours and a shift change at Helen Keller Hospital before Roanna had been scanned, stitched, and settled into a private room. Webb impatiently waited in the hallway while Lanette helped her to clean up and get dressed in a fresh nightgown.

The bright morning sun was shining through the windows when he was finally allowed to reenter the room. She was lying in bed, looking almost normal now that most of the blood had been washed away. Her hair was still matted with it, but that would have to be taken care of later. A white pad covered the stitches in the back of her head, and stretchy gauze had been wrapped around her head to hold the bandage in place. She was very pale, but all in all she looked much better.

He eased down on the side of the bed, careful not to jar her. "The doctor told us to wake you up every hour. That's a helluva thing to do to an insomniac, isn't it?" he teased.

She didn't smile as he'd hoped.

"I think I'll save you the trouble and just stay awake."

"Do you feel like talking on the phone? Lucinda was frantic."

Carefully she pushed herself higher in the bed.

"I'm okay, it's just a headache, Will you dial the number for me?"

Just a headache from a bruised brain, he thought grimly as he picked up the receiver and punched the number for an outside line, then the number at Davencourt. She still thought she'd fallen, and no one had told her any differently. Sheriff Beshears wasn't going to get a lot of information from her.

Roanna talked briefly to Lucinda, just long enough to reassure her that she felt all right, a blatant lie, then gave the phone back to Webb. He was going to give Lucinda his own reassurances, but to his surprise it was Gloria who came on the line.

"Lucinda had another spell after y'all left," she said.

"She's too stubborn to go to the hospital, but I've called her doctor and he's going to stop by this morning."

He glanced at Roanna; the last thing she needed to hear right now was that Lucinda was ill.

"Keep her in line," he said briefly, and lowered his voice as he turned away so Roanna wouldn't be able to hear him.

"I'm not going to say anything to the others now, so don't mention it to them just yet. I'll call in a couple of hours and check on her."

He got off the phone just as Sheriff Beshears came in and tiredly settled himself into one of the two chairs in the room. Lanette was in the other, but Webb wasn't inclined to sit anyway. He wanted to be closer to Roanna's side.

"Well, you're looking better than the last time I saw you," Beshears said to Roanna.

"How do you feel?"

"I don't believe I'll go dancing tonight," she said in that solemn way of hers, and he laughed.

"Don't guess you will. I want to ask you a few questions if you feel up to it."

A puzzled look crossed her face.

"Of course."

"What do you remember about last night?" "When I fell? Nothing. I don't know how it happened." Beshears shot a quick look at Webb, who gave a tiny shake of his head. The sheriff cleared his throat.

"The thing is, you didn't fall. It looks like someone broke into Davencourt last night, and we figure you walked right up on him."

If Roanna had been pale before, now she was absolutely

white. Her face took on a pinched, frightened expression.

"Someone hit me," she murmured. She didn't say anything else, didn't move. Webb, watching her closely, had the distinct impression she was drawing in on herself, holding everything inside, and he didn't like it. Deliberately he reached out and took her hand, squeezing it to let her know she wasn't alone, and he didn't give a damn what conclusions Beshears drew about his action.

"You don't remember anything?" the sheriff persisted, though his gaze flickered briefly to their clasped hands.

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