Shades of Twilight (Chapter 6)
"Can't stop you."
Webb stood up. He was still pale. He stopped at the door and looked back at Booley.
"I didn't kill her," he said. Booley sighed.
"It was a possibility. I had to check it out."
"I wish I could find the killer for you, but it don't look good."
"I know," Webb said again and quietly closed the door behind him.
Sometime during the short drive to the motel, he made his decision.
He packed his clothes, checked out of the motel, and drove back to Davencourt. His gaze was bitter as he surveyed the grand old house, crowning a slight rise with its graceful and gracious wings spread wide, like welcoming arms. He had loved it here, a prince in his own kingdom, knowing that one day it would all be his. He had been willing to work himself into the ground for the sake of his kingdom. He had married the chosen princess. Hell, he had been more than willing to marry her. Jessie had been his since that long ago day when they had sat in the swing beneath the huge old oak and fought their first battle for dominance.
Had he married her out of pure ego, determined to show her that she couldn't play her little games with him? If he were honest, then yes, that had been part of the reason. But the other part had been love, a strange love compounded of a shared childhood, a shared role in life, and the sexual fascination that had existed between them since puberty. Not a great foundation for marriage, he knew now. The sex had burned itself out pretty damn fast, and their old bonds hadn't been strong enough to hold them together after the attraction was gone.
Jessie had been sleeping with another man. Men, for all he knew. Knowing Jessie as he did, he realized she had probably done it out of revenge, because he hadn't kowtowed to her every whim. She'd been capable of just about anything when thwarted, but somehow he'd never expected her to cheat on him. Her reputation in Tuscumbia and Colbert County had been too important to her, and this wasn't some fast-lane big city where lovers came and went and no one paid much attention to it. This was the South, and in some ways still the Old South, where appearances
and genteel manners held sway, at least in the middle and upper echelons of society.
But she'd not only slept with someone else, she had neglected to use birth control. Again, out of revenge? Had she thought it would be a delicious joke on him to present him with a child not his own?
In one short, hellish week, his wife had been murdered, his entire life and reputation had been destroyed, and his family had turned on him. He had gone from prince to pariah.
He was fed up with it all. Booley's bombshell today had just topped it off. He had worked like hell for years to keep the family in the manner to which they'd become accustomed, meaning the lap of luxury, sacrificing his private life and any chance he might have had of making a real marriage with Jessie. But when he'd needed his family in a united front, supporting him, they hadn't been there. Lucinda hadn't accused him but neither had she backed him, and he was tired of dancing to her tune. As for Gloria and Harlan and their bunch, to hell with them. Only Mother and Aunt Sandra had believed in him.
Roanna. What about her? Had she set this entire nightmare in motion, striking out at Jessie without any regard to the damage she would do to him? Somehow, on a different level, Roanna's betrayal was more bitter than the others. He'd gotten so accustomed to her adoration, to the comfortable companionship he'd had with her. Her quirky personality and unruly tongue had amused him, made him laugh even when he was so dead tired he was about to fall on his face. Grand Pricks, indeed, the little imp.
At the funeral, she'd said that she hadn't deliberately set up that scene in the kitchen, but guilt and misery had been written all over that thin face. Maybe she had, maybe she hadn't. But she too had avoided him, when he'd have sold his soul for comfort. Booley didn't consider Roanna a suspect in Jessie's murder, but Webb couldn't forget the look of hate he'd seen in Roanna's eyes, or the fact that she'd had the chance. Everyone in the house had had the chance to do it, but Roanna was the only one who'd hated Jessie.
He just didn't know. He'd kept his mouth shut to protect her even though she hadn't supported him. He'd kept his mouth shut about Jessie's baby not being his, letting another possible murderer off scot-free, because he himself would have been the more likely suspect. He was goddamn tired of being caught in the middle, To hell with them all.
He stopped the car in the driveway and stared at the house, Davencourt. It was the embodiment of his ambition, a symbol of his life, the heart of the Davenport family. It had a personality all its own, an old house that had sheltered generations of Davenports within its graceful wings. Whenever he was away on a business trip and thought of Davencourt, in his mind's eye he always saw it surrounded by flowers. In spring, the azalea bushes rioted with color. In summer, the roses and old maids took their bow. In fall there were the chrysanthemums, and in winter the pink and white camellia bushes. Davencourt was always in bloom. He'd loved it with a passion he'd never felt for Jessie. He couldn't put the blame for this totally on the others, because he too was guilty, in the final analysis marrying for the legacy rather than the woman.
To hell with Davencourt, too.
He parked at the walk and went in the front door. The conversation in the living room stilled abruptly, as it had been doing for the past week. He didn't even glance into the room as he strode into the study and seated himself behind the desk.
He worked for hours, completing paperwork, drawing up forms, returning active control of all the far-flung Davenport enterprises into Lucinda's hands. When it was finished, he got up and walked out of the house, and drove away without looking back.
Bring Webb back for me," Lucinda said to Roanna.
"I want you to convince him to come home."
Roanna's face didn't show her shock, though it reverberated through her entire body. With controlled grace she replaced her tea glass on the dainty coaster without even the tiniest betraying rattle. Webb! Just the sound of his name still had the power to slice through her, bringing up the old painful longing and guilt, even though it had been ten years since she'd last seen him, since anyone had seen him.
"Do you know where he is?" she asked composedly. Unlike Roanna's, Lucinda's hand did shake as she set down her glass. Her eighty-three years sat heavily on Lucinda, and the constant tremor in her hands was just another of the tiny ways her own body was failing her. Lucinda was dying, in fact. She knew it, they all knew it. Not immediately, not even soon, but it was summer now and it wasn't likely she'd see another one. Her iron will had stood up to a lot, but had slowly bowed under the inexorable crush of time.
"Of course. I hired a private investigator to find him. Yvonne and Sandra have known all along, but they wouldn't tell me," Lucinda said with a mixture of anger and exasperation.
"He's kept in touch with them, and both of them have visited him occasionally."
Roanna veiled her eyes with her lashes, careful not to let any expression show through. So they had known all this time. Unlike Lucinda, she didn't blame them. Webb had made it perfectly plain he had no use for the rest of the family; he had to despise them, and herself most of all. She didn't blame him, considering. Still, it hurt. Her love for him was the one emotion she hadn't been able to block. His absence had been like a slow-bleeding wound, and in ten years it hadn't healed but still seeped pain and remorse.
But she had survived. Somehow, by locking away all other emotions, she had survived. Gone was the coltish, exuberant girl, brimming over with energy and mischief, that she'd been. In her place was a cool, remote young woman who never hurried, never lost her temper, and seldom even smiled, much less laughed aloud. Emotions were paid for with pain; she had learned a bitter lesson when her impulsiveness, her stupid emotionalism, had ruined Webb's life.
She had been worthless and unlovable the way she'd been, so she had destroyed herself and built a new person from the ashes, a woman who would never know the heights but would no longer sink to the depths either. Somehow she had set in motion the chain of events that had cost Jessie her life and banished Webb from theirs, so she had grimly set herself to the task of atonement. She couldn't replace Jessie in Lucinda's affection, but at least she could stop being such a burden and disappointment.
She had gone to college-at the University of Alabama, as it happened, rather than the exclusive all-girl's college that had previously been considered-and gotten a degree in business management so she could be of some help to Lucinda in running things, since Webb was no longer there to take care of everything. Roanna didn't like anything about her courses but forced herself to study hard and get good grades. So what if she found it boring? It was a small enough price to pay.
She had forced herself to learn how to dress, so Lucinda wouldn't be embarrassed by her. She had taken a course to improve her poor driving skills, she had learned how to dance, how to apply makeup, to make polite conversation, to be socially acceptable. She had learned how to control the wild exuberance that had so often gotten her into trouble as a child, but that hadn't been difficult. After Webb had disappeared, her problem had been in working up any enthusiasm for life rather than the opposite.
She could think of nothing she dreaded more than having to face Webb again.
"What if he doesn't want to come back? 11 she murmured.
"Convince him," Lucinda snapped. Then she sighed, and her voice gentled.
"He always had a soft spot for you. I need him back here. We need him. You and I together have managed to keep things going, but I don't have much time left and your heart and soul isn't in it the way Webb's was. When it came to business, Webb had the brain of a computer and the heart of a shark. He was honorable but ruthless. Those are rare qualities, Roanna, the kind that aren't easily replaced."
"That's why he may not forgive us." Roanna didn't react to Lucinda's dismissal of her competence in managing the family empire. It was nothing less than the truth; that was why the burden of decision-making rested, for the most part, on Lucinda's increasingly frail shoulders, while Roanna implemented them. She had trained herself, disciplined herself, to do what she could, but her best would never be good enough. She accepted that and protected herself by not letting it matter. Nothing had really mattered anyway for the past ten years.
Pain flickered across Lucinda's lined face.
"I've missed him every day that he's been gone," she said softly.
"I'll never forgive myself for what I let happen to him. I should have let folks know that I believed in him, trusted him, but instead I wallowed in my own grief and didn't see what my neglect was doing to him. I don't mind dying, but I can't go easy until I make things right with Webb. If anyone can bring him back, Roanna, you can."
Roanna didn't tell Lucinda that she had reached out to Webb at Jessie's funeral, and been coldly rebuffed. Privately she thought that she had less chance of convincing Webb to come home than anyone else did, but that was something else she'd taught herself. if she couldn't manage to block out her feelings, then her private pain and fears were just that, private. If she kept them inside, then no one but she knew they were there.
It didn't matter what she felt; if Lucinda wanted Webb home, she would do what she could, no matter the cost to herself.
"Where is he?" "in some godforsaken little town in Arizona. I'll give you the folder of information the investigator gathered for me. He's … done well for himself. He owns a ranch, nothing on the scale of Davencourt, but it isn't in Webb to fail."
"When do you want me to leave?"
"As soon as possible. We need him here. I need him. I want to make my peace with him before I die."
"I'll try," Roanna said.
Lucinda looked at her granddaughter for a long moment, then a tired smile quirked her mouth.
"You're the only one who doesn't put on that fake cheerfulness and tell me I'll five to be a hundred," she said, a hint of acerbic approval in her voice.
"Damn fools. Do they think I don't know that I'm dying? I have cancer, and I'm too old to waste my time and money on treatment when old age is going to get me pretty soon anyway. I live in this body, for God's sake. I can tell that it's slowly shutting down."
There was no response that wouldn't sound either falsely cheerful or callous, so Roanna made none. She was often silent, letting conversation flow around her, not thrusting out any verbal oars to deflect the tide her way. It was true that everyone else in the household tried their best to ignore the situation, as if it would go away if they didn't acknowledge it. It wasn't just Gloria and Harlan now; somehow, within a year of Jessie's death and Webb's departure, Gloria had managed to move more of her family into Davencourt. Their son, Baron, had decided to remain in Charlotte, but everyone else was there. Gloria's daughter, Lanette, had moved in her entire family: husband Greg and children Corliss and Brock. Not that they were children; Brock was thirty, and Corliss was Roanna's age. Lucinda had let the house fill, perhaps in an effort to banish the emptiness left by losing both Jessie and Webb. Assuming Roanna could convince Webb to re turn-a major assumption-she wondered what he would make of all this. True, they were all his cousins, but somehow she thought he might be rather impatient with them for taking advantage of Lucinda's grief.
"You know that I changed my will after Webb left," Lucinda continued after a moment, taking another sip of tea. She gazed out the window at the profusion of peach colored roses, her favorite, and squared her shoulders as if bracing herself. "I made you the main heir; Davencourt and most of the money would go to you. I think it's only fair to tell you that if you can convince Webb to come back, I'll redo it in his favor."
Roanna. nodded. That wouldn't make any difference to her efforts; nothing would. She would do her best to talk Webb into coming back but not let herself feel any personal loss when Lucinda changed her will. Roanna accepted that no matter how hard she tried, she simply didn't have the knack for business that Lucinda and Webb possessed. She wasn't a risk taker, and she couldn't muster any enthusiasm for the game of big business. Davencourt would be better off with him in charge and so would the myriad financial investments and interests.
"That was the deal I made with him when he was fourteen," Lucinda continued, her voice abrupt and her shoulders still held stiffly erect.
"If he would work hard, study, and train himself to take care of Davencourt, it would all be his."
"I understand," Roanna murmured.
"Davencourt .. ." Lucinda stared out over the perfectly manicured lawn, the flower gardens, the pastures beyond where her beloved horses bent their sleek, muscular necks to
"Davencourt deserves to be in the best hands. It isn't just a house, it's a legacy. There aren't many like it left, and I have to choose who I think will be the best caretaker for it."
"I'll try to bring him back," Roanna promised, her face as still as a pond on a hot summer day, when no breeze existed to ripple the surface. It was the face she lived behind, a face of indifference, unreadable and serene. Nothing could pierce the safe cocoon she had woven for herself, except Webb, her only weakness. Despite herself, her thoughts drifted. To have him back … it would be heaven and hell combined. To be able to see him every day, listen to his voice, secretly hug his nearness to her in the long, dark nights when all her nightmares became real … that was the heaven. The hell was in knowing that he despised her now, that every look he gave her would be one of condemnation and disgust.
But, no, she had to be realistic. She wouldn't be here. When Lucinda-she never thought of her as Grandmother anymore-died, Davencourt would no longer be her home. It would be Webb's, and he wouldn't want her here. She wouldn't see him every day, perhaps not at all. She would have to move out, get a job, face the real world. Well, at least with her degree and experience, she should be able to get a decent job. Maybe not in the Shoals area; she might have to move, in which case it was certain she'd never see Webb. That, too, didn't matter. His place was here. Her thoughtless actions had cost him his inheritance, so it was only right that she do what she could to return it to him.
"Doesn't it matter to you?" Lucinda asked abruptly.
"That you'll lose Davencourt if you do this for me?" Nothing matters. That had been her mantra, her curse, for ten years. "It's yours to leave to whomever you want. Webb was your chosen heir. And you're right; he'll do a much better job than I ever could."
She could tell that her quiet, even voice disturbed Lucinda in some way, but injecting any passion in her words was beyond her.
"But you're a Davenport," Lucinda argued, as if she wanted Roanna to justify her own decision for her.
"Some folks would say Davencourt should be yours by right, because Webb is a Tallant. He's my blood relative, but he isn't a Davenport, and he isn't nearly as closely related to me as you are."
"But he's the better choice."
Gloria came into the living room in time to hear Roanna's last comment.
"Who's the better choice?" she demanded, sinking into the depths of her favorite chair. Gloria was seventy-three, ten years younger than Lucinda, but while Lucinda's hair was unabashedly white, Gloria still stubbornly resisted nature and kept her fluffy curls tinted a delicate blond.
"Webb," Lucinda answered tersely.
"Webb!" Shocked, Gloria stared at her sister.
"For goodness sake, what could he possibly be the better choice for, except the electric chair?"
"To run Davencourt, and the business side of things."
"You have to be joking! Why, no one would deal with him-" "Yes, they would," Lucinda said, steel in her voice.
"If he's in charge, everyone will deal with him, or wish they hadn't been so stupid."
"I don't see why you even brought up his name anyway, since no one knows where he-" "I found him," Lucinda interrupted.
"And Roanna is going to talk him into coming back."
Gloria rounded on Roanna as if she had suddenly sprouted two heads.
"Are you out of your mind?" she breathed.
"You can't mean to bring a murderer among us! Why, I'd never be able to close my eyes at night!"
"Webb isn't a murderer," Roanna said, sipping her tea and not even glancing at Gloria. She had stopped thinking of Gloria as Aunt, too. Sometime during the awful night after Webb had walked out of their lives, the titles of kinship had faded from the way she thought of people, as if her emotional distance couldn't accommodate them anymore.
The people in her family now were simply Lucinda, Gloria, Harlan. "Then why did he disappear like that? Only someone with a guilty conscience would run away."
"Stop that!" Lucinda snapped.
"He didn't run, he got fed up and left. There's a difference. We let him down, so I can't blame him for turning his back on us. But Roanna's right; Webb didn't kill Jessie. I never thought he did."
"Well, Booley Watts certainly did!"
Lucinda dismissed Booley's thoughts with a wave of her hand.
"It doesn't matter. I think Webb's innocent, there was no evidence against him, so as far as the law's concerned he's innocent, and I want him back."
"Lucinda, don't be an old fool!"
Lucinda's eyes glittered with a sudden ferocity that belied her age.
"I think it's safe to say," she drawled, "that no one has ever considered me a fool, old or otherwise." And lived to tell it, was the unspoken message in her tone. Eighty-three or not, dying or not, Lucinda still knew the full range of her power as matriarch of the Davenport fortune, and she wasn't shy about letting other folks know it, too.
Gloria backed down and turned on Roanna, the easier target.
"You can't mean to do it. Tell her it's crazy."
"I agree with her."
Fury sparked in Gloria's eyes at the murmured statement.
"You would!" she snapped.
"Don't think I've forgotten that you were crawling into bed with him when-" "Stop it!" Lucinda said fiercely, half rising from her chair as if she would physically attack her sister.
"Booley explained what really happened between them, and I won't let it be blown out of proportion. I won't let you badger Roanna either. She's only doing what I asked her to do."
"But why would you even think of bringing him back? Gloria moaned, dropping her aggressiveness, and Lucinda sank back into her chair.
"Because we need him. It takes both Roanna and me to handle things now, and when I die, she'll be buried in work."
"Oh, pish posh, Lucinda, you're going to outlive-"
"No," Lucinda said briskly, cutting through the statement she'd heard so many times before.
"I am not going to outlive all of you. I don't want to even if I could. We need Webb. Roanna's going to get him and bring him home, and that's that."
The next night, Roanna sat in the shadows of a small, dingy cantina, her back to the wall as she silently watched a man lounging on one of the stools around the bar. She had been watching him for so long and so hard that her eyes ached from the strain of peering through the dim, smoky interior. For the most part anything she might have heard him say was drowned out by the ancient jukebox in the corner, the clatter of billiard balls striking together, the hum of curses and conversation, but every so often she could discern a certain tone, a drawl, that she knew beyond doubt was his as he made some casual comment to either the man beside him or to the bartender.
Webb. It had been ten years since she'd seen him, ten years since she had felt alive. She had known, accepted, that she still loved him, was still vulnerable to him, but somehow the dreary procession of ten years' worth of days had dulled her memory of how sharp her response to him had always been. All it had taken was that first glimpse of him to remind her. The flood of sensation was so intense that it bordered on pain, as if the cells of her body had been jolted back to life. Nothing had changed. She still reacted just the way she had before, her heart beating faster and excitement zinging through every nerve ending. Her skin felt tight and hot, the flesh beneath it pulsing, aching. The hunger to touch him, to be close enough that she could smell the unique, never-forgotten male muskiness of his scent, was so strong that she was almost paralyzed with need.
But for all her longing, she couldn't work up the courage to walk to his side and get his attention. Despite Lucinda's determined confidence that she could convince him to come home, Roanna didn't expect to see anything in that
green gaze except dislike-and dismissal. The anticipation of pain kept her in her chair. She had lived with the pain of his loss every day for the past ten years, but that ache was familiar, and she had learned to live with it. She wasn't certain she had the endurance to bear up under any new pain, however. A new blow would crush her, perhaps beyond recovery.
She wasn't the only woman in the bar, but there were enough curious male glances her way to make her nervous. Webb's wasn't one of them; he was oblivious to her presence. It was only because she deliberately didn't attract attention that she had so far been left alone. She had dressed plainly, conservatively, in dark green slacks and a cream camp shirt, hardly the costume of a woman out on the town and looking for trouble. She didn't look anyone in the eye and didn't gaze around with interest. Over the years she had developed the knack of being as unobtrusive as possible, and it had stood her in good stead tonight. Sooner or later, though, some cowboy was going to work up enough nerve to ignore her "stay away" signals and approach her.
She was tired. It was ten o'clock at night, and her plane had left Huntsville at six o'clock that morning. From Huntsville she had flown to Birmingham, then from Birmingham to Dallas-with a stop at Jackson, Mississippi. In Dallas, she had endured a four-hour layover. She had arrived in Tucson at four twenty-seven, mountain time, rented a car, and driven south on Interstate 19 to Tumacacori, where Lucinda's private detective said Webb now lived. According to the information in the file, he owned a small but prosperous cattle ranch in the area. She hadn't been able to find him. Directions notwithstanding, she had wandered around looking for the correct road, returning time and again to the interstate to get her bearings. She had almost been in tears when she had finally run across a local who not only knew Webb personally, but had directed Roanna to this seedy little bar just outside Nogales, where Webb was in the habit of stopping whenever he had to go to town, which he'd done this particular day.
The desert night had fallen with color and drama on the drive to Nogales, and when the kaleidoscope of hues had faded, it had left behind a black velvet sky full of the biggest, brightest stars she'd ever seen. The starkly beautiful desolation had calmed her, so that by the time she managed to find the bar, her usual remote expression was firmly in place.
Webb had been there when she'd walked in; he was the first person she'd seen. The shock had almost felled her. His head was turned away from her and he hadn't so much as glanced around, but she knew it was him, because every cell in her body screamed in recognition. She had gone quietly to one of the few empty tables, automatically choosing the one in the darkest corner, and here she still sat. The waitress, a tired-looking Hispanic woman in her late thirties, came by every so often. Roanna had ordered a beer the first time, nursed it until it was warm, then ordered another. She didn't like beer, didn't normally drink at all, but thought she should probably order or she'd be asked to leave the table to make room for customers who did.
She looked down at the scarred surface of the table, where numerous knife blades had carved a multitude of initials and designs as well as random scratches and gouges. Waiting wasn't going to make it any easier. She should just get up and walk over to him and get it over with.
But still she didn't move. Hungrily her gaze moved back to him, drinking in the changes ten years had made.
He'd been twenty-four when he'd left Tascumbia, a young man, mature for his age and burdened with responsibilities that would have felled a lesser person, but still young. At twenty-four he hadn't yet learned the full range of his own strengths, his personality had still been a bit malleable. Jessie's death and the ensuing investigation, and the way he'd been ostracized by both family and friends, had hardened him. The ten years since had hardened him even more. It was evident in the grim line of his mouth and the cool, level way he surveyed the world around him, marking him as a man who was prepared to take on the world and
bend it to his will. Whatever challenges he had faced, he had been the victor.
Roanna knew some of those challenges, because the file on him was thorough. When rustlers had been decimating his herd of cattle and the local law enforcement hadn't been able to stop it, Webb had single-handedly tracked the four rustlers and followed them into Mexico. The rustlers had spotted him and started shooting. Webb had shot back. They had kept each other pinned down for two days. At the end of those two days, one rustler had been dead, one severely injured, and another suffered a concussion after falling off a rock. Webb had been slightly wounded, a crease that burned along his thigh, and suffered from dehydration. But the rustlers had decided to cut their losses and get away the best they could, and Webb had grimly herded his stolen cattle back across the border. He hadn't been bothered by rustlers since.
There was an air of danger about him now that hadn't been there before, the look of a man who meant what he said and was willing to back it up with action. His character had been honed down to its steel core. Webb had no weaknesses now, certainly not any leftover ones for the silly, careless cousin who had caused him so much trouble.
He wasn't the man she had known before. He was harder, rougher, perhaps even brutal. She realized that ten years had wrought a lot of changes, in both of them, but one thing had remained constant, and that was her love for him.
Physically, he looked tougher and bigger than he had before. He'd always had the muscular build of a natural athlete, but years of grueling physical work had toughened him to whipcord leanness, coiled steel waiting to spring. His shoulders had broadened and his chest deepened. His forearms, exposed by his turned-back cuffs, were thick with muscle and roped with veins.
He was darkly tanned, with lines bracketing his mouth and radiating out from the corners of his eyes. His hair was longer, shaggier, the hair of a man who didn't get into town for a haircut on a regular basis. That was another difference:
it was no longer "styled," it was simply cut. His face was darkened by a shadow of beard, but it couldn't hide a newly healed cut that ran along the underside of his right jaw, h from ear to chin. Roanna swallowed hard, wondering what had happened to him, if the injury had been dangerous. The investigator's file said that Webb had not only bought the small ranch and quickly turned it into a profit-making enterprise, but that he had been systematically buying other parcels of land, not, as it turned out, to expand his ranch, but for mining. Arizona was rich in minerals, and Webb was investing in those minerals. Leaving Davencourt hadn't impoverished him; he'd had some money of his own, and he'd used it wisely. As Lucinda had pointed out, Webb had a rare talent for business and finance, and he'd been using it.
As prosperous as he was, though, you couldn't tell it from his clothes. His boots were worn and scuffed, his jeans faded, and his thin chambray shirt had been washed so many times it was almost white. He was wearing a hat, a dark brown, dusty one. Nogales had a reputation for toughness, but all in all, he fit right in with the rough crowd here in this dingy bar in the small desert border town that was as different from Tuscumbia as the Amazon was from the Arctic.
He had the power to destroy her. With a few cold, cutting words he could annihilate her. She felt sick at the risk she would be taking in approaching him, but she kept seeing the hope that had been in Lucinda's eyes when she'd kissed Roanna good-bye that morning. Lucinda, shrunken with age, diminished by grief and regrets, indomitable but no longer invincible. The end, perhaps, was closer than she wanted them to know. This might be her last chance to heal the rift with Webb.
Roanna knew exactly what she was risking, financially, if she could talk Webb into coming home. As Lucinda's will stood now, she was the major heir of Davencourt and the family financial empire, with some modest bequests going to Gloria and her offspring, some to Yvonne and Sandra, and pensions as well as lump sum amounts settled on the
long-time domestic staff: Loyal, Tansy, and Bessie. But Webb had been groomed to be the heir, and if he returned, it would be his again.
She would lose Davencourt. She had blocked her emotions, hadn't let Lucinda see the pain and panic that had threatened to break through her protective barrier. She was human; she would regret losing the money. But Davencourt was worth more to her than any fortune. Davencourt was home, sanctuary, dearly beloved, and every inch familiar. It would tear her heart out to lose Davencourt, but she had no illusion that she would be welcome there if Webb inherited. He would want all of them out, including her.
But he could better care for it than she could. He had been raised with the understanding that, through his alliance with Jessie, Davencourt would be his. He had spent his youth and his young manhood training himself to be the best custodian possible for it, and it was Roanna's fault that he'd lost it.
What price atonement?
She knew the price, knew exactly what it would cost her. But there was Lucinda, desperately wanting to see him before she died. And there was Webb himself, the exiled prince. Davencourt was his rightful place, his legacy. She owed him a debt she could never repay. She would give up Davencourt to get him to return. She would give up anything she had.
Somehow, her body moving without conscious will, she found herself on her feet and walking through the swirling smoke. She stopped behind him and to the right, her gaze fevered and hungry as she stared at the hard line of his cheekbone, his jaw. Hesitantly, both yearning for the contact but dreading it, she lifted her hand to touch his shoulder and draw his attention. Before she could, however, he sensed her presence and turned his head toward her.
Green eyes, narrowed and cool, looking her up and down. One dark eyebrow lifted in silent question. It was the look of a man on the prowl assessing a woman for availability, and desirability.
He didn't recognize her.
Her breath was rapid and shallow, but she felt as if she wasn't drawing in enough air. She dropped her hand, and ached because the brief contact she had so dreaded had been denied her. She wanted to touch him. She wanted to go into his arms the way she had when she was little, lay her head on his broad shoulder, and find refuge from the world. instead she reached for her hard-won composure and said quietly, "Hello, Webb. May I talk to you?"
His eyes widened a little, and he swiveled on the bar stool so that he faced her. There was a brief flare of recognition, then incredulity, in his expression. Then it was gone, and his gaze hardened. He looked her over again, this time with slow deliberation.
He didn't say anything, just kept staring at her. Roanna's heart pounded against her ribs with sickening force.
"Please," she said. He shrugged, the movement straining his powerful shoulders against his shirt. He pulled a few bills from his pocket and tossed them on the bar, then stood, towering over her, forcing her to step back. Without a word he took her arm and steered her toward the entrance, his long fingers wrapped around her elbow like iron laces. Roanna braced herself against the tingle of delight caused by even that impersonal contact, and she wished she had worn a sleeveless blouse so she could feel his hand on her bare skin.
The door of the squat building slammed shut behind them. The lighting inside had been dim, but still she had to blink her eyes to accustom them to the darkness. Haphazardly parked vehicles crouched in the darkness, bumpers and windshields reflecting the blinking red neon of the BAR sign in the window. After the close, smoky atmosphere of the bar, the clear night air felt cold and thin. Roanna shivered with a sudden chill. He didn't release her but pulled her across tie grit and sand of the parking lot to a pickup truck. Taking his keys out of his pocket, he unlocked the driver's side door, opened it, and thrust her forward.
She obeyed, sliding across the seat until she was on the passenger side. Webb got in beside her, folding his long legs beneath the steering wheel and pulling the door shut.
Every time the sign blinked, she could see the iron set of his jaw. In the enclosed cab she could smell the fresh, hard odor of the tequila he'd been drinking. He sat silently, staring out the windshield. Hugging her arms against the chill, she too was silent.
"Well?" he snapped after a long moment when it became evident she wasn't exactly rushing into speech.
She thought of all the things she could say, all the excuses and apologies, all the reasons why Lucinda had sent her, but everything boiled down into two simple words, and she said, "Come home."
He gave a harsh crack of laughter and turned so that his shoulders were comfortably wedged against the door and the seat.
"I am home, or near enough."
Roanna was silent again, as she often was. The stronger her feelings, the more silent she became, as if her inner shell tightened against any outbreak that would leave her vulnerable. His nearness, just hearing his voice again, made her feel as if she would shatter inside. She wasn't even able to return his gaze. Instead she looked down at her lap, fighting to control her shivering.
He muttered a curse, then shoved the key into the ignition and turned it. The motor caught immediately and settled into a powerful, well-tuned hum. He pushed the temperature control lever all the way over into the heat zone, then twisted his torso to reach behind the seat. He pulled out a denim jacket and tossed it into her lap.
"Put that around you before you turn blue."
The jacket smelled of dust and sweat and horses and ineffably of Webb. Roanna wanted to bury her face in the fabric; instead she pulled it around her shoulders, grateful for the protection.