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Shades of Twilight (Chapter 9)

"You've been bothering me for most of your life." He leaned forward, scowling at her.

"You bother me by being in the same room. You bother me by breathing." Furiously he pulled her against him and ground his mouth down on hers. Roanna was too startled to react. All she could do was hang there in his hard grasp and open her mouth to the demand of his. The kiss was deep and intimate, his tongue moving against hers, and down below she could feel the iron ridge of his erection pressing into her belly.

He pushed her away as suddenly as he had grabbed her.

"Now trot on back to Lucinda and tell her mission accomplished. Whether or not you tell her how you did it is up to you." He opened the car door and ushered her inside, then stood for a moment looking down at her.

"And you don't understand a damn thing," he said evenly, before closing the door and striding back to his truck.

When Roanna reached the long driveway to Davencourt that night, as exhausted from the second day of hard travel as she had been from the first, she groaned aloud at the lights still shining like a beacon from the big house. She'd hoped everyone would have gone to bed, so she could regroup before having to face the inquisition she knew was coming. She'd even hoped she could manage to get as much sleep as she had the night before, though that was unlikely. If she couldn't sleep, then at least she could relive those tumultuous hours, savor the memory of his naked body against hers, the kisses, the touches, the shattering, unending moments when he'd actually been inside her. And when she felt calmer, she would think about the rest of it, the hurtful things he'd said and the fact that he didn't want her again … But then why had he kissed her? She was too tired to think straight, so the analysis could wait.

She used the automatic opener for the garage, then braked when her headlights swept across a car already parked in her space. She sighed. Corliss again, taking advantage of Roanna's absence to park her own car inside. The detached garage had only five bays, and those bays were allotted to Lucinda, though she no longer drove herself, Roanna, Gloria and Harlan, and Lanette and Greg, who each had a car. Brock and Corliss were supposed to park their cars outside, but Corliss had a habit of ignoring that and parking her car in any empty space. Roanna parked her car beside Brock's and wearily climbed out, hauling her small overnight case with her. She thought about slipping up the outside stairway and around the, balcony to her room on the back, but she had locked the French doors before leaving and couldn't get in that way. Instead she would go in through the kitchen and hope she could make it to the stairs unnoticed.

Luck wasn't with her. When she unlocked the kitchen door and opened it, Harlan and Gloria were both sitting at the kitchen table, demolishing thick slices of Tansy's coconut cake. Neither of them were in their nightclothes yet, which meant they had been watching television on the large set in the den.

Gloria hastily swallowed.

"You couldn't find him!" she exclaimed, openly gleeful of the fact that Roanna was alone. Then she gave Roanna a sly, conspiratorial look.

"Not that you tried very hard, did you? Well, I won't say anything. I thought Lucinda had lost her mind anyway. Why on earth would she want to bring him back here? I know Booley didn't arrest him, but everyone knew he was guilty, there was just no way to prove it-" "I found him," Roanna interrupted. She felt fuzzy headed with fatigue, and wanted to cut the interrogation short.

"He had some business to take care of, but he'll be coming home within the next two weeks."

Gloria's color faded, and she gaped openmouthed at Roanna. The cake crumbs thus revealed were unappetizing. Then she said, "Roanna, how could you be so stupid?" Each word rose until she was fairly shrieking.

"Don't you know what you stand to lose? All of this could have been yours, but Lucinda will give it back to him, you mark my words! And what about us? Why, we could all be murdered in our beds, the way poor Jessie-" "Jessie wasn't murdered in her bed," Roanna said tiredly.

"Don't split hairs with me, you know what I mean!"

"Webb didn't kill her."

"Well, the sheriff thought he did, and I'm sure he knows more about it than you do! We all heard him say he'd do anything to get rid of her."

"We all heard him tell her to get a divorce, too."

"Gloria's right," Harlan weighed in, knitting his bushy brows with concern.

"There's no telling what he's capable of doing."

Normally Roanna didn't argue, but she was exhausted, and every nerve in her body felt raw from her encounter with Webb.

"What you're really worried about," she said in a colorless voice, "is that he'll remember how you turned your backs on him when he needed our support, and tell you to find somewhere else to live."

"Roanna!" Gloria gasped, outraged.

"How can you say such a thing to us? What were we supposed to do, shelter a killer from the law?"

There was nothing she could say to alter their position, and she was too tired to try any longer. Let Webb handle it when he got back. She had just enough energy to feel a flicker of interest at the prospect. If they thought he'd been intimidating before, wait until they saw what they had to deal with now. He was much harder and more forceful.

Leaving Gloria and Harlan still sputtering their rage into the coconut cake, Roanna dragged herself up the stairs. Lucinda was already in bed; she tired easily these days, another indication of her failing health, and was often asleep by nine. Morning would be plenty of time to tell her that Webb was coming home.

Roanna hoped' that she would be able to get some sleep herself.

If wishes were horses … Several hours later, she glanced at the lighted dial of her clock and saw the hour hand creeping toward the two. Her eyes felt grainy from lack of sleep, and her mind was so dulled by fatigue she could barely think, but sleep was as far away as it had ever been.

She'd endured a lot of nights like this, waiting through the endless darkness for morning to come. All of the books on insomnia advised the sufferer to get out of bed, not to make the bed the site of their frustration. Roanna had already developed that habit, so the book hadn't helped any. Sometimes she read to pass the hours, sometimes she played endless card games for one, but for the most part she would sit in the darkness and wait.

That was what she was doing now, because she was too tired for anything else. She sat curled in a huge, overstuffed easy chair, large enough for two. The chair had been a Christmas present to herself five years ago, and she didn't know what she would do without it. When she did manage to doze off, as likely or not it was in the chair. In winter she would wrap up in her softest, thickest afghan and watch the night slowly creep past her windows, but this was summer and she wore only a thin, sleeveless nightgown, though the hem was tucked over her bare feet. She'd opened the French doors so she could hear the comforting sounds of the warm night. A thunderstorm was passing by in the distance; she could see the flashes of lightning, revealing dark purple clouds, but the storm was so far away that the thunder, when she heard it, was only a faint rumble.

If she had to be awake, summer nights were the best. And between insomnia and the other, she preferred insomnia. When she slept, she never knew where she would wake up.

She didn't think she'd ever left the house. She'd always been inside, and her feet were never dirty, but still it frightened her to think of herself roaming around unknowing. She'd read about sleepwalkers, too. People could evidently negotiate stairs, drive, even carry on a conversation while still asleep. That wasn't much comfort, because she didn't want to do any of that. She wanted to wake up exactly where she'd been when she went to sleep. If anyone had ever seen her on her nocturnal strolls, they hadn't mentioned it. She didn't think she did it every time she slept, but of course she had no way of knowing and she didn't want to alert the family to her problem. They did know she was troubled with insomnia, so perhaps if anyone did see her outside her room in the middle of the night, apparently perfectly awake, they assumed she was having trouble sleeping and forgot about it.

If it became known that she walked in her sleep … She didn't like to think ill of people, without proof, but she didn't think she would trust several members of the household if they knew she was so vulnerable. The possibility for mischief was too great, especially with Corliss. In some ways Corliss reminded Roanna a lot of Jessie, though the relationship was only that of second cousin, which meant they didn't share a lot of genetic material. Jessie had been cooler of thought but hotter of temper. Corliss didn't plan, she acted on impulse, and she wasn't prone to temper tantrums. For the most part she seemed restless and unhappy, and liked to make other people unhappy. Whatever it was she wanted out of life, she hadn't gotten it.

Roanna didn't think Webb would get along with Corliss at all.

Thinking of Webb brought her back full circle to how she had begun the day, not that her thoughts had been off of him for long at any one time.

She didn't know what to think. She was no good at analyzing a man-woman relationship, because she'd never had one. All she knew was that Webb had been angry, and a little drunk. If he hadn't been drinking he probably wouldn't have put the pressure on her that he had, but the fact remained that she had fallen into bed with him without the slightest resistance. The circumstances had been humiliating, but that secret little part of her had reveled in the opportunity.

She wasn't sorry she'd done it. If nothing good ever happened to her for the rest of her life, at least she'd lain in Webb's arms and known what it was like to make love with him. The pain had been more severe than she'd imagined, but it hadn't been able to overshadow the joy she'd felt, and ultimately the satisfaction.

1 169

The tequila might account for the first time, and maybe the second, but what about the other times? Surely he'd sobered by the third time he'd reached for her, in the middle of the night, and the fourth, just before dawn. She still ached from his lovemaking, with a tenderness deep inside her body that she cherished because it reminded her of those moments.

He hadn't been a selfish lover. He might have been angry, but still he had satisfied her, sometimes more than once, before allowing himself release. His hands and mouth had been tender on her body, careful not to add to the pain she'd already experienced just in accepting him.

But then he'd slipped out of bed and left her alone in the cheap little motel, as if she were a coyote woman. Wasn't that what the wild, drinking crowd called a woman who was so ugly that, when a man woke up and looked over at her asleep on his arm, he gnawed off his own arm rather than wake her up? At least Webb had left a note. At least he had come back, and she hadn't been forced to get back to her rental car as best she could.

He'd said she acted like a whore for Lucinda. He'd said that she'd been a bother to him all her life, and that hurt more than the other comment. No matter what, she had always managed to hold on to the thought of those years before Jessie's death as the sweet years, because she'd had him as a friend and hero. The awful night Jessie had been killed, she'd realized that he felt sorry for her and that had nearly killed her, but still the sweet memories had been there. Now she was mortified to think she'd been fooling herself from the beginning. Kindness wasn't the same as love, patience wasn't the same as caring.

He'd made it plain that she shouldn't expect any continuance of their lovemaking when he returned to Davencourt. It had been a one-night stand, pure and simple. There was no ongoing relationship between them, except that of distant cousins.

But then he'd kissed her, and told her she didn't understand anything. He'd been unmistakably aroused; after the night she'd just spent, she was very familiar with his erections. If he didn't want her, why had he been hard?

One thing was for certain though: he'd still been angry. She sat curled in her chair, watching the lightning and thinking of Webb, and sometime close to dawn she finally dropped into a doze.

Gloria marshaled her entire family to the breakfast table at the same time, a rare happening, but evidently she thought she needed reinforcements. After a restless night in which sleep had been as elusive as ever, Roanna had gone to Lucinda's room and given her the good news. Buoyed by that, there was more energy in Lucinda's movements that morning, more color in her face, than there had been in a long time. She lifted her eyebrows in surprise at the crowd seated at the table, then grinned and gave Roanna an I know-what-they're-up-to wink.

Breakfast was a buffet, an efficient setup since more than two of them eating at the same time was pure chance. Roanna filled plates for Lucinda and herself and took her place at the table.

Gloria waited until they had food in their mouths before launching the beginning salvo.

"Lucinda, we've all talked about it, and we wish you would reconsider this harebrained idea to put Webb in charge of the business concerns again. Roanna has been doing a fine job, and we really don't need him."

"We?" Lucinda queried, staring down the table at her sister.

"Gloria, I've been grateful for and enjoyed your company for the past ten years, but I think I need to remind you that this is Davenport business, and Roanna and I are the only Davenports here. We talked it over and agreed that we want Webb to resume his rightful place in the family."

"Webb isn't a Davenport," Gloria pointed out, pouncing on this detail.

"He's a Tallant, one of our family. Davencourt and the Davenport money should be Roanna's. Why, it's only right that it go to her."

Anything to keep Webb out of the picture, Roanna

thought. Gloria would much prefer that her immediate family have the inheritance, but Roanna was evidently the second-best choice. Gloria figured she could manipulate and dominate Roanna, but Webb was a different story. That was the crux of the matter, she realized, not any exaggerated fear that Webb was a killer. It all came down to money, and comfort.

"As I said," Lucinda repeated, "Roanna and I are in agreement on this."

"Roanna's never been logical where Webb's concerned." Harlan weighed in on his wife's side.

"We all know you can't trust her judgment in this."

Corliss leaned forward, her eyes bright as she scented trouble.

"Why, that's right. Don't I remember something about Jessie catching them canoodling in the kitchen?"

Brock looked up from his breakfast and frowned at his sister. Roanna liked him best of all Gloria's brood. Brock was generally good-natured and was a steady worker. He didn't intend to stay at Davencourt forever but was using the opportunity to save as much money as he could so he could build his own house. He and his long-time girlfriend were planning to marry within the year. He was more forceful than his father, Greg, who let Lanette set the agenda for the family, "I think that was blown all out of proportion," Brock said.

"What makes you think so?" Lanette asked, leaning forward to look at her son. Corliss smiled with satisfaction at having stirred up the waters.

"Because Webb wasn't a cheater, and I'm glad he's coming back."

Gloria and Lanette both glared at this traitor in their midst. Brock ignored them and returned to his meal. Roanna concentrated on her own breakfast and did her best to tune out the conversation. Nothing would please Corliss more than provoking her into a response or to see her visibly upset. Corliss lacked Jessie's genius for cutting remarks, or perhaps it was Roanna's reaction that had changed, but she found Corliss merely annoying.

The verbal battering went on the entire meal, with Gloria and Harlan and Lanette taking turns coming up with what they obviously thought were good arguments against Webb's return. Greg frankly wasn't interested and left the protests to Lanette. Brock finished eating and excused himself to go to work.

Roanna concentrated on the chore of eating, saying little, and Lucinda was as immovable as a mountain. Having Webb home was more important to her than anything her sister could say, so Roanna didn't have any worries that Lucinda would change her mind. Lucinda had lit up like a Christmas tree that morning when Roanna had given her the good news. She had asked question after question about him, how he looked, if he'd changed, what he'd said.

She had seemed undisturbed when Roanna told her that he still bore a grudge.

"Well, of course he does," Lucinda had said readily.

"Webb's never been anyone's lapdog. I imagine he'll have plenty to say to me when he gets here, and it'll stick in my craw, but I guess I'll have to listen. I'm really surprised he gave in so easily, though. I knew you were the one who could make him listen."

He hadn't listened as much as he'd made a deal with her, and when she had followed through, he'd felt bound to do the same. For the first time, she wondered if he had expected her to flatly refuse, if he'd offered the deal without any expectation of having to keep it.

"Tell me how he looked," Lucinda said again, and Roanna described him as best she could. Was it accurate, when she saw him through eyes of love? Would others find him less dominant, less powerful? She didn't think so.

Certainly Gloria wasn't sanguine about his return. It was hypocritical of her, Roanna thought, because before Jessie's death Gloria had always made a point of fussing over Webb,

declaring him her favorite nephew. But then she'd made the mistake of turning on him instead of defending him, and she knew he hadn't forgotten it.

"Where will he sleep?" Corliss drawled, interrupting her grandmother to throw another firebomb into the already volatile conversation.

"I'm not giving up the suite, even if it did used to be his."

It had the opposite effect of what she'd expected. Silence fell around the table. After Jessie's death, Lucinda had eventually roused herself to have the suite completely redone, from the carpets to the ceilings. When Lanette and her family moved in, Corliss had immediately claimed the suite as her own, carelessly remarking that it didn't bother her at all to sleep there. It was typical of her callousness that she could even think of Webb reclaiming his old quarters.

Nevertheless, Lucinda's suite was the only one that equaled it in size. Gloria and Harlan occupied a smaller set of rooms, as did Lanette and Greg. Roanna's room was just one room, a spacious one, but not a suite. Brock's room was the same. There were four remaining single bedrooms. It was a picayune problem, but status was a subtle thing. Roanna knew Webb wasn't fixated on it, but he did realize the implications and how to use the symbols of status in order to dominate.

"Even if he doesn't want it, he may not like anyone else sleeping there," Lanette said, eyeing her daughter with a troubled expression.

Corliss scowled. "I'm not giving up my suite!"

"You will if Webb says you will," Lucinda said firmly.

"I doubt he'll care, but I want it understood that what he says goes, without any argument. Is that clear?"

"No!" Corliss said petulantly, flinging her napkin to the table.

"He killed his wife! It isn't fair that he can just waltz back in here and take over-" Lucinda's voice cracked like a whip.

"Another thing I want understood is that Webb did not kill Jessie. If I hear such a thing mentioned again, I will ask the person who said it to leave this house immediately. We didn't support him when he needed it most, and I'm deeply ashamed of myself. He will be welcomed back into his home, or I'll know why." Silence followed this flat statement. To Roanna's sure knowledge, this was the first time Lucinda had ever said anything about evicting any of the current residents of Davencourt. Family was so important to her that her threat demonstrated how strongly she felt about Webb's return. For guilt or for love, or for both, Webb had her unqualified support.

Satisfied that her point had been taken, Lucinda daintily patted her napkin to her mouth.

"The bedroom situation is difficult. What do you think, Roanna?"

"Let Webb decide when he gets here," Roanna replied.

"We can't anticipate what he'll want."

"That's true. It's just that I want everything to be perfect for him."

"I don't think that's possible. He would probably prefer that we carry on as normal and not make a fuss."

"We're hardly likely to throw a party," Gloria sniped.

"I can't think what everyone in town is going to say."

"Nothing, if they know what side their bread is buttered on," Lucinda said.

"I'll begin immediately making it clear to our friends and associates that if they value our continued friendship, they'll make certain Webb is treated politely."

"Webb, Webb, Webb," Corliss said violently.

"What makes him so special? What about us? Why don't you leave everything to Brock, if you're so certain that Roanna can't handle things? We're just as much kin to you as Webb is!"

She jumped up and ran from the room, leaving silence behind. Even Gloria, who generally had the hide of a rhinoceros, looked uncomfortable at such a blatantly materialistic outburst. Roanna forced herself to eat one more bite before giving up the effort. It looked as if Webb's "welcome" was going to be even more strained than his departure had been.

1.75

Ten days later, Webb walked in the front door as if he owned the place, which to all intents and purposes he did.

It was eight o'clock in the morning, and the sunlight poured brilliantly through the windows, giving the cream colored tiles in the foyer a mellow golden glow. Roanna. was just coming down the stairs. She had a nine o'clock meeting with their broker, who was driving in from Huntsville, and was going to go over the particulars with Lucinda prior to the broker's arrival. She had already dressed for the meeting, in a summer-weight peach silk sheath with a matching tunic jacket, and afterward she was scheduled for a county commissioner's meeting. Beige snakeskin pumps were on her feet, and creamy pearl earrings dangled from her ears. She seldom wore jewelry other than her wristwatch, but her sorority sisters had taught her the value of wearing good, understated pieces for business occasions.

The front door opened, and she paused on the stairs, momentarily blinded by the dazzling sunlight reflected on the polished tiles. She blinked at the dark figure whose wide shoulders and wide-brimmed hat filled most of the doorway. Then he stepped inside and closed the door, letting a leather satchel drop to the floor, and her heart nearly stopped as realization dawned.

it had been ten days since he'd sent her home, and he hadn't sent advance word of his arrival. She had begun to fear that he wouldn't come after all, though Webb had always kept his word before. Maybe he'd decided the Davenports weren't worth the trouble; she wouldn't have blamed him if he had.

But he was here, taking off his hat and looking around with narrowed eyes as if assessing the changes made during the gap of ten years. They were few, but she had the feeling he noted every one. His gaze even lingered momentarily on the carpet that covered the stairs. When he'd left, it had been beige; now it was oatmeal, with a thicker and tighter weave.

The physical impact of his presence nearly staggered her. To see him standing there with the same natural assumption of authority, as if he'd never left, gave her an eerie sense of time having stood still.

But the differences in him were sharp. It wasn't just that he was older or that he was dressed in jeans and boots instead of linen slacks and loafers. Before, he had tempered the force of his personality with southern good-old-boy geniality, the way business was done down here. Now, however, he tempered it with nothing. It was there, sharp and hard, and he didn't give a damn if anyone didn't like it.

Her chest felt oddly restricted, and she struggled to breathe. She had seen him naked, had lain naked in his arms. He'd sucked her nipples, penetrated her. The sense of unreality made her dizzy again. In the week and a half since she had seen him, their lovemaking had begun to seem like a dream, but at the sight of him, her body began throbbing anew as if he had just withdrawn from her and her flesh still tingled from the contact. She found her voice.

"Why didn't you call? Someone would have met you at the airport. You did fly in, didn't you?"

"Yesterday. I rented a car at the airport. Mother and I spent the night in Huntsville with Aunt Sandra, then drove back this morning."

The intense green gaze was on her now, taking inventory of the suit and pearls, perhaps comparing the sleek stylishness of her clothes with the fashion failure she'd been as a teenager. Or perhaps he was comparing her now to the naked woman who had writhed beneath him, screaming as he brought her to climax. He'd rejected her fast enough, so the vision couldn't have been an enticing one.

She flushed hotly, then felt the color fade as fast as it had come.

She couldn't continue to stand there like an idiot. Carefully regulating her breathing, Roanna came down the last few steps to pause at his side.

"Lucinda's in the study. We were going to go over some papers, but I'm sure she'll want to talk to you instead."

"I came back to take care of business," he said briefly, already striding down the hall to the study.

"Bring me up to speed. The homecoming party can wait."

Somehow she kept her unruffled facade in place as she followed him. She didn't throw her arms around him, brokenly crying, "You're home, you're home," though that had been her first impulse. She didn't shriek with joy or cry. She merely said to his back, "I'm glad you came. Welcome home."

Lucinda seldom sat at the huge desk that had been her husband's, finding the overstuffed sofa more comfortable to her old bones. She was there now, leafing through several printouts of recent stock performances. She looked up when Webb entered, and Roanna, right behind him, saw the bewilderment in the faded blue eyes as she stared at this big, rough stranger who had invaded her domain. Then she blinked, and recognition dawned as brilliantly as the sunrise, bringing with it a flush of excitement that chased away the grayness of ill health. She struggled to her feet, printouts scattering across the thick Aubusson rug.

"Webb! Webb!"

This was the enthusiastic, tearfully gleeful welcome Roanna had been longing to give him and couldn't. Lucinda rushed toward him with her hands out held either not seeing or ignoring his shuttered expression. He didn't open his arms to her, but that didn't stop her from throwing her own arms around him and hugging him tightly, her eyes swimming with tears.

Roanna turned toward the door, intending to give them some privacy; if she and Webb had had a special relationship when she was younger, at least in her own mind, he had definitely had a strong, special relationship with Lucinda that rivaled his feelings for his mother. Even though Webb had come back for Lucinda's sake, there were hard feelings between them that needed to be settled.

"No, stay," Webb said when he noticed Roanna's movement. He put gentle hands on Lucinda's fragile old arms and eased her away but continued to hold her as he looked down at her.

"We'll talk later," he promised.

"For now, I have a lot of catching up to do. We can start with those." He nodded to the papers on the carpet.

If there was anything Lucinda understood, it was the concept of taking care of business. She wiped her eyes and nodded briskly.

"Of course. Our broker will be here at nine for a meeting. Roanna and I have made it a practice of going over our stock performances beforehand, so we are in agreement on any actions before he arrives."

He nodded and bent down to pick up the papers.

"Are we still using Lipscomb?"

"No, dear, he died, about … oh, three years ago, wasn't it, Roanna? Heart trouble ran in his family, you know. Our broker now is Sage Whitten, of the Birmingham Whittens. We've been pleased with him, for the most part, but he does tend to be conservative."

Roanna saw the wry expression cross Webb's face as he readjusted to the nuances of southern business, where everything was tinged with personal information and family relationships. Probably he had become accustomed to a much more straightforward method of doing things.

He was already studying the papers in his hand as he strolled over to the desk and started to drop into the massive leather chair. He halted and gave Roanna an inquiring glance, as if checking her reaction to this abrupt takeover of both territory and authority.

She didn't know whether to cry or shout. She had never really enjoyed business but had nevertheless staked out her own territory. Because this was the only thing in her life for which she had ever been needed, by Lucinda or anyone else, she had worked doggedly to understand and master the concepts and applications. With Webb's return she was losing that territory, and her usefulness. On the other hand, it would be a relief not to have to sit through any more interminable meetings or deal with businessmen and politicians who questioned her decisions with barely veiled condescension. She was glad to be rid of the duty but had no idea how she was going to replace it.

She allowed none of her ambivalence to show in her expression, however, maintaining the blank wall of indifference she presented to the world. Lucinda resumed her seat on the sofa and Roanna walked over to one of the file cabinets to extract a thick folder.

The fax machine beeped and began to whir as a document printed. Webb glanced at it, then at the rest of the electronic equipment that had been installed since he'd left.

"Looks like we're on the information highway." "It was either that or spend most of my time traveling," Roanna replied. She indicated the computer on the desk.

"We have two discrete systems. This computer and printer are for our private records. The other one"-she pointed to the electronic setup in the corner, arranged on a custom built oak computer desk–is for communication." The second computer was hooked up to a modern.

"We have the dedicated fax line, e-mail, and two laser printers. I'll show you the programs any time you want. There's also a laptop for traveling."

"Even Loyal is on computer now," Lucinda said, smiling.

"The bloodlines are thoroughly cross-referenced, and his files include breeding times, results, medical history, and identification tattoos. He'd as proud of the system as he would be if it had four legs and neighed."

He glanced at Roanna.

"Do you still ride as much as before?"

"There isn't time."

"You'll have more time now."

She hadn't thought of this benefit to Webb's return, and her heart gave an excited leap. She missed the horses with painful intensity, but her statement had been the flat truth: there simply hadn't been time. She rode when she could, which was enough to keep her muscles accustomed to the exercise, but not nearly enough to satisfy her. For now she had to devote herself to the intricacies of handing over the reins to Webb, but soon-soon!-she would be able to begin helping Loyal again.

"If I know you," Webb said lazily, "you're already planning to spend your days in the stable. Don't think you're going to dump everything in my lap and play hooky. I'll have my hands full with all this and my Arizona properties too, so you're still going to have to handle some of the work."

Work with Webb? She hadn't considered that he'd want her around, or that she would still be of any use. Her heart gave that little leap again at the prospect of being with him every day.

He concentrated then on studying the diagrams and analysis of stock performances and considering the projections. By the time Sage Whitten arrived, Webb knew exactly where they stood in the stock market.

Mr. Whitten had never met Webb before, but by his startled expression when he was introduced, he'd heard the gossip. If he was dismayed by Lucinda's explanation that Webb would henceforth be handling 0 the Davenport concerns, he hid it well. But no matter what people suspected, Webb Tallant had never been charged with the murder of his wife, and business was business.

The meeting was concluded faster than usual. Scarcely

had Mr. Whitten left than Lanette breezed into the study. "Aunt Lucinda, there's a bag of some sort in the foyer. Did Mr. Whitten-?" She stopped dead, staring at Webb seated behind the desk.

"The bag belongs to me." He scarcely glanced up from the computer, where he was reviewing the history of a stock's dividends.

"I'll take it up later."

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