The Sheriff Catches a Bride (Page 23)

The Sheriff Catches a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #5)(23)
Author: Cora Seton

“Tea?” Emory said behind her and Rose nearly jumped out of her skin. “I saw you pull in and figured you might want something warm to drink.”

“Where are my canvasses?” Rose said. A light went on in the window of the house next door and she could see a middle-aged woman moving around her dining room table, covering it with a clean cloth. A teenage girl appeared and began to help. Why couldn’t her life be like that? Simple. Straightforward. How come she attracted every kind of crazy there was?

“Your canvasses,” Emory repeated slowly.

Something in Rose snapped. “My canvasses!” she shouted. “Where the hell are my canvasses, Emory?”

The woman next door straightened and turned to look in their direction, but Rose doubted she could see them out here in the darkness. Even the sound of her shouts must be muffled.

Emory shook his head. “Rosie. You keep too many things. Your mother calls you a pack rat, did you know that? Spot on, as usual.”

“Where are they?”

“I’m only trying to help you, you know,” he said. “Sometimes if you show someone how to keep their things neat, it’s easier for them to learn how to do it right.”

She blinked, trying to hold back her anger. How to do it right? She’d show him how to do it right. But Emory was her parents’ closest friend and they’d asked her many times not to antagonize him or make fun of his condition. He was just lonely, that was all.

“You didn’t need all those extra pictures, anyhow. I only burned the ones that weren’t any good. Drink some tea.” He offered the cup again.

Rose struck it from his hand, overcome by fury. It shattered against the hard paving stones, spilling a wash of dark liquid over them. Emory cringed back, then straightened in anger. “Clean up that mess!” He pointed to the broken cup. “Every last piece.”

“You burned my paintings?” Rose yelled. “Burned them?” She had suspected as much, but the truth was unbearable. The beautiful sunrise landscape she’d labored over for weeks—gone. The experimental piece she’d been working on—gone. And countless others she hadn’t even remembered yet. The product of years of labor. He’d simply tossed them on the flames?

Next door, the mother and daughter peered through the window. The daughter held something to her ear. A phone?

“You heard me. Clean up that mess,” Emory said again. “I’ve had those cups for thirteen years. Every single one of them in perfect condition.”

“Yeah? Well, they’re not perfect now,” Rose hollered. She stepped closer and stomped on the broken remains. “They’re not even close to perfect, are they? That one’s gone for good, which means you have an uneven number now. What are you going to do about that, Emory? Huh? What are you going to do?”

She heard sirens in the distance, but she didn’t care what happened next. How could Emory have burned her paintings—so many of them? Didn’t he know how wrong that was? Was he really that sick?

Or did he just feel like everyone else that he had the right to tell her what to do, the right to organize her life and destroy her things? Did he feel his needs were more important than hers? Everyone else sure did.

“Rose? Is everything all right here?”

She spun around to find Cab crossing the lawn toward her. “I heard on the police radio there was a problem here. What’s happening?”

The sirens continued to get closer. Rose stared at him, a new suspicion forming. “Were you watching me?”

Cab faltered at the shrill tone of her voice, but only for a split second. “No,” he said gruffly. “I wasn’t watching you. I went to the Burger Shack drive-through for a cup of coffee. I was barely a mile away.”

She peered at him in the darkness, unsure if he was telling the truth. “He burned my paintings,” she said finally, her voice beginning to wobble. “Emory burned them. Dozens of them.”

“Emory?” Rose could almost feel the cloak of his office falling over Cab’s shoulders. Gone was the friendly cowboy. In his place was a stern, take-charge officer.

Emory visibly shrunk back. “I was tidying up for her. She’s a nice girl, but sloppy. Always sloppy. Look what she did to my cup.” He pointed to the paving stones where small, white chips of porcelain glittered in the firelight.

“You think maybe she did that because she was angry you destroyed her things?”

The sirens trailed off as two police cruisers pulled into Emory’s driveway. A few moments later, a number of officers swarmed into the backyard.

“Cab? What are you doing here?”

“Heard the call on the radio,” Cab said to the officer. “I know the people involved. Thought I might be able to help.”

As the uniformed men and women took over the scene, the gravity of her loss overwhelmed Rose. Years of work. Years of creativity. A few of her best works of art were gone for good.

Why bother anymore? a little voice inside her asked. Why fight it? Why not just give in? Give away your paints. Burn the rest of the canvasses.

No matter what she did, everyone else came first. Their ideas, their plans, their feelings, their desires. If she didn’t give in when they asked her to, they just waited until she turned her back and enforced their will over her. She would never have control over her life. Never.

“Hey, you all right?” Cab crouched beside her. She hadn’t realized she’d sunk to her knees, but now the cold from the paving stones leached through the fabric of her jeans.

She shook her head. “No. God, Cab, you have no idea…” She couldn’t put into words the enormity of what Emory had done. What he kept on doing. What everybody kept doing.

“You’ll have to give your statement about what happened and they’ll want a list of the paintings Emory took. Do you want to press charges?”

Rose laughed bitterly. “How can I? He’s sick, right? He’s got OCD—everyone knows that. So he gets a free pass to do whatever he wants.”

“That’s not entirely true.” Cab touched her arm. “You’re right; Emory needs help, but a charge against him could be what it takes to get him to see that.”

“My parents would kill me,” she said, trying desperately not to cry. “They would hate my guts.”

“I doubt that. They worry for their friend, that’s all. Emory hasn’t had an easy time of it, but that’s no excuse for what he did to you. Do you think you can go back inside and start a list of what’s missing? You don’t have to do it all tonight. Just get a start.”