“I wouldn’t have believed it if I wasn’t there,” Ethan said, sitting back against the hospital waiting room seat. “A bison running loose in Carl’s woods.”
“How the hell did it get there?” Jake asked.
Cab thought he knew, but he didn’t have the energy to speak just now. He’d spent the last six hours giving his own statement and helping to take the statements of all the other witnesses and participants of the night’s shootout. It would take weeks to sort this mess out, but he didn’t care.
Rose was alive.
Shaken, but alive. She was being kept under observation in a room down the hall shared with Fila, who’d received a superficial gunshot wound.
Jamie occupied another room with a bullet wound to his hip. Rob shared it, the most seriously hurt of all. He’d been hit just below his left shoulder, far too close to his heart for comfort. The bullet broke two ribs, but didn’t penetrate past them. If it had, he was sure Rob would be dead.
Terrorists in the woods of Chance Creek. Just as Kevin had said.
He still couldn’t decide if the old man got lucky on that one, or if he’d really seen the same men who came for Fila driving through town. Probably the latter, as much as Cab hated to admit it. If he had to start investigating every off-the-wall claim that man made, he’d never sleep.
Better not to sleep than to let Rose venture into danger again.
He’d paced the woods with the rest of the uniformed men after the victims were cleared, floodlights lighting every inch of the ground. When they found Rose’s tree house, he’d nearly broken down. Filled with sleeping bags, clothing and evidence of the two women’s dinner, it was obvious they’d felt safe there, nestled in their hideaway.
He wondered if they’d ever feel safe again. His heart ached for both of them. Hannah, too. The receptionist wasn’t injured but she’d definitely been in shock when it was over. Her face as pale a sheet when they helped her to an ambulance, she kept looking around. Searching for something that wasn’t there.
“I’m glad Rob’s going to be okay. How’s Rose doing?” Ethan asked.
Cab nodded. “Good. But I think I’ll go check on her again.”
He paced down the hall heavily, feeling far older than he had when he got up today. Yesterday. Whenever it was he’d slept last. When he reached the door to her room, he opened it to find Fila dozing, and Jason and Emory Thayer at the side of Rose’s bed. He nearly closed the door again and left them alone, until he caught what Emory was saying.
“Rose knows she made a mistake, Jason. Didn’t you, Rose? Just as soon as you’re home for good, the two of you will get married, just like you always planned.”
Rose looked miserable lying under her covers, and Cab knew instinctively that left alone with Jason and Emory, she’d cave in to their demands. They were too much to face on a normal day. Now she was hurt, terrified. He wouldn’t let them bully her into anything.
He let himself into the room quietly and took a seat on a hard plastic chair near the door.
“Won’t you, Rose?” Emory demanded.
Rose cast a glance at Cab. He met her gaze and held it. He willed her to know how much he loved her. How much he wanted her to be a part of his life. And how he’d back off and let her make up her own mind.
“No,” she said.
“What do you mean, no?” Emory said.
“Dad,” Jason said. “Let it go. I told you; it’s over.”
“You’ve been engaged for six years. It can’t be over.”
“I’m sorry.” Rose touched Jason’s hand.
“Don’t be sorry,” Jason said. “Both of us changed. It’s okay.”
“It’s not okay!” Emory turned on him. “What’ll you come back for, if it’s not for her? You certainly won’t come back for me! Who’ve I got now that your mother’s gone? No one!”
Jason turned to him in surprise. “I come back all the time!”
“Twice this year is not all the time!”
Cab stood up, crossed the room and shepherded them both toward the door. When he’d pushed them gently but firmly out into the hall, he said, “Time for the two of you to sort things out between yourselves without putting Rose in the middle of it all.”
Several hours later, Jason slipped back into Rose’s room alone and Rose understood he’d come to say good-bye. She knew it was the right thing for both of them, but now it came time to actually do it, she found it harder than she’d expected. They’d drifted apart this last year, but he’d been a fixture in her life for a long time. They’d been friends and lovers, and she’d dreamed for years of a future together. It was hard to let all of that go.
He sat beside her on the hospital bed and took her hand. “I’ll miss you,” he said.
“I’m so sorry I didn’t come to North Dakota and sort things out in person,” she said. “I took the coward’s way out.”
“Rose, whatever you are it’s not a coward. If anyone was cowardly, I was. I didn’t tell you what was going on. I didn’t trust that you would understand.”
“What was going on?” she asked softly.
“I didn’t save up any money,” he said. “I lied to you the whole time.”
Rose blinked. “You didn’t save…” That was the last thing she’d expected him to say. She figured he’d simply found another girlfriend. “What were you doing all this time?”
Jason’s cheeks reddened. “I’m in college, honey. I’ve been in school for nearly four years. I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you. I didn’t tell Dad, either. I guess I was afraid both of you would think I was being selfish. I didn’t save a dime for our house. I spent it all on myself. That’s why I had such a hard time coming here and being with you. I felt so guilty every time I saw the ring on your finger. I’d… promised you this life that I didn’t want to live anymore. I don’t want to come back to Chance Creek. I don’t want to settle down. There’s a whole big world out there, Rose. I want to see it. I want to travel. I want to go where the money is. I just didn’t know how to tell you.”
Relief flooded Rose. Jason hadn’t wanted to marry her any more than she wanted to marry him. “You can’t blame yourself for your plans changing,” she said. “We were eighteen when we got engaged, for crying out loud. Why did our parents even let us do it?”