Dylan wasn’t in the best of moods. He’d just finished another grueling hour of physical therapy for his shoulder, and that had hurt like hell. The muscles were still throbbing, and though he had a prescription for painkillers, he wasn’t going to take any. He wasn’t trying to be macho. He had tried a couple of the pills last week and had hated the way they made him feel. The pills did dull the pain, but they also dulled his ability to think. He’d felt as though he was moving around in a thick fog. No, thank you. He’d take the pain over the fog any day of the week.
He was about to strip out of his clothes and get into a hot shower when Jordan called.
After checking the caller ID, he picked up the phone and said, “What do you want?”
“Oh, that’s nice.”
He smiled. “You’re out of the hospital now. I don’t have to be nice. And since when have I ever been a nice guy? You’re getting me mixed up with Alec.”
“No way I’d confuse the two of you. Alec’s a slob and you’re a neat freak, which is why you two made such perfect roommates growing up, but unlike Alec, you can be a real grouch sometimes.”
“If you’re finished with the compliments, I’d like to get into the shower.”
Jordan was on a roll. “I’ll bet you’re real nice to the women you want to sleep with, aren’t you?”
“Jordan, for the last time, what do you want?” he asked, deciding her comment about his sex life didn’t merit a response.
“Kate’s in trouble. The problem is, I don’t think she realizes she is.”
He rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m hanging up now.”
“Listen to me.”
She quickly explained what she knew about the first explosion and said, “If that wasn’t enough for poor Kate, when she returned from Boston, someone tried to run her down in the airport parking lot. And then . . . Dylan, are you listening?”
“You don’t sound like you are.”
“For God’s sake . . .”
“I’m right,” Jordan continued. “Someone is trying to kill her. There’s more, too,” she added.
Before she could tell him about the second explosion, he said, “What exactly do you want me to do about it? Talk to whoever is in charge of the investigation? I doubt the detectives in South Carolina would want me looking over their shoulders.”
“No, I don’t want you to call. I want you to go to Silver Springs and check it out. You’re on leave from the department, so you’ve got the time, and I know you’re bored. I can’t believe you’re hesitating. This weekend you . . .”
“You saw Kate. What is it with you? Out of sight, out of mind?”
Yeah, right, he thought. He hadn’t been able to get Kate out of his mind since he’d touched her, and that bothered the hell out of him. She was messing with his mind.
She obviously wasn’t giving him a second thought. She’d left Boston without a word, so their night together had been what he and she had wanted it to be, recreational. That attitude should have pleased him. No commitment and no messy good-byes. One perfect night, no doubt about that, with no regrets.
So why was he so irritated she’d left without telling him?
He shook his head. She wasn’t easy to forget, and that was all there was to it. It might take a couple of weeks, but then he wouldn’t give her another thought.
“Dylan, are you going to go to Kate or not?”
“I’m thinking . . .”
He was in a strange predicament. He’d never been dumped by a woman before, and he didn’t know how to feel about it. No, that wasn’t true. He knew how he felt. Damned angry.
Had he ever treated a woman like that? Spent the night with her and then vanished? He shook his head. He hoped he hadn’t. But had he?
He suddenly pictured her sitting by his bedside in the hospital. To this day she didn’t know he was aware of her. He had opened his eyes and looked at her just as she was drifting off to sleep. He remembered he liked her being there.
But then he liked women, he told himself. Still, she’d been there for him, so shouldn’t he do the same for her?
Jordan’s patience ran out.
“If you don’t go, I will.”
“Ah, hell. Okay, I’ll go.”
He sighed. “Soon.”
“Yeah, okay. Tomorrow.”
“Cheer up, Dylan. If I’m right, you might get to shoot someone.”
Roger Mackenna had some badass friends. They were “casino friends” who’d slithered up to him at the gaming table, introduced themselves, and became his best buddies almost overnight. When Roger won, they helped him spend his money. When his winning streak ended, however, his new best friendsturned into sniveling and conniving snakes. They introduced him to a loan shark named Johnny Jackman, and when Roger was over two hundred thousand in debt at fifty percent interest, his friends wooed him back to the tables to lose even more.
All the sharks in town had a hands-off policy toward Roger because they knew, like everyone else in the gambling world who’d run a background check on him, that when Roger’s uncle Compton MacKenna died, Roger would inherit millions of dollars. If anything happened to Roger in the meantime, none of the sharks would get a dime.
Johnny Jackman had quite an investment and had his own crew tailing Roger at all times. This was an asset he wasn’t going to let out of his sight. He didn’t want Roger reformed either, so when he became infatuated with a pretty little thing named Emma who talked him into attending a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, Jackman became concerned. The next evening sweet little Emma was taken out of town.
Roger was told that Emma had been in an automobile accident. He went to the hospital, took one look at her bruised and swollen face, and went running back to the casino. Emma left town as soon as she was released from the hospital. Roger sighed with relief. He had felt such terrible guilt that he couldn’t stomach the sight of her, but now that she was out of his life, he could forget about her. He could also forget all about ever attending meetings for his gambling addiction.
By July, Johnny Jackman was getting nervous. Roger had racked up a debt of an even seven hundred thousand dollars, and if it wasn’t paid to the casino by the first of September, Jackman would have to pay it.
Jackman decided he couldn’t afford to be a patient, nice guy any longer. He took Roger to dinner that night at Emerald’s, let him drink a bottle of expensive wine, and then told him that if he didn’t find a way to repay every dollar with interest within thirty days, Jackman was going to start taking body parts as collateral. He toasted Roger and told him he was going to start between his legs.
He made sure Roger knew he wasn’t bluffing.
Three packs of cigarettes and a bottle of gin a day had aged Roger. He was only thirty-four, but he looked sixty. His hair was thinning and gray. His complexion was just as gray from all the years he’d spent in dark casinos and backrooms.
His nicotine-stained fingers shook as he lit another cigarette. “Where am I going to get that kind of money?” he asked. “You know I’m good for it, but not until my uncle dies. He’s sick. It shouldn’t take long. According to . . . my source, the old man is dying.”
“Who’s the source?”
“Someone real close to him. I’m not going to give you the name.”
“Okay,” he said, deciding not to press. “But your uncle could linger a long time, now couldn’t he? If it’s more than thirty-one days, you’re going to be in a world of hurt.”
“If you’ll wait, I’ll pay you a bonus. And there’s a good chance I’ll win big the next time I hit the tables, right?”
Jackman shook his head. “Your credit is used up,” he said. “You’re not welcome at any table until your debt is paid in full. Thirty-one days,” he repeated. “If you don’t come up with all of it, you’re no longer a man. You understand me? You won’t get a sip of booze to dull the pain. My associates will take you out in the desert, hold you down, spread your legs, and . . . snip, snip.” He made his fingers move like scissors. “I might even tell them to put your balls in your mouth to stop you from screaming while they work on your penis. You do have balls, don’t you, Roger?”
Jackman was the most successful loan shark in the city, and when Roger stared into his cold, flat eyes, he suspected that a real shark had more feeling. He didn’t have any doubt at all that Jackman would do what he promised. He wasn’t a man who bluffed.
Roger began to hyperventilate. He overturned his chair in his haste to bolt from the table. He made it to the corridor before he threw up. Jackman followed him, laughing.
“You’re going to get me my money, aren’t you, Roger?”
“Yes. I’ll get it.”
He grabbed his arm and jerked him back. He whispered close to his ear, “Your uncle’s going to die real soon, isn’t he?”
Roger began to cry. “Yes, he is.”
Two hours later Roger took a cab to the airport and flew home on the red-eye. He was too scared and too sick to drink anything. He knew he had to get clear-headed. When he got back to Savannah, he was going to have to pay a visit to his uncle Compton to see for himself just how far gone the old man was and to assure himself the money would be coming soon.
Kate had wallowed in self-pity long enough and knew it was time to take charge. The trip to Boston had actually helped her get a grip on things. Dylan certainly had taken her mind off her problems, but she was determined never to do anything crazy like that again, and by the time she was released from the hospital a second time she was able to put everything into perspective.
She was going to have to make some huge changes. The first change was the most important to her. There would be no more secrets, and so she called a family meeting and explained to her sisters just how bleak their financial situation was. When she was finished, she put the stack of bills in the center of the kitchen table.
Kiera was rendered speechless. Isabel didn’t want to believe any of it. She refused to hear anything that might discredit her mother. Kiera became the peacemaker when Kate demanded that Isabel open her eyes and stop trying to make their mother a saint.
“How about we all agree that mother did the best she could,” Kiera said, “and then let’s move on. Arguing won’t help us figure anything out, and right now we need to form some kind of a plan.”
Isabel finally calmed down. “You’re right, Kiera. Mother did do the best she could. We never went hungry, did we? And I got braces when I needed them, and she made sure all of us were educated.”
Her sisters were quick to agree. “And Kate, Mom wouldn’t have hocked your company if she hadn’t needed to, so stop being angry at her,” Isabel demanded. “She can’t be here to defend herself.” She didn’t give Kate time for a rebuttal but said, “Okay then.”
“Okay, what?” Kiera asked.
Isabel took a deep breath, folded her hands on the table and said, “I guess this,” she nodded toward the stack of bills, “means no college for me . . . yet. Since Kiera is on a full scholarship, she should finish her last year of medical school, right? And you and I, Kate, are going to have to get jobs right away if we’re going to keep the house.”
Kiera was trying not to smile. “Aren’t you the little planner? So there is a brain under all that blond hair.”
“No need to be sarcastic,” Isabel snapped.
“I wasn’t being sarcastic,” Kiera said. “I was giving you a backhanded compliment.”
“Isabel, your education is far more important than keeping the house. This place has served its purpose. We have to let it go,” Kate said.
“But if you got a real good job . . . with your education . . .”
“Do you honestly think she’s going to let the bank take her company?” Kiera asked.
“I don’t think she can stop them,” she said. “And we need money now, don’t we? The electric company will turn off the power if we don’t pay their bill. How long do we have? Hey, I’ve got an idea. You know what I think we should do?”
Kate was afraid to ask. Isabel was famous for coming up with nutty ideas. This one turned out to be a real whopper.
“Let’s rent out rooms.”
Kate wasn’t certain if she laughed first or Kiera did. Isabel let them have their moment and then said, “It makes sense.”
“Are you . . .” Kiera began.
Kate nudged her under the table. She didn’t want Kiera to make fun of Isabel’s harebrained scheme now. Their sister had just had the rug pulled out from under her. She was losing her home, and right now she thought she was losing her college education, too.
“Even if we rented rooms, we couldn’t make enough money to pay all of these bills and a huge loan,” Kiera said. She smiled as she added, “Unless we charged around ten thousand a week.”
Isabel ran her fingers through her hair. “Okay, it was a dumb idea.”
“No,” Kate said. “You’re brainstorming and that’s good.”
“If I were smart like you and Kiera, we wouldn’t be worried about this. Kiera got a full ride through college and medical school. The money she gets even pays for her living expenses. I’m the drag on this family.”
Kate rolled her eyes, and Kiera shook her head. “Now isn’t the time to play the drama princess,” Kiera said.
“I guess I’ll unpack my stuff.” She sounded pitiful. “It took forever to get it all inside Kiera’s car. And I’ll have to call the school tomorrow and ask them to send back the boxes I’ve already shipped with all my room stuff.”
“Don’t unpack the car. You’re still leaving for college.”
“How can I—”
“The plan hasn’t changed. Kiera’s going to drive you there in her car, and then she’ll drive on to Duke.”
“But where will we get the money for my tuition?”
“The initial fees have already been paid,” Kiera said. She turned to Kate. “I could take out a loan, couldn’t I, to pay the rest of her tuition and expenses?”
“That’s a good backup plan, but for now I think I can come up with enough from my business account and the household account to cover the first semester.”