He quickly stopped her before she got all revved up again. “But you won’t let them.”
“Yes, you’re right. I won’t let them.” She was finally able to compose herself.
“Are you ready to listen to me?”
“Yes, I’m ready. What did Nate tell you?”
“The cousins are all bad news. Bryce has racked up a huge debt which will all be dumped on his wife when he dies. He’s in liver failure, and the doctors figure he’s got about six months.”
“No shock there,” she said. “He looks like he’s dying.”
“He’s just thirty-five, and he has already destroyed his liver with alcohol.”
He moved on to Ewan. Kate wasn’t surprised to hear about his violent behavior. She’d seen a glimpse of his temper in Anderson’s office. Ewan seemed capable of going into a rage at the least provocation.
“Roger’s the gambler in the family.”
“Yes,” she said. “In the video Compton said Roger had gambled away four hundred thousand. That surely was an exaggeration.”
“No, it was pretty accurate,” Dylan said. “And apparently Roger hasn’t slowed down. He’s in to a loan shark for about seven hundred thousand now.”
“No,” she whispered. “Are you sure? Seven hundred? That’s crazy.” She shook her head. “No wonder he was crying.”
“You haven’t heard the bad news yet. Roger borrowed the money from Johnny Jackman. He’s the real badass here. He’s got connections you wouldn’t believe, and he also has a reputation to uphold. He’s going to get that money one way or another.”
“You sound like you know Jackman. Do you?”
“I’ve never met him, but I’ve heard all about him. The feds are going to be happy with this development. They’ve been trying to get something on him for a long time. Nate can’t leave them out of this any longer. He needs them. And so do we.”
“What happens now?”
“We keep you alive.”
“I want to go home,” she whispered.
He was exasperated with her but understood. “You know you can’t go home.”
She didn’t argue. “For how long?”
“I shouldn’t have taken the money,” she blurted out. “I didn’t want it. But then I heard them saying such terrible things about my family . . . my mother in particular, and I wanted to strike back. Taking the money seemed the best way.”
“It wouldn’t have mattered. Whoever wants you out of the way couldn’t take the chance you might change your mind. Too much is at stake.”
“So everything that’s been happening to me is tied up with this money?”
“We have to assume it’s about the money. You heard what Compton said. He changed the will some time ago, but according to the date on the video, he didn’t record his message until a few weeks ago. Since the explosions happened after the video was made, the question now is, who knew about the video?”
“You saw how shocked and outraged those brothers were, and Vanessa looked dumbfounded.”
“True. So, either there’s a player out there we don’t know about, or one of your relatives is a damned fine actor.”
Kate didn’t want to stay in Savannah for the night. She dearly loved the city, but because her relatives were there, she was determined to get as far away as possible.
Dylan understood and agreed. He headed northwest, avoided the highway, and stayed on the scenic back roads. He didn’t seem worried about where they’d spend the night. He also didn’t seem concerned that they were getting low on gas.
“We don’t want to run out of gas on a back road,” she said.
“No, we don’t,” he agreed. He glanced at her and asked, “Are you going to worry about it?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Okay, we’ll stop. Get the map out of the glove compartment, please. Find Bucyrus. The sign we passed a couple of minutes ago says we’re ten miles from it.”
She hadn’t noticed the sign. After unfolding the map and checking their location, she gave him directions. The little town was nestled in a valley, and according to the WELCOME TO BUCYRUS sign, there were 828 residents.
They found a restaurant on Main Street. The parking spots angled into the curb. Dylan pulled in front of the hardware store. He turned the motor off and asked, “Are you hungry? Sure you are,” he answered before she had a chance to say anything. “I’m starving.”
He made two phone calls while she stretched her legs and tried to shake off the sick feeling in her stomach. She wasn’t ill, but every time she thought about the relatives she became nauseated.
She didn’t have an appetite until she walked into the restaurant. The aroma of freshly baked bread, cinnamon, and other more pungent spices greeted them, and by the time she sat down, she was ravenous.
The owner had taken time and care with the restaurant’s décor and was apparently a fan of stripes. Yellow-and-white-striped curtains hung at the windows. The tablecloths were also yellow and white and so were the stools at the counter. But the motif had not yet reached the booths. Strips of duct tape covered tears in their blue vinyl seats.
“Quaint” or “charming” might be overstated descriptions of the eatery, but it definitely fit into the homey category. On each table were ceramic salt and pepper sets in various animal shapes. The table Dylan and Kate chose had black-and-white-spotted cows.
What the restaurant lacked in ambience was made up for by the food, which was delicious and homemade. They both ordered a shrimp and pasta dish that came with a salad. Dylan ate all of his and half of hers.
The restaurant was empty except for the waitress and the cook, who were occupied with the soap opera that was playing on the small television at the end of the counter. Dylan leaned in so that he couldn’t be heard and said, “Tell me more about this weasel and ribbon.”
Kate’s brow wrinkled into a frown and she shook her head. “You know about the loan my mother took out using my company, among other things, as collateral.”
“Yes. And . . . ?” Dylan urged.
“It appears the accountant who managed my mother’s finances and his wife are planning to take over my company just as soon as the due date for the payment arrives.”
“What does this have to do with ribbon?” he asked.
Kate filled him in on her conversation with Haley, and after she was through, Dylan sat back in the booth and fell silent for a few minutes. He was deep in thought and Kate could tell he was analyzing all the facts of her situation.
“I think we have a lot more to look into,” he said finally. He stood, took her hands, and pulled her to her feet. Before leaving the restaurant he got directions to the nearest filling station.
While he filled the gas tank, Kate used her cell phone to try to get hold of Jordan, but the answering machine picked up yet again. Kate left her a message to please call.
Once he was back in the car, Dylan looked at the map for about thirty seconds and said, “Okay, let’s go.”
“Did you have a destination in mind?”
“How about I surprise you?”
“As long as the rooms are clean, I’ll be happy.”
“Not rooms,” he said. “One room. You’re staying with me.”
She didn’t argue. “Will I have my own bed?”
“If that’s what you want.”
But what if I don’t know what I want? she wondered. What then? She thought about the silly that-was-then-this-is-now speech she’d given him and wished she’d kept her mouth shut.
“If you want to make any phone calls, do it now because once we leave Bucyrus I don’t want you calling anyone on your cell phone.”
“Why can’t I use my cell phone?”
“Better to be cautious.”
It wasn’t much of an explanation. “I should call Kiera and Isabel. I’ve put it off long enough. Hopefully their answering machines are on. Otherwise, I’ll have to go into detail, and I’d rather not do that now.”
Kate lucked out. She got voice mail right away. She left the same message for each of them. “The relatives are horrible,” she began. “And I’ve got a video to show you of the great-uncle we’ve been blessed not to know. I’ll explain everything tomorrow. I’m in a rush now and will be unavailable. If you need me, leave me a message.”
“How come you didn’t tell them about the inheritance?”
She shrugged. “It wasn’t important.” She noticed his smile and asked, “Why is that amusing?”
“Not amusing . . . just reflective.”
“Reflective of what?”
A sudden worry turned her attention. “What about Kiera and Isabel? They’re safe, aren’t they? Their inheritance has already been transferred to them. Still . . .”
“Anderson assured us they aren’t in line to inherit the fortune. But I already talked to Nate about your sisters, and he’s going to make sure they’re covered. Hopefully, neither one of them will notice she has a shadow. You don’t need to worry about them. All right?”
“Yes,” she said. “Thank you.”
“Any other phone calls you want to make, make them now,” he said.
Kate quickly called Haley and once again missed her. She left a long message explaining that she still owned the company, and everything would be straightened out soon. In the meantime, she asked her not to say anything to the Simmons woman.
“Please don’t let her know we’ve talked. I’m working on a surprise for her and her husband. I’ll explain everything soon,” she promised.
She disconnected the line, then tried once again to get hold of Jordan. She left another message before turning her phone off.
“I’ve been trying to reach your sister, and she hasn’t returned my calls. That’s not like her,” she said.
“You haven’t been able to get in touch with her since I showed up at your front door, right?”
“Now that I think about it, yes, that’s right.”
“She’s probably just giving you time to cool down. I’m sure she thinks you’re angry with her for interfering.”
“By sending you to me?”
“I’ll admit for a little while I was irritated. I didn’t like the idea of any man coming to save the day, and I found it a bit galling that Jordan, who is beyond a liberated woman, would send her brother to take care of me. I know—she sent you because you’re a detective who knows how to handle this sort of thing, but I still want to give her a piece of my mind. Making you come all this way . . .”
“Jordan can’t make me do anything I don’t want to do.”
Ha. Of course she could, but Kate wasn’t going to burst his bubble and tell him so. Jordan, like her sister, Sydney, could get all of her brothers to do anything she wanted. When begging didn’t work, she used guilt. She’d perfected various other techniques as well; however, guilt had always worked best.
Kate was thankful Dylan was with her. Oh, she knew that Nate and the other detectives in Charleston were capable men, but she was . . . comfortable with Dylan. There was also the trust issue. Hers was absolute.
Dylan’s phone rang. The second he read the caller ID he started smiling. One of his women was on the line, no doubt. It was a reasonable conclusion. The man was grinning like an idiot.
Kate couldn’t believe how disgruntled she became. What did she care about his love life?
Apparently far more than she wanted to, she admitted.
“Hey, sweetie. What’s going on?” he said into the phone.
Sweetie? He called her sweetie? Kate felt like grabbing the phone from him and tossing it out the window. She wondered how sweetie would like that.
She folded her arms and pretended not to be listening as she looked out the side window. The woman on the phone was doing most of the talking, but every once in a while Dylan would interject a word or two of encouragement or praise.
“That’s good to hear . . . now you’re thinking . . . yes, of course you can call me anytime . . . no, no, you’re doing great. I’ll talk to you real soon. You take care now . . .”
It was enough to make her want to throw up. How many women did he have dangling, waiting desperately for him to call? I’ll talk to you soon? How many times had he given that promise? Did he ever follow through? Did he call back? Probably not. It was just a kiss-off line.
She did notice that Dylan hadn’t used his flirty voice, that wonderful, sexy tone that melted her defenses. Just bet he’d melted a lot of other women, too . . .
Good God, she was jealous.
“Yes?” She snapped the word out with bullet speed.
“Isabel says hello.”
“What?” If she’d been standing, she would have fallen over. “Isabel . . . what?”
“She said hello. What’s the matter with you? Why are you so jumpy?”
If he only knew. “Nothing’s wrong with me.”
“Your face is red.”
“I said your face is red.”
“Why did Isabel call you?”
“She had my phone number,” he said. “And she wanted me to know she changed the dead bolt on her door.” He smiled as he added, “She said the lock didn’t work, so she went to a hardware store, got what she needed, and impressed her roommate by doing it all herself.”
“Oh. I thought . . .”
“What? What did you think?”
She wasn’t going to explain. “Why didn’t she call me? I just left her a message about meeting the relatives. Did she mention it?”
“Yes, she did. She wanted me to tell you she’s sorry they weren’t more hospitable.”
Kate laughed. “Hospitable? That’s something Isabel would say, all right. She probably thinks they would have been nicer if I’d offered them a beverage.”
“Don’t sell her short, Kate. There’s a brain hiding inside that blond hair. I’ll tell you what. She’s going to break a lot of hearts.”
“I worry about her,” she admitted. “She’s too trusting.”
“You want her to be more cynical?”