Chapter 18

WHEN THE PHONE RANG THE FOLLOWING MORNing, Lily snatched it up before it could awaken Zach. She whispered a greeting into the receiver.

There was a second of silence, then a male voice said, “Well, hey there. You must be Lily. Let me talk to Zach.”

She could hear a woman’s voice in the background chiding her caller about his manners, but she merely said, “He’s sleeping.”

“So wake him up. Tell him Coop wants to talk to him.”

“No.”

“Excuse me?” He might have been Zach’s twin, so unaccustomed did he sound to having his demands denied.

“No. I won’t do that. The kidnapper moved things up last night, and Zach ended up getting hit on the head. I’m not going to distur—”

“Did he lose consciousness?”

“Yes.”

“For more than a few minutes?”

“No.”

“Did he have to go to the hospital?”

“Nooo.” She drew the word out cautiously, pretty sure she didn’t like the direction this was taking. “Zach said it wasn’t necessary.”

“Well, he’s had enough experience to know.”

“He has a knot on his head the size of a golf ball!”

“That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Coop informed her, and his voice turned as comforting as a warm hug, momentarily soothing her fears. “If he hadn’t had a lump you actually would have had more to worry about, because that often means the hematoma’s pressing inward against the brain.” Without warning, his voice developed snap. “Which means you can get him up and put him on the phone. It’s not like he’s some Navy wu—”

“What is this fixation you guys have with the Navy?” she interrupted hotly, feeling doubly betrayed because for a moment there she’d fallen for his show of concern. “He got smashed on the head , and I am not going to—”

“Lily.” Zach’s voice, scratchy with sleep, cut through her diatribe before she could really get rolling, and she twisted around to see the blankets slide down to pool around his waist as he pushed up onto one elbow. “I’m awake.” He held out his hand for the phone.

She wanted to refuse to give it to him, to make him lie flat so she could check all his pulse points to assure herself of a good steady heartbeat, to go over his wound thoroughly until she was certain it hadn’t gotten any worse. But his hand remained out and he met her gaze with level-eyed demand. With a sigh, she handed it to him.

It was a brief conversation. From Lily’s standpoint, it was also a frustrating one, since it was impossible to glean anything from Zach’s grunts and uh-huhs . She snapped to attention, however, when she heard him say, “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”

” No” she protested as soon he hung up the phone, but could only watch in frustration when he ignored her and started pulling on his clothes. “Zach, be reasonable. You can’t go running around with that wound on your head.”

“My head is fine.” A moment later he’d finished dressing and, against her continued protests, headed for the door.

She followed in his wake. “This is crazy.”

“No, it’s necessary. The kidnapper didn’t get what he wanted last night, so he’s bound to try again. This time we’re gonna nail his ass.”

“Not if you’re flat on your back in the hospital because you were racing around with a concussion.”

“It’s not a concussion, Lily. It was a minor bump on the head, but I’m all right now.”

A whistle of frustration escaped her. “You are so darn stubborn!”

He grinned and hauled her up against him, bending his knees until they fit in all the crucial places. Then he kissed her thoroughly. But even as he set her bare toes to curling against the floor and her body helplessly pressing as close to his as she could get, she felt him opening the door at his back in preparation to leaving.

“Oh!” Jessica’s flustered voice exclaimed from the hallway. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude. I’m… oh.”

Zach slowly raised his head. Licking his lower lip, he stared down at Lily. “I prefer ‘determined’ to ‘stubborn,’ ” he murmured, pressing a final quick kiss on her still pailed lips. As she struggled to regain a modicum of intelligence amid a sea of jangling nerve endings, he turned to smile at Jessica, who stood on the other side of the door with her hand still raised to knock. “You’re not intruding,” he assured her solemnly. “I was just leaving.”

And a second later, he did just that.

“Wow,” Jessica said softly as she turned back from watching him stride down the hall. She stepped into the room. “He’s feeling better, I take it.” She inspected Lily, and a faint smile curved her lips. “I do believe your skin is smoking.”

“Oh, my.” A startled laugh escaped Lily. “It wouldn’t surprise me.” She looked at her friend. “How did you know to come here instead of my door?”

“I did go to your room first. You were just too preoccupied to hear my knock.” Jessica flashed a crooked smile and shrugged. “When you didn’t answer, I thought I’d try here.”

Feeling her face heat, Lily decided a change of subject was in order. “Hmm. So. You’re out and about early.”

Jessica gave her a knowing grin. But she said politely, “Yes, I know. And I’m sorry to descend on you before you’ve even had a chance to get dressed, but the salon had a cancellation, and I’ve got an appointment in forty-five minutes to get my hair cut. You wanna blow off breakfast and come to town with me?”

Lily’s sense of responsibility warred with her not-yet-lessened irritation with the rest of the Beaumonts for their treatment of Zach last night, and weighing the two opposing impulses, she gave a brisk nod.

“‘Sure, what the heck. Your family can fend for themselves for one meal. Just give me fifteen minutes to throw myself together, and I’ll meet you downstairs.”

Zach walked into the Kangaroo House Bed and Breakfast. No one manned the minuscule front desk tucked beneath the open staircase, so he strode straight into the living area and turned left by the craftsman style furniture grouped in front of the big stone fireplace. A few steps away was a door marked Kathleen’s suite, and he gave it a sharp rap.

Coop’s wife, Veronica, opened the door, and her unexpected appearance made Zach blink. Then he smiled. Her usually sleek cap of shiny black hair was slightly tousled, but her white skin glowed with its usual pearlescent sheen. “Hey, Ronnie,” he said. “Pretty as ever, I see.”

She laughed. “And you’re still just as diplomatic and sweet.” She opened the door wider and stepped back. “Come in.”

Beyond her, he saw Rocket folding a Murphy bed into the wall. As he stepped inside the sitting room, he noted a bathroom across the room to his right and an open bedroom door to his left. Coop strode out of the latter.

His friend was big, blond, and tougher than shoe leather, but his dark eyes went soft and his even darker eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement as he watched his wife step outside the room. “What are you doing out in the hall, sweetpea?”

“I’m going to go have breakfast and give you guys some privacy to talk.” She turned to Zach. “I’m so sorry about your sister,” she said. “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do. I know you’ll get her back, but I can only imagine how worried you must be in the meantime.” Then, murmuring a farewell, she pulled the door closed.

“Diplomatic and sweet?” John said the instant she was gone, raising his eyebrows at Zach. “Was she talking about the same hard-ass we all know and fear?”

“Hey, the last time I saw Veronica, she and Coop were about to be married. I just made myself scarce whenever Lover Boy here started messing with her in front of me.”

“You must have spent a helluva lot of time making yourself scarce, then,” John said sardonically, “because he’s still at it every chance he gets.” Both men turned to look at the subject of their discussion.

Coop shrugged. “What can I say? She’s very messable.”

“She must be,” Zach agreed dryly, “if you couldn’t leave her at home long enough to take care of business.”

“You don’t know the half of it.” Rocket gave their mutual friend a pitying look. “He said, ‘But honey, cookie, sugar. This here is men’s work and ya can’t come along.’ To which she replied”—John’s voice went falsetto— ” ‘I’m going, Cooper Blackstock, and that’s final.'” Then his voice dropped back down into its normal register. “And he caved, Midnight, he just caved. Hung his head and said, ‘Okay, princess. Whatever you say.’ Hell, she even got to ride shotgun on the trip up here.”

Zach shook his head in sad disbelief. “Whoever would have thought we’d see the day the Iceman turned into a boy who just can’t say no to the little woman?”

Coop snorted. “It wasn’t my little woman who refused to wake you up this morning simply because you had a”—he inspected Zach’s temple—”very minor-league knot on the head.”

“Yeah, but some of us actually take charge once we regain consciousness from our extremely serious head injuries.” Zach gave Coop a smile that was all teeth. “And you’ll notice Lily didn’t accompany me here.” Not that she probably wouldn’t have tried to if Jessica hadn’t shown up in time to prevent the idea from occurring to her.

“If you two are through swinging ’em around,” Rocket interrupted, “maybe we can get down to business.” He gave the fly of his fashionable slacks a fond pat. “Besides, a show of size is about as pointless as the nipples on your chests, dont’cha think? Everyone knows who’s got the big one in this group.”

Zach and Coop looked at him. Then they looked at each other.

“Can’t argue with that,” Zach said and took a seat.

” ‘Course you’ll notice he doesn’t have a woman of his own.” Coop pulled up the chair next to him and gave Rocket a nod as he sat. “But you’re in the majors, Miglionni, no question about that.”

Then he turned his attention on Zach. “So, what the hell is this I hear about the kidnapper calling last night instead of today?”

Lily picked up a few groceries, then stopped by the hair salon to collect the car keys and see how much longer Jessica would be. When she discovered it would be awhile yet, she left to stow the groceries in the back of Jessica’s car, then headed for the drugstore to replace some of her items that were beginning to run low.

She was cruising the aisles when she suddenly ran across the condom selection. She stopped short, her heart dropping with a thud that was nearly audible. “Dear God,” she whispered, her mind flashing to the lone condom she’d seen in Zach’s zipper bag that night in the campground near Mount Shasta. They’d used it the first time they made love.

And hadn’t used one since.

The romantic in her stood there bemused, staring at the display and thinking she was in big-time trouble if she was so moon-faced in love she’d bypassed something as basic as protection. Her bedrock practicality, though, took a more irritated stance. That part couldn’t believe it hadn’t occurred to her before now that they hadn’t been using anything. Or to him either, since Zach was hardly the careless type. She was on the pill, so she wasn’t worried about pregnancy. But he didn’t know that, and he’d sure as heck never checked to make sure she had it covered. And for both of them to just disregard the most basic safety precautions—good grief, they hadn’t even once compared health histories. She never took chances when it came to that, and knowing that she had with Zach made her feel like banging her head on the nearest hard surface.

Instead she selected a box and tossed it in her basket. It was probably locking the barn door after the horse had bolted, but until she knew Zach was safe, he could darn well suit up. It was his sole hope of ever getting his big ol’ pride and joy anywhere near her again.

Still fretting about it as she left the store, she nearly barreled into a young man just entering. “Excuse me,” she said, and gave the arm she’d grabbed to keep from mowing him down an apologetic pat. “I’m afraid I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.” Then her eyebrows drew together. She knew that face from somewhere.

Just as quickly, however, her brow cleared. Well, duh. With that jet-black hair and those dark eyes, he was quite handsome, which undoubtedly was what she’d noticed about him when she’d seen him at one of the stores the last time she was here. Happy to have that cleared up, she gave him a sunny smile and stepped to the right to circle around him.

He stepped into her path, so she countered with a move to the left. When he mirrored her action, once again blocking her, she laughed. “Wanna dance?”

His eyes lit up, and it belatedly occurred to her he might think she was flirting with him. Fortunately, before he could say a word, Jessica’s voice called out her name.

“Excuse me, gotta go.” Holding up her hand like a traffic cop to stay him, she stepped around him. Then, catching sight of Jessica as her friend strode up the block, Lily immediately forgot the young man. She raced down the street as fast as her skyscraper heels allowed.

“Oh, my gosh,” she said when they met in front of the jewelry store. “You look great!” She reached out to touch the soft brown wave that ended at Jessica’s jaw. “How do you like it?”

“It’s such a huge change, I’m kind of in shock. But I think I’m going to love it once I get used to it.” She shook her head and laughed. “It feels so light!”

“It really suits you. It plays up the bone structure of your face and accentuates your eyes and neck. I give it the official Morrisette two thumbs up.”

Jessica laughed, feeling weightless and pretty. She shook her head again just to feel her hair slide against her cheeks. “Oh, I do think I’m going to like it! It’s so nice for once not to have great gobs of hair hanging in my face.” She wondered what Christopher would think when he saw her new style. She’d deliberately not told him she was having it done, wanting it to be a surprise.

A few minutes later, as they were buckling themselves into the car, she looked over at Lily. “Would it be too awful of me if I didn’t feel like going home just yet?”

Lily blinked. “Why would that be awful of you?”

“Well, I probably shouldn’t be out enjoying myself when the kidnapper might call again at any minute.”

“We’ve only been gone—what?—an hour? I don’t see how treating yourself to another hour would hurt anything. And take it from me, it’s not as if there’s a lot you or I can do.” Lily said the latter with such conviction it reminded Jessica of her spirited defense of Zach last night. But before Jess could pursue exactly what had occurred, Lily gave her a gentle smile and asked, “What is it you feel like doing?”

“You want to drive over to Olga? I’ll show you the Orcas Island Artworks. It’s one of the oldest cooperative galleries in the Northwest, and Lily, it has the greatest stuff. It offers everything from hand knits to the most exquisitely crafted glass. Not to mention the wonderful little cafe in the back.” She wagged a persuasive eyebrow. “I’ll buy you a goodie.”

“Oh, very sly.” Lily gave her a crooked smile. “You know me pretty well, I’d say, if you understand my appetite’s the clincher. By all means, let’s go. It sounds terrific.”

“Ican almost guarantee you’ll love it. Plus, it’s not that far away; it’s just a mile or so the other side of Moran State park.”

Lily shuddered. “Been there.”

Jessica glanced over at her blonde friend as she maneuvered the car out of town. “How did you end up going along with Zach last night, anyhow?”

Lily described her stowaway adventure in the back of Zach’s Jeep as they drove to Olga. With self-deprecating humor, she detailed her stint in the woods, painting herself as a witless city girl.

But Jess was filled with admiration as she took her eyes off the road long enough to glance at her friend. “You are so brave.”

Lily’s mouth dropped open. “Are you crazy?” she demanded. “I was scared to death!”

“Of course you were. But you followed through anyway.”

“And nearly got Zach’s brains bashed in for my efforts.”

Jess pulled into the parking lot of the Artworks, killed the engine, then turned to face her friend. “Who’s to say he wouldn’t have gotten hit on the head anyway?”

Lily just looked at her.

“Okay, so I can’t actually see Zach letting that happen without a distraction, but Lily, still! It was very courageous of you to try to help.”

Lily laughed and reached for the door handle. “I have a feeling Zach wouldn’t agree with you, but since I love having you believe I’m so stouthearted, I’ll just say thank you and leave it at that.”

Jessica’s lips curled with pleasure as she walked down the long porch of the old renovated strawberry packing plant that housed the Artworks. Opening the door, she held it for Lily. “This is my very favorite place on the entire island.”

“Oh, my,” Lily breathed as she stepped inside the beamed-ceilinged room. “I can see why.”

The floors of the co-op were slightly uneven with their old hardwood planks, and windows spilled light into an interior crowded with fascinating goods. Straight ahead stood a display stand of multisized cubes holding pottery of various sizes and shapes. One exhibit led to another, from glass, to jewelry, to paintings, to a rack of wearable art, and Jess enjoyed watching Lily’s delight every bit as much as she loved exploring herself. It was a crowded treasure chest filled with contributions from more than sixty-five artists, and there were always new things to discover.

She was trying on felt hats, admiring them with her new hairdo in a small mirror, when she saw Lily’s reflection stop in front a display of small quilts that hung on one wall.

After several solemn, silent moments spent inspecting it, Lily turned to her. “You ought to be displaying your quilts here.”

Instant delight suffused her, but accustomed as she was to downplaying her work as nothing more than a hobby, her instinctive response was to demur. Before she could say a word, however, a woman manning the central desk looked up with interest. “You make quilts?”

“Beautiful ones,” Lily answered for her and walked over with a friendly smile. “They’re quite different from these, but she’s every bit as talented.”

Face warm with both pleasure and embarrassment, Jessica joined them and found herself talking to the artist on duty about her work. Agreeing to submit some samples for consideration, she finally eased away and made her way down to the far end of the co-op, where she stood for a moment with one hand over her rapidly beating heart as she pretended to look at the handcrafted stationery and cards racked in front of her.

Once her pulse had settled down a bit, she walked over to peek into the cafe to check on the availability of a table. The silly smile, though, continued to play across her mouth.

It froze when she glanced toward the back corner of the cafe and saw Christopher seated at a small table near the door, talking intently to an unfamiliar woman.

Pain splintered through her with such ferocity she could barely catch her breath. Seeing him here when he’d specifically told her he’d be elsewhere, with a woman who was everything she wasn’t, shouldn’t have caught her by surprise. She’d known he was up to something— for weeks she had known that. Hell, sometimes it felt as if she’d been waiting for this very occurrence since the first night they’d met, yet nothing, she realized now, ever could have prepared her for seeing her worst fears realized. She numbly watched the single-minded attention her husband lavished on the other woman until Christopher’s head started to lift. Then she scrambled backward, desperate not to be seen.

She would die if he saw her.

Lily glanced up as Jessica strode rapidly up the center aisle, and after one good look at her friend’s face, frowned and went to meet her. “What is it?”

“I want to go now.”

“Well, sure, but what’s wrong. Are you sick?”

“Yes. All of a sudden I feel like I could die.”

“You don’t look so hot,” she agreed. “Good Lord, Jess, you don’t have a drop of color in your face.” She took Jessica’s arm and helped her out of the store, concerned when her friend leaned heavily in her grasp. “Give me your keys. Could you have food poisoning? Do you want me to take you to the clinic?”

“It’s not food poisoning, Lily. I haven’t had anything to eat since last night.”

“Well, maybe that’s it.” She gestured back toward the cafe. “I could go get you—”

“No! I just want to go home.”

“Are you sure?” Something about Jessica’s stillness worried Lily, but when she gave a curt nod, Lily simply said, “Okay, then.”

As she was settling Jessica in the passenger seat, she heard a car door close. She glanced up as she circled the hood to climb in the driver’s side and froze for a moment as she saw the same young man she’d run into at the pharmacy.

The same young man, she suddenly remembered, that she’d seen before not in town, as she’d earlier assumed, but in a gas station parking lot on the other side of the state.

That was stretching coincidence way too far, and her heart began to thud anxiously. She had a bad feeling that something was very, very wrong here.

And suddenly she wanted to get back to the Beaumont estate every bit as much as Jessica did.

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