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  • #16
    He had been hard at work for several hours when he was carefully pulling a salvageable piece of support down. Before he knew what was happening, however, it slipped, barely missing his head. The downward force of the support knocked him to the ground, and while he was able to keep it from crushing him, it had successfully pinned him to the floor of the house.

    He lay there, trying to catch his breath when a deep chuckle came from the doorway. Luke angled his head to try to see who was there but couldn’t see past the support. But as he began to wonder if he had even heard anything a man stepped into his view, squatting down and cocking his head to the side to get a straight on look at Luke.

    “Well, this certainly makes my job easier,” he said, casually resting his forearms on his knees.

    “I don’t suppose you’d give me a hand,” Luke said, recognizing Joshua Savage instantly.

    The corner of Josh’s mouth moved up slightly as he slowly clapped his gloved hands together. Luke scowled at him, realizing that he wasn’t going to give him any kind of help until he’d had his say, and quite probably, some questions answered.

    “What do you want with Leia?” Josh asked, getting directly to the point of his visit.

    “She’s part of my investigation,” Luke said, reluctant to say too much to Josh.

    Josh just smiled slowly and lowered himself fully to the floor, sitting cross-legged beside Luke. “And what investigation is that?”

    “That is between me and my client,” he answered; sweat breaking out on his brow and lip.

    “Oh really? Well, then I guess I’ll just leave you alone then. I’m sure your extensive training will help you out of this little mess you’ve found yourself in,” Josh said, standing quickly.

    “Wait!” Luke called, stopping Josh in mid stride. Josh turned back to face him, his face impassive as he waited for Luke to say something. If Luke could use his legs as leverage, he would have no problems getting free, but since he couldn’t. “Help me get this off of me and I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”

    Josh smiled triumphantly. He moved to one end of the support and squatted down taking the end in both of his hands. As he slowly extended his legs, he lifted the support carefully and almost effortlessly. When the support had moved a sufficient amount, Luke quickly slid out from under it and rolled to his feet, his arms aching from the strain of holding the support off of his chest.

    Josh carefully placed the support on the floor and made a show of dusting off his hands. “Let’s hear it,” he said, crossing his arms over his wide chest.

    Luke took a deep breath as he took a moment to put his thoughts together. He hadn’t thought he would have to explain himself twice in one day, but the look that Josh was giving him made it pretty clear that if his explanation wasn’t satisfactory, Josh would take great pleasure in beating a better one out of him, or dropping the support back on him.

    “First, let me start by saying that I am not after Leia,” Luke started, pulling his heavy coat, which he had discarded earlier, back on.

    “Could have fooled me,” Josh muttered, interrupting Luke. “Listen, I know who you are. I also know that you are damn good at what you do, or did,” he looked pointedly at Luke’s knees, “as the case may be. What I don’t know is why you are in Rocky Falls, and why you’re stalking my cousin.”

    “I am not stalking Leia!” Luke snapped, unconsciously rubbing one leg.

    Josh smiled, “I know.”

    “I was hired to investigate the funds that have been disappearing from the bank,” Luke continued.

    “I know,” Josh said, his smile disappearing.

    “What?” Luke said, finally registering what Josh was saying. “Then what the hell do you want to know exactly?” Luke demanded, realizing that Josh had just gotten him to admit something, although he wasn’t sure what.

    “Look, I know you’re not stalking Leia. I did a very extensive background check on you. I also know that you didn’t buy this place out of spite, although you’d be hard pressed to convince Leia of that. Consequently, she would like to kill you for it. Lastly, I know that you were in the bank last night, what I don’t know is what you were looking for. Care to fill me in?” Josh finished, shoving his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket.

    Luke sighed. He had really blown this whole assignment. If he had still been on active duty, he would have just lost his life. Luckily it wasn’t a life or death situation; otherwise he wouldn’t be talking to Josh about it. “Well, since you know so much, why don’t you tell me?”

    Josh’s eyes turn hard and cold instantly. “Look, I’m giving you a chance to come clean with me before I do any more digging. Because I will find out what you’re doing here and I will make sure that you’re job is short and not so sweet. But if you tell me what’s going on I just might be able to help you out a little.”

    Josh took a step toward Luke. “So what’s it gonna be? You tell me the whole story? Or do I get to run you out of town on the rail?”

    Luke would have laughed at that saying if the look in Josh’s eyes hadn’t been so hard and unrelenting. And although Luke had a few inches on Josh, he knew that he wasn’t in the physical shape that Josh obviously was in. “Someone in the bank is ‘borrowing’ money from accounts. I was hired to find out who and to put a stop to it. I thought it might have been Leia,” he held up his hand when Josh started to object. “But I quickly decided that it wasn’t. Because, while she was in a good position to do so, I believe in her innate honestly.”

    Josh nodded. “Ok, so who do you think it is?”

    Luke considered it for a moment. “Well, considering the length of time that it has been taking place I can tell you who it isn’t. Although that really doesn’t really help narrow it down any. There are only two new employees at the bank. One is Shadorra Raining-Moon, and the other is Larry Michaels. Neither has been there long enough to be behind it. And I’ve eliminated Leia as a suspect.”

    “Wow. Three non-suspects,” Josh laughed. “You’re doing an excellent job of narrowing down the field.”

    Luke just frowned at Josh as he picked up his thermos and poured some coffee into a cup. “I’m doing the best I can with what little information that I was given to begin with,” Luke said, taking a drink. “And now the guy that hired me has sent his, I don’t know, bodyguard, I guess, down to make sure I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”

    “Either that or he sent him down here to plant evidence,” Josh said calmly, looking around the interior of the house. “So just who did hire you?”

    “His name is Cassandar Vulcan,” Josh’s head spun back toward Luke. “He’s some big shot multi-billionaire financier in Chicago.”

    “That’s not all he is,” Josh muttered.

    “What do you mean? I used my contacts in Washington and couldn’t get much info on him except that his family is originally from the Mediterranean, which is about as vague as you can get, and that he has one older sister and one younger brother.”

    “He approached my father with an offer to buy his seat on the board of directors at the bank. Of course my father said no, but that sent up a red flag and we’ve been watching him ever since. He’s been buying out businesses all over Rocky Falls that have been about to go under because of mysterious circumstances, buying property in the surrounding area, and basically just grabbing up anything that comes available.”

    “What? Why would he want to do that?”

    “That’s a damn good question. My father has a theory,” Josh said. “But that doesn’t mean its right,” he muttered under his breath.

    Luke frowned. This assignment was turning out to be full of twists. He wasn’t liking the way things were starting to turn out. What he couldn’t figure out was why Vulcan would hire him to stop something that would, in the end, help Vulcan acquire what he wanted.

    Josh headed for the door. “I’ve got to go do some research.” He stopped at the door to look back at Luke. “And by the way, your contacts were more than happy to tell me everything that I wanted to know about you. Maybe you need to get a new bunch of buddies.”

    Luke stood staring at the empty doorway. He knew the Savages by reputation, and he counted himself lucky to have one working on the same side. At least he hoped that Josh was on the same side, otherwise, he might be in a lot more trouble than he bargained for.

    Suddenly Luke felt too confined inside the old house. Stepping out onto the porch he noticed that Josh hadn’t left yet. He was, in fact, talking to the object of his constant distraction. She looked at him briefly, turning to say something else to Josh. He saw Josh shrug before he turned and walked to his motorcycle.
    When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
    When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

    Comment


    • #17
      He only half paid attention when Josh drove away, his gaze, instead, locked on Leia’s careful approach. He was instantly on edge, excited and wary at the same time. When she reached the porch she climbed the steps till she was standing beside him. He stood, watching her closely, waiting for her to take the lead as to why she was there.

      “Perhaps I may have overreacted when I found out that you bought this place,” she said softly, slowly running her hand up the post that held the roof precariously over the porch.

      Luke was instantly hot, watching her hand gently caress the wood. Wishing that she was rubbing him that way, he jammed his hands into his pockets and nodded. What was she trying to do? If her goal was to slowly drive him to distraction she was a bit late for that.

      “…when you’re finished?” she asked, looking at him expectantly.

      He had been so busy imagining her hands on him he had missed what she had said. “Excuse me?”

      One corner of her mouth lifted slightly. “I asked what you were planning to do with the house once you had finished renovating it.”

      “Well that all depends,” Luke said, dragging his gaze away from her hand and finding it locked with her icy blue one.

      “On what?” she was smiling, her eyes dancing.

      He could get lost in those eyes, he thought. “On how my assignment ends. I might put it up for sale, or I might decide to stay around here. It seems like a decent enough area.”

      Her smile vanished, and he could see the disappointment flicker through her eyes briefly before she hid it. She removed her hand from the post and placed it in the pocket of her thick coat. She looked at the house as if she was trying to memorize it, or perhaps remember some long forgotten event.

      “If you decide to sell it I would like to be given the first option,” she said, still looking at the house.

      He nodded slightly, “What if I decide to stay?”

      She turned to pierce him with her icy gaze, and said, “Then I’ll just have to have Josh arrange a little accident for you. Or perhaps he won’t be around next time you find yourself in a bind.” With that she turned and made her way back to her jeep.

      He wanted to call her back, to tell her that he’d give her the house if she’d just give him half a chance. But he resisted the urge and watched her departure silently. Luke didn’t know what his problem was. He thought he had learned his lesson a long time ago. Women like her didn’t want a battle scarred man like him.

      He sighed, ready to return to his task when a sleek black car flew down the snow and ice packed road. What was that idiot thinking, driving like that in these conditions? Driving like that could get somebody killed. Wait a minute, he thought, that car had just come from the direction that Leia had headed.

      Panic flooded him, and he was bounding off the porch toward the rental car in half a second. He hoped that that maniac hadn’t run Leia off the road. He carefully backed out of the drive and headed in the direction that Leia had taken. Driving slowly and carefully he watched for any signs that would indicate whether or not Leia’s jeep had left the road.

      Luke had barely driven a mile when he saw tire tracks leading off the road and down the embankment. Stopping the car, he got out and carefully made his way to the edge of the road. He could see her jeep below him, it appeared to be undamaged, but he couldn’t tell if Leia was injured. Knowing he would regret it later, he braced himself and slid down the embankment.

      When he reached her jeep, he could barely stand, his knees were burning with pain. He pulled open her door, relieved when the heat hit him in the face. Leia was strapped in, her head on the headrest. His heart accelerated as he reached in to unfasten her seatbelt.

      “What do you think you’re doing?” she asked, raising her head and looking at him.

      He breathed a sigh of relief. “I was making sure you were all right. You are all right aren’t you?” he asked, looking her over.

      “I’m fine, just a little shook up. Did you see that maniac?”

      “When I saw him fly by the house I thought I’d better come and check to make sure you were all right. I guess it’s a good thing I did,” Luke said, rubbing his aching legs without thinking.

      When he saw Leia’s gaze follow his movements, he immediately stopped. “Well, let’s figure out how to get you out of here.”

      “That won’t be necessary. The jeep is four-wheel drive and I know a way out of here. Hop in and I’ll take you back up to your car,” she said, all ready shifting the jeep into four-wheel.

      As Leia followed a barely-there path up and out of the ditch, she glanced over at Luke who was, once again, rubbing his knees. “So what did you do to your leg?” she asked.

      Luke stopped rubbing his knees. “I suffered an injury a few years ago. That’s the main reason I’m retired,” he said, shoving his hands into his pockets.

      “Oh,” Leia fell silent as she maneuvered the jeep over a rough area just before pulling back up on the road. “I had wondered about that.”

      “I’m impressed,” Luke said. “How’d you learn to drive like that?”

      Leia smiled, “My cousins and my sister and I would all go out four-wheeling and we ended up in some pretty hairy situations.” She shrugged her shoulders. “We had just one rule, ‘If you drive in it then you have to drive out of it,’ otherwise you got left in the mud, and that meant that our daddies would have to come and get us out and that was not a pretty site.”

      Luke actually managed to smile despite the fire in his knees.
      When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
      When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

      Comment


      • #18
        Leia had barely pulled to a stop beside Luke’s car when her cell phone started ringing. She looked at the number and frowned. “Hello?” she answered.

        Luke watched her frown deepen as she listened to the caller. Whatever the caller was saying was not resting well with her. Obviously something else had happened. Was it something to do with the bank or her family? He had a feeling that she’d be more upset about something happening to her family than something happening at the bank.

        “I’ll be right there, Jo. Just take it easy,” she said. She hung up and took a deep breath.

        “Is everything all right?” Luke asked, placing his left hand gently on her forearm.

        “My parents didn’t show up to pick up Jo after school. I need to go get her,” Leia said, still frowning.

        “Would you like me to tag along?”

        Leia looked at him then. Their eyes locked and he could see the intense worry in hers. She attempted a smile. “No. That won’t be necessary. Thanks for the offer.”

        Luke nodded and carefully got out of her jeep. He walked around to his car and watched as she carefully drove down the road back toward town. Making a decision, he got into his car and carefully performed a u-turn so he could follow her. She may have not wanted him to ride with her but that didn’t mean that he was just going to let her face her problem without any backup.

        They had barely gone a mile when they were stopped by flashing lights. An ambulance was parked in the middle of the road either side was police cars with their lights flashing. A fire engine was also on the scene. Oh no, Luke thought to himself. This was bad. He watched as Leia pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. A uniformed officer approached her and began speaking to her.

        Luke was out of the rental car and heading toward her as fast as his busted up knees would allow him to go as soon as he saw her reaction to what the officer had said. Leia was out of her jeep and trying to push her way past the officer, but he was holding her back effectively.

        “Get out of my way, Adam!” she screamed, taking a swing at him, but he just took the blow and continued to hold her back.

        “What’s going on?” Luke demanded, taking Leia from Adam. While his knees continued to scream in protest, his upper body strength was unquestionable.

        “And you are?” Officer Landers asked, looking Luke over carefully.

        “My parents,” Leia said, burying her face against Luke’s chest as she began to cry.

        “I’m afraid there has been an accident,” Officer Landers said cautiously.

        “How many vehicles were involved?” Luke asked, thinking of the speeding black car.

        The officer looked at him suspiciously before answering. “Just one. Why do you ask?”

        Leia lifted her head. “I was run off the road earlier by a black car that was driving down the middle of the road. Whoever it was, they were driving way to fast for these conditions. How bad is it, Adam?” She asked, turning back to face the officer.

        “I don’t know yet. The firefighters are trying to bring them up to the ambulance. Do you know where your parents were headed?” Adam asked.

        “They were going to pick up Jo from school,” Leia answered, looking toward the waiting ambulance. “She had just called me to tell me that they hadn’t made it and I was going to get her. I guess I should call Brittany to pick her up.”

        Adam shook his head. “There’s really nothing you can do here, Leia, so you might as well go on into town and get Jo. I’ll notify you as soon as I can.”

        “No. I can’t. I’m staying here until I see for myself,” she said, pulling out her cell phone. “Brittany, I need you to pick up Jo, there’s been an accident and I won’t be able to,” she said. Leia listened for a moment then replied, “Thanks a lot. I’ll explain everything when I find out how bad it is.”

        She disconnected the call just as the rescue crew brought up the first stretcher. Leia started to rush forward, but Luke held her back. “I don’t think that would be a good idea, Leia,” he said quietly.

        Leia glared at him. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, Luke, but I have to know how bad it is.”

        One of the EMTs approached Adam, speaking quietly to him. Adam frowned then nodded. He turned to Leia and Luke. “Leia, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t look like your parents made it. If you’d like, I can take you to the hospital, but there isn’t really anything you can do at this point.”

        “No,” Leia sobbed, turning to bury her face in Luke’s warm shoulder.

        Luke held her tightly as she sobbed against him. “I’ll take her home,” he said, giving Adam a look that dared him to dispute his right to do so. “I trust you’ll be able to see that her jeep is returned to her,” he added, not really caring whether or not Adam answered.

        Luke turned with Leia, guiding her back to his car. After seating her in the passenger seat, he turned to look at Adam. “I supposed you’ll give Josh a full report.”

        “What I do is really none of your concern, unless I’m told otherwise by my superiors,” Adam responded.

        Luke nodded, expecting that answer. Even though Rocky Falls was a large town, it was still full of small town politics, especially when the most influential family had contacts at the highest government levels. Right now his primary concern was getting Leia home. She needed to be warm and comfortable, at least until the rest of her family could get to her.

        He got behind the wheel and carefully turned the car around. Leia was quiet on the way home. She stared out the side window the entire way back to the farm. As soon as he pulled to a stop in front of the house, she turned to him.

        “Thank you, Luke,” she began, “but there isn’t any reason for you to stay.”

        Luke smiled. “I’m not leaving you alone. Until your family can get here, you’re stuck with me.”

        Leia smiled, then she opened the door, got out and walked toward the house. Luke followed her silently. The warmth of the house enveloped them as they stepped into the living room. Luke was immediately taken in by the coziness of the Tanner home. He could see why Leia was close to her family. He wondered how this tragedy was going to affect her and her sisters.

        Jo stood outside the school shivering. Where was she? She checked her watch again. First Mom and Dad don’t show, now Leia has blown her off. She pulled out her cell phone and was just beginning to dial Leia’s number when her cousin Brittany pulled up.

        “Hey, Jo, hop in,” Brittany said after she rolled down the window.

        “Where is Leia?” Jo asked, fastening her seat belt. “I’ve been freezing to death out there. And where are Mom and Dad?”

        Brittany chewed on her lower lip as she carefully pulled out onto the street. “Leia called and asked me to pick you up because there had been an accident and she couldn’t make it to town.”

        Jo waited for Brittany to continue, but when she remained silent she demanded, “And where are Mom and Dad?”

        “I don’t know,” Brittany answered, not meeting Jo’s gaze.

        Brittany headed for an alternate route out of Rocky Falls that would lead to the Tanner farm. Jo continued to stare at her and she continued to keep her eyes on the road. Jo knew there was more than what she was telling her. She just wondered how she’d be able to get her to spit it out.
        When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
        When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

        Comment


        • #19
          Back at the Tanner farm, Leia had fixed some hot tea and was sitting on the sofa staring at the flames in the fireplace. Luke was looking at the photos of the Tanner family that adorned the walls. He was admiring Leia as a child with her sister when he heard her sigh. He was at her side quickly.

          “I’m here,” Luke said, putting his arm around her shoulder.

          “Who the hell are you?” a deep voice demanded.

          Luke and Leia looked up at the man who had entered without knocking. Luke drew his arm away from Leia, but before he could reach for his gun, Leia had jumped off the couch and threw her arms around the man standing just inside the door. “Uncle Joshua!”

          So that was the elder Joshua Savage. Luke took in the man’s impressive height and build. What was amazing to him was the man’s white blonde hair. If Luke hadn’t known better he would have thought that he was Leia’s father.

          The man hugged Leia as he moved farther into the living room, allowing the woman standing behind him to enter. She was a tall woman, her fiery red hair pulled up in a conservative chignon. Luke stood as she shut the door and moved to wrap Leia in a warm embrace.

          “Are you all right?” she asked, wiping a tear from Leia’s cheek.

          “Who the hell are you?” Joshua repeated slowly, advancing on Luke.

          Luke didn’t back down, but before he could respond, Josh entered with Sallee from the kitchen. Luke felt immediately uncomfortable. It was obvious that the family was beginning to close ranks. He wasn’t about to leave, however. He wanted to know what was going on just as much as they did. Luke was beginning to think that it had something to do with his investigation.

          Sallee and Leia embraced each other. Josh glared at his father across the room as his mother went into the kitchen to prepare drinks for everyone. Luke wondered where Josh’s and Leia’s sisters were. He knew they were on their way, but he wondered why they hadn’t made it there yet. He hoped they hadn’t been the victims of the insane driver that had taken Leia’s parents’ lives.

          “I’m still waiting for an answer,” the elder Joshua said, looking pointedly at Luke and ignoring Josh.

          “Luke Caldwell,” Luke said as he extended his hand.

          “Where are Mom and Dad?” Jo demanded as she slammed in the front door, Brittany following her. “What are you doing here, Uncle Joshua? Why won’t anybody answer me?”

          “Jo, calm down,” Josh said, moving over to his young cousin.

          “No!” she shouted. “I want to know what’s going on! And who is that?” she asked, pointing at Luke.

          “Mom and Dad were in an accident,” Leia said quietly. “That is Luke Caldwell, he’s a private investigator.”

          Jo ignored Luke, “Are they ok?”

          Luke started to move toward Leia, but a subtle shake of Josh’s head stopped him. He didn’t question the move, but the look in Josh’s eyes suggested that it wouldn’t be wise for him to show any support of Leia or anyone else in the Tanner house. He wondered at the tension he felt between the elder and younger Joshuas.

          “No,” Leia choked as she struggled with telling her sister the bad news.

          “So they’re in the hospital?” Jo asked, the look on her face saying that she already knew the answer.

          Leia shook her head, unable to speak around the lump in her throat. She and Sallee embraced again as fresh tears began to run down her cheeks. Jo stood shaking her head in denial.

          “I don’t believe you,” she whispered then she ran up the stairs to her room.

          Josh started for the stairs but his father spoke, “Let her be, Josh. I want to know about this man,” he indicated Luke.

          “Then ask him,” Josh said as he continued up the stairs, blatantly defying his father.

          Brittany hadn’t spoken a word since she walked in with Jo. “You’re more concerned with him than you are with the fact that Aunt Rachel and Uncle Garrett are dead?” she demanded quietly from her position next to the fireplace.

          “I merely want to know more about this private investigator that has been alone in my sister’s home with her daughter,” he replied, his gaze still boring into Luke’s.

          “That’s really none of your business,” Brittany continued. “You should be more concerned with finding out who was responsible for causing the accident.”

          Luke was beginning to understand why Josh had signaled him not to show any support to Leia in front of the elder Joshua. Apparently there were a lot of undercurrents between him and his children and Josh had attempted to save him from becoming a target of his father. What Luke couldn’t figure out was why Brittany was defending him against her father. He was definitely missing something there.

          It was then that Muriel reentered the living room with a tray. “That’s enough, you two,” she said quietly as she sat the tray on the coffee table. “Brittany is right; we need to be more concerned with finding the party responsible for the accident.”

          “If I may,” Luke began, drawing Joshua’s gaze back to him, “I do not think that it was an accident.”

          “And what makes you believe that?” Joshua asked.

          “Because I think he tried to take out Leia first,” he explained, drawing a gasp from Leia.
          When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
          When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

          Comment


          • #20
            What!” Joshua roared, rattling the windows. He quickly looked at Leia, “Are you alright?”

            “What are you talking about?” Leia asked quietly.

            “I believe that the car that ran you off the road,” Luke explained, “may be responsible for your parents’ accident.”

            Leia gasped in shock as she sank down onto the sofa. “You know who it is, don’t you?” she whispered.

            Luke shook his head. “Not with any certainty, but I have my suspicions. I’ll have to take a trip to Chicago to be certain. My only concern is your safety if I do leave.”

            “I’m quite capable of seeing to my family’s safety, young man,” Joshua practically growled. He was obviously not happy with being ignored.

            Josh and Jo both looked toward her bedroom door when Joshua had shouted. “He sounds happy,” Jo quipped, wiping her tears on her cousin’s shirt.

            “He’s just upset ‘cause he’s not in control of the situation,” Josh chuckled, stroking Jo’s hair.

            “It’s my fault they’re dead,” Jo said, breaking into fresh tears, her whisper muffled by Josh’s chest.

            “No!” he said firmly, lifting her head so that he could look into her eyes. “It is not your fault that some idiot ran them off the road.”

            “Yes, it is,” she argued. “If they hadn’t been on their way to pick me up, they wouldn’t have been on the road!” she wailed, trying to push Josh away.

            Josh wasn’t about to be pushed, however. He held on tightly to her and pulled her back into the shelter of his embrace. He hushed her and rubbed her back while she wailed against his chest. The fury he felt at the complete injustice of what had happened to his family made him shake. He couldn’t wait to get his hands on the people responsible.

            “What do you mean stay out of it?” Joshua demanded. “We are talking about MY family. Who are you to come in here and tell me to stay out of it?”

            “Dad, please,” Brittany began.

            “No. It’s ok, Brittany,” Luke said. “I understand that your father is upset by the circumstances. But what he needs to understand is that I don’t hold a position in the community that has to be protected from any scandal,” he pointed out. As he saw the comprehension come to light in Joshua’s eyes he continued, “I also can disappear from town for awhile and no one would be the wiser.”

            “I see,” Joshua said calmer. “You seem to be more on top of things than I thought.”

            Luke simply shrugged as he moved away from Leia. “I’ll leave tonight and see what I can find out for sure. Then I’ll return and give you a report,” he looked pointedly at Joshua. “Is that acceptable?”

            Leia and Brittany looked from one man to the other. The elder Joshua’s massive occurrence filled the room; while Luke’s cool presence was unyielding in its own right. Leia thought for sure that Joshua wouldn’t back down. He was, after all, used to having everything his way. She was sure that the pure logical explanation that Luke had given him wouldn’t be enough to sway him.

            “I want a full, unedited report the minute you return,” Joshua said, shocking Leia. “And just so that you understand, I will find out everything about you while you’re gone, and if for any reason I come across something to make me question your intentions, I’ll have you dragged back down here.”

            The corner of Luke’s mouth lifted in a smug half-smile. “I’m sure you’d try. Now I should really be going,” he said, turning to Leia. “I won’t be long,” he promised, not reaching out to embrace her the way he wanted.

            Leia, much to her surprise and the surprise of everyone else in the room, moved to Luke and wrapped her arms around him tightly. “Be careful, please,” she whispered, kissing his cheek before she stepped away.

            His eyes were lit up with pleasure when she stepped back. He kept his face expressionless, but he showed her with his eyes how he felt about her concern. She smiled as he turned, grabbed his coat, and headed out the door, shutting it quietly behind him.

            “Are you going to fill us in on your relationship with that young man,” Muriel asked, picking up Joshua’s earlier line of questioning in a calmer, more soothing tone.

            Leia took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “No,” she said, motioning for Brittany and Sallee to follow her upstairs.

            When the girls had disappeared up the stairs, Joshua pulled out his cell phone and pushed a button. “Luke Caldwell. Full report on my desk at dawn,” he ordered, then snapped the phone closed.

            “Why can’t you just leave it alone?” she asked, looking at him from the couch.

            “My sister is dead. He knows something and he’s not being forthcoming. Leia knows something and isn’t being any more forthcoming than him. I’m convinced that Josh probably has all the answers, but you know what the chances of me getting anything from him are,” he explained.

            Muriel stood, picked up the tray with the untouched drinks and started toward the kitchen. “Yes, I know what those chances are. And you know why your chances are that slim with him.”

            It took every ounce of will power that Luke possessed to drive away from the Tanner farm when what he really wanted to do was comfort Leia. He was certain that Joshua had all manner of ways of getting the information that Luke was going after. Just like he was certain that Josh had told his father absolutely nothing of their previous encounter. That was something he would have to ponder at another time.
            When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
            When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

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            • #21
              Leia gently knocked on Jo’s door before opening it and entering with Sallee and Brittany. Jo was laying quietly on the bed, fast asleep, the tears drying on her cheeks. Josh stood at the window watching Luke’s car make its way down the drive.

              “I’m sure that whatever was agreed to is a bad idea,” he said without turning around.

              “Luke is going back to Chicago to do some investigating about a theory he has,” Brittany explained as Leia and Sallee sat on either side of Jo’s bed.

              He shook his head. “He really shouldn’t be trying to do it alone. He physically isn’t up to going a few rounds with that guy.”

              “What guy?” Leia demanded quietly, she didn’t want to wake up Jo.

              “The guy I saw him talking to the other day,” Josh explained. “I’m sure that he’s the one that is responsible for Rachel and Garrett’s deaths.”

              “Then you should go kill him,” Jo muttered, causing them all to turn to face her.

              “I told you to go to sleep,” he said, moving back to the bed.

              She frowned, “And I told you that I’m not sleepy.”

              Brittany placed a hang gently on Josh’s broad shoulder. “Go help him. We don’t want anyone else getting killed.”

              Josh didn’t take his eyes from Jo until she lay back against the pillows and closed her eyes again. Then he met Brittany’s eyes. They had a moment of silent communication before he turned to face Leia. “Do you want me to help him out?”

              “You honestly don’t think he’s capable of dealing with it on his own?” she asked, concern making her voice catch.

              “If he was one hundred percent, I wouldn’t even begin to question his ability. But his legs are virtually worthless. A well placed hit and he’d be down and pretty helpless. If you want me to help him, I’ll catch him before he can get out of town. If not, I’ll stay here and help you out on this end,” Josh finished, indicating Jo’s sleeping form.

              Leia nodded her understanding. “Go. Make sure he comes back in one piece.”

              Josh sighed, obviously bothered by his cousin’s attachment to a complete stranger. “Alright, but do not tell Dad where I’m at,” he requested as he moved to the window and opened it. “I don’t want to have him or his bunch breathing down my neck.”

              “Be careful, Josh,” Brittany reminded unnecessarily. “Jo needs you more than the rest of us.”

              Josh was already out the window, but he nodded that he had heard before he disappeared over the edge of the roof. A few seconds later they heard his motorcycle roar to life and watched him speed down the drive in Luke’s tracks. Brittany closed the window and latched it before turning back to her cousins.

              “Now what?” Sallee asked, finding words for the first time.

              “I need to try to call Jansen,” Leia said suddenly. She rose from Jo’s bed and quickly left the room.
              When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
              When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

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              • #22
                Luke hadn’t made it very far when he saw the single headlight in the rearview window. That meant that Josh was coming after him. To stop him or to offer assistance? He pulled over and waited for him to pull up beside the car. Rolling the window down, he looked at Josh and waited.

                “I’m going with you,” he said. “You and I both know that you aren’t up to facing off against the likes of that guy.”

                Luke frowned, but nodded his consent. “How are we going to do this?”

                Josh considered it for a moment. “I have a plane at the air field. It’ll get us there and back faster than driving,” he tilted his head and smiled. “It’s been awhile since I’ve been to Chicago. I have a contact up there that can give us a hand, but you’ll have to let me talk to him alone. He doesn’t like strangers.”

                Luke considered that for a moment. “Alright, I’ll follow you to the air field,” he agreed. “At a more sane speed,” he muttered as Josh took off down the road.
                When you are everywhere, you are nowhere
                When you are somewhere, you are everywhere

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