Forced Alliance(80)

By: Lenora Worth



Sarah gave a soft groan. “Emma. She’s…amazing. She’s also a handful. I’m afraid you’ll find out what I mean soon.”

“Headstrong, obviously. I can’t believe she would let you worry like this.”

“We had a little spat last night, and that doesn’t often happen. In her note she told me she needed more information about how Mom and Dad died. I haven’t been able to reach her on her cell.”

He leaned back in the chair, focusing, for a moment, on the gentle wave of Sarah’s voice—recalling her quiet but welcome presence from their teen years. That voice had a musical quality that always soothed the soul, though he couldn’t miss the distress in it now. “The girl has her mother’s stubborn streak.”

There was a soft gasp, and then, “What?”

“Sorry, Sarah. I didn’t mean to diss your mother. I just remembered my mom always talked about Lydia Russell and her determination to get things done. Mom admired her.”

“Oh. Thank you. Yes, Dad always said Shelby and I inherited Mom’s strong will.”

“As did Emma, obviously.”

“I need to get her back home to Sikeston,” Sarah said.

“Meaning I’ve frightened you.”

“You’d better believe it. I can’t believe the sheriff’s department isn’t even investigating.”

“He has very little manpower with all the budget cuts, and there’s a lot for him to cover in our county. Don’t worry, Gerard’s got a good eye on things, and if Emma shows up I’ll take care of her.”

What was it about Sarah’s vulnerable presence over the phone that brought out his old protective instincts? What was it about connecting with her that made him see the man—or lesser man—he’d become? He wanted to be that former man, who could be counted on for help, who actually wanted to help instead of search for ulterior motives behind every word. Divorce and the lawsuit had changed him, and he disliked the curmudgeon he’d become.

“Sarah? I’m serious about this. You’re not alone.”

There was another sniff. “Thanks, Nick. I’m glad I called.”

He closed his eyes at the memories Sarah’s voice resurrected. It sounded as if he might have company at any time, and he couldn’t help remembering her eyes—the color of the ocean on a cloudy day—and the tenderness of her heart, which she’d taken such pains to conceal behind her dyed-black hair, Goth makeup and clothing as a teenager.

Why had he allowed Shelby’s effusive, chatterbox ways to distract his attention from Sarah for even a few moments? And what kind of kid had he been to momentarily fall for externals at exactly the wrong time?

For the first time in many months, Nick found himself thinking about someone besides himself and his personal battles. “It’s going to be okay.” He only had to convince himself of that, and it was threatening to become an impossible task.

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