Rancher's proposition(9)

By: Anne Marie Winston

"The man was shot between the eyes and stuffed in a closet."

"She didn't kill him on purpose," Cal repeated, his voice firming. "If you don't believe that, then I'll have to look for someone else to represent her."

"You might have to, anyway, if they charge her with murder. I'd want someone better versed in defense to step in if that happens." The attorney paused. "I believe you. And I know you believe her. I just hope you're right."

As he hung up the phone and stepped out of the barn, the words rang in Cal's head. I just hope you're right. He was. He knew Lyn hadn't murdered anybody as surely as he knew he himself hadn't. Maybe, as he'd said, she'd tried to defend herself and accidentally killed her former husband … but that didn't explain how he'd come to be hidden in a basement. There had to be someone else in the picture.

Three hours later, he sat beside her as two detectives from Rapid City questioned her about her ex-husband. Pat Haney sat on her other side, interrupting occasionally when he felt the detectives' questions stepped over boundaries better established early on.

"Tell us about your relationship with Wayne Galloway," demanded the younger man. His name tag read Det. Amick. Detective Amick had a face like a bulldog and the disposition of a rabid wolf. His hard brown eyes doubted every word Lyn uttered.

Lyn's hand fluttered. "He was my husband. We divorced eighteen months ago."

"Your marriage wasn't a good one, was it?"

"No." She was so pale Cal was worried that she might faint, and her voice was barely audible.

"You filed a restraining order last March. Why?"

Her hands were linked in her lap, clutching each other so tightly her fingertips went white. "Wayne started harassing me after I came back to the area. He came to my apartment several times asking for money. I told him I was barely making it as it was and he got angry. Abusive, like he'd been when we were married. So I called the police and he was warned to stay away." She raised haunted eyes to the men across the table. "Judging from my condition when I woke up in the hospital, I don't guess he did."

"What happened that day, Ms. Hamill?"

"I don't know."

"You don't remember." Amick uttered the words in a sarcastic tone.

Cal put a hand over Lyn's where they were still clutching each other in her lap. "If she remembered who beat her, she'd want to tell you, wouldn't she? Why would she hide that?"

"That's what we'd like to know," said the older man in a placatory tone. Biddle was the one they'd met at the ranch, and though he wasn't exactly friendly, his partner's attitude made him seem positively cuddly. He sounded like a television cop playing the good-guy role, hoping the poor, off balance subject would confide in him.

"How long have you known Mr. McCall?" Detective Amick's voice was so brusque Lyn's head came up and a deep red suffused her neck, quickly spreading up her cheeks clear to her hairline. "I—I, ah…"

"My sister found her after she'd been beaten damn near senseless," Cal said. "I needed a housekeeper and my sister talked me into giving Lyn the job." He shot a warning look across the table. "We met in July when I visited her at the women's shelter. She's been an exemplary employee and I don't appreciate your insinuations."

"Ms. Hamill is cooperating fully with your investigation," Lyn's attorney reminded the men. "Do you have further questions?"

The detectives looked at each other. The look said that they were convinced Lyn had killed her ex-husband, but equally clearly, they had no proof. "Not at this time," Amick said grudgingly. "But we might need to talk to you again so don't go anywhere."

Cal leaned across the table, watching both men steadily. Although neither detective moved, the tension level in the room rose a notch. "Are you telling Ms. Hamill she is forbidden to travel? On what authority? Can she leave Rapid City? How about Jackson County? Or does she have to stay inside the state borders—"

"We're not restricting her movements," said the older detective quickly. He addressed Lyn again. "We'd just appreciate it if you'd be available should we want to ask other questions."

"Thank you." Pat Haney didn't give either man a chance to comment further. "If you're finished with Ms. Hamill, we'll go."

Outside the building, the air was mild and the sun was shining. It was a pleasant day for early October, when the temperature could be anywhere from twenty to sixty. Lyn was shaking visibly as they stood on the street corner waiting for the traffic to pass. Pat had left them to head over to the courthouse and Cal put an arm beneath her elbow as they waited.

"Don't worry," he said. "They can't prove you killed him."

She pulled away from his hand. "I didn't kill him. I just can't believe I would forget that if I'd done it."

"All right." He kept his tone low and soothing. No sense in getting her stirred up about it. "Stop worrying. We'll get it straightened out eventually."

"That was awful." Her voice trembled. "I wish I could remember what happened. I'd like to be able to look those men in the eye and tell them I didn't have anything to do with Wayne's death." She shivered even more.

He passed his arm around her waist and tucked her into his side as the light signaled them to cross, matching his longer stride to hers. "Maybe you'll remember what happened one of these days."

"Maybe." Her voice was doubtful. She heaved an immense sigh. "Let's get out of here. I just want to be home."

And so did he. He liked the way the word sounded rolling off her tongue. The easy rhythm of his days on the ranch had come to be defined by Lyn's presence. By the meals she made, the way his clothes smelled after she'd laundered them, by the silence that lay comfortably between them at night as she crocheted while they watched the evening news.

It occurred to him that without her, his home would be just another house, a place for his physical needs. With Lyn around, it was a place to soothe his soul. He'd come to depend on her presence. Not, he assured himself, in a romantic way, but as a part of his life that would leave a void if she weren't there.

Oh, he wasn't above lust. He was definitely interested in the feminine shape that was revealed occasionally beneath her work clothes, and there were times when he was sorely tempted to pursue the attraction that tugged at his senses.

But he wasn't about to pursue anything more than the employer-employee friendship that they currently shared. Lyn was too valuable to him as a friend and employee for him to go screwing it up with sex.

* * *

Someone was chasing her. She'd been hiding and he'd found her! She screamed as she ran frantically through a maze of rooms, each leading into another but none leading to an exit from the menace behind her. She could hear him breathing as he approached, and she knew, with a fatalistic kind of acceptance, that she couldn't run fast enough to escape—

Lyn started upright, the sound of her own whimpering still echoing in the night calm. A trickle of sweat rolled from her temple down her cheek and she absently dabbed at it with the sheet before throwing back the cover and rising. She paced the length of the room several times, collecting herself. After downing most of a cup of water, she marched to the bed and climbed in, pulling the sheet over her and staring at the darkened ceiling.

You just had a bad dream. Relax. Go back to sleep. But she couldn't shake the dream memory of the sick feeling of discovery.

Forty minutes and a lot of clock-watching later, she was still staring at the darned ceiling.

She couldn't get back to sleep because she simply couldn't close her eyes and turn off her brain. Had the detectives believed her this afternoon? She doubted it. Were they going to arrest her? Who had killed Wayne? A thousand things were parading around in her head.

To distract herself from the worries gnawing at her, she let herself think about Cal. His arm around her today had been a sweet moment. Though she was sure he'd only intended it to be a comforting gesture, her stomach had contracted sharply when his long muscular legs had brushed hers and she'd taken a deep breath around the butterflies that invaded her chest when his big hand settled at her waist.

Thinking of Cal led to another thought, the most dangerous one of all, a thought that had nothing to do with her worries for her own liberty. Instead, a very different memory insistently called for her attention.

I just need to get laid. And I'd prefer to do it with somebody I like and enjoy spending time with.

She'd come downstairs for a glass of water that night just in time to hear Cal's deep voice growling out his frustration. Electrified, she'd stood frozen to the floor for a moment, but when the sound of his voice grew louder as he looked toward the door, she'd turned and fled back to her bedroom.

But his rough voice had lingered in her memory ever since.

He'd held her against him a few days ago when she'd been so upset and he'd comforted her—and part of her had wanted to press her lips to his, forgetting about anything besides the hot, thrilling touch of his hands and mouth. And that was when the daring idea had come to her.

Could she offer herself to him?

He'd said he needed … a woman. She was a woman.

He'd done so much—given her a place to live, food, the very clothing she wore … but even more important, he'd given her back her self-esteem. If he needed a woman, couldn't she be that woman?

Also By Anne Marie Winston

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