Uncertain Future

Uncertain Future
Eve Gaddy

December 2012 $13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-2422

Book Three of The Return to Caddo Lake Trilogy


 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

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Will McClain swears to bring his foster mother’s killer to justice . . .

 

even if that person is his brother, Jed.

 

When Texas Ranger Will McClain discovers that his foster mother's remains have been found in the East Texas town he left years before, he returns to solve the mystery of who murdered Frannie Granger and why.

 

While investigating the murder he falls for the lovely Tessa Lang, the archeologist who discovered Frannie's bones. He also reconnects with his foster siblings, Jed Louis and Emerald Monday. But Will is a Ranger and must do everything in his power to find the murderer, even when his foster brother is the main suspect.

 

Will has returned to the only home he's ever known, but convincing Tessa that she can make it her home as well is a tall order.For Tessa believes her career lies elsewhere, and that the love she's discovered for teaching as well as her love for Will are both temporary.

 

 

Eve Gaddy is the award-winning author of sixteen novels. She lives in east Texas with her husband of many years, and her incredibly spoiled Golden Retriever, who is convinced he's her third child.

 

Return to Caddo Lake

 

Uncertain Fate – Ken Casper

 

Uncertain Past – Roz Denny Fox

 

Uncertain Future – Eve Gaddy


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Excerpt

 

Chapter One

HE FOUND IT in the freezer, wrapped in newspaper. Not a very original hiding place for a murder weapon, but Lenny the Leech had never been long on brains. It didn’t take any special training to know that.

Texas Ranger Will McClain smiled as he pulled on thin latex gloves and peeled aside the newspaper to reveal a 9mm automatic. "Beautiful,” he said to his partner. "Same caliber as the gun that killed Stringer. Want to bet the marks on the casings match?”

"That’s a sucker bet,” Rafe Wagner said. "Let’s bag it and get out of here.” He offered Will a paper bag. "The stench is killing me. There must be a year’s worth of garbage in this dump.”

Will nodded, stuffed the weapon inside the evidence bag and handed it to Wagner to log. As he folded the newspaper to fit into another bag, a headline caught his eye. He stopped in mid-motion, staring at the yellowed clipping. Wagner’s voice continued from a distance, but Will couldn’t distinguish the words.

"What?” Will gazed at Wagner blankly.

"I said hurry up,” he repeated.

Will shook his head, still unable to concentrate.

"Hey, McClain, you okay?”

With an effort, Will focused his attention on his partner. "Yeah, I’m fine. You go ahead. There’s something I need to take care of here. I’ll catch up in a minute.”

As Wagner left, Will took a seat at the chrome-and-black Formica-topped table. A closer inspection of the table proved the color to be the result of the same grunge that covered the rest of the apartment. Careful not to contaminate the newspaper with oils or fluids from the tabletop, he stretched the paper out to read it. Evidence, just like the gun, but Will didn’t intend to bag it until he’d read the article below the gut-draining headline.

Mystery Bones Discovered Near
East Texas Lake Identified

Uncertain, Texas. The mystery of Frannie Granger’s disappearance may finally be solved. The forty-seven-year-old Harrison County woman vanished nineteen years ago this May. Her remains were recently found close to an Indian burial ground near Caddo Lake. She is believed to have been murdered. On March 28 of this year, upon the discovery of human remains obviously not those of a Caddo Indian of the early nineteenth century, archaeologist Theresa Lang turned the skeleton over to the authorities for identification. This week, dental records proved the bones to be those of Frannie Granger, a widow who was housekeeper for various local residents and who provided foster care for unadoptable children in her own home in Uncertain. Granger was well liked in the community, and her sudden disappearance caused quite a stir. Sheriff Logan Fielder could not be reached for comment. The question remains, who murdered Frannie Granger, and why?

Will’s stomach tightened as his gaze shifted to find the date. Two months old, damn it. And it was only by chance he’d seen it at all.

The printed lines blurred, wavered. He shifted back, twenty-three years into the past. He’d been thirteen years old. Brash, cocky, a troublemaker nobody wanted, headed to juvie hall after one last-ditch attempt by social services to provide the home he needed.

He hadn’t wanted it. If he could have managed, he’d have gone back to the streets, or so he told himself. But he’d been too scared to hit the streets again, because even back then he’d known where he’d end up.

Remembering his youthful bravado, Will half smiled. The last thing he’d wanted was to be sent to another foster home. Another family who took him in for the money and booted him out the minute he gave them too much trouble. And he always did.

Then along came Frannie Granger. The woman who had saved his life.

His foster mother hadn’t simply disappeared all those years before. Frannie Granger had been murdered.

THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE and jail in Uncertain, Texas, didn’t run to comfort, Tessa Lang decided. Not for the prisoners, and certainly not for anyone unfortunate enough to have business with Sheriff Logan Fielder. Housed in a drab one-story beige brick building in the center of town, it lacked both charm and personality.

In the reception area, a small room with grayish walls and not a picture to be seen, Tessa shifted in the hard orange plastic chair in a vain attempt to find relief from the ridges digging into her back. For the tenth time, she checked her watch and swore silently. Forty-five minutes until class started. She couldn’t afford to wait much longer. She glanced at Deputy Kyle Masters, the room’s only other occupant, and debated asking him yet again when the sheriff would see her.

Masters sat with his feet on his desk, leafing through the local newspaper. As if he’d read her thoughts, he glanced up and spoke. "Sheriff’s likely to be a while. Sure you don’t want to talk to me instead?” He added a grin.

No doubt he thought it was charming, but Tessa didn’t. A deputy did her no good. He knew that as well as she did. "Yes, I’m sure,” she said shortly, hoping Kyle wouldn’t ask her for a date again. He seemed like a nice enough man, but Tessa had no interest in dating anything but items uncovered at an archaeological site.

It must be the new haircut, she thought, momentarily distracted from her purpose. She smoothed her now shoulder length red hair. Or maybe it was the sleeveless ice-blue summer dress she’d bought a couple of days ago. Ever since her friend and colleague Ellen Hampton had convinced her that her appearance needed drastic updating, strange things had happened to her. Three men—two of them total strangers—had asked her out in the past few weeks. A record unequaled in Tessa’s experience. Men didn’t date her. Normally men didn’t even notice her.

Of course, Ellen’s exact advice hadn’t been that polite, Tessa remembered, smiling. "Tessa, come out of the nineties and join the new millennium,” she’d said. "Lose the uptight hair and boring clothes. For Pete’s sake, you’re an archaeologist, not a mummy.”

Who would have thought a different haircut and a few new outfits would have such an effect? Tessa squirmed a bit in her chair, unsure whether she liked the new attention or not. Part of her felt flattered, but a bigger part felt like an imposter—as if she wore the Emperor’s new clothes and eventually everyone around would realize it and die laughing.

Thinking about her new look didn’t solve her dilemma though. Nothing did. Her problems had all started with the discovery of Frannie Granger’s bones, which had prompted Fielder to shut down her dig indefinitely. Rather than spend the time doing absolutely nothing but feel her blood pressure climb, Tessa had asked around and found the local college desperately needed a professor of archaeology. Their previous one having unexpectedly died. She took the job, and a bit to her surprise, found she loved it. She wondered what her mother, a distinguished archaeological scholar, would say about her only offspring teaching at what she would undoubtedly label a backwater country college.

Odder even than enjoying teaching was that, for the first time in her life, she had made friends. Real friends. Ellen had been first to extend a welcome, but the other professors and most of the townspeople had followed closely behind. They’d all been amazingly nice.

Everyone except Jed Louis, the man she’d had to take to court before she could gain access to his land. No, Jed didn’t like her much, especially after she’d found a murder victim’s remains on his land. His foster mother’s remains, yet.

Tessa scowled again, glancing at the eternally closed door to the sheriff’s office. Fielder hadn’t been in any hurry to allow Tessa back on Jed’s land, either. The land that lay idle in the elements while the sheriff took his sweet time over a twenty-year-old murder.

Once again, Tessa cursed the day she’d discovered the very twentieth century remains among the broken pottery shards near the nineteenth century Caddo Indian burial mound. Why did the blasted body have to show up in the middle of her dig? And why in the hell couldn’t she have at least resumed excavation on another part of the site? She wasn’t a novice, she would have been careful not to approach the cordoned-off area, or allow any of her crew to, either.

But Fielder wouldn’t even let her set foot on the place. Tessa felt sympathy for the murdered woman, who from all accounts had been very nice, but enough was enough. It was either gain access to the site soon, or kiss her grant money, her thesis and her promising career goodbye. She shuddered, thinking of her mother’s reaction to that.

She was just about to leave a pithy message for the blasted lawman when his office door opened. Fielder slouched against the frame, still in no hurry. His gritty-eyed gaze flicked over her with disinterest. His craggy face wore his habitual scowl. In his early sixties, with dark hair liberally shot with gray, he didn’t have an ounce of spare flesh on him, contributing to the image Tessa imagined he enjoyed maintaining. Lean, mean, and tough as an old fence post. Sometimes that snake-eyed expression of his gave her the creeps, but right now she was too ticked off to let it faze her.

Finally he nodded. "Ms. Lang.” He drawled her name out. Tessa didn’t make the mistake of thinking he meant any respect. "Well, what can I do for you?” He stood aside and motioned her in.

As if he didn’t know. They’d played out this same scenario about a hundred times in the past few weeks. "Sheriff Fielder, you know why I’m here. Surely you’ve had time by now to gather all the evidence you need.”

Fielder settled into his chair, leaving Tessa to perch uncomfortably on yet another hard plastic piece of misery.

"Well, now, that depends. You’re mighty anxious to gain access to the murder site, aren’t you, Ms. Lang?”

Duh, she thought, barely stopping herself from rolling her eyes. "Yes sir. As I’ve told you—” a zillion times, she thought darkly "—it’s very important to my thesis that I be allowed to finish the dig started in that area.” Choking on the need for amiability, or at least civility, she itched to wipe the smirk off his face. Too bad she couldn’t think of a way to do it.

Fielder pursed his lips and shuffled through some papers on his desk. "Then this must be your lucky day, Ms. Lang. I’m about convinced we’ve got all the evidence to be gained from the site. I’ve decided to allow you to resume your dig.”

"Like hell she will.” A deep male voice came from behind her.

Tessa’s head whipped around. A stranger filled the office doorway. A very large, very intimidating stranger. From her vantage point, seated in a low-slung chair, Tessa thought he stood about seven feet tall. Mid-thirties, she guessed, with a fallen-angel face she bet earned him more than his share of female attention. Including hers, she realized, with a touch of irritation. Pale blond hair fell to the open collar of a baby-blue button-down dress shirt, the sleeves rolled up to expose tanned, powerful forearms. Washed-out denim clung to long, lean, muscled legs. Scuffed cowboy boots added at least an inch or two to an already impressive stature.

But his eyes were his most arresting feature. Gray-green and sharp with authority, they passed right over her and zeroed in on the sheriff like a laser beam.

Tessa tore her startled gaze away from the commanding vision to glance at Fielder. His mouth opened and closed. No sound emerged, but his face reddened and his harsh features looked even more unaccommodating than usual. Suddenly she felt sorry for Deputy Masters. She doubted the sheriff appreciated his letting the stranger through.

"Who the hell are you?” Fielder asked.

The man strode into the room to stand in front of him. Tessa sucked in her breath at the power he brought along with him.

"Will McClain.” Pausing a beat, he reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out a leather case. He flipped it open and added, "Texas Ranger.”

If possible, the sheriff’s face darkened even more. "McClain?” His brows drew together until they met over the bridge of his nose, then flattened again. "Not—my God, you couldn’t be. Not the McClain—”

"The very same,” he said, his voice laced with amusement. "Small world, isn’t it?”

Tessa shivered at the diabolic smile he offered Fielder, glad she wasn’t on the receiving end of it. Still, she had to find out what was going on. Gathering her wits, which seemed to have fled with the Ranger’s entrance, she turned to Fielder and spoke briskly. "Excuse me, but what’s happening here? I thought you were in charge of the investigation?”

Ignoring her, Fielder rose jerkily, staring at the Ranger in revulsion and—she could have sworn—a hint of fear. "What kind of bullshit is this? Show me that badge again.”

McClain shrugged and flipped it to him.

Fielder inspected it, his face paling as he did so. He glanced at the Ranger, then back at the badge. After a long pause, he handed it back and said heavily, "I don’t believe this.”

"Believe it,” McClain said, his voice silky, dark.

Fielder shook his head, as if trying to clear it. "What are you doing here?”

"If you’ll recall, the Rangers never signed off on this case.” He pocketed his badge and nailed the sheriff with another hard smile. "I have orders to finish it.”

"Finish it?” Fielder drew himself up and glared, throwing off his momentary lapse with vigor. "I’ve practically got it sewed up. I didn’t ask for the Rangers, and no piece of...” He hesitated, eyeing McClain’s stony face. "No Texas Ranger is going to come in and lay claim to a case I’ve already figured out. I don’t need your damned interference.”

The Ranger looked almost amused now. "Yeah? I’ll be sure and tell my captain you said so. In the meantime, fill me in on what you’ve got.”

Fielder’s jaw tightened. He and McClain stared at each other while Tessa grew more puzzled and irritated, and damn it, curious, by the moment.

Turning to Tessa, Fielder said, "Ms. Lang. I’ll have to get back to you on that other matter.”

Tessa sprang to her feet to gape incredulously at him. "You must be joking! I need access to the burial area, and you just promised it to me.” She waved a hand at the man beside her, realizing that though he was big in comparison to her five foot three, he wasn’t quite the giant she’d originally thought him. "Everything was fine until he came in. Are you just going to let him order you around?” From what she knew of Fielder, she couldn’t imagine it.

"This is a murder investigation,” McClain said. "And that site is pertinent to the investigation.”

"No joke,” Tessa snapped, her gaze transferring to him. It irked her even more that he towered over her like a massive redwood. "Since I’m the one who discovered the bones, I think I’m aware of that.”

"Then you should also be aware we can’t allow you to disturb the site any further.” His gaze assessed her dispassionately, his eyes a cool, cynical gray. "Not until I’m assured all the evidence pertaining to the murder has been collected and logged.”

"But Sheriff Fielder just said—” she began furiously.

"The subject is closed, Ms. Lang. We’ll let you know when the situation changes. Until then, you’d best stay away from that area.”

She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Hands on hips, she jutted out her chin. "This is an outrage. If you think I’m just going to go meekly away—”

"File a complaint,” McClain told her, taking her arm to propel her out of the room. Totally ignoring her sputtered protests, he added, "I’m sure the deputy will be happy to assist you.” Their gazes locked for a brief moment, and a reluctant smile twisted his mouth. Then he shut the door in her face.

Tessa stared at the closed door, unable to believe what had just happened. "You wait, Ranger McClain,” she threatened, regaining her power of speech. "You haven’t seen the last of me.”

WILL HAD A MOMENTARY REGRET for pissing off the archaeologist so royally. Another time that strawberry-blond hair, pouty mouth and curvy little body might have interested him. But he wasn’t in Uncertain to find a woman, not unless that woman happened to be a murderer. Not about to be distracted, he promptly dismissed the redhead and turned his attention to Sheriff Logan Fielder. The old bastard hadn’t changed much.

"Where do you get off...” Fielder began, striding around the desk as if he intended to throw a punch.

Will almost wished he’d try it, except the resulting fight would just waste time and energy. "I’ve told you my orders, Sheriff. I’m here to investigate Frannie Granger’s murder. Accept it, and let’s get down to business.”

"I can’t believe the punk I used to haul in to my jail is a Texas Ranger.”

"Deal with it.” Will smiled, enjoying the older man’s anger. Knowing it would jerk his chain even more, he pulled up a chair and settled comfortably into it. "Fill me in.”

Fielder’s jaw worked for a long moment. He shrugged, dropping his gaze, and sat back down. "There’s nothing to fill in. I’ve got a suspect, and it’s only a matter of time before I’ll be able to charge him.”

"Who is the suspect?”

His mouth stretched into a thin smile as his gaze met Will’s. "Lucky for us he’s right here in town. Someone you know, as a matter of fact.”

Will simply looked at him, raising an eyebrow. No shock there. At the time of Frannie’s disappearance he’d known almost everyone in town.

"Someone you knew real well. Jed Louis,” Fielder said with obvious relish. "He’s guilty as sin, and I expect to bring him in any day now.”

Jed? What kind of crap was this? Will’s expression didn’t change, but inside he wanted to smash his fist into something—preferably Fielder’s face. Damn it, how much worse could things get?

"Why?”

Fielder smirked, holding up a hand to tick off reasons on his fingers. "Motive. Means. Opportunity.” He propped his forearms on the desk and added, "I’ve got him cold.”

Will drew in a breath, forcing himself to remain calm. "I don’t believe Jed did it.”

"That’s your problem, Ranger McClain. Even you won’t be able to deny the facts when you see them.”

"Show me.”

"I’ll get the records and the evidence together this afternoon. You’ll have them tomorrow.”

"I’d better,” he said, observing with some satisfaction the smile fading from Fielder’s mouth.

Great. What a homecoming. His foster brother was the prime suspect in the murder of their foster mother.


 

 

Chapter Two

WILL STRODE out of the sheriff’s office, anger fueling his steps. Damn it, how could Jed be the prime suspect? Will might not have seen Jed in nearly twenty years, but he remembered him well. And the boy he’d known couldn’t have killed Frannie.

Not deliberately.

Hand on his truck’s door handle, Will halted at the unwelcome thought. No, Jed wouldn’t have killed Frannie on purpose... but what about an accident?

"Mr. McClain!” a voice with a Southern lilt demanded imperiously.

The redhead, wearing a cool blue sleeveless dress, the kind that made a man grateful for the East Texas humidity, hurried across the parking lot toward him. "Mr. McClain, I want a word with you.”

Theresa Lang, he thought. The archaeologist who’d discovered Frannie’s remains. Still ticked, obviously. "It’s Ranger McClain. And I’m in a hurry.” He meant to find Jed and hear what he had to say. See if he knew Fielder suspected him, though Will imagined he did. Subtle wasn’t Fielder’s middle name.

"That’s just too bad. If you think you can brush me aside like some kind of insect, think again. I canceled my class because of you and I intend to discuss this matter now. I’ve been put off long enough.” She shoved him back with a surprisingly firm hand, and placed herself between him and the truck’s door. "We’re going to talk,” she said grimly. "Unless you mean to remove me by force.” Her chin angled up, thrust forward aggressively.

Will hid a smile. She appeared even tinier in contrast to the huge black truck. Small but feisty, he thought. Might as well deal with her now. He probably needed more time to think matters through before he saw Jed anyway. "Oh, I wouldn’t dream of it.” He crossed his arms and leaned back against the front quarter panel of the truck, turning his head to give her his undivided attention. "What’s on your mind?”

"My career.”

Will waited but she didn’t say any more. "What about your career?”

"You’re killing it. You and Sheriff Fielder.”

"By not allowing you access to the murder site, I presume.”

"That’s right.” She nodded sharply. "I have a grant. A time limit. If I’m not able to resume my dig soon, then my career is as good as over.”

"That would prevent you from teaching?”

She scowled. "I’m not a teacher.”

"You said you canceled a class.’ I assumed that meant you were a teacher.”

"It’s temporary.” She shrugged irritably. "I had to do something while I waited for that terminally slow sheriff to make up his mind.” Her blue eyes held a martial light, brightening and intensifying the color. "The point is, if I’m going to finish my thesis I need access to that site.”

He found her earnestness appealing. Too bad he had to disappoint her. "Obviously this is important to you. I can respect that.”

"Can you?” She lifted a regal eyebrow as if she didn’t believe any such thing. "Then let me back on that land.”

Pretty, he thought. The summer sun glinted off her hair, red with hints of gold. Gorgeous eyes, sea-blue and haunting. Her skin looked as soft and creamy as a magnolia blossom, and the slight scattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose gave her an added bit of character. Very pretty, but then he’d always been partial to redheads. She looked much better suited to lounging on a veranda, or better yet, in a dimly lit bedroom, than digging for fossils and broken pottery under the brutal East Texas sun.

"Can’t do it,” he said regretfully. "Not yet.”

"This is my entire career we’re talking about!” She smacked her fist against the truck door, wincing when it connected. "Not some minor matter you can dismiss like last week’s news.”

"And what do you call murder?”

"At the moment, I call it extremely frustrating.”

Will smiled. "Yeah, I’ll agree to that.”

"Isn’t there anything I can do to change your mind? I’ll be careful, I swear it. The sheriff’s had men out there for weeks now, going over everything. Surely he’s found all the evidence by now. And if I did find anything, anything at all relevant to your investigation, I’d turn it over immediately.” Eyes desperate, she added a final word. "Please.”

Will shook his head. "Sorry. I’m trying to find a murderer and I can’t allow an archaeologist wanting to play around with clay pots to compromise the investigation.”

She sucked in a breath, plainly struggling with her temper.

He supposed he could have phrased that better, but he shrugged mentally. She might as well hear the truth now as later.

"Burial mounds,” she corrected. "Caddo Indian burial mounds that are disintegrating as we speak.” She bit off each word, her eyes flashing fire. "Pots are only a small part of it. And I’m not playing.”

He straightened and gazed down at her. "Neither am I, Ms. Lang. I’m talking murder.”

"And I’m talking about my livelihood, my future, my career.”

"Over one dig? Over a delay?”

"A delay that means the artifacts and what’s left of the mounds themselves are being exposed to the elements. No one would let me shut down properly, they just threw me off the land. Any further delay means I won’t be able to finish my thesis. Over two years of work will have been for nothing.” She fisted her hands at her side. "Two years, for nothing.”

He considered her thoughtfully. "It’s that important to you?”

"Of course it is. Isn’t your career important to you?”

Only the most important thing in his life. And finding Frannie’s murderer would be the best thing he’d ever done with that career. Still, Theresa Lang had a point, and a right to be upset at having her livelihood threatened. There might be a way to let her access at least some of the land in question. "Okay, I’ll think about it.”

"Gee, thanks,” she said sarcastically, shoving thick red hair back from her face in a quick, agitated gesture.

He frowned. He’d listened to her, hadn’t he? What did she expect—instant gratification? He’d just gotten into town, for crying out loud. "Let me review the case and I’ll get back to you.”

She sent him a scathing look. "I’ve heard that before. Weeks ago. From Sheriff Fielder.”

"I’m not Fielder,” he said, not blaming her for her contempt of the sheriff. "I’ll be in touch in the next day or two.”

"I won’t simply go away, you know. I’ll be back if you don’t contact me.”

Having seen her and talked to her, he didn’t doubt that. "Don’t worry, Ms. Lang. I keep my word.”

"You’d better, Ranger McClain.” She moved aside, allowing him to open his door.

"Call me Will.” He flashed her a friendly smile, but he didn’t think it impressed her. "I have a feeling we’re going to be seeing a lot of each other.”

"I can hardly wait, Will,” she said, her sugar magnolia voice dripping with bitter sarcasm. "You can call me Tessa, as long as you call soon and with the right answer.” She spun on her heel and marched off, but even her angry stride couldn’t disguise the subtle swing of her hips.

Will watched her go with a reluctant smile. He would do what he could to help her professionally. Partly because it was the right thing to do. But also because the earnest Tessa Lang intrigued him. He wouldn’t mind a bit getting to know her on a personal level.

WILL FOUND OUT EASILY where Jed lived, simply by asking about him at the local convenience store. Nobody recognized Will, not surprising since he’d grown up and filled out a lot in the past nineteen years. But he remembered many of the locals. Especially ones like old Mrs. Whitney, who still owned the Kit and Caboodle Cottages. She would be glad to rent him a room, he suspected. He had a feeling this whole affair might take longer than he’d bargained on.

A couple of miles south of Uncertain he pulled over to the side of the road and got out to see Jed’s place. Though Frannie’s land stood next door, the house well hidden, he deliberately didn’t look at it. There would be time enough later to deal with the memories that would bring.

No, he preferred to focus on Jed. And the prime property he owned. Beaumarais, he called it. Impressive, Will admitted, taking in the stately white antebellum mansion and the beautifully manicured lawn surrounding it. The land that stretched for acres was just as carefully maintained, with a scattering of horses grazing in the fields. Percherons, Will thought, watching the enormous beasts with their beautiful foals. Jed had always liked the big breed.

Built on a hill overlooking the town, the huge house stood two and half stories tall, with a red tile roof and narrow dormer windows. Massive chimneys flanked the house at either end, while a columned porch ran along the entire front. Whatever Jed had done with his life, he’d obviously succeeded in at least one aspect.

Will had seen the place before, of course, always from a distance. He didn’t think it had been this well maintained in old Walter’s time. Jed had always referred to it as his future inheritance from his slime ball uncle. Will hadn’t quite believed it would happen. Looked like he’d been wrong.

Will climbed back into his truck and drove slowly up the long driveway lined with flowering crepe myrtle in shades of pink, white and crimson. Nineteen years had passed since he’d last seen Jed and Emmy. He’d thought about searching for his foster siblings several times over the years. Something always stopped him.

At first he’d been too busy trying to stay one step ahead of the system, not to mention just plain surviving, to look for anything beyond where his next meal was coming from. Later, after he became a cop, he could have attempted to find them. But he never had. He closed his eyes, knowing why. When he’d left Uncertain at seventeen, he’d closed the door on that part of his past. Frannie was gone, and with her, the only security, the only family he’d ever known. He’d made the decision to go on with his life. He figured Jed and Emmy had, too.

Obviously, they hadn’t looked for him, either. And that bothered him. More than he wanted to admit.

What if Jed didn’t recognize him? Or worse, had forgotten him? Maybe what had meant so much to him hadn’t meant all that much to either of the others. Could be he’d made too much of the bond he’d believed the three foster kids had shared.

He got out of the truck and gazed at the front door. He wouldn’t put it off. He owed it to Frannie to find out the truth about her death, and that meant starting with Jed.

He rang the doorbell and waited, resisting the urge to tug on his collar. He was grown now, not some lonely kid looking up to an older brother figure. Get a grip, McClain, he told himself. So what if he doesn’t remember you? You’ve lived through worse.

A tidy black woman in a neat gray-and-white uniform answered the door. "Can I help you?”

"Jed Louis, please.”

"I’ll see if he’s available.” She surveyed him with shrewd, inquisitive eyes. "Can I tell him who’s calling?”

"Tell him...” Will hesitated, decided to go for surprise. "Tell him it’s an old friend.”

She inclined her head, then led him to a room off the main entryway. An anteroom, he supposed they called it, or maybe a parlor. Will glanced around, taking in the Victorian antiques scattered throughout the small room, the delicate, ornate peach couch with two fiddle back chairs beside it. A marble-topped table with a beautifully carved wooden base stood off to the side, holding a stained glass lamp and more doodads Will assumed were antiques. Cold and formal and nothing at all like the Jed he thought he’d known.

He remembered the day so clearly. A couple of months after Frannie had dragged him home with her, he’d been suspended from school. No surprise, he’d been fighting again. But that time had been different. Because that time he hadn’t fought alone. Jed had stood with him, and gained a black eye and bloody nose for his trouble. And Will knew right then he’d found a true brother.

A brother who now stood one step away from being formally charged with murder.

Will was still deciding if he dared sit on the couch or if he’d do better in one of the chairs when he heard footsteps come to a halt behind him. He turned around slowly to see a tall, lanky, black-haired man in stone-washed jeans and a black T-shirt standing in the doorway. Neither spoke a word as they stared at each other.

Jed’s puzzled expression gave way to a wide smile. "Will? My God, it is you.” In a flash he was across the room and had enveloped Will in a hearty bear hug. They pounded each other’s backs and asked each other questions neither heard. The rush of emotion shocked him, seemed almost alien to him. Will didn’t consider himself an emotional man. Given his life, and his profession, he couldn’t afford to be. It had been a long time since he’d let himself care for anyone the way he had for Jed and Emmy. And Frannie.

Finally Jed drew back, and said, "I can’t believe you’re here. Emmy and I have been wishing—”

"Emmy?” Will interrupted. "Emmy’s here, too? In Uncertain?”

Jed nodded, his eyes brightening again. "Yes. Not at this exact moment, though. She’s on her honeymoon. She married Riley, just a few days ago.”

"Riley Gray Wolf?” Riley had been a friend of Will’s, as well as being sweet on Emmy. "So, he and Emmy got together after all.” Frannie, he remembered, swallowing a chuckle, hadn’t approved of that relationship. She’d thought Emmy way too young to be serious about anyone. Especially Riley.

"Yes, they sure did. He went by Riley Gray for a long time, but he changed it back to Gray Wolf just recently.”

"Hard to believe.” Will shook his head. "Riley and little Emmy, married.”

"She’s all grown-up now,” Jed said with a smile. "I married a little while ago, too. Gwyn’s gone out but she’ll be back soon. I want you to stay to meet her.”

"I’m looking forward to it,” Will said, wondering what sort of woman Jed had married. Maybe she was the one who liked all the fancy junk, because he still didn’t think it suited Jed. "Some digs you’ve got here. I guess the inheritance from the rich uncle came through after all.”

"Only out of necessity. There wasn’t anyone else he could leave it to,” Jed replied, frowning.

Will gestured at the room. "Still. You’ve prospered.”

"I’ve been fortunate. Life’s treated me well.”

Yeah, unless he ended up charged with murder, Will thought. "I always knew you’d make it. You were primed to succeed.”

He shrugged it off. "Let’s go in the library, where it’s comfortable.”

Relieved, Will grinned. "I didn’t think this was your type of room.”

Jed shook his head ruefully as they walked down the hall. "June always puts people she’s not sure about in there.” He cut Will a sideways glance and smiled. "She must think you’re a suspicious character. She says the anteroom intimidates those up to no good.”

Will laughed as he followed Jed into the library. He let out a low, thoughtful whistle as he looked around. "This is great.”

"I like it,” Jed said, motioning him to take a seat. "It’s one of my favorite rooms.”

Thousands of books lined the shelves of the wood-paneled library. A fireplace took up one wall, filled for the summer with baskets of flowers. French doors opened onto a colorful garden and lawn running down to a lake surrounded by mossy cypress. In front of the elegant glass doors stood a neat walnut desk that gleamed with a rich brown sparkle. Burgundy leather chairs, comfortably worn, and an expensive-looking Oriental rug completed the picture. Comfort, class, elegance. Money.

Will drew up one of the chairs, thanking God it wasn’t one of those matchbox things that looked like it would break if a man sat on it.

"What brings you back, Will?” Jed took the other chair, gazing at him intently. "It’s not just coincidence, is it? You heard about Frannie.”

"A few days ago,” Will confirmed. "Read it in an old newspaper. I came as soon as I could.”

Jed’s gaze, cool and flat, met his. "They believe she was murdered.”

"I know.” He laced his fingers together, resting his hands on his stomach. "I just came from Fielder’s office.”

"Fielder?” He gave a humorless laugh. "Bet you didn’t get much information from him.”

"You’d be surprised,” Will said grimly.

Jed shot him a thoughtful glance, then said, "Let me get us something to drink. A beer?”

"Thanks, but I’ll pass on the beer for now.” Straightening in his seat, he added, "I wouldn’t mind a glass of iced tea, though.”

Jed left the room, returning in a few moments, saying, "June will bring it out. Do you still drink your tea with a truckload of sugar?” He relaxed in the leather chair, long legs stretched out before him.

Will smiled. "Absolutely. Tea’s no good unless it’s clinging-to-the-spoon sweet.”

While they waited, Will stood, too restless to sit for long. He took a spin around the room, then turned to consider his foster brother. "Tell me something, Jed. Why does Fielder like you for Frannie’s murder?”

"Like me? You mean suspect me?”

"Yeah. Why the hell are you his prime suspect?”

Jed didn’t seem shocked. He sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. "It’s a long story.”

"I’ve got time.”

"I can’t believe he told you about that. You weren’t one of his favorite people, any more than I was. Or am.”

"He didn’t have a choice,” Will said, pulling out his badge. He flipped it to Jed, watched him open the case and study it.

Jed looked up, his expression surprised. "You’re a Texas Ranger?”

"Yeah.” He watched Jed’s eyes as he said it. "And Frannie’s murder is my case.”


 

 


 



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