Authors: Jill Sanders
Wes had ended up staying around for the rest of the day, helping the men fix a gate that was giving them some problems. She had spent most of her day taking care of her animals and timing Alex for her barrel racing.
After dinner, they sat out on the back deck, watching the sun set. The sun and heat had returned, making the evening muggy.
The bugs and frogs were buzzing tonight, the sounds drowning out almost everything else as they swung slowly.
“You know, I was thinking about it . . .” he began.
Uh-oh,” she interrupted, causing him to laugh.
No, seriously, why don’t you move in with me at the ranch house? I know it’s small, but we can get a head start on living like a real couple.” He held her hand and brought it to his lips.
She shook her head. “Oh, no. You don’t get out of it that easy.” She smiled. “The West sisters know how to throw a big wedding. There is no sneaking off to Vegas and getting married for us.”
He looked innocent. “That’s not what I had in mind, really.” He smiled. “Well, maybe.”
She smiled at him. “Wesley Aaron Tanner, I know you too well.” He cringed when she called him by his full name. She knew he hated it, and she had only called him that one other time before.
“Okay, okay.” He smiled. “I’ll behave. How about an October wedding?”
She laughed. “I need more than a month to get everything ready.”
He smiled and nodded. “November it is then.”
She laughed and realized she wasn’t as tired as she had initially thought.
“I was thinking of getting a couple dogs.” He looked over at her. “You know, for when the house is all settled and everything.
That sounds like a plan.” She leaned back against his shoulder and sighed.
I’d hoped that kids would follow shortly after.”
She sat up a little and turned to him. “Kids?”
He nodded. “I know you doubted me when I said that I was really looking forward to having kids. Even back then.”
She shook her head. Emotions flooded too deep. “I—I don’t.”
He took her face in his hands, “Haley, I’ve dreamed about our kids every night since the nightmares have stopped. It’s the one thing that keeps me grounded to here, now.”
This isn’t real,” she said, her breath hitching.
He leaned forward and kissed her lips, wet with tears. “It’s real.”
Wes was on cloud nine. For the next few days, he jumped through every hoop the bank asked and did everything to make sure the VA had their part taken care of. The loan for the trailer was secure, as long as he had land to place it on.
It drove him nuts having his future up in the air like this. He wished he had the money to buy everything outright, but as it was, his checks from the army were barely going to cover his loans. He knew he had to find a job, but wasn’t sure what it was that he wanted to do. The military had taken a lot from him, and he knew he still needed time to recoup it all.
He was standing in the bank line once again with the paperwork they needed to guarantee his loan, when the door burst open and a shot rang out. It was more instinct than anything, but he hit the floor, taking Mrs. Wilkins, one of his old high school teachers, down with him. Shielding her body with his, he watched as three masked men walked into the bank, armed to the teeth.
“On the floor—now!” the largest of the group said with a thick accent. Wes’s years of training kicked in and he noticed everything about the men, down to the fact that they all wore work boots covered in red clay.
Not you,” the thinner man said, pointing his gun at Steve, who was trying to crouch behind the counter. Steve stood back up, his arms up in the air. “Empty it.” He pointed the gun towards Steve’s drawer, then tossed a black duffel back through the opening in the glass.
Wes watched the other two men as the thin one waited for Steve. The silent one stood by the door watching the street while the big one paced around the room, eager.
“Come on,” he said, several times. “Hurry.”
Wes knew what he needed to do. He’d been trained just for situations like this. Sometimes you fought, sometimes you ran, other times you remembered everything you could and stayed out of the way of flying bullets. These men were professionals. He would stake his life that this wasn’t their first rodeo. They worked great as a team and he was sure they had worked together in another job.
Then it came to him. Down on Highway 59 there was a large construction crew building the new highway in Redland. It was the only place with red clay for miles around. Looking at their work boots again, he noticed a yellow triangle sticker on the big man’s boots. Gotcha, he thought as he tried to hush Mrs. Welkins.
Keep that bitch quiet,” the big man said, bringing his boot up to kick at them. Wes turned just in time to catch the boot on his thigh. Pain shot up and down his hurt leg and he grunted.
Leave him alone. You promised no one would be hurt this time,” the man at the door said. Wes noticed the lack of accent in his voice and the fact that he held the gun with his left hand.
It’s full,” the thin man said, rushing to the door. “Are we clear?”
When lefty nodded, the three of them bolted from the building. Wes rushed to the door just in time to see them disappear around the corner of Bridles Books, the local bookstore right next to Mama’s.
He looked at Steve, who was still standing behind the counter, his arms up in the air. “Call the sheriff,” he yelled, just before he rushed out of the front door, his leg screaming at him as he hobbled towards the bookstore.
He made it around the corner to see a white Ford F150 peel out of the parking lot.
“Damn,” he said when he couldn’t read the plates. The truck was too far away for him to even tell if they were Texas plates. But he did see the red dirt all over the back tailgate.
By the time he walked back to the bank, the sheriff was just pulling in. “Wes.” He rushed over to him. “Are you okay, son?”
He realized then that he was limping more than before. “Damn,” he said. “Yes, the bastard kicked me in the leg.”
Come on inside and sit down while you tell me what happened.” The sheriff helped him walk into the glass doors, where Mrs. Wilkins was crying into Steve’s arms. Steve looked pale and even Betty was crying gently in a chair. When she saw him limp in, she quickly rushed to his side.
Are you okay, Wes?” She helped him sit in the chair. “Do you need some ice?”
He shook his head. “If someone would call Haley and let her know that I’ll need a ride home, that would be great.”
He knew he’d done some more damage to his leg. He didn’t need a PhD to realize something wasn’t right after the steel-toed boot had made its mark on his thigh.
I can drive you to the clinic,” Betty said, looking concerned.
He shook his head. “No, I’ll be fine. I’m seeing a doctor at the VA tomorrow.” He rubbed his thigh and cringed when pain shot up to his chest.
“Wes?” The sheriff stood over him and grabbed his shoulders. “Betty, get him some water.”
He bent over and took several deep breaths. “Work boots. White Ford 150. Red mud. Two spoke with Georgia accents. Big man, skinny kid. Lefty didn’t speak with an accent.” He blurted out the details, trying to stay conscious. The pain was almost unbearable. “Big man had yellow hazmat sticker on his work boots. They work together; most likely they’ve done this before.” He took several deep breaths and felt himself whiting out. Then he heard her voice.
“Wes?” She rushed to his side. “I’m here.”
His mind sharpened as he felt her hands on his face. Looking up, he smiled at her. “There you are,” he said, just before passing out.
he doctors wouldn’t tell her anything. She paced up and down the halls of the VA hospital in Tyler, wanting to rip someone’s tongue out. When she asked about him, all they kept telling her was, “He’s in surgery.” She knew he was in surgery. What she didn’t know was why.
Betty had told the paramedics that one of the robbers had kicked him in his left leg, hard, right where he’d had the blood vessel replacement.
Had the kick caused it to rupture? Where they having to redo the surgery?
Her family was sitting in the waiting room with Wes’s family and half the town of Fairplay. Everyone but Haley was patiently waiting for news in the small room. She was pacing just outside the operating room doors, ready to jump when the doors opened.
She’d never bitten her nails as a child—Alex was the one who’d chewed her fingers down to the bone—but now, she was nibbling on them like they were candy.
Just then, the doors swung open and the doctor, an older man, walked out and pulled down his surgical mask so he could talk to her.
“Mrs. Tanner?” she nodded, without saying a word. She felt his parents rush to her side; her mother took her hand in hers.
He’s out of surgery. The kick to his leg damaged his blood vessel. There was massive internal bleeding, but we stopped it quickly enough. We had to do an emergency peripheral artery bypass.” When the three of him just looked at him, he shook his head. “Sorry, we had to replace the section of vein that was damaged from before. Basically, the last time, we had grafted a blood vessel from his right leg. This time we had to use a plastic tube since the vein was damaged. He’ll need to stay in ICU for a few days. Then we’ll move him to a private room for a week or so, just to watch him. He’ll need to stay off that leg for a while.”
She nodded. “When can I see him?”
“In about an hour.” He patted her hand. “I’ll have a nurse come get you. They only allow one visitor at a time, though, and they close at eight.”
They all nodded. She knew she wouldn’t relax until she saw him for herself. When they had loaded him into the ambulance, he’d been white as a sheet and unconscious. She’d wanted to ride with him, but had been denied. Instead, Grant had driven her and Alex behind the ambulance. Thankfully, Grant had been at Mama’s picking up Alex after her shift.
His parents guided her back into the waiting room. She felt numb. She sat down on a couch next to her sister and sipped the coffee someone shoved into her hands. She could vaguely hear as his parents passed on the news to everyone who’d been waiting.
An hour later, a young nurse walked in and showed her into the ICU. He was unconscious and still so very pale. His dark hair and eyelashes looked even darker against his light skin. When she reached for his hand, she noticed all the tubes sticking out and walked over to take his other hand, which was clear. She leaned over and placed a kiss on his cool lips. Tears were streaming down her face, and when she leaned forward, they fell onto his skin.
Using shaking fingers, she wiped them off his almost translucent skin. “Wes?” she said, not sure if he was awake or not. When his eyelids fluttered, she said his name again.
When his eyes opened all the way, she could tell that they were unfocused and foggy. “I’m here,” she said, holding his hand tighter. “You’re okay. Everything is going to be just fine,” she repeated over and over as his eyelids slid close again.
She sat with him until the nurse asked if his mother could take her place. She nodded and walked back into the waiting room and right into her sisters’ arms.
Sheriff Miller is here,” Lauren said when she pulled back, nodding towards the older man who was standing against the wall talking to Betty and Steve.
He nodded at her and walked up to give her a hug. “How’s he doing?”
“He’s in and out. Did you catch the robbers?”
The sheriff nodded. “Thanks to Wes.” He shook his head. “That boy has a talent for details. Knew everything about the men, down to their boots.” He walked her over to the couch and they sat down together. “They worked on the road crew that’s building the highway.” He shook his head. “Wasn’t their first job together either. Looks like they were the three robbers that killed that bank clerk in Alabama last spring. We have enough on them.” He nodded to Steve and Betty, who were still sitting across the room with Mrs. Wilkins. “They’ve ID’d them. All it took was hearing the men speak.” He shook his head again. “Don’t rob a bank in a small town in Texas. They’re lucky Wes jumped on Mrs. Wilkins.”