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Authors: Susan Andersen

Present Danger (34 page)

BOOK: Present Danger
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EPILOGUE

Aunie stood in the doorway to her apartment, fighting to overcome her apprehension. A small voice in her brain told her to quit being ridiculous and go on in, that there was nothing to be afraid of, but it was difficult to hear over the thunderous knocking of her heart. It had been more than a month now since that day with Wesley, and she had yet to set foot in her former home.

When she’d been released from the hospital, James had already moved most of her personal items to his apartment. He’d carried her straight to his bedroom to recuperate, and she’d been too weak then to worry about how she would feel when the time came to reenter her home. It had taken awhile for her strength to rejuvenate; but once she’d begun to mend, it had returned quickly. That was when she’d discovered that physical health was apparently restored more rapidly than mental well-being—at least in her case.

She’d never dreamed there would be a problem the day she had strode down the hall to retrieve her good nail file from the bathroom. James had overlooked it when he’d packed her belongings.

She had approached her apartment with confidence, only to stop dead in the doorway. Nothing had prepared her for the blind terror that commenced her heart to pounding, her hands to trembling. Nothing had prepared her for Wesley’s horrible, echoing voice that rebounded threateningly within her mind or for the memories that played before her eyes in a red-tinted fog. She had backed away and softly closed the door. Ashamed but unable to do it herself, she’d enlisted Lola’s help to retrieve her nail file. In the several attempts she had made to face her demons since that episode, nothing had changed. She hadn’t been able to force herself past the front door.

But tomorrow she was getting married. She didn’t want her wedding present to James to be a legacy of neurotic fear. He had given her so much when he’d equipped her with the skills to come through her experience alive, when he’d taught her how to refuse the role of perfect victim. She needed to give him something in return … she needed to restore something to herself. Her ordeal at Wesley’s hands was yesterday’s news, dammit. It was over; she had survived. She was determined to start her life as Aunie Franklin Ryder with a fresh slate.

Nails digging into her palms, she stepped into the apartment.

She half expected to see dried blood and chaos, to smell the stale ghosts of her terror, but it looked much as it had before that day. Her heartbeat began to quiet. Wandering from room to room, she slowly
discovered that the memories most dominant had nothing to do with Wesley at all.

She was sitting on the bed contemplating the cream of those memories when she heard the front door open. For just a moment she tensed. It was a source of pride that she had already regained her equilibrium before she heard James’s voice call out.

“Magnolia? You in here, baby?”

“In the bedroom.”

He appeared in the doorway and Aunie launched herself off the bed and into his arms. Her legs gripping his waist, her arms about his neck, she leaned back and grinned up at him. “Hi.”

“Hi yourself, sugarbritches.” His own grin creased his face in a dozen places. “Lola said to tell you that the beef Wellington will be done at six-thirty and not to be late.” He smiled ruefully. “Now that her morning-slash-afternoon sickness is a thing of the past, she’s back to being her old bossy self.”

“You know she’s going to make us go through a weddin’ rehearsal after dinner, don’t you?”

“Yeah, Otis warned me. I knew we shoulda eloped to Vegas.”

Aunie’s nose wrinkled. “Too tacky.”

“But simple. What’s to rehearse, anyway? It’s just gonna be you’n me and a few of our friends in Otis’s apartment. I’ll say I do, if you will.” He sat down on the edge of the bed and buckled his knees from side to side just for the fun of having her grab at his shoulders and tighten her legs around his hips. Aunie laughed and jerked his ponytail.

“It’s just basic stuff, Jimmy. Be good. She’s gone to so much trouble to make this special for us.”

“Yeah, I know.” He flopped onto his back and
gazed up at her perched astride his lap. “I was kind of surprised to find you here, Magnolia.”

She rolled to lie by his side, her cheek on his chest. She was quiet for several moments before she finally said, “I couldn’t bear the thought of havin’ unresolved fears when you put that beautiful ring on my finger.”

“You’re not afraid now?”

“No. The hardest part was steppin’ over the threshold. Once I came in and walked around a little bit, I found that I’d been grantin’ Wesley more power than he deserved by running scared this past month. There’re no ghosts here anymore.”

His fingers tangled in her hair and pressed her head more fully against his chest. “Ah, God, that’s good to hear.” He rubbed his free hand up and down her arm. “We’re getting married tomorrow, Magnolia. Jeez, can you believe that?” He grinned up at the ceiling. “Just a few short hours until I can introduce you as the little woman.”

“You do and I’ll take a frying pan to your head.” She propped her chin on his chest and looked up at him. “Jimmy, does this frighten you at all?”

“Little bit.” He tilted his head to look at her. “I’m not always easy to get along with, Aunie. Hell, you know that better than anyone. And I get these spells when I just want to be alone. But I’m gonna work at this, baby. I’m gonna work at it real hard.”

“So am I. I want you to know that I don’t require round-the-clock entertainment. My ego won’t be bruised if you want some privacy. Just as long as you spell it out for me ahead of time and don’t go slammin’ off or scream at me for interruptin’ you.”

“I don’t always know how to conduct a relationship, Magnolia.”

“I don’t think anyone does, all the time.” She smiled up at him. “Just pretend you’re a recovering alcoholic. Take it one day at a time.”

James laughed. “Ah, God, I love you, girl. You’re the best thing that’s ever touched my life.” He reached down to unbutton her blouse. Rolling her to her back, he leaned down and pressed soft kisses to the two thin scars on her chest. He raised his head to stare into her eyes. “You ask me, I think we’re gonna have us one helluva long and happy marriage.”

“So do I, Jimmy T.” She wrestled his T-shirt up over his head and tossed it aside. “So do I.”

 

ZEBRA BOOKS are published by

Kensington Publishing Corp.

119 West 40th Street

New York, NY 10018

Copyright © 1993 by Susan Andersen

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.

If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the Publisher and neither the Author nor the Publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

All Kensington titles, imprints, and distributed lines are available at special quantity discounts for bulk purchases for sales promotion, premiums, fund-raising, educational, or institutional use.

Special book excerpts or customized printings can also be created to fit specific needs. For details, write or phone the office of the Kensington Special Sales Manager: Attn.: Special Sales Department. Kensington Publishing Corp., 119 West 40th Street, New York, NY 10018. Phone: 1-800-221-2647.

Zebra and the Z logo Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off.

ISBN-13: 978-1-4201-2860-4

ISBN-10: 1-4201-2860-4

First Printing: February 1993

10 9 8 7 6

Printed in the United States of America

 

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