Authors: Mary Marvella
All rights reserved
Copyright Mary Marvella
This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission.
A Renaissance E Books publication
"Oh, Hell," Brit Roberts groaned when the ringing phone on her kitchen wall stopped her in her tracks at seven AM. No, she'd let her machine take the message from whoever called so early in the morning.
She turned away and reached for the doorknob, then paused at the second ring.
What if the call is important, like Julie in a panic, a sick car, or a family emergency?
She opened the door to leave.
Dammit all! She cringed at the third ring. On the fourth ring, she slammed the door closed. Why make this call the first she left to her machine? Curiosity would have nagged at her all day, anyway.
By the fifth ring, Brit snatched up the receiver.
Not another one.
"Look, this is so bothersome!" She pulled in a long deep breath, then slowly exhaled. "Could you please check your number before dialing again?" Her voice rose.
A dial tone droned in her ear. Another hang up call.
"Damn!" She slammed the phone down, grabbed her purse and keys. Mental note - Order caller ID, Monday. I'll just put a stop to this aggravation. Anyone could dial a wrong number, but anyone who couldn't at least apologize was just plain rude.
Now, I'll be late starting parent-teacher conferences
. Parents could be late and she'd smile and bear it, but her first appointment wouldn't be so forgiving. She'd start her day with a too-busy-for-words mother, a lawyer whose time was worth more than that of a measly teacher, or even her own son.
Brit rushed out to her car and threw her cloth tote bag and purse onto the front seat. After she punched the garage door opener, she revved her engine - twice for good measure. Slow, deep, calming breath!
She still didn't feel calm.
Warm Georgia temperatures nurtured pale green buds and shoots of spring flowers in her yard. Brit's ill mood made her gun the engine when she backed her old Mustang from her driveway into the tree-lined street. If she hadn't been so tired from lack of sleep she'd have enjoyed these signs of renewed life.
For the past three mornings she'd awakened before her alarm buzzed, thinking about Tommy. He'd have been thirty-five today, if he hadn't been killed in a hit-and-run. Damned senseless accident. Her stomach still knotted when she thought about how much she missed him after three years.
Having your husband die stinks
. If the man who'd killed her husband had returned to the scene of the accident to get help or turned himself in, closure might have been easier for Brit. The Butlerton City Police still hadn't found the driver. They told her each time she called that they didn't expect to, but she wouldn't stop reminding them.
Tommy had mattered too much for her to let the lazy police off easy. There had been plenty of witnesses to the hit and run. She owed her husband that much. She owed herself that much.
* * * *
Sam Samuels rubbed his stiff neck. He'd removed his tie and unbuttoned the top button on his dress shirt. He'd left his sports coat in his truck, but he still felt overdressed. By now, he should have shed his business attire for worn jeans and a tee shirt.
He'd put in a long day. His notebook page was full of ways the school security system needed to be improved. It had taken years to get the board to agree to look at a plan and proposal for his company to do the job. Small town-folks in Georgia weren't into change, but recent violence in so many schools, even small-town ones, pointed to the need for caution everywhere.
Sam had waited until after his regular calls to begin this part of his plan. His son was a student here and he'd make it a safe place for Sean, even if he had to cut his price to the bone, way below cost. This wouldn't be the first time he'd cut his price to put a good security system where it was needed. The one at his parents' church and the community center had been donations, pure and simple. Nothing was more important than taking care of family.
Sam's cell phone startled him.
"Samuels, here, too, Dad. Coach said to remind you I need my physical exam papers and your permission slip by next Wednesday or I can't start Spring practice."
"Well, Samuels, your doctor's appointment is Friday at four and I've already signed the permission slip."
"Oh, yeah. Got a library stop after supper with Bill and his parents, then some of the guys wanted to ...."
"Don't be late."
"But I don't have school tomorrow."
"Not one minute after eleven, you know the rules."
Sam grinned as he broke the connection. Sean always made curfew at the last minute. One mess-up, one speeding ticket, or even one bad grade and he'd lose the Corvette his mother bought him. He'd lose the car and football. For a traffic offense, he'd surrender his driver's license, his mother's rule. Shared custody had worked well, especially with her traveling on business a lot since the divorce.
He rubbed his five o'clock stubble, then started on his second page of meticulous notes. His cramped handwriting made his eyes hurt. He shouldn't have left his reading glasses in the truck.
Clicking heels on wood distracted him. The wearer sounded small but business-like, in a hurry. He glanced in the direction of the feminine sound. The lady wore navy hose and matching skirt. He smiled and nodded at Ms. Roberts as she passed him on her way to the parking lot. "Good evening," he said to her back as she barely slowed her exit, leaving a light floral scent to wrap around him.
Her impersonal nod toward him could have been meant for anyone. "And a good evening to you, too," he muttered to the closing door. Typical for her. She wasn't the friendliest woman he'd ever met. Most women at least gave him a smile when he spoke to them.
Gut pain bent him almost double. He glanced around the deserted hall. Familiar pressure built in his head. A premonition attack was coming on. Why now? Why when his son's teacher had passed by? He didn't need an attack now. He hurried to the school parking lot to catch up with the cause of his discomfort. He'd finish his figures later.
Sam had figured he'd probably see Ms. Roberts here sometime before he left, but he hadn't planned to do more than nod to her as he always did. She was attractive but standoffish. Sean had mentioned she was a widow. Maybe that was why she seldom smiled.
His mama's training in the ways of a gentleman prodded him toward her and the old Mustang. He'd follow her tonight. He had no choice. Maybe this premonition was about car trouble. Probably. It wouldn't be the first time he'd rescued someone from being stranded.
She whirled around to face him, annoyance in her expression. "Are you following me?" Sounded like an accusation.
"I'm Sean Samuels' father."
"I know, but why are you here at my car? Isn't that your truck, over there?" She tilted her head toward his truck.
"Sean's always talking about your Mustang, '65?"
"I had a '66 way back when." He ran his hand along the back fender. "Restoring it?" He pointed to sanded areas.
Her raised eyebrow made him feel like he was intruding. Too damned bad, it couldn't be helped. The hairs on the back of his neck were still at alert. "Does it run well?"
"Two-eighty-nine, high performance engine, four-barrel carburetor, automatic. I never drive above 85 mph." Despite the way she seemed to parrot the response, a smile played on her lips.
Sam's hands gravitated to his pockets as he resisted the urge to reach for her keys and unlock her door. Standing close enough to share body heat and inhale her subtle wild flower fragrance, he noticed she barely came up to his shoulder, even with her heels.
Pain lanced through Sam's head. His physical manifestations were stronger. If only he could get an idea about the source of the danger. But then he'd have to work on using the pesky gift he hadn't wanted, one he couldn't ignore. He couldn't let her leave alone to face the unnamed threat. She'd think he'd lost his freakin' mind if he told her he sensed she was in danger.
"Ma'am, I know it sounds like I'm getting' into your business, but do you have a cell phone for emergencies?"
The look she gave him said she did think he was in her business and he could just butt out.
We'll, he just couldn't do it.
"I've never needed one." She put her key in the ignition and started the powerful engine, gunning it more than necessary. "Why, are you selling them?"
"No, just acting like a parent and a man who makes his living keeping people safe."
She needed a reason to let him help her with a problem she
didn't know she had, especially when he couldn't tell her the truth.
"Your engine sounds a little rough. You have a couple of worn tires, too. Mind if I follow you home, to be sure you get there okay? Can't have my son's teacher stranded on the road at night. I do have a cell phone." Lame, he sounded lame.
"I don't see any need for you to follow me home, Mr. Samuels."
Probably thinks I'm hitting on her, which I wouldn't.
"I'm tired. I'd just like to go home and relax. It's been a long day." She adjusted her rearview mirror then stretched her seatbelt to secure it.
Could she be hinting he leave her alone?
"Please, humor me. Every woman needs a cell phone. I'm a security specialist and my mama raised me to watch out for ladies and it's ... Oh, Hell, it's practically on my way and --"
"Fine, whatever, Mr. Samuels. Knock yourself out." Even in the parking lot light, he could see the dark smudges beneath her eyes. She must have had a hard day.
"Sure thing." What else could he say after he'd badgered her?
"I'll try not to drive my old clunker too fast for you."
Smart mouth and humor.
"Good evening, Mr. Samuels."
She reached for the T handled floor gearshift.
Sam hurried to his truck. Personally, he'd have preferred a manual shift on that hot Mustang.
* * * *
Douglas Drake watched the teacher talking to the man in the school parking lot. Damned binoculars weren't enough help.
Who the Hell is the guy? Didn't know she had a boyfriend sniffing around. Too bad, I can't hear what they're saying.
Maybe he'd bug her car, if he didn't finish his business tonight.
Douglas followed the Mustang and the man's black Ford muscle truck.
The jerk better not interfere. I hate it when people mess with my plans
. Douglas had work to do. Preparation was the most important element in his job. He was nothing, if not professional, and he'd been paid a hefty deposit to off the teacher.
* * * *
Bone tired after the first day of explaining to parents that no homework, plus no class work, plus poor or failing test scores, equals a failing grade, Brit trudged into her kitchen. She was ready to shed navy heels and pantyhose that bound more than supported. Conference days created more pressure than regular teaching days did. She loved teaching, but some parents could be demanding. Three months before graduation was late for high school seniors' parents to finally become concerned or defensive, as a few always did.
Sean's dad was a handsome pain in the rear, but a pain, nonetheless. He'd seemed determined to follow her home tonight. Over the year, they'd had a nodding acquaintance. He'd ask about Sean's progress in her class. She'd comment. Lately Mr. Samuels had been at school a lot. Before tonight, he hadn't initiated a personal conversation, but she had felt him staring at her.
He'd always smiled at her. The man's
look slipped when he laughed at something one of the kids said or did. She hadn't paid attention to men for a long time, but it was hard to miss his deep laugh, or his fatherly way of mussing one of the boy's hair, or the way he hugged his son's shoulders when he did well. He was the kind of father her Tommy would have been if he had lived. He and Tommy probably would have been friends.
He and Tommy would never have met. She would not have met Mr. Samuels if she hadn't lost Tommy, if she hadn't applied for a teaching job at Julie's insistence. Teaching and her best friend had brought her back into the real world.
At times, she'd glanced Mr. Samuels' way longer than she'd meant to. His deep green eyes were framed by laugh-lines she couldn't miss when their gazes locked. She always looked away first. She didn't want to give him the wrong idea. Sean and his crowd talked about his dad a lot. He sounded like a perfect parent.
Brit pulled into her drive, thankful for the remote door opener. She eased into her garage, then closed the wide door. She could see Mr. Samuels' truck through the windows in the door. The man was about as subtle as a bear in Sunday School. Too tired to keep watch from there, she unlocked the door and entered her kitchen.
Startled by the loud ringing, she hesitated before answering her phone.
Please, not another damned hang-up
Mr. Samuels' baritone, bedroom voice from the answering machine sent heat to Brit's face. Foolish to let a little thing like a few hang-up calls scare her.
"Come on, Mrs. Roberts, please answer your phone so I'll know you're okay." He sounded worried.
Brit grabbed the phone. "Mr. Samuels, I didn't know I'd need to check in with you. You were just going to make sure my clunker made it home." She sighed and rested her elbow on the yellow counter. "What if I'd thought you were one of the bad guys?" She cocked her head and smiled. As an afterthought, she asked. "Still concerned?"
"Well, uh-glad you're okay, ma'am, I didn't mean to worry you. Bad Guys?" he sounded as though he'd just realized what she'd said. "Someone been bothering you?"
Could he possibly know about the hang-up phone calls?
Nah! Besides, it was none of his business, unless he'd made them. He'd never seemed the type of man to hang up instead of saying what he wanted.
What does he want?
"Mr. Samuels, my brothers keep my car running and in good repair. The tires are fine, too. Now, tell me why you really followed me, then go on home." Brit didn't bother to disguise her annoyance, rubbing her neck to ease a day's worth of tension. She'd almost sell her soul for a good massage, or even a bad massage.