The persistent ring of the telephone pulled Reid Talbot from a disturbing dream. He felt as though he’d run for miles and never reached his goal. He rubbed his eyes and groped on the bedside stand for the phone. "Dr. Talbot here."
The gravely voice of Ben Rodgers, Greenesville’s Chief of Police requested Reid’s presence at the scene of an accident. "Two victims. Car slammed into an embankment on County Road 7."
For a moment, Reid wondered if he’d heard a hint of emotion in the usually stoic man’s voice. "Be right there."
"Don’t rush. One accident’s enough."
Reid pulled on a pair of jeans and a blue polo shirt. Who this time, he wondered. He hadn’t asked and Ben hadn’t said.
After jotting a note for his live-in housekeeper, he lifted his medical bag from the dresser. Before heading to his car, he stopped to look in on his sons.
Gary lay curled on his
side. The covers had barely been disturbed. Rob’s bed looked like a major
battle had been fought. The boys’ red hair, several shades lighter than his,
shone bright against the white sheets.
Twenty minutes later, he rounded a bend in the road and spotted the patrol car. A sick feeling settled in his gut. He knew the van and he knew the victims. In the four years since he’d settled in Greenesville, Warren and Nancy Carey had become his friends.
He parked behind the patrol car. Ben strode over. "You need to check them."
"I know." His stomach knotted. He looked at the shattered front end. There was no way either could have survived. Thoughts of his wife’s broken body arose. Her accident had taken place not far from here.
He grabbed the medical bag. Ben’s round face mirrored the same sick feeling that roiled in Reid’s gut. "You all right?" he asked.
"Good as I can be."
Reid reached the van. He sucked in a breath and felt for pulses.
"How long?" Ben asked.
"Can’t say without an autopsy. Six hours or so. Is there a need?"
Ben shrugged. "Won’t know ‘til the van’s been checked over. Was on my way to town for breakfast when I come on them. Not many folks travel this road at night."
"What do you think happened?" Reid turned away. There wasn’t a thing he could do and that made him feel helpless.
"Dear, I reckon." Ben rubbed his balding head. "Found a dead one ‘crost the road." He frowned. "Wonder what brought them home in the middle of the night. Thought they was staying in
York City a couple of weeks. Haven’t been gone more
"I thought so, too."
"Asked me to check on Miss Mary and the kids. Talked to her yesterday morning. She didn’t mention they were coming back."
Reid averted his eyes from the van. He couldn’t look; he couldn’t even grieve. Not in public "Maybe she called them. Children could be a handful, especially for a seventy year old."
Ben chuckled. "She sure snookered you. She’s past eighty and she’s not one for admitting she can’t handle anything." He shook his head. "Them coming back don’t make sense."
Reid nodded. Warren and Nancy had been excited about the contract for a series of informative and witty histories of Colonial days. They’d talked about plays, museums and people they wanted to see. Would knowing why they cut their trip short explain the accident?
The ambulance arrived. One of the men approached. "You gonna sign the certificates now or later, Doc?"
Reid’s hands clenched. "At the hospital." He strode down the road and kept his back to the van. Sadness view with anger. Why these two? The accident was senseless and unfair.
Ben joined him. "They’re gone. You able to handle this? Know you was close."
"Yeah. Have you called Miss Mary?"
Ben shook his head. "Couldn’t face her. Don’t know how she’ll take this. Been living with them since her cabin burned down."
Reid nodded. Life in a small town had annoying moments but the closeness and caring when trouble occurred were among the reasons he’d remained after his wife’s death.
"I’ll tell her and call
The older man snorted. "Wouldn’t surprise me none if they didn’t come."
Willow will," Reid
Ben raised an eyebrow. "They why ain’t she come to visit?"
"She’s a nurse and works crazy hours. Warren, Nancy and the children visit her once a month."
Ben walked to the patrol car. "Seems one way to me. Makes me see red when families fall apart, Best you call them. I might shove my foot in wrong. See you."
After the patrol car pulled onto the road, Reid slumped in the driver’s seat. Warren and Nancy. Why?
He stared at the crumpled van. How was he going to tell Miss Mary and the children?
Five minutes later, he turned into the tree-lined lane leading to Indian’s Sorrow. For the hundredth time, he wondered how the place had been named. This morning the name seemed apt.
Miss Mary opened the door. "What brings you here? Be needing one of my tonics?"
He shook his head. "Warren and Nancy."
"T’ain’t back from the big city. Why a body would want to go there is beyond me."
"I know they’re not back. They’ve been in an accident."
Her shoulders slumped. Her face aged to match the years she’d lived. "They was coming in the night. Hoped they’d changed their minds. Might as well come in." She headed past the stairs leading to the second floor and into the kitchen wing.
"Where are the children?"
"Tykes be sleeping." She filled a cup with coffee and put it in front of him. "Don’t have a notion why Warren and Nancy changed their plans, ‘cept he was mad ‘bout something. Heard it in his voice."
Reid inhaled the aromatic steam and gulped a mouthful. The bitter taste matched his thoughts. The hot liquid burned a trail to his stomach but failed to warm the frost that had settled deep. How would the children handle the loss of their parents? He remembered how his boys had grieved when their mother had died. Though she’d done little to earn the title, they had loved her.
He put the cup in the saucer. "They were almost home when they had the accident."
Miss Mary sank on the chair across the table from him. "Feared as much when they didn’t come. Need to tell the tykes when they wake. Pains me. Tired of telling folks ‘bout death." Her hands opened and closed. "Was me what brought Willow Grant the news ‘bout her man and baby. Place sure lives up to its name. Don’t know a body what lived here that don’t lose a loved one in some tragic way."
He put his hand over hers. "I’ll call
She snorted. "Guess they’ll come. That Brooke was here ‘bout two months ago. Brought some slick city fella. Didn’t like him one bit. Had greedy eyes. She and Warren had a real fuss."
had seldom talked about Brooke.
"And that Willow. Had hopes for her. When she come summers, she helped me with my herbs. Day after her aunt’s funeral, she run and ain’t been back. House and land be hers."
"Thought it was
"Land goes to the oldest girl in each generation.
Willow and Brooke be the last in the direct
line, so it’s hers. Them things don’t mean much to young folks these
"She’ll come for the children."
Speculation flashed in her eyes. Reid looked away. Even
hadn’t known about his connection to Willow
and how he’d destroyed her trust by withholding the truth.
"Believe that when I see her. Run out of here that morning like ghosts was on her tail."
"She’ll come," he repeated. "I know her. She was a nurse at the hospital where I did my residency. Do you have her number?"
"I’ll fetch the book."
While Reid waited for the elderly woman to return, vivid images of Willow filled his thoughts and stirred memories of how much he’d needed her love, of how she’d been the one to fill the emptiness he’d felt all his life. He groaned.
Miss Mary dropped an indexed book on the table. "I’ll check the tykes. Tell them girls they’d better come flying. They be needed."
He opened the directory to C. Willow’s name and number were scrawled in
Warren’s bold script. Brooke’s had been added
by Nancy. He
tried that number.
"We’re sorry but the number you’ve reached has been disconnected."
He frowned. He’d hoped to speak to Brooke and let her pass the news to
Willow. Even thinking about her stirred
regrets and guilt. He dialed her number. After six rings, her throaty voice
informed him she was unavailable but to leave a message.
He slumped in the chair. What now? His news couldn’t wait and he didn’t want to leave a message. Was she at the hospital? Had she changed her shift from evenings? He called
and asked for the Pediatric
Unit. West End Hospital
Five years ago, he and
had met at a patient’s bedside. After her shift, they’d gone to the cafeteria
to discuss the case. That had been the first of many late night meetings.
Memories of their first kiss flooded his thoughts.
He’d cupped her face and kissed her lightly. "I feel as though I’ve known you forever."
"Forever," she had repeated. "To the spirit world and beyond."
Those words had sounded right and as though she’d said them to him once before. Except, he’d believed she hadn’t been talking about the past. She’d wanted a future he couldn’t promise.
"Pediatrics, Miss Carey speaking."
Her voice curled around him like a velvet glove. "
Willow, it’s Reid Talbot."
"Dr. Talbot." Her voice flattened. "What can I do for you?"
Love me, he thought. Her formality doused his hopes. Did she still hate him? He recalled the night she’d walked away. Her obsidian eyes had flashed with anger and her long black braid had slapped against her back. "I have some bad news."
"Not the children." Her words echoed the ones that had awakened her.
An accident. They were killed."
For a moment, his words failed to register. Tears trickled down her cheeks. "Were they mugged?"
"Their van. Just outside Greenesville."
"But they were in
She didn’t understand. Like a gush of molten lava, anger flashed in her
thoughts. I’ll follow him to the spirit world and beyond. I will have revenge.
Her hands shook. What am I thinking? "Why were they coming home?"
"I don’t know."
"Mara and Pete?"
"With Miss Mary. Will you come?"
Was there a choice? She sucked in a shuddering breath and wiped her eyes. "Yes." A whisper from the past brushed her skin. She shivered. "As soon as I can arrange relief here. Sometime later...this afternoon or early evening."
"If you need anything, Miss Mary has my number."
He heard grief in her voice and marveled at her control. Except, she’d always shown a stoic’s face to the world. "We need to talk..." He swallowed the rest of his words. Today wasn’t the time to tell her he was a widower. "Will you be all right? Is there..."
"I have to be. Mara and Pete need me...Does Brooke know?"
"Her number’s been disconnected."
"I’ll find her."
He hated the sorrow he heard in her voice. He reached for the now cold coffee and drained the cup.
Miss Mary shuffled into the room. "Tykes still be asleep. Them girls coming?"
Willow will be here this
The elderly woman sniffed. "Why so long?"
"Nurses can’t just abandon their patients. The nursing office will have to find a relief." He waved away a refill. "Couldn’t reach Brooke. What’s she like?"
"On the outside, a body’d think she was
but she’s soft inside and easy led. Kind of selfish. Carried on something
fierce when she learned the place was her twin’s and not for them both."
Willow’s oldest by fifteen
minutes. Just ‘cause they’re twins don’t change the giving."
Reid rose. "I must get to the hospital. Call if you need anything."
She followed him to the door. "Always been a
Willow here to now."
Would Willow stay or would she take the children to the city? Could he persuade her to give the town and him another chance? He paused on the porch. "Want me to stay until the children are up?"
"I’ll be doing what’s needed." She remained at the door. "
Willow be the one to need you."
Will she? From the ice he’d heard in her voice, he believed she’d be the last person to ask for his help.