Authors: Marta Perry
Adam lifted his hands in quick denial. “Never thought of it. Trey probably wouldn’t have let you, anyway. He was born for the job.”
Trey, the oldest, had been groomed from birth to take over the extensive holdings that made up the Morgan family company. Link, her twin brother, the best man today, hadn’t had that pressure on him, but since an injury cut short his military career, he’d come home to recuperate, fallen in love and stayed to take over the construction arm of the family business.
And then there was Libby, always considered the baby, even though Link had been born only twenty minutes before her. She’d been Daddy’s princess. Too bad that role hadn’t prepared her very well for the outside world. For an instant a fierce longing for her father’s warm, reassuring presence swept through her.
Adam shifted his weight slightly, looking as if he’d rather be wearing his gray uniform on his six feet of solid muscle than the rented tuxedo. Or maybe she had actually succeeded in making him uncomfortable.
“I guess I’d better get back to my groomsman duties.” A smile disturbed the gravity of his face. “Your mother gave strict orders. I even have a detailed list.”
“That’s Mom, all right. She might play the featherbrain at times, but she’s the most organized person I know.”
Funny, that only her mother could bring that softness to Adam’s expression. Or maybe not so funny. Geneva Morgan had looked at a ragged eight-year-old Adam and seen a person worth cultivating instead of the son of the town drunk. Adam wasn’t the sort to forget that.
Libby watched Adam walk across the room through the shielding lens of the camera, lingering a bit on those broad shoulders. He was as solid now as he’d been back in high school.
The family had gone to every Spring Township High football game to cheer on Trey, the quarterback. Nobody had known that Libby’s eyes were on his best friend, the lineman who’d been that same six feet of solid muscle even then. A crush, she told herself now. It had been nothing but a crush, turned humiliating when she’d thrown herself at him.
In an odd way, when the rumors started going around that he’d gotten Sally Dailey pregnant, she’d felt better about his rejection of her. If that was the kind of girl he wanted, she was done with him.
Only she hadn’t been, not really.
Enough, she chided herself. Being home again was having a ridiculous effect on her…her emotions had been riding a roller coaster all day. At least, after another hour or two of the reception, the bride and groom would slip away.
Lucky them. Libby had no doubt that Mom had another of her famous lists ready for the rest of the family. Still, there should be time tomorrow to talk with Esther.
It was impossible to do it before then. Even if she could have left the reception, it grew dark early in December. Amish families, like the Zooks, would be in bed by this time.
“Well, now, if it isn’t Libby Morgan, all grown-up.”
She wasn’t quite fast enough to escape the arm that snaked around her waist…probably because she’d been watching Adam.
“Mr. Barclay.” She grabbed his cold hand and shook it, using the move to get him at arm’s length.
Owen Barclay, manager of the Springville Inn, did a marvelous job of running the Revolutionary-era showplace for its distant owners, so everyone in town said. Everyone also said he’d chase after any attractive female who crossed his path.
“Owen, please. After all, we’ve known each other a long time, haven’t we?” He made the words sound ridiculously intimate.
“The family is so pleased with the reception.” She turned the conversation to the only business they had between them. “The setting is perfect.” Her gesture took in the spacious, Christmas-decorated room that could and did host everything from the local high school prom to political rallies.
Owen nodded, flashing a white smile. Everything about Owen was polished, from his sleek dark hair to the tan—that had to come from a tanning booth—to the expensive cut of his suit. He might have been made for the position he held as manager of the historic inn.
“My staff is well trained to handle an event like this. Naturally we want to provide the perfect setting for any wedding, but your brother’s is very special. It isn’t every day a member of the Morgan family gets married.”
“It’s so nice that the bride decided to have the wedding here in Springville.” Sandra Smalley paused next to them, patting her silver-blond hair. “One does wonder why she didn’t have it at her home, of course.”
Libby’s smile tightened. Sandra had always had aspirations to be the social leader of Springville, and she probably still did. More to the point, she was a notorious gossip. Libby certainly wasn’t going to mention Jessica’s strained relationship with her father, who was her only relative.
“Well, I can answer that.” Libby leaned close to Sandra, as if about to impart a secret. “She actually thinks people here are nice.”
“Oh. Well, of course.” Sandra blinked, perhaps wondering if she’d just been insulted. “That’s good, isn’t it?” She backed up, nearly stepping on her husband, waiting behind her. “Come along, Leonard. I’m sure Libby has a great deal to do.”
They moved away between the tables, and Owen shook his head at her in mock disapproval. “Shame on you. What would your mother say about your baiting Sandra that way?”
“She’d say I should know better, which I should.” She raised her camera. “So I’d better get back to taking photographs. Good seeing you, Owen.”
While she was at it, she really needed to readjust her thinking to the small-town mindset. Libby moved among the tables, snapping photos, agreeing that the bride was beautiful, the ceremony had been perfect, and yes, it was sad that her father wasn’t here to see this day. This last one required gritting her teeth a few times, but she managed. Mom would be proud of her.
Her gaze sought out her mother in the crowded room. Geneva Morgan was doing her duty, of course, speaking to every single person here. She probably hadn’t had a bite of her dinner, but her smile was radiant as she greeted guests.
Would Mom be proud when she learned that her only daughter was now unemployed? Possibly, when she knew the circumstances. Mom was a great one for standing up for what was right. As for Libby’s own sense of that…maybe living in the competitive world of news photography had blurred her vision. If so, it was past time to regain her moral compass.
She stopped at the Smalleys’ table, taking several photos of them out of a delayed sense of social guilt. Sandra beamed, adjusting the collar of her pink sequined top. Leonard, whose habitual expression was one of faintly worried absentmindedness, looked like a white rabbit that had strayed into the party by mistake.
“Smile, Leonard. You’re happy for the bride and groom, aren’t you?”
He produced something that was more of a grimace, and she snapped the photo.
“That’s great,” she said. At least when she photographed car smashups, she didn’t have to coax a smile from people. A faint memory teased at her mind. “By the way, didn’t I see—”
She stopped, glancing across the room, her gaze caught by Adam Byler. He stood a little apart from the crowd, cell phone pressed to his ear.
A small, icy thread traced its way down her spine. Adam looked solemn—there was nothing in that. He always did. But something about the call had frozen him into immobility for just a moment. Then his gaze swung around the room. It reached her. It stopped.
Something was wrong. The thread became a torrent of cold. Something was very wrong, because Adam was moving through the crowd toward her, his eyes never leaving hers.
She clutched the back of the nearest chair as he reached her. “What is it? What’s happened?”
He took her arm, leading her a few steps away from the interested glances of the people at the table.
“I’m sorry.” His voice was low, for her ears only. “I don’t want to disrupt the reception, but I know how close you two are.” He paused for the space of a heartbeat, his hand firm and strong on her arm. “There’s been an accident. Esther Zook’s buggy has been hit.”
“How bad?” Her frozen lips could barely form the words.
“Bad,” he said, clenching his jaw. “She’s on her way to the hospital, but…it’s bad.”
* * *
IT HADN’T BEEN any part of Adam’s plan to bring Libby with him. But when she’d learned he was headed for the hospital after a brief stop at the accident scene, she’d been adamant.
He might have overruled her, but when Geneva found out what was happening she’d been equally insistent. He hadn’t been able to hold out against both of them.
Ripping off the tie that went with the tux, he tossed it into the backseat, glancing at Libby. She huddled into a thick winter coat—apparently not thick enough, because she was shivering. He flicked the heat up to full blast.
“It’ll warm up soon.”
She didn’t seem to hear him. The brief light provided by a passing car showed him the pale oval of her face, stiff and frozen. Only her lips moved silently, as if in prayer.
Would Carmody have done everything he’d told him? The kid was fairly new, but he seemed intelligent enough. Which probably meant he wouldn’t hang around long. The smart kids he got in the township police generally used it as a stepping stone to something else.
Well, he’d see for himself soon enough. The accident site wasn’t far from Springville.
What had Esther been doing out in her buggy at this hour, anyway? That was unusual, to put it mildly.
He turned onto the township road, slowing, wary of patches of black ice. Not far now. His mind ticked over all the things that had to be set in motion with a hit-and-run, but that wasn’t enough to distract him from the silent figure at his side.
“I’m sorry we have to stop at the scene. Maybe you should have had someone else take you.”
She shook her head, roused for the moment, at least. “We came from the house in the limo, remember? None of the family had a car at the inn. Anyway, I shouldn’t take them away from the reception. Esther is…” Her voice choked on the words.
He felt as if he’d been hit in the heart. “I know. You’ve been friends since you were kids.”
He had a quick mental picture of Libby as a child, hair so light a blond it looked like dandelion fluff dancing in the breeze when she and Esther darted among the apple trees behind the Morgan house, playing some fanciful game. Tonight her slightly darker blond hair was swept up into a complicated twist adorned with a wisp of lace that matched her bridesmaid’s dress.
“We couldn’t have been much more than four or five when her mother started helping at the house and brought her along.” Once she got started, Libby’s voice seemed to ease. “Mom was glad I had a girl to play with, instead of just my brothers.”
“Your friendship lasted even after you went away to school?” If he kept her talking, maybe she wouldn’t get that frozen look again.
“Nobody writes letters anymore, except the Amish.” She almost smiled. “Esther’s letters…I don’t know, I think they grounded me, in a way. Reminded me of home. They still do.” She sucked in a breath. “If the paramedics took her to the hospital, there must be hope. There must be,” she repeated, as if he’d argued the point.
He didn’t want to tell her what he’d heard. “The paramedics got to her quickly. I’m sure they would have a surgeon waiting when she reached the hospital.”
“Her injuries…what were they?” Her voice quavered, then steadied. She wanted the truth, he knew.
“Trust me, my guys aren’t experts on trauma. When you get to the hospital—”
“What did they say?” Her tone was uncompromising.
“She has what looks like a bad head injury.”
I figured she was a goner
. That was what the patrolman on duty actually said.
All that blood.
He’d sounded a little sick. Adam could only hope Carmody hadn’t disgraced himself at the scene. This was the kid’s first bad crash…not that anyone ever got used to seeing mangled bodies at an accident scene.
Not just an accident, he reminded himself. A hit-and-run. That made the site a crime scene. He’d called for a crime scene investigation team from the state police. His tiny department didn’t have the resources for anything like that. The driver was bound to have left some traces behind.