Read Montana Online

Authors: Debbie Macomber

Montana (28 page)

BOOK: Montana
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Slowly Sam stood. “Then why are you all the way over there and I'm all the way over here?”

“Can we meet in the middle?”

He grinned for the first time. “You're a stubborn woman, Molly Dakota.”

“I had a good teacher,” she said, thinking of Gramps.

They didn't walk toward each other, they ran. Sam caught her about the waist and buried his face in the curve of her neck. She threw her arms around him and clung. And all her doubts fled.

“I've been so miserable,” she whispered against his shoulder.

“You?” He chuckled, but his amusement was abruptly cut off when his mouth covered hers.

They'd kissed countless times, but Molly couldn't remember any kiss that had meant this much. It was passion, but it was more—giving, taking, holding, sharing.
Trusting.
They both gasped for breath when the kiss ended.

“Do you realize the torment I've been in the past few nights, sleeping beside you?” he whispered.

“You actually slept?”

“You're joking, right?” He kissed her again—and stopped abruptly. “Listen, Molly, there's something…” He hesitated.

“What?” she asked.

“There's going to be trouble.”

“What do you mean?”

“The woman I gave the ride to…”

“Yes?”

“It was Pearl Mitchell.”

The name blazed itself across Molly's mind, and she pressed her forehead against his shirt. “Oh, God.”

No sooner had she said the words than she heard the sound of an approaching car.

“Are you expecting anyone?” Sam asked.

She shook her head.

Before they could make their way outside, the barn door burst open. Sheriff Maynard stood there, looking like an avenging angel.

“Sam Dakota, I'm taking you into town for questioning in the death of Pearl Mitchell.”

Fifteen

S
am had lost track of the hours he'd spent in the back room at the sheriff's office. Four? Six? His eyes burned from lack of sleep, but the questions kept coming, some at shotgun speed, others with a slow nasal contempt and the assumption of guilt. His answer was the same to each and every one.

“I refuse to answer any questions until my attorney is present.”

According to Sheriff Maynard, he'd been unable to reach Russell Letson. Sam didn't believe him for a second, but said nothing. And wouldn't. Nor did he question the handcuffs, although he hadn't been charged with any crime. It would do no good to demand his rights.

He'd been this route before and had learned the hard way that a uniform didn't guarantee justice, fairness or truth. When he'd been arrested in the barroom brawl that led to his prison sentence, the investigating officer had to rephrase certain questions three or four times to get the answers he needed in order to arrest Sam. Fool that he was, Sam had trusted the man to be unbiased. As a result he'd ended up in jail. Yes, he'd been involved in the fight. Yes, he'd had a knife. Yes, he'd been drinking. Three yeses was all it took to put him behind bars that first time, and Sam had no intention of making a repeat appearance. Not when his life had finally taken a sharp turn for the better. He wasn't going to mess that up.

The ranch was his future, as were Molly and the boys. They'd worked their way deep into his heart. A man didn't walk away from his family, nor did he walk away from his responsibilities. That was a belief he'd shared with Walt. The old man had treated him like a son; he'd loved Sam enough to encourage him to marry Molly, his only granddaughter. And Sam had no intention of letting his friend down now or becoming a victim of circumstances.

“I
demand
to see my husband.”

He could hear Molly's determined voice as the young deputy opened and closed the door. Despite the situation, Sam couldn't keep from smiling. It did his heart good to know someone else was butting heads with Molly. He almost felt sorry for the clerk. His wife was a stubborn headstrong woman, which only made Sam love her more. Knowing she was here and on his side gave him the strength to endure another round of questioning, to listen in silence as the sheriff and his men detailed the “evidence” that pointed directly at Sam. Fortunately he was aware of their game plan. Instinct demanded that he argue his case, protest his innocence. But experience had taught him that his declaration would soon be used as “proof” with which to convict him.

An hour later the door opened a second time, and Russell Letson stepped inside. He took one look at the handcuffs on Sam's wrists and demanded, “On what grounds are you holding my client?” His voice suggested Maynard had stepped so far over the line he was lucky not to get tossed into a cell himself.

“Dakota was the last known person to be with Pearl Mitchell.”

Russell snorted. “If
that's
all you've got, then I suggest you release him now or become the defendant in a lengthy and very expensive lawsuit for unlawful detainment.”

Sam was beginning to believe he'd underestimated the attorney. Mild-mannered Letson was hell wearing shoes when it came to defending his clients. Sam wasn't sure what had persuaded the other man to accept his defense, but he suspected Molly had something to do with it.

Sheriff Maynard's face, double chin and all, was as red as a ripe tomato. Openmouthed, he stared at the attorney as if he couldn't believe what he'd heard. The two were obviously familiar with one another, and they waged a silent battle of wills.

“Now just a minute…” Sheriff Maynard scanned the room as if he felt obliged to make a show in front of his deputies.

“You've gone too far this time,” Russell said, more calmly now. “Way too far. You know it, I know it, and so does everyone else in this room. You can stop here or we can pursue this issue in a court of law. The decision is yours.”

The two men squared off face-to-face before the sheriff growled something incomprehensible and backed away.

Sam stood up and stretched out his arms for the sheriff to unlock the handcuffs. Maynard did so with undisguised reluctance. When his hands were free, Sam rubbed the soreness out of his wrists. Exhilaration filled him. When he'd walked into this office, he'd been terrified that he might never be free again.

He nearly mowed down two men in his eagerness to get to Molly. She got quickly to her feet when he walked into the waiting area in front of the office. Her beautiful blue eyes met his, and the emotion in them was nearly his undoing.

Without speaking a word, they simply walked into each other's arms. Sam's eyes drifted shut as he wrapped his arms around her and felt her love as profoundly as anything he'd ever known. He gave an audible sigh. Molly was sunshine after a fierce storm. Light after dark. Summer after a harsh winter. His joy. His freedom. His love.

“Are you all right?” she asked, her voice trembling. Her fingers investigated his face, brushed back the hair from his brow.

“I'm fine. There's nothing to worry about.” He wasn't entirely sure that was true, but he was hopeful. Thanks to Russell Letson.

Russell was at the counter completing some paperwork, and Sam hurried over to thank him. They spoke for a few minutes and exchanged handshakes. Afterward it seemed to him that when Russell saw Molly standing close to his side, a bit of sadness showed in his eyes, as though he envied them the love they shared. Mentally Sam shook his head; he was growing fanciful.

“I only did what was right,” Russell said as they prepared to leave. “I'm sorry it took so long for the message to reach me.” He looked slightly embarrassed when Molly stepped forward and kissed his cheek. “Go home, you two, and be happy.”

“That's what we intend to do,” Sam said, grinning at his wife. The problems hadn't disappeared, and as soon as this crisis was over, there'd be another one, but for the moment nothing was more important than breathing in the fresh air of freedom.

“What time is it?” he asked.

“Three, maybe four,” Molly said, and yawned. They'd both been up all night. In a couple of hours the ranch would come alive with activity and Sam would be needed to handle the affairs of the day. But for the next two hours, he planned to make love to his wife.

As soon as they arrived at the house, Molly led the way into their bedroom and didn't bother to turn on the lights. In the dark they removed their clothes, and when Sam got into bed, he held his arms wide. She came to him, unresisting, eager, and sighed openly when he touched her.

“It'll be morning soon,” he whispered.

“I know.” She let him draw her closer, her breasts nestling against his chest. Then she trailed a series of kisses from his ear and down the underside of his jaw and slid her tongue over the ultrasensitive skin there.

He lifted his head to kiss her with the pent-up longing of all the dark lonely nights of wanting her, of hungering for her. Although he was weary to the bone, he needed her now as he never had before. Needed her as an absolution for the life he'd once lived. Needed her to obliterate the pain of being accused of a crime he didn't commit. As proof that he was alive and capable of feeling and loving and caring. He positioned himself above her and thrust deep inside her welcoming body. A sigh that slipped from the back of her throat told him she needed him, too.

The incredible pleasure drove any other thought from his mind. He gave her everything. His heart, his soul, all he ever hoped to become, all he would ever be. In the aftermath of their lovemaking they clung to each other, holding tight the tenderness and unadulterated joy of being in love. Neither spoke, but the communication between them was stronger, more perfect, than any words they might have said.

Soon afterward, their positions reversed, Molly fell asleep with her head on his shoulder. A wiser man might have followed her into that gentle oblivion, but Sam chose, instead, to hold her as long as he could. To love her consciously a while longer.

Finally, exhausted, he closed his eyes. He couldn't remember the last time he'd slept, really slept, without the weight of innumerable problems bearing down on him. As he felt his mind drifting off to the peaceful state of nothingness, he remembered that Molly wasn't on the birth-control pill yet and that—for the first time since their wedding—they hadn't used any protection. He smiled, despite everything. If Molly became pregnant as a result of this night, he knew he wouldn't regret it, hard as an unplanned pregnancy would be.

 

“Mr. Wilson would like to see you in his office,” Tom's English teacher, Mrs. Kirby, informed him before class.

The principal? Why would the principal want to see him? Tom tried to think what he might have done to get in trouble and could think of nothing. He'd played it safe since starting school. It didn't take a genius to figure out which kids were the troublemakers. Most of them were proud of the havoc they caused. Being bad was their claim to individuality—or so they thought.

When he'd entered the school as a new kid, both sides—the bad-ass guys and the serious ones—made overtures of friendship toward him. The decision had been Tom's as to which side he'd join. Last spring he'd learned his lesson about the consequences of being friends with a troublemaker like Eddie Ries.

At the time Tom had tried to play it cool, but he still felt guilty about that incident. He especially felt guilty about the look he'd seen on his mother's face when she'd come to the school to get him. That was all the lesson he needed. For a mother, his was all right. They didn't always agree, but she was pretty easy to get along with, especially now that she was married to Sam. Tom wanted to make both of them proud, so he'd carefully stayed away from anything that hinted of trouble.

Now this.

“Did Mr. Wilson say what it was about?” Tom asked his teacher. She was older, about the same age as his mother. He liked her. While it was true he wasn't ever going to enjoy reading Shakespeare, she made it tolerable.

Mrs. Kirby's look was sympathetic. “I'm afraid not.”

There was a sick feeling in his stomach. To the best of his recollection, he didn't have anything to worry about; still, you didn't get called to the principal's office for the fun of it.

“Should I wait until after class?” Tom asked next.

“If I were you, I'd go now.”

Tom reached for his books and walked out of the classroom. It felt like every eye was on him as he walked down the silent hallway toward Mr. Wilson's office.

The secretary, Mrs. Kozar, glanced up when he entered the office. The first thing Tom noticed was that she wasn't smiling. Mrs. Kozar was kind of pretty and she had a funny smile that made anyone who saw it want to smile, too. It started at the edge of her lips with a little quiver and slowly spread across the rest of her mouth. This afternoon there was no quiver and no smile.

Damn, what could he have done?

“Mr. Wilson's waiting for you,” Mrs. Kozar said.

Tom wanted to ask her if she knew what this was about, but even if she did, she probably wouldn't tell him. Hell, he hadn't done anything and already he felt guilty!

Tom knocked politely, waited a moment and then walked into Mr. Wilson's office. To his astonishment, he found his mother and Sam sitting there, opposite Mr. Wilson's desk.

His mother cast him a look that spelled
grounded
and worse in one swift eye-meeting glance. It was all Tom could do not to shriek that he'd done nothing wrong, dammit.

“Sit down, Tom,” Mr. Wilson invited—no, ordered.

Tom took the chair next to Sam. Although he tried to relax, his body remained stiff. He clutched the chair arms with tense fingers.

“Is something wrong?” he asked, glancing first at Mr. Wilson, then his mother and Sam.

“This morning when I arrived at school,” the principal said, “I discovered that someone had spray-painted graffiti on the outside of the gymnasium wall. The north wall.”

Everyone focused on Tom. It took him a moment to realize that Mr. Wilson was accusing him of defacing the gym wall.

“Hey, wait a minute!” Tom was on his feet, hardly aware that he'd even moved. “I didn't do it!”

Mr. Wilson sent a sidelong glance at his mother, as if he expected her to leap into the fray.

“Ask anyone,” Tom said, gesturing for someone to listen to reason. “I took the school bus this morning, the same as I always do and—”

“What about after school yesterday?” his mother asked.

Tom stared at her because she didn't sound like herself. If he didn't know better, he'd think she was about to cry. Sam and his mother held hands, and that was a good sign because it meant they weren't fighting anymore, but then he noticed that his mother's fingers were white because her grip was so tight.

“I stayed for football practice,” Tom said, searching his memory. But that shouldn't be enough to condemn him. He looked at his family and then the principal. “Brian Tucker drove me home, remember?” Brian was the star quarterback and an honor student. Tom made a point of mentioning him, thinking someone would appreciate his wisdom in choosing such a worthwhile friend.

BOOK: Montana
10.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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