Authors: JM Dragon,Erin O'Reilly
“Sure thing, Ms. Danvers. He will certainly make time for you without a doubt. Please take a seat. I’m sure he will be with you shortly.” The teller immediately went to a door-marked private, knocked, and waited.
Within two minutes Ted was back behind his counter and George was ushering Thea into his opulent office. It was obvious that there had been no expense spared with the furniture or the various pieces of office equipment.
“My dear, this is an unexpected, but pleasant surprise.” He bent close to her and kissed her cheek.
Thea had successfully turned her head to evade the lip-to-lip encounter, but couldn’t stop the impact on her cheek. She moved away to stand at the window that looked out across the town and wiped her cheek with the back of her hand.
“George, I need to speak to you about our agreement.” Thea turned to face the rotund man whose face never ever seemed to be anything but streaming with perspiration.
George eyed Thea with suspicion.
While standing by the window she knew she was fidgeting nervously. This was a monumental moment in her life.
“What is it? Do you need money for the preparations for our wedding? Never mind that, my dear, I have everything in hand and everything will be ready for a week from Saturday when we will be married.”
Thea couldn’t believe her ears. The man had everything in hand? Everything!
Obviously, he had been so confident that she would say yes that he went ahead and planned the affair.
“No, George, that isn’t why I am here.” Thea gave him a quizzical look. Why had he been so sure of her saying yes? She hoped for the insurance payout yet the man was at her door immediately when she found they declined to pay. He didn’t know about that beforehand. Did he? Did he have a hand in the final decision?
“Then, Thea, please tell me what’s on your mind?” George seated himself in a large plush office chair that would have been more at home in a house than an office.
Thea looked at her motel from the window. At least for the moment it was hers until she had her say. After that, it would belong to the bank and the man seated in the room with her. It would be the last of her family heritage before her release to a new life. Thea cleared her throat to gain a controlled and confident tone. “George, I’m sorry, but I’ve been thinking about it and I can’t marry you.”
“Thea, my dear, its just a few nervous jitters. I’m not giving you much time to get used to the idea and I appreciate that. Perhaps if we postpone the wedding until the following…week, then you will have gotten used to it?”
Thea’s stomach roiled at the very thought of marrying the man in front of her. She had a better offer—it might not be permanent—but it was a solution. One that she couldn’t refuse. Her heart would wither and die if she did.
“No, Mr. Andrews, it’s not nerves and delaying the wedding won’t help at all. I’m not going to marry you.” Thea’s voice raised a fraction as jitters were starting to move to the surface of her emotions.
Perhaps I should’ve brought Joanna with me as my protector.
The mere thought of Joanna eased her fears. She looked at the man who was now bristling with anger, his face turning bright red.
“I don’t accept that, Thea. You will marry me and that’s final.” His whole body shook with rage.
His angry and arrogant assumption that she had no choice in the matter made Thea’s anger surface. “Go to hell, George. I’m not marrying you and that’s final.”
“If you don’t marry me, I will instigate the foreclosure clause your father agreed to and that means you will lose the motel immediately,” he snarled.
“I know,” Thea acknowledged. She had already cleared all her personal belongings out of the hotel.
“Just like that. You’re giving up something you have nurtured and cherished for years. I don’t believe it. Who’s put you up to it?” George exploded.
Unable to stop herself, Thea shivered at the harshness of the tone. She could see by the sneer on his face he had seen it and was taking pleasure in her discomfiture. “No one put me up to it. I decided that marrying you wouldn’t make me happy and if I had to lose the motel, so be it,” Thea said in a mildly aggressive tone.
“It was Bascome, wasn’t it?”
“No one in this town put me up to it so you can leave them alone.”
“You’re lying to me. It was probably both John-Henry and Lucy, they tried to help you out once before but I put the dampener on their good Samaritan-ship,” he spat. “You know I’m going to find out sooner or later, so tell me,” he shouted.
“It hasn’t anything to do with either of them. I told you it was my idea and that’s the end of it. Serve whatever papers you need to and I will sign the mortgage deed to the bank. Goodbye, Mr. Andrews.” Thea turned for the door. A sweaty hand on her bare arm stopped her.
“There’s no way I’m letting you leave here until I know who talked you out of marrying me?”
“It wasn’t anyone. Let go of me, Mr. Andrews, I’m leaving.” His vice-like grip on her arm hurt, but she refused to give him the satisfaction of knowing that.
George didn’t take his hand from her arm as he stared at her with what looked like comprehension on his face. “Get out of my sight, you worthless piece of trash. But remember this, Thea.” He voice shook with rage. “I do not take rejection well, so beware.” He spit at her and his spittle made a small track down her face.
Not giving him the satisfaction of letting him know that the words had scared her and letting him see her revulsion of his action, Thea rushed out the door. Within thirty seconds, she was breathing in the morning air. Her hand shakily went to her left cheek and she wiped at the moisture in disgust. She certainly needed another shower.
Livid, George stomped around his office cursing and swearing while occasionally slapping his hand against his desktop. There was no doubt that the whore drifter who sang in the bar was the culprit. Thea hadn’t said it, but she had given it away in that comment about it not being anyone from the town. How could it have been? He had the town sewn up except for the bar and diner owners. Thea was his and she was going to regret ever having met that drifter. He’d see to it that she was a drifter again. That was a promise.
He sucked in a calming breath, walked briskly to his desk, and placed a call. “I have a job for you and I want it done this afternoon. There better not be any mistakes as to who sent you. I want the bitch to know exactly who and why,” George said caustically. “Let me know when it’s done.” He slammed the phone down.
“Revenge they say is sweet and for a spurned lover to get his revenge surely that must be even sweeter,” he said to the audience of an empty room.
Jo pushed herself off the bed and picked up her laundry lethargically. She’d been up about half an hour, had coffee, and showered. That was as near normal as she could be at three in the afternoon. Her stomach felt hollow and sore, but she guessed that was with the retching she’d done after breakfast. At least the pounding in her head was gone. She had a set in a few hours at the bar and planned to let John-Henry know she was leaving in two days.
As she was walking out of the room, she was happily humming a tune that she’d been working on as she made her way to the small laundry. After settling herself in the empty laundromat, she put her things into piles and calculated that she would be there at least two hours. The vending machine that hadn’t worked the last time she was there had a steady light that wasn’t flickering this time around. She selected an iced tea and waited for it to drop down. Her keen sense of hearing alerted her to the fact that someone else had entered the building.
Tony Reed brought his bulk squarely into Jo’s personal space and stood toe to toe with her.
“You want something?” Jo asked confidently. It was the idiot she had saved Thea from that night at the bar. He was about her height but the breadth of his shoulders and body could be mistaken as threatening. Men never intimidated her and she wasn’t going to start with this sack of muscle without a brain.
“Yeah. You.” Reed’s voice was full of pent up anger.
“Well, sorry I can’t oblige.” Jo turned away to pull her tea from the bottom of the machine.
“No one turns their back on me. Do you hear me?” The man put out his hand and wrenched her back round to face him.
Jo was surprised at his action, “What the fuck is wrong with you, asshole? Is it because I blew you off the other night?”
He gave her a nasty look before putting both hands on her shoulders and slamming her against the machine.
Jo felt the shock wave of metal to her body on impact. “Jesus! What is wrong with you?”
“My boss says,
.” He again pushed her against the machine.
Jo felt her teeth rattle. Once she recovered from the jolt, she glared at the man. “Who the hell is your boss?”
Tony sneered and pushed his face virtually nose to nose with Jo. “Oh, I’m going to tell you that, bitch, but first I want you to feel his message.” He punched her in the face.
After the stars subsided, Jo could feel moisture trickling from her nose.
Shit. I think he broke my nose.
“He wants me to tell you that leaving town within the next hour might be beneficial to your health,” he snarled. “He also said that you take with you only what you came with. No extra baggage. Comprehend?” Again, he brought his fist up and smashed it in her face.
Jo was reeling from the second impact, her left eye taking the main thrust.
No baggage. So this is about Thea. There would be only one man interested in that.
“Tell Andrews to go fuck himself, because it’s still a free country and it’s not my choice to make.” Jo spoke in a voice that held no hesitation. No way in hell was she going to let this idiot get the better of her.
The jackass looked at her in surprise before positioning himself so he could hit her again.
Jo saw the pose and reacted automatically by lifting her leg .She raised her knee and placed it as hard as she could between his legs. His howl of pain made her grin. She’d hit the target.
He staggered. “You bitch. I’m going to get you for that.” He moved unsteadily in her direction.
Jo smiled devilishly. Kickboxing was one of her many talents and moving a fraction forward, she took the stupid brute down.
He was on the floor, writhing in agony and looking up at eyes that held no mercy.
“You know if I wasn’t a lady, I would kick the shit out of you until you begged for mercy. As it is, I’m a lady and if I hear or see you, or any of Andrews’s goons anywhere near Ms. Danvers, or me, I will suddenly forget that the lady ever existed. Comprehend?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I understand you.”
“Good. Now get the fuck out of here. I want to do my laundry in peace.” Jo picked up her iced tea, sat in a chair, and looked at the two machines where her clothes were turning in the drum as if nothing had happened.
Jo watched him slowly pick himself up off the floor before creeping out of the building like a dog going home to lick his wounds.
As soon as she was alone, Jo put a hand to her nose and saw the deep red blood that covered her fingers. She then tentatively touched her left eye and could feel the swelling on the eyelid. “I guess I look a sorry sight.”
With purposeful slow moves, she got out of the seat and immediately felt areas of her body protest. She probably bruised her back when he threw her against the machine. Guess I’m going to be leaving town earlier than expected. I’m good but not against an army. I bet Andrews will send in the cavalry. Now, how to explain to Thea what was happening? She hoped that when Thea saw her face, she didn’t panic and change her mind. That would only favor Andrews, and no way was she going to let that bastard win.
Thea hoped to see Joanna, but so far, she hadn’t turned up. A prickling at the base of her neck told her that there was a problem.
What is it? Why do I always have a feeling she’s in as much trouble as I am here?
Joanna had shown she was capable of handling herself and Thea couldn’t think of anyone who’d want to cause her trouble.
All her personal possessions were at Daisy’s house for safekeeping. She had two battered suitcases packed with her clothes, toiletries and two of the journals of her writing to take with her when she left. Her other journals were safe with Daisy. Marrying George would have been the biggest mistake of her life. Although profoundly sad that she was going to be leaving so soon, Daisy was also happy that she had made the right decision.
She walked out into the afternoon sun beating down on her beloved yard full of flowers. As she strolled among them for what she surmised was the last time, her heart was heavy but full of hope. So caught up in the sights around her she didn’t hear the person come up silently behind her until a hand settled on her shoulder. Startled, she turned.
“Joanna, you scared the life out of me.” Thea was gasping for breath at the unexpected visitor.
“Sorry I frightened you but—” Jo never finished the sentence. A terrified Thea took her by the hand and led her to a chair in the yard.
“My God, Joanna, what happened to you? You look like you’ve had a collision with a truck!”
“Well, I guess you could call it that. Thea, I need to stop the nosebleed and I think an icepack on the left eye would help. Are you going to help me out here?” Joanna stuffed what was once presumably a white handkerchief under her nose to stem the flow.
“I’ll go get the icepack. Do you think your nose is broken? Shall I call the doctor?” Thea gently pulled back from Joanna and tenderly pushed away the loose bangs that fell on her friend’s face.
“Need to get a haircut, don’t I?” Joanna smiled.
Thea smiled back and shook her head. “No. No, please don’t. You have beautiful hair. Maybe if you just tied it back, that would help.”
Joanna grinned. “Okay. For you anything. So the icepack?
“Sorry. Be back in a minute. Do you want the doctor to come take a look?” Thea asked over her shoulder as she went toward her office.
“No, I think it’s gonna be fine. I just need to stop it from bleeding.” Joanna pulled the blood soaked handkerchief away for scrutiny.
Thea returned within minutes with an icepack and a cold compress and placed them on Joanna’s injuries.
“Thanks.” Joanna tilted her head back.
“You’re welcome.” Thea dragged the chair that was the other side of the table a little closer to Joanna and sat there silently for several minutes.
“What are you thinking?” Joanna mumbled.
Thea was surprised at the question, but smiled at the possibilities of the answer as she watched the beautiful woman at her side. “Oh, this and that, but mainly about you.” Thea held her breath hoping she hadn’t said too much.
“Me? What’s to think about concerning me?” The cold compress fell down Jo’s face when she moved suddenly.
Thea quickly captured the compress before it fell on the ground. She firmly tilted back Joanna’s head and put it against her eye. “Yes, you. I was wondering why you want me to go with you.”
Joanna was so silent and unmoving that Thea wondered if she had heard the question.
“I didn’t want you to think that the only option left open to you was marrying that
,” Joanna spit out.
Thea reeled at the vehemence of the final word. “We really need to work on your vocabulary when we travel together, Joanna,” Thea said primly.
“Thank you for looking out for me, Joanna.” Thea couldn’t stop the tenderness she was feeling.
your protector. I know an improbable one, but hey, it works.” Joanna’s voice sounded nasal.
“Yes, it does work. When we travel, what exactly will I do? I don’t exactly have the many skills you possess.” Thea could feel her confidence waver.
“Thea, you can do whatever you want, when you want, if you want. I will be there to make sure no one takes advantage of your good nature. That’s what a protector does. The rest, as they say, is up to you.”
“Who looks out for you?” Thea smiled, feeling the woman next to her shift uncomfortably in her chair.
“Me? Me. Well, I guess…I guess… .No one has ever asked that before?” Joanna admitted. “No one has bothered about me for years. I’ve pretty much fended for myself. That’s just the way of it.”
“Would you mind if I did?” Thea’s voice was barely above a whisper.
“If you did what?” Joanna looked at her in confusion.
“Look out for you on our journeys?” Thea held her breath in anticipation of an answer.
“Our journeys? Yeah, sure, Thea, anything you say.” Joanna chuckled “I can just see you defending me in a dispute.” She grinned. “Cute. Really cute.”
Thea could feel the heat on her cheeks at the remark. “Thank you. So do you think the nose has stopped bleeding?”
Joanna, gingerly moving in the chair, released the compress from her nose and the bloodstained handkerchief, and waited for a few moments. Nothing. “Yeah. I think it has. Thanks, Thea. Whatever would I have done without you?”
“I’m sure you would have managed.”
“No, no. I think your caring skills cured all that ails me.” Joanna dropped her voice a notch and turned her gaze to Thea who was only inches from her.
What could she say to a comment like that? “You flatter me.”
“Flatter you, Thea? No, I was speaking the truth.”
“What is your favorite flower, Joanna?” Thea asked to get the conversation from the previous heavy overtones.
“My favorite flower?” Jo looked astonished.
“Yes. Your favorite flower? Even you must surely have a favorite.” Thea smiled at the chagrined look she received.
Joanna stared at the blonde before smiling. “Well, I’m not really into flowers but I do like the way eucalyptus smells.”
“Eucalyptus?” Thea smiled. “That’s a tree but ok, do you know its meaning?”
Joanna shook her head.
“Protector. It is beautiful in a very discreet way.”
“Well, I don’t know about that, but I like it anyway. What about yourself? Which flower is your favorite?”
“Mine? Well, I love lots of them as you can see, but if I had to choose…the carnation. Yes, it’d be the carnation.” Thea turned toward her friend.
“Nice choice. It’s always good to know that kind of information.” Joanna’s gaze turned to the numerous flowers in the yard.
Thea continued to glance in her friend’s direction. “Yes, it certainly is good to have that information about someone.”
Joanna smiled and nodded. “It is indeed.”
“How about a cup of coffee while I tell you my news?” Thea’s reward was a grateful smile from Joanna, who was now looking a little better—but only just.
“So, you broke off the engagement.” Jo realized that was the reason for the man attacking her. “I bet he didn’t take that well.”
Thea shook her head. “That is an understatement. He was furious. I’ve moved all my things to Daisy’s and I think you should see if John-Henry will let you store your things at his place.”
Jo frowned. “Do you think he’ll try something like burn the place down?” Jo already knew the answer to that one.
“I wouldn’t put it past him. He said he’d foreclose immediately so it is possible he’d lock us out and we couldn’t get back in.”
“I’m sorry.” Jo reached out and took Thea’s hand.
“Nothing to be sorry for, Joanna. It was always going to come down to this and thanks to you I have a way out of marrying that man.”
Jo could feel Thea shiver. “Are you cold?”
Thea smiled. “No. I was thinking about being married to George.”
“I need to speak to John-Henry and tell him I’m leaving,” Jo said.
“He won’t be happy.”
“I know and to be honest, I’ve really liked working there. It’s time for us to move on, don’t you think.”
George paced his office floor. He saw the tread his shoes made on the smooth beige carpet and scowled at the marks. Where was Reed? He should be back by now. The words spun in his mind and not for the first time in the past ten minutes.
A soft knock on the door brought his attention from the marks on the floor to the paneled wooden door. “Come in,” he barked.
Ted Wesley tentatively poked his head around the door.
“What is it, Ted?” Andrews asked savagely.
“Tony is here and he wants to know if you can see him immediately.”
“Show him in now. Oh, I don’t want to be disturbed until Reed is gone. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I understand, Mr. Andrews. I’ll show him in immediately.”
Within a minute Tony entered the office, closing the door behind him.
“Where the hell have you been, Reed?” George saw the large bulk of muscle before him shift uncomfortably around at the words.
“Well, it was like this….”
“All I want to know is have you convinced the bitch to leave town now and without my fiancée?” George interrupted. He walked to be within a foot of the much taller man.
“Boss, it was like this. She wasn’t easy to convince.” Reed’s tone was defensive.
George eyed him with suspicion. “What does that mean, exactly?”
Reed took a step back. “I made your point known as you instructed. I thought she was on the rails, when suddenly she jumped me and did some fancy footwork with her legs and then I was the one of the floor. It was kind of embarrassing.” Reed stroked his stubbly chin.
“Hell, man, you let a woman…a woman get the better of you? What kind of man are you to let that happen?” George was furious and the look he gave Reed implied what he thought as nothing else could. “You’re a complete waste of my time.”
“She might be a woman, boss, but she sure knows how to defend herself. Her feet are lethal weapons. Not sure I’ll father a child in the next year or so,” Reed reluctantly admitted.
“What condition is she in if you worked her over first?” George demanded.
Tony smiled. “Well, she might have a broken nose. I know she’s going to have at least one black eye. She won’t be a pretty picture for a week or two that’s certain. It won’t be a nice look for her audience.”
“Does she know I’m behind it?” George’s mind was now full of other solutions to the irritating problem of the whore drifter.
“Yes, she figured it out before I had a chance to tell her,” Reed admitted.
“Mmm. Considering the circumstances, that might work to my disadvantage if she reports the assault.” George moved toward his desk, picked up the phone, and punched in a number. He turned to Tony. “You can go. I’ll let you know what I want you to do next.”
Reed turned to go.
“Keep quiet about this little episode. Wouldn’t be good for your reputation if it got out that you could be bested by a woman, now, would it?” George sneered.
Reed nodded and bent his head as he left the room.
“Sheriff Smith, what can I do for you?” George heard a male voice say.
“Ah, Sheriff, it’s George at the bank. I have a situation I need you to handle for me, if you wouldn’t mind.” George smirked knowing that Smith was one of the most gullible people in town and his wife had expensive tastes. He owed the bank big time.
“What’s that, George?”
“It’s like this, Sheriff….” George continued the conversation, a satisfied sneer on his face.
Jo was laughing at something Jerry, the young bartender was saying. John-Henry had gone to take a call and she wanted to explain her situation to the man herself so she waited, patiently nursing a beer, for him to return. She’d asked Thea to join her, but her friend declined so she could close the motel and make sure she had everything she wanted. Once Joanna finished speaking with John-Henry, she’d pick Thea up at Daisy’s house.
While drumming her fingers on the bar, Jo smiled recalling the concern Thea had shown about her injuries. They would get along fine while traveling. It had been a pleasant shock for her when Thea said she wanted to look out for her, too. At least it had made them both laugh at the absurdity of the situation—each as improbable a protector as the other. Jo didn’t understand what was happening with Thea, but it didn’t matter. They were going to be traveling together for a while and they would find out what that connection was. After all, according to her father, each soul matched another and if you were lucky in life, you connected at some time and were ever the richer for it. Lost in her thoughts, Jo failed to notice John-Henry’s return.
“Penny for them?” John-Henry asked quietly.
Jo looked up from her quiet contemplation and grinned happily. “Oh, I was just thinking about a friend.”