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Fall Into Me
By Pauline Trent
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Pauline Trent
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAlmost twenty years later, it was still sometimes hard to believe she was dead. The days of coming home and expecting to find her waiting for him-or worse, the nights of rolling over and not remembering why she wasn't next to him-were long past. Still, on days like today, when the rest of the world was still festive between Christmas and New Year's, it struck him as surreal that he was standing at his wife's grave holding flowers instead of standing somewhere else holding her hand.
Bobby Granger looked over at his nieces, Angie and Carter Anne Kane. They were good girls-good women, now, he corrected himself. He'd give himself a bit of credit for that. Raising them alone hadn't been easy, but, seeing them there, he had to admit he'd done something right, even if it had been simple dumb luck most of the time.
Carter Anne was working full-time as the receptionist at the elementary school and attending community college part-time. Considering her grades, Bobby figured one more year and she'd finally be off and away, the way she'd always wanted.
Angie, on the other hand, was blossoming right here in Lambert Falls with a confidence born of a successful business and the love of a good man. That man, Chris Montgomery, had moved to town, put that rock on Angie's finger and, Bobby was proud to admit, become the sonhe and Abby had never had the chance to have. Right now, Chris was waiting in the car. Not out of indifference, Bobby knew, but out of respect. To give the three of them a moment with Abby on her birthday, but still show his support.
He knelt down and pulled some grass away from the edges of the stone before placing the flowers across her name, between the two bouquets from the girls. "We're all doing well, Abby," Bobby said. "I know you're proud of them." Automatically, he knocked his thumb toward his nieces, then laughed gently at himself for doing so. Awkwardly, he lowered his hands to his knees. "More importantly, they know you're proud of them. Angie was just saying the other day how much she wished you and her mama could be here for all the wedding stuff. Of course"-he laughed again-"that might say more about my skills as a wedding consultant than anything else, but you get the idea."
A breeze rustled his hair. Bobby lifted his face and let it blow across his skin. Yeah, she got the idea. He stayed in that position, the sun shining through his closed eyes, until the breeze moved on. Once it had, he stood up, with only a slight complaint from his knees.
Angie crossed to him first, slipping her hand into his. "Those are awful pretty." She indicated the riot of colors created by the three bouquets. Carter Anne had stepped up on Bobby's other side. He wrapped his arm around her.
"Not as pretty as my girls."
"Oh, Bobby." Carter Anne rested her head on his shoulder.
Bobby kissed the top of her head and squeezed Angie's hand. "Come on, then. Life doesn't stop, even for birthdays." He turned and the three of them headed back to the cars.
"Y'all still coming for dinner tonight?" Carter Anne confirmed with Angie.
"Oh yeah," Angie agreed. "Chris says I'm getting better with cooking, but I don't taste it yet. We'll be there. Bobby, what time do you ..." Angie's voice died away as she looked up at her uncle. She figured no one else but Carter Anne would've noticed the shift in him. It was something in his chin, the set of his jaw. Her uncle had been replaced by the sheriff of Lambert Falls. Angie followed his gaze.
Chris was sitting in the driver's seat of the squad car, door open, one leg dangling casually-and speaking into the radio. Someone at the station had called looking for Bobby. Today.
"Say about five-thirty, Ang." Bobby answered her unasked question without looking at her. "I'll have the burgers off the grill by six."
Carter Anne's eyes narrowed at the car. The whole damn town had damn well better be on fire or under alien attack, hand to God. The man took one afternoon off a year and they were calling him. "The potato salad is already chilling in the fridge," she said.
"Now, Carter Anne." Bobby glanced at her. "Don't be that way."
"Be what way?" Carter Anne asked. But she knew.
"Thinking ugly thoughts. I'm sure Jimmy's got good reason to be on the other end of the squawk." Angie laughed, but Carter Anne just made a face. "It's all in your tone, honey," Bobby explained with a smile.
Angie kept laughing and finally Carter Anne joined in. "All right, all right," she conceded. "I'll stop bein' ugly, but I still say it had better be good."
They stepped up to the car to hear Chris speaking. "He's here now, Jimmy. Wait one. Over." With a shrug, he handed the radio to Bobby and stepped out of the car so Bobby could slide in.
"What do you have for me, Jimmy?" Bobby asked into the hand piece.
"Hey, boss. The mayor's here and he's in a right state. I told him you had the afternoon off, but he's ..." Bobby listened as Jimmy struggled to find a diplomatic word. The mayor must have been in hearing range or Jimmy wouldn't have bothered. "Insistent," he finally offered.
"And what's got him riled up?"
"He won't tell me, boss. Says it's gotta be you and it's gotta be now."
Bobby closed his eyes. Jimmy was solid, the best right hand a sheriff could want. If he hadn't been able to talk the man down, the man couldn't be talked down. With a loud sigh, Bobby hit the talk button. "Tell him I've got an ETA of fifteen minutes."
"Will do," Jimmy answered. "And, boss?" Jimmy's voice was low, just sounding over the usual radio static.
"I'm sorry about the timing."
Bobby sighed again, this time touched by the sincerity in the other man's voice. "It's not on you, Jim. See you in fifteen. Mobile out."
Bobby rolled his eyes at his family. "Y'all heard?"
Angie nodded and Carter Anne made another face. "Now can I be ugly?" she asked, eyes twinkling in spite of her expression.
"We'll run Carter Anne home," Chris assured his friend.
"You get anything from him?" Bobby asked.
"Not much more than what you just got. Jimmy's good." Chris nodded at the radio. "He said 'I have informed the mayor that the sheriff is unavailable. Can you confirm that status?'" Chris grinned with respect. "It made it damn easy to answer him."
"All right." Bobby started the car. "Still count on dinner. I'll call if I can't get all this handled by five or so." He looked past the others to the foot of the hill where Abby's stone rested. It was a beautiful spot for her. He cleared his throat hard and brought his focus back to his family. Nope, life didn't stop. Not for birthdays or dead wives or even family dinners. And maybe it was better that way.
Bobby didn't rush to get back to the station, but he didn't dawdle, either. While he and Hank Ramsey weren't close friends, Bobby'd been happy enough to vote for the man in the last three elections and didn't mind working with him when their paths crossed. At the same time, he didn't like Jimmy being bullied by anyone. He walked into the station fourteen minutes after signing off the radio and considered the point made.
Jimmy-Bobby smiled at the scene-was studiously shuffling papers at Bobby's desk. He could do a good impression of being busy when he needed to, all right. And by the looks of it, he had needed to. The mayor was pacing, so agitated Bobby could see the man's knuckles were white on the coffee cup he was holding. Well, whatever had Hank so worked up, they'd handle it.
Jimmy looked up at the sound of Bobby's steps and relief flashed, momentary but there nonetheless, across his face. "Hey, boss." He stood up, giving Bobby access to his own desk.
"Sheriff!" Hank crossed to Bobby before he could even sit down. "Finally, I need to ..."
Bobby cut him off with a raised finger. "One second, Mr. Mayor." He settled in behind his desk as Jimmy moved to the smaller one along the wall. "Anything urgent I need to know about before I handle this, Jimmy?" Bobby asked with a respectful nod toward the mayor.
"No, boss. Everything's quiet," Jimmy answered, using his most professional voice.
Bobby motioned for the other man to take a seat in the chair across from him. With an exasperated sigh, he did so.
"Now." Bobby kept his voice low and calm. "What do we have going on, Hank?"
"My office got a call from a New York City agent this morning. There's a writer who wants to do a comprehensive book on the Colonel and the history of Lambert Falls." Once Hank finally got to speak, the words came pouring out in a rush. "They thought they should speak to me, but I realized pretty darn quick it had to be you since your family still owns all the original documents in the library. He wants access to everything you'll give him and is even planning ..."
Bobby stared at the man, raising a hand to silence him again. "Hold up there, Mr. Mayor." There was no emergency. No missing child. No threat. There wasn't even a police issue, hand to God. He spared a glance for Jimmy, who was looking at the mayor with undisguised anger. Bobby coughed and, with a look at his boss, Jimmy cleared his face. Once his deputy was shuffling papers again, Bobby looked away. But he couldn't blame the younger man. Truth was, he felt about the same as Jimmy obviously did.
Sensing the change in the air, the mayor leaned forward. "Bobby." His voice was what Bobby had always thought of as polished politician. "I know this may not strike you as important, but think of what it could do for the town. What I was trying to tell you was the author wants to do this right. He's hoping to come here for a few months, research the original documents. Shine the best light on the Colonel. On Lambert Falls." He paused and smiled. "On the Lambert family."
"What if I don't particularly want a light shone on me and mine?" Bobby kept his voice light, but his eyes had gone cold. Along the wall, Jimmy stilled.
Backpedalling quickly, Hank changed tacks. "I'm sure you and the girls can be as involved-or uninvolved as you want. You don't even have to tell him who you are if you don't want to. He's mostly interested in the Colonel anyway. The Colonel and the town."
"And why couldn't this have waited until I was back on shift tomorrow afternoon? Or even just a phone call to the house?"
Hank relaxed again and sat back in his chair. "I tried the house but you weren't home. And this agent wants an answer as soon as possible. This will be good for the town, Bobby."
Bobby leaned back and rubbed his eyes. Why hadn't he paid someone years ago to scan all that historical family information, to get it on the Internet? Or at least into a computer file. Then this writer could stay in New York ... but he hadn't, and what was done was done. Or not, in this case, he thought wryly.
"All right," Bobby agreed. It probably-it definitely-could've waited until tomorrow, but, since he had lost his afternoon off anyway ... "I assume you have the phone number?"
Hank smiled at him and pulled a yellow sticky note from his pocket. "Right here."
"Jimmy, handle anything. I gotta make a phone call."
"Sure thing, boss," Jimmy agreed, with another look toward the mayor.
Bobby picked up the phone, dialed and, with the receiver under his ear, spun so his back was to Hank.
"Erixon Agency. How may I assist you?" a lovely voice answered on the other end.
"This is Robert Granger, returning a call from Mr. Justin Erixon," Bobby replied. "One moment, please."
Bobby caught Jimmy's eye while classical music played in his ear, and mimed drinking. With a nod, Jimmy moved to the coffeemaker. Before he could get the cup to Bobby, the music was replaced by a deep voice.
"Mr. Erixon." Bobby took his coffee from Jimmy with a nod of thanks. "This is Bobby Granger of Lambert Falls, North Carolina. Apparently, your office spoke with my mayor earlier today."
"Ah yes, Mr. Granger. About the Thomas Jefferson Lambert book. I'm glad Mr. Ramsey passed the message along. Thank you for getting back to me so quickly."
Bobby was impressed with the man's recall. "My pleasure. And call me Bobby. We're pretty casual down here. What can I do for you?"
"Bobby, I'm Justin. And your mayor tells me you own all of the original Lambert documents. One of my authors wants to do a book on the Colonel and we're hoping to get your and the family's cooperation."
His back still toward Hank, Bobby rolled his eyes. This whole situation was going to take all of three minutes out of his life and he had given up Abby's birthday for it. "Whatever you need, Justin. I'm fine with it." Bobby didn't think his frustration was palpable. It wasn't the man's fault; he shouldn't take the blame for it, but hand to God ...
"And do you think the Colonel's descendants will be willing to work with us? We can get started shortly after the new year and be out of their hair in three months."
Bobby started to tell Erixon the truth and then paused. He didn't want to be the focus of any research or written up in any book. Until he knew how all this would go, he would play his hand close to the vest. "I think that can probably be arranged, depending on what you need from them."
"Thank you, Bobby. I'll tell Howard it's a go. Now, will you be our local contact?"
Bobby spun his chair around. "Why don't y'all stay in touch with the mayor." Hank beamed and Bobby sighed. He was welcome to it. "I'll sign whatever you need so you can have access to the papers, but Hank has his finger on the pulse of the town."
Justin laughed. "And politicians enjoy this sort of thing far more than sheriffs do, right?"
Bobby snorted, grateful the mayor couldn't hear. "Thank you for understanding."
"Hey, boss?" Jimmy hurried down the street to catch up with Bobby. The sheriff had handed Mayor Ramsey the phone and walked out. Sure, he liked to keep his emotions to himself, but once Jimmy'd heard who the author was-well, he would've expected some reaction.
"Yeah, Jimmy?" Bobby stopped to allow his deputy to catch up.
"I was sorry to pull you in today, but I guess this is something else, huh?" He grinned, sharing in Bobby's excitement.
Bobby shrugged. "Honestly, Jimmy, seems kinda like a pain in the butt to me."
"You're kidding, right, boss?" Jimmy scratched his head. "'Cause I thought you'd be real excited about it."
"You too, Jimmy?" Bobby was surprised. "I wouldn't've expected you to get heated up about somebody wanting to write a book."
"Not me, boss," Jimmy explained. "You."
The two men stared at each other, equally confused, until Jimmy had a thought. "They didn't tell you who the author is, did they?"
"It didn't come up," Bobby answered honestly.
"It's Howard Michaels." Jimmy's smile was even in his voice. Bobby's eyes widened briefly before he caught himself. "Exactly." Jimmy nodded.
"Thanks for telling me, Jimmy." Bobby rocked back on his heels. "But it still sounds like a pain in the butt."
"Okay, boss," Jimmy said.
"I'll see you tomorrow." Bobby clapped Jimmy's shoulder. "I left you the squad car."
Jimmy watched him walk away. Whatever the boss tried to say, his stride said something different.
Bobby made it home in good time, but only because he wanted to get back to his family. That was it. He opened the door and hung up his coat.
"You home already?" Carter Anne called to him from the kitchen.
"I am," Bobby answered her.
Angie appeared in the doorway between the kitchen and the entryway. "That didn't take long. Must've been a lame emergency. Chris and I are even still here."
"It was important, but no, it wasn't an emergency," Bobby explained.
"Well, then ..." Angie started but Bobby held up a finger.
"I'll be right in and tell you everything," he said. Instead of going into the kitchen, he turned left into his TV room. Next to the set was a tall bookshelf. All the shelves were full, but Bobby knelt to get a look at the books on two of the lower shelves. Pulling one of them out, he stared at it. The same man had written all of the books on those two shelves. And Bobby had read them all, many times over. Howard Michaels. And he was coming here. To write about Bobby's family, Bobby's town.
Excerpted from Fall Into Me by Pauline Trent Copyright © 2010 by Pauline Trent . Excerpted by permission.
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