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Reva Shayne felt the back of her car fishtail as she careered around a bend in the country road and cried out with fear. But she didn't dare take her foot off the gas and risk losing sight of her son. Instead, she gripped the wheel tighter and sped up, catching sight of the bumper of Jonathan's car just as it rounded another curve, still in pursuit of Alan Spaulding's limousine.
This was Alan's fault! Showing up at Tammy's funeral. What did he think would happen? What did he think Jonathan would do when Alan laughed at his grief, called it a performance? Reva should've taken Alan out right there, clubbed him with a prayer book or an angel statue, left him for dead. Because of Alan, Tammy was gone forever and now Reva feared what Jonathan would do in retaliation.
She rounded another corner, banking the car wide and praying no one was coming toward her on the other side of the road. She quickly straightened her car out and resumed her reckless speed. Ahead of her, she could see a cloud of dust where Alan's and Jonathan's cars must have turned onto a gravel road.
As she raced ahead, she tried to banish the image of Jonathan's shattered expression when they'd wheeled Tammy's casket out of the church, the weight of his grief so evident in the slope of his shoulders. "Focus," Reva admonished herself, blinking back tears.
She'd had a feeling Jonathan was going to do something crazy, in spite of his assurances that he wouldn't. Not while he had her grandbaby Sarah with him. But she'd heard it in his voice, seen it in his eyes. Something she hadn't seen there in a long time, not since Tammy's love had changed him. "We won't be safe," he'd said.. "He won't stop until he has Sarah. He'll kidnap her." He never stopped looking at his daughter in Reva's arms as he spoke.
Reva knew Jonathan was right. Little Sarah, born to Alan's granddaughter Lizzie and Jonathan -- was the heir to the Spaulding empire, and Alan had vowed to keep her in his family so she could be raised properly -- as a Spaulding. That Sarah was rightfully with her father made no difference to him -- what Alan wanted, Alan got, at any cost. Just look what he'd done to Tammy. Good, sweet Tammy. How do you get over something like that? How do you survive when someone murders the love of your life?
Maybe you survive by seeking comfort in your infant daughter. And maybe you survive by seeking revenge. Reva knew Jonathan was planning something. She knew because they were alike. Quick to anger and slow to forgive. That was why she had come back to the church.
It was a miracle she'd seen them at all -- Alan's sleek black limo cruising along the outskirts of Springfield, Jonathan's green sedan following closely behind. Reva had had a feeling in the pit of her belly -- whatever Jonathan thought he was doing, she had to stop him. She'd tried to catch up to them, but had lost them in the many turns of the road, and had just caught up to them again.
She whipped her car onto the gravel lane and the car bounced along the rough road. She drove between two barns, and out through barren fields. She could barely make out the cars ahead of her through the dust, but she saw the limousine make an abrupt left in between two silos. She did not see Jonathan's car follow it.
She did not see Jonathan's car.
"No," she said, and gripped the wheel tighter. "No no no no...."
She reached a curve in the road and saw the signpost warning that the edge of the quarry lay straight ahead, and her heart sank. "Jonathan!" she screamed, and slammed on the brakes so hard that her car slid into a patch of evergreen trees. Reva threw open her car door and pushed through the tree branches.
She heard a loud scraping noise as she ran down an old walking path marked with the fresh tread of tires. She reached the edge of the quarry just in time to hear the sickening crash of metal and glass against rock, and saw the car explode upon impact at the bottom. Her mind could not comprehend it -- her son was in that car! So was his baby, Sarah, a tiny little being with so much life ahead of her!
As the flames roared and rose higher, it seemed to Reva that the world was suddenly spinning the wrong way. She opened her mouth to cry for help, but what came out was a scream, a blood-curdling scream of her son's name. "Jonathan! Jonathan! Jonathan!"
Another explosion sent a fireball into the air, and Reva screamed again.
Out of nowhere Alan appeared at her side -- Alan Spaulding, the monster who had caused this tragedy. Horrified, he watched as the flames engulfed the car that had carried his beloved Sarah, his heir, his future, his salvation.
It seemed impossible, unreal to Reva, as if she was watching a bad movie. No amount of screaming would make it stop; the car just kept burning and burning, the flames growing higher and more ferocious, burning with them all her hopes for a son who had known more pain in his life than a body ought to, burning all her dreams for her granddaughter.
They were gone. Her hopes and dreams for them. The son she'd fought so hard to tame, the son who finally came to believe he was loved. Jonathan and Sarah, gone just like that - as long as it had taken that car to sail from the top of the cliff to the bottom of the quarry.
It was all gone.
Copyright © 2007 by Procter & Gamble Productions, Inc.
Aubrey Cross liked to do her shopping when most everyone else in the dusty town of Tourmaline, California, was sitting down to dinner in front of the TV. The fewer people she ran into who knew her or her family, the better, and in Tourmaline, it was impossible to go anywhere without someone knowing her because of her dad. That was because he was Ezekiel "Zeke" Cross -- the county sheriff, which he'd been as far back as Aubrey could remember -- who made this godforsaken town his home.
Everyone who knew Zeke loved Zeke -- everyone except Aubrey. She couldn't stand him. One might go so far as to say she hated Zeke. And hating Zeke made her the town's pariah.
Okay, maybe not the town's pariah -- she did have one friend. Sort of. Not the kind of friend she'd go to lunch with and then go shopping with, because Aubrey wasn't much of a shopper, and they'd only recently become friendly at work. But Noelle Fischer was someone Aubrey could talk to, and she had the feeling that Noelle was really on her side.
Aubrey didn't get that feeling from most people in Tourmaline, and while she wasn't exactly a pariah, she sure felt that way sometimes.
She just didn't fi t in with the sleepy pace of this town. Her mom used to talk about how different the town had been when she was a kid, when they were still mining tourmaline here and the economy was thriving. But the tourmaline had been mined up before Aubrey was born, and most people who wanted to make a good living had moved to San Diego or Phoenix. To Aubrey's way of thinking, that left the old people, the deadbeats, and those with no ambition in life -- the very sort of people who were easily infl uenced by a bully like her father.
He was a bully, maybe even worse, even if she was the only person who knew it.
Just this afternoon, they'd had another verbal brawl. He wanted her to move back home. When she'd come back for Mom's funeral three months ago -- and ended up staying for reasons that had seemed noble at the time, but now seemed insane -- he didn't like that she hadn't come home to be with him. Zeke said her living in the small apartment she rented when he had a big house right in the middle of town left her open to talk.
But Aubrey knew it was because he couldn't control her as easily if she wasn't under his thumb.
"I'm only going to be in town another month, if even that, "she'd said warily when he'd started in on her again today. She'd watched him walking around her little apartment, his hands on his gun belt, that ever- present sneer on his lips as he looked at the few things of Mom's she'd managed to salvage before he threw all her mother's belongings away.
Most women thought Zeke Cross was handsome -- tall, dark- haired, with a nice smile when he decided to summon it -- but Aubrey thought he was the ugliest man on earth. She could hardly bear to look at him when she said, "I'm going back to San Diego so I can start school with the fall session."
"And what are you going to live on, your good looks and charm?" he asked snidely. "You don't have any money, and I'm sure as hell not giving you any. I'm done throwing money down black holes, especially now that your mother is gone."
She winced at the stab of pain caused by the reminder of her mother's death. As for the money, she couldn't care less. It had been three years since Aubrey had lived at home. Three years since she'd earned enough money to move to San Diego and start college. In those three years, she'd never forgotten how abusive her father was, but the pain of it had faded. Now, she was sorely reminded of how debilitating his nastiness could be to one's psyche, and he was just getting warmed up.
By the time he'd left her apartment, she'd been reduced to the size of a garden gnome.
She was still feeling unsettled when she pulled into the lot of the local supermarket and parked. She pulled a black corduroy newsboy cap down over her eyes, which did nothing to keep people from recognizing her, but made her feel as if she couldn't see them. She pushed her short, black hair behind her ears, straightened her black T-shirt advertising the band Radiohound, which she wore over a pair of low-rise, tightfitting jeans, topped with a killer metal belt she'd picked up in San Diego, and got out of her car.
She checked herself in the refl ection of the car window -- she liked her style, which her friend Franny at college said was a cross between urban hip- hop and California tree hugger. Frankly, Franny -- a performance artist -- had introduced Aubrey to style, all of it different and expressive and so much better than what seemed to be the standard uniform for women in Tourmaline -- capris and a white shirt.
Aubrey lifted the long strap of the small cloth satchel she used as a purse over her head, so that it hung diagonally across her body, and quickly looked around the parking lot. There were hardly any cars, which was a good thing. She eyed the supermarket as if it were a mined war zone. Get in, get out, she told herself, and began marching in that direction, her arms swinging in her haste to get the few things she needed.
She was hit with a blast of arctic-cold air that carried the tune "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" as the glass doors opened automatically and she walked in. The place smelled like Pine-Sol, and big yellow cones marked where the floor had been mopped. Aubrey picked up a red basket, stepped around the caution sign, and quickly ducked into aisle one before she ran into Bev Mackey.
Bev manned the checkout lanes on the evening shift. She was here every night with her knitting, and she loved to share the minutiae of her day with the few denizens of Tourmaline who ventured inside before the doors shut at eleven. Aubrey knew this because she had been captured more than once by Bev's chatter. By the time Aubrey exited the store, she'd know what Bev had had for breakfast, if Old Man Carney had made his daily sojourn through the store with the aid of his walker or if he'd used the motorized cart, and Bev's feelings on the rising cost of lettuce.
Safe from Bev for the time being, Aubrey strolled down the cereal aisle and picked up a box of Lucky Charms. Not exactly the healthiest cereal on the shelf for a vegan, but some things never changed. She rounded the corner and worked her way up the condiments aisle, debating for a few minutes over the pickles, then deciding against them.
At the end of the aisle, near the videos and greeting cards and auto supplies, Aubrey found a display of organic wholewheat couscous. She thought that would be a good balance for the Lucky Charms. She picked up a box, turned it slightly to read the nutritional content, and noticed a baby in a cart on the greeting-card aisle. She was cute -- probably not even a year old, a chubby, little, dark-haired, blue-eyed princess in a romper with ducks marching across the bib. She was kicking her little legs and chewing on a ring of plastic keys.
Aubrey smiled and began to read the box while the baby gurgled. A moment later, she heard the plastic keys fall to the floor and glanced over her shoulder. The baby was staring at Aubrey, her bottom lip trembling. It was only a matter of moments before that little mouth would open and a wail would come forth.
Aubrey put down the box of couscous and peeked out from her aisle -- no one was around. The baby put a fist in her mouth and kicked harder. The little butterball was not happy. So Aubrey retrieved the plastic keys, but as she rose up in front of the baby, she thought she'd better not give them to her because they had been lying on the floor. Apparently, that was the worst thing Aubrey could have done, for when the baby put out her hands for the ring, and Aubrey didn't give it to her, she let out a howl that rattled the rafters.
Still, no one came.
The baby's face mottled red; she cried great gasping sobs. "Don't cry, sweet cheeks," Aubrey cooed, running her hand over the girl's dark curls. But the baby cried harder. Aubrey put down her basket and lifted the baby out of the car seat; she had hardly settled the baby on her shoulder when a man was suddenly rushing toward her from the end of the greeting-card aisle. He was tall, at least half a foot taller than Aubrey's respectable five feet six inches, and had long, shoulder-length dark brown hair. He was wearing a dirty T-shirt that he must have been wearing to roll around on the floor of a garage, and it hugged a broad chest and muscular arms. He was carrying two cans of motor oil in one large hand, and he looked furious.
"Put her down!" he shouted at Aubrey.
Aubrey gasped and unthinkingly took a step backward; the man threw the oil cans into his cart and lunged for her, snatching the baby from her arms. The baby cried harder as he hugged her securely to his chest with one arm. He backed away from Aubrey, his gaze so hot and livid that she could almost feel its burn. "Get the hell away from my baby!"
He spoke to her as if she were a pervert, and that snapped Aubrey out of it. "Hey!" she said, shaking a little from the intensity of his anger. "I'm not the one who left a baby unattended!"
"I didn't," he said far too loudly. "I could see her the whole time."
"She was crying -- "
"Yeah, babies do that. They cry."
"I was just trying to help!" Aubrey exclaimed angrily.
"By taking her?" he demanded as he carefully caressed the baby's back.
"Take her?" Aubrey exclaimed. "Dude, you are off your rocker. Didn't you hear her crying? I was trying to help!"
"Yeah, well, try and help someone else."
"No problem," she said hotly. "But maybe you shouldn't go waltzing off, leaving your kid unattended, because next time, you really might lose her to some weirdo."
"Why? Why would you say that?" he asked, his eyes narrowing suspiciously.
The guy was hot, but he was obviously crazy. "Why? Think about it, genius," Aubrey said, and grabbed her basket. With a glower for him, she marched away, purposefully turning into the canned-goods aisle where she was out of his sight. She leaned her back against the shelves to try to collect herself. Her heart was pounding erratically; she was having trouble catching her breath. The baby had stopped crying, apparently -- but then again, Aubrey couldn't hear anything but the pounding of her own heart. What confused her, what kept snatching her breath from her lungs, was that she didn't know if she was still trembling because of the mad-dog way he'd looked at her while he was yelling at her, or because he was so damn hot.
They didn't make guys like that in Tourmaline. They didn't make guys like that anywhere. If he wasn't so Looney Tunes, Aubrey would believe he'd just walked out of an ad for one of those men's health magazines. One other teeny- tiny thing had caught her eye -- he was wearing a Radiohound T-shirt, just like her. Except his was grimy.
With a shake of her head and a sigh, Aubrey pressed her hand over her heart for a moment, then pushed away from the shelves and went on with her shopping.
She didn't see Mad Dog again. She didn't hear his baby crying, either. When she checked out with her cereal and peanut butter and milk, Bev was her usual chatty self. "Hi, Aubrey! Back so soon? Oh my goodness, you're already out of Lucky Charms? It was only Tuesday you bought some, right?"
"Did I?" Aubrey asked.
"Well, you better stock up. The county fair rolls into town next week, and those people can go through a lot of food! Are you going to the fair?"
"I don't know," Aubrey said with a shrug. She was hardly listening, just nodding and smiling a little when she thought she ought to.
"I am. I can't wait! I am taking three nights off and taking my grandkids every night. My sister plays in the polka band, did I ever tell you? The trombone. My mother always said that the trombone was a waste of good money, but Betty proved her wrong, didn't she? I am so glad they have peanut butter back on the shelves, aren't you? But this jar's a little too big for just one person, isn't it?" Bev asked, holding up the jar of peanut butter.
"Oh! I saw Keith Stanley in here last night." Bev wiggled her eyebrows which had, by the look of them, recently been dyed to match her dark red powder- puff hair. "Guess what?"
Aubrey did not take the bait.
Not that Bev cared. "He's not seeing anyone," she quickly added in a singsong voice.
Okay, that was it. This was going down in the official annals as one of the most annoying days of Aubrey's life. First the confrontation with Zeke, then the crazy Mad Dog guy with that incredibly cute baby, and now Bev, the cashier at the supermarket, who was trying to hook her up with an old boyfriend Aubrey had dumped four years ago. "Good for him," Aubrey muttered as she dug in her bag for her wallet.
"Oh, come on, Aubrey! Aren't you just a little curious?" Bev asked brightly.
"No. I'm not." She handed Bev the money for her groceries.
Bev's smile faded a little. "I'm just offering a bit of friendly news," she said with a sniff.
"That's not exactly news. Sounds more like gossip to me." Aubrey tried to smile, but it was obvious her words hadn't come out as she'd intended. She didn't have the gift of gab that so many women had. So Aubrey did what she normally did when she couldn't seem to get her meaning across -- she walked away.
She was brooding as she carried her bag to her car and hardly noticed the three guys leaning against the back of a pickup directly across from where she'd parked until she was almost upon them. They were having a few beers on the tailgate. Aubrey recognized the one in the middle. He was called Spider for reasons she didn't want to know. He'd made a big splash playing football his senior year in high school, but when he'd graduated last year, he'd stayed in Tourmaline, where, according to Aubrey's friend Noelle, he made trouble almost daily.
Exactly the sort of guy Zeke ought to lock up, but preferred to keep in his pocket.
"Hey!" Spider called out to Aubrey as she fumbled in her purse for her keys. "Nice hat!"
Aubrey ignored him as she grasped her keys.
"Hey! I'm talking to you!" he shouted.
Aubrey juggled the bag of groceries and the keys as she struggled to get the key in the lock of her trunk. She had it in when she heard Spider right behind her. "What's the matter, freak? Are you deaf? I said, I am talking to you!"
Aubrey closed her eyes and sighed. There was no avoiding it -- she was going to have to deal with Spider. She carefully put the bag of groceries on top of the trunk. She could hear them snickering at her back, knew this was going to be difficult. Then she removed her purse, put it next to the groceries, and turned to face them.
They were standing in the middle of the lane. Spider laughed as his gaze raked over her. "What in the hell?" he said, and tapped one of his pals in the chest. "Look at this chick! She's a freakin' doper by the look of it!"
As if she derived her fashion sense from Tourmaline.
"Spider, what do you want?" Aubrey demanded. "I'm not bothering you. I just want to get my groceries and go home."
"Is that the way they dress in San Diego?" Spider asked before taking a swig of beer. "They wear those stupid hats in San Diego?"
"We have to wear them to cover our horns," Aubrey said as one of the guys casually walked up to her trunk and began to rummage through her groceries. "Stop that!" Aubrey said to him. "Those are my groceries!"
The guy shrugged and withdrew her box of Lucky Charms, ripped the top open, and thrust his hand into the box.
"Over here, freak," Spider said, drawing her attention back to him. "Let me get this straight." He swayed a little and crossed his arms over his chest, the beer bottle dangling between two fi ngers. "Are you telling me there are other freakazoids in San Diego who wear those stupid hats?"
Aubrey's pulse began to pound with anger. She despised bullies. Spider was a punk kid who hadn't seen even a smidgen of the world, had no idea what sorts of hats were out there in the big, vast universe. Who was he to try to intimidate her? She tried to make light of it. "Spider...you're wearing a cheap Polo knockoff. That really doesn't give you a lot of room to criticize my hat."
The three guys all looked at one another and then suddenly howled with delight. One of them tossed the jar of peanut butter from her bag to the other one as Spider took a menacing step forward.
"You better watch it, freak," Spider said. "You think you're too good for us in Tourmaline now that you've lived in San Diego? Well, guess what? You're Tourmaline, through and through, just like us, so you better watch your mouth."
Aubrey's mouth was moving before she could think clearly. "Or what?" she asked, squaring off with him.
That was all the invitation Spider needed.
Copyright © 2007 by Procter & Gamble Productions, Inc.