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THUNDER CREPT across the sky, building strength to rattle Van Haddon's house. Rain and wind slapped at him so hard he hunched over as he climbed the wooden porch steps at the end of yet another business trip.
He used to love his job. For the past eleven months, he'd traveled at the drop of a hat, met with any financial client who seemed likely to sign on with him and all but begged for new business.
Getting into his house wasn't easy. He found the lock, despite the darkness of a storm-induced blackout, but another crack of thunder broke over his head. He jerked his hand, and the key came back out.
Faintly, he heard the telephone's insistent ring. Van wiped rain off his face and tried again to get inside. Lightning flashed on the lock. He twisted the key and then kicked the front door open, shoving his carry-on out of the way as he grabbed the phone off a hall table. "Hello?" "Van, Tom Drake here." The other man didn't have to add that he was the sheriff. Everyone who lived in the small town of Honesty, Virginia, knew who the sheriff was.
Van shouldered the door shut. "What's up, Tom?" He kept his tone carefully neutral. After two days of explaining a portfolio to a possible client who'd decided not to invest with him, he'd been grateful for the powerful December winds that had given the plane a boost all the way from San Diego. But as soon as he'd landed, all hell had broken loose. The storm had boiled over, and he couldn't forget last spring's disastrous lightning strike that had burned down his sister's fishing lodge.
"Something wrong with Beth or her family?"
"Beth and Eli are fine. In fact, I even think her new husband's home this week. I'm calling about LeoWarne."
Static broke up the words between syllables, but at Leo's name, Van let go of the strap on his laptop bag. It slid down his arm. He caught it and set the bag on the floor, shrugging out of his soaked coat at the same time.
"Leo?" He'd been Van's mentor, then his father-in-law and finally a walking wake-up call to his conscience.
"He's out here on the Mecklin Road Bridge. And I do mean out here. Half-dressed in a ratty shirt and boxers, cowering against the guardrail, scared out of his wits. He won't let us help him."
"Help him what?" Van loosened his tie and undid his top collar button. Five years ago, his exwife, Cassie, had left town, warning both her father and Van not to contact her again. Leo had soon suggested Van stay away from him, too.
They'd last seen each other a year ago in the canned vegetable aisle at Elljay's Market. One glance and they'd gone their separate ways.
Only family could be so cruel. "I'm having no luck talking him into an ambulance," Tom said. "He's asking for his wife. He called me a liar when I said she was dead."
"I don't understand." Victoria had died while being treated for pneumonia when Cassie was fifteen.
"It's his mind, his memory. Something's wrong. He hasn't asked for Cassie, but he finally remembered you. I tried to make him see you'd want us to help him, but he won't move unless you come."
"Me?" Shock spotlighted the small things around him. Mail that had piled up. A picture of his nephew on a skateboard in midair. An unfolded, overdue bill for the credit card he used for travel expenses.
But he couldn't see Leoalways in charge, dressed to the extremes of elegancescared and nearly naked on a bridge in a storm that could literally kill him.
At seventy-three, Leo had retired as president of Honesty Bank & Trust soon after Cassie had left. Ashamed of what had happened to her, he'd disappeared from the town's life.
Van couldn't explain anyone else's reasons, but he had let Leo go because he'd hated the other man's shame.
"Hell." He couldn't go on resenting Leo when he needed help. Van checked his pockets for his cell phone. "I'm on my way."
"Hurry. I'm afraid he'll jump."
Thunder jolted the house. A keening scream unbearable and hardly recognizable as Leo's voiceseemed to form inside Van's head. "Take my cell number in case you need it." He gave it to Tom and then hung up.
Without a coat, without locking the door, with nothing except fear that Leo had gone insane, Van ran back into the storm.
He jumped into the car, switched on the engine and jammed the gas pedal. All the way down the driveway, the trees bent low, their branches open hands grasping at his roof. He skidded onto the main road.
How could he talk Leo off that bridge?
A truck crossed into his lane. Swearing, Van swerved around it.
Someone had to tell Cassie.
Who was he kidding? He'd have to tell Cassie. Never mind that she'd long since stopped caring enough to even hate him.
The attack had done that to them. Attack. That was one way to put ita way that let him face himself. He'd been away on business. She'd been home alone, and she'd left the bathroom window open, no more than half an inch, to air out the steam.
Half an inch.
He hit the steering wheel with his fist. Half an inch of air had changed Cassie forever, had forced a space like thousands of miles between them.
He'd tried to reach her, but she'd shut him out, lumping him with her father, who'd avoided her after that night. After she'd gone, Van had wanted to resent her, but he couldn't lie to himself. He'd owed her more than just love.
Blue lights slashed the sky. Van slowed as he neared the bridge. Clouds ambushed the moon and swallowed its reflection. Blinking red bulbs beneath the bridge flashed a warning to shipping on the river. Behind Van, an 18-wheeler drew close enough to illuminate the men milling in front of the emergency vehicles.
Van parked behind a fire-and-rescue truck. As he parted the crowd with his hands, rain poured down his face, and lightning made him flinch. "Leo?" He searched for the other man, yelling his name. Why hadn't someone in this thicket of blue-and-yellow-coated rescue workers scooped Leo up and run him to the hospital?
At last Van saw Tom. Four paramedics flanked the sheriff, two on each side. They all turned. Trey Lockwood, a longtime family friend, lifted his hand toward Van. Behind Trey, about thirty feet onto the bridge, Van glimpsed Leo's grizzled, frightened face above bony knees tucked close against his chest.
Sick to his stomach, Van shoved past the other men, but Tom took his arm. "Every time we try to get near him he backs out of reach, or we'd have grabbed him. He could stand up and jump at any moment."
"I'll get him." If he had to dive into that dark water in Leo's wake, he wasn't about to tell Cassie he'd let her father die.
"He may not know you." Tom had to yell over the weather and the noise of men and idling engines.
Van shook his head. "Does it matter? If we don't get him off this bridge, he'll die, anyway."
If he waited for a jacket, he might just end up wearing it to a funeral. "Leo." Edging closer, he left the knot of rescuers behind. His hands shook. He tried to look as if he were offering help, but he'd just as happily jerk the other man to safety. "Go away." Leo turned his face toward the concrete guard rail.
"I can't." He'd been doing that for five years, and he was lucky Leo hadn't died. "We're still family. We were friends before Cassie and I even looked at each other."
"She loved you from day one."
She'd stopped easily enough. Van reached for the bridge railing, distracting Leo because it was easy to make the sick man follow his hand. Rain and wind gusted around them. Water rushed past the bridge supports below, but the voices behind them had quieted.
"Cassie's my little girl. Victoria will take care of her."
Van reached for the back of his collar as if something had slithered down his spine. It was one thing to hear Leo was sick, but another to see it.
So he lied. Anything to get his friend off this bridge. "Let me take you to them."
"I remember." Leo's hoarse voice suggested a sore throat and congestion. He pressed his fists into his eyes.
"Let me help."
"I don't want to remember."
"Just remember me long enough to trust me." Leo lifted eyes that refused to focus. "You look funny. Not like you used to."
Five years of loneliness changed any man. "I'm older."
"Older?" His voice trailed off as if he didn't understand the word. He leaned harder against the bridge. "Bring me Victoria." Her name, something familiar, comforted him. "You can't help."
"I can't get Victoria."
"I'm not the one who's crazy here." Bracing his hand on the concrete, drawing himself up on one knee, Leo resurrected a semblance of his old dignity. "She's not dead."
He pointed at a paramedic on Tom's left. "Like he said. Wouldn't I know?" With a bone-shaking cough, he sank back to the pavement, his legs folding like matchsticks.
Van hurried at least five feet closer.