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"You and my son made one huge mistake, Missy." Warren waggled a gnarled forefinger under Dr. Jill Edwards's nose, his faded blue eyes fixed on hers with steely resolve. "It isn't too late."
Jill smiled patiently as she finished checking the surgical site on his chest, listened to his heart sounds then draped the stethoscope around her neck. She pulled the covers up to his shoulders. "That's the most optimistic thinking I've heard from you yet, Warren. Given that your son and I have been separated for four months and that he lives two hours away."
"But you're not divorced,''" he countered triumphantly. "Now, why is that?"
"I'm sure we'll get to it. .soon."
"Grant's a lawyer. Could have done it right away."
Jill sighed with affectionate exasperation. Warren was a lawyer, too, and she knew he'd argue this case until doomsday, but it wouldn't change a thing.
There were good reasons for the separation. Painful ones—none of which would ever change. Given some technicalities with their property ownership, there were also very impersonal reasons for the delay of those final papers.
"Let it rest, Warren. And while you're at it, I want you to rest, too." She frowned at him to mask her worry. "This was your second heart attack, and that congestive heart failure isn't getting any better. You work too hard. And—no matter what you tell me—I know you're still smoking those cigars."
His expression grew thoughtful. "So I should take it easy."
"And I shouldn't work such long hours."
"Not if you want to be around to see your first grandchild. Which," she added quickly, "Phil and Sandra are working on at this very moment." At the cagey gleam in Warren's eyes, she knew what was coming before he even started to speak.
"I think I'll take some time off Tend my flowers. Give the old ticker a rest." He nodded to himself, warming to the idea. "I've let the place go since Marie died."
Warren lived and breathed the law. His office lights burned late into the night and he was there every morning by eight. The likelihood of him staying away for even a day was nearly impossible to imagine. Unless
"And of course, I'll need someone to cover the office. For a while, that is. Someone who knows the practice inside and out. Someone who can relate to the fine people here in Blackberry Hill. Someone who—"
"So you're going to ask Grant to come back." The weight of the past settled heavily on her shoulders. "Doesn't his brother need him?"
"Phil covered our office in Kendrick for years before Grant joined him last fall." He shrugged. "I'm sure he can manage a while longer."
"But Grant must have a personal caseload there now. He's probably very busy."
"It's only two hours away. If he needs to, he can commute to his active cases there."
"I'm sure he won't mind coming back here for a few months. Not when his dad is so ill and all then you wouldn't have to stop by my place every day to check on things." Warren's glance cut toward the bags hanging from the IV pole by his bed. "Of course, if you think I'm ready for discharge, then I probably wouldn't be needing any help " His voice trailed off, tinged with a hint of hopefulness.
"You are such a stinker," Jill shot back, hiding a smile. "If you're bargaining for a quicker discharge, the answer is no. That infection was a doozy, and you've still got eight more days of IV antibiotics. After that, you'll need a week or so of rehab to build your strength."
Harumph. Warren settled back against his pillow and regarded her through narrowed eyes. "You and Grant deserve each other."
She laughed as she picked up the clipboard on the bedside table. "There, Warren, is where you are totally wrong."
After finishing her rounds at Blackberry Hill Memorial, Jill crunched through the snow in the staff parking lot, thankful for her heavy down jacket and warm boots. Snow-flakes swirled beneath the security lights overhead, glittering like crystals against the black sky.
You and Grant deserve each other. Despite all of his contacts in this small town, Warren really didn't have a clue what had happened to his son's marriage. Either that, or he thought an affair—especially an affair with a client—was not a big deal. Maybe he believed Grant's denials. Jill had, too at first.
With one mittened hand, she swept away the snow on the driver's side window of her SUV. Beneath the snow she felt a thick cobblestone layer of ice.
"Wind chill of minus-forty tonight. Wind's going to get up to thirty miles an hour, I hear," Grace Fisher called out from her own car another row over. The stocky older woman, director of nursing at the hospital, waved her ice scraper. "Need this?"
"Got one—but thanks." Jill slapped her mittens together to knock the snow off, then slid behind the wheel of her car to start the motor. Retrieving her own scraper, she got out again and started on the windshield. "I'll bet you aren't going to miss these north-woods winters when you retire."
Grace laughed. "If I'm not on some southern beach, I'll at least stay by my fire with a good book."
Jill waved goodbye to her as Grace drove away, then bent over the hood and continued chipping at the ice, her cheeks and fingers already numb.
As soon as she cleared most of the windshield, she climbed back into the car and wrapped her arms around herself, shivering. She wished she had one of those remote car starters so it could have been warm and ready for her.
She drove out of the staff parking lot and took a left, heading down Main through the center of town.
Snow glistened beneath the streetlamps, splashed with color where it reflected the neon lights of businesses along the three-block downtown area. In the summer, the shops bustled with the thousands of vacationers who swarmed to the beautiful lake district. Now, many of the upscale shops were closed until May, giving the street a rather melancholy air.
She passed the drugstore and the grocery store, both on the edge of town, then drove out into the darkness to Bitter Hollow Road, a narrow gravel lane a few miles past the last streetlamps. Without the moon and stars overhead the darkness seemed impenetrable .
Until she rounded the last turn and found the lights blazing at Warren's house.
Strange. He lived here alone. She certainly hadn't left on the lights when she'd last stopped by to water the plants.
Fumbling for her cell phone, she slowed her car to a crawl then stopped by the mailbox at the end of the driveway.
The wind was picking up, buffeting clouds of snow beneath the faint light of the single security lamp at the peak of the garage.
She squinted through the falling snow, trying to make out the dark shape parked next to the garage and partially hidden by a stand of pines.
A vehicle, certainly possibly an SUV, but Warren hadn't said anything about anyone else coming out here.
With the press of a speed-dial button she called Sheriff Randy Johnson's office before turning up the heater to ward off the chill.
Five minutes stretched to ten, then fifteen.
At six o'clock, faint pinpoints of light appeared through the increasing snowfall, then drew up behind her. The sheriff briefly flashed the wigwag lights on the front grill of his car to identify himself. He appeared at her door a moment later.
She rolled down her window and flinched as a blast of icy wind hit her. "Thanks for coming out."
"No problem, Doc." Middle-aged and burly, the sheriff had always reminded her of a towering, congenial bear—one that could overpower just about anyone who dared challenge it. He squinted toward the house and garage. "Seen anyone?"
"No but people inside the house wouldn't know I'm here. I turned off my lights as soon as I stopped."
He nodded his approval. "You were smart not to go barging in. For years, I've been telling Warren he should move closer to town. Even with a security system, this is way too isolated for the old guy."
"I agree, but no one can tell Warren anything he doesn't want to hear," she said through chattering teeth. "I've been taking care of his plants while he's been ill, and this house seems so lonely now that his wife is gone."
"My deputy and I will check this out. If you want to go on home, that would be just fine. I'll give you a call in a bit.. or we can just stop up at your place."
Imagining that he wanted her out of the way in case of trouble, she hesitated, then waved goodbye. She shifted her car into Reverse, backed carefully around the patrol car and headed slowly up the two miles to her own home on Bitter Creek Road.
The SUV bucked through the drifts. She nearly buried it at the low spot where the bridge crossed the creek, but then the spinning tires gained purchase against the gravel beneath the snow and lurched forward. Jill exhaled in relief as she made it up into the timber, where the pines and winter-bare undergrowth of the forest blocked the drifting snow.
At the top of Chapel Hill, the trees gave way to a small clearing and the two-and-a-half-story, red-brick Victorian she and Grant had bought last summer. Back when they'd still imagined filling it with a half-dozen children someday.
Back when she'd still believed in her own fairy-tale ending. After growing up poor raised by her single mother, the house had seemed like a dream come true.
By day, the fanciful cupolas and explosion of gingerbread trim at every edge held their own drab charm. The paint was faded and curling, some of the pieces missing or sagging, but it was still possible to envision what it could become.
Though at night, the house loomed dark and forbidding, its narrow spires rising like daggers through the blowing snow, its windows black and empty.
She parked the car in the garage and scurried across the yard to the broad wraparound porch.
With cold fingers she fumbled her key into the front door lock, then let herself inside and flipped on the vestibule lights with a sigh of relief.
After tapping in her security code on the panel next to the front closet, she bumped the thermostat up to sixty-five and shucked off her boots and coat.
At the sound of something thundering down the curving, open staircase ahead, she grinned and crouched down. "Hey, Badger!"
Posted April 29, 2014
Posted April 29, 2014