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"Mommy! Mommy! Don't let him get me!"
Eve Worthington jerked awake at the sound of her young son's voice and then dodged the agile body that propelled itself from the floor into the middle of her bed.
She gathered Joey into her arms. "Did you have a nightmare, sweetie?"
"A man was in my room. He was going to hurt me."
"It's okay, Joey. There's no one in the house but you and me. You're safe. I won't let anyone hurt you."
She kissed the top of Joey's head and let her lips linger in the soft blond hair that smelled like sunshine and springtime. She held him close, her hands splayed across his back until the shudders stopped.
It had been two years since he'd lost his father to a drive-by shooting mere blocks from their Dallas home. He'd been almost four years old at the time, independent and curious, a ball of energy who was eager for any adventure.
Now he seldom made it through the night without waking screaming, in the throes of a nightmare. He held tightly on to her hand whenever the two of them left the house. Even at the neighborhood park that he loved, he didn't want her out of his sight, especially if there was a man around. When she'd tried to enroll him in kindergarten, he'd become so distraught, she'd decided to hold him back a year.
She was a psychiatrist. She should know how to help Joey get past this, know how to make him feel safe. Her mentor and favorite professor, Edgar Callen, claimed she was simply too close to the situation to be objective.
Edgar was probably right but her own fears went much deeper than even he knew. Her three years of working with prisoners in Texas correctional institutions had left their scars even before she'd lost her husband.
Her friend Miriam, whom she seldom saw anymore, also a psychiatrist, believed that Eve had become far too protective of Joey. Miriam was likely correct in her assessment as well. But Joey had been through so much that Eve couldn't help being overly cautious with him.
"Can I sleep with you, Mommy?"
"You'll be more comfortable in your bed. I'll come and lie down with you until you fall asleep."
"I don't want to go back in there."
"We'll turn on all the lights and look around. When you see your toys and stuffed animals, you'll know the bad dream wasn't real."
"It seemed real."
"I know it did. Nightmares are like that, but there's nothing in your room when the light is off that's not there when the light is on."
She scooted to the edge of the bed, then threw her bare feet to the floor, just as a streak of lightning zigzagged across the night sky. Joey stood on the mattress and wrapped his short arms around her neck.
She picked him up, noting, as always, how light he felt in her arms. He was small for his age and a difficult eater, constantly complaining of stomach pains. The pediatrician had ruled out any medical reasons for them.
Once back in his room, they spent a good half hour making sure every toy was in place. By the time he'd settled in his bed with his stuffed lion, a light rain was slapping against the window and low rumbles of thunder growled in the distance.
Eve snuggled beside her son until he fell asleep, though she doubted he'd sleep soundly with the storm kicking up outside. There was little use to go back to her room only to be dragged from bed again.
She climbed out of his bed stealthily and turned down the quilt on the spare twin bed in Joey's room. Finally, Eve drifted into a sound sleep. When she opened her eyes again, it was half-past six. Amazingly, both she and Joey had slept through the rest of the night.
She stretched and turned to check on her son. He'd kicked off his covers, but his lion was still clutched tightly to his chest. She listened to his gentle breathing, watched the steady rise and fall of his chest and felt a tightening in her throat.
Moving quietly so as not to wake him, she climbed from the bed and walked to the bedroom door, lingering to look back at Joey. If only he always looked as peaceful as he did this minute.
Padding to the rear of the house, she started a pot of coffee, pausing when she was done to stare out the kitchen window. The thunderstorm had given way to a calm dawn, but water puddled the lawn and dripped from the few leaves that clung stubbornly to the lone oak tree.
Eve went back to her bedroom for her slippers before walking almost to the street to retrieve the plastic-wrapped copy of The Dallas Morning News. When she'd worked, reading the newspaper had been a luxury reserved for weekends and holidays. Now that she'd become a full-time mother to her troubled son, it was part of her morning routine.
Stripping away the wet wrapper, she tossed it into the trash and spread the paper on the kitchen table as the odor of fresh-perked coffee filled the room. The headlines dealt with the wrangling between local politicians. She ignored it and skimmed the rest of the page before flipping to an inside section.
Her breath caught as her focus centered on a black-and-white photograph at the top of the page. The caption beneath the picture gave her chills.
Orson Bastion had escaped from the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville, Texas.
Eve sank into the chair as her mind dragged her into the past. Her home phone rang, startling her back into the present. She checked the caller ID. Gordon Epps, the prison's warden. She lifted the receiver.
"I just read about Orson's escape," she said, saving him the trouble of trying to break it to her gently.
"I was afraid of that. Are you okay?"
"I've had better mornings. When did he escape?"
"Sometime during the night. He was first missed at the 2:00 a.m. security check. One of the security patrol found the guard pulling night duty on Orson's wing dead. He'd been strangled."
"Orson's calling card. Are you sure he escaped the premises?"
"Relatively sure. We've spent the night searching and there's no sign of him. Speculation is that he somehow rode out with the trash."
At least he was with his own kind.
"He took the guard's gun, so we know he's armed."
"And there's no doubt he's dangerous," Eve added. "He could be anywhere by now."
"Law enforcement officers across the state have been notified. With any luck, he'll be back in custody in a matter of hours. Still, I wanted to give you a heads-up."
"You don't think he'll come after me, do you? I haven't had any dealings with him in two years. He must have a lot worse enemies than me to get even with."
"I suspect Orson's only interested in saving his own hide now. He's likely keeping a low profile and hightailing it out of the state as fast as he can."
"I hope you're right."
"If you're worried at all, Eve, you could always go spend a few days with Troy Ledger. His ranch is not that far away, and I know he'd love to see you."
"How is he?"
"Adjusting well to freedom. He's reunited with his son Dylan and they're working his old ranch."
"Then I doubt he'd be thrilled about my running to him at the first sign of trouble."
"Just a thought. How's the boy?" Epps asked.
"Joey's making progress, but still experiencing a lot of anxiety and separation issues."
"I hate to hear that. I've got to run, Eve, but if there's anything I can do, give me a call. And think about paying a visit to Troy. If Orson is stupid enough to seek revenge against you for your testimony at his parole hearing, he'd never think of looking for you at the home of a former inmate accused of killing his own wife."
If Orson was stupid enough to come after her
But Orson wasn't stupid. She'd seen the results of his intelligence testing. He bordered on genius. That didn't mean he wasn't evil to the core. And he had threatened to get back at her for fouling his early parole attempt.
Orson's threat echoed in her mind. She had no doubt when he'd hurled it at her that he'd meant every word. So how could she convince herself that he wouldn't come after her now?
"I appreciate the call, Gordon."
"Okay, and keep me posted if you decide to leave home. If you stay, you need to alert the police that Orson could show up there. Demand protection. Promise me you'll do that."
"I'm not sure the Dallas Police Department responds to citizen demands."
"Then go see Troy for a few days. He'll understand
and you're surely not afraid of him. You've said yourself that you'd never met a prisoner whose innocence was as compelling as Troy's."
She had been convinced of his innocence, had even made a statement to the press on his release that she'd trust him with her life and the life of her son.
She'd meant the words at the time. But was she ready to put them to the test?
Did she dare not?
The frosty late November air had a bite to it, and the wind stung Sean Ledger's face as he ducked through the door and into the cozy barn. He was up early and raring to go to work. He had a feeling this just might be the day he made some real headway with Go Lightly.
He'd been at Cahill Horse Farm for just over six months and Go Lightly was still a challenge. The horse had racing in its blood and was fast enough to be a threat in any of the major races for two-year-olds.
Until the starter fired his shot and the gates opened. Then Go Lightly bucked and fought the jockey, as if he were being asked to run along a track planted with land mines. Ted Cahill was about ready to give up on the animal. Sean wasn't.
He just needed more time, and fewer distractions compliments of Tom's wife.
Women. Sean didn't understand them and doubted he ever would. Give him a horse any day. Sean could get into a horse's mind, figure out what had frightened it or killed its spirit. Given time, Sean could usually bring a horse around.
Women, on the other hand, were beyond comprehension. As far as he was concerned, they weren't just from another planet, but from another galaxy. And they were welcome to it.
He pushed the irritating thoughts aside and tuned into the life pulsing in the barn. Suzy pawed at the pile of hay at her feet, threw back her head and snorted.
"Good morning, old girl." Sean reached over and scratched the long nose. "You don't like being ignored, do you?"
Suzy snorted again and stretched her head over the stall door so that she could rub against the rough denim of Sean's jacket.
Thunder threw back his head and neighed loudly, then kicked his back feet, protesting any- and everything. Aptly named, he was the most high spirited of all the quarter horses at Cahill Farms. He'd been a winner in his day, and he knew it. The past glory earned him the right to be a contrary sire.
The stud settled a bit, almost gloatingly, when Sean turned his attention to him. Sean shrugged out of his denim jacket and hung it on a peg near the door. Leaning against a support post, he pulled a folded envelope from his shirt pocket. He removed the letter, the latest from his brother Dylan. After reading through it, Sean reread the last paragraph.
"You'd love the Texas Hill Country, Sean. Pay us a visit, if only for a few days. Give Dad a chance. You won't be sorry."
Troy did not share Dylan's confidence that he'd like returning to the ranch. And as for giving Troy Ledger a chance, those days were long gone. When he was a kid, he'd had his father on a pedestal so high the man would have needed a parachute to come back to earth safely.
Troy Ledger hadn't utilized a parachute or a safety net. He'd nosedived off the perch into the pool of blood that had soaked Sean's brutally slain mother.
"Is that a love letter?"
Sean turned at the seductive voice, nodded to Sasha Cahill, then folded the letter and stuffed it back in his pocket. "Far from it."
"I'll bet you left lots of broken hearts back in Kentucky when you came to work for my father."
Not a subject he was interested in pursuing, especially not with his boss's seventeen- going on twenty-one-year-old daughter. "Don't you have school today?"
"Teacher Institute day. You don't mind my company, do you?"
"I'm paid to work, not socialize."
"I love watching you interact with Go Lightly. Your voice and the way you touch him makes me wish I was an emotionally scarred racehorse you were out to save."
Oh, good grief. It was bad enough that Sasha's mother came on to him like a dog in heat. Now Sasha. If it was something in the water, Ted Cahill had best dig his family a new well.
"You're not a horse." She was a spoiled brat, though he refrained from saying so. "Why don't you take Suzy out for a ride? She could use a good workout."
"Horses aren't the only animals that need a whisperer, Sean."