Authors: Marta Perry
No camera, of course, but her groping fingers found a memory card. She’d switched to a second one sometime during the reception. Relief swept through her. At least she hadn’t lost the entire day’s worth of once-in-a-lifetime shots.
“No camera, but here’s the memory card.” She dropped it in the basket on the hall table. “I’ll upload what I have on it when I get back.”
“Back?” Mom’s face crinkled with concern. “You’re surely not going out already. You need to get some rest, have some lunch…”
“Mom, you just gave me breakfast an hour ago.” The way her mother kept urging food on her children, it was a wonder the three of them hadn’t been little butterballs. “I’m going back to the hospital.”
Mom grasped her hand, as if to hold her. “Just let me change, and I’ll go with you.”
She shook her head, impatient to be off. “I’ll have to stop at the inn on my way, to see if they have my camera. Maybe you can stop by the hospital later.”
She freed her hand, shrugging into her bright red anorak instead of the dressier coat she’d worn last night.
“Can I take a car?” She’d have to do something about a car, if she were going to stay here long, since hers was in San Francisco.
“Use Jessica’s.” Mom took a set of keys from the basket and handed them to her. “She won’t mind at all.”
Safely off on her honeymoon, it seemed unlikely that Jessica would even think of her car. Libby grabbed her bag and headed for the door. “Thanks, Mom.”
“Be careful, dear.” Mom said the familiar words automatically. “Maybe tonight we’ll have time to sit down and have a nice chat, now that the wedding’s over.”
“We’ll see.” With the classic evasive words, Libby stepped out into the cold sunshine and pulled the door closed.
Now why, exactly, was she so reluctant to have that nice heart-to-heart chat with her mother? Because it wasn’t going to be nice?
Mom wouldn’t blame her for her actions. Geneva Morgan would never put a job before doing what was right.
But her mother would worry, and that was the last thing Libby wanted. Admitting that she hadn’t been able to cut it out there in the big wide world…
She decided not to pursue that path, concentrating instead on pulling out of the gravel driveway onto the two-lane blacktop that led to Springville and beyond it to Lancaster and the hospital. She shouldn’t be thinking about her own failings. They were unimportant compared to Esther’s situation.
Her fingers tightened on the steering wheel, cold even through her gloves. Nothing could have happened to Esther since she’d left. She’d given the nurse on duty her cell number and firm instructions to call if there was any change.
When the woman had looked mulish and muttered something about regulations, Adam had pulled out that magical badge of his, and the nurse had fallen in line. A badge worked even better than her press credentials.
She passed one of the Amish farms that dotted the roads of Spring Township and realized what day it was. Rows of buggies lined the lane that led to the barn. It was Sunday, and the Amish were obviously worshipping today in the King family’s barn. They’d be praying for Esther, of that she had no doubt.
The thought comforted her as she drove the rest of the way to the Springville Inn. Maybe, when she reached the hospital, there’d be good news waiting. Maybe Esther would be awake…weak, hurting, but herself, with characteristic courage in her blue eyes.
The inn’s parking lot was crowded, and Libby finally parked illegally, rationalizing that she’d only be inside long enough to see if her camera had turned up.
She hurried through the lobby to the restaurant, nodding absently to the hostess while her gaze scanned the crowded dining room. The inn was a popular place for brunch on Sundays, and today was no exception.
Not seeing her quarry, she turned to the hostess. “Is Mr. Barclay here? I need to speak with him.”
The young woman nodded. “He’s in his office. Go past the reception desk, and it’s the first door on the left.”
Libby moved back into the hotel lobby, relieved to leave the noise of the dining room behind. It had been noisy last night, too, when they’d celebrated Trey and Jessica’s wedding. The gaiety had died for her when she saw Adam’s expression.
She walked quickly back to the office, tapped lightly and opened the door. “Owen?”
“Libby, what a delightful surprise.” Owen Barclay circled his desk toward her, looking as fresh and smiling as he had the previous night. “I thought the Morgan family would be exhausted after all of yesterday’s festivities.”
She took a step back as he approached, holding the office door open. “I just stopped by to see if your staff found my camera. I must have put it down when I rushed out to go to the hospital last night.”
No need to say any more. She was certain everyone in the room had known why she and Adam left within ten minutes of their going.
Owen’s face assumed a gravity suitable for a funeral director. “Of course, your friend’s accident. I’m so terribly sorry about that. It was pretty bad, or so I’ve heard.”
She nodded, knowing that was an invitation to share details that she had no intention of repeating. “It was a hit-and-run. The police are looking for the driver.”
“I certainly hope they find him. It’s tragic, the way some people speed along our back roads with no thought for others.” He leaned toward her, his face sympathetic. “How is Ms. Zook?”
An image of Esther, white and still, flashed in her mind. But she was going to think positively, wasn’t she?
“It was a serious injury, but I’m sure I’ll find her improved when I get to the hospital. Now, about my camera…”
He was already shaking his head. “The staff has standing instructions to bring anything of value directly to my office, and nothing has turned up. The room was thoroughly cleared, of course, to get ready for brunch this morning.”
Too easy, to think the camera would turn up that fast. “You’ll let me know if anyone finds it?”
“I’ll check the room thoroughly myself as soon as we’ve finished serving.” Owen clasped her hand before she could escape. “And I’ll ask the staff that was on duty if anyone saw a camera.”
“Thank you.” She detached her hand. “I’d appreciate it.”
“And you let me know if there’s anything I can do for the Zook family.” He followed her, but stopped in the doorway. “We’d be happy to send some meals over, either to the hospital or the house. No charge, of course.”
“That’s kind of you, Owen. I’ll let you know.” Would Esther be eating again anytime soon? Hold the good thought, she reminded herself, and walked toward the door.
But as she passed the archway that led into the dining room, she realized someone was waving at her. It was Sandra Smalley, sitting across from Leonard at nearly the same spot where they’d been last night.
There was no choice but to stop, trying to manage a polite smile while her nerves screamed at her to move.
“Here we are again,” Sandra said. “We just can’t stay away from the inn. We come every Sunday for brunch, don’t we, Leonard?”
Leonard nodded, his gaze shifting from his wife to Libby. “Our favorite place,” he said.
“The holiday decorations are so lovely this year.” Sandra swept on, gesturing at the swags of greens and holly and relieving Libby of the duty of answering. “We heard about what happened with your friend. Such a pity. It just shows how dangerous it is, driving a horse and buggy on public roads after dark.”
If she throttled Sandra, Libby probably wouldn’t be able to ask them whether they remembered what had happened to her camera. She’d taken a photo of them just seconds before she saw Adam, after all.
“Hit-and-run drivers are the worst kind of creatures,” Leonard said, with surprising heat. “I trust the police will catch up with the person who did this. How is your friend?”
“It’s early yet,” she said cautiously. “But we’re hoping for a good recovery.”
“That’s wonderful.” Sandra seemed to feel she’d been out of the conversation long enough. “I do hope you’re right, although you never can tell with head injuries. I heard of someone who—”
“I really must be on my way,” Libby said, desperation triumphing over good manners. “But I wanted to ask if you remembered what I did with my camera when I left last night.”
“Camera?” Leonard blinked at her.
“You were taking photos of us,” Sandra said promptly. “Then the chief came over and whispered something to you, and you went out together without a word to anyone.” The mention of Adam was accompanied by an arch smile that annoyed Libby.
Not quite true, but let it pass. “Do you remember if I took my camera?”
“I’m certain you did,” Leonard said. “I noticed that you had it in your hand.”
That seemed to settle it. “Thank you. That’s a relief.”
She hurried off before Sandra could decide to finish her story of someone who’d had a head injury. No doubt it would end in disaster.
Pushing open the front door, Libby zipped her jacket against the wind that teased at the door’s wreath. She’d said it was a relief to know she’d had her camera when she left, but that wasn’t quite true.
If she’d had her camera then, it must be in Adam’s car. And that meant she’d have to stop at the police station and see Adam again.
ADAM SHUFFLED THROUGH the reports on his desk, trying to focus. He was used to nights without sleep…it was the thought of Esther Zook lying in that hospital bed, maybe dying, of Libby’s pain and grief, that had his eyes stinging and gritty.
Don’t get emotionally involved
. He knew that as well as the next cop. All very well if you worked a city district where the victims were totally unknown to you. Here…
He’d known Esther Zook since she was six or seven, probably, chasing around the Morgan place with Libby. Impossible to stay detached when she was the victim.
As for Libby…well, she just made it more difficult. Maybe someday he’d be able to look at her without feeling that complicated mix of longing, guilt and sorrow, but he didn’t figure it was happening anytime soon. He’d messed up with Libby twice in his life, letting his emotions overcome his better judgment. The first time she’d been a teenager, and he’d had no earthly excuse for responding to that impetuous kiss she’d given him. If her brothers had known, they’d have rearranged his face for him.
He’d handled it badly, hurt and embarrassed Libby by letting her think he didn’t care about her. He should have gone to her afterward, found some better way of explaining that he was too old for her and he wasn’t in her league anyway. But then that mess with Sally had exploded in his face, with half the town believing he’d fathered Sally’s baby. Libby had clearly been in that half, even though Geneva had come firmly to his defense.
Geneva’s reaction had been simple. She knew that if he had been responsible, he’d have taken responsibility. Her confidence in him had gotten him through. Eventually the rumors had died down, Sally had married and moved away, and the incident was over, but it was a reminder, if he’d needed one, that in a small town people were always ready to believe the worst of someone like him.
Old news, Adam reminded himself. Past history. They’d both been over it a long time ago.
He turned to the computer, focusing on whether or not an answer had come through on the paint fragments the CSI guys had scraped off the buggy. Nothing yet, but they’d agreed to rush it.
Running a hand through his hair and rubbing the back of his neck, he looked at the large-scale township map on the wall behind his desk.
What were you doing, Esther? Where were you going that time of night?
The phone buzzed. Ginger, the dispatcher, must be trying to impress someone. Usually she just shouted for him. Ginger had come in unasked this morning to see what she could do to help.
“Libby Morgan here to see you, Chief.”
He’d think of an excuse if he could, but it was too late. Ginger must have waved Libby on back, because the office door was already opening. He rose, shoving his chair back, and it hit the wall in protest.