Authors: Jennifer Crusie
the wall, his eyes locked tight on the interrogation going on behind the glass. Victor was no longer stoned. He was brutally sober and absolutely terrified. And he was spilling everything he knew, which wasn’t all that much.
“I don’t know, man. I met him at a party at Steve Tex’s place, and we started talking about all the bullshit work we do for practically minimum wage. He told me he had a great idea to make a little money. He just needed the perfect spot to do it. Come on, man. Pot never hurt anyone. It wasn’t like we—”
“So you volunteered your uncle’s property?”
The kid had the good grace to squirm at that, but Nate was distracted by the sound of a woman’s
voice as a door opened in the interrogation suite across the hall. Jenny’s voice. He couldn’t make out what she was saying, but as the door closed again, he heard the tense note of pleading in her words.
He’d managed to avoid her. He didn’t want to see her. She was probably scared. She’d probably cried as she was handcuffed. He hated that. He always did. Even when the woman was a stranger.
The hair on his arms rose at the idea of Jenny being booked into jail. Whether she’d lied to him or not, he didn’t want to watch that. He’d held her naked in his arms; he couldn’t watch her be broken that way.
He was turning to make his way back to the desk he shared with two other officers when a deputy named Davidson appeared in the doorway with a big smile. He held a plastic baggie up. “Don’t go anywhere. You’re going to want to see this.”
“What?” Nate asked, but the guy had already disappeared. He reappeared again in the room where Ellis was waiting to be questioned. Nate switched off the speaker of Victor’s room and moved over to watch Ellis.
“You still determined not to say anything?” the deputy asked.
“I’m not a snitch,” Ellis said, but he didn’t sound defiant; he sounded sad.
“No? You’re not much of a drug dealer, either.”
“It’s not like that. Pot helps people, you know?”
“So you thought this stuff was going to improve people’s lives? Because you got that all wrong.” Davidson smiled toward the two-way mirror and pushed the baggie forward. “You know why your pot plants look so shitty and woody?”
Ellis was apparently smart enough not to defend them and claim the plants as his own. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“No? How much did you pay for these plants? Or maybe you bought them as seeds, I don’t know. But you don’t strike me as a guy with a green thumb. So, where’d you get the plants?”
Ellis stared down at the table.
“I only ask because I’m concerned about you. Maybe you paid too much. Maybe you got ripped off. Because, Ellis...” Davidson leaned forward, his fists on the table and a grin on his face. “The reason your plants look so shitty is that you didn’t buy marijuana. What you have going is a thriving hemp farm.”
Ellis’s head snapped toward Davidson. “What?”
“Not a drop of THC in them. Or not enough to show up on a field test, anyway. You could smoke every one of those plants, and all you’d get was a sore throat.”
“That’s not true,” Ellis said, aiming a pleading look at Davidson.
“No? Bet you got a great deal on them, huh? Something special just because you’re a nice guy? Did you even know the man when you handed over the cash?”
“You’re lying. He wouldn’t—”
Davidson shrugged. “This interview is being recorded. I’m not allowed to give you false information about your case.”
Nate rolled his eyes. That wasn’t true, but apparently Ellis believed it, because his gaze slid to the baggie as the tips of his ears turned red. “He said...”
“A guy named Frank. We were friends. I
we were friends. He wanted to help me out. He—”
Ellis hung his head, dropping his forehead into his hands. “I can’t believe any of this is happening. Victor said no one ever went out there. I only had two hundred dollars left to my name. Everything else was gone. I just needed a new start. A way to make enough money to get in on a new landscaping business.”
“Frank had a truck full of plants. He said he’d give me the ones that weren’t doing so well. Two hundred then and another two hundred a month later. I picked up a little work. It was working out fine.”
“Yeah, real fine,” Davidson snapped. “You were running a drug operation in my county.”
Ellis raised his head, a flash of hope relaxing his mouth into something that was almost a smile. “But it isn’t pot! So I’m good, right? I can go?”
When he stood, Davidson guided him back down to his chair. “Not so fast, Stone. There are still a few good charges in there, starting with destruction of federal forest.”
“What?” he asked blankly.
“The field you were working on in back? That’s federal land. So there are still charges that can be brought. But maybe they’d go away if you decide to cooperate. I need the names of everyone involved.” Nate felt a moment of sharp fear for James and Jenny, but Ellis only looked confused.
“Everyone involved? I saw you putting Victor in a car. And I already gave you Frank’s name.”
“What about the woman?” Davidson pressed, and Nate’s shoulders tightened to rock.
“What woman?” Ellis asked.
“I believe she’s your wife,” Davidson said dryly.
“Jenny?” Ellis shook his head. “Jenny had nothing to do with this.”
“Come on. We know she’s involved.”
“No way.” Ellis swallowed and his eyes shifted away. “Look, I admit, I asked if I could store a few boxes at her place, but it was nothing illegal. Just hoses and irrigation stuff. That’s all. And I already moved those boxes, anyway. She didn’t know anything.”
“Right. That’s why she was heading out to the cabin to visit the operation.”
“Dude, I thought you said you couldn’t lie.” Ellis laughed and shook his head. “That’s bullshit. Jenny didn’t know anything.”
Davidson dropped it. “All right. Tell us more about this Frank.”
But Nate wanted to rush in and grab Ellis by the collar and shake more information about Jenny from him. He ran a hand through his hair, aware of how hard his heart was beating, because...because Ellis had seemed sincere. And his story backed up what Nate himself had witnessed.
Was he telling the truth? Or was he holding a flame for Jenny and just trying to protect her? Nate had to find out. The need to know the truth twisted inside his gut. It felt like life or death somehow. Ridiculous, of course. He knew what it was like to face a real life-or-death situation. This wasn’t life or death or even danger. It was just...his heart.
He scowled at the ridiculous, maudlin thought, not even realizing Davidson was done with his questioning until the deputy appeared in the doorway. “Can you believe this idiot?” he howled. “Hemp! Jesus Christ, he almost had enough plants to make himself a pair of those hippie sandals!”
On another day, Nate would’ve laughed, but this time he could only manage the strength to nod.
“Anyway, I think I know who this Frank is. We’ll put out a description and hopefully track him down, see if he’s carrying the real deal. But as for this genius...he’s probably going to walk. I don’t know how your cousin will feel about that.”
Nate shrugged. “He’ll just be happy it’s done and taken care of. And he’ll get bonus points with the wife if her nephew isn’t sent to prison, I suppose.”
“Yeah, I’ll say.”
“Hey, do you mind if I ask Stone a couple of questions just to satisfy my own curiosity?”
“Knock yourself out. We’ll probably let him go before nightfall, anyway.”
The cameras were still running, but at this point, Nate didn’t care. Hell, even if the drugs had been real, he wasn’t sure he would’ve cared. Ellis’s arrest wasn’t going to make a damn bit of difference in this community. But walking away from Jenny when she’d been in need? That was going to affect Nate’s life in a hell of a lot of ways.
He opened the door. “Ellis,” he said flatly.
“Hey!” Ellis said brightly, as if he were relieved to see a familiar face.
“How’s it going?”
His smile vanished. “Not great, man.”
“I see that.”
“Shit,” he muttered. “Did Jenny send you in here to kick my ass? Tell her I’m sorry, all right?”
“Sorry for what?” Nate asked, taking a seat and bracing himself for the answer. Actually, that wasn’t true. No matter what the answer was, it was going to tear through Nate like a blade. Because either she’d made a fool of him or Nate had done it all on his own.
“Dragging her into this.”
“Well, she’s pretty pissed that you got her arrested.”
“I swear to God I don’t know what she was doing out there! Where did she even come from?”
“That doesn’t make any sense. There’s nothing out there. She didn’t just run across you.”
Ellis slumped. “She must have followed me. She was suspicious about what I was doing and worried I was in trouble.”
“You’re really saying she didn’t know anything?”
“Are you kidding? She thought I was doing landscaping.”
“In the middle of winter?”
“I told her I was working the plows and signing contracts for the spring. I mean, I am picking up a few shifts here and there. And hey, I was kinda doing landscaping, you know?” Ellis’s laugh sounded like a broken toy.
Nate felt sick now, remembering the way he’d looked through her as he’d passed. “So she wasn’t lying,” he murmured.
“Jenny? No way. She’d never have anything to do with drugs. Hell, whenever I came home smelling like pot, she’d make me sleep on the couch. That shit with her mom, you know?”
No, he didn’t know. He didn’t know a lot of things about Jenny, because he’d been too busy asking questions about Ellis, just as she’d said.
Ellis scrubbed his hands through his hair. “Shit. I can’t believe she was arrested. She only wanted to help. She thinks I can’t take care of myself. She always felt like she needed to take care of me, and she couldn’t deal with that. And when Jenny can’t deal with something, she leaves.”
“Is that what she did to you?”
“Yep. Middle of the night, she left me a letter and her ring and took off. I never saw her again until two months ago. Didn’t even know where she was until last year.” He sighed. “I always thought she’d come back to me, but she never even came through town again.”
What had she said? She wasn’t racing anything; she just wanted to go somewhere else? Nate tapped his knuckles on the table and stood.
“Hey, they’re going to let her go, right?”
Nate nodded, unconcerned about giving too much away.
“So can I get out of here?”
“Not sure. Deputy Davidson will be back soon.”
Ellis groaned and slumped back in his seat as Nate headed out the door.
“Hendricks!” Davidson called before he could escape. “Can you call your cousin? He needs to go out to the cabin and document which items are his and which were brought in. We also need to know if anything’s missing.”
“Sure,” Nate said, glancing toward the other suite before he headed toward his desk. He called Luis to give him the good news and pass on the request. His cousin seemed overcome with relief, though Nate warned him that the investigation wasn’t over. Still, Luis muttered something in Spanish so quickly that even Nate couldn’t make out more than
and Teresa. Nate was smiling when he hung up, but his smile faded quickly. He needed to talk to Jenny. Apologize. Explain. Ask if she’d be willing to give him another chance.
It wasn’t that he’d been completely irrational; it was just that he hadn’t gone with his gut, a cop’s number one sin. She’d felt trustworthy and sweet and bright, but he’d been so damn worried he was letting his lust overwhelm his instincts. Because there was a lot of lust. A
Nate rolled his neck and pushed slowly to his feet. He tried to organize his thoughts as he walked. Tried to think of the perfect apology, but the only thing that came to mind was “I’m sorry. Forgive me?” Stupid, meaningless words. So generic she might just sneer and walk away.
In the end, the perfect apology would’ve meant just as little, because the interview room was empty, and Jenny Stone was long gone. Nate had missed his chance.
running. She always did, after all. So what could she do but race to her apartment, throw a few essentials in a bag and take off? She couldn’t face Nate after that. It was too much.
So she drove away, deeper into nowhere, passing hardly anyone as she flew.
By the time she’d reached Idaho, she was too tired to think anymore. Too tired to decide what to do. Too tired to wind her way through any more mountains or high bluffs. She got a motel room and left her dead phone in the car and she slept.
Ten hours later, she opened her eyes expecting relief. That was the way she’d always felt before. Weeks of tension would precede her escape, but once she was gone, she felt new and happy and light.
But this time...this time she woke with shoulders knotted with stress and her teeth aching from the way she’d clenched her jaw all night. She didn’t feel relieved. She felt scared. And awful. She felt as though she wanted to go home.
But not the home she’d been driving toward. Not Idaho.
She missed her place. And her job. And her friends. She even missed the ridiculous shit Rayleen was going to dish about Jenny’s brief trouble with the law.
Jenny didn’t care about the arrest. Hell, she was a career bartender. It gave her another story to tell. Another way to schmooze tips.
Oh, you got into trouble? I got hauled in myself one time.
Plus, now she had something scandalous in common with Grace.
Yes, she could handle the notoriety of being arrested. What she couldn’t handle was facing Nate.
She’d been helping Ellis, and she’d lied about it, and it turned out that he’d been growing pot. Worse than that, she’d been arrested in front of Nate’s friends and coworkers. The look on his face as he’d driven past...after what they’d done together...God. After the way she’d let him into her body. The way she’d taken him with complete abandon. If she had to look him in the eyes and see disgust, she’d die inside.
Because she knew that disgust intimately. She’d felt it a hundred times. A thousand. Every time she’d looked at her own mother. Every time she’d seen her mom high and glassy-eyed and vacantly ugly.
The hair rose on her arms. It had been like looking at a dead person sometimes. As if her mom weren’t even there. She’d been replaced. All her laughter. Her brightness. Her pride. Even her hot temper. It had all been replaced when Jenny was seven. First, with pain pills. Then sleeping pills. Then half a dozen different colors and shapes of tablets. Jenny had thought the lowest point had been when her mom, once a beloved first-grade teacher, had been fired from her school for drug use.
But that hadn’t been the lowest. Not by far.
And now Nate thought Jenny was like
Like that. And she wanted to run.
But maybe she was finally growing up. Because she didn’t plan to stay gone. Maybe she was finally a stronger person.
Jenny got in her car and drove again, but this time she had a destination in mind. Her body knew the route by heart. It left her mind with nothing to do but take it in.
The little town where she’d grown up looked exactly the same. Amazing. Nothing had changed. She thought she’d forgotten it, but no. She’d forgotten nothing. There was the corner store where she’d bought jawbreakers and gumballs for ten cents every Saturday. And there was the tiny shoe store where they’d gotten new school shoes each August.
And there... God, there was the elementary school where she’d spent so many years, and where her mom had worked for a dozen more. The school that had held happy memories until her mom had been fired, and then it had been nothing but another site of humiliation.
Jenny turned her eyes to the road and drove past it.
Their house was only two streets away. When her mom had been sober, they’d walked to school together every morning, even on the coldest days.
Jenny felt a tickle on her cheek and found hot tears when she touched her skin.
She’d needed this. She’d needed to remember. To come back.
But she stopped short of her house. She could see it from the corner. This was close enough.
It looked the same. Still neat. Still perfect from the outside.
Her father had been the gardener in the family, and the lawn had been his escape. He must still need a good reason to escape, because from this side of the block, the grass looked perfect enough to be Astroturf.
Time had gone on without her. Had anything changed at all?
But Jenny knew the answer to that. She’d changed. She wasn’t running. Not anymore.
She picked up the phone and called Grace.
“Jenny, where the hell are you? We’ve been worried sick! Rayleen tried calling the sheriff, but you’re an adult, and they wouldn’t... Sweetie, where
Jenny smiled at the sound of Grace calling her sweetie. Grace, who’d likely never used that word once when she’d lived in L.A. “I just...needed to get away.”
“Thank God. But when you didn’t show up last night—”
“Oh, shit. The saloon! I didn’t even think about it. Am I fired?”
“Of course you’re not fired.”
“It doesn’t matter. I’m awful. I’ve never done that before. I have to call Rayleen!”
“Oh, screw Rayleen. She’s fine. You can apologize when you get here. If... You are coming back, right?”
Jenny stared down the street and swallowed hard, overwhelmed with a thousand memories of this view as she’d walked home from school.
“Jenny?” Grace whispered. “Don’t be like me, okay? I didn’t know I belonged here, but you know you do. You
that. Don’t you?”
Jenny let her gaze fall to the sad little bag she’d packed. She’d spent five years in Jackson and this was all she’d grabbed on her way out the door. No pictures. No memories of the life she’d built. Just this small bag and the clothes on her back. Not because she was leaving everything behind, but because she knew she’d be back.
If there were bad things waiting—if Nate hated her, and Ellis kept hanging around, and things didn’t go smooth and easy—she could handle it. “I know where I belong,” she said. “I do. I’m coming back.”
“Thank God! When?”
“Now,” Jenny said, feeling the awful tension leave her shoulders. “I’m coming home right now.”
She hung up the phone and watched a flock of birds rise from the tree in front of the house she’d spent so many years in. Her family was still there. And her past. And that was okay. She could face it. Maybe she’d call her sister soon. Maybe she’d even come back and visit, knowing she had a better place to return to. But not today. Today was part of the future she’d built in Jackson, not this past she’d left behind.
Jenny put the car in gear and drove.