The law is a lady, p.17
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       The Law is a Lady, p.17

           Nora Roberts
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  “Uh-uh.” She arched like a contented cat when he ran a hand down her back. “Do you have to get up early?”

  “Six.”

  Groaning, she shut her eyes firmly. “You’re ruining your mystique,” she told him. “Hollywood Casanovas don’t get up at six.”

  He gave a snort of laughter. “They do if they’ve got a film to direct.”

  “I suppose when you leave, you’ll still have a lot of work to do before the film’s finished.”

  His frown mirrored hers, although neither was aware of it. “There’s still a lot to be shot in the studio, then the editing . . . I wish there was more time.”

  She knew what he meant and schooled her voice carefully. “We both knew. I’ll only be in town a few weeks longer than you,” she added. “I’ve got a lot of work to catch up on in Albuquerque.”

  “It’s lucky we’re both comfortable with the way things are.” Phil stared up at the ceiling while his fingers continued to tangle in her hair. “If we’d fallen in love, it would be an impossible situation.”

  “Yes,” Tory murmured, opening her eyes to the darkness. “Neither of us has the time for impossible situations.”

  Chapter 10

  Tory pulled up in front of the ranch house. Her mother’s geraniums were doing beautifully. White-and-pink plants had been systematically placed between the more common red. The result was an organized, well-tended blanket of color. Tory noted that the tear in the window screen had been mended. As always, a few articles of clothing hung on the line at the side of the house. She dreaded going in.

  It was an obligation she never shirked but never did easily. At least once a week she drove out to spend a strained half hour with her mother. Only twice since the film crew had come to Friendly had her mother made the trip into town. Both times she had dropped into Tory’s office, but the visits had been brief and uncomfortable for both women. Time was not bridging the gap, only widening it.

  Normally, Tory confined her trips to the ranch to Sunday afternoons. This time, however, she had driven out a day early in order to placate Phil. The thought caused her to smile. He’d finally pressured her into agreeing to his “home movies.” When he had wound up the morning’s shoot in town, he would bring out one of the backup video cameras. Though she could hardly see why it was so vital to him to put her on film, Tory decided it wouldn’t do any harm. And, she thought wryly, he wasn’t going to stop bringing it up until she agreed. So let him have his fun, she concluded as she slipped from the car. She’d enjoy the ride.

  From the corral the palomino whinnied fussily. He pawed the ground and pranced as Tory watched him. He knew, seeing Tory, that there was a carrot or apple in it for him, as well as a bracing ride. They were both aware that he could jump the fence easily if he grew impatient enough. As he reared, showing off for her, Tory laughed.

  “Simmer down, Justice. You’re going to be in the movies.” She hesitated a moment. It would be so easy to go to the horse, pamper him a bit in return for his unflagging affection. There were no complications or undercurrents there. Her eyes drifted back to the house. With a sigh she started up the walk.

  Upon entering, Tory caught the faint whiff of bee’s wax and lemon and knew her mother had recently polished the floors. She remembered the electric buffer her father had brought home one day. Helen had been as thrilled as if he’d brought her diamonds. The windows glittered in the sun without a streak or speck.

  How does she do it? Tory wondered, gazing around the spick-and-span room. How does she stand spending each and every day chasing dust? Could it really be all she wants out of life?

  As far back as she could remember, she could recall her mother wanting nothing more than to change slipcovers or curtains. It was difficult for a woman who always looked for angles and alternatives to understand such placid acceptance. Perhaps it would have been easier if the daughter had understood the mother, or the mother the daughter. With a frustrated shake of her head she wandered to the kitchen, expecting to find Helen fussing at the stove.

  The room was empty. The appliances winked, white and gleaming, in the strong sunlight. The scent of fresh-baked bread hovered enticingly in the air. Whom did she bake it for? Tory demanded of herself, angry without knowing why. There was no one there to appreciate it now—no one to break off a hunk and grin as he was scolded. Damn it, didn’t she know that everything was different now? Whirling away, Tory strode out of the room.

  The house was too quiet, she realized. Helen was certainly there. The tired little compact was in its habitual place at the side of the house. It occurred to Tory that her mother might be in one of the outbuildings. But then, why hadn’t she come out when she heard the car drive up? Vaguely disturbed, Tory glanced up the stairs. She opened her mouth to call, then stopped. Something impelled her to move quietly up the steps.

  At the landing she paused, catching some faint sound coming from the end of the hall. Still moving softly, Tory walked down to the doorway of her parents’ bedroom. The door was only half closed. Pushing it open, Tory stepped inside.

  Helen sat on the bed in a crisp yellow housedress. Her blonde hair was caught back in a matching kerchief. Held tight in her hands was one of Tory’s father’s work shirts. It was a faded blue, frayed at the cuffs. Tory remembered it as his favorite, one that Helen had claimed was fit only for a dust rag. Now she clutched it to her breast, rocking gently and weeping with such quiet despair that Tory could only stare.

  She’d never seen her mother cry. It had been her father whose eyes had misted during her high school and college graduations. It had been he who had wept with her when the dog she had raised from a puppy had died. Her mother had faced joy and sadness with equal restraint. But there was no restraint in the woman Tory saw now. This was a woman in the depths of grief, blind and deaf to all but her own mourning.

  All anger, all resentment, all sense of distance, vanished in one illuminating moment. Tory felt her heart fill with sympathy, her throat burn from her own grief.

  “Mother.”

  Helen’s head jerked up. Her eyes were glazed and confused as they focused on Tory. She shook her head as if in denial, then struggled to choke back the sobs.

  “No, don’t.” Tory rushed to her, gathering her close. “Don’t shut me out.”

  Helen went rigid in an attempt at composure, but Tory only held her tighter. Abruptly, Helen collapsed, dropping her head on her daughter’s shoulder and weeping without restraint. “Oh, Tory, Tory, why couldn’t it have been me?” With the shirt caught between them, Helen accepted the comfort of her daughter’s strong arms. “Not Will, never Will. It should have been me.”

  “No, don’t say that.” Hot tears coursed down her face. “You mustn’t think that way. Dad wouldn’t want you to.”

  “All those weeks, those horrible weeks, in the hospital I prayed and prayed for a miracle.” She gripped Tory tighter, as if she needed something solid to hang on to. “They said no hope. No hope. Oh, God, I wanted to scream. He couldn’t die without me . . . not without me. That last night in the hospital before . . . I went into his room. I begged him to show them they were wrong, to come back. He was gone.” She moaned and would have slid down if Tory hadn’t held her close. “He’d already left me. I couldn’t leave him lying there with that machine. I couldn’t do that, not to Will. Not to my Will.”

  “Oh, Mother.” They rocked together, heads on each other’s shoulders. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know—I didn’t think . . . I’m so sorry.”

  Helen breathed a long, shuddering sigh as her sobs quieted. “I didn’t know how to tell you or how to explain. I’m not good at letting my feelings out. I knew how much you loved your father,” she continued. “But I was too angry to reach out. I suppose I wanted you to lash out at me. It made it easier to be strong, even though I knew I hurt you more.”

  “That doesn’t matter now.”

  “Tory—”

  “No, it doesn’t.” Tory drew her mother back, looking into her tear-ravaged eyes.
“Neither of us tried to understand the other that night. We were both wrong. I think we’ve both paid for it enough now.”

  “I loved him so much.” Helen swallowed the tremor in her voice and stared down at the crumpled shirt still in her hand. “It doesn’t seem possible that he won’t walk through the door again.”

  “I know. Every time I come in the house, I still look for him.”

  “You’re so like him.” Hesitantly, Helen reached up to touch her cheek. “There’s been times it’s been hard for me even to look at you. You were always his more than mine when you were growing up. My fault,” she added before Tory could speak. “I was always a little awed by you.”

  “Awed?” Tory managed to smile.

  “You were so smart, so quick, so demanding. I always wondered how much I had to do with the forming of you. Tory”—she took her hands, staring down at them a moment—“I never tried very hard to get close to you. It’s not my way.”

  “I know.”

  “It didn’t mean that I didn’t love you.”

  She squeezed Helen’s hands. “I know that too. But it was always him we looked at first.”

  “Yes.” Helen ran a palm over the crumpled shirt. “I thought I was coping very well,” she said softly. “I was going to clean out the closet. I found this, and . . . He loved it so. You can still see the little holes where he’d pin his badge.”

  “Mother, it’s time you got out of the house a bit, starting seeing people again.” When Helen started to shake her head, Tory gripped her hands tighter. “Living again.”

  Helen glanced around the tidy room with a baffled smile. “This is all I know how to do. All these years . . .”

  “When I go back to Albuquerque, why don’t you come stay with me awhile? You’ve never been over.”

  “Oh, Tory, I don’t know.”

  “Think about it,” she suggested, not wanting to push. “You might enjoy watching your daughter rip a witness apart in cross-examination.”

  Helen laughed, brushing the lingering tears briskly away. “I might at that. Would you be offended if I said sometimes I worry about you being alone—not having someone like your father to come home to?”

  “No.” The sudden flash of loneliness disturbed her far more than the words. “Everyone needs something different.”

  “Everyone needs someone, Tory,” Helen corrected gently. “Even you.”

  Tory’s eyes locked on her mother’s a moment, then dropped away. “Yes, I know. But sometimes the someone—” She broke off, distressed by the way her thoughts had centered on Phil. “There’s time for that,” she said briskly. “I still have a lot of obligations, a lot of things I want to do, before I commit myself . . . to anyone.”

  There was enough anxiety in Tory’s voice to tell Helen that “anyone” had a name. Feeling it was too soon to offer advice, she merely patted Tory’s hand. “Don’t wait too long,” she said simply. “Life has a habit of moving quickly.” Rising, she went to the closet again. The need to be busy was too ingrained to allow her to sit for long. “I didn’t expect you today. Are you going to ride?”

  “Yes.” Tory pressed a hand down on her father’s shirt before she stood. “Actually I’m humoring the director of the film being shot in town.” Wandering to the window, she looked down to see Justice pacing the corral restlessly. “He has this obsession with getting me on film. I flatly refused to be an extra in his production, but I finally agreed to let him shoot some while I rode Justice.”

  “He must be very persuasive,” Helen commented.

  Tory gave a quick laugh. “Oh, he’s that all right.”

  “That’s Marshall Kincaid’s son,” Helen stated, remembering. “Does he favor his father?”

  With a smile Tory thought that her mother would be more interested in the actor than the director. “Yes, actually he does. The same rather aristocratic bone structure and cool blue eyes.” Tory saw the car kicking up dust on the road leading to the ranch. “He’s coming now, if you’d like to meet him.”

  “Oh, I . . .” Helen pressed her fingers under her eyes. “I don’t think I’m really presentable right now, Tory.”

  “All right,” she said as she started toward the door. In the doorway she hesitated a moment. “Will you be all right now?”

  “Yes, yes, I’m fine. Tory . . .” She crossed the room to give her daughter’s cheek a brief kiss. Tory’s eyes widened in surprise at the uncharacteristic gesture. “I’m glad we talked. Really very glad.”

  ***

  Phil again stopped his car beside the corral. The horse pranced over to hang his head over the fence, waiting for attention. Leaving the camera in the backseat, Phil walked over to pat the strong golden neck. He found the palomino avidly nuzzling at his pockets.

  “Hey!” With a half laugh he stepped out of range.

  “He’s looking for this.” Holding a carrot in her hand, Tory came down the steps.

  “Your friend should be arrested for pickpocketing,” Phil commented as Tory drew closer. His smile of greeting faded instantly. “Tory . . .” He took her shoulders, studying her face. “You’ve been crying,” he said in an odd voice.

  “I’m fine.” Turning, she held out the carrot, letting the horse pluck in from her hand.

  “What’s wrong?” he insisted, pulling her back to him again. “What happened?”

  “It was my mother.”

  “Is she ill?” he demanded quickly.

  “No.” Touched by the concern in his voice, Tory smiled. “We talked,” she told him, then let out a long sigh. “We really talked, probably for the first time in twenty-seven years.”

  There was something fragile in the look as she lifted her eyes to his. He felt much as he had the day in the cemetery—protective and strong. Wordlessly he drew her into the circle of his arms. “Are you okay?”

  “Yes, I’m fine.” She closed her eyes as her head rested against his shoulder. “Really fine. It’s going to be so much easier now.”

  “I’m glad.” Tilting her face to his, he kissed her softly. “If you don’t feel like doing this today—”

  “No you don’t, Kincaid,” she said with a quick grin. “You claimed you were going to immortalize me, so get on with it.”

  “Go fix your face first, then.” He pinched her chin. “I’ll set things up.”

  She turned away to comply but called back over her shoulder. “There’s not going to be any of that ‘Take two’ business. You’ll have to get it right the first time.”

  He enjoyed her hoot of laughter before he reached into the car for the camera and recorder.

  Later, Tory scowled at the apparatus. “You said film,” she reminded him. “You didn’t say anything about sound.”

  “It’s tape,” he corrected, expertly framing her. “Just saddle the horse.”

  “You’re arrogant as hell when you play movies, Kincaid.” Without fuss Tory slipped the bit into the palomino’s mouth. Her movements were competent as she hefted the saddle onto the horse’s back. She was a natural, he decided. No nerves, no exaggerated gestures for the benefit of the camera. He wanted her to talk again. Slowly he circled around for a new angle. “Going to have dinner with me tonight?”

  “I don’t know,” Tory considered as she tightened the cinches. “That cold steak you fed me last night wasn’t very appetizing.”

  “Tonight I’ll order cold cuts and beer,” he suggested. “That way it won’t matter when we get to it.”

  Tory sent him a grin over her shoulder. “It’s a deal.”

  “You’re a cheap date, Sheriff.”

  “Uh-uh,” she disagreed, turning to him while she wrapped a companionable arm around the horse’s neck. “I’m expecting another bottle of that French champagne very soon. Why don’t you let me play with the camera now and you can stand next to the horse?”

  “Mount up.”

  Tory lifted a brow. “You’re one tough cookie, Kincaid.” Grasping the saddle horn, Tory swung into the saddle in one lazy movement. “And now
?”

  “Head out, the direction you took the first time I saw you ride. Not too far,” he added. “When you come back, keep it at a gallop. Don’t pay any attention to the camera. Just ride.”

  “You’re the boss,” she said agreeably. “For the moment.” With a kick of her heels Tory sent the palomino west at a run.

  She felt the exhilaration instantly. The horse wanted speed, so Tory let him have his head as the hot air whipped at her face and hair. As before, she headed toward the mountains. There was no need to escape this time, but only a pleasure in moving fast. The power and strength below her tested her skill.

  Zooming in on her, Phil thought she rode with understated flair. No flash, just confidence. Her body hardly seemed to move as the horse pounded up dust. It almost seemed as though the horse led her, but something in the way she sat, in the way her face was lifted, showed her complete control.

  When she turned, the horse danced in place a moment, still anxious to run. He tossed his head, lifting his front feet off the ground in challenge. Over the still, silent air, Phil heard Tory laugh. The sound of it sent shivers down his spine.

  Magnificent, he thought, zooming in on her as close as the lens would allow. She was absolutely magnificent. She wasn’t looking toward him. Obviously she had no thoughts about the camera focused
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