Navy Seal's Deadly Secret
“Take a knee,” her customer said in a voice colder than arctic ice.
The robber was oblivious until her customer grabbed the kid’s good arm and gave it an upward wrench. “Go. Down.”
The robber dropped to his knees, and her customer maintained a grip on the guy’s good arm, holding it twisted behind his back. The look in her customer’s eyes was wild. Haunted even.
The front door burst open and she looked up sharply. The sheriff, Joe Westlake, charged in, hand on his holstered weapon. He took in the situation quickly, nodded at her customer standing over the bloody robber wannabe, and closed the snap holding the flap over his revolver.
“Helluva way to find out you’re back,” the sheriff boomed, pounding her customer fondly on the back.
Gradually, the trapped-animal terror in her customer’s eyes faded. Caution replaced his panic. Belatedly, he mumbled, “Hey, Joe.”
“Whatchya up to?”
“Doin’ your job for you.”
The sheriff laughed and cussed out her customer fondly, calling him Brett. Brett who?
Her brain clicked in recognition. Brett Morgan? Of the wealthy and powerful Morgan clan? Patricia had been right. All the Morgans were good-looking as sin, black Irish on their daddy’s side and Norwegian on their mama’s side, a big brawny bunch who owned and operated the Runaway Ranch. It sprawled north of town in the High Rockies beyond the Sunny Creek Valley. She’d never been out there, but she’d heard it was an impressive spread.
Relieved of the punk, her customer half straightened, favoring his side where he’d been punched. She lifted her hands to help him, but he subtly waved her off with the hand not pressed against his ribs.
“You okay?” he rasped.
“I’m fine. You?” she replied.
He straightened all the way, grimacing, and stared down at her, really looking at her. “Seriously. Are you all right?” he repeated.
He frowned, clearly not buying her answer. But then the sheriff loomed beside him, asking loud enough for everyone in the diner to hear, “Are you okay, Anna?”
She squirmed as all eyes in the diner turned on her. Lord, she hated all this attention. “I’m fine. Um, Brett Mor—” she stumbled over his name “—Morgan—rescued me.”
“I’m going to need to interview you,” Joe told her. “Can you swing by the station when you get off work today?”
Police. Questioning. Oh, God. The panic was back, clawing at the inside of her chest cavity. “What do you need from me?” she asked Westlake cautiously.
“I’ll need a statement about what this punk said and did to you and what you saw in the fight.”
“I would hardly call that a fight,” she blurted. “It was a totally one-sided smackdown.”
Her gaze lifted to the hooded stare of her customer, and for the first time, a smile flitted across his face. Just for an instant. Then it was gone.
Petunia, Patricia’s twin, emerged from her office, waving around a shotgun awkwardly enough that Anna briefly considered hitting the floor. Brett lunged forward and grabbed the ancient weapon by the barrel, pointing it up at the ceiling while he gently lifted the weapon out of the woman’s hands.
Anna hurried over to the older woman and threw an arm around her shoulders. Petunia was shaking like a leaf. “Let me take you home, Miss Pitty.”
“No, I’ll be fine. I have to put the place back together and mop up that blood.” The woman’s legs started to give way, and Anna guided her quickly to a stool at the lunch counter.
The sheriff finished handcuffing the robber wannabe and headed for the door. “Brett, buddy. Can you take Petunia and Patricia to their place? They’re looking a bit squeamish.”
Patricia declared indignantly, “I’ll have you know we don’t get squeamish, Joseph Westlake. I remember when you fell off the roof of the hardware store and dislocated your shoulder. Who helped Mac MacGregor pop it back in and then fed you pie till you quit crying?”
Anna bit back a smile as the big, bad sheriff’s ears turned red. A rusty sound vaguely akin to a laugh escaped Brett, and she stared at him in surprise. He didn’t strike her as the kind of man who laughed often.
“Always were a jackass, Brett,” the sheriff declared good-naturedly.
“Right back atchya, Joey.”
The men traded good-natured insults as Brett escorted Petunia and Patricia out the door behind the sheriff and his prisoner. The door closed behind all of them, and suddenly the diner seemed hollow and empty.
An image of a knife flashed in her mind’s eye. It started out as Flamenco Heels’ knife but morphed into a bigger one. Clutched in her hand. Covered in blood. She shuddered all over at the gory memory. Would she never find a way to block out the image?
The remaining customers buzzed excitedly among themselves, cell phones out and texts flying. Anna winced. The gossip grapevine was one of the reasons she had run away from this town in the first place. And it was one of the main reasons why she’d dreaded coming back. What had she been thinking to come back here, anyway?
The adrenaline of the past few minutes drained away, and sudden exhaustion slammed into her. She trudged into the storeroom and filled the mop bucket, pushing it out to the dining room. Shuddering at the blood on the floor, seeing another, much larger pool of blood on a different cheap linoleum floor in her mind’s eye, she hurried to erase the evidence of the crime. But which crime she was trying to erase—of that she wasn’t sure.
A few swipes of the mop got rid of most of the robber’s blood, but she had to get down on her hands and knees to reach under the counter to get the last of it. Nauseated, she ran a sponge under the counter, seeing another counter in a small, dingy kitchen.
Her finger touched something cold and hard. Metal. Startled, she peered under the pie display case. Something circular and round glinted under there, but it wasn’t a coin. She used the mop handle to snag it and drag the object out.
It turned out to be a quarter-sized gold medal on a thin gold chain. The piece was beautifully carved on one side, the figure of a man holding a sword high over the head of what looked like a dragon. Saint George, maybe? Wasn’t he the guy who slayed dragons?
She turned the medal over. It was engraved with the words B—Always come home safe—Love, Mom.”
B for Brett, maybe? Or did this belong to the robber? She tucked it in her pocket to take to the sheriff.
The rest of her shift was busy as locals flocked to the diner to hear the story of the robbery and check out the damage—which amounted to one smashed chair and the coat stand being knocked over. Sheesh. Nosy much?
She wanted nothing more than to go home to the tiny house she’d inherited when her mother died, curl up in a ball and sleep for about a month.
Instead, she smiled and pretended she wasn’t shaken to her core, that the resurgent memories hadn’t freaked her completely out, and served up pie and coffee in a continuous stream. She had never been so relieved to hang up her apron when the supper waitress, Wanda, showed up for her shift at 4:00 p.m.
It was just as well that she had agreed to visit the sheriff today. She was too wiped out, first by the robbery and then by the continuous flow of customers who’d kept her hopping, to make the drive over to Hillsdale to check out some used windows at a junk shop as she’d planned to after work.
She stepped into the combination police office and jail, acutely uncomfortable at the overpowering atmosphere of law and order. She’d never had a run-in with the law here in Sunny Creek, but the law was the law, no matter where she was. And she had no love for police. Not after the past few years.
“Thanks for coming down to the station, Anna,” Joe Westlake said pleasantly enough.
She nodded, her throat too tight to speak. For crying out loud, she was the victim here. There was no need for her to feel like she’d just committed a murder. Still. Old habits died hard.
She perched on the edge of a chair beside the sheriff’s desk while he tape-recorded her hesitant description of the robbery.
“Oh, I forgot,” she said after he’d turned off the tape recorder. “Does this necklace belong to the robber? I found it on the floor when I was mopping up after the fight…er, robbery.” She fished out the Saint George’s medal and held it up.
“I recognize that!” Westlake exclaimed. “That’s Brett’s. His mom gave it to him just before he enlisted in the Navy. Want me to run it out to him?”
Her fist closed around the medal, warm from her pocket. “No, that’s all right. I’ll return it to him.”