“Low Dog is doing twenty to life in Leavenworth, and your uncle lost both his legs and his eyesight to diabetes a couple of years ago.”
“Leonard’s in prison?” And her uncle was legless. She shouldn’t feel so happy at this news, but she couldn’t deny the relief that made her want to jump up and shout. They couldn’t get to her. She was safe.
Tommy gave her a long look. “I put him there, about seven years ago. You were gone by then. I asked around, but everyone said you’d died.”
“You didn’t believe that?”
Which explained why James Carlson would have even bothered to look for her. Yellow Bird had promised he could find her. “How did you find me?”
“I got lucky.” He didn’t elaborate, damn him.
“That’s it? You’re not even going to tell me how you tracked me down?”
“Fine.” She smoothed out her skirt again before she caught herself, so she folded her arms to keep her hands quiet. “Be that way.”
A flood of conflicting emotions threatened to swamp her. James Carlson was threatening her because she was nothing more than an uncooperative insurance policy. But there’d been more to his interest than that of a prosecutor. Had he really been curious about who she was seeing, or had he just been using flattery to manipulate her into doing what he wanted?
They pulled up in front of the house Nan had built into a low hill. She kept the front half whitewashed, but the back end of the place was completely sunk into the earth. Sure, it was dusty in the summer, but it stayed cool in the summer and warmish in the winter. Maggie had always taken comfort in the fact that no one could sneak in a back way. There was no back way, just hill. They were close enough to Aberdeen that they had nice things like television reception and internet connectivity, but far enough away that they couldn’t see any other lights after dark. That isolation had been exactly what Maggie had needed.
Tommy put the car in Park, but he didn’t turn it off. She still had so many questions. “Why did you find me?”
His fingers drummed on the steering wheel again. “I wanted to know what happened to you.”
She’d be lying if she didn’t admit she’d wondered what had happened to him, too. “Like I told him once upon a time, a boy named Tommy tried to save a girl named Maggie. But he couldn’t. No one could.”
Tommy looked at her, a sad smile pulling on his mouth. “No one could. She had to save herself.” He reached over and touched her cheek. “Carlson’s a good guy, but you do what you’ve got to do.”
“Okay.” It was going to be okay. She’d told herself that for years, hoping that hope alone would make it so, but suddenly, she knew with certainty that it would be okay. She could do anything. Even handle a special prosecutor.
She got out of the car. Agent Yellow Bird waited until she was at the front door before he took off at chase speeds again.
Maggie stood there for a moment, feeling a lightness that matched the orange glow of the sunset. She looked out over the land that was her home now, over the rows of vegetables she’d have to weed tomorrow and the windmill that powered the water pump. Suddenly, after today’s events, she didn’t feel as though she had to hide out here anymore. Just the same, though, she wanted to stay. This was her life.
Nan was where she always was, sitting in her recliner and watching Deadliest Catch. “Well?” she said without lifting her eyes from the pillow she was embroidering.
“Low Dog is in prison and my uncle is blind and in a wheelchair.”
Nan’s needle paused in midair. “So, good news, then?”
“That part, at least. A special prosecutor wants me to testify against that judge.” She left out the part about the prosecutor being handsome and rich and powerful.
Nan made a tsking noise and kept sewing. If Maggie hadn’t seen the pictures of Nan as a young woman with freckles and fiery-red hair, she wouldn’t believe the woman before her wasn’t an Indian. She had everything—the way she wore her hair, the clothes she chose, even the way she talked—down pat. The sun had tanned her face and hands a leathery brown, and she was an expert on Sioux traditions.
“I see. What did he offer you?”
Maggie pulled up short. “Nothing.”
The needle paused again. “Nothing?”
“Well, he offered not to charge me.”
Nan tsked again. “Must not be a very special prosecutor if he didn’t give you anything you wanted.”
Maggie sat down in her chair with a thump. “I think he’s a good lawyer. I just think he was expecting someone else.” He was expecting a woman who had exchanged sex acts for not-guilty verdicts. His offer had been for that woman. Maggie wasn’t that woman anymore. “Besides, he doesn’t have anything I want.”
That was dangerously close to a lie. He did have something she wanted—that smile, those eyes, and all those muscles underneath that suit. But she didn’t want to want them. If she wanted them—him—and if he figured that out, he could use it against her. He could use her. As much as she wanted to see James Carlson again, she had to protect herself from him. There was no way in hell she’d put herself back into a position where someone else was calling her shots. Those days were over.
“You okay, sweetie?” Nan finally looked up, the concern bright in her eyes.
Maggie thought back to the stunned look on his face when she’d stood up to him—when she’d stood up for herself. She hadn’t been what he’d been expecting, but then, she hadn’t expected anyone to look at her with such honesty. Would James Carlson come looking for her?
She hoped so. She shouldn’t, but she did anyway.
“Yeah,” she said. “I think I am.”
The sun beat down on Maggie’s head. The wide brim of her floppy straw hat kept the back of her neck from burning, but on days like this, she had half a mind to take her pruning knife and whack her braids off. It was just that damn hot.
Maggie dropped a shovel full of composted manure onto the freshly tilled garden soil. She shouldn’t whine about the sun—it had dried the stink right out of the manure. She stood up and tried to stretch the kinks out of her back as she looked at the sky. If only she and Mother Nature could compromise on the occasional cloud …
She was halfway through the rest of her wheelbarrow when she heard it—the crunching of tires on gravel from a long way off. The hair on the back of her neck stood straight up. Wonderful, she thought. Tommy had been wrong. It had only been four days since she’d left James Carlson’s office in a huff—not eight. And here she was, covered in dirt and manure. Damn. She snatched her hat off her head and arranged her bangs over the side of her face. Individual hairs stuck to her skin, but her scar was hidden.
At least, she hoped it was James Carlson, despite the ratty overalls she was wearing. She didn’t want to think about who else it could be on a Saturday afternoon. Despite Tommy’s reassurances, Maggie was reasonably sure there were a few other people in this world who’d want to see her for all the wrong reasons.
She glanced back at the house, wondering if Nan could hear the approaching car over the TV. If so, she’d have the shotgun at the ready. A girl couldn’t be too careful, after all.
A shiny black SUV—the kind that looked as if it had never been on gravel before—hesitantly worked its way down to the house. She leaned on the handle of her shovel and watched it come.
Maggie smiled. So that was the kind of “off-road” vehicle that rich, East Coast blue bloods bought when they were roughing it. She’d stick to her Jeep, thank you.
“You’re a long way from home,” she called out when Mr. Special Prosecutor himself emerged from the driver’s seat.
The first thing she saw was the blinding white of his smile. Wow, she thought again. That smile wasn’t quite as sharp as it had been in the office. If anything, he almost looked glad to see her. Then she noticed that, instead of the suit, he had on a pair of tan cargo pants and a sky-blue polo shirt. Even though the clothes were pretty casual, they fit him well.
Broad chest, she thought with a sharp intake of breath. Without the jacket, she could see exactly how broad—and defined—his chest was, and how it narrowed into the V of his waist.
Whoa. Not just attractive. Downright gorgeous.
Heat—different from the swelter that had sweat dripping down the back of her neck—ripped through her, and she suddenly found herself doing some crude math. Exactly how long had it been since her last time with a man? No—wrong question. How long had it been since she’d last enjoyed a man?
His eyes were shaded behind wraparound sunglasses, but he leaned forward and slid them down his nose to look at her.
Way too long, she thought. Maybe never.