She had been reticent all day. Maybe Adam was reading too much into Lizzie Patterson’s behavior. After all, he did not really know the woman. But it seemed out of character. At least with the person who had written that scathing editorial. And the one that had come to his office.
Lizzie stopped on the top step of her porch. Her hands clutched tightly around the bouquet that she had caught. Though that was not entirely accurate. It was more like they had fallen on her, and the only recourse was to catch them or be battered on the head.
Her smile was as tight as the rest of her body when she spoke, “Thank you for today.”
“It was my pleasure.” And it had been. Not only had he gotten a bit of time to talk one-on-one with the new sheriff, but the whole thing had been a reminder of why he had run for the job, to begin with. Justice should not be the privilege of a few. The great lady was supposed to be blind to color, class, sex, religion, or more likely the lack thereof in this place, and all those other things.
But Adam got the impression she had not enjoyed the day nearly as much as he had. He wondered if it was the moonlight or were those tears glistening in her blue eyes? “Did I say or do something wrong?”
She shook her head, and there was no doubt as a single tear escaped. “No. You were perfect. I don’t know what I would have done today if you weren’t there.”
He got the feeling that she was in a hurry for him to leave, but he was reasonably certain that was so she could run inside, hide, and cry those expressive eyes out. And that idea bothered him. Lots more than it should. So he splayed his hand across her lower back and guided her towards the old wooden porch swing to the side.
Lizzie shook her head, “No, it’s fine. I’m sure you need to be going. The drive to Bryan is almost an hour.” Those eyes were cast down towards the painted cement porch. She fidgeted with the bow that held the flowers together.
“It’s the weekend. I can sleep in,” after he took the edge off the desire that he thought he had conquered alongside the alcohol. “I can tell something is wrong. I know we don’t know one another that well. But since both your friends are kinda busy on their honeymoons….”
He knew he had said the wrong thing when she plopped into that swing. That single tear was overcome with dozens and hundreds of its kind. Though he could tell she was trying to keep quiet, her sobs tightened his gut into knots.
It was the most natural thing in the world to take the seat next to her. Adam drew her into his embrace until her head rested on his shoulder. She fought, of course. But he was not having it. He was confident there was more to this than he understood, but his words had snapped her usual reserve. That meant it was his responsibility now to make things right. Or as right as he could anyway.
In the end, Lizzie gave up and laid her head against his shoulder, crying until the sobs quieted into gentle hiccups. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have….”
“I don’t mind. Honest. Like I said, I realize we don’t know one another very well, but I’m here if you need to talk.”
“Or a shoulder to cry on.” Her laugh was as tight and stiff as she held herself, once more trying to pull away.
“That too. So, do you want to talk about it? Or maybe something else?”
She shook her head and inhaled deeply, “There’s nothing to talk about. Both of my friends are married. I am the last of Sebida’s vestal virgins and doomed to become a crazzy cat lady.”
Down boy, Adam tried his best to command his suddenly resurrected cock. Virgins weren’t his thing. Never had been. He’d never been with one or had any desire to. Until those words left her mouth. He shifted on the swing, trying to get comfortable. “The what?” He finally managed to choke out two words.
Her chuckle this time was a bit more genuine though laced with some other meaning he was not sure of. “The vestal virgins of Sebida. That’s what folks around here called us. Mercy, Abby, and me. Two-faced if you ask me. For a place that preaches abstinence to make fun of those who….” She stopped and studied that gray paint again.
“It doesn’t matter anymore. I knew this day would come. I always have. Abby has been engaged for two years. And well, anyone who reads one of Mercy’s books would know better than to think she’d die a virgin. I’ve been telling myself all day that it is just because of how sudden it all is. I mean, Mercy hasn’t known Will two months. And Abby Jean?”
“But you said they had been engaged for….”
“No, Abby was engaged to someone else until Saturday.”
“Wait. Like a week? She goes from engaged to one man to married to another in a week?”
This laugh was utterly genuine, and Adam drank it in. Sweeter than the finest brandy. “Yeah, I know. I’d be worried too if it were anyone other than Jack.”
“What do you mean? I don’t understand.” How had her tiny hand ended up in his? And why couldn’t he stop the gentle brush of his thumb against the back of it?
“Abby has loved Jack just about her whole life. We all knew that. And the guy she was engaged to was all wrong for her. A spoiled rich little….” She paused and drew in a deep breath.
Adam would love to know what expletive she was going to use. He wasn’t sure whether he admired her fortitude for not cussing or wanted to barge through those defenses and release that wild thing he’d bet was just beneath the surface. But for a man who had sworn off women, the latter was not an option.
“I’m happy for them. Really I am. They deserve it. Love, marriage, babies, the whole thing….”
That catch was back in her voice, and more tears glistened in her eyes. Maybe he should not push. No maybe about it. If he was smart, he would say something reassuring but superficial, then remind her that it really was getting late. He’d get up and get the hell out of Sebida. And never look back.
But he knew that was not happening. He had come to that decision earlier. After talking with Ryan Ranger. Their politics might not align, but their values did. The man was as committed to cleaning up the corruption in this town as he had once been. And Ranger needed a District Attorney that he could trust to back him up. So if….
Damn, he hated to think that Renata Esparza-Cruz was going to get her way. But this time, the woman was right. If the governor did offer him the job, he was going to take it. She was wrong about the rest, though. This was not about ‘the game.’ This was about duty and responsibility. To him whom much was given.
He was so lost in his own thoughts that this time she managed to escape his embrace. And he discovered he didn’t like it all that much. Adam reached out to wrap his arm around her shoulder, but Lizzie shook her head.
“I’m sure you should get going. I just want to thank you again for coming with me. Having someone with me made everything a bit easier. And gave the blue-haired betties a bit less to gossip about tomorrow. At least, they won’t be pitying me quite as much.” Adam wondered what the hell was so all-fired interesting in that gray chipping paint.
Her words were an arrow to his heart. How could anyone pity this strong, principled woman? But he, more than most people, knew that this town could be vicious. The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. “Then let’s give them something to really talk about.”
She shook her head again and laughed tightly, “Thanks, but causing a scandal the way Jack and Abby are won’t do my business or your political career any good.”
“No, I don’t mean running off to Vegas and certainly not my stepmother’s plan. But what would you say to a few more dates like this one? I spoke to Ryan Ranger today, and I’m considering accepting if they offer me the DA’s position.”
“I’m glad. Besides the….” She was so embarrassed that Adam could see her cheeks glowing even in the dim light of the moon. “You were good at the job. Fair and principled. We could use that now.”
“Thank you. That means a lot coming from you especially. But as much as I hate to admit it, Renata was right. As you say, people in this town are going to talk. And having you on my side would make a difference.”
“Yes, but we don’t need to….” She was silent for a long moment, looking away into the dark night before she turned back to him. “We don’t need to date for me to help. I’m happy to offer whatever support I can. Signs in the café window. I’ll try again with the retraction letter. Maybe now the editor won’t say it’s old news. Honestly, Adam, I meant it. Whatever I can do to make this right. For you and like I said, this county.”
“Then come with me to the volunteer fire department’s fish fry on Friday. Yes, as my date.” He could see that her first reaction was to say no. Her head was half-shaking already. “Please. I really believe it would help. Everyone in this town likes and respects you. If they saw you with me….”
“The fish fry. Just the fish fry, Adam. I don’t want to give the blue-haired betties the wrong idea.”
Or maybe the right one? Adam wasn’t so sure anymore how he felt about women. Or at least this one. But he would take it. One more date. Another chance to see what was really going on inside his own head. “Okay, then I’ll pick you up here at six?”
She nodded her head slowly. He knew that he should be content with that little bit of progress, but something egged him on. He leaned in and brushed a soft kiss against her cheek. He wanted to go for the lips but feared if he did, it might frighten her off. “See you then, Elizabeth.”
He stood up and walked away. Before he gave in to those temptations. She was still sitting in that swing stare off into the darkness as he drove away. He knew because he checked the rearview mirror. Once, maybe twice.
He had a week. One week to figure out what the hell was happening. And what the hell he actually wanted from Sebida’s last remaining vestal virgin. “Besides that, you sick fuck,” he cursed the cock that strained the front of his slacks. Almost two years and he thought he and the little fucker had come to terms. A negotiated truce of Rosie Palmer and five sisters.
But something about that woman threatened to shatter that fragile peace. Adam was beginning to worry more about his mind and heart than his cock. Yeah, one week to get his shit together.