Chad noticed the cloud of red dust as he and Grace brushed down Folly. His daughter had barely said three words all morning. He supposed that was to be expected. But the flashy silver truck coming up his driveway was not. “Grace, get inside.”
He could see that she wanted to argue. When she followed his line of sight, she just nodded and turned, “Tell your Mama to stay in her room until I say it’s safe, you understand?” She nodded her rainbow head but did not bother to look back at him.
Dammit, what was he thinking? Especially after last night. He should be armed at all times. He knew there was no time to get to his grandfather’s shotgun over the door, and he had stupidly not brought any of his other guns from the safe where he kept them in the basement.
His excuse had been Grace, of course. Having loaded guns around the house with a volatile teenager was a recipe for disaster. But in this situation, not having one at hand might be even worse.
He glanced towards the house and saw the sheers in Rose’s room move a bit. He hoped whoever it was, did not notice, or see Rose as she had run across the yard. He put down the brush and forced a smile. For now, dumb and friendly was probably his best option.
He should have taken those damned cameras out of the boxes when they arrived an hour ago. He might be shit with this technology stuff, but maybe Grace could have figured it out. Again, it was too late now. He’d just have to hope for the best and deal with whoever it was.
But as soon as that was done, he was talking with his daughter. Convince her to give the jarhead a hand with that damned security system and then cover gun safety.
He sighed just a bit when the man stepped from the vehicle, “Hey, Reb, I wasn’t expecting you.” His old friend looked almost as tense as he felt.
“Yeah, I know I told you I didn’t have the time to help you out right now.” The way the man did not meet his gaze told him more than words. “But things have sort of changed.”
“Yeah, well, now isn’t the best time for me. I’m right in the middle of…”
His friend finally looked up and met his stare. “Listen, to be honest, I need a favor, and I was hoping that I could trade you some help with your problem for your help with mine.”
Chad’s shoulders dropped as he relaxed some. “Reb, you know it don’t work like that. If you need anything, all you have to do is ask. That’s what friends are for.”
Reb dropped his eyes and stared as his boot kicked at the red dirt. “Yeah, well, this is a pretty big favor to ask.”
Chad frowned as he noticed the woman that still sat in the truck. He could not see much since Reb stood directly in front of her, as if he were protecting her. Or maybe he was projecting his own situation on his friend. “What can I do for you, Reb?”
“I need a gun. An M40 to be exact.”
“You know that isn’t legal. I can’t just let you have one of my guns, especially one of those. And why do you need it anyway? I know they are expensive and not easy to come by, but why not buy your own? What’s up, man?”
Reb ran his hands through his hair. It was much longer and considerably thinner than it had been over twenty years ago. But Chad knew – that was the man’s tell – what he did every time he was nervous.
Usually, he’d invite his friend inside, make them both a cup of strong, black coffee and talk over whatever was bothering Reb. But right now, he had his secrets. And while he trusted Reb as much as he did anyone, he did not truly trust anyone with their lives.
“Chad, please, I can’t explain right now. All I can say is shit’s hit the fan, and I need to protect the people I care about. And right now, I can’t draw attention to myself by filing all that paperwork.”
His words resonated with Chad, he could empathize viscerally with that need. “I thought you had your own collection, though.”
There it was again, the fingers in the hair as he spoke, “Guns and me weren’t such a good combination when I got out of the Rangers.”
Chad understood precisely what the man was saying. He had had more than one friend be among the twenty-two per day statistic. Sadly, he knew that far more than combat fatigue or survivor’s guilt tormented this man. Chad was probably one of the few people who knew the whole story.
And any other time, he would do anything for this man. In some ways, Chad believed he had failed the kid. He had pleaded with him to tell the command chain what had happened. But even he had to admit, Reb was probably right. It was a dark side that no one wanted to see or acknowledge. And it could have just as likely backfired on his friend.
That did not make things any easier. The man’s story had been one of the factors that prompted his retirement. Chad knew that such things were rare, but that was no excuse. That shit should never happen, and if it did, it should be dealt with swiftly and brutally, but that was not the reality. Oh, he was still proud to be a Marine, but his Oorah was never entirely as unconditional.
He turned and looked back at that window. Why now? Why did Reb have to come now of all times? He wanted to help the man. Hell, call it like it was, he felt guilty, like it was the least he owed the man. But his obligation to them ran deeper.
Did he just hand the gun over to the man and send him on his way? Did he tell him no? Neither of those seemed quite the right thing. But he did not have the luxury of time to find out the depths of the hole his friend was in. Not where his girls were concerned.
He turned back to his friend, words of denial on his lips. Until he saw the way that Reb was watching the woman. It was like fucking staring in the mirror. Chad remembered that call, the way this man had offered advice, no questions asked.
“Wait here. I’ll get it from the gun safe.” If his friend thought it strange that he did not invite them in, Reb did not say anything.
“Thanks, man,” he simply nodded and smiled tightly.
Chad headed back into the house. He was barely inside when Rose assailed him, “Who is that? What do they want?”
He gripped her arms; he could see the panic rising in her eyes. “Relax, darlin.’ It has nothing to do with you and Grace. Reb’s an old friend from my Corps days. He’s the guy I told you about, the security expert that I asked about the cameras. He just needs to borrow something. It’s okay, I promise.”
Rose shook her head, “But who is the woman with him?”
“I don’t know, and I didn’t ask, sweetheart.”
“That woman is in trouble, Chad.”
‘Tell me something I don’t know’ was the first response that popped into his mind, but that was not the reassurance Rose needed right now. The best thing for all of them would be to get Reb and the woman gone as quickly as possible, no questions asked. He almost chuckled at the irony of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.
“That’s not our business, Rose. I’m sure that whatever is wrong, Reb will handle it. He’s one of the good guys.”
He knew he was in trouble when those hands went to her hips, her feet spread apart just a bit, and that chin came up. He was guaranteed that he was not going to like whatever came out of her mouth. And he was right.
“Then, if you’re so all-fired sure of that invite them in. I’ll make lunch. Maybe he can help you with those cameras while I talk to her.”
“Are you crazy? So far, no one knows that you are here. I want to keep it that way. Yes, even from the few friends I do have. I might trust Reb with my life, but darlin,’ I don’t trust anyone with yours and Grace’s.”
She stepped forward, and her soft hand caressed his cheek. She stood on tiptoes and placed a sweet kiss on his cheek, “And that is why I love, my hero and fantasy.”
He wanted to savor those words. Memorize the moment. But there were things he needed to be doing, “Just let me get the M40 he needs from the gun safe in the basement, and they’ll be on their way.”
“Not happening. Chad, I know fear when I see it. I’ve worked with enough domestic violence and rape survivors to recognize that look. You say you trust your friend, well, I don’t know the man, and I am not letting that woman leave here until I’m sure that she is safe. So, let’s hope that you’re right about the man,” she pushed right past him and opened the front door.
“Hey, folks, sorry for Chad’s bad manners. Why don’t you come in and have a cup of coffee?”
Rose was petrified. Despite her brave words to Chad, she knew exactly the risks she was taking. And that scared the ever-loving crap out of her, not so much for herself, but for Grace. Still, sometimes you just had to do the right thing. Even if it was a risk, even if it brought you trouble. Aunt Rose had taught her that. And she had to believe that as the old woman said, “The rest is in the good lord’s hands.”
The man shook his head, “It’s alright. Really, we should be getting on the road as soon as possible anyway.”
She noticed that he moved to stand between her and the woman. Was that because he was protecting her? Or because he did not want her to see something? Was he the cause of this woman’s distress or like Chad, this woman’s jarhead in shining armor?
She wanted to simply take Chad’s word for it; believe that the man was, how did he put it, ‘one of the good guys.’ But as she had told her lover, she had seen too many survivors. She had to be sure. Or she could never live with herself. Even if that meant putting herself and Grace at risk.
“Aww, it’s only a few minutes. I’m sure that you and your friend could use the chance to get out and stretch your legs, some hot coffee, and a homemade biscuit. Chad said you’re the friend that he talked to about the security system. He won’t admit it, but I know that thing is driving him insane.”
The man stared at her for a long moment. Stalwart, that was the word. Was he studying her because he recognized her? Or because he was trying to come up with another excuse?
She stepped off the front porch and brushed past him before he could say or do anything. Her hands were on the door handle when she felt the strong hand on her shoulder. She was not sure what she would have done or said, thankfully, she did not have to.
“Rose is right. My manners were lacking. And yes, Reb, I could use your help with those damned cameras. Bring your lady friend into the kitchen for that coffee. The women can chat while you and I handle our business.”
She watched the consternation on the man’s face as he made his decision. But she was already ahead of him; her fingers tightened on the handle as she pulled. “Hey, sugar, I’m Rose. Why don’t you come in for a cup of coffee while the guys handle things?”
The woman’s frightened eyes flew to the man’s face. But she was still uncertain if that was a sign of trust or fear. Slowly, he nodded his head, “Come on. We shouldn’t be too long.”
Rose noticed that the man had not bothered to use the woman’s name or introduce them, which only added to her suspicions. But she would do her best to find out more while he and Chad talked.
When she reached out to touch the woman’s arm, the other woman drew back. That was the confirmation she needed. Something was not right here, but what? And was this man the ‘good guy’ that Chad thought? She of all people should know how easy it was to be fooled by those closest to you.
“It’s okay, darlin’. We won’t be long,” the man reassured the woman.
She nodded and looked up at Rose, “Thank you, a cup of coffee would be nice.”
She could tell that the woman’s smile was tight and unnatural, but it was progress. “And don’t forget biscuits. I made them for breakfast, but I’m sure we can find some bacon or sausage and make a decent snack.”
The man nodded, his smile a bit more relaxed than it had been. “Actually, that sounds wonderful. We did not find any place I tr… We didn’t see anywhere open that looked appealing.”
“Come on in then, Reb. Let’s get started on those things while Rose makes those biscuits,” Chad motioned the man in.
Their eyes met, the woman’s and this Reb friend of Chad’s, and she could almost believe him. The way this guy gazed at the woman was almost exactly like Chad looked at her. Maybe she had it all wrong, but she had to be certain.
“Are you okay with that, darlin’?”
The woman’s eyes met hers. Rose smiled, trying to reassure this lost and frightened soul. But she realized no words could do that. Finally, after a long pause, the woman nodded her head slowly.
Something told her that name was no more real than Rose was. It looked like both of them had secrets, but that did not stop the smile of welcome from her lips, “Hi, Reba. I’m Rose.” As the woman finally stepped from the refuge of the truck. “Follow me into the kitchen.”
The man had waited on the porch with Chad until they approached the door, “Are you sure you’re okay, darlin’? I promise I’ll be as quick as I can be, and we’ll get back on the road.”
Reba stared back at her for a moment then smiled, as with the man, it was a bit less stressed, but it was still far from genuine. “I’ll be fine, I’m sure. Do what you need to, to help your friend.”
Rose led the woman through the parlor and into the kitchen, “Have a seat. While I make a fresh pot of coffee, then I can make that bacon and sausage. How long have you and Reb known each other?”
“Not long,” Rose heard the hesitancy and noted how vague her answer. “And you two?”
“Almost fifteen years,” she half-lied. “We have a teen daughter.”
“I have three girls, but they’re all grown now,” as she had hoped the woman had opened up a bit.
“Does it matter? Grace will still be my little girl even when she’s old and grey like me. That girl is the very reason for my existence, and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for her. ”
Rose had meant the words as further icebreakers, a sharing of the bonds of motherhood, so she was not prepared for the way the woman suddenly burst into tears. And even less ready for the vitriolic attack as the man burst from the study.
“What the fuck did you say to her?”
He rushed to the woman’s side and knelt at her feet. He did not touch the woman at all, and his voice was the opposite of the one he had used when he screamed at her a moment before. It was calm, almost monotone, and quietly reassuring, “Stacey, I’m right here. Everything is alright, I promise.”
Rose’s eyes sought Chad’s as he came back into the room. He walked to her and wrapped his arms about her shoulders. The tension in her kitchen was intense. She got the distinct feeling that the two friends might come to blows. She laid her hand over his heart and looked up at him with pleading eyes.
Maybe this had been a mistake. Maybe she had been wrong. Maybe her loyalties should have laid more with her daughter than a woman she did not even know, no matter how much in trouble the woman obviously was. And maybe she should have trusted her partner’s assessment of this man’s character.
But as Aunt Rose always said, ‘hindsight is twenty-twenty.’
All those maybes came back to bite her in the butt when that rainbow-haired head poked down the stairs, “Mom, is everything alright? I heard screaming.”
The man turned from whispering with the woman to stare at this latest interruption. Rose saw the immediate look of recognition, even before the words slipped from his lips, “What the fuck?”
Chad had definitely been right this time.
“Everything is fine, sweetie. Just go back to your room, please,” she tried to reassure her daughter, even if she felt anything but.
Instead, her daughter looked at the strangers, “Who are these people?”
“Reb is an old friend from my days in the Marines, Grace. As your mother said, please go back to your room.”
“Why are they here?”
“He’s gonna help me install the video cameras.”
Rose rubbed her trembling hands on her jeans. Usually, she loved and fostered her daughter’s inquisitive and independent spirit, but now was not one of those times. But she knew the one thing not to say was…
“Now, please, go back to your rooms. So, the adults can talk.”
She saw the storm clouds gathering in her daughter’s Wilson green eyes. She waited for the explosion. But her daughter’s reaction scared her more than any outburst ever could.
“Whatever, old man,” Grace shrugged and turned to go back up the stairs.
They were in for trouble now, big trouble, trouble the size of Texas from their daughter, and Rose knew that, but she did not have time to forestall that now. At the moment, the problem of Chad’s friend far outweighed the long-term damage they had just done to Grace’s fragile trust. She would do her best to heal that breach between father and daughter later.
They all waited a couple of moments. Rose was tempted to tiptoe up the stairs just to make sure their daughter was safely ensconced in her room and could not overhear this conversation.
Reb’s forehead leaned against the woman’s as they whispered. She looked to Chad, tears in her eyes, and whispered, “I’m sorry.” But he just shook his head and squeezed her hand.
Finally, his friend turned back towards them. His eyes scanned her, from head to toe, and back again before he spoke, “Chad, do you want to tell me what McBride’s wife and daughter are doing here?”
“Rose…Cassie and I are old friends. He brought them here to keep them safe because he was afraid there was a leak and did not trust witness protection. That’s all I can say. You’ll just have to trust me on the rest. Like I’m prepared to trust you with that gun.”
The couple exchanged a long look, she could not tell precisely what it meant, but the woman nodded her head slowly. “How about we get that damned security system operational, my friend? You’re going to need it.”
She saw Chad’s shoulders slump just a bit. She could almost imagine him as that Marine standing at attention being told ‘at ease.’ He nodded and squeezed her hand.
“Do you want to come with us, Reba?” Reb asked the woman, but she shook her head.
“No, I’ll be fine here.” Rose’s eyes met the other woman’s, and she nodded her head to reassure her.
“If you’re sure?”
“Go ahead. I think the woman and I need to talk. Mother to mother.”
Rose almost reached for Chad, begged him to stay. There was something incredibly cold about the woman’s gaze, but she was probably just being paranoid.
He must have sensed it, too, though, because Chad echoed his friend’s question, “Are you sure, darlin’?”
Meeting the other woman’s eyes, she was not. But something told her that whatever this Reba had to say, she needed to hear it, and the woman needed to say it. So, she nodded her head and forced a smile. “Yes, you two go ahead.”
Chad watched as his friend connected the final cables to another camera. They had hardly said a dozen words to one another since the explosion in the kitchen. He knew they needed to clear the air, talk about what had happened, but he was not sure that he was in the mindset to do so.
He admitted it; Rose had hurt him deeply. She should have trusted him when he told her that Reb would never do anything to hurt a woman, especially not the things she had thought. The fact that she had not, that her actions had put her and Grace at risk ate at his soul.
Sure, logically, he got it. The woman had spent twenty years married to one of the biggest S.O.B.s there was. And it sounded like her father had not been any better. So, it was no wonder that she did not trust men.
But he had thought she realized he was different. He felt that they had been building something on a foundation of mutual trust. Now? He felt like someone had kicked his legs out from under him, sucker-punched him, and landed a hard right to his jaw…all at once.
“Okay, buddy, that should just about do it for the hardware. We’ll have to go back to the house so I can program the software. Then we can download the app to your phone, and you’ll be up and working,” Reb turned back to him.
It was what his friend was not saying that bothered him most, though. “Thanks, I appreciate the help. I don’t know if I could have done all this even with Grace’s help.”
“And you couldn’t bring in any of the techs I recommended.”
“Why? I’m sorry, man. I know that is none of my business, but I can’t figure out why the man I thought I knew would get messed up with the likes of Gerald McBride?”
At least the man had the courage to ask the question. The question was – did he have the courage to answer it honestly? That depended.
“What are you going to do, Reb?”
His friend sighed, looked back at the house, and shook his head. “I’m going to drive away from here and try my damnedest to forget what I saw. But that isn’t what you’re asking, is it? Am I going to turn them in?”
Chad nodded his head and held his breath for the answer that might determine the whole course of his life.
“No. Partly that is because I know that girl in there deserves better, but mostly because I have to believe that if you’re involved in this, then there has to be a damned good reason.”
It was the answer that Chad had been hoping for, as he helped his friend down the ladder that leaned against the sloping front porch roof. He waited until the man was down, and they had folded the old ladder. They were too close to his daughter’s bedroom window. So, he waited until they had carried it to the barn to respond.
“She’s not McBride’s child. She’s mine.”
His friend shook his head, “What the fuck? That doesn’t sound like you. Are you sure?”
Chad sat down on a bail of hay. He looked at the dusty wood floor of the barn as he spoke, “I met Cassie in New Orleans at the bar I was working in, right after I got out of the Marines. It was just one night.”
He looked up and stared out the opened barn doors at the house, “I never knew.” Those words still choked him. How much of his child’s life he had missed. How many more years of psychological abuse the woman he loved had endured. Yeah, maybe it was unfair to think she should trust him after only a few days.
“McBride showed up here a couple of days ago.” His laugh was bitter, full of the anger and remorse bottled inside of him at that man, and himself. “She didn’t even know. Rose had no idea until then that her daughter was not her husband’s child.”
“He begged me to keep them safe.” He could feel the tears gathering in his eyes as he rubbed his dirty hands down his jeans. He did not give a damn if his friend saw them as for the first time since his story began, he met Reb’s gaze. He was thankful for the compassion in his eyes. “What could I do?”
“Exactly what you’re doing now, everything you can to keep your family safe, buddy.” The heavy sigh that Reb expelled, the way that he glanced back at the house, told Chad there was something else on his friend’s mind.
But the best course with Reb had always been to wait. The man had an ingrained sense of right and wrong, and no matter how hard the path was, Reb took the right one. Well, perhaps, except once, then again, that was questionable.
“How much does she know? Your woman.”
Chad had to laugh at the question, “I ain’t much for that misogynistic word. I think it is thrown around way too much these days. But if it was ever deserved, that man was it. So, what do you think, Reb? I mean, if the bastard did not even bother to tell her that her child was not his for fifteen years, how much you think he’s gonna share about his business dealings?”
“Fair enough.” The man ran his hands through his hair once more. Yes, his friend knew something he was not telling him. Chad wanted to push. This was too damned important to him just to wait. He opened his mouth to speak, but Reb beat him to it.
“It ain’t just them that McBride has hurt. Stacey…” Reb looked towards the house once more.
The silence stretched out so long that Chad feared the other man was not going to tell him whatever else he knew. Without a beating, but this once, he was considering slamming what might be his only real friend against the wall and beating the shit out of him. Hell, yeah, if his daughter’s and Rose’s life depended on it, he would.
Reb finally turned back and met his gaze, “Her real name is Stacey, Stacey Reynolds. Her daughter, Laura, was McBride’s General Counsel.”
Chad shook his head and frowned as his mind connected the dots, as the reports from the morning news came to his mind. “And her other daughter is the one that shot that sheriff? And you left her in the kitchen with Rose? Knowing that she recognized her?” He was off that hay and headed to the house before the words left his mouth.
Reb’s arms halted his forward momentum, spinning him around to face his friend. His fist shot up, and only the other man’s quicker reflexes saved him from that right to the jaw. “You want me to trust you. Well, you need to trust me. We both know things aren’t always as black and white as they seem.”
“That woman in there has been through hell, and this is dredging her right back through those fires. But I promise you, she and her girls aren’t what you think.”
Reb’s hold slackened just a bit, “Please, I won’t betray you, but I can’t betray them, either. All I can tell you is that this shit is bigger than anyone realizes. That woman in there and her daughters are taking risks with their lives to uncover it all.”
Chad heard the pain behind his friend’s words. “How can you be sure? This is the lives of my daughter and the woman I love, Reb. How the hell can I trust that she won’t turn them in to save her own family?”
“Because you have the same power over me, buddy. As crazy as it fucking sounds, I love that woman in there. A woman I met less than twenty-four hours ago.”
Chad laughed as his friend released his hand, “Join the club. Sometimes a woman just gets under your skin. Fifteen years and I could never forget that one.”
He paused for a long moment, contemplating the twists, turns, and quirks of life. Then he slapped his friend on the back, “Let’s go see if they’ve ironed things out or killed one another. Your woman don’t have a gun, does she? Never mind, if her daughter is any indication, mine is a better shot.”
“Don’t fucking count on it, buddy.” Reb held out his hand, “You have my word that your secret is safe with us. But I want you to know that you’re not alone. I can’t tell you who or what, but there are others, too. And if you ever need us, call me. I promise you; these are guys you can trust to have your back in a firefight.”
Chad took his friend’s hand, “Okay, but I’m hoping like hell it never comes to that.”
“Me, too, me, too,” as they headed back to the house and whatever remained of the kitchen and their women.
Rose fiddled around with the coffee pot. She felt the other woman’s eyes boring into her. Not merely her back, but her soul. “Can I get you more coffee? I should get those biscuits started. They will be hungry when they get back.” She knew she was blathering, but she could not handle the silence.
“Did you know?”
Rose knew precisely what the woman was asking. She had been asking herself that same question since the day Gerald had broken the news to her of the federal investigations. Though she could shake her head to the negative, it did not absolve her. At least not in her own mind.
How had she lived with, had sex with, eaten dinner with, and stood beside a man that had done the things Gerald was accused of and not known? She was not sure she could ever forgive herself for that.
“I have daughters, too. Three of them.”
Rose turned back to the woman with a smile, thinking perhaps this common bond would bridge this gap, whatever it was.
“My oldest’s name is Laura. Laura Reynolds.”
The name immediately rang a bell with her, but it took her a moment to remember why it was so familiar. A moment in which that woman just stared unblinking at her over the edge of her coffee cup. When it finally clicked, Rose gripped the countertop. What could she say? “I’m sorry,” seemed so utterly inadequate.
“Two days ago, she gave birth to my second granddaughter. Yesterday, she fled her home with the former agent, who is the baby’s father. Can you imagine? Being on the run, perhaps for your life, less than twelve hours after you gave birth? Losing the career that you had worked so hard to build?”
Rose felt the heat of each tear as it wound a trail down her cheek. They obstructed her vision, just as that tightness in her throat stifled any words. If she had any.
“Ryan says there is a leak in the feds. He thought it was best that the rest of us go someplace safe. So, we could not be used against Laura. My middle daughter and her husband took their two-year-old and fled the country. Elena’s almost seven months pregnant.”
Rose’s hand flew to her mouth as the sob erupted. She lost her battle to remain standing, sliding to that aged linoleum floor.
“My baby girl and I were supposed to stay out of sight at a friend’s. But before she could get there, the crooked sheriff in our county came to arrest her. A man that may very well be connected to your husband.”
“She knew what that meant, knew that if Kerr took her to jail, she would never come back. She shot him. Now the whole fucking state is looking for my baby. They say she is armed and dangerous. Do you know what that means? Shot to kill, ask questions later.”
“Now, tell me again, how you’d do anything for your girl? What about all the other mothers and daughters that man destroyed? And you say you didn’t know? How could you not know? You can’t be married to a man, fuck him, and sleep next to him for twenty years and not know something was wrong?”
Rose shook her head as more tears poured down her cheeks, “I knew Gerald was ruthless. Hell, our marriage was the poison pill that my daddy forced on us both to try and stop him from taking over his company. But I swear, I promise on Grace’s life, I never knew the type of things that he and Stephen were involved in.”
“And yes, yes, you can be married to someone and not know that sort of thing. When you’re nothing more than a trophy, a possession to them.”
Something she said must have registered with the woman because she dropped her cup. It shattered into hundreds of pieces. Each one was a reminder of the way her husband had betrayed and destroyed so much.
“What are you going to do? I’m begging you, pleading with you, one mother to another. I know that Gerald has destroyed your family, hurt innocent people. But Grace, Callie, is one of those innocents. She’s fourteen years old. What has she ever done? Please, please don’t turn us in. Not for my sake, but for hers.”
“Why? Why, if ya’ll are hiding out here, why did you take the risk to come down? Why didn’t you just hideaway? Reb’s friend was going to send us away, but you invited us in. Why would you risk your life? Your daughter’s?”
“Because you looked scared. Not just scared, but deeply troubled. I know Chad said he trusted Reb, but I’ve worked with the victims of abuse for too long. I knew…”
Rose nodded her head, “I’m sorry that I read the situation all wrong. I’m sorry for the pain that Gerald caused. I’m sorry I didn’t know. But even if I had known, what could I have done?”
“Why did you stay? Why did you stand by your man like that? Especially once you knew.”
“Because divorce was not an option where I came from.” This, too, was the question that Cassie had laid in that huge bed, in her designer bedroom, in one of the best subdivisions in Houston, asking herself over and over again.
“Not just my parents. Though, my daddy made sure I knew my obligations to his company and my mother. And the happiness of his nineteen-year-old daughter did not matter in his bottom line.”
“But even more so, it was the woman, who raised me, that instilled her values in me. Aunt Rose was our housekeeper, cook, and more mother to me than the one who gave me birth. When she found out what daddy had planned, her advice was to make the best of a bad situation.”
“And I tried,” she felt that knot in her throat tightening like a noose. “I did what good I could with as much of Gerald’s money as he would allow me. And I did everything I could to make sure that my daughter did not grow up with that man’s values. I poured all my hopes, dreams, and love into her.”
The other woman nodded as her shoulders slumped, “You did your best and lived for your daughter.” Her smile was incredibly tight and pained as tears spilled down her cheeks, too, “Like I did for mine. Maybe we aren’t so different after all?”
She held out her hand, “I’m Stacey, Stacey Reynolds.”
Rose reached for the old apron that hung on a hook next to the stove. She used it to wipe the tears from her eyes as she shook it. “I’m Rose now. After that woman. It’s not just that I’m trying to hide. I sort of feel as if Rose is a new person, someone I hope to be when I grow up.”
The woman laughed, “I chose Reba after my favorite singer.”
“Really? She’s mine, too.” Rose reached for the broom and dustpan just inside the utility room.
“Here, let me help you with that. Then we can make those biscuits. As you said, they’ll be hungry when they finish.”
The women were laughing over coffee and swapping stories as Chad and Reb walked in the back door.