After closing the door behind her, Roy returned to his desk. He rubbed his hand hard across his forehead, and then down the side of his face. He hadn’t meant to kiss her, to touch her—it just happened. But damn, it had felt good. He’d wanted to touch those lips since early this morning. He’d wanted to touch her.
You’re a fool, Roy, and always have been, when it came to her.
Was he a fool to think he had another chance? That maybe after all this time, after twenty years, she had made her way back to him. He had longed for it, dreamed of it, fantasized about it.
That last time with her twelve years ago was still vivid in his mind. That night he’d believed there was a chance, right up until the moment he woke the next morning in her hotel room bed. Alone.
She’d called him, saying she needed him. He knew she was vulnerable at the time, sad and alone, lonely, and under the influence of alcohol. But he had needed her, had wanted her so much. It had been just as incredible as he had dreamed over the years. He was convinced she was the one he was supposed to be with, that there would never be another woman for him.
He’d fallen asleep with her in his arms, her warm body snuggled against his, the soft beat of her heart mingling with his own as if they were one. When he woke hours later, she was gone. The room held no evidence of her having been there, except the faint scent of her cologne on the pillow next to his own. He had lingered in that hotel bed that Sunday morning, not wanting to lose the sensation of her soft skin, her moist lips, her warm breath, or the fresh lavender scent of her hair. He lingered there until the maid came to clean, in hopes of Charlie’s return, knowing all the while she was gone, headed back to Dallas, back to him.
She had returned to Valhorne that Friday evening before, late, he’d heard. Her mother’s body had arrived ahead of her, sometime that morning. He’d been one of only a handful of locals who had shown up at the funeral home Saturday morning for the service. He and the relative Charlie had lived with for a while in Odessa were the only ones to show up at the cemetery for the short graveside service. Charlie, dressed in all black and her hair pulled back in a severe twist, thanked him for coming. He’d wondered at the time why she was alone, why her husband was absent, but he hadn’t asked. Discussing the man who had taken her away from him eight years before, even acknowledging his existence, was the last thing he wanted to do. He left her alone at the cemetery after the service, wanting to give her privacy to say her final goodbyes. But before he went, he scratched his home phone number on a piece of paper from his truck, handed it to her, told her to call if there was anything he could do for her, if she needed him for any reason.
Later that afternoon he saw her car, a black Mercedes sedan at the time, parked in front of the Medallion Monuments. Then that evening he noticed it parked at the Holiday House Hotel when he passed it on his way to Chuy’s Restaurant, where he picked up an order of beef fajitas to take home for dinner. He had washed them down with several beers.
The hour was late when he got her call. She said only those three words—"I need you"—but they had been all he needed to hear to race out to his truck and on to the hotel. He found her in the small hotel bar, sitting alone at a table, a half-full glass of red wine in front of her. He walked up to the bar, ordered a beer for himself and another glass of wine for her. Joe, the bartender, asked if he was sure.
“She’s had quite a few already, Sheriff,” he had warned.
Roy told him never mind then and joined Charlie at her table. She had changed from her black suit into a pair of tight black pants and a low-cut pink top. The severe hairdo of earlier in the day was gone; her long hair hung loose, swept to one side over her shoulder. It was all he could do not to take her right there on the table, with Joe and one other couple watching. Though he doubted the couple would notice as they were getting it on pretty hot and heavy at a corner table themselves. The sadness in Charlie’s red, swollen, tired eyes overwhelmed him.
“Think you might need to head back to your room, get some rest?” he asked her.
She looked at him with sad, pleading eyes, shaking her head no. “I don’t want to be alone tonight.” Her voice trembled as she blinked back tears.
“You don’t have to be.” He stood, pulled her up from the chair, and into his arms. When he lowered his head to kiss her, she wrapped her arms around his neck, pulled him to her, meeting his lips with hers.
“What room?” he whispered, his blood rushing through his body, he jeans tightening.
“221.” She released her grip on his neck, took him by the hand, and led him out of the bar and into the hotel lobby to the elevator.
Roy squirmed in his desk chair as he recalled their heated kisses in the elevator and the tearing off of clothes once inside her room.
He had read about Mrs. White’s death in the Advocate a few days before that weekend. He’d read the article several times. He still had it tucked away in the bottom drawer of his desk but didn’t need to pull it out to remember what it said.
Charlie’s mother had passed away at the young age of forty-five. The cause of death listed was a sudden heart attack; she was believed to have died instantly. The article went on to say that she had been found in her private suite of the North Dallas home of her daughter and son-in-law. Her daughter, Charlene Ann Billows, wife of Andrew Scott Billows—owner and CEO of Billows Drilling Company, had found her early that morning slumped over her bed.
Roy hated that Charlie had been put through that again—the first one to discover her parent’s dead body. But at least that one wouldn’t have been as gruesome as the first one.
He recalled the comfort he had taken in reading that Mrs. White was survived by the one daughter and no grandchildren. He couldn’t stand the thought of his Charlie sharing a bed with someone other than himself. The two of them sharing even one child would have been excruciatingly painful for him. He’d known at the time how selfish it was for him to want her to be childless, but he couldn’t help himself. He’d wanted her to have babies with him, not someone else.
When he’d asked if she had ever popped out a kid, he’d expected her to say no. Her reply of yes hit him harder than any three-hundred-pound defensive lineman ever had. He’d had to put on quite an act to hide his emotions as he stared at the photo of her ten-year-old daughter, who, according to her, had the same personality as the girl’s deceased father.
Glancing up at the clock above the door, Roy realized he didn’t have all that much time before he was expected at the hotel to pick up Charlie for dinner before the game. He reached into the front pocket of his jeans and pulled out his cell phone.
He had turned off the ringer right before heading into Judge Bailey’s chambers. When he’d passed by front security on his way back to his office, his deputy had informed him of an attractive female visitor. He’d been in such a hurry to find out if it was Charlie, he’d forgotten to turn the ringer back on. The locked screen showed a missed call and a voicemail, both from Denise.
He stared at the cell phone for several seconds before entering his four-digit code that any idiot could figure out—0707—and making his call. When someone finally picked up after several rings, he said, “Yeah, connect me with the florist department.”
After sitting through several more rings, she answered.
“Doris. Sheriff Slater here. Glad you’re still there. I need a big favor—I need a homecoming mum—yeah, I know it’s late, but if you could whip one up for me right quick, I’d sure appreciate it, pay double the price—yeah, I do need a custom one—”
He explained to her exactly how he wanted it. “Thanks. I owe you one.”
Ending the call, he stuffed the phone back in his pocket. He had just enough time to swing by the J&J, then go home and clean up before heading to the hotel.
But first, he needed to check in with Kellie and Higgins and make sure all was well on the Interstate.