It’s been six months since authorities apprehended Cole Weldon and saved Tucker and Alison from death and worse. The US Attorney in Boise has filed a multitude of charges against him and he is working diligently to make sure Weldon never sees the light of day.
Tucker and Alison are working on healing and nurturing each other in their fledgling relationship. They have no way of knowing that a malfunctioning starter motor would signal new nightmares for the two women.
While the town junkyard man replaces Alison’s motor, he makes a cryptic remark:
“Guess that Marine fellow ain’t the only one Tucker ever stomped on.”
Meanwhile Sheriff Hank Smith Sr. delivers a document to Tucker at her office. It’s a warrant for her arrest by the US Attorney.
Attempted murder of Cole Weldon.
Separated for over a month, both women struggle to keep their sanity and their love from burning away in a wildfire set by enemies they didn’t know they had.
“Tucker.” She answered her phone with a tap on her Bluetooth earbud, wrestling with her carry-out order from Buck’s Café.
“Where are you?” Hank Sr’s voice was unusually brusque.
“Tucker, where are you?”
“Just leaving Buck’s. What’s wrong?”
“Meet me at your office.”
“Okay, but—” Hank’s call disconnected abruptly. Tucker stopped, stunned, in the café’s doorway. Something big plowed into her from behind. An articulate grunt got her moving again.
“Sorry, Pete,” she tossed over her shoulder. The big farmer grunted again and slid past her.
Tucker’s office was only two blocks away, so she’d walked down for lunch for her and Sandy. As she crossed Main Avenue, she saw the Sheriff’s cruiser pull into a parking space before Tucker’s storefront office.
Hank held the office door open while Tucker bundled in with the coffee and sandwiches she’d gotten at the café. She placed the drinks and bags on Sandy’s desk and turned to Hank.
“What’s going on?”
Hank hesitated, casting an uncertain glance toward Sandy, who was unpackaging their lunch.
“Sandy’s fine, Hank, you know that.”
Hank let out a long breath. He reached inside his jacket and brought out a bundle of papers.
“Take a look, Tuck. It just came in by special courier.”
Tucker looked at Hank. His face was set in grim lines. He held the papers out to her. Tucker pulled off her gloves and dropped them on her desk. She unfolded the pages while she moved around to sit down. Hank pulled up a chair in front and dropped into it.
As Tucker read, she felt her eyes widen and her eyebrows rise. A sick feeling tightened in her gut as she turned pages and read on.
When she finished, she dropped the document from numb fingers onto the desk and collapsed into her chair. “What—Hank, what the hell?”
Sandy must have seen something in Tucker’s face because she grabbed one of the coffees and put it on the desk in front of her boss. She moved behind Tucker and yanked at her coat until she obediently let Sandy slide it off her shoulders and hang it on the hat tree setting beside the supply room door.
Then she opened a drawer in Tucker’s desk and fished out a small bottle of Black Velvet. She popped the lid off the coffee and splashed a dollop of the liquor in the cup.
“Drink that down,” she commanded. Tucker fumbled with the cup and Sandy had to steady it for her for a moment. Tucker sucked down a big slurp, hissed at the temperature, then took another gulp.
While Tucker nursed her coffee, Sandy picked up the document and read the cover page.
“Attempted murder?” she exclaimed. She shook the papers at Hank and her voice rose. “Hank Smith, don’t you tell me you believe this load of nonsense!”
Tucker put a hand on Sandy’s arm and Hank rose and gently faced the indignant woman.
“I don’t have to believe it, Sandy. It’s an official complaint, signed by the U.S. Attorney, Marlon Big Bear.” Hank turned to Tucker. “I have to deliver you to the Federal courthouse in Boise…by three p.m. today.”
Sandy flung the document against Hank’s chest and whirled away to her desk. She stabbed a number into the keypad of the landline phone.
Shocked, Tucker was barely aware of Sandy’s conversation as she stared at Hank.
“Get over to the office.” Sandy shook her head. “No, Alison, right now!”
“Three p.m.?” Hank nodded. “What the hell is this all about, Hank?”
As Sandy hung up the phone, and the three of them stared at each other, the bell over the office door rang.
Tucker’s eyes swiveled to the stocky Hispanic man filling the doorway. He looked familiar but her beleaguered brain couldn’t place him right away.
“Sergeant Reyes, Idaho State Patrol.” The State Trooper pulled his badge off his belt and held it up so everyone in the office could see it.
“Sergeant…Sergeant Reyes. You were…at the Homestead.” Tucker could barely form the words. She watched in disbelief as the Trooper pulled a pair of handcuffs from a pouch on his utility belt.
Reyes nodded. “Yes, ma’am.” He stepped forward, the cuffs in one hand and a piece of paper in the other. He held out the paper to Hank.
“I have a warrant for your arrest, ma’am.” He took another step forward and, when Hank took the paper, held out a hand to Tucker. “Please, ma’am.”
Tucker stood and moved toward the Trooper. He took hold of Tucker’s arm and gently turned her so she faced away from him, then drew her hands behind her back. When he finished, he kept his hand on her arm to steady her as she turned back around. The expression on his face seemed almost apologetic.
Tucker flinched as the steel rings closed around her wrists. She barely registered the two big men literally speaking over her head, and Sandy on the phone again.
“Sergeant, I have the warrant right here. We were just about to leave for Boise.”
“I’m sorry, Sheriff, but the U.S. Attorney directed me personally to pick up Ms. Wiley.”
The bell over the door rang again. The small office was getting crowded.
“Sandy? Hank? What is going on?”
Alison, blonde, petite Alison, her Alison, blew past the big Hispanic man and nearly staggered him from the force of her entrance. He peered down at her, looking a little disoriented.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Alison grabbed Tucker’s shoulder and dragged her out of the Sergeant’s grasp.
“Hank, you put a stop to this right now!” Pat’s voice added to the confusion.
Tucker flinched again, and she couldn’t take any more.
“Hey!” she yelled. “Everybody shut up!”
Silence shattered the chaos into brittle shards. Everyone stood frozen, staring at each other, then focusing on the tall, dark-haired woman in the center of it all.
Tucker swiveled her head and searched for Sandy. “And you stop calling everyone in the county!”
Caught red-handed, Sandy flushed and put the phone down.
Tucker drew herself up and turned to face Sergeant Reyes.
“Sergeant.” Her voice was soft, but commanding. “May I have ten minutes with my friends?”
Reyes met Tucker’s eyes. Deep brown and compassionate, but implacable. He measured Tucker, then nodded.
“All right, Ms. Wiley. Ten minutes.”
He stepped back to the door and let Tucker lead Sandy, Hank, Pat, and Alison into a tight group beside her desk.
“Tucker, this isn’t right,” Hank said. “Reyes was out there that day, he’s a material witness. The U.S. Attorney’s got no business sending him out here.”
“He’s here, Hank, and he’s got a job to do. Let him do it. That leaves you free to stay neutral. We can worry about the legalities later.”
Tucker looked at her office manager.
“Sandy, get Bert on the horn and make sure he’s waiting for me at the Court House in Boise when we get there. Then call Alex at the bank and warn him the contingency account’s gonna take a hit today.”
Sandy sniffed, then threw her arms around Tucker, squeezed her tight, and headed for her own desk.
“Pat, will you go out to the Homestead with Alison and help her get an overnight bag together for me?”
“I’ll do that, and I’ll drive up there with her.”
“No, I’ll drive her up,” Hank said, and husband and wife glared at each other until Tucker cleared her throat.
“Hank, stay here.”
Hank did a double-take then transferred his glare to his goddaughter.
“No. You can’t go up there if you’re not transporting me. You must stay neutral. If the U.S. Attorney is going to call Reyes, he’s going to call you. Hell, you’re the one that dragged me off Weldon.” Tucker stepped closer to Hank and lowered her voice.
“You’re up for re-election next year. You can’t be seen taking sides.”
“I don’t care about that—”
“You need to because Alison and I need you.” Tucker’s voice was more harsh than usual, and her eyes were icy grey. Hank’s mouth snapped shut. “This isn’t politics, and I don’t care about what the Idaho U.S. Attorney’s strategy is. If he considers you hostile, it puts Alison at a disadvantage in the case against Weldon, and I won’t have anything endangering us putting that bastard away for the rest of his life!”
Tucker met Hank’s eyes. With nearly all their blue washed out, they were icy grey, full of anger and fear. As Hank slowly nodded, she felt a light touch on her face.
Alison couldn’t take any more. She shouldered in front of the Sheriff and put her hands on Tucker’s face, turning her head so she could look into Alison’s own eyes. She felt Hank back off, then saw him going to his wife out of the corner of her eye.
She wound her hands behind Tucker’s neck and backed toward the supply closet next to Tucker’s desk. Reyes made an exclamation, but Sheriff Smith reassured him it was only a small pantry for office supplies, with no other door or window except the one Alison now drew Tucker past.
“Don’t close the door, Ms. Tyler,” Reyes called out.
“I’m not an idiot, Sergeant,” Alison called back. Then she blocked everything else out but Tucker.
She gently brushed her fingers through Tucker’s thick hair, then let her palms slide down the sides of her lover’s face. Tucker closed her eyes and leaned into her touch. Alison continued down across Tucker’s shoulders, and she felt the tall woman strain against the cuffs.
“Damn it,” Tucker whispered. “I want to hold you.” Her voice hitched and a small sob escaped her throat.
“Shh.” Alison folded Tucker into her arms, brushed her lips against Tucker’s cheek, and held her tight. “I know.” Tucker quivered, shaking with barely contained tears.
Alison was more than a little alarmed. She’d never seen Tucker cry in the short time they’d been together, though she’d seen unshed tears. Now, it seemed Tucker was lost, even though she was orchestrating her own arrest in a deft and commanding manner.
She pulled back and looked Tucker in the eye.
“Don’t you dare tell me to stay home.”
Tucker snorted, then shook her head.
“I wouldn’t do that to you.” Her eyes shone with a heated gleam that was there, then gone in an instant as she sobered.
“But listen, Sunny.” She held Alison’s gaze. “Before you leave town, I need you to go in my office at the Homestead. Bottom drawer of the cabinet, there’s a folder marked Acorns. I’ll explain it all when we get back home, but for now, all you need to know is it’s a portfolio of stocks in your name I’ve been moving funds into for the last six months.”
“My name? But—”
“Please, Alison. I promise you I’ll tell you everything, but for now, just follow the instructions in the folder. All right?”
Alison nodded. “Okay, babe. What do I do?”
“Everything you need to know about liquidating is in the file. Once they set bail, withdraw the funds into your account”
“But that’s going to take time, Tucker. I thought the Contingency—”
Tucker bent over so she could whisper into Alison’s ear.
“I know. It’s confusing. I promise you, Sunny, I will explain. Remember the paperwork I asked you to sign three months ago?”
Alison nodded. Her stomach rolled. What was Tucker up to? She pulled back and searched Tucker’s face and eyes. She saw nothing but hope and a little guilt.
Somehow, Danny Mills’ words came back to Alison:
“Ain’t nobody ever told you about Chuck Wagner?”
“I needed your signature for the account. I swear, Sunny, it isn’t what it seems.” Tucker’s voice broke. She dropped her head for a moment, took a deep breath, then met Alison’s eyes again.
This was the Tucker she knew. Determined, strong. She could work out anything with this woman.
“I’m sorry. I’ll tell you everything. Just do this for me. For us?”
Alison wound her arms around Tucker’s neck.
“Yes.” She brushed her lips against Tucker’s mouth. “For us.”