Shades of Twilight (Chapter 18)

Webb gave her a look that would have frozen antifreeze.

"Then you can have your fun somewhere else. I warned you, Corliss. You have a week to find somewhere else to live, then I want you out."

"Oh, yeah?" She laughed.

"You can't throw me out, big boy. Aunt Lucinda might have one foot in the grave, but until they're both there, this place isn't yours."

Lanette covered her mouth with her hand, staring at Corliss as if she didn't recognize her. Greg took a threatening step forward, but Webb stopped him with a look. Lucinda drew herself up, her expression hardening as she waited for Webb to handle the situation.

"Three days," he grimly said to Corliss.

"And if you open 311

your mouth again, the deadline will be tomorrow morning. He glanced at Roanna.

"Come on, we'd better go help get the horses settled down."

They went out the front door and around the house; they could hear the horses' frightened whinnies as soon as they stepped outside, and the thuds as the ones in the stable kicked frantically at their stalls. Webb's long legs made one stride for every two of hers, and Roanna was practically running to keep up with him. Loyal and the few stable hands who were still at work at that hour were doing their best to soothe the terrified animals, crooning to them, trying to hold them still. True, most of the words they were using were lurid curse words, but they were uttered in the softest of tones.

Roanna ran into the stable and added her own special croon to the lullaby. The horses outside were just as frightened as the animals in the stable, but they weren't as likely to hurt themselves because they had room to run. The horses in the stable were mostly animals with injuries or illnesses, and they could damage themselves even more in their panic to escape.

"Hush," Loyal said to the hands, and they fell silent, letting Roanna sing. They all continued their petting, but Roanna's voice had a unique quality to it that caught the attention of every animal in the stable. She'd had the gift from childhood, and Loyal had used it more than once to settle a frightened, nervous horse.

Webb moved down the rows of stalls, stroking sleek, sweating necks, just as they all were doing. Roanna sang softly, going from stall to stall, her voice pitched at just the right tone so that the horses' ears pricked forward as if trying to catch every note. Within five minutes, all the occupants of the stalls were calm, if still sweating.

"Get some cloths, boys," Loyal murmured.

"Let's get my babies dried off."

Roanna and Webb helped with that, too, while Loyal checked each animal for any new injury. They all seemed to be all right, except for their original ailments, but Loyal

shook his head at Webb.

"I don't like that damn squeal," he said flatly.

"And the horses ain't going to get used to it, it's too high pitched. Hurts their ears. Hurts mine too, come to that. What the hell happened?"

"Corliss," Webb said disgustedly.

"She's shit faced and didn't enter the code when she came in."

Loyal scowled.

"What Miss Lucinda was thinking to let that little bitch, pardon my French, move into Davencourt, I don't know."

"Neither do I, but she's moving out within three days.

"Not soon enough if you ask me."

Webb looked around and located Roanna at the far end of the stable.

"There's some trouble going on, Loyal. Until it's settled, I'm keeping the alarm because it's loud enough to wake you even down here, and we may need your help."

"What kind of trouble, boss?"

"Someone shot at me yesterday. I think it's the same person who broke into the house last week and maybe even the same person who killed Jessie. After Corliss leaves, if that alarm goes off, then it's a real emergency. In a worse case scenario, you may be the only one who can help us."

Loyal eyed him consideringly, then gave one abbreviated nod.

"Reckon I'll make sure my rifle's cleaned and loaded," he said.

"I'd appreciate it."

"Miss Roanna doesn't know, does she?"

"No one does except for me, Sheriff Beshears, and Booley Watts. And now you. It's hard to catch someone if they're looking for the trap."

"Well, I hope this varmint gets caught real soon, because I'm not going to rest easy as long as I know that damn siren can go off at any time and make every horse here go wild."

The house was still in an uproar when Webb and Roanna returned to it, with Corliss now sitting on the stairs weeping hysterically and begging Lucinda not to let Webb throw her out. Not even her own mother was taking her side this time; drunkenness was bad enough, but to spit at her brother was totally unacceptable.

Brock was nowhere in sight, probably having removed himself from the temptation to do physical damage to his sister.

To Corliss's sobbing entreaties, Lucinda merely gave her a cold look.

"You're right, Corliss. Despite my own foot in the grave, I am still the owner of this house. And as the owner, I give Webb full authority to act on my behalf, no questions asked."

"No, no," Corliss moaned.

"I can't leave, you don't understand-"I understand that you're leaving," Lucinda replied, not bending an inch.

"You're disgusting. I suggest you go to your room now, before Webb's threat to make you leave in the morning begins to sound even more delightful than it already does."

"Mama!" Corliss turned to Lanette, a pleading expression on her tear-blotched face.

"Tell her to let me stay!"

"I'm very disappointed in you," Lanette said softly and stepped past her daughter on her way upstairs.

Greg leaned down and hauled Corliss to her feet. "Upstairs," he said sternly, turning her around and bodily forcing her upward. They all watched until the pair reached the top of the stairs and turned toward Corliss's suite. They could hear her sobbing until a door closed firmly behind her.

Lucinda sagged.

"The ungrateful little wretch," she muttered. Her skin tone was even more waxy than before.

"Are the horses all right?" she asked Roanna.

"None of them were injured, and they're quiet now."

"Good." Lucinda put a trembling hand to her eyes, then took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders once more.

"Webb, could I talk to you, please? We need to go over some details."

"Of course." He put a supporting hand under her arm to steady her as they walked to the study. He glanced over his shoulder at Roanna, and their eyes met. His were steady and warm with promise.

"Go finish your supper," he said.

When he and Lucinda were alone in the study, she dropped heavily onto the couch. She was breathing hard and perspiring.

"The doctor said that my heart's giving out, too, damn it," she muttered.

"There, I've used a cuss word." She peeped up at Webb to see his reaction.

He couldn't help grinning at her.

"You've used them before, Lucinda. I've heard you cuss that roan mare you used to ride until it was a wonder her ears didn't singe and drop off."

"She was a bitch, wasn't she?" The words were fondly uttered. As hardheaded as the mare had been, Lucinda had always gotten the best of her. Until just a few years before, Lucinda had been strong enough to handle almost any horse she straddled.

"Now, what details do you want to discuss?"

"My will," she said baldly.

"I'm having the lawyer in tomorrow. I'd better get that chore taken care of, because it's beginning to look like my time's a bit shorter than I expected."

Webb sat down beside her and took her frail, palsied hand in his. She was too shrewd and mentally tough for him to even consider trying to comfort her with platitudes, but damn it, he hated to let her go.

"I love you," he said. "I was damn mad at you for not defending me after Jessie was killed. It hurt like hell that you thought I could have done it. I still hold a grudge about that, but I love you anyway."

Tears swam briefly in her eyes, then she blinked them away.

"Of course you hold a grudge. I never thought you'd totally forgive me, God knows I don't deserve that consideration. But I love you, too, Webb. I always knew you were the best choice for Davencourt."

"Leave it to Roanna," he said. His own words took him by surprise. He'd always thought of Davencourt as his, always expected to have it. He'd worked hard for it. But as soon as the words were out of his mouth he knew they were right. Davencourt should be Roanna's. Despite what Lucinda thought, despite even what Roanna. thought, she was more than capable of handling it.

Roanna was tougher and smarter than any of them knew, even including herself. Webb was only now beginning to understand the strength of her character. For years everyone had thought of her as fragile, irreparably damaged emotionally by the trauma of Jessie's death, but instead Roanna had been protecting herself, and enduring. It took a special kind of strength to endure, to accept what couldn't be changed and simply hunker down and wait it out. More and more lately Roanna was coming out of her shell, showing her strength, standing up for herself with a quiet maturity that didn't attract much attention, but was there.

Startled, Lucinda blinked several times.

"Roanna? Don't you think I've talked this over with her? She doesn't want it."

"She doesn't want to spend her life reading financial statements and watching stock reports," he corrected.

"But she loves Davencourt. Give it to her."

"You mean split the inheritance?" Lucinda asked in bewilderment.

"Give the house to her and the financial holdings to you?" She sounded shocked; that had never been done. Davencourt and all it entailed had always been kept intact.

"No, I mean leave it all to her. It should be hers anyway." Roanna needed a home. She had told him so herself-, she needed something that was hers, that could never be taken away from her.

"She's never really felt as if she belonged anywhere, and if you leave everything to me, she'll feel as if she wasn't good enough to have Davencourt, even if she did agree to the terms of the will. She needs her home, Lucinda. Davencourt should have Davenports living here, and she's the last one."

"But … of course she would live here." Lucinda looked at him uncertainly.

"I never thought that you would make her leave. Oh, dear. That would look funny, wouldn't it? People would talk." "She told me that she plans to buy her own place."

"Leave Davencourt?" The very idea shocked Lucinda.

"But this is her home."

"Exactly," Webb said softly.

"Well." Lucinda sat back, mulling over this change in her plans. Except it wasn't a change, she realized. It was simply leaving everything as it already stood, with Roanna as her heir.

"But … what will you do?"

He smiled, a slow smile that lit his entire face.

"She can hire me to handle the financial dealings for her," he said lightly. Suddenly he knew exactly what he wanted, and it was like a light being turned on inside him, "Better yet, I'm going to marry her."

Lucinda was truly speechless now. It was an entire minute before she could manage a squeaky "What?"

"I'm going to marry her," Webb repeated with growing determination.

"I haven't asked her yet, so keep it quiet." Yes, he was going to marry her, one way or the other. It felt

as if a piece of the puzzle had suddenly been placed in its correct position. It felt right. Nothing else would ever be as right. Roanna had always been his-and he had always often Roanna's.

"Webb, are you sure?" Lucinda asked anxiously. ,"Roanna loves you, but she deserves to be loved in return. He gave her a level look, his eyes very green, and she fell silent in astonishment.

"Well," she said again.

He tried to explain.

"Jessie-I was obsessed with her, I up pose and in a way I loved her because we grew up together, but it was mostly ego on my part. I never should 11ave married her, but I was so locked into the idea of inheriting Davencourt and marrying the crown princess that I didn't realize what a disaster our marriage would be. Roanna, now … I've loved her for as long as she's been alive, I reckon. When she was little I loved her like a Mother, but now she's all grown up, and I'm damn sure not tier brother." He sighed, looking back over the years at how relationships had gotten tangled up with inheritances.

"If Jessie hadn't been killed, we'd have gotten divorced. I meant what I said that night. I was fed up, through with her. And if we'd been divorced, instead of things happening the way they did, I'd have been married to Roanna for a long time now. The way Jessie died split us all apart, and I've wasted ten years because of a grudge."

Lucinda searched his face, looking for the truth, and what he found made her sigh with relief. "You really do love per. 11 "So much it hurts." Gently he squeezed Lucinda's fingers taking care not to hurt her.

"She's smiled at me six times," he confided.

"And laughed once."

"Laughed!" Tears welled again in Lucinda's eyes, and this time she let them fall. Her lips trembled.

"I'd like to hear per laugh again, just once more."

"I'm going to try real hard to make her happy," Webb laid.

"When do you plan to get married?"

"As soon as possible, if I can talk her into it." He knew Roanna loved him, but convincing her that he loved her in return might take some doing. Once she would have married him under any circumstances, but now she would quietly turn stubborn if she thought something wasn't right. On the other hand, he wanted Lucinda to be at their wedding, so that meant it had to happen quickly, while she was still able to attend. And there might be another, more private reason for a quick wedding.

"Oh, posh!" Lucinda scoffed.

"You know she would walk through fire to marry you!"

"I know she loves me, but I've learned not to think she'll automatically do anything I ask. Those days are long gone. I wouldn't like having a doormat for a wife anyway. I want her to have the confidence to stand up for what she wants."

"The way she stood up for you."

"The way she's always stood up for me." When no one else had been there, Roanna had been at his side, slipping her little hand into his and offering what comfort she could. She had been far stronger than he, strong enough to make the first move, to reach out.

"She deserves the inheritance," he said.

"But besides that, I don't want her to ever feel that she had to please me in order to stay in her home."

"She might feel the same way about you," Lucinda pointed out.

"Whenever you're nice to her, she might think it's only because she holds the purse strings. I've been in that situation," she added dryly, no doubt thinking of Corliss.

Webb shrugged.

"I'm not a pauper, Lucinda, as you know damned well, since you had me investigated. I have my Arizona holdings, and they're going to be worth a good sized fortune before I get through with them. I assume Roanna read the same report you did, so she knows my financial situation. We'll be equals, and she'll know that I'm with her because I love her. I'll take care of the financial dealings if she really isn't interested; I don't know if she'll .319

want to stay involved with that part of it or not. She says she doesn't like it, but she has the Davenport knack, doesn't she?"

"In a different way." Lucinda smiled.

"She pays more attention to people than she does to numbers on a sheet of paper."

"You know what she really wants to do, don't you?"

"No, what?"

"Train horses."

She laughed softly.

"I might have known! Loyal has been using some of her training ideas for years now, and I have to say we have some of the best-behaved horses I've ever been around."

"She's magic with a horse. They're where her heart is, so that's what I want her to do. You've always had horses just for the pleasure of it, because you love them, but Roanna wants to get into it as a business."

"You have it all planned out, don't you?" She smiled fondly at him, because even as a boy Webb had mapped out his strategy, then followed through on it.

"No one else around here knows about your properties out west. People will talk, you know."

"That I married Roanna for her money? That I was determined to get Davencourt any way I could? That I'd married Jessie for it and then, when she died, moved on to Roanna?"

"I see you've thought of all the angles."

He shrugged.

"I don't give a damn about the angles as long as Roanna doesn't believe any of them."

"She won't. She's loved you for twenty years, and she'll love you for another twenty."

"Longer than that, I hope."

"Do you know how lucky you are?"

"Oh, I've got an idea," he said softly. He was surprised it had taken him so long to get that idea, though. Even though he'd known that he loved Roanna, he hadn't thought of it as a romantic, erotic love; he'd been stuck in the big-brother mode even after they had kissed the first time and he'd almost lost control. He hadn't been jolted out of it until she had walked up to him in the bar in Nogales, a woman, with a gap of ten years between their meetings so he hadn't seen her grow up. That night was burned in his memory, and still he'd struggled with the misapprehension that he had to protect Roanna from his own lust. God, what a dope. She positively reveled in his lust, which made him about the luckiest man alive.

Now, all he had to do was convince her to marry him, and clear up the small matter of attempted murder-his own.

Roanna was standing out on the veranda watching the sunset when he entered her room. She turned and glanced over her shoulder when she heard the door open. She was gilded by the last rays of the sun, turning her skin golden, her hair glinting red and gold. He came on through and out onto the veranda with her, turning to lean against the railing so that he faced the house, and her. Looking at her was so damn easy. He kept rediscovering the angles of those chiseled cheekbones, seeing anew the golden lights in her whiskey-colored eyes. The open collar of her shirt let him see enough of her silken skin to remind him how silky she was all over.

He felt the beginning twinges of lust in his groin but nevertheless asked an utterly prosaic question.

"Did you finish your supper?"

She wrinkled her nose.

"No, it was cold, so I ate a slice of lemon icebox pie instead."

He scowled.

"Tansy made another pie? She didn't tell me.

"I'm sure there's some left," she said comfortingly. She looked up at the vermillion streaks in the sky.

"Are you really going to make Corliss leave?"

"Oh, yes." He let both his satisfaction and determination come through in those two words.

She started to speak, then hesitated.

"Go on," he urged.

"Tell me, even if you think I'm Wrong." '321

"I don't think you're wrong. Lucinda needs peace now, not constant turmoil." Her expression was distant, somber.

"It's just that I remember what it's like to be terrified of having nowhere to live."

He reached out and caught a tendril of her hair, winding it around his finger.