"I was surprised to hear that Jess was down here. There are a lot of ways to describe her, but 'devout' isn't really a word that would spring immediately to my mind."
"She had a few things on her mind. I guess she thought I might understand better than some people."
"I'm sure that's true," Mike said. "I know she was grateful to you for coming to the rescue."
"I don't know why she would be. I just followed you out there, and I was totally ready to believe it when Adam said she was a criminal who would double-cross her own grandfather and parents," Lindsay said. "I was pretty useless." This seemed to Lindsay to be yet another instance of her getting credit where none was deserved or wanted.
"Stop beating yourself up," Mike said. "You were right to suspect she was up to something. You just didn't know what."
Lindsay had had about a thousand versions of this conversation with her friends and family since the events of that night. Simmy had been especially patient in listening to Lindsay's circular ruminations and keeping her from getting too caught up in her dark thoughts.
"So, you're back to work. How are things going with you?" Mike asked.
"Good. Dunette's been a star. She took me and Simmy to our physical therapy appointments when my knee was all messed up, walked Kipper, just everything. She lets Simmy experiment on her with beauty products, and she doesn't seem to mind being subjected to whatever crystals or chanting or bitter herbal teas or heaven knows what Simmy's dabbling in from week to week."
"She's a pretty amazing person," Mike agreed.
"I don't know what we would've done without her, and I don't know what Simmy's going to do when she starts nursing school in the fall. But Simmy's health is so much better now that we can't really justify having her there so often. She's got her own life to live, too."
The truth was that the little household they had formed had kept Lindsay sane over the previous weeks. The cheerful banter of Simmy and Dunette, coupled with Kipper's solid, reassuring presence, had been like a layer of insulation, muting the menacing noise of the outside world and quieting the even more destructive voices inside her own brain. Somehow, just having Kipper, Dunette, and Simmy around had managed to shield her from the trauma she had experienced and keep her from shutting down again.
"Yeah, last time I saw Dunette, she mentioned something about Angel urgently needing her help?" Mike said, raising an eyebrow.
Lindsay laughed. "Angel convinced her to join the choir at her church. She's got her eye on one of the tenors, but apparently one of the other altos is trying to beat her to him. She needs Dunette as her wing-woman."
"Ah, yes. Sounds like a matter of national importance." His face softened. "I'm sorry I haven't been around much lately," he said. "Owen doesn't show it, but he was really shaken by what happened. He needed me."
"You don't need to apologize. He's your son. Of course you had to make sure he was okay," Lindsay said.
Although she could barely admit it to herself, she had been acutely aware of Mike's sudden near-absence from her life. It seemed like suddenly everyone else had someone who ranked above her in their priorities. Rob had always had John, but now Anna had Drew, and her father had Teresa. Even Simmy and Dunette had formed a bond separate from Lindsay. And Warren? Who knew where she ranked in his list of priorities? Probably somewhere just below flossing. Although it was only natural that she shouldn't be the center of everyone's world, she wished she would at least be at the center of someone's.
When she thought of Warren, she remembered how he had been the one to drive her back from Robeson County. There were only two seats in Mike's plane, and he'd flown back with Owen the morning after their ordeal. During that whole long drive, she and Warren had avoided talking about anything serious, instead keeping the conversation incongruously light. They joked about becoming stepsiblings if Jonah followed through on his plan to propose to Teresa, and speculated about whether Gibb would remain such a henpecked husband now that he was being celebrated as a bona fide action hero. It was as if they were both skating quickly across thin ice, afraid that any slowing of forward momentum would cause them to crash through into the frigid lake that lay beneath.
Over the weeks that followed, Warren visited Lindsay occasionally, bringing updates about the case. The visits had been brief and cordial, with no indication on his part that he'd pledged his undying love to Lindsay over meatb.a.l.l.s marinara at the Mex-Itali only a few months before. At times, she wanted to scream at him, to ask him how he could just sit at her kitchen table and pet Kipper and nibble Chex Mix as if they'd always just been good buddies. Didn't he want to come to her rescue and hold her tight against his chest, the way he had done so many times? Couldn't he still feel the buzz of energy in her presence that Lindsay felt in his? Or had he simply pulled the kill switch and shut off the current that used to flow between them? In the end, she said none of these things. She, too, sat across from him like an old friend, cordially eating Chex Mix.
Mike interrupted her thoughts of Warren, saying, "I've also been working on a mediated settlement for the Boughtflower money. I think I've finally gotten everyone to agree that we'll create a trust for Jess's education and medical expenses, and that the rest will be invested in community projects in Robeson County."
"That's great," she said. "How did you manage to convince Yancy?"
Mike blushed, his eyes dropping to the floor. "Um, I gave him my plane."
"Don't tell anyone, okay? He didn't seem like he was going to budge, and I really didn't think it would be good for anybody for this to go to trial. At one of our pretrial meetings, I overheard him mention to his lawyer that he always wanted to fly. So, I said I'd give him my plane and pay for him to take flying lessons if he would agree to drop his claim on the money. He knew from the beginning that his chances of winning were really slim, so he decided to take the sure thing and agree to my proposal."
"So you just bribed him with your plane?"
Mike shrugged. "I'd kind of outgrown it, anyway. I think I need something bigger. Maybe a four-seater. Then we could all go for rides together. Or maybe a six-seater, so there'd be room for Kipper and Simmy."
"You've got big plans, huh?"
He pushed the chapel door open and smiled at her. "I always have big plans." He paused as she passed close to him. "Did you do something different to your face?"
"Simmy tried out some new lip gloss on me and Dunette."
"I like it. It's really sparkly. Your lips look like the lips on one of those weird dolls all the good moms won't let their daughters play with."
Lindsay smiled at the "compliment." Good to see that some things never changed.
Lindsay looked up at the sound of her name being called in Warren's familiar warm North Carolina tw.a.n.g. Warren stood almost directly in front of her, looking annoyingly handsome in his trademark grey b.u.t.ton-down shirt with rolled-up sleeves. Alongside him was his erstwhile Vegas wife, Cynthia Honeycutt. Cynthia carried her purse over her shoulder, but she was still dressed in nurses' scrubs. Scrubs usually managed to make women look formless and frumpy, but Cynthia wore fashionably-tailored hot pink and black ones that reminded Lindsay of Mandarin-collared silk pajamas. s.e.xy pajamas.
"Hey, Warren," Lindsay replied. Politeness compelled her to add, "Cynthia, this is my friend Mike."
"We were just going out to get some drinks," Cynthia said brightly, shaking Mike's proffered hand. "Wednesday is two-for-one Chianti daiquiris at the Mex-Itali." She rested her fingertips briefly on Warren's arm as she spoke.
Lindsay noted the gesture, and her heart seemed to momentarily swell up, constricting her throat. "I know," she said. "Warren and I used to go there all the time."
A painful silence that not even Southern manners could conceal descended over the group.
At last Warren spoke. "I was here dropping off a drunk who got into a fight over at the truck stop off of 85 and I ran into Cynthia. She was meeting some friends and asked me along. It was kind of a spur of the moment thing." His cheeks colored as he rambled breathlessly through the explanation.
"Why don't y'all join us?" Cynthia asked, with a coy downward snap of her wrist.
"Unless you and Mike have plans," Warren added, looking pointedly at Lindsay.
"We were just going to have dinner in the courtyard with my son and his girlfriend," Mike said. "To celebrate her being discharged from the hospital tomorrow. Also kind of a spur of the moment thing."
Lindsay turned her head and smiled gratefully up at him. His large frame felt reassuringly solid next to her, like a sun-warmed rock.
"Well, it was nice seeing you, Lindsay. You take care," Cynthia said. "We'd better head out." She seized Warren under the elbow and led him away. He cast a quick backwards glance at Lindsay. His expression looked slightly pained, but Lindsay had no way of knowing the source of his distress. Maybe it wasn't emotional at all. Maybe Cynthia's grip was just too tight.
"You know what?" Lindsay said once the pair was out of earshot. "It's been a really long day, and I have to work in the morning. Why don't you go without me? I'm going to head home. I'll be happier on the couch with Simmy and Kipper."
Lindsay found, to her surprise, that the statement was entirely true. In the past, it was the kind of excuse she would've made to flee from a painful situation and retreat inside the numbing sanctuary of her own psyche. But this time, she found she wasn't afraid of feeling negative emotions. Of course the encounter with Warren and Cynthia had been surprising and upsetting, but she had no plans to curl into a ball and hide from the world. Seeing them together had sucked. But like she'd told Jess, sometimes things do just suck.
Over the past few weeks, something inside of Lindsay had shifted. So many times, she'd simply reacted without listening to the quiet whispers of her inner voice. Saying yes to Warren's proposal, becoming furiously angry at her father and Teresa, following Adam into the forest-she'd done all these things on a sort of emotional autopilot. Now, she was making a habit of turning her ears inward, pressing them against her soul, and hearkening to its quiet voice. And she realized that by doing what she wanted to do, she wasn't necessarily avoiding Warren, or Mike, or anyone. The plain truth was that she really would really prefer to hang out in her own house with Simmy and Kipper. They were halfway through binge-watching the soapy fairytale drama Once Upon a Time, and the action was heating up. If she went home now, they could watch four or five episodes before bedtime.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Mike asked.
Lindsay nodded. "Scout's honor. Tell Jess I'll pop up and see her tomorrow before she's discharged."
"You're not bothered by that nurse Warren was with are you? Because you shouldn't be. You're a lot more attractive. Her face is just boring-pretty. Like if you were going to pick a pretty person from central casting, she'd be it. You've got a memorable face. It kind of sears itself into your brain."
"Are you comparing my face to a cattle prod?" Lindsay asked, arching an eyebrow in amus.e.m.e.nt.
Mike smiled broadly, his green eyes glittering playfully. "Exactly. You, Lindsay Harding, are an unforgettable firebrand."
Henry Berry Lowrie (sometimes spelled Lowry or Lowery), his wife Rhoda Strong, her brother Boss, and Donahue McQueen were all real people and much of the action described in this book, including the incident at Hayes Pond and the Pope-MacLeod heist, is well-documented and true. However, with apologies to my Native American friends and to my historian friends and especially to my Native American historian friends (!), I've taken some major liberties by imagining an alternate ending to their stories. The most radical departure from the facts is the idea that Boss Strong, Henry Berry's trusted friend and brother-in-law, could have worked with Donahue McQueen to betray him. Although that betrayal worked well for the purposes of my story, the whole scenario is purely a product of my imagination. Most of the evidence suggests that Henry Berry either escaped with the stolen fortune or was killed when his gun accidentally discharged in the days following the heist. Personally, I believe he escaped. The gang was sophisticated enough to elude capture for more than a decade, and it seems more than convenient that Henry Berry disappeared so suddenly at the crucial moment following the Pope-MacLeod robbery.
If you want the real deal, history-wise, I highly recommend To Die Game: The Story of the Lowry Band, Indian Guerrillas of Reconstruction by William McKee Evans and Malinda Maynor Lowery's Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South: Race, Identity, and the Making of a Nation. Or, if you want another fictional take on the rise and fall of the Lowrie War, with yet another imagined scenario for what became of Henry Berry, Boss, and Rhoda, check out Josephine Humphreys's award-winning novel, Nowhere Else on Earth.
Praise be to my stalwart friends, Tanya Boughtflower, Jaime Gagamov, Megan Hohenstein, Jane Goette, and Charlotte Morgan, for reading drafts, providing honest feedback, and generally being ace. Bethany Keenan gets a special thank you. As everyone in your small town knows, you have helped me become a better killer, and for that I'll always be grateful. Thanks to expert plane guy John Baute for sharing his knowledge. Valerie Pate, the Comma Queen, provided top-notch copyediting and feedback. If mistakes remain, it's only because I can never resist making last-minute changes. Gratitude in the direction of Professor Malinda Maynor Lowery for her wisdom and guidance on all things Lumbee. I hope this book inspires people to read the real history of the Lumbees, which is way more interesting than any novel. My Little Spot colleague Allison Janda is pretty awesome, as is our publisher, Nicole Loughan. Love to Alice, who endlessly cheers and encourages me, and to my husband Paul for putting up with all my nonsense.
Other novels in the Lindsay Harding series:.
A Murder in Mount Moriah.