Happily Ever After | Chapter 25 of 38

Author: Susan May Warren | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 3722 Views | Add a Review

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18

You look like a pretzel,” Mona commented, leaning over the bed of the pickup truck, where Joe was curled up clutching her extra motel pillow. Rip lay at his feet, looking profoundly more rested than his owner, although she had to admit, despite his soot-stained shirt and ripped jeans, her handyman looked amazingly handsome this morning.

Joe opened one eye and stretched his arms. “Beats a motel bed,” he said, grinning.

“Sorry about booking the last room,” she said. She’d offered her floor, but he insisted he preferred his truck. She suspected he also preferred a perch where he could monitor her securely locked motel door. It warmed her to know he wanted to protect her.

Liza appeared at the door of the room, looking bedraggled and drawn.

“Liza’s looking unusually rough this morning,” Joe commented, winking at Mona. She punched him playfully, in defense of her roommate.

Joe swung out of the bed of the truck and landed next to her. “I’ll take you two out for breakfast. I know a great spot that sells deep-fried elephant ears guaranteed to chew through the lining of your stomach.”

“Oh, yum,” Mona said, touched by his offer.

The World’s Best Donuts dining area was packed, all seven tables. Joe, Mona, and Liza stood at the door, toting their greasy bag of morning goodies and balancing coffee, creamer, and little red stir sticks.

“Over here!” Edith Draper stood, attracting the attention of every patron in the room, and waved the crew over to her table. Next to her, Chuck Parson, Mona’s Realtor, sent them a sympathetic look. The trio found vacant chairs from around the room and scooted under the tiny orange Formica table.

Edith immediately covered Mona’s hand with her own. “I’m so sorry about the fire, honey.”

Mona blinked back tears. She thought she’d cried herself dry last night into the ratty motel pillow.“Thanks, Edith,” she said in an unsteady voice.

“And don’t worry; I won’t mention a word to your mother. I am sure you’ll be back on your feet in no time.”

Mona started to reach for the bakery bag. She didn’t want to discuss her plans within earshot of the town. Despite her cool composure, she was fragmenting quickly.

Joe handed her a napkin-wrapped elephant ear. Liza had chosen a chocolate-covered donut, and Joe folded his own gooey long john into his mouth.

Chuck sat next to Joe, whispering into his ear while Joe nodded. Mona narrowed her eyes, wondering at their conversation. Joe flashed her a wide, conspiratorial grin.

“Now, I suppose, Brian will get his wish,” Edith blurted, scorn lacing her tone.

Mona frowned. “What are you talking about?”

Edith stirred her coffee. “I told you Brian wanted to buy your place. You are going to sell, aren’t you?”

“I-I don’t know yet,” Mona stammered. Despair gathered in her chest.

“Fight for your dreams, sweetie.” Edith patted her arm. “I would hate to see a Speedy Burger built over that cute little Victorian.”

“What are you talking about, Mrs. Draper?” Joe leaned forward, an odd expression on his face.

Edith’s gaze traveled around the group. “Oh, my goodness, did I forget to tell you?”

Everyone nodded.

“Brian bid on the house because he wanted to tear it down and build a Speedy Burger!”

“Speedy Burger?” Mona sputtered.

Edith shook her head. “Yes, can you believe it? A greasy fast-food joint right in the middle of our quaint Main Street. He even flew up the suits from the franchise headquarters in Chicago.”

“Chicago?” Joe echoed.

Edith nodded. “But I thought he had abandoned the dream months ago when I told him Mona had outbid him on the house.”

Joe made a face. “I don’t think so.” He fished around in his back pocket and pulled out a folded piece of thin paper stock. “This is a boarding-pass stub for a Northwest flight out of Duluth to Chicago. Last week. I picked it up at the house last night. . . .”

Mona’s heart lodged in her throat.

“Liza, were you with Brian all evening?” Joe asked, eyes narrowed.

Liza appeared startled, then paled. “After we dropped off Mona, he took me to Tastee Treat. I went inside to wait for him while he parked the car. . . .” Her voice became stilted. “I didn’t see him again until after you rescued Mona. I completely forgot—I took off for the house when I saw the orange glow from Tastee Treat . . .” Her voice trailed off again, and Mona saw Liza’s eyes widen in shock.

Silence enfolded them and Mona felt slightly ill. “He’s been behind this the entire time.” Her voice shook.“Brian Whitney’s been trying to drive me away!”

“Brian Whitney tried to kill you,” Joe stated icily.

Mona saw the expression of rage gathering on his face, and her mouth went dry. He bounded to his feet.“Joe, no! Wait,” she gasped.

“I’ll be back.”

Mona froze in horror as she watched him leave.

“I’d better call Sam,” Edith said in a tight voice.

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Brian Whitney should get an unlisted number if he’s going to attempt murder, Joe thought as he floored the truck toward Brian’s street. Clutching the torn page of the telephone book, he thanked the Lord that the Deep Haven population still trusted each other enough to print addresses. Lord, please help me to stay calm, to apprehend Brian without killing him!

Slowing as he turned onto Brian’s street, he crawled along, scanning the mailboxes. He found Whitney’s name spelled out on a black tin box, and noticed the weasel’s Honda parked in the gravel drive.

“Quiet, Rip,” he commanded as he turned off the motor. He thought the dog actually glared at him. “I know, but I need to solve this myself.”

Joe climbed out of the truck, barely closing the door. He had to admit, Brian’s digs were nicer than he expected for a small-town city official. The one-story ranch was well groomed. Hosta edged a flagstone path leading up to a long covered porch. A pot of blooming red geraniums guarded the front door. Finding it unlocked, Joe opened it, wincing when the door squeaked slightly. Every hair on his neck raised, and his heart hammered in betraying pitches.

Heavy green polyester drapes darkened the room, and the musty scent of a sixties-era orange shag carpet told Joe that Brian hadn’t done much updating to the inside of his home.

The refrigerator clicked on and hummed as Joe tiptoed through the shadowed kitchen, timing his steps with the plink of a dripping faucet. In the dark windowless hall he spied a light streaming from an open bedroom door. Shuffling closer, he heard a muttering voice. Joe avoided crossing the stream of light and instead lingered in the shadows and watched around the doorframe as shirts, pants, papers, and books landed in soft thumps in an open suitcase on the bed.

Brian was running. He’d destroyed Mona’s dreams, and now he was escaping like a gutter rat. Anger ignited Joe’s adrenaline.

Joe stormed into the room, slamming the door against the wall. “Whitney, what are you doing?” His voice was not nearly as calm as he would have liked.

Brian whirled. His sweaty, red face, a sharp contrast to his crisp two-piece suit, betrayed panic. His expression instantly tightened into a glower. Joe saw his reflection in Brian’s dark eyes and knew he wasn’t dealing with a rational man. He instinctively balled his fists.

Brian exploded in fury. “Get out of here!” He lunged at Joe and smashed him into an oak wardrobe. Blinking, Joe saw a fist headed toward his face and ducked. Brian’s fist landed in the wardrobe door. He cursed.

Joe hurled himself at Brian, hooked a foot around Brian’s leg, and pushed. The two men crashed onto the floor. Joe threw an arm against Brian’s neck and pressed down, crushing his Adam’s apple. Fury shook him. Joe gulped in ragged breaths in an effort to remain focused.“Why! Why did you do it?”

Brian spat at him. Joe recoiled, and Brian’s fist exploded into his temple. The room spun at odd angles. Brian easily knocked Joe off with a knee to his midsection. Joe groaned, but panic launched him off the floor. He tackled Brian as the schemer scrambled from the room. They fell into the hall with a shuddering thud. Joe wrapped his arm around Brian in a headlock, his knee lodged between Brian’s shoulder blades, and yanked hard. Brian grunted.

Joe spoke through clenched teeth. “Tell me why! Why would you hurt Mona or Liza?”

“It didn’t have anything to do with them,” Brian rasped. “They ruined my life. I’ve been waiting years in this wretched town for my grandmother to die, sacrificed everything to save up the cash, and Mona had to sabotage my plans. That house is mine. She has no right to take it.”

“Take it!” The burning pain in his gut made Joe tighten his grip. “She’s poured her life out for that house, her dream. You are the saboteur!”

“That’s enough, Joe. Let him go.” Chief Sam’s calm voice bathed Joe in reality.

Joe gritted his teeth. Brian’s jagged breathing matched his own. The clock ticked out Joe’s fury in tune with his thundering heartbeat.

“Let him go,” Sam repeated.

Joe blew out a hot breath and reluctantly released his grip. Brian threw him off like a ratty blanket and clambered to his feet. Joe stood right behind him.

Instantly Brian transformed into a cool-demeanored man. “Hi, Chief. Glad you were in the neighborhood. This man was trying to kill me. He’s trouble, just as I thought.”

Chief Sam scanned past Brian to Joe, as if to give Brian’s words merit. Then he shifted his gaze back to Brian. “Why don’t you come down to police headquarters, Brian? You can file a complaint and tell me all about it.”

Brian hesitated, shot a confused scowl at Joe, then narrowed his eyes at Sam. “I guess you think I’m a fool.”

Sam shrugged. “I guess we’re even then. C’mon, Brian. We have a few questions to ask you.”

“We?” Brian stepped back and met Joe, an iron wall behind him.

“We. As in Leo Simmons and I. We want to know why you wanted lime from the city park department, the kind they use in the local outhouses. It’s puzzling me, especially since you’ve had indoor plumbing all your life.” His eyes darkened as he continued. “He told me about the money he stole and your threats. Frankly, Brian, I’m not sure what to charge you with first—blackmail, destruction of property, or attempted murder.” He crossed his arms, motioning with his head to the deputies behind him. They moved toward Brian.

A muscle flickered in Brian’s jaw. His face hardened and for a moment Joe thought he’d have to put him in a headlock again. Then Brian groaned. Just as the deputies reached him, he turned and stuck a wide, quivering finger in Joe’s astonished face. “The house is cinder, Michaels. Even if you are the best handyman in the world, Mona will never get the place open in three weeks.” His eyes glinted malice.

Joe glared at him, but a despairing voice inside confirmed every word.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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