In the Heart of the Wind [Windtorn Series Book 2]
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by Charlotte Boyett-Compo
Description: Someone from Gabe James' past wants him out of the way, permanently, and when Annie decides to probe into his mysterious past, she sets something deadly in motion that she never expected. Rating: sensual--dark thriller, violence, some elements of romance.
eBook Publisher: New Concepts Publishing, 2007
eBookwise Release Date: June 2008
11 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [557 KB]
Reading time: 357-500 min.
There was crisp white snow piled high to either side of Gabe and Annie James' driveway. A white arc of powder flew from the curving sidewalk as the snowblower munched its way to the front door. Nine inches of fresh snow had fallen during the night, adding to the four already on the ground, and the front yard of the James' two-story home looked like a winter wonderland. Drifts along the northern side of the house were up almost to the bay window in the dining room and had swept back a good five feet to the left of the garage. The air was crisp with a biting northwesterly wind blowing, even though the sun was shining down beneath a sky almost totally devoid of clouds.
Gabe was out in the arctic twenty-degree weather of Kellogg, Iowa's second snowfall of the season, having fun with his brand new 'snower-thrower,' as he called it. Watching him from their cozy bedroom, Annie felt a twinge of guilt as she sat on their bed, their little dog curled up asleep in her lap. After all, Gabe had been born and bred in the Deep South, somewhere near a place called, ironically enough, Frostproof, and had spent his college years in Gainesville at the University of Florida. Upon graduation, he'd taken a job in the Panhandle of that state, although he had never really explained to her what that job had been. He was used to a warmer clime, a less frigid winter. And he bitterly detested snow.
She'd met him through a friend at the college in Grinnell, Iowa, at the start of the September classes where she had been taking some courses toward her Masters in education. His big brown eyes, dark complexion, and shock of thick, curly brown hair had made female eyes stray his way often as they sat in Hardee's that morning. His six-foot, two-inch frame and thickly-muscled physique had even turned the heads of a few strapping farm boys who happened into the fast food restaurant. No doubt they'd thought him one of their own. One or two had nodded his way, sizing him up as men do other men, obviously approving of what they saw, sensing no threat from him, no intrusion on their territory, for they'd ignored him from then on.
She'd studied his face: full and round, his nose a bit too broad, but bold and hinting at a sensuality she could actually feel emanating from him. His thick brows peaked at the center and met over the bridge of his nose parallel to it. His teeth were white and perfectly straight and even--a movie star's teeth, she had thought.
"What do you do here, Gabe?" she had asked, pleased with the dimples in his cheeks, the cleft in his chin, and the way a lock of his dark hair couldn't seem to keep from falling over his right eye.
"I work for Iowa Southern." He'd smiled, looking down at his biscuit and gravy. His eyes had lifted to hers as he raised his coffee cup and grinned as he began to sing off-key, "I am a lineman for the county...."
She'd been fascinated with his soft, Southern accent, his polite, gentlemanly ways. He'd looked absolutely mouth-watering in his gray stone-washed jeans which had hugged his lean flanks like a second skin; pale brown shirt rolled up to the elbows to expose the thick furring of hair on his forearms and hands; and his very white, and very large, tennis shoes.
Unlike most of the men she'd known all her life, he'd been very solicitous of her, asking if she'd like more coffee, sugar, cream. His manners were impeccable and his face was not only handsome, but honest and open, and just a touch boyish. He had the tendency to blush often, lower his eyes as he spoke. She found his mannerisms refreshing compared to the too-direct, bulldozing mystique that is the Iowa male.
"Have you been in Grinnell long?" she'd asked, holding her breath for his answer, not even aware his answer was very, very important to her.
"Since May." He'd ducked his head, looked up with a sheepish grin on his face. "I'm not sure I can drive in the snow up here." He had, true to form, blushed.
"Piece of cake," she'd assured him, instinctively reaching out to touch his hand where it lay on the table between them. She'd looked into those remarkable brown eyes and felt lost.
Six months later, they were married. A month after that, they'd moved to Kellogg. She'd taken a teaching position at the high school in neighboring Newton and he had gotten a job as a cable installer with the local cable company out of Gilman.
"Jack of all trades," he'd told her when she questioned his choice of jobs. Laying cable and running service calls didn't seem like much of a job for a man with a college degree.
"Don't worry, darlin'," he'd assured her. "I can still support us on an installer's pay."
It hadn't been that that had worried her, but at the time, Annie couldn't put her finger on what it was that nagged at her about Gabe's reluctance to get a job commensurate with his education.
"Gabe's still a little boy," her friend Helen had commented. "He likes 'playing' at working."
Now, two years later, he had changed jobs again. For the third time. Now, he was working at the local super store, managing the automotive department.
"I just got tired of being out in the cold," he'd explained to her when she wondered about the change of job from electrician to retail sales.
He wasn't accustomed to snow and sleet and freezing rains--the legacy every Iowan had learned from cradle to grave. Even though he'd been north two winters, his blood still had not thickened and he complained about the cold every winter.
"Do you have trouble feeling your toes in the winter, Annie?" he'd grumbled.
"Would you rather we moved south? Maybe go down to Florida?" she'd asked one blustery morning when she had found him cursing over the light snow covering the driveway.
"No," he'd hissed, turning to face her with eyes suddenly very wide, and to her mind, very frightened.
His face had gone from the slight pink of annoyance over the offending snow to stark white paleness, to an infused angry red, and she had reached out a hand to him, surprised when he batted it away and spun around.
"I'll be late," he'd snapped at her as he banged the door shut behind him, heading for, at that time, his job as an electrician with a small Kellogg company.
Annie shivered, remembering that look on his face. It had been one she had not seen since. Most of the time, her husband was quiet, rather shy, and totally devoted to her, but there were times when his silence worried her.
She saw him glance up, no doubt feeling her eyes on him, and he threw up a thickly gloved hand. She waved at him, smiling. Letting the curtain drop, she moved away from the window and sat on the still-unmade bed. She gazed at the rumpled sheets around her. He'd had another bad nightmare the night before. It was the second one that week.
Putting her hand on his pillow, she smoothed the pillowcase and sighed. Gabe was a private person, something she had learned early on in their marriage. He had secrets he wasn't willing to share with her, so she'd simply grown accustomed to allowing him his moodiness and silences, his moments of staring blindly out of windows whenever it rained, his reluctance to take even an aspirin when he wasn't feeling well. But lately, since one of his best friends, Kyle Vittetoe, had been injured in a robbery attempt at a Casey's convenience store, Gabe had become withdrawn, restive, even sulking, at times.
"What's bothering you, baby?" she'd asked before they had gone to bed the night before.
"Nothing," he'd mumbled, pulling up the covers up, turning to his right side, away from her, and dragging the coverlet up to his chin. "I'm just tired." He'd turned back over, pecked her on the cheek, and had quickly retreated to the far side of the king-size bed.
An hour later, he'd awakened her with a cut-off yelp as he sat bolt upright. Annie had turned on the lamp at her night stand and saw her husband's white face glistening with sweat, his arms wrapped painfully tight around his drawn-up knees, his body stiff and trembling. She'd gathered him into her arms, crooning to him, smoothing the wildly rumpled brown hair against her breast.
"Just a bad dream, baby," she'd told him, feeling his shaking, hearing his teeth clicking together. "Just a bad dream."
The second one that week.
Annie sighed again and stood, drawing her nightgown over her head. She neatly folded the fleecy material and opened her dresser drawer to lay the gown inside. Taking out panties and bra from another of the drawers, she happened to glance at herself in the full-length mirror beside the dresser and began a critical survey.
Annie, at thirty-one, was eight years younger than her husband, but already there were silver threads in her short, fine brown hair. Her eyes were still good, despite having to wear glasses to read, the hazel orbs framed with long dark lashes. She wasn't especially tall for a woman--five foot five in her stocking feet, just right for her husband's six feet plus height. Her weight needed work, as did her hips, but her breasts, according to Gabe, were just right.
"More than a handful's wasted anyway," he'd once remarked with a leer.
Her legs weren't all that bad, but her thighs were in dire need of exercise. Or liposuction. Or both. But the one thing she hated most about her body was her nose.
"There's Indian blood in you, darlin'," Gabe had teased. "Just enough to give you that 'Buffalo Head Nickel' look that's so in vogue."
She'd thrown a wet washcloth at him and locked him out of the bathroom.* * * *
Gabe turned off the snow blower and leaned against the handle as he stared down the street before his home. The snowplow hadn't been by yet and the road was a ribbon of white untouched by any of the neighborhood cars. He sniffed, feeling the cold air invading his lungs. He shivered. He knew he'd never get used to the Iowa cold. He hated the winters with a depth of passion even his wife didn't suspect.
"Store closed today, Gabe?"
Gabe turned his head within the restriction of his ski suit and waved a hand at his neighbor across the street, Jake Mueller.
"I'm off today!" he yelled back. He jerked his thumb at the accumulated snow. "Just as well, I guess, huh?"
Jake waved in reply, then trundled back into his garage. The whine of the electric door opener pierced the still air and a dog barked down the street in protest.
A stiff wind howled around the side of the house and rocked Gabe. He glanced up at the sky and frowned. Off to the west, clouds were building again.
"Damn," he spat, hating the threat of more snow. He turned on the snow blower to finish the walkway.* * * *
Annie stuffed two pairs of her husband's jeans into the washer after zipping them and buttoning the top button. She wondered why Gabe couldn't remember to do it when he pulled them off. She reached for a third pair, absentmindedly going through the pockets just in case Gabe had left a crumpled dollar bill or two thrust deep inside.
"That's mine!" he'd grumbled once when he'd seen her stuffing a five dollar bill into her shirt pocket.
"You leave it in your pants, sonny boy, and it's the property of the cleaners," she'd informed him. She'd giggled at his wagging brows as he told her "everything in his pants belonged to the cleaners."
Her fingers closed around paper and she smiled, looking down at her canine companion. "I think Daddy left us some money, Kibs." Drawing out her find, her brow crinkled when she came up with a folded section of newspaper. Unfolding the page, her brows lifted in surprise when she saw the masthead. She scanned the page, made note of the date, and her eyes narrowed in puzzlement.
"Where the heck did you get a week-old copy of the Pensacola News Journal?" she asked, turning over the page.
There was nothing much to the news on that sheet of newsprint.
Nothing, at least, that she had not seen plastered on that date's Des Moines Register. There was the usual Middle East crisis report, economic disaster, multiple slayings in Detroit, the normal slandering of Vice-President Quayle.
Nothing out of the ordinary except the three-inch column devoted to the death of a policeman in some place called Navarre, Florida, which Gabe had outlined in red pencil. 'Cop Slain in Convenience Store Shoot Out,' it read.
Annie lifted her eyes and stared at the bright display of brown gingham wallpaper behind her washer. A cold finger of unease scraped down her spine and she shivered. Looking back at the article, she began to read.* * * *
After rolling the snow blower back inside his garage, Gabe plucked a snow shovel from its wall peg and trudged back into the cold, blustery wind. He swung the shovel up to knock icicles from the eaves of the garage, batting the stalactites away with obvious joy. He watched them sail across the driveway with a grim smile of satisfaction on his numb lips. When he was finished, he hung the shovel back in its niche and stomped the snow from his boots as he walked to the door leading into the kitchen. His mind was on the cup of mulled cider he would heat in the microwave.
He turned, spying Annie in the opened doorway of their laundry room, a separate room built into the garage.
"Yeah, just a minute." He shucked off his heavy thermal-insulated gloves and laid them on the garbage can just outside the kitchen door. He turned and headed for his wife. "What ya need, doll?"
Annie held something out to him. "Where did this come from?"
Gabe looked at what was in her hand and glanced up.
"Where'd you find that?" he asked, a slight stiffness to his voice.
"In your jeans." She thrust the paper out to him. "Where'd you get it?"
He shrugged, but his expression belied the nonchalance of his attitude. "I had the newsstand over in Grinnell order it for me." He took the newspaper page, folded it and stuffed it into the left pocket of his snowmobile outfit. "No big deal." He turned to walk away.
"I haven't seen that newspaper around here."
He glanced over his shoulder at her. "I keep it at work to read when I'm on break." He walked to the kitchen door and started to open it.
"Why'd you circle that article?"
Gabe stilled with his hand on the doorknob then turned to face her. There was a tight, annoyed look on his lean face. "What is this? Twenty questions?"
Annie's face burned hot, but she held her ground. "I just wondered. Did you know the policeman?"
He jerked open the door. "It was just an interesting article, okay?" he snapped, eyeing her with a look that told her he didn't want to discuss it further. He slammed the door behind him as he went into the house, not even remembering to remove his snow boots.
With the chill air from the opened garage door blowing in at her, Annie stepped back into the large laundry room and shut the door. She was more worried now than when she had found the newspaper page. She had wanted to ask him about the policeman who had died, a man named Bill Hinote. Her woman's intuition told her Hinote's death and Iowa State Trooper Kyle Vittetoe's vicious beating by two would-be robbers were somehow connected.
"You must have known him," she whispered as she added detergent to the washer and closed the lid. She stood there, her hands planted on the machine's lid, and stared at the wallpaper. "Did you know him, Gabe?"
She pushed away from the washer, put her hand on the doorknob, and as she did, she heard her husband's car rev up in the garage. A frown marred her forehead as she opened the door.
Gabe caught sight of his wife as he pulled out of the garage. He could see the look of astonishment on her lovely features, saw her lips open to call out to him. He furiously shook his head and drove out of the garage at a faster speed than was either necessary or safe. Pulling out into the street, he glanced sideways to see her framed in the opening of the garage, staring after him as he drove away, the tires crunching and sliding on the fresh snow.