Casey was on his feet immediately, ignoring the pain in his ankle as he wrapped his arms around Alma. She took a deep breath, let out a sob, and then steeled herself although she didn’t pull away. “Why?” she asked, her voice low and bitter. “And what did that detective mean about ‘other incidents’?”
“Let’s sit down and I’ll explain,” Casey looked at Darla and Bing, “to all of you.” He smiled slightly, adding, ”I guess I’m not going to be making it in to work today either.”
“Not dressed like that,” Bing told him. “Hang on; I think I have some sweats in the trunk of my car.” He did, coming back to hand them to his brother.
Once Casey was dressed and seated again beside Alma he began telling them exactly what had happened. His brother and sisters listened, shock and anger crossing their faces as the story progressed.
“That explains the bandage,” Bing said at one point, glancing at Casey’s wrist. Casey nodded and continued. When he was finished there was a long silence and then Bing remarked, almost casually, “You though it could have been Sammy.”
“Sorry, but yes that did cross my mind. You and he weren’t together during two times when I was attacked. The first time I figured it was just coincidence, but when you told me he was off with a client last night and hadn’t come home...“
“I understand. Honestly I can’t blame you for that. Damn, Casey, you must have been going through hell wondering which one of us it was.”
“At least he had this young woman to help him,” Alma said, reaching out to take Marcia’s hand. “I... owe you an apology for the nasty things I said to you.”
“That’s alright. I probably should apologize for the nasty things I was thinking about you,” Marcia replied with a small grin. Then she knelt down beside Alma, saying, “If there’s anything you need.”
Alma smiled bitterly, wiping her hand across her cheeks to get rid of the tears that were slowly rolling down her face. “A new husband who... I don’t understand why. What was he thinking?”
“I suspect, once the police dig deeply enough into his finances, they’ll find he needed money and fairly quickly,” Fairchild replied from where he stood leaning against the porch railing.
Alma nodded. “But to do what he did.” Her sigh was deep with pain as she stood up. “I have to go home and decide what I have to do next.” She turned to Darla. “Would you...?”
“Of course.” Darla got up as well, stopping long enough to bend and kiss Casey’s cheek before following her sister to the street. Moments later they were both out of view as they drove away.
“You’re going to need a place to stay for a while,” Bing pointed out to his brother. “Feel free to use our guestroom again until you either find a new house or get this one back in shape.” He looked down at Duke who had finally gotten up from his family-safe spot at the far end of the porch to join them. “You can come too, dog, as long as you stay out of the flower beds.” Bing pulled his hand back quickly when Duke attempted to lick it.
They all laughed, and then Casey thanked Bing, telling him he’d take him up on his offer. “I have to go through the place and gather up what survived on the ground floor. At least what I want to keep. So I’ll see you this afternoon?”
“Good.” Bing checked the time and shook his head. “I guess I’m taking the day off too, all things considered. Tell you what, I’ll call in and then I’ll let Thomas know what’s going on as well. He’s probably in panic mode now since you’re not there.” He patted Casey’s shoulder. “I’ll see you when you get to my place.”
After Bing left Fairchild offered to help Casey pack up whatever he was planning on salvaging from the fire.
“First I have to see if there’s anything to salvage,” Casey replied with a groan. “I’m almost afraid to look.”
Fairchild opened the front door and shrugged. “It could have been worse, but you’re not going to be living here for a while, that’s for damned sure.”
Hobbling over to take his first look, Casey swore softly under his breath. “I’m not all that sure I even want to think about remaining here. Between the fire and the water damage...“ He shook his head. “And the memories of why it happened on top of it all. No, I’m going to find somewhere new to live. It’s not as if I’ve been here all that long anyway.”
Marcia joined the two men as they moved inside, taking in the destruction facing them. “If you’re going to move out then let’s get with the program and see what survived down here. Do you have a ladder somewhere Casey because if so Ezra or I can get to the second floor and maybe pack up some clothes for you as well?”
“No ladder,” Casey told her, surprised that she was even offering to help out, and not quite certain he even wanted her to.
Fairchild took that decision out of his hands by announcing, “Since she seems to be volunteering to stick around I’m going to leave the two of you to it and head to my office.”
“Deserting me in my hour of need?” Casey shook his head in mock dismay. “I owe you big time for all you’ve done. Thank you.”
“That you do, and I’ll send you my bill just to prove how much you owe me,” Fairchild replied with a grin. “Seriously, I’m glad I could help out.” Turning to Marcia he said, “Don’t be a stranger young lady, and let me know when your show opens. I’ll buy front row seats.”
“I will,” she promised, giving him a hug.
“Good.” He hugged her back and then slapped Casey on the back. “Keep in touch, and out of trouble.”
“Going to try to. Again, thanks for everything.”
“Any time.” They shook hands and then Fairchild took off.
“Marcia, you don’t have to stick around. I can pack up what’s I’m going to take with me.”
Marcia shook her head. “First off you’ll aggravate your ankle if you keep standing on it, to say the least of walking around too much. Secondly, once we get your stuff together you’ll need me to drive you over to Bing’s place.”
“There is something called taxi service. I think I’m capable of calling for one when I’m ready.”
“You really don’t want me here, do you?”
Leaning against the door jamb to take weight off his ankle, Casey scrubbed a hand over his face before answering. “Could I use you help, yes. The problem is what then?”
“I don’t know, Casey. We can get you out of here and then go our separate ways. Or we can take a stab at seeing if what I think we were starting to feel for each is real.”
“It was real on my end,” he admitted.
“Was or still is?” She looked away and then back at him when he didn’t reply. With a sigh she finally said, “That’s answers that. Do you have some boxes somewhere? I’ll get them and we can get this done and then...“ She started towards the kitchen, intent on getting away from him before he saw the tears in her eyes.
“It still is,” he said quietly.
Without turning to look at him she asked, “Are you sure?”
“As sure as I’ve been about anything recently.” He crossed the small distance that separated them to wrap his arms around her from behind, pulling her tightly against his body. “Is it love? I don’t know, yet. I do know I don’t want you vanishing out of my life.”
“I don’t want to vanish.” She turned in his arms to look up at him. “Maybe this will work, maybe it won’t, but I think it’s worth tying to find out.”
“Absolutely.” He cupped one hand under her chin, kissing her softly. “And that was not for show,” he said with a grin when they broke apart. “That was for real.”
“Trust me,” she grinned back, tapping the tip of his nose, “I knew that.”
But there's more to come of the Winterfield saga