"Why did Charleston stage the ceremony then?" Gavin finally broke the somber spell and asked the question of Katrina.
"I'm...not sure. I know that when…" she licked her lips, keeping her eyes closed and her head bowed. "When we went on our...honeymoon, he expected me to go and see some person and ask for my share of some money. I…I didn't know what he was talking about." Katrina opened her eyes, but kept her head down. "I didn't know anyone who owed me money. He told me I was the long lost granddaughter of the founder of the McSwayne Diamond Mines and that they owed me tons of money, as I was the only heir. I didn't know anything about that. Charleston said I was lying. He...he threatened to beat me if I didn't help him.
“I told him they couldn't be my relatives. My Grandfather McSwayne worked for the railroad. He had been dead since I was nine—the year before my parents were killed. I knew of no other relatives on my father's side. There was only my mother's Aunt Monalee, and my mother's parents, the Price's. That's all the family I ever knew of, and all of them were…well, not really poor, exactly, but not rich, by any means.
“He…Charleston had some notion he could prove a connection anyway, but by then we had run out of what little money Grandfather Price had given me as a wedding gift. That's when we went to his Uncle Andrew's."
"I see. I'm sorry I had to ask, Katrina."
Katrina shrugged her shoulders, still not daring to look up. She was too tired and in too much pain to care anymore, now that the truth lay between them. Gavin knew her shame; nothing seemed to matter anymore. Katrina sighed deeply.
“Lt. Carew, Katrina is tired and in pain. May I take her home now?"
"Yes, but I suggest you watch her carefully."
Lt. Carew gave a business card to Katrina. "If you think of anything else, please give us a call. You need to stay somewhere else for a few days while we check a few things out and make sure everything is okay.”
“Where? I don’t have anywhere to go....”
“Something is being arranged for you, Ms. McSwayne. Mr. Browning can take you home tonight, but tomorrow he will take you to a safer place. Please cooperate with him, for your own safety. He’s promised to remain in close contact with us until your attacker is found.”
Katrina looked from Gavin to the pair of detectives and back again.
“All…all right. If you think it would be best…”
"I do think it’s best." Lt. Carew gave Gavin a meaningful look and handed a business card to him. "Call me if you need anything. We’re on the evening shift, but this cell number,” he gestured at the card, “will reach me at any time.” He turned toward Katrina. “Thank you for your help, Ms. McSwayne. Go now, and get a good night's rest." Both officers shook her hand, then Gavin's, before leaving.
As Gavin pushed her wheelchair out to the car, Katrina quietly asked, "Gavin, do you think it’s Charleston who is trying to...to...hurt me?" She could not bring herself to think the other word in connection with Charleston, even in the wake of the attempts on her life.
Gavin continued to push her chair for a few moments before answering. Slowly, he said, "I think it's a distinct possibility. Who else do you know that has any reason to harm even one hair of your head?"
"No one." Her voice was very small, a sigh escaping her lips following the pair of words. “I thought I was safe. It’s been so long. Do…do you think...he'll try again?" Her bottom lip trembled with the effort it cost her to speak the words. She bit her lip to still the trembling.
"Not tonight, anyway, Kitten." They stopped beside the car, quiet and still.
Silence spiraled into a heavy blanket before Katrina used the wheelchair arms to push herself upright. She discovered as she did so that her whole body was trembling, not just her lip. She turned and looked into Gavin’s eyes and saw tenderness there, and something else. It was almost as though he wanted to kiss her again, yet didn’t dare to make the move.
They stood wordlessly looking at each other until a car door closing on the other side of the parking lot broke the spell. Gavin bent slightly to open the car door, then helped her inside.
Gavin got in, fastened his seat belt, and started the engine. He looked at her again, seeming to search her face for something, then turned his head, checking for traffic around the car before backing out of the parking space they had occupied. Katrina didn't know what he was thinking, but it made her nervous to have him continually look at her so intently without saying anything. She tried valiantly to marshal her courage and sit quietly as he left the parking lot and drove out onto the street. A deep breath helped.
Gavin didn't drive straight home. He drove a haphazard route, circling here and there, crossing and re-crossing streets. Throughout his apparently meaningless meandering, he kept a very careful watch in the rear-view mirror. Apparently he was finally satisfied no one was following them. He stopped at the drive-up window of a fast food chicken place and bought their dinner, then drove to Katrina's home. Other than ordering their food, their journey had been accomplished in silence.
Pulling into her driveway, he asked for her house key. She handed her key ring over, still without a word. Telling her to stay in the car, he got out and locked the door behind him. Striding to the front door, Gavin unlocked it.
She noticed the mechanism worked right away. Katrina decided the lock must like Gavin better than it liked her. Or maybe, she giggled to herself, it was simply that the lock felt his commanding touch and didn’t dare disobey him. Katrina wished he’d use that commanding touch on her…she shook her head to clear the thought away and pain seared behind her forehead. What in the world was she thinking? She wasn’t the sort of girl who fell into the arms of any and every virile male who looked twice at her. Katrina admonished herself to school her thoughts into proper channels.
Gavin came back to the car and unlocked her door and then opened it for her. Taking the chicken from her and helping her out, he told her he had checked the whole house and it was secure. He turned toward the house, his manner protective. There was no sarcasm in his voice tonight, and Katrina was glad to hear that lack.
They walked inside, Katrina carefully locking the door behind them. Gavin went into the kitchen and set the chicken on the table while she went into the bedroom and exchanged her torn clothing for a clean set. She stepped into the bathroom and ran a brush through her hair, wincing when the bristles raked over her painful bumps.
A glance into the mirror to survey the damage to her face brought a sigh. Gavin was right. She was going to have a dandy of a black eye. The unsightly discoloration had already begun. Mindful of the pain any sudden movement brought, she slowly shook her head at her reflection and sighed again. Of all the times she wanted somehow to look just a bit ravishing and to have, instead, this bruised, scraped girl staring back at her was almost more than she could bear. Tears gathered at her lids, threatening to spill over and run down her cheeks. She grabbed a cloth and ran cold water on it, wringing it out before applying it gingerly to her face. She didn't need the evidence of tears to make her look even worse.
The thought of just why she had wanted to look ravishing was steadfastly pushed to the back of her mind and ignored. Sighing once more, she lowered the washcloth, setting it on the edge of the sink. She took one last deep sigh as she looked despairingly at her mirrored image and left the bathroom, going through and closing the bedroom door behind her.
Joining Gavin in the kitchen, she noticed he had added a carton of milk, the jug of juice, plates, flatware, napkins and glasses to the table. She smiled at him.
"You really do know how to set a table. It looks good. Thank you. Somehow, after tonight, I feel almost mundane sitting down to eat, except that I'm starving. Isn’t that silly?"
"Is what silly? To be famished after not eating for seven hours? Or to sit down to dinner?" His eyes twinkled at her, making heat rise in her face.
"Oh, Gavin, you’re terrible! In all the books, the heroine isn't hungry after her big ordeal. She just pushes the food around on her plate with her fork, while she sits around and looks vulnerable, helpless, and beautiful. My food isn't going to be that lucky. It's going to be gobbled up quickly by the ugly black-and-blue victim!"
Gavin grinned at her. "You've been reading the wrong books, then, Kitten. The ones I've read, the sweet young maiden looks exactly like you, and she keeps her sense of humor, to boot. I would much rather have you be at the table with me, joking, than sitting around wasting good food. So, my pretty, eat your chicken and hush!" They both laughed, then settled to devouring their chicken.
Eating in companionable silence, they washed the chicken down with juice and milk. When they finished, Gavin insisted she just go into the living room and watch television while he did the clearing up.
She tried to protest, especially in view of the fact there were the breakfast dishes also. Gavin would have none of it.
"After all," he said, "it's right to pamper you at least this one time for your bravery during this harrowing day! Now, away with you; in to watch TV!"
Katrina silently went into the living room and turned on her radio. She didn't own a television. She bit her lip to think what he would say to her when he realized that fact. The soothing music blended with the sounds of dishwashing coming from the kitchen.
"Turn to the news channel, Katrina. It's almost time for the network news to come on." His voice sailed in from the kitchen; her face heated with embarrassment.
Katrina selected a radio station which broadcast national news at the hour. She walked over and sat down on the couch, then watched her fingers play nervously with the small opal ring on her finger. She looked up as Gavin came in from the kitchen. He looked toward the sound source and found the radio. He looked at Katrina. She knew her face was still red because heat still radiated from it; she dropped her eyes back to her hands.
"I'm sorry, Katrina," he said gently. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable." She looked up at him, catching a look of tender concern on his face. The heat left her face, reassured by the look she had seen.
"It’s all right, Gavin. I know most people have a television, but it isn't very high on my list of priorities. The news will be on in just a moment, though."
"Thank you." Gavin sat down next to Katrina. He took her hand gently in his. As tired as she was, a tingle still went through her, and she looked at their entwined hands. It didn't seem to matter what she'd been through this day, she wanted to be in his arms right now. She wanted him to kiss her thoroughly, deeply.
"Katrina, answer me, please."
Startled, she looked up at him, her wayward thoughts making heat fill her cheeks again. "I'm sorry. My mind must have been off somewhere. What did you say?"
"Oh, heaven help me," he prayed aloud. "Katrina?" He reached for her, drawing her close. His lips gently moved over hers, branding her with desire. She opened her mouth a little. Gavin groaned and crushed her to him.
Katrina felt as if the earth had disappeared, and they were up in the heavens somewhere. She felt as if she had never been kissed before and was breathless with the wonder of it. Her hands came up, fingers entwining in his thick, dark hair. At last they broke slowly apart.
"Oh, Little One!" A groan rumbled deep in his throat. "What you do to me! You make me forget things!" Gavin's lips brushed her ear as he whispered to her.
"Forget things? Forget what things?" Katrina softly said, her voice sounding funny…a bit husky…like it didn’t belong to her.
"Things like...I shouldn't be doing this. Not after what you've been through today. I should let you get feeling better first. But I want you. I can't hold you close enough!" His arms tightened around her, molding her to his frame. "May the Lord help me, Katrina! I want to take you, right here and now! You're so very sexy!"
Katrina looked up at him, her surprise overwhelming. He thought she was sexy?
Gavin groaned again. "You're so untouched, Kitten! So innocent despite everything! Hasn't anyone ever told you nice things about yourself?"
"Uncle Andrew told me some good things about me while I was there,” she said wistfully. "Aunt Monalee occasionally calls me her 'good little girl'."
"That's all?" Gavin's voice was incredulous.
"Yes." She felt miserable, and dropped her lashes down over her eyes.
"Didn't your parents or your grandparents ever tell you how special you are?" Just the smallest hint of astonishment was evident in his voice.
No longer able to speak, she simply shook her head, recoiling with the pain.
Gavin put his finger under her chin, lifting her face until she raised her eyes to meet his. "Well, my Sweet, then let me be the one to tell you. You are so beautiful!" He kissed her earlobe. "You are so innocent!" His lips began punctuating his words, slowly sliding down her neck as he spoke, igniting fires where they touched. "You're so sensual, Katrina!" His mouth came to hers, and he kissed her long and deeply, drawing her soul out of her body and into his.
Katrina felt heat building up inside, her stomach alive with flutterings. Her hands, independently compelled, played in his hair at the nape of his neck. She surprised herself with the realization that she wanted him, too, in the fullest sense of the word.
Gavin's hand left Katrina's back, and gently made its way around her body. His fingers softly massaged each place they touched, as he slowly made his way to her chest. Finally, his hand gently cupped her breast. The heat went through the thick fabric, and she arched her back, pressing herself firmly against his hand. She moaned softly, whispering his name.
His head came up and he looked at her, long and hard, his eyes bright with heated desire.
"Please, Gavin, kiss me!"
Gavin obliged, giving her a sensual kiss, his tongue plunging deeply into her mouth. Her fingers gently tugged and twirled the strands of his soft hair. Their kiss ended, and they held each other close. Groaning, he nipped Katrina's earlobe gently with his teeth. His voice was husky, his breath warm, fanning her ear.
"Oh, Baby! Come on, give it all to me!" His words were rough with his passion.
Suddenly, Katrina froze with fear. Her eyes widened, and she pulled away.
"Katrina?" Gavin's voice contained his surprise.
"No! No! Please, no more! Please go away! Leave me alone!" Katrina pushed Gavin away as hard as she could, panic-stricken. His strong arms remained wrapped around her, and her terror mounted. She began to struggle against Gavin, writhing and wriggling, determined to win free of his embrace. Her breath came in gasps; she felt she had run a hundred yard dash, and there was little air left in the room to breathe.
“Let…me…go!” She was screaming as she pleaded for release.
Gavin gently untangled their limbs, letting her lie back on the couch alone. He rose and stalked across the room, throwing himself into the single chair, looking at her with what she was sure was disgust.
Katrina sat up, feeling a flood of guilt. How could she have led him on like that, then screamed at him? Maybe Charleston was right. Maybe she was a cold-hearted tease. She dropped her face to her hands and sobbed.