Dark Hunger


Part Two. REHAB Chapter Twenty


Cilla told no one. As far as anyone knew, she'd taken the loaner her insurance company arranged to do a supply run.

She pulled up in front of the Hennessy house, on a shady street in Front Royal. The white van sat in the drive, beside a ramp that ran to the front door of the single-story ranch house.

Her heart knocked. She didn't question if it was nerves or anger. It didn't matter. She'd do what she needed to do, say what she needed to say.

The door opened before Cilla reached it, and the woman she'd seen the night before came out. Cilla saw her hand tremble on the knob she clutched at her back. "What do you want here?"

"I want to speak to your husband."

"He's not home."

Cilla turned her head to stare deliberately at the van, then looked back into Mrs. Hennessy's eyes.

"He took my car into the shop. It needed work. Do you think I'm a liar?"

"I don't know you. You don't know me. I don't know your husband any more than he knows me."

"But you keep sending the police here, to our home. Again this morning,with their questions and suspicions, with your accusations." Mrs. Hennessy drew in a ragged breath. "I want you to go away. Go away and leave us alone."

"I'd be happy to. I'd be thrilled to. You tell me what it's going to take to make him stop."

"Stop what? He's got nothing to do with your troubles. Don't we have enough of our own? Don't we have enough without you pointing your finger at us?"

She would not back down, Cilla told herself. She would not feel guilty for pushing at this small, frightened woman. "He drives by my home almost every day. And almost every day he parks on the shoulder, sometimes for as long as an hour."

Mrs. Hennessy gnawed her lips, twisted her fingers together. "It's not against the law."

"Trespassing is against the law, cracking a man's skull open is against the law. Breaking in and destroying private property is against the law."

"He did none of those things." The fear remained, but a whip of anger lashed through it. "And you're a liar if you say different."

"I'm not a liar, Mrs. Hennessy, and I'm not a whore."

"I don't know what you are."

"You know, unless you're as crazy as he is, that I'm not responsible for what happened to your son."

"Don't talk about my boy. You don't know my boy. You don't know anything about it."

"That's absolutely right. I don't. Why would you blame me?"

"I don't blame you." Weariness simply covered her. "Why would I blame you for what happened all those terrible years ago? There's nobody to blame for that. I blame you for bringing the police down on my husband when we did nothing to you."

"When I went over to his van to introduce myself, to express my sympathy, he called me a bitch and a whore, and he spat at me."

A flush of shame stained Mrs. Hennessy's cheeks. Her lips trembled as her eyes shifted away. "That's what you say."

"My half sister was right there. Is she a liar, too?"

"Even if it is so, it's a far cry from everything you're laying at our door."

"You saw the way he looked at me last night, in the park. You know how much he hates me. I'm appealing to you, Mrs. Hennessy. Keep him away from me and my home."

Cilla turned away. She'd only gotten halfway down the ramp when she heard the door shut, and the lock shoot home.

Oddly, the conversation, however tense and difficult, made her feel better. She'd done something besides calling the police and sitting back, waiting for the next assault.

Pushing forward, as that was the direction she was determined to go, she swung by the real estate office to make an offer on the first house she'd selected. She went in low, a fair chunk lower than she felt the house was worth in the current market. To Cilla, the negotiations, the offers, the counters, were all part of the fun.

Back in the loaner, she contacted the agent in charge of the second listing to make an appointment for a viewing. No point, she decided, in letting the moss grow. She drove back to Morrow Village, completed another handful of errands, including a quick grocery run, before heading back toward home.

She spotted the white van before Hennessy spotted her. Since he came from the direction of the Little Farm, she assumed he'd had time to go home, talk to his wife and drive out while she'd been running around Front Royal and the Village.

He caught sight of her as their vehicles passed, and the flare of recognition burned over his face.

"Yeah, that's right," she muttered as she rounded a curve, "not my truck, since you beat the hell out of it last night." She shook off the annoyance, took the next turn. Her gaze flicked up to the rearview mirror to see the van coming up behind her.

So you want to have this out? she wondered. Have what Ford called a face-to-face? That's fine. Great. He could just follow her home where they'd have a-

The wheel jerked in her hands when the van rammed her from behind. The sheer shock didn't allow room for anger, even for fear, as she tightened her grip.

He rammed her again-a smash of metal, a squeal of tires. The truck seemed to leap under her and buck to the right. She wrenched the wheel, fighting it back. Before she could punch the gas, he rammed her a third time. Her tires skidded off the asphalt and onto the shoulder while her body jerked forward, slammed back. Her fender kissed the guardrail, and her temple slapped smartly against the side window.

Small bright dots danced in front of her eyes as she gritted her teeth, prayed and steered into the skid. The truck swerved, and for one hideous moment she feared it would flip. She landed with a bone-jarring thud, nose-down, in the runoff gully on the opposite shoulder as her air bag burst open.

Later, she would think it was sheer adrenaline, sheer piss-in-your-face mad that had her leaping out of the truck, slamming the door. A woman ran across the lawn of a house set back across the road. "I saw what he did! I saw it! I called the police!"

Neither Cilla nor Hennessy paid any attention. He shoved out of the van, fists balled at his sides as they came at each other.

"You don't come to my house! You don't talk to my wife!"

"Fuck you! Fuck you! You're crazy. You could've killed me."

"Then you'd be in hell with the rest of them." Eyes wheeling, teeth bared, he knocked her back with a vicious shove.

"Don't you put your hands on me again, old man."

He shoved her again, sending her feet skidding until she slammed into the back of the truck. "I see you in there. I see you in there, you bitch."

This time he raised his fist. Cilla kicked him in the groin, and dropped him.

"Oh God. Oh my God!"

Dazed, adrenaline seeping out like water through cracks in a dam, Cilla saw the Good Samaritan racing down the road toward her. The woman had a phone in one hand, a garden stake in the other.

"Are you all right? Honey, are you all right?"

"Yes, I think. I... I feel a little sick. I need to-" Cilla sat, dropped her head between her updrawn knees. She couldn't get her breath, couldn't feel her fingers. "Can you call someone for me?"

"Of course I can. Don't you think about getting up, mister. I'll hit you upside the head with this, I swear I will. Who do you want me to call, honey?"

Cilla kept her head down, waiting for the dizziness to pass, and gave her new best friend Ford's number.

He got there before the police, all but flew out of his car. She'd yet to try to stand, and would forever be grateful that Lori Miller stood like a prison guard over Hennessy.

Hennessy sat, sweat drying on his bone-white face.

"Where are you hurt? You're bleeding."

"It's okay. I just hit my head. I think I'm okay."

"I wanted to call for an ambulance, but she said no. I'm Lori." The woman gestured in the direction of her house.

"Yeah. Thanks. Thanks. Cilla-"

"I'm just a little shaky. I thought I was going to be sick, but it passed. Help me up, will you?"

"Look at me first." He cupped her chin, studied her eyes. Apparently what he saw satisfied him enough for him to lift her to her feet.

"Knees are wobbly," she told him. "This hurts." She laid her fingers under the knot on her temple. "But I think that's the worst of it. I don't know how to thank you," she said to Lori.

"I didn't do anything, really. You sure know how to take care of yourself. Here they come." Lori pointed to the police car. "Now my knees are wobbly," she said with a breathless laugh. "I guess that's what happens after the worst is over."

SHE TOLD the story to one of the county deputies as, she imagined, Lori gave her witness statement to the other across the road. She imagined the skid marks told their own tale. Hennessy, as far as she could tell, refused to speak at all. She watched the deputy load him into the back of the cruiser.

"I've got stuff in the truck. I need to get it out before they tow it."

"I'll send someone back for it. Come on."

"I was nearly home," she said as Ford helped her into his car. "Another half mile, I'd have been home."

"We need to put some ice on that bump, and you need to tell me the truth if you hurt anywhere. You need to tell me, Cilla."

"I can't tell yet. I feel sort of numb, and exhausted." She let out a long sigh when he stopped in front of his house. "I think if I could just sit down for a while, in the cool, until I, I guess the phrase is collect myself. You'll call over, ask a couple of the guys to get the stuff out of the truck?"

"Yeah, don't worry about it."

He put his arm around her waist to lead her into the house. "Bed or sofa?"

"I was thinking chair."

"Bed or sofa," he repeated.

"Sofa."

He walked her into the lounge so he could keep an eye on her while he got a bag of frozen peas for her temple. Spock tiptoed to her to rub his head up and down her arm. "It's okay," she told him. "I'm okay." So he planted his front paws on the side of the couch, sniffed at her face, licked her cheek.

"Down," Ford ordered when he came in.

"No, he's fine. In fact... maybe I could have him up here for a while."

Ford patted the couch. On cue, Spock jumped up, bellied in beside Cilla and laid his heavy, comforting head below her breasts.

Ford eased pillows behind her head. He brought her a cold drink, brushed his lips lightly over her forehead, then laid the cold bag at her temple.

"I'll make the calls. You need anything else?"

"No, I've got it all. Better already."

He smiled. "It's the magic peas."

When he turned away, stepped out onto the back veranda to make the calls, the smile had turned to a look of smoldering fury. His fist pounded rhythmically against the post as he punched numbers.

"Can't go into it now," he said when Matt answered. "Cilla's here. She's all right."

"What do you mean she's-"

"Can't go into it now."

"Okay."

"Her truck's about a half mile down, headed toward town. I need you to send somebody down to get whatever she picked up today out of it. Hennessy was at her, and now the cops have him."

"Holy sh-"

"I'll call you back later when I can talk about it."

He clicked off, glanced at his hand and saw he'd pounded it often and hard enough to draw some blood. Oddly, it helped.

Deciding he was calm enough, Ford stepped back inside. Because she lay quiet, eyes closed, one arm over the dog, he opened the window seat to take out one of the throws stored inside. Her eyes opened when he draped it over her.

"I'm not asleep. I was trying to remember how to meditate."

"Meditate?"

"California, remember? Anyone living in California over a year must meet minimum meditation requirements. Unfortunately, I always sucked at it. Empty your mind? If I empty part of mine, something jumps right in to fill the void. And I know I'm babbling."

"It's okay." He sat on the edge of the couch, turned the bag of peas over to lay the colder side on her temple.

"Ford, he really wanted to kill me." Her eyes clung to his, and he saw the shadow of pain in them as she pushed herself up to sit. "It's not like doing grand jetes through the woods while the reanimated psycho killer chases you. I've had people dislike me. My own mother from time to time. I've even had people try to hurt me. I dated this guy once who slapped me around good one night. One night," she repeated. "He never got the chance to do it again. But even he didn't hate me. He didn't want me dead.

"I don't know how to resolve that someone does. I don't know how to fit that into my life and deal with it."

"You don't resolve it. You don't resolve something that has no sanity or logic. And, Cilla, you are dealing with it. You did. You stopped him."

"A really lucky kick into seventy-, maybe eighty-year-old balls. I was so pissed, Ford, that I didn't think. Do I stay in the truck, lock the doors, call nine-one-one, or you, or the half a dozen guys a half mile away like a rational person? No, I jump out and confront this... this lunatic who's just tried to run me off the road, like he's going to fear the sharp lash of my tongue. And I'm still so pissed when he starts shoving me, I don't take off. Like I couldn't outrun a man old enough to be my grandfather?"

"You're not a runner." He laid his finger over her lips when she started to speak. "You're not. Do I wish it had occurred to you to lock yourself in the truck and call me? Maybe. Because then I could've come speeding to the rescue. I could've kicked him in the balls. But the fact is, I feel some better knowing that when somebody tries to hurt you, you know how to take care of yourself."

"I could go a long time without having to take care of myself like that again."

"Me too." He stroked her hair when she laid her head on his shoulder. "Me too."

And maybe he could've gone a little while longer without realizing he was in love with her. He could've strolled into that, the way he strolled across the road to her house. Casual and easy. Instead, he'd had it slammed into him, clutched in the meaty fist of fear and rage, in one hard and painful punch when he'd seen her sitting on the side of the road.

Nothing to do about it now, he told himself. Bad, bad timing. What she needed now was a shoulder to lean on, somebody to get her a bag of frozen peas and offer a quiet place to... collect herself.

"How's the head?"

"Strangely, it feels like I bashed it against a window."

"Will you take some aspirin?"

"Yeah. And maybe a session in your hot tub. I'm a little stiff and sore. I got jostled around pretty good."

He had to fight to keep his grip on her from tightening, to stop himself from squeezing her against him. "I'll set you up."

"Thanks." She turned her head to brush her lips against his throat. "Thanks especially for helping me stay calm. You too," she said, and kissed Spock.

"All part of our post-trauma service here at the House of Sawyer."

He helped her downstairs. He flipped back the lid of the hot tub, hit the jets, while she took off her shirt. "Want the iPod?"

"No, thanks. Maybe I'll give meditation another shot." She winced as she reached back for the hook of her bra. "Definitely stiff and sore."

"Let me. I have experience with these devices."

She smiled, let her arms drop as he moved behind her.

Fresh fury gushed into him, one hot blast of blind, mindless rage. Bruises purpled across her back, along her shoulder blades, in angry storm clouds. More bruising mottled the skin high on her left biceps, and a raw, red line like a burn rode over her shoulder.

"Having trouble with the mechanics?" Cilla asked him.

"No." Amazing, he thought, how calm his voice sounded. How matter-of-fact. "You've got some bruises back here."

"So that's what I feel. It must be from when he shoved me against the truck." She tipped her head to the side, down, then sucked in some air as she brushed her fingers over her shoulder and across her chest. "Seat belt burn, too. Shit. Well, better than the alternative."

"Fuck that." He said it softly, but still she shifted to look around at him.

"Ford."

"Fuck. That." He bit off the words now as that gush of fury spewed out, a raging, boiling geyser. "You'll have to get your calm and your Zen somewhere else, because I'm not up for it. Goddamn it. Goddamn it! The son of a bitch came at you. You're all bruised and bashed up. He did that to you. Did you see your truck? For Christ's sake, did you see what he did, what he tried to do? He hurt you."

She'd turned to face him, to stare at him. With hands stunningly gentle in contrast to his face, his voice, he unhooked her work pants, crouched to ease them down her legs.

"Your truck's in a fucking ditch, and the only reason you're not is because you took him out. There were skid marks on the road as far as I could see." He took off her shoes, her socks, lifted her foot, then the other to free them of the pants.

"Better than the alternative? Better comes when I kick that crazy, murderous bastard's teeth down his throat. That's when better comes." He turned her around, unhooked her bra.

He picked her up, eased her into the bubbling water where she just sat, staring at him.

"I'll get the aspirin and that robe you brought over."

After he strode away and up the stairs, Cilla let out a long breath. "Wow," was really all she could think of.

Meditation might not have worked very well for her, but Cilla found fifteen minutes in hot water with pulsing jets helped considerably. Especially with the image of Ford's anger playing behind her closed lids.

Steadier than she'd have believed possible, she carefully climbed out. As she wrapped herself in a towel, she heard him coming back down the stairs.

"I'll do that," he said when she started to flip the lid back over the tub. "Here."

He handed her pills, water, and when she'd taken them, helped her into the white terry robe she'd left at his place.

"Sorry about before. You don't need the ravings of another maniac."

"You're wrong. You helped me, you gave me exactly what I needed by staying calm when I was the shakiest. You stayed steady, and took me to the cool and the quiet. You gave me magic peas, and you let me lean on you. There have been a very limited number of people in my life that let me lean on them."

She laid her hands on his chest, on either side of his heart. "And after I got through the worst of it, you gave me something else. The outrage, the anger, the blind thirst for revenge. It helps to know someone could feel that on my behalf. That while he was feeling all that, he could still take care. It's no wonder I fell for you."

"I'm so in love with you, Cilla."

"Oh." She felt a jolt, nearly as violent as she had while under attack. "Oh, Ford."

"Maybe it's lousy timing, but that doesn't change a thing. It's not what I was looking for. It's not simple and easy, just picking which bed we use and who walks home in the morning. That's how I figured it, and I was wrong."

"Ford-"

"I'm not finished yet. When that woman-Lori-called, she was careful to let me know right off you were okay. But all she had to do was say accident, and my heart stopped. I never really understood what it was to be afraid until that moment."

Everything he'd felt, and was feeling now, swirled in his eyes. So much, Cilla thought. So much in there.

"When I got there, and I saw you sitting on the side of the road. So pale. The relief came first, waves of it. Waves. There she is. I didn't lose her. Waves of relief, Cilla, and this lightning strike at the same time. There she is. And I knew. I'm in love with you."

It had been a day for shocks and jolts, and huge moments, Cilla thought. "You're so steady, Ford, and I'm so disordered."

"That's just another way of saying, 'It's not you, it's me.'"

"It doesn't make it less true. I'm caught right now between the thrill, and the terror, of having someone like you tell me he loves me. And mean it. And that's complicated because I have such strong, real feelings for you. I think I'm in love with you, too. Wait."

She threw up a hand as he stepped toward her. "Just, wait. I probably have a mild concussion. I'm at a disadvantage. You're steady," she repeated. "And I bet you know exactly what you want out of being in love.

I'm disordered, and I don't. What I do know, or at least what I'm pretty sure of, is you'll want, expect things to change."

"Yes. But they don't have to change today, or tomorrow. Part of being steady might be as basic as knowing how to appreciate what you've got, in the moment." He framed her face. "There she is," he murmured, and brushed his lips to hers.

Cilla closed her eyes. "Oh, God. I'm in such trouble."

"It's going to be fine. Now let's go up. You should get off your feet."

He lay her on the living room sofa this time, and as he'd expected, within twenty minutes the emotional and physical upheaval dropped her into sleep. He took his phone out onto the veranda, leaving the door open so he'd hear her if she stirred. Sitting where he could watch her through the window, he started his calls with her father.

When he spotted Matt heading up Cilla's drive toward his house, Ford figured his friend had been keeping an eye out for any sign. He finished up the call-this one to a friend, an RN, just to make sure he handled Cilla's injuries correctly.

He gestured Matt to a chair as he disconnected.

"What the hell, Ford?"

"Hennessy," he began, and ran through it.

"Jesus. Crazy bastard. Are you sure she's okay?"

"I just talked to Holly. Remember Holly?"

"Nurse Holly?"

"Yeah. She thinks it'd be better if I could talk Cilla into getting checked out. But in the meantime, heat, cold, rest, ibuprofen. Got that covered so far. You saw the truck."

"Yeah, did a number on it. His own van, too. She got him with a nut shot?"

"Apparently."

"Well, goddamn good for her," Matt said with both heat and admiration. "I'd like a shot at him myself."

"Take a number."

"Well, listen, you need anything, she needs anything, you know where I am. There are a lot of people across the road there who'd say the same."

"I know it."

"And tell her not to worry about the work. We've got it covered. You'll want to come over and set her alarm if she's staying here tonight."

"Yeah, I'll take care of it."

"Any questions, messages, whatever, I'll make sure I leave them in her famous notebook, and I'll pass the word to Brian. I'll check with you tomorrow."

At the two-hour mark, Ford debated rousing her just in case she actually did have a concussion. Before he could decide, he saw the unmarked car pull into her drive. So he waited, watched Wilson and Urick get out, go in. Come out, get back into the car and pull across into his driveway.

"Mr. Sawyer."

"Getting to be a habit, isn't it?"

"Miss McGowan's here?"

"Yeah. Banged up, worn out and sleeping. Where's Hennessy?"

"He's in a cell. Do you want a list of the charges against him?"

"No, as long as there's enough to keep him in a cell."

"We'd like to speak to Ms. McGowan, go over her statement."

"She's sleeping," Ford repeated, and rose. "And she's had more than enough for one day. More than enough period. If Hennessy had been in a cell where he belonged, he wouldn't have had a chance to try to kill her."

"If we'd had any evidence, we'd have put him in a cell before this."

"So what?" Ford shot back. "Better late than never?"

"Ford." Cilla pushed open the screen. "It's all right."

"Hell it is."

"Well, you're right. It's not. But I'll talk to the detectives. Let's get it done." She opened the door wider. "Would you wait in the living room a minute?" she asked Wilson and Urick.

After they passed, she let the screen door close behind her, and laid her hands on Ford's shoulders. "No one's ever shielded me." She kissed him. "In my whole life, no one ever stood between me and something unpleasant. It's an amazing feeling. It's amazing to know I don't even have to ask if you'll stay with me while I do this. You can leave your silver armor in the shop. You don't need it."

She took his hand, and walked inside with him to get it done.

Copyright © novelfull thefreeonlinenovel.com All Rights Reserved.