About the Author
Margaret Watson is the award-winning, two-time Rita finalist author of thirty Silhouette Intimate Moments and Harlequin Superromances. In her other life, she's a veterinarian who practices in Chicago. She lives in a Chicago suburb with her husband, three daughters and a menagerie of pets.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
"Darn it," she muttered, grabbing a handful of napkins from the stack on the counter.
"Zoe. I've been looking for you."
The voice was low and threatening, and Zoe spotted Wallace Tate in the doorway, his face a mottled red.
"Wallace." She shifted, bracing herself against the counter behind her. "What can I do for you?"
"You know just fine what you can do for me." He walked toward her, his hands clenched into fists. "You tell Sally you were wrong. You hear me?"
The three customers waiting for their coffee froze, and the people sitting at the tables glanced up from their laptops and their newspapers. The only sound was the hiss of the espresso machine. Zoe ignored everyone except Wallace. "Why would I do that? I wasn't wrong, and we both know it."
Wallace leaned closer, his thin lips compressed and his faded blue eyes filled with rage. He smelled musty and old. "So help me God, you're going to be sorry you crossed me."
"What are you going to do to me, Wallace? Send me to jail?" Zoe smiled. "Been there, done that."
She heard a quick intake of breath from another customer.
"You never were smart enough to back off, were you?" He raised his fist. "You're interfering in my personal life. I don't allow anyone to do that."
She glanced at his fist. "You want to hit me? Go ahead." Her gaze bored into his. "You'll have lots of witnesses. Or don't you hit women in front of other people?"
Wallace shoved his finger in her face. "I'm going to say this one more time, Zoe. You tell Sally you were mistaken. Or you'll regret it."
Zoe grabbed his finger. "Don't point at me." She'd been trying to keep her composure, telling herself that Wallace Tate was a pathetic old man. But now her anger sparked. "Get out of here, Wallace." She shoved his hand away from her face.
The older man stumbled backward, his face scarlet with fury. He took a step toward her, then stopped. He seemed puzzled as he swayed, then staggered to the side. As he started to crumple to the floor, Zoe dropped her coffee and grabbed him. She managed to shield his head from the table, but she couldn't stop him from hitting the floor.
"Wallace?" She unbuttoned his wool coat and put her hand on his chest, felt his heart beating way too fast. He tried to speak, but no sound came out of his mouth. His eyes were moving, but he didn't seem to see her. The coffee she'd dropped stained his coat and slacks, and the smell of it was sharp and bitter.
Looking up at the shocked faces surrounding her, she said, "Someone call 9-1-1."
* * *
The light from the ambulance pulsed steadily outside the window of the coffee shop, a red heartbeat of anxiety. She closed her eyes to shut out the flashing. But it wouldn't go away. It bounced off the walls and into her brain, a steady, continual reminder of the last time she'd called for an ambulance.
She had to be dreaming. This couldn't be happening again.
Another Tate removed on a gurney.
Another police car stationed behind the ambulance.
What had happened to Wallace? She headed outside, intending to ask the paramedics. Why had he collapsed so suddenly? Was it a heart attack?
A blast of fresh spring air met her as she opened the door, and she stopped abruptly. Wallace Tate was on the gurney, parked at the back of the ambulance. Two paramedics labored over him. When they moved, she realized they'd been strapping him in.
She felt unexpected pity for the man who lay helpless in front of her. Wallace Tate, her nemesis for the past six years, reduced to a pathetic old man. Wallace would hate that. Her compassion would be unbearable to him. With one last look at the ambulance, she turned back into the shop.
"You watching the show, Zoe? Getting a kick out of it?"
Ray Dobbs, the chief of police, crowded behind her in the doorway. His blue eyes were cold and his gray buzz cut looked like a stiff brush. His whole body bristled with indignation.
"I was feeling sorry for Wallace," she said, holding his gaze. "Don't you think that's ironic?"
"I'm not finding much to laugh about."
"That's your problem, Chief. You don't have a sense of humor."
Dobbs flushed. "Watch your mouth, Zoe. You're already in enough trouble."
Zoe tried to hold on to her temper. "What do you mean? I have no idea what happened to Wallace."
"He just fell over." Dobbs's eyes glittered. "For no reason."
"Exactly." Despite her fear, Zoe steeled her face into an expression of polite interest. It was a talent she'd perfected during her marriage. "We were talking and he collapsed."
"Talking?" Dobbs edged closer, his expression hard with suspicion. "Is that what you call it?" He nodded to the other customers, milling around in small groups and murmuring to one another. "Maybe we should ask them if you were just 'talking.'"
"Wallace was angry. That shouldn't come as a shock to you. He's been angry with me for six years. He got a little loud."
"What were you 'talking' about?" Dobbs sneered.
Zoe dug her nails into her palms. "It was personal. It's no one else's business."
"You don't think so?" Dobbs moved so close she felt his breath on her face. "You better lose the attitude, or I'll toss your ass in a cell while we sort out what really happened."
"Don't think you can intimidate me, Chief. It's not going to work. Better men than you have tried, starting with Wallace Tate." Instead of moving away, she held her ground. She kept her gaze steady and concentrated on breathing evenly. "You can't arrest me because a man fell sick in front of me."
"Wallace was angry and you had a fight." Dobbs's mouth thinned.
"I didn't say that."
"He got in your face. Did you shove him? Is that why he fell down?"
"Of course not! I didn't touch him." But she had, she remembered with a burst of fear. She'd pushed his hand away.
Dobbs scanned the café. "Lots of witnesses here. Let's see what they have to say." He pointed to a chair. "Sit down. And stay there."
"I'm not going to sit down. You can't keep me here."
The chief of police turned red. "You're a pain in the ass. You know that, Zoe?"
"I get that a lot," Zoe said. "Mostly when men are trying to bully me to get at a woman in the shelter." She took a deep breath. She knew better than to let Dobbs push her buttons.
"Chief, the paramedic has a question for you." Jamie Evans, the patrol officer who'd responded to the 9-1-1 call, stepped into the shop. "He's outside."
Dobbs hitched up his navy blue uniform pants, then turned and walked out the door. As soon as he was gone, Zoe dropped into one of the old-fashioned wooden chairs. This wasn't like six years ago, she told herself. No one was dead and she hadn't done anything. There was nothing to worry about.
Except that Wallace Tate was involved. That changed everything.
She pulled her cell phone out of her jacket, watching Dobbs return and begin questioning the other customers. When her attorney answered, she said, "Helen, I have a problem. Wallace Tate collapsed while he was talking to me, and Dobbs is making noises about arresting me."
"What?" Her attorney's voice rose. "You got into a fight with Tate?"
"No!" Zoe reached down and picked up the coffee cup she'd dropped earlier. No one had mopped up the coffee. "He came into Joe's yelling at me, shook his finger in my face, then fell down. That's it."
"Don't say a word and don't lose your temper," Helen said sharply.
"Too late." Zoe watched the paramedics loading Wallace into the ambulance.
"Zoe, haven't you learned" Helen bit off the words. "Sorry. Don't say anything else. If all you were doing was talking, Dobbs can't arrest you."
"That wouldn't stop him. Wallace is on his way to the hospital and Dobbs is scared. Who knows what he'll do?" Zoe swallowed. "I need you here, Helen."
"I'm thirty minutes away in Green Bay taking a deposition." Zoe heard her attorney shuffling papers. "It'll take me a couple of hours to finish up, but I'll get there as fast as I can."
"Hurry, Helen." As she spoke, Dobbs swung away from a table and headed toward her, his face triumphant. "I'm getting a bad feeling here."
"I'll call the office and see if anyone else is available. Hang on, Zoe. I won't let them lock you up."
"Okay," Zoe said, shuddering as she imagined the walls of a jail cell pressing in on her.
"Stay calm, Zoe."
"Do better than try. Don't give Dobbs any more ammunition." Helen's voice was grim as she hung up.
Zoe closed the phone, took a deep breath and sat up straight as Dobbs reached her.
His eyes gleamed maliciously. "You said you didn't touch Wallace," he said. "You want to rethink that statement?"
"I didn't push him."
"That's not the story I'm hearing." He jerked his head toward two women who'd gone to high school with Zoe. They wouldn't meet her eyes. "Mary Ellen and Tina said you pushed him."
"They're wrong," Zoe said. She tried to control her growing panic.
"Witnesses say otherwise." He reached behind him and brought out handcuffs, which flashed in the light. "Zoe McInnes, you're under arrest "
The scene with Wallace flashed in front of her again, and she swallowed. "He was shaking his finger in my face and I pushed it away. That's all."
"That's battery. And you're under arrest. Turn around." He dangled the handcuffs in front of her.
"Then you're going to have to arrest Wallace, too."
"Don't tell me how to do my job, McInnes."
"Someone has to. No judge will let you get away with this."
"Doesn't matter." Dobbs leaned closer and lowered his voice. "Maybe I can't hold you for more than a few hours, but that's enough to get your name in the paper. 'Zoe McInnes, head of Safe Harbor Women's Shelter, arrested for battery.' How's that sound? I think Wallace will like it."
Zoe stared at the police chief. "I know you're Wal-lace's main butt-kisser because you want him to give you a job at the college, but isn't this going a little too far, even for you, Chief? That shelter does a lot of good. It's where your police officers bring domestic-violence victims."
"You should have thought...