THE UNUSUALLY NICE SUMMER weather we'd been enjoying had been pushed out by a low pressure system and glowering skies. I walked quickly, hoping to beat the rain while at the same time gratefully inhaling the cooler air. Thoughts ping-ponged around my brain as if superheated. The more I thought about it, the more I questioned whether Gabi had killed Ariel. All the evidence seemed to point that way, even if she did have reasonable explanations for everything. But her reactions to my accusations were out of sync. She seemed more afraid than guilty. I wished I knew her better, so I could get more of a read on her. If only I could know for sure whether or not she was telling the truth.
As I came up our block, I saw someone on our front step. The closer I got, the more it looked like me sitting there.
Oh, great. Just what I needed.
Hannah Ambrose stood as I approached, her weight on one foot as if she were on the verge of running away.
If I'd had the sense of a gnat I'd have walked right on by, let her twist in the wind long enough to talk herself out of her visit.
But I apparently didn't have the sense of a gnat. "Hello, Hannah"
She looked at the ground. Awkwardly shuffled her feet. "Hi."
This was not the cocky, confident woman I'd met on Barr's front step.
I stopped in front of her. "You here to see me?"
She nodded. "Uh huh."
"Give me a second."
I went inside, shut the front door in her face and marched into Meghan's office. She looked up in surprise.
"Hannah's outside," I announced.
She leaned back. "So? Let her in."
"Or talk to her out there. Either way, I don't know what you want me to do about it"
I grimaced. "Neither do I. All I know is, I don't want to face the music, but the music is standing right on the other side of our front door."
"Go on. You can do it. Then come back and tell me what she said."
I sighed. "Fine."
In the entryway, I took a deep breath, grasped the knob, and flung the door open.
She stood on the bottom step, looking up at me and hugging herself with thin arms. Her short-sleeved cotton camp shirt was wrinkled, as were the Capri pants. She wore an old pair of Keds with no socks. She radiated an aura of disheveled youth and vulnerability.
I didn't buy it.
"Come on in," I said and led the way into the house. She trailed behind like a lost child.
Brodie greeted us in the foyer, and Hannah bent to pet his wiggling little self. He grinned up at her and gave a little yip.
"Can I get you something? Tea? Coffee?" Arsenic?
She shook her head. "No thanks."
So much for putting it off. Whatever "it" was.
"I have some work to do. We can talk while I do it," I said in Hannah's general direction.
Sheesh. What a conversationalist.
We traipsed through the kitchen and down the narrow wooden stairs to my basement workroom.
I didn't know what this woman wanted, or how she had the audacity to come visit me at all, but whatever her reasons, I liked the idea of dealing with her on my own turf. Indicating a stool on the other side of the center island where I worked, I said, "Have a seat."
She sat, craning her neck as she took in the kitchen appliances, the many work surfaces. "Cassie says you're a soap maker."
"I am." I waited for the next question. Talking about soap was easy.
But she wrinkled her nose. "It smells funny in here."
"It smells like rosemary in here." My voice was flat. "Which, last time I checked, wasn't all that funny."
"Oh," she said.
I used a wire grid to cut through one of the slabs of soap I'd poured previously. And waited. Glanced up. Then I picked up a knife and began trimming the uniform bars, smoothing the edges.
She watched the motions of my hands as if mesmerized. I tried to imagine this person cutting my brake line. Trying to kill me. I debated whether or not to confront her about it, very aware of how badly that had gone over with Gabi Kaminski.
Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. "Hannah."
She looked up.
"Why are you here?"
"I…" She licked her lips. "Well, I want you to give up Barr."
"Excuse me? Give him up?"
"Like `give' him to you?"
"Well, I guess it would look like that."
"No. It would be like that. Barr's a big boy, Hannah. Neither of us gets to decide what he does."
"You haven't been together very long. I've known him forever; we come from the same town. We have a history together, and you don't. And even if he won't admit it, he still loves me."
The knife slipped, and I nearly took off my thumb. Very carefully, I laid the blade on the work surface. My hands might have been trembling, but I managed to keep my voice low and even.
"This is ridiculous. I'm not having this conversation with you. You should go."
Raw fury at my dismissal flared in her eyes for an instant. She quickly blinked and looked away.
"I had him first." She sounded like a petulant child. Now tears magnified those big green eyes and made the long lashes shine in a way I imagined would pull at the heartstrings of a lot of men.
Kind of made me cranky, to tell the truth.
"Well, you need to come to grips with the fact that you don't have him now. Coming here and talking to me about it isn't going to change anything."
"But I love him!" she wailed.
Oh, for heaven's sake.
"I'm sorry. I can't give him to you, even if I wanted to." Which I emphatically didn't. After all, I loved him, too. Besides, possession is nine-tenths-well, you get it.
Possession. Did I really think of Barr as a possession?
Of course not.
But he was still mine.
She tried again. "I need him."
More like his bank account. "Hannah, if this is a conversation you should be having with anyone, it should be with Barr." Oh, God. What was I saying?
"I've tried, but he just won't listen."
I couldn't help it. I took the leap. "Did you sabotage my brakes so I'd get in a car wreck?"
She stared at me. "What?" Standing now, her tone went from zero to sixty in nothing flat. "How dare you," she spluttered. "I mean, God!"
"Hannah, you need to leave now."
She blinked. "But-"
Her lower lip crept into a pout. "You're mean"
"I'm sorry you're unhappy. And I'm sorry you feel the need to spread it around so freely, but we don't have anything left to talk about."
Her features grew hard and her gaze sharpened. "You won't win. You're only a temporary interloper, Sophie Mae. He's supposed to be with me, and he's going to be, in the end. Whether you do the right thing or not."
"Listen, sister. He's not mine to give. He's his own man, with opinions and affections and desires. I could no more give him away than I could give away the weather. If he wants you instead of me, then so be it."
"But he doesn't," I continued. "He wants me, and there's nothing you can do to change that. Not a damn thing."
"She's right." Barr's voice came from the bottom of the stairs, startling both of us. His tone was gentle as he said, "Hannah, there's nothing left between us. You know that. Go on home to the ranch. It's where you belong."
"Come with me," she said, pleading.
He slowly shook his head.
She turned and stomped toward the stairway, hands clenched into fists by her side, fingers white. Barr moved aside as I followed her upstairs and through the house to the front entryway. Not once did she turn around, not even as she jerked the door open and exited the house. The loud slam of the door brought Meghan out of her office.
"Sounds like someone left unhappy."
I nodded, thoughtful. "Miss Hannah wanted something, and she didn't get it."
Barr spoke from behind me. "Sophie Mae was wonderful."
"Really?" I asked.
He quoted me. "`I could no more give him away than I could give away the weather."'
I rolled my eyes. How corny.
"I think you convinced her," he said.
"What do you think she'll do now?" Meghan asked.
I shook my head. "I don't know."
"I think she'll go home," Barr said.
But I was just as concerned with what she might have already done. Despite her dramatic protestations, Hannah hadn't actually denied sabotaging my pickup.