Dane’s head ached. He stared at Brooke as they stood on the steps of the white clapboard chapel.
This was asking too much.
“You’re actually expecting him to testify on the stand on your behalf? You’re not serious.” He’d come to church with the intention of sitting beside Brooke on the pew, putting an arm around her, and possibly effecting a repeat of the public and passionate kiss of last year. It wasn’t looking like it would play out that way. Not with Ames Crosby’s flashy sports car glinting in the parking lot. He must already be in the chapel.
“I can’t help it if Ames Crosby decided to show up for church. Church is for everyone.”
“You’re saying you didn’t invite him.”
“I’m saying I had no idea he was coming. And no, I didn’t. Geez, Dane.”
If that jackwagon was in there, Dane would stay out here, thanks.
“He’s lurking. He’s too attentive. It’s suspect.”
“This isn’t about his testimony, is it?” Brooke frowned. “This is about whether I’m susceptible to him.”
Dane hated that her words struck him like an arrow. “What he’s given us already is sufficient for the trial. We can take that and run with it.”
“And where else are we going to dig up a willing character witness before Tuesday?” She put her hands on her hips. It drew Dane’s eye to her small waist, and he had to dig his fingernail into his palm to stop his mind from going there. “Especially one who knows about LaBarge’s secret baseball obsession.”
“A nebulous obsession, the concrete proof of which we don’t even have in written form from a witness interview.” Dane’s patience level waned. “Come on, Brooke. We don’t know what kind of a wild card he would be.”
Gooseflesh raised on his arms. LaBarge had a dangerous edge, and Ames’s testimony might be her only protection against it, long term. But Dane wasn’t ready to admit that.
“We’ve heard he’s a man obsessed, Dane. Obsessions can be dangerous.” Brooke hit on that same word, too. His goosebumps rose a notch. But she didn’t come to the same solution as Dane because she said, “Maybe Ames’s testimony could throw light on it for the court.”
“Crosby is not going to agree to that.” Dane’s eyes narrowed. “Or is he?” What had she done to convince him? Suspicion was poisoning his soul.
“We’ve already seen some dangerous stuff,” she said. “Uh, the bomb, for instance.”
Dane could see her point— he hadn’t lost all logic and reason. But she should see it from his point of view, too. There’d already been a bomb threat. She was opening herself up to more danger if she let Sarge LaBarge’s dubious son-in-law in on their case.
“I swear he’s not as black-hearted as you think.” The ruffled hem of her church dress fluttered in the wind and gave him a tantalizing peek at her legs. He forced his mind back to the issue at hand.
“I swear he’s a lot more black-hearted than you think.” He clenched his jaw. “I’m not giving him any insight into our trial preparation.” Couldn’t she see the danger here? Chances were strong that Ames was more like a hostile witness than anything else. Or worse, a mole for LaBarge. She was being unreasonable. This request was unreasonable. “I’m not putting him on the stand.” Who knew what that two-faced coward disguised as a doctor would do?
Brooke’s eyes, usually so wide and trusting when she looked at Dane, hardened. “You’re being stubborn.”
“I’m being smart. There’s a big difference.” Dane dug in his heels.
“But you were there. You heard him. He said he had information about LaBarge— something we could use.”
Maybe it was too many nights of sleeping in the bed of his truck, or not enough exercise, or the fact that the Rockwell Rockets had lost their game yesterday afternoon, but Brooke’s insistence that Dane trust that liar felt like nails on his soul’s chalkboard.
Oh, who was he kidding? It had nothing to do with sleep or exercise or little league. He just hated the guy. Not least because she’d once loved him enough to agree to marry him.
“When we talked to him, something clicked for me. He knows something, Dane. I can tell. He lived with those people. He’s willing to tell the court.”
Oh, right. Now Crosby’s words were clicking for her. Great.
“We’ve got everything we need from him. Seriously, Brooke. I don’t want to hear any more about Ames Crosby.” Maybe Dane was being unreasonable for not bending on conducting an interview. But so what? He was also being logical on a deeper level— considering Crosby could be a spy for LaBarge. Any more up close and personal talks with the guy were fraught with danger.
Something inside him hardened. If Brooke wanted time with Crosby, she could have it. After the hearing on Tuesday.
Organ music from inside the chapel rolled out through the doors. Dane could hear the congregation begin to sing “Praise God From Whom all Blessings Flow” in unison. Church was starting. Brooke obviously wanted to go in, but Dane’s feet grew roots into the sidewalk.
“Hey, come on. We’re late,” Quirt said as he and Olivia jogged up. “They’re singing already. And Mrs. Proust probably already took our pew for herself and her purse and her hat.”
Quirt held the door for Olivia. Brooke turned to go with them, but Dane didn’t uproot— especially when he saw who appeared in the doorway after Quirt and Olivia entered to hold the door.
“I thought I’d find you here.” The toothpaste commercial smile gleamed as Ames let his eyes roam up and down Brooke in her Sunday best. “I finally made it to church. A year late, but I’m here.”
Brooke shot a look at Dane— pleading.
“You go on ahead. I have a quick text to send.” Lie. A bald-faced lie right here on the church property. Where was the lightning? I’m being a total Rockwell today. “I’ll just see you Tuesday at the trial. Four o’clock.” He numbed as he said it.
Brooke blinked a few times at him, her face cloudy.
“Let’s go. It’s the opening prayer,” Ames beckoned.
Brooke looked torn for a second, but the organ music ended. “Tuesday?” she asked.
He gave the world’s shallowest nod, and Brooke disappeared inside the church doors. Dane stood there loathing himself for his stubbornness and for feeling like her choosing to go into church meant that she was choosing Ames over him. Illogical, but this girl was all he’d wanted for the past…forever. And even when her eyes had pleaded with him, his pride had prevented him from going in there. Not with that jerk who didn’t care about her.
If that jerk couldn’t show up for church until a year late, there was no way he was someone they should hang their hopes on during the trial.
Didn’t she see that he might get on the stand— as her own witness— and then switch his story and say something extremely damaging at the last minute? What made women so blind? Good looks? Money? Charisma? A diploma that read medical doctor? Dane would do almost anything to rip the blinders off Brooke’s eyes at this point.
But he couldn’t. There were women out there who insisted on being blind. And there was nothing Dane could do about it.
The wind hit his face in a gust, peppering it with bits of sand, this side-effect of coastal living stinging almost as much as his conversation with Brooke just had.
He should go in there; just sit down in the chapel and stake his claim. Brooke had been his, and this interloper had no right to interfere. Not with all that had happened. Feeling defeated, Dane headed back out to his truck, where he put his head on the steering wheel and pulled out his phone. Turned out, there was a message there which he hadn’t heard come in.
Tweed: You heard, right? The ethics commission moved your hearing to three-thirty. The sooner it’s over with the better, I say.
Normally, yeah. But today wasn’t normal. Today he wasn’t likely to get the perk of winning a case. Up to now he would’ve been thrilled to have one less hour to wait before kissing Brooke again. Except now it fell thirty minutes earlier than Brooke’s hearing, which meant Dane could potentially get disbarred before he had the time to serve as her counsel.
Ha. His laugh came dry and hard. And here he’d thought his news about having to skip out early to go to his hearing was too tough to deliver. Now she really couldn’t count on him.
How could he ever dream of telling her this?
Then again, did it even matter? She had just walked out of his life and back into Ames’s, as far as Dane could tell. After all, she’d gone to the guy’s house the second she found out he was in town. Just then she’d walked into church beside him, her hips swaying, with only the briefest backward glance at Dane.
The glance had held longing. He’d seen it. But still—
Why would Brooke Chadwick want a disbarred, disgraced Rockwell when she could have a doctor with a toothpaste commercial smile and probably a fat alimony check from his ex-wife? She’d be set for life. The museum wouldn’t need to even happen. Ames’s salary would cover Aunt Ruth’s financial needs in her old age. Brooke could quit working as a nurse, or help her former baseball star husband in his clinic, saving the community one case of strep throat at a time.
Good for them.
Sour grapes tasted good once in a while.
The ring he’d bought in hope months ago hung heavy in his sport coat pocket again. Dead weight. Dead hope.