“James will be back,” she said. The alternative was impossible. Unbearable.

“I don’t think so,” Teri murmured.

“Why would you say that?” Christie asked, finding it hard to hold on to her temper. James was hiding somewhere, until everything was quiet again. She refused to believe he’d simply walk out, just disappear from their lives. He wasn’t like that. Other men were. Not James. He loved her. He loved Bobby and Teri, too. They were his family. He’d said as much.

Not only that, she’d bared her soul to him. She’d told him things she’d never told another human being. He’d shared a little of his own life, too. He’d told her about the trauma in his childhood, the pressure he’d endured from his parents and chess coach. The breakdown that had ended his career. Again and again he’d told her of his deep gratitude to Bobby.

“James would never leave Bobby,” Christie declared.

Even if he could walk away from her, he wouldn’t forsake his dearest friend. James was intensely loyal to both Bobby and Teri.

“I used to think that, too,” Teri admitted hoarsely.

“He’ll be back,” Christie said again. “He might need a few days or weeks to sort everything out, but in the end he’ll realize this is his home and we’re his family.” She included herself, unable to accept that he’d turn away from her like so many other men had. He wouldn’t. He just wouldn’t. Not after everything she’d told him. Because James wouldn’t intentionally hurt her that way.

Teri didn’t respond.

“You don’t believe he’ll be back?” Christie challenged.

“I wish I could.”

“Listen, this might come as a shock, but I think I should tell you. James and I are in love.”

“I know,” Teri said without any enthusiasm.

“You know?”

“Good grief, Christie, I’ve known it for weeks, even before the kidnapping.”

That was interesting, because Christie hadn’t been aware of her own feelings until recently.

“It was so obvious,” Teri went on.

Christie put her coffee on the counter. She wasn’t really in the mood for it, anyway. When she turned back, she saw that Bobby had come into the kitchen.

“Hi, Bobby,” she said, greeting him in a cheerful voice.

He blinked at her as if he couldn’t quite place who she was.

“It’s Christie,” she said, bringing her hand to her throat. “Teri’s sister.”

“Yes, I know.” He seemed puzzled that she’d felt the need to identify herself.

“James will be back,” she said once more, trying to inspire confidence in Teri and Bobby. “I don’t understand why he resigned. That seems a bit drastic, but I’m sure he didn’t mean it.”

“He meant it,” Bobby said dispassionately.

“This must be a knee-jerk reaction. It might even be a joke and he’ll be home by morning.” She couldn’t imagine that, but felt she had to suggest it.

Bobby immediately discounted the possibility. “James doesn’t know how to joke,” he said. “James is like me.”

“Oh.” Christie couldn’t figure out quite what to say to that. “Where would he go?” she asked instead.

Bobby shook his head.

“We’ve wondered the same thing,” Teri told her. “Bobby’s known him practically his entire life and James has never done anything like this.”

“Why are you so sure he won’t be back?” she asked.

Neither Teri nor Bobby seemed inclined to answer.

“See?” she cried with a sense of triumph. “You’re not sure at all. I think we’re overreacting here. James loves us. Give him a day or two, and once this has blown over, he’ll be back in his apartment as if nothing happened.”

Bobby stared at her. “He took everything with him.”

“What…what do you mean, everything?”

Bobby and her sister exchanged a look.

“He’s taken all his personal stuff—his computer, clothes, books,” her sister explained. “He’s gone, Christie, and we’re guessing he’ll never show his face in Cedar Cove again.”

Gone. For good. Took everything. Won’t be back.

Bobby knew James better than anyone, and if he thought James had left for good, he was probably right.

“Why would he do something like that?” Christie managed to croak out.

Bobby didn’t answer.

Men never stayed in her life. She’d told herself he was different. Special. She’d trusted him, and at the first sign of trouble James had fled.

Gazing up at the ceiling Christie blinked back tears. “Why is it,” she asked sarcastically, “that I have this ability to fall for all the wrong men?” At least this one hadn’t beaten or robbed her or cheated with another woman. Nor had he drunk her out of house and home.

Oh, no, James “Wilbur” Gardner was special, all right. He hadn’t done any of those things; instead, he’d broken her heart more thoroughly, more completely, than any other man ever had. An all-consuming pain rippled through her.

“Merry Christmas to you, too,” she said and surged to her feet.

“I’m sorry,” Teri murmured. “We didn’t…I didn’t want to ruin your Christmas.”

“You didn’t,” she said flippantly. “In fact, the holidays are just getting started. Come to think of it, I’ve got a lot of celebrating to do.” On a mission now, she grabbed her purse and headed for the front door. If she hurried, she’d make it to The Pink Poodle before the end of happy hour.


This was exactly what Dave Flemming had feared. Sheriff Davis had asked him to “voluntarily” stop by his office for questioning, claiming this matter couldn’t wait until after Christmas. He’d emphasized the word voluntarily, as if to suggest that if Dave didn’t come of his own accord, he’d be obliged to send a deputy to escort him.

“You’re going to go, aren’t you?” Emily asked, standing next to him in the kitchen.

Dave still held the telephone receiver in his hand. “I don’t think I have a choice.”

His wife regarded him with wide, worried eyes. “Maybe we should have an attorney present.”

Instinct told Dave that he should. “Attorneys cost money. We can’t afford one.”

“We can’t afford not to have one,” Emily insisted. “If there’s any possibility that Sheriff Davis will arrest you, then…” She stopped abruptly.

“I didn’t steal anything from Martha Evans,” he said. He knew Emily believed him, but he couldn’t resist defending himself. “The truth will set everything right.”

“Don’t you ever watch crime shows?” His wife flared. “The police don’t care if you’re innocent. They just want a conviction.”

“Emily.” That might be true in the land of television, but it wasn’t the case in Cedar Cove. Sheriff Davis was an honorable man who cared far more about justice than his conviction record.

“I could sell something.” Emily twisted her wedding band around her ring finger. “I could go to a pawnshop—”

“I refuse to even discuss it.”

“What about Roy McAfee?” Emily suggested next, sounding panicky. “Since we’re already paying him, maybe—”

“I offered to pay him but he wouldn’t accept.”

Emily wasn’t taking no for an answer. “Dave, listen to reason, would you? If you go to jail—”

“That’s not going to happen.” He sounded confident but he had little to base that on. Just his own innocence and Roy McAfee’s apparent belief that he hadn’t stolen from Martha Evans’s estate. Roy had mentioned another suspect but that was days ago, so Dave assumed nothing had come of it. If the sheriff did decide to arrest him, then and only then would he have Emily hire an attorney.

His wife closed her eyes. “I wish you watched Law & Order more often. Then you’d know what I’m talking about.”

He didn’t have time for television. “You’re overreacting. If I was in New York City, yes, I’d pay for legal representation, but this is Cedar Cover and the sheriff is a friend.”

Emily considered that for a moment, then said, “I’m afraid Sheriff Davis won’t be your friend once he looks at the accumulated evidence.”

Dave sighed. From the outside, it looked as if he was indeed the guilty party. He couldn’t even explain most of the so-called evidence stacked against him. He didn’t have any idea how those diamond earrings had found their way into his suit pocket.

He couldn’t explain why the letter he’d seen with his own eyes had never made it into Martha’s last will and testament.

He decided to take Emily’s advice.

“I’ll call Roy,” Dave said. He trusted Sheriff Davis, but it wouldn’t hurt to have someone on his side. Dave hated the thought of having to defend himself. He was an honest man. But no one was above suspicion. Including a pastor.

Emily folded her hands prayerfully. “Thank God you’re willing to have Roy there.”

Dave tried to be optimistic. However, if he was arrested and charged, Emily would never be able to manage financially. Within a few weeks they’d be hopelessly behind on their bills. The house would go into foreclosure, and his wife and sons would have to move in with her parents. What a mess all their lives would be.

Dave couldn’t allow his mind to wander down such dangerous paths. Still, it remained a possibility. He could very well be arrested.

He turned to the phone again and dialed Roy’s number. Emily watched him closely. A minute later he hung up.

“Well?” his wife asked anxiously.

“I spoke with Corrie. She said Roy’s already down at the sheriff’s office and it would be a good idea if we left now.”

Her face pale, Emily nodded. “I’ll get my coat.”

Suddenly uncertain, Dave wrung his hands. “I think I’d prefer to wait,” he said.

“Wait?” Emily exploded. “For what? To be arrested?”

“I’d like to put this off until after Christmas.”

“Dave, be realistic,” she pleaded. “We can’t have this hanging over our heads through the holidays. You don’t believe putting this off, even for an hour, is going to help, do you?”

“What about the Christmas Eve services at church?” Would Sheriff Davis let him out of jail to conduct a religious service? It didn’t make sense, no matter how many promises he made to come back at midnight.

“Roy’s with the sheriff. He’ll protect you.”

His wife held the private investigator in high regard. Dave knew that Roy would do what he could, but wouldn’t stand in the way of the law. If Sheriff Davis felt he had no choice but to make an arrest, nothing Roy said was going to change his mind.

Then again, his wife had a point. The weight of all this had nearly buried him; he wasn’t sleeping well, his appetite was gone and his nerves were stretched to the breaking point. He had to be willing to trust that God would see him through, regardless of the outcome. This was without a doubt the biggest leap of faith he’d made since accepting his call to the ministry.