Thirty-One and a Half Regrets Page 59

“Maybe.” But he didn’t seem convinced. “Someone’s worked these fields.” He pulled to a stop and leaned over the steering wheel for a better look. “Do you know the layout of the land you own? Are these fields part of the farm?”

“Yeah, I think so. Uncle Earl said most of the land is to the north and east of the house and barn.”

Mason cruised slowly past fields that had been cut and carved into the dirt with straight lines. “Then I’ll bet he rents out the land. He’s probably earning enough to pay the taxes on the property and the minimal utilities he keeps hooked up to the house. Smart.”

“You’re probably right. He’s a smart businessman. He took the money Dora left me and invested it, more than doubling it. What does that mean for us if someone rented the fields?”

“It means that if someone we don’t recognize pulls into the driveway, they might have a legitimate purpose to be on the property, but I suspect whoever works this land uses a back road. I figured there had to be one. That’s part of the reason we’re out here. Now I really want to find it. Crocker could reach us that way.”

I shuddered.

“This is all precaution, Rose. From what you’ve told me, there’s no paper trail connecting you to this place.”

“I hope you’re right.”

We drove for almost a mile until we saw a road on the other side of a barbed wire fence. Mason drove up to the gate and parked. “Since we’re so close to the road, I think you should stay inside,” he said and hopped out the door, shutting it behind him.

Muffy put her paws on his door, watching him with her tongue hanging out of her mouth.

“Not this time, girl,” I murmured, rubbing her head to settle her down. “We’re going to stay inside.”

He walked over the cattle guard in the road and examined the gate before climbing back over it. “The gate isn’t locked. Right now anyone can open it and drive through.” He exhaled and leaned his forearm on the steering wheel. “I’ll see if I can find a padlock in the barn. It wouldn’t stop Daniel Crocker, but it might slow him down.”

“Is this a problem?”

“No. Whoever works the land isn’t likely to make the connection between you and your uncle. We’re probably fine.”

“Probably?”

“It’s the best I’ve got other than running off somewhere hundreds or thousands of miles away.”

I felt sick to my stomach. “That’s starting to sound like a better option.”

“I think we’re safer here, Rose. Jeff has seen to it that very few people know where we are. And at least we have armed protection here.”

“One man, Mason.”

“We’ll have two at night,” he said in a low voice. “With one inside watching the entrances. And we’re armed too, don’t forget.”

“Mason.”

“Rose, I’m so close to figuring out who the leak is, I can feel it. I have to keep connecting the dots. Once we have a strong case, we can make sure that the people who are after you will go away for a very long time. But I promise you, if I thought this place was unsafe, I’d be the first to move you. I would never knowingly put you at risk. Okay?”

Muffy hopped onto his lap and he reached down to absently to stroke her head.

“Okay.” I only hoped he was right. “Why are you the one who thought of the back road? Shouldn’t the sheriff’s deputies have thought to check this out?”

“Yeah,” he scowled.

That didn’t exactly fill me with confidence.

“After I figure out how to secure the gate, I want to canvass the woods behind the barn. Do you want to come with me or head back to the house?”

I looked out the window, noticing the lowering sun. “Why don’t I go back and start dinner? I don’t feel like walking around in the cold right now.”

“Okay, but stay inside until I get back.”

Mason pulled the truck up in front of the house and I gave him a kiss goodbye, worry tightening my stomach. Something didn’t feel right, but I wasn’t sure what. “Be careful.”

“I’ll be back soon. Stay inside.”

He pulled away as Muffy and I walked up the steps. Deputy Miller was sitting in a wicker chair on the porch, a gun across his lap. Muffy ran right up to him, sniffing his feet as though she were assessing him.

“Are you cold?” I asked. “It’s freezing out here.”

“I’m fine.”

“Do you drink coffee?”

He nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

“I found some coffee grounds in the boxes of food. How about I make you some to warm you up?”

A smile spread across his face. “Thank you. I wouldn’t say no.”

“Great,” I said, standing. “I’ll be right back. Cream or sugar? But I don’t have cream, only milk.”

“Nah, black is fine.”

Muffy and I went inside and after I put on a pot of coffee, I checked the food supply to see what I could fix for dinner, settling on pasta and a jar of spaghetti sauce. I also found a package of cookies and put a couple on a plate.

After I slipped out the front door, juggling a mug of coffee and the plate, Muffy on my heels, I gave the refreshments to the deputy and sunk into the chair next to his. Muffy settled on the floor between the chairs.

He took several sips of the coffee and shoveled one of the cookies into his mouth. He was obviously starving.

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