“You shouldn’t have killed the dog,” Lankin echoed coldly, his gray eyes narrowed.
Sydney sighed heavily at those statements and leaned her head on Lankin’s shoulder. Darcy, seated between two Levant County sheriff’s deputies, would glare daggers, but, for the first time in five years, it didn’t matter. This was the beginning of the end, although it wasn’t the end Darcy had envisioned. The thought got Sydney to smile. It was as though a weight was lifted. She closed her eyes and relaxed, subconsciously rubbing Lankin’s rope-burned hands.
Word travels fast in rural counties with small communities. It was joked in Levant County that rule was doubly so. Upon entering Magpie Jack’s that night Lankin and Sydney were greeted by a tide of cheers and pats on the backs and shoulders. Someone, as a joke, put on Queen’s We are the Champions. Grizz showed them to dimly lit table just past the pool table. There was a bottle of beer and bottle of wine already waiting for them.
“On me,” Grizz said. “So’s your dinners, in case you were wondering. And, Lazarus, if you don’t start another bottle tonight, I’ll be insulted.”
“Then I’ll endeavor to get half-drunk, Grizz,” he replied with a respectful inclination of his head.
Sydney found that Lankin was not exaggerating when he said Grizz made the best elk steaks. They ate well and shot a few games of pool. Every so often, she would allow herself to get closer to Lankin. Although he maintained his usual feline aloofness, it also seemed he was receptive to her advances.
“You certainly more relaxed, Just Sydney,” he said at one point. “I told you going up on the tundra would work wonders.”
“Cute. Although I’m a little leery now of your definition of ‘cathartic’” she snickered. “It’s strange, though, knowing that Darcy’s being taken care of after so long. I don’t know if I can explain it, but in a way I think I’m safe now.” She took his hands and pulled closer. The look in her dark eyes bordered between fear, relief, and simple desperation. “I am safe, aren’t I?”
Lankin reached up, cupping her face in one hand. She squeezed it and nuzzled his palm, planting a few light kisses along the red marks he’d acquired from the rope earlier. The look on his face was pensive.
“Not completely,” he said, a single finger tapping her temple. “She’s still in there, and she probably will be for a very long time. It’s something I can neither protect nor save you from. You’ll have to face that down and make peace with it on your own.” He then leaned forward and gently placed his lips on her brow. As he pulled back there was a compassionate smile on his face. “I am, however, optimistic.”
Sydney found there was nothing she could say. Instead, she merely nodded, and with a smile, she squeezed his hand once more and planted another kiss along his palm.