Alicia nodded blinking back tears. “Yes, Mama. It’s a start.”
“Call us if you see any strangers or feel uncomfortable,” Tony told them both, giving Alicia his “I am serious” look.
“Of course we will,” Alicia assured him. “I am going to work in the back so I don’t frighten people.”
“You don’t look that bad.” Tony leaned down and kissed her cheek. “I will call you tonight.”
After he left, her mother looked at her. “Are you two dating? Should we be checking this man out? He must be okay if he works for Noah.”
Alicia laughed. Her mother didn’t look bothered by the thought of her dating Tony, despite his age.
“We are friends again, Mama. With all that is going on, that is enough. Maybe later things will develop. You should know I already have feelings for him.”
“I have eyes, mija.” Her mother smiled gently and led her to the back office where Alana worked. “Your sister has Carlos with her today. He will cheer you up.”
Alicia beamed and opened the door. She loved being with her nephew. His smile and joy always cheered her up. “There’s my baby.”
Carlos was in his mobile playpen playing with his toys. He grinned at Alicia and held his arms up. Alicia picked him up. She sat in a chair and gave him a big hug, making him giggle. Alicia held him close and kissed his cheek and neck until he giggled again. His hair was dark black and soft, and smelled like baby shampoo.
“You will spoil him.” Alana smiled from behind her desk. She had a pencil in her hand. She wore casual clothes today, so Alicia assumed she was only doing paperwork today.
“I will be out front,” Mrs. Garcia told the girls. She closed the door. “Your father is in the kitchen with Ray since Ray’s assistant is off today.”
“So, you spent the night with Deputy Smith.” Alana grinned, wiggling her eyebrows up and down when their mom closed the door. “Do tell.”
Alicia blushed. “In his guest room.” That was the truth. She was unsure of what was between them, so she did not want to give out too much information yet. Ray and Alana knew all about John. Alicia had been ashamed they knew. Her pride would not admit she had a lot of hope for her and Tony. What if he just wanted friendship? She’d be embarrassed if everyone knew she was pining after another man who didn’t want her. She’d been so humiliated when everyone knew how John had fooled her. “We are friends for now.”
“That is good. I like him, for the record,” Alana said. She got up and stretched. “He is a solid guy with morals. Noah has a lot of respect for both Smith brothers. John is a loser and I hope he has picked up some dreaded disease by now.”
Alicia laughed. It no longer hurt her heart to think of him. She still felt bad she made a mistake, and she always would, but that was life. She was twenty-five, and was sure she would make many more.
Alana’s phone rang and she answered it with a smile. “Hey, babe, what is going on?”
She listened for a few minutes and the look on her face told her it was not good news. Alicia held her breath until Alana hung up.
“Noah says Morehead’s sheriff raided Novak’s rental house and it was empty. They found your wrecked car in his garage and will be looking it over. “
Alicia was disappointed. She hoped it would be over soon. She would not be able to relax until Mario Novak was behind bars and she could remember what happened to her. Part of her wanted to remember, and another part wanted to forget forever. She had a few dreams that made no sense.
“I knew he would not stick around. Janice’s death was all over the news. I am sure he killed her and kidnapped me,” Alicia told her sister.
Alana got up and picked up Carlos. She gave him a toy and put him in his playpen. “Tomorrow is Janice’s funeral. Noah is worried he will show up there, but why would he? He knows he is a wanted man. By now, his picture has been spread all over the state of Texas. If he was smart, he’d leave the country.”
“I don’t understand the criminal mind.” Alicia stood up and looked out the window. The sun was shining and the autumn brought cooler temperatures. Usually she felt safe and warm when she surveyed the small town she had been raised in. Today those feelings were missing. “I am sure he has plenty of money. You would think he would have left the country during the summer after all his men got busted. Why stick around?”
Alana nodded but stayed quiet, lost in thought. Alicia’s heart felt heavy. Janice had been young and foolhardy, but she did not deserve to die. She had people who loved her and would mourn her. Tomorrow would be a nightmare.
* * * *
Alicia stood between her brother and Tony at the funeral. Alicia did her best to hold it together. Her family had been against her attending the funeral. They felt it would be to upsetting, but she felt so guilty she could not remember that night’s events.
Janice’s parents had opted for a short funeral service. A preacher gave the eulogy. The casket had been closed and she was glad about that. She had a heavy heart as they lowered the casket into the ground. What a waste of a life. Janice had gotten involved with drugs by her choice but she did not deserve to die. Knowing it was Novak made her angry. She was the last one to see Janice alive and she couldn’t even remember. Novak couldn’t get away with this. He had to pay for this and all the other crimes he’d committed.
Holly was leaning against Matt, looking upset. It brought back a lot of bad memories for her left over from the summer. Alicia knew this had to be disturbing for her. Tony put his arms around her shoulder and she leaned against him. Janice’s mom was weeping and being comforted by a brunette with short hair. Most of the town had shown up. Noah and Drake were on duty, keeping watch for Novak. Sam and his family attended since he knew the Sands family. Alicia thought Novak would be foolish to show his face here, but Noah said he was arrogant enough to try.
When the funeral service ended with no mishap, Alicia was relieved. She thought she felt like she was being watched, but she had searched the crowd. There was nothing but familiar faces everywhere she turned. She spotted John in the crowd. He smiled at her, but she turned her head away. She did not want to have to be polite to him right now. Her emotions were in turmoil dealing with all that had happened to her.
“You okay?” Tony asked. She nodded. She was wearing a long-sleeved dress but she still felt cold. “Just tired, I guess. I haven’t been sleeping well lately.”