He guessed at sequence and trajectory, trying to calm himself before he went in to talk to Nell. He was aware that the front door of the main building had opened and that an armed man stood there. The possibility existed that he had been lured out here. The smart thing to do would have been to wait out at the road for the sheriff’s deputies, who had to be on their way.
He hadn’t even seriously considered doing so.
He kept his hand on the butt of his Glock as the man nodded and started down the steps. His head kept turning, too, as he stared uneasily toward the woods.
“Captain McAllister?” he asked when he got close enough.
Colin nodded at him. “You are?”
“Roger Hale. This is my place.”
“Nell?” His eyes narrowed. “We have a woman in there, but that’s not her name.”
“Maddie,” he corrected himself. “Maddie Dubeau.”
“Damn.” On a tsunami of emotion, he squeezed the bridge of his nose. “I need to talk to her.”
“I think he’s gone,” Hale volunteered as they walked side by side. “Haven’t been any more shots. It’s been damn near fifteen minutes.” He cocked his head. “Sheriff’s department.”
Colin, too, had heard the distant siren. He couldn’t imagine the shooter was still in the woods, but by God they were going to comb every square foot until they found out where he’d stood and how he’d arrived and left.
Hale gestured for Colin to go ahead of him into the big log building. Scanning the interior he felt momentary surprise before his focus locked onto Nell, sitting on a bench in the dining area. He was only peripherally aware that another woman was with her. The bearded man kept talking.
“Place used to be a summer camp. We foster kids off and on, have family that comes and goes. Works for us.”
Nell had to be in shock. She held a wad of tissues to her cheek—the same place where the scrape had barely healed. Her face was too pale, her eyes glassy. Freckles stood out sharply.
Colin squatted in front of her and took her free hand. The part of him that still could assessed her. The other part choked his voice. “You just took ten years off my life,” he said.
She gave a funny, choked laugh. “Who needs to jump out of airplanes for an adrenaline rush?”
“How are you?” he asked, voice pitched for her ears only.
“Just shaken up. I was...” Her voice wavered. “I was lucky the Hales were here.”
All he wanted was to hold her. But, damn it, the wife was standing only a few feet away, and the husband had gone to the door as the siren was silenced outside.
“Can you tell me what happened?”
She did. She was driving around, thought this resort looked familiar and turned in for a look. She’d talked briefly to Ms. Hale, gone back to her car and started down the driveway when she heard a gunshot and realized bits of glass had struck her face.
“I threw myself sideways, thinking, I don’t know, that it was a hunter out there, although this isn’t the right season, is it?”
He shook his head.
Behind him the woman said, “We have our land posted ‘no hunting.’ Lots of signs.”
“There was another shot. And...and I hadn’t put my seat belt on. I never forget! But this time... Thank God. The belt might have gotten in the way.” She had to stop to breathe.
Colin squeezed her hand.
“I’ve never been so glad not to drive a manual. I managed to reverse and push on the accelerator. I guess I just went hurtling back. I think—” she shivered “—I think that’s when a bullet came in through the windshield.”
Two bullets. He nodded encouragement and didn’t correct her.
“I’m lucky I didn’t smash into something.” She directed an apologetic look at the woman. “I managed to brake when I could see the buildings and the hood of the pickup still raised. I thought I was sheltered behind the pickup. I threw open my door and fell out. I started to crawl. Mr. Hale came rushing out, bent over, I guess, to make a small target, and together we got back in here. And then he called 911 and I called you.”
He heard voices on the porch but didn’t so much as turn when feet stamped and cold air and a couple of deputies entered. To their credit, they hung back as he coaxed Nell into telling him where she was on the driveway when she heard the first shot. She knew it had come from her left, which he could have guessed now that he knew she was departing rather than arriving when she was ambushed.
He left her with Mrs. Hale and a cup of cocoa—apparently he wasn’t the only one who thought of it as comforting—while he stepped outside to talk to the Butte County deputies.