“Love...you,” she whispered, and the white light was gone.
* * *
NELL WAS TAKEN straight into surgery to remove a bullet lodged beneath her shoulder blade.
The wait was agonizing.
Jane hugged Colin and left to deal with some of the fallout of the night. Pacing the hall outside the waiting room, he did call Noah Chandler, telling him what had happened in a few terse words.
“What the hell?”
In a monotone, Colin continued with as much information as he had. Duane had sexually molested Maddie as a girl. The best assumption at the moment was that it was Duane who had abducted her back then. “We think there’s more. He may have murdered the boy who was buried in the park, but we don’t know why. I’m hoping when Nell wakes up...” His throat squeezed shut. After a minute, he managed to say, raggedly, “Maddie. When Maddie wakes up...”
“All right.” Chandler sounded surprisingly kind. “Call me tomorrow when you can.”
Maybe Angel Butte had gotten lucky with this mayor. More cynically, Colin thought, Time will tell.
As he ended the call, he saw the Dubeaus hurrying toward him. Marc looked distraught, his wife...maybe worried. Either her face was incapable of expression, or she was incapable of emotion.
But when they reached him, she was the one to fix him with a surprisingly desperate gaze. “Maddie?”
“She’s...in surgery.” He hesitated. “The waiting room is right here. Why don’t you sit down?”
Helen fumbled her way to a seat. Gripping one of her hands, her husband stayed on his feet. Both looked at Colin.
“Was it Duane?” Marc asked.
There was no way to soften it. “Yes. He’s dead, Helen.” Forming the next words was a challenge, but they had to be said. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
A sob escaped her. She pressed her free hand to her mouth and stared at him with brimming eyes. “He tried to kill Maddie.”
“Oh, dear God.”
Marc crouched and wrapped his arms around his wife. She leaned into him and cried silently, only the shaking of her shoulders betraying the tears. His anguish was painfully visible.
Only when she straightened and reached for the tissues on the table beside the chair did Marc look up at Colin. “This is my fault.”
Helen shook her head vehemently. “No, it’s mine. I’m the one who wouldn’t listen to her. Who told you he would never...”
Colin gazed down at them from what felt like a great distance. Most of him was attuned to the double doors leading to the surgical suite. Nell was in there. He’d have given anything to be with her.
He looked at Helen. “You had no idea.”
“No,” she said dully. “I think... No, I knew we were both damaged by our childhoods. I’ve never told anyone but Marc.” Her face worked. “Sometimes, pride was all I had. But I never dreamed my brother would do anything like this. I swear.” She ended in a whisper. “I loved him.”
Her pride had been more important than her daughter? Anger roiled in Colin, mixing with the volatile combination of emotions he was already struggling to contain. He had no civility left in him. No sympathy for this woman.
“Tell me.” His voice ground like the cinders had underfoot.
Both stared at him, alarm on their faces.
He leaned forward a little, vibrating with that anger. “You owe me—most of all, you owe Maddie—that much.”
Her mouth opened and closed a couple of times. After a moment she nodded. “My father was navy,” she said in a constricted voice, looking away. “He had long ship deployments. When he was home, our mother was the perfect wife. The house shone, dinner was on the table when he walked in the door, she helped us with homework....” Her laugh was caustic. “When he shipped out, she brought men home. A different one every night, sometimes. She wasn’t...discreet. Both of us saw her...doing things with them. But how could we tell Dad? It would have broken his heart. Only...then he came home unexpectedly and walked in on her. It all came out. He wondered if we were even his children. He insisted on testing, and...” For a moment it didn’t seem as if she could speak. “Duane wasn’t,” she said so softly, Colin had to lean toward her to hear. “Dad...rejected him. It was hideous. Duane ran away and...well, I didn’t see or hear from him for years. I know he ended up in shelters.”
Colin had known that much. Like Nell, Duane had gotten his GED and been able to go on to college.
“I’d already married Marc when Duane got in touch,” Helen finished. “I was so glad to see him.” Her face contorted.
“He called Maddie ‘angel,’” Colin said, his voice harsh in contrast with hers.