Tara thought about taking Brooke to her apartment, but in the most recent warning, the big red field had covered the entire town. All of it would be at risk.
“Would you like to come with me to my brother’s ranch?” Tara asked carefully. That would be one of the safest places in the county. The old ranch house sat up on the hill that overlooked most of the valley. Outside the warning zone.
“Can I go with you, please?” Brooke asked so softly, so politely.
“Of course.” The whisper of uncertainty was so strong in her voice. Tara wished she could reach over and hug the little girl tight. She wanted to strangle Sylvie. How dare she leave Brooke on her own, leave her to the mercy of the elements like this? Tara tried not to think uncharitable thoughts, like maybe she deserved to be worried out of her mind about the girl not being where she could find her.
What if something happened to Sylvie? How would Brooke react? What would Sylvie have done if Brooke hadn’t found her way to the diner, to the company of someone who actually took care of her? Tara’s mind filled with all the horrors that could happen to a little girl wandering the streets of any town.
Suddenly, she understood all too clearly why Morgan did what he did, trying to find her.
“Do you know how to dial a cell phone?” she asked Brooke. The girl came out of her fear long enough to give her one of those stupid-adult looks. “Okay, yeah, I know. My phone is in that side pocket of my purse. Can you get it out?”
The girl nodded and reached for the phone. It looked so big in her tiny hands. “Who are we calling? My mom?”
“Well, actually I want you to call your dad.”
“My dad?” The girl stared at her, wide-eyed. Tara hadn’t told her she knew Morgan. She hadn’t been sure what her or Sylvie’s reaction would be.
“Yeah. His number is in my list.” Thank God she’d thought to put it in her phone after calling him. “See that button on the bottom? Push it twice.” The girl was six, and Tara didn’t know how much she could read. Brooke turned the screen toward Tara, who was afraid to look away from the road.
The rain was coming down so thick she could barely see beyond the bumper. It was going to take forever for them to drive the miles to the ranch at this rate. She didn’t care if it took all night. They needed to get there safe.
She hastily glanced away. “See that one that starts with the letter M?”
“Push that button.”
She could see out of the corner of her eye that the line was ringing. Hopefully, they were calling Morgan.
“Hello,” his familiar voice filled the interior of the car.
“Brooke?” Even here, through the sound of the pounding rain, Tara heard the joy and pain in his voice.
“I’m with the diner lady.”
Dear heaven, Tara wondered if she’d told the kid her name. She’d gotten in the car with her. Who else would she have gone with? Damn, Sylvie.
“What? I can’t hear you. Where are you?” There was controlled desperation in his voice. The connection wasn’t any better than before. She had to tell him where they were going, hope he got something.
“It’s Tara. We’re going to Wyatt’s ranch. Brooke’s with me. Wyatt’s ranch.”
“Where?” he yelled.
“The ranch. Wyatt’s ranch.”
He didn’t say anything more. Dear God, she hoped he was okay. Hoped she hadn’t scared him more than she’d explained. But she would keep Brooke safe until she could get them together. Brooke deserved it.
Begrudgingly, she realized so did he. He’d spent a year looking for this little girl.
“Daddy?” Brooke held the phone close to her mouth. “Daddy?”
“The storm probably messed up the call.” Tara tried to sound upbeat. “He’ll meet us at my brother’s house.”
“I’m positive.” Oh, he’d be there. She was sure of it. She just wasn’t sure when. “We’ll be safe there until he comes to find us,” she said to the windshield, leaning forward, hoping to see more clearly. They crept along the two-lane highway, away from town, away from the winding path of the creeks and rivers that meandered through town. Up the Texas hills to the ranch house that she’d always considered safe. Home.