The expression on Niall’s face that evening in her apartment when Alexis Chandler had dropped the bomb that Niall had a husband suddenly flashed before Vic’s eyes like a perfectly intact film—the sagging shoulders, the sad, deflated expression on her lovely face, as if he’d just done the inevitable . . . as if he’d just condemned her with a look.
Which he had, of course.
Vic realized with a feeling of creeping dread that that was precisely the reason why Niall hadn’t told him about her history. Because she was scared, afraid that he would judge her harshly.
Then she had gambled everything and come to the farm to try to explain. He was too busy feeling sorry for himself, too involved in licking his own flesh wounds to bother to notice Niall’s gaping hole.
The thought caused such a profound pain to stab through him that he jerked reflexively in the driver’s seat.
He’d make it right. He had to. The alternative just wasn’t viable.
Meg sounded glad that Vic answered his cell phone on the first ring but her joy quickly altered to anxious irritation.
“Thank God I caught you. Where’ve you been all day?” she demanded testily. She plowed ahead without waiting for an answer. “You’ve got to get over to Mercy Hospital in Bloomington right away.”
“What the hell kind of ‘hello’ is that, Meg?” he asked sourly. He already felt helpless enough as he sat there in the outer parking lot of the enormous, depressing fortress of the prison without having Meg pull her big sister act on him, making him feel like a twelve-year-old kid caught out of bed past his bedtime. “I can’t go to the hospital right now. I’m outside of Joliet Prison. Damn guards won’t let me in but—”
“Yeah, right. You’re trying to get into Joliet Prison. This ought to be good,” Meg scoffed as if he’d started to tell an obviously moronic joke.
“Niall is in there.”
Meg snorted. “Quit kidding around, Vic! This is serious. Damn that Errol Farrell. I knew he was going to stir up a hornet’s next over there.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Sheriff Madigan just called. Donny was caught in the cross fire of a shoot-out at the Farrell farm earlier today.”
Vic sat up ramrod straight. “Is he okay?”
“Madigan didn’t know for sure,” Meg replied worriedly. “He only said that he was one of the ones they took away in an ambulance.”
Vic shook his head in rising disbelief. The events of today might have been following a schedule from Hell’s Daily Planner. He glanced anxiously from the one road from the prison to his fuel gauge and back to the road.
“I can’t leave right now. Can you go check on Donny and call me as soon as you know anything? I’ve got to wait for Niall.”
Several seconds of silence followed. “Were you serious about that Joliet Prison thing?”
“Why would I joke about something like that?” Vic thundered.
“Calm down, Vic,” Meg exclaimed, half in concern and half in exasperation. “Niall isn’t in Joliet Prison, for God’s sake. Why would she be? She’s on her way to Mercy as we speak. She just pulled into the driveway a minute before I called you, and she went ahead to the hospital when I told her what happened. I’m waiting for Tim to get back from the fields—”
Vic had already turned the ignition and was in the process of backing out.
“We really need to have a conversation about the way we communicate, Meg.”
He peeled out of the parking lot, completely oblivious to the high concentration of police in the vicinity of the prison. The last thing he was thinking about at that moment was getting a ticket.
Surely this day couldn’t get any worse.
Donny Farrell determinedly attempted to switch channels on the television set in his hospital room with a remote control, but his right hand clearly wasn’t cooperating the way he wanted. His lack of coordination and the pain that shadowed his youthful features related to his heavily bandaged right arm.
“Use your left hand,” Tim instructed calmly. “You’re going to have to get used to using it for a while anyway, while your arm heals.”
Donny grimaced in irritation more than in pain. “The doc said the bullet didn’t even hit the bone. It’s not serious,” Donny insisted when he met the gaze of the brooding man who sat on the window-sill, the brilliant late afternoon sunlight casting his body and face in shadow. “Seriously, Vic. Clean shot—that’s what she called it—right through the muscle,” Donny explained matter-of-factly as he waved the remote control. “Doc said that they were just keeping me overnight to check on the results from some tests. I feel fine . . . maybe a little weak from losing so much blood.”
Vic didn’t say anything. Meg must have thought her brother’s silence implied that he thought Donny should go toss a football out on the lawn right this second.
“Well, I, for one, am glad they’re keeping you overnight. I don’t know what’s become of hospitals when a person gets shot—shot!—and they discharge him the following day, like he just had his tonsils out or something.”
She shook her head in disgust. Niall, Tim, Vic, and she had been Donny’s only visitors since he’d been admitted to the hospital. Meg had noticed how exhausted Niall appeared earlier, and both she and Donny had encouraged her to go back to the farm for a nap. Vic hadn’t looked too pleased about the fact that Niall wasn’t there anymore by the time he arrived, but all in all, Meg thought he was restraining himself from going after her with admirable control.