Author’s Note: So I’ve always liked those suitcase racks on the old cars. I had to use that detail somewhere in the story.
“He was just here,” Nate said, frowning, taking a look behind him. Mackenna grimaced, not liking the way her stomach was twisting up. She’d felt this way before, when Carson wandered off before the parade, and maybe that meant that it was nothing, but maybe not. He had supposedly been watched, and he did think he was a killer—to her, that might even be more dangerous than him being watched. She knew what feeling that way had done to her uncle, and the last thing she wanted was history repeating itself.
“I have to find him.”
“Why don’t you calm down and think about—”
“Shut up,” she snapped, stepping away from Nate and trying to think. She had to remember what she knew of Carson and make that work for her. She could find him. She knew enough of the way he thought that so long as he’d wandered off on his own, she could at least narrow down where he went. She had to figure he’d just taken the opportunity to slip away when Nate distracted her with that whole marriage thing—she wished people weren’t pressuring Carson about it when he was like this. She didn’t need a ring. Well, she’d kind of like one, but she could have gone on being his friend forever, and that was all she really wanted out of marriage anyway. She figured the rest of it was bonus—or disadvantage, depending on the circumstances.
The other cars. Mackenna’s eyes went to the side lot where the locals would park their classics, sure some of the Model A club would be here again this year, and that was a good place for Carson to go if he thought he needed space. He could wander around there, look at the other cars, not talk to anyone unless he had to, and that was what he’d needed.
She started toward the grass, wishing she knew for sure that something was wrong. The crowds were out in full force for Stockyard Days, and it was hard to tell anyone from the other, even with Carson being in costume. She should have made him wear the hat. Then he would have been easier to spot.
She almost missed seeing the two men by the Nash, but the blue shirt made her stop and look back, and when she did, she cursed. She didn’t know who that other man was, but he couldn’t be a friend. Not with the way Carson’s body was all tensed up like that.
He was in trouble. The other man had to have a weapon.
If the guy had a knife, that was one thing. She’d learned a few tricks from Granger that could help with that any day, but if it was a gun, there was a good chance that anything she did would end up getting Carson shot. The other man was standing way too close to him for her to risk it.
She let out a breath. She knew she’d seen cops around on their way into the park, but that was back over by the bridge, and she didn’t think that she’d make it back there before something happened to Carson. They were bound to have others down by the entrance, maybe even a booth up in among the others, but both of those locations left her with the same problem. They were all too far away.
“I see you found him.”
“Nate, go get the cops. Now.”
“That man killed Carson’s father. Go get the cops, now.”
“Mackenna, you can’t—what are you going to do?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. I’m trying to think of something, but I know that me going for the cops will take too long. You’re pissing me off by asking questions. If you don’t go now, I’ll hurt you myself, and so help me, if anything happens to Carson, I won’t forgive you.”
She turned back to the car, wondering if there was something on one of these classics that she could get her hands on. She didn’t care how much she’d have to pay the owner when this was all over. She’d make it right, but she couldn’t let anything happen to Carson. Not now.
Not ever. She was in love with him, after all, and for her to have reached that point… Well, that had always seemed impossible in the past, but now that she knew it wasn’t, she couldn’t lose the man who’d managed to make her feel that in spite of all her issues.
She rounded the Model A, almost smiling when she saw the suitcase resting in the rack. She doubted that there was anything in there if she could get it open, but with enough leverage, that thing could work like a vase going over the killer’s head, right?
Okay, so it was a terrible plan. She could accept that. She didn’t care if it was perfect, only if she managed to make it work. She lifted it up off the running board and tested its weight. She could do this. She had hoisted greater weights than this when working on the cars. She just needed to make it count.
“…You can spare her that if you cooperate.”
Mackenna frowned, wondering if that bastard was talking about her. Carson shook his head. “Honestly, if I knew, I’d tell you, but I don’t think there is any money.”
She thought that the guy might have shot Carson just then, and she wasn’t sure if she’d known that when she raised the suitcase, but she followed through with it anyway, hearing the wood crack as it impacted with the man’s head. The gun went off, and she dropped the remains of the suitcase, rushing toward Carson, glancing back to see that the killer had at least stumbled forward. He might get back up in a minute, she might not have knocked him cold, but if she got Carson away from him, that was what mattered.
“I owe someone a new suitcase. Are you okay?”
“Um… no… I…”
She cursed, kneeling down next to him. She could see the stain starting to soak his shirt, and she didn’t know how to react to that. She had to keep herself calm. “You’re bleeding. Tell me that is just a graze and not something worse. Please.”
“I think so. I don’t…” He looked down, his eyes bulging a little, and she thought he might be dizzy, too, since he wavered a little before he spoke again. “Oh, hell. He’s moving.”
She should have gone for the gun. She’d been too focused on Carson and made a stupid, stupid mistake. She knew it was the heat of the moment, but she didn’t feel like that was much of an excuse. “Come on. We have to get you moving, get you to safety.”
“He threatened you. You’re not safe, either.”
“I sent Nate for the cops. They’re here. He won’t get away, and people will have heard that shot even if it was muffled and there’s so many around right now—”
“He killed my father.” Carson leaned against her, and she didn’t like how weak he was. “He… I thought I did, but he… He killed my father.”
She shifted her position, trying to drag him back with her. Getting hit by that old suitcase had at least slowed the bastard down, and he wasn’t able to scramble up and threaten them again, which was good, because she was pretty sure that Carson was in shock, and it wouldn’t be easy to get him away in this state. “I know, Carson. I know. It’ll be all right. We’ll get through this.”
“There never was any money.”
“He made me pull the trigger. He said I did it.”
She closed her eyes. Damn it. That had to be why he couldn’t remember it. He’d been too young to know that it wasn’t really him, and his mind had forced him to forget until now. Poor Carson. She wished she’d done more than whack that bastard with the suitcase. She should have grabbed the gun and shot him. Of course, she didn’t know that she could have, no matter what he’d done to the man she loved.
“It’s going to be okay. I promise.”