"Bread, cereal, pop," Lucas read aloud. He glanced up from the paper. "You came back to Trinity 'cause you had a hankerin' for our sody pop? Them Rice Krispies just don't snap, crackle and pop like they do in the south, huh?"
Ronilyn swore as she snatched the grocery list from his hand and flung it to the floor. She found her mother's letter in the purse and jammed it into his hand. "Read that," she commanded.
"What's this one?" Lucas asked with a laugh. "Your 'things to do' list? Directions from the airport? Dry cleanin' bill?"
"Just shut up and read," Ronilyn said. "I came back to claim my heritage, whatever the hell that may be. And to find out what happened to my mother - both of them."
Lucas's jaw tightened as he read.
"You must have been a horrible child, making your mother fall down the stairs when she was pregnant." Ronilyn paced the living room, feeling the adrenalin flow through her body. "No wonder the next time she found out she was pregnant, she hid it and went to her sister Sarah for help. Hester was afraid you were going to kill that baby too."
"Shut up!" Lucas said, looking up from the letter with a scowl on his face. "This can't be true. I'd have known. I'd have felt it."
"Maybe you did feel a connection, but you thought it was just because we were cousins," she said. "That's your mother's handwriting, Lucas. Our mother's handwriting. She explains what they did and why."
"Where'd you get this?"
Ronilyn gave a bitter laugh. "Call it a birthday present from Mom," she said. "Sarah was never pregnant with me. Hester stayed in Ascension all those months so no one would find out that she was pregnant. She was probably afraid you'd cause her to miscarry again. Sarah and Nathan raised me as their daughter and even moved to Trinity so Hester would be closer to me. And she was right. You would've killed me if you'd known, wouldn't you, Lucas?"
He looked at her through narrowed eyes as he slowly and deliberately crushed the letter in his fist and dropped it to the floor. Ronilyn involuntarily flinched as Lucas ground his boot into the only thing she had of her mother's.
She glared at him. "Destroying the letter isn't going to make everything go away. It's not going to make me go away."
"That's what you think," he said coldly.
"I'm still your sister. Christopher and Hester Buck's daughter. For better or for worse. And I'm beginning to think it's for the worse," she said, poking her foot at the bloodstain on the carpet. "Blood is blood, Lucas. You can't change that."
"Maybe not, but I can change your address." He strode over to the front door. "You be out of here tomorrow mornin' or I'll come by and see to it myself."
"Morning? What happened to high noon? I thought that was the favorite deadline of sheriffs everywhere."
Lucas jerked the door open and an old woman stumbled into the house.
"Mrs. Broomley? What are you doing here?" Ronilyn asked, snatching up the precious fragments of her mother's letter from the floor and stuffing them into her pants pocket.
Lucas caught the woman's arm and steadied her. "Careful there, ma'am. You alright?"
"Yes, fine, sheriff." Mrs. Broomley clasped his shoulder. "Oh, sheriff, I'm so glad you're here. I was sweepin' off my front stoop when all of a sudden I saw all the lights in Ronilyn's house go out. Then, a couple of minutes later, I swear every single light in the house went on at the exact same time. I came straight over to make sure she was alright."
"Just a little electrical problem," Ronilyn lied.
Lucas patted the woman's shoulder. "Everything's fine now, ma'am.".
"Well, that's good to hear," the elderly woman said. "A woman livin' alone can't be too careful nowadays, even in a little town like Trinity."
"Especially in Trinity," Ronilyn said, looking pointedly at Lucas.
"That's why I was glad to hear you were stayin' on. It'll be good to have you nearby."
"You must be mistaken, ma'am," said Lucas. "Ronilyn was just here visitin'. She's got a life up north, and she's got to be gettin' back to it real soon, don't you, Ronilyn?"
"Why, I thought the mayor offered you a job as his assistant," Mrs. Broomley said.
Lucas arched an eyebrow. "Is that right?" Ronilyn shrugged in response.
Mrs. Broomley frowned. "Well, I hope you change your mind and stay, dear. I really do hate havin' your house sit there empty all the time." She touched Lucas's arm. "Although the sheriff here has taken real good care of it."
"Yeah, he's real good at taking care of things. Although it might be hard to do that if the police budget is cut," Ronilyn said deliberately, knowing what the woman's response would be.
"What? Why that's nonsense, pure and simple." Mrs. Broomley brushed it aside with a wave of her hand. "I already told you, Ronilyn, that I wasn't goin' to let that happen. From where I sit, the sheriff's doin' a fine job. And I sit at the head of the Finance Committee now," she said with a wink.
Mrs. Broomley headed out the front door, then turned back. "You belong in Trinity, Ronilyn. Family needs to stay together. There's not enough of that nowadays."
"She's right," Ronilyn said after the old woman was out of earshot.
"Oh, please. Don't get all sappy on me."
"No, I meant that I belong in Trinity." She jabbed a finger at him. "This is my home too. I have as much a right to be here as you do."
"That's where you're wrong. Dead wrong," Lucas replied. "I'll decide what rights you have and stayin' here ain't one of them. Now pack up your Nancy Drew books and hit the road."
Ronilyn sighed in exasperation. "And how do you expect me to get a flight on such short notice?" she asked. "You got a private jet tucked away in one of those coat pockets or something? Or are you just going to snap your fingers and I'll be back in Chicago?"
Lucas just stood there and looked at her.
"Well," Ronilyn said uncertainly. "It doesn't matter. You'd probably lose my luggage and end up sending it to New York by mistake."
"I'm a reasonable man," Lucas said, stepping onto the front porch. "I'll give you twenty-four hours, a nice round number. That alright with you?" he asked sarcastically.
"And if I don't leave? What are you going to do, kill me?"
Lucas looked at her with an unreadable expression, his gaze traveling down and back up until it rested on her face. "No," he said softly. "No, I'm not goin' to kill you." His features hardened as he silently damned Nathan Huntley for wresting that oath out of him. "But you might wish I had."
"I doubt it," she said. "And you know, you really shouldn't be mad. I took care of your little budget problem, just with a different person and without anybody getting hurt. You heard Mrs. Broomley. She won't mess with your money. So you don't have a puppet on the City Council. Too bad." Ronilyn shrugged. "I guess you'll have to try a little harder to get what you want then." She looked into his eyes. "If you're not up to it, maybe you should step aside."
Lucas was silent for a moment, then a grin slowly spread across his face. "You think you're a match for me?"
"More than anyone else in this town."
Lucas threw back his head and laughed.
"What's so funny?"
"What do you think, that your fine morals, your conscience, are goin' to give you some sort of edge?" He shook his head. "You forget where you are. This is Trinity, darlin'. That kind of stuff doesn't do you a damn bit of good here."
"Then why do you want me out of here? You must think I'm some kind of threat."
"Threat? Yeah, you're a threat alright," Lucas said, still chuckling. "Why, I may just bust a gut laughin' at all your fairy tales and crazy notions. No, what you are is a troublemaker, and there's no room for that sort in my town."
"Sure there is." Ronilyn flung an arm back toward the house. "I got plenty of room here. And if you can't handle a little trouble, Lucas..." She let the unspoken implication hang in the air.
"Careful, Ronilyn," Lucas warned her. "You don't know who you're dealin' with."
"Sure I do. A Buck. Same as me."
"Oh, no. You may be a Buck, but you ain't like me. Not yet anyway," Lucas said with an evil grin.
As he strode down the porch steps, the dog whose earlier howls had announced Lucas's arrival leapt onto the porch from the side of the house and padded over to where Ronilyn stood. Lucas continued down the front walk, his overcoat billowing out with each step. The dog watched, growls rumbling in his throat, as Lucas disappeared into the darkness.
Ronilyn reached down to smooth the dog's risen fur. "Don't worry," she said, more to herself than the dog. "Nobody's pushing me out of my home." Green eyes glittering, she stared out into the night where she last saw Lucas. "So I'm not a threat, huh, Lucas? We'll see about that."
As Sheriff Lucas Buck once said, "The beauty of a small town like Trinity is that we take care of our own." I hope I took care of my readers and you all enjoyed the stroll through Trinity. A big thanks to my wonderful reviewers Kath, J Travis, and Surfer-Rosa. Those of you who are writers know how encouraging it is to receive feedback – it lets you know at least someone has read your story and been affected enough to comment on it.
While this story has ended, you've probably noticed I've left it open for sequel(s). I have no idea if and when that will happen, but if the Sheriff starts pestering me about it, who am I to deny him?