The Night Is Forever Page 53


She was strong;they fought for the gun.


A shot went off and Mariah screamed in agony. Dustin tried to wrench her gun from her but it eluded them both and landed several feet away. But the woman had been shot and he realized that Olivia had recovered her own gun and managed to fire off a round.


Despite the fact that she was bleeding, Mariah strained to reach her weapon. Yet she suddenly went still and Dustin struggled with her weight, trying to move around her. And then he saw what she saw.


The general had come. He stood with his foot on the gun.


’’Not on this land!’’ he said. ’’Not on this land. Cruelty and murder will not happen, not on my land.’’


Dustin inched forward;his fingers grasped the weapon and he threw Mariah off him. She huddled in a ball, sobbing.


Malachi burst into the cemetery with Abby at his side.


’’It\s done,’’ the general said.


And he faded away. The ghost of Marcus Danby grinned and saluted Dustin, then faded, too.


Aaron, also, was gone. Malachi had rushed to his cousin\s side, while Abby assessed Mariah\s injuries.


Dustin turned quickly to reach Olivia. She was hugging Malachi, but she pulled away and smiled tremulously at him.


’’You\d make a horrible reenactor,’’ she said.


’’Yeah, I know. I\m sorry. You, uh, need to learn how to shoot,’’ he told her.


She nodded. ’’I guess I do.’’


She was shaking, but she appeared to be all right. She didn\ even seem traumatized. ’’The others?’’ she asked.


’’Ambulances came pretty quickly to the Horse Farm. Sloan and Jane were already up. You managed to get the darts out of them?’’ he asked her.


She nodded. She started to take a step, but she wasn\ walking very well. He stopped her, looked into her eyes and muttered, ’’Oh, the hell with it.’’


Then he swept her into his arms and headed out on the trail, leaving the shadows of the dead behind and Malachi and Abby to deal with Mariah.


Epilogue


Mariah Naughton proved to be full of surprises and her last surprise was especially dramatic.


She never reached a hospital, and she never explained her entire story. They had to piece together what they could from Jimmy Cgodan, who\d been dating Mariah, and from Sandra Cheever, who was willing to do anything to get the D.A. to deal with her as leniently as possible.


What happened in the end was because Mariah had no intention of leaving ’’her’’ land. She had used a gun on Olivia, but she\d still had a supply of poisoned darts. Frank Vine arrived at the cemetery to arrest her, but before he could cuff her, she managed to use her poisons on herself in a greater dose than she\d used on anyone else. Frank radioed for a helicopter;it came, but Mariah was pronounced dead on arrival.


Olivia tried to feel something for her. She couldn\ . She knew she should have sympathy for someone who\d lived with such a disturbed, tormented mind. She worked constantly with people who had issues and problems;she understood the addict and triggers and...


One day, she thought, she\d forgive Mariah. But it wouldn\ be for a long time.


The Horse Farm was a shambles. Mariah had set out to destroy it and she\d done an effective job. It would be hard to convince others of the good that had existed, now that Marcus, Aaron and Mariah were dead and Sandra Cheever was busy working out a plea bargain.


But on Wednesday morning, when she sat with the Krewe members and her Horse Farm team in the office, she was determined.


’’We\ e fired,’’ Drew said dully. ’’I understand.’’


’’Of course,’’ Sydney said.


’’No. We\ll close our doors for about a week, but we\ e actually in a sound financial situation. Of course, we can\ use our reserves forever or we\ll be left with no choice but to move on.’’


’’So what will we do?’’ Mason asked.


She pointed a finger at him. ’’Mason, you\ e gorgeous yes, we all know that and you could probably have a future as an actor or model. But you\ e also a good therapist. You\ll be our new director.’’


’’You\ e director,’’ he said.


’’I\ll be an absentee director,’’ she told him. ’’You\ll take over as acting director. Sydney and Drew, if you don\ mind, you\ll continue sharing responsibilities as stable managers and horse masters.’’


’’But ’’ Drew began.


’’I\ve already spoken with Mrs. Lockwood Brent\s mother. He\s going to come back. Apparently he cries because he\s afraid he won\ be able to see us again. I spoke to Brent myself. He says he likes me best, but that\s okay, he\ll work with you.’’


’’Well, um, thanks,’’ Mason said, still confused.


’’I\ve also spoken with Patty Sobles. Remember her? She\s one of the local women we work with. Anyway, she\s coming back. I\ve been on the phone with the parents of the kids at Parsonage House. They\ll give us another chance. As I said, we won\ open our doors for a week. Aaron deserves a good funeral with all of us at it, and Mariah... Well, we have to see that she\s buried, too. I don\ think she had any family left maybe that\s why the land meant so much to her. Mason, you\ e going to have to find a few more therapists. Oh, we\ e going to steal Ellie Villiers from Willis House to run the office. She was only part-time there and she\s looking for full-time work. Mason, you\ll move into Marcus\s old house that\ll save you from paying rent. I\ll just have you guys check on my place now and then, make sure everything\s all right.’’


’’So, you will come back?’’ Drew asked hopefully.


’’I\ll always come back,’’ she replied. ’’Tennessee is my home. These hills are my home. We all have the right and even the responsibility to love the place that\s our home, to love our heritage. Mariah just let it consume her. But, yes, I will come back as often as I can.’’


Sydney rose, rolling his hat in his hands as he did when he was a little nervous about what he was going to say. He looked at Dustin. ’’You treat her right, you understand? Your intentions had better be honorable!’’


’’The most honorable,’’ Dustin promised him. ’’Don\ worry I work with her cousin.’’


Sydney smiled and sat down again.


’’This will work,’’ Olivia said. ’’The Horse Farm will survive. We will survive all of us. Marcus Danby was an incredible man who did incredible things and the Horse Farm will continue to rescue animals and we\ll continue to do our best to rescue people, as well. Just as Marcus always did.’’


She smiled as everyone in the room applauded. ’’Thank you,’’ she said softly. ’’I ’’


’’I don\ get it,’’ Mason broke in. ’’Where will you be?’’


’’Virginia,’’ she said. ’’I\m going to the FBI Academy and I\ll take what I know in a different direction. But I\ll just be a phone call away.’’


’’What?’’ Mason said. ’’You you...you don\ even like guns!’’


’’And I never will. However, I\ll learn how to use one,’’ she told him.


The room was silent. Then Mason stood up and came over to hug her. ’’I realize you do have other talents,’’ he murmured. ’’And we\d be selfish if we didn\ think you should use them.’’ He cleared his throat and stepped back, looking at the other agents in the room. He nodded shrewdly. ’’I read up on you people. And I know what your talents are. And... Well, I guess we have to let Olivia go.’’


Olivia hugged Mason again, and then Drew and Sydney. Abby announced that she had Delilah bringing over a feast and that today they\d celebrate the lives of Marcus Danby and Aaron Bentley and all they\d tried to do for others.


* * *


It was a nice afternoon. Olivia caught Dustin\s eye across the room;he and Sloan had been talking horses, since she intended to bring Shiloh and Chapparal to Virginia, and Sloan had the land and the stables to house them until she and Dustin could make other arrangements.


Sammy ran around the room woofing happily.


There were so many people there to pet him and make a fuss over him. But Sammy, too, would be moving.


Malachi and the others had to get back the next day, but Olivia needed to stay behind to deal with various legal matters.


Dustin stayed with her.


* * *


And so, a week later, the day before the horse trailers were ready and before she let Mason take over, Olivia and Dustin rode out to the campground. The weather was growing a little brisk, but they still played in the stream and made love beneath the moon.


When they rode back, they stopped at the cemetery where the general was buried. There was a fresh bullet hole gouging his tombstone, and Dustin looked at it regretfully.


’’I don\ think he\ll mind,’’ Olivia said.


’’Probably not. Do you think he\s still here? What about Marcus and Aaron?’’ Dustin asked her.


’’I think Marcus and Aaron have moved on,’’ she said. ’’I\ve thought about it over the past few days. They did a lot of good while they were alive. All right, so Aaron wasn\ terribly bright in his choice of love interest, but he was a decent guy. He didn\ kill himself and we proved that. He and Marcus can both move on and I hope there is a heaven. They deserve to reach it.’’


Dustin gnawed on a piece of grass and smiled, gazing up at the beautiful green overhang. ’’The general deserves his piece of heaven, too, but...I think he sees these hills as his heaven.’’


’’I think so, too,’’ Olivia agreed. ’’Do you believe in heaven?’’ she asked him.


He pulled her into his arms. ’’Every time I see your face,’’ he said.


He kissed her.


And Olivia was certain that whatever spirits roamed the hills, dales and forests of Tennessee, they looked on and approved.



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