Beth’s scream echoed inside Tabby’s head. Her sister released her hold on Tabby’s hair. Tabby blinked as tears formed from the nauseating smoke curling around them. Her mind tried to make sense of the chaos.
Men’s voices filled the air. "FBI! Drop your weapon!"
Beth crouched behind Tabby, using her body as a shield. "Don’t move or I’ll kill her!" Beth shouted and pressed the gun into Tabby’s ribs.
Through the haze of smoke Tabby could make out three armed men filling the room. One of the men, an older man with salt–and–pepper hair, made a gesture with his hand and the men lowered their weapons. Tabby swallowed back the terror that rose to choke her. She could feel Beth working at untying the rope holding her to the chair. When the rope fell away, Beth grabbed Tabby by the arm and forced her to stand.
"Beth, please, just give up!"
"Never!" Keeping Tabby in front of her, Beth dragged her toward the front door. "We’re going to walk out of here and you’re not going to stop us," Beth shouted.
"There’s nowhere for you to go," the man in charge said, his voice smooth and commanding. "The place is surrounded."
"Beth, please. Do as they say," Tabby pleaded, hating to think how this could end. One or both of them dead.
"Shut up!" Beth fumbled with the doorknob. She flung the door open. "Back off!" she shouted to the agents out front as she pulled Tabby out the door and closed it behind her. "Anyone moves and she dies."
Movement to her left drew Tabby’s attention. Jon crept through the rosebushes toward them. Fear for Jon pushed at Tabby’s mind. She mouthed the word, "No".
He edged closer.
Fear for her own safety fled as terror for Jon ripped through her mind. What was he doing? He was going to get himself killed!
"Miss Grant, we have the money you asked for," Kyle said as he stepped forward and dropped another duffel bag at his feet. "All you have to do is let your sister go."
Grateful for the distraction, Tabby kept her gaze riveted on Jon. Dear Father, please don’t…oh, please don’t let anything happen to him.
"You think I’m crazy?" Beth shouted. Her fingers dug into Tabby’s flesh. "She’s the only thing between me and a bullet."
"No one will shoot you," Kyle said, his voice soothing.
"Get the car from the garage," Beth demanded, her voice hard.
"We can do that." Kyle sidestepped to the right, drawing Beth’s attention away from Jon.
Tabby’s mouth went dry as she met Jon’s gaze. He gave her a slight nod before springing up and grabbing for Beth. She jerked, swinging the gun in his direction.
"No!" Tabby screamed.
Fearing Beth would shoot the man she loved, Tabby flung back her head and connected with her sister’s nose. A loud snapping noise barely registered as pain burst through Tabby. Bright dots danced before her eyes. She heard Beth screaming from what seemed like a long distance.
Then Jon was there, his handsome face coming into focus as he scooped Tabby into his strong arms, carried her down the porch and away from the chaos as her sister was taken into custody. Her two accomplices were also cuffed and led to a police car. It was over.
Gulping sobs racked Tabby’s body. Jon was safe. She wrapped her arms around him, clinging to him and wanting to never let go, but deep inside she knew she would have to. She couldn’t go back to being just his assistant.
Because she loved him.
"There you are!" Jon exclaimed as Tabby walked into his office five days later. He’d missed her terribly, but had tried to understand when she’d told him she needed a few days to get her head together after that horrible night. Her sister had been taken away and admitted back to the psychiatric hospital. Her accomplices would be doing time for kidnapping in the Massachusetts State Prison. And Jon had his cash back.
But most importantly, Tabby was safe.
Tabby’s slight smile didn’t reach her blue eyes as she stopped just inside the doorway. She wore black slacks and a red sweater that complemented her pale complexion. A red clutch was tucked beneath her arm and a matching red bow captured her hair at her nape. She looked impossibly younger than her twenty–eight years and even more gorgeous than she had just a few days ago. Tenderness and love welled in his heart. He’d never get tired of looking at her.
Able to read the nuances of her mood, concern raced through him. He rose, came around his desk and stopped in front of her. Reaching for her hands, he said, "You’re upset. Talk to me."
She dropped her gaze. "I…" She took a deep breath and lifted her eyes to meet his.
The determination and resignation he saw in her gaze confused and concerned him. His pulse picked up speed.
From the inside of her purse she handed him an envelope.
His stomach plummeted. "Your… I don’t understand."
"After everything I put you through I can’t continue to work for you. It wouldn’t be right."
"That you put me through?" He drew her to him. "You have nothing to feel guilty about. This wasn’t your doing."
For a moment she seemed to melt into his embrace but then she pushed back to stare into his face. "I shouldn’t have involved you. I had no right to ask you to put your life at risk for me."
"You didn’t ask, remember? I insisted." He cupped her cheek with his hand. "I’d walk through fire for you, Tabby. Don’t you know that?"
Her eyes widened. "You would?"
"Yes." Love filled his heart and echoed in his voice. "I love you, Tabitha Grant. I think I’ve been in love with you since the first day you stormed into my office saying I needed you working for me. I didn’t realize then just how much I do need you. I can’t imagine my life without you. You’ve shown me what real faith is."
Her eyes brightened with tears. "I love you, too."
Words to live by. "Tabby, the only way I’ll accept your resignation is if you agree to become Mrs. Spangler."
A small gasp escaped from her parted lips. "You’re asking me to marry you?"
Her stunned expression made him smile. "I am. What do you say?"
Joy beamed in her expression. "I say yes." Then a mischievous glint entered her gaze. "On one condition."
He arched an eyebrow. "Negotiating a marriage proposal, Miss Grant?"
She grinned. "Yes, Mr. Spangler."
He grinned back. "Let’s hear your condition."
"I get to keep my job."
"Yes!" Delighted to the tips of his soul, he dipped his head and captured her lips, sealing the best deal of his life.