The discordant scream of sirens faded as the emergency vehicles pulled to a stop in front of Zelda's house. Dizzying, garish ribbons of blue and red light swirled into her entryway.
She stared out of her open front door at the smoking cinders and bomb fragments littering her sidewalk, then lifted her gaze to the EMTs and deputies pouring out of their vehicles. "Here!" she called out, waving her arms frantically when they didn't hurry towards her house. "The bomb was over here!"
But none of them even glanced in her direction as they raced across the street toward the Garrison house. One of them pounded on the door, then rammed it with his shoulder and they all disappeared inside. Even from her home, Zelda could hear them shouting, though she couldn't make out the words. Lights turned on throughout the house, one room after another.
And then suddenly everything was quiet.
A hand closed over Zelda's arm, the bony fingers digging through her robe to sink deeply into her flesh. "I think they found him," Mrs. Garrison whispered, her voice raw. "I-it was so awful. I just can't go back there alone to face them. It was an accident, you know. But they won't believe it. They never do."
Never do? Zelda blinked. "No one was hurt when the bomb went off here, Mrs. Garrison."
"Listen to me," the elderly woman hissed, tightening her fierce grip. "My husband is dead. I don't know who called 911, but they're going to guess wrong about what happened, and they won't believe me. I loved him--I swear I did. You need to tell them that."
Zelda shook her head, trying to clear her confusion. An unexpected Christmas present on her doorstep had turned out to be a bomb, meaning someone had tried to hurt her--but why? And now someone else was dead? That poor, poor man. A coincidence? Or...
She felt her blood chill. "I'll go over there with you right now, " she announced, marching out the door with Mrs. Garrison in tow. "We're going to get some answers."
Ben stepped into her path, all trace of warmth gone from his startling blue eyes. "Don't."
Affronted, feeling even more protective of the old woman behind her, Zelda glared at him. "I need to help my neighbor, and then I want those officers over here next. Someone tried to kill me this morning."
He met her glare with a sharp, assessing expression of his own, then stepped closer and lowered his voice until only she could hear. "You have no idea just how much danger you're in, lady. It's more than you can imagine. So say goodbye to your neighbor and follow me." He tipped his head toward the side of her house. "Now."
Zelda's heart stumbled. Safety--the patrol cars and emergency vehicles--was just a dozen yards away. A distraught old woman had begged for her help. Yet this veritable stranger had just pocketed some sort of evidence amongst the bomb fragments, and now he wanted her to follow him into the early morning darkness of her back yard, where anything could happen?
Maybe he'd even been the one to plant the package on her front step. She could see the headlines now...WIDOW SLAIN BY CRAZED BOMBER IN OWN BACKYARD. How had she ever been drawn to this man's dreamy blue eyes and ruggedly handsome face?
"N-No," she stammered, fear clawing at her throat. "I won't. Touch me and I'll scream!"
A muscle ticked at the side of his lean, strong jaw. "Then think about your son," he whispered. "But think fast--because we have just a few more seconds before those 'officers' come out of that house across the street...and even your Mrs. Garrison isn't who you think she is. Now run!"