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Authors: Andi Marquette

Land of Entrapment

BOOK: Land of Entrapment
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Land of Entrapment

K.C. Fontero left Albuquerque for Texas in the wake of a bitter break-up, headed for a teaching and research post-doc at the University of Texas, Austin. With a doctorate in sociology and expertise in American white supremacist groups, she’s well on her way to an established academic life. But the past has a way of catching up with you and as K.C. spends a summer helping her grandfather on his central Texas farm, her past shows up in the form of her ex, Melissa Crown, an Albuquerque lawyer who left K.C. for another woman three years earlier.

Melissa’s younger sister Megan has gone missing -she’s hooked up with a man Melissa suspects is part of an underground white supremacist group and Melissa needs K.C.’s help to find her and hopefully bring her out of the movement. K.C. knows she has the knowledge and contacts to track the group. She knows that in the interests of public service, she’d be helping law enforcement, as well. What she doesn’t know is how far into her past she’ll have to go in order to find not only Megan, but herself as well.

Working to locate the group without alerting members’ suspicions, K.C. finds herself drawn to Megan’s friend and neighbor, Sage Crandall, a photographer who challenges K.C.’s attempts to keep her heart ensconced in the safety of research and analysis. Confronted with her growing feelings for Sage while unraveling her complicated past with Melissa, K.C. delves into the racist and apocalyptic beliefs of the mysterious group, but the deeper she goes, the greater the danger she faces.

Chapter One

“MAMAS, DON’T LET your daughters...” I sang, pulling the bale of alfalfa off the stack and hefting it into place in the back of the pick-up. “No, don’t let ’em grow up to be scary-ass sociologists like me.”

Another bale, another impromptu verse. “Mamas, don’t let your sociologists research neo-Nazis.” A pause to rest in the central Texas heat, then I started bouncing up and down, the truck moving with me.

“Mamas, don’t let your daughters grow up to be college professors ’cause all they do is write boring books.” Two-stepping in place now, turning a circle in the back of the truck. “Unless they’re working on Grandpa’s farm between semesters, oh, yeah. Hell, mamas! Don’t let your daughters fry to death in a fucking Texas summer!” I hollered the last lyric and started laughing. “Sorry, Willie. It used to be a good song until now.”

I stopped dancing and pushed the brim of my battered straw cowboy hat back and squinted in the sun, watching a cloud of dust that marked a vehicle’s approach and waiting for the sound of its engine. Out here, neighbors know each other by the sound of car engines. The dust cloud slowed at Grandpa’s quarter-mile driveway and hesitated before making the right-hand turn toward the house, picking its way slowly down the deeply rutted stretch.

Nope, didn’t recognize the engine or the vehicle, a black SUV. Some rancher’s kid from college stopping by, maybe. Or a tourist off the beaten path. Possibly a townie. Shrugging mentally, I continued loading bales of alfalfa into the pick-up from the monumental stack that last season’s harvest had generated.

“Mamas, don’t let your daughters stay out in the sun too long.” I shoved another bale against the cab and the truck’s bed shuddered. Ick. Even my hands were sweating. Prickly bits of alfalfa clung to my wrists and fingers inside my gloves. “Mamas, if your daughters say they want to research neo-Nazis, just say no. Because they’ll end up in Texas!” I paused and stood watching as the newcomer pulled to a stop in front of the main house. Nice rig. Way too nice for these parts. Grandpa came out of the house, trying to calm Barb, who was on the verge of apoplexy as she ran circles around the vehicle. She was a dog of extreme moods. Dan and Perry tended to be the more methodical and thoughtful of the group and probably had already peed all over those nice new tires. Jane, the baby of the batch, stood on the porch’s top step, watching Grandpa talk to the visitor through the driver’s side window.

Sweat was collecting in the waistband of my jeans.

I hate that. During a central Texas summer, the heat fogs your brain and wrings every drop of sweat from your pores. It hangs in the air like heavy clouds and follows you like Grandpa’s heelers. You can sit inside and watch the heat sniff around your windows and doors or you can try to out-drive it, but it’s always as fast or as slow as your vehicle and when you stop, it glares at you like a pissed off ex-girlfriend.

A central Texas summer isn’t a season so much as a state of mind. I sighed heavily and hauled another bale off the stack. “Mamas, why’d you let your daughters leave New Mexico?” Two years since I’d left Albuquerque. God, I missed the dry heat. And the landscape. I shoved the bale into place. The Texas sun beat on my bare arms, which were already the color of topsoil. I tried not to think too much about the consequences of my UV exposure. Time to worry about that come fall. “Dammit, mamas, you know your daughters hate Texas,” I sang, stomping my foot.

“So why, mamas, didn’t you get your daughters teaching fellowships in New Mexico?”

I grabbed the hem of my old white Indigo Girls concert tee and flapped it, trying to generate a breeze.

I had cut the sleeves so that most of my biceps were exposed. The extra air flow was delicious when a breeze decided to stop by. Grandpa always expressed Puritan disapproval about my summer fashion. I told him that the cows didn’t care what I wore as long as I fed them. That, plus threatening to lose the shirt entirely and just work in my jog-bra or half-naked, tended to win the argument with him.

The visitor hadn’t gotten out of the SUV. Probably someone just needing directions. Grandpa would handle it. “Mamas, your daughters are scary in the heat,” I said under my breath, grabbing another bale off the stack. “And your daughters would rather be back in New Mexico eating green chile.” A shadow from the nearby silo crawled imperceptibly east. My work would be long done here before it offered any shade. I grunted and heaved another bale onto the truck’s bed, maneuvering it into position. A rhythm developed, as I reached for another, looping my gloved fingers through the twine. Loop, lift, fling.

Grunt for good measure. Loop...

“Howdy, Cowgirl.”

There are times in people’s lives when something so completely unexpected happens that their brains lose all ability to send messages to arms and legs. This was just such a time. And even if I’d wanted to turn toward the source of the voice, I was physically incapable of it. Instead, I chanted over and over in my head, Please, please, please. It’s a bad dream. A really, really bad dream. Please, please, please...

“I always said nobody looked better in boots and jeans than you, Professor Fontero.”

Against my will—it’s truly amazing how your body can completely betray your best interests—my fingers untangled themselves from the twine and I turned to the woman I hoped so desperately was not really standing there. No deal. She spoke again.

“Hi, K.C.”

The memories I had spent nearly three years filing carefully away in the warehouse of my heart suddenly appeared on the loading dock. I can speak, generally, but in this instant, it wasn’t happening. “Melissa. I—”

“Didn’t expect you,” she finished gently. She smiled wanly, looked away, then looked back just as quickly. I could barely see her eyes behind her sunglasses. I felt shaky and cold, an odd sensation in the heat.

“I’m—” she started. Her voice broke and she looked at the ground. Teva sport sandals graced her feet and comfortably faded denim shorts hugged her still trim, athletic body much better than my memory served. A white T-shirt completed her ensemble.

Damn. Still gorgeous. How unfair.

She regained control. “I’m sorry to interrupt you like this, but I need to talk to you.”

What she meant was that she was sorry to invade what we both knew was a haven from the failed relationship whose bones I’d left back in Albuquerque. I shrugged, staring down at her from the truck. “You wouldn’t have if it wasn’t important,”

I finally offered, numb. All the bad memories I’d tried to sort through over the last three years hovered in the thick air between us.

I got down slowly, not realizing I was actually doing so, and joined her on the ground. I was still four inches taller than Melissa, though she seemed taller—time and my imagination hadn’t diminished her. She brushed a strand of hair out of her face. Hair the color of Swiss chocolate, that my own hands once brushed away from her face.

We stood regarding each other. I noticed a silver chain around her neck. It looked like the chain I had bought her in Italy four years ago. She saw me staring at it.“I never took it off,” she said softly as she took a step toward me. More than anything, I wanted to hug her. And that scared me.

“Don’t,” I heard myself whisper. No matter how badly I wanted to, I couldn’t have her touching me. I needed to maintain some sense of control, of pride.

Her hands dropped to her sides. I abruptly pulled my gloves off and shoved them into a back pocket, trying to dispel the moment. “Well. You’re here. So let’s talk.

Would you like something to drink?” I winced. My hostess mode always steps in when I’m having a problem with reality. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing. It might be inappropriate in certain situations. Sir, before you kidnap me and make it look like I died in an accident, would you care for a sandwich?

“Yes. That’d be great.” She followed me as my steps automatically traced the tire-packed track back to the house fifty yards away. Dan and Perry left Grandpa’s side and cautiously sniffed Melissa’s feet as we neared the large covered porch where he sat in his favorite chair, a big wooden rocker. Barb lurked behind him, eying Melissa suspiciously. Jane leaned contentedly against Grandpa’s leg, watching as we climbed the steps. My boots clunked on the wood.

“You want some tea, Grandpa?”

He shook his head in typical response.

“You sure?”

He nodded.

“I’ve got some business to attend to here. I’ll finish the load afterward. Why don’t you take a break, too?”

“Think I will,” he said quietly, folding his hands across his stomach. It was a ritual we had. He would never admit how his arthritis pained him so I would give him the leeway he required to leave his work for a bit until his feet quit hurting. And he also wanted to make sure I was okay.

I opened the screen door and motioned Melissa through. The dogs all relaxed, evidently deciding that things were under control. They’d fly off the handle if necessary. Melissa followed me into the kitchen through the low-ceilinged, spacious living room—

Grandpa called it “the parlor”—and the dining room.

Time stopped in this house around 1942 and the furnishings reflected it. The kitchen, however, was an early twenty-first-century testament to technological innovation, courtesy of yours truly, my parents, two neighbor guys, and my cousin Luke. We’d lowered the cabinets, installed new countertops, tiled the floor midnight blue, and bought a refrigerator, microwave, new range, and dishwasher. I knew Grandpa found it easier to get to things he needed and he loved the microwave, though he complained the whole time the kitchen was under renovation.

I washed my hands and set two glasses on the counter before digging ice out of the freezer and taking the big jug of tea out of the fridge. Tea straight from the front porch. There’s nothing quite like sun tea after you’ve been wrung out in a Texas summer day. I filled both glasses, feeling Melissa’s eyes on me.“Is your grandpa okay?”

“Yeah. His arthritis is a little worse, but he’s doing all right.” I put the tea back.

She picked up a glass and took her sunglasses off, exposing her blue-grey eyes. Dang. When she raised her eyebrows in a mute question, I motioned her to the screened back porch, where I had set up a yellow lawn table and chairs a month ago. Grandpa liked to sit out there in the evenings, watching sunsets splash the fields.

She and I sat down at the same time, Melissa across from me, and I tossed my hat onto an adjoining chair. I took a long pull from my glass, waiting, feeling raw and numb at the same time, like when an ornery horse dragged me a hundred feet down the driveway last fall. I limped the first two weeks of the new semester, earning some points with my students from ranching families.

“You really look wonderful, Kase.”

A strange rapport occurs between ex-lovers. You can say things to each other without worrying about ramifications, repercussions, or social mores. After all, the worst that could happen—other than dying—

already did. There’s no need to impress and each statement is truthfully simple, uttered for no reason other than blunt observation. Had I looked like shit, on the other hand, Melissa would not have mentioned my appearance. But the implications would be clear:

“Woo-wee, Kase. These years have not been good to you.

Lose some weight, girlfriend. Get a life.”

“Thanks. You’re looking fantastic as ever yourself.” I meant it.

“Texas has been good to you, then?”

I nodded. “Good enough, I guess.” I swirled my tea and the ice clinked in the glass. “How did you know I’d be here at Grandpa’s?”

“A feeling. And I found out you weren’t teaching this summer.”

BOOK: Land of Entrapment
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