Modern Wicked Fairy Tales: Complete Collection (6 page)

BOOK: Modern Wicked Fairy Tales: Complete Collection
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He laughed. “Almost?”

“The best gift would be if you would take
off your mask.” She said it hopefully, breath held.

“You know I can’t do that.” Silas smiled
sadly, taking a step toward her and kissing her forehead. Her
bandage was gone, the wound healing. He’d removed each stitch
carefully, tenderly. “Have a good bath. I’ll make us a great big
breakfast. Eggs and bacon?”

She nodded, smiling up at him.
“Scrambled.”

“Of course.” He knew her well enough by now.
He even made and canned his own version of ketchup and it was
better than Heinz or Hunts ever thought about being.

Jolee waited for him to go and then stripped
down and stepped into the tub, letting the warmth and steam envelop
her, trying not to think about anything. It wasn’t always easy, but
she found it less difficult here, squirreled away with Silas in his
cabin, than she had anywhere or any other time in her life. At
first, she’d been afraid, always looking over her shoulder, worried
that Carlos or one of his guys would show up, but after a while
that anxiety had faded.

Now they both practiced a very zen life
together, living in the moment, not talking about the past or the
future. At first she was full of questions, but she found him less
than forthcoming about his life, especially about his brother—not
that she blamed him. Carlos wasn’t a happy subject for her either.
Silas had clearly chosen a different life and didn’t want his
family to know he existed. Whatever his reasons, they were his own,
and who was she to question or argue with him about it?

She poured bubble bath into the water,
watching the suds rise, delighted. Sponge baths were tolerable and
got the job done, but this was pure luxury. She could feel layers
of grime washing off her skin and she sank down into the tub, her
hair spreading around her like a dark fan.

The thought of Silas doing all of this, the
work it must have been, actually brought tears to her eyes. She’d
never meet a sweeter, gentler soul, and she couldn’t help comparing
him to his brother, the two of them so opposite they could have
been from different planets. Where Carlos was cruel, Silas was
kind. Where Carlos was selfish, Silas was noble. She saw the
similarities, too—their eyes, dark and deep, the curve of their
mouths, that bright smile, their humor and charm. That was the
thing Carlos had used to seduce her in the beginning, when she was
just a young girl.

I’m not so old now, she reminded herself.
Just twenty-six, hardly an old maid. But she’d been practically a
baby when her father died, just turned nineteen, when Carlos had
taken her under his wing and guided her life down a pathway to
merge with his own. She’d been ready to take a scholarship to an
out-of-state college, something her father had been so proud of,
even if she had used her looks to obtain it—Jolee had entered and
won Miss Teen USA, the prize a full ride to Boston University, that
year’s sponsor. Her father had insisted she go, had even packed her
bags for her, even though she’d never been out of Michigan’s Upper
Peninsula in her whole entire life—and then the accident had
happened.

It wasn’t an accident.
Of course, she
hadn’t known that then. She’d been a lost, grief-stricken child and
Carlos had been waiting to swoop in and comfort her, convincing her
to marry him and give up that scholarship so far away from anything
familiar she’d ever known. She still couldn’t believe her naiveté,
how she had believed Carlos’s lies through the years, listened to
his excuses. And then, even when faced with the proof of her
father’s murder, she had allowed him to explain it away. She held
the paper in her hand—findings suppressed at the hearing that the
brakes on the logging truck had been fine after all—and had still
denied it as truth.

She remembered it clearly enough. Her father
had kissed her goodbye that morning, grabbing a thermos of coffee,
stopping only to take a bite of the eggs she’d made for him. He’d
been on his way to talk to one of the union reps and Daryl had
pulled the chain outside on the big logging rig, informing the
whole neighborhood that he was there to pick her father up.

Later Daryl tearfully told the cameras that
the brakes had failed.

“I told the old man to bail!” he swore in
his testimony. “He couldn’t get his belt off. I tried to help him
but I had to get out of the truck. What could I do?”

Watch her father sail off a ledge into a
ravine, apparently. Daryl broke his arm in the fall, but he was
alive. Her father had been trapped in the truck by his own
seatbelt, and all those years she thought it had been a mechanical
failure.

They said the brakes failed, but the brakes
were fine. According to the report, they were just fine, and the
handwritten note—
Your father was murdered- there was nothing I
could do about it - he was a friend and a good man—your husband
wanted him dead
—pointed the finger clearly enough. But Carlos
had explained it away and she believed him. She had let him charm
her once again, and had nearly paid for that mistake with her
life.

Jolee thought of Silas on the other side of
that wall, out there cooking breakfast for them. What did he know
about his brother? He had certainly accepted the fact that Carlos
had killed her father and had been trying to kill her as well,
willingly enough. He had never questioned her assertions, not once.
Maybe it was just because he trusted her—or maybe it was because he
knew the kind of man his brother really was.

She looked at all the pretty shaped soaps
and lotions and bottles of bubble bath Silas had left on the ledge,
trying to remind herself not to think about it. Her father was
gone, her husband believed she was dead. She didn’t belong
anywhere—but she had Silas, and he had her. It was enough for
now.

* * * *

Silas gunned the Arctic Cat, the runners
gliding along the hard-packed snow as he ducked his head to miss a
low-hanging branch, realizing he was just five minutes from home
now. He hadn’t had that glad-to-be-heading-home feeling in his
chest for years, and he knew it was because Jolee was waiting for
him. Part of him hated leaving her, but there were things he had to
do, in spite of her protest and questions—and Lord knew, the woman
was full of both!

“Just tell me where you’re going,” she’d
insisted as they both sat on side-by-side stools next to Big Anna
while he attempted to teach her how to milk the old girl.

He’d considered lying to her, making up some
excuse or reason he had to go, but instead had decided that being
cryptic had worked so far, why stop now? Of course, Jolee had
caught on to his deflection, and if that failed, his silence and
refusal to answer.

“You are impossible!” She’d given up on both
him and the cow, storming out of the old horse stall where kept Big
Anna for the winter.

I’m not the only one
, Silas thought,
scanning the woods for wildlife, constantly using his peripheral
vision, always practicing a high degree of situational awareness.
He had instructed her how to do everything—when to turn on the
generator, where he kept the extra fuel, how to milk the cow. He’d
been as thorough as he could, but he knew better than anyone that
you couldn’t plan for surprises. Anything could have happened while
he was gone.

He gave the Cat another jolt, urging the
machine faster. Dusk was settling though the snow-heavy limbs of
the trees, casting long shadows. He’d promised he would only be
three days and if he made it home tonight, he would keep that
promise, although he hadn’t been sure, yesterday morning when he’d
been repelling deep into one of his brother’s mines with four
pounds of dynamite strapped to his back, that he would make it at
all.

All’s well that ends well, he told himself,
seeing the house come into view over the rise of the hill. His
heart raced at the sight of it, faster than it had been pounding
when he’d flipped the switch and blown his brother’s new sulfide
mine, collapsing it into rubble. He was always careful to pull his
jobs at night, when no one was working in the mines or at the
camps. Carlos had them guarded now, of course—there were rumors
around the mining and logging camps that they were being haunted
and/or hunted by some sort of mythical “beast” who mangled trucks,
equipment and even the sites themselves—but Silas could track so
silently the guards were taken care of, passed out before they knew
what hit them.

He didn’t know who really believed the
“beast” rumors, but he didn’t do anything to discourage them. They
were useful and kept Carlos and his cronies from turning their
attention to the real culprit. They probably figured it was some
overzealous activist from the EPA, Silas thought, and that was
good. As long as he was careful and they didn’t connect him to the
millions of dollars of destruction and the months of set-back, he
figured he and Jolee were safe in the woods until spring. And after
spring, it wouldn’t matter anymore.

He parked the Arctic Cat next to the shed
and peeled off his helmet. The mask she had made him was breathable
but it kept the wind off his face and he was grateful for it. She’d
knit him several more, a small concession to his wearing them at
all, in a myriad of colors. “At least give me something new to look
at,” she’d teased, handing him an orange one. “Besides, I don’t
want a hunter taking your head off out there.”

He flipped open the storage container on the
back of the Cat, removing two of the three rabbits he’d snared
while he was waiting for activity to shut down for the weekend. The
third one had met a different fate in the mines. He held the
rabbits up in front of him as he stomped into the kitchen, calling
for her.

“Slim pickins’ out there, huh?” Jolee leaned
against the door frame, frowning at his small game offering.

“We got plenty in the freezer.” He took off
his boots as she snatched the rabbits, tossing them next to the
sink.

“I know.” She turned to face him, arms
crossed. “Which begs the question—where were you exactly? Because
you clearly weren’t out there hunting.”

Silas shrugged off his parka and removed his
gloves, the warmth of the room making his limbs tingle. He’d been
on the Cat so long he’d grown numb to the cold.

“Did you miss me?” he teased. He glanced
over at her drawn brow and pursed lips, looking for a hint of the
truth. Had she missed him? He didn’t like to admit it, but he’d
missed her. He turned and headed toward his bedroom to change.

“There was someone here, Silas,” she
called.

He stopped, turning, his heart dropping to
his knees, and looked into her eyes. They were bright with
tears.

“Who?” he managed, his gaze sweeping over
her as if he could assess, just by looking, if she was unharmed.
“When?”

“I don’t know.” Her voice was choked and she
wiped angrily at her falling tears, storming past him down the hall
toward her room.

“Jolee!” He followed her, bursting through
the door she’d just slammed behind her. “Talk to me!”

“You left me alone!” She sat on the bed with
her accusation, looking up at him with such a dejected look he was
instantly sorry. He wanted to scoop her up and make her feel safe
again. Silas looked around the room, noting the difference
instantly. Curtains—she had hand-sewn them, patch-worked from his
old t-shirt material.

“Tell me what happened,” he said flatly,
going over to the window and pulling the curtain aside, somehow
already knowing what he was going to see.

“I think someone was looking in the
windows.” Her voice trembled and Silas saw the footprints in the
snow, coming in from the woods and retreating again.

“Did anyone see you?”

“I don’t think so.” She sniffed. “I only
went out to milk Anna in the morning and it was still dark.”

He considered this information. Whoever it
was had been wearing boots, big ones. Definitely a man. He’d have
to go out and investigate, see if there were any shell casings,
arrows, signs he hoped he’d find.

“It was probably just a curious hunter.”
Silas let the curtains drop, turning back to Jolee. “My land backs
up to state land about five miles to the north.”

“What if it wasn’t?” Her hands twisted in
her lap and she looked up at him helplessly. “What if he found
us?”

“He didn’t.” Silas sat on the bed, feeling
it sag under his weight, and put a comforting arm around her thin
shoulders—she was actually quivering with fear. He told her the
truth, in spite of her anxiety. “Carlos is no peeping Tom. If he’d
found you, you would know it.”

“Maybe.” Jolee turned toward him, letting
him comfort her, tucking her head under his chin. He could smell
the sweetness of her shampoo and he let the heady scent envelop
him.

“So did you see anything? Hear anything?” he
asked, stroking her hair. She’d stopped having so many bad dreams
and while he was glad, he missed holding and comforting her like
this in the darkness.

“I heard something.” She pressed herself
closer at the memory. “Last night, late. I thought it might be you
coming home.”

The longing in her voice made him want to
smile. “What did you hear?”

“I was sleeping.” She shrugged. “I heard
something outside my window, but by the time I got up to go look,
there was nothing. Then this morning, I saw the tracks.”

He nodded, hoping it was just a lost hunter,
out too late, looking for somewhere to crash for the night. He’d
been careful, backing his truck up into the make-shift garage out
back so the license plate wasn’t visible even if Jolee had gone in
for something and forgot to shut the barn door. If one of Carlos’s
guys had stumbled on this place—and it was purposefully well-hidden
dimly lighted—there was no reason for them to believe it was
connected to him or to Jolee.

BOOK: Modern Wicked Fairy Tales: Complete Collection
6.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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