Authors: C. A. Harms
Book One of the Sawyer Brothers Series
Copyright © 2015 by C.A. Harms.
All rights reserved.
First Print Edition: August 2015
Limitless Publishing, LLC
Kailua, HI 96734
Formatting: Limitless Publishing
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
Remember to say “I love you” often. You never know when the opportunity to share those words will be taken from you, leaving behind the regret of your silence.
Table of Contents
One of the hardest things I have ever had to do was bury my wife.
The second-hardest thing would be watching my twelve-year-old daughter fall to her knees as the preacher uttered his final words of comfort before her mother’s casket was slowly lowered into the grave. It finalized the fact that the woman we loved dearly was no longer within our reach. We would no longer be blessed by her smile or warmed by her words.
It was the most heart-wrenching sight, one that will forever be etched in my mind and which left a void in me I was positive would never be filled. It changed the man I thought I was and made me realize that loving someone with your entire heart didn’t ensure they would always be with you. There was no way to predict your fate.
Claire was my best friend; she had been since we were barely old enough to talk. I always knew I would one day marry her. I may have even told her so a few times while we were growing up. Even my brother, Noah, who is nearly a year younger than me, thought he would marry her. She was the perfect girl and had every man in Livingston, Montana, mesmerized by her looks and her personality. But she and I were meant to be.
I never thought I would lose her so suddenly. Now I was left struggling to find the strength I needed to push forward without her in my life. I couldn’t remember a day she wasn’t by my side, and now she was gone forever.
I sat in the chair looking at the deep, freshly dug grave before me, consumed by a feeling of emptiness. The air felt thick as it filtered into my lungs, making me feel like I was being suffocated. The anxiety of my loss was slowly overtaking me as I tried hard to fight the urge to break down and just give up.
Olivia’s sweet whisper pulled me from my daze, and I looked deep into her red, swollen eyes. I felt as if I had just been punched in the gut. There stood my little girl, looking broken and lost.
“I miss her already,” she said, her soft voice cracking.
Tears filled my eyes, and I could barely see her through them. God, her words weren’t strong enough for what I was feeling. I felt like I was trying to survive without air to breathe.
I reached out and pulled Olivia in tightly, then cradled her protectively. “It’s just so unfair,” she cried into my shoulder, her body shaking against mine.
“I know baby, I know.” Life wasn’t fair.
Losing Claire was never a possibility in our minds. She had gone in for what should have been a simple procedure to remove her gallbladder. She should have been sent home that day to begin the healing process, well on her way to being the happy and active Claire we all knew. But within days she became deathly ill, and there was nothing I could do to help her. I stood by helplessly while the woman I loved with all my heart and soul suffered.
I can still remember our last real conversation. I had called home to check on her during lunch, and she sounded so tired and weak. She insisted, even after I questioned her for ten minutes, that she was fine and only had a headache.
“You’re buying me dinner tonight. No way am I cooking,” she said with a gentle laugh.
“I’ll cook you anything you want, babe. You just name it,” I assured her.
“Yeah, sure, Ryan. You can’t even make instant macaroni and cheese without burning it. We’ll just stick to going out for dinner, or better yet, we’ll just order in.”
She was right—I couldn’t cook for the life of me.
I couldn’t stop replaying that conversation over and over in my mind. I wish more than anything I would have said more. I wish I would have told her how much I loved her and how no one has ever given me the joy she has. I should have told her I adored her and how I treasure our every moment together.
Instead I told her to get some rest and that I might have to stop by the ranch and help out my brothers, so getting home late was a possibility.
I was unprepared for the phone call I received only four hours later.
Olivia had arrived home from school to find her mother curled up on the living room floor, lethargic with chills and a fever. She panicked and rushed to call 9-1-1.
The drive to the hospital is still a total blur; I was steered by pure adrenaline and fear. By the time I arrived in the emergency room, everything was spiraling out of my control. I found Olivia seated next to my parents and in-laws as the doctors told us what was happening to Claire.
Her bowel was nicked during surgery, and she was sent home without it being detected. Claire brushed off all the signs that something was wrong, believing the pain would soon go away. But when it had reached the point of agonizing, it was too late to do anything. Her organs were beginning to shut down.
As we sat in the waiting area, I felt as if my heart was breaking. I heard everyone talking around me, but my numb mind couldn’t take in a word. My entire world was behind those big double doors with the woman I chose to spend my life with. She was everything to me, and I couldn’t help her. I would have given anything to take her place.
The moment the doors swung open to reveal the ashen faces of the doctor and the small nurse at his side, my heart crumbled. My life shattered when he began to speak.
“I am so sorry, we did all we could.” The doctor hung his head, the loss clearly affecting him intensely. “I wish I could have saved her. I’m am truly, truly sorry for your loss.”
Claire was taken from us that day, and a huge part of me died with her. She was the biggest part of me, and I had no idea how I would go on without her.
Three years later…
“Dad, come on, we’re gonna be late,” Olivia hollered from the kitchen. I could hear her slamming cabinet doors and shuffling around. Our mornings were always hectic, and most days it was still harder than hell to climb out of bed. I still felt lost without Claire, but I kept going for Liv’s sake. She was my reason to accept what life had thrown at me and move forward.
“I’m coming, Liv. I can’t find my truck keys,” I grunted as I hopped down the hall while pulling my boot on. I had spent the last twenty minutes in search of my keys only to come up empty-handed. Claire used to always play the same damn tricks on me, always hiding things from me and then sitting back to watch me search for them. She used to love that I relied on her to keep me organized. She was a saint.
“Mom used to say you would lose your ass if it wasn’t attached to your body.”
I looked up and cocked an eyebrow at my now-teenage daughter. “Liv,” I said in warning.
She shrugged and leaned against the doorframe. “What? Mom used to say it. I’m just reminding you that you are very forgetful. Oh, and completely disorganized too.”
I narrowed my eyes at her.
“I’ll stop now, but you know it’s true. You are thirty-three years old and have no sense of organization.”
All I could manage to do was shake my head and smile. Damn kid was her momma’s clone. She looked just like her, talked just like her, and hell if she didn’t have the same fire inside of her. She was feisty, and my baby girl kept me in line daily, just like Claire had always done.
A flash of yellow to my left caught my eye, and my shoulders sagged. There on the coffee table next to the couch sat my keys with the yellow star keychain Claire added to my key ring because she thought it would help them stand out more. I picked them up and twisted them around my finger. Olivia giggled and covered her mouth.
“If they were a snake they would have bit ya,” she told me. She cocked her head to the side and grinned as I nudged her toward the open front door. “Okay, smartass, let’s get moving.”
I pulled up in front of the high school, and Olivia jumped out of the cab of my truck and threw her bag over her shoulder.
“Bye, Daddy, have a good day.” She smiled her momma’s smile, and my chest ached at the likeness.
“You too, baby girl. I’ll see ya tonight.”
I waved as I watched her walk away and disappear into the building. If she had gotten her momma’s golden-blond hair instead of my darker color, she would be Claire’s twin. It was hard to believe my little girl was growing up.
I eased my truck away from the curb. It was time to head to work.
After a quick stop for coffee at JJ’s, I pulled into the police station and grabbed my bag from the passenger seat.
As I walked through the front entrance, I looked at all the officers standing around the station, talking. Livingston, Montana, was a sleepy town, but that didn’t mean crazy things didn’t happen. I mean, getting calls at two o’clock in the morning to track down an escaped herd of cattle or ol’ Bert’s pesky sheepdog was about the extent of our emergencies. Things were usually pretty quiet, which is why I insisted on continuing to patrol the streets after my promotion. The chief tried to convince me I was needed at the station while our guys took care of our town’s safety, but I just couldn’t let go of the interaction. I loved knowing what was happening where I lived and being on scene when something came up. And anyway, the issues I faced out there were mild compared to what I would have in a bigger city, and I needed the rush. Sitting behind a desk gave me too much time to think.
“Hey, Sarg, we got a full house already,” Officer Mitchell greeted me as I rounded the counter. I just shook my head as I headed toward my desk in the back corner of the room. I would get myself checked in and then get back out on the road. I had no desire to get stuck in the office today.
I’d like to think Claire would be proud. I was promoted the year after she died, and it had been something I’d been hoping to achieve. Her being there to see it would have made the achievement even sweeter.
My brother Noah slapped the top of my desk as he dropped into the chair on the opposite side. Being so close in age, we were almost inseparable, sharing all the same friends, including Claire, since childhood.
“You ready for this weekend?” he asked
Every year a group of guys from around town get together for a weekend of fishing and drinking. Yeah, booze and fishing hooks don’t always mix well, but for the most part we make it out unscathed. For the last few years I’d found some excuse to bail, feeling guilty for leaving Olivia. But this year she insisted I go. Something about me needing to get out of the house and stop hovering over her. I guess that was her way of telling me she needed a break from her dad.
“Yeah, I’m looking forward to a weekend with the guys,” I said as I stood and grabbed my coffee off my desk.
“You drinking that nasty shit from JJ’s?” he asked, pointing toward my coffee cup.
“I woke up late this morning. I had to grab it on the way in. Not many choices left since Helen’s closed. Damn, now that was a good cup of coffee.”
JJ’s coffee was weak and somewhat sour. But it beat the stuff at the station—hell, that tasted more like drinking syrup with a burnt aftertaste.
Noah followed as I made my way out of the back of the station and toward my patrol car.
“Well, rumor has it Helen’s is opening back up,” he said as he crawled into the passenger seat. “George Baker said her granddaughter bought the place and is moving here to run it.”
Helen’s had made the best baked goods in town. That woman could make a grown man cry with her cherry pie and those snickerdoodle things. There wasn’t a treat inside those four walls that was a disappointment.
“Well, if that’s true, let’s just hope her niece knows how to bake as good as she did. She has some big shoes to fill.” I took a drink of my coffee and puckered at the taste.
I hoped what my brother said was true. I missed that bakery and I missed Helen too. Her death affected our entire town. She was such a caring woman, and she adored Claire. It sure would be good to see that place reopen, even if it was with a different owner.