Summer Lovin': A Wounded Hearts Novella (2 page)

BOOK: Summer Lovin': A Wounded Hearts Novella
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Chapter Two

M
itch tracked
the departing truck until it disappeared from sight. There was something familiar about that guy…

“Did you hear me?” Becky demanded.

His lips quirked at her impatient tone. Damn, it was easy to get her dander up. He thought how much fun it would be to get her all worked up just so they could have make-up sex. His body hardened, on board with the idea in two seconds flat.
Pathetic, man, you’re so pathetic.

A floppy garden hat shaded her face and matched the hobo handbag she was digging through. She glanced up and her eyes matched the sky for their crystalline brilliance.

Mitch cocked his head toward the road. “What was that about?”

She followed his gaze, visibly shuddered, then squared her shoulders. “Nothing I can’t handle.” She lifted her chin and he wanted to kiss her. “I’m good at taking care of myself.”

Yeah, he knew that.

“I never doubted you could, sweetheart.”

A slim hand rose to hold him off. “Stop it,” she demanded.

She hesitated, then slipped past him to get her bike. “I have to go. I need to stop by the sheriff’s office.”

Jealousy flared. Mitch cursed under his breath.

She glanced back. “Pardon me?”

He bit the inside of his lip, warning himself to keep it cool. “I just asked if you wanted me to see Jack so you could go ahead with your day.”

A group of pint-sized kids rushed past, pushing and shoving each other in fun.

“See you next week, Miss Sorenson,” they called.

She smiled and tugged her bike free of the rack. “Have a good weekend,” she answered to their backs. “Did you remember your homework?”

“Yes,” they shouted, laughing amongst themselves.

Rebecca placed her purse in the front basket decorated with a large plastic daisy and lifted a shapely leg over the center bar before turning her gaze on him.

“Thanks, but I wanted to speak to Jack for a moment anyway, I’ll go.” Her butt slid onto the seat, tightening the material of her skirt along her thigh.

He swallowed back the harsh words that threatened to escape, instead answering with a simple nod.

“You never told me why you were here,” she said.

No, he hadn’t. He nodded over his shoulder, his gaze on her. “Just meeting a friend.”

Something flickered behind her eyes. She searched the grounds behind him, then gave him the saddest imitation of a smile he’d ever seen.

“I better go. It was good seeing you, Mitch.” She didn’t wait for his reply, but pushed off and peddled down the lane until she was out of sight.

“Yeah, you too,” he murmured.

* * *

R
ebecca kept
a steady pace even though everything inside screamed to get away as fast as she could. Her heart beat like a captured bird frantic to escape the walls of her chest. She could barely keep a grip on the handlebars her hands were so sweaty.

Seeing Mitch again had overshadowed the unpleasant encounter with the stranger and her worry for little Tommy. It was months since she’d run into him, ever since Katy had been attacked last fall behind Grace’s diner.

He looked good.

His hair was a little longer, but still the same rich gingerbread color she’d loved. His athlete’s body had filled out, was more mature now. He’d lost the awkwardness of youth and become a virile, handsome man.

Too handsome for her peace of mind.

A horn honked, scaring the heck out of her. The woman drove past, shaking her head at Becky’s stupidity for crossing over the bike lane line.

A timely warning.

Her life was on track, she didn’t need to go screwing it up again. Especially over Mitch Taylor.

She signaled a left turn, checked over her shoulder for traffic, and swung onto Elm Street. A couple more blocks and she reached her destination. The sheriff’s office looked inviting with the sun warming its red brick façade. Laurel’s car still sat in its spot in the receptionist’s stall. Rebecca sighed, relieved she hadn’t missed her ride. She parked her bike, locked it up, and hurried inside.

Laurel glanced up and broke into a welcoming smile.

“You made it, I was starting to worry.” She stood to open the pass-through countertop and let Becky in, wrapping her in a rose-scented hug.

“Sorry, I’m late.” Becky met her friend’s curious gaze. “I’ll tell you all about it on the way there, but first I need to talk to that sexy new husband of yours.”

Laurel’s cheeks flushed and her eyes sparkled with love. Becky was happy for her. And just think, if her mother hadn’t decided to take that long overdue holiday Laurel wouldn’t have moved here, taken the job, and been swept off her feet by Jack Garrett.

Sometimes fate worked in mysterious ways.

“Sure, c’mon, he’s in his office.” Laurel swiveled on four-inch heels—Becky had serious shoe envy—and led the way across the bull-pen. Rebecca smiled and nodded at the men she knew. Deputy Randolph, whose wife was a good friend of her mother’s. Sid Carmichael, a longtime veteran of the force. And lastly, Norm Walters.

“Rebecca.” Norm hurried to stand, his chair banging against the desk behind him with a loud clang. He cleared his throat and doffed his hat. “How’ve you been?”

This isn’t awkward or anything.

“I’m good, Norm, thanks. How are you doing?” As soon as the words were out, she winced.
Nice job, Einstein.

She’d gone out with him a few times and had a lot of fun until he started to get serious and she had to call it quits with the ol’ ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ line, which was just lame even if it was the truth. There had to be something wrong with a woman who had an attractive, nice guy interested and then shut him down just because of a lunch with her no-good ex-husband who she could not get out of her mind.

Norm swept a hand through his wavy dark hair, the muscles in his arms bulging under his uniform.

“Look, Rebecca…”

A door opened a few feet away and Jack stepped out, his face softening when he caught sight of Laurel.

Relieved, Becky laughed, cringing at the higher than normal tone, and smirked at her friend. “You’d think you guys were still newly-weds, when you’ve already been married what… three months?”

Laurel tapped Becky’s shoulder, her gaze fixed on her approaching spouse. “Two months and ten days, as you well know.”

That she did. Between Katy and Laurel, and now, Annie, she’d amassed a nice collection of bridesmaid’s gowns.

Jack gave Becky a passing glance then settled on his wife. He leaned down, gave Laurel a lingering kiss and whispered something naughty in her ear, going by the hot flush that stained her cheeks.

“Jack, we’re not alone,” she warned, even as she stepped into his open arms.

He shared an amused glance with Norm before eyeing Becky. “I noticed, my love. What can we do for you, Rebecca?”

Now that she had an audience, Becky wasn’t sure how to start.

“I had a problem at the school today.” She nervously plucked at the strap of her handbag. “There was this boy, maybe eight or nine years old. I ran into him at the bike rack. He was attempting to unlock an old bike.”

“You’re thinking he was trying to steal it?” Norm asked.

She shook her head and stuffed a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “No, I don’t believe so. He knew the right combination, the lock was just giving him trouble.”

“Okay,” Jack said, “well, thanks for letting us know.” He looked at Norm who shrugged.

Becky sighed. Great, now they thought she was a nitwit. “There’s more. A man showed up and told the boy to get home but he wasn’t very nice about it. I’m worried. If Mitch Taylor hadn’t been there…”

Norm stiffened while Laurel shot her an
I want the details
grin.

Great. Mitch wasn’t even in the building and he was causing complications.

Chapter Three

T
ommy cried all
the way home. Not great hiccupping sobs like he’d done in the past when they’d first arrived at his uncle’s house and realized they were worse off now than when their parents died. No, these tears were silent. A steady stream that ran down his face and dripped unheeded off his chin. Tears of despair, of a childhood lost, of faded dreams.

Just for a moment today with that pretty schoolteacher he’d felt something close to peace. Her scent when she’d held him in her arms reminded him of his mom and he hadn’t wanted to let go. But then his uncle had shown up.

He reached the edge of town and looked for the overgrown drive. A broken down gray wooden fence and a lopsided
Keep Out
sign pointed the way to the old cabin hidden amongst tall spruce trees. The dirt lane was rutted so bad it tossed his bike from side to side but he refused to walk; his uncle had warned them there were snakes in the grass just waiting for little boys. Tommy wasn’t taking any chances.

He pulled up next to the sagging porch and slowly laid his bike on its side, listening for his brother. A soft humming led him to the corner of the building. Jasper sat in the dirt, his scrawny bare back bent over a little toy truck he was using to make roads with in the sand. Tommy sighed his relief, no new marks that he could see. He’d gotten here in time then.

“Hey, brother, whatcha doin’?” He let Jasper know he was there before moving forward.

Jasper jumped up, ready to flee, then realized who’d spoken and cracked a mile wide smile. “Tommy, Tommy you’re back.” He ran and wrapped his arms around his brother and Tommy frowned at how thin they were.

“Did you eat the food I hid for you?” he demanded.

Jasper shrugged, his chin digging a hole in Tommy’s chest. “I wasn’t very hungry,” he mumbled.

Tommy frowned and set him back so he could look him in the eye. “Jas, you gotta eat. We ain’t ever gonna get outta here if you ain’t strong enough to run.”

Jasper’s eyes lit with hope. “Can we go now? Can we, huh?”

Tommy cursed his big mouth. Why’d he go and say anything? “No. We can’t go until we have a plan.” Jasper’s lips wobbled and Tommy changed the subject. “Show me the roads you’ve been building.”

It worked, for now. Jasper trotted over and sprawled out on his belly, reaching for the little blue car he’d been playing with. “Wait ‘til you see this. I made a hill and my car flies,” he said, his voice filled with excitement.

Tommy followed more slowly, his mind on that nice teacher. Why couldn’t someone like her have taken them in? He missed his mom so bad and yet sometimes he got scared because he couldn’t quite picture her in his head anymore. The teacher reminded him of her though. She smelled good too and had a pretty dress. His mom always wore nice clothes; she said she liked to look pretty for her boys. Man, he missed her. She’d know what to do right now because he sure didn’t. The only thing he did know for certain was that he’d promised to take care of his brother and he darn sure was going to.

The rumble of a vehicle coming up the drive had both boys scrambling for cover. A ratty blue tarp hanging over a pile of scrap metal nearby did the job, though it was a tight fit. Their uncle had warned them often enough to keep outta sight of strangers.

“Who is it?” Jasper asked, his voice squeaky with a mix of fear and excitement.

“Shh, we’ll know soon enough,” Tommy whispered. “Just keep quiet, okay?”

The rattle as the engine shut down told him who it was even before the tinny door slammed shut and his uncle stomped around the corner looking like the axeman from Snow White.

“Where the hell are you hiding, you stupid little shits?” he roared. His heavy work boots kicked up tufts of dust as he circled the yard in search of them. He glanced at Jasper’s toy car, reached down, picked it up, and sent it flying into the bushes.

Jasper whimpered but thankfully held silent, his body vibrating so hard the tarp rattled. Tommy jerked him away, pulling him up against his own shaking body. He was so scared he needed to pee.

“You come on out of there or your stupid ass brother is going to pay the price.” The edge of the tarp lifted and a hand reached in and latched onto Tommy’s arm in a death grip. Jasper’s eyes grew big as pie plates and welled up with tears. Tommy cried out in pain but shook his head viciously at his brother, warning him to keep quiet and stay still.

And then he was yanked out and thrown to the ground. Uncle Pete stood over him as he lay in the dirt, lips twisted in a snarl that sent shards of fear through Tommy’s gut.

“You better explain yourself, boy.” He nudged Tommy with his boot. “What did you think you were doing at the schoolhouse today?”

Tommy thought fast. There was no way he was going to tell this man the real reason. He had to come up with something to defuse the anger brewing in his uncle’s eyes. He reached into his pocket and reluctantly withdrew the gold chain he’d taken from the teacher lady’s purse.

“I was getting you some money, Uncle.” A beefy hand reached out and swiped the necklace from his hand. His uncle eyed him suspiciously for a moment before lifting the cross on the chain to the light.

“You aware this is stealing, boy?” He gave the chain a little shake and the cross glinted so bright it practically blinded Tommy.

“I did it just the way you showed me, sir.” Tommy lifted himself to his elbows. “She won’t know who it was.”

Uncle Pete frowned, his brows like bats wings over his eyes. “You better hope the hell not, kid. Your brother doesn’t like when you screw up.” He laughed, his belly jiggling under the dirty plaid shirt. He turned and strode toward the shack, hollering over his shoulder, “Git in here and make me some grub, I’m hungry after chasing you all over creation.”

Tommy waited a few minutes, knowing full well that it was his uncle’s routine to go into the house, grab a bottle of booze and flop down on the ugly green sofa for the night. He had time to make sure his brother was okay now.

He pulled back the tarp to let Jasper out, then went searching for the toy car, the last thing Jas had from their mom. A few moments later he found it under the edge of a blackberry bush. Careful to avoid the painful spikes, he managed to retrieve it with only a couple of minor scratches.

“Here you go, buddy, I found it.” He turned and offered it to Jasper but his attention was on the house. “Don’t worry, I won’t let him touch you again.” And when his brother looked at him with eyes that knew more than any five-year-old kid outta know about pain, Tommy’s gut tightened with a white-hot rage.

He fingered the wallet in his pocket he’d also stolen from the teacher. Soon. Soon he’d have enough to get them far away from here. And they weren’t never coming back.

BOOK: Summer Lovin': A Wounded Hearts Novella
6.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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