Authors: Carter Ashby
The Closer You Get
A Fidelity Novel
Copyright © 2015 Carter Ashby
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Digital Edition. Personal use rights only. No part of this publication may be sold, copied, distributed, reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means mechanical or digital, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Cover Design by Quirky Bird
Connect with the author
Carter Ashby is the author of small town, contemporary romance novels.
The Closer You Get
is her sixth novel. For more information or to connect with the author, visit any of these media sites:
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Other works by Carter Ashby:
Not A Chance
Without You Here
Zoey And The Nice Guy
Maya And The Tough Guy
Addy And The Smart Guy
To my husband, my greatest supporter.
Thank you for believing in me!
, Arkansas—solid, traditional values; sweet, little old ladies in hats holding quilting meetings; church picnics, community fundraisers, family, faith, fellowship. Who wouldn’t want to live in such a town?
Rye sat in his truck at the flashing light at the four way stop in the middle of town. To his left was a small pub. To his right, a bakery. Each of the businesses along Main Street featured hand-painted wooden signs hanging over the sidewalk. Walking in front of his truck was a young man helping an elderly woman across the street. Rye glared in disgust.
It wasn’t that he didn’t approve of aiding the elderly. He was, in fact, very much in favor of the behavior. He just happened to hate small towns. This one seemed even worse than most. Sure, they had their tight-knit community and their sense of self-sufficiency, nestled here in the Ozarks away from the rest of the world. They had their high moral fiber and their town pride. But the flip side of that coin was something quite ugly. Something Rye and his brother had encountered too many times before. Prejudice. Exclusivity. A general hostility to all newcomers.
Yeah, Rye could spot it without even stepping out of his truck. He might get this job, but he wouldn’t be here for long. His brother would never last in a town like this.
Finally, the old woman made it across the street. Rye drove on through town, turning down a highway toward McKay construction, which he could see just at the top of the next hill. He parked outside the two-story building and went inside.
The lobby was shiny and clean. There was a cute, chubby receptionist at the front desk. Rye smiled. He always had a smile for anyone female. This one looked quite yummy. “May I help you?” she asked sweetly.
“I have an interview with Mrs. McKay, so if I could just get your name and phone number.”
She giggled sweetly and held up her left hand, showcasing a ring. “I’m married.”
Rye mimicked a stabbing motion against his chest. “Damn. This is just not my day.”
“You are an absolute doll,” she said. “Mrs. McKay’s office is on the second floor at the very end of the hall.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” He winked at her and headed for the stairs. He followed the directions and knocked on the door at the end.
“Come in,” a female voice called.
Rye went in, leaving the door slightly ajar behind him.
“Have a seat,” Mrs. McKay said without looking up from her computer.
Rye sat in a chair across from her desk. He was surprised by her youth. She couldn’t be more than thirty if that. But he wasn’t particularly impressed with her looks. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t do her. He’d totally do her. She had breasts, and she was under sixty, that was pretty much all he required. She simply didn’t have anything special about her.
Mrs. McKay was obviously one of those plain women who hid behind professionalism in order to feel validated. Her glasses sat high on her nose as she read over his resumé. “So you talked to Sam already?”
“Yes, ma’am. He seemed to think I’d fit in here just fine.”
She looked up at him, arching her brows over her plain, brown eyes. “Really? Did he call your past employers?”
Rye blinked at the skepticism in her voice. Clearly she’d already formed an opinion about him. “I have no idea. I took a tour of the building. We talked business. You got a problem with me?”
She leaned back in her chair and sighed. Her dirty-blond hair was falling out of its bun and into her face. She shoved it aside. “I called Mr. Derrington from Pleasant Valley,” she said. “He told me you have an impeccable work ethic, but that you don’t work well with others.”
“I work very well with others,” Rye said, barely holding back the urge to tell her to shove the resumé up her ass. “The problems I’ve had with other employees have occurred after work hours.”
“You understand that that’s a problem for me?”
“You know, the way I see it, I’m great at what I do. I love my work. And that’s all you need to know.”
“It’s only two-thirds of what I need to know, Mr. Holcomb because businesses only work if people work together. And it looks to me like you’re a bit of a trouble maker. I don’t need that in my company. This is a small town with a closely knit community…”
“Yeah, which means if there’s any trouble, then it’s going to be laid at the outsider’s feet. I get that. I’ll risk it. What’s it to you? Your city so overrun with qualified structural engineers that you can just toss me aside based on some biased, out-of-context stories about bar fights?”
She sat up, lifted her chin, and removed her glasses. “I don’t care for your attitude, Mr. Holcomb.”
He gritted his teeth. Hard. He breathed in deep and focused on his brother. For his brother’s sake, he needed to make this work. They wanted to live close to home, but they couldn’t go back there. Nor could they go back to Pleasant Valley, and certainly not Henderson. They were running out of options, and they were tired of moving. He blew out his breath. “My brother, Cash, just got hired on here. He’s an electrician. Have you met him?”
“One of my managers, Tim Spradley, hired him. I haven’t met him yet.”
“Well, he’s a good guy. A hard worker. For his sake, I’m committed to making this work, here in Fidelity. I’ve had issues with coworkers in the past, but it’s not going to happen again.”
“I’m supposed to just take your word for it?”
“What else can I give you?”
For a moment, her eyes went wide, and she blushed. But she recovered quickly. “You could explain to me why you’ve been driven out of three other towns.”
Rye studied her, knowing he couldn’t share that information. “It’s personal.”
“I don’t see how I can hire you with a record like this…hell, you were even arrested.”
“And found innocent.”
She pressed her lips together. “The fact is, Rye, no…we don’t see a wealth of structural engineers. Certainly not ones with your project history. I want to hire you, but you’ve got to give me something more. Something to explain this behavior. Because from the looks of it, you’re just a typical bar thug, and I don’t want that in my workplace.”
Rye ground his teeth together. He fought the resentment that was building in him, making him want to tell her to fuck off. He took a moment to breathe and study his surroundings. She had framed photos of buildings on her walls, probably projects completed by her company. There was a photo of an older man on her desk. “Husband?” he asked, nodding to the photo.
“Father. He passed a year ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
She nodded politely but then stared at him, waiting.
At last, Rye managed to relax. “Listen, the fights weren’t mine, so I can’t give you details. They aren’t my secrets, you know?” He looked at her, hoping she would understand that he couldn’t go around talking about someone else’s business. It wasn’t right. Especially when that somebody was his brother.
“So you’re saying you fought in defense of someone else?”
Her brow furrowed as she considered the situation.
Rye decided to try a little harder. “You got anyone in your life who’s maybe…different? Maybe someone that other folks might want to make fun of or hurt for no good reason?”
Mrs. McKay blinked, then, her brow softening. “Yes.”
“Wouldn’t you fight for that person if it came down to it? Wouldn’t you defend them with your life if you had to?”
Slowly, her lips quirked up at the corner. She sat back in her chair. “Why Fidelity?”
Rye blinked at the sudden change of subject. “You’re hiring. And it’s close to home.”
“Apple Creek. We’ve got family there.”
She sighed and closed the file that held his resumé. “Well, you won’t find Fidelity, as a whole, to be the most open place for newcomers, especially if one of them is…different. We’re rather a prudish community. There’s some startling class division, which you don’t expect to find in these rural small towns. And almost everyone goes to Pastor Steele’s church, which is hard-core fundamentalist. There is also a rather bad element…the Dunigans. You can ask anyone and they’ll tell you the Dunigans are a bad lot. They are old hill folk. And the family has spread far and wide. I can’t remember the other surnames that have branched off.”
He wasn’t sure why she was telling him all of this, but he thought it boded well for his job prospects.
“But I have a friend,” she continued. “He’s a lawyer, he’s gay, and he has the unusual distinction, in this town, of being well-respected. He knows all about being different. He also knows how to handle problems involving discrimination. So please, if you find yourself with conflict here in town, come to me. I can help.”
“This mean I’ve got the job?”
“As you’ve pointed out, there aren’t an abundant quantity of qualified structural engineers in the area. Before you came in, I searched some of your past projects. I’d hire you based on the children’s hospital alone.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” he said.
Her expression went stony again. “I’m trusting you, Mr. Holcomb. I’m taking your word over the words of your past employers. I won’t hesitate to let you go at the first sign of trouble.”
“Of course not,” he said, trying not to snarl.
She stood. He stood. They shook hands. “Welcome to Fidelity.”
“Thanks. See you Monday.”
He left, glad to be out of the interrogation room.
“You got the job?” Cash Holcomb was driving down the highway that ran between Pleasant Valley, Arkansas, where he used to live, to Fidelity, Arkansas, where he was going to live. He was hauling the last of his and Rye’s boxes.
“Best I can tell.” Rye’s voice came from the speakerphone of Cash’s cell.
“Great.” Cash tried to sound enthusiastic. He loved his brother. They got along great. But working at the same company didn’t seem like such a good idea.
“Don’t sound so excited,” Rye said.
“I’m not. I mean I am. I just…”
“It’ll be fine, Cash. We’ll just keep our heads down and do our jobs. It’ll be fine.”
Cash sighed. “I know, I know. I just don’t want to be the cause of you losing another job; that’s all. If I fuck things up and get fired, maybe they’ll think they have to fire you too. Just seems like a bad idea putting all our eggs in this basket.”