Authors: Jaycee Ford
Night blurred around me. The barren highway slowly bled into civilization. I turned down the heat, heading south. The temperature read forty-two degrees, but that was warm compared to where I’d come from. If I closed my eyes, I could still smell the crisp Alaskan air surrounding snowcapped Mount Blackburn. We’d made a plan, and even though he was no longer here, I felt determined to follow through on it. He had wanted out of the life as much as I did. We both dreamed of a life where we could live like normal people, not as a stripper and a drug dealing club owner. I shook my head. For what seemed like the millionth time on this long drive, I wiped away the tears with the back of my hand.
I inhaled deeply, trying to calm the sadness traveling with me on this long, empty road. I exhaled through parted lips and rolled down the window in search of crisp November mountain air. It was different here than in Alaska, yet overwhelmingly familiar. I’d never wanted to come back here. Sure, I stayed for a while after Lance broke my heart, but when I heard the rumors he’d married some Charlotte socialite, I knew my time here had run out. I had never been good enough for him, and now I knew I never would be. So, I ran. I ran away from this little town, this state. I had planned to drive to Las Vegas to see if I could sin away the pain of heartache, but I never made it past Atlanta. After meeting Simon, I never wanted to leave.
I threw a lifeless hand in the air as my vision blurred. Would I ever stop crying?
The highway opened up as I met the interstate. My plan was to head down to Florida, to get as far away from Alaska as possible. I needed to get away from everything, to find a safe place where I could cherish the memory of Simon without having to constantly look over my shoulder.
An annoying buzz echoed in the back of my mind. I groaned at the thought, wanting to swat at it before it sucked the life out of me.
But what if she cares
There was no way this would ever work. I couldn’t possibly stay with my mother. Simon’s killers had run me out of Alaska. I couldn’t lead them straight to her, even if she hated everything about me. Not everyone had to live and die by the Church!
I loved God, but according to her, anything short of becoming a missionary was not considered God’s work. I was certainly no missionary. I didn’t even like that position. Those were my options: the life of a missionary or the life of a stripper. Only one of those options paid the bills and put a little spending money in my pocket.
My instinct kept me on the highway, passing over my exit and my one shot at getting lost under the Florida sun.
Something drew me back to this place. It couldn’t be the memories. Those were what drove me out. Olde Town wasn’t for the weak. Some people could waltz their lives through this one-signal-light town and remain unscathed. People like me, though, one bad decision—or even the right decision—and it could never be lived down.
I veered with the curve of the road around the mountainside until a lonely house came into view. I spotted the truck and the cruiser in front of the house, and my heart leapt into my throat. My only option approached and would soon be passing me by. I gripped the wheel tight and yanked the car off the highway and onto the gravel drive. What choice did I have? He was a cop, after all, and I was running away from people who wanted me dead. This seemed like the obvious choice. It might be a fucking horrible option, but it was my only option.
I sighed as I stared at the house. A simple one story stood alone in a grassy field, overlooking the valley. The views were amazing up here. It was peaceful and secluded. I could see why a cop would want to live up here. Hell, who wouldn’t want to live here? I continued to stare through my dusty windshield, toward the house. I really didn’t want to do this. This asshole’s best friend was the reason I became the town slut. There had to be another option. Any option!
I was out of options.
I closed my eyes and exhaled, placing my hand on the handle to pull it back. I focused on my breathing.
I pushed open the door as the cold wind swirled my hair in front of my face. It was still short, but past my shoulders now; very stylish, and long enough to whip my face repeatedly against the wind. The comfort of my car was much better than this. I reached the doorway and banged loudly against the wood. I needed to get out of this cold. There were a lot of misconceptions about the south, one of them being that it never got very cold. But that was a lie. It was freakin’ cold! I pressed my ear to the door a moment, stomping feet echoed from the other side. The door opened.
“What do you wa –”
I pushed the hair out of my face, my eyes widening at the sight. He might have been one of the biggest asshole, douchebags known to man, but he was hot. Damn him for being hot. Not even a trace of a donut gut a lot of cops put on after several years on the job. He was in perfect shape. Asshole.
“You gotta be fuckin’ kidding me.”
“Nice to see you too, Caleb.” I patted his bare chest and pushed my way in without invitation, eager for the warmth of his house.
“Why, why, why are you here?” he asked as the door slammed shut behind me.
I walked into the living room, keeping my back to him. The heat overtook me almost immediately. I stripped off my heavy cardigan and placed it on the back of his leather sofa. I pressed my hands to my lower back as I stretched, turning around.
“Holy shit…” His eyes traveled down my body, narrowing on my stomach. He pointed. “
is not mine.”
I looked down at my protruding belly and back up at him. “I would have to be drunk off my ass to have gotten pregnant by you. I’m well aware your dick hasn’t been anywhere near me. Let’s keep it that way.”
He cocked his head to the side as his eyes narrowed on mine, a stare to make me recoil. It was authoritative, like a cop should be. My hands instinctively covered my stomach as he straightened out his posture and took a deep breath.
“Angela Butler.” Hearing the weight of my name on his lips made me cringe. “Would you care to explain why you’ve shown up pregnant on my doorstep?”
I exhaled, mustering up the nerve I needed. I had to do this for Simon. I had to do this for me. He needed justice, and I needed closure.
“Because I need your help.”
“And how could I possibly help you?”
“Because you’re a cop.”
“And what do you need a cop for?”
“Because …” I paused, forcing the truth from my throat. “Because I witnessed a murder.”
His eyes found mine, studying them to discern the truth in my statement. My eyes flickered away from his as I crossed my arms over my chest, resting them on the top of my stomach. He was annoyingly good of making me uncomfortable with his blue-eyed stare. I much preferred his brother’s eyes, the same shade of blue but more caring. Caleb’s eyes were much more … untrusting. I could relate. I had never trusted anyone until I met Simon.
My head snapped toward the right as a half-naked brunette pranced into the hall. A blonde poked her head out of a doorway, and then stepped from the room, half naked.
I shook my head. “You’ve got to be shitting me.”
The blonde immediately switched from flirtatious to agitated when she spotted me. “Oh my God! You got someone pregnant?”
“No, no … you don’t understand.” Caleb moved toward them.
The brunette headed back through the bedroom door, her angry tone carried into the living room. “Georgia, we’re leaving. Let’s call a cab.”
A rumble in the pit of my stomach turned to laughter as the girls disappeared behind the slamming bedroom door. Caleb turned his eyes to me, full of anger now rather than sadness. This made me laugh harder. I couldn’t stop. I moved to the sofa and plopped my wide ass down. The leather squeaked as it accommodated my weight. The giggles didn’t stop.
“I just cock-blocked you. I cock-blocked you twice!” My head fell back as my laughter filled every corner of the room. I breathed deep, attempting to calm my reactions. “God, that felt good.”
He fell into the leather chair next to the sofa, the sound of leather brushing against leather replacing my cackles. He leaned back with his broad chest on display. I could see a hint of a tattoo on his left arm, but I couldn’t make out what it was.
“Are you going to put on some clothes?”
“With a woman in your condition sitting beside me? I’m sure your hormones are bouncing off the wall.” He shook his head. “Consider this payback.”
I cocked my eyebrow at him. He had no such effect on me. I turned away from his douchebag smirk and stared at the unlit fireplace. Cold settled in my heart, the way it always did without Simon. I doubted I’d ever feel any sort of hormonal excitement again. I definitely wouldn’t feel anything but disgust in the presence of Caleb Harris. I just had nowhere else to go at this time of night except The Inn, and I really didn’t want to have to face the people of Olde Town just yet. Staying at the house of a police officer seemed like the best bet when being hunted down by a bunch of drug dealers.
“So, do you want to elaborate on this witnessed murder?”
I rested my head back against the sofa. “Not until your one-nighters leave.”
That one moment pulled me into a deep darkness. People talked around me and I could feel their shifting movements, but voices sounded muffled and unintelligible. Bitter heels clicked against hardwood in an angry rhythm. A door slammed. My eyes popped open. I glanced toward the chair to find Caleb fully dressed, holding a beer, and being warmed by a crackling fire. I pushed against the sofa, straightening myself in my seat.
“Sorry. I doze off from time to time.”
He nodded. I studied his features. His face was stern but professional, much like it had been a few years ago, before I left. I blinked against the heat of the fire.
“Now could you tell me what you’re doing here?”
I blinked again. My eyes felt like lead. “Listen, I know you hate me. I’m not particularly fond of you either, but I’m exhausted and I have no place to go.”
“What is wrong with your mother’s house?”
I shook my head as my heart deflated. “They’ll find me there. I can’t put her in that position.”
He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees as he stared into the fire. His head turned my direction. I bit my lip, waiting for him to kick me out.
“You’re right. I don’t like you, and I don’t give a shit what you think about me … but I’m somewhat forced by my occupation to help you out. First door on the right is the spare room. Don’t make me regret it.”
I exhaled and pushed myself off the sofa. I had stuff in my car, but I didn’t need any of it to sleep. I headed around the sofa toward the hall.
“Oh, and Angela …”
I stopped, turning to face him. He stood up, his unbuttoned flannel shirt opening to reveal his bare chest. I glanced up to his eyes, a war of unsaid words spiraling between us.
tell me first thing in the morning.”
I nodded in response. Hopefully by morning, I would come up with a story that didn’t paint Simon as the bad guy. How could I tell Caleb the cop that Simon, the only man I loved, had also been a drug dealer?