Authors: T.M. Frazier
THANK YOU FIRST AND FOREMOST
to Tess Thompson, if it wasn’t for you I would never have had the courage to pursue this crazy dream of mine. This book would not exist without you.
Thank you to the best group of writer friends a girl could ever ask for, The War Games crew, Jesse James Freeman, Marni Mann, Steven Luna, and Tess Thompson. Your support and encouragement have meant the world to me.
Thank you to Katherine Sears, Heather Ludviksson, Jesse James
Freeman, and the entire Booktrope Publishing team for believing in my work long before this book was ever completed. I’m still pinching myself.
Thank you to Steven Luna, the editor man with the mostest, for being ever so patient with me.
Thank you to Greg Simanson for my beautiful book cover.
Thank you so so much to Jennifer Gilbert, my book manager. You are exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed you.
Thank you to the best sister and early reader, Cindy Davis. Thank you for always wanting to know what happens next.
Thank you to my parents, Anne and Paul Hansen, for allowing me to write this book while working for you. I love you both very very much.
Thank you to Ranae and Chuck Frazier, for accepting me as part of
your lives and your family since day one, and for encouraging this
Thank you to Karla Nellenbach for being such a great sounding board, proofreader, and politically incorrect mess. Your mom told me to say that.
Thank you to my wonderful Popop, Alvin Hansen. You once told me that as long as I was happy, you would be happy for me. Popop, I’m so happy!
Thank you to Dr. William Gregory Sawyer for teaching me the
correlation between storytelling and public speaking. My writing
voice was created in your class.
Thank you to the best freaking country artists ever for providing my soundtrack rotation. I listened to you every single day while I wrote this book. Thank you especially to the very talented Brantley Gilbert, Colt Ford, Florida Georgia Line, and Tyler Farr.
Thank you to my friends, my beautiful bridesmaids, and the
girls who I’ve neglected during this whole book writing process. I love
you Kelly Rivadulla, Kristin Rosinus, Kristy Hayden, Holly
Waligora, Lauren Bailey, and Cheryl Cummins.
Last but not least, thank you to the most important person in my life, my husband, Logan. Thank you for asking me to be your wife and for not laughing when I told you I wanted to write books. You are everything I ever needed in a best friend. I’m so sorry for the piled up dishes, the neglected laundry, and the endless nights spent
plugged into my laptop to finish this book. Thank you for all the
date nights to get me out of the house, for making me amazing dinners so I could write, for the constant encouragement and pep talks, and for always telling me how proud you are of me. Thank you for your unwavering faith in my ability to make this dream come true. No matter how proud you are of me, I will always be prouder of you. ‘I love you’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.
THE PAIN IN MY HEAD INTENSIFIED,
throbbing in time with the slow beat of my heart. My blurry vision shifted from double to single with each blink of my eyes. I felt the back of my head from where the pain radiated; warm, sticky red coated my fingers. The cold grit of the tile could be felt through my thin t-shirt.
I looked up from where I was splayed on the floor, into the crazed, bloodshot eyes of a man I had known all my life—or at least I
I’d known. I was instantly sober, the fog cleared and my
heart raced. He was poised to strike, ready for the kill. Thick veins
bulged in his neck; I could see them pulsing with each strained
breath he took. I saw past him, to the ax raised above his head. Without hesitation, he brought it down to split my skull down the middle. Just before the blade was able to tear into my forehead, I freed myself of his strong grip and rolled onto my side, avoiding the axe—and infinite blackness—by mere inches.
I stood on wobbly legs, trying to pull air into my lungs as I turned to brace myself for the next attack. I was stunned to see the man who was a monster just moments before crumpled on the floor, face first on the Mexican tile. He opened his hand and let the ax slip from his grip. His shoulders shook.
He was sobbing.
"Dad?" I asked. I’d tried everything I could to take away his pain, and in return he had done his damnedest to make sure I felt the very depths of it.
"Get the fuck out of here!" he roared into the floor between sobs.
"Dad, let me help you," I begged, kicking the ax out of his reach.
"Get out of this house, and
fucking come back!" He reared up and sat back onto his knees, slowly lifting his head to face me. Drool leaked from the sides of his mouth. His eyes glistened with moisture. The stench of alcohol stung my nose when he spoke. I'd seen my father in a bad way before, but this was something else entirely. "I don't want to see you in this house ever again."
"Dad, just let me help you," I insisted. I could do just that: get him into rehab, grief counseling—whatever it took to make him stop feeling like his life was over.
I leaned over and grabbed him by the arm to help him up. "Don't fucking touch me!" He jerked out from my grip. "It's you...it should have been you. You're the reason they're gone." His words stung, but it wasn't the first time I heard him say them. It'd been two weeks of cleaning up his vomit and trying to stay out of the path of his drunken rage. "I wish it’d been you," he said, softer this time.
"Dad, you're drunk. You don't mean that."
“Yes, I do. I just tried to fucking kill you, Jake, and in all honesty, I wish I had." He looked me straight in the eye, and in that moment, he appeared completely in control. “It should have been you. You should be dead. Not them. I just wanted to fix it, trade you for them. Make it the way it should’ve been." His voice turned to a whisper. “You're dead to me now, boy."
Something inside me snapped.
If I had to choose a moment in time when I knew my life would be different going forward—when I knew
would be different—this would be it.
It was at this very moment that I knew in my soul I was capable of murder.
I picked up the ax, stood tall and headed straight for him, stepping around the overturned living room furniture. I raise the ax over my head and gripped it with both hands. The look of fear and surprise in my father’s eyes was welcome. I savored it. I wanted to remember that fear, to play it over and over in my head. He didn't even try to move out of the way. I swung down hard but stopped the blade less than an inch away from slamming it into his chest.
The sheer look of horror on his face did nothing to unnerve me. I was done fixing him. "
forget that I stopped this time. Because if I ever see you again, I will tear your fucking heart out, old man." I threw down the ax and spat on him, making sure he knew he was as
to me as I was to him. I left him trembling on the floor and didn't so much as pause to look back at him before I ripped open the front door and stepped out into the night.
I lit a cigarette on the front porch before walking into the
shadows of the driveway to mount my bike. I didn't bother to pack a bag.
There was nothing I needed or wanted from that house
As I started up the bike and let it roar, I could’ve sworn I heard my father wailing just beyond the noise of my engine. But, it was too
I was well past the point of going back.
In more ways than one.
That was four years ago.
Six days had passed since I last took a life, and now, my bike and I were headed back to the very place I hated most.
It wasn't even the money that fueled my work anymore. If I
the one doing the job, it would’ve been someone else. Maybe I
thought that, in my own way, I was sparing some poor schmuck from a life I was better suited for.
I had no delusions of grandeur. Where other guys seemed to get hard for fast, expensive cars, I preferred the freedom of my bike. Buying a house meant putting down roots, which was the last thing I wanted, so I never lived anywhere longer than it took to complete the job. And I hated being bored, so when I needed to lay low after a high profile kill, I’d sell a little weed or some blow—just enough to keep me from being idle.
Idle hands make the devil’s work, Jake,
Mom used to say.
Little did she know.
My hands were never idle. If the past few years taught me
anything, it’s that the devil’s work is exactly what they were made for.
I had no plans to ever return to the place I’d once called home,
even when Reggie, the head mechanic at Dad’s shop and the only
person from my hometown I kept in occasional contact with, called to say Dad’s next crawl into the bottle could be his last. Dad made his bed in hell, and I’m pretty sure it was laced with ashes, vomit and empty bottles of Jameson. But when Reggie told me the house I grew up in—the house my mother had loved up until the day she died in it—was in danger of being lost to the tax collector, something in me told me to go save it. Not for him.
I needed to help the only woman who’d ever loved me. The only
thing I’d ever done for her until then was help her into an early
In my hometown of Coral Pines—a tiny island off the Southwest coast of Florida—trucks with lift kits and big tires were worshiped, and their chrome gun racks shone brighter than Sunday morning
sunlight through stained glass. If cities like New York and Chicago
called concrete jungles, then Coral Pines could easily be called a
beach prison, or a tropical asylum. Or my favorite: a rancid fishtopia hell.
Nothing but tourists, rednecks and ghosts.
I wasn’t sure which I hated more.
The drifter lifestyle I’d adapted after I left that shit hole island
suited me just fine. I rode from town to town, never stayed longer
than a tank of gas would allow, and did the jobs that came to me through
temporary post office boxes and untraceable cell phones. I never
settled in one place long enough to make relationships that would matter.
That was exactly the way I wanted it.
I rarely told anyone my real name, which was nothing like
home. Everyone in Coral Pines knew who I was, because everyone there knew everyone else—their life story, their mama’s maiden name, all the gory family details most people try hard to keep buried deep in their closets. Secrets just didn’t stay kept in Coral Pines.
Though I now had some worth keeping.
They may have known the Jake Dunn who was a screw-up as a
kid, but they had no fucking clue who I was anymore. Not to
mention, what I was capable of.
The Matlacha Pass was the two-lane bridge that delivered you
either to or from Coral Pines. It was the only way on or off the
island, and for the entire twenty-two years I had occupied the Earth, it’d been under construction. This was still the case on the day that I—under protest—crossed over it for the first time in years. The thick heat washed over me as I rode like I was pushing my bike through a
wall of water. Every bit of the unease I’d felt blowing off of me the
day I left this godforsaken place, rushed back with the familiar salty wind.