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Sunshine Bleeds A Black Edge


A. Wilding Wells

Copyright 2017 A. Wilding Wells

All rights reserved.

This work, Sunshine Bleeds A Black Edge, is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

For more information, please contact A. Wilding Wells at aw@awildingwells.com.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Coming Undone

Chapter 2 Snowvale

Chapter 3 Gossip

Chapter 4 Wishbone

Chapter 5 Hurricane

Chapter 6 Black Edge

Chapter 7 Cherry Pie

Chapter 8 Murder

Chapter 9 Sassy Little Cuss

Chapter 10 Miles And Miles

Chapter 11 Smoke Into Fire

Chapter 12 To The Core

Chapter 13 Flipside

Chapter 14 Too Much Hurt

Chapter 15 Fishing

Chapter 16 Thread By Thread

Chapter 17 Crosses And Lies

Chapter 18 Privilege Of Damage

Chapter 19 This Could Be Us

Chapter 20 Tincat

Chapter 21 Sweet Thing

Chapter 22 What You Wanted

Chapter 23 You And Me

Chapter 24 Martyr

Chapter 25 Lie Worth Living

Chapter 26 Make Some Men

Chapter 27 Unless

Chapter 28 Another Face

Chapter 29 Promise

Chapter 30 A Sliver Of Moonshine

Chapter 31 Good Reason

Chapter 32 Overnight

Chapter 33 Meaningful Things

Chapter 34 Rock, Paper, Scissors

Chapter 35 I Lost You

Chapter 36 Dessert

Chapter 37 Forgiveness

Chapter 38 Surrender

Chapter 39 Then I Ran

Chapter 40 False Bravado

Chapter 41 Crazy Little Town

Chapter 42 The Boy

Chapter 43 Heart And Soul

Chapter 44 Set Me Free

Chapter 45 Helpless

Chapter 46 Bright haze

Chapter 47 On My Knees

Chapter 48 I Loved The Devil

Chapter 49 He Was There

Chapter 50 Rumors

Chapter 51 Fragments

Chapter 52 Redemption

Chapter 53 Hornets By The Dozen

Chapter 54 Stay

Chapter 55 Magically

Chapter 1


(Paris, France)

As I peer at the contents in the tiny open box resting on my shaking hands my stomach flips.

Bile rises in my throat as I try to make out the partly smudged postmark. Snowvale, Wisconsin. My hometown. Shoving the box into my bag, I nestle it next to the paperwork for the house I recently purchased in Snowvale. A home on the lake for my mom and younger brother, Echo.

“He’s waiting for you,” Florence, the receptionist says. “And, Ruby, congratulations! Vogue tweeted about your new makeup campaign this morning!”

Breathe and speak. You cannot come undone in the lobby of the biggest modeling agency in the world. I lift my head and look at her, certain I’m seeing triples of everything. Someone in Snowvale knows what happened to me? Air is suddenly scarce, a mere whisper passing my lips. “Oh. Thanks, honey,” I say softly.

“Are you all right?” Florence asks.

“I’m going to be…sick.”

I hurry down the hall and duck into the ladies’ room just in time. How can this be happening? I want to flush the box contents down the toilet along with my vomit, make everything go away.

Staring in the mirror while washing my hands, I see fragments of the girl whose life was forever changed in minutes on her high school graduation night.

Emerald eyes glow back at me, then tears follow, rivering down my pale cheeks. Threading my trembling fingers through my long blond hair, I hear his voice. Rebel Field. I see him standing in front of me on the shoulder of the highway the day I ran away to save my soul. And the sad expression on his face when I told him not to follow me to the airport. Rebel. My best friend, my lover. And, the one man I’ve never forgotten.

“Ruby?” Teddy says from the other side of the door. “Are you okay, darling? Florence says you’re ill.” The door squeals when Teddy pushes through it.


“Ruby…Jesus. What’s wrong?” He wraps his arms around me, his warm, sexy scent enveloping me.

“It’s nothing. Just nerves about going home.” Though I love and trust Teddy, I can’t tell him about my past. Can’t tell anyone. It was enough just thinking about seeing Rebel again when I fly home next week. But now this?

Teddy kisses my wet cheeks, his azure blue eyes wandering my face with concern. He not only founded the agency, he was its biggest grossing model for years. He owns the words mysterious, dark and sexy. “Shorten the trip, go for a week instead of two. Meet me in Cannes, maybe you’ll accept my proposal this time?” He waggles his brow.

That would be his third marriage proposal. Maybe I should accept it and move on. I know all love is not the same. Not all people reach inside you, searing themselves to your memory. I know because I’ve mourned for years the soul-filling love Rebel gave me. “Teddy.” I huff out a breath. “It’s not going to happen with us. I love you, but—”

“I know. Are you sure you’re okay?” He brushes my hair aside and places a soft kiss on my temple. “Hate to see my girl cry. I know we’ve been off for a while, not seeing each other, but still…I love you and I need to know you really are okay.”

“I’ll be fine.”

Fine? Yeah. But will I find out who sent the box? And if it’s linked to the murder?

Chapter 2


(Snowvale, Wisconsin)

“Mom, you’re going to throw your back out.” I clutch my mother’s rail-thin arm as she tucks her pet swan, Lake, into the back seat of her rusted-out Wagoneer.

“He goes everywhere with me. He’s suffered enough loss.” She nestles next to her bird, double belts them, smooths her hand down her skirt, and lets the list of deads roll. “Opal and your father. God bless…”

“Goddamn, Mom. Are you going to go through the whole deads list every time you bless anyone?”

She slips her rosary out of her purse, works her fingers over the beads, and continues chanting her list of deads. It’s one of her many lists. And one of her many quirks. She’s list obsessed. The deads, the gays, the riches, the poors, the outs, the down-and-outs. She’s a little different. Always moving sideways. Read: beautifully batty. And, after my sister, Opal committed suicide, she dipped deeper into the buggy pot. Then she had a nervous breakdown and took one more dive. After Dad passed, our long-distance phone conversations took on all kinds of new eccentricities. Opal and Dad sometimes joined in on calls.

The deads were not going to be disregarded, according to Mom.

I slam the car door—too hard. Nerves. I still haven’t seen him. Rebel Rifle Field. Maybe I’ll find the courage to seek him out today. The one guy who stole my heart. Could he still own every beat of it?

Maybe it’s naïve to think he might still want me. And what if he does? What about my life and career an ocean away? Could I ever live here again? Could I leave Paris and my career? My whole life is there now. And this town is the opposite of Paris.

I toss a bag of clothing headed for Goodwill in the back of the Jeep and then ease into the driver’s side.

“Don’t take the Lord’s name in rain. God and damn are not like peanut butter and mayonnaise.”

In rain? Yup, that’s another new thing with her, word mix-ups. Mom clears her throat three times. It’s always three times: one for the Father, one for the Son, and one for the Holy Ghost.

“You must have picked that sass up while you were gallivanting around the world.”

“In vain, Mom, not rain. And, my gallivanting bought the house you and Echo are moving into.” I back the car out of the driveway and head toward town, a sweet-and-sour taste on my tongue as we pass the high school.

Mom clucks her tongue and yells, “Stop correcting me!”

I swing a right on Main Street as Mom waves her errands list, catching my attention.

“I need a hair trap. Stop at Field and Farm first.”

Maybe a tongue trap too.

I break out in a rapid sweat. “So…Rebel’s hardware store? Is that it?” I ask, knowing the answer, my pulse racing.

“That’s it. S’pose I should’ve told you more about him...but…” Mom clears her throat three times. “Was a shame. She got clocked at the Stop-N-Go. One of the deads now. T-boned, don-cha know. Boy lived.”

Mom travels in and out of thoughts so recklessly that it’s impossible to keep up without acting like bumpers on a pinball machine.

“You’re speaking in tongues. Please, Ma. Use full sentences and names.”

Confused and annoyed, I pull over, jam the shift into park, and process the mind dump she’s unloaded. “What are you talking about? One thing at a time. Start with Rebel.” I twist to face her.

Her eyebrows rise as she makes the sign of the cross. “Wife died in a car accident. Went through a Stop-N-Go on red. Has a sixteen-year-old. Name is Rifle, he lived. Paris died.”

He has a sixteen-year-old kid? My heart thumps hard. He was married? I hate this. Foolishly, I’d tried to imagine him single all those years. I made myself believe he missed me. Needed me. I’m as delusional as my mother. “I’ll wait for you,” he said. I guess not.

I huff out a breath. “Paris?”

“Paris was Rebel’s wife.” She smiles. “Bless her soul.”

The list of deads rolls off her tongue while I tap my fingers against the unraveling braid of pleather on the steering wheel.

“The ladies at the salon thought that was droll since you left him for Paris, and he off and married Paris.” Mom laughs and laughs. She laughs so hard that she has to dab the corners of her eyes with a hanky.

The reality of Rebel’s situation screams at me as I hold on to the truth and ramble off a, “Holy fucking shit.”

“That tongue of yours ought to be—”

She was going to say slit. She always said that—until Opal’s tongue was slit by the Kline boys as a warning the night my life fell apart. Mom doesn’t know who slit it. I was the only one who knew everything. Or so I wanted to believe, until that box arrived and changed everything. Except this. My sister died because of me. I’d thought I was saving her by being a martyr. There was never a choice. But I’d thought someone was going to come and save us. I was betting on God or Rebel. Neither showed. I needed Opal to survive. One of us had to. I was willing to die on the inside to save her life. She never would have survived what they did to me.

It never crossed my mind it would kill her to be a witness.

Chapter 3


(Snowvale, Wisconsin)

In a town this size, you know everyone’s business. Every affair. Death. Facelift. Stomach stapling. Marriage and miscarriage are gossiped about between grocery aisles and church pews alike. Rumors are spread as easily as manure on the fields. So, the second I heard Ruby bought a place on the lake for her mom and her brother, I knew she was coming home. Call it premonition or faith. Call it cocky. She was coming for me.

I really have no right to stake claim to her after all these years. Even though I told her I’d wait. But then I saw it happen twice in recent years at school reunions. Past lovers reunited. And some of them weren’t much more than a high school fling as I recall.

Ruby and I though… Do we have a chance like that? Can we take what we had back then—magic, love, and lust—and turn it into a future?

She might have gone on and become a famous star to the rest of the world. But, to me, she was it.

My universe.

She’s been back three days. And I have counted every second of each of them. Three days and I’m out of my mind because I haven’t seen her. My Ruby Mae. She’s going to have to come to me. That’s how this is going down. Find me, show me the necklace and the promise ring I gave her, and tell me the real reason she left and wasn’t wearing them when she did.

I tug the back of my son’s collar. “Rifle, help Father H. find electrical tape.”

He leads the pastor toward the tape aisle.

After turning the corner, I crash into someone. When my nerves feel the first jolt, I laugh. “Hey, sorry ’bout that.”

Soft curves fill my grip. Ample breasts splash against my chest. Familiar laughter sparkles like a cache of crystals. And sweet memories hit me hard. Things I still crave: the flesh of her waist, which is now in my hands. Things I need: her love. Things I wanted: stolen.

I quickly drop my hands from her, and immediately clasp the back of my neck, optimistic my fingers won’t move on their own volition back to her. But Jesus fucking Christ, look at her. Ruby Mae Rose. All grown up, a worldly, knowing grin on her face, which I have no business admiring if it’s not gracing a magazine cover or TV commercial. Green, flirting eyes meet mine and punch my gut.

“Hey, Wishbone.”

Her syrupy, deep voice always got me.

“Ruby.” I swallow hard, trying to look away. Good fucking luck.

“Fancy meeting you here,” she says. The grin on her face would make any man do handsprings for her attention.

Is her heart pounding like mine? An intense throb that aches like it’s trying to get to hers. My tongue thickens as my brain—which is consuming itself with what to say—trips over miles of knots forming inside me. She’s here. My girl is front and center, and fuck if I’m not starstruck.

It pisses me off, the way my feelings collide in a muddle of lust, need, and frustration. The necessity to consume her and push her away wars in my mutilated heart. I want to yell at her. I want to love her. Awful as it sounds, I want her to hurt the way she hurt me.

Then she digs into her purse and knocks me flat when she retrieves a clown nose, places it on my nose, and squeezes it singing, “Honky birthday, Wishbone!”

“Thanks. It was last week.” I had wondered if she forgot.

“I know when your birthday is. You look good, Rebel.”

I yank the nose off and stuff it into my pocket. Ruby’s eyes lock on mine, a certain vulnerability in them.

“So, this place is yours?” She looks away and scratches her elbow, where she has a bacon Band-Aid.

She’s still in there.

“I kind of have a thing for hardware stores,” she says. Then she bites her bottom lip, which holds the sexiest smile I’ve seen in seventeen years.

“I meant to come and find you earlier…but Mom needed me to help her with packing.”

“Earlier?” I ask. I’m tongue-tied, unable to say what I ought to be saying. I’ve had years to sort through this shit and all these feelings, and now that I have the chance I’ve got nothing.

Ruby grips then yanks various lengths of thick rope hanging from wheels next to us. My dick twitches as her hand slides up and down the rope.

Words finally surface and they’re angry. I glance around, making sure no one will hear me. “Like seventeen years earlier?”

“Ouch,” she whispers. “Let’s try this again. Hey. It’s nice to see you. I know it took me a while, but I’m home for a couple of weeks. How are you?” She shoves her hands into her jean shorts, her slow gaze traveling from my legs to my eyes. Measured and easy, her tongue rims her lips like she’s tasting every inch of me.

“How am I?” I take a wide stance, hands planted on my hips so I don’t do something else with them. Like punch my fist through the boxes to my side. “Is this the first time you’ve wondered?”

“Well, no...I…” Ruby’s gaze darts away from mine.

Maybe she’s feeling the same way. Nervous, edgy, and anxious to figure out how she can make up for lost time. How to bundle all the highs and lows racing through her heart and turn them into something. But what?

The only thing stopping me from berating her is a matching need to scoop her into my arms, take her to my bed, and lie with her all afternoon and deep into the night. To strip her down and make her understand she could still be my girl. The battle, though, is hell sitting in the middle of my personal tug-o-war.

Rifle nudges me. “’Scuse me, Dad. Father H. wants something wider and stronger. That Ape Tape come in yet?”

I drive a hand through his chaotic mess of hair. “Gimme a sec.”

He nods, stepping a few feet away.

“Is that…” Ruby’s gaze jets between me and Rifle. One side of her lips rises, her tongue poking out.

I want to drive myself onto her and kiss that mouth. Those pouty lips I haven’t tasted in years. People can’t change that much, can they? I shouldn’t have kept her in my heart, but some people climb inside you and never leave. They mark you with their charm. They melt into your crevices—the parts of your soul you didn’t know existed until that person abandons you. And then those phantom bits linger deep inside. They hurt like steel splinters pounding into your raw heart. They make you ache and crave; they make you angry one second and hopeful the next.

Like now.

They make you stupid. So dense you forget things that happened to you when that person left. That’s me. So senseless that I want to promise her a future within a minute of us reuniting. Tell her she won’t escape me again. Though, first, she needs to hear how she almost killed me until I woke from the dead when my kid was born. I had to survive. I had to know there was a future before me when all I wanted was to give her one.

“My kid. Yeah.” I gesture Rifle to introduce himself.

“Rifle Field.” He puts his hand out, eyeing Ruby up with approval.

Christ, he’s becoming a man. Licking his chops over my girl. My girl? Pulling my head out of my ass, I assume the position of survival—my arms crossed over my chest—hiding the festering soreness buried there.

“Yes, you are.” She impales me with a need-filled stare. “You look like the same boy I knew back in school. You two share the same muscular build, and black hair and dark eyes…my goodness. He looks exactly like you.”

My fingernails dig into my palms, my rigid fists pinned at my thighs. “What d’ya need, Ruby?” I need processing time.

She’s more than I remember. More everything. And she has more of a grip on me than I thought she could in such a short amount of time since coming home. I want to tell her she might have been a star to the rest of the world, but damnit, she was my life.

“Of course.” She glances away, her face reddening. “Mom needs a hair trap. You know, one of those…”

“I own a hardware store.” I stride away. “I know what a fucking hair trap is.” Jesus, I sound like a dick.

Why does it feel like she’s still mine? And still feel like we’re seventeen? I’m sure she’s going to spin me around any second and ask me to join her in a Cool and the Gang dance-off. Or tell me she wants to race her horse against mine through the cornfields to the abandoned red barn and make out until our lips burn. Or tell me that she bought a bunch of postcards and wrote random love letters on them so we can stuff them into arbitrary mailboxes after midnight to make some sorry sucker feel loved for a fleeting moment.

“I’m sure you know all the traps, Rebel.” There’s a sureness in her voice even though it’s soft. It’s not smug, but it holds a little jab.

When I stop, prepared to slice into her, Ruby slams into my back.

“Holy shit, you’re a brick wall, dude. I mean…” She presses her hands on my back then slaps my ass. “Wow. Rock hard.” She’s never been shy. “Come on, Wishbone. You can at least laugh.”

I don’t want to look at her for fear of what I might do. Namely, kiss her in a way that should only be done in private.

“Okay, then. Maybe if I talk to your back, we’ll get off to a better start.” She giggles nervously while I gather my nuts up.

So far, she’s slammed into my front and my backside within minutes of seeing me. Some divine force is trying to tell me something.

“I didn’t mean like get off get off. Shit. What am I saying?” She mumbles something I can’t decipher.

I walk two more steps and locate a hair trap for her mom.

“Um, Rebel? Sorry about your wife,” she rushes out when her hands press against me again, causing another stir in my groin. Only Ruby could illicit a feeling that angers and turns me on. “I didn’t know you married. Mom filled me in.”

I turn to face her. “I didn’t know you gave a shit about anyone but yourself.”

Ruby exhales slowly. I turn it into something sexual. A little five-second scene in my head: her gasping then breathing out gradually as I fill her with my rock-hard cock, like I’ve been dreaming about since I was sixteen.

“What’s up, Rebel?” She cocks her head. “Am I your enemy?”

“You’re nothing,” I bark out. They were heartless words, a wall crashing between us—where one needs to be. For now. For my protection.

My heart pounds when I take long steps down the aisle. Ruby’s footsteps pitter-patter behind me; she still walks on her toes? That one little thing pulls me into her undercurrent. Fight it. Fight it until she gives her truth up.

But what if she never does? What was she not telling me about why she stayed away for so long? I feel like an asshole for being mean, but the reality is she’ll need to break down and spit it out. Spit out the whys. The this-was-what-happened, the I-left-becauses. Maybe she needs more time—not that she hasn’t had enough already.

The one thing I know about me and Ruby? The piece of hope I’ve hung on to all these years? We were meant to be together somewhere along the line. I just hope to hell it’s in this lifetime and that I can get over being so pissed at her.

“I wasn’t expecting you to be so angry toward me,” she says. Her eyes hold an intense stare and lock onto mine like she’s injecting my soul through her gaze. Pleading me to open my mind and see her. “I guess that last thing you said about how you’d be here waiting was just teenage lust talking. I get it. Too much time has passed. You’ve moved on. Maybe we can be friends along the way.” She shrugs and takes the trap from me; our fingers brush for a scintillating second. Friends? Fuck that shit.

“See you around,” she says. Her small pained smile disappears as fast as it forms.

“Not likely.” Worry punches my stomach, even if I am channeling my inner asshole. My defenses are so high that I could block a flock of cupids.

But then her eyes… Well, goddammit. Sorrow sinks into them. And the way that one side of her lips lifts into a but-what-if expression takes me back to our last goodbye. And my last question.

I will never forget asking her, “Why don’t you have my promise ring on?” Dipping my fingertips inside the collar of her shirt, I felt around for the necklace and the ring I’d given her. Nothing was there but her fitful heartbeat.

“Nice welcome home.” She spins, charges toward the checkout, whips a few bills onto the counter, and then disappears through the door—my gaze planted on her gorgeous round ass.

And on her ass is blood.

She’s not gonna like this.

I jog out the door, my fingers flying down my shirt buttons. “Ruby.” I grab her elbow.

She snaps toward me, meeting me in a stare, her eyes rimmed in red and tear-filled hatred.

“Wrap it around your waist. You uh…you’re bleedin’.” I hand her my shirt then yank my T-shirt down when her gaze latches onto my abs.

A rich blush scoots into her cheeks. “Nice. Well this is embarrassing.” She closes her eyes. “Thanks. I’ll get it back to you.”

Her mortified-sounding tone makes me chuckle. I recall doing this same thing in high school.

“Fucking period was done two days ago!” she says softly, almost to herself.

“Don’t worry. Got plenty of ’em.”

She works my shirt around her waist and knots it while I study her ringless hands.

Someone would have told me if she’d gotten married along the way. I never believed she didn’t.

“Of course,” she says. “Why would you want it back? That would mean seeing me again.” Her voice cracks, reaching into my heart for another strangle. “I’m not in town to get in your way. I’m here to move Mom and Echo into a house. I’ll be gone before you know it.”

Gone again. I want to believe her—that I’m not part of the reason she’s here. But I don’t. Chemistry doesn’t lie. Kindred spirits twine, and once they do, there’s no unraveling.

“Good,” I lie.

“Fuck you, Rebel,” she says softly, but there’s a bite behind her words. Ruby always did have a spark that could easily burst into flames.

I bite my tongue from telling her, I will, woman. I will be fucking you. It’s not gonna happen soon, but it will happen. You will feel me inside you. All these years of imagining it? They will come to fruition.

“Not me, Ruby.” I grip the back of my neck as my jaw tightens and I imagine who she’s been with. “You never let me have it, remember?”

Her eyes widen, then she glares at me.

“I’m sure you’ve had your fair share of French, Italian, and every other man-sausage across the pond.”

Fuck if that wasn’t the meanest thing I’ve said yet. I’m a douchebag with a capital D. How the hell do I think I’m going to get her back this way? Good fucking question.

Chapter 4


I know what I am. Dented and scratched, cracks filled with enough glue that I can mostly hold myself together. I might not have been honest with myself about everything I’d come home to, and how it would feel each time I turned a corner in this town and ran into something unexpected. Like him.

“Yes, Rebel. The Italians are my favorite. Long, girthy cocks a girl can ride for hours.” I rim my lips, my tongue playing at the edges. “Not that the French aren’t masters in the sack. All those stereotypes are true.”

Rebel’s eyes blacken, if that’s possible, his lips taking the form of an I’m-going-to-spit-on-you scowl. I mimic his look and raise his hate with a lock-down stare and no-talking contest as I step into his space. Bring it on. I can play the game too.

One more step. Then another. We’re close. Too close. His six-foot-three, broad-shouldered frame packed with muscle and a few tats is towering over me. Damn! I look up and glare at him, his short black messed-up hair and dark stubble add a certain depth to his angry sexiness. But no, I’m not backing down. Both of us breathe like we’ve been running mountains. His black eyes gauge mine. Then they arrive at my lips a second later, grabbing my need and riding it hard. Rebel Field live in the flesh isn’t the man I expected. Can he feel the heat coming off me and swirling between us and the vibes my whole body is shelling out even though he’s being an ass? My urge to slap his rugged face is tamped down when he steps close enough I can smell him. Maybe he’s about to apologize. Or lay those plump lips on mine for a long, slow welcome-home kiss. And, as I recall, the man could kiss.

But he’s pissing me off with his angry-man performance. He wants a bit of war by the way he keeps poking at me. And my inner smartass never could refuse a good spar with my wishbone.

“Ruby!” My mother’s screechy voice hovers behind me. “Ask me a stupid question.”

I turn my back to Rebel and hand the hair trap to Mom through the wide crack in the window, where she and Lake are watching us like a train wreck. “Are you ready to go, Ma?”

“That was stupid, all right.”

Lake nibbles on Mom’s earlobe.

“My wig is itchin’ in this heat,” she says. “I need some talcum from the five-and-dime.”

“One sec.” I look over my shoulder and hold his stare as I wave a finger at Mom. “Say hey to Rocket. Unless that’s too much to ask.”

He grunts. “She’ll appreciate you give a shit about one of us.”

“She?” I whirl to face Rebel.

“Rocket is Etta now,” he says.

“What are you talking about?”

“Yes. While you were getting cocked in Europe, Rocket became Etta.” Rebel smirks.

I suck in a revolted breath… getting cocked…? “I swear to God, Rebel. If you say another thing about me getting…”

God, he’s transparent. Jealousy is something he never did well. Never hid. And it might have added a bucket of fuel to the Kline boys’ lust and hatred for me. And likely why they did what they did on graduation night.

Try as I might to tamp them down, my emotions flare, and tears well in my eyes then fall. Now, he’ll see my wall come down. Not all of it, because there’s a massive height of damage holding it up. But enough that he’ll dig in and make it hurt without much effort.

“Those are pretty big tears for a girl who told me how much she loved European cock. Wasn’t your phrase ‘ride ’em for hours?”

After dragging my sleeve across my eyes, I step toward his immense frame and shove him with the force of an ox. He doesn’t falter. Not one step. Mr. Stoic As Fuck. Like he’s rooted to the center of the earth.

You want more? Get ready, Rebel. I’ve got plenty of fight in me.

“Yeah, they were great.” I clench my jaw. Words scrape through my teeth. “Great big dicks.” I throw my arms wide and moan out a sexual sound. War is ugly. Noisy. Graphic. Time to kill. “But not as big of a dick as you are.” I climb onto the hood of the Wagoneer via the rusted bumper then clamber to the roof while Mom protests. While turning in a circle, I shout, “Biggest dick in the Midwest, ladies and gentlemen. Rebel Rifle Field!” I clap my hands, add in a horse whistle for more attention, and then dance a goofy jig and scream it all over again.

War is bloody. He might hate me right now, but somewhere inside this war, there’s a man who cares. He wouldn’t be fuming like red embers if he didn’t give a damn.

Numerous people stop. I hear some, “Oh my gods,” a few “Holy shits,” and one, “Who’s the hot chick doing the jig?”

Rebel stomps toward the Jeep, one fist shaking at me along with his head. “Get the fuck down here, Ruby! These people are my customers.” He swipes at my leg, causing me to scream and stumble back until I land on the hot asphalt.

Dammit, war hurts.

I stare at my pain-riddled right wrist, which is bent at an obviously wrong angle.

Rebel jogs to my side. “That’s broken, baby.” He takes my arm in his callused, beautiful hands, his thumb brushing across my racing pulse. His gaze meets mine, his eyes soft and concerned.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you.” His words come out in a gentle tender whisper that I repeat in my heart, hoping it reaches him.

His effect on me might be worse now than it was in high school. I figured I’d get butterflies, though I hadn’t anticipated breaking out in a sweat and not wanting to linger in his deep chocolate-drop eyes.

“We gotta get you to the hospital.”

I wince, then push myself up with my other arm. “I made my way around the world.” I survived that night you never arrived. “I can get myself to the hospital.”

“You aren’t driving anywhere.” He hauls me up, his hands gripping under my arms.

“Now you’re interested in helping me?” I chuckle. “Don’t worry about it, I’m a big girl.”

“I’m not worried. I’m just doing the right thing. That might not make sense to you, Miss Euro Cock.”

I wiggle out of his grip, tuck my wrist into the crook of my elbow and kick his shin. Twice. He doesn’t wince, though. The man is pure steel. Impenetrable.

“I hate you for this,” I whisper-yell.

He nods. “I hate you for an assload more.” His hand encircles my arm with a firm squeeze, and he drags me toward him, his face now one second from mine.

My need skyrockets. Hate and love live so close that I can’t tell which one I’m feeling. Christ, this is confusing. Maybe if I’d stayed here he’d have helped me heal. But I couldn’t do it. Sometimes, even a love like ours isn’t enough when one hurts inside and can’t tell the truth about it.

“Get in my truck.” He points to a giant, black dually parked across the lot like a dark horse. “Get going.” He edges me forward, his gruff, cracked voice acting like a little mating dance.

I take one pace away from him then backtrack to the Jeep.

He steps in my way. “I’ll have one of the guys take your mother home. Now, go!”

I elbow him in the chest. “Give me a sec, all right? Fucking brute! Jesus, you are bossy!”

Mom works the rosary with her shaking hand. “Is your wrist okay?”

“I’m fine, whatever.” I wiggle my wrist around, certain it’s broken. But still, I’ve had worse pain.

“Okay, good. Ask me a stupid question,” she says.

I think for three seconds before I ask, “I think he hates me. What should I do about him?”

“That is a stupid question.” She smiles then tilts her head to the heavens.

I stare at her, knowing she’s about to talk to one of the deads.

“Lenny, she needs him, and she doesn’t know how much he needs her. I knew this would happen if she came home.”

I’m not convinced he needs me. Maybe if I had come home sooner, but I didn’t understand there were no rules to healing. I tried navigating my pain in any way I could, knowing I wanted to be healed fully before I came back to this town.

Year after year, I tried. And, now, I know. Healing is a funny word that means something different to everyone. To some, it means done and over, mission accomplished. To others, it means move around that mountain. To me? It means coming home and trying really hard to understand where I’ll fit into the town I ran from all those years ago and the man I love.

Maybe I won’t fit in at all.

And so begins the reunion of us. It has all the makings of a first-rate mystery. Blood, hatred, need, love, secrets, clues… Maybe even a solved murder or two.

Chapter 5


Ruby Mae is home, and she’s a hurricane. I need to love her. But first, I have to get over hating her.

Don’t wait for me. Don’t follow me.” She had the gall to say those words to me the day she left. But I knew she was lying. She always sucked at lying. Her tell was the same every time. She’d pull on her earlobe then twist it. And that’s when I told her I’d be waiting. But the wait has been hell, and my anger is burning like a blowtorch on raw flesh.

Calm now. Be calm.

“I’m sorry I hurt you,” I say after I’ve helped Ruby climb into my truck. I press my palms onto the cab’s hot roof and watch her fumble with the seat belt, which she’ll never figure out.

Along with her likely broken right wrist, she has two trigger fingers on her left hand that don’t bend. Nerve damage from high school when she ran the jigsaw into her palm in shop class under my father’s tutelage. I always liked that Ruby was the only girl in shop. She was tough and smart as a whip, unafraid of the all-guy electives and their tendencies to intimidate most girls. Even when the Kline twins tried to mess with her, she stood up to them. Ruby was a bomb of spice and confidence. Hell, not even my dad stood up to the twins, and they were his godsons.

“Sorry, my ass.” Thankfully, she chuckles. “Just get in and drive.”

“Let me,” I say quietly. I step onto the running board and lean over her lap, my jean-clad thighs pressed to her slightly parted, bare legs. While working on the stubborn buckle, I glance down at the creamy skin between her legs, wanting her white jean shorts to be shorter. Or off.

Then my gaze drifts across her breasts, then to her throat—which might be bumping up and down as much as mine. Finally, I look into her eyes. Unyielding, though bursting with questions, they soften. I try to imitate that sentiment. But I fail.

She looks away; maybe I’ve scared her off. Inhaling to calm myself, I get a whiff of her. This isn’t going to help the twitch in my cock. Or the ache in my heart. She smells like memories of us, and maybe after a hurdle or three, she’ll smell like my next fifty years.

“You smell the same,” I tell her. I need to press my lips to hers and steal the kisses I’ve missed. Years of kisses.

“Is that good?” She bites her lip, inhaling a shaky, long breath when she tugs at her top, maybe realizing how much gorgeous cleavage is on display.

“It’s like yesterday’s smell. Familiar and sweet.”

She tries to hide her watery eyes. But I don’t miss one sign they’re sending. She’s back for me. She can call it what she wants. I’m calling what I see. Calling how it feels. Kind of right with some wrong. Yeah, maybe we’re going to figure this out, after all. Maybe.

I move strands of long blond hair from her eyes. Then I touch the tiny scar on her eyebrow that I gave her one day when we were roughhousing while fishing.

“You okay?” I ask, wrapping my hand around the back of her neck.

She huffs out a breath—something between a gasp and a sigh—a miniscule whimper of lust at its core.

My face is inches from hers, so close we could kiss with minimal effort. More striking than ever, Ruby is the kind of woman who makes a man feral. Makes him want to rip her shirt off with his teeth because his hands are busy elsewhere on her body. She makes my need turn inside out and boil to the surface. She’s the kind of woman you would promise everything to even if it meant she’d tear your heart to shreds, leave you in the dust, and forget about you while she sought…what? Fame and fortune?

Was the grass that much greener on the other side? Did the sacrifices she made to leave me and this town amount to much in her heart? What else was she seeking? And what pushed her to seek it? You don’t just up and leave like she did. There’s always something else buried inside the truth.

“I’m fine. This is going to make the move a little complicated.” She holds her arm up, shifting her gaze from her wrist to my eyes and then my lips.

I can’t stop swallowing; my mouth waters like a leaky hose in her presence.

“I’ll help. I’m the reason you broke this.” I trace a line across her wrist. Her baby-soft skin snags my memory bank. “I didn’t mean to scare you and make you fall. I…” I’m just so madly in love with you. Still. I missed you. Needed you.

“Everyone was looking.” She sucks her bottom lip through her teeth as her eyes rummage around my face. “You never liked that kind of attention.”

“I’m not like you, Ruby.”

She edges her face away as I move in. “Not like me,” she says softly. “Don’t like me. Don’t want to see me. What else me?”

Damn, she irks me. I thought we were going somewhere. “Nothing you.” I slam the door, stomp around to the driver’s side, and get in.

“You’ve made that clear,” she says.

As we pull out of the lot, Ruby reaches for the radio and pokes at the buttons on my disc player.

The second the music begins, I grind my jaw. She chuckles and skips the first song. Then the next, which is followed by another laugh. And then the one after that. Of course, I have her mix in. I dug it out of an old box of crap when I heard she bought that lake house and knew she’d be coming home.

“You still have it?”

All I hear when I stare at her is, You still want me? I take a right turn, glancing at her from the corner of my eye. She strokes her throat then follows her collarbone with one finger. One of my favorite sexy habits of hers. One of many.

“Looks like you something me.” She shoots me a smirk.

“It’s not about you,” I say.

She watches me for a few seconds. What does she see? A man she wants? Or a man she left forever?

“You’re a lying sack of shit, Rebel Field.”

“That makes two of us, Ruby Mae.”

We laugh for the first time in years. I think the last laugh we shared was when we graduated and whipped our hats into the air post-ceremony. Those sharp, black angles cut the crisp blue sky like knives as they flew up then rained down on us. Fuck if it wasn’t a sign of something to come.

It doesn’t seem possible that we can hold so much love for someone we haven’t laughed with for that many years. Perhaps love doesn’t have a clock; maybe it can span time.

“I need a favor,” Ruby says.

“Another?” I chuckle because that one word did come out dick-like. I’m wearing asshole like a second skin today.

“What did I do to make you so hard?” she asks.

Is she kidding? How does she have the balls to pose a question like that?

“You haven’t made me hard in years. Moved on. Remember? You told me not to wait. Over you.” Up goes my wall of lies. It’s like I have no control over my defenses with her.

“I’m not sure I believe you.” She glances at my key chain, the gold rock, scissors, and paper charms she gave me in high school still dangling there like a Welcome Home sign flashing bright in a dark night.

She touches the charms. When she grazes my knee while moving her hand back to her lap, I snag her wrist.

“I’m dead serious. Over you.” No, I’m not. I’m dead afraid you’re going to leave again. A little dead inside. That you left in the first place. Dead serious? Okay, sure—that I’ve never wanted or needed you more. So this fight I’m putting up? Yeah, it’s me working hard to break you down so you let out everything you should have told me forever ago.

“Good for you.” Hate coats her voice and seeps through my veins like acid.

“What was the favor?” I dial the air conditioning to high and adjust the vents.

“I need to stop at the drugstore before I ruin your shirt.”

“Wouldn’t be the first thing you’ve ruined.” I smirk.

Her mouth drops open. “I’ll be sure to buy you a new one if the blood stains. I know the last thing you want is anything from my pussy since you’re so disgusted by my presence. I thought my period was over, so don’t worry, it’s unlikely I’ll ruin your precious shirt.”

“Keep the shirt. Don’t want it back.”

We pull into the drug store, my white-knuckle grip on the wheel working to calm me. “I’ll run in,” I tell her. “Tampons as I recall.”

“Don’t bother, I’ll run in. I need to use the restroom anyway.” Ruby pokes at her seat belt. She’d barely be able to get the buckle open if she had two good hands.

“Need help?” I inch my fingers toward her.

“I don’t need anything from you.”

“Okay. I’ll meet you back here in five. I’m going to run across the street and grab a dog. Want one? Or d’you get your fill with the Italian and French?”

“You really hate me.”

“Something fierce.” I grin, and wink, but there’s some truth in my words.

Yes, Ruby. I hate you for so many things. For leaving me when all I wanted was you. For giving yourself to other guys after I waited years for it while we dated. But, more than anything, I hate that I need you more than the next fragile beat of my broken-to-shit heart.

Chapter 6


I really did a number on him, though he has no idea how hard it’s been for me. Or why I scrambled out of town feeling like I was being chased by a mob of murderous clowns. He doesn’t know what happened graduation night when I went for an early evening run on the stairs behind the football stadium with Opal before attending graduation parties. He doesn’t know why I never showed at the Klines’ party.

Every inch of sunshine bleeds a black edge. Rebel told me those exact words the last time we were together. It was the day I left town. The day I ran. He was right. It wasn’t a random observation; I knew he meant me.

I was forever sunshine at my core. Pure and silly. An uninhibited, sassy cuss. He’d called me that on more than one occasion. And my brash self-assurance made certain individuals want to disgrace me. I didn’t understand the hatred some people carried around for others. Didn’t understand it until I lived in a world of hate.

Back then, though, not understanding it but feeling the shame of it were two different things. It began with the girls at my new high school who secretly hated me because I was pretty, naturally athletic, and—worst of all—tall and thin. I stood my ground and wore my sunshine like a protective sheath when they snickered at me under their breath over a sweater I’d bought from the Goodwill store then readapted to fit the current trends.

“Tacky,” they said. “Who sews their own clothes from another person’s throwaways?”

I smiled and marched past them.

I always played the nice card. It felt better inside. But they hated me even more because I was pleasant. It was easier to join the bitch-n-moan club. It was cooler to be dark and mean. Plus, the cloak they could hide behind was bear-fur thick. Happy people annoyed them.

The cheerleaders ruled that club in my high school. They bitched and moaned about everything. Mostly in the bathroom, where the boys wouldn’t hear them. I could have hated them because they received pricey sports cars on their sixteenth birthdays or had credit cards with no limits to buy the perfect prom dress, which cost thousands, while I had to sew my own. I didn’t criticize when they ate half a pizza then washed it down with Diet Coke and diet pills. But, when I walked down the hall with my textbooks and a Vogue magazine—which I had splurged on—tucked under one arm and a milkshake Rebel Field had bought me each day on lunch break to spoil me, they pitched hissy fits with tails on them.

Worse yet, they were even meaner to my little sister, Opal, who attended the annex school next door with her twin, Echo. Both of them were intellectually disabled, which is why Echo still lives with Mom. Opal was adorable. Short, curvy, and soft everywhere. She was perfect in every way, especially since she had no idea how beautiful she was—mirrors scared her. She was also physically the opposite of me, so you would think they’d be okay with her. Instead, her disfigured face and perfect doughy curves became their personal dartboard when she’d meet me behind the track to work out on the backside bleacher stairs every night.

Why did looks and status matter so much? Why couldn’t we all be okay with being different in lots of ways?

But their immaturity knew no bounds. Opal and I would run the stairs, and the wicked peanut gallery would lob criticism and never-ending hate. There was no winning with them or their nastiness. Even the boys they dated joined in. They had their own club of affluence and antipathy. They could afford to hate the less-thans because they would always have more.

Money was power in our small town. And they had it by the bagload. The Kline boys were kings of that club. The Preston girls were the queens. Both sides had their minions.

Then there was me and Rebel. We danced across our sunshine, avoiding the black edges. But, on graduation night, the edges curled and closed in and everything changed.

Sweat buckets from my pores. Why the hell didn’t I let him help me? Now, I’m stuck like a dog whose owner forgot about her in the car on a one-hundred-degree day. Frustration needles my nerves as neither my left nor right hand can jiggle the buckle open. I close my eyes and inhale Rebel’s scent, which hangs in his truck like a provoking potion.

I wasn’t prepared for his pure Rebel-ness. I was going to ease my way in. A phone call first. An easy hello. Hey. I’m back. Miss me? I planned on asking him if he wanted to go out for a beer or maybe dinner, though I kind of figured that might be pushing things.

A knock on the window startles me. Rebel’s dad. But not in man form. Holy shit. Rocket really did go for it. Etta?

Her coifed curls soften the hard edges of her heavily made-up face. Shades of pinks and plums accent her cheekbones, her eyes, and her lips. Her fitted dress opens low at her abundant cleavage. My leer must be apparent on the Ds, because she places a hand there to shield them.

She gestures for me to roll the window down.

“I can’t!” I yell and hold my right arm up. “Broke my wrist. Can you open the door?”

She nods. A heavy whiff of oriental perfume wafts up to my nose as she pulls the door open.

“Hey, Mr. Field.”

“Etta.” She smiles, leans in, and pecks me on the cheek.

“Mrs. Field,” I say.

“Etta, sweetheart.” She rubs the spot where she kissed me then stares at the bright stain of color on her thumb. “Mrs. Field is Posey. She doesn’t like people calling me Mrs. Field.” Her powdery, pastel skin squishes into perfect miniature accordion folds when she smiles. “I heard you were back. It’s nice to see you,” she says, looking me over.

I don’t want to be obvious, but I love the sight of her too. She’s so strangely beautiful. Even her voice has changed from all male to caramel-drizzled sweet and womanly.

“Your son isn’t so pleased I’m back. He even shoved me off the roof of my car and I broke my wrist.”

“He what?” She cringes then gasps. “Ruby, that’s awful.”

I tap my front tooth, alerting her to a smudge of lipstick on her teeth. She licks it off like a pro. How long has he…she…been a woman? And, for the love of God, how did Rebel Field, Mr. Rough-And-Tumble, deal with his dad becoming his…Etta?

“I’m kidding. I fell after making an ass of myself and embarrassing him. Don’t tell him I said that. He wants nothing to do with me.”

“Don’t let him fool you.” She pats my hand as I stare at her hairless arm.

“He’s not fooling me. He’s made it clear how much he hates me and how displeased he is that I’m in town. His town.”

“It’s your town too.” She shakes her head then makes a squishy mama-loves-you face she must have worked really hard to perfect. It’s not anything Rocket would have done.

“I’m proud of you, Mr.…” I clear my throat three times. Then add one. “Etta.”

“Thank you. I needed to be honest with myself. I hid from the truth for too long.” She pats droplets of sweat off her upper lip. “I was afraid of what others would think of me. What does it matter what others think?”

Hid from the truth, yes. It’s like she’s reading my mind.

I take a second longer than seems comfortable to gather my thoughts. I’ve wanted to tell someone about that night, anyone. But I couldn’t. My parents’ tiny home had been in foreclosure until Mr. Kline gave them a loan from his bank when my father approached him. He was your classic cock-sucker-banker type to everyone, but they had gone to high school together and used to be hunting buddies, so that helped. I wonder if Dick made him beg.

My family had more to lose than I did. No one could find out. I couldn’t go up against the KIines. I thought karma would get them at some point. Though I didn’t think it would be the week I left town. What happened that day in their basement? I wish I knew what words they spoke before they were shot and killed.

Funny thing is, apparently, there were few signs of a struggle. Just two dead boys along with their hunting rifles placed at their sides like it had been staged by God. It made no sense. But it was all printed in the paper. A nice tied-up story with no room for holes. And that was gospel in this town. It was murder-suicide per the sheriff. Two boys who had full-ride football scholarships to Northwestern University? Seemed crazy to me.

Etta taps me on the shoulder. “Did your brother tell you he’s in the scrapbooking class I teach at the community center?”

“He didn’t mention that. But Echo doesn’t say much unless it’s pulled out of him. Or unless he’s talking with Mom. They babble at each other like two squirrels bickering over nuts. Now that they’ll be living on the lake, he can’t walk to town. I’ll bring him by for the next class.”

“He and I get along well.”

“That’s nice to hear. He needs stimulation outside of Mom.”

“I made a housewarming gift for Monday. I’ll have Rebel bring it to her.”

“You should bring it over and see the house.”

Etta’s face brightens into a crimson blush. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Your mother thinks I’m gay and doesn’t seem keen on the gays. Isn’t that what she calls them?”

“Yes.” I nibble on my thumbnail, so many questions I want to ask. “But you’re not gay.”

“No,” she says in a soft tone, a twinge of irritation lining it. “I’m all woman.”

“I’ll have a talk with her and explain.”

“Keep it simple. People get very confused about the truth.”

Boy, do they ever. “Of course.”

“What really happened to your arm?”

“A little accident, I swear. I’m fine. Probably a break, but no biggie.”

“Most people wouldn’t say a break is no biggie. But you’ve been through more than—” She gasps.

I almost miss it. Then she smacks her mouth with the back of her hand, faces away from me, and utters something I can’t hear.


When she turns toward me, her face is wet with perspiration, her lips trembling. “I was just going to say how you’ve seen the world and… Oh, never mind me. I’ve got things to get to. Stop by the farm sometime. We’re out at the old Finch place.” She fidgets with her dainty, gold ladies’ watch that seems oddly placed before her wrist bone.

“I don’t think Rebel would appreciate that.”

“I wasn’t talking about Rebel. You and I can visit and catch up on your life.”

“And yours! I’ll do that, and thanks.” Not a chance would he want me stepping foot on his farm.

The Finch place no less. How the hell did he score that hunk of land? Lottery win? They never had money like that; almost no one in town did. Only the Klines, the Prestons, and a few others.

“You’ve been missed, Ruby. Missed by many. Don’t let what happened ruin anything.”

Does she mean my leaving? Or Opal’s death? Or what the hell? Why is she acting so weird? Must be a woman thing.

But I have to ask. “What do you mean?”

“The… Oh.” Her face blushes crimson again. Maybe ten times redder than the last time. “Just this town. That’s all.”

So, why am I imagining it’s not all? Maybe I do need to visit Rebel’s farm. Even if it’s only to talk more with Etta.

Chapter 7


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