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Excerpt for Buried Secrets by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Table of Contents

Book Description

Buried Secrets

Part One: Suspicious

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Part Two: Accusation

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Part Three: Redemption

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Epilogue

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MOXIE

By Selena Kitt


High school senior, Moxie, agrees to be moral support for her friend, Patches, who is totally enamored with a college boy, so she says yes to a double date, even though she has to lie to her parents to do it.

But Moxie wasn’t counting on lying about her age to get into an X-rated movie, and she definitely wasn’t counting on her date’s Roman hands and Russian fingers, or the fact that the pants she’s borrowed from Patches are several sizes too small. By the end of the night, Moxie finds herself in far more trouble than she bargained for!







BOOK DESCRIPTION


Should some secrets remain buried?


Dusty has always been a hothead, far more impulsive than her twin, Nick, the calm, cool and collected one of the pair. But Nick is dead, found murdered in their local cemetery, and Dusty simply can’t rest until she finds out who—or what—has killed her brother.


Sure the local authorities aren’t being straight with her—or anyone else—about what’s been going on in their little upper Michigan town, Dusty delays going off to college for a semester, defying her father and stepmother and taking a job in the local bar to start doing some digging.


Her focus soon fixes on Shane, her brother’s best friend and the town bad boy. The tension and rivalry between Dusty and Shane has always been palpable and sparks fly as the two collide. Dusty finds herself sinking in deeper with Shane and the mystery of what happened to her brother—and a lengthening list of victims—grows even stranger.


When everything comes to a head, Dusty focuses on one thing: What happened the night her brother was killed in the cemetery? She’s sure Shane is keeping a secret and she’s determined to find out what it is, one way or another.







Buried Secrets


By Selena Kitt





Part One: Suspicion



Chapter One

Dusty hid in the coat closet at the funeral home. The last time she’d been in it was the day she’d turned fourteen. Her mother had just died after a long battle with breast cancer. It had metastasized to her brain, leaving her last days confused and muddled, beyond their reach. The day of the funeral had been just like this—beautiful and bright, an affront. It made no sense, the sun still shining, the sky still blue.

So Dusty had crept into the closet, not wanting to share her grief with aunts and uncles and cousins, strangers she saw a few times a year at most. Her father was a zombie, the walking dead, dark circles under his eyes, just going through the motions. She couldn’t reach him. Her brother had been the one who came looking for her.

He found her curled up behind the coats, back against the wall, knees up in the new black dress and heels she wore, head down. She wasn't crying, hadn't cried when she watched her mother take her last breath, hadn’t cried any time since. Her grief felt like something had weighed anchor in her chest, making her slow to react.

She hadn't cried until Nick found her, squatting down to pull the coats aside like a curtain, suddenly spotlighting her pain. His face was a mirror of her own—her brother, her twin—so pale and stunned, eyes dark like hers, like their mother’s.

When the coats parted again, she had a moment of déjà-vu, sure it would be Nick coming for her, knowing her pain as well as he knew his own. But that was impossible because Nick was dead. It was his funeral they were going to today. It wasn't Nick, couldn't be Nick, would never be Nick again.

“Hey.” Shane ducked his head, cocking it and looking at her tucked in behind the curtain of coats. “Thought I might find you here.”

She stared at him, eyes burning, face so hot she felt feverish. For a moment, he wasn’t Shane, her brother’s best friend, he was Nick. For one moment they were fourteen again and she was grieving the loss of her mother, not her twin brother. She had gone to Nick that day like she could go to no one else, letting herself cry in his arms. And Shane had been standing there in the doorway watching the whole time.

She remembered him like a vision, the same face looking back at her, that strong, stubborn jaw, smooth as a baby’s then but dark with stubble today. His sandy blonde hair was cut short when they were young instead of the spiky mess it was now. It was the only other time she’d seen him wearing a suit and tie that she could remember. And here he was again, only this time he wasn’t standing in the doorway. This time he was crouched in front of her, holding out his hand like a peace offering, like he expected her to take it, to forgive and forget.

“You bastard,” she whispered, surprising them both when she went for him, hands hooked into claws, nails aimed at his face. Shane reacted, grabbing her wrists and pulling her toward him instead of pushing her away as she’d expected. Dusty cried out in frustration as he twisted and folded her up in moments, pretzel-like, rendering even her kicking feet in spiked black heels harmless, flailing uselessly at the wall of coats.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, his lips touching her ear. She struggled in his grip, twisting and turning in her attempts to get at him, but he held her fast, wrists crossed over her chest, her body pulled tight against his own, tucked between his thighs. “Shhh. Hey, easy. Easy!”

“Fuck you!” she snapped, panting, sweating with the effort to get out of his grip, turning her wrists in his hands, but Shane wasn’t even breathing hard. He had her completely tied up, right where he wanted her, in a neat human straightjacket. “Let me go!”

“They’re taking him to the cemetery now.”

His words stopped her like nothing else could have.

“No,” she whispered, her body going suddenly cold. She literally began to shiver and she felt his arms tighten around her, as if he could comfort her with his body alone, the solid, warm press of him against her. “No, Shane. No!”

He lowered his head, voice muffled. “It’s time.”

“Please, no,” she begged him, twisting to try and see his face, as if he could change the course of things, as if he might be able to alter the very circumstances of Nick’s death. “Not the cemetery. He died there, Shane. He died there!”

She felt his slow exhale, the heat of his breath on her neck, his voice low and hoarse. “I know. I’m so sorry, princess.”

“Don’t call me that!” she cried, but it was too late. It was the teasing term of endearment Nick used for her and hearing it come from Shane was like a blow. The reality Nick would never speak those words again entered her heart like a blade. She gasped for breath as if she’d been stabbed and Shane let her go, not holding her wrists anymore, not keeping her.

She whipped her head around to look at him, ready to gouge out his eyes, to inflict every bit of revenge she could, not that any of it would make up for her brother’s death. It was his eyes that stopped her. They were as blue as ever, but there were dark circles underneath. So much pain in his eyes. That lonely, haunted look. It told her everything and nothing.

“This can’t be happening.” She’d whispered those words to Nick, those very words, the day her mother died. She remembered, looking into his eyes, what had finally broken her. Nick had held his arms out to her and she’d gone to him, like she always did, but it wasn’t Nick who finally broke her.

It was Shane, standing in the doorway watching. It was the bright sheen in his eyes as he passed the back of a trembling hand over them, a sudden hitch in his chest. Her brother, Nick, was a sweet, sensitive soul. His tears came easy, far easier than her own—he’d cried when their cat had been run over in the road, when a baby bird had fallen from its nest before it was ready to fly, breaking its vulnerable neck.

Shane Curtis was a rock, a stalwart, always standing fast. He didn’t ever let anyone know what he was thinking, let alone feeling. She suspected only Nick knew what was going on in Shane’s head, and maybe no one ever knew what was in his heart. So seeing tears in Shane’s eyes had rocked her world, even at the tender age of fourteen, and seeing them now tore her heart right out of her chest. She should have hated him—part of her did hate him—but in that moment he was the only person who could even come close to understanding the loss she was facing.

“Nicky!” she wailed, tears blurring her vision, beginning to fall as she called for her brother, wishing he could hear her. “He can’t be gone. He can’t… can’t…”

Shane folded her up again without a word, this time tucking her head under his chin, pulling her face to his chest as she sobbed, and she let him. She was completely undone, unable to do anything but let him rock her. They clung to each other on the floor of the funeral home closet, sharing a pain Dusty once believed she never could have borne. Losing their mother had brought Nick and Dusty even closer together—and, as twins, they were already incredibly close.

That made losing Nick somehow worse. It was like having the one last thing you had to live for taken from you. Dusty was stranded, alone and drifting, nothing to cling to anymore. Nick was gone. Not gone… dead. But she didn’t want to think about that. Couldn’t think about it. The words she’d spoken aloud to Shane—he died there—had been the first time she’d acknowledged it to anyone.

Not just dead. Murdered.

No. No, she couldn’t think about that.

Dusty shook her head, clawing at Shane’s suit as if she could crawl through him and escape her own thoughts. He didn’t try to soothe her or stop her or keep her. He just held her and let her fall apart, let her sob until his white shirt and navy blue tie were soaked and streaked with mascara and still the tears wouldn’t stop.

“I feel like I’m dying.” She wrapped her arms around his neck, clinging to him like she was drowning, and that’s just what it felt like. She could barely draw breath. “I wish I was dead.”

“No,” he croaked, his voice low and hoarse and pained. “Don’t say that.”

“You loved him.” It wasn’t a question. She knew it was true. They’d been best friends for years, Nick and Shane. They would have done anything for each other. She felt him nod, his cheek against hers, the soft scratch of his stubble startling her, but not nearly as much as the dampness on his skin. She pulled her head back to look at him, incredulous at the tears wetting his cheeks.

“Everyone loved Nick.” Dusty almost smiled. She felt the memory of her brother pushing through her grief, lifting her heart in her chest. But smiling felt like a betrayal. “You know it’s true. Even my dad wishes it was me instead of him.”

“No!” Shane grabbed her shoulders, eyes darkening. “Don’t say that! Don’t ever say that!”

“You know you wish it had been me.” She lifted her gaze to meet his, chin out, feeling her lower lip trembling with the truth of her whispered words. Dusty had always been the superfluous one in the pair, following in Nick’s shadow. She and Shane had vied for her brother’s attention for years—and she had usually been the loser. In spite of being fraternal twins, her gender seemed to be the separating factor. It drove a wedge between them the older they got.

Not that they weren’t close. They remained close, even closer after her mother died, united against their new stepmother when she came along. But once Shane entered the picture, everything had changed. Her brother idolized Shane the way Dusty idolized Nick. But that only made sense, in the end. Nick was everyone’s favorite. And now that he was gone, she wasn’t sure who she was without him.

“No. Dusty, stop it.” Shane cupped her face in his hands, using his thumbs to wipe at her tears.

She jerked her head away but he held fast. “It’s true.”

“It isn’t.” He lifted her chin, forcing her to meet his eyes. “Believe me, I know how you feel. I would give anything—anything—to have him back. But no one wishes it had been you. Especially me.”

“Please, I know better,” she scoffed, dismissing his attempt at reassurance, twisting away.

“You don’t know anything.” He grabbed her as she started to get up, pulling her back to the floor to face him. “For a smart girl, you can be really stupid sometimes.”

“Shane, you—”

He cut her off with a sudden, bruising kiss, surprising and paralyzing her. She couldn’t move, couldn’t respond at all, not at first. The last time Shane Curtis had kissed her, they’d been twelve years old, and she’d reacted much the same way. She couldn’t do anything at first, too shocked, but then…

She remembered it now. It was as if something inside her took flight. His lips were warm and insistent, hands moving down to the small of her back, pressing her body fully against his.

Dusty cried out when they stopped for breath, meeting his eyes. They searched hers, unsure and hesitant, and for a moment she thought he was going to pull away and mumble some apology. Given their history, she couldn’t stand that. She just couldn’t. This time it was Dusty who closed the gap. She heard his sharp intake of breath as their tongues met, her hand slipping behind his neck, turning her head to give him better access. Shane moaned into her mouth when she slipped her hand under the lapels of his suit coat, heading south toward his belt.

“Dusty, wait…” he gasped, pulling back to look at her, both of them on their knees like they were offering up a prayer.

“No.” She grabbed his belt, determined now.

“They’re waiting for us. We can’t…” He caught her hands in his, shaking his head.

“Please, Shane.” She whispered the words as her lips pressed to his.

He groaned again, giving into her for a moment. She felt his mouth softening under hers, but his hands encircled her wrists, not letting them wander. Struggling in his grip, this time for an entirely different reason, Dusty whispered the truth against his lips.

“I don’t want to go out there. Don’t make me.”

“I’m so sorry.” He took a shaky breath, pressing his forehead to hers. “I wish… Oh Dusty, it should have been me. It should have been me.”

This time it wasn’t him and it wasn’t her, it was both of them. A horrible, desperate feeling of loss hung in the air, thick and hungry, devouring everything in its wake. They did the only thing they could think of to make themselves feel alive. Dusty let out a low sound, more animal than human, like something wounded and twitching, aching in its own skin, before Shane’s mouth met hers. It was a kiss that could have raised the dead, full and open and alive. Dusty’s tears slipped down her cheeks and they captured them with their mouths, spreading the saltiness with their tongues in the dark, overheated space of the closet.

“Dustine Victoria Chandler, just what do you think you’re doing?”

Dusty didn’t quite register the hiss of her stepmother’s voice at first. She was far too lost in the feel of Shane’s lips lingering on hers, the way his hands clenched the fabric of her dress at the small of her back, like he could tear it off in an instant. She had forgotten everything, even her brother’s death—and hadn’t that been the point, after all?

It was Shane who reacted, pulling Dusty instantly to her feet, steadying her when she wobbled in her heels with an arm drawn around her shoulder, turning them both to face Julia in her modest, long-sleeved black funeral dress, her blonde hair perfectly coiffed. Dusty blinked at her stepmother’s expression, lip curled in a sneer, blue eyes blazing with anger. She’d seen the expression often enough, but Julia was usually careful to keep this face secret.

Dusty was surprised when Julia turned her anger on Shane.

“I sent you to find her, Shane Curtis, not make out with her!” Julia snapped. “You’re a pallbearer for God’s sake! Button your jacket. Dusty, where’s your coat?”

“I…” She stood there, reduced instantly to a child. Julia always made her feel that way.

“Here.” Shane grabbed Dusty’s long, black wool coat off a hanger, holding it out to Julia with one hand and pushing Dusty forward with the other. “Take her.”

“Shane…” Dusty turned to him, frowning, but he had grabbed his jacket off a hanger and was gone, out the door, and Julia was standing in her way. It was so much like that day at the pond—the breathtaking kiss, followed by Shane’s dismissal, just walking away—Dusty had a momentary lapse into the past, could almost see the shimmer on the water, feel the heat of the sun on her back.

Instead it was just Julia, clucking over her and slipping a coat over Dusty’s shoulders, pulling it closed and buttoning it to her chin. She used a handkerchief to erase the black mascara streaks on her stepdaughter’s cheeks, turning Dusty’s head from side to side, angling her toward the light coming in from the doorway so she could inspect her more thoroughly.

“There. That’s better.” Julia gave a satisfied nod. “Come on. Your father’s waiting. We won’t talk about… this.”

Of course they wouldn’t.

They never talked about anything, not if it was really important.

“There he is.” Julia steered her around toward the door and her father filled it, the corners of his mouth turned down, eyes hollow and sunken.

“Daddy?” Dusty could barely swallow, her throat so full of bitterness. He’d barely seen her this morning on the way out of the house. They’d all been wandering lost for days. It felt like an eternity. She’d curled herself into the corner of the back seat for the short ride to the funeral home that morning and had disappeared shortly thereafter, seeking the solace of the closet.

He didn’t say anything, but he held his arm out to her and she went to him. The comfort he offered broke her further and she choked on her sobs, taking the handkerchief Julia offered, feeling her stepmother’s hand on her shoulder, a gentle squeeze. Julia handed him his coat, plucked from a hanger, and Dusty saw the hallway filling with people coming toward the closet, getting ready to head over to the cemetery.

“Let’s get this damned thing over with,” her father said gruffly, giving her a one-armed squeeze before turning and stalking down the hallway, directly through the crowd. They parted for him easily, as if he were a leper. Dusty watched him straight-arm the front door, passing the casket containing what remained of his only son without a second glance.

“Dusty!” Julia called, but she was already weaving her way through the darkly dressed relatives looking for their coats, heading for her brother. The casket was closed. She had refused to approach it until this moment, putting a hand on the slick brown surface, as if she could feel him somehow, but he wasn’t there.

“We have to take him now.”

Dusty looked up at the funeral director, leading the pallbearers behind him. Shane was there, his gaze fixed on her. She looked behind him, seeing Nick’s high school friends, the rest of the gang. Dusty had intended to be among them, but Julia had quashed that plan. Girls couldn’t be pallbearers, her stepmother had insisted, aghast at the thought. So her father had abdicated too, leaving Nick to be carried to the hearse by other friends and relatives.

“Dusty, let’s go to the car.” Julia was at her elbow.

She had a sudden image of throwing the casket open and diving inside. It wasn’t the first time she had the thought. When her mother died, she’d fantasized about crawling into the coffin and curling up with her like she had as a young girl, letting the world bury them both. The closet had been the next best choice. And it had been Nick who kept her from it, giving her a reason to be in the world.

But now Nick was gone, locked in a box they were about to bury in the ground.

She had nothing left to live for.

Dusty felt her knees begin to give way and she leaned against the coffin for support, burying her face in her arms. Julia’s hand touched her shoulder, squeezing, trying to steer her away, but Dusty shook it off.

“Leave me alone!” She didn’t say it, she screamed it, throat aching, voice already hoarse, knowing this type of scene was Julia’s worst nightmare and not caring in the least. “You’re not taking him anywhere!”

If they took Nick—then what?

She couldn’t bear it.

“Hey.” Shane. She felt him even before she heard him, his presence making the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. “Listen, I know how you feel...”

She lifted her head, straightening to turn and look at him. The relatives and friends who had gone as a group to don jackets and coats were returning now, heading toward the door to the parking lot. They stopped at the scene unfolding in front of the recently deceased’s casket.

“You know how I feel?” she hissed. “He was my brother! Mine! He wasn’t your… anything! So don’t tell me you know how I feel!”

“I’m sorry.” His jaw tightened, but he reached for her hand. She shook him off too.

“You should be!” Dusty turned on him, hands balled into fists, the surrounding crowd the only thing keeping her from going after him like she first had in the coat closet, ready to gouge his eyes out. “Where were you that night, Shane? Where were you?”

“Whoa…” Shane held his hands up, taking a step back. “Let’s not do this here.”

“He’s right,” Julia insisted, putting an arm around her stepdaughter’s shoulder. “Come on. Your father’s waiting.”

She ignored Julia, closing the gap Shane had created between them, getting close again, close enough she could see the fear in his eyes. “Where were you?”

“Dusty!” Julia pulled at her coat, but she refused to move.

“You’re right.” Dusty felt a little, bitter smile edging around the corners of her mouth, but she wasn’t talking to her stepmother. She was talking to Shane and he knew it. She made sure he knew it, putting her hands flat on his chest and pushing him hard enough to make him stumble back against her brother’s casket. It was only the funeral director’s catch that kept it from sliding disastrously to the floor. “You’re right, you son-of-a-bitch! It should have been you!”

Then she was gone, running through a stunned crowd of relatives, bursting through the front door into a bright, blinding, outrage of sunshine.



Chapter Two

Dusty stood, hands clenched, nails making little red crescents in her palms as she listened to the reverend's perfect monotone reading Psalm 23—Julia's favorite, Julia's choice. Chewing her lower lip, Dusty looked down the sloping hill, past slanting headstones, and saw the procession of cars lined up on the asphalt drive. Shane's black Mustang was among them.

Bastard.

She tasted blood, coppery and bitter.

Her father's hand found hers, coaxing her fingers open, squeezing. Dusty didn’t look at him. Her palm stung where the small half-moons absorbed the sweat from his hand. Julia wept at his right into a monogrammed handkerchief.

From this angle, Dusty could see beyond the fake green of the astro-turf and into the open darkness beneath her brother's casket. She had now skipped through sad and had gone straight to anger in the infamous Kubler-Ross stages of grief, but the sight of the infinite darkness beneath her twin’s coffin made her knees feel weak. A wave of real sorrow hit and stopped her as if she’d run full-tilt into a brick wall.

This can’t be happening.

She looked into the darkness beneath the satin-lined box where her brother’s body now rested. Nick was going to be lowered into that yawning hole when everyone was gone and she couldn’t bear it. She’d made a scene—and had heard about it in the car from Julia, the whole way to the cemetery—and she didn’t dare make another. But she fantasized about it. What if she just crawled in with him, unnoticed?

Then they would lower her too, six feet underground.

John Evans would do it. He only worked at the cemetery part time from the spring to the fall, and drove the twenty-five minutes to the Wal-Mart in Millsberg in the off-season to greet shoppers. He would get a local kid to help him, one on each side, and they’d use the straps to lower the box into the ground. Then Evans would rev up the backhoe and fill up the empty space with dirt.

That was the thing she couldn’t stand. The empty space. She stood there looking into the darkness, fighting a wave of nausea and tears, wanting more than anything to be buried too. It was easy to fill up a hole with dirt. It was impossible to fill the empty space in her life.

Dusty leaned against her father, his big shoulder a safe place to rest her dizzy head. He glanced down at her for a moment, blinking like he didn’t quite remember who she was. She fixed her gaze on the darkness, forcing herself to look there, knowing it existed for the sole purpose of swallowing her brother’s body.

He’s not in there, she reminded herself.

She shivered then, in spite of the warmth of the sun, her gaze moving up the casket again, back toward the light, where an enormous blanket of red roses cascaded over the sides. Those had been Julia’s idea too. Dusty had suggested yellow—Nick’s favorite color—but the idea had been shot down in horror.

Too cheerful for the occasion, dear. Definitely not proper.

Proper.

That was Julia for you.

Dusty had given up after that on suggesting anything for the service. She let Julia make her little plans, get her way, as usual. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered anymore. Nick had been about to go off to college, their lives just beginning, but now everything had stopped. She felt the sudden inertia of it, remembering how much both she and Nick had talked about getting away from small town life.

But this place was home. Like nothing else, this little town reminded her of Nick. She remembered him with a vengeance as she stood in the middle of her little upstairs room, her dead brother’s door open just down the hall. She stood and felt Nick profoundly as she’d always known him, the twin brother who teased and taunted but loved her, she knew, above all others.

Well… almost all others. A dark voice came into her head as she scanned the group gathered around the casket. Relatives and friends formed a circle, like druids dressed in black.

Nick’s friends, the people they’d just graduated high school with, his on-again off-again girlfriend, Suzanne; Shane—they all huddled together, slightly separated from the family, almost breaking the circle.

Dusty tried to hang onto her anger. Without it, an unbearable emptiness moved in, numbingly cold. Without the heat of her rage, she felt husked out, a fat Halloween pumpkin with a twisted visage, sitting helpless while the world finished the job bit by bit, scraping out all the extras.

Do I look like that? Dusty stared at Suzanne, eyes downcast, blonde hair pulled back into a tight ponytail. Like an enormous hand plunged into me and pulled out my insides?

Her gaze moved down the line to Shane, flanked on either side by the same gang of guys he’d hung around with all through high school—Jake, Nate and Cody. Ryan had come to the funeral home, but he wasn’t at the cemetery. They’d all been Nick's closest friends too, next to Shane.

What about you? That dark voice again. She tried to push it away.

She’d known them all since—well, it seemed like forever. Since you were twelve and Nick met Shane and you became just his sister again.

Damn it! She shoved the thought away with brutal force.

Where are you, Nick? You're not in that box. Where are you really?

It was an existential question, one she didn’t really know or expect an answer to. The problem was, she couldn’t quite believe it was real. He couldn’t be gone. Even as she looked into the darkness beneath his coffin, she denied it. He wasn’t in there. The person she’d shared sweatshirts with, secrets with, the womb with—he wasn’t in there.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...”

Valleys. Shadows. There were plenty of those among the green pastures littered with gravestones and mausoleums. Nick had been killed in the very cemetery where he was about to be buried.

Across the coffin, Shane's gaze was on her, but when she glanced at him, he looked away.

Bastard, she thought again. Her heartbeat quickened, that bitter taste back in her mouth. She could almost convince herself that moment in the closet hadn’t just happened—like she hadn’t thought about the tree house and the day by the pond for years. Until today. Until he’d grabbed her and kissed her and forced the memory to surface. Now it refused to dissipate, like an oil slick on a lake.

She tried to shove the memory away, watching Shane. The sun blazed on his sandy blonde hair, turning it almost white, matching his pallor. He looks guilty. The way his eyes fled from hers told her that much. In the bright sunshine, he had the look of a man whose entire world had collapsed, like he was being buried alive beneath the rubble.

Was he with you that night, Shane? Was he?

There was another memory begging for her attention as she tried not to look into the darkness beneath her brother’s coffin, her mind going there no matter how many times she turned away. Her gaze never left Shane, but her memory returned to the night she’d seen Nick for the very last time.

~*~

“Did you hear? I finally got my acceptance letter from U of M!” Dusty plopped herself on Nick's bed. The old mattress sighed under her weight. U of M was the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and it was her “first-pick” college. She’d turned down MSU and plenty of others, waiting to hear if U of M could take her. “It's for the winter semester, but at least I got in!”

“What?” Nick stood at the mirror, blow-drying his hair. She repeated herself over the noise. “You mean you're actually going to college?”

“Of course!” she scoffed, propping his pillow behind her head.

Nick put gel in his short, dark hair, spiking it with his fingers.

“Remember what Julia says.” Dusty toed off her Reeboks, letting them clatter to the floor. “Who’s going to marry me if I don't have a college education?”

Nick snorted, scrutinizing his hair in the mirror. Satisfied, he looked for something to wipe his hands on and opted for a folded t-shirt sitting on the dresser. Julia had left a stack there for him to put away.

“You're such a slob.” Dusty shook her head in disgust.

Nick shrugged, putting his wallet in the back pocket of his jeans. “So? I don't have to impress anybody. Why can't I be a slob?”

She sat up. “It's a matter of principle. You're going off to college tomorrow. Are you still going to wipe your hands on t-shirts at MSU?”

“Now you sound just like Julia. Besides, she bought me enough Oxfords to last three months without doing wash once.” He grinned. “And Michigan State isn't exactly Harvard.”

“Where are you going tonight anyway? Shouldn’t you be packing?”

“I’m packed. Van’s got all my stuff in it.” He picked up his red and white high school jacket with Millsberg printed on the back. Larkspur was too small to have its own high school. “We’re going out to the path. My farewell party.”

“Who’s we?” She moved to the edge of the bed.

“Come on, Dusty.” He shrugged his jacket on. “Who do you think?”

She sat silently, knowing exactly, fuming at the thought.

“Hey listen.” Nick sat next to her on the bed. “I know it’s kind of my fault, this whole hatefest between you and Shane…”

“Your fault?” She laughed. “How do you figure?”

He looked across the room into the mirror, meeting her eyes there. They were fraternal, not identical twins but they had the same little snub nose, rosebud mouth and big, dark eyes—just like their mother. Nick’s features were as delicate as her own, almost pretty, too pretty on a guy, with those long dark lashes and that perfectly shaped mouth. He was the most sought-after guy in high school and Dusty couldn’t blame the girls for chasing him, although few rarely succeeded.

“I know you two have never really liked each other.” Nick slid his hand along her arm, threading their fingers and squeezing. “But I think I just added fuel to the fire. I’m sorry about that.”

“Wasn’t your fault.” She leaned her head against his shoulder.

It wasn’t true, that they’d never really liked each other, not exactly. But she wasn’t going to tell her brother that. There were some things you didn’t talk about, even with your best friend—or your twin. Nick just happened to be both. And while she did often resent Shane for taking up Nick’s time, stealing his attention, Shane had made his own bed, as far as she was concerned.

“It kinda was.” Nick kissed the top of her head fondly. “You know, I have this feeling, if I hadn’t been around, you and Shane might have ended up together.”

“Are you kidding me?” She startled, turning to look at him, not in the mirror anymore. “Together how? As in dating?”

“I’m not blind you know.” He nudged her. “I see the way he looks at you.”

She raised her eyebrows. “You mean like he wants to kill me?”

“You look at him the same way.”

“Like I want to kill him?” She laughed.

Nick grinned, leaning down to whisper into her ear, “I’m not sure that’s what you want to do to him.”

She pulled away, shaking her head and laughing. “That is so wrong.”

“So wrong it’s right.” He waggled his eyebrows.

Dusty rolled her eyes. “No. Just no.”

“What’s so bad about Shane Curtis?”

“Do you want a list?” She started ticking Shane’s faults off on her fingers. “He’s smug, he’s arrogant, he’s demanding, he’s impatient, he doesn’t ever listen to anyone else’s opinion, he’s stubborn, he’s defiant, he’s—”

“See, that proves it!” Nick laughed when she punched him in the shoulder, ducking when she aimed a magazine at his head from the stack on his bed. It fluttered uselessly to the floor. “Look how much you’ve thought about him!”

“Shut up!” she fumed, feeling the flush in her cheeks. “Besides, he’s probably going to end up in jail, just like his brother.”

“Hey, that’s not fair.” Nick straightened, eyebrows knitted. “He’s never even been arrested.”

“No?” She crossed her arms over her chest, narrowing her eyes at him. “How about the fireworks stolen from Cougar’s last year?”

“That was my fault.” He smiled, a little sheepishly, reminding her. “Besides, no one was arrested. We were just… questioned.”

“You got off because Dad got you off!” She wagged her finger at him, just like Julia did at the two of them. She recognized the gesture but didn’t censor herself. “If it had just been Shane, he’d be in juvy right now.”

“This town.” Nick got up, striding toward his dresser and putting the cap back on the gel. “Buck Thompson is a nice guy, but he’s about as sharp as a bowling ball. He can’t look past the usual suspects.”

“Sheriff Thompson isn’t that stupid,” she retorted, defending him despite knowing her brother was, in fact, probably correct. It was a very small town. There had never been any major crime committed in Larkspur. Sheriff Thompson’s mettle had never really been tested. “He knew it was Buddy Curtis stealing those lottery tickets.”

“That doesn’t make him Sherlock Holmes.” Her brother snorted, turning around and leaning against the dresser to look at her. “They caught him on camera. Besides, Buddy isn’t Shane. Just like you’re not me.”

“It wasn’t Shane who got caught poaching on state land our junior year?” She didn’t know why, but she felt like she had to win this argument, to vilify Shane completely and prove her brother wrong.

Nick blinked at her, quiet for a moment. Then he surprised her by asking, “Ever think I might be the bad influence on him, not the other way around?”

She scowled, swinging her feet against the side of the bed and mumbling, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Isn’t that what Julia says?”

“Jesus, Dusty.” He gave a long, deep sigh, shaking his head. “Sometimes I think you’re more like Julia than you are like Mom.”

“That’s not fair.” It hit her like a blow to the midsection and she sucked in air, blinking back tears.

“I’m just trying to tell you…” Nick’s voice took on a tight, sharp tone. “Shane isn’t a bad guy. It’s not his fault, what his brother did, what this town thinks of him.”

“Right.” She didn’t care if he was angry. She was too. “They’re the victims.”

“What if they are?” The silence stretched between them. Finally, Nick sighed. “I just wish you could hear yourself.”

“So I’m a little cynical.” She shrugged. “Sue me.”

“I’m gonna be a vet, not a lawyer.”

She smiled at his comment. Her soft-hearted twin had opted for MSU because of their outstanding veterinary program. He loved animals—even if Julia wouldn’t let them have any pets. Not even goldfish.

“Come on, Nick,” she pleaded. “Let’s not fight. This is stupid. We haven’t had a fight in a long time.”

He gave a conciliatory nod. “Funny how we still fight about the same things.”

“Good thing neither of us is a psychologist.” She laughed. “Not yet anyway.”

“Let’s hope they teach you some empathy in psychology school.”

“Hey!” Dusty grabbed a stuffed dragon off his bed and threw it at him.

He caught it, using it to deflect the magazine she threw at his head, both of them laughing.

“I’m not unsympathetic.” She stuck out her tongue at him. “I just believe in tough love.”

“I didn’t say sympathy, I said empathy.” Nick peeked at her around his stuffed animal, checking to see if she was ready to throw something else at him. “There’s a difference. But I guess it’s hard to have empathy for someone if you’ve never walked in their shoes.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’ve led a sheltered life, little sister.”

“You haven’t?” She rolled her eyes. “And by the way, you’re only two minutes older than me.”

“It was a long two minutes.”

She picked up another magazine and he ducked again, but she didn’t throw it. Instead she started leafing through it, deciding to ignore him.

“Okay listen…” He peeked around the stuffed dragon before tossing it over her onto the bed. “The world slaps labels on all of us from the time we’re born. We sort of just grow into them.”

“Oh really? So what’s mine?” She didn’t look up from the magazine.

“Princess.”

“Okay, okay.” She couldn’t help smiling. Nick liked to call her a spoiled princess, although how anyone could be spoiled in Larkspur, where there was one tiny movie theater, no Starbucks and no mall—not even a strip one—was beyond her. “So what’s yours?”

“Golden boy.”

She nodded thoughtfully. “And I suppose Shane’s is ‘bad boy?’”

“The point is, sometimes the labels don’t really fit,” he said. “Sometimes black is white. Sometimes white is black. Sometimes we’re not really who we appear to be at all. Not even close.”

She blinked at his words and then frowned. “Are you talking about Shane?”

“Yeah, I guess.” Nick cleared his throat. “You, me, Shane. All of us.”

She didn’t really believe it, not for a minute, but she didn’t want to fight with him. “I still say square pegs don’t fit into round holes.”

“Shane isn’t who you think he is.” He met her eyes with a gaze so long and steady she had to look away.

“Whatever.” She rolled her eyes, trying to change the subject. “Let’s forget it, okay? Why don’t you stay home tonight? We can make popcorn and watch Monty Python.”

“How exciting.” He gave her a lopsided smile.

“Come on, you can’t tell me I’m not more exciting than Shane Curtis!” She wrinkled her nose at him. “You’re just going to go get drunk, pass out and end up puking all night long.”

“Now that’s my idea of a good time!” He laughed at her look of disgust, glancing at the digital clock next to his bed. “I gotta go. It’s almost seven-thirty.”

“Hey...” Dusty hesitated for a moment and bit her lip. “Can I come?”

He hesitated, a pained look on his face. “No… I’m sorry, princess. Not tonight.”

“Didn’t you just say you wanted me to mend some fences with your buddy Shane?” she protested. “What was that all about?”

“Dusty, not tonight!” he insisted, leaning his shoulder against the open door. “It’s… just not tonight, okay?”

“What’s so special about tonight?”

“It just is!”

They stared at each other and Dusty tried to read his eyes. Something was up but she couldn’t tell what. She thought about jumping on him, tickling him until he gave up the secret, whatever it was, but she knew that could backfire. Nick had a habit of giving her the long, silent treatment when he was really mad, when she’d pushed things too far. He was leaving for college the next day—they were driving him down to school in her stepmother’s minivan in the morning—and she didn’t want to ruin their goodbyes.

“Fine. Never mind,” she snapped, knowing she wasn’t going to get her way.

“Dusty, don’t do that.” His tone made her cringe—he acted like he knew just what she was trying to do and wasn’t going to let her get away with it. “I told you I had plans.”

“Go then!” She waved him away, flipping through Field and Stream like it was the most interesting thing in the world. “I hope they steal all your clothes and leave you passed out on the lawn like they did on graduation night.”

“I love you too.” His grin stretched wide and he winked at her.

“I hope you smash up the Jeep!”

“Can’t. Shane’s driving.”

“Even better! I hope he smashes up that pretty little Mustang of his.” Her glib, gleeful tone inched up a notch as he headed toward the door. “With you in it!”

“Thanks.” Nick snorted laughter, their disagreement clearly forgiven.

“Good riddance!”

“You’re such a bitch,” he called over his shoulder, but he was laughing. “Goodbyyyye!”

“Rotten brother,” she mumbled, laughing too.

It was the last time she saw Nick alive.

~*~

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord.”

Dusty blinked, hearing the echoes of “Amen,” and glanced around her. It was over. Mercifully, the droning of the reverend had stopped.

She looked over at Shane. He was leading Suzanne toward his car, the rest of the gang following him, like they always did. The family broke up, talking amongst themselves, but she couldn’t acknowledge the murmurs of sympathy, their sad eyes and shocked faces when they said how awful, how young, how tragic.

She couldn’t take her eyes off Shane. He’d come looking for her at Julia’s prompting, knowing just where she’d be hiding, because that’s where she’d been the day they buried her mother. He must have remembered Nick finding her curled behind all the coats, had stood in the doorway with tears in his own eyes and watched her brother coax her out and comfort her.

Except this time it was Shane who held her, whose embrace had turned from comfort to something else in an instant. Dusty touched her lips, remembering the heat of his kiss, the taste of him lingering, still shocked by the sudden turn of events. How easy it had been to slip her arms around him and let herself get lost. She didn’t even understand how it was possible, considering how much they had avoided each other or outright fought over the years.

People did crazy things when they were grieving. She remembered that little fact from her high school psychology course. Maybe that was all the explanation she needed. She was mourning the loss of her brother, and she knew Shane was too, in his way. They’d had a moment of crazy in the coat closet, that was all. It didn’t have anything to do with what Nick had said that night, about the way he’d seen them look at each other.

It didn’t change how she felt about Shane—had always felt about him.

And it definitely didn’t change her suspicions.

Shane stopped by the driver’s side of his Mustang, meeting her eyes, looking at her as if he knew just what she was thinking and feeling. He lifted his hand in a brief wave before getting into the car, but Dusty didn’t return the gesture. She was thinking about the last time she’d seen her brother alive, heading out with Shane and the gang for his farewell party. Nick was supposed to be with Shane—so how did he get all the way out here to the cemetery in the middle of the night?

Where were you, Shane?

“Do you want to stay a minute?” Julia asked at her elbow.

“No.” Dusty shook her head, watching Shane's retreating car, something small, tight and burning lodged in her chest. “It's over.”

Deep inside, though, she felt that it—something—had just begun.


Chapter Three

Dusty had been appointed by Julia, who’d orchestrated everything about this day down to the last detail, to stand in the kitchen, accept food from incoming guests and direct them toward the family room. The first offering was a casserole. After she had ushered her aunt and cousins into the family room, where her father was mixing drinks, Dusty opened the lid. It was unidentifiable except for the distinct odor of tuna.

Her uncle and his new wife showed up with a pie between them. It was store bought, but it was lemon meringue, so Julia might forgive them, since lemon was her personal favorite. One of the women who used to babysit them brought a quiche. Dusty thanked her and accepted her apologies, although she knew the quiche wouldn’t get eaten. Julia was a picky eater and her father… well, real men still didn’t eat quiche in rural America.

After that, the people and the food seemed to run together, but she wrote it all down, as Julia had requested. Nellie Edwards, who ran the diner in town, brought her special—noodles and beef casserole. Probably leftover ‘special of the day.’ Will Cougar, who ran Cougar's General Store down on the corner of Frontier and Franklin, brought a chocolate cream pie he said his wife had made.

Then he handed her a package of Twizzlers.

“I remembered how much you both liked ’em, hon.”

That brought a lump to her throat and she couldn’t look at him when she thanked him.

He touched her shoulder and then was gone.

By the time their driveway was lined with cars, Julia had been in twice to refill appetizer trays from the fridge, making sure Dusty was keeping a list of who brought what, and the list of food had expanded to include five pounds of raw hamburger from Mr. Maxwell, who ran Max's Meats, a pan of brownies, five more pies—two were coconut cream, one was strawberry, one was apple, and one was pumpkin—eight cannolies, two mysterious Jell-O salads, and a sack of California navel oranges. Dusty was running out of room on the table.

When she opened the door for Suzanne, she noticed her brother’s on-again off-again girlfriend had changed from the simple black dress she’d worn to the funeral into a pair of dark blue sweats, a hoodie and Nikes. She came through the front door into the kitchen.

“Hi.” Dusty swallowed, memories flooding back, and couldn’t manage to follow her greeting up with anything. Looking at Suzanne brought Nick back in a way she hadn’t experienced yet, less a memory and more of a feeling, something fuzzy and warm and painfully intoxicating. They had all known each other since grade school.

“I didn't think to bring anything. I'm sorry.” Suzanne eyed the pies lined up on the table.

“I was running out of room anyway.”

Suzanne smiled, but even that felt hollow. “Who's here?”

Voices floated in from the family room, subdued, but there was still some laughter. It sounded like a party that had just begun.

“Nearly everybody I know and a few I don't.” Dusty sat on one of the kitchen chairs. “Have a seat.”

“Is Shane here?” Suzanne sat down across from her.

“No.”

“He said he might drop by.” Suzanne twisted a strand of hair, no longer pulled back, around her finger.

“Great, I'll look forward to it.” Dusty’s sarcasm made Suzanne smile again, but it didn’t reach her eyes.

“I hate funerals.” Suzanne sighed, absently tucking the cling wrap back under one of the homemade pies. “But I hate these 'afterward' things more. Why do we bother?”

“I don’t know.” Dusty knew what she meant. This wasn’t a comfort—it was just etiquette. Julia could write a book on the etiquette of funerals. Nick always said their father had married Miss Manners.

“I miss him already.” Suzanne traced the blue flower design on the tablecloth with her finger. “There was this really brief period of shock, when I didn’t feel anything. I miss that too.”

Dusty nodded. She remembered the early morning phone call, her father’s voice shaking when he called her to come downstairs where Julia was hovering, telling both of them to sit down… and then telling them why.

Julia had gone into business mode almost immediately, calling the funeral home and then going with Dusty’s father down to the morgue. She’d given Dusty the phone and an address book, telling her to go down the list of relatives. She’d also given her the number for admissions at Michigan State, so she could tell them Nick wouldn’t be coming. That last call had stopped her cold, and when the flurry of activity and phone calls halted and feelings finally flooded in, Dusty realized she’d been numb.

She had preferred numb. This pain was unbearable.

“When was the last time you saw him?” Suzanne asked.

“The night before.” Dusty didn’t look at her, remembering their conversation.

“We were in a fight, so I didn’t go out to the path that night.” Suzanne's voice tightened. “We were in a stupid fight about some stupid thing—I can't even remember what it was about it was so stupid—and I hadn't seen him in two days. Hadn't even talked to him. I called the next day, the day after it happened...” She drew a shaky breath. “And your dad told me...”

None of Nick’s friends had been on Julia’s list.

She obviously didn’t think they were important enough to notify.

“That's okay. I told him I hoped he got into a car accident. How's that for guilt-trip material?” Dusty snorted. “I know what you're thinking, but it's not your fault. It's not anybody's fault.”

Even as she said it, her mind denied it.

It’s someone’s fault! It has to be!

It was too hard to accept otherwise.

“I don't understand what he was doing out in the cemetery.” Suzanne swiped at tears.

“I don't either.” Dusty’s heart plummeted at Suzanne’s look of genuine confusion. She’d hoped maybe Suzanne could give her a clue—something, anything. “It’s just so… strange.”

“I just wish I knew what really happened.” Suzanne chewed her lower lip.

Nobody seemed to know. All sorts of red flags went up when Dusty had heard where he’d been, what they all assumed had happened, but no one else seemed to think it was anything but a tragic accident.

“Well I'd better go put in an appearance.” Suzanne stood and stretched. “Then I'm going to go home to sleep for the rest of my life.”

Dusty didn’t say anything as she watched her walk out of the kitchen.

A knock sounded at the door and she sighed, closing her eyes. It was too much to handle, too much to deal with in one day. Exhausted, she just wanted to crawl into bed and, as Suzanne had suggested, sleep for the rest of her life.

The knock came again, more insistent and she got up to open the door.

“Hey.” Shane stepped into the kitchen, the heels of his black motorcycle boots loud on the linoleum. Everything he had changed into was black—boots, jeans, even the t-shirt above the gold zipper of his leather jacket. This was the Shane she was familiar with and it was far easier to slip into old patterns.

“Well aren’t you the picture of mourning?” She peered over his shoulder. “Where are your followers?”

“Just me.” He held both hands out, palms up in apology as she shut the door behind him. “How are you holding up?”

His concern made her bristle. “Just fine thanks.”

“Liar.” His gaze moved over her face, searching her eyes, and she turned toward the table, rearranging the cannolies so she could avoid him. He took a step toward her and she snapped her head toward him, glaring, seeing that concerned look again. It just made her madder.

“You know what? You really look like him.”

Did she remind him of Nick? Was it painful?

Good.

Their eyes met and she wondered if he was remembering what had happened in the closet that morning, like she was. It felt like a million years ago, but having him here in front of her brought it immediately back. She found herself wanting to take a step toward him, close the gap, but resisted that crazy little impulse. His direct scrutiny made her feel dizzy. It seemed almost as if he could see into her thoughts.

“Well, that’s very clever.” She managed to keep her voice from shaking. “I mean, we were only twins.”

He smiled—a small, sad smile. Of course, she’d known what he’d meant.

His head cocked. “They in the family room?”

Dusty looked away, feeling his gaze on her still as he shoved his hands into his jeans pockets. He was nervous. Why?

“Where else?” She nodded in the direction of the voices. He’d been in their house hundreds of times and knew where everything was. She decided to bait him. “I’m sure they’re all in there talking about who killed Nick.”

She intentionally used who instead of what, watching him to gauge his reaction, disappointed when she didn’t get one.

“Dusty, stop.” He pulled out one of the kitchen chairs on the other side of the table, sitting without an invitation as he looked up at her. “I’m not the enemy here. I lost him too.”

“Oh you want to talk about it now?”

He sat back in his chair, crossing his arms. “Don’t you think we should?”

“Fine. So where were you? Nick said you were picking him up that night.”

“I did.” Shane traced the same blue flower pattern on the tablecloth Suzanne had. “We started drinking out at the path. Then we ran out of beer, so we headed over to the Starlite. But Nick didn’t want to leave.”

“You left him at the path? You were his ride!”

“He was with somebody,” he told her. “Said he had a ride. Told us he’d meet us there.”

“With somebody? A girl?” Dusty asked, thinking of Suzanne. She and Nick had been in one of their on-again phases, although he’d mentioned having to break up with her after he started school.

“He didn’t say.” Shane didn’t look up from the tablecloth. “He just said he had a ride and he’d meet up with us later. But he never showed.”

She shook her head, incredulous. “So how did he end up in the cemetery on the whole other side of town?”

Shane looked up and met her eyes. She saw something there, something that bothered her, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.

“Everyone thought he was with you,” she reminded him, picking up the pack of Twizzlers Will Cougar had given her, tearing it open with her teeth. “That’s what he told me. That’s what he told our parents.”

“Yeah, I know.” He rubbed a hand over the stubble on his cheeks with a deep sigh, watching her peel a long red stripe of licorice off. “Believe me, I know. I spent six hours in the sheriff’s office being interrogated about that night.”

“So why didn’t they arrest you?” She gnashed her teeth on the twisted red rope, wishing it was his head. He watched, wearing a half-smile, like he knew just what she was thinking.

“Because I didn’t kill him,” he told her softly over a bag of navel oranges.

“You might as well have,” she retorted, tugging on the string of licorice with her teeth, only glancing at him to see his reaction. That time he did wince before he lowered his head and, while there was some satisfaction in it, she also felt a stab of guilt. She knew how vicious she could be with words and today she felt like she was carrying a very sharp blade—something precise and deadly.


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