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Authors: Kristen Ashley

at peace

At Peace

Kristen Ashley

Published by Kristen Ashley at
Smashwords

 

Copyright 2011 Kristen Ashley

 

Discover other titles by Kristen Ashley:

 

Rock Chick Series:

Rock Chick

Rock Chick Rescue

Rock Chick Redemption

Rock Chick Renegade

Rock Chick Revenge

 

The ‘Burg Series:

For You

 

The Colorado Mountain Series:

The Gamble

Sweet Dreams

 

Other Titles by Kristen Ashley:

Penmort Castle

Three Wishes

 

www.kristenashley.net

 

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* * * * *

 

This book is dedicated to my nieces, Jill
Caroline Wynne and Karen Christine Wynne

The sweetest, kindest, funniest, most
beautiful and precious girls ever born.

And I’m not prejudiced.

 

* * * * *

 

 

Chapter One

My Neighbor

 

I stared at the dark ceiling and listened to
Axl Rose demanding to be taken to Paradise City.

The song was sweet, as was the AC/DC, Poison,
Whitesnake and Ratt that had preceded it but it wasn’t sweet
at…

I turned to look at my alarm clock on the
nightstand…

Three thirty-three
in the morning.

The party had started at twelve
twenty-two. I was okay with that, seeing as it was a Friday. I
figured in this neighborhood they’d cool it at one thirty, maybe
two. I also figured, if it went beyond that, Colt would go and have
a word. Alec Colton was my neighbor; he lived across the street and
one house down. He and his girlfriend, February Owens had a new
baby and he was a cop. I couldn’t imagine he’d put up with a trip
down memory lane, 80’s hard rock style, until nearly four in the
morning, not with a new baby and all that entailed to your sleep
schedule (or lack thereof).

But the music hadn’t stopped.

My neighborhood was quiet or, at least, it
had been for the four months Kate, Keira and I had been living in
it. It was February. Who had loud, late parties in a quiet
neighborhood in February?

At least Kate and Keira were at sleepovers.
If they’d been home, I would have lost it way before now.

But, I lost it…

I looked at the clock…

At three thirty-four in the
morning.

I threw back the covers and went to the
bathroom, snatching Tim’s old, plaid flannel robe off the hook on
the back of the door. His Mom bought him that robe. He’d had it
before we’d been married. Now it was soft as plush, worn in but not
worn out and it was still super warm.

Shrugging on the robe, I stomped out of my
room, through the open plan study into the living room that fed
into the dining area that fed into the kitchen. Then I went to the
side door in the kitchen where a tangle of footwear littered the
floor.

Both Kate and Keira were early bloomers. They
were now both my height, even Keira, though she was only fourteen,
and we all wore the same shoe size. I yanked out Keira’s hot pink
wellingtons with the big daisies on them and pulled them over the
thick socks I had on to ward off the night chill. I jacked the
thermostat way down at night, saved on heating, saved on utility
bills. Money wasn’t exactly flowing and raising two teenage girls,
money was an important thing to have. Then again, it was even
without two teenage girls, though I hadn’t really known a time in
my life when there weren’t kids in it. One day I was a kid, the
next I was a wife and mother.

Never regretted it, not a single day, not
until one year, three months, three weeks and two days ago. Then I
didn’t really regret it but life sure as hell changed.

I disabled the alarm, unlocked the side
door, stomped into the night and stopped dead.

I had no idea where the music was coming from
but I wouldn’t have expected it to be coming from my next door
neighbor. This was because whoever that was, they were never home.
In the four months we’d lived there, I’d seen a shiny, black, new
model Ford pickup truck in the drive a few times, maybe two, three.
I’d seen the lights on in the house once. Other than that, no one
home.

But now, it was lit up like a beacon, the
music was way louder standing outside. So loud, it was a wonder the
windows didn’t bow out with the sound.

But there was no shiny, black, new model Ford
pickup truck in the drive. Instead, clear as day because of the
lights blazing from the house, I saw a shiny, red, new model
Porsche.

This all struck me as a surprise. No word, no
sound, no nothing from that house in four months and now it was lit
up, loud music blaring and there was a non-American car in the
drive. As far as I knew the only neighbor on the block who didn’t
own American was February and she owned a convertible Beetle.
Everyone else, including me, had American-made.

And no one on this block could afford a
Porsche, not in their lifetimes.

Even living there for such a short time I
knew my neighbors because this was a small, Indiana town. We’d
lived there a week and we’d met all our neighbors. They’d come over
with cakes, cookies and casseroles. We’d been invited to Christmas
parties. We waved and called hellos, or good-byes, or even walked
over to have a gab if we were out shoveling the walks or getting in
our cars to go somewhere or we were coming back. We chatted when we
ran into each other at the grocery store, post office, Frank’s
restaurant or a high school basketball game. Kate, Keira and I had
lived there four months and it felt like we’d been there fourteen
years.

But I didn’t know my neighbor with the shiny
Ford pickup who lived next door and I didn’t know them because they
were never home.

Now, whoever they were, I was going to meet
them.

I stomped through the snow, hearing it
crunching underfoot even with the music. The top of the snow had
refrozen with the frigid night but I didn’t feel a thing, I was too
angry. I had to work tomorrow, be at the garden shop at eight which
was only a few hours away. I’d been woken up with AC/DC’s “Hell’s
Bells” and had been tossing, turning and fuming ever since. Now my
blood was boiling and I was going to have to take care not to lose
control. I had a temper, unfortunately. I didn’t blow often but
when I blew, I
blew.

And one of the
reasons I was angry was because if Tim was here
he’d be doing this. He’d have done it three hours ago,
approximately halfway through “Hell’s Bells”. Tim liked his sleep
but it wasn’t that. He didn’t tolerate anything that might bother
his girls. If it woke me up, it would wake him up and he would know
I’d been disturbed and that would tip it for him and he’d be out
the door like a shot. He’d take his gun and he’d take his badge and
he’d take his pissed off, big man, hotshot cop attitude and he’d
put a stop to it, make no mistake.

Fuck, but I missed him.

I made it to my neighbor’s front door and
didn’t delay. I lay on the doorbell and knocked on the door,
knowing they’d never hear one or the other and even with both it
would be a miracle to be heard over that sound.

It was now Van Halen. David Lee Roth was
singing “Panama”. Another of my favorites. It was a memory song.
Good times were had when that song was played, good times being
ruined by that song being used to piss me right the fuck off.

I knocked louder and kept my finger pressed
to the buzzer.

“Hello!” I shouted to the door.

It was thrown open, the blazing lights from
inside blinding me for a second, then I focused, my blood cooled
about a hundred degrees and I stared in complete shock.

“Who are you?” she asked on a shout over the
music.

Holy shit, it was Kenzie Elise.
Kenzie
Elise
.
Kenzie freaking
Elise.

I’d seen nearly all of her movies (except
when she started to branch out and do those crappy art house films
which made little sense to me or the critics, even though she was
doing them trying to become known as a
actor
rather than a rom com sweetheart and she kind of
failed at this endeavor).

I loved her movies, especially the rom coms
(the thrillers were pretty good too). I loved her. She was
awesome.

But now, with her standing in a crackerbox
house, in a crackerbox neighborhood, in a small town in Indiana, I
was staring at her in shock.

Kenzie Elise couldn’t be my
neighbor.
That was impossible.

But there she stood, tall because she was
really tall anyway but she was also a step up and she was wearing
sky-high, platform stripper shoes with straps that wound up her
skinny calves. And skinny they were. She was ripped; every muscle
in her body could be seen. As could her breastbone, prominent and,
I had to admit, immensely unattractive. I could see all this
because she was wearing an emerald-green, lace teddy, deep-cut down
her non-existent cleavage, high-cut up her bony hips. She had to be
ten, fifteen, maybe even twenty pounds underweight. So skinny, it
was a little scary. But she had that trademark mane of wild, long,
strawberry blonde hair, cornflower blue eyes and cute-as-a-button
face.

And she was standing in the doorway of the
house next door, the blue eyes in her big head on her stick-figure
body staring down at me.

“Who are you?” she repeated and I jumped,
coming out of my trance.

“Um… your neighbor,” I replied. “Could you
turn the music down?”

“What?” she shouted but when I was going to
respond, her blue eyes left me and looked over my head.

I saw lights flash on the house and I turned
around to look too.

A shiny, black, new model Ford pickup truck
was turning into the drive.

Shit!

I turned back to see she was smiling, really
pleased about something. Her face had gone soft and knowing in an
intimate way that made me feel highly uncomfortable.

From the look of her Daddy was definitely
home. I was big time third wheel of this particular party and I
needed to get out of there.

“Listen, can you turn the music down?” I
asked on a shout but she ignored me, her eyes riveted over my
shoulder.

I’d seen the lights go out and now I heard a
door slam.


Excuse me!” I yelled over the music,
getting a bit desperate. “I live next door,” I lifted my left arm
to point at my house, “and your music is really loud. Can you turn
it down?”

“Hi lover,” she purred and how she purred
over that music I couldn’t imagine but she did it.

I turned around and froze.

Standing behind me was a man, a big man, big
in every way. He was tall, taller even than Tim and Tim had been
six foot two. He was also broad; his shoulders in his black leather
jacket were wide and unmistakably powerful.

And he’d been beautiful, once. It was plain
to see, under what he was now, that his features had once been
perfect, high cheekbones, an appealingly sharp slant to his square
jaw, a strong brow. Now there were lines coming in arrays from his
eyes and more around the sides of his frowning, full lips.

And there were also scars down his left
cheek, two from about a quarter of an inch under his eye that
curved over his high cheekbone coming closer together and ending
where, if he had a dimple, his dimple would be. These scars were
not puckered or disfiguring outside of the actual marks. They just
marred the faultless male beauty that had once been his face,
making it, with the addition of the lines, rugged and interesting
and more than a little scary.

All of this, with his dark, unruly, way
overlong hair, was enough to make him look sinister in a
compelling, magnetic way.

And then there were his eyes. Sky blue
eyes.
Sky
.
Fucking.
Blue.

Kate and Keira had their father’s gray-blue
eyes, striking as they were framed with Tim’s long, dark lashes.
I’d never seen eyes as beautiful, as striking, as breathtaking as
Tim, Kate and Keira’s.

Until now.

He was using those eyes and that rugged
face to glower at a point beyond me. Actually
glower.
And he was doing this in a way that I felt
a chill glide down my spine. He scared me so deeply, being so dark,
so scarred, so huge, so obviously furious that I was rooted to the
spot. I couldn’t move even though I really wanted to.

Then he moved. He strode forward right by me
and automatically, as if compelled to do so by the sheer force of
his aura, I turned as he walked passed. I watched as he planted a
big hand in Kenzie Elise’s emaciated breastbone and he pushed her
off.

My mouth dropped open as she flew back on her
platform stripper shoes, her arms flying out to the sides to find
purchase as she wheeled backwards. There was nothing to grab onto
and she tripped gracelessly off the side of her shoe but righted
herself before going down.

I stared, unable to do anything else. It was
like watching a hideous accident caught on film and aired on
television. You didn’t want to see but you had no choice but to
watch because, no matter how your brain screamed at you to do it,
you couldn’t tear your eyes away.

Without stopping he stalked into the house
and disappeared. Then the music abruptly stopped.

“Cal –” Kenzie Elise started, her hands
lifted, placating.

“Shut the fuck up,” I heard his growl, his
voice low, deep, rumbling and as sinister as his appearance. I
heard it but I didn’t see him and Kenzie’s back was turned to me.
He was still out of eyesight but, wherever he was, she was watching
him.

All of a sudden I realized my goal had
been attained. The music had stopped. Therefore it was time to go
home and let this domestic situation play out without an
audience.

I turned to leave but heard his voice
again.

“You.”

Stupidly, I looked into the house to see his
eyes on me.


I –” I began to make my explanations that
I was going to go home but he came at me and I stared as he did.
His powerful body was moving in my direction and I was caught,
seeing the danger but somehow my limbs were useless even though my
brain screamed at them to
move
.

Faster than it seemed possible, he was right
in my space, his big hand was wrapped around my upper arm and he
pulled me into the house. This didn’t hurt, not his hand on me or
him dragging me into the house and it probably didn’t because I
didn’t struggle and I didn’t struggle because I knew this man could
break me like a twig.

So I found myself standing in my next door
neighbor’s house, me in hot pink daisy wellingtons, a nightie and
Tim’s robe; my neighbor in faded jeans, black motorcycle boots, a
black t-shirt and a black leather jacket; and Hollywood movie star
Kenzie Elise in a barely there, emerald green, lace teddy and
platform stripper shoes.

How did
this
happen?

It was like a dream, a weird, bad dream
that you woke up from and felt strange and unsettled and it left
you thinking,
What the fuck?

But, it was happening, I was there,
breathing, conscious and all I could think was,
God, I miss Tim.

“Stay,” my neighbor commanded to me in his
deep, scary voice and I tipped my head back to look into his clear
blue eyes and I could do nothing but nod.

Then he let my arm go and stalked into the
depths of the house.

“Cal, darling, I just wanted –” Kenzie Elise
started but he disappeared from sight so she stopped speaking.

I wondered why she didn’t go after him
instead of standing there with me in the room, the front door open,
wearing nothing but that teddy that left little if anything to the
imagination.

Then again, in his frame of mind, I probably
wouldn’t follow him either.

It was at this point I wondered why she
didn’t run to her Porsche and get gone.

I didn’t run because he’d told me to stay and
I didn’t think it was a good idea to defy him. He didn’t seem mad
at me, not at that juncture, and I wasn’t fired up to make him that
way.

She didn’t look at me and I eventually pried
my eyes away from her but I was able to do this because he
returned, carrying in his arms a bundle of clothes. He walked right
by her, right by me and right to the door where he threw the
clothes into the snow.

My mouth dropped open again.

“Cal!” she shouted. Rushing on her stripper
shoes to the door, she peered out at her clothes then whirled back
around again to look at him, her eyes never once hitting me. She
was avoiding me or ignoring me. I didn’t know which but I thought
both were good ways to play it.

He had her purse in his hand and he was
sauntering back into the room. He yanked out a set of keys as she
turned back to him.

“You threw my clothes in the snow!” she
shrieked then jumped to the side as he tossed her purse at her. It
was open and stuff flew out everywhere as it sailed through the air
and then more stuff flew out when it landed on the floor.

“Cal!” she screeched, bending, bony knees to
her chest, ass to the ground and scrambling to get her things.

I started to bend too, to help her but
stopped when his voice sounded.

“Don’t.”

My head snapped back to look at him and his
eyes were pinning me to the spot. He was so angry, visibly livid,
and so frightening, I forgot how to breathe.

I slowly straightened, forcing air into my
lungs as Kenzie scrambled on the floor, now on her hands and knees
in her teddy and stripper shoes, shoving stuff into her purse.


This is
insane,
” she snapped and she was definitely right.

He was taking a key off her keychain and had
this task accomplished by the time she made it to her feet with her
purse again intact which was lucky for her because he tossed her
keys to her without hesitating to make sure she was prepared. She
lunged to grab them, bobbled them but kept them in hand.

“Out,” he ordered tersely.

“Cal –” she started.

“Get the fuck out.”

“This scene is ridiculous,” she hissed,
leaning toward him which, I thought, was not a very good idea.

“You’re right,” he agreed.

She changed strategies so fast I wasn’t
keeping up.

Her voice was a purr again when she began,
“Darling, I thought –”


What, Kenzie?” he asked, his eyes moving
the length of her, his lip curled in disgust. “You thought what?
Fuck, woman, I had better head in junior high. You think I’d come
back for more from
your
mouth?
Sloppy. So sloppy, I was fuckin’ embarrassed for you.”

At his words I’d drawn in breath but Kenzie’s
face had gone paler than her signature flawlessly-pale-skinned
pale.

When Kenzie stood still as a statue and
didn’t speak, he noted. “You’re still here.”

“I –” she started.


Need to get a fuckin’ clue,” he finished
for her. “Christ, how many times do we need to do this? It was a
mistake, biggest fuckin’ mistake I’ve made in years. When I was
doin’ you,
I
faked it. I
had to jack off in the shower to get off after I was done with
you.”

I swallowed, wanting really badly to be
anywhere else,
anywhere
but
there.

“You faked it?” she whispered, sounding
horrified and beaten, her voice like a little girl who, way too
early in her young life, just found out there was no Santa
Claus.

“Yeah and if your head wasn’t so far up your
ass, you woulda noticed. Instead, you keep playin’ out this fuckin’
drama and, swear to Christ, it happens again, it’s not gonna make
me fuckin’ happy.”

He seemed to be pretty unhappy currently
but I’d just met him, maybe he could get
more
unhappy which meant I never wanted to be near him
again.

“Cal, I –” she started again but he leaned
forward and her mouth slammed shut.


Not gonna say it again. Get.
The
fuck
. Out.”

Thankfully, she’d had enough. She turned,
avoiding my eyes, and walked in her teddy and stripper shoes out
the open front door into the snow and bitter cold.

I stood unmoving as he stalked to the door,
slammed it and, to my extreme discomfort, locked it.

I swallowed again.

Then I said softly, “I’d like to go home
now.”

He turned to face me and his eyes leveled
on mine.

I pressed my lips together and my stomach
clenched.

He didn’t speak and I didn’t know what to
do.

Finally, his eyes dropped and I watched as
they slid, slowly, from my face down my body to my feet and, just
as slowly, starting back up to my face.

During this journey I realized that my
robe had fallen open and he could see my nightie. Pale lavender
satin, short, hitting me at the upper thighs but there was a
three-inch hem of smoky gray lace below that. The same lace was at
the bodice over the cups of material covering my breasts. The
nightie fit close at my chest and midriff but there was room to
move around my hips and thighs. It was nowhere near as risqué as
Kenzie’s teddy. It left something to the imagination and that was
good, unless you had an imagination.

Carefully, I pulled the edges of my robe
together and his eyes speeded up to hit mine and I knew the instant
they did, without any doubt, he had an imagination.

My mouth went dry.

“I’m Joe Callahan,” he stated.

“Hello Joe,” I said quietly.

“Cal,” he corrected me and I nodded but
remained silent.

When this stretched the length of the Porsche
firing up and reversing out of the drive, Joe Callahan prompted,
“You are?”

“Your neighbor.”

His heavy, dark brows went up. “Does my
neighbor have a name?”

I shook my head and his heavy, dark brows
drew together.

“You don’t have a name?” he asked.

“I think I want to leave,” I told him.

His face got hard but his voice got soft when
he said, “Listen, buddy –”

“No, please, Joe, I want to leave.”

“Cal.”

“Whatever, I’d like to leave,” I
repeated.

He started toward me and I backed up, lifting
a shaking hand and he stopped, his eyes dropping to my hand before
cutting back to my face.

“I live next door, that’s it,” I said softly.
“I wanted the music to stop. It’s stopped. Now I’d like to
leave.”

His eyes held mine and something was
happening in them, I just didn’t know what and, after witnessing
that scene, listening to the way he spoke to her, what he said, how
he said it and the utter humiliation he inflicted, I didn’t care.
Then his gaze dropped to my body again, he closed his eyes and
stepped to the side.

I wasted not even a second. I ran to the
door, unlocked it, threw it open, ran out and across the snow to my
house. I threw myself through the side door, closed it, locked it,
threw the chain and then armed the alarm.

Then, quaking head to foot, I slid off the
wellies, made my shaky way to my bedroom and got in bed with Tim’s
robe on, pulling up the covers to my neck.

I turned my head to the frame sitting on my
nightstand. I could barely see it in the dark but I didn’t need to
see it, I had the picture it held memorized. Tim and me, close up,
he was behind me, both his arms around my shoulders, wrapped across
my upper chest, his jaw pressed to the side of my head, my head
slightly turned into him. He was looking at the camera. I had my
eyes closed.

We were both laughing.

“Miss you, baby,” I whispered to the frame,
my voice shaking as hard as my body still was.

The frame had no reply, it fucking never
did.

* * * * *

The next morning, Joe Callahan’s house was
quiet and the shiny, black, new model Ford pickup was gone.

It wouldn’t come back for three weeks.

* * * * *

It was four o’clock in the afternoon, I’d
been at the garden shop all day and during the day it had
snowed.

I was sick of snow and I wished I’d picked
Florida or Arizona or somewhere that didn’t have snow when I’d
packed up my girls and fled Chicago.

Furthermore, Kate was driving now. She’d
turned sixteen and she got her license and I bought her a car. Tim
would have been pissed I bought her a car. Then again, he’d have
been pissed I bought myself a Mustang. As a cop, he’d seen too many
accidents so he was all for staid, sturdy cars that were built so
tough you could drive them through a building and only have to buff
out a few scratches. He might have driven like a lunatic (which he
did), but he wasn’t a big fan of me doing it (which I didn’t unless
I was in, say, a Mustang) and he wasn’t a big fan of spoiling the
girls.

Then again, with a dead Dad, spoiling them
had become something of a habit.

And anyway, I didn’t have Tim anymore to
help me take them places and pick them up. I also didn’t live in a
household with two cars unless I bought one for Kate.

So I did.

She was a good driver, responsible, my
Kate. Keira, now, Keira would probably be picked up joyriding when
she had her learner’s permit with
me
in the car. Keira was a magnet for trouble. Kate would
rather die a thousand bloody, painful deaths than break a rule or
get into trouble. Keira would make a deal with the devil for a
killer pair of shoes and not even blink.

Even if Kate was responsible and a good
driver, I still hated it when she drove in snow.

This was what I was thinking as I drove home
from the Bobbie’s Garden Shoppe, my now full-time job. I found out
that morning that I was now full-time since Sabrina had her twins a
week ago. She’d called Bobbie the night before and told Bobbie that
her maternity leave was indefinite.


Thank God, the bitch could moan,” Bobbie
had said this morning when she gave me the news and asked me to go
from part-time to full-time. “Saves me from firing her ass, ‘cause,
when she wasn’t moanin’, she was jackin’ around even
before
she was luggin’ them twins
around. Yeesh, two babies in that belly of hers, looked like
seven.”

Bobbie was not wrong about that,
any
of it.

But I was too busy thanking God for the
full-time job. Tim’s life insurance policy had been used up on my
Mustang, Kate’s car and taking a whack off the mortgage because of
the down payment I put on the house. It had also gone out the door
with the move. I had his pension, which helped, but not much.

I’d put the money I made on selling Tim and
my house into savings for the girls’ college. Tim’d had to pay off
student loans forever and he wanted the girls to have their college
paid for. We’d been saving but we didn’t have near enough for the
two of them. I thought Tim would have wanted that, the house we’d
bought together, fixed up together and lived in together as a
family being sold and the money paying for the girls’ future. Using
that money from our house was like him and me giving it to them and
I liked that idea and figured Tim would too.

Even with a low mortgage and no car payments,
I still had a teenager driving and insurance was a bitch.
Utilities, groceries for three people and we were living in a small
town but it was part-farmers, part-blue collar and part-affluent.
The affluent part meant all the kids tried to keep up with the
Joneses with designer gear, jeans, purses, shoes, the right makeup,
the important accessories like MP3 players and cell phones. Hell,
Keira’s cell phone bill, considering she texted seventeen thousand
times a day, nearly broke the monthly bank even though I told her
time and again not to do it.

Bobbie paid pretty well
considering, and she had full benefits for
full-time, which was more important. Her garden center was
enormous, the biggest in three counties and everyone went there.
She sold it all, lawn furniture, craft and hobby stuff, pet
supplies, not just plants. But I worked the plants, I was good at
it, always was and spring was coming. Even with the snow, it was
getting close to gardening season and things, always steady, were
definitely picking up for Bobbie.

I turned on my street, deep in my inspection
of the roads which, I noted with some relief, had been mostly
cleared. The spring snow was wet and sloshy, not icy, thank God.
Kate would get home okay.

I took in a relieved breath and it caught in
my throat when I saw the shiny, black, new model Ford pickup in Joe
Callahan’s driveway.

“Shit,” I whispered on my exhale.

I drove passed it, turned into my drive and
parked under the awning that came out from my two car garage. The
previous owners had torn down the one car garage and put in a two
car one with a double awning at the front. This worked since the
garage door opener didn’t work and I didn’t have the money to
replace it and I further didn’t enjoy cleaning snow off my car.

The previous owners had also built an
extension all along the back of the house. This meant we had an
extra bedroom with full master bath and an open plan study that ran
off the living room/dining room area. Most of the other houses on
the block had extensions too. And two car garages or the garages
had added awnings. They also had built on back decks (our place did
too, again along the back of the house) or above ground pools or
playsets. You name it, it was there. It was a family neighborhood,
established, middle-middle income folks or old-timers who’d been
there for ages and stayed there because their mortgage was paid
off. Families just starting out or couples who liked where they
lived so, when they needed more room, they just built on. Yards
were huge, there was plenty of room and anything they did, they did
it house proud so it only upped the standard for the entire
neighborhood.

The only house that had no add-on, except
a back deck, was Joe Callahan’s. It was still a two bedroom
crackerbox, kitchen, dining room/living room and two bedrooms with
a full bath.

I’d been lucky to find a place on that
street.

Lucky, except for Joe Callahan.

I went into the house, dumped my purse and
headed back out.

I needed to shovel. Part of living in that
neighborhood was taking care of it. You shoveled. Joe Callahan’s
neighbors on his other side, Jeremy and Melinda, cleared Joe’s
front sidewalk part of the time, the other part I did it. It
wouldn’t do for anyone to let down the ‘hood and since Joe wasn’t
there, someone had to do it.

No way I’d do it that day, though. No way in
hell. He could shovel his own damned walk.

I went out to the garage and grabbed my
leather work gloves and the snow shovel.

You could say I pretty much missed Tim a lot.
When I was in a fight with Keira which was too often and Tim used
to be able to handle her better than me, definitely Daddy’s little
girl then again they both were. When Kate would get wound up by an
assignment, an assignment that was something she could do no sweat,
but she wanted to do it perfectly, better than any kid in the
history of kids could do and Tim could settle her down too. When I
was in bed at night, alone and wanting more than my vibrator to
take care of business, wanting Tim’s hands, his mouth, his cock
and, maybe more than all those, the sweet nothings he would whisper
in my ear.

And when I had to shovel the freaking
snow.

I started at the front stoop and made my
way down the walk that led to the drive, the snow heavy and wet but
at least it was easily removed. I was shoveling a line down our
drive, which would take for-freaking-ever to clear, thinking of the
price of Bobbie’s snow blowers and how much my discount would be
and if she’d put them on an end of season sale when Colt’s GMC
pulled into his drive.

Feb Owens and Alec Colton were pretty famous.
I’d known them before I moved in and I’d known what happened in
that town before I’d moved there. It was sick what happened to
them, that serial killer obsessing on Feb and Colt and killing
people that Feb knew. Everyone knew about it, it made national news
and she was so gorgeous, and Alec Colton so hot, that made the
story bigger news.

But I found shortly after moving in that
they were cool. They were also happy. It was like that whole deal
didn’t touch them. At the time I moved in, she was at the end
stages of pregnant and they’d been high school sweethearts,
separated by something I didn’t know and finally back
together.

I’d married my high school sweetheart so I
got that, totally, their happiness. Then again, Tim got me pregnant
at seventeen so I kind of didn’t have a choice.

Still, I wouldn’t have chosen anything else.
Not then, not ten years later, not until someone shot him and even
then I would have still chosen Tim. I would have just chosen Tim
having a less dangerous job. And I definitely would have chosen not
to get served what I got served after.

I shoveled and watched Colt swing down from
his truck.

Then I stopped shovel
ing when he turned my way and called, “Hey
Cal.”

My body turned to stone.

“Yo,” a deep voice said from right behind
me.

Stiffly, I turned and stared at Joe
Callahan standing right there,
this close
behind me. I hadn’t heard his approach. He was
wearing jeans, a black thermal and his black leather jacket. In the
daylight, as gray as that daylight was, he was different. The
sinister was gone. The only thing left was the rugged and
interesting.

“Hey Violet,” Colt called and I stiffly
turned back.

“Hey Colt,” I called to him and watched
February, carrying their little boy, Jack, coming out of their
house and her head was turned to see who Colt was talking to.

“Wow!” she yelled. “Hey Cal!”

“Feb,” Joe Callahan’s voice rumbled.

“You in town awhile?” Colt asked, taking Jack
from Feb and expertly planting the baby in the crook of his arm
while his other arm slid along Feb’s shoulders.

“Nope, leave tomorrow,” Joe Callahan
answered.

“Got time for a beer at J&J’s?” Colt
asked.

“Yep,” Joe Callahan answered.

“Vi? What about you?” Feb asked me.

I’d been to Feb’s bar, J&J’s Saloon, a
half a dozen times. Her family ran it which meant I met them too.
It was a nice place. It had been around awhile so it was worn in,
the kind of joint you liked to stay and drink a few. Everyone in
town hung there and Feb’s family made you feel welcome.

I liked having a drink there, shooting the
shit with Feb, who was nice, and her brother Morrie, sister-in-law
Dee, and Mom and Dad, Jackie and Jack, who were all just as nice as
her.

Still, there was no way I was going when Joe
Callahan was going.

“Thanks, I have something on,” I
answered.

“Another time,” Feb called, I nodded, they
both lifted a hand in farewell and headed toward their house.

“Later, Cal,” Colt called.

“Yeah,” Joe Callahan called back.

I went back to shovel
ing, deciding I’d pretend he wasn’t
there.

This effort failed when his big hand
curled around the handle of the shovel.

I stayed bent to my task but tipped my head
back to look at him.


How you doin’, buddy?” his voice rumbled,
it was a soft rumble and not pissed off or post-drama that involved
a Hollywood movie star, it was a lot different and my stomach, for
some strange reason, pitched.

“Can you let go of my shovel?” I asked.

His answer was to pull the shovel out of my
hands.

My stomach pitched again, this time for a
different reason, slightly afraid and I straightened and turned to
him.

“Can I help you with something?” I asked.

“Your name’s Violet,” he told me.

“Yes.”

“Violet,” he repeated quietly.


Yes,” I repeated too, not liking him
saying my name quietly because I kinda
did
like his rumbly deep voice saying my name
quietly.

He took a step into me and I stood my ground.
He couldn’t exactly cause a scene in my driveway, not with Colt
home across the street. Joe Callahan might be big, and he might
even be bigger than Alec Colton, but I figured no one messed with
Colt. It might get ugly but it’d be a fair fight.

Joe Callahan’s neck bent so he could look
down at me and he started speaking as if we’d been having a long
conversation, I’d been asleep the first part and woke up during the
middle. “She makes six million dollars a movie, two movies a year,
four times that in foreign endorsements for everything you can
imagine, hair shit, ice cream, you name it, they pay her enough,
she sells it.”

He was talking about Kenzie Elise.

I had absolutely no interest in this and
started to tell him this fact. “Joe –”

He cut me off. “Anywhere she goes, people
ask for her autograph, take photos of her, grovel and do shit you
wouldn’t believe just to get her attention. Because of all that,
she’s so far up her own ass it’s a wonder she can see. Problem is,
she’s got a lot of company up there.”

“I don’t care about this,” I told him.

He continued talking like I didn’t even
speak. “I don’t shit where I live normally. She played me, I had no
fuckin’ idea she was what she was until I got played then I wanted
no part in that.”

“I think I got that,” I reminded him of the
fact I was there while he made that point to her.

“It happened once, once was enough. The sex
was shit, buddy.”


I got that too.” And that was an
understatement, I
definitely
got
that.

“She gets no for an answer never. It doesn’t
happen to her. She gets what she wants when she wants it, always.
She wanted me. She’d been playin’ games like that to get my
attention for six months. It was affecting my work, which I was not
thrilled about, but I could deal. That night, she invaded my home.
Stole my keys, had one made, found out where I lived and came in
uninvited, playin’ her games. Uncool.”

I had to admit, he wasn’t exactly wrong,
this was uncool. I knew this. I knew this better than he could
understand. I knew
exactly
how
uncool this was.

That didn’t change the fact that he
humiliated her to the point of making her scramble around on the
floor in a teddy to pick up her stuff and walk into the cold night
to gather her clothes from the snow. That kind of humiliation was
extreme and uncalled for.

Before I had the chance to explain this to
Joe Callahan I heard cars approaching and I looked up to see Kate’s
little, white Ford Fiesta followed by a bright yellow pickup coming
down the street.

Joe and I stepped off the drive into the snow
of the yard as the two cars pulled into the drive. Kate and Keira
got out of the Fiesta but I was staring at the strapping, tall
boy-man who folded out of the pickup.

Keira skipped through the snow to me and she
did this quickly.


Hey,” she said and I tore my eyes from the
strapping, tall boy-man to see my last born staring up at Joe
Callahan looking like she was gazing at whoever was her current boy
band heartthrob (and I didn’t know who that was, Keira went through
crushes like she did clothes which was to say swiftly and at
random).

“Hey,” Joe said back.

“I’m Keira,” Keira announced.

“Cal.”