Authors: Wendy Ely
Tags: #Romance, #General, #Contemporary, #Fiction
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used
or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the publisher’s permission.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 Wendy Ely
All rights reserved
Dan: I have finally found my hero… and he is you. Thank you for bringing true love into my life.
For Alexis and Trevor. You guys are the best!
Carolyn Hughey: You are an amazing friend and author.
Thank you for helping me make this book great and for walking beside me during the next phase of my writing career
“Beautiful,” Jesse said, and brought his lips to hers. “Why don’t you wear it down more often?”
“My mother, I guess. When I was a little girl, she’d always complain about how wild my hair was. Whenever I would get into trouble, she would always accuse me of turning out to be like
my unmanageable hair. I started putting it up at an early age so she would think I was a good girl.”
“You’re amazing. Don’t ever think you’re not.”
“I wish my mom would realize that.” She caught herself. “Sorry, I shouldn’t be bringing up sad things tonight.”
“Samantha, we can talk about anything you desire.”
Anyone watching them would think they were long-time lovers, not on their first date. They had so much passion between them that they were drawn to each other like the currents of the ocean and the phase of the moon. Their bodies pulled to each other on subconscious level like the pulse of the tide.
Noah tossed the picture onto the oak table, and picked up another. He shook his head with disbelief as he held a second photo of the teenager’s backside, carved with a butcher’s knife. The view made his stomach turn.
He looked up at the faces staring back at him. “I won’t do it.”
“You don’t have to,” his father said. “Jesse and I will.”
Noah felt the rush of heated anger work its way up his cheeks as he listened to his father’s words. He slammed the picture down on the pile and stared directly in his father’s eyes. “Don’t take this case,” he demanded.
“We need to,” replied his brother Jesse.
Noah sat stunned. Who were these people? A father who’d raised him to be compassionate was sitting here asking him to help represent the devil. The mother who’d taught him how to be a moral man was now pushing that aside in favor of Jesse’s career. He couldn’t believe these people anymore.
“How can you represent somebody like that?”
“It’s my job. My career.”
“The drug affected him differently than it should have,” Dad said. “Ultimately, it was an accident. Take a look at his medical report.” He dropped the paper on top of the photos.
Noah didn’t bother looking at the report. He knew enough about the case. Enough to know he wouldn’t have anything to do with it.
“That’s your reasoning? You’re going to help get a murderer a slap on the wrist for slipping some drugs into a girl’s drink? No rape charge? No murder charge?
Not even a charge for child pornography?” He picked up another picture Jesse would use for evidence in the courtroom. The victim’s face had been
angled toward the camera. Her eyes were slightly open, and her mouth formed into a pouty, almost kiss-like, position. Anyone else viewing the picture would have guessed it was an
erotic picture a lover had taken on an outside adventure. Noah knew differently. The picture had been taken right before she passed out.
“Noah, please listen to me,” begged his brother. “Remember our dream? Me, you, and Dad were going to take over the law firm.” Jesse was grasping at straws.
“It was a kid’s foolish dream. I grew up a long time ago!”
“Well, it’s still mine. I really need this case, and I need your help.”
“I won’t do it.”
James Lincoln played with his mustache the way he always did when he had something to say to his sons. “Noah, I thought being a defense attorney ran in your blood? I guess I was wrong. I hear the DA’s office is hiring, why don’t you give them your resume?”
Noah flinched at the remark but refused to bite back.
“Nobody does the research as well as you. Please reconsider.”
Noah jumped to his feet, and slammed his balled fists down, causing some of the pictures to sail to the floor. “If you take this case, I’ll quit the firm and this whole family!”
“Noah, please calm down,” his mother pleaded.
“Mom, reason with them. What if this was your daughter? Would you want the guy to get off?” He bent over and retrieved the worst picture for her to see.
She pointed to Noah’s father. “He’s my husband and I stand by his decision. I’m sorry, Noah, but it has to be this way.”
Noah dropped the picture onto the table and turned his back to his family. No one uttered a word as he made his way to the dining room door. He paused with his hand on the knob. Was he doing the right thing? Would he be strong enough to walk out the door? He glanced back at his family. A smirk played on Jesse’s lips.
Noah turned the knob. The door slammed behind him and he never looked back.
Samantha parked her car in the driveway but couldn’t find the will-power to step outside. The early June sun heated the black interior, scorching her steering wheel. Sweat beaded her forehead as she stared at the beautiful two-story farmhouse before her. A curtain shifted in the window.
The sight of farmhouse was familiar, but dreaded.
The house was as she’d remembered, right down to the wrap around porch. She glanced at the familiar swing hanging in the corner, now swaying from a light breeze. Flowers lined the long walkway up to the stairs. The image of this ranch had replayed in her mind a thousand times over the past year and she’d often longed for a visit. She loved the country and farm life and had missed it terribly. It was much more peaceful than living in the hectic city. She remembered walking into the woods, picking flowers and watching the wild animals.
The life here wasn’t what made her cringe—it was the people who lived here. Frances and Martin Johns owned the J Ranch. Her father ran the farm while her mother took pride in being a homemaker, squeezing in time to volunteer and stay active in their congregation. From the outside they looked like an average family in Alban.
The front door opened and Frances came stomping down the steps. She kept her arms crossed over her breasts while her face remained in a scowl.
Samantha squared her shoulders, remembering why she’d come.
“It’s about time you got here,” her mom snapped.
“I know. I sure have missed you,” Samantha lied in an effort to mend their broken relationship.
She stepped forward for a hug. The strong smell of bleach and cheap perfume assailed her nose. What a relief when her mother took a step back, releasing her from the hug.
Her mom glanced down at her watch. “I have been waiting for hours.”
“I was late leaving but I’m here now. How are you doing? How’s Daddy?”
Her mom ignored the questions and sailed into her own. “Are you eating well?” She gave Samantha the once over as though she was a horse up for bid.
“Of course I am.”
“You’re looking too thin, young lady.”
“I’m fine. Couldn’t wait for my vacation from school.” She wanted to add that she’d wished her vacation was somewhere else besides J Ranch, but she bit her tongue to hold the words, and focused on fixing the issues with her family. She turned toward the house, but Mom’s fierce grip stopped her.
“You could have come home over the holidays. We can’t believe you would abandon your family during such important times.”
“I already explained I had to take the trip, so don’t try to make me feel guilty for going.”
She tried to pull away from Mom’s hold. “It was great. Besides having a fantastic time, I got extra credit for my classes.”
“Anyway,” Mom said, “I have a lot of plans for us this summer—church services, some volunteer work, and a formal tea party with the little girls at the church. Won’t it be great?”
“I’ll try to squeeze in some of what you have planned, but I really don’t want to commit myself too much.”
“Humph, if that’s what you think.” Her mother dropped her hand as if Samantha had suddenly caught on fire. Yet another familiarity between the two women—anything Samantha did to take care of herself always seemed to upset her mother. Pleasing her mother had become a full time job.
There was no way to make her happy, no matter how hard she tried.
The sight of her father emerging from the house brought a smile to her lips. Samantha rushed over to him. “Oh, Daddy, I missed you.”
“I missed you too, honey. I’m on my way to the stable, want to join me? ”
“Martin, she had a long trip,” Mom scolded, hurrying over.
“What the girl needs is to freshen up and have a good meal.”
“Oh, I’m not hungry right now.”
“You need to eat. Look how pale you are!” Her mother’s tight grip around her forearm made Samantha flinch. She tried to wrangle loose while keeping a friendly tone, but her mother was making it next to impossible.
“I’ve been sitting so long during the drive here, I really need to stretch my legs first.”
“Too much work, and not enough food or rest,” her mother said. “Come on in. You have all summer to gallivant around the farm and do who knows what.”
“Mom…” Anger rushed through Samantha’s veins, but she cut the sentence off and walked to the car to remove her luggage.
“A walk really does sound great, Daddy. Let’s take these upstairs and then we’ll head out. Any new animals?” She handed him two suitcases before taking two more out of the trunk to carry
“Just Noah,” he said with a laugh.
Mom let out a loud humph. “I guess maybe you should go on your walk. There’s a peach pie I need to drop off at the McLaren’s farm. When I get back, we’ll have dinner.” Mom sighed and followed them inside but instead of going upstairs with them, she retreated to her favorite part of the house—the kitchen. The upbeat Christian music dancing its way down the hall suddenly stopped, leaving only the sounds of footsteps.
“You started naming the animals?” Samantha giggled softly.
“Nope, this one came named. Beware.” He lowered his voice. “Your mom isn’t going to approve of you being around him though. She’s having a hard enough time dealing with him being here as it is.”
Samantha led the way down the hall to her bedroom. Framed pictures showcasing the timeline of her life from infancy to high school graduation hung from walls papered in tiny flowers.
She remembered her depression after high school graduation but things were about to change this summer. All she wanted was her mother to respect her as an adult, and she wanted to learn to
respect her mom.
With the door knob resting in the palm of her hand, everything seemed real. Home. She was finally home. It had been way too long.
The cold metal turned slowly in her grip. Once it opened a crack, she picked up the suitcase again and pushed the door open with her hip. She dropped her suitcases to the floor inside an empty
room. Her mouth dropped open in shock.
“Where is everything?” She moved deeper into her room. Her hand slid across the glossy white paint of her dresser where soccer trophies had once stood. Pictures of her friends were missing
from the top of her desk. The beige walls were now bare of all the awards she’d won in high school for perfect attendance, community service and honor roll. Had they been thrown away?
The once bright and cheery room now looked like it belonged in a hospital. White walls had been transformed to beige, the plum-colored comforter replaced by steel gray. Even the lavender
carpet was gone, replaced with the same drabness as the walls.
So that’s what her mom had been talking about. The card that she’d received from Mom…Underneath her signature had been the words: I have moved some stuff around in case you don’t
plan on returning. I’ll send you whatever it is you wish.
At the time, Samantha’d had no idea what her mom meant and had never mentioned it during their few phone conversations since. Now she understood. Her anger quickly turned into sadness. Did her mother even care about her?
She forced the tears away, twirled around and viewed the room. One thing remaining from her days at the farmhouse sat on the nightstand. The silver frame held a photo of two smiling girls.
Herself and Jackie. Why had Mom allowed this picture to remain?
“Where is my stuff, Dad?”
“I’m sorry, Sammy. A few months ago she had me carry some stuff downstairs but I thought you knew about it.”
“It’s all gone, Daddy. Did she give it away?” She slowly turned in a circle once again, trying to digest the barren room. All the warmth was gone. “Where is it?”
“I’ll go down and talk to her for you.”
“No. It’s about time I do it myself.” If she wanted to be treated as an adult, it was time she confronted her mother.
Samantha had always tried to please everyone around her. The time had come to make herself happy first. The first step had been going off to college.
“Do you want some time to put your stuff away before we go for a walk?” Daddy asked. Ready for a walk to blow off steam, she shook her head and put the two suitcases she had been carrying on top of her bed.
Dad walked to the window.
She joined him, peering out at the pasture. The view was spectacular and would always remain her favorite thing about the room. It was a wonder her mother hadn’t covered up the window.
“Ready, Dad?” she asked while raising the window, hoping to remove the musty smell permeating the air.
“Whenever you are.”
* * * *
Back outside, Samantha inhaled the fresh air. “So what’s going on around here? What have I missed out on?”
“Let’s cut to the chase. You didn’t have to come back.”
“I know, but I needed to for me.”
They walked across the lawn toward the back pasture. The tension began to roll off her shoulders. The house was her mother’s, but out here, she could be herself—the animals loved her unconditionally. They didn’t need her to change.
“No matter what your mother believes, I know you’re doing what’s right for you. You sure make me proud, Sammy.” He put his arm around her, giving her a half hug.
“I came back to clear some things up.”
“Oh?” His brow arched. “Anything you need help with?”
“There is some unfinished business to tend to before I go on with my life, but I don’t feel right talking about it now.”
“You can talk about anything with me.”
“When I’m ready, you’ll be the first to know.” She quickly changed the subject. “There’s only two classes before I graduate and I have some job offers that came in before I left.”