Authors: Linda Oaks
Tags: #General Fiction
The Way Home
The Chasing Series Book 3
By Linda Oaks
Blue Tulip Publishing
Copyright © 2016 LINDA OAKS
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
THE WAY HOME
Copyright © 2016 LINDA OAKS
Cover Art by Jena Brignola
To Abby and Colton, no matter where you may roam in life, may you always remember the way home.
SWEAT TRICKLED DOWN
my forehead stinging my eyes. It was hotter than hell. I dipped my chin, rubbing my cheek against my shoulder. The heat made my beard itch. I tucked a few strands of hair behind my ears. It was getting too long and was always in my face. A grimace twisted my lips as I turned and squinted at the fireball riding high in the sky behind me. My clothing clung to me. Mid-day sun was a son of a bitch, but that was summertime in Crawley for you. The humidity was so damn high; the landscape was drenched in a fine white sticky mist.
Fucking humidity was nothing more than a leech sucking you dry.
From out of nowhere my grandmother’s voice softly whispered, trickling through my mind; a ghost of the past, her words as plain as day, as if she were standing right here beside me.
“Make hay while the sun’s shining, Nate.”
As usual, she was right. It was high time to get my head out of my ass, get back to work, and stop daydreaming. Gran had always sprouted that kind of crazy old bullshit, but not a day went by that I didn’t think of her. I missed her, her simple ways, and the wisdom behind the words she used to give so freely… even all those times when I didn’t want to hear it.
This coming fall would mark five years since she’d passed; the woman who had been a mother to me, the woman who had taken me in and raised me as her own since my parents had abandoned me. I could barely recall my mom. I had no memories of my father. In my opinion, both were a waste of air and space. I was better off without them. Since early daybreak, I’d been busting my ass tearing out all of the rotted boards from the front porch of Gran’s old house.
Well, it was my house now, but still, it was hard not to think of it as hers.
During the time I’d been away the place had definitely gone to shit, but I’d purchased it along with the property for next to nothing. It had been a steal. Call it fate or some other mojo jo jo bullshit or the universe’s weird way of allowing my gran to manipulate me from beyond the grave. It seemed that even dead, she was still trying to run my life.
While tracking down a bounty in upstate New York, I’d had the surprise of my life by running into Chase and Chance Logan at a local bar. It had been no more than a hole in the wall, a real dive, but regardless, the place had been packed with patrons. The booths and tables were full, with many customers standing around waiting for a spot to open. As usual an informant had fed me a crock of bullshit. In my line of work, it happened from time to time. I hated a fucking liar the worst. That night, I ended up showing every single one of the bar’s patrons a picture of my perp, having no luck. No one had seen or even heard of my guy. It had seemed as if it were nothing more than another wild goose chase. He wasn’t a regular as I’d been led to believe. Thinking it a lost cause, I’d almost called it a night when I spotted those two guys sitting alone at a table in the back. It was then that I realized somehow I’d missed them, and I’d found it strange that even though the place was shoulder to shoulder, people tended to steer clear of the two.
The lighting hadn’t been worth shit, but, from a distance, the two looked like rough customers. I didn’t recognize either one of them, but it was impossible to miss the fact they were twins since they both shared the same dark hair, skin, and facial features. It was also impossible not to miss the huge chip on their shoulders. It had been a long day. I hadn’t cared who they were. The only thing I knew was that neither one of them was my guy. Without waiting for an introduction, one I’d likely never get, I’d shoved the perp’s photo underneath their noses. As lady luck would have it… that bitch finally smiled down on me. They’d known the guy.
One thing led to another, and I’d soon discovered that they, too, had once lived in Crawley. Come to find out, their dad had been the one to purchase my gran’s old house. I knew I’d recognized the name.
Un-fucking believable! Talk about a small world
! The guy, who I’d been tracking also turned out to be a regular at their gym. Needless to say, before noon the next day, I’d caught my perp when he’d arrived like clockwork for his routine workout. It seemed even criminals liked to keep in shape.
Bandito Bill, or as I’d liked to refer to him, Dumb Fuck, had actually turned out to be one of my easier paydays. He really hadn’t been that smart, and his muscle bound ass was now sitting where it rightfully belonged — behind bars in lock up. I had zero tolerance for criminals even though it seemed we lived in a society that perpetuated them. If you were going to skip out on a court date to leave someone else holding the bag for your fuck-up, then you could damn well guarantee myself or another would be coming for you.
What a moron, and for fuck’s sake, don’t make the mistake of visiting the gym the same damn time Monday through Friday.
It was funny how life worked itself out. You never knew when a wrong would be righted, and usually, it always occurred when least expected. That notorious bitch, karma, liked to creep up and bite you square in the ass.
“You reap what you sow,”
my gran would say.
Shifting the hammer underneath yet another rotten board, I tugged, feeling a small sense of satisfaction when it finally gave way.
Nowadays, it was the little things that managed to bring a half-way smile to my lips. There had never really been a whole lot in my miserable life worth smiling about except for Natalie.
Regret tugged at my heart, leaving a hollowness that settled in the pit of my stomach at just the thought of her. A sudden image came to mind of Natalie leaning over me with smiling hazel eyes, lush lips curved into a heart stopping grin, and a thick mane of long blonde hair forever sliding forward to curtain her gorgeous face. That image had been branded in my mind.
I missed her.
Never would I forget the girl who had held my heart or how much she meant to me. It didn’t matter where I traveled, what I did, or who I was with… it was always her skirting along the edges of my thoughts, teasing and taunting me. Even after all of these years, the sound of her laughter still echoed somewhere deep inside of me. That’s the thing about a memory, it could sneak up on you when least expected and bring back all of those old feelings you thought you’d managed to bury.
After losing Natalie, there had been no light in my life. She’d been my reason to breathe, to smile; the first thought I woke to each morning and the last at night when I closed my eyes. When she left me, my world grew dark. Nothing made sense. Nothing mattered… not one damn thing. She was gone, and so was our child — a helpless, innocent life who never even had a chance in this world. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. The world was a shitty place after all, but that loss — it was always there, lodged like the sharpest of blades deep in my heart, twisting and turning with each breath I drew. The pain only too real and had never faded over the years. It was as real as the day my world turned upside down and stayed that way. Time was of no consequence. To this day, it still hurt like a son of a bitch, especially when I allowed myself to relive those memories, to imagine what I’d almost had and then lost. Our child would have been eight years old.
The reality of my world was harsh and ugly. In my line of work, I dealt with the scum of the earth and had managed to make a decent living chasing it down, but coming in contact day to day with those kind of people… well, it changed you, and soon the ugly outnumbered the good. In my opinion, there wasn’t any more good left in this world.
My days consisted of waking in the morning and going through the motions. I operated on auto pilot. There was no time to allow myself the luxury of feeling too much of anything. I made sure of that, and I never become too attached… not to places, not to things, nor to people… definitely not to people; not anymore.
What was the point in it anyway? It could all be gone in the blink of an eye.
When I thought back to that time, it was a mystery as to how I’d even managed to make it this far; how I’d graduated high school and had placed as many miles as possible between myself and Crawley. Fucking grief and pity had earned me my freedom and my diploma. I sure as hell hadn’t worked for it, but freedom from the life I’d longed to leave behind didn’t mean forgetting, and I had learned that the hard way.
As usual, my thoughts drifted to that day… a day I would never forget as long as I lived; the Monday following Natalie’s birthday.
We’d spent Sunday celebrating with her family never even managing to have a moment alone until the end of the night when she’d walked me out to my truck to say goodnight. The sky had been splattered with stars, thousands of them piercing the darkness above us. The tiny pinpoints of light were not nearly as captivating as Natalie; nothing was. We walked with her tucked against my side, gazing up at the sky. Her face had been radiant as she pointed out the constellations. In her excitement, she’d stumbled, dragging my attention away from Orion’s Belt and back to her. I’d only looked away because she’d insisted. I’d much rather have looked at her. I’d gripped her close. Both of us laughing. I could still recall the expression on her face. Her smile had shined brighter than any star I had ever seen.
The promise ring I’d saved six months for had been sitting proudly on the fourth finger of her dainty left hand. My birthday gift to her, and I hadn’t given two shits if her parents had liked it or not. Natalie was mine. She’d smiled at me, peeking up shyly through her lashes before sliding her hands into my hair and tugging my head closer to hers. My girl had loved to tease me. So in tune, I’d known exactly what she’d wanted and had fitted my mouth against hers while pulling her body close to mine. She’d fit me perfect.
That had been our last kiss. Thinking back on that day, I’d wished I’d held her a little tighter and had kissed her a little longer. Instead, I’d taken it all for granted; thinking we’d have tomorrow, our whole lives ahead of us. I wished I’d taken the opportunity to memorize every single fucking detail no matter how small. Now, my last memory of her was measured in a single moment in time, and selfishly, I wanted every second, every minute, and every hour of it back just to spend it with her all over again.
Instead of our usual routine which consisted of me picking her up before school, Natalie had informed me she would be driving her new car the first day of school. She’d insisted on meeting up with me at the school parking lot. Of course, I’d argued with her until I was blue in the face only to give in. My girl could be persuasive.
I woke that morning to a down pour; the sound of rain relentlessly hammering the tin roof of my gran’s old house. It had been coming down in buckets. Only when I turned into school did the rain finally let up. The roads were wet, but Natalie was a good driver. I’d always worried about her, but she’d been as headstrong as a wild mustang. She had also been as sweet as honey and had had me wrapped happily around her little finger. I’d never stood a chance with her. From the moment I first laid eyes on her, I was a goner. Hell, I’d never been able to deny her anything, not even my own heart, and still, to this day, it belonged to her.
The morning was like any other; nothing special or out of the ordinary… nothing to prepare me for the fact that my life was about to be forever changed. I’d waited outside in the school parking lot watching for her new Volkswagen Beetle, but it never came. When I’d called her cell, I received no answer. I’d ditched classes not giving a damn about the consequences. They could take their after school detentions and shove them. Something hadn’t felt right. I’d waited long enough. This wasn’t like her. Natalie was always on time. The sudden need to see her, to touch her, to hold her in my arms, and to make sure she was all right had my mind racing. I headed straight for her house.