Behind the ScandalM.A. Stacie
About the Author
Also by M.A. Stacie
Behind the Scandal
First published by The Writer’s Coffee Shop, 2014
Copyright © M.A. Stacie, 2014
The right of M.A. Stacie to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her under the Copyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000
This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced, copied, scanned, stored in a retrieval system, recorded or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
All characters and events in this Book – even those sharing the same name as (or based on) real people – are entirely fictional. No person, brand, or corporation mentioned in this Book should be taken to have endorsed this Book nor should the events surrounding them be considered in any way factual.
This Book is a work of fiction and should be read as such.
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Paperback ISBN- 978-1-61213-258-7
E-book ISBN- 978-1-61213-259-4
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Cover Design: L.J. Anderson
For Mary, the best friend I could ever have.
For us, running doesn’t mean running away.
I love you, babe.
Taylor Reese groaned and rolled over in the small bed, wishing his arrival had been a dream. The scratchy sheets, creaking bed, and smell of horse shit told him that wasn’t the case. He really was in the middle of fucking nowhere.
Welcome to Hunter’s Hollow.
The Lone Tree Ranch was his new home for the foreseeable future and, worst of all, he would be prisoner there for at least six months. All thanks to his father’s intervention and his brother, Kyran’s, fixation.
He turned onto his side and placed a pillow over his head in an attempt to block out the bright orange glow of the sun. It filtered in through the large bedroom window, the dusty pink drapes doing little to block its brightness. Even through the heavy cotton of the pillow, he could smell the ranch. The stench would take weeks to wash off once he left the place.
At twenty-eight, he was more than old enough to tell his father to shove his restrictions, but that would mean going it alone. No job, no money, no influence whatsoever, and that would fucking suck. He was left with no choice but to grit his teeth and see the whole disaster out.
He changed his position again, growing increasingly annoyed at the uncomfortable mattress. His rest had been fitful. Each time he’d started to doze off, his stomach had cramped up or a shiver had racked his body. Now that the pain had subsided, the noise from out in the yard was seeping into his room and making his attempts to sleep useless.
Taylor slipped out of the wretched bed and assessed the small bedroom. Distaste made his lip curl, and for the millionth time he wondered how he was going to stick it out for six months. This prison cell felt nothing like home. Home was a plush penthouse apartment in Sea Pointe, not a miserable single room in the middle of a bunch of hills. Certain people might find the woodwork and floral decor homey, but Taylor did not.
Maybe he would redecorate. He had enough time on his hands, but could he be bothered? He didn’t give a shit about this place.
Brushing aside the fact that he’d never held a paintbrush in his life, he pulled on the jeans he’d discarded on the floor. He checked his watch as he heard a timid knock at his bedroom door.
“You decent?” His uncle’s gruff voice came from the other side.
Taylor started to fasten his jeans and grunted for Josh to enter.
The door squeaked as it opened, and his uncle stood in the hallway holding a tray. Orange juice had sloshed over the rim of the glass and formed a pool across the white surface of the tray, and the toast looked like it had been cremated. Taylor grimaced. Fending for himself was going to be the only way through this but, like the paintbrush, he was seriously lacking in that department. Dialing the local Chinese for delivery was the pinnacle of his food skills.
“Sleep well?” Josh walked in and placed the tray on the dresser.
Josh handed him the sticky glass of juice. “Maybe this will help. Don’t normally have house guests. Nice to cook for more than one.”
Shivering, Taylor reached for a T-shirt and pulled it over his head. He stayed silent while his uncle continued to make small talk.
“Sometimes I get to eat my dinner at Libby’s, but the girl has a family of her own and doesn’t need this old man hanging around. It’s good to have company.”
“Not willing company,” Taylor said, picking up a slice of toast and sniffing at the blackened bread.
The expression on Josh’s face looked so much like his father he wanted to scream. He could do without the reminder of his old man right now.
Josh was his father’s older brother. He’d stayed out in Wyoming, instead of forging a new path in the world, and was happy to live and work on the family ranch. Taylor had always thought of Josh as somewhat of a stranger. His uncle rarely came out to Sea Pointe, and Taylor and Kyran had only visited the ranch a handful of times. This was the first time he’d been there in his adult years.
“You doing okay? I mean, are you in pain or anything?” Josh shuffled from one foot to the next, staring at the floor and rubbing the back of his neck.
Taylor stiffened. “You don’t have to worry about me. Just go about your business as usual. Then six months won’t feel like a death sentence to us both.”
“All your own making. Your dad called. Wanted to see how you were getting on.”
“You mean he was checking to see whether I’d actually arrived. His chauffeur should have confirmed that. Or he could have gotten his hands dirty and driven me here himself.”
“Now, now. Whatever you and Jacob have going on between you has nothing to do with me. I’m here to help you, so leave your daddy issues at the damn door.”
Taylor hung his head and spoke to the floor. “I take it Dad purged his guts to you.”
His uncle shifted his weight. “Jacob gave me the short version, sure. But I’m not your judge and jury. I’m here to help you.”
“Bullshit.” Taylor shoved his hand into his hair, pushing the strands from his face. It needed cutting, but then his hair was the least of his worries. “You’re here to hold the key.”
“To my goddamned prison. I’m waiting
for you to list the rules. I suppose I have a curfew? Do I have to call you if I’m going to be longer than an hour? Or maybe I’m not allowed out alone at all?”
“Grow up,” Josh snapped. “If you think what you’ve been doing is okay, then no one is keeping you here. Jacob didn’t bring you here himself because he wanted the decision to be yours and only yours. Maybe he expected you to go AWOL.”
Taylor slumped onto the edge of the bed, and the mattress creaked under his weight. “So I’ve already been tested?”
Josh stomped his foot and pointed his finger. “You need to sort yourself out. Not a single one of us owes you anything. If you want to spend the rest of your life alone and snorting that shit up your nose, then do it. There is no key, no lock, and certainly no curfew. Only you can put this right.”
He turned on the heel of his boots and grumbled to himself as he slammed the bedroom door. Taylor exhaled, clenching his hands as a red mist began to color his vision. His entire body shook—anger, hurt, and the desperate craving for his usual escape. The need beat within him, heightening with each thump of his heart. It was all he could think of, the one thing that would allow him to focus.
Flopping back onto the bed, he brought his fists up to his eyes to block out the light. He willed himself to function. The smell of the burned breakfast turned his stomach, and yet it made his mouth water. Taylor couldn’t recall the last time he’d eaten. Everything had happened so swiftly after he’d been taken to hospital. Maybe that was the last time he’d tasted anything.
He grasped the patchwork coverlet and dragged it around his body, hoping it would swallow him whole. When had his life become so messed up? At what point did his existence tip upside down, leaving him literally in the horse shit? His lifestyle had been fun, and he never took anything too seriously, unlike his brother. Kyran was so uptight and arrogant, Taylor had no idea how he’d snagged a woman like Dale. It surprised him anyone would be interested in his pompous ass.
His father, the great Jacob Reese, was no better. Unable to deal with a son who didn’t act how he wanted him to, his solution had been to ship Taylor to the old family ranch in Hunter’s Hollow. Out of sight, out of mind.
They all needed to back the hell down. He wasn’t addicted to cocaine. He used the stuff for fun, to lighten his mood after every miserable day working with his guard dog of a brother. Kyran was a hypocrite anyway. His brother used his own drug to chill out, only it wasn’t chemical. His brother chose to pummel other men in bare-knuckle boxing bouts, and yet according to their father, Taylor was the loser.
He punched the pillow and growled. Frustration throbbed deep within him. Why couldn’t they all just leave him alone? He didn’t interfere with them as they slowly fucked up their lives, and he would appreciate the same courtesy.
He punched the pillow a few more times. It didn’t help. Nothing was going to alter this situation. His options were exactly the same as they’d been three nights ago when his father had delivered them—get clean in Hunter’s Hollow, or get cut off.
Taylor’s stomach rumbled, the smell of the burned toast and coffee made his nostrils flare. Earlier he’d felt nauseous, but now all he could think of was devouring what his uncle had brought in on the tray. After freeing himself from the blanket, he perched on the edge of the bed so he could reach the food.
Taylor stared out the window and chewed his toast. It wasn’t as bad as he’d expected, although that could be down to the fact that he was ravenous. The coffee had his eyes widening. It was strong and intense, and the bitter tang blew away the last vestiges of sleep. It tasted good but not good enough to have every day. He resolved to try cooking something himself.
At the sound of a child’s laughter, he searched the small part of the land he could see through his window. A little boy of about five or six stood near the training paddock. He swung a helmet in his hand and giggled toward someone out of Taylor’s vision. Blond curls framed his face, and his cheeks were rosy from the brisk wind. Josh hadn’t mentioned having guests. He recalled his father mentioning a riding school, but that was all he could remember.
“Levi, honey, you need to calm down. I don’t want you spooking Candy.”
Taylor watched the kid, unable to see the owner of the female voice. He craned his neck a bit further but was met with more green grass and a twinge in his neck from straining.
“Candy loves me. I’m a good boy and her favorite.”
“But she’s still a horse.” The woman moved into his line of sight, her vibrant red hair floating in the breeze. “You shouldn’t jump or shout in front of her.”
The woman’s hair entranced him as it shone in the sunlight. Tendrils with facets of red, gold, and bronze were teased by the breeze. The poker-straight strands blocked her face from view, but he could see her slim frame and shapely ass.
The little boy put on his riding helmet, and the red-haired woman bent over to fasten it. Her dark jeans stretched and pulled across her butt. Taylor leaned forward, his tongue darting out to lick his dry lips. He absently reached for the glass of juice, unable to drag his eyes from the two people in the paddock.
The woman pulled on the horse’s reins and led it through the gate and into the smaller training area. The little boy climbed the wood slats of the small fence with confidence. When he reached the top, he paused a moment before jumping into the enclosure.
“Levi! How many times do I need to tell you to stop climbing? I gave birth to a human, not a monkey.”
Levi giggled, and Taylor snorted. He wondered how long the little guy had been taking riding lessons—there was no caution in the way he touched Candy. The woman helped him into the saddle, and the boy wrapped his arms around the horse’s neck and closed his eyes.
“Right, Sheriff Woody, take it easy. Show me what we worked on yesterday.”
Levi grasped the reins. Taylor reached for the last piece of toast, his eyes still fixed on the paddock as Levi rode Candy around the perimeter.
“Well done, honey. Awesome job.”
The redhead turned and looked over to the house. She swept her hair behind her ear and lifted her gaze to meet his. Taylor gulped, feeling like a child who’d been caught snooping on his best friend’s sister. He didn’t even know why he’d been watching them, but he felt more than a little foolish for being caught. His heart thundered, embarrassment thickening his blood. The temptation to duck and hide was strong.
He was about to do it when she raised her hand and waved to him. A smile spread across her lips. Taylor wrinkled his forehead. He’d been spying on her, and yet she waved to him as if she knew who he was.
“Are you watching me, Mom?” Levi shouted.
The redhead gave him one last quick smile before turning her back and joining her son. Taylor exhaled, lay back down on the bed, and stared at the ceiling. He needed to find a hobby while he was staying at Lone Tree, otherwise he’d find himself slapped with a restraining order for ogling the redhead.
Libby Karlin stared up at the second floor of Josh’s house. She waved, but Josh’s visitor didn’t wave back. In fact, he shook his head and ducked out of sight.
The tingling on the back of her neck had started as soon as she’d entered the paddock. It had felt as though someone was watching her with Levi. She hadn’t wanted to worry her son, not that Levi noticed anyway. It was only when she’d looked over to the house that she recalled her conversation with Josh a few days ago. She was sure the man in the guest bedroom window was just his visiting nephew.
She flicked her hair over her shoulder and turned her attention back to Levi. He’d been riding horses almost since he could walk, but Candy was new. He’d ridden her only four times, so Libby watched with caution.
“Momma, can I go swimming in the creek when Pops goes there again?”
Libby smiled. “I think you should concentrate on riding, little man.” She led Candy around the paddock, moving a bit faster as she coaxed the horse into a
“But he said I could.”
“I bet he did, and I’ll be having a talk with Josh later. Now stop your chatter and focus.”
Levi grinned but did as she asked. His expression grew serious, and his wide brown eyes narrowed. She loosened her hold on the rope, allowing Levi to put a bit more space between her and Candy. He’d ridden without aid before, and she’d allow it again once she was sure Candy was comfortable.
She cast a glance or two up toward the bedroom window, but the window was vacant.
Josh had said very little about his visitor, and she was intrigued. She couldn’t recall any of his family coming for a visit in the last four years. He talked about them often, so Libby knew of the success Josh’s brother had made of himself. She also knew about his much younger wife and exactly how he’d met her. It all sounded like fodder for a daytime talk show to her, but then her own past wasn’t squeaky clean, so she tried not to judge.
“Keep your head up, Levi,” she shouted.
Pride swelled within her. At six years old, Levi was already skilled at activities she could only have dreamed of at the same age. He enjoyed the open spaces of Hunter’s Hollow—the outdoor lifestyle suited his temperament to perfection.
Still, the lack of neighbors meant he couldn’t just pop next door to play in their yard like she had done as a child. Sure, Levi had friends at school, but she worried he needed more. Josh would say he had plenty, as they were always going on little hikes or trips to the creek. Levi loved him and followed him around the ranch like a puppy.
Josh was the main male in Levi’s life. He had teachers, but Josh showed him on a daily basis what it was like to be a man. She thanked her lucky stars every day for having someone like him in her life. Her son thrived on the stability, and for the first time in what seemed like forever, she was comfortable. Happy.
“Do I have school today?” Levi asked as he trotted past her.
“Not today. It’s Sunday.”
Libby nodded, smiling at the excitement that lit up his face. “Be careful. If you’re not going to concentrate, you’ll have to get off the horse.”