Home tears, p.1
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       Home Tears, p.1
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  To Erica Adams, and so many others!

  I wrote Home Torn (the original version) sooo many years ago. I dreamed to have Home Torn as one of my first novels published. One agent even showed interest in it, and that meant the world to me. This book is so dear to my heart. I truly hope it’ll be close to yours as well, and remains so for those who continued to support this book and myself over the years.

  You guys truly inspire me.

  Bells that were hung over the bank’s door jingled as Dani O’Hara stepped inside, and five seconds later she heard the first intake of breath.

  “Oh, my God.”

  Well, shit. That hadn’t taken long.

  Ten years. That was how long it’d been since she was home. Craigstown’s population was only a little over two thousand, so maybe Dani had been a little delusional? She thought she could come in, deposit her checks, get some cash, and slip away unseen. It might’ve felt surreal to another person, but it wasn’t to her. In fact, it was the opposite. It was too real. Dani didn’t want to feel or deal with any of the storm going on inside of her, so she shoved everything down except for wariness.

  She could feel wary. That was a safe emotion to handle, or the safest out of the others. And with that last thought, she needed to face whoever whispered that first greeting. They were about to be her first reunion.

  Kelley Lynn.

  Dani recognized her right away, and of course, it had to be her. If it wasn’t the person who was the reason why Dani left in the first place, it made complete sense it’d be that person’s sidekick. No irony there at all. None whatsoever. Nada. Dani wasn’t funny, but even this situation was making her insides shake slightly with laughter.

  “Kelley,” she greeted, folding her hands in front of her. “How are you? What are you up to now?”

  Simple questions. They were the polite response, but Kelley was floored. Her mouth was still hanging open. Then again, Dani had been prepared for this type of reaction. It was everyone else who wasn’t. Dani studied Kelley. She seemed to be struggling with a response.

  Kelley was the popular girl in the grade below her. She was friends with Dani’s youngest sister—the actual reason, or kind of reason, the more-or-less reason, fuck-it-it-was-complicated reason why Dani left ten years ago and never returned. Correction—they were best friends. She remembered Kelley being blonde, beautiful, and the typical bitch ‘mean girls’ were portrayed as. Looking at her now, she looked like a grown-up version of the same person. Her clothes upgraded from the too-tight tank tops to the just-right cleavage underneath a cashmere sweater.

  “Is it you?” Kelley blinked. “Dani?”

  “It is. It’s me.”

  “It’s you!” Squealing, Kelley wrapped her arms around Dani. “We all thought you were dead. I mean—you didn’t come to Erica’s…” Kelley glanced down before lifting her head again. “We didn’t know what to think when you didn’t come to—” she jerked up a shoulder, “you know.”

  Five seconds before someone gasped at the sight of her, and now the invisible elephant had just been alluded to. Her sister. That took a whole minute. Then again, Dani realized she was the second elephant in the room. It made sense the rumors were that she was dead. Ten years and not a word from her, but for the first elephant…Dani wasn’t ready to talk about it, not yet. She would, but not with her sister’s best friend. She was glad Kelley hadn’t had the balls to actually say the words of what ‘it’ was.

  She spoke before Kelley changed her mind. “I was on location for my job. Julia and Aunt Kathryn didn’t get in touch with me.” Though, if her oldest sister and aunt could’ve, she didn’t know if they actually would’ve.

  “You’re home? For good?” Kelley Lynn was still holding her hands, as if she feared Dani would run away.

  “For a bit, yeah.”

  “Me and Dave are having a grill tonight. You should come.” Her eyes lit up, and she squeezed Dani’s hands tighter. “Yeah. You should come. Julia’s bringing Jake. It’ll be the old gang, all back together again.”

  Julia and Jake? Dani felt a pang in her chest. It had been Erica and Jake.

  “The old gang?” Dani frowned. There’d been no ‘old gang,’ at least not one where she was included.

  “Oh.” Kelley’s smile lessened. “We all kind of regrouped, you know, after Erica’s thing.” Dani could almost hear an elephant trumpet in the background. Kelley was saying, “Julia, me, Katrina Lloyds, Heather Carlile, and some of the others all formed a clique. Kind of like in high school, but all we really do is get together for dinners and have a few beers around the campfire. Sometimes the girls will go shopping. It’d be great if you came.”

  Yeah. Dani’s smile grew painful. “I’ll think about it. First night and all, you know…” They both knew she wouldn’t go.

  “Oh.” Kelley’s smile was almost gone by now. “Well, you’re welcome, you know that. I want you to know that. Gosh. Have you been home yet? Have you seen Julia and Kathy?”

  “Not yet. I wanted to take care of some business first.”

  “They’re going to be so excited. I just know it. Julia’s going to die happy tonight. I’m sure they’ve been missing you so much.”

  “Well, they thought I was dead. So,” Dani’s eyes slid away. “There’s that.”

  “Okay.” She cleared her throat, gesturing to the door. “You know, I should get going. Dave needs all the steaks and brats before long. We have to start up the grill before the guests start arriving, and we need time to prepare everything.” A few steps away, she stopped and turned back. “It really is great to see you, Dani. Really.”

  Dani held up a hand in response as Kelley left, but she wasn’t smiling anymore. There was no reason.

  Maybe Kelley actually was happy to see her, but it wouldn’t last. She had been on Erica’s side back then and Dani had a hard time imagining things would be different now. If Julia was in her group, Dani knew things definitely wouldn’t be different. A line would be drawn, and sides would be chosen. Kelley wouldn’t choose hers, so the jaded side of Dani knew what was genuine wouldn’t last. It was just a matter of time.

  And with that thought, Dani moved forward to the counter.

  She was officially back home.

  After opening a new account (her last was closed because of the whole ‘dead’ thing), Dani headed to see the one person she thought would be happy to see her, and would never change that status.

  Her other aunt.

  And she heard as she headed inside Mae’s Grill, “Well, hell, the barn cat dragged something in here worthwhile, for once.”

  Mae slapped her bar towel over her shoulder and hurried around the bar counter. Dani had two seconds before she was hauled in for a bear hug. Fifty-three and Aunt Mae was still the feisty strong woman she always had been. When she was let go, Dani moved back so she could really see her. Steel-toe boots. Silver hair pulled into a haphazard ponytail. Checkered button-up shirt with a lacy tank top underneath and a tease of cleavage peeking out. And faded jeans.

  Same old Aunt Mae.

  There’d been a time when Mae was the only one Dani could lean on, and then there were times when the woman wasn’t anywhere in her life. She was glad that it seemed she got back the first version of Mae again. Dani hoped it would last, and she couldn’t hold back a grin. She had missed her. “Hi, Mae.”

  One of the regulars looked up from his drink. “I didn’t know you had a cat, Mae?”

  “I don’t. It’s a saying, Barney.” Her hands rested on Dani’s shoulders, shaking her lightly. “Christ’s sake, it’s about fucking time you got your skinny little behind back to these parts. It’s been so long. Too long!” She threw her head back. “This calls for a celebration. What’ll you have? On the house!”

  “You don’t have a barn, Mae.
How’s you can have a barn cat?” Barney mumbled, dipping over his drink.

  She rounded on him. “I got a barn. Why don’t you go look for it?”

  “Where’s it at abouts?”

  “Right behind here. Go take a look-see. Tell me when you find me that barn cat of mine. I’d like him back someday.”

  “Are you joshing me, Mae?”

  “Barney,” she sounded tired, “when do I ever josh you? You’d have to be sober for me to do that. Now git and find me that cat of mine.” She scooted around the counter, giving Dani a wink.

  “Mmkay, but if your barn cat scratches me, and I have to get me some tetanus shots, you’re paying, Mae. Just laying the law down there.” He almost fell off his stool as he got to his feet.

  He was a keen negotiator.

  As he stumbled out the back, another guy at the bar lifted up his beer. “Mae, that was cruel even for you. You don’t have a barn, or a cat.” He was hunched over, sitting toward the middle of the counter. Dani couldn’t see him clearly since half the lights were turned off inside the bar, but she could make out a flannel shirt, dark hair lined with grey strands, and a small beard on his face.

  “Shut it, Jeffries, and drink your beer while I’m still giving it to you.”

  He saluted and drank. “Shutting it.”

  “So, what finally brought your ever-pretty mug back to these whereabouts? And don’t think you ain’t getting off that easy. I know you don’t like to say much, never did, but you better start yapping or your Aunt Mae is going to get pissed. Might have to make a phone call to my sister.” She cringed. “Never mind on that. I couldn’t handle Kathryn when you were here. I know I won’t be able to now.” She winked and then sobered, leaning closer. She softened her voice. “Seriously, I’m glad as hell that you’re back. About time, if you ask me. How are you going to break the news to that sister of yours? She’ll have some words for you, especially since you missed your sister’s funeral.”

  Your sister’s funeral.

  When Mae kept going, not giving her time to answer.

  Kelley’s words from the bank echoed alongside. You didn’t come to Erica’s…

  There it was.

  But I thought…

  Mae was still talking. “—She’s going to light into you. You better have a good excuse ready, though I don’t think it’ll work.”

  Yeah. A good excuse. Dani cleared her throat. “I didn’t know about Erica’s death when it happened. I couldn’t come for the funeral. I’ll tell Julia that when I see her.”

  “That’s not going to fly. She’s going to say you didn’t tell anyone where you were, and it’ll be your fault. They’ll turn everything on you. You know that.” Mae had a keen eye on her. “Well, I’m guessing this isn’t the first you heard about your sister’s death. You’d be shaken and you’re not. How did you find out?”

  That was a whole other conversation as well. “Just heard around, you know. What’s done is done.”

  “That why you’re here?” Aunt Mae continued to study her niece.

  “Just time to come back.” Dani motioned toward the liquor bottles. She was suddenly parched. “I’ll have a rum and diet.”

  “Ah hell, don’t go breaking your aunt’s heart. You’ll have a beer on tap, not some diet soda crap.”

  Dani grinned. “I’ll take one of those then. Whatever you have on tap and need to get rid of.”

  Mae slid the drink across the bar. “That’s my girl.” A pause and a tap on the counter with her fingers. “So, you going out to see that sister of yours after this?”

  “I was wondering about a place to stay. I wouldn’t feel right about imposing on Julia and Aunt Kathryn.”

  Dani was lying, and Aunt Mae knew it. She wouldn’t step foot in that home if it were the last habitable place in the world.

  Mae nodded, approving. “You’ve grown some teeth. I can see it. You look good, too.”

  Dani flushed.

  She was fit and trim. Clear skin. Doe eyes, or that was how they’d been described to her by a boyfriend once and eyelashes that models would’ve killed for. Dani knew she looked good, but she also knew it’d cause problems. It was another reason to steer clear from her last remaining sister, but that was a problem for a different day. “How about a place to crash for a while?”

  “There’s my place. You’re always welcome there, but if you’re looking for some privacy, the cabin’s open, too.”

  A three-bedroom, log cabin on a corner of Loon Lake and protected by miles of woods on both sides. It was out in the middle of nowhere, and that sounded perfect. It was exactly what Dani needed.

  “Sounds good. Thank you so much.” She sipped the rest of her drink.

  “Do me a favor.” Mae rested a hand on the counter, pointing to where Dani was sitting. “I remember how you used to be, always ready to go off on your own, but stay a while. You only got fighting to look forward to right now.”

  Put that way…Dani stayed sitting.

  A settled atmosphere ascended the bar for a moment, but the front door opened up. Sunlight lit up a path inside, hitting right onto Dani’s back, and the peaceful feeling was suddenly gone. She tensed, and then the door slammed shut. The room was cast into darkness for a moment.

  “Hey, Mae.”

  The voice was smooth and silky, and Dani recognized it immediately.

  Jonah Bannon.

  He was the badass in high school, always ditching class and fighting when he was there. She didn’t know much about him because they ran in different circles. She did know that even back then, he’d been gorgeous. He was literally a lean mean machine, and glancing from the corner of her eye, Dani saw that hadn’t changed. There was a bit more recklessness built into the twitch of his jaw. His hands were tan and strong. Firm. A bit rough from working, but a person could tell the fitness underneath those clothes.

  Jonah’s infamous body couldn’t be hidden.

  The only other difference she could see was that his ruffled curls were shaven for a clean-cut, buzzed look. They had been rich and thick before.

  The new haircut agreed with him.

  “Can I get a beer?” Putting some money onto the counter, he hopped on a stool three down from Dani. “And who owns that Mustang in your parking lot?”

  Aunt Mae reached for a bottle. She glanced to Dani underneath her eyelids as she set it before him, then waited a minute before commenting, “No can do, Jonah. My loyalties lie elsewhere on that topic.”

  He had reached for the bottle, but held it suspended in the air now. “You kidding?”

  She shook her head. “Nope. ’Fraid not. I know for certain that owner won’t want you bothering him. Can’t tell you a thing.”

  The back door slammed shut, and a second later Barney appeared, holding a bleeding arm to his chest. “Mae, I didn’t find a barn back there, but I’m pretty sure I found your cat. He didn’t take a likin’ to me. You might need to pay up on that tetanus shot you offered.”

  Mae cursed, grabbing his arm. “I don’t have a barn cat. I was just messing with you.”

  “You were?” He sounded like an insulted four year old. “But you said you weren’t.”

  “That’s the whole point. You don’t admit to it when you’re doing it.” She started probing his wound.

  “Ouch, Mae! That hurt.”

  “We need to clean this so you don’t get an infection. Jeffries, watch the bar for a while?”

  He lifted his hand in the air. “Sure thing, Mae.” Then he pretended to zip his lips. “And look, still shutting it.”

  She rolled her eyes, pulling Barney to the back. “Come on. Let’s clean this up.”

  “You make sure that’s all you’re cleaning up.”

  “Thought you were shutting it, Jeffries?” Mae shouted over her shoulder.

  “Doing so again. It was a temporary error.” He saluted and took another drink.

  As they disappeared into a back area, Jonah asked, “Hey, who owns that Mustang out front?”

ries shrugged and took a drink. “You got me there.” His eyes slid toward Dani and a hint of a smile lingered there, just a hint. “I haven’t seen a vehicle like that around for a long time, not since Mae’s little niece took off.”

  Jonah frowned. “You mean Erica and Julia’s sister? That niece?”

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