If you are a new reader here, I share a chapter from my WIP each Friday, and sometimes Saturday, on my blog. There are typos, grammatical issues and even plot holes at times because this is a first, second, or third draft that hasn’t gone to my editor (eh, husband) yet. If you see a typo, feel free to kindly let me know in the comments. Sometimes the error has already been fixed on my copy, sometimes not.
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Jason closed his eyes and immediately opened them again. He stared into the darkness of his bedroom until colors swirled in front of him. Sleep was not coming. It had barely come in four days. Every time he closed his eyes, he heard the cries of Anne Weatherly asking for her husband, saw the flames devour their cozy home with John inside.
He draped his bare arm over his eyes, wished sleep would come.
How could he not have known John was inside? How could he not have understood what Ann was trying to tell him?
Her voice had been so weak, and Jason had assumed she was calling for John, wanting him to come back from wherever he was to be with her during her time of fear. Instead, she’d been trying to tell Jason her husband was lying on the kitchen floor, unconscious or injured somehow.
Jason clenched his fist tight, gritted his teeth. He punched the surface of the mattress next to him.
He’d wanted to go back into the building, but it was too late. Flames had shot up through the structure, consuming it within seconds.
“You did all you could, Jason.” Cody’s words echoed in his mind, but he didn’t believe them.
He could have done more. He could have found John before the state police fire marshal did, or what was left of him under the ash and charred remains of the house.
God, why did you let this happen? They were good people. They didn’t deserve this.
After another hour without sleep, he tossed the sheets aside and walked downstairs, pouring himself a glass of milk, and turning on the TV.
What a week.
What a soul-sucking, demoralizing, atrocious week.
If he wasn’t hearing the panicked voice in his mind, he was hearing Ellie ask him in hurt voice how he could have told their pastor about their “personal failings.” She hadn’t used those words, but he knew what she meant. He had betrayed their privacy. Her privacy. He certainly didn’t feel good about that.
He guzzled more of the milk and scoffed.
“Personal failings.” He said the words mockingly.
That’s what he apparently had to refer to his desire for Ellie as. He was a failure for wanting to sleep with Ellie. He pressed his hand against his forehead.
He knew that’s not what he was a failure for. He wasn’t a failure for desiring Ellie or for letting his hands slide where they shouldn’t have more than once. He’d asked God to forgive him for anything he shouldn’t have done with Ellie.
What he was a failure for was not telling Ellie about Lauren, for apologizing but then demanding that she forgive him. He’d never really asked her how she really felt about it all. Mainly because he was selfish. Instead of coming along beside her and walking through the pain with her, he’d wanted to avoid having to hear again and again how he had hurt her, so he hadn’t pushed her to tell him how she really felt. Not until they were sitting in front of their pastor. The shame of that conversation weighed heavy on his heart, adding to the shame and guilt already there.
He set the empty glass on the coffee table, closed his eyes, and pressed his fingertips against his temples, massaging them. If only massaging would take the pain away, the pain in his head and his heart.
He’d told Ellie more than once in the last seven and a half months that he wasn’t going to apologize for his mistake for the rest of his life.
He would apologize for the rest of his life if it meant he could spend that life taking care of her like he’d wanted to since they were 18.
He flipped channels for another hour, then got dressed and headed to the farm. He might as well start his day. It wasn’t like he was going to get anymore sleep and he had the goat barn to finish before his dad picked up the livestock the next week.
A light from the barn window glowed a soft orange, casting a square pattern of brightness onto the dark grass outside.
Who else was up at this hour? It was too early to start the milking.
Robert met Jason in the barn doorway, wiping his hands on a rag.
“Something wrong?” Jason asked.
Robert shook his head as he turned to walk into the barn. “Not anymore. Marshmallow was having a hard time calving. Big bull. Breach. I got him turned.”
Jason followed him, yawning. Robert stopped at the sink, turned the water on full blast and soaped his arms up to his elbows, red smearing with white and leaving a pink tinged coating. “I was getting ready to wash up when I heard your truck. Stepped out to see who else was up this early.”
Jason rubbed at his dry eyes. “Just your crazy son.”
Robert laughed, drying off his arms and hands. “Crazy? Nah. A man with a propensity to work too hard. Yes.”
Jason laughed and shook his head, reaching for the tractor key by the door. “You have no room to talk, old man, and you know it. You work from sunup, or in most cases before the sun is up, to sundown or longer. You don’t even know the meaning of slowing down.” He tapped his dad’s arm with the back of his hand. “Not even a tractor landing on you was enough to slow you down.”
Robert rolled his shirtsleeves down, buttoning them at the wrist. “If only that was true. I tell you, kid, I’ve never felt as old as I have these last seven months. I’m only just feeling like my old self again.”
It was too early to feed the cows, but he could begin preparing the calf feed. Molly would be there in a couple of hours to feed them.
“I’m seeing that old spark returning, I can tell you that. Why don’t you head in and catch a couple more hours of rest, though? Alex and Molly will be here soon, and we can handle the morning chores.”
Robert dumped the dirty water bucket outside the barn door. “I might just take you up on that. But actually, I’m glad to catch you alone for once.” He leaned his side against the supporting beam next to the entrance of the milking parlor and folded his arms across his chest. “How are you doing, Jason?”
Jason shrugged a shoulder as he turned to look for the scraper. He could scrap the center aisle clean before the cows were led out of their stalls. “Fine.”
“You know that in women speak fine means not fine and I have a feeling it means the same thing in Jason speak.”
“You calling me a woman, Dad?”
A smile tugged at Robert’s mouth. “Very funny. No. I’m calling you a liar.”
“Ouch. I think I’d rather be called a woman.” Jason made a face. “Actually, this conversation is starting to sound very sexist. Sorry about that.”
He moved to the watering trough, dumped it onto the barn floor, and pressed the button to refill it. “This purchase was a good one.” Refilling the trough automatically was a lot more efficient than doing it manually.
“Don’t change the subject, kid. How are you?”
Jason rested his hands on his waist as he waited for the trough to refill, watching the water swirl from the spout and rise. He chewed on the edge of his lip and tried to decide how to answer.
“I’m struggling,” he said finally. “Between Ellie, the fire, trying to build the goat barn, hiring an architect for the new milking parlor, and keep this place running — it’s been hard.” He shrugged a shoulder. “I’ll get through it, though. Eventually.”
Robert crossed one leg over the other, propping the toe of his boot against the floor. “You don’t have to get through it alone, you know. Your family is here for you. Me and your mom. Molly and Alex. Even your aunts and uncles and cousins. More importantly though, God is for you.”
He thought to himself how he wasn’t so sure about at least one of his cousins being there for him. He thought about Brad’s car parked outside Ellie’s apartment the other day. I think he’d rather be there for my ex.
He pressed the button to turn the water off. “For me and not against me. Yeah. I know that verse, but it’s hard to see it right now.”
“There are seasons like that, certainly, but eventually, we see the places where God was still with us, even when we thought he wasn’t.” He tipped his head, trying to catch Jason’s eye. “You aren’t to blame for John’s death. You know that, right?”
Jason looked away from his dad, turning toward the back of the barn, staring at the stalls in silence. Emotion caught in his throat when he tried to speak.
“You’re not,” Robert said. “His death was an accident. There was no way you could have known he was in there.”
Jason nodded, but didn’t turn around. “Okay,” was all he could manage.
“Ann’s doing well. She’s been staying with her sister over in Brockwood. I ran into Mary at the store the other day and she said she might move into Twin Oaks.”
Jason’s chest tightened at the mention of Ann. How much did she blame him for the loss of her husband? How angry was she that he wouldn’t listen to her when she tried to tell him where John was? Twin Oaks was a retirement community featuring a collection of condominiums.
“That will be a big change for her.”
“It will be, but she’ll be with friends who can comfort her, including your grandparents.”
Jason nodded. His maternal grandparents had moved into Twin Oaks seven years ago, leaving their house to Annie. Jason had moved into the house shortly after they moved. Alex had come to live with him a year later.
“Jason.” His dad’s hand on his shoulder was firm. “Don’t hold all of this inside. If you can’t talk to me, talk to Alex or Pastor Joe. Someone. I’ve been there. A few times. You know that and holding it in did nothing but make me angry and bitter. I don’t know the specifics of what happened with you and Ellie, but I know you have a lot of guilt about whatever it is and —”
“I slept with a girl in college after Ellie and I broke up.”
Robert slid his hands in his front pockets and tipped his face toward the barn floor. “I see.”
Jason faced his dad and pulled his hand against the back of his neck. “It was a dark time for me. I was lonely, questioning a lot of things. . .” He shook his head and slid a hand across his face, wishing he hadn’t even started telling his dad about his past. “There was a girl who came on strong, invited me to a couple of parties, I was drunk one night, and I messed up. I regretted it immediately. I never did anything like it again.”
Robert let out a long breath. “And Ellie overheard you talking to Alex about it.”
“Yeah. She overheard us talking about it one afternoon. A few days after she thought I’d proposed to her.”
“She thought you proposed to her?”
Jason laughed softly, rubbing the side of his index finger under his bottom lip, against the stubble there. “Long story, but I was getting ready to tell her about the other thing, she thought I was going to propose, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her I hadn’t been planning on proposing. Not that night anyhow. I needed to talk to her first.”
“Oh. I see. That’s why we didn’t know about the proposal.”
“We were going to tell everyone around the time of the firemen’s banquet but then she found out, your accident happened, and I didn’t know if we were still engaged or not.” Jason scratched at the back of his head. “And obviously, we weren’t and aren’t.”
Robert’s eyebrows dipped, and Jason braced himself for more questions. He didn’t want to answer more questions. This conversation was awkward enough. “So, this situation in college happened once and not while you two were dating?”
Jason shook his head again. “No, but Ellie worries that since I didn’t tell her about this, maybe there are other things I didn’t tell her.”
“Other than the fact I like Mom’s apple pie better than hers, no.”
Robert laughed. “Your mom’s pie is hard to beat.” He shifted and looped his thumbs in his belt loops. “Kid, you know your mistake doesn’t define you, right? Or your relationship with Ellie. From what I’ve seen of you, all these years since, it already hasn’t defined you. You’re a good man who took a wrong turn. You made a terrible decision. Good works isn’t how you dig yourself out of the shame, though. Only God can do that.”
A smile tugged at the corner of Jason’s mouth. “I know, Dad. I do. I just have to keep reminding myself of everything you and Mom have taught me about God and everything I’ve learned in church. Sometimes it’s hard to apply to real life. But while I’m reminding myself, you should probably listen to your own lessons. The accident and your injury doesn’t define you either.”
Robert shook his head and whistled, sliding his hands in his front pant pockets. “Ouch. It’s been that obvious, huh?”
“That you blame yourself for riding out there that day when the hill was wet from the rain? That you think you should be healing faster? That you feel like you aren’t helping enough because your leg has slowed you down some? That you work and work and work to try to prove you’re still the man mom married? Yeah. It’s pretty obvious.”
Robert winced, pinching his nose between his index finger and thumb as he closed his eyes. “Wow. I didn’t know I was that transparent.”
He stepped away from the beam and turned his back for a few moments, breathing deep. When he turned, he walked to Jason, reached up and placed his hand behind Jason’s head, his eyes glistening.
“Beyond my wildest dreams. That’s what you are. A son comforting his father with the reminder of God’s truth.” He pulled Jason against him and hugged him tight. “I am blessed.”
Jason hugged his dad for a few seconds, then pulled back and let out a deep breath. “Enough of that, old man. You’ll have us both crying like a bunch of women.”
Robert slapped him on the back. “That might not be a bad thing considering what a gift women are to us. We could learn a thing or two from them.”
Jason turned to walk back toward the feed room. “Yes, we could. We definitely could.”
Like how to listen to them and not only in words.
Every time Ellie told him how his decision in college made her feel, he’d apologized, but then he’d also mentally dismissed what she’d said. He’d wanted nothing more than to avoid feeling the guilt and the shame. He’d excused it away time after time by saying it was a mistake, that he’d made a mistake and he knew it.
It was true.
What happened with Lauren was a mistake, but it was also a decision, albeit a drunken one. There was part of him that had never really accepted his own part in that night. He had blamed Lauren, Ellie, and alcohol instead of accepting that it was wrong thinking that had led him down that path. He’d felt God had abandoned him in college right along with Ellie, but he’d been wrong. God had never abandoned him and never would, even if Ellie never wanted anything to do with him again.
Ellie looked at her phone, picked it up, stared at it, and laid it back on the counter, face down.
She should call him. She knew she should. She had called Molly and asked about Jason, but hadn’t worked up the courage to call him yet. Not after what she’d seen in the hallway at the hospital.
It wasn’t like it was a full-on make-out session, so why was she worried? Maybe because if he’d fallen into the arms of another woman, she’d understand why.
What would she even say if she called him?
“Hey, there, Jase, I know we just had a screaming match a few days ago and you’re grieving but — how are you?”
No. She couldn’t call.
Maybe a text.
A text was so impersonal. But they were broken up, so how personal should she be?
Still, they’d known each other most of their lives and he’d been her best friend for the past 12 years.
She huffed a breath out, blowing her hair out of her eyes.
She hadn’t even bothered to brush it tonight. Wearing a pair of Judi’s sweatpants and an old sweatshirt from her college, she didn’t feel like herself, but after she’d left the hospital that day she hadn’t been able to focus on anything and had completely forgot to do her laundry.
Her only bright spot had been Timmy Murray. He’d kept her laughing when she wanted to cry.
“Miss Ellie, my brother says if I pick my nose, I’ll hit my brain. Is that true?”
“No, hon’. You will not hit your brain. However, you might make it sore in there so you might want to back off for a while. Maybe you can try blowing your nose.”
“I did once but Billy said the stuff in the tissue was brain.”
“Oh gosh. Well, no, Billy’s just trying to scare you. It’s mucous, not brain.”
Ellie shook her head at the memory of the conversation. She had a feeling his parents must have a lot of moments when they had to stifle their laughs around him. If she ever could have children, she hoped they were as entertaining as Timmy.
She snatched up the phone and typed out a message, erased it, typed it again.
Hey, I heard about the fire. I just wanted to let you know I’m praying for you.
There. She did it. Now he wouldn’t feel like he had to talk to her or even respond to her.
She pulled a pot out from under the stove and filled it with water. Time for a pasta night. Something simple, with little fuss and little muss.
Muss. What did that even mean? Why did people say that when the word was mess?
She shook her head and waited for the water to boil, glancing at her phone. No reply.
Muss. Muss. Now it was bothering her. She picked up the phone and conducted an internet search.
“Muss. A game in which players scramble for small objects thrown at the ground.”
Huh? She scanned further down the page.
“Muss. A state of disorder.”
Ah, yes. That sounded exactly like her life right now. Definitely a muss.
A half an hour later she was sitting on the couch, pasta in a bowl, watching an old movie, trying not to look at her phone. Maybe he didn’t care if she cared. Maybe this other woman was filling the void she’d left.
Speaking of not caring, she was trying not to care where Judi was — again. Out at another friend’s house, most likely. Or maybe a new friend. Maybe someone like that man on her social media account.
Had Judi really done all those things with him he’d listed in the caption?
A sick feeling settled in Ellie’s stomach, and she slid the bowl onto the coffee table. The idea of that man treating Judi like she was simply someone to bed for a night and move on from made her heart ache. It also chased away her appetite.
The ding of the phone startled her. She reached for it but laid her hand on it instead of picking it up, afraid to turn it over. What if he was yelling at her again?
Maybe his response would be something along the lines of, “Why are you even bothering to check on me? I know you don’t care.”
He probably thought she didn’t care about him. She certainly hadn’t acted like she did for half a year.
Slowly, she lifted it and swiped it open.
Jason: Hey, sorry for not answering right way. Contractor messed up the foundation on the goat enclosure. Trying to figure out how to fix it. Had dad on the other line. The feed mixer also broke down again. Had to call Walt because he’s the expert there.
She let out a breath, took a sip of water, and typed a response, mentally chiding herself for feeling nervous. This was the man she’d planned to spend the rest of her life with at one point. Why did it feel like they were in high school again, with her wondering if he’d ever ask her out?
Ellie: The fun never stops for us farmers does it?
Jason: Us farmers? Thought you were a city girl now. J/k I know you’ll always be a farm girl at heart.
Ellie: You take the girl off the farm, but you can’t take the love of farming out of the girl.
She paused her movie, stared for a few moments at Ginger Rogers frozen in place, mid-dance step. That’s how she felt, holding this phone, trying to figure out how to communicate with the other half of her heart. The other half who had been so angry at her a few days ago, he’d walked away, leaving her alone and crying.
The man who hadn’t apologized to her, but who had been through something terrible and who she cared about.
Jason: Thanks for checking on me. I’m okay. Cody said you were looking for me.
Ellie: I was. I stopped at the hospital to check on you, but I must have missed you.
Jason: Yeah, it was just a couple of quick stitches. I was out of there pretty fast.
Should she be open with him? Even though there were times he hadn’t been open with her. Yes, she should be. Closing themselves off to each other hadn’t helped in the past and it wouldn’t now.
Ellie: Actually, I need to be honest. I didn’t miss you at the hospital. I saw you there with some woman and I didn’t know if I should interrupt.
She chewed a fingernail and propped her feet on the coffee table, then remembered how she hated scuff marks on the coffee table. She scrubbed at the marks while she waited.
Two minutes passed. Three. Now four.
He wasn’t answering.
She rubbed her hands across her face and took a deep breath, blowing it out as she fell back against the couch, clutching the phone against her chest. She practically dropped the phone when it dinged ten minutes later.
Jason: Sorry dropped my phone in a cow stall. Had to wipe it off. Then had to punch Alex for laughing at me. Anyhow . . . Some woman?
Jason: Oh, Brittany.
She read the text out loud. “Oh, Brittany?”
Jason: Hold on. Can I call?
Oh, Brittany. What did that mean? She stared at his name on the caller ID when the phone rang and took a deep breath. Time to find out who “Oh Brittany” was. She tapped the accept button.
“Hey.” Hearing his voice on the other end made her stomach tighten — in a good way. There was her heart, trying to override her brain again. “I didn’t want any more misunderstandings and we both know how easily that can happen in a text. Brittany works on the ambulance. She’s, well, . . . she’s Brittany. Flirts a lot. She was on a transport when she heard about the fire. She stopped by to check on me and yeah, she’s a little too hands on at times if you know what I mean.
Was he telling the truth? She wanted to believe he was. She laughed before she answered, trying to relieve the tension. “Yeah. I do know what you mean. She’s probably a lot like Judi.”
Jason winced through the phone. “Maybe not that bad. How’s she doing anyhow?”
“Wouldn’t know. I rarely see her.”
“Denny said you don’t even know why she’s here?”
“No. No idea.”
She thought about the photos of Judi and the man. Maybe her extended visit had something to do with him.
A period of silence followed before Jason spoke again.
“El, about Sunday . . . I’m —”
The banging of the front door against the apartment wall coaxed a muffled scream from Ellie, and she stood, bracing herself for an intruder.
“Eeeeellllllleeeeeee. I’m hooooooooome.”
Ellie pressed her hand to her forehead, fear fading quickly into frustration.
“Ellie, you okay?” Jason’s voice was full of alarm. “Is that Judi?”
“Yeah. Um. I’d better go deal with her. She and I need to talk.” She held her hand over the mouthpiece of the phone. “And I think she’s drunk.”
“Sounds like I better offer up a few prayers for you too.”
“More than a few at this point.”
Her smile disappeared once she slid the end call button. She stared at her sister’s disheveled hair, untucked shirt, and dirt smudged knee-high boots.
“Oh, Ellie, you look upset.” Judi pushed her lower lip out, slamming the door behind her. “Was your Bible study canceled? Was your favorite worship song pulled out of rotation on Family Life?”
Judi must have thought her joke was super funny because she doubled over, hands on her knees, and let out a manical laugh that sent chills up Ellie’s spine.
“Enough is enough, Judi. What is going on with you? What are you even doing back in Spencer? And what is with all this going out every night and drinking?”
In an instant Judi’s laughter disappeared and she glared, her face squished in disgust. She stumbled toward the kitchen. “You’re not my mother, Ellie.”
“No, I’’m not our mother. Our mother would be heartbroken to see you this way.”
Judi opened the carton of orange juice and took a swing. “Our mother wouldn’t care because all she’s ever cared about is you, Ellie.”
Ellie shook her head, confused. “That’s not true, Judi. When did you start believing these lies you’ve been telling yourself? Mom and Dad love you. They’ve been worried about you up in the city but they wanted you to be where you were happy.” Judi scoffed as Ellie stepped toward the kitchen. “Are you?” Ellie asked. “Happy? Because you’ve seemed pretty miserable since you’ve been here.”
Judi attempted another drink of juice, but it poured from the edges, down her chin.
“I’m having fun,” she snarled. “Something you should try sometime.”
Ellie stepped quickly toward the counter and wrenched the carton from Judi’s hands. “Stop it. You’re drunk and making a mess. Go sleep it off.”
“Go sleep it off. Go sleep it off. Blah. Blah. Blah.” Judi mocked her sister, holding her hands up and making them talk like a puppet. “Don’t you ever stop trying to boss people around? Is that what happened with Jason? You bossed him around too much?”
Ellie grabbed her sister under the arm, propelling her around the island and down the hallway. “That’s enough, Judi. It’s none of your business what happened with Jason. You need to go lay down.”
Judi wrenched away, knocking Ellie backward against the wall. “I don’t need to do anything you tell me! Miss Perfect. That’s what you are.” She pointed an accusatory finger in Ellie’s direction. “Perfect daughter, perfect girlfriend, perfect Bible girl, S-s-Sunday school student, w-wh-whatever you call it. Who cares? You know? Who cares about you and you’re-you’re perfect life, Elizabeth Miss Perfect Pants. That’s been my whole life. Always trying to be like my perfect older sister. I never could be because I wasn’t as smart as her, as pretty as her, and the only thing boys ever wanted me for was to sleep with and leave me. That’s all I was ever good for.”
Ellie’s chest tightened, her rate increased. How long had her sister felt this way? That she wasn’t enough? That she was inferior?
“Judi, I’m not perfect. You never had to try to measure up to me. Mom and Dad —”
“Mom and Dad always talked about how good you were. How sweet you were. How quiet and demure you were. D-d-mmuuure. Yes, even stupid Judi knows big words.”
Emotion clutched at Ellie’s throat. The anger she’d been battling for weeks fell away, replaced by sorrow. How had she not realized how much Judi was hurting?
She’d let her own problems overshadow everything else, distract her from seeing that Judi’s biting sarcasm and attempts to start fights with her were because she was feeling rejected, maybe even abandoned.
“Judi, I’m sorry you felt that way. I never knew. Why didn’t you —”
“What? Say something? Yeah, right. You would have said none of it was true and I was listening to lies from the devil. The Devil. You blame everything on him instead of taking some of the blame yourself.” She shook her head, waving her hand back and forth in the air. “No. No. I don’t want to talk about any of this right now.” She pushed past Ellie, almost tripping. “Don’t try to apologize. I’m not going to bother you anymore. I’m going out with Brad.”
“Judi, you’re drunk. You can’t drive. How did you even get here?”
“Brad drove me here. He’s waiting for me outside. He’s sober. Not that it’s any of your business. I came in to change my outfit.”
Judi staggered into the room she was staying in and slammed the door.
Ellie raked her hand through her hair and noticed it was trembling. What if Judi was lying about Brad? She’d seen him that night at the club and she’d driven them home then, too. There was a very good chance either he or Judi were lying about how much he’d already had to drink.
Judi swung the door open and breezed past her wearing a too-tight black mini-skirt and a low cut red tank top. Knee-high boots completed the outfit.
Ellie followed her into the living room. “I’ll drive you and Brad.”
Judi swung around and stuck her tongue out like a toddler. “No.” She spoke like a toddler too, grating on Ellie’s nerves. “We don’t want you. You’re a total downer and a prude.”
Ellie took another deep breath and tried to calm the anger boiling inside her. Judi was lost and hurting. She needed compassion, not scolding. For now, anyhow.
She did her best to speak calmly and confidently, even though she didn’t feel either of those attributes at the moment. “Judi, I’ll be the designated driver, okay?” She snatched her purse off the chair. “Where are you two going? I’m sure it will be fun. I could use a night out too.”
Judi folded her arms across her chest, cocking one leg to the side, her eyes narrowing, “Oh you could, could you? Well, we’re going The Rusty Nail in Brickwood. They’re having a grand reopening. New owners. There will be alcohol. And dancing. And men. All the things you don’t like.”
Ellie tightened her grip on her purse and brushed past Judi to grab her keys off the keyholder by the door. “Come on. I’ll talk to Brad about taking my car. I’m sure he’ll agree when he knows it means he can drink as much as he wants.”
Judi smirked. “Okay, then. Fine. You can be our chauffeur. I don’t have any problem with sitting in the back with Brad.”
Ellie tightened her jaw and forced the edges of her mouth upward as she opened the front door. She tried not to think about what the pair could get up to in the backseat during the 40-minute drive to The Rusty Nail.