Just a note to regular readers: I will be putting this book up on Kindle on August 12. I’ve lowered the preorder price to $.99 so my blog readers can get it cheap and then once the book goes on sale I’ll be raising the price. I can also send a mobi or ePub version to you through Bookfunnel for free so if you are interested please let me know and either leave me your email here in the comments or send one to me at firstname.lastname@example.org so I can send it along August 12.
Bookfunnel will have you upload the book yourself to your reading app so if you prefer not to do that, you can do the option on Amazon. If you want a paperback, please order through me and I will mail you one. It will be cheaper than what Amazon charges for books (I only make about a $4 profit from what they charge).
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.
Catch up with the rest of the story HERE. Don’t feel like reading the book in a series of chapters each Friday? Preorder the book HERE. Do you want to read the first book in the series? Download it HERE.
Jason snatched up the scraper and walked toward the stalls, knowing without looking in a mirror his face was showcasing the happiness he felt inside. As soon as this job was finished, he was heading to town to see Ellie. His muscles tensed in anticipation at the thought of seeing her, holding her, kissing her. The fact she’d almost let him kiss her, despite everything, gave him a sense of hope he hadn’t had in months, and certainly hadn’t had at all earlier this week.
“Walt’s got the part we need for the skid steer.” His dad’s voice startled him out of his thoughts. “Can you head up and grab it when you’re done here?”
He smiled, not really thinking about the part at all. “Yeah. No problem.”
“Just be careful. Walt says the fire department is stopping cars at the bottom of the hill down from his place.”
Robert narrowed his eyes. “You okay, kid? You’re acting a little off. You seem a little — well, distracted.”
Jason propped the scraper against the wall and laughed. “Yeah. I’m okay. Really okay. I’m more than okay.”
Robert raised an eyebrow. “You drunk?”
Jason shook his head, catching the sparkle in his dad’s eye. “Only in love.”
“With Ellie still, I hope.”
Robert smiled as he walked toward the back of the barn. “Then carry on.”
A half an hour later Jason stretched his arms over his head and listened to the bones along his spine crack. He climbed in the truck, thinking about the night before, wishing he hadn’t had to deal with Brad. After he picked up the part for the skid steer, he was flooring it to the preschool and waiting for Ellie in the parking lot. He wasn’t about to let her out of his sight again.
He tapped her name on his phone before pulling out onto the road.
“Hey, this is Ellie. Leave me a message and I’ll be get back in touch with you as soon as I can.”
He smiled. Even her voicemail was sweet.
“Hey, El. It’s Jason. Thought maybe you’d like to grab lunch at Bonnie’s today? I’m heading to Walt’s for a part for the skid steer, have a couple more things to do at the farm, and then I can pick you up outside the school. I’ll try again in a bit and see what you think.”
He tossed the phone onto the passenger seat. Everything looked brighter today. The sun on the grass, its light filtering through the trees, leaving misshapen patterns on the road in front of him, the wild summer flowers blooming. The sky wasn’t totally blue, a few dark clouds were threatening rain, but even the clouds didn’t bring him down. His heart still ached over the loss of John but today his grief was buffered by hope. Hope for reconciliation with the woman he’d wanted to marry since he was 18-years old.
Blue and red lights blinked in front of him, and he pressed the brake, stopping when junior firefighter Nate Baker waved a white flag at him. Fire trucks, the vehicles of volunteer fire fighters, and an ambulance were parked in a line along the road.
He leaned his head toward his open window as Nate stepped toward him. “Hey, kid. What’s going on?”
Nate, 16-years old, jerked his head toward broken trees at the edge of the embankment. “Car over the bank. They’re down there checking it out now.”
Nate shrugged a shoulder. “Don’t know yet. They just told me to slow the traffic down.”
Jason studied the broken trees and rubbed his chin, rough from stubble. He’d been too distracted with thoughts of Ellie to shave this morning. “I’ll see if they need any help.” He reached out the window and pounded Nate on the shoulder. “Keep up the good work, bud.”
Shifting the truck into park he watched Cody walk through the broken trees toward the road. The fire chief looked up as Jason exited his truck, the expression on his face when he caught sight of Jason indecipherable. Jason narrowed his eyes, trying to read the chief’s expression. Was the accident fatal?
Cody met him at the top of the embankment, immediately placing his hands on Jason’s shoulders. “Jason, hey, what are you doing here?” He was breathless, sweat beading his brow.
“I was on my way to pick up something from my uncles and saw you guys here.” Jason craned his neck, looking over Cody’s shoulder. “Do you need help?”
Cody squeezed his shoulders, shaking his head and pushing gently until Jason was forced to take a couple steps back. “No. We’re good. We’ll call you if you we need you.”
Jason cocked an eyebrow. “What’s going on with you? You’re acting weird. Did I do something to upset you? Did you find out something about the fire?
Cody swung an arm around his shoulder and started walking, pulling Jason with him. “I’d tell you if I was upset with you. No worries there. And nothing about the fire. It’s just that we’ve just got this covered.”
Jason looked over Cody’s shoulder as they walked, looking through the leaves and tree limbs. He caught sight of the blue bumper of a car at the bottom of the embankment and stopped walking, pulling from Cody’s grip. “Whose car is that?”
“Jason, you need to go home, okay?”
Why had he even asked whose car it was? He knew whose car it was.
He ran full force toward the wooded area and was met by Denny and Kyle Barton on their way up the hill.
Denny’s eyes met his, his mood somber. “Jason, you need to stay up there.”
Jason shook his head, kept walking. “That’s Ellie’s car.”
The two men put up their hands to block him. “Jason, stay here until we —”
Jason was practically shouting now. “Where’s Ellie?” The men had their hands on him now, trying to hold him back. “Where is she?”
He pushed back against them, panic clutching at his throat until he could barely breathe. He broke past the men, pushing them aside, barreling through the underbrush and trees, briars cutting into his skin as he ran. He stopped running when he hit the clearing, stopped, breathing hard, and looked down at the creek bed.
Ellie’s car was on its roof, upside down in the water. Other volunteer fire fighters were making their way to it, pushing brush aside to get there, but it didn’t look like any of them had reached it yet. Behind him branches and twigs broke under the weight of the men who’d tried to keep him back.
“We haven’t gotten down there yet, Jason.” Cody shouted from behind him. “We were on our way down when Jay radioed that you’d pulled in. Stay here until we know what we’re dealing with.”
Jason shook his head. “No. I have to —”
Denny clutched a hand around his forearm. “Listen, Jason. If she’s in there, you don’t want to remember her this way. Okay?”
Jason yanked his arm free, walking forward. “If she’s in there, I need to get her out. No matter what —” His voice broke and he drew in a ragged breath. He shook his head, leaning forward on his knees, the scene before him blurring. His chest ached, tightened like a vice against his lungs.
Dragging the back of his hand across his face he straightened and started making his way over the boulders along the creek bank. Another firefighter, Will Barton, Kyle’s father, was standing behind the car and put his hand up to stop him, but Cody’s voice echoed among the trees.
“Let him go, Will.”
Will shook his head. “Not alone, I won’t.”
He placed a hand on Jason’s back, following him deeper into the water.
Water Jason’s shoes and jeans, but he didn’t even notice. He was vaguely aware of Cody and Denny and the other men navigating their way down the bank and boulders to join him. Otherwise, he was entirely focused on the smashed driver’s side window submerged part way in the water.
“Oh God,” he whispered. “God, help me bring my Ellie home to her family.”
The only way to see what was inside was to lean over. From where he was now, the water now thigh deep, he could only make out what looked like a sweater moving in the water, hanging through the window. He lowered himself, water rushing up over his lower body, trying to brace himself for whatever awaited, but knowing nothing could prepare him if Ellie was in there dead.
A sob choked out as he looked inside the window, at water ripping over the steering wheel and Ellie’s purse floating in the water below the passenger seat. His gaze moved from the front to the back of the car, and he straightened, shaking his head and pressing the heel of his palms against his closed eyes.
“Jason, I’m coming.” Denny shouted to him as he made his way over the rocks and through the water. “Don’t try to get her out until I get there.”
Jason sobbed again, trying to shake himself awake from the nightmare. This couldn’t be happening.
“She’s not here.”
Denny balanced himself on the side of the car. “What? What do you mean?”
Jason opened his eyes and looked at Denny, breathing hard. “She’s not here. The car’s empty.”