Author: Rachel Brookes
A kickass home décor boutique – tick
A sassy mouth and absolutely no filter – tick
A wall so strong no man could ever tear it down – tick, tick, tick!
Or so I thought.
Until I meet Detective Ben Hunt, the owner of exquisite blue eyes, a god-like physique and a seductive smirk that makes me weak at the knees. He charges into my life like a force of nature. No matter how hard I try to keep the walls up around my heart, he’s made it his mission to shatter them. I have no chance of resisting him, but I would make sure I won this tug of war.
Which was what I wanted.
Right? When did the idea of losing myself to him start to sound so good?
I wish Ben was the only battle I faced. There’s a reason this small town needs a good detective. One way or another I’m going to have to brace for impact, because no wall I build can stop the new threat thundering toward Monroe.
After all, secrets only stay a secret for so long around here.
I shrugged off my bag, dropped it on the couch, and then strolled through the house, listening for any signs of where my mom was.
As soon as I walked into the kitchen, I stopped. The familiar aroma of chocolate didn’t greet me, and my mom’s perfume didn’t linger in the air. I turned around quickly and looked to the counter where a fresh plate of brownies always sat on Friday afternoons. But today, for the first time, there was nothing.
I left the kitchen and searched the house.
Living room. Empty.
Dining room. Empty.
I began to panic. After school, I never arrived home to an empty house. Mom made it very clear that she’d always be here when Drew and I got home. For as long as I could remember, she’d told us that her favorite thing about being a Mom was being able to be home for us.
Now she wasn’t here.
I jumped at Dad’s voice calling my name behind me. I turned quickly, smiling, expecting to find Dad and Mom together. As soon as I saw him on his own, my smile fell. He stood in the foyer with his arms folded across his chest, and he didn’t look like my Dad. He looked like a shadow of himself. His eyes would always twinkle when he looked at me, but now they showed nothing but sadness.
“Where’s mom?” I asked as my heart raced.
“Come here, Sash,” Dad said low, his voice cracking.
Hesitantly, I moved toward him. When I was within reach, his hand shot out and grabbed mine and I was pulled toward him.
“Dad, what’s going on?”
We moved through the house in silence. Every step I took, my anxiety soared and my confusion grew. What was going on? Dad held open the back door, and I stepped out onto the porch. Drew leaned against the railing, looking out over the yard, but turned when he heard us arrive. His face was as blank as Dad’s.
I took a seat on the porch swing and held one of the yellow cushions Mom and I had purchased during one of our epic shopping trips close to my chest. “Where’s mom?” I asked softly. “What’s going on?”
If it were anyone else, including Dad, I would of thought he was at the store or at work, but not Mom. She was always here. Our family had traditions. Friday’s were our time.
Dad, Mom, Drew, and me.
“I love you more than anything, Sasha,” Dad said, his voice strangled with emotion and his eyes shimmering with tears. He sucked in a deep breath before saying the words that would forever change my life. “She’s gone, Baby Girl. She left.”
His words hit me hard.
My throat closed as his words sunk in. The tormented look shadowing his face didn’t lie, but I didn’t want to believe it. I wanted to believe there was some kind of mistake, but why would my Dad lie to me about something like this? Gone and left were final. There was no mistaking what they meant.
“Baby Girl, did you hear me?”
“What do you mean she’s gone?” I stammered, as the first tear fell over my cheek.
Dad wrapped his arms around me and hauled me against his chest. The usual comfort his arms provided had no chance of healing the hurt spiraling through me.
There was no way she’d leave. Why would she have told me this morning that she breathed for us? That her heart beat for us. My mother was everything I dreamt of becoming, and now I was being told she was gone?
“This can’t be real.” I shook my head. “There has to be a mistake.” My voice became more frantic and louder with every word. “How do you even know she’s gone? Maybe she’s just at the store. Or popped into work.”
I was clutching onto anything that would lessen the pain tearing through me.
“She isn’t at the store.” Dad spoke softly. “She isn’t at Hamilton’s either.”
I tore myself away from Dad and ran back inside. I had to see for myself. I went into every room and found nothing. I hesitated outside my parent’s room and then slowly entered. The dresser was bare. Mom’s jewelry was gone, her favorite perfume gone, her lipstick gone. I stumbled into the closest and was smacked in the face with a brutal reality. Mom’s clothes, shoes, and her suitcase were gone.
Nothing was left.
Everything was gone.
Feeling numb, I walked into my room and lay on my bed. I buried my face in my pillow as the first sob left my chest. Tears saturated my pillow, and my chest ached from trying to catch my breath.
As I pulled the pillow closer, the crinkle of paper sounded. With shaking hands, I pulled out a folded piece of paper from beneath my pillow and held my breath as I saw my mom’s familiar handwriting. I inhaled sharply and unfolded it.
Please never forget how much I love you. You will always be in my heart, and every breath I take is for you.
The words became blurry as fresh tears hit my eyes. Why would she do this? My mother chose to leave me? Why wasn’t I enough? My chest screamed at me. The pain was excruciating, and I felt like my heart was going to stop.
I didn’t hear my bedroom door open and didn’t know anyone was in my room until I felt my bed dip beside me.
“Squirt, come here,” Drew whispered as he grabbed my hand and pulled me against his body.
I went willingly to him and crashed against his chest. His arms circled me, and I cried against his shirt, soaking the cotton with hot, heartbreaking tears.
“How could she do this?” I choked out through another wave of tears. “What did we do wrong?”
“We did nothing. You did nothing wrong.” The strength in his voice made me look up at him. “We are the Hamilton kids. We will get through this. I promise you, Sasha.”
My brother. My protector.
“I’ll never let anything or anyone hurt you again. You have my word and my protection for life.”
I believed him.