Authors: Cyndi Faria
A Promise Worth
Promises Collection, Book 2
Three months ago, Bailey Yant hadn’t understood the treacherous power of the Cosumnes River. How she could admire the water’s glassy surface one moment and then be trapped within the blackened undercurrents the next until a boy pulled her from the river’s watery embrace, teasingly urging her to join the high school’s junior varsity swim team.
Three weeks ago, she hadn’t imagined she would fall in love with that boy—a
, a college freshman, the neighbor her Uncle Mark forbade her to see.
Three nights ago, she hadn’t dared dream Tucker would meet her at
the boulder within the part of the river that straddled their lands, and present her with a necklace carrying a white, quarter-sized stone pendant to signify his promise to love her forever and to fulfill her dream of raising a family in Safe Haven someday.
According to Miwok legend,
guaranteed the wishes shared between lovers would come true. So she’d believed Tucker. She’d believed the family feud between the Yants and the Pierces would never, ever, ever tear them apart.
Tonight, after she’d received news she’d made the swim team, they’d planned a meeting to celebrate. At least, they were supposed to have met. Three hours ago. Tucker hadn’t shown. Now, with her heart racing like the rushing river, Bailey crossed the cobbled rapids onto Pierce land, thinking only of calming her fears and holding Tucker close.
The ten-foot-tall door stood like a sentinel guarding the Pierce estate. An owl
in the tree tops that cloaked the porch’s shingled awning. Leaves reflected the bright orange globe that hung overhead. Branches snapped, bushes shook their fronds, something small scurried about the corner of the porch—all loud enough to rake nails down her chalkboard nerves.
Her first knock barely rattled the front door. Because of the feud, her uncle had forbidden her from associating with the Pierces. She’d never met Tucker’s father in person…
Whether caused by the trek through the water or nerves, she wiped her slick palms across her dry shirt but couldn’t rid the tackiness. She glanced behind her to the naked driveway. Tucker usually parked his truck there, the oil stain as glassy as she imagined her moist eyes. Had he parked his car inside the garage?
Again, she knocked. Harder this time, until the pain in her knuckles breached the pain in her chest. She’d already peeked inside Tucker’s bedroom window and saw his backpack was missing, too. So was his letterman jacket. The one they’d used as a pillow for their heads when they’d laid on the
She knocked a third time, the force sending the little rodent into hiding.
From inside the house, light footsteps echoed when she expected a heavy
crack, crack, crack
on the hardwood floors.
A dark haired man with stark blue eyes opened the door and held her stare. Tucker’s image thirty years in the future stared back.
“Mr. Pierce, I’m—”
“I know who you are. And I know what you think you are to my boy.”
His terse words made her want to scamper away with that little mouse. Tucker must have told his father about their relationship—but why? She swallowed the fear and focused on her joy. Tucker had revealed their friendship! He wouldn’t have, unless he’d been ready to shout his love for her to the world. Had she given him the same courage? “Is Tucker here?”
Mr. Pierce sneered. “No.”
“Ah—I haven’t heard from him in a couple of days and I was wondering if—”
“I can see you’re worried.” He eased the door half way closed. “Don’t be. He doesn’t need your
in his life. Not anymore.”
She reeled back and gaped. Tucker had promised not to let the family feud come between them, but his father obviously wasn’t ready to let go of his undeserved rancor. Since the California Gold Rush, Copper Mountain and the division of land ownership had jabbed a thorn between the Yants and the Pierces. Frowning, she turned, not willing to let herself be poisoned by Mr. Pierce’s hatred. She’d go home and wait for Tucker to call…
Mr. Pierce’s words stopped her forward motions. Stopped her pulse as her chest clenched. She glared over her shoulder.
“Left us both. Off to college and out of this town. Better you know that truth now. He got what he wanted and what he wanted from you was never about love.”
Bailey froze at the man’s implication she’d had sex with Tucker when she hadn’t. Heat rolled over her face in angry waves, but her denial was swift. Mr. Pierce’s claim was a lie. But Tucker… Tucker hadn’t talked to her in three days. He hadn’t met her at the
. His truck was gone. His clothes… Had he abandoned her, just like her mother had, leaving her with an uncle the same day she’d first met Tucker?
Heart pounding, she staggered backward and almost fell off the single slick step.
“Tucker’s not coming back anytime soon. He’s moved on. Best you do the same and forget about him.” The door slammed shut.
Somehow, she managed to make her way home. For days, she waited. Weeks. Until finally, she wished she’d never met Tucker Pierce. Wished she’d drowned that day in the river. Wished she’d never given her heart to a
who’d never planned on keeping his promise.
A gunshot thundered through Miwok Canyon and Bailey Yant's breath fled her lungs like startled sparrows from a threat. A threat, like her decade-old memory of Tucker Pierce, she couldn’t escape. The blast came from the direction of his family’s property, jarring loose his promise to make her dreams come true. Instead, he’d left her shattered.
She clutched the wire roll and pliers to her chest. She’d been using the tools to repair a slice in the chain link that surrounded Safe Haven Tiger Preserve. She narrowed her eyes at the Pierce’s side of the Cosumnes River. Unfortunately, the hunting reserve abutted her sanctuary. And as the blast faded, unlike their opposing agendas, she walked the fence line—bending, crouching, swimming through brush in search of openings through which one of her tigers could escape. As of late, someone—she suspected Old Man Pierce, Tucker’s father—had targeted her refuge by slicing random holes in her fence. Although, the only proof she had was booted footprints stamped in the muddied earth.
Two month ago, after she’d filed a restraining order against Pierce Sr. for nearly running her off Crooked Bridge road, he’d warned her in arbitration: “A cat on my property is a dead cat. And I’ve set the bounty high.”
Only no tiger had ever breached her containment.
Soon after was when the trouble with Old Man Pierce began all over again. He upped his vigilance to claim her lands by threatening to shut down her tiger preserve. Copper Mountain, the one her prized tiger was named after, literally loomed over her daily—a harmless reminder of land she’d never have.
Still, Pierce land teased her tigers, teased her mind to fondle the reason for Tucker’s disappearance ten years passing had yet to reveal, teased her heart to crack open and replace icy numbness with smoldering embers just like he had tempted her with promises of forbidden love.
With determined steps, she worked her way along the river and, eventually, found her feet planted on
adjacent to the secluded riverfront. The slab promised to transform lovers’ dreams into reality, but she didn’t believe in fairytale wishes once held by childish whims. Similar to the creek at her feet that lapped deep groves in the peppered-colored rock and eroded petroglyphs depicting long-ago lovers, time had eaten away her dreams of again finding love. Of family.
Downturned lips joined her lowered head and a few blond tendrils landed on her shoulders. Shoulders she instantly jerked upright. She tightened her tummy to stiffen her spine.
More than a year had lapsed since her husband, Jesse, had passed. She shouldn’t be thinking about Tucker, but in the deep recesses of her mind she’d never quite forgotten him.
“Leave the past. Live for today,” Jesse had often said, but now that he was gone, all she had were her memories.
Jesse had taught her to laugh again. He helped her to forget Tucker. He taught her how to mend fences and drive a tractor and stand tall along with her uncle when Old Man Pierce had falsely accused her uncle with zoning litigation. And just when the weight in her heart was eased by talks of adding a child to their marriage?
Jesse had died along with the laughter.
Her breath hitched at the dream, the image of family that had dangled right in front of her only to be snatched away. Four months ago, near the first anniversary of Jesse’s death, Uncle Mark had also passed, making her sole owner of the preserve.
Complete control over the safety of the preserve would ensure the future of the Bengal breeding program. Not wasting energy wondering about a summer crush she hadn’t seen in a decade. Not dwelling on some silly folklore scribble that couldn’t possibly be true. Not pausing when her walls had to remain secure. Not letting her gaze drift to the opposing property in hopes of glimpsing the man she’d once loved, but who’d changed his mind about loving her.
No matter, she’d forge her own path.
She swiveled, attempting to locate the voice, until she came full circle. Banking the river on both sides, alders linked limbs with cottonwood trees and formed a dense green fortress that left her encircled by memories she couldn’t escape any easier than she could outrun the wild scent of Dogwood blossoms riding the breeze.
But regardless of how busy she kept her hands, the memory of Tucker still shook her to the bones, to the marrow, to the vessels that led to her mind and heart.
Perspiration, or at least that’s what she told herself the moisture was, cascaded down her cheek. She used the bottom of her shirt to blot away the beads. She’d already allowed the daily dose of memories to hog enough of her day. Tucker was gone for good, just like Jesse and Uncle Mark.
She glanced up and down the river to the taut fence. Her morning walk confirmed the sanctuary was nothing less than secure. Chain link and razor wire wrapped around the entire preserve, weaving through the brush and limbs and the high water line of the riverside. No one could break through her walls. A quick dip in the cool stream would soothe her exterior, her tight back, her tender fingertips, her sun-pinked shoulders.
With a sigh, she dropped her backpack and tools to the ground beside
Two minutes later, she was bootless, nothing on her bare skin but a cotton tee shirt and panties—
A hunter emerged from the cottonwood veil on the Pierce’s side of the river, sending white motes to fall like summer snow into the water.
She jolted to a halt.
Blue jeans hugged his tight waist. An unbuttoned long sleeved shirt hung from broad shoulders and exposed a white undershirt below. His jaw line and high cheekbones boasted European masculine features.
Features that had her shirt perking up like she’d slipped a pebble in each side of her sports bra. With the sun peeping over Copper Mountain in the east, the hunter’s ball cap couldn’t quite shadow the cobalt eyes that had stabbed through her dreams too many times to count. “Tucker?” she murmured.
No. Can’t be. He’s an illusion. Like the wind whispering your name.
Several times, she blinked but pinching her eyes didn’t erase the image of a mature Tucker, one who’d transformed from a whip to a mighty Oak, and a man who greatly resembled a younger version of Old Man Pierce.