Authors: J.C. Hannigan
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Rebel Soul (Rebel Series, #1)
Copyright 2016, J.C. Hannigan
This is for my family.
This novel wouldn’t have been possible without the love, support, and patience of my husband and our two boys. I disappeared for a month to write Rebel Soul, and my boys were incredible about it. It also wouldn’t have been possible without Jessica Fuerst, who begged me for a country-based romance, I hope I put enough trucks and fishing in here to make you smile.
I would also like to give a huge shout out to Chelsea Barnes, for her work as my book manager and her incredible cover work design, Lauren Jones for her editing, Nikki Colligan for her proofreading, and JM Walker for formatting. Thank you for helping me perfect this story!
A HUGE thank you goes out to Christina Harris and Kristen Johnson for making themselves readily available for each and every little outburst I had over this story. Their suggestions and encouragement kept the creative bus moving!
Lastly, I would like to thank each and every one of my FANnigans for standing by me, for promoting me every chance they get, and for reading. I keep writing for you guys!
Late afternoon had given way to evening, the sun slowly rolling behind the trees to the west and casting pale pinkish-orange light across the expanse of our farm. The heat had yet to dissipate, and my long honey blonde hair – carelessly tossed into a braid and shoved beneath my baseball hat – stuck to the nape of my neck as I worked. I stood in the bed of my pickup truck, tossing fresh hay out to the field for the cows.
I wiped the sweat off my brow and squinted to the north field, spotting my brothers trying to wrangle in a panicked heifer that had somehow managed to get caught up in the fence. The heavier jobs fell into their capable hands, but I was responsible for my fair share of work around here, too.
My family owned a cattle farm. We had over three hundred cows, and the work never stopped. I was the youngest of four, and the only girl to boot.
I set to finishing the task at hand, eager to get my work done so I could get on with tonight. There was an energy around me, and I knew it could be felt all over our small town. Parry Sound, Ontario was bustling with activity; the rodeo was in town.
The Parry Sound Stampede was renowned around these parts. People came from far and wide during the last week of June, excited to see the smash up derby, bull riders, show horses, and tractor pulls. Even the food trucks that accompanied the traveling rodeo brought foodies from far and wide, and they always left with raving reviews.
With the last of the hay added to the pile, I climbed down from the bed of my truck and slammed the old tailgate shut. I had just enough time to shower before meeting my friends at the fairgrounds to watch the smash-up derby.
“Are you taking off now, Tess?” my father asked, his deep, stern voice making me pause as I was about to climb into my truck. The door was open and my right foot was lifted. I put my foot down and turned towards him, sensing that these words weren’t going to be quick ones.
“Yeah, I’m supposed to meet Elle in an hour. I wanted to shower first,” I told him. “Don’t forget, I’m sleeping over at her house tonight.”
“Right.” Dad exhaled deeply, nodding and pursing his lips. He rested his large hand along the side of my truck, staring at it with a strange look on his face. It was a 1965 Ford F-100, almost in mint condition, aside from a dent on the front driver side fender. It was a faded red colour, the silver trim that lined both sides dulled with age. The truck wasn’t known for speed, but it could get me from Point A to Point B well enough.
It had been in the Armstrong family since my grandpa bought it back in 1965. This truck had been handed down from my grandpa to my father, and then it traveled down through my older brothers to me. They’d been quick to get their own trucks, faster trucks and trucks that weren’t aged like the Ford. Trucks that were lifted and modified with push bars and roll bars.
Now, this old truck was mine. Considering I was one of the only girls at my high school with my license and a vehicle, I couldn’t complain about its elderly status. Besides, I loved this old truck. It had character.
“I want you to be careful tonight, Tessa.” My dad’s tired blue eyes met mine, conveying his seriousness.
I narrowed my eyes, on edge. “Why? It’s just the rodeo, Dad. I’ve been going every year my whole life,” I pointed out, trying to keep the tone of rebellion from my voice. It was true; I had been going since before I could walk, and I even competed every year in show jumping. I was no stranger to the rodeo, or to the type of people it brought in. Still, I had a feeling my father’s warning had very little to do with the rodeo itself.
My dad and I used to be super close, back when I was a tomboy who liked dirt and sports. I was his constant shadow. But then I hit the tender age of sixteen and started developing breasts and curves and crushing on boys. It didn’t matter that I was practically an adult at eighteen years old; my dad still thought of me as his little girl that desperately needed protection from all of the boys. It used to enrage me, how my brothers could go out on dates and stay out late, but I couldn’t.
My older brother, Tommy, used to joke that it was because
“Once your boobs grow in, your brain falls out.
The way my father treated my brothers versus the way he treated me was
, and it was a source of constant conflict. My brothers weren’t girls, therefore they didn’t need to have the same rules in place. Benjamin, Gordon and Tommy could come and go as they pleased, as long as all their chores got done and they didn’t flunk out of school. I had a strict curfew, and if I didn’t obey, not only did I get seriously grounded, but all three of my brothers would show up wherever I was to “escort me home”. The only exception to this rule was if one of my older brothers tagged along, which meant I wasn’t allowed to drink or kiss any boys or
have a life
I knew my dad meant well. I knew he was just trying to protect me from the harshness of the world. I knew that Dad just wanted me to focus on school and get a top education. He expected the boys to work on the farm, but he wanted more for me. Or at least, that’s what Grandpa used to tell me. Dad wasn’t one to talk about his “feelings”. He was a stern man and he was just as stern with my brothers, only in a different way and for different reasons.
“I heard that Miller boy is back in town,” Dad said gravely, as if this should mean something to me. I arched a brow, waiting for him to explain himself. My father scratched at his thick, deep, copper coloured beard, looking extremely uncomfortable. “That boy, he’s trouble, Tessa.”
The Millers weren’t exactly one of the most respected families around here, and the rumor mill was always churning with gossip about them. It was town knowledge that Mr. Miller had been a drunk when he was alive, and had never been able to hold down a job for very long. Mrs. Miller used to work double shifts every day at the water treatment plant, and all three of their kids got in various levels of nuisance over the years. When he was in high school, Braden had gotten into a lot of trouble for fighting. He could be mean and was a total sexist pig, but Elle loved him, and I’d be lying if I said Braden hadn’t changed a little after he started dating her. He was a little softer now, but not by much. Braden had an older sister named Becky, and she had her fair share of troubles too. She was twenty-two years old and the single mother of a three-year-old boy.
Brock was twenty-four, and he’d been close friends with my older brother Gordon growing up. In fact, between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, Brock had spent a lot of time here at the farm – helping out and doing odd jobs for some extra cash. My dad hadn’t thought he was dangerous back then.
In all the years he’d been a staple in our household, I’d never spent any time alone with him or even spoke to him aside from the occasional “
Can you pass a dinner roll?
” Back then, I was painfully shy. I was also painfully aware of how
Brock was. It was impossible for
to not notice Brock Miller. Not even my ten-year-old self.
As young as I was, I was enamored by him; I was bewitched by his easy, dimpled smile and the unusual colour of his eyes. Those eyes were like steel and smoke. They were enticing, even from afar. He was the kind of guy that just looked dangerous and he had the reputation to prove it. When he was in high school, he went through girls faster than my horse went through shoes. He had a reckless spirit and he’d loved bull riding. I remember Gordon talking about how nuts he was to climb up on those beasts, but Gordon had also said he was talented. When Brock was seventeen, he’d joined the Ontario Rodeo Association to compete in fairs and rodeos all over Ontario. He had apparently done very well for himself prior to his stint in jail. Brock had won every competition he’d entered.
“Come on, Dad. Don’t tell me you’re buying into that old gossip mill.” I sighed, almost rolling my eyes. “You used to feed ‘
that Miller boy’
. He’s harmless.”
“Harmless people don’t go to jail, Tessa,” my father pointed out, his eyes serious. I winced, nodding once. My father had a point.
Brock had served time in jail a couple years back after he was charged with aggravated assault. The details on what happened were fuzzy. Despite how often the Millers were gossiped about, they were severely private and nobody actually
the proper details of anything. Braden refused to talk about his family’s business. The town only knew what the newspaper article had stated.
I don’t remember much about the day that the newspapers broke the news of a local boy arrested for aggravated assault; I only remembered the look of disappointment on my father’s face. My father, for as serious and tough as he was, had a soft heart. He guessed that Brock didn’t have a good home life, so he tried his best to provide a more constructive outlet for him on our farm.
Frankly, I didn’t care. I had no intention of seeing Brock. I barely put up with having Braden around. While my heart had softened marginally towards the youngest Miller boy, I still didn’t particularly
him and I had absolutely
desire to awaken that old, awkward crush I’d harbored on Brock when I was a gangly ten-year-old.
I sighed, glancing towards our white farmhouse longingly. I was desperate to wash the smell of cow off me, and eager to get to the rodeo and meet up with my friends.
“Dad…” I popped my lips out and huffed with aggravation. My father said that about almost each and every guy that lived within a one-hundred mile radius. Still, I knew he was probably right about that particular Miller boy.
I couldn’t understand why my father was freaking out about his reappearance or what I had to do with it. Even if he’d been friends with Gordon, Brock Miller had never spoken more than three words to me. I wasn’t likely to capture the attention of the notorious Miller boy.
I bit back a sigh and forced myself to relax a little. “I promise I’ll stay away from Brock.”
Dad nodded gruffly, satisfied with my answer. He waited until I’d climbed into the truck, and then slapped the back panel, almost as if he was urging a horse on. I laughed, rolling my eyes.
My dad was a strange man. He was about as country as they got. He raised cattle for a living, just like his father, his grandfather and his great grandfather dating all the way back a hundred years or so. We’d grown up knowing what hard work and dedication looks like, and we were put to work as soon as we were old enough to stand and take a few steps.
I loved my dad, even though we didn’t see eye to eye on anything lately. It had a lot to do with me being a girl, I think. I tried not to allow my gender to affect things, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t stomp my feet around and throw fits at least once a month, ranting and raving about the toilet seat being left up or about how Gordon
remembered to take his boots off in the mud room and ended up tracking mud and manure from the fields throughout our entire kitchen.
It was always my job to clean it up. If I didn’t, it didn’t get done. My brothers and father didn’t exactly
messes the way normal people did, so it was up to me to make sure the house was in fine order. To say I resented that role would be an understatement, but like I said…if I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done.
I didn’t have a mother. She died when I was two years old; killed by a drunk driver on her way home from a jumping event, leaving dad with three sons and me. Benjamin, Gordon, and Tommy were easy enough because they were boys. But me? I was a whole different kettle of fish, or I was when I hit puberty anyway. It was like my dad suddenly didn’t know what to do with me.
I drove up the long driveway towards our house. Both the windows in my truck were rolled completely down, allowing a warm breeze to cool the sweat on my body. I came to a stop in front of the one-hundred-year-old farmhouse.
Dad and my brothers were still out in the fields; this meant I had the house to myself and I could shower and prepare for the evening in peace. If Gordon was around, he’d undoubtedly be making fun of me for putting on eyeliner and mascara. He’d point out the lip gloss and too-tight jeans, and he’d likely rat me out to dad just to get me in trouble. I could almost hear his voice in my head. “Are you
going to let Tessa go out like that, Dad?”
Gordon was six years older than me, and he was almost as overbearing and protective as my father. I was closest with Ben, probably because he didn’t live here and he didn’t nark me out every chance he got. He was too mature to tattle, and too focused on his own life with his new wife. Tommy and Gordon were the worst, especially when together. I didn’t attend parties often because I knew they would monitor me all night. Like the last time I went to a party with my brothers in attendance, it was the prom after-party at the Clayton’s barn.