Authors: Eve Vaughn
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Copyright © September
ctronic book publication September
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I start most of my dedications to my readers because without you, I would not have realized my dream. I thank each and every one of you appreciate your continued support.
Thank you to my family who keeps motivated, my parents who keep me grounded and my friends for lifting me up. I love you all.
Alex knew somet
hing was off from the second she entered the tiny diner she
. The restaurant
usually had its regulars and a few extras on a daily basis, but today the place was
packed and all eyes were on her
. The way people stared and whispered behind their hands as she walked past them put h
er on high alert. Della, who owned
establishment was cranky on
good days, but
the older woman was openly
when Alex put her things away and grabbed her apron and notepad.
“Good afternoon, Della.”
Della sneered, looking Alex up and down before walking off without a single word of
Mickey, the short order cook, Della’s husband shot her
sympathetic look but didn’t offer his usual jovial greeting which stung. On the days that
particularly difficult, Mickey’s cheerfulness helped Alex make it through her shift.
What made the day even worse was that the two other waitresses working with her that day were
xactly her favorites
. Midge and
were both old-timers who’d worked at the diner since its inception and were territorial
their ‘customers’. Alex suspected that the two had stolen
from her tables
but complaining to Della about it did no good because they were all thick as thieves.
If she could have found a different job in this town, she would have, but there weren’
t a lot of options.
Taking a deep breath, she was determined to get through this shift as best as she could without losing her mind. The first two tables she waited on were fine, but Alex couldn’t help noticing how they watched her warily. After they’d eaten and paid their bills, she noticed that one of the tables have left her pennies as a tip while the other table had left a note.
You have a lot of nerve to show your face around here.
What the hell?
She quickly stuffed the note in her pocket and continued to concentrate on getting through an already hellish work day. Midge and Karen weren’t helping at all. Most days, they would
assist each other
their fellow waitress’s food out
, or getting customers drinks when it was this busy, but neither w
lifted a finger to help her. In fact, whenever they would walk by her, they made it a point to bump into her. One time, her hands were full and she nearly spilled her food on
the floor. Needless to say, the
diners who already seemed upset with her for some unknown reason were even more agitated by the slow service.
The final straw was when someone shouted, “Whore!”
The little bit of patience she’d been holding on to snapped. When she turned to confront the person who was bold enough to yell out such a foul taunt, someone else stuck their foot out making her trip.
she did fall, spilling a bunch of drinks.
some of it had landed on
Evelyn Peterson the town gossip
. “What’s wrong with you?”
screamed. “You filthy slut. You shouldn’t even be here. Della should have fired your ass.”
went silent. Everyone stared at her, some giving her sympathetic looks while other
were on the verge of laugh
Alex wasn’t one to take anyone’s abuse but
where was this all coming from?
Why were people saying such disgusting things about her? It was on the tip of her tongue to tell Evelyn exactly where she could go when
Della came storming from the back, her eyes narrowed and fists resting on her ample hips. “What’s going on out here?”
Alex wobbled to feet, brushing herself off as best as she could. “I was tripped.”
“Why do you have someone so clumsy working for you, Della? Especially someone with her reputation?”
“Someone tripped me,” Alex argued through gritted teeth.
“You accusing my customer of lying?” Della challenged.
Evelyn snorted. “The girl is obviously lying. That’s what people like her do.”
It was pretty clear to Alex that Evelyn was most likely the culprit.
She had never been a
kind woman, but ever si
nce her husband Roland, the former elementary school principal ran off with the kindergarten teacher, she had become unbearable.
That didn’t seem to matter to Alex’s boss, however.
Judging from the way Della
glared at her, Alex was certain she wouldn’t leave this place with her job intact. But knowing Della, she’d make her work the rest of her shift and then give her the boot. Fuck that. If she was going t
o get fired, then she might as
well leave with a bang.
Alex looked at Della square in the eye. “Yes, I am.”
Della stuck her finger in Alex’s face, nearly touching her nose.
“You better choose your next words carefully, girl.”
“How about these words: I quit.” Alex then turned to Evelyn. “You are a bitter old hag who will die alone. What goes around comes around.”
“Get the hell out of my
!” Della’s face was bright red and spittle flew from her mouth as she screamed
hitting Alex’s face.
Alex tore her apron off and threw it on the ground. She couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
She had too much energy to sit at a bus stop and wait for a half an hour so she
walked the three and a half miles home, shaking with rage. Th
ose people in the diner had
alluded to her reputation. What the hell were they talking about…unless
No. They were all so careful. No one
was supposed to find out about her secret getaways.
By the time she made it to the modest house she shared with her grandmother, Alex had racked her
brain trying to figure if someone had found out her secret. That was the least of her problems. What was she going to do for a job? She needed the money for school.
she didn’t notice the luxury vehicle parked in the driveway next to her grandmother’
s old clunker but when she did, her heart stopped. She knew who it belonged to.
Her earlier fear hit her harder than a ton of bricks. What other reason would Sabrina Bradford have for venturing to this part of town? Alex’s breath caught in her throat as she took several cautious steps toward her house.
The second she walked over the threshold, she was met
her grandmother and a c
learly angry Sabrina Bradford.
Alex felt the sting before she realized that her grandmother had iss
ued a hard opened-handed smack. She clutched her cheek. “Why?”
Ida Mae placed her hands on her hips and glared at her granddaughter with eyes full of disgust.
“I didn’t raise you to
around town. I know what you’ve been up to with those boys.”
The tears Alex had been desperately been holding back all day fell unheeded. “I-I can explain.”
“What’s to explain, young lady?” Mrs. Bradford interjected. “And I use the term lady very loosely. Is this how you repay the generosity of my family? We’ve kept your grandmother employed all these years, it was through us she was able to take care of you. I’d heard the rumors but I ignored them because I believed
my boys wouldn’t be involved with
someone like you, but I suppose boys will be boys. They’ll drop their pants for any tramp that comes along.”
Alex shook her head vehemently. “It wasn’t like that!”
“So you’re a whore and a liar? I saw the pictures with my own eyes.” Sabrina sneered at her before turning to Alex’s grandmother. “Ida Mae, what are you going to do about this?”
Ida Mae folded her arms across her bosom and stared at Alex as if she was lower than dirt.
“Get out of my house and don’t ever come back.”
You have until the end of the week to come home or
we’ll bring you back ourselves
Cash and Rusty.
, are you all right?”
quickly shoved the letter into the pocket of her lab coat
as her friend and coworker
seat across from her in the cafeteria
. She’d committed the words to memory but periodically glan
ced at the sheet of paper to verify its existence. She’d tried to put
the past behind her
now it was back with a vengeance and Alex wasn’t sure if she could run far enough from it this time. “Uh, yeah. I’m fine.”
Georgia raised a perfectly arched auburn brow. “Is that so? You’ve been flustered all day. I had to remind you to adjust the oxygen for the patient in room 804. I understand people are allowed thei
r off days but as a respiratory therapist
, mistakes, even small ones can be the difference between life and death. It’s not like you to be so absentminded and I think it has everything to do with that note you’ve been staring at for the better part of the day. What’s going on?”
Alex grabbed her fork and stabbed it into a
of lettuce on her plate
because she was particularly hungry but
to keep her hands busy. “I have been a little spacey today and I apologize. Thanks for covering for me earlier.”
“Anytime, but that doesn’t exactly answer my question.
What’s going on? You can tell me, hon. If you talk about it, maybe it’ll help.”
Alex sighed and pushed her fork and plate away
giving up all pretense of finishing her meal. She couldn’t eat a bit
if she tried. “
This letter was written by someone from my hometown.”
“Oh? You know,
the four years we’ve known ea
ch other, I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned where you’re from specifically. I mean, I know you
Virginia but what part?”
The truth is, I don’t really like talking about where I’m from.”
“Was it that bad?”
Alex raised her shoulder into a shrug. “I guess it depends on your perspective.
It’s a small town that not many people outside of Martin County
heard of, called Bradfordville. It’s one of those places where everyone knows your name and
all your business. That’s
not necessarily a good thing.”
Georgia took a bite of her pizza and asked with her mouth still full, “So what’s so upsetting about getting a letter from home? And who sends letters, still? Doesn’t this person have your email address?”
“No, actually, they don’t.
And to be perfectly honest, up until a month ago, I didn’t realize they knew my home address
“You’ve had the letter that long?”
“No. This is the second letter. The first one was….a warning.”
Georgie frowned, etching lines of concern on her face.
This sounds serious. Are you in danger?
Is this a situation where we’ll need to get the police involved?”
Alex shook her head. “No. I’m just surprised they would go to so much trouble to find me. It’s not like…”
“I’ve moved on with my life and I would have thought they would have as well.”
“Obviously not. Is it family? You never talk about
I figured it was because they were either dead or maybe
there was a rift.”
Slut. Whore. I never want to see your face again.
Alex shuddered as she remembered
being called those names by not only some vocal townspeople, but her own grandmother.
forever be etched in her memory.
Earth to Alex
Georgia waved her hand in Alex’s face.
you just go? You kind
out zoned out for a minute.”
“Oh. Well, as far as family goes, I have an uncle who lives out west with his
wife and children
I haven’t seen him since I was little. And my grandmother.
“What about her?”
Alex bowed her head a
pain briefly gripped her heart. “We don’t keep in touch.”
“Oh. Sorry to hear that. Soooo…at the risk of
was that letter from
“Just some people I used to know. Look
, I know you mean well, but I’m not really comfortable discussing this. Sorry.”
Georgia reached across the table and took Alex’s hand in hers. “I understand sweetie. But if you need someone to talk to
I’m here for you.”
her friend’s hand a squeeze before letting go. “I appreciate that.” She glanced at her watch. “I have about twenty minutes left on my break and I think I’ll take a walk around the building to clear my head.”
“Okay. I’ll see you later.”
grabbed the remainder of her lunch and
tossed it in the trashcan on her way out of the cafeteria.
pocket that held the letter. Why now after all this time? Eight years had passed
saw no reason
to reestablish the connection when all it would do is open old wounds that had barely healed.
A month ago, she’d received her first letter
Alex, you’ve been away long enough. Your grandmother would like to see you. And
it’s time for you to come home. To us.
There had been more to the letter, but
had been the most pertinent parts. She resented that they felt they could order her around after all that had
and using her grandmother as an excuse was pretty low. It was why she had been able to toss
aside without giving it much thought beyond a few sleepless night
. This last letter was different.
Cash and Rusty Bradford were men of their word and she had no doubt if she didn’t at the very least send a reply of some sort, they
follow through with their threat.
They had grown up together. She and Rusty were the same age and Cash was two years older. They did everything with each other. When they were little, they’d even bathed together. Where one was, the other two could be found. They were her best friends. But as the three of them grew older, something changed. Their differences
which had never mattered much to them, had suddenly become an issue.
She was the housekeeper’s grandd
as a baby
with a less than stellar reputation. She was a black girl living in the poor section of town while
Cash and Rusty
were white and
belonged to the wealthiest family in town. In fact, Bradfordville’s entire economy was owed to the factory owned and run by the Bradford family.
On more than several occasions, it was pointed
out to her that she had neither
the right social standing nor
background to associate with a Bradford in public. Alex had been flat out told that she simply wasn’t the right ‘image.” It took little imagination to know what that meant.
After a while, she began to distance herself from them, afraid that one day they might resent having her in their lives
need to sort out
. Somehow, they had
changed from friendship to something more
omething that she was too ashamed to admit even to herself.
She glanced at her watch and noticed her break was nearly over. Patting her pocket one last time to just to verify the existence of the letter, she headed back to work.
Rusty and Cash were her past, one that needed to be buried for good.
Rusty shifted in the passenger seat of his brother’s SUV, wishing he was in the driver’s seat. Cash drove like an eighty-year year woman. He hated the
feeling of not being in control. “We could have been there if I were driving.”
Cash his eyes on the road ahead of him. “And we probably would have been pulled over by the cops a few times. You drive like a maniac and I’d like to get where we’re going in one piece.”
“I’ve only ever had three tickets.”
“How soon we forget all the times you were pulled over as a teenager. If not for Dad having to constantly get you out of your traffic infractions, you wouldn’t have a license. Look, I’m just as anxious to get there as you, but it will do neither of us any good if we get into an accident along the way. Alex isn’t going anywhere.”
Cash was always the one to take the more level-headed approach to things but Rusty was in no mood to be rational. All he was interested in at the moment was getting to Pennsylvania and reclaiming his woman. Though there was a saying that absence made the heart grow fonder, many believed that it actually made the heart wander. That wasn’t the case for him. Eight long years of sleepless night and visions of their angel made him yearn for the moment when he could hold her in his arms again.
For as long as he could remember, Alexandra Bryant had been his everything, from his companion, best friend, companion, confidant and finally lover. Up until the point where she left town without notice, he couldn’t imagine a day in his life without her. Alexandra’s grandmother, Miss Id
a Mae had been
nanny before he was born, taking charge of his older brother’s care. Miss Ida Mae was a beloved grandmother figure who was more motherly toward him and Cash than their own mother. She’d be there bright and early when they’d wake up and feed, bath and clothe them.
Though he wasn’t certain exactly when Miss Ida started bringing Alex with her to his house, Rusty’s first clear memory was of Alex and pushing her on the tire swing his father had hung on the old willow tree in their backyard. Alex loved that old swing. He remembered how she’d squeal in delight and scream “higher!” When she smiled, it made him happy. And when she and Miss Ida would leave for the night to return to their home, Rusty felt like a part of him was missing.
As they grew up,
the three of them
were as thick as thieves, climbing trees, having footraces and sharing
cream on a hot summer day. But something changed between them when puberty hit. Alex had changed
and so had he. Rusty remembered the day clearly, it had been his 13
birthday and instead of
he’d asked his dad to take him and some friends
a couple towns
over. He had of course invited Alex and to this day he couldn’t remember if he’d had
not, but he certainly remembered the way Alex’s yellow bathing suit with pink polka dots had clung to her young curves and how it rode up her bottom. He’d realized then that what he felt for Alex was not just mere friendship and one day he would tell her how he felt. He just didn’t count on Cash having those exact same thoughts.
With a frustrated sigh, Rusty raked his fingers through his hair. “Shit, man. You think I’d be able to hold on for a couple more hours when I’ve already waited eight years.”
Cash nodded. “I know how you feel. If Mom hadn’t almost bankrupted us, then we
would have gone after Alex much sooner, but we ow
ed it to Dad’s legacy and the people of Bradford who depended on us to provide them with the jobs most of them have counted on for most of their lives. It wouldn’t have been fair to Alex to drag her back home when we wanted to. For one, she needed to finish school and secondly, we wouldn’t have been able to give her our full attention what with trying to rebuild the business. Now that we have everything settled we can focus on getting back what we once had.”
“But how do you know she’ll welcome us with open arms? It’s not like she’d been in contact or even come back to town to visit her grandmother.”
“You know things were complicated between her and Miss Ida Mae. Maybe she felt like she couldn’t come back. You know how small-minded some of the townspeople can be. When those rumors started swirling around town, it had to be hard on Alex. I just wish we had been around to be a buffer to her.” Cash slammed his palm against the steering wheel, the memory obviously angering him.
Rusty knew exactly how Cash
because he shared the same sentiments. When he’d l
earned what had happened at the
given Della Roger’s the cussing out
of her life. N
o one had the nerve to say anything directly to their faces about the things they’d heard. Fucking cowards.
Bradfordville was his home and he loved it but he would ha
ve scorched it to the ground that
day to avenge the wrong
that had been done to his love.
“Do you think my letter was a little too heavy-handed?”
Cash shrugged. “I wish you would have consulted me before sending it. She might not kindly take to the threat.
I wish you weren’t so impulsive sometimes.
“It was a promise. Alex knows we’ll follow through when we say we’ll do something.
And if it weren’t for my impulsiveness, we never would have gotten anywhere with Alex in the first place. You were dragging your feet and I took matters into my own hand.” Cash had been cautious about approaching Alex about their feelings for her because he had been worried that it would scare her off.
didn’t want to risk anyone else snatching her up and was the first to make their intentions known.
“Okay, you got me there,” Cash agreed, “but still, who’s to say she hasn’t taken a mini vacation and disappeared so she won’t be around when we show up?”
“You worry too much? I think our PI connection would have told us if that was the case. I’m not apologizing for the letter I sent. I meant every word of it.
she could have easily been just as offended by the one you wrote. Mentioning Miss Ida Mae might have been a bit of a low blow. You and I both know the two of them aren’t on good terms. Guilting her into doing something isn’t exactly what I’d call a reasonable approach.”
Cash glanced at Rusty briefly before returning his attention to the road. “What was I supposed to say?
kind of hard to word a letter to someone
you haven’t seen in eight
Look, I may not be as quick to act as you, but do you honestly believe this has been easy for me? I haven’t so much as touched another woman since Alex left. She was my first and I intend for her to be my last. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to bring her grandmother up but the two will eventually have to see each other again if we want her to come back to Bradfordville.”
Rusty released a heavy sigh and closed his eyes. “You’re probably right. I guess we’re both
of making a mess of things before we’ve even had a chance to see her again. I guess I’m just worried.”
“It scares me that after all this time that she’s moved on with her life…that’s she’s forgotten us.”
“I don’t believe that. As corny as it sounds, what we had with Alex
as special. It may be unconventional to most people, but it was real and it was strong. A love like that only comes around once in a lifetime. But just in case she’s forgotten, it’s up to us to make her remember.”