by Riley Scott
When the brutal murder of the only known lesbian in town jolts the sleepy community of Knell, Texas, life is turned upside down for everyone.
Amidst the scandal, turmoil and heartache over the loss of her friend and part-time lover, Amelia Brandt struggles to find her identity and voice in a town torn by discrimination.
Meanwhile, Dominique Velez—the leader of Texans for Equality—is determined and poised to help mend hearts and change minds in a hurting town. Hitting the road and leaving the safety of Austin, Texas, Dominique takes a risk to help the community of Knell stand up for what is right—all while attempting to help Amelia come to terms with what has happened and move forward.
In the fight for equality and justice, can there be a sufficient resolution? And, while she’s drawn to Dominique’s boldness and charm, can Amelia conquer the fears that have kept her identity concealed and her heart closed off from love?
Rainbow Book Reviews
This book is a romance, murder mystery, political statement, and family drama all rolled into one, and it pulls off all facets in fine style. Amelia is in the closet, so far back in it she could see Narnia. Dominique is a great blend of strong with a hint of vulnerable. Alongside the two leading women, Scott has also created portrayals of some key figures in the town. When I first started reading these multiple points of view I feared I’d get lost in all their stories, or that it would be spread a bit thin. Groundless fears, it turns out, as Scott’s masterful use of these points of view only adds delicious richness to the story. It is fantastic writing, brilliant weaving of a story, and I couldn’t put it down. Highly recommended.
The Lesbian Review
I really liked the tone of the book. It would be too easy to have created a dark story of inner turmoil and grief, with negative emotions and a violent display of ignorance and discrimination. Riley Scott however, tells the story with almost a confidence that, even if it is only possible to win the fight with one person, then that one person is important.
AC/DC blared through her speakers as Chloe Stanton raced home after work. Her old Ford truck let out a bellow as she stomped on the gas, thankful no one was in sight. This was what she loved about Knell, Texas—it was quiet, peaceful and, in this neck of the woods, looked a bit like an undiscovered gem, with its wide open fields and houses set so far back from the main road that they weren’t even visible on her drive.
Her windows rolled down, the sweet Texas air blowing in, she let the worries of the day fade into the passing distance. A day of hard physical labor sure paid off, even if it was exhausting.
She thought of how today had become so dangerous in a second, when the latest hire of her dad’s ranch, Ryan Walden, had made the rookie mistake of spooking a large herd, causing them to run amok, through and over the fences. The angry words they had spat back and forth at each other filled her memory.
She had threatened to fire him on the spot, despite the fact that it was her father’s operation. Anyone who couldn’t take feedback and coaching didn’t have a place on this ranch.
“You can’t fire me. I quit!” He had shouted at her, throwing his hat in her direction. “I’ll make sure you and this entire operation pay for this shit!”
She shook her head, rubbing her temples as she tried to let it all fade. They’d need a new ranch hand, but they’d deal with being shorthanded. It was stressful being in charge, but the day was done.
As she rounded the bend, headed toward her humble abode, she looked down at her dirt-streaked jeans and the tank top that was now torn after her day of jumping fences. She smiled, remembering her father’s praises and the pat on the back he had given her for getting the job done. She turned up the music, singing along to “Back in Black” as she pulled into the driveway.
She smiled as she spotted the sleek, red sports car, carefully hidden to anyone not looking for it, along the side of the house covered by trees. She parked in her driveway and bounded up the steps, badly needing a shower but looking forward to greeting her guest even more.
“I see you finally used the key I gave you,” she hollered as she threw open the door.
She heard a sweet laugh as Amelia peeked her head around the doorway to the kitchen. “I thought you could use a little dinner and maybe a little rub down after a long day of work,” Amelia said, her Texas drawl smooth as honey.
“Ms. Brandt,” Chloe said, her smile turning devious. “You are quite the surprise, aren’t you?”
“I aim to please.” Amelia shrugged and sauntered closer.
Chloe’s heart raced as she took in the beautifully long and straight brown hair tumbling down over Amelia’s shoulders, her beaming smile, and her bright eyes. With her tanned skin and tall frame, Amelia could have passed for a model—yet here she was in Knell, Texas, the daughter of a strictly Baptist family, regularly fucking the local lesbian.
“And please you do,” Chloe said. “Please and mesmerize in equal measure.”
“What do you say we do with our evening?” Amelia asked, finally closing the distance between them and planting a slow, tender kiss on Chloe’s lips.
Despite her need to wash off the day, Chloe’s skin tingled, her senses muddled with the sweet floral scent of Amelia’s perfume—the scent she had come to associate with mind-blowing sex and, of course, confusion over where they stood.
She couldn’t form words. Instead, she pulled Amelia in closer, deepening the kiss. “I’d say this is just what I need.”
“Good,” Amelia said and flashed Chloe the smirk that melted her heart. “After dinner, this is all I plan to do.”
“It’s not all, right?” Chloe asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Of course not.” Amelia shimmied her shoulders. “I have other plans too, but we’ll get to those later. I know you probably want a shower. By the time you’re done, dinner will be ready. And so will I.”
The wink she offered sent Chloe’s imagination into a tailspin. Wherever this was headed, Chloe was onboard. No one she had ever met had the power to undo her so completely, in such an innocent and unassuming manner. Wordlessly, she nodded and went to take a shower, completely willing to follow any timeline Amelia set before her, as long as it meant she had the chance to kiss those sweet lips again later.
As the water cascaded over her body, her mind ran wild. She had tried to fight it, to stave off her curious heart. But four months into their little arrangement, she was failing, and more every day. She was falling in love, despite her best intentions. Outside the shower, she buried her head in her hands. There was no way this could work out. She had been stupid to let it get this far.
She took a hard look in the mirror. She was a Stanton. Stantons didn’t back down from challenges. Amelia might actually be the death of her—or she might just be the challenge most worth taking. Chloe let out a laugh, still staring at her reflection. She was going to do this, just like she did everything in life—full throttle.
An opportunity had presented itself. One of her childhood best friends, Katy, had relocated to Austin years earlier. She was Chloe’s favorite party buddy, and Chloe was going down to visit her again next month. Always one to be supportive no matter who Chloe wanted to date, hook up with, or bring home from a bar, Katy had told Chloe to invite whomever she wanted on the trip. Chloe wanted to invite Amelia. As the thought cemented in her mind, she let out a shudder. Shaking her head, she glanced down at her trembling hands. She gripped the bathroom counter and let out a deep breath. Full throttle or nothing, she reminded herself. She gritted her teeth and nodded to herself in the mirror as confidence filled her veins. Straightening her shoulders, she smiled. She could—and would—do this.
Dressing quickly, no longer worrying about what the outcome might be, she bounded down the hallway, taking in the scents of the evening. Amelia’s perfume mingled in the air, meeting the mouthwatering scent of home cooked barbecue. Smells she loved. Smells she wanted to get used to.
She rounded the corner of the dining room and paused, marveling at the sight in front of her. “Thank you, baby,” she said. She threw her arms around Amelia, who blushed in return.
“You like it?”
“Of course I do.” She kissed Amelia gently. “I love all the things you do.” She noted that Amelia stiffened slightly at the use of the word “love,” even when used benignly. But she didn’t let that stop her. “In fact, while I was showering, I did some thinking about how much you spoil me and how much I appreciate you.”
“Yeah?” Amelia asked. In place of the sweet blush that had adorned her face seconds before was a slightly guarded smile.
“Yeah, but we’ll talk about it during dinner. I’m starving.”
Amelia nodded too quickly, causing Chloe to bite her lip to keep from sighing. At even the slightest mention of feelings, Amelia turned into a deer in the headlights, ready to run at the drop of a hat.
A situation this delicate required a gentle touch, something Chloe hadn’t quite perfected. But Amelia was worth the effort it would take to perfect it. She smiled sweetly and pulled out a chair for Amelia, gesturing for her to take a seat. “Let me take care of you a little and do the very least of serving you.”
Amelia’s face softened into a genuine smile. “Thank you.” She took her seat, and Chloe tried to ignore the way her hands were shaking as she dished out two servings of the barbecued brisket. It wasn’t like she was offering a marriage proposal. There was no reason to be so nervous—no reason, aside from the fact that she was changing the rules mid-game. That was almost always frowned upon, but how could Amelia expect her to spend every night lost in this blur of passion and comfort and not feel anything?
“What’s up?” Amelia asked, giving her the side-eye.
“Nothing,” Chloe said, waving her hand through the air. “It was just a bit of a rough day. It was one of those that kind of sticks with you even after you’ve left the job. But tell me about your day. How was it?”
“Quiet and slow, just like most summer days,” Amelia said with a shrug. “While you all are out there working with yearlings and the farmers are harvesting their fields, my little shop is pretty much forgotten. It’s our slow time, while it’s your busy time. We thrive in the early mornings and winters like, you know, when you and all your hard working buddies come in for a cup of coffee to warm up.”
“You do make my winters a little warmer with that coffee you whip up,” Chloe said, winking. “But slow days can be good.”
“They can.” Amelia looked away from the table.
It was painful small talk. They both knew how each other’s days had likely been. Amelia, the owner of a small coffee shop in town, dealt with the summertime gossip of old women and kids running in and out of her shop, while Chloe had the busiest time of the year. It wasn’t something that should serve as their dinnertime conversation.
Unsure of what, if anything, to say, Chloe stuffed a forkful of brisket into her mouth. The tenderness of the meat and its shock of flavors—spicy and sweet—tingled her senses, bringing her back into the moment. “This is really amazing,” she said and wiped her mouth as she swallowed.
“Is that one of the things you appreciate about me?” Amelia asked, no doubt bringing the conversation full circle.
Chloe nodded, her hands shaking again, this time forcefully enough to fling the brisket from her fork onto the floor. “Shit!” she exclaimed and reached for a napkin.
“Just leave it for a second,” Amelia urged. “Talk to me. Clearly there’s something going on up there, and if it’s uncomfortable, I’d rather you just spill it and get it out in the open so we can deal with it.”
Wiping her hands on her jeans, Chloe nodded and took a deep breath. “I just wanted to talk to you about all the things I appreciate about you and let you know that you matter to me.”
Amelia’s eyes narrowed and she sat straighter in her chair. She gave a curt nod, encouraging Chloe to proceed with caution.
“I know what this is,” Chloe continued. “You made that clear, and we have an agreement. You visit when you can. We don’t go out in public. And this is never to be spoken of in front of anyone. That said, I’m not asking to change that too much.”
“You’re not going to change that at all,” Amelia said, putting her hand up in the air.
“Hear me out please,” she said quietly but firmly and placed her palms on the table for support. “I’m just saying that I’d like to do things with you. I’d like to go out dancing, have a drink, and just embrace some of the normal, but fun, day-to-day things we could do together.”
“You know what they would call me.” Amelia recoiled as if she had been slapped.
“Of course I do,” Chloe said, a sad smile playing on her lips. She pursed her lips and let out the breath she had been holding. “They’d call you the same things they’ve been calling me for the last decade—ever since I let it slip that I liked girls when I was fifteen. They’d call you the names and they might even make you the odd man out in certain circles. There’d be some sideways looks as you walked down the street, and people in the barbershop would talk about you behind your back. You wouldn’t be their golden girl, their little princess waiting on her prince. You’d be someone different, but at the end of the day, they’d embrace you like they’ve done with me. Sure, there are still plenty of whispers and the occasional insult or name. But around here, you make your own name for yourself. You’re strong enough to do that, just like I’ve been strong enough to do that.”
“That’s not the life I want for myself. Aside from all that, you said you wanted normal. Normal isn’t an option for someone who lives the way you do. What you do isn’t normal.”
Chloe jerked her head back. The words stung. “Well, isn’t what I do the same thing you’ve been doing the last several months?”
“Yeah, and maybe that’s why I need to get out of here. You see, for me, it’s something I’m doing. For you, it’s who you are. And I refuse to be that. I’m not going to be like you, alone and lost and looking for my next lay.”
“What are you going to do then? Marry the next guy who comes your way and live a lie? You and I both know what you like, what makes you come alive. We both know who you are. And you’re twenty-four. It’s about damn time you start accepting that you’re not going to be just like the rest of them. It’s about time you realize the difference in being a gem among the common stones. It’s time to take a stand. Stand out and be fucking proud of who you are.”
“No.” Amelia’s icy glare told Chloe she was pushing too hard. “There’s no way I’m going to stand on some street corner and picket. I’m not going to attend a rainbow Pride parade, and I’m sure as hell not going to hold your hand in public to make a point.”
“Wow,” Chloe said, leaning back in her chair as if she had been struck. “It’s amazing that holding my hand was the most damning of all the things you listed.”
“I’m not going to be your little gay protégé.”
“Stop.” Chloe held up her hands. “That wasn’t even the point of all of this. I wasn’t trying to go down that path. That’s just where we ended up. Can I start over?”
Amelia crossed her arms across her chest, looking every bit like a petulant child being forced to listen a lecture. “Go ahead,” she said after a moment, tapping her foot as though her time was being wasted.
“I was going to see if you’d like to come with me to Austin next month,” she said, her tone every bit as defeated as she felt. “I’m going to see a friend of mine for the weekend, and she said I could invite a friend. You remember Katy Denton?”
“A friend? Will she know me as a friend, or have you told Katy about us?”
“I’ve kept your deal,” Chloe said, rolling her eyes. “I wouldn’t out you like that. Also there is no label other than friend, so I don’t think you have to worry. And Katy doesn’t care. She got the hell out of Knell and hasn’t been back to visit since. She, unlike some people, accepts me for who I am and doesn’t give a damn who I sleep with. She’s my best friend in the world, and I suppose she can know whatever you’d like her to, since you clearly make all of the rules around here. I just thought it might give us a chance to have a little bit of time to ourselves, explore something other than the walls of my house, dance together, grab a drink in a bar, something, something more than this. I’m not asking you to parade around here and be out and proud. I’m asking you to take a trip with me to start out with and see if you feel comfortable with it. From there, we can assess whether or not you’re comfortable going to the diner and grabbing a burger with me. You don’t have to sort out whether you’re comfortable with the whispers and talking in this town just yet. As far as that goes, we don’t even have to do anything crazy there, just as long as we’re doing something together, something more than hiding out in my house.”
“You’ll never get more than this from me. I’m not you. I’m not the poster child for making a town accept who I am. I don’t need to engage in the ‘fight for equality,’ as you’ve called it. I don’t care if they don’t like who I am, because there’s no reason for them to know. I can live my life quietly and peacefully without their judgmental stares.”
“You just can’t handle any criticism, can you?” Chloe asked, her frustration mounting with every hate-filled word slipping out of the lips she had wanted to kiss only moments before.
“I don’t know what the hell that’s supposed to mean.” Amelia stood. The movement was not lost on Chloe. She needed to have the upper hand, to look down upon Chloe. Her hands trembled as she spoke, but her eyes never wavered with their piercing stare.
“It means that you’ve been everyone’s little princess for so long that you don’t know how to be the down and out one,” Chloe said. “It means that everything has been handed to you—from your daddy’s money to your name to your reputation. I know you’ve worked hard for your shop and you’ve made sure to keep it going no matter what. But I also know that you can’t handle it when there’s any sign of confrontation. I’m tired of seeing you brush things aside like they’re someone else’s problems. They’re your problems, too. You’re gay. Whether you ever want to admit that to anyone but me is your choice. But at some point you have to stop running scared or you’ll waste your life away.”
“I’m wasting my life away here with you,” Amelia shot back. “I’ve wasted the past few months, and I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to make anything public. I’m not going to jeopardize what I have. How dare you assume that the life I’ve built is all because of who my family is? I’m not doing this anymore. I’m done here. Enjoy your different life, and your fucking supper.”
Amelia stormed out the front door and slammed it behind her. Chloe sat in a stupor. She blinked and looked around the room in disbelief. Shaking her head, she brought her fingers up to massage her temples. She had just wanted to invite Amelia to go to Austin. She hadn’t wanted this, and even though she knew it was going to be short-lived, she hadn’t been ready for goodbye just yet. She stared at the apron Amelia had left hanging on one of the chairs and thought about chasing her down to make sure she had it. Instead, she figured she’d leave it with the slew of things others left behind when they decided they couldn’t do this anymore, when they decided they wanted to be “normal.”
The piece of brisket she had flung still lay on the tile, but Chloe didn’t care enough to clean it up just yet. Her breathing was shallow as she let the weight of it all come crashing down on her. Standing, still in a stupor, she picked up her tea glass and carried it to the kitchen. As she reached to set it on the counter, it slipped from her hands. Helpless, she watched it fall and shatter.
She thought of how crime stories always said whether or not there appeared to be a struggle. Today her house screamed of a struggle, and it wasn’t wrong. There had certainly been a struggle—and it was ongoing. A struggle between her head and her heart.
Chloe couldn’t tell which was worse, the way her heart hurt, the blow to her pride, or the sheer anger she felt. Her hands shook as she looked around the kitchen. The broken glass symbolized all she felt inside.
It always ended this way. Small towns created small minds, and she just happened to continually fall in love with those scared, small minds.
She let out a scream, even though there was no one near enough to hear. Sliding down the wall, she collapsed into a defeated pile, giving way to the onslaught of emotions she felt.
She wanted to cry, to let it all out. She had seen the movies and read the books. It seems like that was the way breakups were supposed to go. To her dismay as she scrunched up her face, only a single tear slid down her cheek. Slapping the tile underneath her, she gritted her teeth and steeled her emotions. Pissed off was an emotion she could deal with, but this was too much. Even if she could have mustered up the tears she had been taught to hide, there was no need to cry over someone who couldn’t even speak up for her—who wouldn’t even give a damn if she disappeared and skipped town.
Sighing, she kicked the floor, letting the rest of her outburst subside. She rose, reminding herself that she would bounce back from this stronger than before. She always did. Crazy women in this town had made sure she knew how to bounce back. Regardless of the current situation, it was time for a beer.
She grabbed her keys and made a beeline for the door. Cranking her music loud enough that she wouldn’t have to hear the noise of her own thoughts, she barreled down the road, determined to make this a better night.
Pulling into McCool’s, Chloe parked her truck and briefly checked her reflection before getting out. She wasn’t here to impress. She was only here to grab a cold beer and listen to Louie the bartender’s outrageous stories in hopes of finding reasons to smile.
Neon lights littered the walls. She breathed in the scents of beer and liquor, mingled with too much perfume and cologne, a little straw, and a few patrons who probably hadn’t showered off the day’s work. The scent welcomed her, as did Louie’s wave from the bar. She walked up to her regular barstool.
“How are you doing today, sweetheart?” Louie asked, his belly bouncing as he laughed and gave her his half-toothless grin. The sheen on his cheeks and forehead told her what she already knew. The bar’s AC was subpar for the sizeable crowd that had gathered.
“Eh, next question,” she said with a shrug.
“All right, then,” he said. “What do you want?”
“Surprise me,” she said, feeling more at home and at peace in the warmth of his smile. “As long as it’s cold.”
“A cold one comin’ right up,” he said and poured beer from the tap.
She smiled and thanked him, grateful that he had other customers to wait on. She wasn’t sure she was up for a full conversation tonight, at least not with someone who knew her as well as he did and could read behind the bullshit to know something was wrong.
“Isn’t this a shocker?” The voice came from right behind her, so she turned slightly in her chair. “A dyke in a flannel shirt drinking a beer.”
“To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?” Chloe shot back, turning to face Trent Westwick.
He smiled at her, but it looked more like a predator assessing its prey. His perfectly groomed and styled blond hair spilled across his wide forehead. His square jaw was set as he raised an eyebrow at her. She glanced up at those, set right over his cool blue eyes, and noted they too were groomed and too well kept for most around this town.
“You just happened to be over here being a town disgrace, and rumor has it, it’s up to my family to clean up around here,” he continued.
“Tell that to your pastel polo shirt,” she said, shaking her head.
“How about you ditch your lezzy ways for just one night, and I’ll show you what it’s really like to enjoy a good time?”
“I’m afraid I’ll have to pass.” She tightened the grip on her beer.
“You don’t know what you’re missing out on,” he said, leaning in close enough for her to smell the sharp sting of whiskey on his breath. “You just haven’t had the right dick yet,” he hissed. “And mine is the cure-all drug for your disgusting disease.”
“Nothing sounds quite as disgusting as that offer or that insinuation that I have an ailment,” she said, slamming her beer down on the counter and swinging around in her chair. “I’ll have you know that your small-minded douchebaggery won’t change a damn thing about who I am.”
“I’ve seen it before,” he challenged, staggering as he got in her face.
“Yeah, I know,” she said and shrugged. There was always a back-story with this level of exaggerated homophobia. “We all know why you hate the gays so damn much. We’ve all heard about your mama and how ‘wrecked’ you were as a kid,” she added, using air quotes. “But leave me be. I’ve had a rough enough day, and I don’t need you around ruining it.”
He backed up slightly, his eyes narrowing as he took in the weight of her words. “That bitch has nothing to do with this. This is all about you and the fact that you’re a fuckin’ joke.” He slurred over his drawl, his face reddening with every word. “Aside from all that, you’re alone, aren’t you? Maybe if you wanted to do something the right way, you’d have found a decent man by now.”
She cocked her head to the side, letting out a short laugh. Everyone thought she had “friends” in the neighboring towns—or that she went and visited them in Austin on one of her many trips. They weren’t wrong. But they all failed to realize she had been with her share right here in the village limits. Even with a limited population like 12,000, there had been plenty of women who wanted to give in to their curiosities.
For a moment, she thought about regaling him with the fact that she had been with sisters, friends, daughters—and even one wife, although she wasn’t proud of the fact—of many patrons in the bar tonight. Whether they wanted an experiment or they were taking their one chance at living the life they longed for with the security that she would protect their secrets, they flocked to her. They were her companions, lovers, friends, and sometimes more. Rarely more. But they all still mattered to her. She wouldn’t expose them. She never had and she wouldn’t start now—especially to a snake like Westwick.
“It’s a damn shame and a waste of a perfectly fuckable woman,” Trent spat the words at her.
“That’s enough,” Louie said, reaching across to take the glass of whiskey out of Trent’s hand. “Knock it off, kid.”
“You want a health code violation up in here?” Trent asked, reaching for his whiskey and slipping, only to catch himself on the stool adjacent Chloe’s. “I can make that happen.”
“I know you can.” Louie shrugged. “But your threats are empty here. I don’t care, and neither does anyone else who wants to get a drink in this place. Hell, you wouldn’t want it closed down either, or you’d have to drive twenty minutes to get this stumbling drunk somewhere else. Leave Chloe alone. She’s one of us.”
“Fuck you.” Trent narrowed his eyes at Louie. “And fuck this place.” He reached beside Chloe, grabbing the two open beer bottles left by a couple on the dance floor, took a swig out of one of them, and staggered back to the booth where his buddies waited.
Louie sighed and shook his head, replacing the beers with fresh ones. “I’ll kick ’em out myself if I have to. You really are one of us.” He leaned in closer, reaching across to grab her hand. “I mean that.”
The words warmed Chloe’s heart. No matter how rough and tumble she might be, how jagged around the edges, it still did her heart good to know she had allies in this place. “Thanks, Louie.”
“Least I could do,” he said. “Now that he’s cut off, I’m sure he won’t stick around. But you, your beers are on the house tonight. Even if he is the mayor’s kid, no one should have to deal with that kind of behavior.”
She nodded and let out another deep breath. “They sure do know how to grow ’em spoiled and entitled around here.”
“That they do, but you and me, we’ll always be the humble ones. We know what it is to have and to have not.”
She nodded and raised her glass in a mock cheers to her favorite bartender and one of her closest friends. Over the years, coming to see Louie had been more than grabbing a beer. It had also been about camaraderie with one who understood her way of life. Being children of modest cattle ranchers had meant that they had to fight tooth and nail for everything they had in their lives—unlike some people. Trent Westwick, for instance.
Watching out of the corner of her eye, she saw Trent back at his table of equally preppy friends. They stuck out like a sore thumb in this part of the world. In a place where everyone’s best was something that hadn’t gotten dirt on it for the day, they made every point to show off the brand names and slick logos that they had bought from a store in a bigger city—or when they were off studying at a fancy university, something people like her and Louie knew nothing about.
The class system was definitely still alive and well in Knell, Texas. She took a swig of her beer, wishing it would do something to help any of the problems she felt.
She saw as Trent pointed back to the bar. Using his hands, he spoke exaggeratedly, and she knew that whatever he was telling them, it was more than likely a stretched truth. He pointed in her direction, glaring with icy daggers for eyes. She heard the words “fucking queer” but nothing else. Shaking her head, she redirected her attention to something more positive. And when they finally all walked out without paying their tabs, she took a deep breath.
“Sorry about the lost business,” she said, giving Louie a sad grin.
“Oh it’s all right, ma’am,” he said, his smile growing. “I’m happy to be rid of the trash for one night, and don’t worry. I’ll get my money back. If they ever want a cold beer again, they’re going to have to answer for that tab—and I’m thinking their next drinks will be double the cost, just to make sure they walk the line a little more.”
She nodded and offered him a smile. “You’re the best.”
He winked at her and returned to wiping down the bar.
Growing up in this town, anyone different was an outcast. It had always been that way. Amelia’s words echoed in her mind, and she wanted to scream. With hatred like that splashed about at someone just trying to grab a beer after a rough day, it was no wonder Amelia—and all of the girls before her—cowered in the closet, kept there by fear and shame.
“I think I’m going to call it a night, Lou,” she said, letting out a sigh. What was supposed to have brought her normalcy and comfort had only served to ruin her night more. She waved at him, put enough cash to include a generous tip under her glass, and slipped back out into the night.
It was warm and humid, muggy even with the predicted rainstorm approaching, but she felt a chill as she walked. Somehow, the night was cold and unwelcoming. She shivered, wrapping her arms tight around her body and quickening her pace.
In the safety of her truck, she glanced at her reflection in the rearview mirror and forced herself to breathe normally. Running her hands through her hair, she noted the lines around her eyes. Hard livin’. She heard her dad’s words play through her head. The worries she had accumulated, along with the stress of keeping the guys in line at work and the stress of keeping the secrets of every one of her lovers, had left her ragged.
Still, she admired what was left of her mother in her—the bright smile, the hazel eyes, the long eyelashes. She turned her mouth up into a smile and turned on the truck. It would do her no good to dwell on her problems or the crow’s feet forming from too much stress and too much sun.
Shaking her head, she put the truck in gear. Her hands still trembled as she drove, but she turned up the music with renewed intensity.
Tomorrow would bring another day, complete with new challenges. It always did.
As she pulled into her driveway, she wanted to look around the corner for the red sports car, but averted her eyes. No good would come from not seeing it where she wanted it to be. Steeling herself, she got out of her truck and straightened her shoulders, proudly walking up to her house.
Even in a day filled with so much strife, she still had this.
She took just a moment to look at it. This was hers in all its glory. The beautiful home and land she had purchased from the fruits of her labor. She might not have someone willing to stand up and affirm their love for her, but at least she was a damn good worker who was making it in the world.
A nice bubble bath and one more beer would do the trick. Then she’d be good as new for tomorrow’s events. She threw open the door and thought again that it might be time to get a dog so she had some steady companionship around here.
She moved to turn on the light, but stopped her hand midair. Something was off. Nothing looked out of place. But the lighting was dim in her living room. Her heart hammered as it had in the parking lot. Her pistol was in her bedroom. But this was Knell. There was nothing to fear.
She shut the door and flipped on the light. Turning around, she jumped as she heard footsteps to the left in the kitchen.
“Amelia,” she called out, hope soaring with the possibility.
“Guess again,” a deep voice called out. Her blood went cold. Shivers flew across her body. She raced toward her bedroom to grab her pistol.
“Thank you and thank you for being a good friend to my girl,” he said nodding, that glint of a father’s knowing in his eyes. She had no way of knowing what—if anything—she had just confessed to Bill, but she wanted him to take her up on the offer if he needed anything.
Giving in to her good southern raising, she leaned in and gave him another hug. “You take care and remember I’m here if y’all need anything.”
He nodded and she turned to go. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw into the kitchen and glimpsed broken glass on the floor. Her heart raced. She couldn’t be here any longer, at least not while they were still cleaning things up. She’d drive back by later, but now it was still too fresh.
She hit her car at a run and locked herself inside as though the monsters that now existed in her world could be kept at bay with the simple click of a lock.
There were still no answers, but this was not her time to be Nancy Drew. She needed to remember, to mourn in solitude, as did those who loved Chloe the most.