Home > By The Light of Dawn

By The Light of Dawn
Author: Adrienne Wilder

 

Chapter One

 

 

Durstrand: a little town in the middle of nowhere-deep-south, with a place called Toolies—restaurant by day bar by night—a single mechanic shop, hardware store, and a drive-in theatre set in the middle of a cow pasture, where they held a town cookout once a year to eat said cows.

And I hated to admit it, but apparently letting the cows watch movies did make them taste better.

Durstrand was where I escaped to, where I never planned to stay until I fell in love with one of the most unique people in the world.

Morgan Kade.

The bacon grease popped and kissed the side of my hand. “Damnit.” You’d think I’d learn. Bacon always fought back, particularly early in the morning, when you were still too sleep fogged to defend yourself.

“Turn down the stove and that won’t happen.” Morgan whisked through the kitchen and out the back door.

Our yellow lab right on his heels, thick tail knocking the chairs aside, whacking the walls, then the doorway.

Dog, who after almost six months of living with us, still didn’t have a real name. No matter what I suggested, it didn’t fit.

Dog fit because he was a dog, and until he was something else, he’d continue to be Dog.

I glared in Morgan’s direction. And just for spite, I didn’t turn down the heat.

I flipped the bacon, then cracked the eggs. They sizzled in a second skillet on a back burner.

The bacon popped, and a goddamned droplet hit my right nipple. “Fuck.”

The back door opened; Morgan zipped through the kitchen. “Told you to turn it down, or you could wear a long—” Gone again. The thump, thump of a perpetual happy lab puppy right behind him. Although Dog wasn’t very puppy in appearance. In the past several months, he’d gone from a fat-bellied roly-poly into a wall of muscle and mass, with jowls that could soak up a gallon of water and redeposit it onto your lap.

Or face.

A high-pitched beep came from somewhere outside. I’d heard the sound a million times during my years in Chicago working and living in a shipping yard. My life before Durstrand. My life before Morgan Kade. A time when my days were filled with dodging the FBI and designing ways to smuggle high-dollar goods: stolen art, cars, jewelry, across the ocean or just to squirrel them away for some rich person who didn’t want to pay the taxman.

I don’t know why they bothered. It wasn’t like I was cheap.

Honestly, I think cheating Uncle Sam gave them some sort of perverse pleasure. Not that I blame them.

The backup warning grew louder. I pushed aside the curtain over the sink. A flatbed truck made its way in reverse up the long driveway. I knew damn well they weren’t coming for the pickup. It was not only paid for, it wasn’t worth a car payment.

Oh, I could have afforded a new car, without payments even. But there were some things more important than money that brought me happiness no luxury ever could.

Said happiness raced past again, out the back door. This time Dog stopped and cocked his head at me.

“What?”

Dog wagged his tail.

The truck engine rumbled, and Dog vanished, followed by the screen door slapping the frame.

I parted the curtain again. I was wrong. It wasn’t the standard flatbed truck. A series of ridges created a cradle to keep its load from tilting. A crane rigged with steel cable and pullies lay folded at the edge. I’d seen larger versions transporting yachts at various docks all over the world.

While this truck had all the bells and whistles used for million-dollar vessels, it wouldn’t have been able to haul anything over thirty feet.

The sailboat Starry Night Morgan built was exactly twenty-five and a half.

And like everything he touched, did, or took an interest in, it was a work of art. Looking at it, you’d have thought he’d done it a million times before and not followed pictures in books he’d borrowed from the library.

When I’d gotten out of the hospital and come back to Durstrand, I had no idea what I’d find. The man I’d fallen in love with had withdrawn due to trauma, and the doctors told me he might never be who he had been when he stole my heart. It wasn’t until I’d seen the long-term care home brochures Aunt Jenny had that the reality of what those doctors said hit home.

Looking down the barrel of a gun, getting shot, or stabbed, and almost dying never terrified me as much as the thought of life without Morgan.

I won’t say things were normal, at least not for a little while. Morgan spoke little and spent early morning till late at night building that damn boat. I helped when he let me, mostly I watched while he sanded, warped, and notched everything in place. I put Band-Aids on his cuts and kissed his bruises every night.

That boat helped bring him back. It helped me find the patience to wait.

We water-sealed it, placed his colored glass into the portholes, and poked a million holes in our fingers sewing the sail.

A few weeks after the Starry Night was done, we said our vows at the drive-in theatre set in the middle of a cow pasture, with over half the town there to witness it.

The best day of my life. The beginning of my future.

And the Starry Night remained in the backyard on a frame, its sail folded, its mast laid down. Now two guys, one with red hair, pale skin, the other dark hair, dark eyes, both wearing coveralls, worked straps around Morgan’s boat, preparing to haul it up on the back of the transport truck.

I went outside and down the steps.

“What’s going on?” I waved my spatula at the two men.

Morgan flicked thoughts while he talked, keeping his eyes on the ground. “Are you packed? Make sure you take a swimsuit and sunscreen. There won’t be any shade in the middle of the ocean.”

“Ocean? Pack? What are you talking about?”

“Florida.”

I wrinkled my nose. “Florida.”

“Yes, Grant, Florida. You’re the one who said it would be a good place to put the Starry Night in the water.”

“That was months ago.”

“Very observant of you, Grant.”

“Morgan, I suggested Florida because you suggested trying out the boat in the ocean.” I never expected an actual answer. Morgan’s autism graced him with ticks, a penchant for light, and the inability to travel far from home. Sure, he’d mentioned wanting to do it.

Once.

But never spoke about it again, so I didn’t push the subject.

“And you’re right,” he said. “It would be a good place.”

“You don’t like to travel.”

“You don’t like pineapple on your pizza, but you humor me sometimes.”

I would have put sardines on the pizza if it made him happy. Hell, I would have even eaten them. “Florida and pineapple are not the same things.”

He flashed me a smile and a momentary glimpse of his keen gaze. “I should hope not, that would be awkward. I mean, how would you even get a boat to float on a pineapple?”

The redhead with a name tag that read Joey stopped and stared at Morgan.

“He’s joking,” I said.

“No, I’m not. It would definitely be awkward.”

Joey looked back at his partner. “Uh, Bill.”

“Give ’em the form so we can get out of here. I’d like to grab some biscuits at Fran’s before they quit serving.”

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