Home > The Road to Rose Bend(4)

The Road to Rose Bend(4)
Author: Naima Simone

   “Welcome home, Sydney,” he interrupted. “I need to go, but it was good seeing you again.”

   He didn’t grant her the opportunity to reply. With a last nod, he pivoted on his heel and strode away, back down the rise, past the cemetery, disappearing from sight.

   She continued to stare at the empty path for several seconds. What the hell had just happened? Spinning back around, she focused her gaze upon the now rapidly setting sun. But the peace and solitude of the view and the churchyard had vanished like early morning mist.

   “It’s going to be okay,” she quietly reassured her baby as if he or she could hear her fervent words. Some books said babies could hear in the womb, though probably not this early in her pregnancy. But Sydney could still pretend the words were for her child instead of for herself. Pretend that Cole’s abrupt switch toward her hadn’t caused hurt to echo through her.

   Lifting her shoulders high, she rolled them back. Envisioning his aloofness and cold dismissal tumbling away from shoulders that already carried too much. She didn’t have room for anything else.

   So, Coltrane Dennison would have to take a back seat to her pending single motherhood, enduring her parents’ anger and frustration, establishing a new home, a new future. Finding her place.

   Forcing her shoulders to remain straight, she followed the path Cole had taken. Past the church. Back through town. To her car.

   To her reckoning.

   Another thing pregnancy had apparently transformed her into: dramatic.

   Shaking her head, she slid into the driver’s seat and cranked the engine.

   Still... If this first encounter was any indication of how her return to Rose Bend would go, she would need to buckle up.

   Because this ride was going to be bumpy as hell.




   COLTRANE SLAMMED HIS wrapped fists into the punching bag. The jarring impact of each blow vibrated up his wrists and arms, settling into his shoulders. Bouncing on the balls of his feet, he circled the suspended bag. His brain comprehended that he jabbed the equipment over and over. But in his soul—where he disappeared when the pain, grief and anger swelled so high he imagined drowning under its destructive lure—he swung at the Fates, at Life, at the merciless universe that had flipped his world on its ass. Then laughed.

   He drew short of cursing God.

   His biological mom and his adoptive mom were both stalwart Catholics, and going off on God was a blasphemous line he couldn’t bring himself to cross. Besides, he wasn’t some biblical Jacob, wrestling with the Lord until He blessed him. Cole had already been cursed, condemned. Instead of giving him a disjointed hip, God had left him dislocated from the fairy-tale life he’d lived with his wife, Tonia, and their soon-to-be-born and already adored son. Cole’s existence had been broken into two halves. Heaven and hell.

   And hell was this gray place, devoid of joy, of peace. He’d become a full-time resident of that place.

   His hard breaths reverberated off the cement walls of his rental cottage as he shifted away from the swinging bag. He dragged an arm over his forehead, swiping away the sweat dripping into his eyes. Usually, exercise grounded him, allowed him to release the overwhelming emotion that built up inside him like a seething, rumbling volcano. Right after Tonia and their son—Mateo Seamus Dennison, named after both of Cole’s fathers—died in childbirth, and Cole had sat, curled up in the corner of the nursery they’d decorated together, with a gun clasped in his hands, he’d admitted he needed to find a way to relieve the pressure, to release his grief and rage. The next day, he’d turned the gun in to the local police station, moved out of the house he’d shared with Tonia into one of his parents’ rental cottages and hung the punching bag in the garage. And he’d thrown himself back into his family law practice.

   That’s where he should be now. Or down at the town hall where he had his own office as Rose Bend’s newly elected mayor. The town’s first nonwhite mayor. Damn, he’d been in the position for almost a year now, and at times, he still asked himself, How in the hell did I get here? But he knew the how and the why.

   He was no longer a husband whose purpose was to protect his wife and their world. So now, he’d channeled that instinct into protecting the community that had been so important to both of them. He intended to do everything he could to make Rose Bend grow and continue to be a safe, beautiful and thriving haven for its residents.

   Everything he did came back to Tonia and Mateo.

   Besides, his law practice and mayoral responsibilities kept him busy and, more importantly, distracted. At least during his waking hours. It was those lonely, seemingly endless hours of the night when the silence deafened him, and the right side of the bed taunted him with its cruel emptiness. Then, his mind raced and refused to slow down. That’s when the memories—no longer kept at bay by duties, phone calls and people—crept in. He recoiled from the pain of them, even as he stretched ravenous fingers toward them.

   Grief was like a drug.

   It trapped him in its claws, dragging him down so deep, he couldn’t see his way out of it. Didn’t want to. Didn’t want to leave the dark bosom even as it slowly asphyxiated him. Slowly stole who he once was, until he was an insubstantial shadow of his former self. Because grief, in its way, was solace. It was connection to the ones he’d lost. While mired deep in it, he could forget the real world where Tonia and their son no longer existed. He could remain in the alternate universe of the past where he’d been happy. Whole.

   Every morning, he had to claw his way back from the abyss.

   So far, he’d won the battle. But there were days when he emerged more scarred and worn than others.

   Today had been one of them. And though he should’ve been down at city hall going over the last-minute details of the town’s annual motorcycle ride and rally, he’d been at Tonia’s and Mateo’s graves. And then he’d bumped into Sydney Collins.

   Grinding his teeth together, Cole advanced on the punching bag once more and jabbed at it. Again. And again. As if each punch would drive thoughts of the woman he hadn’t seen in almost a decade from his mind. The beautiful, wild, hurting girl she’d been had matured into a stunning woman.

   Thick, dark brown hair that formed a crown of curls on top of her head. Smooth, walnut-brown skin. Big, chocolate eyes with a dense fringe of long lashes. The mouth that had been too sensual for a girl now fit...and would have a lesser man imagining all the things the woman had learned to do with it. The petite frame with curves a blind man couldn’t miss.

   And she was pregnant.

   A ghostly hand seized him by the throat, squeezing, and his trembling arms dropped to his sides like three-hundred-pound weights. He staggered back a couple of steps, his feet as heavy and unwieldy as his suddenly useless arms.

   “Whoa, Cole. Jesus. You all right?” A big, hard hand steadied him as his brother appeared before him, a frown tugging down his thick eyebrows over green eyes swimming with concern. “What the fuck, man? Here.”

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