Home > The Road to Rose Bend(6)

The Road to Rose Bend(6)
Author: Naima Simone

   And another reason Cole had decided to run for mayor. He had become a lawyer to do his part in ensuring everyone received fair representation under the law. Everyone. Regardless of race, culture, sexuality or religion. And the people of Rose Bend needed someone who would do the same for them as mayor. They needed a person who would go to bat for all of its residents. Not just those from a certain tax bracket or with low melanin.

   “Anyway,” Wolf continued, “when you didn’t answer your phone, I went by the firm and city hall. Since you weren’t at either of them, I came by here.”

   “I’m fine, Wolf,” Cole murmured, hearing the “to make sure you were okay” even though it’d been left unspoken.

   “No, you’re not, Cole. You can run that bullshit by some people, but I’m not ‘some people.’ You haven’t been fine in two years.”

   One thing he’d always admired and loved about his brother was his ability to cut through lies and get right to the heart of a matter. Today was not one of the days when he loved that ability.

   “Guess who’s back in town?” Cole asked, switching the subject he had no intention of touching. Crossing the few feet to the door that led to the kitchen, he pushed it open and entered, leaving Wolf to follow.

   “Okay, I’ll play along for a few minutes,” Wolf said as Cole pulled open the refrigerator and grabbed another bottle of water. His brother shook his head, when he stretched one out to him. “Who’s back?”

   “Sydney Collins.” Cole twisted the cap off and drank deeply.

   Wolf frowned. “Leo’s friend? Luke and Patricia’s youngest?”

   “The very same.”

   “Well damn. It’s been a long time since she’s set foot in Rose Bend. Is she still sexy as hell?” Wolf asked, propping his hip against the counter and crossing his arms over his massive chest.

   “She was a teenager when she left here,” Cole snapped, his fingers tightening around the water bottle. “Why the hell were you noticing if she was sexy or not?”

   “Because I have eyes. And a dick,” Wolf replied. “And she was eighteen. Legal.” Wolf cocked his head to the side, peering at Cole in that way he had when studying a piece of wood. Measuring it. Seeing beyond the block to what lay beneath it. With cedar, that scrutiny was inspiring, mesmerizing. Focused on Cole, it was unnerving, intrusive and a pain in the ass. “Why do you care what I call her or how I looked at her? Because it definitely seems to—” his gaze dropped to the bottle Cole clenched “—bother you.”

   Fuck. It did.

   But damn if he could explain why. Maybe because she had been so vulnerable beneath that tough-girl exterior? Maybe because she’d been his sister’s friend? Or because he understood how it felt to question if you belonged?

   His family was wonderful; his parents had never differentiated between him and their biological children. He’d never doubted their love for and dedication to him. But still... He was a Puerto Rican boy, now man, adopted by white parents in a diverse, unusually tolerant but still predominantly white town in the very Caucasian Berkshires. Every town had its racist assholes and Rose Bend wasn’t any different. He’d been called names that had no place in supposedly progressive and enlightened twenty-first-century America. So yes, he’d doubted if he belonged before. But he’d had a support system in his family, and then in Tonia’s, that had eased those uncertainties. From what he’d witnessed with Sydney’s parents, she hadn’t experienced that comfort.

   Maybe it was that affinity that had forged a sort of connection with her.

   At least, with Wolf’s probing stare pinned to Cole’s face, he was going with that.

   “She’s pregnant,” Cole stated. And watched as surprise, then a terrible, pitying understanding flared in his brother’s eyes.

   Cole hated that understanding. Detested the pity more.

   “She’s what? In her mid to late twenties now? Old enough to know about and have sex. And isn’t she married? That’s usually a thing married folks do. And you’ve been around pregnant women since Tonia died. So, I repeat,” Wolf murmured, his too-gentle voice belying the almost callousness of his words, “why do you care?”

   I don’t fucking know!

   The shout ricocheted against Cole’s skull, gaining speed and volume with each bounce. He fisted the fingers of his free hand and barely contained the urge to hurl the water bottle across the small kitchen.

   Because he lied to himself.

   He knew why seeing her rounded belly had made him run like a man possessed. Had driven him home to pound on the punching bag.

   Because she was pregnant—and he’d gotten hard for her.

   Behind the old Catholic church, his body had stirred like Rip Van Winkle, awakening and stretching, coming to life. For someone who wasn’t his wife.

   Still hadn’t stopped him from staring. From fucking throbbing in want.

   And the guilt. Jesus, the guilt...and the fear. He might have been able to escape Sydney today, but he couldn’t outrun the crushing weight of shame or the visceral terror that tore at him. Guilt over his betrayal of his wife’s memory, of the love they’d shared. And fear for Sydney. For the childbirth that could snuff out her life as it’d done Tonia’s. Fear for himself, if he ever let himself get attached to another woman who could be stolen away so easily.

   Yes, he was a coward. He had every right to be.

   “I don’t care,” he lied to Wolf, turning away on the pretense of downing the remaining water in the bottle and throwing it away. “Just that you’ll most likely see Leo before I do, and you can let her know. I figure Sydney could use a friend about now.”

   Wolf remained silent for several seconds, and when Cole turned back to him, his brother’s gaze snagged his, as if he’d just been waiting for Cole to look at him.

   “All that lying must get exhausting,” Wolf murmured. “When you’re ready to be honest with me and yourself, I’ll be here. I’m always here.”

   With that parting shot, Wolf pushed himself off the counter and strode out of the room. Leaving Cole alone.

   Always alone.

   Just like he preferred.




   THERE WERE ALL kinds of disasters in life.

   Like coming down with mono right before the senior prom.

   Or going on vacation to a tropical island only for a tsunami to hit.

   Another season of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

   So many more cataclysmic events than sitting down and sharing dinner with one’s parents.

   But for the life of her, at this moment, Sydney might risk all those other disasters rather than this hell.

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