Loving Justice (El Camino Real Book 2)

BOOK: Loving Justice (El Camino Real Book 2)
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LOVING JUSTICE

 

El Camino Real

Book 2

 

 

SABLE HUNTER

 

 

Justice King and Charlee Parker are best friends…or they were until the day her feelings changed and she fell madly, hopelessly in love with him.

He didn’t feel the same way. And who could blame him? Justice King was perfect.

He could have any woman he wanted.

And she was just Charlee – a flat-chested tomboy with her heart in her eyes.

But some things are just meant to be.

Some are luckier than most. Soulmates, friends as well as lovers.

When fate begins to weave a thread of hope to bring them together, they go from an ill-fated night of passion to a misunderstanding which separates them for eight long years.

But destiny will not be denied – a calamity at El Camino brings Charlee home and from the moment he sees her, Justice knows he’ll never let her go again.

But Charlee has a secret…a secret she’s afraid to tell Justice. She’s been keeping something from him, something he might not be able to forgive.   

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved.

 

Loving Justice

Copyright 2014 © Sable Hunter

 

Published by Beau Coup Publishing

http://beaucoupllcpublishing.com

 

EBOOK:

ISBN-10: 1942213085

ISBN-13: 978-1-942213-08-6

 

Cover by JRA Stevens

For Beau Coup Publishing

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher.

A note from Sable

 

 

 

LOVING JUSTICE
is Book 2 in the El Camino Real Series.
BREATH OF HEAVEN
, Book I introduced the King Family with the story of Abby Grace and Cade. LOVING JUSTICE tells the older brother’s story and reveals more about the family and how their lives and loves are woven together to create a tapestry of Texas ranch life and the men and women who epitomize the modern day cowboy lifestyle. I have chosen to set this series, not in my beloved Hill Country or on a Louisiana bayou, but alongside a historic pathway that has partially defined my existence. All of my life I have been intrigued by a stretch of roadway that wound its way near my home. The El Camino Real de los Tejas stretches 2500 miles from Mexico City, across the heart of Texas, to Natchitoches, Louisiana. I have walked the path and marveled that I was following the footprints of history. If you close your eyes, you can hear them—soldiers marching along, instruments of the power struggle between France and Spain for a wilderness which would one day be the Lone Star State. Missions were established along its length, bringing a new religion to a new world by order of the King of Spain. Explorers, conquistadors, and pioneers walked its pathway. The brave men who died at the Alamo traveled to their destiny on this road, as well as Confederate soldiers fighting their brothers in a war that would mold the nation.

Three hundred years of history left its mark. I have touched the wagon ruts left to scar the earth. That boggles my mind! How can a wagon rut survive for three centuries?

For most of its length, the El Camino Real is a narrow winding road where towns have sprung up, old missions still stand, and ranches grace the right-of-ways. And all of those who live near this road, known as the King’s Highway, understand that it’s not like other roads, this is sacred ground. When the wind blows through the trees, I listen, because along with the modern-day traffic, ghosts still walk. I have stood at the base of the Native American burial mounds, forged the creeks that hold purported buried Spanish treasure. I have ghost-hunted in the cemeteries that lie near this road where neighbors of mine are buried alongside confederate soldiers and next to the fathers of Texas who fought for its independence. There is a stretch of the trail that cuts through Crockett, narrow with a canopy of trees meeting overhead. My mother, who was psychic, said she could see covered wagons and settlers, war-torn and bloody from a fight with the Indians who claimed this land. In Loving Justice, I will tell you of La Llorona, a spirit who walks the rivers looking for her lost children, a sad figure that if you see her or hear her—you will never forget.

So, join me, as I tell you of the King Family who live on their ranch, an old Spanish land grant, named for the road which cuts through their slice of Texas.

The El Camino Real is not just a road, it’s a ribbon of antiquity where history still lives and we who can follow its path are privileged.

- From Charlee’s Journal –

I believe in a grand design, a reason for everything. You can’t look at the night sky or sit and watch the

waves come in and think it’s all by chance. And if

nature is created with purpose and meaning, so

are we. The same power that set the stars in place,

formed and fashioned me.

I was placed upon this earth to love and be loved. My heart and soul was sculpted to fit perfectly with another who was created with me in mind.

And that person is you.

I knew it from the moment I saw you.

I am yours and you are mine.

We are meant to be, Justice. (Even if you don’t

know it yet.
)

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

 

Eight years ago, the day of the fire at El Camino...

 

Charlee ran through the woods at breakneck speed, brambles tearing at her skin. She’d seen the fire trucks go by and heard the sirens. Something was wrong at El Camino and if Justice was hurt, she’d die. “Please, please, please,” she prayed. “Let him be all right.” Of course, she didn’t want anyone to be hurt, but Justice was her world.

Feet pounding as hard as her heart, Charlee ran the two miles that separated her father’s medical clinic from the ranch where her best friend lived. Or he used to be her best friend. It was hard for a man and a woman to be close without the male/female thing getting in the way. Especially when one was a sex god and the other a hopeless tomboy with a crush. Things weren’t the same as they used to be. Like Justice said, they’d grown up and grown apart. Still, she didn’t want anything to happen to him—ever. The closer she got, the better she could see the flames shooting over the tops of the pine trees. My God, the barn was on fire!

Racing the last few hundred yards, Charlee hastily climbed the fence and vaulted over a drainage ditch, falling and scrambling up, tears streaming down her face. “Justice! Justice!” She could see an ambulance with its back doors open and the EMTs were loading someone on a gurney. Pushing through the crowd, she fought her way to the front. “Justice!”

“Charlee, slow down, here I am.” Strong hands caught her by the shoulders. “I’m okay. It’s Abby, she ran into the burning barn.”

Throwing herself against him, she sobbed into his shirt. “I thought it was you. I was so scared.”

Awkwardly, he patted her back. “You shouldn’t have come. This place is a madhouse.” He was right, people were running about, shouting. Horses were still running loose and firemen were busy dragging hoses and equipment around.

Charlee tried to still her trembling. “Is Abby okay?” Adrenaline was rushing through her body ninety to nothing. 

With all the noise, it was hard to hear. Justice pushed her back a few inches so he could look into her face. “No, she’d not okay. She’s been burned. Her stomach and legs, mostly. Abby thought Cade was in the barn, she ran in to find him. I followed her, we got the horses out, but she was convinced Cade was in the loft. I screamed at her, I begged…” Justice broke out into a cough. “She tore out of my hands and started to the back stairs. A beam fell on her…” He stopped to cough again.

“Are you hurt?” Charlee started running her hands over his body. “Were you burned?”

“No.” He shook his head. “I just swallowed some smoke. No one was hurt but Abby. Cade wasn’t even here. A buddy picked him up a while ago to drive to a rodeo. No one was home but me and Abby.”

“Charlee, you need to back up and let Justice go.” It was her father. “He needs to go with Abby to the hospital. I’ll meet you there,” he told Justice.

Justice nodded, then patted Charlee’s shoulder. “Thanks for coming. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Okay. Call me if you can.” She stood and watched as Justice and her dad climbed into the ambulance with Abby. Smoke was still swirling, the air was thick and it was hard to see. Horses were whinnying and firefighters were still spraying the charred, smoking building with water.

“You need to go on home, miss. The structure isn’t safe,” one of the firefighters who knew Charlee spoke kindly. “I’m sure your father will let you know how things go.” Everyone knew how close she’d once been to Justice and the King family. And everybody felt sorry for her now that they weren’t. 

Knowing he was right, she trudged home. It wasn’t like she had nothing to do, Charlee was up to her eyeballs in homework. College classes at A&M were no picnic. She really needed to head over to campus for a lab, but leaving Bronco right now didn’t feel right. She wanted to be close in case Justice needed her. He wouldn’t, Justice had a big family and they were all close. She was sure he’d already called them and they were on their way home. He was responsible. As the oldest, he took care of things on the ranch as much as his father did.

When she emerged from the woods, Charlee glanced up at the house where she’d grown up. It wasn’t a happy home. Letting herself into the clinic which occupied the first floor, Charlee went to the front and posted the ‘Closed’ sign on the door, just in case some walk-in patients arrived. One day, she guessed, this practice would be hers. Presently, she was just getting her basics out of the way, but next year she’d start concentrating on a pre-med program. Just as Curtiss Parker wanted, Charlee planned on being a doctor. If it had been her choice, she would’ve chosen to study history, archaeology or geology, anything but medicine. She especially loved Texas history. Living on the El Camino Real, Charlee read everything she could get her hands on about the subject. Instead, she would become a doctor to make her dad happy. Charlee desperately wanted him to love her. He didn’t. He never had.

She stood by the window, hugging herself, looking toward El Camino. If it hadn’t been for Justice, she didn’t know if she would’ve survived her childhood. He’d stood by her, defended her, helped her cope after every one of her father’s ‘episodes.’ Curtiss Parker was an alcoholic and when he was drunk—he beat her. Or at least he used to. He’d abruptly stopped when she was fourteen. It had been after the incident where Toby had tricked Justice into using his father’s prize saddle, expressly after Sam King had told him not to. Through a misunderstanding, Charlee had been blamed, and Sam had hauled Charlee home to her father. Curtiss Parker had been so angry and embarrassed that he’d whaled the tar out of her. When Justice learned she had received the whipping he deserved, he’d told his father her terrible secret, and Sam King had intervened. He’d threatened the doctor with the loss of his medical license if he laid one more hand on his daughter.

So, he’d stopped hitting her. For that she was grateful. Curtiss joined AA. He’d tried. But the root of the problem was still there. Her father blamed Charlee for his wife’s death. He blamed her for something that had happened when she was five years old. There were times when he screamed at her that adopting her had been the worst mistake of his life.

When the phone rang, Charlee almost jumped out of her skin. Grabbing it, she answered, “Hello?”

“Charlee, it’s Justice.”

She sat down, almost dizzy with relief. “How is she? How are you?” 

“Abby has to have surgery. Mom and Dad are on the way.”

“Did you call Cade? He’d want to know.” Abby was in love with Cade. 

“No, Abby won’t let me. She doesn’t want Cade to know how badly she’s hurt. She doesn’t even want our brothers to know.”

“Why?” Charlee didn’t understand. Her brothers adored her. Abby had all the support she’d ever need.

“I’ll tell you when I see you,” he promised and Charlee’s heart leapt. It was almost like old times.

“Okay, I’ll be waiting.” She assured him. “If there’s anything I can do for you or her, all you have to do is ask.”

“Thanks.” He sounded tired. “I’m going to stay with her until Mom and Dad arrive, then I’ve got to come home and see about the horses.”

“Okay, will you call me later?” The question was out before she could call it back. They hadn’t talked like this since the day Toby had defaced the water tower with his vindictive prank, unleashing a storm of ridicule and teasing upon her and Justice’s head. After she’d become the butt of everyone’s jokes, Justice had pulled away saying they needed to cool it, that she needed to find a girl to be best friends with. Charlee couldn’t really blame him, his friends had been relentless with their ribbing and mocking jabs. And no teenager wants to put up with that. If she’d been pretty or sexy, it would’ve been different. But when her adoration for her best friend had become public knowledge, Justice had been mocked, and she’d been humiliated. From that day on, the invitations to El Camino had been less and less. There’d been no more late night visits, no more sharing secrets—Charlee had been gently pushed aside. Justice had found new friends and more girlfriends than he could count, including one special one. Zelda. Charlee could never compete with a woman like Zelda. They were as different as night and day. Things hadn’t changed when they’d grown up. Oh, Justice was always polite, mindful of their past closeness. But they were never able to go back to the way it used to be.

Which was a damn shame. She missed him more than anyone would ever know. 

“Yea, I will call. I promise.”

Justice hung up, and Charlee just sat there staring at the phone in her hand. He’d sounded so scared. If she could, she would’ve taken away his pain. She would do it in a heartbeat.

Charlee Parker loved Justice King.

The ten foot tall white letters Toby had painted on the town’s water tower were true. Yes, everybody knew tomboy Charlee Parker loved perfect Justice King.

But to Justice, she was just a friend. That was all she’d ever been.

 

*  *  *

 

Charlee paced back and forth across the floor. She hadn’t heard from Justice in over twenty-four hours. He’d promised to call. Perhaps he’d forgotten—or changed his mind. Her father had come home and told her that Abby had been transferred to Austin for surgery. He’d said she was in a great deal of pain, but she would recover. Plastic surgery would be needed. It could’ve been worse, he’d consoled Charlee. But doctors generally said things like that.

Ring! Ring!

With a gasp, Charlee dove for the phone again. “Hello?”

“Charlee, could you come get me?”

It was Justice. He sounded so tired. “Of course, where are you? Did your truck break down?”

“No, I’m at The Broken Spoke. I’ve had too much to drink.”

To say she was surprised would be putting it mildly. Not that it mattered, Charlee was so glad to hear from him she could cry. “Just sit tight, I’ll be right there.”

“Good, I’ll be waiting. I’ll have another drink or two until you get here.” He was teasing, she knew he was. God, she loved him. Charlee had no idea why he’d called her. Maybe he hadn’t been able to get in touch with any of them.

She dashed around her room, gathering her purse and the keys to the old car her father let her use. “I’m coming.”

“That’s what all the girls say.” He laughed at his own joke.

“Cute.” She shook her head and hung up the phone. Charlee didn’t want to think about the other women in Justice’s life. Racing out the door, she couldn’t believe he had let Abby’s accident drive him to the saloon. But Justice knew his limits, he wasn’t like her father.

The western style bar, The Broken Spoke, was just outside of town. It only took her fifteen minutes to get there. Charlee was so thankful Justice had called instead of trying to drive himself. The roadway was narrow and it was a dark night. Leaving the engine running, she hurried inside the dim interior.

“Charlee, over here,” the bartender called. “Your man is ready to go. He hasn’t said much, must be something bothering him. I’ll have someone bring his truck to El Camino in the morning.”

“I can talk, Brisco.” Justice admonished the bartender. “And I can walk,” he told Charlee as she slid an arm around him. “I’m just being on the safe side.”

“I’m glad.” She didn’t say much else because Justice was heavy, and he was leaning on her more than he wanted to let on. With the bartender’s help, she got him to her car and buckled in.

“I’m sorry about this,” he whispered. “I don’t know why I called you. I guess I just needed to talk.”

“I’m glad you did.” Her chest ached. She’d missed him so much.

“I feel so guilty. I blame myself.” His voice sounded so tired from the other side of her small car.

“How could you? It wasn’t your fault.” She knew assigning blame didn’t always make sense. Just like the blame she’d shouldered about her adopted mother’s death. Her memories of Mary Parker were good, a kind woman with red hair and a pretty smile. Charlee’s life had been good until Mary drowned while taking Charlee swimming in the river. After the accident, her father was never the same again.

“She’s my little sister, I was supposed to be looking out for her.” He laid his head against the window. “I can still hear her screaming his name. It was awful, Charlee. She thought Cade was dead.”

His voice was so full of anguish. “I’m so sorry.” She wanted to hold him so much. “Did you ever talk to Cade? You know he’d want to know.” Cade Tallbull had been raised by the Kings. Sam had brought him home after his father had been gored by a rodeo bull. He was a Native American. So was Charlee, or at least that was what everyone said. She sniffed. The Kings had a habit of taking in strays—like her. Cade had grown up to be a fine man. He was on the rodeo circuit now, like his father. They were all growing up. Justice had already graduated college and was playing a big part in running the ranch.

“She still refuses to let us say anything.” He turned to look at Charlee, his face shrouded in shadow. “So, you have to help me keep her secret. Abby was burned, and she doesn’t want Cade to see where…” Justice stopped talking and looked away, leaving Charlee to imagine what he meant. None of what came to mind was good. The whole thing just broke her heart.

Soon they were driving into El Camino. Even in the dark, the place was grand. “Did you tend to the horses? Are they okay?” Charlee asked as she came around to his side to help him out.

BOOK: Loving Justice (El Camino Real Book 2)
11.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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