Authors: Vivian Wood
Cover Design by Mayhem Cover Creation
Copyright Vivian Veritas Publishing 2016
May not be replicated or reproduced in any manner without express and written permission from the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to author and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
For Margaret, without whom this book would not exist.
emy River stood
amongst the sugarcane buds, the tiny, grainy, black and white picture laying flat in her hand. Tiny green shoots were just beginning to poke through the dirt around her boots, the sign of burgeoning life all around her.
Biting her lip, Remy held in the tumult of emotions she felt. Tucking the picture into the back pocket of her jeans, she walked across the rich, dark soil of her family’s sugarcane farm.
Her cowboy boots left neat tracks in the soft soil as she walked to the tallest point on her family’s lands. From the big hill, she could look right across at Roman Ranch. She could see his house from here, if she squinted.
No Sawyer, though.
Her high school love, the prom king to her prom queen. Tall, dark, and handsome to her fair-skinned blonde beauty. The perfect couple… until he joined the Navy.
He’d left Remy in the dusty quiet of their shared past, and moved on to what she presumed were much more exciting things. Sawyer was probably capturing terrorists and winning medals right this second, and what was she doing?
When he’d come home to visit two months ago, Remy’d known he wasn’t here to stay. The same song had been playing on the same radio, and just like always, she hadn’t been able to resist his heated looks, the way his touch lit her up inside.
She bit her lip, feeling tears begin to well up as she pulled out the photo again.
The sonogram. A little white blob surrounded by darkness.
She ran a fingertip over the image, swiping at the tears that spilled down her face before they could splash onto the photo.
She couldn’t stop thinking about the last night that Sawyer was in town, and all the sweet things he’d whispered. He’d told her that he couldn’t write much — SEALs didn’t stay in one place too long.
He’d made promises… promises that she wanted badly to believe…
Still, she’d rose at dawn and left him sleeping in his room, slipping away with the sunrise. She loved Sawyer, loved him with all her heart, but when he didn’t write…
She was hurt, but not surprised.
No, the surprise had come today. She’d gone to the town doctor, complaining of fatigue. The last thing in the world she had thought was that she might be pregnant…
She pressed a hand to her flat stomach, uncomprehending.
“What am I going to do?” she whispered, her words blowing away in the cool spring wind.
She was 25 years old, no longer a girl. She’d made a mistake, a huge one. And she had no living idea how she was going to fix it.
She had a part-time job at a bar in town, lived at home in a house that was already cramped with five other people. She’d gone to community college, but never made it any further.
The father of her child was halfway across the world, serving in the military and not answering her letters. She could tell Sawyer’s father, perhaps… but even the idea of telling Colonel Roman made her cringe. She didn’t know what the retired Navy man would say, but it wouldn’t be kind.
At least Sawyer has good genes, she thought. My baby will be healthy.
She pictured herself holding a newborn, looking down at a baby with those stunning hazel eyes.
A low sound escaped Remy’s lips. She sank to her knees, burying her face in her hands.
, she thought.
I’ve been so stupid. Now I’m all alone…
She let herself cry for a few minutes, releasing all the pent-up anger and fear and worry in her heart. When she’d exhausted her rage and self-loathing, she straightened and blew out a breath.
She looked at the little photo again, damp and wrinkled from her tears. She smoothed it out, trying to calm herself.
She could cry all she wanted, but there were certain inescapable facts.
One, she was pregnant.
Two, she’d keep the baby, no matter what.
Three, people were going to talk.
Four, her life was about to become very difficult.
Five, she was going to have to do this on her own.
At this precise moment, she didn’t even know if Sawyer was alive, much less if he was interested in coming home to help her parent a baby.
Actually, the more she thought about it, the more she realized that she might not even tell him. After all, if Sawyer wanted to be in her life, he could’ve called or written. Instead, she’d received nothing but radio silence.
That made his intentions pretty damned clear, didn’t it?
The sooner she came to terms with all of that, the better off she’d be. Wiping away the last of her tears, she took a deep breath.
“I can do this,” she said. “I can do this myself.”
Not that there was anything to decide, per se… but the act of self-reassurance made her feel better. Made her feel like there was a chance that this would work out. That she wasn’t going to spend every minute of the rest of her life looking at Sawyer’s child and regretting the life they could’ve had…
, she told herself.
He’s made his bed, as I have mine. I need to put him out of my head, because I have way bigger things to worry about. This baby needs me now.
Tucking the photo back in her pocket, Remy strode down the hill, leaving her tears behind her.
out I-10 West through central Louisiana, Sawyer Roman felt as though he was driving into the past. The sense of deja vu that clung to him had started the moment he stepped off the plane in New Orleans, and only grew with each passing mile.
After a quick stop in the city to pick up his gleaming black Range Rover from the garage where he’d stored it during his last deployment, he headed west toward Catahoula Creek, Louisiana. It was his childhood home; a land of hot sun and sugarcane fields, Sunday church socials and marsh life, and Creole fiddles and Cajun cowboys.
It was a place deeply steeped in the rituals of farm life and family-almost 7000 miles from the heat, dust, and civil unrest of the Middle East.
After six years in the dust and churning violence of Afghanistan, Sawyer thought that Bear Creek should have seemed like some kind of shining oasis. He couldn’t decide if he should have been disappointed that it didn’t beckon to him, or glad that he’d grown out of his Atchafalaya roots.
After all, no one in Catahoula was going to tear the whole town down with a remotely-activated grenade launcher. No helicopters falling out of the sky to rip down the walls of already-crumbling apartment buildings. No need to constantly look over his shoulder, wondering not if but
hostiles would creep up behind him.
Sawyer looked out the window as ashy brown fields dotted with green blurred past. It was August, so the sugarcane was low and bright green, the new growth just beginning to poke up from the ground.
Though Sawyer’s family raised cattle and horses, growing up in south Louisiana had burned the life cycle of sugarcane into his mind forever. Planting, tilling, burning, harvest…
Sometimes when he was laid up in his bunk at Camp Leatherneck, he’d try to reconcile the current date with life back in Catahoula. The seasons barely changed in Afghanistan, not like they did back in the States.
He’d drift off to sleep as he tried imagine his high school friends walking amongst the tall green sugarcane stalks, wondering if the season was rainy enough for a good harvest.
He hadn’t been back for almost four years, too busy burying himself in the high-stakes missions of a Navy SEAL. He’d sort of thought, in the back of his mind, that he’d be a Lifer. That he’d just stay in service until he got killed, or got discharged due to injury or age.
Never in his service days had Sawyer taken more than a handful of moments to contemplate the future. If he was truthful with himself, he’d always just sort of vaguely planned to stay the hell out of Louisiana.
Yet here he was, leaving the interstate behind and cutting onto smaller and smaller highways. His phone buzzed, and when he checked it he saw a text from Amy, a sex-crazed management consultant back in D.C.
Where are you right now?
Blowing out a breath, he ignored the text.
When he turned into downtown Catahoula, the size of it shocked him. Two restaurants, two bars. One grocery store, one large animal veterinarian. A granary and feed store, a post office, a tiny K-8 school on one end of town, the miniature high school on the other. Aside from a few other small retail spaces and a few fancy faux-plantation homes, that was it.
Sawyer drove through the whole of Catahoula in no more than five minutes. Funny, considering that it took him over 24 hours to fly from Tehran to New Orleans. Not bad considering the length of the trip, helped immensely by the private plane hired out by the military contractor that Sawyer had been working for over the last year.
His phone buzzed. He didn’t even have to look at it to know it was Amy, again.
I’m bored. :(
Shifting in his seat, he considered texting her back. What would he say, though? Amy wouldn’t be interested in the fact that he was out of town. She didn’t care about anything other than when he was going to show up and fuck her.
Props to Amy, for being a magnificent lay, but he wasn’t really in the mood to chat. This visit home was about business, or at least that’s what his brother Colt hinted at when they had talked on the phone.
The drive from Catahoula out to Roman Ranch was so familiar to him that he went on autopilot. All he noticed were the landmarks of his childhood.
The bumpy little stone bridge that crossed over Cur Creek, marking the boundary of the Roman family’s lands. The sharp left turn that led to a sharp incline. The place where the paved road gave away and the land flattened, spreading out to the wide acreage of the ranch.
The light forest around him vanished, replaced by grazing pastures which sprung up on both sides of the road. The pastures were lined by thin, barbed wire fences. Sawyer drove under the huge, knotty oak tree that sprawled across the gravel driveway in an arch.
The 15-minute drive went by in a blink, and soon he was passing the twin barns. One was for cattle, while the other was for horses and smaller livestock. Each barn was on its own side of the ranch, with the property split neatly down the middle by the driveway. He passed several small utility sheds, then went under the big wooden sign post that his grandfather had carved and put up.
was carved across the top, with old horseshoes hung up and down both the side posts.
He pulled into the big circular driveway, gravel crunching under his tires. Walker’s Escalade and Colt’s antique Ford pickup were parked ahead of him, though there was no sign of them in the front yard. The big oak tree had been cut back, the ratty tire swing removed.
Somehow, the yard looked strangely bare without it. The sound of his car brought a dozen big dogs to the yard, black and brown-mottled beasts local to the area. The breed was called Catahoula Cur, big water-loving working dogs meant for herding cattle.
His phone buzzed again, making him scowl. When he checked the screen, he smirked. This time, Amy had sent a photo of her tits, while she reclined in bed. Nice, but it wasn’t the moment for that kind of thing.
Sawyer climbed out of his car, wincing at the heat after riding up to Catahoula in his Range Rover with the air conditioning on full blast. Instantly, a few of the bolder curs were on him, sniffing his polished black boots, and nosing at his fingers. The Romans had always raised curs, so Sawyer didn’t give them a second thought, patting one on the head as he looked around for signs of his brothers.
He glanced between the ancient, three-story clapboard main house and the squat bunkhouse, all rough wood walls and low clay roof. Though this was high ground for the area, both houses were raised on a series of wooden stilts, to prevent flooding during storms and floods.
At one time, Roman Ranch had been a bustling operation, home to a dozen or more Romans and up to 20 hired hands at once. In the 1980s and 1990s, Sawyer’s mother had run a successful dude ranch. But during Sawyer’s senior year of high school, his mother had died. After that, his father had closed the whole thing without preamble.
More recently, his father had lived in the main house alone, with his employees driving in from elsewhere every day. When all three of his sons had left the military in a year’s span, Arlo Roman had apparently decided to give the farm over to Sawyer, Walker, and Colt. As far as Sawyer knew, his father was now living in one of those big white plantation houses in Catahoula, happy as a clam with his mistress of 20 odd years.
The dented metal front door of the main house swung open with a bang, and Walker and Colt strode out onto the wooden deck. Sawyer couldn’t help but grin at them; it’d been too long since the Roman brothers were together all at once.
The three men were nearly identical. Each was well over six feet, with dark hair, tanned skin, proud noses, and glittering hazel-green eyes. They all even wore plaid button-ups and dark jeans, meaning that their haircuts were the only thing that set them apart. Well, Colt also walked with a serious limp, but he barely seemed aware of it most of the time.
Sawyer climbed the creaking, weathered front steps. He opened his arms and hugged both of his brothers at once, the contact brief but satisfying.
“Welcome home,” Walker rumbled. He was never one for words, which Sawyer often appreciated. Especially during the times when Colt felt the need to run his mouth every minute of the day.
“You still rockin the buzz, huh?” Sawyer asked, running his hand over the short prickle of Walker’s dark hair.
“Yup,” Walker said. Short and sweet, the simple word had an unmistakable South Louisiana twang to it.
Talking to his brothers made Sawyer painstakingly aware of his Southern drawl, which always seemed stronger when he saw Colt and Walker.
“I’ve been trying to get him to grow it out a little,” Colt said, looking amused.
“Yeah, grow this fancy cut like you got?” Sawyer asked.
Colt’s hair was done in an undercut, buzzed on the sides but long on the top, swept over to one side.
“Hey, this is cool right now,” Colt said mildly.
“It looks like you started to get a haircut, and then quit halfway through,” Sawyer said.
“Funny. Women like this haircut,” Colt informed him with a laugh. Clapping Sawyer on the back, he gestured toward the house. “Let’s go inside.”
He stepped into the front entrance, the spot that his mother had always touted as
. He could imagine her standing in a faded calico apron, dark hair swept up into a high ponytail. Hands on her hips, she’d overpronounce the French as she scolded her sons.
Y’all know better than to track dirt into my foy-yay!
“Where’s the furniture?” Sawyer asked, stopping a few steps in.
“Let’s go into the kitchen for a beer,” Colt suggested, sounding impatient. “Things have changed around here since the last time you were home.”
“No kidding,” Sawyer grumbled. A quick glance to the right proved that the parlor was similarly empty; what little furniture remained was draped with big white sheets. For some reason, it reminded Sawyer of a funeral parlor, and gave him a queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach.
Seeing the kitchen, though… he didn’t startle easily, but his jaw dropped.
Gone were the worn kitchen table, the chipped ivory stove and fridge that his mother had cherished, antiques from the previous generation of Romans. The knickknacks, the beloved cast iron skillets hanging on the wall. The bright border of wallpaper that his mother had painstakingly installed by herself, saying that the room needed some cheerful colors to match her spirits.
Instead, the whole room was white walls and dark, glossy floors. Huge stainless steel appliances, with matching stainless steel countertops. New dark wood cabinets, a gleaming stainless steel range hood right in the middle of the kitchen.
“I…” Sawyer started, then stopped.
“Two sinks,” Walker mumbled, shaking his head as he moved to the big double fridge. “Beer?”
Walker was right, there were two sinks.
“What happened?” Sawyer asked Colt, as if it was somehow Colt’s doing. “Was there… damage?”
He even looked up to the ceiling as he asked, checking for signs of water damage.
“Marilee happened,” Colt said, sitting at the huge, dark wood kitchen table.
“Where’s the damned table?” Sawyer asked, staring at the sleek, expensive-looking replacement.
“The Colonel,” Walker grumbled, using the old nickname they used for their father.
Walker handed Sawyer a beer and took another chair, breaking Sawyer out of his momentary bafflement. Colt snorted, then relayed the story.
“Yeah, The Colonel moved Marilee in here. She lasted long enough to redecorate most of the main house and get rid of all of Mom’s stuff, then she demanded that they move because she thinks Mom haunts the laundry room.”
“Come on, sit down and tell us what you’ve been up to since you shipped back stateside,” Colt encouraged.
Sawyer glowered at the new kitchen table as he took a seat, twisting the cap off of his beer.
“I’ve been working for the Greystone Group.”
“Contractors. They do work mostly in Iran and Iraq, right?” Walker asked.
“Bet the money’s great, huh?” Colt asked.
“Yeah. Never saw myself as a six-figure earner, but…”
“Now we’ve all got that prized military experience,” Colt said, amused. “In my first interview to pick up some work, the person interviewing me shook my hand and called me a hero. Never been so embarrassed in my entire life.”
“I don’t know, remember the year you did
Baby Got Back
at the talent show?” Sawyer challenged.
“Yeah, and Mrs. Parsecki chased me off stage, waving her Bible,” Colt said with a grin.
They all laughed.
“Well, it’s nice to know that at least we’re all earning big. Or I was, until I let The Colonel sweet talk me into going part time and moving back here. He told me the house would be empty, that he’d let the farm go wild if one of us wasn’t here.”
“Funny, that’s almost exactly what he said to get me back here,” Sawyer mused.
“I’m not too worried. If there’s anything that Granddad taught us, it was to stack bills in our war chests, right?” Colt said, glancing at them. “I bet you two have barely spent any of your inheritance, much less your contractors’ salary, hmm?”
“You looking for a loan, brother?” Walker joked.
Colt grinned. “Hell no. I invested my inheritance, played the stock market. I never have to work another day in my life.”
“You’re a Roman,” Sawyer intoned, mimicking their father.
As one, all three brothers recited their father’s motto: “Romans work hard until they drop dead.”
He took a long sip, then looked at the label.
“What is this?” he asked. “Best Brew.”
“It’s a local microbrewery,” Colt said.
Sawyer turned his glare from the bottle to Colt, who only shrugged. “Hey, don’t blame me. If you came home more, you wouldn’t be getting it all at once.”
“I was busy,” Sawyer said.
“Hey, Walker has the same kind of hotshot contractor’s job as you do, and he gets home for Christmas every year.”
Sawyer turned back to his beer. “It hasn’t been home for a long time. I don’t think I should have to explain that to you two.”