Read Wild Dakota Heart Online

Authors: Lisa Mondello

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #War, #Romance, #Military, #Western, #cowboy romance, #military romance, #navy seal, #western romance, #deals in books, #Contemporary Romance, #Westerns

Wild Dakota Heart (7 page)

BOOK: Wild Dakota Heart
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“Isn't this the way… You’re not taking me up to the trail where Denny’s truck crashed?”

Ethan said nothing.

Panic filled her. “No, Ethan. I don’t want to go there.”

“I have to tell you something,” he said. Ethan's fingers tightened on the steering wheel. “It’s really important. There are things you don’t know about what happened the day Denny died.”

“Don’t do this to me. I don’t want to see the place where my brother died!”

“Why not?” he said, taking his eyes off the road for just a second.

“Because it was awful.”

“Yes, it was. I know because I was there. But you weren’t. You don’t know what went down that day. For ten years you’ve been blaming me as if I held a gun to Denny’s head.”

“It was your idea!”

Ethan turned off the main road to a dirt road. He gunned the engine.

“Who the hell gave you a badge? You drive like a maniac!”

“I’m not the one who plowed into a tree.”

“I was trying to avoid hitting a deer.”

The tree-lined dirt road they were driving on was filled with ruts that caused the SUV to bounce up and down. Maddie held on to the door and her seat as Ethan drove. They drove until the road opened to a clearing that led to huge rock formations that were weathered smooth from years of erosion. Maddie had never been here, but she knew plenty about it. Lots of the kids from school would come out here with their 4-wheel drive vehicles and take turns driving down the rock wall. Some even talked about trying to drive down The Mammoth, the rock formation where Denny had died.

Maddie wanted no part of it. Most of the rocks were steep, but still safe enough to drive down safely if you were careful. But Denny had to push it further. He had to drive The Mammoth just to prove something to Ethan. And it killed him.

“I don’t want to do this Ethan. I’m not crazy like you and Denny were. I don’t need to live my life on the edge.”

He stopped the SUV on the top of the rock formation and got out. Walking over to the passenger side door, he yanked the door open and extended his hand.

“I don’t expect you to do any driving. But I do expect you to at least live. That’s only going to happen if you get past this.”

She sat still in the seat, seething with anger.

“Just come with me for a minute. I want to show you something. I promise I’ll take you home right after.”

“I hate you,” she said, pushing his hand away and getting out of the car and slamming the door.

“Tell me something I don’t already know. You made that more than clear at Denny’s funeral and every day since. You wear your anger for me like it’s some accessory. I get that you have every reason to be angry with me. Even hate me. For a while after Denny died, I had enough anger and hatred for both of us. But I learned to channel that anger. Look what it’s still doing to you.”

Old anger resurfaced with a fierceness she couldn’t control. She’d felt it the day they’d buried Denny. She’d walked right up to Ethan after the service and slapped him across the face, screaming that she never wanted to see him again. She’d caused a scene that day and people talked about it for weeks. But what stuck with her was the way Ethan stood and just took it from her. Stone cold and emotionless.

Then he left. It would be years before she saw him again from a distance standing outside of the diner in town.

Ethan took her by the hand and led her toward the edge of the cliff. Rain and erosion had smoothed out most of the rocks, making it possible to drive down the side of the rock slowly and reach the bottom.

“Denny and I used to come here a lot. We got used to taking turns driving his truck down this rock trail.” He pointed to a rock formation with a gradual decline. “Denny and I mastered that slope the first day we were here. It got so easy that we didn’t even get nervous when we couldn’t see the bottom of the rocks below.

“Why the hell did you take him here that day? One last hurrah before you left for the Navy? You knew how depressed he was.”

“Yes, I did. That’s just the point. I didn’t want him to come here. I came with him because I was scared for him to come here alone.”

“You expect me to believe that?” She took in a breath of air to keep her anger from becoming a sob. “I was fine before you came back, Ethan. Why couldn’t you have just stayed in the military?”

He swung around and looked at her straight on. “Better yet, why didn’t I just die there?”

His words left her cold. “I didn’t say that.”

“You wanted me dead.”

Tears stung her eyes. “I never wanted you dead, Ethan. Why would I want that? I didn’t want either of you dead. But the two of you had this death wish anyway. And when he died you just left him here alone. He died alone, Ethan.”

“He did. He was alive when I left to get help and by the time I got back, he was gone. But he wanted to die that day, Maddie. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.”

She was sure her heart stopped beating. “What?”

Tears filled Ethan’s eyes and his expression was shattered. She’d never seen Ethan cry, not even at Denny’s funeral. But then she was too wrapped up in her own fragile emotions to remember.

“Look out there,” he said, his voice low against the whistle of the wind blowing past them. “Denny used to look out there at the view and say this was the closest to heaven he was ever going to get here on earth.”

Ethan took a few steps closer to the edge of the cliff.

“I came here with him that day because he was talking crazy. It only got worse the closer it got to the time I was supposed to leave for boot camp. He kept telling me I was going to be someone. I was going to be a hero. People were going to respect me. But he couldn’t be that way. He always built me up to be more than I was.” He looked back at Maddie and she saw the tears rolling down Ethan’s cheeks. “He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I never thought I’d be any of that. Not back then. I was just as lost as he was. Or so I thought.”

He swiped his face with his hand. “You remember what we were like. My father used to say me and Denny were two bullets just waiting for the right gun. But it was more than being wild at heart for Denny. He…wanted to die, Maddie.”

She couldn’t talk. All her emotions were lodged in her throat, choking her. Her brother
wanted
to die? She knew he was depressed. But he always put on a brave face for her. Could it be that he’d confided his darkest feelings to Ethan?

“I don’t believe you,” she finally said. “Denny never would have done that.”

Ethan cleared his throat and pointed to the steepest decline on the rock formation they were standing on. “He told me he was going to try driving down The Mammoth. I didn’t want him to. He’d been drinking. He had this wild look in his eyes and it terrified me. So I stayed in the truck and told him to just give me the keys. But he wouldn’t.”

“You weren’t driving? They told my parents you jumped out of the truck before it went over. They found Denny on the passenger side.”

“He didn’t have his seat belt on. I took mine off just as he started down the incline. I was afraid the brakes were going to lock. But as soon as I jumped out of the truck, he hit the gas. He disappeared over the side. I couldn’t see him. By the time I got to my feet, I heard the crash.”

Ethan’s whole body looked depleted. His shoulders shook and Maddie knew he was sobbing.

Consumed with emotion, Ethan bent down and snatched a handful of rocks from the ground and starting throwing them out into the direction where Denny’s truck plunged off the cliff with all his strength.

“You stupid idiot!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. “I was your friend, Denny! You didn’t have to do this! I wouldn’t have left you if I thought you’d go through with it!”

She couldn’t hold back the tears. “Why didn’t you tell my parents this?”

Ethan turned to look at her, unashamed of the outburst that had left him raw. “How could I tell your parents something like this? What parent wants to think their kid wanted to die? It’s horrible.”

She started to sob. “But you left anyway, Ethan. All these years you were gone. You never came back. I hated you for it.”

She walked over to him and she started beating Ethan against the chest with her fists. But he grabbed her hands and held her back as she sobbed. “You left him to die alone and then you never came back.”

Ethan pulled Maddie close to his chest, feeling her tiny body quaking against his. Every bit of him was raw and aching, but not from the lashing Maddie tried to give him. It was because he finally had some clarity that eight years as a Navy SEAL had never given him.

“You don’t hate me because I left Denny alone, Maddie. You hate me because I left you alone. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I did that to you. I couldn’t save Denny. But I should have been there for you.”

Her sobs grew louder and mingled in with his own.

She pulled away from Ethan and wiped her face. “After all this time, why are you telling me this now?”

“Because I see the way Denny’s death is still eating you up inside. You’re existing. You’re not living, Maddie. You’re just as angry with Denny as you were with me. Maybe it was easier to hate me than hate him for what he did. I don’t know.”

“His death didn’t seem to hold you back at all. And you have all the military accommodations to prove it.”

He shook his head, trying to make her understand what had been driving him all these years since Denny died. “Denny believed in me. Don’t you see, I thought if I didn’t achieve all those things Denny thought I could be that it would somehow mean his death was meaningless. It drove me every single day to be the man he saw through his eyes.”

Her tears returned anew. “How could Denny want to die? Didn’t he know how special he was? How much he was loved?”

Ethan shook his head. “He was in a lot of pain. I never knew just how much until that day.”

“Why did you let me believe all these years it was your fault, Ethan? That wasn’t your burden to carry.”

“He was my friend.”

Her bottom lip trembled. With a shake of her head, she said, “Take me home.”

Ethan pulled her closer and walked with her back to the SUV. When she climbed inside, he said, “I’m sorry, Maddie.”

“I am, too.”

# # #

 

Chapter Eight

 

The ride home brought silence. Maddie held the fuel tank cap in her lap and kept her eyes glued to the scenery out the window, watching their surroundings accelerate alongside the SUV's movements. The sun was already sinking low, just touching the tree line. In a few minutes it would be dark and she wouldn’t have to hide her face by turning away.

Ethan had tried to save Denny. All these years, why had no one told her? Of course, he would try to save Denny. Not because he was a hero. Because he loved Denny. They were like brothers.

It had never occurred to her that Ethan had been suffering over Denny’s death as much as her family had. He’d stayed away to spare her and to make himself into the man Denny insisted he could be. And Ethan had achieved all those goals and more by earning his place as a Navy SEAL and then becoming a police officer.

She’d been so wrong about Ethan. And for what?

As the car rolled up in front of her condo, she placed the fuel tank cap on the seat and released her seat belt.

“Do you mind taking this into the house? It’s a little heavy,” she said.

Ethan nodded.

Maddie rummaged through her purse for her house key as they walked to the front door of her condo. The key slipped easily into the lock and the door opened. A cool rush of air, from keeping her air conditioning on during the day, bathed her face as she stepped inside.

Maddie led Ethan through the hallway to the kitchen.

“You can put the fuel tank cap on the kitchen table for now. That’s probably where I’ll work on it.”

Ethan carefully placed the metal piece on the table and awkwardly turned around. She moved in close to him.

“Maddie, I…” he started to say, but she stopped him by placing her finger over his lips.

She looked up into his eyes feeling a swell of emotion so strong it consumed her. Ethan held her gaze, giving her strength to take her feelings one step more. Lifting up on her toes, she brushed her lips against his and waited. She felt his hesitation, felt the heat of his body against the cool air inside the room and wanted his heat. She wanted it like it was a drug she had to have to survive.

After only a brief hesitation, Maddie felt Ethan surrender to the kiss. In one quick movement, his arm was around her waist, pulling her against the rock hard wall of his chest. His mouth devoured hers, teasing her lips with his tongue until she opened up to him and let him taste her.

Reaching up, she placed her hand behind his head, pulling him closer with an urgency she’d never felt before. He followed her lead. His hands roamed her body, caressing her back and shoulder. Then his fingers were in her hair as he deepened their kiss. And Maddie wanted more. So much more.

But before she knew what was happening, Ethan abruptly pulled away and took a wide step back. Her mouth still moist and swollen from their kiss, she looked at him, confused by his sudden retreat.

“What’s wrong?”

He shook his head as if to shake something clear of himself. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“For this. For kissing you.”

She smiled shyly. “In case you didn’t notice, I was the one that started it. I was kissing you. And then you kissed me back.”

“But…”

“But what?”

“I can’t do this to you.”

“Do what?”

“You’re my best friend’s kid sister. What happened today out at the cliffs, that’s enough to send anyone over the edge. I’m not going to treat you this way.”

BOOK: Wild Dakota Heart
8.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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