Read Beginnings (Crawley Creek Prequel) Online

Authors: Lori King

Tags: #erotic, #short story, #hea, #western, #ranch, #cowboys, #north dakota, #prequel, #foster children

Beginnings (Crawley Creek Prequel) (7 page)

Rubbing at his nape with one hand, he
searched the scattered contents of his old Chevy pickup for his
cell phone. As usual, its battery was completely dead, but he
figured there were a dozen messages from the ranch already filling
his inbox. He tossed the useless gadget into the glove compartment,
and climbed out of the truck, stretching his long, lean form as he
went. Drinking and cavorting were the only medicine for the aches
in his soul, but he could use some aspirin for the twinges in his
back right about now.

A quick glance around the parking lot of
Mick’s Watering Hole assured him that there was no one watching his
walk of shame. There were half a dozen vehicles on the far side of
the lot, but they all stood empty, their owners off doing their
business somewhere along the six block town of Montford, North
Dakota.

With no one watching, he made his way across
the empty lot to the convenience store next door. His head was
pounding, and he could still taste the bitters from last night’s
beer. The small bell attached to the glass door sounded like an air
raid siren, and he groaned softly.


Morning Romeo.” Amelia
Dewitt called out from her stool behind the register.


Roman Freemont, you look
like shit.” Brandon Bowers rested his hip against the countertop
and crossed his arms over his chest. His eyes were hidden behind a
pair of mirrored sunglasses, but Roman knew they were taking in his
hangover and cataloguing it in detail. Lately it was Roman’s
natural state.


Well good morning to you,
too, sunshine,” he retorted, heading straight for the cold case at
the back and snagging a large bottle of pop. Caffeine would help
him face the day while it was too early to drink.

Bran didn’t respond to his comment, but
Roman could tell he had something he wanted to say just by the way
his jaw ticked. Ignoring his friend for the moment, he placed a
bottle of aspirin on the counter next to his soda and gave Amelia
his most charming smile. “And how are you this fine morning
Amelia?”


Better than you are I
s’pose,” she answered with a playful wink. Her graying hair was
wound in a tight bun atop her head, and her plastic framed glasses
perched on the end of her nose. She was a comforting staple in
small town Montford, and one of the nicest people Roman
knew.


I’ll admit I’m feeling a
bit low this morning, but it’s nothing a hard day of work won’t
cure.” Roman responded.


Day’s half gone already,
son. You’d better get a move on if you’re planning on accomplishing
anything before the sun goes down.” Handing him his change, she
planted herself back on her stool and rested her elbows on the
counter. Before Roman could respond, Bran laughed.


No worries there, Amelia.
Romeo here wouldn’t know hard work if it bit him in the ass.” Still
laughing at his own joke, Bran slapped Roman on the back hard
enough to bring a frown to his face.


Kiss my grits, Officer,”
he snapped, throwing back the aspirin and taking a big swig of soda
to wash it down.


That’s Sheriff Bowers to
you, Freemont.” Bran said sternly. To a stranger it might have
sounded like the two men were at odds, but that was the absolute
furthest thing from the truth. A couple of decades ago, Brandon was
one of Roman’s biggest idols. He could remember following the three
musketeers—also known as Roman’s older foster brothers, Drannon,
and Vin, who were best friends with Brandon—all over their small
town and out into cattle country. Hell, they’d even taken him
camping and fishing with them a time or two before they forgot
about everything but girls.

Irony seemed to be waving a red flag at
Roman as he stood there in the small shop. Now he was the one
hell-bent on screwing his way into an early grave, and Brandon was
walking the fine line of the law.


Whatever you say,
Sheriff.” Roman drew out the last word pointedly. “You’re right
about one thing, Amelia, I need to get my ass in gear. Good to see
you Bran, do be careful when you take that stick out of your ass
tonight after your shift.” He turned and gave Bran a hefty slap on
the shoulder before marching toward the doors again.


Don’t be going too fast
now, Romeo, or I won’t have a chance to admire that fine backside
you’re planning on working,” Amelia called out giving him a wave,
and laughing. He blew her a kiss as he stepped back out into the
blinding sunshine.

It was already hot outside, and he could
feel the sweat and grime from the night before clinging to his skin
as he fidgeted and stretched taking in the small main street of
Montford. The town consisted of about ten thousand people nowadays,
but it wasn’t so long ago that it was pea-skin small and barely
kept up with the couple dozen businesses that occupied the main
thoroughfare. It seemed as if the whole town took a breath and then
multiplied all at once. Before you knew it, they even had their own
big box store down the highway a bit. He’d recently heard that a
popular fast food joint would be coming to town, but until he saw
the arches, he wasn’t buying the story.

With a snap and a crack, his back twisted
and he sighed in relief as the tension eased out of his cramped
body. It was past time he went back to sleeping in a bed rather
than slumped on the bench seat of his pickup, but he’d be damned if
he’d drive drunk again. He was tired of the lectures every morning
from the peanut gallery. Between his three brothers, Drannon, Vin,
and Hawke, and Drannon’s fiancé, Lacy, he had to relive his
mistakes almost daily anymore. After their makeshift mama-bear
Marilyn told him she was too disappointed in him to even comment on
his state last time, he couldn’t even bring himself to face her
anymore. A quiet voice in his head reminded him that if he wasn’t
drunk it wouldn’t be a problem, but he hushed it real quick. Life
was meant to be lived, damn it. He was just enjoying it with a beer
in his hand, that’s all.

Taking another swig of his pop, he headed
back to his truck with his beat-up straw hat pulled low over his
brow to block the cheerful sun. The familiar scent of tobacco and
animals filled his nose as he planted himself in the driver’s seat
and shoved the keys into the ignition. Throwing the gear shift in
the general direction of drive, his heart nearly burst from his
chest when his truck rolled backward into the parking stall behind
him instead of easing forward out of the lot. The sound of grinding
metal was followed by a loud crash and a woman’s scream.

 

Chapter 2

 


Oh snot.”

Horror washed over Roman when he twisted
around to find a woman standing just inches from the tailgate of
his truck. Thankfully, she looked unharmed, but she also looked
pissed off. By the time he’d thrown the door open to get out, she’d
darted around the truck and was in his face.


What the hell do you
think you’re doing? You just ran over my bike!” she yelled,
slamming her palm against his chest and knocking him off balance as
he tried to stand up. He landed on his ass on the seat with his
legs spread off kilter, and her right between his knees glaring
daggers at him from her cobalt blue eyes. Rich, brown hair was tied
back in a messy braid, and a pair of aviator sunglasses sat on top
of her head, but it wasn’t her shades that drew his attention. It
was her fury, and the frustrated anguish that filled her curses.
“God
damn
it! Why
the hell weren’t you...how the hell did you...
damn
it!”

Lifting his hands in an attempt to calm her,
he murmured, “Easy there, sweetheart—”


Don’t start that country
boy charm shit with me, bucko. I’m not buying it. You just wrecked
my bike, and you’re going to pay for the damages,” she snapped,
poking her finger into his chest. Standing in front of her now, the
size difference between them was more obvious. At just over six
feet, Roman was fairly average height in this part of the country,
but this little biker chick was more than a half foot shorter than
he was, and based on the way her jeans and t-shirt clung to her
body she was perfectly molded underneath.


I’m not arguing that a
bit, Miss...” he paused hoping she’d fill in the blanks, but she
just spun on her heel and headed back to where her bike was still
stuck under the back end of the truck.

Dropping to her knees, she ran her hand over
the handlebars which were now slightly twisted. “Oh Hal, my poor
baby. Damn country folks don’t even know how to drive in an empty
parking lot. I can’t believe with all of this space around him he
couldn’t even manage to...damn it all to fuck.”

Well she certainly has a colorful
vocabulary, he thought, and an oddly personal relationship with her
motorcycle. The bike didn’t look terrible, but then again, it was
hidden in the shadow of the truck. Reaching for his keys, he
stepped closer to her, and said, “If you’ll just scoot over some,
I’ll pull forward and we’ll see what the damage is. I’m awfully
sorry about running over your bike, but—”


But what? But it was
somehow my fault that you backed over the one and only vehicle
besides yours in the whole parking lot?” she demanded.

Damn she was a squirrelly one. There was
something about the fire in her eyes and her fierce temper that
clashed with the frustration and sorrow in the slump of her
shoulders. She was more than just angry over the accident.
Something else had this strange woman upset.


No. It was absolutely my
fault. I was just going to say, I happen to know a mechanic that
can fix it for you. I’ll cover the cost, of course.” He tried to
relax all of his body so that he didn’t seem threatening in any
way. For some reason, he really wanted her to trust him, and give
him a chance to make things right. He wanted to protect her from
whatever demons were haunting her.

The moment the thought raced through his
brain he tossed it aside. That was the silliest thing in the world.
He had no interest in getting involved in anyone else’s demon
hunting. He had plenty of nightmares riding around with him every
day. No, he was just offering to take care of this because it was
his responsibility as a human being. He’d caused the damage, and
he’d fix it.


What happened
here?”

Bran’s deep voice made Roman groan and lean
his head against the door of the truck. Just what he needed.


This dumbass just backed
over my bike!” the petite little hellion said, tugging at the
saddlebag that was caught on his trucks trailer hitch. “If you
smashed my laptop I’ll rip your balls off and feed them to
you.”

Her threat made him grimace, and cover his
family jewels as he exchanged a sick look with Brandon. Shoving his
hat back out of his eyes, Brandon bent to take a look at the
motorcycle and then shook his head. “You sure did a number on it,
Romeo.”


Romeo? Is that your name?
Officer, I want this man arrested, or fined, or
something.”

Bran was clearly fighting back a grin as he
nodded. “It’s Sheriff Bowers, ma’am, and this dumbass”— Bran
gestured to Romeo—“is Roman Freemont. I certainly understand why
you’re upset Miss…”

This time she didn’t leave the opening
hanging. “Scott, Franki Scott. And I’m way more than upset.”


Well Miss Scott, you
certainly have a right to be a trifle irritated, but as I heard it,
Romeo was offering to pay for the damages already, and as the
accident didn’t cause any bodily harm, I won’t be arresting anyone.
I’ll be glad to take a report, and you can file with your insurance
company—”


There’s no need for all
that.” Roman interjected. “I’ll gladly pay for the damages. I’m
truly sorry Miss Scott. It was my fault. I was distracted, and I
wasn’t thinking clearly.”

She studied him for a moment and then turned
back to Brandon. “Sheriff Bowers, surely there’s something more you
can do. This was clearly negligence on his part.”


Ma’am, most accidents are
negligence on someone’s part. Roman is offering to ante up, and I
don’t see any need to make the situation a bigger deal than it
already is. Besides, he happens to be related to the best mechanic
around here, and you won’t find anyone better to fix your bike back
up.”


I’m not from around here,
Sheriff. I can’t just drop my bike off and pick it up in a week,”
she argued.


I assumed as much.”
Brandon said, earning a sharp glare from Franki. He smiled back at
her and gestured to the mashed bike. “Minnesota plates.”

Her irritation seemed to ease a bit at his
response, but she was still furious, and Roman wanted nothing more
than to make her smile.


Where are you staying,
Franki? I can drop you off and take your bike home to my brother,”
Roman said with what he hoped was a reassuring smile.

A deep wrinkle appeared in her brow, and she
reached for it, rubbing at the tense muscles. “I’m not, or not yet.
Hell, I don’t know yet. I just got here.”


What brought you to
Montford?” Brandon asked cordially, bending to collect a Styrofoam
container from the concrete a few feet away.

It was obviously Franki’s breakfast by the
smell, and Roman felt even worse when he realized how close she’d
been to the bike. He could have killed her. Horror rippled through
him making his stomach twist, and he instinctively reached out his
hand to rub her shoulder. He wasn’t sure if he was trying to
comfort her or himself, but when she shrugged him off, it set his
nerves on edge. Damn it, it wasn’t like he’d been aiming for her
bike.

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