Counting on Cayne (Hallow River Book 1)

Counting on Cayne

 

Book One

Hallow River Series

 

By Ada Rome

 

 

Warning:
This book contains adult language and situations. It is intended for mature
audiences over the age of 18.

 

Copyright

 

Please
respect the work of this author. No part of this book may be reproduced or
copied without permission. This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment
only.

 

This book is
a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely
coincidental. Any similarities to events or situations is also coincidental.

 

The
publisher and author acknowledge the trademark status and trademark ownership
of all trademarks and locations mentioned in this book. Trademarks and
locations are not sponsored or endorsed by trademark owners.

 

©
2015 by Ada Rome

All Rights
Reserved

 

Cover Photo
© Shutterstock.com

 

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Prologue

 

There are only two kinds
of people in this world, the kind that break apart your soul and the kind that glue
it back together again. Sometimes the edges are jagged and unclean. Sometimes pieces
are lost. The finished product may tilt to one side. It may let light filter
through a thousand tiny pinpricks or blaze through a wide central gash. It may reveal
its history in an atlas of spidery cracks across its surface like a cherished
heirloom vase that has shattered and been restored more times than anyone can
count.

Regardless of its size,
shape, or condition, its pitted texture, dented contours, or lopsided stance,
that soul belongs to you. You must claim it to survive. It also belongs to
those whose devoted hands have delicately tended to your broken pieces and held
them together until the seams were fixed in place. It never belongs to the one
who smashed it to the earth.

I was a girl who chased
dreams. As many of us do, I turned away from the comfort and familiarity of
home, that place where monsters are held in check by a rugged barrier of
defiant love, and into a wider world where monsters walk in plain sight. I let
my dreams slip from my grasp and watched them spin into nightmares from which I
thought I would never escape. I was lost and drifting.

When I packed up my
broken pieces and returned to the whispering dogwood-shaded lanes of the past,
I believed that I was retreating in failure and disgrace. I believed that my
broken pieces would stay broken and that dreams were solely for fools. I soon
realized that I was still chasing dreams. Only this time, those dreams would
come true.

Chapter 1

 

DINER
, the sign said. No cute logo or quaint homespun décor
identified the squat brick building as anything other than the primary eating
establishment in town.

“Welcome back to bumfuck,”
I said to myself as I pulled into the gravel parking lot. My sleek sports car
was conspicuous amid the collection of dusty pickups and ancient rust buckets. I
adjusted my oversized sunglasses in the midsummer glare and stepped out to a chorus
of cicadas. After years in New York, I had forgotten the calming peace that
comes from the steady hum of nature’s creatures when they are not submerged
beneath a roaring wave of traffic and shouting.

I walked through the door
to a tinkle of bells and waited in the vestibule for several minutes, face to
face with my reflection in a smeared gilt-framed mirror. I removed my sunglasses,
smoothed the long windblown layers of my ash blonde hair, and lightly fingered
the circular gold pendant that fell into the deep scoop neck of my plain black
t-shirt.

Not seeing any hostess,
I seated myself in an empty booth next to a bank of windows and opened a greasy
laminated menu. I checked my phone – six messages – and shoved it back into my floppy
black leather purse.

“You new in town?” said
a cheerful voice over my left shoulder. I turned to see a waitress in a short
green polyester dress with a pencil poised over a notepad and a young, pretty face.
Her head was a riot of corkscrew curls in shades ranging from light caramel to
deep chestnut. The buttons of her dress strained to stay closed over her ample
figure and, as I looked up, I caught an unexpected peek of a lace bra in cotton
candy pink through the gaping buttons.

The girl’s expression
immediately brightened into one of surprised recognition.

“Holy shit!” she yelled
and stepped back with her head cocked to one side as if to get a better angle.
“It
is
you!”

“I’m sorry, do I
know---” I began but was instantly cut off when she playfully poked me in the
shoulder with her pencil.

“Brinley LeClare! I don’t
believe it! Don’t you remember me?” She struck a teetering pose with her hands
forming a half-circle in front of her chest and her feet joined at the heels in
first position. I suddenly had a vivid recollection of a round-cheeked little
girl in a sparkly red tutu with an uncontrollable mane of brown curly hair and
a mischievous gap-toothed grin striking exactly that pose during Saturday
morning dance classes at the rec center.

“Cami?” I said in near
disbelief. “Cami Talbot. Oh my God.”

“One and the same,” Cami
said with an ungainly curtsy that tested the coverage of her short waitress
costume. She beamed a perfect smile and, noticing my eyes go to the former site
of the gap, tapped her two front teeth. “Braces,” she shrugged. “No more
walrus.”

Cami had once been part
of a group of bubbly girls who followed my every move like paparazzi on the
tail of a Hollywood celebrity. They spent Saturday mornings trying to master
the arts of the plie and arabesque in the beginning dance classes that I taught
to earn cash for what I lovingly referred to as my “Escape Fund.” Every dollar
that I made coaxing their wrists and ankles into some semblance of balletic
posture was getting me closer to my glorious launch into stardom. I was going
to hug each of those dollars tight to my chest, head up the interstate toward
the Big Apple, and never look back to the tiny town of Hallow River, North
Carolina.

Needless to say, things
didn’t quite work out as planned. Here I was back in Hallow River with nothing
to show as the fruits of my escape except a semi-stolen car out in the parking
lot of “Diner” and a phone buzzing with messages that I was afraid to read.

Cami shot a sly glance
toward the manager bustling in a shirt and tie around the front counter and plopped
comfortably into the other side of my booth, one elbow resting on the seatback
and an eager grin animating her face.

“Gosh, how long has it
been? Ten years? It must be. Time flies, doesn’t it? I was in elementary school
when I took those dance lessons and now I’m in college. I mean, just taking
classes at the community college, but still.” She had a chatterbox’s way of
releasing long strings of sentences without pausing for breath.

“It’s been exactly ten
years.” I felt my accent sliding into the comfortable drawl and twang that I
had spent the past decade trying to dam up behind a wall of sharp consonants
and stunted vowels.

“You must be lighting up
Broadway by now! We all worshipped you back then, you know. Have you traveled
the world? Starred in a thousand different shows? I looked you up a few times
but I couldn’t find you anywhere. I figured maybe you used a stage name.”

“Something like that,” I
responded. The truth was that I hadn’t danced in a long time. With each passing
year, I felt my body loosen and slip as taut muscles weakened and calories took
up permanent residence. The alteration probably seemed more dramatic on the
inside than it appeared to outsiders. I was surprised when Cami immediately
recognized me as the updated version of my eighteen-year-old self.

She was blinking
expectantly, waiting for me to elaborate, but I swiftly changed the subject to
stave off further questions.

“So, is there a good
auto shop in town?”

The car engine had been
making strange rattling sounds ever since I crossed the Mason-Dixon Line
earlier in the morning. That glossy little roadster was made more for show than
for durability, rather like the man who’d purchased it a year ago and no doubt discovered
its absence from a Manhattan garage within the past twelve hours.

Cami clomped her lips
shut and drew back in her seat with the abrupt change of topic, but her eyes
lit with delight and another perfect grin beamed across her face, this one with
a hint of mischief in the upturned corners of her mouth.

“My brother Cayne runs
the auto shop over on Primrose.” She flattened her palms on the tabletop and
leaned forward, her dress buttons grazing the table’s edge. “You remember
Cayne, right?”

My mind called up an
image of a gangly kid a couple of years my junior with a forehead of acne and
owlish plastic glasses.  Cayne Talbot was a mechanic? He seemed slated for life
as an accountant or insurance broker in scratchy button-down shirts, pens
leaking into his pocket protector, and a sensible hatchback carrying him to and
from some gray strip mall office.

I remembered Cayne skulking
awkwardly around the boundaries of the dance studio, waiting for classes to
finish so he could drag his vivacious little sister home. He would sneak glances
at the front of the room where I lifted and spun in a pale pink leotard. I once
stopped to say hello. He nearly choked on a gulp of soda in his stunned attempt
to respond. I patted his bony back while his face turned scarlet and his eyes
pricked with tears. He finally loped away in total embarrassment. I stared
after him with a mixture of disbelief and pity. After that, he waited for Cami
in the parking lot. Funny the moments that get stuck in your head.

Cami jotted something in
her notepad.

“Here is the address for
the shop, but I’m sure you remember your way around,” she said, ripping out the
page and handing it to me.

“Cami!” a voice bellowed
from the direction of the kitchen. “Orders are up!” Cami widened her eyes
comically and slid out of the booth. She turned and started to head toward the
counter, where four heaping plates of food awaited delivery to hungry
customers, but suddenly spun back on her heel.

“Shit! I got so caught
up in reminiscing that I forgot to take your order!”

“Just a grilled cheese
and fries, please,” I said after quickly perusing the limited menu options. I neatly
folded the address for Talbot Auto Body and pressed the pleat between my index
finger and thumb. “Thank you for this,” I said, dropping the folded paper into
the deep cavern of my purse.

“You got it.” She tapped
her pencil on the notepad and wedged it behind her ear. “And it’s no problem at
all. I’m sure Cayne will be glad to see you,” she said with a wink. “One thing,
though. Be prepared to fight through a crowd of admirers. Cayne attracts a
following. I bring a can of mace to scare off the women who flock around him like
crows. I think they smash their engines with hammers just so they can watch him
lean over the fender.”

“Cayne? Are you
serious?” I was unable to keep the shock from my voice and hoped that I didn’t
sound rude. He was her brother, after all. But how on earth had Cayne Talbot
become one of Hallow River’s most sought-after bachelors? I checked myself. She
never said he was a bachelor.

Cami giggled and shook her
nest of parti-colored curls.

“Things change, Brinley
LeClare.”

I certainly could not
argue with that.

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