Sweetwater: The Kihn (The Sweet Series)

Table of Contents

 

Sweetwater: The Kihn

Copyright © 2013 by Rivi Jacks. All rights reserved.

 

First Kindle Edition: September 2013

 

Cover and Formatting:
Streetlight Graphics

 

This eBook is licensed for the personal enjoyment of the original purchaser only. This eBook may not be resold 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 are reading this eBook and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

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

 

 

For as long as there have been humans, there have been monsters to torment them.

—Anonymous

 

Prologue

I
n
ever lived with my parents.

Well, I guess I did if you count the first five years of my life.

I don’t.

David and Julie Reece never wanted to be known as Dad and Mom. They were too busy jet setting around the world being crazy in love with each other. When Mom found she was pregnant, to say I put a kink in their ideal life couldn’t begin to describe their feelings on the matter. Then to add insult to injury, I was a girl.

By the time I turned five, they could no longer cope with the burden of a small child. Their solution was arranging for their unwanted daughter to live with either a full-time nanny or my mother’s family. My grandparents were happy to take me in, which I consider the luckiest thing ever to happen to me.

I remember my father explaining that if I’d been a boy, the situation would have been different.

I’ve often wondered
what
would have been different.

Then two years ago, when I was nineteen, my dad died in his sleep. No forewarning illness; he just didn’t wake up one morning. So I left the only home I’d ever really known and joined my mom in California.

Imagine taking a somewhat shy farm girl out of hillbilly country and throwing her into the middle of L.A. It was a whole other world, and I wasn’t sure I’d survive. But I held onto the hope that my mom and I would have time to build a relationship.

We didn’t.

She was too busy dying of a broken heart. She took almost two years to accomplish that tragedy. She just couldn’t live without my dad; after all, he’d been her entire world.

Really—I’m not bitter.

Chapter One

C
losing my eyes, I le
an back and rest my head against the leather seat of my Uncle Ben’s car. A smile moves slowly across my face. I’m back in the Ozarks of southern Missouri. The small farming community of Sweetwater is my home.

Home.

My cell suddenly jingles, breaking into my musings. I smile when I glance at the screen.

*Where r u?*

“Diane?” Ben asks.

“Yeah.” I type in *
ETA 30 min
* and hit send. Diane Shepard is my best friend. Well, one of them. We’ve been friends since kindergarten.

“She called three times last night.”

I smile at Ben. He sounds grumpy, but I know he adores Diane. I study his profile as he concentrates on the traffic. I’ve missed him and his steadfastness. He was in college when I came to live on the farm, and he’s always been one of my biggest supporters. I go to him with the serious stuff. Actually, my uncle Ben’s always filled a father’s place in my life.
Okay, Reece, don’t go there.

Another text comes through, and this time it’s from my cousin Sawyer. He and his twin brother Sam are the best cousins ever.

I laugh at his text. *
Zoos in CA have animal descriptions, in the Ozarks, recipes.
* He has a warped sense of humor.

I settle back, closing my eyes. I know everything will be okay now that I’m home. Yes, everything is going to be fine. Although I do have a certain amount of trepidation. What if…

“Sofie.” Ben lays his hand on my shoulder as he slows the car to turn off the old Route 66 onto the state highway that runs smack-dab through Sweetwater. “I figured you’d want to check out the town as we drive through.”

I sit up straight. I surely do. I want to see everything. Not because anything’s changed. Not much ever changes in Sweetwater. There’s none of the hustle and bustle of keeping up with the Joneses, and that suits me just dandy.

Ben slows the car and turns onto Walker Road, which will take us to the farm. In the old days, Walkers were the
only ones living on this road, hence the name. That’s my family—the Walkers.

I lean forward to check out Murphy’s, which sits parallel to the highway. Murphy’s is the lone gas and grocery stop in Sweetwater. It also has the only place to eat in Sweetwater, a small café the community puts to good use.

My friend Emma Rae Bruchard said she was working today, and sure enough, there’s Emma Rae’s beat-up old Chevy Malibu.

I roll down the window even though it’s cold. Early November in southern Missouri can
mean it’s either still fall or winter has set in. I take in a deep breath. The air’s crisp and clean with just a hint of wood smoke from someone’s heating stove. Who would think air could smell this good?

“Quite a change from sunny California,” Ben n
otes as I roll the window up.

“Yes, it is.” In my opinion, that’s a good thing.

The Walker farms are on the outskirts of Sweetwater. As we reach the fence marking the beginning of Walker land, a dump truck pulls off a road running parallel to the property line. Ben slows the car since the large truck takes up most of the road on its way out.

“Wow, a new road?” I notice the ribbon of pavement winding through the trees and disappearing over the hill. I glance at Ben, catching his frown.

“Yeah... Jake’s friend Nick bought the old Wilson place. He’s built a house up on the hill.”

“Jake mentioned Nick was going to settle here, but he didn’t say where,” I reply.

Nicholas Sinclair is my Uncle Jake’s good friend.
They met several years ago, while still in high school, when they attended an out-of-state baseball camp. They immediately became friends and remained so th
rough the years.

Oddly, I’ve never met Nick. He lived somewhere in
Florida, and Jake would visit him before hay season started in the spring. After my dad died, and I was in California, Nick visited Sweetwater and decided to move here.

I’ve never laid eyes on the guy except for a blurry
snapshot or two, but my friends Diane and Emma Rae say he’s fine to look at.

We turn onto the driveway leading to the farmhouse. My aunt Lucy’s down the deck steps and opening my car door before Ben brings the car to a complete stop.

“Sofie!” She pulls me from the car as soon as I unfasten my seat belt. We wrap our arms around each other, laughing and crying.

“Let me look at you.” She leans back, her eyes assessing me. “Sofie, you’re absolutely beautiful.”

“You saw me at the funeral, Lucy,” I murmur, embarrassed by her praise.

She squeezes tightly. “I’m just so glad you’re home.” She turns me loose to l
et Jake get in a hug. I wrap my arms around Jake’s neck as he bends.

He picks me up off my feet. “Hey, short stuff.” Jake’s always teased me about being short. I’m five feet and two inches to his six feet. Of course, most everyone teases me about my height. “You
are
looking more and more like me, you lucky girl. Except you haven’t grown an inch.”

I laugh. Our appearances are totally opposite. My Walker relations all have dark-brown hair and hazel eyes. Sawyer and I are the odd ones with blond hair that has a tendency to curl and green eyes.

“It’s wonderful being home.” I smile at them both.

When I came here as a child, my uncle Jake assumed the role of older brother rather than uncle. Lucy and my aunt Jordanna treated me like a kid sister, giving me advice and guidance. Jake gave me lots of advice too. Of course, I could never reveal any of it, for fear of banishment from running the countryside with him and his friends.

Lucy places her arm around my waist, and we enter the pleasantly warm kitchen. I lovingly glance about the heart of this Walker hom
e. Lucy hasn’t changed the décor much since my gram’s time, and the old oak table still sits in the center of the room. One of Gram’s good tablecloths covers it with a pie and layered chocolate cake taking up residence in the middle. The ancient cookstove in the corner has provided many a Walker meal through the years, and the fragrant aroma of Lucy’s food fills the room, reminding me of how hungry I am.

“Everyone should be pulling in anytime,” Lucy announces as she pulls out one of the kitchen chairs and pushes me down to sit.

“Everyone?” I ask with unease, biting my lip. I genuinely don’t care for a fuss made over me.

She pats me on the shoulder as she moves to the stove, opens the oven door, and takes a quick peek inside.

“Well, it’ll only be us, Jordanna and Billy—”

The kitchen door flies open, and my friend Diane bursts into the room
with a squeal. She latches hold of me, pulling me from the chair and spinning us both around. “Sofie, I can’t believe you’re here!” She squeals again.

Jake comes through the kitchen doorway carrying one of the bags I’ve asked for from the car. “Sofie, I tossed your other bags over into my truck, and here’s the one you wanted.” He warns Diane as he tries to get past us, “Watch it, twerp.”

“Thanks, Jake.” I take the bag before I grab Diane’s hand, pulling her with me as I head toward the stairs.

“Lucy, I’m going to freshen up. We’ll be back to help.”

My old room looks
the same as when I left two years earlier, and once more,
I think about how much I’ve missed home.

Diane plops down on the bed as I take a change of clothes out. “What does Ben think about you living at Jake’s instead of here with him and Lucy?”

“Well, he’s not real pleased.” Diane smiles in understanding. “But he’s okay.”

Jake lives down the road at the next farm. My aunt Jordanna and her husband Billy’s place is across the field from him. Both farms belonged to the original homestead.

“I wonder how he’s going to take you not going back to school next fall.”

I quickly finish pulling my blouse down over my head. “Shhh!”

“Sorry! He’s downsta
irs; I don’t think he heard me.”

“Don’t bet on it. Did you forget he can hear like a bat?”

Diane’s pretty face lights up with a grin. I smile when I see her dimples. “Remember how we kept trying to sneak out to that party junior year?” she says.

I giggle.

“Your uncle Ben’s hair should be gray from all the stress we inflicted on the poor guy through the years.”

I smile at Diane’s reflection in the mirror while I brush my hair. She’s a little talle
r than I am and she has long, light-brown hair, which always looks good. When she looks at you with her big, cornflower-blue eyes, you just know she has to be the sweetest thing—and she is.

I was much too shy at five (I still am somewhat). I guess missing my parents and being uprooted from my home did not help my psyche as a young child. God bless Diane. She became my best friend and champion all through school. She’s outgoing, trusting, and friendly. She’s never known a stranger; I’m a little more reserved. I’m friendly, but opening myself up to people isn’t easy for me. I think I might have trust issues. We’ve had loads of fun together, and I know I’ve had a better quality of life growing up here in Sweetwater because of Diane.

“I love you, Di.”

She hops up and gives me a hug. “I love you too, Sofe. I’m so glad you’re home.”

“I am too. Let’s go help Luce before I start getting all teary and emotional,” I admit with a smile.

 

Supper is a loud, wonderful time—just like old times. My cousins Sam and Sawyer drop in, adding to the fun of reminiscing and teasing. Their dad died when they were young, so they spent a lot of time under Gram and Gramps’ roof, like me. We all grew up together, and I’m close to both cousins, but Sawyer and I forged a special bond at a young age. Growing up, if I ever got into trouble, it was usually with Sawyer. He has one of those adventurous, fun-loving personalities, the kind that loves to raise hell.

I’m in the kitchen serving dessert when there’s a knock on the back door.

“Hey, Nick, come on in! Have some pie,” Lucy graciously invites.

“Thanks, Lucy. That’s a hard invitation to turn down.”

Jake steps into the kitchen to greet Nick but mostly to escape Sawyer and Billy’s loud ribbing. “Nick, glad you decided to stop by. I want you to meet Sofie. Sofie, this is Nick.”

I look up from placing a piece of pie on a plate and smile.

“Hey, Nick!” Sawyer hollers from the dining room. “Get in here, and tell Diane about Jake setting his truck on fire. You too, Sofie.”

Nick chuckles. “I’d better go set the story straight,” he says in my direction. He turns to follow Jake, th
en stops. “Good to meet you, Sofie. From everything I’ve heard through the years, I feel I already know you.” He holds out his hand.

I look up. I guess he’s at least six feet tall. He
is
good looking, but Diane and Emma Rae had already filled me in on that fact. His hair’s dark brown; his e
yes are deep blue, fringed by long lashes, and his nose is perfect except for a small bump at the bridge. However, that bump doesn’t take anything away from the handsome face. He also has a sexy smile, but I can tell by the way he’s turned his attention toward the dining room, he’s already placed me in the little sister category, dismissing me.

Oh well.

I reach out and take hold of his hand. A current of heat runs up my arm. And I don’t mean warm heat, but honest to goodness hot! I gasp, and Nick’s eyes fly to mine. I jerk my hand, breaking our connection, and rub my palm on my jeans. Under his continued scrutiny, my face warms with flush.

“Come on, Sofie,” Diane bids as she joins us in the kitchen. “Sawyer’s not going to finish the story until you’re in there. You too, Nick.” She picks up the plate with the piece of pie I just cut and grabs my arm, pulling me along.

Sitting around Gram’s dining room table with some of the people I love most in the world seems a dream come true. I guess I should start thinking of it as Lucy’s table. After all, Gram and Gramps have been gone six years now. When I was fifteen, a car wreck took them from us.

Ben and Lucy had only been married a few months and were living in the house Jake lives in now. They moved to the main house to be with me, Jake moved into their house, and here we are. I sure do miss Gram and Gramps.

Sam sits beside me, leaning close, so I can hear him over everyone else. “Glad you’re home, Sofie. It seemed longer than two years.”

I loop my arm through his. Sam’s more like me in personality and, like me, we used to follow Sawyer everywhere. Sam and Sawyer may be twins, but they neither look nor act alike. Sam is mellow and laid back. Sawyer is easygoing and rowdy.

“Thanks, I’ve missed you all too, cuz.” I glance down the table and catch Nick watching me. Every time I look his way, he’s staring at me. He smiles, and I feel my face heat as I blush, which pisses me off.
Why do I do that?

Sawyer talks across the table to me. “Did Jake tell you how much money he lost last week at poker?” He’s grinning like a Che
shire cat, and I assume Jake lost his hard-earned cash to Sawyer. Of course, Sawyer has to rub it in.

That’s
when it happens. Jake picks up the saltshaker to chuck it at Sawyer, who quickly leans toward Diane, sitting beside him. The saltshaker misses him, clattering to the floor, but the water pitcher he knocks over, in his sudden move to avoid the shaker, does not. The pitcher tips with the water splashing up into Diane’s face.

Hard to believe a half pitcher of water could get a person that wet.

“Sawyer!” Diane sputters.

Sawyer’s expression, frozen in surprise, is priceless.

“It wasn’t my fault!” he screeches. “Jake did it!” He keeps trying to dry Diane off with his napkin, and she keeps swatting his hands away.

Coming back into the room with a towel, Lucy helps her. Jordanna reaches over to smack Jake on the head, but he’s too familiar with her moves and pulls off a good dodge. “Moron,” Jordanna accuses as she goes to Diane’s aid.

Sam and I lean against each other laughing, but trying to hide it (and not doing a very convincing job, I might add).

The room is in chaos, and Ben asks Jake just how much money
did
he lose. Billy, bless his heart, tries to help his wife mop up the water, his shoulders shaking with his mirth.

“I’ve noticed there are few dull moments around your family,” a deep voice says at my ear. Nick sits in the chair beside me.

I smile at him as I wipe my eyes.

“I do believe he’s the most surprised of us all.” Nick nods toward Sawyer. Another round of giggles hits me, and I cover my face with my napkin. Nick laughs. He has a good laugh, coming from deep within.

“S
ofie, do you have a blouse I can change into?” Diane wails.

Unable to answer without laughing, I nod, my face still covered. Nick laughs again.

By the time we sort Diane out, the party is breaking up, and I’m yawning. After giving my aunts and uncles goodnight hugs and promising to call the next day, the rest of us head out.

“I’m riding to the house with Diane, Jake,” I say before I glance at Nick. “It was good meeting you.” I’ll save my questions about the
hot flash
incident for another time.

“Good night,” Nick says with a smile.

“I’ll see you two tomorrow,” I tell Sawyer and Sam, getting a hug from both.

 

I’ve showered and dressed in a spaghetti-strap cami top and boy-type briefs with an old, flannel robe on top. Skimpy wear for this time
of the year in the Ozarks. I clearly need to go shopping for winter clothes.

Jake wanted to talk, so we sat around the kitchen table drinking hot cocoa for a bit.

Now, I’m lying all comfy in the freshly made bed, feeling a little guilty about moving Jake out of his bedroom. It was my only request when we talked of my moving in, and he willingly moved to one of the three bedrooms upstairs. He thinks I want the only bedroom with a bathroom, but that’s not why.

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