Walker Pride by Bernadette Marie | Blog Tour + Giveaway

Bestselling Author Bernadette Marie is known for building
families readers want to be part of. Her series The Keller Family has
graced bestseller charts since its release in 2011, along with her other series
and single title books. The married mother of five sons promises Happily
Ever After always…
and says she can write it, because she lives it.
When not writing, Bernadette Marie is shuffling her sons to
their many events—mostly hockey—and enjoying the beautiful views of the
Colorado Rocky Mountains from her front step. She is also an accomplished
martial artist with a second degree black belt in Tang Soo Do.
A chronic entrepreneur, Bernadette Marie opened her own
publishing house in 2011, 5 Prince Publishing, so that she could publish
the books she liked to write and help make the dreams of other aspiring authors
come true too. Bernadette Marie is also the CEO of Illumination Author
Events.
SOCIAL
MEDIA AND CONTACTS
 

Susan
Hayes moved to Georgia to start the life she wanted to live and build her
catering career. On the brink of having everything she ever wanted, Eric Walker
and his family happened into her life.

Eric
Walker’s life had been quiet, structured, and boring until his uncle gambled
away the family’s property and jeopardized Eric’s livelihood. Now midst family
secrets learned, someone ruining his business and trying to drive him off his
land, he fell in love.
Things
will never be the same for them—especially if someone succeeds in destroying
the Walker family and killing Eric.
SALE LINKS
When
available all sales sites are listed on the 5 Prince Publishing website.

  

Chapter One ~ Walker Pride

Fog rolled in over the ground giving the acreage around the house an eerie feel.

Eric Walker pulled up the collar of his jacket and let out a sigh. It was appropriate for the day to be gloomy, he thought. When you laid someone in the ground, it was fitting for it to rain or be down right cold, as it was today.

He walked down the old steps of the house to his truck, which waited for him like a good horse. Always ready for an adventure. He’d have taken his horse, but his stepmother would frown on it. Not that he’d have cared, but for his father’s sake he chose not to.

As he climbed into the old Ford, its red paint faded and its fender bent in, he kicked the mud off his boots before he swung his feet inside.

Some things were sacred like the inside of a man’s truck. Though the outside had seen many days in the fields, the inside was an oasis of new interior, which pleased Eric.

The engine would be the next upgrade, he thought as he gave her some gas as he turned the key. There was some hesitation, but a moment later she roared to life ready to take him anywhere.

Eric avoided the main house as much as he could.

He hadn’t been very old when his mother died, but while she lived in the big house she had added her touches. Rooms were decorated feminine and they just felt homey.

Of course, he would think that. His mother had done the work herself and had taken great pride in it. But when she passed away and a year later his father remarried. Glenda changed everything.

He’d been ten when the last room received its final coat of new paint and he’d held that grudge since.

As the road to the house tossed him back and forth he adjusted the dial on his radio. It was the kind of day for wallowing in misery with Hank.

His mother loved Patsy Cline. He could still hear her singing as she painted his childhood bedroom.

It was foolish for a man of forty to think so far back and get so worked up, but funerals did that to him.

It had been his grandfather, George Walker, they’d laid to rest in the family cemetery and that was what made him start thinking about his mother.

Her headstone was a mere few feet from his grandfather’s. CONSTANCE WALKER. The letters had seemed so big for such a small woman.

Eric could have done with walking away after the old man was lowered into the ground yesterday, but now he had to trek to the house to hear the will.

He could have cared less about who got what. His grandfather had always promised him the house on the edge of the property, where he’d lived since he was eighteen. There was no reason to assume he’d go back on his word.

Eric wondered about some of his cousins though. Would greed set in?

His own brothers were much like him. They were grateful for what they had. They worked hard and made honest livings. Everett Walker hadn’t raised his boys to be anything less than honest men. That alone gave Eric some pride.

He loved his brothers. He was eight when Dane had been born and there had been a lot of honest animosity, but that had come from a boy who missed his own mother.

Glenda, though she changed the house’s décor, was the best replacement for his mother Eric could wish for. She never treated Eric as though he were someone else’s child. She raised him as her own, with respect to his own mother.

Eric kicked up the heat in the truck as he crossed over the little bridge that connected the two original pieces of land over the small creek, which divided it.

All of his cousins had been at the funeral. Well, everyone but Bethany. It was completely possible his uncle Byron had forgotten to tell her that their grandfather had died at all. Or, she was so busy with her life in L.A. it was just too much to pack up to say goodbye to a grandfather she really didn’t know.

Eric’s uncle was a piece of work himself, he thought as he slowed to check the cattle grazing in the field to his right.

Byron Walker had five children, just as his father did. Only he’d been married and divorced twice and he’d never even married Bethany’s mother.

His father and uncle were complete opposites. Everett Walker, his father, was a family man. He was committed to each member of his family and to his wife. He saved money, nearly to a fault, Eric thought, and he worked harder than any other man Eric had ever known.

His uncle Byron, on the other hand, loved to live life as if it were a party. He’d nearly gone bankrupt three times.

It was well known he was not a faithful husband, which could have been why he’d been married and divorced. And his children were just people who had passed through his life.

Eric got along with his cousins, but they had never had a chance to become close. They came for visits when they were growing up and Todd had worked on the land for years, but he kept to himself.

It only made the drive to the house that much worse by thinking about everyone being in one room—together.

There were at least a dozen vehicles parked in the loop out front of the main house, each one as different as its owner.

Eric parked the furthest away. If he were able, he’d be the first one out. He stepped out of the truck onto the soft ground. Rain had softened it and he was sure his stepmother was already fit to be tied with the shoes coming into the house.

His father wouldn’t tolerate her asking everyone to kick them off at the door. Eric could lay down bets that the carpet cleaner van would be parked there by tomorrow morning.

Not wanting to make a grand entrance, as the last one to arrive, he walked around to the back of the house and pulled open the back door.

The woman standing in his mother’s kitchen jumped and placed her hands on her chest.

You startled me,” she gasped and let out a breath.

Eric looked her over. He’d seen her before, but he couldn’t put a place to it.

The woman kept working. There were assorted trays on the counter and island. Obviously she was a caterer, and that was where he realized he knew her. She’d catered the reception after the funeral.

Eric toed off his boots. It was the least he could do for his stepmother, even if he hated the idea.

So what’s going on in here?” he asked.

Mrs. Walker wanted to have a small sandwich service while the attorneys were here.”

Eric nodded. “Platters of meats and breads. She hired you to do it?”

The woman shrugged, perhaps brushing off the insult he’d landed on her. “It’s what I do. Yesterday’s buffet was okay wasn’t it?”

Yes, it was fine.”

She grinned as she continued to work. “Fine. This is why I need a sit down restaurant so I can create items that are more than fine.”

I didn’t mean…”

She raised her eyes to meet his. “I know. This is what I have to do to pay for culinary school. Someday it will be much more than sandwich trays and buffets.”

You want to own a restaurant, huh?” he asked as he reached over to the tray and took a black olive and popped it into his mouth.

Her eyes followed him and her lips tightened. “Yes. This isn’t forever.”

The unmistakable clicking of his stepmother’s shoes pierced his ears. He could hear the mumbling of his entire family, close and extended, down the hall. There was no doubt she was coming looking for him.

Eric, I thought I heard that old truck of yours. The entire family is waiting for you.”

He gave the woman rolling ham into rolls a glance and she was smirking, her back toward his stepmother.

I’ll follow you down,” he said as his stepmother turned and walked away. He leaned in toward the woman. “No fair laughing as she scolded me.”

The woman laughed then leaned in closer. “She scares me a little.”

Yeah, she’s scared the hell out of me since I was eight.” That warranted a laugh. “I guess I’d better go. I can think of a million things I’d rather be doing.”

He picked up a ham roll and took a bite as she narrowed her eyes at him.

She’s going to probably count each of those to make sure she’s paying the right amount.”

If she short pays you I’m good for it. If she doesn’t tip you enough either, let me know. I’m good for that too.”

Something tells me you’re trouble.”

He bit off another bite. “I’ve been known to be that too.”

She moved the tray of meat out of his reach. “I’ll be sure to be in touch if I need to collect.”

Eric held out his hand to her, but before she took it she wiped her own on her apron. “Eric Walker.”

Susan Hayes.”

Eric!” His stepmother’s voice echoed down the hall.

I’m forty years old. You think she’d realize I don’t play by her rules anymore.”

Do you play by anyone’s rules?”

Just my own.”

She took back her hand and reached for a bag of rolls. “Like I said something tells me you’re trouble.”

Eric shot her a grin as he stole a roll from the bag. Perhaps after putting up with his entire family he would actually stick around and watch the caterer work. He hadn’t had anyone pique his interest in a long time. It might be worth mingling with his family just to let her interest him a little more.

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A Secret To Keep by Railyn Stone | Book Review

Keeping
secrets is a horrible way to live. Sloane Davis should know.
She’s
kept her son a secret from his father for almost a year.
Now,
her worst nightmare is coming true. Her ex is re-entering her professional life
in the midst of the biggest project of her career. She’s about to come face to
face with the only man she’s ever loved – her son’s father.
Gates
McCall is a brash man. He hasn’t always been this way, but when Sloane walked
out on him, something inside him broke. When his company’s newest acquisition
brings the two of them together once more, little does he know seeing her will
bring back a flood of memories, feelings, and an unexpected surprise.
Purchace your copy here: 


Barnes&Noble Pre-Order Link: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-secret-to-keep-railyn-stone/1121917126?ean=2940151590198

Railyn Stone hails from the Tar Heel State and is a romantic at heart.
She believes you can find romance in the simplest aspects of life and enjoys
letting her imagination run wild. Trying new restaurants, listening to music,
playing golf and writing over the top stories about ordinary people are the hobbies
she cherishes most.
Links for social media
Twitter: @railynwrites
Facebook Author Page: www.facebook.com/railynst
 3 stars

I love reading stories that involves unexpected pregnancies where the father has no knowledge about the child and discovers it in the middle of the story. To me, these kind of tale shows how a mother could fight, thrive, and do the right thing to provide for her child. The love of a mother is extraordinary! Sloane Davis shows her devotion to Brayden (her child with Gates). The relationship between Sloane and Gates is chaotic at first, what with Sloane leaving Gates for no apparent reason. Although, his love for her is real, the thought of being abandoned by the woman he only loves and values is too much to bear that he often expresses his anger instead of his undying love for her. Thus, having Sloane second guess in confessing her secret to him thinking that it would only cause more problems than resolution.

There were moments in the book that made me feel tearful. Felt palpitations as I read Sloane and Gate’s point of view, albeit written in third person the amount of information, emotions are just too real! Sloane’s friend are all wonderful characters! They are her voice of reason and pillar of strength when she’s about to give up.

Overall, it was a good story. However, some dialogue were reiterated a few times. It would be a lot more exciting if those repetitive conversation between characters are focused on character development, resolution of some conflict, or expanding minor characters.

 
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Regeneration X by Ellison Blackburn | Blog Tour and Giveaway

If Charlotte Rhys Fenn could do it all over, knowing what she knows now, she would be different.

Charley leads a comfortable life with her best friend and perfect match, Michael, a man with whom she shares two lovely pet children (canine and feline), and a home in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She’s fortunate to have a caring and supportive family, and two amazing friends, Inez and Becks. Professionally, she holds a secure position as editor of a respected healthcare magazine. Her life is settled, as is her future.
Acquiring this existence of hers hadn’t been easy. For at least twenty years she felt like a wind-up toy, methodically following preprogrammed rules—step one … step two. She even imagined herself as a minuscule, but essential, cog inside a big machine with the mechanical brain. No matter what she tells herself, it hasn’t helped since another thought flutters through her mind as frequently: Going through the motions is the same as coasting toward nothingness.
It is 2025, the time is right. Technology, in a rapidly advancing world, makes it possible to reimagine the future by recreating the past or, more aptly, by creating another past.
Charley must either embrace her well-earned, sedate lifestyle, or invite a change that could alter her future irreversibly. It’s a difficult decision, one that could destroy all she has endeavored for, turning their life not only upside down, but backwards, forwards, and inside out.


 
 
Ellison Blackburn is a
full-time designer/web developer of fifteen years. Ironically, she often waxes
nostalgic over simpler days. Her passions include writing fiction and poetry,
painting, and collecting vintage thingamabobs.




Raised in
Chicago, she relocated to the Pacific Northwest where she currently lives with
her husband and three beastly, furry children.




She is a
writer of fiction and poetry and the internationally published author of
Regeneration X.
 
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In 2028, we, Charlotte Avery’s sponsors, asked her to publish her experiences as a Generation Xer. Collectively, we hope this perspective provides guidance by way of an empathetic viewpoint and helps others who may be struggling with their lives in a modern age. The time we live in may seem rather impersonal and we want you to know, you are not alone.

And while we all look to others for support, it is ourselves who we rely on the most. In this story, writing is the avenue by which Charlotte organizes her thoughts and addresses an ever-present listener, herself. Below you will find one of many journal entries, which offer valuable insights into Charlotte’s personal turmoil, and it may help you.

December 31, 2024

Dear Journal,

What am I now but a habitually prosaic, rather stiff person who spends too much time in the virtual realms of language without expression? Don’t answer that.

I’m glad the few friends I have politely ignore how ordinary I am.

It wouldn’t be so bad if I had a career, perhaps more creative, which didn’t bleed so heavily into my life or I worked in an office with at least minimal social interaction. I could use the practice. The fact is, my constant daily companion is the machine grinding away in my head and its mirror image, the one behind my monitor (and its babies—the devices).

I truly believe children are innately happy and profoundly creative the moment they are born; at least ten minutes post birth anyway—after the crust is removed from their eyes and a smack on their bottoms awakens them to their new reality. Suddenly they see what they have never seen before. Anything is possible. Every experience is wondrous. Each touch, smell, sound and sight, innocent. In essence, they are the creators of a new world. Even into their adolescent years, these conjurers imagine monsters and fairies alike; believe in mystical creatures and super powers; have faith in everyone and everything; even though none of the ‘beings’ are visible or characteristics, tangible.

It is over the course of more cognitive years when these impressionable minds are taught—rationality and disbelief are synonymous. Sooner or later all of the conditioning we bombard each young person with molds his or her once beautiful, imaginative, and admirable mind (and heart) into a living robot who conforms to the norms of our society.

Believing this, I ask myself, “How did I end up here? Did I ever have control over my life?”

Well … up until 17, I was clueless; busy being young and growing up; nothing wrong with that. Actually, at least I have that, those were the good times. People call it innocence because there is so much newness to experience. In hindsight, I’d rather call it obliviousness since we are unaware of the freedom we’ve been granted for this short period of time. Anyway, all along, of course, I was taught morals and how to be a good person in general; absolutely nothing questionable in fundamental values either. It makes complete sense. We live in a society and it’s so much better when we all get along. In this way, the mechanizations are condonable.

Then, enter the experimental college years, where all the big rules are set and life-changing decisions are made. You can change your mind a few times trying to find your niche. It’s okay, but in the end you must curb your creativity and choose the one path which will define your entire future. I think we’re all supposed to be thankful for the boundaries. So, like a good robot, I followed the program and emerged optimistic, ready to be a contributing member to society. “Yay! I can decorate my place the way I want and bonus! I get to work to buy stuff and pay bills.”

By the time I was 35 it was too late, so I was conditioned to believe, to turn back and do something driven less by necessity than personal passion. It wouldn’t have helped anyway, I still didn’t have ‘one’ goal I wanted personally, I only knew what I needed to carry on. I was already formed.

When my forties rolled around, I was an editor of a well-circulated magazine and had just started working remotely. Conclusively, this is where my personality exited and hermit-dom entered. I have been this uninspired person ever since.

And so you see, I’ve been turning right at every bend since I was 17, the path of least resistance. It’s my own fault for being oblivious, right? I wonder, what would have happened if I’d taken a turn with my own force, skidded and slammed into the future from the opposite side. But I still wonder, how many outcomes are possible for one person when they play the game by destiny’s rules anyway?

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White River Killer by Stephen M. Wilson | Blog Tour and Giveaway

 

Who is up for a murder mystery? Get ready to take a look into this great thrilling book.

 

John Riley Hubbard is a young farmer and part-time
reporter in a small southern town. After the body of an Arab college
student is found near his home, Hubbard reluctantly agrees to cover the
grisly story for the local paper. When he discovers
there is a surprising link from this crime to his father’s unsolved
murder, he becomes obsessed with uncovering the killer’s identity. Since
he was a child, Hubbard has been haunted by nightmares and suspicions
that his father’s killer may be the man closest
to him – his wealthy uncle.
As his investigation progresses, he must face
mounting threats from an unseen adversary and managed his growing
attraction to Maria, a young Latino woman who might be part of the
conspiracy.

The White River Killer is an exciting mixture of mystery, romance, and suspense.

 

Make sure to pick up your copy of the book.
 

Biography

Stephen Wilson is an American author. His first book was,
“Harvey Couch – An Entrepreneur Brings Electricy to Arkansas”, published
in 1986 by August House publishers. He also has won awards for his
screenplays which have been presented by the Writer’s Workshop program
at the American Film Institute. His latest work, “The White River
Killer” was developed as part of the Summer Words program at the Aspen
Institute.

Opening of The White River Killer – Long excerpt

The safest drivers on the road are those hauling a corpse to a discreet location while avoiding the notice of law enforcement.

Luis Espinoza slowed the blue pickup and used the pale glow of a streetlamp to check his newly acquired Rolex. He pulled back the ragged cuff of his faded blue winter coat; it was almost three a.m. The heavy storm was slowing their progress. Luis would have preferred to wait for clear skies, but he had no choice. The man said the body needed to disappear, and if Luis wanted this gig, well . . .

He pressed the accelerator and he and Pablo Sanchez continued to move through the flooded streets of the Latino barrio of Hayslip, Arkansas, a small farming community.

The battered truck, jacked yesterday afternoon, entered foamy water swirling in a narrow intersection just as a streak of lightning revealed Luis’s hands trembling on the steering wheel. Ashamed, his eyes darted sideways toward Pablo.

His young partner seemed oblivious to the risk they were taking. He stared, expressionless, at the rising water while clutching a folded sheet of paper in his left hand. With the other hand, he tapped a knife rhythmically on his knee like he was the drummer in an imaginary band.

Luis met Pablo six months ago on a night as desolate as this. The boy was curled up, whimpering on a gravel bed next to an empty freight car in Guatemala. Pablo had lost a fight with a burly railroad guard, his bloody arms still trying their best to block the blows from the watchman’s metal baton. Feeling an unexpected sympathy, Luis crept up behind the big man, zeroed in on a spot on his balding head, and slammed a heavy rock against the guard’s skull. Pablo was duly grateful, and Luis delayed his departure by a week so that his sister could nurse his new friend back to health.

Uncertain how Pablo would manage on the drive this evening, Luis had written up a step-by-step plan to help him keep his wits. He was trying his best to manage the barely sixteen-year-old. Their night work until now had been limited to minor break-ins and rolling drunks, nothing of this magnitude. Luis worried the boy would crack under tonight’s stress. In mocking irony, it was Luis, eleven years older than Pablo, who was overwhelmed. His chest throbbed as if it were being squeezed by a tight metal band.

A small fortune in cash was within their reach—if he could keep his wits.

As they neared the town center, the road cleared of standing rainwater. Main Street, coming up now, marked the most hazardous leg of their journey, a necessary evil due to high water that prevented a more circumspect route. They would sprint along this well-lit road for two hundred yards before they could return to the relative safety of a dark two-lane.

Luis glanced at the rear view mirror. The thick carpet roll was too long for a short-bed Dodge, and flopped over the tailgate. He tried to return his focus to the road, but not before he caught a glimpse of his dark eyes in the mirror. He knew he looked angry. Well, why shouldn’t he be angry? There was a time when his family would have been the one giving the orders, telling others to do the dirty work. Not now. No, he was the one saying ‘yes sir’. It wasn’t right. He wasn’t like Pablo. He had an education. He grew up with fine things. Hell yes, he was angry.

Luis slowed the vehicle, hesitating in the safety of the shadowy intersection, four blocks north of the town square. They remained there, studying the street warily.

Pablo’s nervous Spanish was barely audible over the rain pelting the roof. “Is the cop still there? Can you see his car? I can’t. He should be gone by now . . . Is he?”

“Hold on. I can’t see anything,” Luis said, squinting in an effort to see through the foggy windshield. The wipers squeaked noisily on each pass, battling the downpour.

Pablo leaned forward, his brow raised in fear as he pointed a switchblade in front of him. He used one of the few English words he knew, his voice cracking, before he returned to his native language. “Stop!” His knife was directed at the twenty-four-hour Git It N Go convenience store located on the corner, across the road from where the pickup idled. “He’s there. His patrol car. See?” He tapped the windshield with his blade.

Luis grabbed the .38 under his seat. “Put the knife down . . . Where?”

“The bastard parked behind the store tonight. Why? He never does that. It’s a trap!”

Luis prided himself on knowing the routines of Hayslip’s tiny police force. It allowed

them to do their work in peace. “How could it be a trap? I don’t see his . . . Christ! How many times have I told you that you need glasses? That’s the girl’s car, not his, and it doesn’t look anything like a patrol car! Don’t lose it, man.”

Pablo pouted. He fell back in the seat and flicked his knife open and closed several times.

The interior of the cab had grown humid and Luis wiped sweat from his forehead with the palm of his hand.  Returning his attention to the small store, he spotted the curvy figure of the young cashier through the plate glass window as she picked up a magazine from a rack in front and then returned to the rear of the building.

A new understanding made Luis panic, his breaths became rapid. No . . . no . . . His thinking about tonight was all wrong. It would be better to know where the cop was when they were in transit, rather than delay until late at night to miss him at the store.

Hayslip’s deputy dawdled each evening inside the Git It N Go to mess with a girl at the register. But with the deputy gone at this hour, he could be anywhere. It would have been much smarter to arrive when his attention was on the girl, not his duties. Now there was a chance they would run into him on Main Street.

He surveyed the length of the broad avenue. Nothing moved along the gloomy corridor except silver sheets of rainwater. Traffic signals, fried by the storm, blinked red warnings in all directions.

Luis needed time to think. Did the cop go back to the jail to sleep? He didn’t know what the redheaded fool did this late at night when dawn approached.

“Let’s take off,” Pablo said.

“I’ll say when we go. I’m—”

There was a flash of white light in the rear view mirror just before a vehicle plowed into the truck’s tailgate, Luis’s head snapped backwards and then the force of the crash slammed him against the steering wheel. For a painful moment, he was disoriented by the harsh jolt.

Regaining his wits, Luis shouted a war cry that was a confused mixture of profanity and terrified gibberish. He flung open his truck door and leapt out.

Pablo bounded out the passenger door after Luis, waving his arms. “Luis don’t . . .”

Luis shielded his eyes from the blinding headlights, too enraged to hear the warning. Harsh bile burned his throat. The stolen pickup, a body in the rug; there was too much to explain away. This singular opportunity for a return to the good life was ruined. Cursing the deputy to hell, he fired four rounds at the hazy outline of the patrol car. His fourth shot went wild and smashed the vehicle’s left headlight. A second later, the remaining lamp shorted out, issuing a soft pop of complaint as it died.

Luis wiped icy droplets from his face and realized that he had been fooled by a mirage. Like a nightmare, a gray Oldsmobile, with chrome fenders and a vinyl top materialized. No one was sitting inside the idling car, either dead or alive. After a moment of uncertainty, he took small steps forward, Pablo behind him.

Low thunder rolled overhead as the Olds driver—about Pablo’s age—rose somewhat unsteadily behind the dash.

Behind him, Luis heard Pablo whisper, “Un niño.” A kid.

The lighted dashboard tinted the boy’s features an eerie teal. Almost in slow motion, the youth slid behind the steering wheel, wide-eyed, as the men approached. His mouth opened partially, perhaps to cry out, maybe to plead.

Raising his pistol, Luis aimed at the center of the driver’s blue-green head. But his gun hand quivered, and his vision turned cloudy. The trigger resisted the pull of his finger.

With nothing to lose, the boy slapped the Olds’s gear shift into reverse. The rear tires spun loudly on the wet street and then gained traction.

Pablo pointed at the retreating vehicle. “Stop him. Do something.”

Pulling back from the two men standing in the front of the car, the vehicle made a wild retreat, barely staying between the ditches.

Luis lowered the gun as a porch light flicked on down the street. He ran for the truck. “We’ve got to get out of here.” He flung open the truck door and jumped in, grabbing the steering wheel.

Pablo’s arms flailed against the rain in wordless fury, but he sprinted after Luis and leapt into a vehicle already pulling away.

As they took off, Luis looked back and saw the Olds careen into a parking lot and crash backward into an automatic car wash. It then pulled forward, the metal siding on the building crashed to the ground, and the vehicle raced away in the opposite direction.

Luis accelerated toward highway 281.

After they had gone almost a mile, Luis berated himself in Spanish for panicking with a mournful wail of frustration. “Goddamn! I thought it was the cop. Why . . . did . . . I . . .”

Staring at the muddy floor mat underneath his feet, Pablo was silent.

Luis drove on, squinting into the rain until he made out an unmarked trail connecting to the highway. He turned to Pablo, who still clutched the plan in his hand. “Where are we? What number? Read it.”

Pablo opened the sheet of paper, pulled a small flashlight from his pocket, and recited aloud. “Nine. Exit the highway at the fourth dirt road. Unmarked. Count each road.”

“Was that the first or second road?” Luis asked. His mind was racing so fast everything was jumbled.

Pablo looked up, shrugged his shoulders and turned off the light. “I don’t know.”

“You’re supposed to be counting. Count.”

“Yeah . . . I think that was the first.” Pablo put the sheet of notebook paper on the seat beside them and pointed to the right. “That’s the second.”

They had passed the crude turnoff before he finished the sentence.

“Second,” Luis said. “Okay, two more.” Luis shoved the gun back under the seat.

They noted a third trail that looked so vague it appeared to be more a memory of a cow path than a route.

“Okay . . . It’s coming up at the top of this hill,” Pablo said.

Luis turned onto a narrow dirt path that first cleaved a line of pine trees, and then divided an open meadow into two sections. Farther away from the highway, the terrain on either side of the road transformed into impassably thick undergrowth dotted with scrub trees.

Luis leaned to his left to fully view the side mirror. No headlights pursued them in the night. They had done it. The ache in his chest eased.

As they splashed through water hiding potholes in the road, Pablo fidgeted in his seat and eyed the dark cottages on their route. The primitive structures were cloaked in shadows by brambles and pine foliage. “Are you sure they’re all empty?” Pablo said. “How can there be so many houses and no one living in them?”

Luis pointed to a shack on the right. “No electricity. No running water. Rotten floor boards. They call this place Shanty Town. They’re old sharecropper shacks—nothing here but an abandoned ghost town. I’ve been here a few times before. It’s a good place to hide things.”

“Hide things? What have you put out here?”

Luis ignored the question. Veering off the meager road, he headed for the drop-off spot. The truck struggled to make it up the muddy rise, slippery with rain. He parked next to a drainage canal, barely visible in the overcast night. Luis turned off the headlights, plunging them into darkness. They sat for a full minute to let their eyes adjust.

“When do we leave? Pablo asked. Tomorrow? That dude might have recognized us or we could run into him again. We can’t stay here.”

“We’ll handle him if we run into him again.”

“But—”

“No . . . I’ve been thinking,” Luis said. His voice was a whisper. “There’s more money to be made from this . . .” Luis’s head tilted to the rear to indicate the unmoving passenger in the truck bed. “This is the start of something very bad. A pillar of the community won’t want to deal with the details. He has too much to lose.”

“Pillar . . . of the . . .what?”

Luis shook his head. “Never mind. I just think we can make more money before we leave . . . I’ve got uh, some things I need to take care of.”

After an uneasy moment of quiet, Pablo asked, “What are you going to do with your share of the money?”

Luis considered the question before deciding to answer it. “I haven’t told you this, but my sister just arrived. I’m going to help Maria get settled. I promised I’d take care of her.”

“Maria’s here? In Hayslip? ” Pablo then separated Maria’s name into three lovely parts, wrapping each syllable in a verbal caress, “Ma—ri—a.”

Luis’s eyes narrowed, and his lips pressed together into a scowl. Maria turned men into fools. He glowered at Pablo.

Smiling apologetically, Pablo turned his attention to the particulars of the miserable weather outside the door window. He edged closer to the glass as his hand swept back and forth, wiping away condensation. “Shit . . . Some guy is watching us. He’s standing by that tree. Look!”

The tightness in Luis’s chest returned, squeezing the air from his lungs. Struggling to breathe, he slid closer to Pablo’s window to see through the grey mist. After several tense seconds, he returned to his former position. “It’s only a shadow. Yes, it looks like a man, but it’s not. You need glasses.”

“But I saw him move. He walked—”

Glasses.”

Pablo folded his arms around his chest and his bottom lip jutted out.

After their breath had fogged the windshield completely, Luis said, “Okay, let’s go.”

  1. Use side rails to get into truck bed. Don’t leave footprints on wet ground.

Stepping onto slick side rails, they climbed into the cargo area. The men stood on either side of the rug, staring down at it expectantly as if it might suggest how best to move it.

“Did he tell you who’s in the rug?” Pablo asked. “Do you know? What did he do wrong?”

“Don’t know. Don’t care,” Luis said. “Let’s lift it.”

Crouching down, they tried to lift the carpet, but discovered it was too heavy to pick up. The long downpour had soaked it for several hours after they took it from the mansion to hide it until nightfall in the woods. Now, filled with both water and a body, the dead weight stuck to the truck bed as if glued. After minutes of futile strain, both of them were breathing heavily. They sat across from each other on the sides of the truck bed to catch their breath.

“The goddamn thing won’t budge,” Pablo said. He straightened and put a hand on his back.

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