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Excerpt for Tell Me a Lie (Madigan River Book 1) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Tell Me a Lie


Madigan River Book 1




Jannie Lund









































Copyright © 2018 Jannie Lund. All rights reserved.


Published by Jannie Lund www.jannielund.com


Edited by Heather at A Plot Whole www.aplotwhole.com


Cover art by Jannie Lund


ISBN 978-87-999401-1-0


























A massive thank you to Stacie for the encouragement and hand-holding, to Heather for the red pen wielding and much appreciated no-nonsense attitude, and to all the people in my life who made me stronger while writing this book.



























Chapter One


The weather was perfect for a funeral.

Skye pulled her jacket closer and wished she’d thought to bring an umbrella. Pastor Simmons droned on and on in that wit-numbing way of his, seeming not to notice the rain or the chilled crowd around the grave. Skye looked around again, trying to be subtle about it. Even to herself, she was reluctant to admit who her eyes were searching for. When she had to admit it anyway, she explained her actions away as natural curiosity. After all, if Thomas Madigan’s unexpected death didn’t bring his scattered sons back together, nothing probably could.

Hunter was there, of course, head bowed in respect next to the oak casket. He was the one who had never left, never wanted to. Steady as a rock he was, and twice as reliable. Down-to-earth Hunter Madigan was always ready with a smile and a helping hand, even when he had more than enough on his own plate. Skye was glad to count him among her friends.

Julian was there, too, and he wasn’t fooling anyone with the dark sunglasses. They weren’t to hide his grief or tears. Skye knew he wore them in an attempt to dull yet another hangover. He always did. Julian had been an angry child, an even angrier teenager, and now he was an angry young man. Whether his father’s death would fuel or soften his anger was impossible to say. Because she had a soft spot for him, Skye hoped he’d be able to find some peace within himself soon. It had to be exhausting to be so miserable all the time.

Letting her eyes roam over the crowd of people who’d defied the weather and turned up to say a final goodbye to the great-great-grandchild of the town’s founding father, Skye spotted the third Madigan brother. Reid had been gone for long periods of time in the past decade, only ever returning when he needed to make a buck for his next sailing adventure. It had been at least three years since he’d been home last. His sun-bleached hair was in a ponytail, and the earring glinting in his ear gave him the look of a pirate. She imagined he’d be pleased to give off that vibe.

That left Cameron, the one Skye had been looking for all along. As far as she knew, he hadn’t actually been back in Maeville in the past six years. The talk of the town was that he was too busy with his music career in Nashville. Cam had always wanted to be a star—a country music star, first conquering Nashville and then the world. “Everyone will be singing along to Cameron Madigan someday,” he’d often told her when they’d been young, naïve, and stupidly in love. Skye had dreamed of penning the songs Cameron would make his mark on the music business with, but only one of them had ever really gotten a taste of their dreams.

The pain of a shattered heart had long ago faded into a violent sting now and again when she allowed herself to think about the past, but it had been a serious wound when Cameron blasted out of town alone chasing the dreams they had once shared. The dozen or so postcards she’d gotten in the first year had done nothing to soften the blow, but time had been a great healer.

So had her common sense.

It really wasn’t for her own sake that she was keeping an eye out for Cameron. It was mostly for the Madigans. The last thing they needed was the town gossiping about Cameron’s absence. And okay, it was for her own sake, too. Pride had kept her from reaching out to him, and she figured this was her chance to see if she’d healed as well as she hoped she had. Six years was a long time, but Cameron Madigan wasn’t just anyone. He’d been a star long before he’d left town, at least in a young Skye Jones’ eyes.

The rain grew heavier and almost drowned out the mourners singing the last psalm. Skye didn’t sing along, afraid her teeth would start clattering if she opened her mouth. She was tempted to leave, but since her daddy had been kept from attending by one of the Henderson kids needing a cast on his newly broken leg, she knew he’d demand a full replay when she got back to the clinic. So she stayed, wondering if she’d ever get warm and dry again.

The casket was being lowered into the ground when Skye finally spotted Cameron approaching—and felt her heart beat for the first time since he’d left. Damn him. The black Stetson angled to keep the rain out of his face and the heavy jacket didn’t conceal his identity for a second. Hands buried in his pockets, he sauntered—Cameron Madigan still didn’t just walk anywhere—closer. He stopped, standing alone a small distance away as his father’s casket disappeared from view. The past six years melted away, and despite whatever reasons Cameron had for staying away for so long, she knew plain as day that he was hurting.

That, in turn, hurt her. Whatever healing she thought she had done had clearly been a figment of her imagination. Part of her wanted to go to him, offer her support. It seemed like she had always wanted go to him. After he’d left, it had become necessary to learn not to, but old habits died hard apparently. Especially now that he was so close.

For better or worse, Cameron Madigan was back—in town and in Skye’s life. And she needed to deal with it somehow.


* * * *


It wasn’t that he had doubted the text message Hunter had sent, but seeing his brother helping to lower a casket into the ground drove it home. Their daddy was gone. Cameron swallowed with some difficulty and was grateful for the bad weather that gave him the perfect excuse to keep his head down. Soon after he had arrived, the nameless, faceless people around the grave began to scatter. Instead of revealing himself, he wandered deeper into the cemetery, figuring everyone would be in a rush to get out of the rain, allowing him to say his goodbye in private. It wasn’t going to be an easy one.

He hadn’t meant to be late, but his car had broken down halfway between Nashville and the drowsy North Carolina town he’d once called home, and fixing it had taken a while. Now he supposed that hadn’t been such a bad thing. A lot of people had turned up to say goodbye to Thomas Madigan, and Cameron wasn’t in the mood to deal with any of them. Of course, he should have expected that people were on the lookout for him, and he hadn’t gone far when someone cleared their throat behind him. Resisting the urge to sigh, he turned around.

“You made it.” Looking proper in a in a suit and grief swimming in his eyes, Hunter looked as much the perfect son as he always had. The old resentment bubbled up instantly, as though years hadn’t passed since the brothers last saw each other.

The words were stuck in Cameron’s throat, and instead of spewing his anger he just nodded. If the words ever got unstuck, they were bound to come out sounding nasty. It was more than the years of separation that stood as a wall between him and Hunter.

“I’m glad.” Hunter’s neutral tone left Cameron unable to tell if he was being sarcastic or not.

The rain began to slow, not that it mattered since they were both already drenched. And had nothing to say to each other. Good to know nothing around there had changed, apparently.

“Are you coming back to the house?” Hunter asked.

Cameron nodded again.

Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, Hunter looked away. “Well … I’ll see you there.”

Watching him leave, Cameron stuck his hands into his pockets. He and Hunter had been close as kids, but when they had gotten too old to kick a ball around and wreck havoc with their slingshots, they had stopped having anything in common. He had resented Hunter’s love for their dad, the sawmill, and the town. The need to go, to do, to accomplish that had raged through Cameron’s body had never been present in Hunter’s, and it had been easier to sneer at his younger brother’s complacency than attempt to understand it. That hadn’t changed either.

Alone in the cemetery, Cameron wandered back toward his father’s grave.

It was ridiculous that larger than life Thomas Madigan was nothing more than bones in a box now. For all the disagreements, arguments, and fights over the years, not to mention the fact that they hadn’t talked to each other in six years, Cameron always thought they would some day figure things out. Now, with the rain and the tears mingling on his cheeks, Cameron realized that would never happen. He had missed his chance. But it was more than sadness and grief that filled him. Resentment simmered near the surface. It wasn’t like the stupid, old bastard had ever asked him to stay, was it? He’d never made amends for his harsh words or for his lack of attention. Cameron had never apologized either, but he had sure as hell had tried to get the old man’s attention. His respect. Hell, his love. It didn’t necessarily make someone a bad person that they weren’t a chip off the old block.

Reaching the open grave, the anger and the resentment evaporated at the devastating sight of the casket, and so did the words he had planned to say. So he stood in silence for a few minutes, then tipped his hat and turned his back on the old man for the last time

Driving through the well-known streets of Maeville brought up a lot of memories. It still looked pretty much like it had six years ago, but Cameron knew that, like him, things were bound to be different beneath the surface. Old, familiar faces would be gone, replaced by new, unfamiliar ones. Changes in the people he knew brought on by age and experience, places and hangouts dear to him destroyed. Nothing would probably be the same once he got a closer look. The old resentment at small town life was not as strong as it had once been, because since he’d last seen the familiar streets of the town he’d grown up in, he’d gotten a valuable lesson in what home meant.

The big house on Madigan Avenue would be full of changes, too, even if it looked exactly like it did the day Cameron had left town. For one, it wasn’t Thomas Madigan’s house anymore. It would no doubt be Hunter’s, although heaven only knew if inheriting it would be enough to drive him away from his cabin up river where he guarded his privacy with the ferociousness of a rabid dog. Okay, nothing about Hunter was actually ferocious. He was too laid back for that, but he did value his personal space above almost all. Or had. Cameron knew next to nothing about what more than half a decade had done to his brother.

Cars lined both sides of the street and were crammed into the wide driveway. He didn’t particularly feel like going into the house and dealing with the army of curious neighbors and distant relations that he barely knew. His daddy hadn’t had any friends; he was always too busy making his mark on the world for such frivolous things. In that aspect, Cameron knew he was a lot more like his daddy than he wanted to be. Just like he knew that despite the reservations he had about it, his duty was to go inside. He couldn’t hide like he had done at the cemetery.

He had to park around the corner. As he approached the white three-story plantation style house that had housed six generations of Madigans, a wave of nostalgia hit him right in the chest. It was the only real home he had ever known, and if he had missed anything or anyone in Maeville, it was that. Having a home and belonging somewhere—not that he would ever admit that to anyone.

There was a guy on the front porch braving the rainy bursts of wind, sitting on the ground with his back against the house and puffing enthusiastically on a cigarette. The hood of the black sweatshirt hid most of his face, and a beer can sat under the nearby rocking chair. The front porch on the Madigan house sure hadn’t been used for sipping sweet tea in a long time. It seemed fitting to have some drunk sprawled there. Cameron walked past him, steeling himself before he pushed the front door open.

The murmur of voices met his ears at the same time as the smell of food reached his nose. Groups of people were standing in the large entryway, and everyone stopped talking and turned to look at him. The silence quickly spread through the whole house, except for the odd harsh whisper of what he was sure was his name. It wasn’t so different from standing on a brightly lit stage in front of an unhappy audience.

Determined not to let his nerves show, Cameron slowly took off his soaked jacket and hung it on the hallstand. He wanted to keep his hat on, but hung that too. His hands were less than steady as he ran them through his hair, securing it with an elastic band, and he quickly shoved them back into his pockets when he was done. He tried a polite smile for the nearest group of people, and he wondered if it looked as forced as the ones they sent back at him. Maybe it wasn’t too late to grab his hat and make a quick exit.


* * * *


“Cam!”

At Reid’s exclamation, Skye’s head turned automatically. She had been perusing the large collection of framed photos on the antique bureau, surprised to see Mr. Madigan had included several of herself and Cameron. They had been the talk of the town right before Cameron left them all in the dust in pursuit of Nashville’s bright lights. “When’s the Madigan boy gonna pop the question to the doc’s pretty, young Skye?” had been the most asked question after Sunday church. People thought she hadn’t known, hadn’t heard. But she had, and she had wondered, too—until she had found the answer quite clearly in a pair of disappearing taillights on Cameron’s car as he left her and Maeville behind.

Skye saw the unmasked surprise on his face when Reid strode over and wrapped him in a hug. It took a moment before he returned it, and afraid he would look over at her getting teary about the brotherly reunion, she turned away and slipped out of the room. Seeing him again was sending so many of her feelings spiraling out of control, and she wasn’t even sure if she’d preferred not seeing him at all.

“Bless his heart, but that Cameron Madigan never did have any sense of timing, did he?”

Skye smiled politely at the Madigan’s neighbor, Mrs. Harris, who was famous for having at least one opinion on every subject. “At least he’s here.”

“As he should be.” Mrs. Harris peered around Skye through the door. “Is that what them music stars look like nowadays?”

Skye swallowed a sigh. “I think it’s what grieving sons look like. Excuse me, Mrs. Harris. I think Camille needs my help.”

The last thing Camille needed was help, but Skye wasn’t above using her best friend as an excuse to get away from Mrs. Harris. The woman could gossip both your ears off if you gave her the chance, and Skye wasn’t in the mood to hear what Mrs. Harris and the other gossipers in town thought of Cameron returning. She’d hear that soon enough.

Skye found Camille in the kitchen, where she was wrapping up casseroles and arranging cakes on plates. South of the Mason-Dixon, nothing eased grief like a good casserole.

“Save me.”

Camille looked up. “From what? Cam? I’ve had at least seven people come out in the last five minutes to tell me he’s back. You okay?”

“From Mrs. Harris actually.” Skye grabbed a cookie and sat down at the breakfast bar. “And I’m fine…I think.”

Camille kept busy. It was her default mode to take care of people, help out, manage, and put everyone else’s needs above her own. No one had asked her to be on kitchen duty at her boss’ funeral, but she did it anyway. Did things like that so often that Skye bet Hunter hadn’t even thought twice about letting Camille handle everything.

“Have you talked to him yet?” Camille asked. She was the only one who knew exactly how many bitter tears Skye had cried over Cameron.

“No. I’m not even sure I want to.” She nibbled on the cookie without tasting it. “Where’s Hunter? I haven’t seen him since I got here.”

“He’s around.” Camille gestured vaguely. “I’m not sure he’s realized that he’s the host today. And don’t get me started on Julian. Last I saw him, he was smoking and getting buzzed on the front porch.”

“I know they’re all adults, but today they’re just lost boys, aren’t they?”

Camille hummed in agreement as the kitchen door opened. Hunter wrestled off his tie and sighed as he crossed the room to sit down next to Skye. “One minute. I just need one minute’s peace and quiet.”

“Take as many as you want. I’ll guard the door.” Skye pushed the plate of cookies his way and squeezed his arm. The Madigans had always played a central role in her life, from her disastrous past with Cameron to a treasured friendship with Hunter, and she hated to see any of them hurting, especially Hunter. He was the one who had found their father dead, who had tracked down Reid and Cameron, and arranged the funeral. With Camille’s help, he had also kept the family’s sawmill running.

“I don’t reckon it’s very polite to boot people out the door,” he lamented as he devoured a cookie.

“Probably not,” Skye agreed.

“Well, darn.” He turned his head and looked at her. “Cam’s here.”

She nodded. “I know. In the immortal words of Mrs. Harris, ‘As he should be.’”

“You okay?”

“Perfectly fine. Though, even if I wasn’t, it’s not important on a day like today.”

Hunter shrugged. “I don’t know about that. Sure, he left and made something of himself, but there’s strength in staying, too, making it work with what you’ve got. Like you did. Like I did. And now he just rolls back into town, late for his own daddy’s funeral, and thinks he’s all that. Reid breezes into town much the same way, although what he’s got to show for himself except for a tan, I’ve no idea. And Straw…fucking kid is drunk on the front porch, showed up at the service with a hangover, but they’re the ones getting noticed. Cam’s here. Reid’s here. Oh, look, Straw made it to his daddy’s funeral. Shit, I need some air.”

The chair toppled over and clattered to the floor as Hunter made a hasty exit outside. Skye and Camille looked at each other. It wasn’t a secret that the Madigan brothers weren’t a tightknit group. Hunter wasn’t one to share more than he absolutely had to, so for him to reveal this much showed exactly how deep the hurt ran.

“All these boys back in town, and they might as well be gone. Takes more than blood to make a family.” Camille sighed and started loading up the dishwasher.












Chapter Two


Refusing to think about the fracturing of the family who had founded the town, or even worse, the final break between the four brothers, Skye slid down from the chair. “Let’s do Hunter a favor and get rid of all these people. They’ve had their chance to say goodbye to someone they didn’t consider a real friend anyway. If they want to gossip further, they can do it somewhere else.”

It took a while but between them, Camille and Skye managed to guide everyone out in a way that offended no one. Almost no one. Mrs. Harris sniffed plenty and stuck her nose in the air. The Madigans were nowhere to be found.

“It’s still so strange to think that he’s just gone,” Camille said as she looked around the empty living room. “I know not a lot of people liked him, but Thomas Madigan had his moments. He was a good boss for sure.”

Skye put an arm around Camille’s shoulders. They’d been best friends for more than a decade, and Camille had been working at The Madigan Sawmill for almost as long. Few people had known the often-brusque Thomas Madigan as well as Camille; like everyone else, he had layers that he’d kept mostly to himself. Sure, he had been nothing but pleasant—in his own way—to Skye over the years. But to Camille, who had grown up without her parents, he had been somewhat of a father figure, whether he had known it or not.

“I liked him.” Very much, Skye admitted to herself. “He told me how grateful he was to have you at the mill. Said it’d have been dust in the wind a long time ago without you.”

Camille’s laugh was shaky. “That old coot.”

Hunter came in, stopping short when he saw them. Or maybe it was the lack of people that surprised him. Behind Hunter was one of the city lawyers who had set up shop in town a few years ago.

“We’re on our way out,” Skye said with a squeeze to Camille’s shoulder. “Just reminiscing a little.”

He shook his head. “No, please stay. I don’t know how you got everyone out, but thank you. I know I should have been more patient, more hospitable, but they just irked me.”

“They didn’t really care. They were just curious about getting a peek at the house and at y’all together.” Camille hastily wiped away a tear from her cheek .

“Yeah.” Hunter cleared his throat. “Anyway, we’re just…the will, you know. I thought it was best to get it over with today since we’re all here and may be scattered again tomorrow. Have you seen my brothers?”

“Not lately, but we’ll find them and finish up in the kitchen. Then we’ll head out.” Skye went over to hug him, her heart breaking for him. Hunter Madigan was the most laidback, steady, self-assured man she had ever known, and in that moment he looked like a strong gust of wind might knock him over.

“Thanks, Skye. And thanks for your help today, Camille. You went above and beyond.”

“No, I didn’t. I loved him, too.” She marched out, leaving Skye to offer Hunter an apologetic shrug and hurry after her.

Camille took kitchen duty, which left Skye to look for the rest of the Madigan brood. She wasn’t even sure she actually wanted to find Cameron, but she had promised Hunter she would round up all his brothers. Luckily she found Julian first. He was still on the front porch, curled up in a rocker and looking like he might be asleep.

“Julian?”

“Not interested.”

“Not interested in what exactly?” She sat down in the rocker next to his, knocking over one of the empty beer cans underneath it.

“Anything.”

“I don’t blame you, but there’s a lawyer in there, probably on the clock, waiting to read your daddy’s will.”

Julian snorted and opened his eyes. “And now they expect me to go in there to let the old man rub it in that he’s left everything to his one perfect son. No thanks. I should have done like Cam and Reid and left years ago.”

“Why didn’t you?” Skye didn’t know if it had done Cameron and Reid any good to get out of town, but Julian had been miserable for a long time. Maybe leaving could have helped him.

“I had no fancy dream to chase, did I?”

“Everyone has dreams.”

“Not me.” With less than steady hands, he lit a cigarette.

They sat in silence. Something about Julian often made Skye want to help him somehow, but right then his behavior grated on her nerves a little. Today was for grieving, not pouting because you weren’t getting your way.

Reid came up the porch stairs after a few minutes. “Hello, beautiful Skye. Strawberry.”

Julian sneered at the old, hated nickname that stemmed back from when he was a toddler with strawberry blond hair and three older brothers just looking for someone to pick on. The unruly, dark blond hair he’d grown into over the years hadn’t made the nickname go away.

“Hi, Reid.” Skye had talked briefly with the second-youngest Madigan brother earlier and knew he’d sailed into port just this morning on his sailboat and expected to leave again soon, heading off for new adventures beyond the horizon. Reid was never happier than when adrenaline rushed through him, flying across oceans on his little sailboat, diving with sharks, paragliding off steep cliffs, and whatever else gave him his kicks. Those were hard to find in Maeville.

Skye rose. “Hunter’s inside with a lawyer.”

“Ah, the will. He mentioned that earlier. Well, let’s get it over with. Come on, Straw.”

Grumbling, Julian rose and knocked over more empty beer cans in the process. He dropped the cigarette and ground it into the wood with his heel.

Reid looked at Skye. “Is Cam inside, too?”

“No. I’ll look for him.”

“I can do it. I mean, if you’d rather not…”

Skye smiled. “It’s okay. I’ll find him.”

Reid and Julian went inside, and Skye followed her hunch and went around to the back of the house. She walked down the slope beyond the back yard, in between the trees until she reached the river. Instinctively she knew she would find Cameron there.


* * * *


The temperamental river he shared a name with had always been Cameron’s favorite place to escape to growing up. A good place to dream, and an even better place to hide. No matter the season, its beauty could take his breath away, not entirely unlike Skye Jones who was making her way toward him through the trees. Beautiful Skye Jones. She had torn him to shreds just by breathing, made him question himself and everything he had ever wanted. He had dreamed of Nashville and saved for an engagement ring at the same time, not knowing which part of his heart to follow. The day he left, engagement ring in his pocket, he still hadn’t known what he wanted more—Skye or to become a star. So he had told himself that he would go and make something of himself first, then come back for her. He never had, of course.

Returning to Maeville, he had known he was bound to see her again. Maybe he had even known the first time would be by the river that had been the backdrop to their romance. They had started dating in high school, and their love had burned bright for almost ten years. In the years that had passed since, Cameron had often thought back and wondered how he had been able to leave her for something as fickle as a dream.

She still wore her black hair long. Cameron knew how soft it was and yearned to touch it. She always moved as if she had all the time in the world, graceful as a nymph, and eyes as green as the deepest forest. Her smile…oh, lord, her smile. He’d clean forgotten how the slow curving of her lips, and warmth rising as slow as the sunrise in her eyes had the power to bring him to his knees. From a distance, she looked like the young woman he’d left behind, but when she came closer, he could see some of the stars had burned out.

“Hello, Cameron.”

There was smoke in her voice. He’d always though it the sexiest voice he’d ever heard, even encouraged her to sing although she had always refused. He had also thought it was embedded in his memory, but he hadn’t done her justice. It sounded so much sexier than he remembered.

“Skye. You look fantastic.”

“I’m not sure I like the surprise in your voice.”

“I didn’t mean…”

She smiled. “I’m sure you didn’t. So, how’s Nashville?”

Cameron stuck his hands in his pockets. “Fine. It’s…fine. I’m working on a new album, so…yeah, it’s fine.”

“I’m glad to hear it. Listen, I’m really sorry about your daddy. It’s such a shock.”

“Thanks.” He’d heard the sentiment repeated quite a few times between the time he had entered the house and escaped out back before the walls closed in on him, but it was different coming from Skye. She was probably the only one who actually meant them. “I don’t even know what happened exactly. Hunter called while I was working…in the studio, I mean, and sent a text when I didn’t pick up.”

Skye came closer, laid a hand on his arm. The simple touch warmed him up inside, making him think he had been ice cold for six years. “He had a stroke. Hunter found him. Camille said he’d been feeling fine that day, so it came out of the blue.”

Cameron nodded, trying to focus on her words rather than her touch. It was difficult. And though he understood the words, they seemed to be impossible to apply to Thomas Madigan. “She still working at the mill?” he asked instead.

“Yes.” She squeezed his arm. “Cam, I came to find you for Hunter. Your brothers and a lawyer are waiting inside to read the will.”

Without meaning to, he pulled his arm away from her touch. “I don’t need to be there for that. Hunter, and maybe Straw, will get it all. Daddy never hid his opinion of Reid and me leaving town. Abandoning the family legacy, I think he called it.”

“I don’t know anything about that, but at least go inside. Catch up with your brothers, mourn together. Just don’t leave before you’ve had a chance to talk.”

He stared at her. “I’ve got nothing to say.”

“I don’t believe that.”

Cameron didn’t argue although he couldn’t think of a single thing to say to any of his brothers. Clearly he had already failed with Hunter, and Reid’s enthusiastic hug earlier hadn’t been followed by meaningful conversation. He still hadn’t seen Straw.

Yet, after following Skye back to the house, fifteen minutes later he found himself in the company of his brothers and the lawyer. Cameron discovered that the drunk on the front porch was, in fact, his youngest brother. He had been a kid when Cam left town, and apparently he had only changed in appearance, because he still acted very much like a sullen kid. A drunk one.

“I won’t keep you long,” the lawyer told them from the head of the massive dining room table, where he presided with his fancy briefcase and twinkling cufflinks. “Your father changed his last will and testament about two years ago, and he was very precise in his wishes. The majority of what he owned, including this house, the land, the sawmill, the money, is to be divided equally between you as his sons. A small amount is set aside for a Miss Camille Bradford.”

Cameron wasn’t sure he was able to conceal his surprise. The last thing his daddy had told him, six years earlier while Cameron was putting the last of his belongings in his truck, was that turning your back on the family legacy had consequences. Cameron had figured it meant that he was on his own. No contact, no love, no inheritance.

“Your inheritance, however, comes with a condition,” the lawyer, whose name Cameron hadn’t caught, continued. “If it’s not met, everything, save for the amount earmarked for Miss Bradford, will go to Hunter.”

Straw laughed, an ugly laugh without mirth. “Here it comes. Should have known.”

“Shut up,” Hunter told him, the steely look in his eyes clashing with his weary posture.

“Easy for you to say, isn’t it? You get it all.”

Hunter rubbed his forehead and looked away when his gaze met Cameron’s across the table. “Please continue, Mr. Kane.”

The lawyer cleared his throat. “The condition is that you are all to live in this house and work at the sawmill for one year from today. If you do that, live together, work together, and keep the sawmill the healthy business it is now, you each inherit one fourth of your father’s estate. If you fail to meet this condition, even if just one of you fails to meet it—and I should mention that I’ve been charged with keeping an eye on you—Hunter inherits everything. Those are your father’s wishes. Let it sink in, and if you have any questions, I’ll leave my card so you can get in touch with me.”

Hunter showed the lawyer out. Cameron was still busy analyzing his own feelings when Straw stood abruptly, sending his chair clattering into the cabinet behind him. He started pacing.

“Shit. We dump the old man into the ground, and he still fucks up our lives. There was no pleasing him, still isn’t apparently. Shit. I stayed. I fucking stayed, and what does that get me? Nothing. You guys ran first chance you got, but I stayed like Hunter.”

Reid rose, too, and headed for the liquor cabinet. “One last drink on the old man’s tab. It’s the least he can do.”

“How about showing him some respect?” Hunter marched in and poured a cup of coffee from the loaded tray on the table. “You buried your daddy today. Does that mean nothing to you?”

“I think I buried my daddy six years ago.” The surge of temper in Cameron’s chest that had risen at the lawyer’s words disappeared, and he joined Reid in front of the liquor cabinet. He hoped a drink or two would conjure it back—anger was preferable to the other emotions welling up in his chest.

“That’s your own fault.” Hunter picked up his coffee cup with a jerky movement that made the hot liquid spill onto his hand. With a muttered curse, he put the cup back down.

“Why don’t you get off his back?” Straw’s pacing had taken him around the table a few times, and he stopped in front of Hunter. “You’ve already gotten it all. The moment of glory for the golden son, who can do no wrong.”

“Didn’t you listen to what Mr. Kane said? Or were you too drunk, hungover, or stoned? It’s only mine if you ungrateful assholes make it mine. Daddy didn’t leave me more than he’s left y’all, quite the opposite in fact. He gave you a choice, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

Straw snorted. “Some choice. Endure hell or get nothing. Thanks, Daddy.”

“I think it was clever,” Reid said, sitting down with his tumbler of whiskey. “He wanted Hunter to have it all, but had to make it look like he was at least giving the rest of us a chance. He gets his way but makes it seem as if it’s our decision. Man was a lot of things, but he wasn’t dumb, our daddy. Cheers.”

Cameron had no way of knowing if Reid was right or not. Part of him thought that he probably was, but it didn’t change that they all had a choice. Sure, he couldn’t imagine the four of them living and working together either, but the choice was there nonetheless. Cameron had gotten so used to crappy choices that this didn’t seem very much out of the ordinary. That, however, didn’t take away the anger or the sense of betrayal. Yes, he’d left. Yes, Reid had left. It didn’t make them worth any less that they had gone beyond the outer limits of Maeville to pursue their dreams. And Straw had stayed, so why the hell was he getting screwed over? Cameron couldn’t decide whether to wash his hands of the whole thing and just leave, or dig in and say screw you to the old man.

He’d been lost in thought in front of the liquor cabinet, and Straw came over to nudge him out of the way. As his younger brother searched for the bottle he wanted, Cameron got his first real good look at him up close. Straw looked terrible—unshaven, pale, with dark circles marring the skin under his eyes. His hair was a holy mess, and he reeked of stale beer and cigarette smoke.

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”

Straw turned his head. “Just because Daddy’s dead doesn’t mean you have to start acting like a big brother. My life’s been fine without you in it for the past six years, and it will continue to be so long after you’ve galloped back out of town on your high horse.”

“Better than being the town drunk.” The anger Cameron had been wishing would return finally made an appearance. He stalked across the room to glare out the window. “Is it so hard to understand that some of us had dreams that took us beyond town borders? Good Lord.”

“You tell ‘em, brother.”

Cameron turned to scowl at Reid. “You’re already on your way out the door, so why don’t you shut up?”

Reid stood. “And you’re not? Oh, come on. You’ve always thought you were better than the rest of us, Mr. Country Music Star. I’d like to see you leave your cushy life in Nashville to slave away at the sawmill and bunk with your brothers again.”

The shards of the dream that had shattered inside Cameron years ago drove their pointy edges into his heart once again. He saw Straw stalking over and starting to yell something. Even Hunter joined in on the heated argument that quickly turned into pushing and shoving. But Cameron heard nothing. Felt nothing. He just knew his vision was going hazy, and if he didn’t get some fresh air and some space, he’d keel over.


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