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Black Wolf on Tour

Chapter 1

 

Joaquin Black Wolf, drummer for the band Black Wolf, answered a knock at his hotel room, smiling in anticipation.   When he opened the door, an iron fist smashed into his face, sending his long hair flying and him staggering back.  A strange man stood in his doorway, his feet planted, his jaws flexing as he shook the pain from his right fist.

“You are such a pig!” the stranger accused as he flung a note on the floor and jabbed an index finger at him.  “If you ever do something like that to my sister again, I’ll break you in half!  You got that?”  When Joaquin nodded, the man stormed away.

Stunned, the Lakota held his face and worked his jaw back and forth.  Joaquin, Quin to his family, broke hearts from New York to LA with reckless abandon. His brothers called his choice of dates “drive-thrus” — quick, easy and cheap, and he had been expecting one to be at his door just then.

He caught his reflection in the mirror when he closed the door.  His arrow straight black hair gleamed under the lights and spilled down his shoulders.  A teal T-shirt complimented his skin tone.  Jeans fit his long limbs well, and boots added to his tall height.  Still shaken, he sat on the edge of the bed and tried to figure out what happened.

 

* * *

 

Black Wolf kicked off its official tour in Atlanta, promoting its second CD.  The four brothers went to Atlanta a day early to conduct interviews and lay the groundwork for the tour.  That night, after the publicity commitments had been met, Quin’s two older brothers, Caleb and Matthew, went back to their rooms. His third brother, Jay, and he went out for dinner.   

At the restaurant, Quin scoped out the clientele, looking at all the beautiful women.  What did he feel like tonight?  A pixie-ish blonde ate at the table by the window.  Or how about the tall brunette by the bar? 

Oh, wait!  A stunning young woman sat at one table, her light brown hair twisted away from her face.  Quin watched as she talked with the young man sitting with her.  She held herself with graceful elegance and her laugh tripped across the room, tickling Quin’s ears.  When the most amazing hazel eyes he had ever seen looked at him, he raised his glass.  Crimson blushed across her cheek just before she turned away. 

A moment later, their eyes met again.  He felt sure now of her interest and gave her his most charming smile.  When she smiled back, he knew he was home free.  Using his tried-and-true method, as he left, he slipped her a note, giving his hotel and room number, and instructions to meet him in an hour.

Now, here he sat, his note crumpled on the floor and his left eye developing a shiner.  His drive-thru just blew up.

 



Chapter 9 

 

Standing outside the hotel, he looked up and down the street, with no idea of what to do.  Two blocks away, several people milled about underneath a moth-clouded red neon sign that blinked Joe Bob’s Dance Hall. 

Turning in that direction, he soon found himself handing over the cover charge and getting the back of his hand stamped.   Country and Western music poured through the doors, the bass vibrating through the soles of his shoes.  Joaquin walked into a packed room, the dance floor crowded with couples glued hip-to-hip.  Almost every man there wore a Stetson, with outlines of snuff cans marking back pockets.  He winced at the women wearing miniskirts and cowboy boots.

At the bar, he spotted a pretty woman sitting with a girlfriend.  He hadn’t come looking for a drive-thru, but, in his current frame of mind…

“That looks good.”  He sat on the stool next to her and spoke over the music, pointing to her drink.

The woman glanced at him with annoyance.  Seeing an attractive man there, her expression changed and she swiveled to face him. “And how do you know what I’m having?” she purred, crossing her long, high heeled legs. 

He could tell she’d played this game before.  “Because, if I’m lucky, it’ll be me.” 

She studied his face for a moment and tilted her head. “You’re awfully sure of yourself.”  Just then, her friend leaned in to whisper in her ear.  After this, having been told his name, she smiled at the drummer.  “Well, I guess I ought to take your attention as a compliment, Joaquin.”

“Please, do.  It’s meant as one.  And you are…?”

“Trina.” She shook his hand, her bracelets jangling.  “I wanted to catch your show, but it sold out too fast.”

“Oh, sorry to hear that.”

With glossy painted fingernails, she picked up a peanut from a bowl on the bar and crunched it.  “You here alone?”

“At the bar, yeah, but traveling with three brothers can feel crowded.  Once in a while, I just need to escape.”

“So, are you escaping now?

“I’m trying.”

“Can I help?”

Before he could answer, a huge hand landed on Joaquin.  When he looked behind him, a broad-shouldered cowboy slurred in drunken surprise, “Damn!  From the back, I thought you was a woman, with all this long, purty hair. I’s coming over to introduce myself.  But, you’re an Injun…in a room full a’ cowboys.”  He directed his last comment to two friends standing behind him.  His friends chortled.  “That don’t sound too smart.”  Swaying, he jabbed Quin’s shoulder.  “Tell ya what,” jab “you do us a rain dance,” jab “and we’ll let ya stay.” jab “I know Tommy in the band.” jab “He’ll play drums for ya.  C’mon!”  Jab, jab “Dance!” 

Trina watched Joaquin’s jaws clench and shook her head at him.  Before she could say, “Let it go.  He’s drunk,” the Lakota leapt from the stool, his fist flying, landing a punch on his antagonist’s face.

The man’s head snapped to the right, his black Stetson flying off but, in one fluid move, sober in an instant, he recovered and threw himself at Joaquin.

“Get him, Blake!  Get him!” his friends yelled as the band stopped. In no time, a crowd ringed the two combatants; Quin’s back slammed against the bar.  Blocking an uppercut, he landed a heavy blow to Blake’s gut, causing him to double over. 

A baseball bat slammed on the bar between them.  “Stop it before I call the cops!” the bartender ordered.  “Blake, I’ve warned you before about starting trouble.  Get out!”

Blake broke his hate-filled gaze from Joaquin to stare at the bartender.  “But, he threw the first punch.”

“I don’t care.  Git!”  He pointed toward the exit with the bat.  Blake snarled and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.  One of his friends gave him his hat and the three made their way to the door.

“As for you…” the bartender glared at Joaquin.

“We’re going,” Trina said, taking Joaquin’s hand. 

“Good.”  He watched to make sure all the troublemakers left and then gestured to the band to start playing again.

Standing on the sidewalk, Trina’s friend nodded toward Joaquin and said, “I hope you’re not too hurt.”

“Thanks.”

“I’m going home.  You coming?” she asked Trina.

“No.  I’m going to make sure he gets home all right.”

“Okay.  Call me tomorrow.”

“I will.  Night.”

Taking Quin’s elbow, Trina asked, “Which way?”

He nodded toward his hotel, still trying to catch his breath.  “You don’t have to do this.”

“What if I want to?  We had an interesting proposition on the table before we were interrupted.”

“Yeah, we did.” 

They walked to the end of the block in silence.  Waiting for the crossing light, she glanced up at him.  “You could have walked away, you know.  You didn’t have to fight him.”

“Maybe.  Or maybe a fight is just what I needed tonight.”

“You got troubles?”

“Everybody’s got troubles.”



Chapter 10

 

The next day, she found him alone.  “Eli, about last night,” she began.

“Yeah, about last night,” he interrupted.  “I’m really sorry.  I said a lot of things I didn’t mean.  I guess I was just tired.”  He smiled, his gorgeous eyes sincere in his apology.

“Okay.”  She looked down at the floor, Joaquin’s earlier warning ringing in her mind, and then looked back up at him.  “Still, I don’t think we should see each other any more.”

“Why not?”  His eyes showed his resurging anger.  Hadn’t he just apologized to her?  What more did she want?

“Because being on the road makes things too intense.  I think it would be better this way.”  She gave a small smile.  “I hope you understand.”  Before he could say anything else, she walked away.

He didn’t like it.  He didn’t like it at all.  It must be her mood, he decided.  Perhaps if he gave her a little time to herself, things would get back to normal.

The next afternoon, during set-up, Eli worked with the sound crew.  Levels had to be set on all the amps and monitors, for all the microphones and instruments.  Too busy scrambling to notice, Eli stood on the stage, checking Caleb’s microphone, when Jade stepped out.  She stopped in her tracks when she saw Eli, turned on her heel and left.  Joaquin watched from his place in the auditorium. 

The next day, Joaquin saw more interaction between Eli and Jade.  Jade had just poured herself coffee when Eli approached.  Seeing him, she started to leave, but he put his hand on her arm, stopping her.  Eli said something too low for Quin to hear, but Jade shook her head.

“No thanks.”  Again, she hurried away.

Late that same morning, Jade stood on stage, talking to the lighting tech.  Joaquin crossed the stage and passed Eli, who stood just offstage, staring at Jade.  His expression looked angry and consuming.  Quin frowned, but Eli didn’t notice him. 

An hour later, Joaquin overheard part of a conversation as he walked into the lounge.  Eli held Jade by the elbow, his fingers digging in.

“I’m tired of waiting,” Eli growled.

“There’s nothing to wait for.  I’ve told you, it’s over!”

“I don’t believe it.  You’ll change your mind.” 

She jerked her elbow free, walked past Joaquin, and out of the room, without looking at him.

Turning to watch her, Eli saw him standing there.  Glaring a warning at Quin, Eli stalked out, too. 

 

* * *

 

Eli watched Jade all afternoon.  He couldn’t believe she refused to see him.  It had been so great at first.  What was her problem?   The plan had been for him to break it off with her at the end of the tour.  He couldn’t allow her to be the one to call it quits.  His ex-wife had filed for their divorce.  After that, he swore he’d never get left by anyone again.  He needed to fix things with Jade, and take back the power.

He waited until after the show, after things quieted down, and he’d had time for a few drinks to unwind, then went to her room and knocked. 

“Who is it?” she asked through the door.

“Eli.”

“What do you want?”

“I just want to talk for a minute.”  He waited, listening to the quiet.  “Please, Jade.  Just for a minute.”

When she opened the door, he stepped in, seeing her already dressed for bed. He pulled her to him, the door swinging shut and locking. 

“You are so beautiful.”  His eyes softened; he caressed the side of her face.

She looked at him for a moment, then crossed the room and sat down on the bed.  “I’m not sure what you want from me.”

He sat next to her.  “I want to keep seeing you.  I don’t like it that you won’t go out with me anymore.  It’s not right.  We belong together…like this.”  He leaned in and kissed her hard.  She could taste the whiskey on his mouth.  Twisting her head around, she wanted to escape his rough grip, but couldn’t break free.

“Let me go!”  She tried to stand, but he shoved her backwards on the bed.  He lay on top of her, trying to kiss her again, but she kept moving her head from side to side and pushing against his shoulders. 

“C’mon, baby.  Relax.  You want me.  You know you do.”

“You stink!” 

Enraged at her behavior, Eli slapped her across her mouth, sending her hair whipping across her face. He grabbed her nightgown at the throat and with one powerful motion, ripped it open.

“I’ve had enough of your games,” he growled in her ear.  He held her down with the weight of his body and with one arm across her chest and shoulder. With the other, he undid his jeans. 

She screamed.



Chapter 14

 

Just before the show that night, Jade brought Ray backstage.

“Matthew, Jay, I’d like you to meet my brother.”

The men shook hands and Matthew touched Jade’s shoulder.  “You really gonna claim her as family?”

Ray chuckled and nodded.  “Somebody needs to.”  He dodged her punch and then remarked, “It looks chaotic back here.”

“It can be,” Matthew admitted.

“Oh, there’s Caleb.  Excuse us.”  Jade took her brother’s elbow and steered him across the room.

“Caleb, have you got a second?”

He glanced up from some papers in his hand.  “Sure.  What?”

“I want you to meet my brother, Ray.  He surprised me with this visit.”

“Glad to know you.”  The two men shook hands as Caleb asked, “How long can you stay?”

“Just this weekend.  I have to go back Monday.”

Someone tapped Caleb on the shoulder, needing his attention.

“We won’t keep you,” Jade said.

“Enjoy the show,” Caleb spoke to Ray.

Leading him toward the back, she saw a lighting technician walk past them. “Will you be okay for a minute by yourself?” she asked Ray.  “I need to talk to someone.”

“Sure, sis.  You go on.” 

Ray stood against the wall, fascinated with the pre-show activity.  When Joaquin walked in, Ray’s eyes narrowed.  He crossed the room and stopped the Lakota.

“Hi, Ray.  How you doing?” 

Ray went straight to the point.  “I don’t know how you got Jade fooled, but you haven’t gotten past me.  If you hurt her, I will do a lot more than punch your face in.  Are we clear?”

“What?”  Joaquin looked puzzled.  “I thought we got things straightened out earlier.”

“That was before I knew you two were involved.  Just watch your step.”  Ray jabbed a finger toward the drummer.

Joaquin understood this came from Ray being a protective big brother, but it still made him angry.  He didn’t like being threatened; his jaws clenched, his brows furrowed as he leaned in.

“Nobody’s got anyone fooled!  I think the world of your sister, and I wouldn’t hurt her for anything.  But you believe what you want.”  Giving Ray a fearless look, Quin walked away.  As he passed Jade, she caught his eye, wanting him to stop.  He winked at her and kept going, not wanting her to see him angry with her brother.

What was that all about? she wondered.



Chapter 17

 

For the promo, Caleb asked Jade to come with them in her capacity as the band’s photographer.  They arrived on time for their ten a.m. meeting.

Neal, the station manager, met them in the lobby and escorted them to the studio.  Microphones stood in one corner, along with a short script printed out in large letters on poster board so the brothers could read it simultaneously. While they waited for the sound engineer, Jade took a moment to study the room and its layout, getting a feel for the lighting and lens requirements.

The station manager stood inside the doorway and looked behind him down the hall.  “Ah, here’s the sound engineer now.”  He stepped back to let him in. “I’d like you to meet Eli.”

Joaquin’s head snapped around at the sound of that name.  Caleb gave Eli a warning look, ready if he started any trouble.  Jay and Matthew looked from face to face, confused.  They hadn’t been told about the earlier trouble, but they both tensed up from the way the others acted.

“Joaquin, long time no see, man.  How’ve ya been?” The glare in Eli’s eyes belied his cheerful tone.

Jade stood behind Quin, looking out the window, but at Eli’s voice, she stepped into view, frowning.

Seeing Jade threw the sound tech for a moment.  He had come in with the intention of confronting the drummer, but at the sight of her, something snapped, sending him into a cold fury.

Noticing the change in Eli’s expression, Caleb raised his hand.  “There’s no need for this.  Let’s just get this promo made and move on.”

“No!” Eli pointed toward Quin with his chin.  “He nearly killed me and I owe him a beating.”

“I nearly killed you for trying to rape Jade!” Quin exploded.

Matthew looked back and forth between them, his eyes narrowing at Quin’s outburst.  “What?  You sorry son of a...!”

“I would have killed you, too, if she hadn’t stopped me!” Quin growled, interrupting Matthew.

“I wasn’t trying to rape anybody.  We were just having some fun when you burst through the door and sucker punched me.”

Fun?  You ripped her clothes!  She was bleeding and bruised!  I watched you knock her to the wall!”

“Yeah, well, some women like it rough.”  Eli stepped toward her.  “Don’t you, lover?” Touching her face, he counted on his nonchalant arrogance goading the Lakota.

Knowing his youngest brother’s temper all too well, Jay grabbed Jade’s hand and hurried her out.  Just in time.

With lightning reflex, Joaquin jumped across the room, knocking Eli back with the force of his body, sending them crashing into a table.  Eli came up swinging.  Matthew leapt out of the way and looked at Caleb, who shook his head, letting Matthew know this stayed between Quin and Eli.  They’d only interfere if they needed to. 

Joaquin ducked Eli’s fist and yelled to his brothers.  “Go!  I’ve got this!”  He landed a wicked jab to Eli’s ribs.  Caleb and Matthew left and stood just outside the closed door.

Furious sounds emanated from the room.  Furniture crashed against walls, bodies got pummeled, expletives shouted.  The station manager hurried down the hall, wondering at the noise.  He looked at Caleb and Matthew standing outside the door.

“Artistic differences,” Caleb said. 

The station manager reached for the doorknob, but Matthew stopped him.  “Not your best idea.  Our little brother is in one of his moods.  I’d wait for the commotion to stop before I went in there.” 

The manager realized he couldn’t get past them.  “I’m calling the police!”  He turned toward his office, but Matthew stopped him.

“Wait.  No need for the cops.  If there’re any damages, we’ll pay for them before we leave.”

The manager gave him a baleful glance.  “I still think I should call…”

“Really.  It’ll be all right.  Those two have had this coming for a while.”  He nodded toward the door.

The manger studied the brothers for a moment and then made his way down the hall.

After a few minutes, the studio door opened.  Joaquin stepped through with a bloody nose, a ripped shirt, a bruised face.  His breath came in ragged gasps. Plopping his back against the far wall, he grinned at them while wiping blood from his lip.  Matthew and Caleb peered around the door into the room, looking for Eli.

He lay on the floor, moaning, even more bloody and torn up than Joaquin.  They watched him try to stand, but his legs didn’t work.  Matthew and Caleb stepped over to him and, with each one taking an arm, raised him to his feet and escorted him down the hall.



Chapter 19

 

The show started out with Goodness Knows”, by now a crowd favorite.  At the end of it, Joaquin left the drums, walked over to Jade, held her close, and kissed her hard.  The crowd roared their approval.  When he let her go, Jade bowed to the audience, hoping they couldn’t see her red face, turned and walked in the other direction. Joaquin went back to the drums and yelled into his mike, “That’s my baby girl, ya’ll!”  Again, the crowd roared.

During Little Miss Kiss Me”, Jay and Caleb did their famous double two-step while they played their guitars side-by-side.  They shuffled from one end of the stage to the other in step with each other.  What’s a Man to Do?” brought an impromptu jam session, to everyone’s delight.

It just didn’t quit.  The music kept rolling through the night from the happy bunch of brothers.  Jade took pictures as fast as she could, trying to capture it.  She had gotten some great ones of Jay even she felt satisfied with.  She walked back to Joaquin to get shots of his drum solo, winking at him before she raised the camera.

 

* * *

 

Joaquin didn’t understand.  He saw Jade stand up and then fall forward in slow motion against his bass drum, blood spurting from her chest.  Her beautiful hazel eyes looked surprised, asking him what happened.  Someone in the audience screamed and pandemonium broke out.  Caleb whipped around and threw his guitar on the floor.  Instead of running to Jade, he ran offstage, Matthew following him.  Joaquin didn’t know it, but they went after the shooter.  They had seen where the shot came from, though not by whom. 

Joaquin jumped down from the drum set and turned her over, holding her in his lap.

“Jade! Jade!” 

She opened her eyes and tried to touch his face.  “Baby,” she whispered.  Her eyes closed again; her head lolled back.  Blood bubbled from her mouth.

“Jade!  Stay with me.”  He rocked her back and forth in his arms.  “Stay with me, baby girl.  Don’t you leave me!  Do you hear me?” 

One of the policemen placed a hand on his shoulder.  “Please, sir, you need to move.”

Stricken eyes looked up.  “Why?”

“So I can begin CPR.”

“Oh.”  He laid her head on the floor and scooted to the side, the knees of his jeans soaking up crimson.

The policeman began performing what CPR he could, not sure how much chest damage she had.  He couldn’t tell with so much blood, and the expression on his face scared the drummer.

Quin looked up at the people surrounding them.  Who did this? — WHO DID THIS!”

“I don’t know,” Jay said as he knelt beside him. “But Caleb and Matthew went after him.” 

It seemed like hours before the paramedics arrived, when it took only a few short minutes. Seeing them, Quin stood.

“What took you so long?”

Without answering him, they placed the gurney on the floor and put her on it.  On the count of three, they lifted her and carried her to the ambulance.

Rushing toward the hospital, a frantic Joaquin sat with her, holding her hand.

“God, oh, God!  Please don’t let her die.  Please!”  He chanted his mantra all the way to Emergency.  She never regained consciousness during the ride.



Chapter 22

 

On the long drive, questions kept rolling through Randy’s mind.  How did a shooter get past security?  Why did he aim at Jade?  But, from the television, it looked like Jade stood up just as the gun fired.  So…he must have been aiming for the drummer and she got in the way.  But, why…?

The drummer!  His mind flashed to earlier conversations with his son about Joaquin Black Wolf, all of them grim and uncomplimentary.  Ray had told him about their first meeting and about punching him.  After Ray’s earlier visit, he discovered his baby sister and Joaquin were romantically involved.  Randy couldn’t believe she showed such bad judgment, and had hoped it would end.  However, that discussion with her ended in an argument. 

His cell phone rang, breaking his reverie. 

“Hi, Ray.  Any news?”

“She’s out of surgery and in ICU.  The doctor says it’s touch and go, and he won’t know more until she wakes up.”

“Oh.”  He turned to his wife and told her.

“I called because I just talked to Joaquin and his brother Matthew.”

“Do they know why this happened?”

“Yeah.”  Ray cleared his throat.  “Are you driving or is Mom?”

“I am.  Why?”

“Then pull over.  I’m not telling you anything else until you do.”

“Is it that bad?”

“Dad, just pull over.”

“All right.  Just a sec.”

Randy checked his rearview mirror and then pulled to the shoulder of the interstate.  He put the car in park, but left the engine on.

“I’ve stopped.  So, what is it?”

“The shooter, Eli, used to work for the band and had been seeing Jade for a little while.  When she broke it off, he went crazy or something, and tried to rape her.  But…”

“He WHAT!!”

“…but Joaquin managed to get through the door to stop him, and almost beat him to death.  They fired Eli and thought they’d solved the problem.”

“Why was he running around loose?  Didn’t they have him arrested?”

“That’s just it, Dad.  They didn’t call the police.  Jade insisted that they not.” 

Randy’s forehead touched the steering wheel, while his stomach clenched in knots.

“Honey, what is it?  What happened?”  Debra couldn’t stand the suspense.  He handed the phone to her and then got out of the car, slamming the door.  Walking several yards off the road, he took in a deep breath and screamed, his fists raised and shaking.

“Son, it’s me,” Debra told him.

“Where’s Dad?”

“He got out of the car and now he’s out in a field, yelling.  Jade’s still alive, isn’t she?”

“Yes.  She’s in ICU.”

“Then what’s happened?”

“I had to tell Dad the shooter tried to rape Jade a few weeks ago, but Joaquin stopped him.  He’s had it in for Joaquin ever since, and was trying to kill him last night.  Jade just got in the way.”

Silence.

“Mom?”

Silence.

“Mom?  Say something, please?”

“I’m here,” she managed to speak through her tears.

The car pinged when Randy opened the door and got behind the wheel.  He reached for the phone.

“I’m back.”

“Are you going to be all right to drive?”

“Yeah.  I’ll be fine.  We should be there in a few hours.”

“I’ll meet you at the hospital.”

 

* * *

 

Randy and Debra stood outside the ICU window, looking at their daughter.  Debra sought her husband’s hand and held it.  “She looks so awful with all those tubes,” she murmured.

Ray walked up behind them, carrying two Styrofoam cups of coffee.  “Here.” 

Debra took one and walked across the hall to sit down in one of the gray plastic chairs lining the wall.  Randy reached for his, but stayed at the window.  They had arrived only a few minutes earlier and had yet to speak to her doctor.

Taking a sip, his mind went back in time, to his four-year-old baby girl giggling at his ‘gonna getcha’ fingers making their way to her tummy.  At six, she fell off her bike, skinning her knee and crying for him.  He picked her up and carried her into the house while she clung to him.  For her first prom at sixteen, she came down the hall, dressed like a princess.  Her father had to bite his cheek to keep from tearing up at the beauty standing before him.  He was her world; she adored her father.  And, the minute she first drew breath, she owned him, heart and soul.

Now, some rock band had put her life in jeopardy…some stinking rock band!  One of them had bluffed his way past her guard, convincing her he loved her.  Instead of protecting her, he’d let this happen.  Nearly raped, nearly killed.  Randy clenched his eyes at the fury roaring through him.  How dare anyone let this happen to his baby.

Ray looked up at the sound of footsteps coming around the corner.  “Joaquin!”

At the sound of that name, Randy spun around on his heels, his eyes flashing.  The tall Lakota had his hand raised in a greeting, but stopped when Randy threw his coffee down, brown liquid splattering against the hospital-green walls.

“You!”  He leapt at Joaquin, fists ready. 

“Dad!”  Ray jumped up and tried to stop his father, but not before Joaquin’s head snapped back from a wicked punch.  “Dad!  Not here!”  Pushing his way between the two antagonists, Ray shoved his father’s shoulder and spoke to Quin.  “Get out of here!”

“And don’t you dare come back!” Randy spit.

“I…I…”  Quin walked backwards, trying to find something to say.

“Just go!” Randy ordered.



Chapter 27

 

Watching his mother walk away, Joaquin sat alone in Caleb’s living room, thinking about what she’d said.  He had to admit he felt a certain attraction for Helen — but he loved Jade…didn’t he?  Helen’s kiss several days earlier confused him.  The kiss felt good and he didn’t pull away or try to stop her.  What was that about?  He knew Helen had been flirting with him in the kitchen, too and, while he hadn’t returned the flirtation, he enjoyed the beautiful woman’s attention.  Now his mother let her preference be known.  The women he trusted could be listed on one hand, she being chief among them.  Her advice carried a great deal of weight with her youngest son.

The last conversation with Jade’s father let him know he stood no chance with him.  It presented one more roadblock between him and Jade.  A brand new relationship, hundreds of miles apart, with a father who hated him.  What else could go wrong?

Caleb’s voice kept filling his head, telling him to be sure about Jade. At this point, he didn’t feel sure about anything.  He stood up to join Pops and his brothers in the den, the growing doubt leaving him feeling restless.

 

* * *

 

Later that evening, most of them sat around the living room, talking with each other. It felt too crowded in there for Quin, so he went to the kitchen, got a cold beer, and walked out to the back.  Outside, he took a deep breath and looked across the yard.  It had cooled down and fireflies twinkled like little pixies all across the dark lawn. 

He heard the patio door slide open and smelled Helen’s delicate perfume, knowing it was her before she spoke. 

“Quin, are we okay?” She reached for his beer, took a sip, and handed it back.

“Yeah, I guess.” 

“Are you mad because I kissed you the other night?” 

“Maybe a little.”  He took a drink and leaned on the patio wall.  “And maybe I’m mad ˈcuz I didn’t stop you.”

“Oh.”  She grabbed the opening.  “Please don’t be mad — not at me and not at yourself.”  Moving to the patio chair, she patted the place next to her.  Quin joined her, leaning forward, his elbows on his knees, his hair falling forward.

“You know how I feel about you,” she continued.  “I have ever since Caleb and Sara’s wedding in Rosebud last year.  If you have any feelings for me at all, you need to find out what they are.”  Pushing his hair behind his left shoulder, she leaned forward to look up into his face.  “You know I’m right.” 

He considered her words while looking into those deep brown eyes with moonlight dancing in them.  “Why do you have to be so beautiful?” he whispered.

Helen moved toward him, reaching for his face.  He didn’t pull away when she kissed him this time, either.

Caleb walked past the sliding door on his way to the kitchen and saw them.  He closed his eyes and clenched his teeth.  Joaquin’s at it again!  For Helen’s sake, I need to stop them before it goes any further.

He stepped through the door.  “Hey, Helen, Lainie’s looking for you.” 

Joaquin broke the kiss and jerked his head around, his guilt evident.

“Oh, okay.”  Helen stood up.  “Thanks.”

“Sure.”  He stepped back to let her pass and joined Quin.  “What on earth are you doing?”  Caleb loomed over him.

“Nothing.”

“Not good enough, misúŋ.  Helen is family now.  You treat her like a drive-thru and I’ll personally break you in half!”

“What?”  Joaquin stood up, indignant at the accusation, and faced his oldest brother.  “I would never treat Helen like that!” 

“Didn’t look like it from where I was standing.”  The two brothers glared at each other for a moment. 

 
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