“Charlie,” Cage whispers tenderly, kneeling in front of her. For all of their quarrelsome banter, a shared empathy sustains. His hands preoccupy themselves with strands of straw at the floor as he fights the urge to touch her, comfort her.
“What about his heart? Dylan’s? Did they check it? At the hospital?” She anguishes through tear-stained eyes, the constant worry that something could be wrong with it, much the same as his daddy’s.
“It’s fine. He’s fine.” Cage looks up at her, forcing an encouraging smile.
“What about yours? Did you ever have it checked?” The thought of losing another McCloud man to a faulty heart continues to break hers.
He shakes his head. “I’m sure it’s fine.” The elder McCloud of the same mindset as his late brother―if there is something wrong with it, he’d rather not know. Cage gives in to his compulsion, touching his hand against the left side of her chest. “It’s yours that concerns me.” The rapid lubb-dubb of the life-sustaining organ ensuing beneath his hand causes him great turmoil, wishing he knew what to say, what to do, to calm it.
Charlie emits a quiet sob. The warmth of his flesh against her shirt coupled with his shielding presence so inviting yet so wrong, a betrayal. Tears fall from her eyes, collecting at the corners of her mouth, her words crackling with the moisture, “I want him back, Cage.”
His hand transferring from her heart to his own, he lightly taps it off his chest. “I would trade places with him, if I could.” His chameleon eyes, now devoid of the sun’s rays appear light green, resonate with a kindred yearning and solitary guilt only an older brother would understand.
Charlie shakes her head, swallowing a conflicted protest, knowing his virtuous solution to be entirely impossible. The passing thought causing guilt in her eyes to match his as she momentarily contemplates such an avowal, the life of one brother for another.
“When we were kids,” Cage begins, his deep voice now completely free of its customary pretense as it grows quiet and compassionate, giving in to the emotion the memory brings, “I could fix everything. If Cash had a problem, I had the solution. If we got into trouble, I’d take the heat. When he needed a cool ride to impress his uptown New York college girl, I gave him mine.” His full lips soften, curling up at the corners, thinking about all the time and money he put into rebuilding the classic 1970 Chevrolet Cheyenne pickup only to turn around and hand it over to Cash.
Charlie chuckles, sniffing back tears. “Even that was a test,” she remarks, knowing the Texan in him thought that would be a surefire way to smoke out the prissy New Yorker in her―sending his baby brother to pick her up in a jacked-up, old-school pickup. “Bet you never expected me to keep it…or keep him.”
“Nope. But you did.” He releases an admirable smile, grateful for the happiness she gave his little brother. “And I’ll fix that damn truck for the rest of my life. Keep it running for you.” He reflects on the numerous tune-ups the truck has required since Cash’s passing, knowing she keeps it as an homage to him. His smile disappears as he quells the rising lump surfacing just beneath his Adam’s apple. “But I’ll be damned if I can fix this.” He looks at Charlie, his expression as hopeless and helpless as hers, knowing there is no way to fix death.
“It’s okay,” she forces the words from her mouth somehow hoping to believe them herself. “I just keep waiting for it to get easier, you know.” She wipes the back of her hand across her face and nose, gathering leftover moisture from the leaky orifices. “I keep waiting for the memories to fade so I won’t miss him so much. I guess maybe I thought I’d eventually forget how his arms felt around me. The sound of his voice. What he looked like.” With her sentiment, Charlie looks away from Cage, who remains a constant reminder, maybe some sort of living, breathing apparition of her dead husband.
“I know,” Cage whispers. “I know that’s the reason you can barely stand to have me around. Why you’re always dodging my efforts to help out around here. I’m sorry it hurts you to have to look at me.” He dips his chin to his chest, camouflaging his face, the ruggedly handsome form usually a most impressive calling card to women only seems to push Charlie away.
“Don’t be sorry. It’s just confusing, that’s all.” Her unsteady hand takes a course of its own, her fingers gently cupping his chin and raising his face from his chest. She sucks in a deep breath, her abdomen fluttering with a second round of tears. The feel of his squared jaw and dark five o’clock shadow―the pattern unequivocal to Cash’s―against her palm conjures a sensation she presumed as departed as her late husband. “If I didn’t know any better, I could just close my eyes…and you would be him.”
Cage exhales somewhere between a sigh and a moan, pressing his cheek tighter to her hand, unable to refrain from enjoying the feeling. “I know. The closest I’m ever gonna get to Cash again is you.” He rises, his torso in line with hers, their mouths mere inches apart. He breathes her in, their shallow breath exchanging off each other’s lips.
Her eyes dart back and forth between his, a mixture of trepidation, guilt and desire, knowing that the reverse is equally true―the closest she is ever going to get to Cash is him. “We can’t,” she whispers a verbal warning, unable to refrain the visceral pull.
Charlize ‘Charlie’ McCloud, young widow and mother, is seemingly content with her secluded life on a sprawling Texas ranch. Her moonlit horseback rides provide the perfect dreamscape to obsessively reminisce about her college sweetheart—her first and final love—Cash McCloud.
When intern Hunter Bowie arrives on her ranch to work for the summer, his engaging persona threatens Charlie’s treasured reliving. Her interest in moving on as departed as her late husband, Hunter’s youthful exuberance and guitar revives dreams she once laid to rest.
Hunter’s presence stirs up everyone around the ranch, including her late husband’s older brother, Cage McCloud. A near replica of Cash, Cage’s very existence is a painstaking reminder of how much she has lost.
Unintentionally revealing the truth about Cash’s death, Cage sets off a firestorm of emotions, ultimately propelling Charlie to face her future—hopefully one that includes him.
About Brooklyn James
Brooklyn James is an author/singer/songwriter inspired by life in the Live Music Capital of Austin, Texas. Her first novel, The Boots My Mother Gave Me, has an original music soundtrack and was chosen as a Quarter Finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. This book has ranked in Kindle’s Top 100 Coming of Age and Women’s Fiction.
When she is not writing books, she can be found playing live music around Austin as part of an acoustic duo. Like most everyone, she treasures her time spent with family and friends. Brooklyn has been in a Weezer video, met Harry Connick Jr. as an extra on the set of When Angels Sing, and she was Mira Sorvino’s stand-in on Jerry Bruckheimer’sTrooper pilot for TNT. She enjoys reading, dancing, working out, fishing with her hubby, and a good glass of kombucha.
Brooklyn holds an M.A. in Communication, and a B.S. in both Nursing and Animal Science. Her nursing career has seen specialties in the areas of Intensive Care and Postpartum. She serves as a Guest Speaker with a focus on awareness and prevention of Domestic Violence and Suicide.
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