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Elias(West Bend Saints #1)(15) by Sabrina Paige

15
 
River tucked a strand of dark hair behind her ear, smoothing it, but it came back out again, sticking up at an angle, unwilling to be restrained.  I hid a smile.  When I'd looked her up on the internet yesterday, I saw all these photos of her at events with long blonde hair, flashing big smiles and posing for the cameras.
 
She looked better with the shorter hair.  It suited her somehow- messy and unruly, refusing to be tamed.
 
She tapped the pad of her finger on the counter in the rental car office, a nervous habit, I decided.
 
"Anyone ever tell you that you look like that actress?" the rental agent asked, turning River's license over in his hand.  I knew it was a fake, and wondered how passable it was.  Not like the agent seemed like any kind of expert in sussing out fake licenses, not in a place that rented cars out of the back of a fishing tackle store.
 
River nodded and rolled her eyes.  "I get that a lot," she said.  "Sucks.  I hear she's a real bitch."
 
I coughed, covering my laugh.
 
River signed the paperwork and took the keys.  "Thanks a lot," she said.
 
"Welcome," the agent said, only half paying attention to her, his gaze focused more on me.  "Recognized you when you came in here."
 
"Oh, I'm not her -" River started, but the agent continued, looking at me.
 
"Heard about your dad," he said.
 
I sighed.  The last thing I f**king wanted to do was talk to someone who knew my father.  I didn't need to hear about what a great guy he was from one of the alcoholics he used to drink with down at the bar or something.  "Yeah, well, that's life.  Thanks for the rental."
 
I turned to leave, my hand on the small of River's back as I guided her ahead of me.  I wanted out of there before I got drawn into some bullshit conversation about my shitbag father.  He was the last person on this green earth I wanted to think about.
 
The agent called after us.  "Least your mother can get that property squared away now," he said.
 
I didn't turn around to listen to any more, and what he said didn't even register in my brain until we were outside, walking down the sidewalk ten yards.
 
Your mother can get that property squared away now.
 
What the hell was he talking about?
 
River's voice cut through my thoughts.  "What did he mean, he heard about your dad?"
 
"Nothing," I said, my voice sharp.  "None of your business."
 
Shit.  As soon as the words left my mouth, I regretted them.  River looked hurt, and then she clenched her jaw, a cold expression settling over her.
 
"River - " I started, but she held up her hand.
 
"You're right," she said.  "None of this is my business."
 
I opened my mouth to apologize, but before I could, I heard a voice from the past beside me.
 
Not now.  This is the last f**king thing I need.
 
"Well, what the hell do we have here?" the voice asked, his tone less than friendly.  "Elias Saint.  And who are you?"
 
River narrowed her eyes at the man standing before us in a law enforcement uniform.  "Beth Winters," she lied, crossing her arms over her chest.  "Who are you?"
 
He looked at her for a long time, his eyes lingering on her face, and I had a sudden feeling of rage I forced myself to quell.  The way he was looking at her....if his eyes had gone anywhere else but her face, I would have beat his ass right there in the street, cop or no cop.
 
"Jed Easton," he said.  "Sherriff Easton, that is."
 
River's mouth was drawn tight and I saw her tapping her fingers against her side, tucked up underneath her crossed arms.  She was irritated, that much I could tell; I wasn't sure if it was at me or Jed, or maybe at Jed for arriving right when she was about to tell me to f**k off.
 
I should have been grateful for Jed's timely arrival.
 
Except I wasn't.
 
Not only because Jed was a douchebag, but because part of me wanted River to tell me to f**k off.  It's what I deserved.
 
"What brings you to West Bend?" he asked, his eyes still on River.
 
"Vacation," she said.  "Taking in the sights, you know.  Small towns like these are a passion of mine."
 
"And this Saint boy," Jed said.  "He's an acquaintance of yours?"
 
My blood boiled, and I clenched my fists.  I was going to lay this ass**le out for calling me boy.
 
River's eyes widened and she looked at me.  "I'd hardly call him a boy," she said, smirking.  "Hung like a f**king horse.  I'd say he probably has several inches on you."  She leaned closer to Jed and raised her eyebrows.  "Knows how to use them real good, too."
 
I had to keep my jaw from dropping, listening to River talk.  No girl had ever taken up for me.
 
Hell, no one in my life had ever taken up for me.  If there's anything I was used to doing, it was fighting my own battles.
 
I didn't know what the f**k to think about this girl.
 
Jed's face was red as he turned away from her and faced me.  "You watch yourself," he said.  "This town doesn't need your kind here causing trouble - not you or your brothers."
 
"Fuck you, Jed," I spat.
 
He smiled and nodded, then turned to leave.  I watched him through narrowed eyes as he paused, then turned back toward us.  "Oh - one more thing.  Give your mother my father's regards," he said.
 
My heart racing, blood pumping loudly in my ears, I barely registered River's hand on my arm.  "Fuck!" I said loudly, enough that a couple passing on the sidewalk stopped and stared.
 
Fucking Jed.
 
"River, I - " I started, but she interrupted me, holding her hand up.
 
"Whatever it is," she said.  "I don't want to know.  It's none of my f**king business."
 
"River, I didn't mean to - "
 
She shook her head.  "Just because I defended you, doesn't mean I'm okay with you being a dickhead," she said.  "I just don't like bullies, and that guy strikes me as a bully."
 
"One of the worst kinds," I agreed.
 
"Thanks for the ride, Elias," she said, the car keys dangling from her fingers.  She turned to leave.
 
I stood there and watched her walk away.  Jesus Christ.  I wasn't used to having to watch my attitude, make sure I didn't snap at people.
 
I was used to dealing with subordinates, people I was in charge of in the Navy.  Most of them f**king got out of my way.
 
I felt a pang of regret.  Shit.
 
This is not how I'd planned on spending the rest of the day, dealing with family bullshit.  I'd planned on spending it screwing the absolute hell out of River, but I'd f**ked that part up.
 
I needed to fix it, I thought.  Later.  I would fix it with her.
 
Everything else was eclipsed by the thought of what Jed had said.  And what the rental manager had mentioned.  My mother had some questions she needed to answer.
 
Between whatever bullshit was with her, and Silas' cryptic crap, there were too many f**king secrets.
 
It's none of your business.
 
Elias' words echoed in my head as I closed the car door and walked back up to the bed and breakfast.  After I'd left him in town, I'd waited and watched him stride off back to his car like a man on a mission.
 
Angry at the world, I told myself.  And he didn't even f**king realize it.
 
What the hell did I care, anyway?  He was right; it wasn't any of my f**king business.  Just because I was sleeping with him - no, scratch that since we hadn't even screwed yet- didn't mean I needed to know who he was.  I was taking some time here in West Bend, just a few days, and that was that.
 
This was just a break from my normal life.
 
I needed to remember that.
 
A couple of days off the grid and I would get back to it.  I needed to get back to it.  Monday, when I didn't show up for filming, the studio would be f**king pissed.  We were near the end of this film, and they'd probably figure I went off the deep end or something, lost my damn mind, with everything that had just happened with Viper.  They'd film without me in the meantime, but someone would be looking for me.  Soon.
 
I walked through town, browsing in a few of the store windows, the spaces decorated with country knick-knacks, cowboy clothing and boots.  Being here was like stepping back in time.
 
It was almost enough to forget everything that had happened, back in the real world.  Back in Hollywood.  Not that Hollywood was anything like the real world; I wasn't delusional enough to think that.  But it was my reality.
 
I just didn't know if I wanted it to be my future.
 
When I returned to the bed and breakfast, Cade and June were on the front porch, and June had a picnic basket in her hand.  She held it up when I got out of the car.
 
"We were just making some lunch," she said.  "So I figured I'd bring you some stuff over, drop if off in case you were hungry and didn't feel like cooking.  Cade makes a mean chicken salad."
 
Cade was standing beside her, a half-eaten sandwich in his hand.  "Secret ingredient is curry," he said.  "June's been eating it by the truckload since she got pregnant."
 
"The kid is going to hate chicken salad," June said.
 
"Well, with an endorsement like that, how could I not try it?"  I opened the front door.  "Is there enough in there for all of us?  Would you stay and have lunch with me?"
 
"Sure," June said.  Then, to Stan, "Baby, come this way."  He was picking the petals off flowers in a pot near the door.  "Don't eat those."
 
Inside, June set out plates and Cade sat with Stan on his lap.
 
"It's good," I said as I bit into my sandwich.  "Really good."
 
Cade smiled.
 
"He's a great cook," June said.  "Does better than me with a lot of it.  The muffins this morning?  His recipe."
 
"You're like a jack of all trades," I said.  "You keep up with the horses and everything here too?"
 
Cade nodded.  "Part of running a ranch," he said.  "Got a couple ranch hands helping out now that I'm at the shop more, though."
 
"I saw your shop today when I was getting a car," I said.  "Closed for lunch- obviously you were here."
 
We ate for a few minutes in silence, but it wasn't the kind of awkward silence I usually felt around people.  June and Cade were easy to be around.
 
Then I asked the question that had been on my mind since I'd left town.  "Do you know anything about the Saint brothers?"
 
It was like all the air had been sucked out of the room.  "Where did you hear that name?" June asked.
 
"Elias Saint."  I blurted out the words before I could think about stopping myself.  "He's the guy who was with me here."
 
A dark look crossed Cade's face and looked at June meaningfully.  "You known him long?" he asked.
 
"Not really," I admitted.  "He helped me out of a jam."  I didn't elaborate, feeling suddenly uncomfortable with the fact that I'd brought it up, since both of them clearly knew his name.
 
"He's not someone you should be spending time with," Cade said, his tone gruff.
 
"Cade, you don't know that," June said, her voice stern.  She gave him a look.
 
"A leopard doesn't change his spots," Cade said.
 
"It's not fair," June said, "Him paying for his brother's sins.  He was a kid then."
 
Cade grunted, and stepped away from the table, kissing his wife on the top of his head before he started for the door.  "Need to get back to the shop," he said, passing Stan to her
 
"Bye-bye," Stan babbled.
 
Cade kissed the top of his head.  "Bye-bye, baby," he said.  Then he looked up at June and I.  "That family's no good, the whole lot of them."
 
After Cade left, June turned to me.  "Don't mind him," she said.  "He's not closed-minded in a lot of ways, but when it comes to me, he is."
 
"I don't understand," I said.  I didn't know what Elias or his family had done, but this town seemed to be focused on it.
 
"What he said isn't right," June said.  "About his family.  They're not all bad.  The father - Abraham Saint - was a piece of work, as I remember, drunk a lot.  Think he used to beat up on the kids.  But he's dead now - just died, a week ago?  Maybe two weeks?  I can't keep up with things lately."
 
A week or two.
 
It had to be why Elias was coming back here.  He hadn't said anything.
 
But then, why should he, to some casual fling?
 
“I don’t understand,” I said.  “So they’re all bad seeds because of Elias’ father?”  I might have grown up in a small town, and understood how petty and mean life in a small town could be, but this seemed extreme, even to me.
 
June shook her head.  She sat Stan down on the ground, then got up and opened a cabinet, dragging out some toys and setting them in the middle of the floor.  “I don’t think Elias is a bad seed, honey,” she said.  “He seemed like a nice guy.  Seems to like you a whole lot, too.”
 
I don’t know about the liking me a whole lot part, I thought.
 
“Then what is it?”  I asked.  “What’s the thing Cade was talking about?”
 
“Cade’s just overprotective sometimes, is all,” she said.  “Everything that happened was a long time ago, back when I was in high school.  You’re what, early twenties?”  She didn’t wait for my answer, just continued.  “So Elias is about your age.  He’d only have been a toddler when it happened, I’d imagine.  I didn’t know the Saints back then.  There was an older brother - Mason - older than me by a few years, worked as a ranch hand for Cade’s dad.”
 
I listened attentively, all the time thinking how insular this town was, that everyone was connected in some way.  I guess that could be comforting or frightening, depending on how you grew up in it.  I felt a momentary pang of empathy for Elias.
 
“Mason and my sister had a thing going,” June said.  “Even though he was a few years older.  Everyone says he was a bad influence on her, and that might well have been some of it, but my sister was a wild child back then too.  They were out at a party, Mason and my sister, and that’s when it happened.”
 
“What happened?”
 
“Mason and her drove back from the party,” June said.  “He was drunk.  My parents were out looking for my sister.  There was an accident, head on collision, and my parents were killed.  Mason, too.  My sister committed suicide after that, couldn’t bear to live with the guilt.”
 
My hand flew to my mouth.  “Oh my God, June,” I said, “I’m so sorry.  I can’t imagine.”
 
“Thank you for that,” she said.  “But it was a long time ago.  A lifetime.  A lot of people carried around a lot of guilt for what happened, even though there was nothing they could have done about it, Cade included.  There’s no use for it, either, all that guilt.”
 
“Is that what Cade was referring to, about the Saint family?”
 
“Yes,” June said.  “I left right after it happened, but I’d heard the family took a lot of heat for it.  The father didn’t have a good reputation to begin with, but after that, I’m not sure.  I’d imagine it wasn’t easy for them here.”
 
I could imagine what Elias went through in this small town, being from a family like the one he was from.  Golden Willow, Georgia wasn’t exactly like West Bend, not so small you’d know everyone and everything going on, but it was the kind of place where my mother’s reputation followed us.  It didn’t help that we attracted attention - looks of disgust or pity, depending on who saw my sister and I- walking around in bare feet and tattered secondhand clothing.
 
If there’s one thing in life I understood, it was being a pariah.
 
I also understood the fact that the feeling of being an outside never leaves you.  It’s etched on your soul, into the very core of who you are.  No matter how many fans I had or how much money I made, it was always there.
 
I wondered if Elias felt the same way.
 
Then I told myself it didn't matter.  I didn't need to know Elias' story.  He might have all kinds of reasons for being how he was, and I might have all kinds of chemistry with him, but that didn't matter.  I was here for a few days, biding my time...and Elias was more trouble than I needed, with the kinds of wounds that didn't just disappear.
 
I already had enough complications in my life.  I didn't need any more.