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Elias(West Bend Saints #1)(19) by Sabrina Paige
It was the unmistakable sound of a shotgun being fired.
"Fucking hell." I reached for my piece in my bag and went straight out the door, looking over my shoulder. "Stay here. Don't move."
"You have a gun?" I heard River say, but I ignored her.
Racing down the stairs, I opened the front door. I had no idea how psychotic these reporters were, but whoever the f**k just fired a shot was going to get himself shot.
When I walked outside, Cade was standing in the meadow between the houses, his shotgun in hand. June was a few feet behind him, brandishing a shotgun in one hand and a baby monitor in the other.
Cade walked toward the driveway in long strides. "That was the only warning shot I'm firing," he said, nodding toward the photographer who was brazen enough to hold up his cell phone to capture the scene on video. "Record this shit all you want. Share it with your friends. Post it on the internet. But this is private f**king property, and not a single one of you is welcome here. So I'd thank you kindly to get the f**k off my land."
I walked out behind him, and Cade grinned. "Brought your own, huh?"
"Shit, man," I said. "I thought someone was out here getting shot."
Cade laughed, nodding toward the reporters who'd pulled back to the main road. "Nah," he said. "Just giving those bastards a little scare, is all."
"Think any of them shit their pants?" I asked.
Cade laughed. "Hope so." He looked up, and I turned to see River on the front steps.
"What the -?" she asked, her mouth open.
Cade turned. "We've got to get back to the house," he said to me. "Before little Stan wakes up. Don't think they'll bother you for a little while now, at least."
I walked back inside and shut River in the house with me. Her eyes went from me to the weapon.
"You came here armed?"
"I've got a permit for it," I said.
She shook her head. "I don't know what the f**k to think about you."
"It's Colorado," I said, unloading the magazine and setting the weapon on a shelf in the living room. "It's all ranches out here. Everyone's carrying."
"Those reporters are probably going to sue or something," she said. "Is Cade f**king crazy?"
"Firing a warning shot like that?" I asked. "What are they going to sue for? Nobody got hurt. He's just protecting what's his."
"And you," River said. "You punched the reporter back in Vegas already."
"So, do you not do anything civilized?"
I leaned against the wall and raised my eyebrows. "Are you complaining about Cade chasing off the same people you were just terrified of not ten minutes ago?"
"No. I'm trying to figure out if you're a total psycho who's going to run around threatening anyone who dares to get near me."
I walked up to her, pulled her toward me, and felt her inhale sharply. "I will f**king promise I'll do more than just threaten anyone who hurts you."
"You can't do that, Elias," she said, but her voice was breathy, her eyes large.
"Why?" I asked. "Because it's not civilized?"
"It's not..." Her voice trailed off.
"Well, I've got news for you," I said. "I'm not f**king civilized. Cade's protecting what's his, and I'll do the same damn thing."
"You think I'm yours?" she asked.
"You're mine whether you know it now or not," I said, interrupting her when she opened her mouth to protest. "Don't even say it. I know I don't f**king own you and shit. I'm not a caveman. But nobody f**ks with you. You're mine, and I'm not going to f**king apologize for it, so you can just deal."
River's mouth opened again, but she didn't say anything. So I kissed her, hard on the mouth, and felt her melt against me. "Now," I said. "Before we got so rudely interrupted this morning, I was having a little dream about you."
"About what exactly?" she asked. She ran her tongue along the top of her lip, and it made me instantly hard.
"Come upstairs and I'll show you," I said.
River slid into bed beside me.
"I don't know why you're sneaking up to that window, all stealth-like and shit," I said.
"I just wanted to see if they'd left."
"I'd just assume they didn't."
She slipped into the bed beside me. "It's frustrating."
"I would guess so," I said. "But maybe stop taking it so damn seriously."
She rolled onto her side, propped her head up on her hand. "It is serious."
"No," I said. "It's not. Getting shot at is serious. Getting blown up, that's serious. Missing your kid's first steps because you're deployed, that's serious. Photographers following you around because they want to talk about your breakup? It's not f**king serious."
River exhaled, averted her eyes. "Fuck," she said. "I'm one of those spoiled Hollywood brats, something I never thought I'd be. I'm like, a total dick."
"Nah," I said. "You're not a total dick. More like half a dick."
"I've been really selfish," she said.
I tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Happens to the best of us."
She was quiet, her forehead wrinkled in the middle. "It's weird, all of this, you know? The whole fame thing. I never thought I would be famous. It just happened. And it was amazing, back then, you know? Going from not knowing where my next meal was coming from to having more money than I knew what to do with."
She scrunched her forehead, was quiet for a minute.
"But then, it didn't actually change anything, with my mother and my sister, you know? Like, it didn't change who my mother was, the kind of person she was. It just gave her more funding."
I didn't say anything, just waited for River to talk.
"The magazines, they sell this story about me - it's this fairytale version of me, you know? Rags to riches, it sells. But it leaves out all the shit parts, the parts about what it was like growing up in a hick town, with a mom who brings home pretty much anyone, who doesn't give a shit what ass**le guys get near her kids."
I realized the implications of what River was saying, the kind of hell she was raised in, and felt a surge of empathy for her. I just didn't know what to say, especially after I'd basically called her spoiled.
"Then, somewhere along the line, the fame thing just started spiraling out of control," she said. "I went from being just another actress making a lot of money to being a brand, you know? It was all of a sudden. You become this commodity, and then there are people pushing and pulling you in different directions, calculating how much everything you do is worth. Every decision you make is based on that- the net worth of your next move. And everyone is watching."
"It's just a job," I said. "Not who you are. It doesn't have to define you."
"Did you feel that way about your job?"
I exhaled. "No," I admitted. "EOD was who I was. I joined when I was seventeen. Been f**king working around explosives even before that."
"My father," I said. "Mined the side of the mountain back behind my house for years when we were kids. Blasted away at that shit little by little."
"So then you went into diffusing bombs," she said.
I nodded. "I knew how to do it. I was comfortable with it."
"Do you ever regret it?"
"EOD?" I asked. "Fuck no."
"But you lost your leg doing it."
"So?" I asked. "I meant what I said before. It's just a f**king leg. Not the end of the world. Most of the guys out there, the grunts and shit, they go into it figuring something will happen. Better you lose a limb than die, you know?"
"Do you ever wish you did something different, though?" she asked. "Took a different path or something?"
"Regret's a waste of time," I said. "Your path is your path, for better or worse. It is what it is. You don't know what's going to happen in life. You've got right now and that's it. Can't change the past, can't predict the future." I paused, realizing what a pompous ass I sounded like. "That's my two cents worth of philosophizing for you. That's about all it's worth, anyway."
River ran her finger across my chest. "Anyone ever tell you you're a wise man, Elias Saint?"
I laughed. "Not one f**king time," I said. "Are you regretting where you are now?"
"Here, with you?" she asked. "No. Being in Hollywood? I don't know."
"When's the last time you were really happy?" I asked.
"Here, now," she answered, without hesitation.
"What about before that?"
River looked thoughtful. "I don't know," she said. "Maybe...when I was a kid, I'd take my sister down to the creek near our house sometimes and we'd wander along the edge, skip rocks, look for frogs. It was nice. We'd stay away from the house for hours, mostly when it wasn't safe to go home."
"How old were you?" I asked.
"Oh God, I don't know," River said. "Maybe eight or something?"
"And that's the last time you remember feeling really happy?"
She shrugged. "I think so...That's kind of pathetic, huh?"
"Yeah, pretty much," I said. "Maybe you ought to do something about that."
"You think you can?" she asked. "Make your own happiness, I mean?"
I shrugged. "I don't know," I said. That was the million dollar f**king question.
"What would you do, if you could?"
"If I could make my own happiness?" I asked. "Fucking bottle that shit and sell it."
River rolled her eyes. "I mean, what would make you happy? What would you do, if you could do anything?"
"Don't laugh," I said.
"I weld shit," I told her.
"Yeah," I said. "Got into it in the Navy. It's a hobby. I don't know what the hell I could do with it, but if I could get paid to do it, that's what I would do."
"What do you weld?"
"I've made all kinds of shit," I said. "Some, when I was deployed. Got pieces of scrap metal and stuff, made furniture, stupid stuff, to make life more comfortable."
"So you'd make furniture, if you could do anything in the world?"
"Yeah," I said. "And, I mean, there's this other idea I have, but it's dumb..."
I suddenly felt vulnerable, like I was revealing some big part of myself. "A lot of the prosthetics are getting really life-like," I said. "Which is cool and all. But I want to do the opposite. I think they could look more like art pieces or something."
"Like industrial art," she said, nodding.
"Yeah. I have some ideas I've been sketching."
"Can I see?" River sat up.
I nodded toward my bag. "There's a notebook in there," I said. "If you want to look at them. I mean, they're not anything big. I don't even know if they're something that can be done, anyway. Just some things running through my head."
River pulled the notebook from my bag, and joined me, sliding up against me. She opened the notebook, and I held my breath, waiting for her reaction.
She flipped through the pages, looking at my sketches. Finally, she looked at me. "Elias, these are really good. This is a really cool idea," she said. "Actually, I've got this artist friend, Abby, in LA. She knows people who do laser cutting and shit, kind of like the things you've got drawn up."
"It's just something I was thinking about, anyway," I said. "A dream. What would you do, if you weren't an actress?"
"When I was a kid, I wanted to be a teacher."
"Elementary school," River said. "I like kids. And I'd feel like I was doing something important."
"More than romantic comedies?"
River sighed. "It's stupid, I know."
"Why is it stupid?"
"Because it's ridiculous. I've been given this incredible opportunity millions of people would love to have, and I'm so ungrateful that I want to just throw it away to do something else. It's obnoxious."
"Life's too short to do something you don't want to do."
A rap on the door downstairs interrupted us. I sat up in the bed, and reached for my prosthetic, while River scrambled out of the bed and slipped into a t-shirt and pajama pants.
"Fucking photographers again?" I asked, as River peered out the window.
"A cop," she said, glaring at me. "Probably because of the shot fired earlier."
I was already sliding into my jeans. "Don't look at me," I said. "That was all Cade."
"Like you wouldn't have done the same thing," River said.
"I'd definitely have done the same thing," I said. "But that shot was Cade's."
Downstairs, Jed waited on the front porch. By the time we pulled open the door, Cade and June were already crossing the meadow toward the house.
"River Andrews," Jed said. "I didn't think the name Beth Winters suited you."
River crossed her arms across her chest, her jaw clenched.
"Can we help you, Sherriff Easton?" I asked, my words more polite than my tone.
"Well, now, I don't know," Jed said. "We received a report of a weapon being discharged out here on the property, and I thought I'd come out to make sure no one is being harmed, especially as we've got a celebrity in town. Obviously one with questionable taste in men."
"Are you f**king kidding me?" River said.
"Were you invited in, Jed?" Cade stood behind him. "I don't recall ever telling you you had an invitation back on my property again."
Jed turned toward Cade, his expression colored with irritation, followed by something that looked like embarrassment when he saw June approach. "There were reports of a shot fired," he said.
"Didn't hear any shots fired," Cade said. "Did any of you?"
I shook my head. "Nope."
"You got a f**king warrant, Jed?" Cade paused for a minute. "Didn't think so. Get the hell off my property. You have ten seconds to leave before I get my shotgun."
A slow smile crept over Jed's face. "I should take you in for threatening an officer of the law, Cade." He spit on the ground beside him. "But I'll attribute that outburst to your guilt over Stan's death."
Cade clenched his fists, and if June hadn't have stepped in, one of us would have hit Jed, I'm sure. I didn't know what the f**k he was talking about when it came to Stan, but the way that f**kstick looked at River before and the way he talked, shit, I figured it'd be worth the assault charge.
"Cade," June said, her hand on her arm. "Don't. It's not worth it."
But Jed was backing down. Apparently the guy had a sense of self-preservation. "My father, Jedidiah Easton Sr., would like to pay his respects, Ms. Andrews, as the mayor of this town, and welcome you to West Bend." Jed was nearly to his car before he turned around. "I trust your visit will be a short one."
He backed down the driveway, stopping to say something to the paparazzi gathered at the end before driving down the road. I could see a few of them snapping photos of the four of us standing outside and motioned Cade and June inside.
Inside the house, June set down Stan, who immediately toddled over to River. She bent down to pick him up. "How are you, gorgeous?"
"What an ass**le," I said, half under my breath.
"You have no idea," June said.
"What did he mean about Stan?"
Cade's expression darkened. "Stan was my father. I hold Jed responsible for his death."
"He'll get what's coming to him," June said, her eyes flashing with anger. "Eventually. You know what they say about karma."
Stan toddled over to Cade, and Cade picked him up. "You shouldn't have any more trouble with the reporters on the property at least, not with the Sherriff being out here too. For now, anyway."