Forgotten Secrets (Singing River Legacy #1)


by Robin Perini

CHAPTER ONE

No matter how far a man traveled, how fast he ran, or how hard he tried, it only took a moment for the past to ambush him like an enemy combatant lying in wait.

At this moment, Deputy Thayne Blackwood had no doubt he should’ve paid closer attention to his grandmother’s words of wisdom. He tilted back his Stetson and gauged the distance between him and his target. What a cluster.

Normally, Clive’s Dance Hall and Saloon would’ve been jumping during happy hour on a Friday, but the place had gone as silent as the Afghan desert right before everything blew to hell. And instead of canvassing a clandestine drinking hole with his SEAL teammates like he should be doing, Thayne was in a standoff with an SOB he’d known all his life. Still, whether he was in Singing River, Wyoming, or Afghanistan, a hunting knife, a short temper, and a jealous drunk made for a dangerous confrontation.

Ed Zalinksy pressed the serrated bowie more firmly against the throbbing pulse of his longtime on-and-off lover’s neck. Carol’s eyes widened, glazed with too much booze, her sallow skin and visible capillaries evidence of a decade or two of indulgence.

Thayne stared down the man and allowed a slight drawl to ease the tension in his voice even as his right hand inched toward his Glock. “You don’t have to do this, Ed.”

“I’m not leaving my house. She can’t make me.”

Slowly, Thayne raised his hands—soothing, conciliatory. “Let’s take this outside. Just you and me, so Carol can get back to work.”

Ed’s knuckles whitened, his grip tightening around Carol’s arm. Though nearly as tall as Ed, she whimpered.

Thayne sensed the panic mounting in the crowd hovering near the bandstand behind him. He didn’t have to turn around to recognize what was happening. With each crunch of peanut shells, each rustle, he knew. A dangerous but well-intentioned few, their hands inching toward concealed weapons, hesitant but with just enough bravado to make a bad situation worse.

Thayne let loose a silent flurry of curses. Too many heroes could turn a tricky confrontation deadly in a split second.

What he wouldn’t give for his SEAL teammates on his six. Having them at his back would’ve provided him a lot more options, but as Gram always said, Wait for a wish, and you’ll be waiting forever. With half the sheriff’s office—all two of them—gone fishing, Thayne’s only reinforcement was fifteen minutes away. Rough estimate—the confrontation would be over in three.

“You don’t understand.” Ed’s fingers twitched on the knife’s hilt, his eyes desperate.

If he pierced Carol’s throat, she’d bleed out from her carotid within a minute.

No time left. Thayne slipped the gun from its holster. Not his usual preference—he was partial to his SIG—but the Glock would do. He’d drop Ed with one shot if the man moved that blade a centimeter.

“Put the knife down, Ed.”

“I gave her a place to stay when no one else in town would put up with her drunk, crazy talk. And how does she repay me? She throws my clothes on the front lawn and keeps my house, my TV, and my guns. My daddy left me those guns.”

Ed tightened the arm wrapped around Carol’s waist until she cried out.

“Please, Ed. I’m s-sorry,” she stammered.

“You’re a liar. Always have been. From the moment you got yourself knocked up to the moment your kid vanished while you were on a binge. You probably killed her and don’t even remember.”

A collective gasp escaped from the crowd.

What a bastard. Everyone in town—hell, in the whole state—knew about Carol’s missing daughter, Gina. Fifteen years ago, she’d vanished without a trace. Carol had been one of the prime suspects, but Thayne’s father, in his first year as sheriff, had ruled her out during the investigation.

A decade and a half later, Gina Wallace was still missing.

Ed jerked his head up and glared at the crowd. “What? Y’all’ve been thinking the same thing since it happened. I’m just brave enough to say it to her face.”

Carol choked back a sob, tears streaking mascara down her face. “It’s not true. Why are you doing this, Ed?”

“’Cause I love you, damn it. And you won’t love me back.” His hand dropped just a few inches.

Ed’s mistake. Thayne’s opportunity. He holstered his Glock and rushed Ed in a blur of speed. Before the man could so much as twitch, Thayne grabbed the wrist holding the knife and twisted it with a sharp yank. Ed bent over with a groan. The knife clattered to the floor.

Carol crumpled in uncontrollable sobs.

“It didn’t have to be this way.” Thayne snapped metal cuffs around Ed’s wrists.

The room erupted in whoops and applause. Several women hurried to Carol. She clutched at a barstool and heaved herself to her feet, legs shaking. “I need a drink.”

The bartender poured two fingers of Scotch and slid the glass to Carol. She downed it in one gulp, then crossed to Ed and slapped him across the face. “You bastard.”

Ed heaved toward her, but Thayne’s grip didn’t give.

“Carol, go home. Sleep it off, huh?” Thayne tugged Ed out of her reach.

She crossed her arms and glared at Ed. “Not until I know he’s headed for jail.”

Carol’s blood might be half alcohol, but she hadn’t lost her fight. She had twenty years on Thayne, but he recognized the remnants of the woman his dad had told him about. Carol’s homecoming court and state championship basketball days had long since passed. She’d had everything going for her until she’d fled the confines of Singing River for a summertime adventure on the rodeo circuit. A few months later, she’d come home with a lost scholarship and a baby on the way.

“The judge won’t be back until Monday,” Thayne said. “Ed’ll be locked up until then.”

She swayed. “Good.”

“You gonna be OK?”

She lifted her chin and stared at Thayne through unfocused eyes. “I haven’t been OK for a long time. Everyone knows that.” She turned back to the bar and tapped the empty glass on the walnut surface. “I need another one.”

Resigned to the fact that some people were their own worst enemy, Thayne straightened and stared down the rest of the dance hall. “Show’s over. Make sure I don’t have to come back tonight. Ed already ruined my Friday night rendezvous with paperwork.”

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