A Fallow Heart, p.1Linda Kage
A FALLOW HEART
Sweet Cravings Publishing
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A Sweet Cravings Publishing Book
A Fallow Heart
Copyright © 2012 Linda Kage
E-book ISBN: 978-1-61885-500-8
First E-book Publication: December 2012
Cover design by Dawne Dominique
Edited by Megan Koenen
Proofread by Renee Waring
All cover art and logo copyright © 2012 by Sweet Cravings Publishing
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
Sweet Cravings Publishing
In loving memory of my father
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A FALLOW HEART
Copyright © 2012
Then. Ten years ago
On a typical night around the concrete rim of Bose Eden’s livestock tank, a symphony of bullfrogs and crickets would serenade the quiet pool. A blistering breeze would brush the liquid surface, causing soothing ripples and lending a serene ambiance to the area. A full moon would decorate the cattle-beaten dirt paths leading up to it with a dim, quixotic glow.
But the night Cooper Gerhardt’s life changed forever was anything but typical.
That night, fifty-plus teens flooded the edges of the hole, some of them letting their bare feet dangle into the warm water as they drowned out the tranquil echo of nature with boisterous conversation, screams of rowdy laughter, and the new subs Milo Hendricks had recently installed in his Chevy Silverado.
Eighteen-year-old Cooper stood back a ways from the crowded tank with his hands stuffed in the back pockets of his ragged blue jeans as he argued what the best muscle car ever invented was. All the while, he kept a censorious eye on the group of drunks who’d decided to go frog gigging.
“I still say nothing beats the sixty-nine Mustang Boss,” he contended, wincing when he saw one idiot brandish his gig pole like a dueling sword.
“Dude,” his buddy lifted his hands in a what-the-hell-ever manner. “Have you even ridden in a Hemi Cuda. I’m telling you, they are badass. Best muscle car ever.”
Coop shook his head. His father was a Ford man, and he was a Ford man. Nothing could sway him from The Boss. He opened his mouth to argue his position when he barely heard a voice call his name over the hubbub of a lively Keith Urban song.
“Coop! Hey, Coop!”
Frowning, he cocked his ear until it came again. After he pushed his shaggy blond bangs out of his eyes and squinted through the beam of car headlights and people, he found the source.
Emma Leigh Rawlings grinned and waved as she lifted her longneck bottle above her head and turned sideways in order to squeeze through a gap in the horde to reach him.
“Coop!” she yelled again once she was a foot away. She swayed and grasped his arm, steadying herself. Though she did nothing to soften her tone, he still had trouble hearing her over the roar of music and conversation as she added on a shout, “Wild party, huh?”
He filched her beer and tipped it up for a hearty slug. “Kinda boring.” With a teasing grin, he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth.
Cooper crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head. Rawlings was the richest kid at the party, and yet she was such a miser, she didn’t want to waste one drop. “Hendricks is selling cans of Coors for a dollar over by his tailgate.”
Emma gasped, lifting her face from her arm. “No freaking way. Seriously?”
Laughing over the outrage on her expression, Cooper nodded.
“Bose Eden!” She shouted, already whirling away and dismissing Cooper. “You dirty rotten bastard. I want a refund.”
Chuckling to himself as she disappeared between a crack in the crowd, Cooper glanced around for the guy he’d been talking cars with before Rawlings had approached. But he was long gone.
Cooper couldn’t remember a gathering this out-of-control before. But the weather had been so nice these last few days; everyone must’ve loathed saying goodbye to it as much as he did. The good youth of Tommy Creek decided their last hurrah before the summer break ended and school began needed to be a dandy.
And what a dandy it was.
A pair of unruly boys jostled Cooper, beginning a playful wrestling match, each fighting for possession of a package of fireworks.
“Hey, watch out, guys.” Coop snagged the bottle rockets from them, dangling the bundle out of their reach. “You could poke someone’s eye out with these things.” Not to mention all the havoc they would cause if they actually lit the fuses.
“Coop! Coop man, give ‘em here.” The two clamored toward him, their arms outstretched. “Pass ‘em to me.”
Cooper shook his head and tossed the bottle rockets off to someone else who decided this was an entertaining game and threw the fireworks on to another. The two morons scurried after their prizes, disappearing into the throng, and Coop turned away to seek his own one-dollar draft.
Though unseasonably cool for this time of year, summer was still summer. The night remained tepid and muggy, making sweat plaster his snug shirt to his skin. After purchasing his Coors, he lifted his forearm to wipe moisture from his brow. Being in such close proximity to so many people only made the heat more unbearable than it already was. Craving some fresher air, he waded through the press of warm bodies until he reached the edge of the party. There, he wandered on for a ways before he found a thick cluster of trees that was yet unoccupied.
Letting out a contented sigh, he leaned against the trunk of an aging Chinkapin Oak and closed his eyes, soaking in the delightful solitude. Muffled by the timbers, the activity over at the tank sounded subdued and less vigorous.
This right here was nice. Peaceful. Relaxing.
He reached for the tab of his can, but before he could hear that satisfying hiss, a muffled moan interrupted his moment.
Eyes popping open, he pushed away from the tree.
Someone was in pain.
Not one to ignore a soul in need, he glanced to the right, then the left, before he found a stooped over figure, clutching its stomach.
Hurrying forward, he squinted in an effort to see who occupied the dark nest of trees with him. Long hair, slight frame, though curved enough to provide an undeniably feminine outline, her silhouette made a distinct, familiar impression as he rushed to her side.
“Rawlings?” He grabbed her arm to balance her when she swayed, unable to trust his eyes. “Hey, are you okay?”
He couldn’t believe Emma Leigh had stumbled out here, sick to her stomach. First of all, he’d just seen her, and yeah, she’d been imbibing, but she hadn’t been that far gone. Secondly, he’d played one too many drinking games with her in the past to think alcohol would ever make her this ill. She could out-drink him to the point where he’d puke up a lung before she even looked affected. The girl could seriously hold her liquor.
“Em?” He tightened his fingers around her elbow as she continued to clutch her abdomen and bend over as if prepared to heave the contents of her stomach all over the summer foliage.
Hand still full of his unopened beer, Coop used the back of his palm to smooth her long, streaming hair away from her face and feel her forehead, though he wasn’t sure why he checked for a temperature when it appeared as if all she suffered from was the three-two flu.
She lifted her head, her face sallow, eyes rimmed with dark rings, and cheeks reflecting the white from the moon. “Cooper?”
Before he could stop himself, he jerked back, releasing his grip from her suddenly potent skin as if she’d stung him.
Not Emma Leigh after all.
Em had never called him Cooper in her life. Just Coop.
Oxygen rushed from his lungs. “Jo Ellen.” Her name came out sounding a little rusty from the old voice box, probably because he rarely spoke it aloud and his vocal chords weren’t used to its cadence.
Though Emma Leigh’s twin looked identical to her, Coop had never confused the two before. He considered Emma Leigh a friend, someone to hang out with and laugh with when he wanted to have a good time. She was one of the guys. He could relax around her and tell her just about anything.
Em was comfortable.
Her sister, Jo Ellen, made him decidedly uncomfortable.
Maybe it was because he’d developed a raging crush on her in the third grade when their teacher had assigned him to sit behind her in class, and he’d yet to shake that feeling of complete adoration. But the strawberry scent of her shampoo, the dulcet tone of her voice, the aura surrounding her, they had all embedded themselves on his soul. He was just so fascinated by her.
Or maybe he grew nervous in her company because she wasn’t as loud and obnoxious as Emma Leigh.
Jo Ellen Rawlings exuded a prim and proper manner, making her twin seem especially rowdy. She typically kept her expression guarded and polite while Emma Leigh was only too eager to communicate everything on her mind, be it an appropriate time and place for such declarations or not. Jo Ellen’s quiet way made him antsy, always wondering what she thought of him.
She was a lady, and he was infinitely aware of her…as a male.
Or better yet, maybe he could never relax around her because she was dating the ultimate dirt bag, who also happened to be Cooper’s one and only nemesis. And if Coop had to name a single person he hated, it would be Travis Untermeyer. Though to be fair, Coop conceded, he hadn’t truly come to despise Untermeyer until he’d learned the guy had snagged Jo Ellen Rawlings. Still, the prissy mama’s boy thought he was God’s gift to just about everything, and he never failed to treat Coop like some poor, filthy, dumb farm boy who didn’t deserve to breathe the same air as him.
Well, Coop didn’t think that runt of a human being deserved to have a girlfriend as pretty and polished as Jo Ellen Rawlings.
“Where’s Untermeyer?” he asked, darting his gaze around for Pretty Boy to appear out of nowhere and scold Cooper for not only touching his woman but actually coming within three feet of her.
He couldn’t quite understand why she was out here by herself anyway. Since she and Untermeyer had begun going steady their sophomore year, Coop had never seen one without the other lingering nearby.
But Jo Ellen ignored his question. “Have you seen Emma Leigh?”
“Uh…” Cooper squinted toward the horde of people crowding around the tank. “Yeah,” he answered. “I just did not thirty seconds ago. She stormed off, looking for Bose Eden.”
He turned back to Jo Ellen just as she once again curled into herself and cradled her belly with both arms.
“Want me to go fetch her for you?” he offered, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, not sure how to aid her without somehow offending. Not that his assistance would offend. But if she were in any way loyal to Untermeyer, she’d be wary about accepting anything from Coo
“Would you please?” Jo Ellen’s voice rasped weakly as she glanced up at him with her drawn and pale face. “Tell her I…I’m going to be…sick.”
With that, she arched in her stomach and vomited.
“Jo Ellen!” Panicking, he leapt toward her. Since he was more hesitant to make contact now that he knew whom he was dealing with, he kept his touch light as he gripped her shoulder to keep her from falling.
Her frail frame lurched, and between spouts of emptying everything inside her, she whimpered. He grimaced but tucked his Coors under his arm so he could use both hands to hold her up and gather her hair out of the way. Lifting his face from the scene to keep from being sick himself, he glanced around, once more searching for Pretty Boy.
Where the hell was her precious boyfriend? Shouldn’t he be doing this instead? Then again, Coop bet Untermeyer wouldn’t slink within ten feet of anyone puking their guts out, girlfriend or not. No, he probably considered that lowly job fit for dirty, dumb farm boys like Coop.
Cooper rolled his eyes. No wonder why the jackass was nowhere to be found.
Weak and drained, Jo Ellen leaned against him as soon as she finished, pressing her warm, damp forehead to his neck and shivering as if chilled. Instantly, his body went taut. Her smell invaded his nostrils, leaving him dizzy. Never thinking of himself as a flower person before, he suddenly cherished the heady fragrance of crisp carnations exuding from her.
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders to support her. She wilted and snuggled trustingly close to let him sustain her weight. He told himself his actions didn’t mean anything. Cooper was a nurturer by nature. He’d lend assistance to anyone in need. But for some reason, this felt different. He didn’t contemplate all the places Untermeyer had no doubt put his disgusting paws. All he could imagine was every place he’d like to put his hands.
A Fallow Heart by Linda Kage / History & Fiction / Romance & Love have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes