Read an Excerpt
January 2008 Dalton, California
Hannah Whitﬁeld woke up alone in her bed. Which wasn’t that unusual. In fact, this had been her only opportunity to not wake up alone for the ﬁrst time in years– due to the still somewhat unbelievable fact that she’d actually had sex last night.
Hannah swept her hair out of her eyes as she reached to turn on the lamp that sat on her bedside table, trying–not as successfully–to push away her feelings of imminent dread. Her head was pounding and her ankle was on ﬁre so she took a pull from the nearly empty bottle of Johnny W. she’d left next to her bed. Hair of the dog, was the age-old excuse. She knew better, but right now she needed the drumming pain in both her head and her ankle to back the hell off.
Last night had been far from fairy-tale-inducing material, with no impending happily-ever-after in sight. True, she’d wanted to get with this particular man ever since their very ﬁrst encounter–since he’d knocked her off that Alaskan pier, a hundred years ago.
A hundred years? No. It felt more like a solid thousand since the tall, dark and handsome man with the laughing brown eyes had held out an enormous hand and helped Hannah out of the icy water. It felt like an eternity since either of them had so much as smiled. And maybe it had been. Maybe tragedy had its own rules in the time-space continuum. The year following the death of a murdered wife and best friend passed at the speed of ﬁve hundred years in normal, happy, human time, with all of the previous years of laughter and joy instantly fading to ancient-seeming, sepia-toned distant memories.
So, yeah. Last night had been grimly moonbeam- and fairy-dust-free. Once upon a time, Hannah had let herself get laid–except, no, that wasn’t quite right. She’d been the layee. It was Vinh Murphy who’d gotten laid–for the ﬁrst time since Angelina had died.
Last night, like most nights these days, Hannah had been somewhat anesthetized, but she was nowhere near as shit-faced as Murph. They’d had an argument about the same old same old–the keys to his truck. Hannah had swiftly adiosed them when he’d shown up at the cabin at 0100, already wasted. That was his MO–she wouldn’t see him for months, and then he’d appear. Usually in the dead of night, ﬂashing his headlights in the driveway, stinking of gin, his brain damn near fried from whatever else he’d ingested in his attempt to forget that his wife–the love of his life, as he called Angelina–was forever gone.
They’d argued–no, I will not give back your keys–and Murphy had tripped over the leather ottoman and fallen. He’d hit his head on the arm of the sofa, and Hannah had thought he was down for the night, so after she’d helped him up, she’d dragged him over to her bed. Her intention had been–as always–to let him sleep it off in her room here downstairs, while she pulled herself up the ladder to the mattress in the loft.
But as she’d toppled him onto her bed, her bad ankle had bent the wrong way and the sudden surge of pain had made her lose her balance. She tried to straighten up, but Murphy’d held on to her, the expression in his dark brown eyes far different from anything she’d ever seen there before.
“Hannah,” he’d said. “I’m so fucked up.” And then he’d kissed her.
Yeah, Murphy had kissed her, and she should have scrambled away, but she hadn’t. Instead, she’d pulled up her nightshirt and opened her legs for him and he’d pushed himself inside of her, which, God, had felt so good, even though she knew it was the worst kind of mistake–not just ﬂat-out stupid but incredibly, insanely wrong for too many reasons to count.
And no, sex with Murph hadn’t been the romantic, passionate ecstasy she’d dreamed about all those years ago when he’d laughed and pulled her back onto the pier alongside Patrick’s boat, but rather a fumbled, clumsy, silent, joyless rutting. Murphy didn’t kiss her again. He just kept his eyes shut and his head down as his body strained, as Hannah clung to him, not allowing herself to wish or hope for anything–not even her own physical relief–as he ﬁlled her, as she felt his heart pounding alongside of hers. But she came right away because it had been close to forever for her, too, and he was right behind her, shuddering his release.
And then, there they were, mere seconds after it had started. In Hannah’s bed with most of their clothes still on. Bonus moron points went to both of them for failing to use protection of any kind.
It was then that Murphy started to cry–which he’d never done in front of her, not even at his toasted worst, not even at Angelina’s horror-show of a memorial service. And so Hannah had cried, too, just holding on to him.
He’d ﬁnally fallen asleep in her arms, here in her bed, but now he was gone.
A light was on in the living room.
Hannah moved as quietly as she could out of the bedroom, considering she’d misplaced her cane and...
“What are you doing?” Her shock and volume apparently startled him and he turned, guilt on his grim face, her keys in one giant hand as he held the lock to the gun case in the other. He didn’t try to explain–he didn’t need to. He just went back to trying the next key.
It was possible Hannah was going to throw up. “What’s your plan, Murph?” she asked instead. “You gonna kill yourself–right here in my living room?”
He didn’t answer. Or maybe he did, but his back was to her as he fumbled with the key ring. He was still drunk or high or whatever he’d been when he’d ﬁrst appeared at her door nearly four hours ago.
“Stop,” she said, her heart in her throat. He swayed slightly, but he didn’t even slow down. “The key’s not on there–I don’t even have a key.” It was a lie. She did have a key, even though the weapons weren’t hers. They belonged to her uncle–everything in this cabin did. A former Marine and Vietnam vet, Pat had a similar glass-fronted case at his place up in Juneau, and she had the key for that one, too. He trusted her, Pat did. Semper ﬁ and hoo-yah and all that, even though she’d never actually been a Marine.
Murphy had, however. He knew Pat well. And he knew Hannah. Drunk or not, he didn’t need to do more than glance at her to know the truth. The key was on that ring he was holding.
“Please stop,” she said again, begging him this time.
And this time Murphy did. And he turned and looked right at her. “Why?” How am I going to live without her? He didn’t need to say the words for Hannah to know what he was thinking. God knows he’d said it enough since Angelina had died.
“Jesus, Murph.” Hannah felt her voice shake. “I lost her, too. It’s time to stop the bullshit. It’s time to start dealing–”
He turned to face her again. “Dealing? You’re gonna to talk to me about dealing, while you hide away here–”
“I’m not the one who wants to kill myself!”
“Yeah,” Murphy said, making sure she understood, speaking carefully so that his words didn’t slur together. “Because you’re already dead and buried.”
Hannah felt herself bristle and the retort was out of her mouth before she could stop it. “Fuck you!”
“Tried that,” he said, his eyes ﬁlled with such hatred. It took her aback until she realized it was self-loathing that she saw there. “Didn’t help.” He turned back to the keys, but even as he tried the next one, he sank to his knees, his shoulders shaking as he began to sob.
And all of Hannah’s hurt and anger and fear morphed into near-blinding grief. “Vinh,” she said as she crossed to him.
“I wanted her,” he told her through his tears, his words even more blurred. “Not you.”
“I know,” she said, as she held on to him, rocking him, her heart breaking for him, and herself, too. “I know that.”
“I’m so sorry, Hannah...”
“Shhh,” she said. “Murph, it’s okay. I was trying to help. I thought...” She’d thought she could at least give him what he seemed to want–a chance for relief, release. Yeah, right, like it had been all about Murphy and what he’d needed.
“God, I’m sorry, too.”