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The urge to run was overwhelming. But Andrew Jackson Rule had not survived the past fifteen years in a maximum security prison by running, and so he walked through the last set of locked gates leading to the outside world as if he didn't care that this was the first breath of free air he would be taking since his sixteenth birthday.
The security guard accompanying him seemed jittery. Jackson knew that he'd garnered a reputation inside for being a hard-ass. But he didn't care. It had kept him alive and more or less in one piece, if you didn't count the scars, both inner and outer, that he was taking with him.
Jackson Rule had been convicted of only one crime, but it had been an unforgivable act against God and society -- even in the minds of the most hardened of inmates -- and one to which he had calmly confessed without blinking an eye.
Finally, they were at the gate. The guard paused, eyeing Jackson Rule's new denim pants and jacket -- compliments of the state of Louisiana -- and the plain white T-shirt he wore beneath it. He glanced down at Jackson's shiny new boots and then handed him the duffel bag containing all of his worldly possessions.
"Here you go, Rule. Don't forget to write," the guard said, and then snickered at his own joke.
Jackson took the bag, but the look he gave the guard silenced the man's chuckle. Then Jackson turned, squinting against the searing heat and the barely stirring, thick sultry air. He stared through the massive iron bars, waiting for the gates to swing open and give him his first unimpeded sight of Louisiana in almost half of his life.
When the gates began to move, Jackson's heart began to pound in rhythm to the movement, but he didn't take a step. Finally they stood ajar, and he moved through them as swiftly as he'd passed from his mother's body on the day he'd been born.
At thirty-one, Jackson Rule was birthed anew in the bright light of day. He had lost his youth inside the high walls of Angola State Penitentiary, but he had not lost himself.
Unfortunately, his sister, Molly, who was four years his senior, could not say the same. She was as lost as a woman could be. According to her doctors, who had been the source of Jackson's only outside contact for the entirety of his sentence, she went through the motions of living, but without truly participating. But it was to be expected. Nearly all of the patients in the New Orleans home where she lived were missing a few active brain cells.
Tunica, the city nearest the prison, was located just off the banks of the mighty Mississippi. If one looked carefully, remnants of the Old South and the grandeur it once stood for could be seen, but not on the dusty path that led to the bus stop. Louisiana dust coated Jackson's new boots with a dirty brown pall, and in honor of his arrival, the sickly breath of wind managed to lift the long hair hanging down the back of his neck. It whipped wildly in the wind like the wings of a hovering crow. So shiny. So black.
His expression was bland, but his mind was in turmoil. Now that the long-awaited day of his release was at hand, the memories that came with freedom were more than he'd bargained for. He tried, without success, to remember Molly in happier times, but he couldn't get past his last image of her, covered in the blood of their father and screaming until there was no breath left in her body.
Angry with the morbid thoughts, he lengthened his stride. When he finally looked up, he was at the bus stop. An empty bench beckoned. But Jackson had no intention of spending his first free minutes outside of the penitentiary on his ass. He had places to go and a sister to see. And as he thought of her again, he knew that theirs would not be a simple reunion.
Ah God, Molly, how can I let you see me like this? But there were no answers, and he expected none. He hadn't had a break since the day he'd been born.
When the bus finally arrived, Jackson walked up the steps to begin the first day of the rest of his life. There were two people on the bus, and neither one dared look him in the face. It was common knowledge that this particular bus stop was for inmates waiting to be transported back into free society.
Jackson didn't notice the other travelers' reticence, but if he had, it wouldn't have deterred him. He had a goal, and, so help him God, no one was going to stand in his way. The plan was a good one. But Jackson had been behind bars just long enough to forget how fate had a way of changing one's plans.
After spending long hours on Highway 61 South, staring at countryside he had almost forgotten existed, Jackson sighed as the bus pulled up to a small country store just outside of New Orleans to refuel. His stomach grumbled, and he remembered that he'd refused breakfast that morning. He'd had no intention of starting his first day of freedom with prison food in his belly. And then he looked out the window and got another dose of reality. If memory served, the bus had stopped only a mile or so from the place where he'd grown up. Impulsively, he changed his mind about riding into New Orleans in favor of a reunion of sorts.
Rebecca Hill's ten-year-old pickup truck was as hot as she felt. Her pink T-shirt was sticking to her body, and the needle on the temperature gauge was rocking in the red as she pulled up to Etienne's Country One- Stop ...
. Copyright © by Sharon Sala. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.