The Storm, A Berry Springs Novel, Book #3 by Amanda McKinney
The wind shifted, sweeping the black smoke across his face and coating his body like a hot, suffocating blanket. Dean’s tired eyes began to water as he took a few steps back and turned away. The blaze from the brush fire heated his back, but he knew it was going to take a hell of a lot more than that to thaw out his insides. Underneath his gloves, his fingers were stiff, his knees, his legs, hell, his whole body was stiff from the cold. Not that he cared much. This was his land, and he intended to do whatever was necessary to take care of all two hundred acres of it.
As quickly as it had shifted toward him, the wind changed directions again, guiding the smoke away. He inhaled deeply, hoping to clear some of the pollution from his lungs.
He turned back to the fire, the heat stinging his dry face. The flames had increased with the wind; flicking and dancing against the dark sky, where the sun had just set. The horses took notice of the heat and took a few steps back, dipping their heads and fading into the background.
“Well, son, I think it’s about time for this.”
He turned and grinned at the flask in his father’s hand.
“Thought you’d never ask.”
Dean pulled off his gloves, unscrewed the silver cap and took a deep sip. Whiskey. Good ol’ whiskey—a dear friend that never let him down. He welcomed the burn down his throat as he handed the flask back to his father, who promptly took a swig.
He took a deep breath, tipped his head up to look at the sky. The stars were beginning to twinkle and the new moon was just showing its crest.
“We’ll let this one burn out and call it a night.” His father took another sip.
Dean nodded, gazing at the fire. A moment ticked by as he felt the stare of his father at his back.
“You know, son, it’s okay to be upset.”
Dean looked down for a split-second then looked back up, saying nothing.
“I’m here to listen if you need to talk.”
The fire crackled and hissed in front of him.
“There’s nothing to say, Dad. She left me for my best friend, that’s about it.”
“Your best friend since preschool.”
Dean’s shoulders tensed.
His father stepped closer and handed him the flask. “Women . . . women are a mystery that men will never, ever understand. They come and go, each relationship serving its own purpose . . . although, it might take years to understand what that exact purpose was.” He paused and then continued, “And then one day, you’re going to meet the one, and the second you see her it’s going to be like a dagger piercing through your heart. You’ll forget your name, all your pride, and she’ll be the only thing that matters to you.”
Dean took the flask, sipped and handed it back.
“You’ll know it in your gut, son. You’ll know when she’s the right one.”
He swallowed the knot in his throat and nodded. After a minute, he said, “Was that how it was with Mom?”
“Yes, sir. Right down to the dagger in my heart.”
He smiled. “It’ll be forty-three years tomorrow, right?”
“Yep.” His father looked past the fire to the house sitting on the horizon. “I’m the luckiest bastard on earth.” He looked back at Dean. “And, not just because of her, you know. Because of you.”
Dean looked over, surprised at the sudden outflow of emotions from his usually stoic father.
“The day you were born . . . my whole life changed. You gave me purpose. And a bond, an unbreakable bond that made me a better man. You’ve grown up to be one hell of a man and I’m proud of you, son. I couldn’t be prouder to be your daddy.” His voice cracked and Dean swore his saw the reflection of tears in his father’s eyes. “Anyway, I love you son, I just want to make sure you know, and that’s that.” He cleared his throat. “Alright, I don’t know where the hell that came from. Just . . . don’t let some girl drag you down. Chin up.” He slapped Dean on the back, immediately shifting back to the emotionless man that Dean held on a pedestal.
“Thanks, Dad.” He smiled, unsure how to react, and took the flask from his father.
“I’m going to go close the back fence, you stay here with the fire.”
“You sure you don’t want me to come? We can do a quick perimeter check. Together.”
His father mounted his horse and settled into the saddle. “You mean, make sure those assholes aren’t trespassing again tonight? And stealing our damn horses?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that, I’ve got ol’ trusty with me tonight.” He reached underneath his jacket and patted the pistol on his belt.
Dean laughed. “Don’t go out in a blaze of glory, Dad.”
His father grinned, pulled the horse’s bridal and set off. Over his shoulder he yelled, “Be back in fifteen.”
As the outline of his father faded into the darkness, Dean reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. He clicked it on and squinted as the bright light shot like a beam through the darkness.
No call. No text.
He turned it off, slid it back into his pocket and was suddenly disgusted with how much he cared about a girl he’d only been dating a handful of months.
His father was right. Women come and go, and he’ll know when it’s the right one.
He shook his head, embarrassed with himself. He wasn’t going to waste another second brooding about some chick who obviously never gave a shit about him anyway. And his buddy? Well that son of a bitch can go to hell for all he cared. Honestly, he didn’t know who he was more upset with, his cheating girlfriend or his backstabbing best friend.
He took another swing of whiskey.
Whiskey always helps—wise words from his dad.
Sweat began to moisten the T-shirt under his coat and he took a few steps back. The fire was raging now; it’d be at least a few hours before it burned down. He bent down to pick up a stick when he heard voices in the distance.
His head snapped up. A tingle shot up his spine.
His eyes widened as he looked toward the shouts, into the darkness.
What the hell?
He tossed the stick and jogged over to his horse and jumped on.
“Come on, Dusty.” He pulled the reigns when—
His heart stopped.
“Go Dusty!” He dug his heels into the horse’s side and took off like a bullet. His pulse raced as he grabbed the pistol from his belt. The cold air whipped past him as Dusty sliced through the dark night.
He strained to listen, but the night had gone silent. No more shots, no more shouting.
Panic began to bubble up.
He flapped the reigns. “Come on buddy, go.”
Dammit, it was dark.
Dark as hell.
Finally, up ahead, he spotted something running toward him—his father’s horse . . . and his father wasn’t on him.
Dean slowed Dusty and opened his arms as the horse drew closer.
“Whoa girl, whoa!”
The mare bolted past him, spooked by the commotion.
As Dean neared the back fence, his eyes darted around the landscape. He could barely make out the fence line, and just beyond the posts were thick woods that looked like one black mass in the dark night.
He slowed the horse to a walk.
“Dad?” He cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled, “Dad?”
Dread filled him as the seconds ticked on.
Suddenly, the outline of something laying in the field came into view.
His stomach dropped. Oh God, no.
He jumped off his horse and pushed into a jog. The sounds of the night were replaced by a buzzing in his ears. With each step, his heart pounded harder. His legs, suddenly weightless. The world around him became blurry as the lump began to take shape.
He dropped to his knees.
Panic seized him as he carefully flipped his father’s body over.
His breath stopped.
His heart stopped.
He looked down at his father’s lifeless eyes, and the blood trickling from the bullet hole in the center of his forehead.
Adrenaline flooded his veins, his whole body began to tremble.
No, no. His father wasn’t dead. This wasn’t happening. He was in a bad dream, a horrible nightmare.
No, his father wasn’t dead. His hero couldn’t be dead. Heroes don’t die, right?
He leaned in. “Okay, Dad, you’re going to be okay.” Tears streamed down his face. “Okay, Dad? You’ll be okay, okay? Don’t give up, Dad.”
He positioned himself over his father’s motionless body and began CPR.
“Dad,” he sobbed, “Come on, Dad.”
His tears wet his father’s face as he pounded on his chest, knowing that it was pointless.
Finally, he stopped and looked down at the body of his father. His hero.
His dad was dead.
His dad had been murdered.
Rage shot like electricity through his veins.
Eyes wild, jaw clenched, he slowly stood and looked toward the dark woods. The ice-cold rage vibrated through his body as he raised his gun and began walking to the fence line.
A mad fury exploded through him, and he released a scream that carried through the wind like a crazed animal as he emptied fifteen rounds into the darkness.