It was quiet in the truck.
The kind of quiet that made Trey know trouble was brewing. And if anyone knew trouble, it was he, Trey Sheenan, voted least likely to succeed (at anything legal, moral, or responsible) his senior year at Marietta High.
At eighteen, he’d been proud of his reputation. It’d been hard earned, with rides in the back of sheriff’s cars, visits to court, trips to juvenile hall, and later, extended stays at Montana’s delightful Pine Hills, where bad boys were sent to be sorted out. Reformed.
It hadn’t worked.
Trey Sheenan was so bad there was no sorting him out. Maybe back then he hadn’t wanted to be sorted out, and so he’d continued his wild ways, elevating trouble to an art form, growing from a hot-headed teenager with zero self-control, to a hot-headed man with questionable self-control.
Now at thirty-five, after four years in Montana’s correctional system, he was tired of trouble and sick of his reputation.
Just hours ago he’d been paroled, a whole year early. It’d come as a shock when the warden came to him early this morning, letting him know that he was being released today. Trey knew his brothers had been working on getting him released early for good behavior, as Trey had become a model inmate (at least after the first year), and the back bone of the prison system’s successful MCE Ranch, but he’d never imagined he’d be out now. In time for Christmas.
It gave him pause. Made him hope. Fueled his resolve to sort things out with McKenna.
He missed her and his boy TJ so much that he felt dead inside. But now he was out, coming home. Finally he had the opportunity to make things right.
“It was sure good to see you step outside those gates,” Troy said, breaking the silence.
Trey nodded, remembering the moment he’d spotted Troy standing outside the gates in front of his big black SUV. He’d nearly smiled. And then when Troy clapped him in a big hard bear hug, Trey’s eyes had stung.
It’d been a long time since he’d been hugged by anyone. A long time since he’d felt like anything, or anyone.
Prison had done the trick, breaking him down, hollowing him out, teaching him humility and gratitude.
Humility and gratitude, along with loneliness, shame and pain.
His dad had died while he was at Deer Lodge. He hadn’t been allowed to attend the funeral last March, either. Talk about pain.
He shifted ever so slightly in the passenger seat and flexed his right foot to ease the tension building inside of him, aware that Troy might not actually be looking at him, but he was keeping him in his peripheral vision. Smart. One didn’t let a Sheenan out of your sight. Especially not Trey the Dangerous. Trey the Destroyer. Hadn’t he even tattooed that on the inside of his bicep on his nineteenth birthday? What a joke he’d been.
What an ass he’d become.
“Should hit Bozeman in thirty minutes or so,” Troy said.
Trey said nothing.
“Want to stop for anything? Need anything?”
Trey shook his head. Silence descended. Troy ran a hand over his jaw. It really was too quiet in the truck, what with the volume down on the Sirius radio station, muffling the country songs, making the lyrics an annoying mumbo jumbo, so that the only other sound was the salted asphalt of the 90 beneath the tires, and the windshield wiper blades swishing back and forth, resolutely batting away the falling snow.
He itched to lean forward and turn up the radio volume, but it wasn’t his truck and he didn’t want to be demanding. He needed to prove to his family and community that he wasn’t the hot-head Sheenan that intimidated and destroyed, but protected. He was ready to show everyone who he really was. A solid, responsible man, a good man, who was committed to making things right.
And the first person he had to see was McKenna. He was dying to see her, and TJ. It’d been a long time since he’d seen, either. Two years and a month almost to the day. It was Thanksgiving weekend the last time he saw TJ. The boy was three. McKenna had been so very silent and sad, sad in a different way than he’d seen before. He hadn’t realized that would be their last visit. He hadn’t realized she’d decided then that she was through…
He winced at the hot lance of pain shooting through him.
It’d taken him a long time to process that she wasn’t coming back. In the beginning of his incarceration, she came every two weeks with the baby. And then gradually she came once a month and then every five to six weeks until that last trip for Thanksgiving when she never returned again.
He’d about lost his mind at Deer Lodge. He’d died in ways you couldn’t explain.
She wouldn’t write him back. She wouldn’t visit. She just…cut him out.
That’s when he truly suffered. That’s when prison became a living hell. He was trapped. Hostage. He couldn’t do anything about it but write and write and write…
He must have made a sound because Troy suddenly looked at him, brow creased. “You doing okay?”
Trey clamped his jaw tight and shoved all the worry and fear deep down into that tough hard heart of his and snapped the lid, locking it, containing it.
He wouldn’t let guilt and anxiety get the best of him.
He’d sort it out. Make it work. There was only one girl for him, one family, and that was McKenna and TJ.
But he had put her through hell. He was the first to admit that he’d done her wrong. She deserved everything but the pain and heartache he’d dished out…heartache and trouble he’d dished out in spades.
So he had one task: fix the mess he’d made of their lives.
Tonight, tomorrow, sometime this week after he’d cleaned up and calmed himself down, he was going to go to her and apologize for his stupid asinine immature self and beg her forgiveness and show her he was different. Changed.
She’d see that he’d finally grown up, and he was ready to be the husband she deserved.
Ready to be the father TJ needed and a real family at last.
A wedding, a honeymoon, more kids, the whole bit. He couldn’t wait, either.
“Worried about going home?” Troy asked, breaking the silence.
“No,” Trey said roughly, his voice a deep, raw rasp. He winced at the sound of his voice, but what did you expect? He hadn’t talked much the past four years. He’d never been a big communicator to start with, but prison just put the silent in him.
“Home for Christmas,” Troy said.
“Yeah.” And it would be nice. He’d missed the ranch. Marietta. Everyone.
But mostly he’d missed McKenna and his boy.
Just thinking about her and TJ made his gut burn, and his bones ache. Their memory was an ache that never went away.
He dug the heel of his foot into the floor and pressed his shoulder blades against the leather seat, pinning himself to the black leather.
Warden and his officers might think it was their excellent corrections program that turned him around, but it wasn’t the work program or the ranch, or the counseling. It was losing McKenna.
They’d been together for years, since high school. Well, they’d been together off and on for years, but in the months—or years–they were off, there had never been another woman he’d loved. Sure, he’d screwed a few. He was a Sheenan and Sheenans weren’t saints, but he’d never cheated on her when they were together.
He’d rather cut his dick off than betray his woman that way.
And then his conscience scraped and whispered, just like the windshield wiper blades working the glass.
You betrayed her in other ways, though.
The drinking. The fighting. The small bar fights. The big bar fights.
And finally, the afternoon at the Wolf Den that changed everything…
“You’ve been home for a few days now?” Trey asked, wanting to ask about McKenna and not sure how because Troy hadn’t brought her up, nor had he mentioned TJ, and Troy always talked about the five year old, wanting to keep Trey in the loop.
“What’s it like without Dad around?”
“Quiet.” Troy hesitated. “It’s just Dillon there, you know. I’m still dividing my time between San Francisco and Marietta, and when I am here, I’m usually at The Graff.”
“Things still good with your little librarian?”
“Wedding date set?”
“We’re talking February, maybe around Valentine’s Day since we were paired up for that ball. But things are kind of hairy at work and I’m honestly not sure a February wedding would be the best thing.”
“How hairy is hairy?”
“Got hit with a big lawsuit. It should sort out but its damn expensive and time consuming until then.”
“Then wait till it’s settled to marry. No sense being all stressed out over a wedding.”
“I agree.” Troy tapped his hand on the steering wheel and then exhaled. “There are some other things going on, too. Family things.” He shot a quick glance in Trey’s direction. “Dad was a real bastard when it came to mom.”
“That’s not news.”
“He had an affair with Bev Carrigan. A long affair.”
Trey said nothing.
Troy increased the speed on the windshield wipers. “Mom probably knew. Or found out.”
Trey had heard enough. He’d only just been out a couple hours. He wasn’t ready for family conflict and drama. “They’re all gone now, and the past is the past. Maybe it’s time to let sleeping dogs lie.”
“Except they’re not all gone, and it’s not just the past.” Troy flexed his hands against the steering wheel again. “Because there is something else going on—“
“No, but with Callan.” Troy shot him a swift glance, brow creased. “When her dad passed, he didn’t leave the place to her. Or any of them.”
“There’s some talk in town—just gossip at this point—that maybe he wasn’t their biological father—“
“Well, why didn’t he leave the Carrigan ranch to his kids?”
“I don’t know. But Callan must have been pretty broken up. She loves that place.”
Troy was silent a moment. “I think Dillon knows something, too, but he’s not saying.”
“Those two friends again?”
“More friendly than friends. While you were gone they became drinking buddies. Every Friday night you can find them at Grey’s, playing pool and shooting the shit.” Troy’s lips curved. “Dillon practically lives at Grey’s on the weekends.”
“He’s not driving back to the ranch drunk is he?”
“Usually he finds a warm bed in town, along with an even warmer woman.”
“Our Dillon is a player.”
“He’s certainly enjoying being a bachelor.”
“No little Sheenans on the way?”
“None that I’ve heard about.” Troy leaned forward, turned up the music and then halfway through the Martina McBride Christmas song turned it back down. “There’s something else I’ve got to tell you.”
Trey glanced warily at his brother. “Brock got cancer?”
“Um, no. Thank God.” He sighed. “But it’s not going to make you happy.”
Trey stiffened. “No?”
Trey held his breath.
“I didn’t know how to tell you, or when to tell you, but seeing as you’re out today, now, you’re going to need to know.” Troy’s eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened. “McKenna is getting married tomorrow.”
They drove another mile in deafening silence, snow pelting the car and windshield. Trey stared out the window blindly, seeing nothing of the Tobacco Root Mountains and Three Forks before them. Instead he fought wave after wave of nausea. McKenna getting married….McKenna marrying tomorrow…
His stomach rolled and heaved. He gave his head a sharp shake. This couldn’t be happening. He couldn’t lose her now, not after waiting four years to make things right.
“Hey, Troy. Pull over.” Trey’s deep voice dropped, cracked. “I’m going to be sick.”
End of Excerpt