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Caveman
Author: Jo Raven

Chapter One

 

 

Matt

 


There’s a bright, warm place men call home. I searched for it all my life. Thought I’d found it. Let myself roll in the warmth, believe I had reached my destination.

But it was snatched away from me.

So here I am now, standing in the early morning, staring at nothing. The house is big, the town small, a smattering of houses and trees scattered on the plain. The low porch overlooks the overgrown garden, and I gaze at it blindly, not quite sure how I got here. Maybe… through a dark, winding tunnel.

Over a deep, cold sea.

Along a long road going nowhere.

It couldn’t matter less. I’d never heard of Destiny, Missouri, in my life, and that was good enough a reason for me when I grabbed my two kids, stuffed everything I own in my truck, and drove down here.

Maybe it was the name. So fucking symbolic.

So here I am.

Nowhere.

I don’t know what I was looking for, or running from. The beginning and the end of the road are covered in mist. Everything is hazy. I feel as if I’ve been running for ages. Centuries, maybe.

I ran from my memories. I ran from the past. Then I ran from myself, and I still haven’t stopped. How can I? How do you escape what you’ve turned into?

Don’t be so fucking melodramatic, I tell myself.

But when a woman walking a small dog on the other side of the street lifts her hand in greeting, I freeze, stilling even more, until I might as well have turned to stone.

Eventually I step back, into the dimness of the house.

Might as well stop thinking useless thoughts and unpack. Settle in. Make sure the kids are all right.

I find them curled on the old sofa that came with the house, playing with Mary’s toys. Cole is solemnly imitating Mary’s actions—making the Barbie doll in his hand hop on the cushion between them.

Then he throws the doll to the floor and claps his hands.

Mary screams and shoves him.

Motherfucking hell.

I catch him before he topples over and lift him on my hip. A tremor is starting in my body, even though I’m holding him and he’s safe. I fight it, I always fight the way my body reacts to this deep fear, and it’s taking all I have not to let it show.

“He threw my toys!” she wails, pointing a grubby little finger at Cole who is sitting stiffly in my arms, his mouth downturned. “He always destroys my stuff. And I hate my bedroom. You said—”

“Mary,” I growl. “Stop.”

“But…” Her lower lip trembles, and her chocolate eyes fill with tears.

Fear mingles with guilt and anger, twisting into a heavy knot of rusty metal in my chest.

I should do something. Say something. But I don’t know what. Don’t kill your brother? Don’t wail like a mini banshee?

Don’t look at me as if I’ve shattered your world?

I set Cole down because my chest feels too tight, and my head is pounding too hard, trying to figure out a way to comfort them both. Not something I’ve had to do in years.

Taking care of others.

Not since the ground crumbled under my feet, taking me with it, into a pit so deep I couldn’t see the light.

And now you can?

Predictably, before I find the words or even move toward her, my five-year-old daughter climbs off the sofa and scampers out of the room, sniffling and sobbing.

Followed closely by three-year-old Cole.

What the hell am I doing here? How can I take care of them?

Love them, I hear a familiar voice in my mind and close my eyes in pain. Love them, Matt.

Of course I love them. They’re my heart’s blood. My own. There was never any doubt about that, not for me.

I shake my head, shake her voice loose, because she isn’t here, but I am.

And I won’t let myself sink into that bottomless black hole again. Not this time. I’m here to break with the past. To escape it once and for all. Remember who I was once.

I can feel it in my bones that it’s my last fucking chance…

 

“Jasper wants to talk to you first, face to face,” the guy on the phone tells me in a deep bass voice, “but I’ll be straight with you: the job is as good as yours already, and Jasper will pay extra to have you. Qualified mechanics are hard to come by around here.”

I blink. Didn’t expect to find a job so soon. This is good news, but I can’t find any joy in me, no matter how hard I search.

I also don’t know if I’m supposed to say anything in the stretching silence.

“All right,” the guy says finally, giving up on getting a reaction from me. Maybe he’s used to antisocial mechanics. “The shop opens at nine. Be here half an hour earlier.”

“Fine,” I mutter, just as a crash comes from upstairs.

My heart jolts. I drop the phone.

Fuck.

I stride to the stairs and take them two at a time, my fucking heart in my throat. “Mary! Cole!”

Cole is crying, and the sound twists something inside my chest, something that’s been twisted tight for years. Mary is shouting, but I can’t make out words as I pound up the last steps and run to their room.

I burst inside and stop, panting, when I see them both sitting on the floor, the shards of a mug and a dismembered doll between them.

Shaking my head, I bend over to catch my breath for a second. Fucking hell. We’ve only just arrived, and this is my second almost heart attack of the day.

And the day is still young.

One thing becomes clear to me as I crouch down to gather the jagged pieces of ceramic before either of them gets hurt—and where did they get the mug from?—to make sure they aren’t bleeding:

I need to find a nanny.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

Octavia

 


“He won’t give you the job, Tati,” my sister says. “No way, no how.”

“You don’t know that. Also, why are you here and not at school?”

I’m leaning against the post of the bus stop across from our house, dressed in a knee-length black dress and high-heeled pumps, my hair pulled back, my lipstick a sheer gloss. Not dressed to kill, but to land a job, a job my sister Gigi has decided I won’t get.

Well, gee, thanks for the vote of confidence, Little Sis.

“I’m getting a ride,” she says airily, waving a hand. Her nails are done a different color each, peeking from her black fingerless gloves, and I detect a new blue streak in her hair. Mom will have a fit.

“With whom?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” She bats her lashes at me.

“Same guy as two days ago? Big nose, droopy ears, acne craters across his forehead?”

She stomps her foot, grinning. “Stop it. He’s not like that.”

Yeah, that’s true, he’s not. He’s actually quite good looking. “Quasimodo, was it? The guy’s name?”

She giggles.

Gigi has the whole Harley Quinn vibe going on. She is the prettier of the two of us, the flirty one, the funny one. The sexy one. Just one year younger than me, she’s less my sister and more my best friend. Guys tend to fall in love with her all the time.

Most of the time she doesn’t even pretend to notice them.

Then I spot someone walking our way and sigh. “What about Merc?”

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