Home > Road to the Sun

Road to the Sun
Author: Keira Andrews

PROLOGUE

 

 

Harlan didn’t have to turn around to know it was her—he’d recognize Mary Beth’s nauseating giggle anywhere. In the week since she’d walked out, he hadn’t missed her at all. He was better off without that bitch nagging him all the time and sticking her big nose in his business.

The fluorescent light above the bank of refrigerators flickered restlessly, a low rattle echoing through the back of the roadside store. Harlan curled his fingers into the plastic holder of a six-pack of Bud cans. After a moment of debate in the snack aisle, he grabbed a bag of corn chips, a smirk curving his lips as he heard Mary Beth ask the cashier for a pack of smokes.

She’d come crawling back soon. She always did.

Turning toward the cash register, he stopped dead, staring at Dwayne. Dwayne had been his buddy since high school, when they used to pump iron and camp out in the woods, living off the land, practicing for when the world finally went completely to shit.

Now here was good ol’ Dwayne, with his shock of red hair and ugly freckles—and his arm around Harlan’s woman.

Mary Beth had been Harlan’s since they were kids, and Dwayne knew she was off limits. But here they were, giggling and whispering with their heads real close.

Just who in the hell did they think they were? They were making a fool of him. No one made a fool of Harlan Brown.

No one.

Ears buzzing with a hot rush of blood, Harlan watched them slide open the ice cream cooler by the counter. Why, they hadn’t even noticed him standing there. Like he was nothing. That little whore had gotten all she could out of him, and now she was making a spectacle of herself with Dwayne, of all people. Digging around for popsicles and laughing like they didn’t have a care in the fucking world.

The steel was cool in Harlan’s hand, trigger smooth against his finger. He’d carried the same pistol in his belt going on twenty years, and ain’t never used it for more than shooting cans off fence posts and putting the fear of God into anyone who sorely needed it.

Mary Beth rubbed herself against Dwayne, her peroxide curls bobbing. When the bullet slammed into her back, she wailed like a calf being branded, staggering against Dwayne and toppling him over. They collapsed on the floor in a heap, Mary Beth’s blood pouring out onto the dirty tile.

Dwayne stared at Harlan, his mouth open but no sound coming out, like a fish flopping on the bottom of a boat, eyes bugging. He shoved at Mary Beth as Harlan approached. Then he started to cry and beg—a sorry sight if ever there was one. Harlan put the bullet through Dwayne’s forehead to save the man’s dignity.

No one should go out crying like a little bitch.

From the corner of Harlan’s eye, he saw the cashier raise the rifle. Harlan was faster, and the man went down hard behind the counter. It was a damn shame—Harlan had no argument with him. Why did people have to go and make him do things he didn’t want to?

With his six-pack of beer under his arm, he returned to his Mustang and tore open the corn chips. The salty crunch was just what he’d been craving, but he belatedly wished he’d picked up some beef jerky too.

As he drove away down route five, distant sirens already echoed. Damn cashier must have tripped the silent alarm. Stupid fucker deserved to die.

Harlan sighed. They’d have his license plate from the surveillance camera before he could make it back to his trailer. Fucking technology. Good thing he always kept his gear in the car. He was prepared.

Harlan drove to his favorite spot out by the old quarry and finished his chips and beer, listening to the CB radio frequencies. Sure enough, soon they were talking about him, although they didn’t know his name yet.

Then a trucker with the call sign Big Papa piped up into a conversation. “My buddy’s a cop out there in Whitefish. The dead woman’s uncle is on the force and they’re out for blood. Said the unofficial order is shoot to kill the bastard. Apparently he was her ex, a loser by the name of Brown.”

As strangers chimed in with enthusiasm for this idea, Harlan crushed his last can. He’d just wanted a fucking quiet night.

He drove the car off the dirt road and hid it in a stand of thick trees. His rusty Mustang had been a good friend over the years. A man couldn’t ask for better. He ran his palm over the trunk and swallowed the lump in his throat. Bitterness roiled in his gut. God damn Mary Beth and Dwayne. Look at what they’d gone and done to him.

Harlan slung his bug-out bag over his shoulders and disappeared into the forest.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

Although he tried to burrow deeper into his sleeping bag, Jason Kellerman couldn’t escape the finger poking his side. He mumbled, “Five more minutes.”

“Dad, are you going to sleep all day?”

He pried open his eyes and peered up at his daughter’s round face and clear hazel eyes, her bobbed, golden hair grazing her chin. Groaning, he asked, “What time is it?”

She grabbed his phone from beside his sleeping bag and checked the screen. “It’s already six thirty-five.”

Jason groaned again. “Mags, this is supposed to be a vacation.”

“The sun has been up for almost a whole hour. I let you sleep in.”

“Oh, what a kind and generous daughter I’ve been blessed with.” He wasn’t sure how Maggie had ended up a morning person, but she’d woken with the sun since she was a toddler, and at eight years old, it didn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.

“I’ll make you breakfast. But you have to start a fire first.”

“Why did I ever agree to go camping?” Jason rubbed his face and yawned, the air mattress wobbling as he stretched out.

She put on a sing-songy voice. “Because you’re the bestest daddy in the whole wide world.” With that, Maggie pressed a kiss to his cheek and darted out of the tent, the flap left hanging open in her wake.

Jason smiled despite himself. Her sleeping bag was tidily zipped on her side of the small tent, her pillow tucked inside. He supposed she got her neatness and early bird enthusiasm from her mother, since it certainly hadn’t come from his genes. At the thought of Amy, the familiar twinge of guilt rippled through him.

Brushing it off as he did every day, he traded his plaid pajama bottoms and ratty T-shirt for jeans and a sweatshirt and crawled through the opening in their little tent. The sky was a clear blue above the treetops, white-capped mountains soaring high on the horizon. They called it Big Sky Country, and compared to Philly, Montana was a different planet. He breathed the clean air deeply.

“The wood’s ready, Dad.” Maggie fidgeted by the stack of logs and kindling she’d carefully piled, tugging on the hem of her purple hoodie. Her skinny legs stuck out of her too-short capri pants. At the rate she was growing, she’d need a whole new wardrobe to go back to school in September.

Jason’s stomach clenched. He’d spent too much money already on this trip, even with redeeming years of Air Miles. How was he going to afford more clothes and shoes? Maybe he should have put off the vacation until next summer and saved more first. But by the time he’d been eight, he’d already been to Europe, and Maggie hadn’t even been outside Pennsylvania. He had to give her everything she deserved—everything a good father would.

Looking at Maggie’s sweet face, he pushed the worry aside for later. “Good work, sweetheart. Where did you get the kindling?”

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