Gansett After Dark

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Chapter 1

The creak of the rocking chair on the new wooden deck, the warm afternoon breeze off the ocean, the heat of the baby asleep on his chest and the bustle of the town he now called home soothed and calmed Owen Lawry. Along the newly painted white porch rail were flower boxes containing the pink, lavender and white impatiens Laura had nurtured all summer.

Every square inch of the Sand & Surf Hotel had been renovated in the last year, leaving the scents of sawdust and fresh paint behind. They’d been operating at full capacity since Memorial Day, and it was indeed thrilling to see the hotel open and once again full of happy visitors.

Almost a year ago, Owen had stood on this same deck and watched the last ferry depart on Columbus Day. It had felt symbolic then. With that ferry went his old life as a footloose and fancy-free troubadour, traveling from gig to gig, following the seasons and the work.

He’d stayed that day. He’d stayed because of Laura. He’d stayed because he could no longer imagine a day—hell, an hour—without her. And he’d never regretted it. Not for one second. Her son, Holden, the child they were raising together even though another man had fathered him, was now as much Owen’s as he was Laura’s. Earlier in the summer, they’d been surprised to learn they were expecting twins together. He who had never wanted the constraints of commitment or marriage or family was now as committed as any man could be, and he’d never been happier as their wedding date got closer with every passing day.

Just one thing stood between him and the future he wanted so desperately with Laura, Holden and the twins—his father’s trial. The thought of seeing his father again for the first time in more than a decade made Owen feel sick and anxious and fearful, as if he were still a five-year-old who couldn’t figure out what he’d done to stir his father’s wrath.

In a few days, he and Laura, his mother and Laura’s father, along with several friends who would be testifying, would depart Gansett on the ferry and travel to Virginia for the trial. Frank was coming to help out with Holden while they were in court. Owen didn’t want Laura to come, but she insisted on being there for him. He hated the thought of her sitting in the courtroom listening to the nightmare that had been his life in vivid detail that would shock and horrify her.

But he would’ve done the same for her. He would’ve insisted on being there, even if she didn’t want him to come.

The screen door opened, and Owen glanced over his shoulder as his mother came toward him.

“I was wondering where you guys had gotten off to,” Sarah Lawry said as she sat in the rocker next to them. She tucked her chin-length blonde hair behind her ear. “Is he asleep?”

“Out cold.”

“You could put him in his crib, you know,” she said in a teasing tone.

“I much prefer this.” Holden’s wispy dark hair brushed against Owen’s chin, so soft it felt like an angel’s wings.

“I always did, too.”

Owen looked over at her. “Are you going to talk to Charlie before we leave?”

“I’m having dinner with him tonight.”

“Will you tell him where we’re going and why?”

“I want to. I need to. I know I do. It’s just… It’s hard to talk about.”

“He deserves to know, Mom. He’s been an amazing friend to you for months now.” Owen directed his gaze toward the ferry coming toward the breakwater, bringing another group of tourists to the island. This time of year, the ferries came and went all day and well into the night. “Think of it this way. You’ll be talking about it a lot in the next week or so. May as well get it all over with at once so you never have to talk about it again.”

“You make good points, and I’m going to try tonight. That’s the best I can do.”

“I’ll tell him if you want me to.”

“That’s very generous of you, but it needs to come from me. I owe him that much.”

“I’m still trying to figure out a way to talk Laura out of coming with us.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen. She’s quite determined.”

“I know.”

His mother reached over to put her hand on his arm. “She loves you, Owen. She wants to support you through this. You have to let her.”

“I know that, too. What will you say when Charlie tells you he loves you and wants to support you through it?”

“That’s different. We aren’t engaged or having children together, and he doesn’t love me. Not like Laura loves you.”

“If that’s what you think, you haven’t been paying attention to the way he looks at you. Love is love, Mom. You need to be prepared for him to want to come.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Owen saw his mother shudder at the thought of Charlie coming with them to Virginia.

“I talked to John today,” he said of his brother who worked as a police officer in Tennessee. “He can’t make it next week or to the wedding. They have two guys out on medical leave, so he can’t get the time off. He said to tell you he’s sorry.”

“So… That leaves just us, huh?”

All of Owen’s six siblings had called in the last week to tell him they couldn’t make it to the trial for one reason or another. For most of them it had come down to a choice—go to the trial or come to Gansett for his wedding. Not surprisingly, most of them had chosen option B.

“It’s all right. Between the two of us, we’ll get the job done.” The only thing that mattered at the end of the day was seeing his father put away for a long time for the abuse he’d inflicted on his wife and children for decades, culminating in the vicious beating that had brought Sarah to Gansett last fall to recover. She’d stayed ever since and had been instrumental in helping him and Laura run the Sand & Surf Hotel and care for Holden, too.

“I don’t know what I’d ever do without you, Owen. You and I… We’ve traveled a long road together.”

“I was just thinking how Laura and I never would’ve gotten through the last year without you here to help us.”

The comment drew a smile from his mother. He’d never seen her so happy or so at peace and hated the thought of the trial disrupting the hard-won peace for either of them. “Despite everything that brought me here, this year has been one of the best of my life. With some time and perspective, I can’t believe I ever lived the way I did for as long as I did.”

“That’s over now. One more hurdle to clear and you’re free.”

“Two hurdles. Still waiting on the divorce, too. Naturally, your father is stonewalling the entire process.”

“Of course he is.”

“I wish I could’ve been there when his lawyer informed him that he has to pay half his pension to me every month.”

Owen grunted out a laugh. “You earned every dime of it and then some. Besides, he’ll be getting his three hots and a cot from the Commonwealth of Virginia for the foreseeable future. He won’t have much need for his pension.”

“What if he’s not convicted?” Sarah asked, her brows furrowing with worry.

“He will be. There’s no way he’s going to walk with all the evidence we have piled up against him. David, Blaine and Slim will all be there to testify about your condition and injuries when you got here last October. It’s a slam dunk.”

“Except none of them can testify to the fact that they saw your father beat me.”

“That’s where I come in. I’ll testify that I saw him repeatedly beat you. We’ll get him, Mom. Try not to worry.”

“What I really worry about is what’ll happen if we don’t get him. He’ll come after me, and we’ll all be in danger.”

“He won’t come near you. No matter what happens in the trial, you’ll still have a restraining order that keeps him far away from you.”

“I hate the idea of seeing him again. I know you must feel the same way. It’s been a long time.”

“Not long enough, but I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure he can never lay a hand on you or anyone else ever again.” Despite his intense desire to keep his emotions out of the equation, his voice wavered on those last words.

“Owen…”

“I look at him, you know?” Gazing down at the baby he loved with everything he had, Owen ran his hand over Holden’s back. “He trusts me implicitly. He trusts me enough to fall asleep in my arms because he already knows I’d never let anything happen to him. How does anyone violate that kind of trust and hurt a child who depends on them for everything? How does a man become that kind of monster?”

“I don’t know,” Sarah said with a weary sigh. “I’ll never understand how that happens. And you’ll never know how much I regret the way you grew up, the sacrifices you made for all of us.”

“I have no regrets, because everything that happened led me to exactly where I belong—and it led you to where you belong, too.”

Holden squirmed in his arms but didn’t wake up.

“I’m going to walk him upstairs.” Owen stood, balancing the baby carefully. “Talk to Charlie, Mom. Let him in. You won’t be sorry you did.”

“Even if he insists on coming with us?”

“Especially then.”

She smiled up at him. “You’re a son any mother would be proud to call her own.”

“It’s all thanks to you. We don’t give the sperm donor any credit.”

Sarah laughed the way he hoped she would. “No, we don’t.”

“Have a good time tonight. I’ll see you later.”

“See you.”

Owen left his mother rocking on the front porch and stepped into the cool lobby, where one of the young women they’d hired to help during the summer managed the front desk. She smiled at him as he went by with Holden.

He went up the stairs to the third-floor apartment he shared with Laura and Holden. They were going to have to find a bigger place before the two new babies arrived early next year, but for now, their rooms at the hotel suited them. In truth, Owen would be sad to move out of the apartment where he’d fallen in love with Laura and lived so happily with her and Holden.

He used his key in the door and moved quietly inside the apartment, where Laura was enjoying an afternoon nap. She’d been so tired during her first trimester with the twins. As with Holden, she’d also suffered from horrible morning sickness that tended to go on for most of the day. That was another reason Owen wanted her to stay home when he went to Virginia.

Owen deposited Holden into his crib and pulled the lightweight blanket over him that his mother had crocheted. Sarah fussed over the baby like a proud grandmother. It didn’t matter to her, any more than it mattered to Owen, that another man had fathered him. Holden was his, and he was Sarah’s, too. There was nothing either of them wouldn’t do for him.

Before he left the baby to sleep, Owen bent over the crib to kiss his soft head. Closing the door behind him, he went into the bedroom he shared with Laura, who was curled up on her side, her blonde hair spread out on the pillow. Moving slowly so he wouldn’t disturb her, he stretched out next to her on the bed and tried to force himself to relax. However, relaxation of any kind would be all but impossible until they got through the trial that had been hanging over them for almost a year now.

He tried not to think about the worst-case scenario—that his father might actually be acquitted. But even if that unlikely outcome occurred, at least his mother had finally left him once and for all. Owen and his siblings had spent years pleading with her to leave, but she had always gone back—until this most recent blowup, after which she had finally ended the marriage for good. His father was now out of all their lives, or he would be before much longer.

Without opening her eyes, Laura reached out to him, her hand landing on his chest. “What’s on your mind?”

“Nothing much. Just taking a break next to my favorite girl.”

Her lips curved into a small smile. “I’m a ball of laughs lately. If I’m not puking, I’m sleeping.”

Since she was awake, he reached for her and brought her into his embrace, her head resting on his chest. “I’ll take you any way I can get you.”

“Love truly is blind.”

“I love you so much, Laura. You can’t possibly know how much.”

Her eyes opened and zeroed in on his face. “What’s wrong?”

“You think something’s wrong because I told you how much I love you?”

“It’s more the way you said it, as if you’re worried I don’t know. So tell me what’s wrong.”

Owen knew it was probably pointless to try to talk her out of coming with them, but he felt he needed to try again anyway. “I wish you weren’t coming to Virginia.” He paused before he added, “That didn’t come out the way I intended it to. You know I want you with me no matter where I am. It’s just this time… The thought of you hearing all that…”

Laura raised herself up so she could see his face. “Are you afraid it might change how I feel about you if I hear the dirty details about your father?”

“Maybe.”

“It won’t.” She kissed him and gazed down at him with love in her eyes. “Please don’t ask me to let you go through this by yourself. You did it alone for thirty-four years. You’re not alone anymore.”

Her sweet words brought tears to his eyes. In his wildest imagination, he never could’ve dreamed of the life or the love he’d found with her. Trying to contain the flood of emotion that wanted out, he closed his eyes tightly. He didn’t want to be this guy—the one who was laid low by childhood demons he should’ve conquered long ago.

Determined to power through it the way he always did, he settled her gently back on her pillow and sat up. “My mom’s going out with Charlie tonight. Why don’t we take dinner down to the beach and let Holden get dirty?”

Laura looked at him intently before she nodded in agreement. “Sure, that sounds like fun.”

He leaned over to kiss her. “I’ll go to the store and get something for dinner. Be right back.” Owen left the apartment feeling like he’d dodged an emotional bullet. He knew she was only trying to help him, but her sweetness and desire to help made him feel raw and unable to face the firestorm that lay ahead of him. Somehow he had to find a way to talk her out of coming with them, and he only had a few days left in which to do it.

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ISBN
E-Book: 978-0991418220
Print: 978-0991418237