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Split
Author:J.B. Salsbury

The engine cuts off and my dad studies my truck in confusion. He must see me move from the corner of his eye, because his glare snaps to mine. I hold up one hand, maybe a wave, maybe an alien “I come in peace” greeting, which would make sense judging by the scrutiny of his cold stare.

His eyebrows drop low and he opens the door, swinging out his long, denim-clad legs tipped with massive steel-toe work boots. He leans back against his truck, arms crossed over his chest.

No welcome-home smile, arms open in acceptance? No, in typical mountain-man style, Nash Jennings is not going down without a fight. Shit.

I drop heavy footsteps down the stairs. “Hey, Dad.”

“Shy. Everything okay?” As hard as he is, I detect the edge of worry in his voice.

My dad never has responded well to subtlety, and I agree it’s a waste of time. “Lost my job.”

He remains stoic, not giving away an ounce of what he’s feeling. “This visit, it temporary?” Translation: How long till you take off running again?

I close a few feet of distance between us but stay at arm’s length. I hope he sees it as me being brave, standing on my own, rather than the buffer zone I need to keep from throwing myself at his mercy.

Fact is, I’m desperate. And, hell, I miss having someone to lean on. Trevor was okay, but it’s hard to lean on a man who’s more concerned about me crinkling his New York Times.

“I don’t know. I’m broke, don’t have anywhere else to go.” I shrug one shoulder and dig the toe of my white Ked into the dirt. “Thought maybe you’d give me a place to stay while I get on my feet.” So much for my tough-girl speech. One look from my old man and I’m back to being sixteen years old.

His glare tightens, making his pale blue eyes even more daunting. “Then what?”

“Try to get back into broadcasting, I guess. If I can find someone who’ll hire me.”

He scratches his jaw and the corner of his lip curls into a half-smile. “Who’d you piss off, Shy?”

Only my dad would find my highly sensitive temper funny. “Everyone, basically.”

“Shit, can’t say I’m surprised.” He dips his chin and rubs the back of his neck, but I can see the curl of his lips is still there.

“Gee. Thanks, Dad.” Salt in the wound, the old Jennings way. Man up or shut up.

A small chuckle rumbles in his chest before he pulls it together and pierces me with a glare. “What the hell are you wearin’?”

I peek down at my khaki capris complete with cuffs that hit me midcalf and the mint-green polo shirt that makes me hungry for butter mints. “Only thing I got.”

“Haven’t touched your room since you left. All your clothes are still there.” He motions to my feet. “Don’t wanna get your purdy shoes dirty slummin’ out here with the rednecks.”

Back for all of three minutes and he’s already picking a fight. I hold on to the growl and string of powerful words that itch for release and submit with a nod.

“The house is unlocked. Supper’s at seven.” He pushes off the truck and moves past me.

That was fairly painless. No dragging me back through the night I left for college, reminding me of all the shitty and unforgiveable things I said, no throwing in my face all the promises I’d made to cut him out of my life completely. Nothing.

“That’s it?”

He stops and peers over his shoulder. “You’re my daughter, aren’t you?”

I don’t answer since I obviously am.

“What kind of man turns away his daughter?”

My eyes flood with heat and if I were the crying type I’d probably shed a tear. But I’m not.

“Besides . . . knew you’d be back,” he mumbles as he moves to the door.

My spine snaps straight and an uncontrollable, and rather pathetic, growl gargles in my throat. My dad’s answering chuckle works to further infuriate me.

“G’on now. Go unload. We’ll talk more tonight.” The door to his office slams behind him and I stomp my foot so hard pain shoots up my leg.

Arrogant, hardheaded, bossy . . . ugh!

I march back to my car, but rather than follow Dad’s orders, I drive around for another hour exercising my free will. Yeah, it’s a waste of gas. It’s also irresponsible because I have no money, but I do it all smiling.

Everyone else in this town might bend to the will of Nash Jennings. Not me.





THREE



LUCAS


I run my fingertips along the grain of the near hundred-year-old wood. The rich, dark patina speaks of seasons upon seasons of life. Snow, rain, and sun have all contributed to the dense color that will soon lend its personality to a modern home.

This old pine was probably harvested from the acres of wooded land surrounding this homestead. On three acres there are five different structures: the main house, which is gone except for the old stone fireplace, stands like a tombstone and four small structures probably housed the Wilson’s adult children.

Cody presses both hands against the exterior wall of one of the smaller cabins and it creaks, then sways. “Shouldn’t be too hard to knock down.”