Shake The Frost-Excerpt
Book Six : A Crystal Lake Novel
Ethan Caldwell had been drunk for twenty-four hours, but he wasn’t so far gone not to know it was a bad idea to keep going. Damn, he thought blinking slowly as he stared up at the ceiling. Bleary eyed, he rolled off of the beat up and ratty sofa in his shop and groaned as sunlight filtered through the smudged and dirty windows to hit him square in the face.
He ran a hand over three days’ worth of hair on his chin as he sat back on his haunches and looked around. Several empty bottles of tequila stared back at him from where they lay scattered around the room, and the one on the workbench was half gone.
“Jesus,” he muttered. No wonder he felt like shit.
With some effort he pulled his ass up off the floor and took a moment to roll his neck and stretch out his arms and legs. He was stiff from the sofa, which was nothing more than threadbare, moth eaten material pulled over old, pointy springs, and at the moment felt at least ten years older than the thirty-three that he was. The old clock on the wall told him he was already two steps behind on his day and he gave himself one last mental shake in an effort to clear the cobwebs.
Coffee, he thought, that would do the trick. He yanked open the door of his shop and was immediately hit with a blast of cold wind off the lake. It was late October and he smelled winter in the air. A half smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as he headed down the path through the pine, oak and birch trees surrounded his house. Not that he cared about much, but winter brought with it long days of silence and no visitors. When the heavy snows came to this part of Michigan, it generally meant the trip from town out to his corner of the lake was too much for most sane folks. And that meant Ethan could work on his bikes in peace and not worry about offending anyone with his dark, twisted, pissed off attitude. Which given the crap state of his life wasn’t changing anytime soon.
In the last few years he’d managed to alienate himself from most everyone except the diehards. His mother and father, his sister Georgie, and, he scowled and shook his head, Emily Davenport. Though, truthfully after the last time Emily had stopped by, he was pretty sure she’d finally written him off for good. He’d said some mean and nasty things to her, and she’d fired some of the same right back at him. The difference being that Ethan deserved every bad thing she tossed his way.
That had been one hot summer night in August, and he hadn’t seen or talked to her since.
He supposed that was a good thing because bastard that he was, he couldn’t seem to help himself where she was concerned. She brought out the worst in him. Had him digging into things he wanted to forget. Feelings he didn’t want to explore. He knew she was better off without him in her life because as long as he drew air in his lungs he’d never be able to go back to the way things were between them. Back before Rick’s accident. Back before that night three months ago when his betrayal of Rick stung hard and punched him in the gut with such force he still felt the pain burn under his skin. A night when up was down, black was white, and wrong was so damn right.
And yesterday had been Rick’s birthday.
Ethan paused for a moment. He closed his eyes and let his head roll back. The heat of the sun cut through the brisk air and warmed his face, though it wasn’t strong enough to penetrate skin and bone. No way could it reach his black heart. He was still as cold as the arctic inside and with a curse, he yanked open the door to his house and headed for kitchen. He needed to get his shit together because he had a custom order to finish up and then maybe he’d empty that last bottle of tequila.
He put on a fresh pot of coffee and stripped off his clothes, tossing them onto his bed before heading into the shower while it brewed. He had no idea how long he stood under the hot spray, but it was long enough for the water to run cold and make his teeth chatter. Eventually he stepped out and secured a towel around his waist before brushing his teeth to wash away the taste of tequila.
His head still pounded so he popped a couple of pain pills and downed two big glasses of water before he headed to the kitchen. The coffee would help. At least he hoped as much. He’d just poured himself a generous mug of hot, black liquid when his cell pinged. He scooped it off the counter and leaned his hip there as he glanced down at the device.
It was his mother. Fuck. Me.
With a sigh he tried his best to sound as normal as possible and picked up. He owed her that much, because without a doubt he was in trouble for something.
“Hey, Mom,” he managed to say, the greeting sliding past the grit that sat like stones at the back of his throat.
“You missed dinner last night.”
Ethan grimaced and had to think hard on what the actual fuck day it was. He glanced at the calendar on his phone. Monday. Shit. Sunday was family day, something his mother took seriously.
“I made roast beef with brown sugar carrots and mashed potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. All your favorites.” A pause. “You promised you’d come Ethan. We all knew this would be a hard weekend for you and I wanted you home with us and you…” Her voice broke and if the floor could have opened up and taken him down Ethan would have gladly welcomed that. “You promised,” she said.
“Mom,” he began, but his mother caught some wind and steamrolled over him like a damn freight train so he gave up. Besides, he deserved whatever the hell she was sending his way.
“Don’t Mom, me. Your father and your sister and I waited for nearly two hours. I called you at least four times and we almost drove out to the lake because we were so damn worried about you. But then I realized something, Ethan.”
There was silence and Ethan wasn’t sure if he should respond. He cleared his throat in an effort to get rid of all that grit and was about to apologize, something he’d done so much he should be better at it, when she spoke, her voice tremulous and thick.
“I realized that I can’t do it anymore. I can’t sit and wait and hope and pray for my son to come back to me.”
“Mom,” he said as gently as he could, pushing the words past that damn lump. “Come on. I missed a family dinner.”
“You’ve missed more than one.”
“I’ve been busy is all.” It was lame and he grimaced as soon as the words fell from his lips.
“You’ve been busy disappearing from life and I’m done watching it happen. I can’t do it anymore. I want you to pay close attention to what I’m about to say, Ethan Robert Caldwell. Are you listening?”
He felt like he was five again. “Yeah,” he replied roughly.
“Rick Davenport was injured in that awful accident all those years ago. Not you.” Her voice grew stronger, even as Ethan shrank inside. “Rick Davenport laid in that hospital bed for years, existing in some in-between world, which is sad and tragic, but it wasn’t you. It was Rick Davenport who died nearly six months ago. Not you.”
It should have been me. He mouthed the words, a mantra really, but didn’t say them out loud.
“Mom, I’m sorry. I just…”
Just what? Truthfully, he had nothing to offer up as an excuse other than the blackness in his soul, and how in hell did he explain that to his mother? She didn’t know about the fight he and Rick had had that day, or the details leading up to the accident. And she sure as hell didn’t know about that night a few months ago, under the stars and feeling the weight of grief and guilt when he and Emily had…
“You need to find your way back to us Ethan, and no one wants it more than me. I love you more than you can hope to understand and it kills me to see you in pain. To know you spend day after day alone and holed up in that shop working on your bikes and not seeing anyone. It’s not normal or healthy and you drink too much. I want you back, Ethan but I finally realized last night that it’s something you need to do on your own. Me wishing you back will accomplish nothing. It has to be you who wants to live. It has to be you who wants more than to just exist. So when you’re ready, when you finally get that what you’re doing is wrong and tragic and Rick would kick your ass if he could…when you know that, your father and I will be waiting. I hope you learn to find some kind of peace and I hope we see you soon.”
She hung up before he could say a word and kind of dumbfounded, Ethan stared at his phone until his vision blurred. Until a wave of anger burned through him and he threw his cell savagely and watched it crumple against the wall before falling in pieces to the floor.
Hands fisted at his side he took a moment to control his breathing and glanced around his place. He’d bought it for a song months after Rick’s accident because he knew he needed to be away from people. At the time he had plans to bring the home to life, but in actuality he hadn’t done a damn thing to it. Linoleum still peeled across the floor in the kitchen. The faucet dripped something fierce and the window over the sink didn’t open because it was painted shut.
This wasn’t a home by anyone’s reckoning, but that wasn’t something he dwelled on. It was clean and tidy and that was enough for Ethan. He spent most of his time in the shop, or riding his bike on the back roads, or fishing alone on the lake. He felt nothing as he emptied his mug into the sink, ignoring that steady drip, and tried to decide if his stomach could handle food or not. He wouldn’t think about his mother’s words—there’d been similar conversations in the past and he was pretty damn sure there’d be many more.
Just when he decided to skip the whole food thing a knock at the front door had him turning from his bedroom and heading for the foyer. Mood blacker than ever, he figured it was the delivery service with the parts he needed for the shovelhead he was trying his damnedest to finish. He yanked open the door and along with a blast of cold air, the woman who stood there shivering stole his thoughts along with his vocal cords.
Her skin was pale and translucent, and she was thinner than the last time he’d seen her. There was an air of fragility about her he didn’t like, though her eyes still had some fire. Her baby blues traveled the length of him and aware that his towel was perched dangerously low on his hips, he smiled at her, though it was as cold as his heart.
She blushed and her eyes fell away from his, while Ethan’s attempt at a grin turned into a full-on scowl. “I don’t have the time or energy for you, Em.” His words were clipped and harsh, and he supposed that a part of him wasn’t dead because he felt bad when he saw her flinch.
“You’re going to make some time,” she rasped, her voice rough, as if ill-used. She pushed past him and with a curse he slammed the door shut and turned to face her. Her hair was longer than he remembered and it was a mess of blonde tangles around her face. With those big eyes of her and cheeks red from the wind, she looked ethereal. God, he forgot how beautiful she was.
“Did my mother put you up to this?”
He saw the confusion and sighed, rubbing his forefinger along the bridge of his nose as pain sliced its way up into his brain. Ethan let out a long breath. “Just say what you came to say and do it fast. I’ve got a lot to do.”
“You look like shit,” she said, chin up as some of that fire in her eyes warmed up the rest of her.
“Three bottles of tequila will do that to a guy.” He studied her for a second. “You didn’t come here to lecture me on my bad choices, so just say whatever it is, Emily. I wasn’t kidding when I said I didn’t have time for you.”
“Okay,” she replied, though some of the fire in her voice dissipated. She hesitated and something worked its way across his chest. Some sharp kind of warning that told him an already shit day was about to get worse.
His blood turned to ice and it took more than a bit of effort to make his lungs work. In that moment, his world narrowed to the trembling woman in front of him, a woman who pulled every fucking string he owned. A woman he wanted to quit so bad he could taste it. If only because the very thought of her made him come apart. Made him remember. Made him feel so low he knew he’d never find his way back if he fell under again. He wasn’t good for her and she sure as hell wasn’t good for him.
“Just spit it out, Em.” His mouth felt like sawdust even as he pushed the words out.
“Congratulations.” He paused, hating the pain that flashed in her eyes. “But I don’t exactly give a flying fuck. Anything else?” His gut churned and his skin felt too tight. He wanted to hit something.
“Yes,” she whispered, slowly nodding as she took a step back. “There’s one more thing.”
“Just say it and go.” His voice was harsh and cutting, his mood ugly.
She turned and reached for the handle, but paused before yanking the door open. She looked to the side and seemed to be considering her next words. In the end she gave a half shrug and disappeared into the brilliant mid-morning sun.
But her words lingered behind. They buried themselves under his skin and wormed their way into his body, feeding a fire of anger that didn’t need much to stoke.
“I’m thirteen weeks. If you still suck at math I’ll help you out. The baby is yours.”