You Make Me Weak-Excerpt
Book One: The Blackwells of Crystal Lake
Crystal Lake held a lot of bad memories for Hudson Blackwell and he remembered every single one of them on the long drive back from Washington, DC. By the time he crossed the bridge that separated the north side of town from the south, his mood was black and a scowl transformed his handsome features into something dark.
He pulled up at the main stoplight downtown, fingers drumming along the steering wheel, eyes scouring the quaint buildings that lined each side of the street. The place had gotten a facelift since the last time he’d been home, and he noted a few new shops. Mrs. Avery’s flower depot was about the only one he recognized, and his scowl deepened thinking of the last time he’d been inside.
God, he hated coming back here.
The light turned green but instead of heading out to the family home on the lake he made an abrupt U-turn and a few minutes later pulled into the parking lot of the Coach House. Hudson killed the engine of his black F150, eyes on the building.
Now this place hadn’t changed a bit and for the first time since he’d begun this trip home, a slow smile curved his bottom lip. The parking lot was shit, potholes galore, the tin roof looked rusted as hell, and the front entrance and door needed a new coat of paint. The overhead sign hung crooked, held in place by one hinge and it looked like a good gust of wind could knock the damn thing clear off. He didn’t remember it being this bad, but hell, it was something he could live with.
As he walked inside the darkened interior he was assaulted by the smell of stale beer and that certain mustiness only a place like this could hold. Hudson had never been one for change so he’d take the sticky floors and crap smell over new any day.
It was an early Monday afternoon, late September, and the place held few customers. Hudson didn’t make eye contact though he took note where each of them was at, and headed for the bar, taking the last stool at the far end. Neon beer signs twinkled down at him, casting shadows along the wall of bottles lined up in a row. He pushed aside a damp, used, coaster and out of habit reached for his cellphone. He paused and then let his arms rest on the bar.
Work was a long way away and at the moment, the least of his worries.
“What’ll ya have?”
A huge hulking man stood in front of him, a faded black wife-beater stretched thin across wide shoulders and bulging biceps. His head was shaved clean and glistened with sweat, while his handlebar mustache and full beard did nothing to hide the colorful tattoos that lined his neck. Hudson had never seen him before and frowned glancing to the end of the bar.
“Where’s Sal at?”
The bartender’s eyes narrowed and he tossed a rag over his shoulder. “You from around here?”
Hudson nodded, leaning back on his stool as each man took measure of the other.
“Sal’s been taking some time off.”
Huh. As long as Hudson remembered the owner of the Coach House could always be found behind his bar, serving up drinks (which was the reason you’d be there) and advice (whether you wanted it or not).
The bartender took his time answering, wiping up the edge of the bar though his eyes never left Hudson. “As good as you’d expect. Now what will you have?”
Hudson considered digging deeper but something told him he probably wouldn’t like what he’d find. “Cold beer would be good.”
“Draft or bottle?”
Less than a minute later Hudson cradled a cold mug of Guinness and settled in to watch the game. With the MLB pennant race on it was as good a way as any to pass the afternoon, and the fact that he’d rather watch it here than at the house said something. What that something was he didn’t want to dwell on. No sense in going there just yet.
He was well into his second Guinness when someone took the stool a few places down from him. A quick glance in the mirror behind the bar told him it was a male, early to mid thirties, an A’s ball cap pulled low over clipped dark hair. The length of his arms told Hudson he was tall and the tattoos told him ex military. His clothes were on the dirty side, as if he’d been working outdoors, but the watch on his wrist was a Rolex.
The fact they were close in age told Hudson there was a good chance he knew the guy, but he paid him no mind. At the moment he was content to sip his beer and watch the Red Sox get their asses kicked. He wasn’t ready to head down memory lane just yet. Hudson lifted his mug and took a good long drink, eyes on the pitcher as he squared up at the mound.
“How’s Sal doing?” The man spoke and Hudson’s hand froze mid-air.
“Not good, Jake.” Hulking bartender guy leaned forward, shaking his head.
Hudson’s eyes widened. He knew the voice right away. Jake Edwards was a few years older than Hudson and while they hadn’t exactly been friends—Jake had been pretty tight with his own crew back then—they’d hung out a time or two. It sure as hell explained the Rolex. The Edwards family came from old money, not as old as the Blackwells, but still their privileged asses were part of Crystal Lake’s elite.
Hudson looked down at his beer, his face dark as he thought of family and the reason he’d come back here. For a moment his vision blurred and he slammed his eyes shut, because just like that, it felt as if he’d never left.
“You leave here now boy, don’t expect a welcome if you change your mind. You’re on your own and good luck with that.”
His eyes flew open and for a second he was disoriented. Like a ghost from the past his father’s voice sliced through his head, tugging something ugly and dark from deep inside him. Hudson clutched his hands together, fisting them so tight his fingers cramped. His gaze landed on a ring, the one that didn’t belong anymore, and with a curse he tugged it off, sliding the gold band into his front pocket. Should have left it back in DC. A slim white tan line cut across his finger and he wondered how long that reminder would stare him in the face.
A reminder of what he’d lost and most likely never deserved.
With a sigh he pushed back the unfinished beer, not really feeling the Guinness anymore and stood to leave. He tossed a couple bills onto the bar, nodded at the bartender, and had every intention of leaving without saying a word to Jake Edwards, but the man in question saw things differently.
“Holy shit. Hudson Blackwell.” Jake slid from his barstool, pushing back the brim of his cap and offering up his hand. His smile was genuine, his handshake firm. “I can’t remember the last time we were together.”
Hudson shook Jake’s hand and took a step back, feeling sheepish as he remembered the tragedy the Edwards family had faced a few years back. “Sorry to hear about your brother.”
Jake’s smile faltered a bit. “Thanks.” He glanced around the Coach House. “It’s weird. Being back here without him. I stop in for a beer, meet up with the guys, and expect Jesse to walk in and join us.” Jake lifted his chin. “You back visiting the old man? I hear he’s not doing too good.”
Tight lipped, Hudson nodded. “He’s in Grandview.” And just like that he wasn’t in the mood to talk. “I haven’t been out to the house yet. I should get going.”
Something flickered in Jake’s eyes at about the same time Hudson’s internal radar erupted, hitting him square in the chest and pumping boatloads of adrenaline into his system. Jake was talking but he ignored the man, taking a step back as he scanned the Coach House. In his capacity as an FBI agent this feeling, this ‘sixth sense’, had saved his ass more times than he cared to count. He didn’t sense danger or anything like that, but something was coming for him.
The door to the bar opened and the late afternoon sun filtered in, haloing dust and dirt into beams of hazy light. It camouflaged the person standing in the doorway chatting to one of the customers, who was on his way out, but he could tell it was a woman.
“She’s been back for a couple months now.”
Eyes still on the door, Hudson frowned. “What was that?”
Hudson swung his gaze back to Jake, the entirety of his world narrowing down to this one man.
“Rebecca.” It was a name he hadn’t uttered in years.
Jake was silent for a few moments and then nodded toward the door. “Yeah. Rebecca Draper is back in Crystal Lake. Didn’t you guys date back in the day?”
Date? The word didn’t come close to what he’d shared with Becca. She’d been in his blood like a wildfire, one that could never be doused.
“Huds, I’m scared.”
Her blonde hair fell around golden shoulders, rippling waves that glistened in the moonlight. The big blue eyes staring up at him were the kind you could get lost in. The kind that made a guy think of things. Like getting lost inside Rebecca Draper.
“I’ve never done this before.” Her voice faltered, those big eyes falling away from him and his chest filled with something he didn’t quite understand. But in that moment he knew she was important. She meant something more. Something he needed. Something he wanted.
Hudson’s young body, taut and hard and aching with desire, gathered her in his arms. “Neither have I,” he managed to say.
The memory disappeared as quick as it’d come and shaking his head, Hudson ran his hand through his hair. Christ, she was back here? What the hell were the odds in that? This town was small. Insular. He’d run into her for sure. He wasn’t exactly sure how he felt about that. The thought of seeing her with her husband and probably a pack of kids wasn’t something he relished.
That had been his dream once. Until he’d screwed it up.
“I didn’t know,” he muttered. “How is she?”
“You guys will catch up.”
“Not sure she’d want that.” The words were out before he thought better and Jake’s eyes narrowed a bit before glancing over Hudson’s shoulder.
“I guess you’re gonna find out.”
Hudson followed Jake’s gaze, settling on the woman who’d walked into the Coach House a few minutes earlier. She was at the far end, behind the bar, her back turned to him. Blonde hair was pulled back into a high ponytail, exposing the delicate lines of a neck he was way too familiar with. She turned slightly, smiling up at hulking bartender guy and Hudson couldn’t tear his gaze from the curve of her cheek, the small upturned nose, and a mouth that had driven him to the edge more times than he deserved.
She put her hand on the bartender’s forearm, and damn if that didn’t pull at some kind of Tarzan thing inside him. Hudson didn’t like it—not one bit—and that was plain stupid. He had no claim on this woman and hadn’t for a very long time. Not since the night he left town, the night he’d left her at the end of her driveway sobbing her damn heart out.
“Take me with you.”
She’d pleaded with him and the plea had turned into a scream as he’d gotten in his truck, letting the shadows cover him and the tears burning the backs of his eyes. It was a scream he heard long after that night.
He watched Rebecca for a good five seconds or so. Watched as she grabbed up several beer mugs from under the counter and set them on the bar. As she turned to the till and had a peek inside. As she scooped up a rag and moved down the bar. As she smiled at the lone customer who raised his glass in hello.
As her eyes met his and her smile slowly faded.
They were still as blue as the ocean and damn, but Becca was more beautiful than he remembered. She was beautiful and fragile and delicate and…
He took a step forward, his body acting before his mind could tell him to calm the hell down. Her eyes widened, that mouth of hers parted as if she was finding it hard to breathe. He got that. He felt like he was drowning.
Her hand went to her throat and then fell back to the rag in her other hand. She slowly turned away from him, grabbed one of the empty mugs and began to fill it. She placed it in front of her customer, said something to hulking bartender guy and disappeared into the back room.
Just like that, he’d been dismissed.
“I take it things didn’t end well between you two,” Jake said quietly.
“That would be an understatement.”
Hudson stared after her for a long time before heading outside. His mood blacker than ever, he slid into his truck, jaw clenched tight, hands fisted on the wheel. He never should have come back here.
What the hell had he been thinking?