Ravaged River(5)

By: Lindsey Cross



"I wasn't sure if I would either." Liar.

His arm brushed hers and Hayden scooted sideways to make more room. He hadn't sat too close on purpose. His shoulders just took up about six more inches than a normal guy’s. The love seat she'd occupied wasn’t roomy enough for any member of Task Force Scorpion.

"Good decision." He smiled, a sort of sideways grin meant to put her at ease, but his concern shone through. Jared was losing his poker face.

"Thanks, for telling me about the party. I’ve been worried about him." This was the first chance she'd had to see Hoyt in over a month. After having Jared do his dirty work, he'd refused her calls. Her texts. And her one bit of late-night, buzz-induced bravery—knocking on his window. He didn’t seem to understand that she didn’t see his scars when she looked at him. She saw him. The man. And he stole her ability to breathe.

Jared leaned back and dropped his gaze to his lap. "He's changed. Drinks all the time."

Hayden covered his hand with hers. "It's not your fault. You saved him. You're the reason he's alive."

"Can you really say he's living when he won't even leave this house?"

Her stomach tightened and she pulled her hand back to her lap. The Hoyt she knew lived for the outdoors. He'd taken her camping and fishing, insisting she learn to be a real 'country girl.' She'd loved every minute.

But that had been months ago. "So why the party now? He's not ready."

"He needs to see we support him. Maybe it will help him past this dip," Jared said.

Dip? More like the Grand Canyon. "You're just as stubborn as your brother. Freud would probably blame it on the wrong kind of bottle when you were a baby, but I think it must be a military thing."

Jared smiled, and this time it reached his eyes. "Those college courses you're taking are getting to your head. Ask anybody, stubbornness is in the male DNA."

"It's about time you two smiled. I thought we were prepping for a funeral." Sparrow, Jared's fiancé, perched on his knee, her copper-colored hair pulled back in a low ponytail. She leaned over and placed a quick kiss on his cheek.

"Where have you been hiding?" Jared asked.

"Out back with Squirrel. He ain't used to this many folks at once." The twang in her accent was pure Tennessee hills.

Squirrel was like a father to Sparrow, practically raised her after her mother’s death. The old man had left Tennessee to be with her in Mercy.

"Is he still living in the camper out back?" Hayden asked.

"Yep, refuses to move into the house with us. Said he doesn't feel right taking up our space. I told him he's flat-out crazy, this place is huge, but he won't listen." Sparrow glanced over her shoulder. "Hoyt come out yet?"

Hayden's gaze shot to the hall. Nope. The light wasn’t even on. It was like the hidden entrance a rock star uses to get to the stage, but Hoyt was over an hour late to the show.

Jared shook his head. "Not yet. I'm gonna give him five more minutes before I drag him out."

Hayden heard a distant sound, almost like glass shattering and sat forward, fingers twisting the end of her hair. Maybe this was her chance to talk to him alone. "I'll check on Hoyt,” she said quickly, speaking before either of them could object.

Jared gave her a slight nod, the corners of his eyes creased with concern. She jumped from the couch and all but ran down the hall. Hoyt's door was at the very end, shut tight. She lifted a shaky hand and knocked, laughing at herself for being so nervous.

The worst thing he could do was order her to leave.

Again.

But this time he’d have to tell her to her face.

He didn't answer. She knocked harder. He might not want to see her, but she wasn't about to leave until he gave her an explanation. Why they couldn’t beat this darkness together.

He still didn't answer. She banged on the door again.

No response.

Dread took a sudden grip of her muscles. He didn't know it was her. There was no reason for him to just ignore the knocking.

It was too quiet on the other side of the door. He might be pissed at her for intruding, but she'd deal with that later.

Hayden opened the door and walked right in.

Her brain took a moment to catch up with the horror laid out before her. Hoyt. On the floor. Arms out spread, blood pooling around him. A long piece of broken glass in his hand. A huge gash from his elbow to wrist.

Her heart stopped beating.

She stopped breathing.

Stopped everything.

"Hoyt!"





3





Three months later…





"So in conclusion, class, trauma can manifest in many ways, both consciously and subconsciously. You have to learn to be experts at reading body language when you’re a practicing psychologist.”

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