When Diego Champagne realizes that he can't live without Colby Young, he comes up with a plan that will free him from the Banni motorcycle gang forever. He's prepared to leave everything behind and make a new life for the man he loves and the children for whom Colby is now responsible. But he can tell no one, not even Colby, if he hopes to carry it off.
Colby's having problems accepting that if he's to remain the guardian of his niece and nephew, he must stay clear of the Banni, and that means Diego. Given Colby's past, he's being watched like a hawk, and not just by Child Protection Services. Then Colby's world spirals out of control when a member of the Banni informs Colby that they found Diego's body burnt beyond recognition, along with his vest and bike. Miserable and angry at the world, Colby ends up in more trouble, his entire world held together by a thread.
Meanwhile, Diego must fulfill a promise to the leader of the Texas Crushers, who ironically helps him escape from the Banni life. Putting miles and time between him and the man he loves, Diego sets the wheels in motion that will prepare the stage for a crime-free life with Colby and the children. Question is, how will he tell Colby he's not dead, and will Colby ever forgive him for keeping the truth from him?
CONTENT ADVISORY: This is a re-edited, re-release title.
It rained the day we buried my sister, Garnet Beauty. I mean, really buried her. Not hurling her off into some forest in a weighted-down cooler. I saw it as a good omen because they say that if you've never ridden your motorcycle in the rain, you haven't ridden at all.
I had my sister cremated and took her ashes for a ride around town, one last time, so she could feel the breeze before I let her go forever. I had her urn strapped to the seat behind me, my tears freezing midway down my cheeks.
She was the best riding companion a guy could have.
I was surprised how many people came to the little ceremony I had at the Windy Hills Memorial Park. So many friends I never knew came to listen to the minister, who'd definitely never known her, make kind comments about how Garnet was Heaven's beauty now. Yes. I believed she was in Heaven. I tried not to think about how I'd last seen her. Skeletal remains in a science lab. So many people had cared and, I could see, still did. Many wept, and I realized her life may have been short, but her story was still being told. Saying good-bye was not the ending I wanted, but it did make me feel better that countless people I had never met had been touched by her life and untimely death.
"When I think of Garnet Beauty," the minister said, "I am reminded of the words, 'Let your children be as so many flowers, borrowed from God. If the flowers die or wither, thank God for a summer loan of them.'"
Shit. He put tears in my eyes.
And then Rogan Duchesne, the cop who'd been my sole support system and the man who'd hunted down my sister's earthly remains, and those who killed her, moved forward and spoke.
"I'd like to read a poem," he said. "It's called 'Young Life Cut Short,' its author, however, is unknown." He cleared his throat.
"Do not judge a song by its duration
Nor by the number of its notes
Judge it by the richness of its contents
Sometimes those unfinished are among the most poignant...
Do not judge a song by its duration
Nor by the number of its notes
Judge it by the way it touches and lifts the soul
Sometimes those unfinished are among the most beautiful...
And when something has enriched your life
And when its melody lingers on in your heart.
Is it unfinished?
Or is it endless?"
Man, oh man. There wasn't a dry eye left, in spite of the rain having stopped. The minister took over as Duchesne rejoined the line of cops slightly to the back of our huge group. I recognized a few of them as the men from Alabama who'd first discovered my sister's abandoned, abused body, and after being unable to identify her, paid for a grave for her out of their own pockets.
I hoped wherever she was flying, my little girl could see that people did care. We loved her. I loved her. After the minister spoke and prayers had been said, I turned on a boom-box I'd brought with Eva Cassidy singing "Autumn Leaves."
It's the song I most identify with Garnet Beauty. As Eva's clear, resonant voice sang, I emptied Garnet's urn into a shallow hole in the ground. On top of this, I planted a peach tree. She was a young 'un, like my sister, and of course, she was a Garnet Beauty. I couldn't bear the idea of Garnet alone in a wooden box or in an urn forever. She'd been kept in a cage in life, but she was free now, part of the earth, part of a tree.
"Good-bye, astral angel," I said, when the song ended. I patted the damp, fragrant earth, and ashes around the root of the tree. I really lost it then. My brothers-in-arms from the Banni were all there. They'd all brought flowers. Some brought fruit. Strangers brought teddy bears and dolls. For the first time in three weeks, I felt Diego's arms go around me, and I trembled, both from his touch, and the nearness of him.
I watched people leaving things around the tree. I didn't want her here. I wanted her home, happy, laughing, and running free. She was still a thing of beauty though, and she would always hurt my heart. Wherever I went, she would always be with me. My best friend Jerry hugged me. His mom, Sue-Ellen, wrapped me in her arms. "She's in God's hands now, darling," she said. And I knew she was reminding me that no human hand would ever touch my little sister again.
Missing from the service that sad, gloomy Saturday were my father, who was on a jailhouse hospital respirator, and his lover and criminal accomplice, Calvin, also presently incarcerated. And so was my sister, June Gold. All three had been involved in the death and cover-up of my sister's gruesome murder.
Also missing was my crazy mother, Evangeline, who'd been in a nut house for years. Last time I saw her, she was holding a headless doll in her arms. Apparently she still does. She spanks it and calls it Colby. And, oh yes, my sister's husband, Judd, wasn't there. He, too, was in the big house on unrelated murder charges.
When I chose the minister for the service, I'd picked the one who seemed the least judgmental. He made no claims to know God's thoughts, like the minister I spoke to before him who tried to tell me, "God will never kill you. He will squeeze you, but never kill you."
I thought that was very inappropriate considering we were burying my murdered sister.
This minister though, Calhoun was his name, was cool. He had a soft spot for kids, and motorcycles it seemed. I had spotted one in his backyard when I went to his house. He said, "The death of a child is the hardest good-bye there is in this world."
Yup. He had that right.
I suppose that's another reason so many people showed up the day we buried Garnet Beauty. Small and innocent, she'd been in and out of the newspapers the last dozen or so years. And there was the curiosity factor. I'm the guy who's had so much crap happen to him. I sometimes wonder how the hell God expects a person to endure so much. On top of it, I wanted to be the legal guardian of my niece and nephew, Garnet Beauty, named for my sister, and little Henry.
To do that, I'd had to quit the Banni. And Diego. But I hadn't quit him. Not really. We still spoke and I still spent time with his mom, Cherise, but the kids were a big part of my world.