Drew Duncan swore he’d never go back to Ember Falls again. After he was wrongfully charged with his high school girlfriend’s murder, he waited for a trial that never came. When he was released from jail a year later, he left everything behind. But when his sister is murdered, Drew is forced to return to the hometown where he and his sisters were brutalized by their alcoholic father.
Once back, not even his training as a Marine and point man for McAlister Security prepares Drew for what he must face--a surviving sister who refuses to forgive him for abandoning her, a nephew who trembles when he enters the room, and an entire town that thinks he got away with murder. To protect his nephew, Drew will face his most terrifying fear. Going home.
Unsure of what else to do, she put her arms around him. “It wasn’t your fault.”
Drew moved away from her without returning the embrace. Lord knows he wanted to, but he couldn’t. Not yet.
“My father was always mean and cruel,” Drew said. “And we never knew when he’d strike out. Smacking us with the back of his hand, giving us a kick when we didn’t expect it, but normally it was quick and it was done. Those rages he went into, they were rarer. Sometimes you could go days, other times weeks, but when they happened, it was legendary. It was three weeks before it happened again. Something set him off. Not sure what, but he came home looking for us and we knew. So I did almost the same thing again.”
“What do you mean almost?”
“Ashley begged me to hide in there with them,” Drew explained. “But I knew he’d look for us and break down the door to get to us. He was already slamming doors downstairs. So I pushed both of my sisters in there. And then I locked the door.”
Sam blinked. “You had a closet door with a lock on it?”
“We did then,” Drew said. “I’d managed to change it out after the last time. I didn’t want them getting out again. So I locked my sisters in a closet and dealt with my father. Ashley is still afraid of enclosed spaces. I did that to her. I knew they’d be stuck in there until I could manage to let them out and sometimes that was hours later, but I stuck them in there whenever I knew he was in a rage. I tried to protect them from my father, but there was nobody there to protect them from me.”
Drew saw the outrage on Sam’s face and realized he’d gone too far. He looked to the back of the house, plotted his escape and decided to bolt.
“I should go,” he said. “I’ve laid enough on you for the night. I’m sorry. Thanks for the coffee.”
Drew rushed down the stairs of the back porch and off to the side of the house. This was a mistake. He should never have opened up to her. What the hell was wrong with him that he just spilled his guts?
Drew made it to his car, had his hand on the handle, when he heard Sam.
“Drew, wait, please.”
He didn’t turn to look at her, but he waited, seeing her reflection in his window.
“You didn’t ask me if I thought you were innocent,” she said. “Maybe you don’t care. Or maybe you were afraid to hear the answer, but I’m going to tell you anyway. I know you didn’t hurt that girl. That’s not you.”
Drew let out a laugh, but it held no humor. “I appreciate that, but I don’t think you know me well enough to say that. I’m an ass. I’ve hurt people. Not just my sisters.”
Sam leaned against the car so she could see his face. “I know that too.”
They locked eyes. “You’ve been talking to your partner, haven’t you?”
“What’s discussed in the squad car stays in the squad car,” Sam replied.
“Uh huh,” Drew shifted around so they were both leaning against his car. “I can’t blame you for that. Can I ask you this? How hard is he going to make it to reconnect with Ashley?”
Sam thought about the question. “He’s not out to punish you. I’m sure he’s got a lot of anger, but in the end, he’ll want what’s best for your sister and Cole. I’m sure if you convince him you’re good for them, he’ll stay out of the way. He…” Sam hesitated. “He cares for your family.”