Angel's Rest - By Emily March
Eagle’s Way Estate
Outside of Eternity Springs, Colorado
Holding a 9 mm Glock in one hand and a tumbler of single-malt scotch in the other, John Gabriel Callahan stared out the mountain home’s wall of windows and knew it was time to take a hike. An hour ago he’d watched a gray cloud bank roll in and swallow the rocky peaks above. The rain had turned to snow twenty minutes later. Now a thin layer of white dusted the branches of the trees that surrounded him in every direction. Evergreens and aspen—yellow, gold, and orange with autumn. It was a breathtaking view. A lonely beauty.
It was perfect place to … hike.
He set down his glass without sampling the whiskey, then shifted the automatic from his left hand to his right. He held it balanced on his palm, testing the weight, absorbing its warmth. How long had it been since he’d held a gun? Long enough for it to feel foreign. Not nearly long enough to forget.
Heaven knows he needed to forget.
A bitter smile hovered on his lips. He stuck the Glock into his jeans at the small of his back, and ignoring the jackets hanging on the coat rack, exited the house.
He paused long enough to lock the door behind him and secure the key in the lock box like a good guest should. Then he paused on the wide wooden deck, surveyed the area, and debated which way to go. Up into the mountains behind him? Along the shallow creek that bisected the high, narrow valley? Across the creek to the tree-covered slopes rising before him? It didn’t much matter. Wilderness stretched in every direction. The memories traveled with him everywhere.
He chose to climb the mountain behind him, where the path appeared a little rockier, the forest a bit more dense. The more rigorous the path, the better.
He hiked a long time, his thoughts bouncing between events of his life. His lives. That’s how he thought of it. He’d had his life in Texas, then the dark months overseas and his struggle for survival, and finally the new life when he’d started over. The third time, he’d gotten it right. The third time’s the charm.
A bitter wind whipped around him, and he grew as numb on the outside as he’d been on the inside for the better part of a year now. Weariness weighted his legs and his soul.
The snowfall intensified, visibility decreased. As the ground disappeared beneath a blanket of white, he idly wondered if this snow would last until spring. It was early in the season for snow, so he doubted it. Although, at this high altitude, with this low temperature, who knew? Bet it wasn’t more than fifteen degrees. A man could freeze to death.
But that way was too easy.
He turned into the wind, and in the echo of wind and memory he thought he heard a sound. Listening hard, he heard it again and his gut clenched. It sounded like … laughter. The sweet, familiar notes of laughter. A woman’s. A child’s. Happy.
Haunted, Gabe closed his eyes and shuddered.
No laughter, just ghosts.
Over. It’s over. I’m done. He broke into a jog, chasing the imaginary sound or running from it, he didn’t know. It didn’t matter. He moved deeper into the forest, uphill and down, paying scant attention to his path until trees gave way to rolling meadow. It was a beautiful, peaceful place.
Their suburban home in Virginia had been a beautiful, peaceful place. A sanctuary.
The imagined echoes of laughter swelled and strengthened into a whirlwind of memory, sweet and pure, and Gabe listened and yearned until the sound transformed and all he heard were screams. He was so very tired of the screams.
In a Rocky Mountain meadow, Gabe Callahan tripped and fell flat on his face. He lay in the biting cold and snow, breathing as if he’d run a marathon, sweat—or maybe tears—running down his face. He wanted to die. Dear God, he wanted to die. Here. Today. Now. Right now.
Today would have been Matthew’s sixth birthday.
Enough. He climbed to a kneeling position and reached for the Glock. This time the weapon felt natural in his grip. He flicked off the safety and chambered a round. Shutting his eyes, he took one last deep breath. A sense of peace surrounded him like the snowfall, and he was ready.
The force hit him without warning, a hard body blow to the back that knocked him forward and sent the Glock sailing from his grip. Weight settled atop him.