Do you take this rebel - By Sherryl Woods Page 0,1

heart to tell him that the trips were so infrequent because his beloved grandmother liked it that way. Not that she’d ever discouraged Cassie from coming home, but she certainly hadn’t encouraged it. She’d always seemed more comfortable coming to visit them, far away from those judgmental stares of her friends and neighbors. As dearly as Edna Collins loved Jake, his illegitimacy grated on her moral values. At least she placed the blame for that where it belonged—with Cassie. She had never held it against Jake.

“I doubt it, sweetie. I probably won’t be able to get time off from work.”

Jake’s face took on an increasingly familiar mutinous look. “I’ll bet Earlene would let you go if you asked.”

“I can’t ask,” she said flatly. “It’s the middle of the tourist season. The restaurant is always busy in summer. You know that. That’s when I make the best tips. We need the money from every single weekend to make it through the slow winter months.”

She tried never to say much about their precarious financial status because she figured a nine-year-old didn’t need to have that burden weighing on him. But she also wanted Jake to be realistic about what they could and couldn’t afford. A trip to Winding River, no matter how badly either of them might want to make it, wasn’t in the cards. It was the lost wages, not the cost of the drive itself, that kept her from agreeing.

“I could help,” he said. “Earlene will pay me to bus tables when it’s busy.”

“I’m sorry, kiddo. I don’t think so.”

“But, Mom—”

“I said no, Jake, and that’s the end of it.” To emphasize the point, she tore up the invitation and tossed it in the trash.

Later that night, regretting the impulsive gesture, she went back to get the pieces, but they were gone. Jake had retrieved them, no doubt, though she couldn’t imagine why. Of course, Winding River didn’t mean the same thing to him as it did to her—mistakes, regrets and, if she was being totally honest, a few very precious, though painful, memories.

Her son didn’t understand any of that. He knew only that his grandmother was there, the sole family he had, other than his mom. If Cassie had had any idea just how badly he missed Edna or just how far he would go for the chance to see her again, she would have burned that invitation without ever having opened it.

By the time she found out, Jake was in more trouble than she’d ever imagined getting into, and her life was about to take one of those calamitous turns she and her friends were famous for.

Chapter One

Nine-year-old Jake Collins didn’t exactly look like a big-time criminal. In fact, Cassie thought her son looked an awful lot like a scared little boy as he sat across the desk from the sheriff, sneaker-clad feet swinging a good six inches off the floor, his glasses sliding down his freckled nose. When he pushed them up, she could see the tears in his blue eyes magnified by the thick lenses. It was hard to feel sorry for him, though, when he was the reason for the twisting knot in her stomach and for the uncharacteristically stern look on the sheriff’s face.

“What you’ve done is very serious,” Sheriff Joshua Cartwright said. “You understand that, don’t you?”

Jake’s head bobbed. “Yes, sir,” he whispered.

“It’s stealing,” the sheriff added.

Jake’s chin rose indignantly. “I didn’t steal nothing from those people.”

“You took their money and you didn’t send them the toys you promised,” Joshua said. “You made a deal and you didn’t keep your end of it. That’s the same as stealing.”

Cassie knew that the only reason the sheriff wasn’t being even harder on Jake was because of her boss. Earlene ran the diner where Cassie worked, and Joshua had been courting the woman for the past six months, ever since Earlene had worked up the courage to toss out her drunken, sleazebag husband. The sheriff spent a lot of time at the diner and knew that Earlene was as protective as a mother hen where Cassie and Jake were concerned.

In fact, even now Earlene was hovering outside waiting to learn what had possessed Joshua to haul her favorite little boy down to his office. If she didn’t like the answer, Cassie had no doubt there would be hell for the sheriff to pay.

“How bad is it?” Cassie asked, dreading the answer. She didn’t have much in the way of savings at this time of year with