Freed (Steel Brothers Saga #18) - Helen Hardt
I park the car, grab the backpack and Penny’s leash, and walk to the Syrah vineyards. The harvesting tools sit at the foot of one of the rows. About half of the Syrah has been harvested. I walk to the little shed Dale showed me that first night.
Of course the shed is locked. I didn’t expect it to be open. I don’t need Dale’s tent and sleeping bag. I won’t be here long.
But I need to be here. I need to be here with Penny. And with Dale.
I look toward the mountains, where the sun set an hour ago. Dale is somewhere up there. Alone.
He didn’t even take his dog.
“Let’s sit, girl.” I plunk onto the ground.
If I sit, if I touch this ground that he finds so hallowed, maybe I’ll understand why he left. Maybe I’ll understand that thing inside him that he can’t share with me.
Penny lies down next to me, and her body against mine is a warm comfort. I rub my arms to ease the chill.
Dale told me to bring a jacket that first night. Why didn’t I bring one tonight? The weather was warm today, but nights are a different story. At least I’m wearing long sleeves.
I grab the backpack and open it. I pull out a bottle of water and pour some into a bowl for Penny. She eagerly takes a drink. I take a drink from the bottle myself, letting the water coat my dry throat.
I won’t cry.
I’ve cried enough tears for Dale Steel.
I gave him all of me. My body, my heart, my soul.
I take another drink and then look up at the sky. So many stars! If possible, I think more are visible tonight than the first night here with Dale.
Except that I was so consumed by Dale that night… His enthralling red-wine voice. His blond perfection. His dark countenance.
I hardly noticed the stars.
Dale still consumes me, but at least I can see the stars now. They’re bright and dazzling, and they seem to twinkle. Ha! There’s truth in that song from my childhood, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
“You like those stars, Pen?”
She’s not looking at the stars, of course. Her eyes are closed, her head resting on my thigh. Such a sweet pup.
She loves her daddy. If I let her, would she lead me to Dale? How far into the mountains has he gone? I’ve no doubt Penny could find him, but I won’t put her through that. Who knows how long it would take? I’m not exactly a backwoods type of girl.
I sigh and pull the bottle of wine I packed out of the backpack. “Let’s have a toast,” I say to Penny.
I uncork the bottle and pour a glass.
“Something’s missing.” I pull the votive candle out of the pack. “Candlelight would be nice, don’t you think?”
Yeah, I’m talking to a dog. She seems to understand me though. She licks my hand at the mention of candlelight. I take that as agreement.
I strike a match and light the votive inside its crystal holder. Lovely. The candlelight flickers through the glass, casting diamonds on the ground and vines.
“If only I had a cigarette now,” I say to Penny. Then I force out a laugh. I don’t smoke. I’ve never smoked. Though I wouldn’t say no to a joint right about now. I gave that up years ago, but sometimes a little herb helps when your world is imploding.
This is a lovely place. Peaceful and tranquil, especially at night, when no one else is around. I understand why Dale finds solace here. What I don’t understand is why he won’t let me provide what he needs.
“What do you have that I don’t?” I ask the vines.
I stop then and I actually listen. As if I truly think they might answer me.
The only response I get is a soft breeze that makes me rub at my upper arms once more.
I sit for a few more minutes, waiting for the vines to say to me what they say to Dale when he’s here. To reveal those secrets that give him peace.
To reveal Dale to me.
But as they did the last time I came here, the vines stay silent. They keep Dale’s secrets.
I love him. I love him so damned much.
But I don’t know how to be with him. Clearly I’m not fulfilling his needs.
“Fuck this.” I stand, knocking over the votive holder. “Shit.” I quickly pick it up and blow out the candle. Then I let it cool for a few minutes before I throw