Road Refugees (The Bare Bones MC #10) - Layla Wolfe

Chapter One


I woke up next to a dog.

My brain quickly gauged exactly how drunk I was. Not drunk enough.

I couldn’t sleep any more though, so I raised my torso like a lumbering giant. Chip gave me side-eye without moving a muscle. I scrunched his soft ear in my palm. He appeared to smile, wrapping his paw around my wrist to hold me there.

“Good boy, Chip,” I said softly, not wanting to draw attention to myself. Was he protecting me? “Very good boy.”

I kissed his floppy ear, inhaling his dog scent. The silkiness of his blond fur made my cheek tingle.

Eventually I had to stand. A bruise bloomed on my right shoulder that I didn’t dare touch. I ran my fingers through my hair to untangle it. I’d been sleeping on the floor of a glassed-in porch with the sun blazing down on me, leaving my face hot, probably blotchy. I knew when I reached up that something had snapped in my shoulder. Bicep tendon again? Rotator cuff?

Good God in an evil world.

I already knew the brandy bottle would be empty, but I picked it up and shook it anyway. It was the last bottle I’d succeeded in secreting away from other greedy hands—Cornucopia had a plethora of those—so I knew I’d have to go down to the pantry to get another. Good thing our shapeless gunnysack dresses with huge pockets enabled me to hide the booze easily. Maybe then I could drift off into the ozone again.

Weaving down the hallway like a rider on a lurching train, I bounced off every wall of the stairwell until I was on the ground floor, Chip following, one uncertain step at a time. The babble of my sister-wives waxed as I neared the kitchen. There were four of us. The loudest and oldest was Brighten, sealed to Orson when she was fourteen.

“Little Dallin came home from school today,” said Brighten, chopping something on a board. I was just passing by on my way through to the pantry, but I had to hear the whole stupid story anyway.

“What did he learn?” asked Tabitha, the youngest wife. When she’d sealed to our family, I thought she would take a lot of pressure off me. No. She hadn’t.

“Well, he said he was learning about the book of Norman. I asked him who Norman was. ‘He’s some dead guy, but we have to read this book he wrote.’”

Doubling over, the three squealed with delight. This didn’t stop them from casting me dirty looks as I sallied by. They knew what I was up to. I didn’t try to hide it anymore.

I stuffed the brandy bottle into my big pocket and left the pantry. The women were cooking beef stroganoff—again—and the tangy scent made my stomach churn. I picked up a strip of raw beef from the counter to drop in Chip’s mouth. He was prancing and tap dancing for it.

“Steak!” I proclaimed. I was teaching Chip our words in my spare time. I swore he knew about two hundred by now. I taught the Golden Retriever to play volleyball with the kids. He bopped it with his nose, sailing two feet off the ground. Of course, I didn’t have much spare time usually. A husband must be happy, so I knew how to make mayonnaise, take dead rats from the attic, and fold in Orson’s sheet corners. I held up my end, halfway blitzed the entire time. “Don’t make it so good,” I told Tabitha. “Men will eat anything. Pigs.” I gained a bit of spine, too, when around the girls.

Brighten caught and held my eye. My sister-wives didn’t condemn me because I didn’t help out—I did help out. I cared for Orson’s horse that was big enough to be sired by a dinosaur. I cared for the chickens, picky eaters who needed sanitized soil. Today, Sunday I believed, we did precisely as much work as other days but felt conflicted about it because it was a day of rest. We began our day at four and ended it at eight by turning off the stove and the lamps.

No, my sister-wives condemned me just because I drank too much.

For me, drinking was a way to numb myself to the scary parts of Orson. And one never knew when he’d be popping up out of the woodwork, and I mean that literally. You could be walking down a hallway and he’d pop out of a closet and grab you. Or even with the chickens, he’d leap from a coop,