Some Bright Someday (Maple Valley #2) - Melissa Tagg


This high up, where the first faint breaths of autumn filled his ready lungs and a glowing, harvest sun leaned into the west, Lucas could almost remember what it felt like to be whole.

What it felt like before.

Before the scars—not only the ones hidden under his long sleeves that still itched even all these years later, but also those etched in deeper, hollow places. Before the shame and before the secrets.

Up here, at least for these few fleeting moments, he could be a hero.

He adjusted his grip on the outdoor climbing wall’s nearest handhold, his harness jangling as he hefted himself another foot closer to the spindly, trembling body plastered to the wall above him. Third kid today to make the climb then freeze at the top. The last one he’d fetched had about broken his eardrums with her screams.

This girl, however, was as silent and still as a barren Afghan desert.

He lifted his shoe, found his footing. Almost there.

A breeze tinged with cinnamon and cider tugged strands of his overly long hair free from his haphazard ponytail. Probably should’ve gotten a proper haircut for this weekend’s event—Apple Fest at the Valley Orchard. He might as well have shaved, too, and buttoned up the flannel shirt currently whipping in the wind over his plain tee.

But then, why did it matter how he looked? This was his sister’s big day, not his. Between the hayrides and the petting zoo and this new climbing wall, Kit had taken the old family orchard and turned it into a true tourist attraction. Though they’d technically been open to visitors since August, Apple Fest on the last weekend in September always ushered in the beginning of their busy season. Their Friday crowd was helped along by the fact that there wasn’t school in Maple Valley today. So the place had been packed since ten this morning.

Which meant Kit had been beaming since this morning.

Which meant he definitely couldn’t tell her he was leaving again. Not today.

It was bad enough he planned to duck out early tonight. He was due in town for his friends’ surprise engagement party in an hour.

He closed the last inches between him and the girl. “Hey, your name’s Haddie, right? I’m Lucas Danby. I’m here to help you down.”

Her blond curls fluttered around her face, her white-knuckled grip on the wall tightening. “I-I wasn’t scared u-until I looked down.”

He nodded as he fished around in his pocket for the spare carabiner. “That’s usually how it goes. Took my first chopper ride when I was nineteen. Didn’t think I’d be scared at all. But then when we were somewhere over the Wakhan Corridor—that’s in the Middle East, by the way—I happened to look down, and well, let’s just say I wished I’d skipped the mess tent earlier.” He used the metal clip to hook Haddie’s harness to his own then detached her belay cable, chatting just to keep her distracted.

She slid him a cautious glance. “You talk a lot, Mr. Lucas.”

His cable jostled with his low rumble of laughter. “You should tell that to my sister. Always says I’m too quiet.” As did the friends who’d become like family in these past months. Mara and Marshall, engaged as of last week. Sam, who’d been here earlier with his daughter. And Jen . . .

Jenessa Belville.

The heart of the group and probably the only person in the world who could successfully charm him into helping plan tonight’s little party for Mara and Marsh.

Pathetic, maybe, but he wished Jen were here now, watching down on the ground with the circle of onlookers. Maybe if she witnessed him scaling a wall and rappelling his way down, a kid tucked under one arm, she’d get a glimpse of the man he might’ve been. If not for Afghanistan. The court-martial. Prison.

If not for the label time refused to erase. Dishonorable.

Didn’t matter what he’d done since—the shadowed heroics not even his sister knew about—he was still the Lucas Danby who’d gone off to war fifteen years ago, fresh out of high school, only to desert his post and disappear.

“Mr. Lucas?”

He blinked, released a taut breath. “Sorry, kid. Mind wandered for a sec.” To a place he shouldn’t let it linger. He needed to think about his future, not his past.

And his future was in D.C. with Bridgewell, the paramilitary company that’d given his life meaning again, even if it did draw him away from Maple Valley for the better part of each year.

He just wished he could figure out