Forsaken Trails – Book 7 – Sneak Peek

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Forsaken Trails

Revenge fights love and finds it.

She’s out for revenge…

He’s out to find redemption…

Neither is looking for love… Certainly not the forever kind.

This next love story in the Clearwater County Romance series will give you those feel good moments with sweet romance and plot twists you weren’t expecting!

Ruby can’t recover from the consequences of an assault in her past. She’s determined to make the man pay… so she can move on.

Sloan needs forgiveness, not from Ruby but from a woman hell bent on making him regret being born. He doesn’t know what he’s done. Or how to find forgiveness.

Pick up this page turner! Find love in the unlikeliest of places.

Chapter 1

Ruby

The regret of a dead man had little sway on Ruby’s heart.

She’d suspected her aunt and uncle’s lies and deceptions back in January when she’d called her cousin, Ryland, to find information about her brothers. If Ruby was honest with herself, she’d always suspected things were straight…

Until her uncle died, though, Ruby hadn’t had proof that her maternal instincts were correct. Three months… She’d called three months before and hadn’t bothered getting back to anyone about what she was talking about.

Let them sweat it out.

Her Aunt Cindy’s tears and pleas for Ruby to stay had even less sway than her uncle’s regret. With Aunt Cindy’s pleas falling on deaf ears, Ruby had packed her bags. She wouldn’t stay put a moment longer when her own flesh and blood was out in the world without her.

Her uncle’s death released the truth and left so many questions begging to be answered.

Ruby struggled to keep her foot from slamming on the gas pedal as she pulled away from the two-story split-level home in Sandpoint, Idaho. The house she’d called home for almost ten years.

When her uncle had died a week ago, she’d pulled out the adoption papers she’d found months ago in his filing cabinet. The man was austere and had a gift for making anyone around him feel stupid. Even Ruby had avoided his bullying tactics.

The paper hadn’t named Ruby as the mother, but the timeline had fit – to the day and time.

At his funeral, Ruby held out the paperwork to her aunt in the middle of the reception line. She’d watched as her Aunt Cindy’s expression had gone from sad, quizzical, and then recognition before slipping into horror before she turned her widened gaze to Ruby.

“That’s what I thought.” Ruby had walked out of the funeral without looking back. Her things had been packed already. She wasn’t stupid. She knew when she was being lied to – even if she didn’t catch it until it was ten years too late.

She didn’t even look at the cemetery as she walked by. Her son wasn’t buried there where she’d put a plot and a headstone. Her heart wasn’t there anymore.

Ruby couldn’t handle staying in that house of lies any longer. Too much of her had been destroyed already.

She had nowhere to go. No family anywhere.

Except for Montana. She had her brothers. She’d never go back to her parents. As far as she was concerned, they were dead to her. Maybe… maybe Jareth and Kyle still loved her, still cared for her, still thought of her as their little sister.

After Aunt Cindy’s revelation, Ruby didn’t want anything to do with just about anyone.

Tears sprang to Ruby’s eyes as she turned onto the two-lane highway headed toward Montana. Kyle… she missed her older brother. He was her steadfast protector.

Kyle had taken Ruby to the doctor’s after she’d confessed to him what happened with Guy Lansing. She hadn’t reported it – at least right away – because she’d been drugged and couldn’t remember everything. She tried to remember what happened. She couldn’t remember anything for a couple weeks. Then as flashes had come back, she’d started having nightmares and she ran to him for help.

Her positive pregnancy test had given her a clear enough idea.

She’d never told Kyle about the baby. No, she’d been stupid and confided in her mother.

And she hadn’t been a legal age, either, back when it mattered if you were old enough or not.

Ruby’s parents had shipped her off to Idaho relatives, and then…

She hadn’t allowed herself to cry. Not yet… Her emotions swelled inside her, pushing outward, and she pushed them down until she could park and lose it safely.

Pulling over to the shoulder of the road just barely big enough for her brown El Camino, Ruby shifted into park and a shudder rippled through her.

She leaned forward, resting her arms and forehead on the steering wheel.

After sixteen hours of hard labor, she’d held her son – Camden… that was the name she’d picked… for a brief moment. Ruby could still remember the silkiness of his tiny fingers and the perfection of his smooth cheeks.

Immediately, she’d felt complete. Then the nurse had taken him, saying he needed to be cleaned and she did, too.

In thirty minutes, she’d been moved into a non-maternity room and told her son had died from complications.

At almost eighteen-years-old, she’d been too naïve and scared to question it. Not to mention, her walls were down and she’d screamed and wailed and thrashed so hard, they’d tied her to the bed.

But to find out that her mother had signed away her son… signed him away to someone she’d never met and without Ruby’s permission. Ruby’s stomach and chest ached like someone had sucker punched her with a sledgehammer, stealing her breath, her life.

Her son.

She had to go after him. She had to find him and make sure he was safe and claim him.

Ten years were gone, stolen from her. But Ruby would make them right. She’d been gone all that time and her brothers had never come looking for her. In her mind, they owed her. Her parents had abandoned her. They owed it to her to help her find her son.

Hot tears heated her cheeks and she swiped at them with the back of her hand. Every second she sat there wallowing was another second her aunt stole away from Ruby.

No more.

The drive to Bella Acres was going to be long and arduous. She had too much time to think and not enough happy thoughts to hold her over. The only thing connecting her to her son was the adoption paper she’d found. She kept it folded up and protected in a small envelope in her pocket – no matter what she wore.

Pulling back onto the highway, she reached the speed limit fast and held it steady. Time would pass as it always did. All she had to do was bide it in patience.

She hadn’t seen Jareth or Kyle in years. When she had called and spoken to her cousin, she was just trying to find out exactly where everyone was. They were a family of cousins who had always been close. When she’d disappeared, she’d missed them severely.

Had they missed her?

How could her brothers forget her? How could the Darbys forget who she was or where she was? Nobody had ever contacted her or tried to find her. Nate and Emma’s wedding happened and Ruby never got an invitation. Until her aunt revealed she’d been the one to hide every attempt at contact from the family.

Ruby didn’t know how to go back when she hadn’t been in the family for so long. But her pride was going to have to go by the wayside. She needed them. She had no idea what to do to find Camden. She needed help.

When Emma’s funeral came and went, she’d mourned a woman she’d never met and a cousin’s loss. She hadn’t understood the lack of an invite, but she could feel the seams holding her in the family rip apart.

Eight hours of driving… she’d only crossed two off the chaotic schedule. She needed food. Pulling into the next fast food restaurant she saw, she groaned at the sight of the play area for kids.

She avoided that section like all school zones and daycares. She couldn’t handle the emotional tidal wave attached to anything child related.

Claiming her hamburger and fries, Ruby took a seat as far from the play area that she could, pretty much next to the bathrooms. Her braid fell over her shoulder and she flipped it behind her before picking up the burger.

A woman and her son sat down beside Ruby in the next booth over.

Ruby tried to smother her groan with a cough. As she took a bite of her burger, she couldn’t stop herself from studying the boy. He was about the age her son would be. She searched his face for signs of something familiar. Could he be her son? His blond hair had curls and if she looked hard enough, she could see freckles smattering across his nose.

But the aching void in her chest told her she wasn’t any nearer to finding the right boy.

Her boy.

Camden.

She had to get to Bella Acres. She had to find her brothers. Anger and resentment worked at the edges of her chest to claw themselves out, leaving her miserable and alone. Ruby needed the ache to go away.

She needed her brothers to help her find her son.

It was the least anyone in her family could do.

Chapter 2

Sloan

Tapping his thumb on the upper curve of his steering wheel, Sloan gently bobbed his head in unison to the song’s beat on the radio. The brim of his hat dipped low covering his vision every once in a while.

The sight of so many ranches that far north of Missoula fed his regret at selling his grandparent’s place, but he tamped it down as he remembered the few women he’d already helped. He missed Parker Ranch. Of course, he did. He’d grown up on its expansive plains and rolling hills with roaming cattle and horses since he was too small to remember otherwise.

Parker’s Ranch had been in the family for generations. He could still smell the smoke house out back with pork and turkey drying in the spring.

He shook his head to push away the last vestiges of the memory from his mind. That kind of melancholy would never do, not in his calling.

Parker’s Plan. He’d transferred his affection and love for a family ranch after his grandparents died to pushing his own agenda. Parker’s Plan was a non-profit organization designed to help the victims of rape and sexual assault and their friends and families.

Sloan wasn’t doing it for fun. He did it because… he had to. There was no support for rape victims and their families. Funding the project had taken precedence over sentimentality for land he’d never pass on to anyone else.

The green highway sign on the right said there was only thirty miles left to Taylor Falls. The area was resplendent in varying hues of green that trumpeted in the spring weather of March. Snow runoff filled the ditches and rushed with rippling speed toward the larger ditches downhill.

Taylor Falls came fast on his ride and Sloan pulled into a gas station just before veering off the road to head toward Bella Acres. Who knew if this “Ruby Darby” would be receptive to his help?

At the gas station, Sloan ran his debit card and pumped the gas. He stared at the black paint of his truck and tried to forget the last couple years of his memories, at least long enough that it wasn’t the driving force behind his every movement.

His grandpa’s funeral had been just a few months earlier that year. Spring was heading into full bloom, and he didn’t think it was right his grandpa had died at the start of his favorite season.

The funeral had been tasteful, at least as tasteful as a funeral can be. Simple in nature, Sloan could’ve been in a déjà vu version of his grandmother’s the year before. Sloan stood in the receiving line with his hat in his hands and his head downward.

He hadn’t planned on seeing his mama, but he’d never forget the contempt in her voice when she stood before him. Her sudden appearance striking with her curled blond hair her brilliant blue eyes. She wore a black off-the-shoulder sheath dress and bright pink nails. She’d smirked, her pink lips perfectly matching the talons on her hands. “You look exactly like him.”

“Like who?” He tried not to scare her off. She jolted at the sound of his voice and stepped back, skittish as a two-day foal.

“Your father.” She spat the words and snarled. “That raping bastard. You both disgust me.” She had stomped off; leaving a wake of confusion and questions not just inside Sloan’s chest but in the rest of the crowd that surrounded them.

He couldn’t identify the range of emotions ripping through him. He didn’t have any way to ask, or anyone to seek answers from. He’d searched the newspapers, and turned up a report of a married woman who had cried rape against her husband. The woman in the picture was his mother.

Montana wouldn’t convict because they were married. So the man had left. There was no word of where his father had disappeared.

Sloan couldn’t ask his mama anything. She was gone and left no forwarding contact information.

He just wanted to know why she never wanted him. He kind of understood, because if he was the product of rape, then he probably wasn’t worth much. He certainly didn’t feel like he was.

At least, according to his mama.

Since he’d found out, he’d researched even more, finding out as much as he could about the serious crime against humanity. He’d dug farther and farther, finding information that sickened him. He could almost justify his own mother’s hatred of him with the facts he pulled up.

He’d become an expert in rape culture and rape statistics and then he’d turned his extensive education in business toward the creation and growth of his business.

Ruby’s aunt had called him that morning. She sought redemption for something she wouldn’t expose about herself.

The woman, Cindy, had declared Ruby was a unique version of a rape victim. She’d been left pregnant and her aunt claimed Ruby wanted the child back from an impulsive adoption.

Sloan wasn’t familiar with a woman wanting the child back, and he couldn’t quite understand why she would want her child. That was probably because his mom didn’t want hers.

Whether Sloan got answers from Ruby or not, even the closer look into the differences between the two women’s psyches would be well worth the time. He still had his organization set up. He could help Ruby out, whether it was finding her son or helping her get the counseling she needed. Her aunt had claimed she’d never had any which only made the necessity that much greater.

The aunt had stated in a half-hysterical state Ruby she might self-harm or hurt others.

Unfortunately, Sloan had to take every comment like that seriously, even if it was said light-heartedly.

He had called the Taylor Falls Police Department and let them know there was a situation potentially within their jurisdiction. He had asked them to meet him at Bella Acres. They weren’t supposed to go in without them or address anyone. This was a standing arrangement he had with most law enforcement in the state.

He finished gassing up and climbed into his rig. In just a few minutes, he pulled up in front of Bella Acres, easy to find with its large sign above the split-rail archway.

Sloan slapped his steering wheel and pulled in behind the cop car with its flashing roof lights. They’d blocked in a classic brown El Camino and a couple of trucks.

No one was in sight.

He parked the truck and pulled out his wallet for a card. The way things were going, he’d have to do some groveling to get back to an even kilter. Sloan didn’t know how he was going to get Ruby out of the chaos of the cops because he wasn’t sure how long they’d been there.

How could he develop a trusting relationship with her, when he was the one that set her up to be arrested?

 

Chapter 3

Ruby

Her brothers had matured, filling out the shoulders and jaw lines they’d inherited from their dad. Their auburn-brown hair tied them all together like siblings but time had turned them to strangers.

Even Kyle’s surprise hurt when he opened the door and cocked his head to the side in confusion. “Yes?”

Jareth had recognized her, though. The brother that never acknowledged her as anything more than a nuisance had walked by in the hallway to see who had knocked on Bella Acres’s door. “Little Ruby Darby. It’s about time you came home.”

Long strides carried him to his sister and he pushed past a stunned Kyle. Wrapping her in a bear hug, he spun in a circle. “It’s nice to see you. Ryland called sometime in January and said you were coming this way and that you were upset. That was a couple months ago.” He pulled back and studied Ruby’s face. “Is everything okay? What took so long?”

“I called in January. I didn’t leave until this morning.” She rolled her eyes. “Otherwise, that would be the longest eight hour drive.”

“Unless you were on an injured palomino. “ Jareth laughed, tucking his hand into his front pocket.

Kyle stared between them in astonishment, finally stalling on Ruby and addressing her in shocked tones. “What are you doing here? When did you get here? Are you okay? Did Guy…” He poked his head past her to look out the door then pulled back in.

“No, he…” Ruby swallowed her instinct to dry heave at the mention of that man’s name. “I had my suspicions back then and I was going to come home but then… well, our uncle died and I found out some information that… Well, I didn’t find out anything until recently that my circumstances weren’t exactly as I had been led to believe. Everything has been kept from me.” Ruby tried not to be more forthright than she needed to be. Some details just didn’t need to be repeated.

Plus, if Jareth and Kyle were anything like the brothers she had left behind all those years ago, they would storm off and try to kill the man that had left her the way he had.

Jareth pulled her in his arms and squeezed her tight. “I’m so glad you’re here. We’ve been worried about you. We called Aunt Cindy every week since Ryland warned us and she said you weren’t there.”

Aunt Cindy was proving to be a lot more devious than Ruby had originally suspected. Not only had she lied about Ruby’s child’s death, but she’d told Ruby’s family that she wasn’t there, essentially cutting her off from the only people who truly loved her.

A knock at the door created a furrow in Jareth’s brown. “Did you bring guests?” He stepped forward and opened the front door, revealing two policemen.

“Hello, sir. We’re here to find a Ruby Darby.” The officer looked at Jareth and then past him. His eyes widened as his gaze lit on Ruby. “Are you Ruby Darby?”

She hadn’t even done anything. Her heart sank and once again she was let down by the men in her life. Ruby ignored the cop and glared at Jareth. “You called the cops on me? How could you do that? I just needed your help.” She wouldn’t cry.

Jareth held up his hands at chest level and glanced spasmodically between the cops and Ruby. “I didn’t call anybody. I told you I didn’t know you were coming. You were supposed to be here back in January. I have no idea what’s going on.”

“No one else knew I was coming. Did Cindy tell you I was on my way? You were in on it.” Their betrayal scratched another wound on her heart like barbed wire tipped in acid. She had no one left to trust. Her brothers were the last ones that she thought she had.

“I knew you were coming.” A man stepped into the doorway behind the cops, with a dark black Stetson in his hands. Tall and lanky, he pushed at his dark, short-trimmed hair as a swath hung down over his forehead. His piercing blue eyes reminded Ruby of her family. He stepped in beside one of the police officers. “I called them. I’m sorry I had to do that.”

She pushed past her brothers until she was toe-to-toe with the new drink of water. He was a distrustful man, but that didn’t stop her from seeing the breadth of his shoulders or the slim taper of his waist. She lifted her chin and narrowed her gaze. “Who are you? And why do you know I was coming?”

Ruby shoved her hands on her hips. She didn’t know the guy and he had called the cops. Not the best way to get on her good side.

He was close to getting shot. Ruby didn’t know where Nate hid his guns, but she knew there were guns in the house. It wouldn’t take her long to find them. Cops or not. Okay, now she was just getting ridiculous.

“Ma’am, we need to take you in for observation. Don’t give us any problems and it won’t escalate to an arrest.” The front cop stepped forward as if to put himself between the new man and Ruby, he interjected his hand between them and looked at Jareth as he spoke. Why he avoided Ruby was a mystery.

“Sloan Parker. I own Parker’s Plans.” The man leaned around the cop’s arm and extended his hand.

Ruby stepped back, shaking her head. Thrusting her hands out in front of her as if she could ward all five grown men off her, she shook her head wildly, her hair whipping her in the face. “No. I don’t do hospitals. I can’t go back to one of those places. I haven’t done anything wrong.”

She closed her eyes and an image of that night flashed across her memory. Holding her son, she’d relished his small body in her arms.

Before that horrific loss, she’d gone into the clinic with Kyle and they’d swabbed her and inspected her like there would be any more evidence left after weeks of showers and days of trying to forget what slowly surfaced.

She had been investigated like a criminal and she had been the victim. She couldn’t go back into that place.

“Why does she have to go into the hospital? She seems okay.” Sloan seemed to recognize the fact that a meltdown was imminent with her shaking hands and trembling breaths. He maneuvered himself around so he stood in front of her facing the cops.

“We’re not going to arrest her, but we could with the report of possible harm to others. Policy requires us to take a self-harm report seriously and have her observed for twenty-four hours. I know it’s inconvenient, but if there was a suspicion then it needs to be addressed.” The cop was kindly but she couldn’t see it very clearly as he firmly demanded that she do the one thing she didn’t know if she’d survive.

She spun to her right, searching Jareth and Kyle’s faces. They watched her as if she might actually be suicidal like the cops suggested. Desperation stretched across her chest like a band.

Turning from them, her shoulders slumped. She couldn’t be arrested. Fighting would only do that and cost her more money and impede her search even more. She scanned Sloan’s face, seeking the answers she needed so desperately.

He nodded as he watched her.

The only man willing to help her was the one who called the cops.

Remembering that no man was trustworthy wasn’t hard in that moment as she was surrounded by men out to take her freedom.

Her brothers didn’t have her back. The man who’d called the cops on her would most likely just get in her way.

Why couldn’t she have Camden? When was she going to get what was stolen from her?

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