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Authors: S.R. Grey

Never Doubt Me

Never Doubt Me

S.R. Grey

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not considered to be real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Never Doubt Me (Judge Me Not #2)

Copyright © 2014 by S.R. Grey

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Copy Editing: Ashley

Cover Design: Damonza

Print and E-book formatting: Benjamin at Awesome Book Layouts

ISBN-10: 0615964079

ISBN-13: 978-0615964072

S.R. Grey Novels

A Harbour Falls Mystery trilogy:

Harbour Falls

Willow Point

Wickingham Way

Judge Me Not series:

I Stand Before You

Never Doubt Me

Chapter One

Chase

I
hesitate, glancing from my fifteen-year-old runaway brother, Will, to his waiflike girlfriend, Cassie. But it’s the woman who helps me keep my shit together, in situations as fucked up as the one I’m in tonight, who garners my full attention.

Kay Stanton.
As my eyes linger on her, she sends the sweetest smile my way. I can’t help but smile back.

Shit, I sometimes can’t believe this demure beauty who works at the church down the road is the love of my life. I mean, damn, who would have ever expected someone like me—an ex-con with a drug-soaked past—to find love in the first place?

Certainly not me… But I did find love, and now I can’t imagine life without her.

Kay has learned me well enough to know I’m stalling by focusing on her. She nods encouragingly at Will and Cassie while flipping her long chestnut-brown hair over her shoulder.

“Okay, okay,” I mumble under my breath, smiling.

Knowing I have Kay’s support no matter what strengthens my resolve, but, damn, I wish I could read her thoughts. Then I’d know exactly what her take is on this crazy situation, which would be helpful before I open my mouth and say the wrong thing.

But is there really a choice here?

Not that I can see.

As it stands, I am still coming to grips with the fact that dear little bro ran away from home. He traveled thousands of miles from Nevada to Ohio with his sixteen-year-old girlfriend in tow, and they showed up on the doorstep of my farmhouse, like, ten minutes ago. So here he is. My brother is in Harmony Creek, standing next to Cassie, while her corn-silk hair blows gently in the nighttime summer breeze. The old yellow porch light bathes Will and Cassie’s faces in a warm kind of glow, making them look even younger than they are.

Will, catching me red-handed as I stare at him and his girlfriend, says, “So, what’s it gonna be, Chase? Can we crash here for a few weeks or not?”

I sigh, thinking,
Christ, how did we all end up here?
My brother and his girl should be out having fun, not on the run. My eyes slide briefly to Cassie. She’s the real reason they’re here in Harmony Creek…instead of back in Las Vegas where they belong.

Okay, everyone has waited long enough.

I take a deep breath and announce my decision. “This is what’s going to happen.” I point to Will and Cassie. “You two can’t stay here. You’re runaways and you’re both under eighteen. I am not going back to prison for illegally harboring your teenage asses.” I say to Will specifically, “Sorry, bro, but you have to go home.”

Will curses and grumbles under his breath, “This is such bullshit.”

Conversely, Cassie’s shoulders relax. If I were to guess, I’d venture that she’s mostly relieved, confirming what I’ve been thinking all along—this cross-country escapade was my brother’s harebrained scheme from the start. I have no doubt this “running away” is just part one of his big plan to “save” his girlfriend from her sleazy stepfather’s inappropriate advances.

Will’s intentions are honorable, true, but his execution—running away—is for shit.

Before Will can argue my decision, I tell him he needs to call our mother. “She’s worried sick about you, kid.”

Will shrugs his shoulders and shoots me a fuck-you expression. “I can’t call Mom,” he retorts. “My phone died hours ago. And we didn’t have a charger that worked in Cassie’s car.”

“Not a problem,” I shoot back, complete with a smirk to rival the one plastered on little bro’s smug face.

“Oh yeah, how’s that not a problem? You got a charger up your ass?”

I bite my tongue, hold my cell phone out to him. “I was talking with Mom before you got here. Now, quit being such a smart-ass and call your mother.”

Will hesitates, so I jiggle the phone in front of his face. “Take it, Will.” My tone is deadly serious. “Mom needs to know you’re safe. She can book a couple of flights for tomorrow for you and Cassie. You two can spend the night here. I’ll call off work and drive you to the airport in the morning.”

My brother’s eyes burn hot, fiery green, just like our mother’s do when she’s pissed.

“What about Cassie’s car?” My brother gestures wildly to the sporty, too-fucking-nice-for-a-kid car parked in my gravel driveway. “We can’t just leave it here, like, forever.”

Will is stalling. He knows when he makes that call to Mom, his reckless runaway days are done.

“We’ll figure that shit out later.” I sigh and rake my fingers through my hair, pulling on the ends for good measure. This kid is going to be the death of me. “Just make the call before I run out of patience.”

Suddenly, Will hurls the phone in my direction, yelling, “Fuck you, Chase. I’m not calling anyone.”

Unfortunately for Will, his outburst lacks effect. My reflexes are too sharp, and I catch the cell, no problem. If the phone had hit me and fallen to the solid-wood slats that make up the porch floor, it surely would have shattered into a million pieces.

No doubt that was Will’s intent, prompting me to mumble, “Little shit,” under my breath.

Will hears my comment and starts to go off on how this house shouldn’t even belong to my ungrateful, undeserving ass. “I have as much right to this house as you do”—he shakes his head, disgusted, and adds a sarcastic—“
big brother
.”

“Whatever, Will.”

“It’s not right,” he persists as he gets right up in my face.

Well, he tries to get all up in my grill. But little brother has to stand on his toes to reach eye level with me. He’s not quite six foot two.

I press my lips together and shake my head. “Better turn it down a notch, baby brother,” I warn.

“Or what?” Will snaps.

Despite the fact he’s brave enough to give me this much grief, I notice he does indeed take a step back, maybe even two.

But he’s not done yapping, not yet. “Dad would have wanted us to share what was left when Gram died,” he continues, gesturing wildly to the surrounding property, even though the moon is hidden and you can’t see much more beyond the house and the driveway. “She had no right to give all of this to just you.”

“Actually, she did, Will. This was
her
farmhouse,
her
property. None of this belonged to Dad. Let’s not forget her dear Jack—our fucking father—offed his ass before anyone could ever give him anything.”

Will screams that I’m an asshole, and Kay, who’s moved so close to me that I feel her warmth, touches my arm. “Chase,” she murmurs, clearly disappointed I’ve chosen to go
there
.

Shit, maybe Kay is right. I probably shouldn’t bring Dad into this clusterfuck of a conversation. Then again, how can I not? As I see it, none of this shit would be happening if my father hadn’t killed himself seven years ago. Will probably wouldn’t be a runaway, and I wouldn’t be the guy always trying to fill the void my father left in his wake.

Like I’m fucking capable of shit like that. Hell, I’m only three months out of prison, another indirect consequence of Dad’s selfish act. I have no doubt if my father hadn’t taken the easy way out, this family would have remained solid. Jack Gartner’s suicide broke the wills and hearts of those who loved him most.

Life binds. Death shatters.

My mom tried to pick up her broken pieces with gambling and men, while I filled the gaping hole that had been punched in my heart with drugs, fighting, and loose women. And Will, though he exhibited outward signs of depression for a while, mostly chose to keep his shit internalized.

He never really acted out. Well, until recently.

Will’s eyes narrow. “I don’t need to listen to this shit,” he spits, before he spins around and thunders down the porch steps.

“Hey, wait.” My tone has softened, since I’m beginning to feel like a tool.

I’m trying here, I am, but Will’s feet keep moving. When he reaches the base of the steps, he suddenly stops. Slowly, he turns to face me, like maybe he’s forgotten something.

Apparently, he has. He has more crap to spew.

“You know, Chase,” he begins, “you can bring Dad into this all-l-l-l you want. But the fact remains that your fuckups are no one’s fault but your own. You made your own decisions. No one shoved that shit you used to love so much up your nose. No one made you run from the police the night you got busted. That was all you, bro.” He points at me, shakes his head, disgusted. “And forty hits of E? Really, man, how dumb could you have been?”

Will is challenging me, pushing my buttons. And it’s working. My fists clench at my sides, despite Kay running her hand up and down my arm, trying in vain to calm me.

“You can hide out here in the country,” Will continues, “live in Gram’s old farmhouse, work for the church down the street”—he points in the direction of town and then to Kay—“date the prettiest girl in town. But you’re not fooling anyone. You’re still that guy, Chase, that guy who used to fill his nose with blow. That guy who—”

Will doesn’t get any further with his colorful diatribe. I am down the steps and in his face in a heartbeat. “Care to go on?” I snap, eyes blazing.

Will shuts the fuck up. In fact, everything quiets. Or maybe it’s just my imagination. Most likely, my boiling blood has distorting my hearing. But I swear even the crickets that were chirping in the background seconds ago have fallen silent, like they’re transfixed by this family drama.

Will presses his lips together, puffs up a little. He tries to look tough, but, really, he’s shaking in his scuffed black Chucks.

Kay has thankfully remained up on the porch with Cassie. Thank fuck she didn’t follow me down the steps. I don’t like her seeing this side of me, certainly not close up.

But when Will’s girlfriend gasps and cries out, “Kay, please make them stop,” I worry both girls will soon be in the fray.

I guess I’ve underestimated Kay, though. She apparently knows me well enough to realize I’d never actually hurt my brother.

Calmly, she says to Cassie, “Will and Chase are fine, sweetie.” After a pause, she murmurs, more to herself than to Cassie, “They need this.”

Oh, we do, Kay, we so very much do. It’s been a long time coming.

While Kay and Cassie remain on the porch, Will takes one huge step away from me. But when I take two steps forward, my brother and I are once again inches apart.

I assess my brother. He’s changed in so many ways. Will has filled out a lot; he’s not the gangly kid he used to be. His shoulders are wide, and the muscles in his arms are corded and tight. He’s still pretty lean, though, and I can tell he’d come out on the other end of a fight pretty much fucked up. Not that he’ll be getting any fight from me tonight. My goal is to intimidate him a bit, make him start showing me some goddamn respect.

Will tries one final time, like a last stand, to stare me down. “Hit me,” he urges with a cocky up-tilt of his chin.

I shake my head and resist the urge to laugh. “Not gonna happen. But I give you props for having some big-ass balls, baby brother.”

“Quit calling me that,” Will hisses.

I hold my ground and he, no surprise, capitulates.

But he tosses out this last, “Shit, I’ve got nothing more to say to you anyway. In fact, we’re out of here.” He turns his back on me and beckons to his girlfriend. “Come on, Cass.”

Will doesn’t know it, but he’s not going anywhere. I grab the back of his T-shirt and spin him around roughly.

And that’s when he takes a swing at me.

Easily, I lean out of the arc of Will’s fist and he misses me by a mile. Stumbling a little, he winces, making him look more like ten than fifteen.

“Will,” I whisper.

Despite the fact he just tried to hit me, all I feel is compassion, regret, sadness. Like flash cards flipping in my head, a barrage of memories starring cute little-kid Will, small and uncoordinated, block out everything else. My little brother may be growing up, but in so many ways, he’ll always be the little boy who tried like crazy—but continually failed—to keep up with me.

I’m still feeling bad for him when he takes a second swing.

Doesn’t matter, since, once again, I am much too quick for him. I catch my brother’s fist, long before he makes contact with his intended target, my jaw.

I guess Will’s second attempt to punch me is enough for Kay. She screams out my name, and out of the corner of my eye, I catch her starting down the porch steps. Her action, however, prompts Cassie to follow, and Kay has no choice but to stop on the second to the last step in order to stop Will’s girlfriend from racing to him.

With Kay and Cassie occupied, I turn my attention back to Will.

Shit, there’s real fear in his eyes. He must think I’m about to lay him out. “Not really the plan,” I mutter under my breath.

I take a step back, and it’s then that I realize Will’s hand is still in my grasp and I’m crushing four of his five fingers.

“Sorry,” I mumble as I let go.

My brother stumbles back and rubs his no doubt aching appendages. “You’re such a dick,” he croaks. “I fucking hate you.”

“Well, I fucking love you,” I retort, “you dumb little shit.”

Will’s rendered speechless. But he shouldn’t be. He can deny it all he wants, but he knows in his heart that I love him right now, today, as much as I ever have. Probably more. Just because we’re not getting along at the moment doesn’t mean I don’t care for him. And just because I was locked up in prison and missed four years of his life sure as shit doesn’t mean my love for him just up and faded.

Just like in the past, I’d do anything for my brother. Despite my big proclamation when he first arrived that I wasn’t going back to prison as a result of his runaway antics, in all truthfulness, I would. In a heartbeat.

Hell, my criminal career began with me attempting to help Will.

When I was seventeen, our fractured family found an apartment near the Vegas Strip, and with Dad gone, Mom took to disappearing for days at a time. Money ran out quickly during her absences, and Will and I often went hungry. Luckily, there was a convenience store around the corner from our hovel. So when the choice I faced was let my brother starve…or steal…

Well, let’s just say I wasn’t about to let my brother suffer.