Home > Fractured Sky (Tattered & Torn #5)(9)

Fractured Sky (Tattered & Torn #5)(9)
Author: Catherine Cowles









My fingers wove deftly through hair still damp from the shower as I stared down at my phone. The screen glared back at me in the low light of my loft. The sun had set in the time I’d been cleaning up for dinner. And with it, the glow of my time with Ramsey and his newest horse. It had faded, too.

Now, the familiar guilt ate at me again. I tied off my braid with a snap of the elastic and swiped up my phone. “Don’t be a coward.”

I needed to call Hayes. If I were truly brave, I’d drive over to his and Everly’s house to see how she was. She must have received the notification of her father’s passing.

My stomach twisted. As much as Everly had distanced herself from most of her family, and as much as she hated what her father had done, he was still the man who had raised her. She would grieve. While I felt freedom, she would be hurting.

I hit Hayes’ contact before I could stop myself.

He answered on the third ring. “What’s wrong?”

I cringed. “Nothing.” I didn’t pick up the phone for polite chitchat, but the fact that my brother thought I’d only call him in an emergency only churned the guilt deeper.

“Sorry.” He blew out an audible breath. “What did you need?”

My fingers locked around the back of my barstool. “Did, uh, Everly get a letter today?”

Hayes was silent. I counted the beats of my heart in a rapid two-step as I waited. He cleared his throat. “From the penitentiary?”

“Yeah.” The single word came out as more of a croak.

“She did. I’m guessing that means you did, too. I was going to come over later and tell Mom, Dad, and you—”

“Don’t.” It was out before I could stop it. “Don’t come over—unless you and Ev need to, of course.” I grimaced. “I didn’t mean it to come out like that. If you want to be with family, come. I just…” I struggled to find the words.

“You’re not ready for everyone to know.”

“Does that make me awful?”

“It makes you human.”

Slowly, the air that had been locked in my lungs eased out. “How’s Ev?”

Hayes sighed. “She’s feeding the animals right now. Determined to stay busy.”

My mouth curved as I pictured her in the animal sanctuary she had built on the land that had once brought so much pain. I envied how she could take something bad and do good with it. I was envious of her strength and perseverance. “Tell her…I’m thinking about her.”

Hadley and Addie would know what to do for Ev. They were so good at comforting those in pain. It was second nature to them. But for me, it was awkward and bumbling.

“What about you? How are you feeling?”

I bit the inside of my cheek. I knew the question came from a place of love, but I’d been the recipient of so much concern over the years, it was hard to hear that through the carefully couched questions. “I’m good. I’m sorry for Ev, but I feel relieved.”

“She feels a measure of that relief, too, so don’t feel bad there.”

It helped to know that. “Can I do anything?”

“Not right now. I’ll text you tomorrow and let you know.”

“Okay.” My fingers tapped out a rhythm on the side of my thigh. “And you didn’t say anything to Mom or Dad?”

“No one knows yet. But that won’t last, Shy. I have to tell them tomorrow.”

“I know. But it’s family dinner tonight, and I don’t want to deal with…” My words trailed off. I was unsure of a kind way to put it.

“I get it. I do. Get clear tomorrow morning, and I’ll tell them then. If you come back after lunch, they’ll have had some time to process.”

“Thanks, Hayes.” My throat burned. My brother was the best. Even amidst everything I’d put him through, he still had my back.

“Anytime. Love you, Shy.”

“Love you, too.”

I tapped end on the screen before he could hear the emotion in my voice. I sank onto the stool. My hand trembled as I set the phone down. One more day.

One day before my mom started hovering. Checking up on me every hour on the hour. I felt the itch to pack my camping gear and simply go. Get lost in the mountains for a week with nothing but me, Sky, and that hit of freedom that only came with expansive vistas and winding forest trails.

Instead, I forced myself to stand. I shoved my phone into my front pocket and pulled on my jacket. The sound of laughter hit my ears as I opened the door.

“Not too many carrots,” Hadley instructed Birdie.

Birdie grinned up at her. “Treats are the best part of the day, Mom.”

Hadley ruffled the little girl’s hair, and my heart squeezed. Calder’s twin daughters had officially become hers when they married months ago, and I knew she never took one of those Moms for granted.

At the sound of my footsteps on the stairs, her gaze, so similar to my own, lifted. “Tell Birdie she’s going to give River a stomachache.”

I smiled at Birdie. “As long as you don’t mind cleaning up his poop, you can give him as many as you want.”

Birdie scrunched up her nose. “Ew, gross.”

Her sister, Sage, laughed softly as she stroked Sky. “Told you.”

I moved to the stall, giving my mare a scratch behind the ears. “Taking good care of my girl?”

“I only gave her one carrot,” Sage assured me.

“Goody Two-Shoes,” Birdie muttered.

“Birds,” Hadley said in a warning tone.

“Yeah, yeah. No mean names.”

“And?” Hadley prodded.

“Sorry, Sage.”

“Apology accepted,” Sage answered. “Even if she didn’t mean it,” she added more softly.

I chuckled.

Hadley simply rolled her eyes heavenward. “Let’s get inside. Grandma said dinner’s almost ready.”

I would’ve given anything to stay right where I was. Sky seemed to sense it and pushed her face into me, nuzzling my shoulder.

The girls’ footsteps echoed on the stone floor as they ran towards the house. Hadley looked my way. “You coming?”

“Sure.” I forced myself to step away from Sky but instantly missed her warmth and comfort.

Hadley slowed her steps so I could catch up with her. “How are you?”

I stiffened, glancing at her from the corner of my eye. “Why?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Because it’s normal to ask someone how they’re doing when you haven’t seen them in a week.”

The tension bled out of my muscles. “I’m fine.”

“This is where you ask me how I’m doing.”

I scowled in her direction. “Little sisters are damned annoying. You know that, right?”

Hadley grinned. “We’re the best. You should all be grateful you got the best little sister around.”

We were. She kept us all laughing and had put up with far too much, thanks to me. Those familiar claws of guilt tore at my insides again. Hadley had lost so much of her childhood because our mom had been terrified after my kidnapping. I’d wanted nothing to do with sleepovers and dates, but Hadley had, and she’d missed out on just about everything.

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