Home > Heart of Stone (Stone Brothers #2)

Heart of Stone (Stone Brothers #2)
Tess Oliver, Anna Hart

Chapter 1

Amy

It was a ripping sound that woke me from the strange dream that, among other things, included the fuzzy handlebar moustache of the customer who’d kept ordering whiskey sours and only drank half of each glass. The moustache had fallen off onto the toe of my shoe, and as it crept up my leg, I reached down to pull it off. The ripping sound followed me right into my dream, giving the weird moustache attack sound effects.

My head felt heavy with fatigue as I lifted it from my pillow. Lazy Daze had been extra crowded and the customers had been extra needy. Mom had been sitting up in her room drawing question marks all over a piece of paper when I came in. I had let her continue. After a long day of work, I was always glad when she didn’t want to have one of her bizarre chats. I’d gone into my room, smoked half a joint and fallen into bed.

It was still dark inside the room and outside the faded, threadbare curtains on my window. Another ripping sound. My head was still in that weird groggy zone as I shuffled out of my bedroom and down the shadowy hallway. I followed the thin stream of light coming from the kitchen and briefly wondered what the hell my crazy ass mom was up to this time. Lately, it seemed that the voices in her head were talking way louder than me. I couldn’t ever seem to talk any sense into her. She was heading for a cliff, and I had no way to talk her down from it. Every social worker who visited the house had told me I needed to get her into a psychiatric hospital, but I knew that would only make her worse. And I’d be completely alone.

I stepped into the kitchen, but Mom didn’t turn around. Strips of masking tape were stuck in large X’s across all the cabinets and drawers. She’d even taped shut the refrigerator and the toaster oven. She’d pulled my sweatshirt on over her robe, an interesting fashion statement even from her, a woman who lately had decided to wear a beach towel as a cape around her shoulders like a little kid pretending to be a superhero.

Mom’s thin, shaky fingers gripped another piece of tape, and her arm swung out to free an extra long strip. This particular piece of tape was not going to go easily to its new kitchen cupboard destination. It folded back on itself and then got worse when Mom tried to untangled it. Finally, she gave up, rolled the tape into a ball and threw it on the floor. It bounced and landed next to a collection of other failed attempts.

“Mom,” I said quietly. I knew when she was in one of her manic modes she startled easily, and I didn’t want to get crowned in the head with a ring of masking tape. She still hadn’t heard me. The voices were too loud, drowning out me and any spark of reason or rational thought. “Mom,” I said a little louder.

She continued pulling off a strip of tape. She pressed it across the cereal cupboard, making sure to seal it down tight. Our shabby kitchen was going to look even worse after this little episode of lunacy.

I walked up to where she was standing and leaned forward so she could see me. She glanced my direction. I had inherited my mom’s green eyes and her smile, according to people who knew us. I’d always been glad to hear it. My mom’s smile had always been her best feature. Of course, my shitty dad, who had been an even worse husband, had rarely given her a reason to smile.

Mom continued with her taping task, basically ignoring me. I put my hand on her arm so she’d focus on my face. Sometimes, it seemed she had to read my lips to hear me over the voices. She blinked at me almost as if she was seeing me for the first time ever. “Amy?”

“Mom, why are you taping shut the kitchen cupboards?”

A tiny grin curled her lip as if she knew a secret that no one else knew. “Because that’s how they are trying to get inside the house. They enter right through the cabinets. But I’ll make sure they don’t get in.” She spent a few patient seconds trying to free the edge of the tape and then yanked off a long piece.

I stood there and watched her for a few moments, wondering just when her mind had reached that point of no return. For a long time, she’d just been sad, incredibly sad. The depression had really taken hold a few years before my dad drowned, when he’d grown extra bitter and unbearable. During those horrid years, when his fishing skills and luck seemed to have dried up and he was taking his crappy life out on us, Mom and I would scoot around the house like shadows trying not to be noticed. Looking my dad in the eye would trigger interaction, and interaction always ended badly.

That awkward existence of trying to stay invisible had sent my mom into a state of despair that’d robbed her of her very soul. She’d gone from being the woman who would make me homemade granola and help me with a long division problem at the kitchen table to a lump of gray, lifeless skin and bones. For the longest time, I’d hoped the sadness would go away. Now it had. But it had been replaced by something much scarier.

Mom continued to secure our kitchen against invasion by the alien beings who she’d convinced herself were constantly watching the house. I grabbed my coat off the hook and pulled it on over the t-shirt I’d worn to bed. I opened the front door. The usual smell of the ocean had been replaced by the wet, static charged smell that preceded a thunderstorm. The trees were bowing their heads in unison as a strong wind pushed the clouds across the bay. The stars and moon had been obliterated, leaving behind a dreary, cold night where the only illumination was coming from a few of the fizzling porch lights in the neighborhood.

My feet were numb with cold by the time I crossed the patch of weeds to Hunter’s front porch. The house was dark, but not because the brothers were sleeping. Hunter and Slade never fell into bed before dawn. I told them it was like living next door to vampires.

Colt and Jade had moved into the beach cottage permanently, and on nights like this, when my mom was acting extra nuts, I missed having Jade nearby. We’d become best friends so fast, I couldn’t remember a time when I hadn’t known her. We were connected by the Stone brothers and by something much deeper, a sort of understanding about just how ugly the world could be and how hard you had to work to not let the bad stuff swallow you up. She had Colt’s undying love though. And I had Hunter. But I had slowly come to grips with the harsh reality that Hunter Stone had no love to give. We were together all the time, but just like his motorcycle and his boat, I was only an object that he didn’t want to be without.

I sat on the porch deciding to stay outside until our kitchen light went out and Mom went to bed. With a storm rolling in and a black sky above, it should have been extra cold, but the clouds were acting like a tarp, a thick cover that had trapped in some of the day’s lingering heat.

A single headlight lit up the street as Hunter’s motorcycle rumbled around the corner. His massive shoulders spanned far wider than his handlebars as he turned the bike up the driveway. He’d not bothered with a helmet tonight. The ride had blown his dark hair into a wild array of black spikes. Even in the nearly lightless night, I could see every plane and angle of his handsome face. I had it memorized. I had the whole fucking man memorized.

I could still remember the day when the notion that I loved Hunter had fallen on me like a ton of bricks. My dad had come home after a particularly bad day of fishing. I’d stupidly spoken back to him when he told me to get the hell off of his couch. His hand came at me so fast, I hadn’t even seen it coming. A splash of pain followed that left me dazed for several seconds. Also avoiding the wrath of their old man, Hunter, Slade and Colt had been tossing around a football in their front yard when I shot out of the house. I was crying uncontrollably as I raced straight into Hunter’s arms. All the brothers were important to me and I’d do anything for them, but it was Hunter who I wanted when things were really bad.

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