Ash MacBryde was wound tight, tangled in knots, the welds holding him together fracturing in a dizzy whorl of disgrace and regret and abject terror.
How do I say “sorry,” Oak? How the hell do we put this back together?
When he’d made the phone call to Jess from the airport, he’d lied. Not a white lie, not a fib. It was bald-faced and plain stupid, but he wasn’t up to the truth. He’d told the man it was fine between him and Oak, that they were off to celebrate. Jess hadn’t bought it, not for a minute. But that didn’t matter because, of all of them, he’d be least likely to point fingers. And he would catch his real message, even if the reasons got lost in the translation. What he needed was for his best friend to spread that lie, keep the others off his back and make it real enough to buy him time.
The drive was agonizing, not because the traffic crawled, lines of cars and RVs and the occasional big rig stretching for miles fore and aft. The Green Mountains curled and canyoned around the interstate, rising up to vistas that afforded glimpses of Mt. Washington on the New Hampshire side, glimpses that morphed into time to enjoy the view because he was stalled. Inside and outside.
His brain was honeycombed with no-way-outs and mea culpas and all the wrong reasons for being there. He’d set Jess Carpenter free, and that was the right thing to do. Then he’d shut the barn doors after Oak bolted, leaving himself the only one caged and blind and pacing himself into madness.
You’re ten kinds of idiot, MacBryde.
Oakley Richards had run home. To Amy MacBryde. To his own damn sister, of all people. He’d nearly bled out thinking Lucas had replaced him, and he’d spent the entire flight on the edge of an aneurysm wondering if he’d be able to contain himself from the violence gnawing at his innards.
The phone call to Jess had set that to rights, but only at the margins. What nibbled at the big picture was his own folly at thinking he could make the words believable when inside he knew the choice had been bought at a price. A price he wasn’t sure he was willing to pay.
He needed to sever a limb—the limb that was his best friend and one-time lover, and his damn unwillingness to let go the past—but in truth he was facing amputation of his soul. That was how much he needed the one; that was the sacrifice he had to make to have the other. Oak Richards and Jess Carpenter had spun webs around his heart, holding him tight.
From STRAPPING ASH (A Crow Creek Novel), Book 3 in the Crow Creek Saga