I fell in love with Sydney Hastings when I was ten years old.
At sixteen, we whispered promises of forever.
When I was twenty-two I broke them all. I left her and promised never to return.
After my father's death, I’m forced to go home to Sugarloaf for six months. She'll be everywhere, no longer just in my memories and regrets.
When we’re together, it’s as though time never stopped. She’s still the one I want, but I don’t deserve her. Instead of apologizing, I take that beautiful, broken woman in my arms. But after that, it’s her turn to leave me.
Now I have to fight. For her. For us. For the life we both want …
Release date: May 19, 2020
Publisher: BAAE Publishing
Print pages: 338
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Fight for Me
~Eight years ago~
“What the hell do we do now?” Jacob looks at me, wanting answers I can’t give.
“I don’t know,” I say, staring at the wreck in front of me.
My heart is pounding, and I feel as though I’m watching a movie instead of the horrible reality.
“He has to pay for this,” Connor says, his hands are still shaking.
None of us thought the night would go this way. It was supposed to be filled with celebration and laughter. Finally, all four of us would be out of this godforsaken town and away from our drunk, abusive father.
I was finally going to ask Sydney to marry me.
She’s the only reason I breathe. She’s all that matters, and now, I have to let her go. One moment was all it took. That car going into the ditch, the sounds, the smell of death. I can’t stop replaying it in my mind.
Staying on the side of the road isn’t an option. My brothers will take the fall for what he did, and I can’t let that happen.
Three sets of eyes turn to me, all filled with disbelief.
“And leave them here?” Connor yells, his hands pointing at the wreck.
“We have no choice, Connor! We can’t stay. We weren’t driving, and it’ll look like we were!” I yell, gripping my youngest brother’s shoulders. “We’ll come back. We’ll make sure that, tomorrow, he confesses.”
“No.” Connor, the one with the biggest heart, shakes his head. “No. We weren’t driving, and we can’t leave these people.”
Jacob sighs and touches his shoulders. “Declan is right.”
Sean looks to me, realization flashing in his eyes. “My car was the …”
“I know, that’s why we have to go. It was your car that hit them.”
Connor seems to just catch up with what the issue is. My father may have been driving the car, but he was in Sean’s vehicle while he did it. Who will it most likely lead back to? Sean.
“Dec …” Sean’s voice shakes. “We can’t leave these people. Connor’s right.”
I nod. “We go home and tell him we’re going to turn him in. Connor’s right. He pays for this. But we can’t be here.”
I feel sick to my stomach. Everything has gone wrong. My father was drunk, trying to pick a fight with Connor, but since my brother isn’t a kid anymore, Dad was put in his place. As much as he wants to start with the rest of us, he won’t do shit in front of me. Not because they can’t hold their own but because he knows I’ll fucking kill him if he touches any of us again.
However, right now, it feels like the first time he beat me. I’m paralyzed by the fact that someone I came from could be so awful.
I look to the car, wheels up, smoke coming from the undercarriage, and I have to fight back the nausea.
One instant and my entire life has changed.
“Let’s go,” Jacob says, dragging Connor toward the car.
“This is wrong!” he yanks his arm away and heads back.
I feel the same, but I have to protect my brothers. “We can’t do anything, Connor. They’re dead, and we are the ones standing here. It was Sean’s car, and we have no idea if Dad made it home. We have to go after him, damn it! What if he’s hurt? I promised Mom. I have to go.”
He looks torn, and guilt assaults me so hard it hurts to breathe. All of this could’ve been avoided if we hid the keys like we always did, but it’s been almost four years since I’ve lived full-time in Sugarloaf. I was careless. We all were.
I should’ve known my father would take the car. I’m the oldest, the one who has always saved my brothers, and now I failed them.
However, I will not ever allow any of my brothers to suffer the consequences for my stupidity.
After a few seconds, the four of us get back into the car. No one speaks. What could we say? I think about the people we left behind. Were they someone’s mother and father? Were they good people who my father took from this world?
When we get back to the house, the four of us are somber and unsure. We find our father passed out on the couch as if he didn’t just kill two people. I kick him because I’m so angry and I don’t care, but he grunts and goes back to sleep.
“Now, we stay here until he wakes, and then we send his ass to jail.”
The morning comes, and I’m the first to rise.
I feel restless, so I head out of the house and to the cars, checking to make sure I didn’t dream the events of last night.
But there are the scrapes and the dent on Sean’s bumper, the red paint has blue streaks down it, and the bumper is hanging off. I close my eyes, hating that, once again, there is a mess that I don’t know if I can clean up.
I think about my mother and how disappointed she’d be. She was an angel who was taken too soon. Her warmth, love, and devotion to her children were unparalleled. We’ve been on our own since she passed away, and her last wish is the only reason I’m here.
I made her promises while she lied there dying. I told her that I would protect my brothers, make sure they turned out okay. I gave her my word, and look at where that has gotten them.
I fall to my knees, staring at the damage and praying that the man who has only ever thought about himself will do the right thing this one time.
That’s when I hear rustling behind me.
“Dec?” Connor’s voice is quiet, but it sounds as if he’s shouting in the still morning air.
He’s looking to me for answers.
“It really happened,” Jacob says.
“Yeah …” I wish it weren’t the truth, but here is the proof.
When Sean opens the door, his face is haggard, and it looks as if he’s lost years off his life. “I can’t look at that car.”
Before I can speak, my father strides out, running his hand down his face. He knocks into Sean and then rights himself.
“What are you four idiots doing?” he slurs.
“Do you remember anything about what you did last night?” I prompt.
I struggle to look at him because this isn’t the man who raised me. He’s an imposter, a drunk, and an abusive prick who thinks we need to be the outlet for his anger.
“You’re going to confess what you did.” My voice leaves no room for discussion. “You killed two people last night, and you put your sons in harm’s way—again. I’m done protecting you.”
My father looks over at the car and then to us. We stand ready to fight him no matter what.
“The hell I am.”
“You’re a worthless piece of shit!” Sean yells and heads toward him. My hand grips his arm, pulling him to a stop. “You’ve destroyed everyone’s lives! Mine, theirs! I won’t let you do it anymore! You’re going to confess!” he screams.
Sean has always been the calm one, and Mama used to call him her “Sweet Boy.” He has a tender heart, so to see him outraged has the rest of us speechless.
Dad takes a step closer, his chest puffing out and spit forming on his lips. “You going to make me, Boy? It is your car that has the damage. It was you four who were out joyriding last night, wasn’t it? I’m sure everyone in town knows the Arrowood brothers are back and that truck makes a lot of noise. Are you sure no one heard you?”
Anger like I’ve never felt starts to build. “You were driving.”
His evil grin spreads. “No one knows that, Son.”
“I’m not your son.”
“You four should think about what it would look like. You’re all back, Sean’s car has damage on it, and you said two people are dead …”
Connor’s breathing grows louder, and I see him clenching his fists. “You’re disgusting.”
“Maybe so, but you seem to have gotten yourselves into a mess. If I were you, I’d keep your mouths shut so you don’t end up sending your brother to jail. And no one will let a convict in the military.” Then he turns his gaze to Sean. “It’d be a shame to see you lose that scholarship, wouldn’t it?” He smirks at me and then walks inside, leaving the four of us stunned.
“He can’t do this!” Jacob yells. “He can’t pin this on us, can he?”
They look to me, always to me, and I shrug. I don’t put anything past him. “I don’t know.”
“I can’t go to jail, Dec,” Sean says.
No, he can’t. Sean is going places. We all are, and it’s far away from this town. I can’t do this to Sydney either. I can’t saddle her with the burden of what happened last night and destroy the future she so desperately wants. What kind of a life could I give her if he ever made good on that threat? How would she go on to law school being married to a man who left two people dead on the side of the road?
And if I can’t have her, then there will never be another.
There’s only one option: a vow between the only three people who matter more than my own life.
“We promise each other right now,” I say with my hand extended and then wait for each of my brothers to circle around me and link together hand to wrist. “We vow that we will never be like him. We will protect what we love and never get married or have kids, agreed?”
It means I give up Syd. It means I ruin every fucking dream I have, but it’s the only protection I can give her. She’ll find another man—a better one—and be happy. She has to be.
Sean bobs his head quickly. “Yes, we will never love because we might be like him.”
Jacob’s voice is as hard as steel when he says, “We don’t raise our fists in anger, only to defend ourselves.”
Connor’s eyes fill with anger. His hands are like vices, squeezing tighter as he stares at me. “And we never have kids or come back here.”
In unison, we all shake. The Arrowood brothers never break promises to each other.
A few hours later, we’ve moved the car into the abandoned barn in the back. We’re all tired, broken, and exhausted. Jacob, Sean, and I are leaving tomorrow, but Connor has a few weeks before he leaves for boot camp.
“Dec?” Sean grips my arm as I pass him.
“You don’t have to do this, you know?”
He sighs and then pushes his hair back. “Break her heart. I know what we said, and while it works for the three of us, we all were … fucked in the head. You love Sydney.”
I do. I love her more than anything in the world, enough to let her go. Enough to give her a better life than I ever can. And I love her enough to know that breaking her heart is the best gift I can ever give her.
“I can’t love her and think to weigh her down with all of this. I can’t give her a future, and I won’t break my word.” My heart is breaking just thinking about it, but I have to stay strong. “If I stay with her, we will always be tied to this town. I can’t do it. I have to leave, start a new life, and give her the opportunity to do the same.”
Sean pinches the bridge of his nose. “She’ll never let you go.”
I shake my head, blowing out a low breath. “She doesn’t have a choice.”
I walk away because there’s nothing more to say. At this point, all that is left is the hurt and pain from the decisions we’ve made. I have to spare her. From this point on, I have to hold on to the fact that what I’m doing is right. No matter how much it kills me to do it.
After everyone is asleep, I head out of the house and down through the fields. I could walk this in my sleep and find my way to Sydney. She’s always been the pull that keeps me moving forward. When we met, we were little more than two kids with horrible fathers, but we found a closeness I never knew was possible. Now, I have to sever it.
When I reach their modest farmhouse, I climb the oak tree that gets me close enough to her window that I can knock four times.
After a few minutes, the pane lifts, and I feel like I can breathe.
Sydney’s long blonde hair is in a braid, and while she may have been asleep, her eyes are bright and full of life.
“What’s wrong?” she asks immediately.
“I’m leaving to go back to New York tonight.”
“I thought you were staying the rest of the summer?” I can hear the disappointment in each word.
I have to let her go. I love her too much to drag her down with me. “I can’t stay.”
She releases a heavy sigh. “Go to the barn, I’ll meet you down there. I don’t want to wake my mother.”
Before I can reply, she slides the window closed, leaving me no choice. I can either get out of the tree and leave without meeting her, making me even more of an asshole, or I can do as she asks and let her know this is really the end.
When my feet hit solid ground, Syd is there, wearing my letterman jacket pulled tight and a pair of sweatpants.
She’s never looked more beautiful.
I take a step toward her without even thinking.
“Why are you leaving, Dec?”
I lift my hand, brushing back the stray hair that came loose from her braid. I’ll never touch her face again. I’ll never see the way she smiles or feel her in my arms. So many last times have already passed. I can never get them back, but I’ll hold them tight.
“I have to.”
I nod. “The thing is, Syd. I’m not ever coming back.”
Her lips part, and she sucks in a breath. “What?”
“I’m done with this town, and I can’t be here anymore. All of this … the small town life, I can’t do it.”
She blinks a few times and then clutches her stomach. “What about all the promises you made? What about how you swore you’d never abandon me? You know I can’t leave here. My mother and sister need me, and I love it here.”
“And I love New York.”
“And do you love me?”
More than anything. More than I can ever tell her.
“Not enough to stay.”
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