Silas Hart has always taken what he wants. Now he wants me. Again. Aubrey Irons
There’s blood on my hands.
They’re twisting in my lap as I sit there breathing heavily in the dark of my uncle’s truck. Rain drums like bullets across the roof, pouring in sheets across the windshield.
“Fuck,” Declan mutters in the driver’s seat, dropping his phone into his lap. “They’re onto the hit, kid. It’s all over the police scanners.”
Shit. Shit. Shit.
My heart’s hammering, the pain throbbing in my side from the crash.
“Don’t worry, kid, I’m gonna help you outta this.”
I look up through the rainy windshield, through the glass front doors of the hospital. I can see her crying, her family around her. Huddled, hurt, and broken.
Because of me.
Because of the job gone wrong - the one her brother never should’ve been on. I can still feel the sting of her words from twenty minutes ago, slicing right through me. Slicing me in half.
“Why did you go?” Her eyes are pleading as she looks up into my face, tears running down hers. “Why’d you do the job?”
I have no real answer, because I don’t know. Maybe because I’m young and stupid, and I wanted to be able to give her the kind of life she’d want - that kind of life she deserves.
“I don’t know.”
“I asked you not to, Silas,” she’s crying now. “I begged you not to do it.”
It doesn’t matter that I was there to stop her brother - my best friend - from making the mistake of his life. Because he was only there because of me in the first place.
This is my fault.
Jacob steps forward, moving between me and his daughter. “You need to get away from her, right now.”
The reverend’s jaw tightens beneath his thick beard, his eyes twitching with rage. “You aren’t welcome here, Silas.”
Irene steps forward, her hand on her husband’s arm as she dabs tears from her face. “Jacob-”
“No.” He shakes his head, his eyes never leaving mine. “Get out.”
I’m reeling, the world rocking beneath my feet. I’m face-to-face with the only family I’ve ever really known, and I can see the pain and the hurt I’ve caused across every single one of their faces.
I turn to Ivy, but she shakes her head.
“You should go,” she says softly.
It’s the last words we speak to each other.
And now I’m watching the aftermath of paths taken and choices made. I’m living with the outcome of going on the fucking job for Declan I never should’ve gone on - the job I only did go on because I found out Rowan had taken my place when I’d backed out the first time.
I couldn’t have that.
I’m already lost, but my best friend has his whole life ahead of him.
Or did, until I just wrapped our car around a guardrail fleeing the scene of a crime I helped commit. Until I dragged him out of that wreck and carried him on my back to the hospital, his leg bloodied and raw, mumbling that he was sorry.
Declan pats my shoulder. “Uncle Declan’s got your back, kid.” He shoves an envelope into my hands.
It’s an Irish passport.
I look up at him, my face caving. “What?”
“All expense paid trip to the old country, kid. Ireland.” He chuckles as he pulls a cigarette from the pack on the dash.
“Well, not all expenses.” He grins at me as he lights the smoke. “Nothing in this world is free unless you take it, ain’t that right, nephew?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Got some people we’re friendly with over in Dublin.” He gives me a hard look. “You’re going to be working for them now.”
“I’m leaving?” I shake my head, my eyes narrowing at him. “No. No fucking way.”
Declan cocks his head. “Kid, you robbed an armored truck.”
“You set up the job!”
He shrugs. “Yeah, well nobody told you to pop a bullet in the driver’s arm, did they?”
I can feel my blood pumping like fire, my breath coming raw. “I told you, that was Sean.” I swallow. “Dec, I was just the getaway driver.”
“Just the driver.” Declan snorts. “Oh, yeah, they’ll love that.” He gives me a hard look. “Sean just got picked up, by the way.”
“You shot a guard, kid.” He holds his hand up. “Doesn’t matter who pulled the trigger, you were there, and every fucking cop in the state’s going to be out for your balls.”
His eyes narrow at me. “You got one chance to dodge the heat, Silas. You get to Dublin, you sit tight with my people, and you let this simmer down.”
Holy shit. I’m going to Ireland. I’m leaving Shelter Harbor.
“What about-” I look at the front door of the hospital. She’s still crying inside, rocking in her older sister Stella’s arms.
“You stick ‘round, you’re going to jail for a very long time my friend.”
“I didn’t shoot that guard,” I say quietly, still staring straight ahead through the rain at the one good thing in this world that I’ve ever known.
“Don’t matter. Leave town, go to Dublin, and we’ll put those talents of yours to good use until this dies down.”
My head jerks around, my jaw dropping.
“There’s a ship of mine leaving from the Dorchester docks down in Boston in about five hours.” He cracks the window an inch and flicks his cigarette out.
“You gotta go now. I’ll get one of my guys to drive you.”
I turn back, my heart shattering in my chest as I lock eyes on her - the only thing that’s ever mattered.
The thing I’m about to walk away from.
“But what about-”
“Forget her, forget that family.”
Declan turns the truck on.
“Believe me kid, they’re already forgetting you.”
The boat rocks with the motion of the waves, heaving slightly in the current as we motor around the breakers at the mouth of the harbor.
I smile as I breathe in the sea air - the smell of salt brine and the cool edge of the Atlantic breezing across the bow of the ferry where I stand. You don’t get this kind air in New York City, which is fine in a way, because there’s a reason I left all this years ago.
There’s a reason I left Shelter Harbor.
I take another big lungful of New England air as I crack open the little nip of vodka I picked up at Logan International. I dump it into the tiny plastic cup of ice I got from the booze-free snack bar below deck and bring it to my lips, regardless of the late-morning hour.
Sometimes going home requires a little fortification.
I turn at movement, seeing the grizzled ferry captain grinning at me from the wheelhouse next to me. He adjusts the Red Sox cap on his head, scratching his silvered hair as he raises an eyebrow at the little bottle in my hand.
“I’m on vacation,” I lie, smiling.
“No judgment here, sweethawt,” he says, the thick, familiar Boston accent of home washing over me as he chuckles. “If I weren’t on the clock, I’d join ya.”
“I won’t tell if you don’t,” I mutter as he turns back to the wheel, taking another quick sip. We’re almost there.
“Are we there yet?”
Ainsley looks green as she comes up from below deck, her mouth a thin white line as she grips the railing tightly.
I raise the second little nip out of my shoulder bag at my assistant, which brings on a whole new color of chartreuse to her face as she quickly shakes her head.
“God, no.” She swallows queasily. “Remind me why we couldn’t take the train, or drive in like normal people?”
“Because this is way more fun.”
The boat crests another small wave, and Ainsley almost loses it.
“Thanks for coming, by the way.”
“I mean, it’s my job, Ivy.”
I roll my eyes. “Well, yeah, but coming back here is always….” I wave my hand distractedly.
I’m home for a week this visit, which is about three times longer than I’m ever home. And it’s not that I don’t like coming back here - I do, and I love my family - it’s just that I left the small town and all the baggage that came with it years ago. College in New York City, the fashion blog I’d started sophomore year took off, and then the age of Instagram launched me into the face of lifestyle and “fitspiration” that I am today.
“What’s our shoot schedule look like, by the way?”
It’s the other reason I’m home, aside from my dad’s dedication ceremony. All those Instagram stars with half a million followers who are always telling you about their favorite new cotton t-shirt, or sunscreen, or brand of sneaker?
Yeah, we get paid for that. And when Lori, my management liaison heard I was coming back to Shelter Harbor, she opted to turn my three-day visit into a week long “product exposure and brand expansion” business trip.
This really is what I do for work.
Ainsley pales. “There is no way I can look at my phone right now,” she croaks out.
I wink at her. “Yeah, but I’m sure you’ve got it all in your head. That’s why you’re the best assistant ever.”
She grins wryly. “Nike and Under Armour want ‘active’ shoots by the beach, so we could do those whenever. Bliss wants the new skin line on display somewhere ‘shady but quaint’, as they put it.” She frowns. “I guess like, a picnic table by the water or something would work.”
“I know a place.”
I know all the places. Even being away, I know nothing changes in Shelter Harbor. The same New England beach town north of Boston. The same tourist-filled summers, the same cold, snowy, empty winters. The same active harbor, the same lobster boats. The same knick-knack shops, lobster take-out places, and “dive” bars for tourists. The same actual dive bars for locals. The same historic house where George Washington allegedly camped, the same Congregationalists church up on the hill where my dad’s been giving sermons every Sunday since before my siblings and I were born.
“Oh, and Active wants the nail polish displayed by the water too, actually.” Ainsley frowns. “They actually all want that ‘New England chic’ look, come to think of it.”
“Well, Shelter Harbor has that by the shit-load,” I say, belting down the rest of the vodka.
“You sure?” I raise the second nip, and Ainsley goes green all over again.
She takes a shaky breath. “And then of course, management wants your new line in as many shots as we can get.”
I grin - the new yoga line. I actually worked my damn ass off to get to the point where I’m going to have my own line. I’ve spent years now pimping the latest green juice smoothie cleanse fads, and active wear, and sneakers, and no-mess makeup, and sports bras, and running shoes, and basically anything else that fits the “fitspiration” social media trend. Basically, if you’ve seen it marketed to you by a girl on Facebook or Instagram in sweatshop-free sportswear at some yoga retreat - and it is being marketed to you - I’ve probably sold it.
“And then when Blaine gets in, you’ll do some shots together of course.”
Right, for the high ratings. For the massive number of likes we get when my boyfriend - an Instagram star in his own right managed by the same agency - joins me in pictures. Blaine’s the outdoorsy type of product placement - hiking boots, surf boards, kayaks. And he’s been home with me to Shelter Harbor before, but it’s always strange, bringing him here.
Here where the history runs deep.
Here where the boy from my past - the ghost of my time in this town - still haunts my thoughts.
The boy that I fell for all those years ago, and the thief that stole my heart when he left.
The harbor is getting closer now. I can see the docks, the lobster boats, the crowds of tourists along the piers. The engine throttles as the boat starts to turn to make a backwards approach. Ainsley shuts her eyes, her knuckles white on the railing.
But I just take another big breath of sea air, letting the memory of home fill my lungs. And when I exhale, I let the last little thoughts of Silas Hart that come with being here out with my breath.
And at this point, that’s all they are - a lingering breath of sea air blowing out and away with the breeze.
The ferry clanks against the docking port, the engine throttles, and the gangway lowers, and once again, I’m back in Shelter Harbor.
This town is exactly the same as it was. The same Main Street full of kitschy shops, the same Commercial Street down by the piers with the touristy shit, and the lobster roll joints, and the booth selling whale-watching tickets.
And of course, it’s summer, which means fucking yuppies and day-trippers choking the place up, out to see the “historic old port” of Shelter Harbor.
They can drink Guinness and wear fucking Celtics hats and see the house where Whitey Bulger allegedly killed someone back in the eighties. And they can slum it at a cheesy dive bars by piers and feel like a local, even though the actual locals wouldn’t be caught dead in those places, and are busy drinking Bud Lights up the hill at the actual dive bar for half the price.
I left this place for eight damn years, and even just being back a week, I can already see that it’s exactly the same.
Well, except now I’m a ghost. Eight years away from anywhere will do that, no matter who the hell you are.
Why the hell am I even back here.
Well, I know why I’m here. I’m here because the one person in this town who managed to remember I existed asked me to be here for the park dedication in honor of his dad.
The man that told me to leave all those years ago.
And as much as Jacob probably still hates me for the what happened back then, he’s still the closest thing to a father I ever had after my parents died. Certainly more than my uncle who watched me after.
Blood runs thick in Shelter Harbor.
Thick like these fucking tourists.
I growl as I shove past a middle-aged couple in matching fanny-packs with the Red Sox logo and t-shirts with a portrait of Benjamin Franklin and something about the fucking Freedom Trail on them.
Oh, you’ve been to Boston. Good thing you’ve decided to tell the entire fucking world about it.
I’m trying to make it to the steps to the lower docks to see old man Conlin about the rental, but a ferry’s just come in from Boston, vomiting tourists onto the pier. I’m muttering and grinding my teeth as I get shouldered by some idiot tourist for the tenth fucking time, when suddenly something catches my eyes.
Something that looks fantastic in tight black leggings, heels, and that sleeveless top.
I stop for a moment, temporarily ignoring the flood of dumb yuppies swarming past me as I lock eyes on the girl with the soft golden hair tossed back over one shoulder.
She is every inch exactly the type of girl I make a point of avoiding. Fancy clothes, ridiculously nonfunctional shoes, hair that she’s clearly spent time on, and flashy, bangled jewelry.
And yet, I’m still looking at her, seemingly unable to look away.
She’s struggling with something, and I realize after a second that it’s her luggage, caught on the ramp from the ferry.
Her absurdly large, expensive looking baggage.
It looks genuinely stuck, too. She’s kicking it with her high-heeled toes, and yanking on the handle of the bag that doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, all the while with her ear on her shoulder, yapping into her cell phone.
God, it’s like every tourist cliché I’ve ever seen rolled into one. Well, minus the fanny pack.
I roll my eyes at the city girl here with the rest of these stupid people, but for some reason, something stops me.
After all, I am here to try and at least start the process of making up for the crimes I’ve done and the hurt I’ve caused, right? I mean, that’s the entire reason I let Rowan talk me into coming to his father’s dedication ceremony.
I groan, glancing at the thinning crowd, and the steps to the lower docks that I can actually see now.
Oh, fuck it.
Might as well help.
I sigh as I move my way through the last of the crowds pouring up the pier from the ferry, until I’m right behind her.
“Yep, uh-huh, yeah. Nope, that shouldn’t be a problem.”
I roll my eyes again as she yaps into her phone, yanking fruitless on the suitcase, which I can now see has a wheel wedged into the side of the ramp.
“Hey, you need a hand?”
“Yeah, no, we can- hang on.” She half turns, flashing a frown I can’t even half-see behind those huge Hollywood sunglasses she’s wearing.
Of course she is.
“I’m good, thanks.”
She turns her back to me again as she kicks at the suitcase. “What? No, just some local.”
I frown, not sure if I should be more offended at being called “some local” like that, or at the fact that I’m not a fucking local. Not anymore.
“Look, do you want a hand with that bag?” I growl, stepping towards her.
“Ugh, hang on,” she mutters into the phone again. “I’m fine, okay?”
She puts her full weight into the handle as her body strains.
“Oh, this is fucking ridiculous, just let me get that for-”
“I said, I’ve got-”
I want to say it happens in slow motion, but it honestly happens so fast I don’t even have time to blink.
The handle on her fancy luggage gives way with a snapping sound, and before I can even move, her whole arm jerks back with the full weight of her pulling.
Right into my face.
I go sprawling backwards, knocked right off my feet onto my fucking ass right there on the pier, my hands clutching the elbow-mark on my cheek right below my eye.
“Oh shit!” she screams, gasping as she whirls. “Oh my God!” She drops to her knees right next to me. “Fuck, are you-”
And right then, she stops.
Because right then, two things happen. I pull my hands away from my face, because that tone in her voice has just changed, and she pulls her ridiculous sunglasses off.
And right then, we both know.
Oh what the fuck.
Somehow, I remember to breathe.
Somehow, I remember to grin as I look up into the face I haven’t seen in eight fucking years.
The girl I left behind.
The girl I’ve never managed to get out of my head or my damn heart.
And the girl who’s my wife.