Cole Cameron's Revenge

By: Sandra Marton
PROLOGUE

Liberty, Georgia, nine years ago.

THE Cameron family had lived in Liberty for as long as anybody could recall.

First they'd farmed the land. Then they'd ranched it, and when real estate values went sky high they subdivided it and built houses. The houses weren't very good but they were big and expensive. It wasn't cheap to live in a town that was rapidly becoming an Atlanta suburb.

Nowadays, the Camerons also owned the biggest bank in Liberty, the most prosperous realty company, and there wasn't a politician in the state didn't know where to go to pick up a fat check in return for an occasional favor.

People talked about the Camerons with respect. They talked about Isaiah that way and about his eldest son, Ted ...but that wasn't how they talked about Cole.

Ted spoke of his kid brother with love. Mrs. Sherry, the high school principal, talked about him with regret. Sheriff Steele talked about him with dismay.

Isaiah talked about him with disgust.

Cole didn't care. He had once, a long time ago, but by the time he was in his eighteenth summer he'd given up hoping his father would ever look at him with love, the way he looked at Ted, or even with affection, the way he looked at his dogs.

By then, Cole was little over six foot two. He had brown hair streaked gold by the sun, green eyes, and a body leanly muscled from years of working on his father's housing developments. Isaiah had never given his younger son a penny unless he worked for it.

The boy had been nothing but trouble from the day he was born.

Most of the female population of Liberty talked about Cole, too, but in whispers. They dreamed, and fantasized, and sighed, especially now that he was almost a man. He had his pick of females, all ages and sizes, and because he was young he flirted with them all and slept with the ones who were the prettiest. He never set out to hurt a woman's feelings but maybe because they were so available or maybe because he was never satisfied with the present for very long, he broke a lot of hearts. And if, once in a while, he really did get into trouble riding his secondhand Harley too fast or cutting school or maybe drinking one beer too many, it just made him all the more appealing.

Ted, who was as unlike Cole as day was from night, worried that his brother would get into serious trouble one day. Isaiah didn't worry. As far as he was concerned, it was inevitable. Cole always felt his father wouldn't mind seeing that day come and might even rejoice when it finally arrived.

"You ruined my life," Isaiah told him more than once, "the day you were born."

Cole figured it was the truth. His mother had died giving him life and nothing he could possibly do would make up for the loss.

The end came sooner than anyone anticipated, not in one definable moment but in a series of seemingly unconnected events.

Her name was Faith. Her father was a man looking for something he'd never found, either in a woman or a bottle. He drifted from town to town through the South, taking whatever work he could find and dragging Faith and her mother with him. That summer, he settled his family in a trailer on the outskirts of Liberty.

One Monday-a day Cole had decided to go to school instead of doing something more interesting-he sauntered into the cafeteria at lunchtime and his gaze swept straight past the little clutch of cheerleaders waiting on his next move, past the jocks he played with on the Liberty High football team, and settled on an angel with long, pale blond hair and corn flower blue eyes.

Cole flashed her a devastating smile and turned on the charm that never failed him. Nothing happened. It took him a week to get Faith Davenport to smile in return, another week before she'd eat lunch with him and by the time she finally agreed to let him take her out, Cole Cameron was, in the words of the poets, well and truly smitten.

His friends thought he'd lost his mind. Faith was pretty but not beautiful; she didn't sparkle the way other girls did and she didn't treat Cole like the catch he was. Cole didn't care. There was a freshness to her, a sweetness unlike anything he'd ever known, and he felt something reach into his chest and squeeze his heart.

After their second date, Cole wanted more. Not sex: Faith was innocent, he was certain. For the first time in his life he didn't want to seduce a girl so much as he just wanted to be with her. She was easy to talk to, she was good, she was gentle... and she didn't see him as a bad-boy celebrity. He was just Cole Cameron, and she saw qualities in him he'd never known were there. Good qualities. That was a new experience.

He laughed when she told him he was smart. But he began hitting the books and the next thing he knew, he was acing his exams. School suddenly became interesting. He started showing up every day. When Faith asked where he wanted to go to college, he blinked. He wasn't planning on college but she persisted, so he had a talk with his guidance counselor and yes, it looked as if maybe, with his newly improved grades and his football skills, he might just wangle himself a scholarship because there was no way his father would foot the bill.

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