Cole Cameron's Revenge(4)

By: Sandra Marton

Cole wanted to object, not to being thrown out of Cameron House but to being found guilty, but how could he? Nobody was going to listen to him. By morning, the story would be all over town. He'd be a pariah. It was one thing to ride a motorcycle too fast or cut school, or even chug down too many beers. Breaking into a house, vandalizing it, was different.

There was only one way out of this mess.

He had to leave Liberty and not return until he'd made himself bigger than the lies Jeanine Francke had fabricated. Then he could shove the allegations down his accusers' throats, walk straight to Faith's door and claim her as his own.

He'd go to Faith, tell her what had happened, vow that he'd come back for her someday...

But how could he? Just turning up at the trailer park would drag her into this mess. Faith, his sweet, innocent Faith, would listen to his story and insist on going straight to his father and the sheriff to defend him. And she'd be ruined. Wasn't that precisely what he was determined to avoid happening?

There was only one way to prove his love for his girl. He had to leave her and never look back. The truth was she deserved somebody better. She always had.

The dream wasn't just over, it was dead.

"I want you out of this house, boy." Isaiah folded his arms. "You have ten minutes to pack."

Cole tossed jeans and T-shirts into a beaten-up backpack. When he'd finished, Isaiah held out a hundred-dollar bill. He took it, tore it in half and dropped it at his father's feet. Then he went out the door and away from the house that had never felt like home. He climbed onto his Harley and gunned the engine to life just as Ted ran down the steps.

"Cole," Ted hollered, "wait."

Cole had already started the bike moving. "Take care of Faith," he said.

"What should I tell her?"

That I love her, Cole thought, that I'll always love her...

"Nothing. You hear me, Teddy? Take care of her. Make sure she's okay. And-and don't tell her what happened."

"Yeah, but she'll ask."

"Let her think I got tired of it here and took off. It's better if I just get the hell out of her life."

"No. Cole, please-"

"Swear it!"

Ted sighed. "Yeah," he said, "okay. But where will you go? How will you live? Cole-

Cole let in the clutch and roared down the driveway.

Two years later, he'd worked his way across Georgia to Corpus Christi and then across the oceans of the world on an oil tanker, to Kuwait. He'd grown up. He'd stopped being so brash. His luck started to change and he lost some of the bitterness that plagued him.

More and more, he thought about going home. About seeing Ted and maybe even somehow reconciling with his father.

Mostly, he thought about going back to claim Faith, and the life they could have together. He was in the midst of making plans to do just that when a letter arrived from Ted. The envelope was dirty and torn; it looked as if it had followed him around the world for almost as long as he'd been away.

Cole opened the envelope and read the letter inside. It said that his father was dead. He'd had a heart attack and died more than a year ago.

He waited to feel some sense of loss for the man who'd sired him but there was nothing except a small, cold disappointment that he'd been deprived of the chance to confront Isaiah and tell him how wrong he'd been about his youngest son.

Dad left everything to me, Ted wrote. Of course, that's not the way it should be. We'll sort things out when you get home.

Cole smiled tightly. Ted would think that way but he didn't want a penny of the Cameron money. He turned the letter over, blinked at the next line.

I don't quite know how to tell you this. Understand, I did it because of what you told me, to take care of Faith. She was so alone after you left, so desperate...

"No," Cole whispered, "no..."

His brother was married. Married to Faith, to the girl Cole loved, the girl he worshiped, the girl whose memory was all that had kept him alive while he'd struggled to find a place for himself in life. Isaiah, damn him, had been right.

I love you, she'd said, I'll never love anyone but you ...but she'd been after the Cameron name and money all along.

The rest of the letter was a blur. Cole crumpled it in his hand; a roar of anguish ripped from his throat. Men standing near him looked up, then slowly moved away. They were roughnecks, same as he. They could handle themselves anywhere black gold oozed from the earth, but not one of them wanted to deal with what they saw in Cole Cameron's eyes that day.

He tore the letter into tiny pieces and flung them to the wind that swept endlessly across the desert sand. Then he turned his back on home, on Ted, on Faith, on everything he'd ever been stupid enough to let himself believe in or want.

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