“Asher, I don’t see why we can’t just runaway and get jobs. Why do we have to rob the store?” Cole pleaded with his older brother. They were standing outside the gas station his brother was determined to steal from.
“No one is going to get hurt. We will get jobs, but we don’t know how long it will take for someone to hire two runaways. And even once we start working, we won’t get paid for a week or two. We need seed money. Besides, the world owes us.” His brother attempted to convince him that stealing to get themselves started was the best idea for the two of them.
Cole didn’t understand how the world owed the pair. Life had dealt them both crappy hands, but they were always taken care of. After their dad died, their mom dropped them off at the firehouse because she could not take care of them anymore. Bouncing from foster home to foster home sucked, but they always had food in their bellies and a roof over their head. It may not have been the best food or always a comfortable place to sleep, and sometimes they were not together. They never lacked for any of their needs. For companionship, love, and family, they always had each other. Why was it not good enough for his brother?
Asher just turned eighteen. If he wanted to, he could get a job, find a place to live, and petition the courts to give him custody of Cole.
His brother had his high school diploma, so getting some type of job was possible. Cole would get a job too to help, but his brother was convinced they needed to use drastic, illegal measures in order to fast track their plans to stay together permanently.
While Cole believed the world took care of the brothers to the best of its ability, with all the tools available to two kids in the foster care system, his brother felt it still wasn’t enough.
Even though Cole was born with more sense and maturity, he did not have the backbone to refuse his big brother. Cole had the scars to prove Asher was always coming up with stupid ideas, but Cole never learned to listen to his own instincts for fear of disappointing the only person who was always there for him.
Reluctantly, Cole told Asher, “let’s get this over with.”
Standing behind the cash register was an older gentleman who, Cole believed in his gut, would not hand over the money easily. He reminded him of someone who may have robbed a store or two himself when he was their age. He had just rung a customer up, so they waited for the young girl buying candy to leave.
With the sound of the bell signaling the girl had left, Asher lifted his hand in his pocket like he might have a gun hidden inside. He had promised Cole no one would get hurt, but he had a bad feeling his brother lied to him.
He watched as his brother demanded the man behind the counter give him the money. Surprisingly, the man appeared afraid as he struggled to drawer open.
Asher’s patience waned as he yelled at the cashier, “hurry up!”
The nagging feeling in Cole’s gut pushed him to say something. With fear in his tone, “Asher, this is taking too long. Let’s go.”
Distracted by his brother’s comments, Asher turned around to look at Cole. His hand came out of his pocket, revealing he indeed had a gun.
Cole was horrified, “Asher, where did you get the gun. You said no one would get hurt. You said you would only pretend to have a gun.” Terror gripped the boy’s heart. If they got out of this mess, Cole planned to stand up to his brother’s schemes no matter how much he wanted to please him.
During the time Asher had turned to argue with his brother, the cashier pulled a shotgun from behind the counter. Both the boys turned to face the barrel of the gun when they heard the chambering of a round.
The gun in Asher’s hand went off. Shooting out the glass containing the cigarettes and alcohol. Cole covered his head to protect himself from the glass flying across the room.
The cashier reacted out of fear and fired the shotgun, sending Asher flying backwards to the ground.
Cole stood there, unable to move. His brother laid on the cold cement floor with a hole in his gut. Blood flowed from Asher’s lifeless body.
At the sight of blood, Cole ran to Asher’s body. He lifted him into his lap and held onto his brother. Screaming, he begged, “Asher, wake up. Wake up, Asher. Don’t leave me. You are all I got.”
Police showed up not too long after the guns went off. The arresting officers had to pull a distraught Cole, covered in blood, off of Asher’s dead body.
A new prisoner assigned to his cell was a common experience for Cole over the last ten years. He lost count of how many men he shared a cell with.
This prisoner was different, though. He had connections inside the jail and outside of the jail. One deputy paid Cole a visit before the man was escorted to his cell.
The deputy promised Cole, if nothing happened to his cellmate while he was there, an attorney would reopen his case.
The one quality Cole did not lack was intelligence. When Detective Brandon Landry swindled him into taking a deal, he didn’t take the deal out of ignorance. Cole let his attorney and anyone who asked believe he was duped into a life sentence.
The truth was, he welcomed the life sentence. What life was there for Cole without his brother? The life sentence was a small price to pay for the shame Cole lived with over his brother’s death.
Cole agreed to watch Caleb Turner’s back only because he respected Luke Turner, the deputy who requested the favor. He had no desire to have his case looked at. He was where he wanted to be. He accepted his fate from the beginning and never sought to change it.
Caleb spent six weeks underneath his bunk. Neither prison attempted friendship. That didn’t stop Cole from studying the man. He barely knew the man, but by the end of his time there, an intense connection festered inside of Cole.
He couldn’t explain why he was drawn to the stranger. It was during one of their last days as cellmates that the men had an actual conversation.
Caleb asked him, “Hey, what did you mean when you said I was off limits? And why did you call me Landry’s pet project?”
Earlier that day, Cole had to stop another prisoner from starting a fight with Caleb, where a hint of the reason Caleb had experienced no complications while there was mentioned.
Cole considered pretending to sleep after Caleb’s question. The last time he experienced the turmoil in his gut was the day his brother died. Remembering the consequences of ignoring those feelings, Cole finally answered his cellmate.
“One guard had a visitor before you showed up. She gave him a heads up that Landry had arrested someone and planted false evidence on him to make a case. She told the guard; ‘Landry would love to see him have a hard time in here.’ The guard put you in here with me and told me about Landry’s plan. Landry is the reason I am here. Many of us in here have a Landry who put us here. There isn’t a single person in here willing to let a detective like Landry use them as a pawn. Whoever this lady was, she has a reputation for getting appeals for prisoners. She told the guard that she would look at anyone’s case who looked out for you. Word gets around fast in a prison. Not a man in here would give that detective the satisfaction of making your life miserable. I just hope the mystery woman keeps her word.”
Cole had no expectations to his confession, but Caleb told him, “she will. I will make sure of it.”
Curiosity kept Cole talking, “Thanks, but you can’t know that.”
“The woman you described sounds like my mom.” Caleb’s statement sent Cole out of the bed before he thought about the repercussions.
Caleb sat up in his bed to look at Cole, “My mom is a defense attorney, with a reputation just like the guard told you. My mom left Brandon Landry at the altar. He caught the case where my girl’s ex-boyfriend died because he started a fight with me. When he realized I was my mom’s son, he thought he would use me to pay her back.”
“Shit, so did you do it?”
“The idiot ran at me, and I moved out the way. He ran his head into a car which fractured his neck, but he didn’t know it. He died later that night.”
“That is messed up.”
“Tell me about it. What is your name? I will make sure my mom has your name right away.”
“Cole Richoux.” He introduced himself to Caleb while reaching out to shake his hand.
Caleb shook his hand and assured him, “I’m Caleb Turner, and if there is anything to be found, my mom will find it.”
“Thank you.” Cole jumped back in his bed, and for the first time since his sentence, a desire to leave the jail was planted in his heart.
Darion stood in the pouring rain watching her dad walk away after dropping her off at the airport. She wanted to feel pissed at his decision. No matter how hard she tried, she could not feel angry at him. She loved her young brothers more than anyone else in the world, and any decision made to protect them she agreed with. Even if the decision was keeping her destructive nature from them.
Last night the police called her dad once again, because she had been picked up for drinking and driving. He had warned her many times that he was going to send her back to her mom, but she failed to believe his threats had merit.
Instead of three strikes, her father gave her eleven. That was the eleventh time the police called her dad because they had picked her up for some type of vagrancy.
Her dad may have given her a twelfth chance, if he hadn’t just gotten the letter saying she had been expelled from school because she passed out in front of the dorms missing her pants and underwear. He demanded an explanation, especially since she didn’t live in the dorms.
Darion still lived at home with her family to save her dad money. She remembered going to the bar that night. She remembered flirting with the guy who was buying her drinks, but after that it was a blur.
After the expulsion, her dad was terrified something similar would occur at home. Darion was convinced she could keep her problems from the house, but she couldn’t convince her dad. Deep down, she knew it was always a possibility.
It was two days before Darion shook herself off to purchase her plane ticket to the States. She moved from terminal to terminal, sleeping in the chairs, bathing in the bathroom sinks, and eating out of vending machines.
Seeing her mom again was absolutely the last thing Darion wanted to do. When she stepped off the plane in New Orleans, she repeated the same motions at the airport for another three days.
Surprised her dad didn’t call to see if she made it to mom’s safely, but relieved she could arrive on her own schedule.
The worst part of facing her mom was her mom discovering she turned out just like her. Maybe not exactly like her, but alike in the sense she made selfish, unhealthy decisions regularly.
Darion spent most of her life judging her mom, and all of her actions. How could she face her mom and not expect the same treatment?
Standing outside her mom’s doorstep for nearly two hours, she decided she would only share what was absolutely necessary. Her mom didn’t need to know the whole truth. Hell, her mom didn’t deserve the whole truth.
Chapter 1 ~ Cole
Cole was nervous pulling up to Danielle’s house. After her wedding yesterday, she invited him over for dinner. He couldn’t imagine what she wanted to talk to him about.
His first thought was maybe she wanted to discuss his intention towards her daughter, Darion, but she already knew he planned to marry her one day. Danielle already gave him her blessing.
Could she be put out that there were some delays getting Darion’s car in working condition? He could have got it running with the possibility of problems in the future, but he needed the car to be perfect. It would be ready in just a couple of more days.
Cole stepped out of his car, rolled the lint off his clothes (a pet peeve of his), and headed to the door as if he was a dead man walking.
Luke answered the door, “Good evening, Cole. We are so glad you could make it.” Luke sounded cheerful, easing some of Cole’s nerves.
“Thank you for having me. Is Darion coming to dinner too?” Cole boldly asked. He assumed she wasn’t, but he still felt the need to confirm.
“No, Danielle has a proposition for you. She wanted to talk to you about it first. Don’t worry, neither of us is going to say anything uncomfortable tonight,” Luke tried to assure him, sensing his nerves.
Danielle walked out of the kitchen and added to Luke’s assurance, “Yes, Cole. I want to give you an opportunity. It’s all good. No obligations. Dinner is hot, so let’s serve our plates and we can talk business over food.”
Cole filled his plate with what was most likely three servings of lasagna. He liked to eat, and he loved cooking. He just didn’t have a kitchen that offered him the opportunity for either. Take out was boring and expensive.
Once the three of them were settled in, Danielle finally let Cole in on why he was there, “Cole. It was probably none of my business, but Pasiphae mentioned to me you were looking for a house to rent or buy. She filled me in on the issues you were having with getting approved for anything.”
“True, and Caleb has been great about giving me references,” Cole cautiously told her.
“I want to make you an offer. Now that Luke and I are married, I am moving into his house. I can’t afford to keep this house. I would like to offer it to you as a rent to own situation.”
Cole choked on his food, “Are you serious?”
“Very. If you want it, and can afford the current mortgage and expenses. I have one condition though.”
“What is the condition?”
“Darion is Meg’s nanny when Luke is at work, but she needs a place she can go to that she has her own space. I know you two are just in the friendship stage. As her friend, would you offer to rent her a room? She might want to get on her place by herself, but that is just silly when she has to spend so much time with Megan.”
“Ok, I have one condition myself.”
“Go ahead,” Danielle encouraged him.
“I won’t keep this conversation from Darion. She has to know it was your idea and suggestion. Secrets are never a good idea.”
“See, I knew I liked you. I already mentioned to Darion that I was going to offer you the house. I didn’t tell her all the details, but you two can work that out.”
Cole chuckled at Danielle’s response. “Danielle, I can’t tell you how much your generosity means to me. I honestly thought I might have to live in the garage forever. I promise, I won’t make you regret this.”
“I would never let my future son-in-law live in a garage with my daughter and grandkids,” she teased.
Cole was able to relax. The gift Danielle gave him lifted a burden off his shoulders that weighed heavily on him. He had been concerned about being able to provide a family with a home. He might not want to raise children in the small home that was now his, but it was a start in a direction for a future he could have never pictured.
Cole allowed himself to feel joy over this unexpected turn of events, “when can I move in?”
Luke answered, “You can move in tomorrow if you want to. We are going back to my house after we pack up everything Danielle wants to take with her. If you want any of the furniture she doesn’t need, it is yours too.”
A tear escaped Cole’s control as he confessed, “I still can’t figure out why or how I ended up living a life I never allowed myself to dream of.”
“I am beginning to believe, good comes to those who aren’t looking for it or trying to earn it. It's almost as if it is a lesson that good and bad are not earned or deserved. Bad things happen to good people all the time, so if we judge good and bad based on what we deserved, we are stuck believing we earned the bad things. Just like when good comes to people who believe they earned it, they become prideful and arrogant because they don’t see it for the gift it is. I don’t know if I am making any sense, but after losing Molly and then finding Danielle, I have had to reevaluate the way I look at the good and the bad that comes our way. I almost think we can’t do anything to be deserving of good things or of bad things. All we can do is appreciate the gift of the good and find a way to turn the bad into something for the better,” Luke suggested.
“You might be right. I keep thinking if I didn’t lose my brother or go to jail, I would have never learned about ‘the soulmate call’ or met Darion. I’m not saying I don’t want my brother back if I could have him, but without the bad, all the good I am experiencing would have never happened.”
Cole didn’t stick around too longer after dinner, in order to give the newlyweds their privacy for the rest of the night.
Chapter 2 ~ Darion
Darion stood outside of Cole's new house, working up the courage to knock on his door. She still had her key and could have just let herself in. She knew Cole was going to ask her if she wanted to keep her room, but she wasn’t sure if it was ok to just walk into his house.
Her mom told her about Cole agreeing to rent the house, and he was happy to rent her room to her. It was probably wiser to rent an apartment, but that would cost her a lot more money. She was sure Cole would try to get away with charging her as little as possible. Besides the cheap rent, her roommate would be the only man who ever captured her heart, body, and soul.
So why was she terrified to knock on his door? Because moving in with him meant spending more time with him, which would bring them closer to the inevitable romantic relationship they were headed towards.
She didn’t want to give him the wrong impression when she asked to have her room tonight and the entire week. Luke and her mom had the entire week off. Megan’s grandparents took her to Atlanta for the week, so that her mom and Meg’s dad could have an at home honeymoon. Darion wanted no part of that.
After several minutes of pacing the front stoop, Cole opened the front door, “Are you going to come in? Or is there something better out here?” he joked with her.
“You knew I was here?” she asked.
“I heard you pull up. What have you been doing out here all this time?”
“Trying to figure out how to ask you if I could move in tonight, without you thinking anything other than I need a place to sleep this week.”
“One hundred percent honesty. I like it. Darion, you control the pace of this relationship. I will assume nothing or jump to conclusions. Anything that happens with us, you are going to have to hold up a neon sign. I never want to push you towards something you are not ready for.” Cole truthfully told her. “Now get in here, Queen of my heart. Before I have to drag you in here.”
Darion walked in, shaking her head. Like shaking her head would stop his voice popping up in her head.
“Do you have stuff in the car you want me to bring in?” Cole asked her.
“No, I have things in my room still. It’s easier to just have two of everything. Instead, of packing every other week. What is that smell? It smells awesome?”
“I love to cook. Now, that I have a kitchen, I was making dinner. Are you hungry?” Cole bragged.
“I wasn’t hungry until I smelled your food. What is it?” she asked while they walked to the kitchen.
“I made chicken breasts smothered in a mushroom sauce, with pirogues and asparagus. I didn’t have time to do anything fancy.”
“It looks and sounds fancy to me,” Darion praised. Cole arranged a chicken breast that he pulled out of the mushroom gravy, asparagus and four pirogues on a plate. He then poured the mushroom sauce over everything.
“All I did was coat the chicken in Tony Chachere’s, opened a can of cream of mushroom soup and let the chicken simmer. It’s really easy. I will cook you something elaborate next time.”
“You don’t have to do anything special for me. We’re roommates. We can take turns cooking.”
Cole suspiciously asked her, “Can you cook?”
“I can learn,” she said while pushing her food around on her plate.
“If you want to learn, I’d love to teach you. If you hate cooking, no worries, it relaxes me. Having a kitchen is a dream come true, so I planned to make sure I always had a fresh meal on my table. Don’t stress about it on my account.”
“I don’t know if I want to learn or not. I never thought about it. My stepmom did all the cooking, and her kitchen was off limits. When I lived with mom, if there was a man in the house, she cooked for us. When she was single, we lived on peanut butter and jelly and cereal. Teaching me how to cook, might be a safe activity as friends,” she suggested.
“I’m not so sure about that. Caleb once told me, ‘foreplay starts in the kitchen,’ while kissing the back of Pasiphae’s neck as she cooked.” The smile on Cole’s face had Darion moving from side to side in her chair, as she tried to calm the feelings the sight of his single dimple along his left cheek ignited in her loins. This was day one as roommates, and she was already thinking about taking his virginity.
She needed a distraction. “Since you cooked, let me clean up.” Darion didn’t wait for his answer before she was on her feet picking up their plates. There wasn’t a dishwasher in the kitchen, so she had to fill the sink with soapy water.
Cole put the leftovers away and joined her at the sink to dry the dishes she has washed. She wanted to finish the dishes alone, to get her hormones in line with her head. “I can do this, if you want to unpack and settle in.”
“I own little. It took me less than an hour to put everything I have in my room.” Cole told her.
Chapter 3 ~ Cole
Cole wasn’t an expert at discerning the signs women exhibited, but he felt confident he caused Darion’s flustered attitude.
She didn’t seem mad at him. She appeared to be fighting desire towards him. Her desires were recognizable to him, because he lived fighting his longings for her.
He’d debated making a move until he woke up covered in vomit after experiencing her nightmare, he was certain was her past. She hadn’t confided in him, and it was understandable why. Talking about something so horrific was probably nearly impossible for her.
Cole knew the only way to win every part of her being was to give her the time and space she needed to trust him. His appendage couldn’t grasp being patient, but his heart made peace with it. Having believed he would die a virgin, made it a touch easier to wait for his soulmate to surrender to him. He suspected the touch of a man repulsed her. If his touch ever turned her stomach, he would never forgive himself.
Walking away from her when she was struggling with desire for him would not happen. He would never push her in his direction, but he wouldn’t encourage her to suppress her need for him. If she asked him to leave her alone, he would, but hints would not work as she hoped.
When she tried to hint for him to let her clean up alone, instead, he suggested, “want to watch a movie when we are finished?”
If she wanted out of his presence bad enough, she would have to leave on her own. “Sure, that sounds relaxing.”
Her answer affirmed his decision to stay by her side unless she specifically told him to go away.
Danielle didn’t have a full-sized couch in the living room. The only seat to watch a movie on was a love seat with a pillow on each end of the olive-green piece of furniture. Darion hadn’t moved her pillow to the floor, so Cole left his as well. The setup pushed their bodies closer towards each other, which was fine with Cole.
They couldn’t find a movie on that either felt like watching, so they settled on a Law and Order SVU marathon. Cole was confused by her interest in a show that would remind her of her past.
It was after the jury found the rapist guilty that Darion explained her fascination with the series, “Whenever they find them guilty, it makes me feel good inside. Do you know what I mean?”
Maybe the guilty sentence on a fictitious show brought a bit of closure, even if only momentarily, to Darion.
During each episode, Darion’s body moved closer towards Coles. In between, she popped a bag of popcorn they shared out of the same bowl. More than once their hands brushed, grabbing the popcorn at the same time. By the middle of the third episode, Darion had lifted her legs across Cole’s lap, using him as an ottoman.
Cole realized it would be a long time before he ever took a hot shower again, as long as Darion was around.
During the fourth episode, Darion fell asleep. Cole had no desire to move away from underneath her, so he fell asleep beside her.