He'd never had the courage to approach her while at college, though he'd seen her often on campus and thought about asking her out. He could feel his face redden as he recalled the crush he'd had on her back then. He knew that her major was business and not for the first time wondered why she eventually chose law enforcement as a career...and what she saw in a guy like Brad Draper. But then, she wasn't the only one who saw something in Draper that Clint couldn't see.
Clint leaned back and stretched before smoothing his mustache with a thumb and index finger. Draper was one of the few guys Clint had met in his life that he disliked immediately. He knew the man was a local legend. A star linebacker for the Oregon Ducks, quick and strong but too small to go pro. Awarded the medal of valor. From a family that had a history of public service—dad a retired cop, an uncle on his father's side also a cop, another uncle on his mother's side a firefighter. All in all, Draper's parents were wealthy, well-known, and pillars of the community.
But Clint couldn't get on the bandwagon. He'd worked around Draper and didn't like his manner or his tactics. There must be something there, though, for a smart beauty like Radcliff to have married him. Is love truly blind? Clint hoped that he was wrong and that Draper was a good and faithful husband.
+ + +
Leah's joy at seeing the contrite text from Brad was short-lived. As she drove home, the sun made her squint, and she realized she'd left her sunglasses at work. Two vehicles in the driveway turned the squint into a frown and made anger flood her veins like 100 proof caffeine. One belonged to Larry Ripley and the other to Duke Gill, two of Brad's best friends. And Leah didn't like either one of them.
Duke Gill worked for Brad's father, Harden Draper, who had business interests all over the valley. Duke was a kind of Johnny-on-the-spot, doing whatever needed to be done. Since he was the brother of her best friend, Becky, Leah tried to like him, but something about him rubbed her the wrong way. He encouraged Brad's baser traits, she thought, always egging him on for one more shot of whatever they were drinking.
The same was true for Larry Ripley, only more so. He was Brad's oldest friend; they'd grown up together. He'd been the best man at their wedding. And Leah could say that she hated him. A high-powered attorney—ambulance chaser to Leah's way of thinking—he was, in her opinion, oily and not to be trusted. He'd just been elected to the city council and she doubted that was a good thing for the city. Ripley was a bad influence on Brad, always only concerned about himself, nothing else.
Brad worked swing shift, so his EOW was 2:30 a.m. He usually got to bed around four and slept till about eleven. He should be in bed, text to her notwithstanding. That the guys were here now, at 9:30 a.m., meant they'd cut short Brad's sleep. She was certain Larry was the instigator here.
She'd learned to bite her tongue about the man, because it would only start a fight. And right now, the last thing she wanted was a fight.
Brad came out of the house to meet her before she reached the door, dressed and ready for the day, energy drink in hand. He smiled the smile that always melted her heart. She loved his dimples. He was Hollywood handsome, rugged and so very sexy. A cross between Brad Pitt and Jason Statham. A fleeting thought crossed her mind: He was the exact opposite of quiet Clint Tanner. Brad was outgoing, always the life of the party. If something was going to get started, it was Brad who started it. That quality had attracted Leah to him. Though now, nearly two years into their marriage, she often found it exhausting.
"Hey, babe, rough night?" He wrapped Leah in a tight one-armed hug while Larry seemed to slink out of the house. Duke shot her a grin, bordering on a leer, signature toothpick hanging out of his mouth, and climbed into his truck.
Brad didn't give her a chance to answer. "I got you some flowers. They're in the bedroom." Pulling back, he rubbed the side of her face with his thumb. "Hey. Duke has an emergency with his well. We got to go help him."
"Now? I was hoping we could talk," Leah said even as Brad was moving away from her and toward Larry.
"We will, I promise, when I get home." With that, he turned toward Larry's truck, he and Larry hopped in, and they were gone, Duke behind them.
Leah slowly walked into the house. She felt sticky from the heat and work, tired and beaten. Her heart hurt as she thought of Alex Porter and the broken plastic horse.
She and Brad had a plaque in the entryway: This is a divided household with a picture of a duck on one side and a beaver on the other. A joke because they were from rival schools, Leah from Oregon State and Brad, the University of Oregon.
But right now, it wasn't a joke or a laughing matter. Leah felt as divided as if she'd been physically cut in half. She shed her clothes, hopped in the shower, and cried, glad the water washed away the evidence of tears instantly, much like water had washed away Carlos Porter's blood.
This excerpt ends on page 12 of the paperback edition.
Monday, June 28th, we begin the book Tie Die by Max Tomlinson.