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       Escape, p.1

           Jay Crownover
 
Escape


  Escape

  Book 3 in the Getaway series

  Copyright info:

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Escape Copyright © 2018 by Jennifer M. Voorhees.

  All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For copyright information address: Jay Crownover LLC 1670 E. Cheyenne Mnt. Blvd. Box# 152, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80906.

  Congress Cataloging- in- Publication Data has been applied for.

  The bottom line is, don’t be the guy who ruins something cool for everyone else by being the asshole that takes words that don’t belong to you and profiting from them. Don’t be that guy…No one likes that guy. I will sue the hell out of that guy!

  These are the talented folks who helped bring my book to life:

  Cover design by: Hang Le http://www.byhangle.com/

  Photographed by and Copyright owned by: Wander Aguiar

  Model: Sebi Perner

  Interior Design & Formatting by: Christine Borgford, Type A Formatting www.typeAformatting.com

  Editing by: Elaine York, Allusion Graphics, LLC/Publishing & Book Formatting http://www.allusiongraphics.com/

  Copyediting by: Amy Donnelly

  http://www.alchemyandwords.com

  ALSO BY JAY CROWNOVER

  Recovered

  (standalone romance coming March 2018)

  Getaway Series

  Escape

  Shelter

  Retreat

  The Saints of Denver Series

  Salvaged

  Riveted

  Charged

  Built

  Leveled (novella)

  The Breaking Point Series

  Dignity

  Avenged (crossover novella)

  Honor

  The Welcome to the Point Series

  Better When He’s Brave

  Better When He’s Bold

  Better When He’s Bad

  The Marked Men Series

  Asa

  Rowdy

  Nash

  Rome

  Jet

  Rule

  Dedicated to your first and your forever, and to the ones who were lucky enough to find both in the same person.

  Intro:

  I want to drop a quick heads-up about the start of Escape.

  I wrote it in third person, but the rest of the book is in first, told in alternating POVs, as are most of my books. I know a lot of readers have strong feelings about third person vs. first person, I’m asking that you don’t let the first few pages throw you off.

  The reason I chose to write the beginning the way I did is because when I was putting the words on the page, I was getting distinctly uncomfortable watching it all unfold. It felt like I was a fly on the wall watching this train wreck going down in front of me and wanting desperately to scream “STOP IT!” I felt like a spectator to tragedy instead of being lost inside the moment inside one of the characters, and I guess it made sense to make all of you reading as uneasy as I was while everything unfolded. I wanted you stuck, skin crawling, eyes wide, words on the tip of your tongue wanting to spill forth right along with me.

  These two have such a complicated history and so much unrequited love and lust that I seriously doubt the prologue will be the only parts of this book that were tricky to write and even more complex to read! Isn’t that the best?!

  It’s going to be a long road home for the final Wild Warner—buckle up and enjoy the ride.

  Additional side note: When I initially wrote Brynn, and made her part Native American, I didn’t think that all the way through. Specifically, with regard to having to write about her experiences growing up on a reservation and needing to make that as authentic as possible. Remember this series was inspired a lot by old westerns and the TV show Longmire, which uses a reservation as one of the main settings. It is shockingly difficult to find someone to talk to about growing up on a reservation, even harder to find a woman who happens to be within my limited reach to pick their brain. So, there are parts of Brynn’s backstory where I admittedly took creative license. Fact and fiction often go to war when you are trying to tell the best story possible. I based those parts of her story on the documentary Hidden America: Children of the Plains, and various YouTube videos where Native Americans speak at length about their experiences both on and off the reservation. Again, there is a shocking under-representation of women in this situation that one can use as reference tools. So, while I tried my best to give a true-to-life experience for Brynn’s story, I’m sure I got some things wrong. Don’t hold it against me…or do, but know I did my best. ??

  Love & Ink

  xoxo

  Jay

  Prologue

  Yes or No

  “Will you marry me?”

  A hush swept through the engagement party that now had an ill-fated proposal smack-dab in the center of it. The silence wasn’t one of breathless anticipation and silent delight. No, the silence that seemed to echo and bounce off the walls of the rustically decorated home was one that was laced liberally with something closer to horror and noiseless despair.

  The words should’ve had the women bright-eyed and giddy and the men shifting with anxious expectation. Instead, they fell like a lead weight, and instead of every eye in the place landing on the woman who was staring at the handsome cowboy who was on bent knee before her, they drifted helplessly to another man in the room. The one who was leaning against the farthest wall away from the couple. The one who was watching the romantic scene in front of him with narrowed blue eyes and a jaw so tight it was a miracle his teeth didn’t shatter from the pressure of them grinding together. He was still, so still. It was as if the question hung in the air waiting for the dark-haired man to react—as if the question didn’t exist until he acknowledged the words were there in the room, hovering between him and the woman staring in horror at the ring offered to her by a man that wasn’t him.

  All eyes were on Lane Warner, not the proposal.

  “I know we haven’t been together for very long, and this might seem sudden, but I know you’re the one, Brynn. I love you, and I want to build a life with you. So, what do you say, will you marry me?” The blond cowboy named Jack asked the question with hope and love shining out of his bright eyes.

  Jack was ernest and clearly nervous. He clearly loved the woman who was standing in front of him, her hands shaking as she covered her mouth and blinked back the tears in her dark eyes. Jack was a good man, and he was right, this was sudden and unexpected—but not really. He had been around that he wanted to move toward something more serious, something more permanent over the last few weeks. Danger and mayhem tended to make people react without thinking. All the other people standing in that room could have told the handsome cowboy that she wasn’t ready for that kind of commitment, that there was a good chance she might not ever be ready, but he didn’t ask. Jack went out and bought a ring, sure the beautiful woman who had effortlessly stolen his heart was as in love with him as he was with her.

  He hadn’t been paying attention. If he had, he would have noticed the dark-haired man who seemed to be sucking all the air out of the room well before now. He would have been aware of the way the woman he loved let her gaze drift to wherever the blue-eyed cowboy was in the room and how it lingered. If he looked closely, he would have seen the way her eyes followed that dark-haired cowboy with undisguised longing and soul-deep regret. The hopeful cowboy wo
uld have spotted the way that she quieted and stilled when they were alone, leaving only part of herself in his hands. But they say love is blind for a reason, and the man holding the ring and pleading to the woman with his eyes didn’t see any of that until the room vibrated with tension so thick it was hard to breathe through. Only then did he see what was right in front of him all along. He loved her, but she loved someone else.

  “Umm…Jack—” Her hands shook even harder, and her typically sweet and melodic voice sounded rough and husky, laced with tears, and something that he would soon learn was remorse.

  Before she could finish the sentence and before she could drop the single word that would change the life of the blond cowboy who worked on the ranch next door irrevocably, the dark-haired man pushed off the back wall, straightened and left the room. It was like every bit of confidence, and wishful thinking had vanished with him. It was almost as if he took every ounce of love and hope with him when he left. All that remained was a shaking woman, a desperate man on his knees, and a gathering of friends and family who didn’t know if they should look away or rush to prevent the inevitable train wreck that was taking place right before their eyes.

  “I’ll go after him.” The deep rumble of Cyrus Warner’s voice finally broke through the stranglehold on everyone caused by the lack of an answer from Brynn. The thud of boots on hardwood sounded in time to rushing heartbeats as the oldest Warner brother went after the youngest. It was his job to protect, and that’s what he was going to do.

  Lane Warner had been present for every proposal that took place on this ranch, and it seemed his reaction to every one of them was getting worse.

  When Lane was eighteen, he tried to be Brynn Fox’s hero. He was the first cowboy who got on his knee and asked the beautiful girl to marry him even though they hadn’t so much as shared a single kiss. They were best friends, close in a way his brothers and several of their classmates would never understand. Brynn needed someone safe, a protector and a confidant. Lane needed someone who saw him. Someone who thought of him as more than the youngest Warner. Someone who knew he was as far as could be from the easy-going jokester that he presented to the world. They were honest with one another; they were each other’s truth. Brynn owed him too much to let him sacrifice his entire life and his youth for her, so that first proposal had ended much the way this one was going to.

  The trembling hand that covered Brynn’s mouth dropped, and her spine stiffened. The tears that were threatening escaped the lush cage of her lashes and started to fall freely. She took a step back, and a collective exhale seemed to be breathed out by the rest of the people in the room. Her answer didn’t just change Jack’s life forever; it changed everyone who had watched Brynn and Lane torture each other with unrequited and unspoken love for years.

  “Jack, you’re great, really. I…I had no idea you were so serious about us…about me. I…well…I’m not ready for something as big as marriage. I’m so sorry. I wish I could give you the answer you want to hear.” It was evident in her voice that there was a part of her that honestly wanted to be able to tell him yes. If anyone asked about her relationship she told them that Jack was easy. Jack was kind. Jack was a fresh start. What she never could say out loud was, Jack didn’t own the other half of her heart. Lane Warner did, and he had since she was twelve years old.

  Jack seemed to wilt. He dropped the hand holding the ring and ran his fingers through his shaggy blond hair. “Brynn?” Her name was part question and part plea.

  Brynn took another step back and shook her head, sending her fiery hair swinging. She ran her hands down the front of her jeans, palms obviously sweaty. “I’m so sorry, Jack. But I can’t.” Everyone in that room aside from Jack knew that she really couldn’t. It wouldn’t be fair, and it wouldn’t be the first time she told a good man “no”.

  Slowly, the blond cowboy climbed to his feet. Belatedly his gaze swept around the room. Brynn’s family was there minus the Warners. Lane and Cy had disappeared to God knew where. Sutton, the middle brother, had left for California a couple of months ago. Jack’s boss, a woman named Ten, who just happened to be a longtime friend of the Warner’s was there.

  Tennyson McKenna was watching them with guarded eyes and a fierce frown. She’d warned Jack to be careful. She’d told him in no uncertain terms that anyone with the last name Warner had a complicated relationship with love. Jack had laughed it off and reminded Ten that Brynn was technically a Fox, in more ways than one. She was only a Warner out of necessity, not because she wanted to be. Ten asked him how sure he was about that. Right now, Jack was wishing he had been able to read between the lines sooner. Because the audience witnesses him going down in flames at the boots of the woman he wanted to marry were people Jack couldn’t easily avoid when this was all over. There would be no place to hide his broken heart and disappointment in this small town and within this tightly knit group of people.

  Brynn’s younger sister, Opal, was there. She watched everything with wide eyes and a pale face. Her hand was wrapped around an older woman’s, whose face was pinched and twisted in the same kind of pain that seemed to be ripping Jack apart at the moment. Brynn’s mother was visibly horrified by her daughter’s reaction to the proposal, even though she had never met the man asking for her eldest daughter’s hand in marriage.

  Brynn didn’t mind that her sister was present for one of the most vulnerable and tragic moments of her life. Opal had been invited to the festivities that had nothing to do with the messy display today, but Brynn would have rather walked through lava barefoot than deal with her mother’s response to this nightmare. The older woman had latched onto her youngest’s invite like a leech, refusing to let her come to the party unless she got to tag along. The only reason Brynn’s mother had made an appearance was because there was free food and she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see who was gathered at the Warner’s ranch. Brynn’s mom was always looking for her next meal ticket, and the Warners knew all the influential people within several hundred miles. Brynn should have let Cy throw the older woman out when he offered, but she hadn’t wanted the scene to distract from the celebration. Her mother knew how to make the happiest of moments awful and unforgettable in all the worst ways.

  All Harmony Fox wanted in life was to be taken care of and treated like a queen. Brynn’s mother spent her life endlessly searching for someone to take care of her and provide for her. It was obvious Harmony couldn’t believe her oldest daughter was walking away from that, that Brynn was willfully turning down the security and safety she’d always been willing to kill for. Her expression quickly switched to anger as she pushed her youngest child’s hand off her arm and started for her oldest, a determined slant to her mouth.

  Jack’s best friend and his cousin were also in attendance, as well as a few faces who were new to Sheridan, Wyoming. A man whom Cyrus had hired to help run the luxury vacation portion of the business when the middle Warner left, and another man who was a few years older than him. The latter looked so much like the hired hand there was no mistaking the fact that they were brothers.

  They had all been lured to the ranch by the promise of free booze and prime steaks as they celebrated another engagement, one that had gone off without a hitch. When Cyrus Warner got on his knee and asked Leora Conner to be his wife and to spend the rest of her life with him, she couldn’t say yes fast enough. The petite redhead had thrown herself at the oldest Warner with enough force that they both ended up on the floor. The joy and rightness of the two of them being together forever had seeped into everyone who was lucky enough to witness that engagement. This party was supposed to end the same way. Jack thought it was perfect timing, he felt it at his very core. He couldn’t have been more wrong.

  Everything with the Warners was changing, which meant everything in Brynn’s world was changing. For a long time, the Warners and their ranch had been her entire world. The boys’ dad, Boyd Warner, had stepped in when Brynn turned Lane down back when they were teenagers. Brynn was a few week
s away from being legally able to walk away from her circumstances, but she was stuck in a no-win situation. No one questioned the possibility that the next time she was sent home to the reservation where she lived—trapped, with her mother and sister—might very well end up being her last. Things had taken a turn for the worse recently, but there were few legal means for anyone outside of the reservation to do anything to help. Boyd hadn’t wanted his youngest son to offer up the rest of his life to save his best friend either. Nor had he wanted Brynn to continue returning to a home where she wasn’t safe.

  The patriarch of the Warner clan knew his days were numbered. He’d been sick for a while, fighting and pushing back against a disease that was slowly stealing minutes of his life away. His boys didn’t know, he kept it from them on purpose, but he’d told Brynn. Confided in the girl that his youngest couldn’t live without, and promised her that if she took his last name, no one would be able to hurt her again. At least not physically, because words could sting and rumors would wound.

  They’d called Brynn a gold digger. They’d blamed Brynn for his death. To this day they talked about the fact that not one, but two Warners had offered to change poor, pitiful Brynn Fox’s last name, and only the older, wealthy, established one had managed that feat. It took forever for Brynn’s skin to thicken to the point it was almost bulletproof. She was safe. She was home, and she was loved no matter what the small-town gossips had to say. What Brynn never got over was the way Lane had looked at her after she agreed to his father’s outrageous plan. As soon as that ring hit her finger, their friendship had ended, and every second Brynn spent loving Lane seemed irrelevant and wasted. Those closest to the two of them watched as Lane went from the most important person in Brynn’s entire life to a virtual stranger overnight. The fact that the rest of the family had immediately taken Brynn in and welcomed her regardless of the circumstances hadn’t helped things. The other brothers had no problem joking about their hot-as-hell stepmother, but Lane never found the situation funny.

 
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