Don’t Got The Guts Ch. 02

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This is a slow burn kinda romance – lots of scene-setting, back-and-forth, and backstory into each character’s life as you get to who they are and how they fall in love. But as with all fires, when it gets hot, it gets HOT … so I hope you can forgive me and won’t be too disappointed!

Thanks for choosing to give my story a go 🙂


Her feet obeyed the orders against her better judgment, crossing the timber threshold of the farmhouse with equal parts embarrassment and dread. She caught a glimpse of Penny’s white and orange tail as the dog squeezed between her legs and scampered off down the hall.

“Penny!” That dread seemed to seize her again. No longer in her line of sight, Colleen quickly scraped her feet against the welcome mat and hastened to follow after her.

“Hold it.”

She froze (albeit awkwardly – her legs were still bent in some kind of takeoff and her arms were pitched in front of her for balance) and looked to where the voice had sprung from.

Tan workboots were toed off with expert precision, green slacks that had faded to a soft sage grazing the floorboards in their wake, before being stacked neatly on a rack besides the door. He had on some kind of toolbelt – dark and freckled with folds and creases, scissors and wrenches and other unbeknownst devices jangling as he unclipped the thing and set it on the sideboard – and a puffer vest that matched the brown of his boots.

Colleen stared at him, waiting, as he sighed and muttered to himself whilst unzipping it. He pulled off a peaked cap to run a hand through his hair. Halfway through the motion he caught her gaze. Those blue-green eyes cut her like glass.

He gestured plainly at her feet. “You need an invitation or somethin’? Take off your boots and leave ’em there by the door. Em’s got enough goin’ on around here – she don’t need anythin’ more to be cleanin’ up.”

Startled into submission by the brusqueness of his reply, she tugged her feet out of her boots and shook the worst of the muddy rivulets over the welcome mat. With exposed toes from the holes in her socks, she nudged them neatly towards a corner.

“ON THE RACK,” he called out, striding off into the house.

Jeez, what was his problem? She kept her less savory thoughts to herself as she dropped them on the rack, toppling some weaker hiking boots and sending a few tennis shoes askew.

He was long gone by the time she turned around, no trace of dog nor human hide or hair, and so Colleen found herself completely alone in the farmhouse’s barren foyer. She let out a slightly weary whimper as she realized just how many turns and archways broke up the rest of the hall.

A hard crack of thunder was what it took to spur her into movement. It ran through the walls and beams of the building like a call from the wild, rattling the windows and echoing through the rooms with a plaintive whistle.

The mix of her bare soles and the wet cotton made for a strange experience as she pulled herself along the floorboards – cold and free, gratefully sheltered, but indisputably ill at ease with her current circumstances. She came across a room with seaglass colored carpet and stepped into it immediately, if only for something more comforting underfoot.

The room seemed to keep in style with the rigid, formal structure of what she’d seen of her surroundings so far; regal furniture with hard backs and quilted cushions, all arranged facing the abyss of a dark brick fireplace with an ornate grate and wrought iron pokers. The mounted television above the mantle was the only giveaway she hadn’t walked onto a set from one of those period pictures her mom liked to guzzle down with wine on rainy weekends.

The windows on the other side of the room looked new, too. They were floor-to-ceiling and inset with the wall, providing an uncompromising view of the acres that lay beyond – all the bounty of Hawthorne Farm.

She knew the man as soon as she saw him. Gordon Hawthorne was a relative newcomer to Silvercrick, considering he’d only been here a year or so, and somewhat of a recluse. Before he’d settled in this land had gone to waste, pecked to death by the magpies and overrun with gophers and foxes after the untimely death of its last proprietor. Suspected heart attack, the town said, or something it. He usually came to the Garden Store to purchase feed and weedkiller, plus a couple of bags of bone fertilizer in the spring. Colleen had tied enough of his orders together in the evenings, keeping them ready out back for when Anna Jarvis’ boys finished the milk delivery and helped load it all into the truck he drove down from the mountains.

She wasn’t surprised that he didn’t mind a few potholes, or the steepness of the drive, or the implicit peril of its narrow, winding lanes. Gordon Hawthorne had no fear. He’d made that clear that by purchasing the farm in the first place, with its unforgiving soil and proximity to the woods, far from the reach of any civilization.

That orange pickup Ankara Rus Escort truck was the first thing she spotted when she looked out the window, its rusted hood parked up near a barn and soggy hay bales under the awning spilling out of their tarps. The plots seemed newly tilled in anticipation of warmer weather, scarecrows pitched between them and gnarled trees watching over like gossipy old hens.

It didn’t look so scary like this. Not that she saw or knew much of it beforehand – she’d only started hanging out in Wychburne a few summers ago, and any assumptions she had of this place had been based off stories and the nature of the world in which it was situated. The rules of the wilderness it paid levy to. There’d been no reason for her to venture this close to the gorge and its cavernous depths … devoid of witnesses, and abounding with rocky terrain.

A shiver itched along her spine. No, she thought decisively. There hadn’t.

In her weaker moments, she might have entertained that deep and savage pull within her. But she had her mom, and Christie, and Irwin to think about – and she thought about them a lot. Enough to know the guilt of certain decisions would weigh her down all the way into the afterlife, turning her into just another scream in the valley that nobody visited, that nobody knew by name.

Looking at the bleak and unfulfilled vista ahead of her, she frowned. There was an ache in her bones that sympathised with the cold and turgid soil, warring against its own insufficiency.

Something broke through the muffled sonata of rainfall and muddy ricochets she could hear echoing against the glass – a soft creak and grumble that parted the background noise with purpose, and poise. It caused her to turn around and search the room. She twisted at her waist, arms still enclosed around her and legs rooted to the patch of carpet where she’d lost her train of thought.

The man by the fireplace was not the angry, impatient farmer who’d beckoned her into his dwelling as an act of mercy and then left her to rot in the hallway, although he seemed to share the same latent enthusiasm concerning her presence. His brows were pitched together in a steep V across his forehead, and his full lips were downturned in an undeniable grimace.

But those eyes – those blue-green eyes, sharp and sullen – were impossible to look away from. On the farmer they’d simply seemed cold … but on him, they were utterly bewitching.

“Hi,” she managed, eventually. At least she didn’t sound breathless. If she hadn’t been so locked into place, Colleen imagined she might have keeled over.

The man simply raised an eyebrow in response. Never mind then. Were they all just pissing in each other’s cornflakes around here?

“You lost?”

The voice was low, and hollow – an undecided threat lurking behind the kind of cadence she’d like to wrap herself up in on cold winter nights. She probably wasn’t supposed to be in here. The furnishings were quite fancy, after all, and she hadn’t noticed ’til now that the water off her raincoat was mottling the seaglass at her feet into a weird putrid gray.

An anxious swallow coated her throat with enough sticky valor to chase away the reflux. “I – uh – was out on the porch, with my dog. She ran in here.”

“Your dog?”


“… right.”

“I don’t know where she is. Waiting on her to … show up, I guess.”

His gaze hadn’t let up any. But he seemed less suspicious of her now. Perhaps a tad confused.

“You – uh – you live here? With the farmer?”

She was aware she’d uncrossed her arms in a gesture of bravery, but she sure wished she could’ve found something else to hold onto first. There was a chill to his unabashed appraisal of her that made the tilled soggy fields look incredibly inviting. His stare quickly hardened, and his lips curled like a snapping vine.

“Been here six months.” His tone was dry – scathing, even – though his face remained pulled taut with that quiet fury. “Don’t think I’ll stay for another.”

She nodded sagely. At least she hoped she did.

“The valley’s not for everyone.”

Before she could make a further fool out of herself, she clamped her mouth shut – grasping her elbows in her hands again and tracing the seams of her raincoat. Her gaze quickly flickered over everything else in the room except the pillar of cold blue flame leaning up against the fireplace.

Suddenly, there was a tap tap tap-ping of claws against floorboards and a lull of footsteps that reverberated in their wake. Gordon emerged like an apparition at the threshold to the living room, his close-cropped dirty blonde now dark and glossy from what must have been a shower. He clicked his tongue and Penny quickly sat down at his heels.

“You should use the phone,” he said. It was clear who he was talking to, though neither of them moved. “Your folks’ll be worried about you.”

The words twisted in her stomach like Yenimahalle Escort a knife. She couldn’t find the words to stop the bleeding, so she followed him back out into the hall.

Staring down the receiver of an ancient rotary machine, she reminded herself that there were things in life that still cut deeper than blue-green ever could – and tonight, that was a source of relief.


They all washed up before dinner. It was a rule of the house – one that made sense, given that life here revolved around work in the field, or errands in the valley, or cleaning up after a vast, dusty and despondent house.

But still. There was a part of Colleen that wondered how many more rules she’d be subjected to before her irreverent streak cost her their good graces and she was tossed into the storm like an old ragdoll.

Her train of thought was cut short by the sight of her own face in the mud-room mirror. Shock and embarrassment flooded her as she skimmed over the subway tiles of the shower cubicle and homed in on her reflection, pallid skin and bitten lips in all their grisly glory.

The raincoat was still glued to her sides, and the protest it made as she forcefully tugged at the sleeves was loud and squelchy – shrunken, wrung out polyester still complaining as she hung it up on one of the pegs along the mudroom wall. She would have hidden the offending garment in her knapsack, but from what she could remember she’d left it soaking through the floorboard by the farmhouse’s front door. Her damp pigtails left patches on the large green overshirt that had become untucked and dishevelled.

She muttered to herself as she adjusted her collar in the mirror, refolding the sleeves, tucking the extra swathes back under her jeans and her belt. You could see her white undershirt where the placket didn’t close right, courtesy of two buttons that had been lost in a dryer cycle years ago, long before she’d tugged this out of an ancient bureau and decided to give it a new lease of life. The pigtails earned themselves a grimace of their own – the majority of her locks were spilling out and fighting to swing free, with the smaller strands at her hairline curling upwards like a hotwired halo.

None of that could be helped though. Certainly not in the five minutes before she was expected at the dinner table. The best she could manage was to tug out the more unkempt creases in her shirt and comb though her flyaways with dirty fingernails before a bell rang down the hall.

The thud of a door closing cost her valuable time, meshing with the sounds of harried footsteps and intermittent chatter and throwing her off course as she tried to figure out where she was going. By the time the echoes subsided and she’d finally located the small dining nook, most of the seats had been taken.

“Ms. Pfeiffer.” Gordon – or the back of Gordon’s head – announced theatrically, as he gestured to the only available chair. “Do join us. We’d be honored.”

Her cheeks flamed as she bit down on her scowl, trudging around his place at the head of the table. She found herself opposite a mop of bright blonde curls, and next to the man she’d found in the living room.

“Em, say grace,” Gordon said softly. His lilting murmur ended with the curl of his hand toward the blonde on his right, who grasped it graciously in return.

Em, whoever she was, looked up into Colleen’s wary stare – bright green eyes shooting her a wicked wink before she extended her other hand. Gordon reached out in a similar fashion.

Colleen had watched enough reruns of Little House on the Prairie to figure out what they were about to do, so she wrapped her fingers around Gordon’s palm and tried not to feel weird about it. She looked determinedly off into space as another calloused palm reluctantly gripped her from the left.

“Dearest Lord …”

Em trailed off into a series of warm placations about home and hearth and gratitude. The hand on Colleen’s left dwarfed hers in size, squirming over her wrist and brushing up against the delicate bones behind her knuckles. She drew in a deep breath.

Heart thumping, she let go as soon as the final ‘amen’ was muttered. Shaking fingers folded her proffered napkin over her lap as she swallowed against her sheepishness.

The clink of tableware and slow build of chatter began to fill the empty space, glasses and crockery being passed back and forth. A cloud of warmth rose from the meat and potatoes as Em made everyone a plate, fresh and inviting against the backdrop of cold rain that continued to fall in sheets outside. Whether it was cozy conscientiousness that came with being round a table or her suddenly ravenous appetite, Colleen found it easy to tuck into the meal.

“I’ve seen you in town sometimes,” Gordon said around a mouthful of mash, lifting his napkin to his lips in defense of his manners. “I get my supplies from your store.”

Colleen nodded. “I’ve packaged your grain and feed. Fertiliser too. Ms. Havisham handles the plant supplements, though – says it helps keep her head in check.”

“I’ll say.” He held his knife and fork slowed as he chewed, the slightest quirk lifting the corner of his lips. “Havisham, huh?”

She only caught the slip of her tongue when it was much too late. By the time Em stopped giggling and Gordon had straightened his smirk, Collen’s face was beet red.

“Don’t blush on her behalf, Ms. Pfeiffer. I’m sure she’d be flattered.”

“What’s so funny?”

They all turned at the same time to the man seated beside her. He held the cutlery in his hands the same way Gordon did; knife on the left, handle wrapped in a fist and an outstretched thumb pressed into the base of the blade. Like they were gutting a fish instead of wrangling stray peas.

It was a detail she couldn’t drag her eyes away from, examining it with idle curiosity and the slightest fold to her brow.

Gordon coughed (no doubt choking around his next conspicuous mouthful. God, why didn’t he swallow before he started talking?) “Because, Ms. Havenport bears some striking similarities to that particular namesake.” There was a brief and considered pause. “Real striking similarities.”

“The names don’t sound that similar. Maybe you’re just reading into it.”

“By GOD, boy, when’s the last time you picked up a book??” Gordon’s exclamation was sudden and furious, and Colleen nearly jumped out of her seat at the eruption. “That brain of yours must just sit there gathering dust. I can’t stand it. Go … go do something about this … this …”

He waved his fork around with brazen despair. Em risked an eye roll before glancing across the table.

“He’s looking for ‘ignorance’,” she said, placidly. “But I wouldn’t worry about it, Nathaniel. Great Expectations is a classic, sure, but I’d only pick it up if I needed a weapon in a home invasion.” She tossed him another wink – something she seemed to excel at – and grinned. “You’re good.”

His responding chuckle was muffled by the glass he lifted to his lips. The sound plucked at a nerve in her sternum. Fuck.


She flinched.

She didn’t know a Nathaniel; didn’t spend any of her unsequestered time with anyone except her family and the few friends who had stayed on in town, fading just like her as they succumbed to the shadows of the mountains. And yet she knew him. This energy was familiar to her – beneath his mantle of aloofness and irritation, she recognised his scent, the warmth of his skin, the way the air around him vibrated with silent, static energy. A calling to life and animation beyond his stiffness and reticence.

It reminded her of the spring that travelled in after a hard Montana winter, touching the air above the lakes and the tips of the evergreens with an unspoken charge. A promise of better, brighter things.

She glanced up from where she’d been boring holes into the rim of her plate, meeting Em’s unabashed stare once more. There was a familiarity there, too. Much like with Nathaniel, she couldn’t quite place it.

“Have we met before?” Colleen squinted as she asked the question.

Em grinned back.

“Of course!” she said, with all the triumph and exuberance of an inside joke. Colleen faltered. Em was singlehandedly responsible for all the vitality trapped between these four walls, and it showed; the men watched her like a wild animal tracking the path of the sun.

“Don’t you remember? Sophomore year? Mrs. Callaghan’s classroom? We were right at the back of the tower?”

Colleen blinked once, then twice. Her answering gasp was so loud she felt she’d sucked all the life back out of the walls.

“Oh my God!”

All of a sudden, the memories came flooding back. Of course. Those awkward high school years, and that crumbling classroom, right at the back of the tower.

For years, Colleen and the other kids in Silvercrick had to travel to an outdated sentinel post several miles beyond the small town’s limits to receive a senior education, after a particularly rainy fall completely decimated the thatched roof of the old church that used to house them. They’d been joined by the neighboring teens in Heatherville and Bogs Cross to increase the class numbers, sitting through stinging winters and sticky summers a mere twenty-eight feet from the cliff’s edge.

The memories hit her all at once, dug out of an old lockbox at the very back of her psyche – travelling into central Montana on an old cattle wagon provided in lieu of a school bus, shrieking with her classmates as they rocked across potholes or too-soft mud and huddling under their windbreakers in the rain.

She only remembered a couple classes with Em in the few years they’d sat in that watchtower together, but those wild green eyes touched up the past in vivid detail. Emery Nightingale had been a heroine and a harpy rolled into one, constantly saving them all from Mrs. Callaghan’s toxic drone and lethal pop quizzes by blowing spitballs into the back of her neck and causing carnage in every which way she could. Colleen recalled her frizzy halo of corkscrew curls and the pop of her gum as she laughed, too busy scrawling messages to her comrades-in-arms on torn pieces of notepaper to occupy herself with algebraic formulae.

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