Title: Bitter Autumn
Author: Lyn Cote
Genre: Romantic Suspense/Christian
Will anyone in his hometown ever forgive him for what he did?
A changed man, Grey Lawson returns home on parole after serving seven years of his sentence. The only reason he’s coming home to small town Winfield on the shore of Lake Superior is to care for his great-aunt Elsie who raised him. He can’t believe he didn’t realize seven years ago that everything he did affected this good woman. But will his return cause her more grief? Create trouble for new deputy sheriff Trish Franklin whose father has reason to hate Grey? But one truth many don’t realize until it’s too late—vengeance can be dangerous. Why not download today?
Deputy Sheriff Trish Franklin wished she could be a thousand miles away; in fact, anywhere but Winfield, Wisconsin. Still in her uniform, she drove the sheriff’s Jeep down the familiar wooded road. Dread sat in her midsection as solid as a brick. The tears she’d held back for two September days—ever since Sheriff Harding had shown her the bad-news letter—suddenly poured down her face. Blinded, she pulled off the road onto the entrance to a grassy private road. She bent her forehead to the padded steering wheel. How could God let this happen?
Grey Lawson stared out the bus window. The farther north he rode, the more he noted early-autumn golds and reds in the late-afternoon light painting the trees passing by the window. Grey wished he could stop the bus and just start walking anywhere—anywhere but where he had to go. Behind him on the crowded bus, a baby cried, sounding frustrated and pushed past its limits. Grey understood the mood. But I have no choice. She needs me. I owe her. I love her.
An old guy sat crumpled up beside him, a man who’d grown old behind bars. They’d gotten on the bus together, sat together. But they hadn’t exchanged a look or a word in hours. Now nearing nightfall, the bus slowed. “Ashford!” the driver announced.
The old man beside Grey finally stirred. The bus stopped and he unfolded himself from his seat. Standing, he cast a departing glance toward Grey. “Good luck,” he mumbled. Grey nodded. He watched the old guy shuffle to the front and lower himself step-by-step to the street on the obviously poor side of town.
The bus finished letting off the few other people for this stop and then started up again. The bus driver announced, “Next stop, Winfield!” Grey tried not to look back but couldn’t help himself. The old guy stood, clutching his suitcase, looking around. No one was there to meet him. Good luck, old man. Grey closed his eyes and prayed that the old guy would find a warm bed and a friendly smile before nightfall.
Finally, Trish quieted and leaned back against the headrest. Tears still dripped from her chin. She drew in the fresh pine-scented air through the open window. If I’d suspected this was going to happen, Lord, I’d have stayed in Madison. Guilt, instant and fierce, scored her like a sharp stinging claw.
No time for regrets. She had to face reality. And reality was Grey Lawson was coming back to town—and it was facing her father and telling him this hard truth. He had to be told today. But she didn’t have to face her father alone. Three of her brothers would be with her. She started the engine and pulled back onto the quiet county road. She glanced at her watch. She was already late. Her brothers should be at her father’s place by now.
Grey recognized the scenery on the highway into Winfield as if he’d seen it recently, instead of seven years ago. He stood and walked, swaying with the bus’s motion toward the driver. He gripped the cool metal rail beside the driver and asked, “Can you let me off at the next intersection? It’s closer to home and I’m walking the rest of the way.”
The driver glanced at him sideways. “You don’t have luggage stowed underneath, do you?”
“No, just this.” Grey waved his slack duffel.
“Sure. No problem.”
Grey remained where he was, swaying and bobbing with the bus’s movement. The intersection of Cross-cut Road and the highway loomed ahead. The bus slowed; Grey moved down the metal stair and waited for the door to part. As soon as it did, he stepped out. He paused while the bus door closed and the long vehicle pulled away. Then he tugged up the hood of his gray sweatshirt and started down Cross-cut, heading toward home. He had a warm bed and a welcoming smile waiting for him. But from just one person, and his arrival might cause her harm. How can I prevent my return from hurting her?
Trish turned west onto Cross-cut. Mist was beginning to form in the low spots—cool autumn air brushing against still-warm earth. She sharpened her watchfulness. Twilight was the most dangerous time to drive through the forest. She kept a watch out for the reflection of her headlights onto deer eyes, sometimes the only way to see them in time. A man in a gray hooded sweatshirt was walking west, his back to her. The man turned and lifted a hand with his thumb out.
Hitchhiking was illegal. Trish nearly passed him by but it was best to let a transient know that the Winfield Sheriff’s Department was vigilant. Normally she’d have been driving her own red SUV home, but it was in the garage till tomorrow. So she slowed and pulled off to where he’d paused.
Trish got out and motioned him to come to her. He stared at her and didn’t move. “Over here,” she ordered in her cop voice.
With halting steps, the stranger approached her. The hood shadowed his face. Was he a wanted man? She rested her hand on her sidearm and took up the defensive stance that had become second nature to her.
The man halted a few paces in front of her.
“Do you have ID?” she asked.
“May I see it?”
He reached into his back jeans pocket and pulled out a battered wallet. He handed it to her.
She opened it and stared down at the faded photograph and the name, Grey Lawson. Her hand trembled as she stared at the photo. This is creepy. Why would I have to be the one to drive past Grey Lawson here tonight?
The dread that had started her hands shaking, quivered inch by inch through her whole body. Finally one-handed, she flapped the wallet closed and handed it to him. Did he see her shivering? “Where you headed?” she asked in a gruff voice that didn’t even sound like hers.
“My aunt’s house. Elsie Ryerson.”
She’d known this would be his answer. A feud seethed in Trish’s breast. This was the man who was going to make her life hell for the foreseeable future.