With nothing new coming down the pipeline from me until realistically January, I thought it would be fun to release parts of my unpublished novel On Hallowed Lanes. This was the sequel to Band of Fallen Princes, and takes place immediately after the wedding in that novel (we’re talking the very next morning). It follows Garrett and Brianna exclusively as they honeymoon through Canada.
Two warnings here – this one has a ton of sex. If that ain’t your thing, I recommend moving on. Also note that certain plot points from this novel will be recycled for use in a future Seven Heroes novel. If you don’t wish to be spoiled there, please skip this entirely.
Also note there will be whole swaths of this story cut because it was utter garbage. These sections are why it was never published. I like a lot about this novel and I plan on recreating this trip for myself someday when us Americans can learn to play well with others. But it was problematic, it’s unedited, and it’s nowhere near the quality of the other Rankin Flats novels. I am posting this entirely as an oddity, nothing more. Don’t take any of this as canon or anything like that. It’s just a fun way for you and I to kill some time during the fall doldrums.
Here we go!
Edie Gagne never knew why Jacob waited around the side of her house. She didn’t even know he was there until he fell onto her fresh cut grass, his hands grasping for something that wasn’t there. His hair, just minutes ago blonde and fine like corn silk, now was as ashen gray as the remains from her wood stove in the middle of winter. She dropped her groceries, the eggs landing with a wet splat, and rushed to him, barely registering a momentary warmth as though she’d passed through a sunbeam on an otherwise chilly day.
With one hand reaching into her purse to call an ambulance, Edie dropped to her knees to press two fingers to his throat, just like the TV shows she liked to watch. She could feel no pulse – whether that was because her fingers were in the wrong spot or because Jacob Joyner was already dead, she didn’t know, but by the time the paramedics came, Jacob’s spirit had already risen from his body and been snaked down into hell.
* * *
The previous night, Jacob watched her dance with the fat Indian. Their Pussy Minister, as Jacob thought of him, would have probably corrected him and told him “First People,” not Indian, but Jacob had zero fucks left to give about political correctness. The whole damn world had gone soft as his ex-wife’s ass, and he hated it. Hated it so much it felt like he was boiling in his own skin.
He’d asked Edie for a dance a week ago. Even put on some of that country shit she liked, the real twangy stuff, the singer sounding like a constipated basset hound howling at the moon. He’d put a hand on her shoulder, giving her his best grin, the one that’d won him a dozen conquests in high school and college, and she’d actually pulled away. Jerked away, really. Her words might’ve sounded polite, but he could see the revulsion there in her eyes.
Who the fuck was she? Jacob was the best-looking guy in Irisville, maybe even Lethbridge, and she was just a stuck-up prude. She should be grateful he even gave her the time of day, let alone a mercy dance and maybe a little bit of a good fuckin’ later.
Time had pushed the denied dance to the back of his mind, mostly. Well, that, and a waitress down in Lethbridge spread her legs for him two nights later, her cellulite jiggling with every thrust of his cock. He’d closed his eyes and thought of Edie, her dark hair, those stormy blue eyes. When he grunted her name, the waitress balked, but he kept her shoved down to the mattress, his hands encircling her throat while he finished. She’d thrown him out, threatening to call the police for assault, but he’d known she wouldn’t call. Then the cops would know just what a slut she was, and Jacob could always tell them she’d begged for it. They’d believe him, if they were guys. They knew what women liked just as well as he did.
A week later, back at the bar, when Jacob saw the enormously fat Whiteknife ask Edie to dance, he’d thought there was no way she’d accept, seeing as how she’d turned him down just like that. But no, Edie had laughed – giggled, actually, and maybe blushed a little at something Whiteknife said – and finished her drink before she took his hands and rushed to the raised dance floor. Veins practically burst in Jacob’s forehead, and he gripped his whiskey and water so hard he cracked the glass.
The slut. The whore. And she liked Whiteknife. That was what baffled him. Despite the rivers of sweat running down the Indian’s forehead, she was practically humping him right there. Jacob had to get out of there, but he couldn’t bring himself to go far from the bar. Instead, he sat in his old truck, watching the entrance. Maybe she’d leave alone. Maybe she was just being polite to the guy, giving him a little thrill so he could tell his friends.
But no, there they were, coming out the door an hour later, her following him to the sidewalk. They exchanged a few words, Whiteknife laughed, and she darted her head up and pecked his mouth before she whispered something in his ear. Whiteknife slipped an arm around her back and kissed her harder, and Jacob nearly turned the key in the ignition to run them both down. “Fucking fucks,” he muttered, gripping the gearshift.
When they broke for their cars, Edie followed Whiteknife. It was clear where they were going – his place, the little ramshackle trailer off Highway 3. Why? Her place was nicer, bigger. It struck him hard – because Whiteknife’s was closer. She couldn’t wait that long to fuck him.
Jacob spent most the night a half block from that trailer, imagining Edie riding that fat asshole, imagining them sneering at Jacob’s failure and Whiteknife’s success. By the time false dawn rolled around, Jacob had decided on action. He’d show Edie what a real man could do for her. She’d come so hard when he took her that she’d forget Whiteknife had even existed. It would take some luck. He’d need to get close to her house, surprise her when she was coming in the door, then… yeah. Yeah, this could work, he mused to himself. A little tape across her mouth, and he had a pair of handcuffs for the ones that liked the rougher stuff.
When everything was ready, Jacob headed for Edie’s house. Twice out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw someone, a little girl, standing on the side of the road. Tired, he thought. He’d need a nap after this was done. Hey, yeah, he could cuddle with Edie later. Women loved that shit.
He parked his truck at the Wok Box down the street, not too long after dawn. Irisville was always a bit slow to get going, and Edie’s hedges had grown out of control. He took up behind them around the side of the building. He kept thinking he saw the little girl, just quick glimpses. It was growing constant now, little flashes at his periphery. And he was warm, uncomfortably warm, like someone was pressed up against him.
He couldn’t whirl, not among the wild branches, but he jumped a foot and turned as quickly as he could. “What? Who?”
Again, behind him. A branch raked his eyes as he turned again. Through stinging tears, he saw her. A child, maybe a teenager, her breasts just nubbins in her old brown dress. Her bare feet were caked in crusted dirt, but that wasn’t what drove Jacob’s gaze down. Flitting around her ankles and through the earth itself were a pair of ribbons, one almond, the other a pale chartreuse.
“What the-?” Jacob asked, before the little girl plunged her ephemeral hand through his gut and gripped his spine. The pain was a shriek trapped inside his vertebrae, and every inch of his body hummed as he tried to get loose. He couldn’t make a sound as Edie cruised down the street. Couldn’t speak as she opened her car door. All he could do was listen to the voice in his head, hear the words smash together, share the images being dredged up from the bottom of his mind, stuff he’d locked away for years, decades, things he’d done, things he’d said, and die when his heart finally buckled, not from pain, but from the guilt. Jacob Joyner died because for the first time in his life, he’d finally seen.
The child let his body drop to the ground. In another moment, the warmth of Edie Gagne passed through her own. The woman never even knew she was there.
It was best that way.
* * *
Their left hands joined and stretched towards the ceiling. The gold bands were simple and unadorned, perfect parallels to their roughly-made engagement rings.
“Married,” Brianna said, and giggled as she turned her hand this way and that.
“Married,” Garrett confirmed, letting her guide his hand.
“Married!” she shouted, and laughed like a lunatic. She kicked off the covers and sprang to her feet on the bed. Completely nude, she bounced up and down, her head nearly hitting the ceiling. “Married married married!”
He laughed and grabbed her ankle, intending to pull her down to him, but instead she grasped his wrist and tugged him to his feet, and together they were as mad as children for a while, her laughing, him just riding the waves of her ecstasy, drinking her in.
All around the bed were the remains of the lilies he’d asked be strewn around the room when he made the arrangements for their honeymoon suite. On an end table next to the bed was a champagne bottle in a bucket of dissolved ice. Neither of them had managed tot ake their hands off each other long enough the night before to drink it. Somewhere behind them was a pile of their clothes, his tuxedo and her wedding dress. They hadn’t even bothered with the luggage.
Brianna wrapped her arms around the back of his neck, and he had just enough time to say, “I have dragon breath going-” before she caressed his lips with hers, suddenly gentle, suddenly sweet. They smelled like sweat and sex and neither of them cared, lost in their own universe as her eyes fluttered and his hands raked across her naked back.
When she broke away, her breath coming quickly, she brushed his cheeks with her palms. “Married,” she whispered before she giggled again and hopped off the bed to prance to the bathroom.
Garrett laughed, but something had been weighing on his heart and he knew he had to tell her soon before she found out from someone else. He dropped and sat on the edge of the bed closest to the bathroom. “Bri, there’s something I gotta tell you.”
The sound of tap running, and she spat once, twice. “Yeah?” she called out. “Is it just how amazed you are that you married the finest sexy-ass woman in the world?” She spat again and turned off the tap. She leaned out and smiled, even with the scarred half of her face, which took her some effort. When she saw his expression, she popped the hotel toothbrush out of her mouth and asked, “What is it?”
Garrett patted the bed beside him. “I told you there was a secret I wasn’t telling you, because someone asked me not to.”
“Yeah?” She sat and reached for his hand. “You’re scaring me.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” He sighed. “It’s Leon. His cancer… it’s not getting better.”
Her toothbrush dropped to the floor, and he filled her in. Their friend, a former rancher who had once saved her life, had brain cancer. His treatments hadn’t helped, and he and his doctors had agreed that the fight had been lost. Garrett told Brianna he had months, maybe more if he was lucky, and she broke down, huge tears rolling slowly down her cheeks.
“He didn’t want anybody to know until after the wedding. I only found out by accident. Monica and his family are the only ones that know.” There was more. Leon and Monica, another friend of theirs, had been dating for the last six months, and had decided to break up amicably. Leon wanted to travel the world with his sister, and despite Monica’s vows that she would stay with him to the end and take time from her work as a detective, he had asked her not to do that for them, that he’d be much happier knowing she was protecting people. That had led to more relationship drama, though of a much more pleasant sort. Monica’s roommate and best friend Sloan had been crushing on her for a while, and finally was unable to help herself from making a move, one that Monica had surprisingly reciprocated.
When Garrett finally finished talking, he tried to pull Brianna in, to hold her, but after a moment, she started shaking her head against him and shoved him away. He opened his mouth and she slapped his chest – not hard, but enough to make a loud clapping sound. “You… you asshole!” she shouted.
He jerked away as if she’d actually hit him. This was the price he’d expected, though. “Baby, I’m sorry, but it’s his life and he-”
“You don’t keep things from me like that. We promised each other. We told each other no secrets.”
“I know. But this was…” He paused. “I don’t have any excuses. The man is dying. He asked. I promised. I’m sorry.”
Brianna bit her lip, cutting off whatever she was going to say to him next. Instead, she reached for Garrett’s cell phone. Hers was still out in the Durango along with most of their stuff.
The rancher’s voice was bright. “Hey, married man! Wasn’t expecting to hear from you for a few days.”
“You’re an asshole too, Leon,” Brianna said dully, wiping at her eyes with the back of her hands. Garrett got up and grabbed a box of tissues from a table in the corner. He handed them to her, and though she eyed him like he was a snake, she took a handful anyways.
Leon hesitated. “He told you.” It wasn’t a question.
“Don’t be mad at him, Brianna. Please. I asked him to keep it a secret. I… I guess I wanted your night to be your night. You know that reception would have turned into a pity party and that’s not how I wanted to leave things. I wanted good memories. I got them. And don’t be pissed at Monica either. I was the one to pull the trigger on that.”
As they talked more, Garrett ducked into the bathroom to do his morning necessities. He picked up their clothes from the floor, draped Brianna’s dress across the bed, and pulled on his slacks and his dress shirt. After checking his pocket for the keys, he leaned down to kiss the top of Brianna’s head. “Back in a minute,” he murmured. At least the look she gave him that time wasn’t quite so murderous, just sad.
He wasn’t sure which was worse.
As he stepped off the elevator on the first floor, the rich scent of coffee and bacon nearly pulled him into the communal dining area before he fetched their luggage, but he resisted mightily and headed for the front doors, nodding at the bored-looking clerk as he passed by. Outside, he stopped to shake his head at their SUV. He’d seen the way Marnie and Wilfred had decorated their vehicle the night before, but he’d been too inebriated with the joy of actually being married to have paid much attention to the details. The “Probably Having Sex” sign on the rear window was flanked with hearts, and along the rear bumper were the remains of a floral arrangement, wrecked by the trip from Lennep to Helena. He hoped someone had taken pictures.
After grabbing their luggage, he headed back inside. This time, the allure of breakfast overpowered him. If he gripped the handles of the luggage together, he could roll them with one hand and grab a plate of food for him and Brianna with the other. The plan, as silly as it was – all he had to do was run back up to the room and then back down – seemed like a feat of engineering genius in the moment and he seized upon it.
A half-dozen couples and families ranged throughout the room. One of them, a deeply-tanned man in a ballcap and a neon yellow shirt, glanced up and hooted, “You must be the groom with the SUV outside.” His accent, thickly Texan, reminded Garrett of a story he’d promised to tell Brianna on their honeymoon.
All eyes in the room locked onto Garrett, and he shrugged uncomfortably, smiling a little at the chorus of congratulations. “Uh. Yeah, thanks.”
“I think it’s just sick what you have on those windows,” an older woman said, jabbing a piece of the crust from a bite of toast in his direction. “There are children here.”
“Oh hush,” the older gentleman at her table said mildly. He was the only one who hadn’t glanced up, absorbed in a newspaper’s crossword puzzle. “They’re young. Let them be.” Then much quieter, he mumbled, “Lord knows we did it enough at their age.”
The room erupted into laughter as the woman dropped her piece of toast and stormed out of there. Garrett tried to offer her a half-hearted apology, but the man she was with just sighed and shook his head. Garrett loaded up a plate with muffins, sausage, bacon, and fruit, and eyeballed a tray holding jugs of various juices. With the orange juice, he could make Brianna mimosas with the champagne upstairs.
“Help you with something?” the Texan asked behind him.
“Think I’m gonna come back down for some orange juice. We got a bottle of champagne and-”
The Texan turned and took in the room. “Anyone object to this fella takin’ the orange juice?” Every soul in the room gave them a cheerful go-ahead, and the Texan grinned widely. “Lemme help you out.”
He took the tray of food and juice carefully while Garrett went ahead with the luggage. Outside the room, Garrett settled the luggage against the wall while he unlocked the door and took the tray from the good Samaritan. “Let me just get this inside and I’ll be happy to pay you for the trouble.”
The Texan looked as offended as if he’d insulted his mother. “Please. Least I can do. Enjoy your honeymoon, and congrats again.”
As the other man ambled off towards the elevators, Garrett slipped into the room. Brianna was still on the phone, curled up in bed on her side with a sheet half-raised up around her waist. Garrett settled the tray of food next to her and kissed her cheek. She smiled at him, a little sadly perhaps, but the tears and the anger were gone. He overheard Monica on the other end, and ducked back out to the hallway.
Sitting on the luggage was a twenty-dollar bill. The doors of the elevator closed just a heartbeat after Garrett saw it, too late to thank the stranger. As much money as Garrett might have, there was a time in his life when he had to break into homes just to survive, living off canned food stolen from pantries, the guilt of taking fighting a churning battle in his guts with the need to stay alive. Of all the kindnesses extended to them on their honeymoon, and there would be plenty, that twenty-dollar bill was the most personally touching to him, and later, when he slipped it into a photo album at Brianna’s mother’s house, both of them were baffled as to why his hands were shaking so bad.