The Hero

Thunder Point Book # 3
August 27, 2013
MIRA Paperback

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The Hero

With warmth and sensitivity, #1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr shows readers that falling in love can be the bravest act of all.

In a moment of desperation, Devon McAllister takes her daughter and flees a place where they should have been safe and secure. She has no idea what is around the next bend, but she is pretty certain it can’t be worse than what they’ve left behind. Her plan is to escape to somewhere she can be invisible. Instead, an unexpected offer of assistance leads her to Thunder Point, a tiny Oregon town with a willingness to help someone in need.

As the widowed father of a vulnerable young boy, Spencer Lawson knows something about needing friendship. But he’s not looking for anything else. Instead, he’s thrown his energy into his new role as Thunder Point’s high school football coach. Tough and demanding to his team, off the field he’s gentle and kind…just the kind of man who could heal Devon’s wounded heart.

Devon thought she wanted to hide from the world. But in Thunder Point, you find bravery where you least expect it…and sometimes, you find a hero.

Excerpt

Chapter One
Devon walked down a tree-lined road, not really sure where she was but comfortable that she was far enough away from the family compound that it was no longer imperative that she hide when a vehicle approached. She’d been walking for at least eight hours and saw the first rays of light coming over the mountainous horizon behind her; it reassured her she was traveling west, toward the coast. She carried her three year old, Mercy, and a backpack stuffed with a few items of clothing and forty dollars that had been given to her by a kind stranger.

She was exhausted but would not stop to rest until she reached highway 101. Every so often she would put Mercy down and hold her hand, but that made the walking unbearably slow. When she heard a vehicle, she just kept her head down, staring at the ground.

It was a truck, which drove by her, but then stopped ahead of her. It was cranberry red and old, but in mint condition. A man got out and yelled to her. “Miss? Need a ride?”

She walked toward the vehicle. “Am I close to 101?” she asked.

“I’m going that way, on my way to work,” he said. “I can give you a lift.”

He was an older guy. He wore a red, white and blue ball cap and his cheeks and chin were stubbled. Though it was June, he wore a jacket. The early morning was misty, which told her she was in a valley near the Pacific. “Where are you headed?” she asked.

“Thunder Point,” he said. “It’s a very small town on the coast in Coos County. I work at a beach bar and I open for breakfast. Been there a few years now. It’s mostly fishing towns around there.”

Well, she’d gotten out of Douglas County, but she wasn’t sure where Coos County was. She didn’t know where anything was — she rarely went out of the compound and had never been to a small coastal town but knew that highway 101 stretched as far north and south as she needed to get. Highway 5 was bigger and closer to the camp and if anyone was looking for a couple of runaways hitching rides, they’d probably start there. “How close to 101 is your town?”

“Plenty close. Want me to drop you there?”

She walked toward the truck. “Thanks,” she said. “You’re sure?”

“No trouble,” he said.

She put her backpack in the truck bed but held Mercy on her lap, strapping them in together. She kept her head down, her hands tucked between her knees.

“Name’s Rawley Goode,” he said. She said nothing. “You got a name?”

“Devon,” Devon said. She shouldn’t use her real name. What if someone came poking around, asked if anyone had seen a woman named Devon? But she was almost too tired to lie. Not to mention nervous. At least she hadn’t said Sister Devon.

“Well, you’re not an escaped convict, are you, Devon?” he asked.

She looked at him. “Is there a prison around here?”

He smiled. “Kidding,” he said. “Where you headed?”

For lack of a better answer she said, “Seattle. Eventually.”

He whistled. “You’re a long ways from there. What brings you to this old back road?”

She shrugged. “It’s where I was left off.”

“You hitchin’ rides?”

She nodded. Her ride over the mountain had been planned, but was to be kept secret. “101 will do better for that,” she said.

“Unless the police see you. Then it gets complicated.”

“I’ll watch.”

She wasn’t really headed to Seattle, but that was where she came from. She thought there might be a shelter or charity of some kind in one of the bigger towns on the coast. “Is there a city up 101that’s pretty big? That might have a shelter? Maybe a hostel?” she asked him.

“Couple,” he said. “Listen, I have an idea. You decide exactly where you need to go and I’ll fix you up with transportation, how’s that?”

“Why?” she asked suspiciously. “Why would you do that?”

“I been in your spot, hitchin’ rides, lookin’ for the easiest way to get from here to there, takin’ a little help sometimes. I normally went to the VA when I needed a little assistance. You got room for a little breakfast? ‘Cause that’s my job in the morning — perking the coffee, warming up egg sandwiches, watching the sun come over the mountains. Not far from the highway, neither. I could show you a map while you and the little one eat something.”

“No, thank you. I have a couple of apples for later.”

“I know that look of no money,” he said. “Been wearin’ it and seein’ it for forty years now. No charge for the map. Or the breakfast. Then I’ll give you a ride where you need to go to catch your next ride. It ain’t no gamble. I admit, I ain’t always been the best person in the world, but I ain’t yet done nobody harm. You can hang on to those apples.”

~~~~~~~
Rawley didn’t exactly now her, but he recognized her at once as being from The Fellowship — a small religious compound along the river in Douglas County. She was wearing their ‘uniform’ or ‘habit’ of overalls, sturdy shoes, long sleeved T-shirt with one button at the neck and a long, thick, single braid down her back. He’d donated to them a couple of times and had noticed there were a number of women attired the same while the few men in evidence were individual in their various jeans, plaid or chambray shirts and down vests. When Cooper was renovating the bait shop and turning it into a first rate bar or cafe, Rawley took the used industrial sized washers and dryers and a lot of kitchen wares they couldn’t use to The Fellowship.

They were a private bunch, but he saw they had a roadside stand near their compound where they sold produce, quilts and woven goods. He’d only stopped once and had seen a group of them, the women doing the business and the men present as if to help with the heavy work, but not actually taking part in the selling. And he’d seen a few of them wandering around the Farmer’s Market in Myrtle Creek where they sometimes had a stand, again the women together in a tight knot and the men following along or standing behind them, watching.

That had never seemed odd to him until this morning when he found a young woman and child walking down the deserted road at dawn. Now he wondered what that was about. Beautiful, young, smiling, soft spoken women apparently watched over by big, muscled men.

The girl seemed skittish, so he played his cards close to his vest. As they drove the twenty minutes to the beach at Thunder Point he only said things like Gonna be a right fine day and Fog’ll burn off the water early today and Should get up around seventy degrees, and that’s a heat wave on the ocean.

She said nothing but um-hm. Her little girl rested her head on her mother’s shoulder and a couple of times whispered, to which she only replied, um-hm. Then they came down the hill toward the bar and when she saw the beach sheltered by the rocky coastline, the bay studded with giant rocks and fog at the mouth of the bay just lifting, she said, “Wow.”

“Pretty, ain’t she?”

They arrived, Rawley parked out behind the bar, used his key to open the place up. “Come on inside, sit up at the bar and I’ll put on the coffee and heat up some eggs. Got some fruit, too. And Cooper, the owner, he likes his Tony Tigers — you or the little one like Frosted Flakes?”

“Anything is very generous,” she said. “And appreciated.”

“Like I said, I passed that way plenty. I got a lot to pay back.”

Rawley noticed the coffee was already brewing. He looked out the window and saw a lone man on the still bay on a paddle board. That would be Cooper, getting in a little early morning exercise. And as he watched, a Razor ATV came across the beach with a big black and white Great Dane riding shotgun — Sarah, Cooper’s woman, must have a day off from the Coast Guard. Ah, a second board and paddle leaned up against the dock.

Good, he thought. That would give him enough time to figure out what to do with Devon next. Because obviously something needed to be done. A woman and small child with a single backpack out walking the back roads at dawn with no money and no plan…. Well, it didn’t take a genius.

He wet a cloth with warm water and handed it to Debbie in case she wanted to wipe the grime of the road from her hands and she did so. Then wiped off her daughter’s hands and face, muttering a very soft ‘thank you’ as she put down the cloth.

He started with food. He put out a fruit plate they kept on hand from Carrie’s Deli, a box of Frosted Flakes, two bowls, utensils, a carton of milk, a couple of small glasses. Then he pulled two egg sandwiches out of the cooler and popped them in the microwave.

Devon served her little girl, sharing the fruit plate. When the egg sandwiches arrived she said, “So much food.”

Traveling makes a person hungry,” he said. And then he poured himself a cup of coffee. He wandered out to the deck to think, to see where Cooper and Sarah were, to give Devon and her little girl time to get some food in their stomachs. If he watched them eat, they’d try not to eat too much — a man who’d been hungry and taken charity knew this.

Hamlet, the Great Dane, was tied to the dock while Sarah joined Cooper on the bay. Rawley propped open the doors to the deck so Cooper would know he was on duty and open. A few moments later as he stood there with his cup of coffee, Cooper waved. Rawley lifted a hand back. Then he watched them glide over the calm water, chasing the fog out of the bay.

By the time he went back inside, Devon and her little girl had put away a good deal of food and that made him smile. He went back behind the bar with his coffee. “Fill you up?”

“Oh yes, sir,” she said, giving her mouth a pat. “If you’ll write down your name and address for me, I’ll try to repay the kindness when I’m able.”

“I’d rather you pass it on, Debbie,” he said. “That’s what I try to do when I can.”

“Of course I’ll do that, too.”

“So. Looking for a larger town? One with a shelter?”

“Seems a good place to start,” she said.

“Mind if I ask? What put you in these straights?”

She took a breath and stroked her daughter’s back. “It’s not complicated. I lost my job and couldn’t find another. I got some benefits and food stamps but it wasn’t enough to pay the rent and I didn’t have family to take me in. So?”

“What kind of work you lookin’ for?” Rawley asked.

She laughed a little bit. “I’ve been working since I was fifteen, I can do a lot of things. Office work, waitress work, worked in a nursing home for a while, I even worked on a farm. I cleaned, cooked, worked in child care a lot — once I was a teaching assistant in a preschool. I went to college. None of those things paid enough to keep me and Mercy. I had a boyfriend, but he left. See?” she finished, tilting her head to one side. “Pretty simple. Just rotten timing. Bad luck.”

Rawley leaned on the bar. “You know, there’s this place on the river. Some kind of religious group. They call themselves The Fellowship. I could drive you out there, see if they’d take you in for a while, fix you up with some—”

“No!” she said hotly. “Please, no! If you could just give me a lift to the highway.”

He held up a calloused hand. “Sh,” he said. “Devon, I know where you’re from. I don’t know why and you don’t have to tell me, but it’s pretty clear you needed to be out of there if you’d drag your kid out in the dark of night and walk over a mountain.” He frowned. “She is your kid, ain’t she?”

“Of course!” She looked down. “I got a ride over the mountain. I should just get going…”

The child looked like her mother. Rawley was just checking. “Just sit. I can help you out here. You and the little one would be safe while you figure things out. You don’t have to be out on the highway, takin’ your chances.”

She just looked at him with those big blue eyes, her peachy lips parted. Her daughter continued to move Frosted Flakes around in her bowl, apparently oblivious to the conversation. “Why?” she whispered.

“I told you why. You need details? There was this war you’re too young to even know about and I came home a mess and no one wanted any part of me, of any of us. A lot of us wandered, just trying to forget or get the noise in our heads to stop. We had the VA but folks didn’t even know how to help Vietnam vets. Like I said, I took a lot of charity. I worked some here and there, slept on the street some, helped out at the VA some. Now — I got a house and a job. That’s my story. You keep yours till you feel safe. But girl — we’re gonna have to make some changes ‘cause I knew where you come from the second I seen you walkin’ down the road.”

Her eyes got pretty round at that, but she remained mute.

“The overalls, the braid…. Once Cooper gets in here and decides to go to work, I’ll take you somewhere to get clothes that don’t just holler commune for Christ or whatever that is you come from.”

“The Fellowship,” she reminded him quietly.

“And it wouldn’t hurt to cut off that braid or something. You think that’s a good idea?”

She chewed her lip a little bit, thinking this over. When she did speak she said, “I know about Vietnam.”

“Be glad you don’t remember it.”

“I think maybe I’m not far enough away. From the compound.”

“You think some of them might come lookin’ for you?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t think so, not really. They’re not bad people. But…”

Rawley let that hang a minute. “But?” he prompted.

“They didn’t want me to leave. And I did anyway. And we’re not going back.”

He cleared his throat. “Then we play it safe. If you see any of ‘em snoopin’ around, you better sound the alarm. I’ve been in this town almost every day for over four years and no one from that place ever came here. My house is in Elmore, a thirty minute drive from here and I never seen any of ‘em there, either. I guess there’s a chance some folks from around here have been to that produce stand or what you call the compound so I reckon getting yourself a new look makes sense. There’s just one thing you’re gonna have to do to make it work.”

“What’s that, Mr. Goode?”

She remembered his name. Sharp for someone who’d been up all night and was probably worn to a nub.

“Gonna have to trust a stranger, miss. That’s what.”

Again she dropped her gaze. “Last time I did that…”

“I can figure that much out without the whole story,” he said. “I thought that place was safe. A refuge. Bent on charity and good works. But if it was a good and decent place, you’d have left in daylight with money in your pocket. I’m old and I’m jaded but I ain’t stupid.”

“For a while, it was a refuge and saved me. For a while.”

“Here’s what we do, miss. We get you some Walmart clothes and I’ll take you and little miss here to my house. You’ll have a safe and warm place to lay your head. There’s food in the fridge. You might wanna pretend to be kin — like my second cousin’s daughter. I didn’t have no direct family.”

She actually smiled at that. “Neither did I, Mr. Goode.”

“Might wanna call me Rawley for good measure.”

“Rawley,” she said. “I’m not sure…”

“Devon, you’re stuck trusting strangers right now. It ain’t no safer thumbing rides on the highway, I guaran-damn-tee. This’ll at least give you time to think and be safe while you’re doing it.”

© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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