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READER OF THE WEEK

Sunie Reynolds
I found Strung Out to Die and quickly knew that even though we were across the country I was Home when I read Tonya’s stories.

 

 

IRON SKILLET FRENCH TOAST

We are headed out for another camping this week! We are going with a few other people so we all take a meal to make. I have to say that I’ve not been cooking as much since Eddy came to take over the business 😉

He loves to cook and really he’s much much much much much better at it than me. That’s fine by me!!

Here is the recipe he’s going to make while we are camping. Everyone will enjoy it!

Download the recipe card!

 

Chapter One: Tangled Lies

Chapter One

“Maisie, what are we going to do?” Dixie asked, standing outside the curtain while I tried on a new shirt she had just gotten in for her shop. “And don’t get deodorant on the shirt either.”

I glanced down and noticed the long white strip.

“Too late.” I grimaced and groaned, licked my hand, and then tried to rub off the deodorant stain to no avail. “Take it off my pay.”

“Your pay? We aren’t going to get any pay if we don’t find out who knows.” Her voice trailed off as the door chime went off.

“I told you, it’s fine. It’s been months,” I said and spun around, thinking it was Dixie who had ripped the curtain open. “What are you doing?” I tried to cover up my bra with one hand and drag the curtain closed when I saw Wes Dalton on the other side.

“Stop,” he groaned, rolling his eyes. “I’ve seen that same bra on the floor of my bedroom.”

“Don’t remind me.” I jerked the curtain harder, forcing him to let go.

But he did remind me of the one night I had decided to go out to this very private and secretive tango bar, where he and a bunch of his buddies were there for some sort of get-together.

We ended up talking and doing the tango in his bed with a little too much liquid courage in us, neither of us knowing who the other was. A simple hookup, right?

Wrong.

The next morning, I found myself cuffed to the bed frame, and it was not consensual or some sort of weirdo fetish he had.

He’d gone through my bag and found out I was Maisie Doss, the one who had a warrant out for her arrest in Cincinnati.

Like I said, it was a hookup, so no feelings between us until he hauled me down to the Cincinnati Police headquarters, where they booked me, and after several days of realizing I was not meant to live in orange, I gave in and became a confidential informant so I could be released.

“What do you want?” I asked from the other side of the curtain.

“I’ve been trying to get in touch with you, but it seems like you aren’t returning my calls. Or did you forget I’m the marshal in charge of you?” he repeated, his tone edging on frustration as he peeled the barrier back just enough for me to see his face.

Wes’s irritation was clear, not just through his words but in the way I could tell his jaw clenched, because I’d been around him enough to know how he sounded when he did that.

To say the tension between us was thick was an understatement, charged with the history of my past decisions and the looming question of what his sudden appearance meant for my carefully constructed present.

“How did you find me?” I pulled my shirt over my head, smoothing down the fabric as I faced him squarely, trying to muster the semblance of confidence that I didn’t feel. “I’ve done what was asked of me, Wes. I was cleared to live my life, so I got rid of the burner phone. There’s no reason for me to keep looking over my shoulder, right?” I added, hoping my voice carried more conviction than I felt.

Instead of waiting for me to come out, he joined me. There we stood. Surrounded by the curtain.

His expression softened slightly, but the seriousness didn’t leave his eyes.

“Maisie, it’s not that simple. You know how this works. Just because you’re done doesn’t mean things can’t come back up.”

I sighed, feeling the weight of his words.

“I’m just trying to move on, Wes. I work here now”—I gestured to the boutique outside of our little dressing room—”to help pay for food. I get free rent living in my childhood bedroom in my parents’ trailer. It’s not much, but it’s a start. A clean start.”

Dixie peeked around the curtain, her eyes flicking between me and Wes, sensing the tension but unsure of its cause. I offered her a tight smile, trying to reassure her without words that everything was under control, and he wasn’t here about the little secret we two friends had between us. The look on her face told me she thought he was here because of the notes.

“How did you find me?” I asked.

Dixie nervously hovered near the dressing room.

The notes we had been receiving, veiled threats hinting at a secret we were desperate to keep buried, suddenly felt heavier, like a dark cloud looming over us.

They suggested knowledge of something Dixie and I had done, something that, if brought to light, could destroy us both.

Having served my time as a confidential informant, I had foolishly believed I could escape parts of my former life. Yet there stood Wes, embodying every decision I regretted, every secret I wished to keep hidden. His casual dismissal of our shared history, intended to disarm, only added tension to the already-charged atmosphere.

The notes, the threats, and now Wes’s unexpected visit—it all felt like the universe’s way of reminding me that the past was never truly behind me, no matter how hard I tried to outrun it. Yet standing there in Dixie’s Threads Boutique with Wes in front of me, I was determined to hold my ground.

“I’m not asking for much, Wes. Just the chance to live the life I’ve been given. That’s all anyone wants, right?” I looked at him, hoping to find some understanding, some acknowledgment that everyone deserved a second chance, even me.

“We need to talk.” He was determined to talk to me right now. Then and there. “My car is outside.”

Dixie gave me a look, one that mixed concern with a silent urging to follow Wes. We both harbored the fear that whoever had been sending those ominous notes had finally decided to blow the whistle on us, taking our darkest secrets to the authorities. Nodding reluctantly to Dixie, I agreed to Wes’s demand for a conversation. The weight of our shared glance was heavy; it carried the burden of our past actions, the silent agreements we’d made, and the unspoken fears about what might unfold next.

“I’ll be back,” I muttered to Dixie, trying to infuse a confidence into my voice that I didn’t feel. She nodded, her expression tight with worry as she watched us leave the safety of her boutique, our sanctuary against the storms we faced.

When I stepped outside, the brightness of the Kentucky day felt harsh, an unwelcome contrast to the turmoil churning within me. Wes led the way to his car parked out front, but I hesitated, glancing over at my old Chevy parked a few spaces down. A gut feeling, a whisper of intuition, nudged me toward it.

“Give me a second,” I said to Wes, my voice steady despite the chaos of my thoughts. He paused, an impatient frown creasing his brow as he watched me stride over to my Chevy.

I started to feel around the body of the Chevy, an inexplicable sense driving me, something I’d never ignored and something that had never failed me.

Then my fingers brushed against something foreign attached to the undercarriage—a small, hard object that didn’t belong. My heart sank as I pried it loose, the realization dawning on me as I held the tracker in my hand. Wes had put it there, a silent guardian of my movements, a tether I hadn’t known I was bound by.

Turning to face him, the tracker held up between us like a declaration of war, I felt a surge of betrayal.

“What’s this, Wes? Keeping tabs on me?” My voice was a mix of anger and disbelief.

“Maisie, it’s not what you think. It’s for your own safety.” He sighed, a hint of regret flashing across his face before it was quickly masked by his marshal’s resolve.

“My safety? Or is it just another way to control me, to remind me that I’m never truly free?” The words spilled out, fueled by a blend of fear, anger, and a growing sense of entrapment.

Wes moved forward, his hand outstretched as if to take the tracker or perhaps offer a semblance of comfort, but I stepped back, clutching the device tighter.

“I needed to find you,” he insisted, his tone softer now, trying to bridge the gap his actions had created. “You weren’t answering my calls. Instead of calling, I followed you and yeah…” he paused then admitted. “I put a tracker on your car.”

I looked at him, the man who had once promised me a way out, now the source of my unease. The irony wasn’t lost on me. Here we were, standing on the sidewalk under the scrutiny of the midday sun, confronting the complexities of our shared past and the uncertain terrain of our present.

Instead of handing him the device back, I dropped it onto the ground, and just as he went to pick it up, the heel of my cowboy boot came down real hard on it, crushing it to pieces.

Wes sucked in a deep breath as if he were trying to keep his emotions under control. His bottom lip curled in as he slowly stood to face me.

Without another word, I walked over to his car, leaving him to pick up the broken pieces of the tracker, a symbolic reminder of the trust between us that had fractured.

We got into the car, the air thick with unsaid things, and began the drive. Wes took Fort Thomas Avenue, the road winding its way out of the city, past the familiar landmarks that had defined the boundaries of my life, a place he had no business being in.

As we merged onto 27, the scenery shifted to the suburban sprawl of Highland Heights, the transition marking our passage from the known to the unknown.

The drive to the cemetery was silent, each of us lost in our own thoughts, the hum of the engine and the blur of passing landscapes the only interruptions to our contemplation.

The cemetery in Alexandria, Kentucky, loomed ahead, its gates a threshold to a world apart from the living, where secrets lay buried and truths waited to be unearthed. As Wes parked the car and we stepped out into the solemn quietude of the final resting place, the weight of what lay ahead pressed down on me.

The fake bunches of flowers, placed there as a disguise for our meeting, seemed almost mocking in their brightness against the somber backdrop of tombstones and memorials, just in case someone was wondering why we were there.

We walked in silence to our usual spot, a secluded bench shielded from prying eyes by a small cluster of trees.

The artificial flowers were a stark reminder of the roles we maintained, a lie amid a landscape of endings. When I sat down, the cold bench seeped through my clothes, a chill that matched the one settling in my heart.

Wes began to speak, his voice a low murmur that seemed almost intrusive in the quiet of the cemetery.

“Maisie,” he began, dispelling my assumptions. “There’s a new case—a series of thefts linked to an underground art-smuggling ring operating across Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. We need your skills.”

The revelation took me by surprise, not just the nature of the case but the fact that Wes—and by extension those he represented—needed me again.

“Art,” he said, brushing his hand down the fake gravestone, only to play the game for anyone who was paying attention to us. “The Cincinnati Museum Center.”

After escaping my past as a confidential informant, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be pulled back in. Yet the opportunity sparked an ember of intrigue within me.

The art-smuggling ring presented a challenge, a puzzle that appealed to the part of me that thrived on unraveling secrets and navigating the underbelly of deceit. The thrill of the chase had been something I wasn’t able to escape. It was like an addiction.

However, I wasn’t the same person who had once agreed to work under the radar for the mere chance at redemption.

“I don’t know a thing about art.” I snorted. “I’m not your CI.”

I shook my head and turned to go back to the car, my way of not really saying no but getting more leverage from his request.

“You know a lot of people. You can get in places other CIs can’t.” His words held a bite with the hint of how hard it was for him to give me this sort of backhanded compliment. “You’re a chameleon of sorts.”

“Chameleon, huh?” I asked, really liking how he put it. So he was stroking my ego. I liked it, but he didn’t need to know it.

“You and I both know I wouldn’t’ve gone to all this trouble finding you if I didn’t think you’d be the perfect CI for it.” He was really trying to butter me up.

“I won’t do it for free,” I told him firmly, meeting his gaze with a newfound resolve. “If you want me to use my skills, to dive back into that world, then I have my conditions. I want my own place. Money. A real chance at starting over.”

Wes studied me for a moment, perhaps taken aback by my demands but recognizing the determination behind them.

“I’ll need to clear it with my superiors, but I think we can make that happen,” he conceded, the faintest hint of respect flickering in his eyes. “This isn’t just about drawing you back into the fold, Maisie. Your unique insights and abilities make you invaluable to this investigation. We need you.”

The cemetery around us, with its silent tombs and whispering trees, felt like a witness to this pivotal moment. Agreeing to Wes’s proposition meant stepping back into a world I had tried to leave behind but on my terms this time. It meant using the skills that had once ensnared me in a web of danger and deceit for a purpose that felt right, that offered a chance at something resembling a normal life.

Stepping into this deal with Wes, I wasn’t just eyeing a way back into the game. No, this was about playing a deeper, more cunning hand. With every veiled threat Dixie and I had received, with every letter that hinted at the dark deed we’d done, the stakes got higher, not just for our freedom but for our very lives. Somebody out there was playing a dangerous game, thinking they could corner us, maybe even scare us into submission. They didn’t know who they were dealing with.

“I’m in only if I get on a bank roll,” I told Wes, my tone laced with a resolve that might have surprised him, had he known my full intentions. “But listen here. I’m not just some pawn in your grand scheme. I’ve got my own play to make.”

Wes, bless his heart, thought he was bringing me back into the fold for the greater good, to help crack an underground art-smuggling ring that was weaving its way through Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati like some kind of poisonous vine. But what I saw was a golden ticket—a chance to get my hands on resources and intel, to turn the department’s tools against my own adversary without them being any the wiser.

“You’ll get everything you need from us. Training, resources, whatever it takes,” Wes assured me, thinking he’d got me pegged, that I was doing this as some sort of redemption song.

Little did he know I was playing my own tune. This wasn’t about redemption; it was about retribution. Those letters, those threats against me and Dixie, were about to stop. But not with pleas or bargains. I was going to find the snake in the grass, use the very tools and tricks the department thought I was applying to their case, and cut the head off my problem.

I left the cemetery. The air felt different, charged. Like the calm before a storm. Wes had no idea he’d just unleashed his own brand of Boyd Crowder, a woman bound not by the law but by her own code. And my code said nobody threatened me and mine without facing the consequences.

So as we drove back through the rolling hills that separated us from the rest of the world, I was plotting. The art-smuggling ring? Sure, I’d help take it down. But not because it was the right thing to do in the eyes of the law. No, I was going to tear it apart because doing so would give me the cover I needed to hunt my own prey. And when I found the person sending those letters, they were going to wish they’d never learned how to write.

It was a dangerous path, sure. But danger had always been a bit like a second skin to me. And as we merged back onto the road, blending in with the rest of the world’s oblivious travelers, I couldn’t help but feel a thrill at the thought of the hunt ahead. The game was on, and I was playing for keeps.

“What happened?” Dixie asked, her eyes wide with anticipation and a hint of fear as soon as I stepped back into the boutique. The air between us was charged with the tension of the unknown, the weight of our shared secret pressing down on us like a physical force.

“Luck. Luck happened.” I grinned, letting the confidence I felt bubble up into my voice. I was going to get us out of this mess, and no one was ever going to know what we did to Earl’s body. Relief flooded across Dixie’s face, her shoulders dropping as she let out a long breath.

The plan was risky, sure. Diving back into the world of undercover work, using the resources of the very people who, if they knew the truth, would lock us away for good—it was like dancing on a razor’s edge. But I thrived in the gray areas where right and wrong blurred into necessity.

I walked closer to Dixie, lowering my voice so only she could hear. “I’ve got a way to use the marshals’ resources to our advantage. We’re going to find out who’s been sending those letters and shut them down for good.”

I waved a burner phone Wes had given me before he dropped me back off at the shop.

Dixie’s eyes lit up with a mix of hope and admiration. “How are you going to manage that?” she whispered, her curiosity piqued.

“Let’s just say I’ve negotiated a little side project while I help them with their art-smuggling case. They think they’re using me, but I’m the one who’s going to be pulling the strings.” My smile was all the reassurance she needed.

The boutique around us, with its colorful fabrics and the comforting scent of fresh textiles, felt like a sanctuary in that moment. Very different from the darkness of our secret and the path I’d just committed to walking. But as I looked at Dixie, her expression a mixture of gratitude and renewed determination, I knew I’d made the right choice.

We were in this together, bound by a secret that could destroy us. But now, we had a plan. And with a bit of luck and a lot of cunning, we were going to come out on the other side unscathed. The game was afoot, and I was ready to play.

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