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Chapter One

 

Clay

   My brother Boone doesn’t even give me a decent greeting when I knock on his door. Normally I’d comment about how the heavy wood double doors to his new ranch mansion are bigger than my trailer, but I don’t feel much like laughing today.

   Instead, I’ve got a cold knot in my gut that’s been there for days and feels like it’s growing larger by the moment. If it grows any bigger and I’m gonna start looking like delicate Ivy, all ponytail and belly. Well, ’cept for the ponytail, I guess.

   Boone just eyes me as he opens the door. He’s silent, too. My brother usually has something to say about everything, but maybe he’s got the same knot in his gut I do. He eyes my clothing, noting my best jeans and the only long-sleeved white shirt I own, which has also sat in the back of my closet since the last funeral I went to. It’s tight around the chest and neck, but fuck it. Ain’t nobody gonna give a shit today. I glance down at my boots, but the heavy rain today is washing away any dirt I have on them. I’m mostly presentable. Mostly.

   My brother isn’t happy, though. He just shakes his head. “No jacket?”

   Another smart-ass comment rises to my mind but I bite it back, too. Doesn’t seem right to joke, even if that’s my natural instinct. Not today. “Nah. Don’t have one.”

   He grunts. “Seems like none of my brothers do. But Ivy wants everyone in jackets, so come in. You can borrow one of mine.”

   My brother’s been married for almost a year now, and his new wife has pretty much turned him upside down. New house, new clothes, looking at investments, you name it. What Ivy wants, Ivy gets. It’s a good thing Ivy’s the sweetest girl and doesn’t have a gold-digging bone in her body, because Boone’s absolutely batshit crazy for her and would give her his fortune if it’d make her smile. It’s kinda cute, in a henpecked sort of way.

   “Ivy dressing everyone?”

   My brother just arches an eyebrow at me.

   I ain’t wrong, I bet to myself as I shake off the rain in the echoing foyer. When I don’t drip on the marble flooring, I step forward and follow Boone into the downstairs living area. Sure enough, Ivy’s there, running a lint brush over Seth’s borrowed jacket. Gage is seated on a nearby chair dressed to the nines in some Gucci or Armani shit, but he’s the only one out of all of us. Knox is nearby wearing another one of Boone’s jackets, but the way he’s adjusting the collar, I imagine he’s deciding whether or not to five-finger it home. Doesn’t matter that Knox is as rich as the rest of us—he likes to lift things. Dunno why. No one knows what’s going on in Knox’s head.

   Ivy takes one look at me and hurries over with her lint brush. “Clay, you’re not dressed.” Her brow wrinkles and she looks unhappy, studying my appearance. “We’ll have to get you one of Boone’s jackets.”

   “Eddie wouldn’t care,” I tell her, trying to smile. “He’s an old roughneck, through and through. I doubt he even owned a dress shirt. Wouldn’t expect me to own one.”

   “I care,” Ivy says, ignoring everything I say. “And his widow will care. And his children will care. It’s important, Clay.” She speaks to me like I’m a child but it just rolls off my back. Ivy is a little fussy about appearances but she means well, and she wants us to look right for this.

   And even though every one of us Price brothers knows Eddie Murteen wouldn’t give two shits what we wore to his funeral, it’s important to Ivy that we are respectable when we pay our last respects.

   So I shrug and put my arms out. “Come dress your Ken Doll, Barbie.” She thwacks me with the lint brush as I grin. Guess I got a bit of spark left in me, after all.

   I jacket up, and Ivy fusses with my hair, removing my favorite baseball cap and wetting and combing down my flyaways like I’m a kid. I just let her fuss. Ivy’s the only female in our lives, so I figure she knows more about this sorta thing than we do. I glance down at her big belly and the tented black dress she’s wearing. “Junior’s getting big.”

   “His name won’t be Junior.”

   “Mason, then. That’s a good name.”

   “Like the jar? No thanks.”

   Boone just grins behind her like a big dumb loon. Never thought I’d see the day that my mule-stubborn brother would let a little blonde waltz all over him, but he does. I bet this baby’s gonna have some trendy, crappy name like Juniper or Pastel or some shit.

   “Ford?” I suggest.

   “Like the car?”

   “Good, solid car.”

   “No. Absolutely not.” Ivy finishes messin’ with my hair and then runs the lint brush over my jacket. “All right. You look good. Are the wreaths in the cars? Everyone have umbrellas?”

   “We have hats,” Seth says, a bit of sulk in my youngest brother’s tone.

   “Umbrellas,” Ivy repeats firmly. “This is a funeral, not a bowling alley.” She fusses with the string of pearls at her neck, looking worried. “I want you to look the part. Everyone’s going to be focused on the fact that the Price family is showing up—”

   “We look good, baby girl,” Boone says, moving to press a kiss to his wife’s cheek. “They’re just giving you shit. It’s going to be fine, I promise.”

   Ivy gives him a smile, reassured by his calm words.

   I wish I was so easily placated. The knot’s back in my stomach and growing. Ain’t no avoiding this. Eddie deserves a good send-off, and we’ll be there. I just wish . . .

   Fuck, I don’t know what I wish.

   * * *

   The funeral’s a good one, I guess. I’ve only been to two, but compared to my father’s funeral, this one’s done right. Eddie’s in the most expensive coffin that Price money can buy, since he died working on one of our rigs. There are flowers and wreaths all over the small chapel, and a shit-ton more at the graveside. The service is nice and decently attended, and I try not to look at Eddie’s widow and the three little boys she has sitting on the pew next to her. If I do, that knot in my stomach just grows and grows.

 
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