This short story is bonus material for my novel, Tangled Up in Blue. Read that first here on Inkspired! 😊
I can’t stop thinking about the dead eagles.
Keegan’s breath caresses my chest, and her fingertips send shivers through my arms and legs as they zigzag along my abdomen. They loop my belly button and go down to where the blood is surging and my whole body is on the knife’s edge, waiting.
And then she pulls her fingers back up, swirling patterns on my skin, a teasing invitation.
I look over to see her cheek sliding up in a smile. I can smell her hair, that faint scent of coconut and something perfumy that haunted my dreams for the three long years we were apart.
Even though we made love just a few hours ago, I’m aching for her this morning, my body feeling as desperate to plunge inside her, be enveloped by and wrapped up in her, as the first time we were together after I got out of Leavenworth.
I’d been desperate for her then. I’m desperate for her now. My body is ready, more than ready. It always is, with Keegan.
But my mind keeps seeing those eagles. And thinking about the dream I had last night.
It’s barely past sunrise, and the cabin is already heating up.
We spent the night on the floor in the living room in front of the window AC unit. It was just too damn hot to sleep in the loft. But the AC didn’t make much difference.
It would have been way more comfortable in Keegan’s bedroom at the ranch’s main house. But both of us wanted to get away from the wedding planning, away from all the drama, for a couple of days.
So we rode out here late yesterday afternoon.
But then Keegan needed me out of the cabin for a little while so she could talk to somebody about her wedding dress.
I’m not supposed to see the dress before the wedding. That much even I know about being a groom. Apparently, I’m not even supposed to hear anything about the dress.
I initially meant to just stand outside on the bluff and take some deep, cleansing breaths or something.
But then I got it into my head to go down to the river. So I scrambled down the bluff, grabbing at exposed tree roots and heavy boulders to steady myself and wiping sweat out of my eyes.
When I got close to the bottom, I jumped. But I landed wrong, stumbled over some rocks and ended up knee-deep in the water.
“Goddamn it!” I stomped back to shore, growling at my wet jeans and boots.
I guess it was one way to cool off.
A movement up at the top of a pasture a few hundred yards away near the tree line caught my eye, and I put a hand up to shade my eyes from the sun.
Two coyotes were moving stealthily toward a nearby herd of cattle.
"Fuck,” I muttered.
The ranch has been in an ongoing battle with at least one pack that has been targeting calves, especially the newborns. Everyone is supposed to be on alert.
And I hadn’t even thought to bring along a rifle.
All I could do was starting yelling and waving my arms around like a fool, hoping it would scare them off.
Thankfully, it worked. The coyotes took off running in the other direction. But I knew they’d be back.
I pulled out my phone to text a warning to the ranch foreman.
I’d just slid the phone back into my pocket when I spotted the eagles.
First I noticed a wing, sticking up out of some mass that was being carried along by the rushing river. As it got closer, I saw the sodden feathers, the white heads: a male and a female, I was pretty sure.
I waded back into the water and pulled them out.
They were tangled up in each other, talons looped together, hooked beaks side by side. Even soaking wet, the wings didn’t look right; they hung at odd angles, clearly broken.
Looking closer, I could see blood, lots of it, black against the dark feathers.
Keegan’s teeth nip my shoulder playfully, and I flinch, jolted back into the present, back into a moment I should be enjoying.
I wrap my hand around her fingers and pull them gently away from my body. Then I slide away from her and sit up.
I shake my head slightly, not sure how to answer. What the hell is wrong with me? Why am I so unnerved by those eagles?
Maybe because it seems like some kind of omen.
It’s hard not to assume they were our eagles, the pair that was like a soaring benediction on my crazy-ass proposal to Keegan the day after my release from military prison.
I don’t remember seeing any other eagles on the ranch.
And then there’s the terrible dream I had last night, where Keegan was dying.
Keegan was screaming as she reached out to me, trying to twist away from the knife that was plunging into her chest over and over again.
There were hands--three pairs of them--gripping my arms and legs, holding me so tightly I couldn’t move, couldn’t help her. I’d looked down, in my dream, at those hands.
They were very familiar. I knew those hands.
“Nothing,” I finally mumble in response to Keegan’s question. “It’s just…”
How in the hell do I explain what I’m feeling without freaking her out? Without sounding like I’m losing my mind?
The dreams I used to have—the ones where I see the guys in my patrol die over and over again—have diminished; they don’t invade my sleep as often as they used to.
The therapy I’m getting is probably helping with that, even if I don’t want to admit it.
I fought hard against going, arguing that driving every week into Oklahoma City to see some expensive shrink was a stupid waste of time and money.
But the three women in my life—Keegan, Mama and, oddly, Virginia Cooke—had insisted. And talking to Dr. Benton usually does leave me feeling calmer, more in control.
I turn back toward Keegan and run a finger down her soft cheek.
“It’s just…” I shake my head again, intending to say nothing more. But then the words rush out of my mouth.
“I found two eagles in the river this morning. Our eagles, Keegan. Dead. They looked like they’d been—I don’t know—almost shredded. Their wings were broken, they were all cut up. What the hell do you think happened to them?”
Thanks for starting For Better or Worse! Another update is coming tomorrow.
This short story is bonus material for my novel, Tangled Up in Blue. If you haven’t yet read it, check it out here on Inkspired!
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