Cruel Summer

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Summary

Carter Magness, heiress to the mining fortune, arrives on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, with a duffle bag, a week's worth of clean clothes, and a few hundred bucks to her name. Best of all, no one knows she is here, and she plans to keep it that way. And after taking a job with a local yachting company, taking tourists out on the reef, she is happy to spend her time away from anyone from her past and instead with Jackson, the irritable but handsome captain of her yacht. While Carter knows she is hiding something and hopes to hell no one finds her to reveal them, Jackson also has his own secrets, and is confident that sooner or later they will catch up to him on the reef.

Genre:
Thriller / Romance
Author:
Rowan Hill
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
17
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
18+

Prologue

Rob snaked his hand around the new girl’s neck and pulled her across the center console of the Camaro, delving deep into her mouth right in front of me. From the back, I looked her over and ruefully smiled to myself, the man had too much charm for an Adonis let alone an oil tycoon’s smoking hot son. The high cheekbones, strong jaw, short wavy dirty blonde hair, and Calvin Klein MarkyMark body. No girl stood a chance. I watched as his tongue explored her mouth and looked away to take a swig of the Fireball Whiskey, now nearly half empty.

Squeezing my eyes shut as the inferno raced down my body, I glanced outside to the dam. The sound was slightly muted by the car windows, and the sound of Phil Collins ‘In the Air’ playing softly through the back speakers, but they still fiercely roaring even though we were sixty feet above the river it ejected water into. The brunette moaned into his mouth, his hands now beginning to wander, and it was suddenly way too hot to stay in the tiny space of his douche performance car. Escaping its confines, I opened the door, walked over to the side rails and looked over to the darkened landscape of Boulder, Colorado.

The far-off twinkling lights had lessened some due to the early hour, and I wondered what other recent college grads were doing on their Tuesday mornings. Probably doing normal early 20’s people stuff. Moving into a new apartment, going on first dates, writing job applications, trying to find themselves. Definitely not standing on top of a dam wall that their on and off again quasi ex boyfriend got them through the dam security for, while he is priming a girl new to their town for what he was hoping for a threesome.

Nope, definitely not that.

I let out another sigh and brought the Bottle to my lips, catching a glimpse of the security camera on the light pole fifty feet away as I tilted my head back for the fire and gave it a wink. Wonder if old Stryker Senior, heavy investor in the Granby Dam project, ever watched the security tapes? I snorted to myself. What a question, the old man had probably never even set foot onto the top of the wall like we were doing now. All the curmudgeon probably ever did was watch the zeros add to his bank account and wonder how much longer he could avoid talking to his son and heir in that empty sprawling ranch.

Turning my back on the view far across the mountains to look back at the car, it had begun to slightly rock. Jesus, how had I ever dodged a bullet with an A-grade-asshole like Robert Stryker the third? When I said yes to ‘hanging out’ tonight, the nostalgia I had wanted for old times had been too much to say no. I had been living life to the fullest a little too much for the last year, and Rob felt safe. Well, as safe as Rob ever could. He was a known danger, the devil I knew.

Then I entered the car only to find out I was the third inside and a third wheel apparently. Classic Rob, such a gentleman. Dad would probably kill him if I said a word. The overprotective man had actually smiled when I told him old flame Rob had asked me out and would be around in an hour. Poor Rob had been stuck in Foxwood Glen and the gentry while I had been off at college, apparently getting closer to them all.

I must have been some level of hellish bored to I to actually say yes to ‘hanging out’?’ It didn’t seem like a great start to the first few days home, but hey, maybe I was actually a wingman to my ex now? He could actually be fun when not trying it on, or acting the part of old frat bro.

I know our parents had always hoped for something more, a joining of the two obnoxious fortunes to keep the elite ‘pure’, but holy fucking shit. To actually marry Rob Stryker? After getting a college experience? To see that the world was full of possibilities outside of the bubble I had been in my entire life? Tossing my head back in laughter, my long blonde hair fell loose of its bun, and for a second, the wind picked it up and sent it flying back over the railing and the falling water.

The sound of a car door opening drew my attention back, and the heavy petting couple emerged for some air, walking towards me. Rob, for everything cocky about him, had clearly been keeping up his daily hour in the gym. Jesus, he did look good. Like the picture of all-American boy good.

“Magness!” Rob called out to me as they approached, and even in the dim light, I could see the new gir I had barely met look to him with a question on her face.

“Magness? Like, Carter Magness?”

Feeling more than slightly drunk, I gestured the Whiskey in her direction, “The one and only.”

The confusion continued to spread across her face, “But, I thought you were a guy?”

Rob now pulled her into his body, brushing her ringlet hair aside to kiss her neck, “Well, lucky for us, she is very much not a guy, and has impeccable tits.”

The young girl, probably no older than 18 the more I looked at her, ignored his mauling her neck,

“But you’re, like, rich. Like Forbes-rich.”

Taking another swig of whiskey, the fire wasn’t so hot going down and mentally noted that that wasn’t the best sign. I squeezed my eyes shut before looking to her again, dredging up her name.

“Kelsey, right? I don’t know if you noticed, but you just moved to a secluded mountain town that has its own private ski lift and Gucci store. We are all super-rich. Hell, this asshole right here just flashed a smile, and they let him drive onto the dam wall.”

Beside her, Rob ignored the insult, almost reveling in it rather. He gave the pair of us the same dazzling smile that no amount of orthodontics could pay for and snatched the bottle from my hand. Starting to feel sassier at my own insult of being grouped with Rob, who was now laying heavily into the whiskey, I spoke to the girl without looking at her.

“Now, I don’t know what your parents do, or what misfortune brought them to a town that literally houses twenty of the richest Americans most of the year, but personally, I don’t like being defined by my parents, right?”

Rob pulled the bottle from his lips, now a little belligerent with the liquor.

“Oh, give it up, Magness! You’re already named as heir, even over your mother. And for someone who doesn’t lift a finger, you should really shut the fuck up and go back to the yacht named after you in Monaco.”

Even though he was acting like an ass, I turned to Kelsey and shrugged. When he was right, he was right. I had known nothing but a life of ease, and at 22, it seemed harder than I would like to give it up and fight the current. So I let myself be dragged with it and deeper into the Magness lifestyle of elite colleges and affluence.

Instead of continuing his normal angry tirade, Rob sidled up to me, leaning against the railing, and I felt him brush my hair behind my neck and pull the same nuzzling move he had just given Kelsey. I unconsciously leaned my head to the side for him, the old nostalgic feeling surfacing again and slightly feeling gross that I was letting my ex do this in front of another girl.

But fuck, if he didn’t know how to kiss a woman’s skin. With heat and depth, and a little bit of tongue. In the haze of liquor, it felt like ambrosia dripping down my skin and I leaned my head further back to give him all the access. Slowly, a strong hand drifted down my stomach and thin shirt and squeezed itself inside my jeans, all the way down to find my damp panties.

Against my neck, I felt the smile on his lips before he rasped out,

“You know, I like this Carter Magness much better. The one before college was pretty stiff. But Carter goes to Princeton, joins a sorority, then suddenly drinks and parties. Always ready for a fun time? I can get behind that Carter, literally. Maybe a menage trois, huh?”

My eyes snapped open with the familiarity and cockiness with which he said it, only to find Kelsey had a slight look of hurt in her eyes. The bastard had obviously told her that they were on a date, and his old friend ‘Carter’ needed someone to hang out with. I couldn’t feel exactly sorry for the girl, but it didn’t really appeal to me either. I pushed him off my neck, and his hand found its way out.

“Hard pass, Rob. Your shitty car is not big enough to do it right. And honestly? The nineties called to tell you that even then, Ménage Trois sounded gross.”

He leaned back on the railing and brought his finger from his wandering hand to his mouth, sucking it with a smile. I gave the man a scowl to melt his face off, but took the bottle of him, noticing he had mostly downed it. Jesus, my ex now had some high functioning-alcoholic traits apparently. I waved the bottle to Kelsey, who had demonstrably diminished in cheerfulness since leaving the car.

“Rest is yours, Kels.”

The girl smiled shyly and knowingly before taking the bottle from my hands and sculling the rest before bracing herself against its burn.

“Well then ladies, since we’re here, maybe a game of truth or dare? Get to know our new Kelsey?”

I rolled my eyes at the man. What the hell did my father see in this guy? I knew what the appeal was when I was a Junior and he a Senior in high school. But now? Did he secretly volunteer at the animal shelter? Donate blood to the nuns running the county orphanage? Read to blind children at the library?

There had to be something more to recommend this 24-year-old man who lived off of his trust fund and was just waiting till his father kicked the proverbial bucket where he could spend all his inheritance. Because truth or dare with two girls on a dam crest? Not it.

“Rob, did your adolescence take a hit back when you were fifteen and in that boarding school for a year? Are you still trying to prove you’re not gay because of that one kiss? My inner teenager is cringing at you.”

For his part, he was obviously used to my quips and ignored it while he leaned over the side. Kelsey had come to the railing also and we all watched the white foam of the Colorado River pour into the darkness below us.

“Right then! I’ll ask first. Kelsey, Truth or Dare?”

Kelsey, glanced over to me nervously, still holding the now empty bottle over the expanse before answering, “Truth?”

Rob clapped his hands together, like a circus conductor toying with the animals,

“A classic! Good choice, newbie. Okay, what... is… your biggest fear?”

Kelsey gave a small giggle with alcoholic jitters before turning somber at the thought. She stared over the darkness of the cliff that was the dam and I saw her fingers tightly clasp the waist high wet railing. A few more moments of silence passed before she leaned back, still holding onto the metal rail.

“Drowning.”

Both Rob and I’s eyebrows peaked at the revelation. Girl had some balls, or really wanted to fit in, to come with two of Foxwood’s elite to a dam at 2 AM. That, or Rob simply didn’t tell her before the hour-long mountain drive out here.

The silence lengthened for a moment before Kelsey showed some gusto and declared,

“My turn! Rob, truth or dare?”

He gave his typical easy going smile, “Oh, let’s warm up, huh? Truth.”

Kelsey pursed her lips in thought, obviously thinking his machismo would win out and pick dare. Eyeing his length, swathed in deceptively expensive jeans and a red fitted flannel, I piped up,

“What’s your biggest regret?”

I knew the answer to this. It had come up once before, years ago when Rob had taken the long weekend to fly back from his exclusive Frat house and joined those still in our senior year at the Baker’s lodge party while her parents were at the Oscars. ‘Saying no to an orgy’. Or rather, getting too wasted in his Freshman year that he said no and didn’t realize it til he saw the aftermath when he woke up.

Good ole Rob. Nope, it wasn’t that he had a terrible relationship with his father, or that he had taken off for the Bahamas for a week while his mother was on the downward spiral of her chemo. Nope. Said no to an orgy. Biggest regret. Of course.

He leaned over the railing, and I imagined he was giving the abyss a grin while he thought over his salacious answer. Finally, after a few moments, he pushed himself back and the very rare ‘serious Rob’ had made an appearance, and I gave him my whole attention.

He locked his eyes with mine, and in the mediocre fluorescent lighting, I could tell that he probably wasn’t thinking about his guaranteed laugh of a missed orgy.

“Biggest regret? … Saying no to you that night, Magness.”

My breath almost caught in my throat at the sincerity in his voice, and the night he mentioned briefly flashed in my mind. What the actual fuck? I shook my head at the memory, one that had given me more than a few nights of red eyes and a bloated face the week before my senior year of high school when Rob had gone off to college.

I felt my chest and the inside pocket of my leather jacket, feeling the protruding bulge where it should be. Pulling out the engraved flask, I quickly uncapped it and took a swig of dad’s Mitcher’s bourbon. My body shuddered, whether from the high shelf whiskey or the memory of the night when he doled out my first heartache. The night when he set us out on an annual cycle of will they/won’t they crap. I had been determined to break it this year, but maybe I was too weak.

Pocketing the flask again, I leaned back onto the railing and smiled at him, anxious to at least leave that night in the past. That night had fucking sucked.

“Well, that was a long time ago. Would-a, could-a, should-a, ya know?” I clapped my hands together, and rubbed them in feign coldness,

“So! My turn? I take dare, let’s get this over with so we can get the hell out of here.”

I raised my eyebrows expectantly at Kelsey, looking more uncomfortable by the second. I assumed she would try and show me up with something lowbrow and demeaning, like kissing her or gyrating on the car. She couldn’t be feeling good after Rob pulled a bait-and-switch on her on what she thought was a date.

Instead, Rob made to answer and I amended my proposal before he could speak.

“Nothing I’ve already said no to tonight, thank you very much. Sex acts caught on that security camera is a no from me.”

He quirked his lips, knowing I could read his mind and he adjusted himself inside his pants.

“Climb up on the railing and let go for three seconds.”

I whipped my head over to Kelsey, who had issued the challenge, with surprise. She had a slight smug grin on her petite face, and I was a little in shock that I got such a wrong read on her. Usually I was good with people and had pegged her for a shy girl, new to town, wanting to reinvent herself. I guess she was more pissed off than I had guessed.

Her eyes flashed over to Rob, now leaning up against the offending rail and judging the battle of wills. No, I had her right. She was just trying to fit in, but was trying to take whom she thought was Queen bee down a peg or two in Rob’s eyes. Frowning at the dare, I pulled my long hair back in my hands and twisted it around on itself at my nape, eyeing the railing in question.

Sighing and looking to the darkness and Boulder beyond, I studied the metal rail. About four feet high, it came to my waist. The middle railing was up a foot and would hit my shins. You would need a strong core to hold yourself up if the wind pushed you forward, and I grinned. A strong core? Hell, I could put a yogi to shame, Coach had made sure of that in my last season with the team at university.

I began to walk over to the railing, seeing if Rob would try to stop me from doing something moderately dangerous. He remained frustratingly silent and watched me with morbid curiosity and a twinge of a grin. I shook my head. It wasn’t like it was the most dangerous stunt we had done, but fuck this guy. Letting some new girl try to stake a foothold in what she mistakenly thought I wanted by letting me do a stupid stunt. Fuck them, fuck them all. Only a few days back in the sheltered money rich town my parents had holed me up in for 22 years, and I was destined to be stuck with pricks like Rob. I needed out.

But first, it seemed I needed to scare the stupid out of myself.

Leaning over the railing to make sure I wasn’t going to hurl, I looked down the wall of the dam and realized if anything went awry, I would not be riding back in that shitty car. Instead, I would be taking a ride down the rough Colorado river I couldn’t see but imagined was full of rocks. I would not be going home.

But I was nothing if not stubborn, a Magness to my core.

I took the large step up to the middle rail, holding on to the top with my hands and planted my feet. They slipped a little against the wetness of the bar, but settled and after a moment I slowly released the top bar and lifted myself up to standing with eyes squeezed shut.

Wind rushed up from behind, and my long hair whipped around my face and over the void and I took a deep breath against the chaos that roared in my ears. My eyes slowly opened and I spread my arms wide in exhilaration at the prospect of death. The howling wind pushed me forward, and I strained my shins against the leverage the bar was giving me, tightening my stomach to stay upright. I looked down to my feet and one more saw the water, fatalistically rushing to meet the ground and in that moment I realized something important.

I was fucking losing it. After four years of freedom, rebelling against the previous eighteen of sanctuary, I had finally taken it too far and was on the literal edge.

Hands suddenly wrapped at my waist and pulled me back off the chasm, the breath stolen from my lungs as I thought I was falling. Instead of meeting the ground, I was clutched into another warm body, and I smelled Rob’s cologne and his breath in my ear.

“You’re so fucking crazy, Magness. God, how I’ve missed you. I missed you so much, baby.”

The adrenaline was still coursing through my body, when I pushed him and his embrace away,

“P-p-p-piece of c-cake,” I stuttered.

Shit. My stutter, long under control had chosen to make a return with the fear and adrenaline. Rob gave me a kind knowing look at the slip, while Kelsey narrowed her eyes in my direction like a shark smelling blood in the water.

“Really? Cake?” she replied with some skepticism. I took a deep breath and thought over my vowel and stutter exercises from long ago, before confidently replying.

“Pie, actually.”

Rob, sensing a brewing battle, jumped in, “Well then, Carter, lets get some more of that Fireball you prefer, huh? I think you deserve it. Ladies, your chariot awaits.” Rob made a grand flourish to his car, and Kelsey giggled, the sound grating like nails across a chalkboard. I planted my feet on the hard concrete.

“Hold up, like hell I’m going to be the only one who leaves this dam wall with a dare under her belt,” and I turned to the girl.

“Your turn, newbie. Truth or Dare. Keep in mind, you have already chosen truth and will be the town weakling by doing so again.”

Her lips pursed and she folded her arms in front of her. Yeah, she knew what I was doing, but at this point, I was resolved to give everyone their licks.

“Okay, old maid, dare.”

I gestured over to the railing.

“Do what I just did. But this time, sing the goddamn national anthem like you belting it for the superbowl.” Her eyebrows furrowed and she looked over to the railing. Rob came between us, his hands up in peace.

“Ladies, ladies, ladies, let’s not do this. You can both have the D tonight. I promise.”

“No, it’s okay, Rob. Piece of pie, right?” She said with a small grin in his direction and began to walk over to the bar. I looked over the girl, now studying her body. She was thin, like wafer thin. Her clothes hid it well, but she probably weighed a buck 10 if less. I wasn’t thick, but had the muscle to withstand that wind, this girl was in for a ride. Her hands grasped the railing and she looked down, pausing at the dark sight. I suddenly remembered her confession from earlier.

Afraid of drowning.

God, I had become the town bitch and I took a step over to her in guilt.

“Okay new girl, you passed. Welcome to the rich-assholes club. I am sure you are going to be a spectacular delight to our ranks. Now, let’s take this douche up on his offer of liquor and dick and get off of this fucking death trap.”

She turned her head to me in almost contempt, and began to raise her foot up to the rail,

“Watch and learn, you wanted to hear it in the original B-flat, right?”

“Kelsey, really, that wind is strong once you stand. Lets just say you did it, okay? That’s the dare.”

She ignored me and continued to raise herself. Rob, next to me, was clasping his elbows and watching with amusement as his latest toy risked death. After a few moments of slowly rising, she finally made it to full standing. I watched her with concern as her feet rocked her body unsteadily on the wet rail.

She had begun to sing the national anthem, when again, I felt Rob at my side pressing close. The liquor he had sculled seemed to really be kicking in, because his next words came out slightly slurred.

“I meant it, Magness. Biggest mistake of my life telling you no that night. No girl has even come close since then. Say you forgive me, baby.”

“Yeah, yeah, Rob, I forgive you. Did you know she could sing like this?” I motioned up to Kelsey, now half way through the anthem. Despite occasionally wobbling, the girl had some pipes, and was taking my direction seriously, blasting the star spangled so beautifully that it actually might have been good enough for the superbowl.

Rob crooned in my ear again, and this time, clasped my chin hard while placing an arm behind my back, pulling me to focus on him. He smelt like liquor, and even his good looks couldn’t erase the hard look over his features.

“Seriously, Carter. I want you back. I’ve made so many mistakes with you, but we always come back to each other, right?”

The look of incredulity and confusion on my face must have somehow encouraged him, because his soft lips were suddenly on mine and his tongue was forcing itself inside. I pressed my hands against his chest and pushed him away.

“Fuck, Rob! Never change, huh? Well, let me do it for once and declare, no, we are never going back to each other! I think this night proves we should just let it go, alright?

A look of hurt quickly passed over his face before it was replaced by one of anger, and he latched onto my wrist aggressively and pulled me into him again. Violently holding our faces together.

“I thought we were past the ‘you say no, but mean yes’, shit? Playing the tease is growing old, Carter.”

He mashed our lips together again, this time, losing all pretense of a kiss, instead trying to dominate my will to his. I struggled in his grasp, now even more determined to lose this man from my life. I broke out faces apart.

“Rob, grow a fucking clue, I’m done with you.”

As if that was his last straw, he clasped my chin again and pushed me away with force, tumbling me to the ground, and I hit it with a thud and maybe a sprained ankle.

Behind us, forgotten Kelsey had stopped singing, and had noticed the altercation. Lowering herself back to the bar, she lifted her foot off to touch the ground, when she lost her balance, and lurched forward instead, over the bars. Her hand holding the rail twisted as she toppled over, and she screamed as her weight was forced onto the twisted joint. Her second hand quickly joined the first, but seemed like it couldn’t get a hold of the wet metal.

I gasped as she toppled and I lurched forward on the ground, as if I could catch her. Pain surged through my sprained ankle and I grabbed it in surprise. Another wild scream from Kelsey, the sound nearly lost to the crashing water now below her dangling feet.

Between us, Rob now stood still and watched her in a stupor, as if he was watching an action movie, and he was just an audience member.

“Rob! Help her!” I screamed up to him, and he looked down at me clasping my ankle. His lips lilted to the side in a peculiar side smirk.

“Say you love me, Magness.”

“Rob! Stop playing! Move your ass!”

He turned and slowly started to back up in Kelsey’s direction, her grip slowly slipping in the half light.

“Say you feel the same, and I’ll pick her up, lickety split.”

“Rob! Cut the shit! We will never be together, you fucking psycho, for exactly reasons like this.”

I gestured to the woman hanging off the ledge of a seventy foot drop. Was this fucking real life?

Rob dropped his shoulders and braced his hands against his hips, eventually looking over his shoulder.

“Rob!”

He shrugged and turned to the railing, reaching for Kelsey and grabbing her hand over the rail, and began to pull up the whimpering girl.

Out of my eyeline, I saw Rob’s strong shoulder starting to lift, before another moment and I saw his back jerk and Kelsey shrieked a long wail that slowly faded. Rob suddenly leaned his body deeply over the railing.

He slowly turned around, and asshole Rob was gone. In his stead was something between numb and stoned Rob, and bitter Rob. His hand came up to his face, it glistened with water.

“Wh-wh-wha...”

“She just slipped, I had her, and she slipped.”

The pain in my ankle now forgotten, I rushed and joined him at the railing,

“Whe-whe-wher, FUCK! “ I screamed and took a deep breath, staring with wide eyes down at the white monster roaring below. I focused on my words.

“You fucking dropped her!” My throat began to close up with panic and I stepped away from the railing, threading my hands through my hair.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” Kelsey wouldn’t have survived that, no one could. I looked down the top of the wall and spied the guard shack, a little white light in the darkness, half a mile down the mountain.

“Help!!!!” I screamed down across the distance, and a rough hand was suddenly clamped across it. Tears started to run down my cheeks and onto the hand.

“Shhhhhhh, baby, shush. Whoa whoa whoa.” I wrenched my head away from the hand with a sob.

“Rob, what the fuck, she is down there.” I remembered my phone in my jacket pocket and fumbled it out, nearly dropping it. I had only woken it up, when it was abruptly slapped out of my hand, Rob immediately grabbing my palm to soothe the pain.

“Baby, baby, think about this. We’ve been drinking, she is the new poor-as-shit General Manager’s daughter, I have my own dedicated paparazzi in town. And this would not go well on the quarterly earnings report? Okay?”

I wrenched my body out of his grasp and looked at him in horror. This was fucking sick. That girl was most likely dead, but not even trying for help was some level of unhinged.

I stepped back, my hands up in defense against the craziness that wanted to placate me into letting a girl fall to her death.

“Ro-ro-rob, you’re being straight up crazy.”

He followed my steps like he was approaching a wounded animal.

“Carter, babe, this will look terrible on the front page. But this is so easy to fix…”

I turned from him, feeling a fire of hysteria starting to well in my chest and I began to run the opposite way. He screamed my name and I put on speed down the road and felt the wet pavement beneath my boots. I ran into the darkness and away from the hollering man, and I never felt it in my soul more.

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