Fall

By: Cora Brent

A Gentry Boys Novel



CHAPTER ONE


JENNY

“You look Common.”

It wasn’t a real voice. The hostile accusation was only inside my head. I had caught sight of myself in the dirty, mirrored glass behind the bar and I needed to blink twice before I realized whose face I was staring at. The hair was unnaturally dark and the lips were colored a deep shade that didn’t match my complexion.

Yet it was me, undoubtedly.

Adam nudged my arm as I swiped at my face with a crumpled bar napkin. He was Ally’s older brother and the way he kept clinging to me only increased my wariness.

“Lemme buy you a shot,” he slurred.

I shook my head but he ignored me and hailed the bartender. The place was crowded and strangely filled with an inexplicable woodsy scent, reminiscent of the pine woods outside Jericho Valley. That was what likely gave rise to thoughts of my childhood. Or it might have been the emotional tug of the holiday. Ordinarily I kept those memories away.

As the bartender pushed a shot glass under my nose, some raucous hooting broke out to my left as more people poured into the bar. Most were men; some roughly groomed and dressed in leather in a way that reminded me of my sister’s husband and the band of bikers he had formed a brotherhood with. Others wore the guard uniforms of the local prison, advertising that they had just emerged from their monotonous shifts. Apparently in a rural desert town like this, there was no better destination on a cold Christmas night than the nearest bar.

“Where’s Ally?” I shouted to Adam over the shrill lyrics of ‘Jingle Bell Rock’.

He leaned in more closely than he needed to and snaked an arm around my shoulders.

“Think she took off,” he said and grinned at me. Adam’s teeth were dark yellow and although Ally had said he was only twenty-two, his paunchy gut and sallow complexion made him seem older. I hadn’t touched the shot glass in front of me and I was beginning to realize how much of a mistake I’d made by tagging along with Ally Doria. Going home with her for the Christmas holidays seemed like a good idea at the time. I had my reasons for feeling restless and ill at ease lately. Attaching myself, once again, to the families of my siblings suddenly seemed like a depressing way to spend winter break. When Ally pleaded with me to join her for a week in Emblem, her hometown, it was a welcome alternative, a chance at adventure.

“Please, Jenny?” she’d wheedled and then started singing a song with my name in it. She sang badly.

“What is that?” I laughed.

“Oldie,” she winked. “From the eighties. You’ve never heard it before? My mom used to have a major thing for this Rick Springfield dude when she was in, like, eighth grade.”

“Yeah, I’m sure I’ve heard it before,” I lied. I lied a lot. I was never sure how people would react to my old life so I didn’t let them find out. My official story was that I was a sheltered, homeschooled girl (lie) living in northern Arizona until my mother died unexpectedly (another lie). After I was thrust into a California beachside high school, my classmates seemed to sense something was off about me and they kept their distance. College, I thought, would be different but so far results were mixed.

Life among The Faithful Last Disciples and Saints was all I knew until the age of sixteen. Now I could understand why the rest of the world famously considered Jericho Valley a cult, a depraved asylum that disguised itself as an ordinary American town. We had been told that the rest of the world, the Common world, was to be feared. The Faithful order was more than a primitive experiment, more than a twisted religion. We had been taught to fear, to despise, to abandon sense and morality and submit to the whims of the church elders. We had been taught a lot of lies.

How would my new peers have reacted to learning that I’d been forced into the role of teenage bride to a man with a bevy of other ‘wives’? It didn’t matter that my so-called husband was too old and sick to lay a hand on me. I was a pawn, a victim. They would have pitied me.

And goddammit, I hated pity.

“So you’ll come?” Ally had pressed as she began to perform a series of perfect high kicks. “Shit, I need something to help break up the fucking boredom of Emblem.”

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