***Lucky Wolf Casino, just outside Sebida***

Jack turned the key and pushed the door open. The casino was quieter than he could ever remember it being. His grandfather kept the thing running twenty-four-seven. Yes, even on Christmas day. After all, that was a white man’s holiday. 

The past few days had been a whirlwind. And his mind was reeling from all of it. He embraced the quiet solitude, just as he knew that she would embrace him when he got home. Abby was finishing up some paperwork at the school this week.

He knew that she worried about finances, especially since they had decided not to offer her the teaching position full-time. The school board had decided instead to dismantle the drama program and cut the offering of English classes. Who needed all that ancient mythology and Medieval literature anyway? Let the young people read good old American stuff like Twain.

Jack was sure that his trip to the bank today was only going to upset her more. Josh Monroe, Jr. had been about as helpful as teats on a bull. Of course, he could not even be sure that the man was sober. But he trusted Becca Ledbetter.

People could say what they wanted about her ‘friendship’ with Suzanne Monroe, another of Josh, Jr.’s many offspring. Jack had lost count of the number of wives and children the man had. But despite his philandering and alcoholism, he was the eldest son of Mayor Joshua Monroe, the younger brother of Abby’s great-grandfather, the Judge. So, of course, he became bank president when his daddy retired. Maybe that was why his grandfather had taken most of his banking to Madison?

Not that it mattered. But there was something about Becca’s shocked face when he asked who had bought the banknote on the Judge’s ranch that bothered him. She had shifted from foot to foot and would not look him in the eye when she said the information was confidential. That wasn’t like the woman who spent her savings to care for her aging parents, despite the way they treated her for her ‘lifestyle.’  But despite his charm, she wouldn’t budge. All she wanted to talk about was his grandfather’s sudden death and the casino.

He left the lights out as he made his way down the hall to his office. No use wasting energy. The shadows were deep, but there was just enough light from the glass double doors to make his way to his office and the security room.

He had kept George Strongbear and his brother Chet on full-time and offered a half-dozen others part-time. The place still needed security and occasional cleaning. He had cleared the restaurant’s fridge and freezer, distributing their contents to the remaining families. And he had dipped into his personal savings to provide everyone with three month’s severance.

His financial advisor and the casino’s attorney were livid at that one, pointing out that he was under no legal obligation to do so. The men seemed to have no concept of moral obligations or their people’s once strong sense of community. He had promised everyone that he would do what he could. But he was completely open and transparent with them, going so far as to show the accounts.

Most of his employees were not that surprised. They had watched as the number of customers steadily declined. There were rumors, too, of how hard this virus was hitting other Native American communities. Was that something genetic? Or was it a result of the overall poverty, poor diet, higher rates of alcoholism and diabetes among their peoples, and of course, the lack of adequate health care?

Jack fought back the tears as he leaned his head against the office door. Since he came back, he’d done everything he could to avoid spending time in the place. But he couldn’t keep putting it off. He needed to use this time to clear out the office and that goddamned trailer.

He needed to get a firmer hold on his grandfather’s finances. George had explained the thousands of dollars every month that his grandfather paid for the sheriff’s ‘service charge.’ But there was still money missing. Almost seventy-five thousand, at least. Had Kerr been extorting the old man?

“Hey, boss. What you doing here?”

Jack laughed at how Reb’s warped sense of humor had rubbed off on George and some of the others. “I just finished at the bank, and my wife won’t be home for a couple more hours. So, I thought I’d start to tackle this mess.”

“The office’s easy. It’s that trailer you need to worry about. I almost broke my damned neck getting to your grandfather. The dang paramedics just threw shit all over the place to make a path to get the stretcher to his body.”

Jack felt his throat tighten. This was as much as George had said about the old man’s death. But as hard as it was to hear, Jack knew that he needed to listen. Perhaps it held some clue to the missing money, or maybe he was just ready to face reality. That was certainly easier to do, knowing that he could fall asleep in Abby’s arms. “Had he been acting strangely before he died?”

George studied the floor and shifted from side to side, “Please, George, you were more than just an employee to my grandfather. Other than his brother, you were probably the closest thing that Joe had to a real friend. I’d like to know the truth.”

The man nodded his graying head but still did not meet Jack’s gaze. “I don’t know if….”

“If I knew about Joe and Miss Myrtle? Since I was ten years old.”

“It wasn’t like that, Jack. Those two loved one another….” Once upon a time, Jack would have argued the point not that long ago, but now he wasn’t sure he understood or knew anything.

“Your grandfather wasn’t the same after Miss Myrtle died.”

He nodded his head, which must have been enough to satisfy George that he was ready for the truth. “I know this is going to hurt, Jack, especially after your mother and all. But after the funeral, Joe was rarely sober.” Though Abby had told him as much, this confirmation opened up those wounds and refilled his mind with doubts.

He almost lost himself in that sinkhole of self-loathing until George’s next words registered, “But those last couple of days, I don’t know what happened. If he’d come to his senses or had some premonition of his death, the man was stone-cold sober. And taking care of business.”

“Did you know that he rewrote his will then? That’s when he added that ridiculous stipulation. I tried to talk him out of it. I know he didn’t want this place in anyone else’s hands except yours. But you know how he was. Joe never listened to anyone.”

“Do you know where else he went then?” Maybe if he retraced his grandfather’s steps during that time, he could find some clue.

Of course, that money was almost certainly gone already. But they had found close to a hundred thousand dollars in the back of Kerr’s SUV, not to mention guns and ammo worth close to that. If there was some link, could he recover some of it? Jack knew that almost all of the businesses in town were paying ‘service charges’ to the ‘good’ sheriff but so far, at least, none of them had had the balls to come forward and make any claim to that money.

“Not a lot, I’m afraid. I know he spent loads of time at the cemetery with Miss Myrtle and quite a bit at the house with your wife. Maybe you should ask Abby?”

“Ask Abby what?”

Jack usually felt her presence before she entered a room, but he’d been so focused on George that he must have been distracted. He certainly felt the calm and peace she always brought as she wrapped her arms around his waist from behind and laid her face against his back. But it wasn’t enough for him. He reached back and pulled her around into his embrace. Burying his face in her sweet-smelling hair.

“Jack was just asking about those last few days of Joe’s life. I was telling him how he seemed to be getting better.”

She nodded her head, “Yeah, he did. He came out to the house almost every day that week. We would have lunch and talk, then he’d often go off for a walk by himself or out to the old barn.”

“Did he say anything? I mean, anything specific about his plans or what he was up to?”

She shook her head and frowned, “Not that I can remember. Mostly just reminiscing. And talking about my plans for the future.” The lines in her forehead deepened, “He was as much against me marrying John as Grandma was. He said something didn’t feel right about the man. And that sometimes people didn’t show their true colors until it was too late.”

“Did he explain why he felt like that?”

“Not really. He just talked about how abusers don’t often hit women until after they marry them. But how if you look closely, their controlling behavior started much earlier. It was just how passionate he was about the whole thing. Like it happened to someone he cared about. I mean, do you think…. Is it possible that your….”

“That my mother was abused?” He shook his head as he considered the little bit that his grandfather had told him about the woman he barely remembered. “I don’t know. I do know that my grandmother physically and mentally abused her. That’s why she ran away so young and probably why the alcohol and drugs, to numb the pain.”

“I know that my grandfather blamed himself for what happened to her. Thought that he should have done more, been around more. But I don’t know how he could have. Things were nasty between my grandparents. My grandmother accused him of…. Well, all his visits were supervised.”

“Yeah, the old man always did take more on his conscious than he had a right to. You know he and my dad were friends growing up. That’s how he met your grandmother. She was my dad’s cousin. I think that’s why the old man always looked out for Chet and me after my father was killed in Nam. Some sense of obligation.”

George smiled at Abby, “I know he’d be damned happy about the two of you. Your Grandma too. I don’t know; it just seems right somehow. That the two of end up together. I never did figure out why those two never got hitched.”

“Of course, Miss Myrtle was never the same after your grandfather left. She was my teacher back then. I don’t know; it was like the light just went out in her.” George frowned as he turned towards Jack, “Though I suppose your grandmother was still around then.”

“Or I think so. Damn old man brain. I can barely remember what I had for breakfast. Speaking of which, I better go. Sunrise is grilling some of those steaks you gave us, boss. It was sure nice seeing you again, Abby.”

His wife chuckled, “Yeah, I suppose the last time you saw me….”

“You were three sheets to the wind. But something good came of it all. Just look at you two. Congrats again,” George waved as he walked away.

Jack’s hold on his wife tightened. As if holding on to her could somehow buffer the winds that were blowing their way. And he felt them. He could almost even hear them through the trees. Or maybe that was the blood rushing through his veins holding her like this. “I thought you’d be at the school longer, sweetheart.”

“I probably should be, but I’ll go back and finish up another day. Something told me that you needed me, or I thought so anyway….”

His lips captured hers, and Jack poured his soul into showing her just how much he did need her. “Oh, I definitely need you, Mrs. Abigail Greywolf.” He captured her hand and brought it to the front of his jeans.

Her eyes danced with mischief as she dropped to her knees and pulled at the button and zipper. By the time she freed his cock and wrapped those soft pink lips around it, Jack had forgotten his name, let alone missing money, mysterious anonymous buyers, and star-crossed lovers. He was too busy thanking his lucky stars, ancestors, and whatever other fucking gods and goddesses there were out there for this woman…and her superior cock sucking skills.

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