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A Beautiful Funeral (The Maddox Brothers #5)(5)
Author: Jamie McGuire

The other end of the line was quiet for a long time. “I can’t, Taylor.” She sounded tired. Her voice was deeper than usual; ragged.

I’d begged before. It would only start another fight. This was about our children. I had to put us aside. “Falyn … move back into the house with the kids. I’ll find an apartment.”

“No. I’m the one who left. I’ll find a place.”

“Baby,” I began. I could feel her discomfort through the phone. “Falyn. The house is yours. I’ll let the school know they’ll be back next year.”

“Really?” she asked, her voice breaking.

“Yeah,” I said, rubbing the back of my neck. “It doesn’t make sense for me to live in that big house alone and you and the kids crammed into an apartment.”

“Thank you.” She sniffed. “The kids will be so happy.”

“Good,” I said, forcing a smile. I wasn’t sure why. She couldn’t see me. “Good, I’m glad.”

She puffed out a breath of relief, and scuffing sounds against the phone had me imagining she was wiping away tears. “Okay, then. I’ll, um … I’ll start packing.”

“Need help? Let me help you.” The apartment she’d found in Colorado Springs was furnished, so there wouldn’t be much heavy furniture, but I was desperate to return to our well-oiled machine.

“No, we can do it. We don’t have much. There’s nothing too heavy.”

“Falyn. At least let me help pack up the kids. I haven’t seen them in two weeks.”

She thought about it for a moment, sniffing again. I imagined her weighing the pros and cons. She had to think about her choices longer these days, her decisions made only after having more information—something I had to start doing, too. I half-expected her to say she would think about it and call back, but she answered. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“I was considering telling the kids tonight. Do you want to be here when I do? I’m not sure if that would be confusing for them …”

“I’ll be there,” I said without hesitation. Some things required less thinking than others.

We hung up, and I swallowed the lump that had formed in my throat. I didn’t dare say to her what I wanted. I’d held in the hope that once she was back we could really start to work on what went wrong. This time, I would promise not to push too hard or move too fast—I would show her I had changed.

I gripped the phone with both hands and held it to my forehead, silently chanting to keep it together and not ruin it this time. Nothing was more frightening than being your own worst enemy. Even when I wanted to do the right thing, it was a struggle. I had always lived by my emotions, and those close to me experienced the blowback. They saw the pressure build and the discharge, even if it only lasted for a few seconds in the form of rage. After years went by—and I hadn’t learned or grown or made an effort to overcome it—the forgiveness came less easily for Falyn, and I couldn’t blame her.

“You off the phone?” Jubal asked. I lifted my head and nodded, working hard to keep the suffering off my face. “The commander wants a word.”

I wiped my nose with my wrist and stood, taking a deep breath. My muscles were tense. I knew what was coming. The commander had been in meetings all morning with the other shift commanders, the chief, and the city council—all about me.

“Taylor?” Jubal said as I passed him.

“Yeah?” I turned around to face him, annoyed. He’d interrupted my emotional preparation for what would go down in the commander’s office.

“You need to take that temper and dial it down a few notches before walking in there. You’re in enough trouble as it is. You’re definitely not going to get her back without a job.”

“It doesn’t matter. Nothing has gone right for me since she left.”

Jubal made a face, unimpressed with my shameless self-pity. “If you’d stop spending so much time placing blame, you might free up your head and your heart to think of a solution.”

I thought about his words and nodded, taking a deep breath. Jubal was right, as usual.

The commander was on the phone when I knocked and came in. He lifted his index finger, and then directed me to sit in one of the two orange chairs positioned in front of his desk.

I did as he instructed, lacing my fingers together on top of my stomach and bobbing my knee. That office hadn’t changed much since he’d taken over; the same pictures hung from the walls and tacks on various corkboards held informational posters around the room. The paneling gave away the building’s age, as did the stained carpet and worn furniture. The only things different were a framed picture on the desk, the man sitting on the other side of it, and the nameplate in front of him.

COMMANDER TYLER MADDOX

“You rang?” I asked when he hung up the phone on its cradle. I grabbed the picture of us with Dad, all standing side by side, our arms around each other and happy. Thomas almost looked out of place, without tattoos and longer, lighter hair, and hazel green eyes as opposed to shit brown like the rest of us.

“Anyone else looking at this picture must think Tommy belongs to the milkman. Only people who know us recognize that he looks like Mom.”

Tyler grimaced. “I know you’ve already told me once, but tell me again, Taylor. Tell me you didn’t know who he was when you swung.”

I tried not to get defensive, but holding back was hard when he was asking me to explain why I’d knocked out the mayor’s son for touching my wife’s ass at a bar. Tyler knew as well as I did that he would have done the same thing. Maddox boys didn’t stop to ask the importance of someone before putting them in their place.

“The mayor just moved here a couple of years ago,” I said. “How was I supposed to know who his douchebag son is?”

Tyler’s frown didn’t budge. “This isn’t just a fuck up, Taylor. I don’t know how I’m going to get you out of it this time.”

I leaned forward, resting my elbows on my knees. “This time? You act like you’ve been bailing me out my entire life. I think it’s been a give and take.”

Tyler’s shoulders fell. “Okay then, it’s my turn, and you’ve fucked me out of it. My hands are tied.”

“Maybe that cocksucker shouldn’t have grabbed my wife’s ass.”

Tyler leaned back, huffing his impatience. “He tripped.”

I clenched my teeth and white-knuckled the arms of my chair, trying to keep from leaping across the desk at my brother. “Don’t repeat his fucking lies to me, Tyler. I saw it with my own eyes and so did half the crew. Jubal, Zeke, Sugar, Jew, Cat, and Porter all put their jobs on the line to vouch for me. They knew the mayor wanted them to say different in their statements.”

Tyler glared at me for a minute, but his expression melted away. “I know. I’m sorry.”

“So … what? I’m done?” I asked.

“We both are.”

My brows pulled together. “What do you mean? They can’t fucking do that. How can they do that?”

“They didn’t. I handed in my resignation this morning. Looks like it’s the last day for both of us.”

My chest felt heavy, and I puffed out a breath in disbelief. “Are you fucking with me?”

Tyler shook his head. “We started out together. We go out together, right?”

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