‘I Know George Washington’: one more free day!

If you’d like to read my new five-story collection, I Know George Washington, you have one more day to grab it for FREE. After that, the price will return to the normal $2.99 (unless you’re in Kindle Unlimited, that is).

The FREE promo is scheduled through Oct 26, but I don’t know exactly when Amazon will pull the switch. So if you want it, I advise grabbing it today.

Five dark tales of crime, supernatural horror, and suspense…

In Tennessee, a father and his adolescent daughter must battle two evil men who harbor sinister intentions toward one of them.

In Zacatecas, Mexico, a recent college graduate takes a job as a private English language tutor for a wealthy family. But the entire household is hiding a horrible secret.

In Virginia, a young stockbroker’s colleagues insist that George Washington, the First President of the United States, is alive and well in the twenty-first century.

In rural Ohio, curiosity compels two travelers to stop at an abandoned schoolhouse with an evil history, and a reputation for ghostly activity.

In western Pennsylvania, a junior high student learns that his beloved teacher is not what he purports to be.

A collection of five unique stories, each of which contains an unexpected twist.

Get it FREE on Amazon through October 26!

New on Amazon: ‘I Know George Washington’

Available FREE for subscribers of Amazon Kindle Unlimited:

($2.99 for non Kindle Unlimited subscribers)

I Know George Washington: and other stories: five dark tales

View it on Amazon!

Five dark tales of crime, supernatural horror, and suspense…

In Tennessee, a father and his adolescent daughter must battle two evil men who harbor sinister intentions toward one of them.

In Zacatecas, Mexico, a recent college graduate takes a job as a private English language tutor for a wealthy family. But the entire household is hiding a horrible secret.

In Virginia, a young stockbroker’s colleagues insist that George Washington, the First President of the United States, is alive and well in the twenty-first century.

In rural Ohio, curiosity compels two travelers to stop at an abandoned schoolhouse with an evil history, and a reputation for ghostly activity.

In western Pennsylvania, a junior high student learns that his beloved teacher is not what he purports to be. 

A collection of five unique stories, each of which contains an unexpected twist.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the stories in this collection:

“The Van”: While traveling through Tennessee, a single father and his 13-year old daughter encounter two men who take an unwholesome interest in one of them. 

“Thanatos Postponed”: A recent college graduate takes a job as a private tutor at the estate of a wealthy businessman in Zacatecas, Mexico. But there is something horribly wrong in the palatial residence high in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains. 

“I Know George Washington”: A young man’s new work colleagues insist that George Washington is alive and well in the twenty-first century.

“One-room Schoolhouse”: A young couple stop at an abandoned schoolhouse in rural Ohio. The schoolhouse is reputed to be haunted. 

“Mr. Robbie’s Secret”: a beloved English teacher is not what he appears to be. 

I hope you enjoy these stories.

“I Know George Washington”: about the story

A college student takes a summer job in a very unusual company in rural Virginia. 

What’s unusual about the company? Everyone insists that George Washington—the George Washington—is the founder and owner of the firm. 

Moreover, the great man himself will make an appearance before the end of the summer.

That’s the setup for the story, “I Know George Washington”.  

This is one of those stories that came to me in a dream (as so many of them do). 

Or, I should say, the basic idea came to me in a dream—not the complete story. 

After getting the initial seed of the idea, I spent some time fitting it into a narrative. The result is not quite a horror story, but something that might be called psychological suspense, in the spirit of the old Alfred Hitchcock movies like Rear Window and Vertigo. (I am a big fan of Hitchcock, and his technique of playing with the protagonist’s—and the audience’s—hold on reality.)

I’m presently posting snippets of “I Know George Washington” on Edward Trimnell Books.

I Know George Washington: Part 3

What the hell?

Tucker was feeling the slightest tinge of annoyance now. He knew that the names of the Founding Fathers were public domain, and more than one company had used them over the years. There were Ben Franklin five and dime stores in many American small towns, and the John Hancock Life Insurance Company. Tucker supposed that more than a few companies had taken the name of George Washington, too. 

That was all fine and good, as a branding strategy. But Joel was taking the George Washington schtick a bit too far, wasn’t he?

Maybe this was a test of some kind. Tucker would find out. 

“Just to be clear,” Tucker said, “when you say, ‘the founder’, you aren’t talking about the actual founder of this brokerage house, right?”

“Of course I am,” Joel said. “I know George Washington. He’s quite an inspiring individual, let me tell you.”

You know George Washington? You’ve met him?”

“Why, yes. I’ve met him many times, in fact.”

Tucker held his growing annoyance in check, thinking about that prorated junior broker’s salary, and those applicable commissions. 

This man was pulling his leg, obviously, though the reason for that wasn’t yet clear.

But Tucker couldn’t let it go.

“You don’t mean the George Washington? President Washington? General Washington?”

“Oh,” Joel said. “Mr. Washington hasn’t officially held the title of president for quite some time. And as for the title of ‘general’—well, he does have a very distinguished military record, though he doesn’t like to talk about it.” 

Tucker tried to speak, but found himself at a complete loss for words. Then Joel added something else.

“You’ll have a chance to meet Mr. Washington for yourself, Tucker, before the end of the summer.”

Tucker had a sudden, unwanted image of Joel driving him to Mount Vernon, not far from here, and then taking him into the crypt of George Washington. He imagined Joel prying open Washington’s white marble sarcophagus, and—

Tucker pushed the images away. They were as ridiculous as they were macabre. 

But what else could Joel be saying?

“Well, then,” Joel said, stepping around Tucker, and back to his desk. “We’ll see you here on the first Monday in June—in just a few weeks—at eight a.m. Oh—would you like me to show you around the facilities here before you go?” He added this last as an obvious afterthought.

“Thanks,” Tucker said. “But I can see that you’re busy. And I’ll have plenty of time to see your facilities over the summer, right?”

That logic made sense to Joel, apparently. He was already seated behind his desk again. “I do have some important calls to return, now that you mention it. But I’m glad we were able to meet today, and come to an understanding.”

Understanding? Tucker was uncertain if Joel was referring to the summer co-op position, this George Washington nonsense, or perhaps both.

“I’ll let myself out,” Tucker said. “Thank you again, Mr. French. I appreciate—I appreciate everything. Thank you so much for the opportunity. As we’ve discussed, this is a rough year for students in the finance field.”

Joel gave Tucker a final, friendly wave, and reached for his desk phone. “No problem, Tucker. ‘How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.’ Now, take care, and we’ll see you again in just a few weeks.”

Tucker nodded goodbye but said no more. He had a feeling that Joel’s parting words were quoted; and he didn’t have to ask whom they were quoted from.

Part 4

Table of contents

I Know George Washington: Part 2

Psychological suspense from Edward Trimnell Books

Joel broke into a smile. “I do have some good news for you, though, Tucker. I’ve given your file a thorough perusal. Your grades are excellent. Your résumé is a little thin, which is to be expected for a person your age, but you’ve made the most of the time you’ve had. Your letters of recommendation are glowing. Unless something unexpected comes up on your background check or drug test—and I don’t expect that, of course—I believe that we can offer you the paid summer co-op position.”

“Thank you,” Tucker said, exhaling audibly. He felt suddenly light, a weight having lifted off his shoulders. He was going to be one of the lucky ones, after all. He wasn’t going to spend the summer flipping burgers.

“This is how it will work,” Joel went on. “For the length of the summer term, you’ll be paid at the prorated salary of a junior, first-year broker, with all the applicable commissions.”

Joel then proceeded to give Tucker some numbers, a rough estimate of how much money he could expect to make over the summer. 

“Will that be satisfactory?” Joel asked, when he had finished.

“More than satisfactory,” Tucker said, beaming. “I accept!” 

Joel smiled and nodded, genuinely happy with Tucker’s reaction. “I can’t promise you a job after graduation, Tucker; but I can tell you this: If your summer co-op term goes well, you’ll have a leg up on other new graduates, should you decide to apply for a regular, full-time position. We have a few new ones open up each year, typically. George Washington Investments is a small firm, as you’ve probably noticed. We have a very unique, informal corporate culture here. But it suits us well, I think you’ll find.”

“I’ve always thought that it would be rewarding to work in a small firm—where you can know all of your colleagues. I find that appealing!”

Tucker wondered if he had just laid it on a bit too thick there. Those last two sentences had been less than honest. Tucker would have much rather been sitting in the office of a big brokerage house in New York or Chicago right now. But none of those firms had summoned him for an in-person interview.

“That’s good to hear.” Joel stood, leaned across the desk, and offered Tucker his hand. “Welcome aboard, Tucker. Even if it turns out to be only for the summer, we look forward to you working with us.”

Tucker stood to shake hands with Joel. The older man was about Tucker’s height, but also about forty pounds heavier. His face had a pasty hue. Despite the warm Virginia climate, Joel probably didn’t get out in the sun much.

Then Joel stepped around the desk, and stood beside Tucker. 

And then things got weird again.

Joel put an avuncular hand on Tucker’s shoulder—an unthinkable intimacy in New York or Chicago, but things were different here. 

“You see that?” Joel said. Joel indicated yet another painting—this one on the wall beside them. This painting, too, was familiar to Tucker. It was a reproduction of Washington Crossing the Delaware

“I see it,” Tucker said.

“See Washington standing in the prow of the boat? See the men pushing the boat through the ice floes? We both know that is only an artist’s depiction. But something like that really happened. Washington and his men were on their way to sack the Hessian encampment at Trenton that night. It was Christmas Night, 1776.”

“Impressive,” Tucker said. He remembered what Joel had said about George Washington just a few minutes ago. How could he forget?

“As I told you, Tucker, we have our own unique culture here at George Washington Investments; and our founder is a key part of it. As he once said, ‘Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages.’ The old man doesn’t get into the office much nowadays, but his words—and his deeds—continue to inspire us every day.”

Part 3

Table of contents

I Know George Washington: Part 1

Psychological suspense fiction from Edward Trimnell Books

Tucker Bates found the air in Joel French’s office to be musty and uncomfortably warm. That was typical of the South, though, especially as late spring eased into early summer. And it was now May. 

Tucker had nothing against the South, per se; but after three years down here, he still couldn’t get used to the heat. He was originally from Pittsburgh. He would never have come to Virginia at all, if not for his partial scholarship at a major university in the Washington D.C. area. 

Tucker shifted his body in the visitor’s chair opposite Joel’s big antique desk. The visitor’s chair was an antique, too. It had a dark hardwood frame with old-fashioned, red velvet upholstery. 

Joel French glanced up at Tucker. “Not much longer,” he said, as he continued reading. “I’m on your résumé now.”

“No problem!” Tucker replied with artificial breeziness. What else was he going to say? He was the supplicant here, after all. 

Joel French was about forty-five years old. Joel was the general manager of George Washington Investments, a very small brokerage firm in rural Virginia, just outside the D.C. megalopolis.

Tucker needed this job. The financial industry was in the doldrums this year, and college students in the finance field were taking whatever they could get this summer. Paid co-op positions like the one on offer here were few and far between.

Joel nodded inscrutably as he read through Tucker’s application file—including his résumé—marking various sections with a bright yellow highlighter. 

Just give me the job, already, Tucker thought, but dared not say. 

While Joel read, Tucker found his gaze drawn to the painting behind French’s desk: The Prayer at Valley Forge

The painting was a copy, of course. Tucker had seen it many times in textbooks and museums: the beleaguered General Washington, kneeling in the snow in prayer beside his horse, during that hopeless winter of 1776. (Although Tucker was a finance major, he had gotten an A in every history class he had ever taken.)

Please, General Washington, pray for me, too, Tucker thought. 

At that moment, Tucker heard a set of footsteps immediately behind his chair.

He turned around, and saw no one. There was nothing there but the wide expanse of Joel French’s private office, with its high ceiling, more antique furniture, and the large Persian rug that covered the hardwood floor. Sunlight streamed in through the tall windows at the far end of the room.

But Tucker and Joel French were the only ones in the office. No one had walked up behind him.

Tucker resumed staring at the painting: General Washington, praying in the snow. 

Joel  finally looked up from the file. He noticed where Tucker was looking. 

“Ah, yes. I see you’ve noticed the painting. I find it very inspiring myself. Sometimes, on days when I’m feeling the pressure and things seem a little grim, I look at that painting, and I remind myself of what our company’s founder and owner once endured.”

Founder and owner? Tucker thought. What?

Tucker now noticed a few more items on Joel’s desk: a miniature bronze bust of George Washington…then a white ceramic penholder that bore a portrait of Washington.

The likeness of the Father of His Country was seemingly everywhere in this office. When Tucker had sat down, he had noticed the presidential Lansdowne portrait (a copy, of course) of Washington on the adjacent wall.

But the name of the company was George Washington Investments, after all. Maybe it was only a branding thing.

What had Joel meant, though, by “founder and owner”?

I should ask, Tucker thought. No, I shouldn’t ask.

“Anyway,” Joel went on. “You’re looking for a paid co-op position that gives you an opportunity to actually work as a broker. Correct?”

“Absolutely,” Tucker said, perhaps a little too emphatically. 

“I know this hasn’t been a good year for co-op students in finance. Nor for job seekers, either.”

“No, it hasn’t,” Tucker agreed.

“Well, I am gratified to see that you’re frank and honest. Here at George Washington Investments, we value honesty as one of our core values. As our founder and company owner is reputed to have once said, ‘I cannot tell a lie.’”

Tucker stared back at Joel, wide-eyed.

Part 2

Table of contents

The Van: a short story crime thriller (excerpt)

Troy is a single father, traveling with his 13-year-old daughter, Ellie, through Tennessee.

When they stop in a restaurant, Troy becomes alarmed as two rough-looking men begin paying his daughter unwelcome attention.

Troy is soon to discover that the two men harbor a horrible secret…a secret with implications for himself, Ellie, and other lives as well.

Troy noticed that the two men standing in the adjacent line of the crowded restaurant were eying his thirteen-year-old daughter, Ellie. The men were both in their mid-thirties, probably only a few years older than Troy. But unlike Troy, they were big, hard men, dressed like painters or roofers. Both had full beards. One was blond, and the other had black hair.

Their interest in Ellie was more than simply casual, and they were making little effort to be discreet, let alone secretive. Troy met their stares and neither of them turned away, as grown men would ordinarily do when caught in such an act of impropriety. On the contrary, they were laughing and ribbing each other while they looked at Ellie. 

Troy and Ellie were waiting in line in the Julep’s BBQ, just north of Knoxville, Tennessee, during the evening rush hour. This was one of Troy’s last dinners with his daughter, at least for the summer, and he didn’t want it to be spoiled by two random perverts. And there was also the very real possibility that these two men would turn out to be a significant problem, rather than a passing annoyance.

She’s only thirteen, Troy thought. What kind of men look at a thirteen-year-old girl that way? 

Nevertheless, he turned his attention back to his daughter. 

“Do you know what you want?” he asked her. He was somewhat relieved to see that Ellie seemed not to have noticed the men’s attention.

“When we stopped here in June, you had the pulled pork, I think.”

Ellie nodded, after giving the question the full attention that it deserved. “I’ll have the pulled pork again.”

Julep’s was one of those establishments where you place your order at the counter, fast-food style. It was hot and crowded at this hour of the evening. The last week of August in eastern Tennessee. 

Troy was an outsider in this part of the world, even though he had made numerous trips this way since Ellie’s mother had remarried and relocated from Ohio to Florida. Knoxville was one of the logical stopping places along the long southerly trek down I-75, and of course on the way back north. 

“Will you eat here on the way back from Florida?” Ellie asked. They were the next ones in line. 

“No,” Troy said. “Julep’s is our restaurant. I’ll stop at Wendy’s or Hardee’s or Chipotle, but not Julep’s.”

Ellie smiled. “Maybe I can come back with you. Mom doesn’t really need me.” 

She said this in a light-hearted manner. They both knew that Kylie loved Ellie. But Kylie loved her daughter in her own way, at a different intensity. Different people had different ways of loving, of expressing their love. This was a matter that Troy and Ellie had discussed at some length over the summer.

 “We can just go down to Gainesville and I can come home with you, then,” Ellie pressed. “I’ll pop in and say hi to Mom—and to Joe, I guess.”

Troy put his arm around his daughter’s shoulder. She hadn’t yet acquired that don’t-acknowledge-me-in-public attitude that teenage girls so often adopt toward their parents between the onset of puberty and the end of high school. It gratified Troy when Ellie said things like that, and he was more than a little glad to see that she still loathed Joe, Kylie’s “new” husband of three years—even if Joe wasn’t, on balance, such a bad guy.

“I wish you could,” Troy said. “But we both know how it has to be.”

Troy glanced over at the adjacent line. The two men were still there, still looking at his daughter. They were just out of earshot, given the buzz of the busy restaurant. But there was no doubt about what they were doing, whom they were looking at.

Troy stepped around Ellie and placed himself between his daughter and the leering men. Don’t give them anything to look at, he thought. 

Troy wished he were the sort of man who could simply walk over to the men and tell them to look elsewhere, and be confident that his words would carry the necessary weight. But there were two of them; and the truth was that either one of them would be more than a match for Troy. He wasn’t that sort of a guy, but he would protect his daughter however he could. 

He turned back to Ellie and noticed that her cheeks were reddened. She looked up at him knowingly. So she had noticed the two men. 

Troy was also suddenly aware of what Ellie was wearing: shorts and a halter top. It was summer, after all; and they were on a long drive through the South. Moreover, Troy still saw Ellie as the little girl she had been just a few years ago, eating cereal in front of the television in her pajamas on Saturday morning, her smile showing the gap of a missing baby tooth. 

Wanting to freeze time in place, he hadn’t fully acknowledged the changes that had taken place. Had he not made that mistake, he thought, he could have made sure that his daughter dressed more modestly. Then she wouldn’t have drawn the attention of these two perverted men in their thirties.

So he had failed to protect her twice: first, preemptively, and now, that these two men were actively making her uncomfortable.

Troy took a deep breath, and put his shoulders back, as if trying to expand his five-foot, nine inches to a brawny six-four. Ridiculous, and probably transparent, even to Ellie.

“Don’t worry about those two,” Troy said. There was no need to specify which two he was talking about. “I’m here.”

Ellie nodded and looked up at the lighted menu board behind the counter. The young woman at the cash register nodded for them to place their order, and they stepped forward together. Troy felt more inadequate than he had in a long time, probably since Ellie’s mother had first left him.

Five minutes later they had their food and had taken a seat out on the dining room floor. They both ordered the pulled pork.

Troy noticed, as they departed from the counter, trays in hand, that the two men were still waiting in line. 

The tables at Julep’s were varnished wood, covered with checkered red-and-white vinyl tablecloths. Julep’s was decorated in a faux country motif: The walls were rough-hewn, bare plank boards. There was a restored gasoline pump from the 1930s in one corner of the dining room. In another corner was a life-size wooden cigar-store Indian. The planks of the walls were adorned with vintage photographs from the early twentieth century. There were old signs for bygone brands: Walter’s Beer and Gem soap flakes. Ben-Bay cigars.

“Are you looking forward to school starting?” Troy asked Ellie as they sat down. He now realized that he had involuntarily avoided this question all summer, even though it was something that a father ought to inquire about. This was because the start of the school year meant the end of the summer, and the summer was theirs.

Ellie shrugged. “I guess so.” 

Ellie was going to be in the eighth grade this year. She was growing up so fast. To Troy, the news of her impending arrival in the world seemed like just yesterday. Troy had been a college student, two years away from graduation, when his girlfriend Kylie had told him that she was pregnant. 

There was no question about marrying Kylie then, even though he and Kylie had been dating for a little less than a year, and she seemed ambivalent about the entire situation. The pregnancy had not made her less ambivalent. Maybe we should consider our options, Kylie had said. But Troy had talked her into it. 

He now reflected that when you had to talk a young woman into marrying you, that was probably a warning sign. Didn’t women always leap with joy at marriage proposals in the movies? 

For the better part of ten years they had made a go of it, amid numerous disappointments and recriminations. Then four years ago, the inevitable had happened. 

Kylie had wasted no time remarrying, starting a new life, while Troy’s own life was stalled: He had no romantic prospects to speak of, and he was stuck in the same dead-end job that he had held at the time of the divorce: He was an assistant manager at an electronics shop—or more properly, a video game store, as that was all the establishment really sold anymore. And he had once planned to be an engineer. 

But Troy had no regrets about getting Kylie pregnant, even though common sense told him that he should feel otherwise. He couldn’t feel otherwise—sitting across the table from his daughter.

“The eighth grade is an important year,” he told her. “This time next year, you’ll be a high school student.”

She was about to reply when they were interrupted by a boisterous male voice, audible even above the buzz of the dinnertime crowd.

“Whataya think, Dennis? Where should we sit?”

Troy knew without turning around that the words had been spoken by one of the two men who had been leering at Ellie in the line at the counter.

“There’s a good spot!” the other one replied.

Troy didn’t know if they were speaking at an excessive volume to make sure he and Ellie heard them, or if unnecessary volume was simply an aspect of the way these two men moved through the world. Either answer was possible. The men—one of whom Troy now knew was named Dennis (though he could not have said which one)—noisily took a seat at a table behind Ellie, a significant distance to one side of them. 

Troy was grateful for the crowd, and the relative scarcity of seats. He had no doubt that these two would have claimed the table directly beside them, had it not already been claimed by another group of diners.

Ellie shifted uncomfortably in her seat. He should be doing more to make her feel comfortable, to reassure her, to behave in a protective manner. 

The two of them had had a good summer together, a summer of reconnecting. It had been a little awkward at first, as it often was when she came to visit after an extended period in Florida with Kylie and her husband, Joe. In another day they would be in Gainesville. He didn’t want their fleeting time together to be ruined by two Podunk buffoons from Tennessee.

At that moment he blamed a little bit of everyone. He blamed Kylie for taking so little time to remarry, and for “marrying up” to an older man who made more money than Troy was ever likely to earn. He blamed the judge who had signed off on the revised custody arrangement, the one that placed his daughter in Florida for much of the year. He blamed the lawyers who were involved on both sides.

But most of all Troy blamed himself: He had let Kylie get away when he should have done something—anything—to keep her (if he had ever really had her in the first place, that was). He had not fought long enough and hard enough when Kylie had first announced her plan to take his daughter out of Ohio due to Joe’s transfer. 

And now Troy was failing to protect his daughter in an obviously uncomfortable situation. Maybe he should say something. Yes, he decided, if the two men said anything more, he would say something—even if that meant fighting them both in the parking lot, and getting beaten half to death.

“I wish I didn’t have to go to high school in Florida,” Ellie said. “I wish I could live with you instead.”

Ellie had expressed this sentiment several times over the course of the summer, and Troy never got tired of hearing it. But the custody agreement was the custody agreement. It was fair—at least according to the way the law measured things—and Troy knew that he had no chance of successfully fighting it.

To make matters worse, Kylie’s new husband had turned out to be a reasonably decent guy—and what many women in their thirties would call “a good catch”. Joe was ten years older than Troy and Kylie. He was nevertheless more athletic than Troy. Tall, fit, and tan, Joe was an avid tennis player. 

When Joe’s high-paying finance job had necessitated the move to Florida, the three of them—Joe, Kylie, and Troy—had had to go back to court. Joe, consummately gallant and reasonable, had offered to kick in an annual stipend to defray the travel expenses that Troy would incur going to and from Florida. Troy had refused, not wanting to take any of Joe’s money. Not a single cent.

There was no abuse on Joe’s end, either physical or emotional. Not even a hint of it. Troy had subtly probed in that direction, and found nothing. Ellie had made no intimations of late-night visits to her bedroom, or of angry slaps. Based on what Ellie had told him, Joe kept his tone studiously neutral, allowing Kylie to be the face of discipline on the rare occasions when it was necessary. 

So there would be no change in the custody agreement—at least not anytime soon.

“I wish you could go to high school in Ohio, too,” Troy said. “But well, I suppose your mother has rights, too. And the court said that her rights mean you live with her for most of the year. Also, she loves you, too.”

“Mmm,” Ellie replied. “Yeah, I guess so.”

There was a loud, unmistakable whistle from one of the men. Troy looked up and Ellie turned around. It was the blond one who had made the wolf-whistle. He winked obscenely at Ellie.

The men were both laughing now. A few of the other patrons briefly noticed, then turned away. Either the entire context of the situation wasn’t clear to them, or they didn’t want to get involved. 

Troy met the men’s stares and shook his head. Come on, now, he was trying to say with the gesture. You’re adult men; she’s an adolescent girl. This isn’t right.

The men returned Troy’s look, directly and without any fear or restraint whatsoever. These two weren’t going to be shamed. They weren’t going to back down. 

Troy glanced across the table at Ellie. He saw her embarrassment, of course; but he was also acutely aware of the way his features mingled with Kylie’s in the child that the two of them had made. He realized now that because of Ellie, some part of him would always love Kylie, despite everything that had happened.

Troy started to stand up, knowing that he would be hopelessly over his head. But he couldn’t let this go. If he couldn’t defend his daughter against these two men, then what use was he as a father? He had let Ellie down in so many ways already.

The men leaned back and smiled expectantly when they saw Troy begin to rise. Come on over, their smiles seemed to say. This should be fun.

“Dad, no.” He felt Ellie’s hand on his. “Sit down, Dad.”

“I can’t let them carry on like that with you,” he said.

“It’s okay,” Ellie said—though it couldn’t be okay. “It’s just talk. This isn’t the first time. There are guys like that at school, you know. And besides, you can’t fight them both.”

“I can try,” Troy replied. “What I can’t do is let them carry on like that.”

“Dad, please: sit down. You can’t fight them both.”

End of excerpt