The peace they both crave they’ll find in each other.
Hidden Waters, an all-new emotional, roommates and friends to lovers, small-town romance from bestselling author Catherine Cowles is coming June 21st, and we have your first look!
“Cecily!” My father’s voice bellowed through our ranch house. I swore the force of his words shook the beam above our heads.
Mom pulled her hands from the dough she was kneading and wiped them on her apron. “Scamper, Little Mouse.”
The familiar code made my stomach cramp and palms dampen. How many times had she drilled it into my head? “Scamper, Little Mouse. Find a nook to hide, just like a tiny mouse would.”
I bit my lip, shaking my head. “I want to stay with you.”
“Cecily! Where are you?”
“I’m in the kitchen, Allen. Just making your favorite biscuits for dinner.” She pushed me towards the back door, her hands warm and soothing but forceful. “Go, Little Mouse.”
I opened my mouth to try another argument, but her sharp look had me snapping it shut. The door closed quietly behind me. Mom knew better than to advertise that someone had made an escape.
I stepped to the side of the door and pressed my back to the siding of the house. I held my breath as I waited. Dad’s footsteps pounded against the floor. I watched the back step tremble with the force of them as though we were having our own little earthquake. One that only reached our house.
“John said you left today. Without me.”
I knew the words came through gritted teeth. I could picture my dad—the set of his jaw, the clench of his fists. The red that crept up the back of his neck.
“We were out of baking soda, and I knew you wanted biscuits with dinner. You were out all day. So, I took Addie into town with me.” Mom’s voice was soft, but it didn’t waver.
“Adaline should be home like her mother. She needs to learn how to tend this house so she’ll make a good wife one day. But I can’t imagine that’s possible with you teaching her.”
I pressed my hands harder into the wood of the house, splintered pieces embedding in my palms. I fought the urge to run inside. To tell him to shut up. It would only make things worse.
“I wanted to make sure you had what you wanted for dinner.” Mom’s voice sounded defeated, almost as if she’d given up.
“Then you should’ve planned ahead. Checked our pantry before I took you to the store on Sunday.”
“I’m sorry, Allen.”
There was silence for a moment, and I could picture Dad staring at her. Sometimes, he prowled around her like a jungle cat, looking for any signs of weakness.
“Tell me the truth. Were you going to meet a man?”
Mom let out a small gasp. “No. I would never. You know that.”
“Lies. I see the way you flirt with the ranch hands.”
I went up on my tiptoes, craning my head to get a glimpse inside. My stomach knotted as I took them in. Dad had grabbed Mom by the collar of her dress, pushing her against the refrigerator.
“I don’t. I would never disrespect you that way.”
“Bullshit.” He hauled back, slapping her so hard she crumpled to the floor.
A small sound escaped my lips, a panicked, keening noise. Dad’s head snapped around as he looked for the source of the sound. I took off running. My legs pumped hard as I cut across the back field towards the woods.
Our ranch butted up to national forest land. Those trees were my refuge and solace, the only safe place I’d ever known. I pushed my muscles harder, even once I’d reached the shelter of the woods.
My lungs burned as I dodged tall pines and fallen logs. Tears streamed down my face as the guilt grabbed hold. How could I have left her? I’d learned the hard way that it would be worse for us both if I stepped in. Still, I should’ve stayed close.
My run slowed to a walk as I wrapped my arms around my waist. I followed an invisible path I knew by heart and sent up a silent prayer for my mom’s protection. But I wasn’t sure that God heard me. If He did, He’d remained silent in response so far. I prayed harder, pleading and begging—for safety and for freedom.
My muscles burned as the path moved into the foothills of the mountains. The sound of rushing water teased my ears—it only made my tears come harder. This was the place that my mom had shown me, the one we’d bring a picnic to in summer or hike out to in our snow boots in winter.
I stepped out of the trees and took in the waterfall. The crashing of the water onto the rocks below reminded me that there were forces more powerful than me in the world. More mighty even than my father and his fists. I only wished I could channel them to take him on.
My head jerked in the direction of the voice, my heart hammering against my ribs. I let out a shaky breath as I took in my cousin. “Evie.”
She strode towards me quickly, her horse, Storm, grazing by the edge of the pool of water. She framed my face with her hands and then pulled me into a hug. “What happened?”
“I-I’m okay. Dad hurt Mom.” My voice cracked on my words, and the tears continued to fall.
Everly hugged me tighter. “I’d like to kick his sorry ass.”
She was so much braver than I was. So much fiercer. Never afraid to stand up to anyone, even her jerk of a brother or her dad when he was in one of his moods.
“Maybe we could poison him. There’s some rat poison at my house. We can grind it up and put it in his sweet tea.”
My hands fisted in her sweatshirt. “You can’t.”
Everly pulled back. “Why not? He shouldn’t be able to do what he’s doing to you and Aunt Cecily.” She bit her bottom lip. “Mom says we can’t interfere.”
No one wanted to interfere. I knew the neighbors saw Mom’s bruises, but they never said a word.
Everly’s fingers dug into my shoulders. “We could run away. We can gather our things, and I’ll bring Storm to pick you up. We could live off the land. We know how.”
Sure, our mothers had taught us what plants were safe to eat, how to build traps and shelter, but how long would we really last? I swallowed against the burn in my throat. “I’m going to talk to Mom. I’ll ask her to run away. We could steal one of the cars. Maybe we could take you and your mom, too.”
A look of longing passed over Everly’s face. “She’ll never leave. Dad doesn’t hit her or us. He’s just…”
Her words trailed off, but I knew what she meant. At times, it seemed as if Uncle Howard’s brain didn’t work right—he was always sure that the whole world was out to get him.
Everly’s fingers tightened on my shoulders. “But if you get a chance to be free, take it.” She gave me a wobbly smile. “You and I could go to college together.”
“Yeah.” College was a million years away. What I wanted more than anything in the meantime was to go to school. To have a real teacher and a classroom.
A crack of thunder sounded, and I looked at the sky. Dark storm clouds had rolled in, and a drop of rain splashed on my forehead. “You should go. You don’t want to get caught out in this on horseback.”
Everly looked back at Storm, who pawed at the dirt. “What about you? Want to come with me to my house? Storm can carry us both.”
I shook my head. “It’ll just make him madder. I’ll wait here for a little bit and then go back.”
Her jaw clenched. “You sure?”
“I’ll be fine.” I just hoped the same would be true for my mom.
“Okay. Let’s meet here for lunch tomorrow. Twelve-thirty?”
“I’ll be here.”
She pulled me into a tight hug. “Love you, Addie.”
“Love you, too.”
Everly released me and mounted Storm, giving me a wave as the skies opened. She kicked Storm into a canter as she rode away, headed down a path that would take her around and up the mountains to her house.
Rain peppered my skin. I hadn’t planned on this little adventure, and I was only wearing a t-shirt and jeans. I hurried for cover, but the trees could only give me so much.
The wind howled, sending the rain sideways and a chill rocketing through me. I’d just stay for a little while longer, enough time for Dad’s temper to cool. Only I didn’t think forever was long enough for that.
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My family tried to break me. But, somehow, I made it out alive, even though the wounds from that survival are forever carved into my bones. Now, my only wish is for…normal. To know what it’s like to have friends, a job, a home.
The last thing I want is for my new roommate to see the scars I’m so desperate to keep hidden, especially not the ruggedly handsome man who steals my breath and sends my heart into overdrive.
But something tells me that Beckett has demons, too. I see it in the shadows haunting his gorgeous eyes and the way he looks at me with gentle understanding.
As our unlikely friendship becomes so much more, forces from my life slink out of the shadows. And we could both lose everything we’ve fought so hard for—down to our very last breaths…
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About Catherine Cowles
Writer of words. Drinker of Diet Cokes. Lover of all things cute and furry, especially her dog. Catherine has had her nose in a book since the time she could read and finally decided to write down some of her own stories. When she’s not writing she can be found exploring her home state of Oregon, listening to true crime podcasts, or searching for her next book boyfriend.
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