The Quiet by Linda Kage


STANDALONE
Contemporary New Adult Romance
Orginally published 19 September 2023
99,357 words, 336 pages
4-Flame Sensuality Rating

Welcome to Peril, Nebraska: small-town population, small-town energy, small-town through and through.

It’s got everything you need, including outcast bad boy, Zac Topper, who gets arrested weekly, fired for speaking his own mind, and accused of perpetuating every crime around.

Or maybe its new, heart-of-gold waitress would interest you more. Not that many locals realize just how bright and sweet Miss Mariana Ruiz is. Being the only mute they know, she tends to get shrugged off as inconsequential.

But Zac sees her.

And Mari sees him right back.

So the two begin a heated affair despite all the odds stacked against them.

Theirs isn’t a simple happily ever after, though. If you listen closely enough, straining over the locusts lining the quiet, lazy streets and the distant trickle of the nearby river, you might just be able to detect the whisper of danger approaching.

That’s their destiny you hear, and it’s determined to keep them apart.

So welcome to Peril.

Enter at your own risk.

Excerpt

PROLOGUE

The bruise around Mama’s eye hadn’t even faded yet when we rolled into town that year.

“Zac,” she called from the front seat as she slowed the car to turn a corner, which jostled me from my nap. “Zac, baby, wake up. We’re almost there. I need you to comb out your hair and brush the wrinkles from your shirt. ’Kay? We need to look presentable for Mama’s new boss.”

I squinted my eyes open, hating the groggy feeling that came with sleeping in a car, and I sat up straighter, stretching my arms above my head before I wiped some drool from the side of my mouth.

The road was louder and bumpier here. Peering out the window to see where we were, I saw nothing but a sea full of dead, oatmeal-colored grass.

“Don’t it rain here none?” I asked, frowning at just how much of it there was. Fields and fields of tall, dried-out, lifeless grass. I wasn’t sure how dead grass could grow so high, but it’d probably reach my waist if I went wading through it.

Maybe they didn’t have lawnmowers in this neck of the world.

“What do you mean?” Mama asked, sitting up in her seat so she could meet my curious gaze in the rearview mirror, only to sigh. “And don’t forget that hair...” she reminded me. “It looks like there’s a rat’s nest sitting up on the top of your head.”

I frowned, irritated about having to groom myself, and I batted at my scalp a couple of times, only for my gaze to return to all that poor withered grass. “They should water their grass more. It’s all shriveled and dead.”

“That’s not grass. That’s wheat, and it’s supposed to look like that this time of year. Soon, farmers are going to harvest it and grind it up into grain, so they can make flour and then all kinds of yummy bread.”

My brow furrowed as I listened to her explanation. Then I shook my head, refusing to believe such a crazy tale. “That don’t look like wheat to me,” I declared, certain she was wrong.

Miss Patty, who watched me after school and before Mama got home from work, had wheat stuck in a vase on her kitchen table, along with a bunch of other fake flowers. And it didn’t look like dead grass at all.

But Mama only laughed. “It would if you got up close and saw it better. Trust me.”

I made a face, still leery but no longer bothering to question her.

The car paused at another intersection, this one connected to a paved road, and my attention drifted to a sign with two white words on a green background. I focused on the letters of the top word, trying to sound them out.

“Bee...uh...U...”

“Beaumont,” Mama finally told me when she realized what I was attempting to read. “Beaumont County. That’s going to be our new home. And the town we’ll be living in is called Peril. Don’t you like the sound of that? Peril...”

I made another cringy face because, to me, Peril sounded like a warning. Beware, don’t go in there. But Mama seemed okay with it. So I shrugged and decided to call it the dead-grass place in my head since we never stayed anywhere long enough for me to care or remember their real names, anyhow.

When Mama turned onto a highway and we started to approach a town, I strained to see more, hoping to spot a familiar fast-food restaurant with maybe a playground attached to it. My legs were itching to move, and I was ready to get out of this car. Plus, I was hungry.

“Welcome to Peril, Nebraska,” Mama said, her voice high and cheerful like it got when things were bad but she wanted to pretend they weren’t.

Like the last time Boyd had slapped her around. After exhausting his fists on her, he’d passed out, watching sports on the chair in the front room with a beer dangling from his fingers. That’s when we’d packed our bags as quietly as we could and tiptoed past him, right out the front door.

Mama had used that same voice then as we’d climbed into the car to leave. She’d said, “Let’s go on an adventure. Doesn’t that sound fun?”

A week later, I figured I wasn’t a very adventurous person because right now, I just wanted to stop riding in this car already. We’d been on the road since forever, and I needed to run and play and explore. But mostly, I just needed to get out of this blasted seat belt.

But as we passed the first building, my hopes for a McDonald’s or Burger King wavered. The place looked like one of those Western movies Boyd liked to watch. I half expected him to come swaggering from between a pair of saloon doors, wearing a cowboy hat and boots with a gun slung to each hip.

Except there were cars parked along the curbs—not a horse in sight—and that stoplight ahead ruined the whole Old-West theme.

I couldn’t process it all in my head. Too much ancient was mixed in with too much modern.

As Mama slowed the car and pulled into a spot between a tall red truck and a family car, she announced, “We’re going to need to stop by my workplace first and pick up the keys to our new house. Okay?”

I didn’t answer because she didn’t expect me to. But as she killed the engine, my stomach tightened with dread.

There was just something about the air here...

It felt as if the breeze was whispering in my ear, you don’t belong.

I shuddered and wiped the chill off my arms. No, I hadn’t wanted to stay with Boyd, but I certainly hadn’t wanted to come to some dead-grass town that didn’t know if it was old or new neither.

“Come on, baby. Safety belt off. Out of the car,” Mama encouraged.

I sank deeper into my seat.

Anxiety mounted.

It was time to meet someone new. I hated meeting new people. And what was worse, I knew Mama wanted to impress this guy, since he was going to be her boss.

She hadn’t met him before, but I guess a friend of her friend knew a guy who needed a new secretary, and he’d been willing to give Mama the job after only one phone interview. So beggars couldn’t be choosers, Mama had said.

In the front seat, she wasn’t moving either, so I didn’t. She was busy applying more makeup around her eye, dabbing at the bruise in the hopes of making it disappear. I could still see it, though, and that cheek was twice as puffy as her other one. If you asked me, she wasn’t fooling no one.

But she didn’t ask me what I thought.

“Okay, let’s do this,” she announced, cheerful and happy again, as she slipped the bottle back into her purse before slinging the strap over her shoulder. She opened her door and climbed out, then pulled mine open.

I hesitated, but she sent me a stern look. “No dawdling, Zac. Not today.”

With a groan, I reluctantly jumped down onto the pavement and then winced when pain reverberated up through my sore ribs.

Her bruises, you could see. Mine, you could not.


Other Versions

The Quiet - French
FRENCH