Where There's Hope(12)

By: Marianne Rice

Not that he was looking for points.

“I can’t change the past. I can’t tell you how sorry I am that Delaney doesn’t have a father. I’m not trying to...buy your forgiveness. I’m looking out for my niece by helping to provide for her since...since Justin isn’t able to.”

“Isn’t able to because he’s dead.”

She wasn’t going to let him forget about that, or Cameron’s hand it in, that was obvious. “Yes, you’re right.” He tucked the envelope in the back pocket of his work jeans. Looking down at his dirty fingernails, he was reminded how much he didn’t deserve her forgiveness. He could live with that, but he wanted the ability to start over without being shunned from another community.

“Why are you here?”

It was the same question Ty had asked him a few days ago. “Because I want to start over. And to watch my niece grow up, even if it’s from a distance.”

“You can start over somewhere else. And you’re not watching my daughter do anything.”

“I’m not a—” He bit back the word criminal. According to his parents, his hometown, the state of Connecticut, he was a criminal. He’d opted out of a trial by jury knowing his fate was already pre-determined when his father promised he’d rot in jail for taking away his favorite son. “I would never hurt you or Delaney. I know I don’t deserve your trust, but I hope you can believe that.”

Cameron turned slowly and climbed back into the boat. It would take time to earn her trust. And he’d work day and night to build a new reputation for himself. Not the one he had before the accident, but a completely new one. There was nothing worth salvaging in the first thirty-five years of Cameron Smithfield’s life.

The rest of his life, however, was up for grabs.

He didn’t turn around to see how long Hope stayed and began working with the steel scraper again. The raw, physical labor did him good. It was a safe place to get his anger out. An outlet, his therapist called it.

Running, anything cardio, and working with his hands were his choice of therapy. During the first half of his prison sentence he spent as much time as possible in the gym, beating on the punching bags, power lifting. Bulking up only made him more of a target for the bullies, the hardened criminals in jail.

Cameron rubbed his hand across the back of his neck, his puckered scar a reminder of how little physical strength did for him. As corny as it sounded, it wasn’t until he gained inner strength that he could fight off the demons on either side of the prison walls. Especially the demons within.

The sun began to set, and Cameron realized how tired he was. His arms shook with soreness when he dropped the scraper and stretched. Another day and a half and he’d have the boat back to her owner. He knew every day the boat wasn’t on the water was a day of lost revenue and wanted to keep the customers happy.

Dwayne had been happy with his work so far. Granted, since his only other employee was nearly twice Cameron’s age, there wasn’t much competition. He had the muscle and the energy the old guys were lacking while they had the experience.

Working at the marina for six years before going to jail had given him a solid foundation, and he’d spent many hours in the prison library learning about motors and engines and fuel capacity. By the end of his eighth year in, he’d taken enough online college courses to earn a degree in mechanical engineering.

Nothing was as valuable as hands-on experience, though, as Dwayne liked to remind him. The older man had been kind, even fatherly, asking about Cameron’s family, which he avoided answering. There was a mutual respect toward each other and each other’s privacy, which Cameron appreciated.

Once he had all his tools wiped down and back in place, he washed his hands in the sink in the main office and scrolled through the calendar looking ahead at the next job. The 34 South Shore would be done by Friday night, and Cameron could tackle the faulty wiring on the 28 Ellis Yanmar.

Keeping his hands busy would also keep his mind busy.

And give him less time to fantasize about the way Hope’s lips would taste thirteen years later.

Were her lips still as soft as a ripe peach? He touched his lips, remembering how they tingled when she slid her exploring tongue across them, warming at the memory of Hope in his arms. Of her young, carefree innocence. Her sunny laugh. Her beautiful smile, so wide, so toothy, so genuine.

He held that memory close to his heart. It’s what got him through 3,538 nights in prison.

CAMERON WAS UP WITH the sun and put in a solid five hours of work before heading to the bank to take care of business. He’d expected more questions, a few hoops to jump through, but it was pretty easy setting up an account. Two accounts, really.