The Promise of Surrender

By: Liliana Hart

To Scott,

I’m glad I married you. Even though you jumped out of the closet and scared me.

Chapter One

Surrender, Montana

She had him pegged for a cop the second he stepped out of the beat-up pickup truck.

He opened the back of the cab and pulled out a cardboard box, maybe a foot long and wide. His worn sneakers scuffed against the graveled parking lot, and even through the surveillance cameras that covered every square inch of her property, she could see the outline of his backup weapon strapped to his ankle.

“Lord, save me from rookies.” Mia stopped processing her inventory to watch him out of curiosity. She’d spent the weekend at an estate sale and ended up with more boxes than she’d planned. That was usually how it went, but she had a knack for things that would sell for a profit.

The guy was tall and thin as a rail, his hair long and shaggy, and he had a partial growth of beard on his face. She could see why they’d want him for undercover work. He had the naturally too-thin build that made him able to pass for a junkie. He was just a baby, maybe a year or two out of the academy, and he had no idea the toll that working undercover would have on his life.

“Get out while you still can, boy.” She shook her head sadly.

There was no warning them—the rookies. They thought working undercover was like it was on TV—sexy and dangerous—living life on the edge between good and evil. And then six months into the job they realized it wasn’t so sexy, but it sure as hell was dangerous. They were lying to spouses and family and friends, living a double life, and they were doing things the soul would never be able to reconcile. All for the greater good.

His jeans and T-shirt looked like he’d gotten them straight from a thrift store and he wasn’t quite comfortable in them. He was used to being pressed and polished. A silver-spoon kid. He’d probably been a patrolman, used to the uniform, and the dead giveaway was the way he kept tapping his elbow against his side, checking for his duty weapon.

He walked like a cop. And his eyes scanned the area like a cop—like he was trying to see where his backup was located just in case he needed a rescue. Surely working undercover hadn’t changed that much in the last ten years. This guy was lucky to be alive if his commander was sending him out with that much green on him.

Mia wasn’t the most patient of people on her best days. And today wasn’t one of her best days. It was barely noon, and a variety of customers had already come into the shop. Each one had made her head pound a little harder.

She’d opened Pawn to Queen six years before with nothing but sweat, blood, and the money she’d taken in one lump sum from her pension. There’d been no rhyme or reason as to why she’d picked Surrender, Montana. Not that she wasn’t familiar with the area and all the little towns that dotted the Montana landscape like pictures on a postcard. But there’d been something about Surrender that had called to her to make it home.

Even with the appeal of the rolling hills, white fences, and the shops downtown with matching black awnings and flowers placed along the wooden walkways, she knew she couldn’t sully the peaceful image of the town with her shop. She’d never fooled herself into thinking her clientele was a cut above all the other pawnshop owners out there. For the most part, she was dealing with the dregs of humanity. So she’d built her shop on the outskirts of town, just outside the city limits on the other side of the hill.

Surrender was unique in that it was located at the base of several large hills, nestled like a little green jewel in the valley. Any direction visitors came from, the exits led to one main road, up and over the hill, so when they reached the top there was a crystal clear view of the little town tucked below—the Welcome to Surrender sign gleaming a bright and polished green at the summit.

Mia lived in a pretty little apartment above the bakery. It was painted white and had beveled windows and a spindled railing along the balcony. Smells of cinnamon rolls and fresh baked bread wafted up through the vents each morning. She was still considered an outsider, though people were friendly when she did her weekly grocery shopping or stopped to grab a bite to eat at the diner. They were friendly—but wary.

The people in Surrender came from a different era. The men were rugged and muscled from working the ranches. The denim of their jeans worn at the knees and back pockets, their boots scuffed and comfortable from use. The ranch women were as sturdy as their men, and they all worked like dogs to preserve a heritage that would go to their own children. Ranching was harsh, but it provided a good life.

The town ladies—at least that’s what Mia liked to call them—were a whole different story. It was almost comical the way they scurried about from shop to shop, gossiping more than attending to errands. It was their pastime and they made no apologies about enjoying it immensely.

They’d start the day at the bakery, then take their recyclable shopping bags over to the mercantile. They’d eventually wander to the bookstore, the florist, and a little place that only sold honey and homemade candles made of beeswax, visiting with the shop owners and catching up on any news they might have missed—engagements, new babies, whose cows got loose and caused a ruckus, or who got drunk and disorderly down at Duffey’s Pub the night before—all news was met with equal excitement.