Excerpt from The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Last Train to Key West

by Chanel Cleeton

The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton X
The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton
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    Jun 2020, 320 pages

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"Rainstorm in the Bahamas," he adds, his voice gruff with sleep and an indescribable undertone that has developed through the years of our marriage. "It'll head this way eventually."

It was Tom's love of the sea that first drew me to him-the way the water clung to his skin, the faint taste of salt on his lips when he'd sneak a kiss, the wind in his hair, the sense of adventure when he would go out on his boat. I was younger then, just fifteen when we started dating, sixteen when we married, and I was drawn to things that seemed innocuous at the time-his big hands, the muscle and sinew in his tanned forearms, the broad shoulders built from days hauling boxes and crates of questionable origins. I thought he was a man who would keep me safe-another promise broken.

"Will the weather be bad?" I ask.

We get our fair share of storms down here in our little corner of the world. We've been fortunate we haven't had a strong one recently, but when I was just a girl, we had a nasty hurricane hit Key West. Luckily, no one died, but I still remember the wind blowing my parents' cottage around, the water threatening to engulf it. I was absolutely terrified.

"No one seems to think it's anything to worry about," Tom answers. "Heard on the radio that the Weather Bureau thinks it'll miss us."

"Will you go out on the water today?" I struggle to keep my tone light. I've learned not to press the issue of where he'll go or what he'll do. Times like these, a man will resort to all manner of things to put food on the table.

Tom grunts in acknowledgment.

I walk toward the countertop, careful to keep my body out of reach, my hip connecting with one of the knobs on the stove, my foot brushing against the icebox in the floor.

In a cramped cottage, in a cramped marriage, you learn to use the physical space around you as a buffer of sorts, to make yourself fluid and flexible, to bend to the will of another. But now, my body has changed, my stomach bloated, my limbs ungainly, and I've had to relearn the art of taking up as little physical space as possible-for me and the baby. It's difficult to be quick when you carry the extra weight of another.

I set Tom's breakfast in front of him.

He clamps down on my wrist, applying just the right pressure to make me wince, but not enough to make me fall to my knees. The state of our relationship isn't just evident in the physical condition of the cottage. I bear the marks of our marriage, too.

"Why do you want to know if I'm going out on the water?" he demands.

"I-I was worried. If the weather is bad, it'll be dangerous."

He tightens his grip, his fingernails digging into my skin. "You think I don't know my way around the sea? I've been fishing these waters since I was a boy."

My wrist throbs, my skin flashing hot as the pain crashes over me, my knees buckling beneath the weight of my belly and the pressure of his fingers.

I grab the edge of the table with my free hand, struggling to steady myself.

"I know. It's the babe. This close, I'm just nervous. I'm sorry-"

Words fail me as the pain crests, and I babble nonsensical things, anything to get him to let me-us-go, to stop this escalating into something more, something far worse than bruises on my wrist.

Tom releases me with a muttered, "Women," under his breath.

My wrist throbs as he shifts his attention to the food I prepared for him.

He digs into the johnnycakes with vigor, his anger momentarily forgotten.

He eats quickly, and I go about my morning routine straightening the kitchen, sounds breaking into the daydream I slip into like a well-worn dress-his fork scrapping across the plate, the chair sliding across the floor, the heavy footfalls that follow him out the door, until I am alone in the cottage on stilts once more.

* * *

Walking from our house to the restaurant where I waitress, my feet treading the familiar sandy ground, I pass lines of men trying to pick up extra work for the day. I'm lucky to have my job at Ruby's with the Depression going on, the opportunities few and far between, and even more so for women. But Ruby's nothing if not loyal, and she's kept me on in good times and bad.

Excerpted from The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton. Copyright © 2020 by Chanel Cleeton. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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