Hometown Hearts – Chapter 3

Hometown Hearts by M.L. Rhodes

Copyright 2018 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved

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Chapter 3

Hometown Hearts by M.L. Rhodes
Hometown Hearts

I was awake shortly after dawn after the rough night. I wished I could go back to sleep, but after trying for a few minutes, I knew it was going to be impossible.

At least by the time I was out of bed and showered, I wasn’t physically sick to my stomach any longer. My head hurt, though, like a battering ram was pounding inside my skull.

And so did my damn heart. But I supposed there wasn’t anything to do about that except give it time.

My thoughts, on the other hand, in spite of the headache, were clearer than they’d been since Friday. That didn’t mean I was ready to make any major decisions about my life, but I did know one thing with a certainty… I couldn’t spend another night here. I was pretty sure I’d go bug shit crazy if I tried.

Which was why, late that afternoon, I found myself looking out a plane window at the snow-covered mountains of Colorado.

Seeing them, even at a distance, caused a genuine pang of homesickness—something I hadn’t felt in a very long time.

When we landed, the pilot said over the plane’s speaker, “The temperature is a chilly thirty-three degrees. Sunny conditions right now, but there’s an eighty-percent chance of snow tonight and tomorrow. Welcome to Denver, folks, and Happy Holidays!”

I sent a quick text to Emma to let her know I’d landed safely—I’d called her this morning and told her I was taking her suggestion. She’d asked what had changed my mind and, without going into the gory details, I’d told her I’d had a crappy night. Though she murmured genuinely sympathetic words, I knew she’d also been trying not to rub my nose in a great big, “I told you so.” Needless to say, she was happy I’d made the decision.

I’d also called my mom this morning and asked if it was all right if I visited. I didn’t say for how long—I wanted to keep it open-ended, giving myself an out if the family togetherness and holiday cheer got to be too overwhelming. She’d been overjoyed. She’d asked if I was coming with Shane, and I’d told her no, on my own. She hadn’t asked why, but I knew she’d wanted to. She was too smart not to know something was up, with me calling at the last minute. I was just glad she hadn’t asked too many questions and I hadn’t had to tell her what happened over the phone. 

I’d always been able to talk to my mom and dad, but especially my mom, about most anything. As an adult, though, somewhere along the line I’d stopped going to her first and had turned more often to friends, like Emma—or, the last few years, Shane—when anything out of the ordinary had come up in my life. Nonetheless, I suspected it wouldn’t take long, once I was face-to-face with my mom, before she got the whole story out of me.  I wasn’t looking forward to that because it meant re-living yet again the scene I’d walked in on last Friday. 

But hopefully that would be the last time I’d have to tell anyone, at least for a while. 

By the time I took the airport train into the main terminal, picked up my suitcase, rented a vehicle, and rode the shuttle out to the rental lot, the sun was setting in shades of pink and red over the mountains.

I stood for a moment, slightly in awe. Damn. I’d forgotten how beautiful sunsets like this could be. We just didn’t see anything like this in Manhattan. 

I watched until the last of the color fled from the sky and cold had begun seeping through my wool coat and gloves.

Finally, I located the Jeep Grand Cherokee that would be mine for the duration, loaded my suitcase and messenger bag with my laptop, and slid behind the wheel. 

Though it had been a while, some things were so ingrained in memory you never forgot them—like the drive from Denver to Lodgepole, Colorado, where I’d grown up.  It was a good two-hour trip from the airport to my parents’ house, if weather and traffic cooperated, but I knew it well and driving over mountain passes in the dark was second nature.

As I drove, I fiddled with the radio, trying to find a decent station to keep the silence at bay. One Denver station seemed to be playing non-stop Christmas music since, every time I passed over it, it had yet another “holiday favorite” on. Ugh. I finally settled on a country station. I hadn’t listened to country music in years. It had never been my favorite, but when you grew up with a dad, brother, and best friend who all liked it, you learned to suck it up and at least appreciate certain artists. For some reason tonight it was the only thing that halfway appealed to me. 

Maybe I was feeling nostalgic.

It started to snow lightly during the final half-hour of the drive, but that wasn’t unusual in the mountains. What was different was that in the four years since I’d last done this drive, the area had built up quite a bit. What had once been long stretches of dark, peaceful mountains now had several new clumps of condos, and around the small towns, new strip malls with Starbucks had blossomed. Not surprising since there were numerous ski areas nearby, which meant tourism was booming. And not just in the winter. Many of the ski areas had summer activities now as well, which kept visitors coming all year round. The steady hand of progress, I supposed, and it was no doubt good for the local economy. But I still felt a twinge of sadness to see the changes.

Lodgepole, on the other hand, when I arrived and drove through the snowy small-town streets, looked pretty much the same. 

I knew from my parents, the population was growing, but at first glance it wasn’t obvious in town. Sadie’s Cafe still sat on the corner of Main and Spruce streets, across from Blevins Automotive. And though the Hair Lair had a new facade out front, I suspected it was the same inside, like it had been forever. My mom had gotten her hair done there for as long as I could remember. On the corner of Blackberry Street and Main, La Cocina, the Mexican restaurant we’d eaten at probably once a month while I was growing up, still sat next door to the drug store, which continued to exist in spite of the fact they’d built a Walmart in the next town over. But the little gas station old man Carson had run for probably fifty years was gone, and in its place a modern, chain, gas station/convenience store had moved in, brightly lit tonight with several cars at the pump. Farther along, the post office looked the same, as did the town hall, decorated for Christmas. Another block along, though, I saw they’d finally torn down the old elementary school. They’d built a new one a few years back, on the far edge of town—a more modern facility with more room—but the old one had been sitting empty last time I was here, and now it was gone, with a shiny new bank in its place. 

A wash of conflicting emotions slid through me as I crept along, following the twenty-five mile-per-hour speed limit and looking at all the places I’d known since childhood. Some brought back good memories of happy times, some sad nostalgia, like the elementary school where I’d first met Jay, now wiped from existence.

With the lights of the town behind me, and the radio now silent because I’d lost the Denver station an hour ago, a poignant melancholy settled over me like a heavy, dark cloak.

 I started to wonder if I’d made the right decision to come here. I knew that was probably the sadness talking, and I reminded myself of the miserable night before, alone at the hotel. And of how I’d felt better looking at the photo album. 

But as I turned off the main road and headed toward my parents’ house, I knew I was only minutes away from having to scrape up the last dregs of my emotional energy so I could put a smile on my face and act like I was at least a little happy to see my parents. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see them…it was more that I knew it was going to take work, to go through the motions of smiling and hugging and the “I’m so happy to see you’s” when all I wanted to do was crawl into a warm bed, close my eyes, and wake up sometime later to discover everything that had happened was a bad dream. 

I think the reason I’d told Emma I wanted to be alone was because then I wouldn’t have to work at anything. I could lock myself away and not have to smile and play pretend. But the trade-off was my overactive brain never shutting off, and nothing to distract me from reliving the unraveling of my life as I knew it.

It was a moot point anyway, now. Because I spied my parents’ house up ahead. Well, the Christmas lights around the eaves anyway, which glowed through the trees. It was still snowing, and the brightly colored lights looked like something off a holiday card, shining through the snowy darkness. Most of the houses in the area were set off the road a ways, and almost all of them were on an acre or two, or sometimes more. They formed a neighborhood, but everyone had plenty of privacy because of the distance between houses and the evergreen forest that surrounded them. 

I put the Cherokee into four-wheel drive—the main reason I’d rented an SUV, because no one around here tried to live without four-wheel in the winter—and turned onto the steep, snow-covered dirt road that led up to the house.

A Chevy Tahoe sat parked in front of the garage. I didn’t recognize it, but for all I knew, my parents had gotten it since I’d last been here. On the occasions I spoke to my parents on the phone or via sporadic texts, the conversations were usually quick. I couldn’t remember the last long talk I’d had with either of them because I was always busy or working late or leaving to go someplace.

I pulled up to the side of the cement pad in front of the garage, out of the way so the Tahoe and the cars in the garage would be able to get out without mine being in the way. Then I dragged in a deep breath to fortify myself. Time to dredge up that smile.

I shut off the vehicle, climbed out, and grabbed my bags.

“Here we go,” I mumbled under my breath.

The inside of the house was as lit up as the outside. I could see the Christmas tree through the living room window, but the living room lights shone through the window, too.

I climbed the several steps up to the front deck, following the path that had been shoveled, and found myself facing the door with a nervous flutter in my stomach. 

But before I could knock or ring the bell, my mom threw open the door.

“Hunter! I’m so happy you’re home!” She pulled me into a hug as she spoke. I should have known she’d be watching for me.

“Hi, Mom.” I hugged her back with my free arm, and was suddenly a kid again, in her comforting embrace, smelling the distinct aroma of Christmas cookies, which she’d probably baked at some point recently.

When she finally stepped back, she was teary-eyed. Not a surprise. My mom had always been a cryer. She got leaky when she was happy, sad, mad, when she watched movies, when she heard certain songs. 

“Oh, sweetheart, it’s so good to see you.” She cradled my cheek in her hand and blinked, which I knew was her way of trying to keep from outright boo-hooing. A lump formed in my throat and, for a second, I thought I was going to have to blink as well. But then she said, “Get in here out of the snow and get warm!”

As soon as I crossed the threshold and set my suitcase and messenger bag down in the entry hall, not only did the dogs in the house go crazy barking, but my dad was there, smiling, drawing me into a hug.

“It’s nice to have you home, son. You’ve been missed.”

“Thanks. I’ve missed you guys.”

“We thought maybe the snow might slow you down. Any trouble?”

“No, the main roads are fine. Just the drive up to the house…”

I left the sentence hanging because we’d nagged my dad for years to have the driveway paved, but he liked it “natural” as he called it—which meant dirt with ruts gouged in it from vehicles coming and going, which was hell in winter with snow and ice over the top. He grinned at me, knowing what I was getting at. 

“Did you get a four-wheel-drive rental?” he asked.

“Of course.”

“Well, then it’s all good, isn’t it? You made it.” 

He good-naturedly slapped me on the back, and I shook my head and smiled. A real smile. Nice to know some things on the home front hadn’t changed.

A black cocker spaniel barked and wiggled with joy when I reached down to pet him. “Hi, Loki, how you doin’, boy?” 

But he wasn’t the only one at my feet. A yippy little brown dog danced around my ankles, and once it got out from under Loki’s legs, I saw it was a plump Chihuahua mix of some type.

“Well, hello,” I said with a chuckle, reaching down to let the little dog sniff me, then scratching its big ears. “Who’s this?”

“That’s Iggy,” my mom said.

“A foster or a keeper?” I glanced up at her as I continued to scratch and pet the fat little cutie.

“Keeper. I brought her home the day after Thanksgiving.”

I laughed again as the little stinker nipped at my fingers, then danced around some more.

“She’s adorable.”

I straightened up to see my mom grinning. “You’ve always liked the little ones.”

“Yeah, I have. But where’s Raleigh?” My parents also had a golden retriever.

“Probably lying on his bed by the fire. He’s getting old, hard for him to get around,” my dad said.

Footsteps of the human variety sounded on the tile floor and I looked past my dad to discover who owned the Tahoe in the driveway… My brother had just come out of the living room, followed by his wife.

“So the prodigal son returns. Nice of you to pull yourself away from your important life to visit your lowly family,” Kevin said. His mouth was smiling, but his eyes weren’t. And though the words were said in an outwardly joking tone, I felt a distinct chill behind them.

Before I could process the passive-aggressive antagonism and figure out why I was its object, Maddy, Kevin’s wife, smacked my brother on the arm.

“Oh stop!” She pushed Kevin out of the way to get to me and wrapped her arms around me, pulling me into a warm, genuine hug. “Ignore him. He’s being an ass,” she whispered against my ear. “I’m so glad to see you, Hunter!”

“I’m happy to see you, too,” I murmured. And I meant it. Maddy had the biggest heart of anyone I’d ever known, and I didn’t realize until that moment how much I’d missed her. But I couldn’t stop from wondering what bug my brother had up his butt.

When Maddy finally let go of me, Kevin approached, but instead of the usual hug we’d give one another, he held out his hand. 

Okay. Weird. But whatever. I was too tired and too emotionally stressed to say anything aloud about my brother’s odd attitude. So, I shook hands with him, but also gave him a look that was brother speak for, “What the hell’s your problem?”

He gave me one back that I knew all too well—I’d seen it many times over the years of growing up when we’d fought. It meant, “Fuck off, asshole.”

Whoa. What in hell had I done to make him so pissed at me?

My mom, who’d always been able to pick up on tension between us, intervened. “Let’s get your coat off. And then we can eat dinner. You haven’t eaten have you?”

“No. You told me not to.”

“Good! I made your favorite.”

My stomach rumbled at the thought of her homemade spaghetti and meatballs. I hadn’t really eaten much of anything all day.

“How was your flight?” my dad asked, as if he were oblivious to my mom’s talk of dinner. Something else that hadn’t changed while I’d been gone. I had to bite back another actual smile. 

Especially when my mom rolled her eyes and said, “Oh for crying out loud, Jake, let him take off his coat and catch his breath before you pester him about his trip.” She looked at me, holding out a hand. “Here, hon.”

I shrugged out of my wool coat, and she took it from me before I could do anything with it myself and hung it on one of the hooks by the door.

“I could’ve done that,” I said.

She waved me off. “Now, dinner. The sauce is ready. I’m just going to put the spaghetti in to boil. And before anyone asks, I don’t need any help. Go sit and talk. I’ll holler when dinner’s ready.” She disappeared through the archway into the kitchen.

I debated following her anyway, but Maddy wrapped an arm through mine and said, “Come on. You’ve been traveling all day. You’ve got to be tired.”

She had no idea. Though it wasn’t the traveling that had wiped me out. 

After giving Raleigh his own set of scritches and loves while he thumped his tail in pleasure from his big bed in front of the fireplace, I sank onto the couch, with Maddy next to me, Loki curled at my feet, and Iggy pushing her way onto my lap.

My dad dropped into his usual recliner. 

Kevin had disappeared. I wasn’t sure if I was sad about that, considering his mood.

Dad, Maddy, and I chatted about random but comfortable things. I told them what I’d noticed different driving through town, and heard from them about how taxes were going up because of the county needing to make road improvements because of tourism and traffic.

“How’re things in New York?” Maddy finally asked. Her gaze was sympathetic as if she suspected something, which wouldn’t surprise me. She, like my mom, always seemed to be able to read people well and know things without being told.

“Work is good,” I said, sidestepping the question. Because work was good…or had been, until last Friday. Now, I wasn’t so sure.

My mom “hollered” about dinner at that point, giving me the gift of an escape. At least temporarily.

No one at dinner asked about Shane. And, again, I was grateful for the reprieve. I figured my mom had probably forbidden anyone from bringing up the topic since she’d no doubt guessed why I was here alone. 

Kevin stayed mostly quiet, for him, or when he did talk, it was to our parents and Maddy, not to me. What in hell was his problem? We’d had our share of spats growing up, and granted we hadn’t exactly stayed best friends since we’d become adults and gone our separate ways, but usually we got along well. I had no idea how to deal with this angry cold shoulder, especially since I hadn’t seen him in ages.

When we’d all eaten far too much, including homemade chocolate cake for dessert, Kevin pushed back from the table and said, “Sorry to eat and run, Mom, but it’s late already since we had to wait for Hunter. And I’ve got to be up early in the morning for work.”

Another little jab at me. What the fuck?

“It’s still snowing, so I’m going to go let the car warm up and scrape it. Five minutes, Mad, okay?”

My sister-in-law stuck out her tongue at him. “Party pooper.”

“Yeah, well, I have to be up at four-thirty A.M.,” he said in all seriousness, before turning and leaving the dining room.”

“He’s been in a mood tonight,” my dad commented.

Maddy stood and, in an exasperated tone, said, “I’ll help you clear the table, Nancy. Grouchy Pants can wait.”

I rose as well, but instead of taking the stack of dishes Maddy was trying to hand me, I said, “Actually, I’m going to go help Grouchy Pants.” Because I’d just about it had it with the bullshit. If my brother was going to be an ass to me, I damn well wanted to know why.

My mom had already gone into the kitchen, but Maddy nodded and gave me a half smile with a hint of mischief in it. “Bundle up. It’s cold out there.”

I had a feeling she didn’t just mean the weather.

Once outside, when I approached, my brother was scraping the side windows of the Tahoe opposite of me. He didn’t bother to look at me.

“If you’ve got another scraper, I’ll do this side.”

He opened the back door, rummaged on the floor, then pulled another out and tossed it over the top of the SUV at me without saying a word.

I went to work. “When’d you get the Tahoe? It’s nice.”

“Last winter,” he bit out. “Which you’d know if you’d bothered to ask.”

“I just did ask.”

“Whatever.”

I finished my side and moved to the windshield, which had a good several inches of snow on it now, with a layer of ice underneath. As I worked, I waited for Kevin to continue, because he usually did once you gave him an opening. But he was being a particularly stubborn ass tonight. He had gone back to ignoring me, even as he moved up to do his side of the windshield.

Finally, he broke the silence. “Surprised you even still remember how to do something as lowly as scraping a windshield.”

“We do have snow in New York, you know?”

“Yeah, but I’m sure you don’t ever have to scrape or shovel or strain yourself in any way with your posh job and your posh apartment where they probably open all your doors for you and leave chocolate on your pillows at night.”

“It’s an apartment, not a hotel, dumb ass.” I stopped and focused my gaze on him. “What is going on with you? If you’ve got something to say, just say it.”

I could see him stewing in the glow of the both the Christmas lights and the light on the side of the garage, his face growing redder, and I knew it wasn’t only from the cold.

Finally, he stopped scraping, too, and glared at me. “Yeah, I’ve got something to say. But I’m not sure it’s worth wasting my time over.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean? Why are you so pissed off at me? What could I possibly have done? I haven’t even been around you.”

His eyes narrowed to slits. “Exactly.”

“Exactly what?”

“Figure it out, douchebag!”

“Don’t call me that,” I said between gritted teeth. I’d taken a page out of Emma’s book and, in my mind, I’d been referring to Shane as the douchebag. So having Kevin use the same word for me cut deep. 

“Then stop fucking acting like one,” he said.

“What are you talking about?” We’d both raised our voices as we faced-off across the hood of the SUV.

“Get over yourself, Hunter. You know exactly what I’m talking about. You fucking live the high life—Mr. Manhattan I’m-So-Special Attorney—with your asshole boyfriend. And you’ve made it perfectly clear your life there, with your fancy law firm, your travel all over the world with Jerk-Off, and whoring yourself out to corporations for fame and the almighty dollar is so much more important than your family. You don’t give a shit about us anymore, so I don’t know why you bothered to show up now when you haven’t been home in years.”

 The vitriol in his words stunned me and left me momentarily speechless.

Kevin opened the back door, threw the scraper onto the floor, then slammed the door with enough force to shake the whole vehicle. 

“Kevin, I—” 

“Just fuck off, Hunter. I’m going to get Maddy so we can go home.”

He stalked across the driveway and up onto the deck, where he slammed the house door behind him nearly as hard as he’d done the car.

I stood there, still holding the second scraper in my gloved hand, staring after him and wondering how in hell I’d managed to fuck up another relationship without even knowing about it. 

After I returned my scraper, I entered the house, hoping to try to talk to Kevin, but as I was coming in the door, he brushed past me without a word going out. I turned and started to speak, but Maddy, bundled up in her coat and a hot-pink hat, put a hand on my arm. 

“Let him go,” she said quietly for my ears only. “Trying to talk to him when he’s like this is impossible.”

“I don’t even… I’m not even sure…” I stumbled over the words.

“I know. It’s okay. He’ll come to his senses eventually. In the meantime, why don’t you come see me tomorrow, let me give you a massage.” 

As I looked down at her, her understanding smile made me feel infinitesimally better. “Really?” I said.

A soft laugh bubbled from her. “Really. Would 10:00 a.m. work for you? I have a client at 8:30, but the next one’s not until noon, so that should give us plenty of time.”

“That would be amazing. You have no idea.”

“Yeah, I think I do.” She gave me another smile, then stood on tiptoe and kissed my cheek. “You’ll feel better. And then I can fill you in on the latest Lodgepole gossip, and maybe even offer some insight into what’s got Kevin’s shorts in a twist.”

I let out a slow breath. If my brother didn’t realize what a treasure he had in this woman, he was an even bigger jerk than I currently believed. “Thanks, Mad. I really have missed you.”

“I’ve missed you, too. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

“I’ll be there. Tell Butthead to drive safely.”

She chuckled again. “Good god, you two may be in your thirties, but I swear you sometimes act like you’re still kids.”

That made me smile, too. “I think it might be a brother thing. When we get along, everything’s fine. But when we don’t, we revert to our bratty, name-calling, toy-smashing, rolling-around-on-the-ground-punching-each-other kid selves.”

“If I catch you two punching each other at this point in your lives, I’ll kick both your asses. And you know I mean it.”

I didn’t doubt it. I gave her a quick hug, then opened the door for her. “You’d better go or I’m sure he’s going to blame me for you taking so long.”

“Pfft! Whatever. He’ll live. See you in the morning!”

“’Night.”

When I’d locked up behind her, I wandered into the kitchen, where I found my mom just starting the dishwasher.

She looked up at me and smiled. “Your dad’s out back shoveling for the dogs. Loki loves the snow, of course. But Iggy’s so low to the ground it doesn’t take much snow to be over her head and then she can’t do her business. And Raleigh’s arthritis makes it hard for him get through more than a couple of inches of it now.”

“Maybe I should go help him.”

 “No, he’s fine. But, sweetheart, you’re clearly not.” She came around the granite-topped breakfast bar and pulled me into her arms. “My poor boy,” she murmured, her voice choking with tears. “What happened with Shane, hon? Do you want to talk about it?”

I didn’t but I also really did. Yet all I could managed to get out was a strangled, “He decided that cheating with another man, in our own bed, while I was still at work last Friday was a fabulous idea.”

She gasped and held me away from her so she could meet my gaze. “He did not?”

“Oh yeah. I caught him in the act.”

Somehow, it hurt less to tell her about it than I’d expected it to. I wondered if it was because it was Mom and that made it easier. Or if maybe I was already getting used to this new reality. 

Either way, my heart filled with unexpected warmth when my mom’s expression turned to one of absolute disgust and she said, “That low-life, backstabbing little weasel!”

She pulled me into her arms again. “Oh, Hunter, you don’t deserve this. I’m so, so sorry this happened to you.”

“Me, too,” I murmured against her hair that smelled like the same strawberry shampoo she’d been using since I was kid. I would forever associate that comforting scent with her. 

“I think what bothers me the most,” I finally said, my body sagging back against the counter, “is how clueless I was about it. I’m certain it wasn’t his first secret rendezvous with this man. And, sadly, I suspect this wasn’t the first man he’s done it with. He was too… I don’t know…too casual about it. He tried to make it sound like I was blowing it way out of proportion.”

“You weren’t,” she reassured me.

“I know. There was no remorse on his face. No apology. Just this sneering attitude that I was being ridiculous, as if it were completely commonplace for long-time partners to cheat. He even asked me, ‘You mean to tell me you’ve never slept with anyone else since we’ve been together?’ Can you believe that?”

“He wanted you to admit you’d slept around, too, so it would validate his betrayal.”

“We’ve worked together all day, every day, for five years. We’ve shared an apartment for four. Everything seemed fine. Normal. We were planning the trip to Maui over the holidays, for God’s sake. If I wasn’t enough for him, why would he act like everything was normal? How could I have not known, Mom?” My voice cracked as the knot in my gut gave a particularly brutal twist. “What kind of a person does that make me, that I was completely oblivious to what was going on?”

“It makes you a trusting person, honey. And that’s not a bad thing.”

I rubbed my eyes. “I’m pretty sure it makes me a gullible wuss.”

“No,” she said in her serious voice, “this is on him. You gave him your trust as you should have, as anyone in a romantic relationship should. And he broke that trust. That’s on him, not you.”

“Either way, it’s jerked the rug out from under my life since we’re also business partners.” I dragged a hand through my hair.

“What are you going to do about the firm?” Her gaze was sympathetic, but I also recognized the bite of anger still in her voice. 

“I don’t know yet. I just know I can’t be in the same office with him right now. I’m on a working leave of absence for the time being. My assistant rescheduled my appointments until after the first of the year, and she’ll check in with me, and I her, as things come up in the meantime.”

“Will Shane cause any problems for you while you’re gone? With your clients?”

“Luckily, there’s not much happening through the holidays, and Shane and I weren’t supposed to be there anyway during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, so I hope not.”

“Good. That gives you some time to think about how you want to handle things.”

“Yeah. Right now, though, I’m mostly exhausted. Physically and emotionally. I can’t even think straight.”

She smoothed a hand over my four-days’-worth of stubble that I hadn’t had the energy to deal with, and I could feel her comfortable compassion surrounding me as if she’d just hugged me again. “I’m so glad you’re home, Hunter.”

“We both are,” my dad said, entering the kitchen. I wondered how much of the conversation he’d heard. Not that it mattered, since I’d always had an easy relationship with both of them.  I knew I was crazy lucky that way.

“This is exactly where you need to be right now, son” Dad said. “Surrounded by the people who love you and will always have your back.”

“No matter what,” my mom added.

I nodded, the hot lump back in my throat. But still no tears. “Thank you. Both of you.”

Then I remembered the earlier conversation with my brother, and the momentary relief and comfort I’d been feeling at once again being in the bosom of my family turned to a dull ache in my chest. Right now I wasn’t sure I did have the support of my entire family, if Kevin’s angry words were an indicator.

Which made me wonder if, somehow, over the past few years, I’d been oblivious to more than just Shane’s extracurricular life.

Click here to read Chapter 4!

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Author: mlrhodes

Author M.L. Rhodes writes bestselling m/m romance and fantasy novels. She's also a geek, an introvert, a night owl, a potter, and a damn fine margarita maker.

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