Hometown Hearts by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2018 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
Hi everyone! I’m back! Thanks for your patience while I took a few days off to hang out with my company. Below, you’ll find Chapter 18! From here on out I’m going to post a new chapter every other day instead of every day. The reason for that is that I’m just about to finish writing this book…I’m working on the last couple of chapters. Because the end is still evolving, I’ve been going back to tweak the chapters leading up to it quite a bit. So I’d hate to post a chapter for you guys, only to change stuff in it after you’ve read it, in case the changes might be crucial to the end. Posting the remaining chapters a couple of days apart will give me a smidge more time to be sure that what I’m posting is the final version of each chapter. So, Chapter 18 today (the 9th), Chapter 19 on the 11th, Chapter 20 on the 13th, etc. I’m currently finishing Chapter 21 and I *think* there are going to be 23 chapters, maaaaaybe 24. Just so you have an idea of what to expect. 🙂 Enjoy!
When I woke up, I guessed it was probably midday, based on the light seeping through the blinds. I could look at my phone or the clock on the desk, but that would require moving and that was the last thing I wanted to do right now. Though I’d gone to sleep with my back against Jay, I’d awakened lying on my side facing him, my arm around his waist, his draped across my hip, and our legs tangled together under the covers. He was still peacefully asleep and I didn’t have the heart to wake him.
Instead, I took advantage of the quiet moment to simply enjoy the view.
Thirty-three looked good on him, which, of course, I’d known the instant I’d first seen him outside Maddy’s office last week. I was pretty sure that moment would forever be etched on my brain, when I’d bumped into him, then felt butterflies fill my gut and my legs turn to mush. But looking at him up close right now was even better, especially with his face so relaxed in sleep.
This wasn’t actually the first time I’d watched him sleep.
There’d been a few occasions when we were teenagers, when he’d stayed here at my house or I’d stayed with him at Grandpa Fred’s, that I’d been awake before him in the mornings or he’d fallen asleep before me at night. Those had been the only times I’d felt safe looking at him with the eyes of a young man who’d been completely and secretly crazy about him in every way. I used to wonder what it would be like to kiss him, and, of course, do other things with him—I’d been a horny teenager, after all. But I’d also wondered what it would be like to go out in public and hold hands with him, to have people see us together and say, “Oh, there go Jay and Hunter, they’re best friends but also boyfriends. Aren’t they cute together?”
Looking back on it now, it seemed a simplistic, almost childish, fantasy. Or, maybe not so much childish as merely the dreams of an inexperienced gay teenager who’d longed for acceptance and normalcy in romantic relationships. The hetero couples in school got to do those things, and I’d wanted them as well. Of course, real life for gay teenagers, especially back then—hell, for grown gay adults even now—was seldom that idyllic, and a part of me had realized it. But because I wasn’t out to anyone but my family and Jay, all I’d known was that teenage me had wanted to be openly in love with teenage Jay. So that’s what I’d fantasized about.
As teenagers we didn’t sleep in the same bed when we were together, we were usually in sleeping bags on the floor. But I’d watch him and pretend we were living together and sharing a bed and, yeah, kissing and having crazy sex all over the house. We’d have amazing jobs where we had tons of money, we’d drive cool cars, with plenty of free time to take vacations and have crazy sex in other places.
I chuckled quietly at the memory.
Back then, I’d never imagined any of it could actually happen, of course. I’d wanted it—oh how I’d wanted it—but it had been pure fantasy because I’d always known it couldn’t be. Because we were different, he and I. Or so I’d thought.
Yet here we were, long years later, not only sharing an actual bed, but potentially being able to share a life together.
Viewing it from this side, as an experienced adult, life was far more complicated than I’d ever been able to imagine back in my teen fantasies. But in spite of that, or maybe because of it, there was a richness to mine and Jay’s relationship now I would never have been able to predict or comprehend back then. When I looked at Jay now, I didn’t see my cute best friend about whom I’d fantasized. I saw a man who’d lived and struggled and come out of it with soul-deep traits of kindness, loyalty, and compassion. A man both complex and vibrant, with rich tones of warmth and humor and strength. And, yeah, he was also gorgeous and sexy as hell, more so even than he’d been when he was younger. But his looks were only part of what attracted me now. I was in love with the whole package. The whole man.
I had no idea what the future would bring, and I was trying not too think too much about it right now, except that somehow we’d find a way to make it work. Because this, right here, this man next to me, was the future I wanted.
As I was thinking it, that future gave a long, luxurious stretch and opened his eyes. And when he saw me looking at him, one of those melting smiles curved his lips.
“Hi,” he said.
“How long have you been awake?” His voice, always sexy, was even more so with the soft gruffness of first waking up.
“Only a few minutes.”
“So this time it was your turn to stare at me?”
“No. Well, okay, yeah, a little bit,” I said with a smile. But I was also thinking.”
“Believe it or not, about fantasies I had about us when we were younger.”
“Oh really?” He was wide awake now and his eyes held a mischievous gleam. “Do tell.”
“Get your mind out of the gutter. I wasn’t thinking about sex fantasies. Well, not specifically.”
He raised an eyebrow and I laughed. “Okay, yes, there was sex involved, but that was just part of it. The truth is, I used to have this fantasy of what our life would be like if we could be together. I knew it couldn’t ever really happen, at least that’s what I thought back then, but it didn’t stop me from dreaming about it in great detail.”
“Was this while we were in high school?”
“Tell me,” he said, serious now. I saw curiosity in his gaze.
“It’s kinda silly.”
“No, it’s not. Tell me.”
“Well, I imagined a whole life for us, as adults I mean. We’d be out of school and we’d live together, not just as friends but as lovers. And we’d have great jobs and drive cool cars—”
“What kind of cars?”
“You always drove a Porche 911.”
“Mmm. And I’d have a Ferrari.”
“Also a good pick. But, see, in my fantasy you drove the Porche and I’d have a Corvette. Not worth as much money as the others, but…I mean…a ’Vette.”
“Wait…” I felt a smile spread across my face. “Are you saying you fantasized like this, too?”
“Far more than I should have. Where’d we live in yours?”
I couldn’t stop smiling now. There was something infinitely awesome that he’d had a whole fantasy life for us like I had. “You know that funky house out on Piney Flats Road? The big one up on the side of the mountain?”
“That A-frame with the huge-ass deck and the enormous windows that always put up a jillion lights at Christmastime and you could see their tree through the window with the…”
“…purple blinking lights? Yep, that one.”
“Damn. Nice. That’s where we lived?”
“Yeah, totally. Where’d we live in yours?”
“Not quite as flashy, but still good. The log cabin house out in Shadow Valley.”
“Oh wow. Yeah. We used to see it when we hiked out there. Such a gorgeous place, surrounded by mountains all the way around. Isolated, but not too far from civilization. Current-day, old me would definitely choose that one over the house on the hillside.”
Jay smiled. “Old you? I guess that makes me old, too.”
“Yep. ’Fraid so. But you know what? I kinda like old us.”
“You know what? Me, too.” He traced a finger down my cheek, sending a tingle of pleasure through me. “I like old us a whole lot.” He leaned in and his warm lips closed over mine .
Damn, I would never, ever get tired of kissing him. Of touching him. Of being close to him. It felt like I’d been given an unexpected and completely magnificent gift.
Which reminded me…
“Um, I have to confess something to you,” I said.
“When you asked if I wanted to build the frame and footboard for the bed, I had this crazy idea I could maybe be done with it in time for Christmas and give it to you as a Christmas gift. Sadly, that’s not going to happen at this point. I’m sorry.”
Jay smiled and did that thing where he brushed his thumb over my lip. “If it makes you feel better, after seeing how much you liked it, I had grand plans to finish the Kebler Pass painting and give it to you for Christmas. That didn’t happen either,” he said apologetically.
“Really? You were going to let me have it?”
“I’m still going to let you have it, when I get a chance to finish it.”
“Jay…thank you. It’s gorgeous and I love it.”
“And I’ll love the bed when you’re done with it.”
“I don’t have anything else for you, though. For Christmas.”
“I don’t have anything else for you either. But I don’t need anything else.” His voice dropped to that low rumble I loved, and his gaze warmed with emotion. “Having you here, Hunter…having us together… That’s the best gift I’ve ever had in my life. For real.”
“It’s the same for me, you know?” I said, speaking past the hot lump that had suddenly clogged my throat. “I came home expecting it to be a shitty holiday, and then here you were. And it’s only continued to get better since then.” I stroked his beard with my fingertips. “Being with you is all I want for Christmas. All I want always.”
I nodded, the damned hot lump in my throat growing bigger. “Is it too soon to say that?” I asked softly.
“No. We’ve been building this relationship for the better part of our lives. And what’s happened between us over the last week, the honesty and closeness…it feels like the next natural phase of it. Like…” He seemed to struggle for the right words.
“Like it’s meant to be?”
“It feels like that way to me, too.”
“Does it scare you?” he asked.
“No. God no. Being with you, having a life with you, doesn’t scare me at all. Nothing’s ever felt more right.”
“How do you do that? How do you always sense my shit?”
“Because I’ve known you forever.”
I groaned. “Argh. Okay, fine. Just so you know, though, there is no ‘but.” Being with you is what I want more than anything in the world. That’s not even a question. What scares me is how we’re going to get through the next few weeks, months, I don’t know, maybe longer. It’s the same crap I’ve talked about before. I hate it, all of it, but I’m going to have to leave and go back to New York. I’m going to have to be away from you and…” I shook my head and fought against that damned lump.
“Are you worried I’m going to change my mind about us if we’re apart? Because if you are, Hunt…”
I put a finger over his lips. “No. No, this isn’t about me not trusting you. I think… I think it’s more that right now I feel… God, this is going to sound really stupid, but right now I feel like I’m in this warm, fuzzy, family and Jay comfort bubble. As long as I’m in it, all the rest of the crap is being held back and I’m free to wallow in delicious, gooey Jay goodness.”
I could see him fighting a smile.
“I love it here in this bubble because everything’s pretty much perfect. I don’t have to worry about work, about clients, about my other shit across the country. I can lie in bed at noon and snuggle with the man I’ve been in love with most of my life. I can hang out with my family. I can love dogs, pet a sweet kitty named Hazel, and work in your woodshop, and then snuggle with you some more. There’s no bad here. It’s all good. Amazingly good.”
“That doesn’t sound so rough to me.”
“It’s not. That’s the point. But, meanwhile, I know all of my shit’s still out there, raging and clawing at the walls of my perfect bubble world. Eventually, I’m going to have to open a door in my bubble and go out there, and not only face the shit, but wrestle it all into something manageable, which right now seems completely overwhelming. Plus, I’m afraid that by opening the door I might let some of that shit into this perfect bubble, tainting it and the people I care about. But…most of all…” I sighed.
“Most of all what, sweetheart?”
Guh. When he looked at me like that, called me that, gently stroked my back with his warm hand like he was doing right now, it only made me want to dig in deeper and stay in this bubble forever. But I knew I couldn’t.
I swallowed hard. “I think most of all I’m scared I won’t be able to get back in. That if I walk away again, like I did a few years ago, even if I promise it’s only a temporary leave of absence, the door to get back in will be locked because I made another bad choice to leave. Or…even if it is still unlocked and I get back in, it won’t be the same. It won’t be…this. You. Us. My family.”
“Hunt, that’s not going to happen. Your family loves you. I love you. There’ll never be a locked door. Sure, some things might be different because that’s life. Change is inevitable and would happen even if you stayed in the bubble. But that doesn’t mean the people who love you won’t welcome you back.”
“Even if I’ve changed?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“The thing is…I don’t very much like the person I became with Shane. I let my drive for success overshadow other, way more important parts of my life.”
“I don’t think that was you, Hunter. From what you’ve told me, I think that was Shane manipulating you to get what he wanted.”
“How so? I mean, I blame him for a lot, but ultimately I have to take responsibility for my own actions, and I’m the one who drifted away from the people I cared most about because I was too focused on my own little world.”
“But you said it was his decision to always go away for the holidays, his decision where you’d travel.”
“Yeah, but I agreed to those things. It’s not like he made decisions for me or without me.”
“He did when he went to bed with the CEO. And you said you thought there might have been other times as well, with other potential clients.”
“That was different. That was…” My old archenemy, the sick knot in my gut, dug its claws in deep. God, was it different? I suddenly wasn’t sure, and couldn’t quite seem to finish whatever I’d been about to say.
“Also, the time you brought him here with you, you said he did and said things that made your family uncomfortable, that he was patronizing to and about them,” Jay said. “I mean, maybe he’s just a random dick. Or maybe those are the actions of someone who’s used to getting his way and knows how to manipulate the people around him to ensure situations go in his favor. If he didn’t like your family, then he could have easily, and I think probably did, play a pretty big role in isolating you from them.”
“God. I think I feel a little sick because Emma said something similar to me. I don’t… “ I shook my head. “The thing is, I don’t know how I could have let something like that happen without realizing it. You know me. I’m not easily pushed around or pressured.”
“You’re not. That’s not who you are. But it’s different when it happens with someone you’re close to. I mean, if you care about someone, you don’t necessarily see it as being manipulated so much as just compromising about things or wanting to make the other person happy. But then if the other person keeps on nudging, nudging, nudging you in a certain direction over time, it’s hard to see it because it occurs so slowly. And then one day you realize, holy shit, what just happened?”
“Now you sound like you’re speaking from experience?”
He sighed. “Yeah. My last relationship I’ve mention to you, that ended badly? Well, let’s just say I dealt with my own version of Shane. Not the same circumstances at all, and Garrett, the guy I was with, had a very different personality from what you’ve told me about Shane, but it was the same type of emotional game playing and manipulation. And like you, I came away from it wondering why in hell I’d let it happen. It snuck up on me. I had this vision in my head of what I thought I wanted in a relationship, and I wanted it so badly he used my hunger for it to make me feel like I was getting it. But, in the end, he was actually building this whole world around what he wanted. It seems like that’s what happened with you and Shane as well.”
“I guess I can see that, yeah.”
“My point is, sometimes it’s impossible to realize when you’re in a close relationship and you believe you can trust the other person. But in your case, Shane can’t play that game with you anymore. You’ve seen him for what he is and called him out on it. So you shouldn’t be afraid that he can still influence you.”
“I think what’s most disturbing to me, whether it was Shane’s doing or my own, is that I feel like I can’t fully trust myself now, and I’ve never experienced that before. I was so fucking oblivious to how much I’d let that whole life, and him, apparently, take over. I was like the proverbial lobster in the pot—turn up the heat slowly and it’ll sit there and boil to death because it happens so gradually. I’m not going to lie, I’m ashamed of that—that I didn’t see it, didn’t stop it. And if I was so distracted I let it happen the first time, how can I be sure I won’t let myself boil again without even realizing it? And then, if I do, I’m not sure I would get, or even be worthy of, yet another reset button from the people I care about.”
Jay pressed a kiss against my forehead, then looked at me seriously. “First of all, you’re a smart guy and, as I’ve already pointed out, you’ve got Shane’s number now. You know what he’s like. You’re not going to let him influence you anymore. Second, you’ve been beating yourself up constantly since you’ve been home for not spending time with your family the past few years, for not being here for them. But the thing is, because you do feel so awful about it, you’re not going to let it happen again. And third, right now everything you’ve been through is still raw for you. It hurt you and left you shaken, and you don’t want to relive any of it, understandably so. That’s why you’re basking in your bubble.”
That made a smile twitch at my lips.
“It’s okay to put up walls to protect yourself from painful crap. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t instinctively do that. But you know what I think?”
“I think that once you breach the walls and come face-to-face with your shit, as you call it, it’s going to resolve more easily than you might think. You’re a problem solver. You always have been. If something goes wrong, you take a deep breath and dive in to fix it. Look at you and Kevin. You said Kevin was mad at you and hurt, and you could have easily been mad or defensive about it. But instead, you took him to lunch and got down to the business of resolving the issue. And it clearly worked, since he actually came and talked to you of his own free will at the festival last night. That’s your personality, Hunter. You handle shit like a master.”
I huffed out a quiet laugh. “A shit master. Awesome.”
“Well, it kind of is,” Jay said with a smile. “Not everyone can do it. But you can. I’m sure that’s part of what makes you a good attorney. So I see no reason that once you leave your bubble of gooey goodness, your instincts won’t kick in and you’ll handle all of it like you would anything else.”
I couldn’t not smile with Jay looking at me like that. “Thanks. I really love you, you know?”
His breath caught, and I loved it when that happened because it meant I’d caught him by surprise.
“I really love you,” he whispered.
There might have been some deliciously steamy making out after that. Okay, there was definitely some steamy making out. Until the doorbell rang and the dogs went crazy.
Jay and I jerked apart. And then we grinned at each other because it must have hit us at the same time how funny it was that we were grown men, behind a closed door, but we’d startled apart when we heard a noise like we’d been caught sneaking around.
“I can’t believe we just did that,” Jay said, shaking his head.
“I think our mature adult cred might have slipped a couple of notches there,” I said with a laugh.
“I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.”
“Deal. On the other hand, it made me appreciate one of the obvious advantages of being ‘old’ us.”
“We don’t have to sneak around.”
“No, we don’t, do we?”
I sobered. “Actually, I don’t want to assume anything, Jay.”
“Assume what?” His expression grew concerned.
“Well, I know you told your grandpa about being bi, but are you out at all here in Lodgepole?”
He smiled and his gaze grew warm. “I love that you asked me that. Thank you. And the answer is no. But, only because I haven’t had a reason to be out. I haven’t dated at all since I’ve been here.”
“Nobody?” I hated the thought he’d been here for a year and so alone.
He shook his head. “Coming here was kind of an escape, a chance to start fresh after what happened with Garrett. Needless to say, I wasn’t in any hurry to jump back into the dating game. That said, I was pretty much out in Seattle. And I have no problem being out here.”
“Even after Russell?” I asked. I hated to bring the bastard up, but first and foremost I wanted Jay to feel safe. If there was any chance his mom and Russell might one day come back to town and if Russell did have a history of hatred and violence against LGBTQ people, I didn’t want Jay to have that constantly hanging over him.
“Again, I love that you asked.” He lifted my hand to his lips and kissed my palm. “I lived my life in fear for a long time. I don’t want that anymore. I won’t do that anymore. We have the right to live the lives that make us happy. Besides, the vast majority of people in Lodgepole are good folk.”
“They are,” I agreed. “I just want you to feel safe.”
“I’ll admit, I have occasional bouts of panic, remembering my mom’s words about Russell. But I’ve learned how to cope with that and I don’t let it control me any longer. I feel safe here.”
“Okay. If you’re sure.”
“So, like, we can go downstairs and I can kiss you in front of my family and you’re fine with that?”
He chuckled. “At this point, considering I’ve spent the whole morning in your bed, I might be offended if you didn’t.”
“Good. Then we have a date under the mistletoe later?”
“Probably. Maybe. Or not. We can pretend there’s some if we need to. You will stay tonight, won’t you? For the annual Breckman Christmas Eve food-n-game-n-movie night?”
“I’d love to be here tonight. I should probably go home for a while first, though. I want to check on Hazel. She always has crunchies out in her bowl, but she expects her canned food once a day or I hear about it. Plus, I should maybe put on some of my own clothes.”
“I like that you’re wearing my clothes,” I said.
“You just like that I’m commando underneath ’em.”
“Pfft. Please. Like it would stop me if I you did have something on under there.”
“Oh really? That kinda sounds like a challenge.”
I shrugged and gave him a teasing smile before I slid out from under the covers.
He was right behind me, standing, then wrapping an arm around my waist and pulling me against him.
I let out a huff of breath as his hard length, not hidden at all behind the sweatpants he wore, pressed into my hip. I turned so it was pressing into a far more intimate spot, and heard his breath catch.
“Jesus, if you keep doing that, neither of us is leaving this room anytime soon,” he said.
“I’m kinda okay with that.”
“Holy shit.” His hands slid around to cup my ass and draw me closer.
And then the doorbell rang, again, the dogs barked like a pack of crazies, and we jumped apart. Again.
“Okay, now I’m pissed,” Jay said, laughing. “The first time I get it. But why the hell did we do it this time.”
“I don’t know.” I was still laughing, too. “Maybe it’s a sign?”
“Yeah, well, I hate this sign.”
“Maybe Santa’s gift for us this Christmas Eve is anticipation. You know, the more you let it build, the better it’ll be?”
That just made me laugh all over again. “Poor Jay.”
We heard voices downstairs now, which meant whoever had rung the bell the second time had been invited in.
“And the signs just keep coming,” he grumbled. “I’m not happy about it, but I can admit when I’ve been defeated.”
I curled a hand behind his head and kissed him, then whispered against his ear, “Anticipation’s not such a bad thing.”
His response was to drag me against his groin once again, his hard length taunting mine. “Okay,” he rumbled against my ear. “Then anticipate this.”
I couldn’t have stopped the soft moan that escaped me if I’d tried.
He pressed his warm mouth against my neck, kissing me as he rubbed against me, and if he hadn’t had an arm around me I wasn’t sure I’d have stayed on my feet. Then he stopped and stepped back, leaving me bereft and horny.
“What the hell?” I rasped.
“Anticipation,” he said with a teasing grin. “That’ll have to tide you over while I’m gone this afternoon.”
“You ass,” I said laughing but burning at the same time. I picked up a pillow off the bed and whacked him with it.
He deflected it with a forearm, his gaze filled with sunny warmth. “It’s a good thing you love me.”
* * *
When we made it downstairs a few minutes later, we discovered the visitor was Dr. Novotany. He stood in the kitchen chatting and drinking coffee with my parents.
“Everything okay?” I hoped he hadn’t stopped by to bring bad news. I sensed Jay’s tension next to me and knew he was wondering the same thing.
“Yeah, hon, fine,” Mom said. “Darby just came by to give me an update.”
“A good one?”
“How’re the dogs doing?” Jay asked.
“Yes, a good update,” Dr. Novotany said smiling. “I’ve spoken to the folks at the animal hospital in Granby and they were able to save all of the dogs they took in. And the ones we brought to Lodgepole are holding their own. Even the Rottweiler that was in such bad shape…he’s made it through the first critical hours, so we’re hopeful he’s going to pull through okay.”
“Jay and Hunter are interested in adopting the two they found under the collapsed shed,” my mom told him.
“Ah. Well, it might interest you to know they’re both doing well this afternoon. Responding to medications, they’ve both even eaten some. We’ll need to spay the Staffy after Christmas, and the Yorkie has a little bit of an infection brewing in one of his paws, but otherwise, they’re doing well all things considered.”
“That’s good to know,” Jay said. I heard the relief in his tone.
“Thank you,” I said. “We’re glad things are going well.”
“You can come visit them tomorrow, if you’d like.”
“Really?” Jay sounded genuinely excited, making me smile.
“Sure, I’ll be going over there in the afternoon to do my rounds. You’re welcome to come see them while I’m there.”
“That would be amazing. Thank you,” Jay said.
I had to admit, the idea of holding my fuzzy cutie again tugged at my heart. Yeah, I was as big a softie as Jay was. I could totally rock the title of little furball daddy, as Jay had teased. I loved all dogs, but I’d always had a special place in my heart for the little ones.
“I’ll text Nancy when I head over there tomorrow and she can let you know. But right now, I’d better get on the road. Cherry’s expecting me.”
“Thanks for stopping by, Darby. You guys have a good Christmas.”
“You as well. Jake, Hunter, Jay,” he said, nodding at my dad and us.
After the vet left, my mom said, “Jay, if Hunter hasn’t already invited you, I hope you know we’d love to have you here tonight and tomorrow to celebrate Christmas with us.”
“He did. And thank you. I’d love to spend Christmas with you guys.”
“Good. You’re family. You always have been. And you’re always welcome here.” My mom hugged him then, which made Jay blush.
Jay and I booted and coated up and went out to move all of his photographic equipment from my Jeep into his truck.
“We probably should have brought this stuff into the house last night,” I said. “I hope none of it’s damaged from sitting out here in the cold.”
“It should be fine. It wasn’t as cold last night as it has been. And it was insulated inside the car.”
When we’d finished, we stood beside his truck, which he’d already started, to get the heat going. “What time do you want me back?”
“Fine. Mom said we’d start eating around five, but you can come anytime you want before that.” It was one now. Five sounded forever away. “I know you’re only going to be gone a few hours, but does it make me sound completely lovesick if I say I’m going to miss you?”
“No,” he said softly, doing the thumb thing on my lips. “’Cause I’m going to miss you, too.”
“Don’t wait until five, okay?”
“I won’t. I’m just going to take care of a few things, and then I’ll be back. You could come with me,” he said in a hopeful tone.
“Believe me, nothing would make me happier right now than not letting you out of my sight. But I want to go help Mom get some stuff done. I think she got less sleep than we did, so she’ll probably appreciate it. And I haven’t talked to Ariel, my assistant, in a couple of days. I really need to touch base with her and wish her a Merry Christmas so she doesn’t think I’ve disappeared on her. Give Hazel a scritch for me?”
“Of course. I’ll see you in a little while.”
We shared a kiss that made my knees weak.
“I will.” He gave me one last smile as he got into his truck.
I climbed the steps to the deck and watched until he’d disappeared down the rutted driveway.
When I went inside and into the kitchen, my mom met me and handed me a cup of coffee. Then, with a ridiculously cheesy grin on her face, she said, “Tell me everything!”