Hometown Hearts by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2018-2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
The next few days were downright idyllic. I think both of us wandered through them in a sort of glowy, drunk-on-love haze.
Grandpa Fred had always kept the tree farm closed the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and for the month of January it was only open two days a week, mostly so people could bring their trees for recycling. All of which meant that Jay didn’t have to be anywhere and we had the freedom to go to bed as late as we chose, sleep as late as we wanted, and do as little or as much as we liked.
I worked on the bed in the woodshop, and it was nice to revisit my roots, to put on hold the years of law school, stuffy corporate meetings, and suits and ties for the scent of sawdust and the feel of tools in my hands. Not that I didn’t also like my chosen career, but I’d spent virtually every summer, from the time I was old enough to help until I left for law school, doing construction with my dad. And I’d also loved following Grandpa Fred around in his woodshop whenever I could. So the act of turning the bedposts on the lathe, watching them go from rough lumber to smooth, shapely curves, to cut and sand and see my vision and the sketch I’d made the first day come to life was satisfying in a more visceral way than winning law cases.
Jay and I ordered a king-size mattress and it would be delivered later in the week. I was hoping to have the bed finished by then, but I didn’t want to rush the process, any part of it. I wanted my portion of the work to be worthy of Grandpa Fred’s painstakingly and beautifully carved headboard.
Jay spent a fair amount of his free time working on the Kebler Pass painting, which I loved to see because he was in his element when he worked at the easel in a way he wasn’t on his laptop doing graphics. I discovered he still had several clients he did freelance graphic design work for, and he obviously enjoyed that as well. But at his easel…I could almost feel the joy radiating from him. If I hadn’t been working on my own project, I could easily have spent hours sitting next to him and watching as he painted.
Funnily enough, he said the same about watching me work in the shop.
When we weren’t busy with our projects, we spent virtually every other moment together, whether it was cooking, watching movies in the evenings, shoveling snow, or cleaning out the closet in the master bedroom so we could begin putting our clothes into it in preparation for moving into the bedroom once the bed was done. And just the simple act of being together, no matter how mundane the task, felt good. Jay’d been right when he’d said it was the little things, the small actions and moments, that elevated a relationship from two-dimensional to three. Honestly, it felt like I spent more meaningful time with Jay those days after Christmas than I had with Shane during our entire relationship. And what a sad statement that was, considering Shane and I had not only lived together, we’d worked together.
I was realizing more and more than Shane’s and my relationship had primarily been built on convenience. We’d worked such long hours from the beginning that we hadn’t had time for anything else. So when we’d craved connection, physical or otherwise, it had been simpler to find it with each other than try to look outside our tightly focused professional sphere. For some people I guess that worked. It had worked for us for years. At least on the surface. But every day with Jay made me realize how much I’d sold myself short to have settled for anything less. Even though Garrett had been a total shit to Jay, had taken advantage of him and, in the end, dumped him in the worst possible way, I admired Jay for at least putting his all into that relationship. He’d opened himself up and gone for it, in an attempt to have something real. Which was more than I’d ever done with Shane.
All the more reason for me to get out of Manhattan and an environment that fostered such a twenty-four-seven devotion to career at the expense of anything else. When I thought back on the people Shane and I knew, worked with, socialized with, very few had managed to juggle both the brutally long hours required to be successful in the corporate world and a long-term meaningful relationship. I knew that was one the reasons Emma had moved across the river and taken a low-key job with legal aid—because she and Nate had wanted to start a family and she’d had no interest in skimping on family time in order to work weekends or schmooze with clients until 2 A.M.
My time here in Colorado, away from that non-stop, high-income, work-obsessed culture for even a short while, had made me see it far more clearly than I ever had when I’d been immersed in it. I knew now with a certainty that it wasn’t what I wanted for the rest of my life. I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do as far as moving my career here, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to commute back and forth between here and the east coast for any longer than I absolutely had to.
No, my eye was firmly fixed on starting a new life here.
The day after Christmas, we went to my parents’ so I could pick up the Jeep, my clothes, and computer. My folks were completely cool about me staying with Jay the rest of the time I’d be here, which I had expected. But it was still nice to have their support.
“You don’t feel like I’m bailing on you?” I asked my mom.
“Honey, I think you and Jay have been waiting long enough to be together, don’t you? Besides, if you miss us so much you can’t possibly live without seeing us, we’re only ten minutes away,” she teased.
The day after that, Dr. Novotany had cleared our dogs medically and we were able to go pick them up. We’d been to visit them, but knowing we could finally take them home… I think Jay and I were both giddy, like new parents. Which, we were. Doggie dads, as Maddy called us.
Ripley and Newt were absolutely the best dogs ever. We set up crates for them in a corner of the big kitchen, and both of them slept through the night without making a peep. They were both eating well, and aside from one small accident, both seemed surprisingly well house trained. Hazel, for the most part, ignored them and they her. Which we decided wasn’t a bad thing at all. If they chose to be friends, they’d work it out in their own way and time. The dogs were only crated at night or if we left the house. The rest of the time they followed us around, and when we were relaxed on the couch in the evening, they curled up together next to us or on one of the thick fleece beds my parents had given us, which lay in front of the fireplace.
I had talked to Ariel a couple of times, and she’d told me that Shane hadn’t been in to work since the Thursday before Christmas. Late Thursday night was when he and I had talked on the phone, and Friday, when he apparently hadn’t gone into the office, was when he’d tried obsessively to call and text me all day.
I wondered if he’d gone ahead to Maui, since our original plans had been to leave Christmas Eve and return New Year’s Day. I could totally see him doing it. Maybe he’d convinced fuckhead Kilgannon to go with him. Either way, I had reached the point of not caring in the least. Shane seemed far away from my current life, and I was good with that. I’d have to deal with him soon enough after the new year. Until then, I didn’t give a rat’s ass what he was up to. His bullshit had no effect on me right now.
Or so I believed…
The night of the 28th, Jay and I had just gotten into bed. The weather had turned wretched again with below zero temperatures, and even though we had the heat cranked up in the house, I’d been cold all day. So the first thing I did when we slid under the covers was to wedge my freezing feet between Jay’s much warmer legs.
“Holy shit!” he squawked.
“Sorry.” I chuckled. “Or not.”
“I’m thinking, from the sound of your laughter, you’re not. I don’t think you’re the least bit sorry.”
“I can’t help it if you’re an oven. If you don’t want my cold feet on you, you shouldn’t be so damned warm.”
“You keep doing that and I’m not going to stay warm for very long. I swear I can feel you sucking the heat out of that spot on my legs as we speak.”
“Well, then, I’ll move them.”
So I did. Higher between his thighs.
He hissed. “Careful where you’re aiming. I’d rather not have frozen balls, too, thank you very much.”
I scootched closer to him. “Yeah, I don’t really think that’s going to be a problem, do you?” I murmured, sliding my hand between our groins and curling my fingers around his cock.
He hissed again, but this time it turned into the faintest of growls, and about two seconds later I found myself on my back with him on top of me, grinning down at me.
“You tell me,” he said, before stealing a decidedly steamy kiss, guaranteed to heat us both up.
“See what I did there?” I said when he lifted his mouth off mine.
“Oh, this is what you were going for?”
“You could have just asked instead of tormenting me with those damned chunks of ice at the bottom of your legs.”
“Where’s the fun in that?”
“You want fun?”
“Always.” I grinned and gently bit his lower lip, which made him groan.
He kissed me again. And again. And many other agains. With each kiss, combined with the weight of his body atop mine, I grew warmer and warmer.
“It’s like a miracle,” I whispered.
He leaned up and arched an eyebrow.
“Your ability to make me forget all about being cold.”
“Mmmm. A miracle.” He scooted down a little bit, then a little more, his erection dragging sensually over mine. “Wanna see another miracle?” I heard the humor, and heat, in his voice.
“Thought you might.”
A half hour later, I lay warm and utterly satisfied, sprawled across the bed with Jay chuckling next to me.
“Not cold anymore, are ya?” he teased.
“You are the master of miracles.”
“You’re not so bad yourself.”
No, no I wasn’t. I smiled, his taste still on my tongue and the sound of his soft moans lingering in my ears.
I rolled toward him and traced my fingers over his beard. “Have I told you in, oh, the past five minutes or so, how much I love you?”
“Have I told you how much I love you back, cold feet and all?”
“You’re my hero.”
The sound of my phone ringer—which Jay had jokingly changed to the Power Rangers theme a couple of days ago when I wasn’t looking, and it made me laugh so I hadn’t changed it back— interrupted the lingering kiss we shared.
I frowned. “Who’d be calling this late?” It had to be after eleven-thirty.
Jay was closest to the bedside table. He picked up my phone and handed it to me. “No name, just a number,” he said, able to see it on the notification screen.
I sat up and took it from him. “It’s a New York number. Damn it.” My first thought was that Shane was now trying to call me from a different phone. Why he hadn’t tried it already, once Jay had told him I was blocking his number, I didn’t know. I’d been kind of surprised he hadn’t.
“It might not be him,” Jay said.
“It’s one-thirty in the morning in New York. Who the hell else would be calling me this time of night?”
“Let me answer it then,” he said, holding out his hand. “If it’s him, I’ll tell him to go to hell. If it’s not, then I’ll hand it off to you.”
“No,” I said with a sigh. “I mean, thank you. For real. I love you for wanting to spare me. But this time I’ll tell him myself.” Because…goddamn.
I swiped to answer the call. “What do you want?”
I heard an empty moment of hesitation on the other end of the line, along with the sounds of a public place of some sort.
“Um…is this Hunter Breckman?” a woman’s voice said.
Shit. I grimaced, feeling stupid for answering the way I had. It had honestly never occurred to me it wasn’t Shane.
“I’m sorry. Yes. Yes, this is he.”
“Mr. Breckman, I’m Rose Collins. I’m with patient services at NYU Winthrop Hospital.”
“Winthrop? That’s out on Long Island.”
“Yes sir. I’m calling because we found your name in Shane Harris’s wallet as his emergency contact.”
“Oh…fuck,” I whispered, my heart beginning to pound. “What’s happened?”
Jay looked at me, his brows drawn together, a look of concern on his face.
“I’m sorry to tell you that Mr. Harris was in a car accident tonight. He’s unconscious and in critical condition.”