In the run up to the release of Texas Wedding on the 25th September I'm focusing on the Texas Series. Today it's the second in the Texas series, Texas Winter, and Riley's past comes back to haunt him.
|Cover Art by Meredith Russell|
Riley’s past comes back to haunt him both professionally and personally.
His dead brother left more than just bitter memories for Riley to deal with. The FBI get involved and suddenly it is more than his good name that is on the line. Jack is always there for him but how much more can Riley’s husband reasonably be able to understand?
Especially when Riley finds out on his delayed honeymoon that he has a eight year old daughter he never knew existed…
“….Drama, humor, and a precocious child make for a heartwarming story of what it means to be a family, to trust and to protect those you love, even when you might not go about it in just the right way. Sometimes even the best of intentions can lead to mistakes, which Riley isn’t immune to, but it’s never in question that his family, his husband and daughter, are his number one priority … For fans of The Heart of Texas, Texas Winter won’t disappoint….”
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Night Owl Reviews – “….The writing flows in such a way that, if there are any bumps they are not noticed and the characters do not come across as singular aspects in that, while Jack is steady, he is also temperamental and caring. Riley may come across as lacking in confidence, but he draws strength from Jack and has a temper of his own.
Top2Bottom Reviews 4/5 – Drama, humor, and a precocious child make for a heartwarming story of what it means to be a family, to trust and to protect those you love, even when you might not go about it in just the right way. Sometimes even the best of intentions can lead to mistakes, which Riley isn’t immune to, but it’s never in question that his family, his husband and daughter, are his number one priority … For fans of The Heart of Texas, Texas Winter won’t disappoint.
|Click cover to enlarge|
Paperback Dolls – Overall, this was a fantastic read. The setting was familiar and beautifully depicted, the characters are dynamic, the plot is as thick as peanut butter, and the emotion driving each scene is enough to stop your heart. I actually DID cry while reading a few of the scenes in Texas Winter. R.J. Scott has a way of tugging at your heartstrings and making you feel as if you are experiencing the emotions of the characters as the story unfolds. I highly recommend this book.
Rainbow Book Reviews – If you like family drama, enjoy two men adapting to having an eight-year-old daughter, and don’t mind the odd criminal poking in their nose to stir things up, then you will probably love this book as much as I did. It really is a great sequel – just make sure you read Heart of Texas first, you'll enjoy this second book a lot more if you do. Bring on number three, RJ!!!
Crystal's Many Reviewers – 4/5 – “….Texas Winter was a joy to read. There is plenty of action and suspense, but it’s blended well with the sweetness that is Hayley and her entry into Riley and Jack’s life….”
“The phone,” Jack mumbled. Blindly reaching past Riley and fumbling for the offending item, he managed to grab and check who was calling—unknown number. Irritation shot through him, but he wasn't sure if it was at the offending caller or that Riley's phone wasn't on silent for their precious two hours of sleep. He could just imagine it was a freaking reporter, still after interviews even after all this time. A whole year had passed since Jeff's shooting, and the tabloid press remained hungry for Campbell-Hayes stories.
“What?” Riley was about as lucid as Jack and raised his head with half-open eyes. His blond hair was sleep mussed, and probably, Jack considered, sex mussed. His hazel eyes looked bloodshot, and in a second, it wasn't irritation Jack felt for Riley's inability to turn off his cell, but affection and love.
“Go back to sleep,” he ordered. Riley didn't argue, and he lay back down on the pillow and resumed the rhythmic heavy breathing Jack had become used to. Jack tried to sleep himself, but even though the instant panic he had felt at the call had subsided, his brain refused to stop thinking. Cautiously he edged out of the huge bed and snuck a quick look at the early morning outside their villa. The Caribbean Sea was a sparkling sapphire blue, and the beach to the shore line was empty of a single soul.
When Riley had presented Jack with tickets for what he enthusiastically called a honeymoon, Jack had every single excuse under the sun ready to go. The horses needed him. His mom was getting too friendly with the veterinarian they used. Emily had started to talk, and they didn't want to miss that. Josh was busy with the newest addition to his family, baby Sarah, and couldn't watch the D. The ranch itself, the Double D, needed new fencing, and Jack had to be the one to do the work. Riley listened to every one. In fact, the excuses filled a good ten minutes. Jack said it wasn't even that he didn't want to go. Hell, the thought of any time alone with Riley sounded good to him. It was just… Kicking back and doing nothing? It would be a first for Jack, and the thought of it didn't sit comfortably. Riley, the bastard, did what he was good at. He said nothing at all and simply allowed Jack to get it all off his chest. Then he just looked at Jack with soulful eyes and a pleading expression on his face.
“It's only ten days, and I need the time with you.” It had been such a simple statement, but it had been enough to win Jack to Riley's way of thinking in an instant. The last year had been full of ups and downs, but Jack's worries were so small compared to everything Riley had been through. His brother dying, his sister-in-law being responsible for his murder, and his father taking the blame before succumbing to cancer himself. Then there was the whole parentage issue with Beth's baby. Riley worked hard, and he and Jack played hard, but so often Riley would get lost in everything that had happened and guilt tripped him up on his face. Added to this, Riley was hip deep in working on the auction for exploration rights of tens of millions of acres of undersea minerals in the western Gulf of Mexico. As young as he was, Riley's expertise, and his position on the board of Hayes Oil was enough for his fledgling consultancy in ethical exploration for oil to grow exponentially. There had been too many days apart, and Jack didn't like to think of himself as clingy, but jeez, at least one full weekend together would be good.
“Okay, we'll go,” Jack had finally agreed. And thank God he had. Because this meant he was with Riley in this paradise and he could slip open the door, step onto the golden sands, and then run to the water. Diving into the cerulean sea would be a sharp cold slap in the face at this time of the morning, but there were only two better ways to wake up in Jack's opinion—either lying with Riley's arms wrapped around him or standing at the corral fence and watching the Texas dawn spread over his land. He unlocked the door and opened it quietly.
Jack stopped at the words and looked back at the bed where he had left a comatose Riley, expecting to see his lover, his husband, awake but sleepy. Instead he got an eyeful of sheets pushed back to reveal six-four of tanned muscled naked Riley. Not only that, but Riley had a hand around a rather impressive morning erection and had the biggest, most suggestive grin on his face Jack had seen since yesterday morning's welcoming smile.
“I wanted a swim,” Jack said.
“And I want you naked and draped over me.” Riley arched up into his fist, and it was a beautiful sight—his husband naked and ready, acres of warm, toned skin available to touch.
“Is that supposed to make me stay, het-boy?” Jack belied the joking words as he locked the door and let the drapes fall back, the room moving from lighter to darker in an instant. It wasn't dark enough to hide the mouthwatering sight of Riley Campbell-Hayes running his hand up and down himself and arching his back into the motion. Riley reached out with his free hand and grabbed the nearly empty bottle of lube from the bedside cabinet. He aimed and then threw the lube at Jack, who caught it deftly.
“One of us is overdressed.” Riley looked pointedly at the shorts Jack had pulled on to go for a swim. Jack pasted an innocent look on his face and pushed the shorts down his legs until they pooled on the floor. If he took a little extra time to do so, then sue him. Riley wasn't the only one who could tease.
“What do you want me to do with this?” Jack indicated the lube in his hand. He climbed as gracefully as he could onto the bed and straddled Riley's knees, taking his fill of the striking toned body laid out under him. From wide shoulders to narrow hips, broad chest to an impressive dick, Riley was perfection personified. Not to mention the slight scattering of dark blond hair on Riley's chest and two dark-tinted nipples there waiting to be sucked and bitten.
“It's my turn, cowboy,” Riley said, “so I'm guessin' you need to be gettin' on with some fingers in your ass.” Jack loved it when Riley was so turned on his accent slid from educated city boy to pure Texan cowboy in an instant.
“Your turn, huh?” Jack began seriously. He opened the lube and poured more than a generous amount on his fingers. They may well have made love last night and into the morning, but shit, Riley's dick was freaking huge, and he really needed to make sure he was stretched enough to be comfortable.
“Check the notches on my side of the headboard.” Riley arched into his fist and ran his tongue over his bottom lip, leaving a slide of glistening moisture. It was an invitation Jack couldn't refuse. Despite the hottest sex he had ever experienced in his life with a lover who didn't hold back, at the end of the day, it was the intimacy of kissing Jack ached to share. He leaned down and traced the path of Riley's tongue with his own, pulling at his husband's lower lip with his teeth and releasing the plump skin. The kisses deepened, and as they kissed, Jack was leaning on one hand and using the other to loosen and lubricate himself. His dick was ready, leaking and so freaking hard. Every so often it brushed Riley's in electric contact. His husband's hand snaked around Jack, joining Jack's fingers and stretching with him. With the feel of the digits inside him and the lube, Jack was panting his need into Riley's mouth way too fast. He pushed himself down on Riley's fingers then raised himself off, before shuffling higher up the bed and using his lubed hand to line Riley up. In seconds they were together, Riley buried so far inside, and the shock of pain and discomfort dissipating in the desperation of need and want. Jack set the rhythm, leaning in briefly for more kisses and then sitting up. Riley wrapped his hands around his dick, and he closed his eyes. The sight and sound of Riley arching and moaning and pleading was going to send him over the edge far too fast to stop.
“Open your eyes,” Riley pleaded. All Jack could do was shake his head. “Please. Open them. See me when we come together.” Jack's orgasm was building, and with thrust after thrust, completion came closer. Riley's hand on his dick became more erratic. This was a sure sign he was close, and finally, Jack opened his eyes. Riley's face was flushed red, his eyes wide, his mouth slack, and Jack let himself go. With a final move, a twist and the scrape of Riley's dick over his prostate, he lost it hot and wet over Riley's stomach. The tensing of his muscles sent Riley high and the feeling of being filled was exquisite.
“I love you, Jack.”
“I love you too,” Jack answered as he pulled off as gently as he could and slid boneless to one side of Riley. “God, I love you.”
* * * *
Laughing like kids, they grabbed swim shorts and suntan lotion and set off for the beach. Jack packed a bag with towels and books and a multitude of other vital beach stuff. Riley picked up his phone, but after a second's consideration, which Jack watched without making it obvious, he simply dropped it in the top drawer. They only had two more days here, and Jack was relieved Riley was finally letting go of the office.
They spent all day at the shoreline, talking, planning and discussing the family.
“He's a nice guy,” Riley offered carefully. Jack shook his head in denial.
“He's twenty years younger than Mom,” Jack had the age gap worked out to the nearest day in his head the minute his mom revealed she had affection for Neil Kendrick, the new veterinary at the horse practice they used.
“But he makes her happy.”
“He's living in a one-room rental.”
“He only moved there three months ago, give him a break.”
“He's not what I want for her.”
“It's her choice.”
“It might be a money thing. Maybe I should get a PI to check him out.”
“For God's sake, Jack, you can't get a PI to check out the vet just because your momma is sweet on him.”
Jack subsided into silence as he couldn't think of what say. It wasn't that he didn't want his mom to be happy. He did. Beth and Josh had families, he had Riley, and she had spent so much time being there for her family she had left herself on her own. Neil seemed like a nice enough guy, so maybe he should listen to Riley or have a quiet word. Jeez. It was the age gap… that was all. He looked over at Riley who was face down on the towel. Every second Riley was out here he lost more of the office pallor he wore so well. He was turning brown as a nut.
“I'm not saying you're right,” Jack offered grudgingly. “But he's a nice enough guy, good with horses. I'll…” When his voice trailed off, Riley looked up at him expectantly. “I'll try. Okay?”
Riley smiled his approval and then clambered to stand. “I'm hungry,” he said, and patted his stomach to emphasize his words.
“You're always hungry,” Jack muttered as he used Riley's offered hand to stand up. They hugged quickly, and Jack luxuriated in the expanse of Riley's warm skin. Hugging for no other reason than to feel was good. They finally pulled apart to pick up the items they'd bought with them
“Shower. Food. Nap. Sex.” Riley counted off the options in order on his fingers, and slowly, hand in hand, they made their way back to the weathered villa at the tree line.
The shower was heaven, the food was delivered as they dried off, and they consumed it all with uncurbed enthusiasm. The nap was more cuddling and talking than actual sleeping and was only disturbed when Riley's phone sounded again from the drawer.
“I'm expecting a call from Travers and the consortium,” Riley explained. With a wryly apologetic expression on his face he opened the drawer and pulled out the iPhone, glancing down at the screen and double-taking as he read. Jack read over his shoulder.
“Twelve missed calls and three voicemails?” Jack said. “Is this consortium thing a problem for you?” Riley hadn't said much about the latest consultation he was involved in apart from the usual. Setting up CH Consultancy had been tough on Riley on top of everything else. He was in the house office one hell of a lot, and his cell phone was his constant companion.
“Not really,” Riley answered. “Thought it was done and dusted before we left for here.” He thumbed to his voicemail. The list only had one name on it—Eden Hayes. Jack watched as Riley listened to his voicemails, watching his husband's reaction for any clues as to what the problem was. Riley just looked more and more confused each second that went past.
Then he went white. Literally every single element of color left his face, and he dropped the cell. It fell to the floor and bounced to a stop next to the mini fridge.
“Ri?” Jack said, shocked. Riley didn't say a thing. He just stared at Jack with a mixture of loss and utter shock. “What is it? Talk to me.” Still no reply, and Jack was growing more scared. “Is it the family? Eden? Beth's baby? What?”
“It was Eden,” Riley finally offered. His voice was dead flat with no emotion. “She's sending the jet. We have to go home.” Riley stood and crossed to the suitcases, opening his and scooping clothes from the closet haphazardly into the space. Jack wasn't sure what to say, but actions spoke louder than words. He stopped Riley with a firm grip on muscled arms, and he pushed himself into Riley's space.
“What's wrong? Tell me what's happened.” He shook Riley slightly to snap him out of whatever shock was driving the instinct to pack and not talk. Riley blinked his way back to this world, and sorrow filled his eyes. It was a heartbreaking expression, and Jack had seen it too many times since meeting Riley to not know something terrible must have happened. He put two and two together and came up with the only solution that would make sense in all of this. “Did they find out about what Lisa did?” No one outside of a few members of the family knew it had been Jeff's wife who had shot him, as Riley's father had taken the fall. If anyone found it out now, it would mean ruin for far too many people with secrets.
“No. It's me.”
“God. I'm so sorry. I didn't know.” Riley's face held so much grief.
“Ri, you're scaring me.”
“Eden said…” Riley twisted his fingers into his short hair, closing his eyes.
“A daughter.” Riley opened his eyes, and his expression was anguished. “Fuck, Jack. I have a daughter.”
“What?” Jack was shocked, and that was an understatement. He wasn't sure what Riley had said was actually what he'd heard. Maybe he'd heard wrong?
“The calls. All of them. They were from Eden. The child's great aunt has been trying to contact me through her. Shit, Jack. There's a letter that says I'm the dad.”
“When?” Words of one syllable seemed to fit the moment. A dad? Riley couldn't have fathered a kid since they'd married. Riley hadn't had time to cat around on him. No. He dismissed the instant reaction with an internal flush of shame. Riley wouldn't do that anyway. They loved each other.
“She's eight,” Riley said much to Jack's relief and then slumped to the bed, his elbows resting on his knees and his head in his hands.
“Okay. So you were what? Twenty?”
“College. The woman—girl—Lexie, she was in my business course. I remember the name.”
Jack bit his tongue to follow this line of thought. Given what he knew of Riley's past, remembering a name in all of this was a good thing. Riley's time before his marriage had been one long party.
“So you have a letter. That doesn't prove anything. We'll get blood tests. Fight it if you need to.”
Riley looked up at him, grim determination bracketing his mouth.
“I remember her,” he said. “Lexie, I mean. She was just someone I hooked up with, but it lasted longer than most. For nearly three months. I liked her. Jeez, I even took her home for Easter, introduced her to my family, for what it was worth. She was normal, you know, not society, not a daughter of someone who thought a lot of themselves. Just a girl I sat next to in business studies.” Riley frowned as he spoke. “She disappeared. Just up and left a few weeks after the break, left some note about moving colleges and thanks, but no thanks.”
“She left you when she was pregnant then?”
“I don't know. Her note was brief.”
“You didn't suspect she was pregnant?”
Riley shook his head. “No, and I was always so careful. Always.”
“Not everything works one hundred percent of the time, Ri. You know that.” Jack hadn't meant to say anything so bluntly, but he was trying his hardest to find the right thing to say.
“Shit,” Riley said miserably.
“Look, she may be testing the waters to see how much money she can get from you, and getting a paternity test is easy. Worst-case scenario, if she's entitled to any of your money for child support, then it can be cleared up one way or the other out of court. Best case, it'll prove you're in the clear.” Riley stared back at him with wide eyes. Laying out the extremes was something he felt Riley should hear. Jack expected him to agree, but what Riley said next rocked Jack to the core.
“She's not going to be fighting it.” Riley closed his eyes. “She's dead Jack. That's why Eden called me. They were at the house. With Lexie's daughter. Her name is Hayley. Funny that. She'd be Hayley Hayes.” Jack dropped to his knees between Riley's legs, looking up at him. The last part sounded like Riley was close to losing his cool. In his shock, all his words were staccato.
“Whatever this is, we can get through it.” Unspoken was the “together” he'd left off at the end of the sentence.
“What if she's actually mine? What will I do?” Riley was looking to Jack for reassurance. For just the right words that would make this all seem okay. Jack's heart clenched and emotion choked his throat. Inside, he'd always known one day something from Riley's past would come back and kick them both to the curb. Something from his old Hayes Oil days, something in Jeff's death, anything but a freaking child born to an ex. Still, it didn't change how Jack felt, and his instant reaction was one of “we'll get through this”.
“We,” Jack offered simply. He emphasized the single word with a gentle poke to Riley's broad chest. “You mean what will we do?”
“I don't…” Riley began and then stopped, unable to meet Jack's gaze. Jack wasn't going to waste time wondering what space Riley was disappearing into. He needed cold hard facts to make decisions here. “I don't know what is going to happen here. I don't know anything. Eden just said I need to get home.”
“Let's go.” Jack injected as much encouragement into his voice as he could find, and leaving Riley sitting in numb and silent shock, he began to pack.
* * * *
The Hayes Oil jet was stationary at the end of the island's runway. Jack couldn't help but remember another time he had walked to the jet with similar shock inside him. That time he had been on his way to an arranged marriage with a man who was blackmailing him. This time he was trying to filter everything dumped on Riley in a freaking phone call, and it wasn't easy. Riley was deadly quiet, and Jack didn't know what to say. His husband was lost in thought and looking more and more distressed as time passed. Jack didn't know what would be best to do, but he didn't want to lose Riley to memories. Jack was a man who made decisions on evidence, and a small part of him considered the matter something he couldn't concentrate on until they were aware of all the facts. They boarded in silence, Riley obviously deep in thought, and were in the air in ten minutes and on their way back home.
“Shit,” Riley swore as he undid his belt and started pacing the stark interior of the jet. Jack removed his own belt and leaned forward in his seat. He waited. Riley had every right to get everything out of his system, and as much as Jack wanted to stop Riley from losing it, he stopped himself from interfering. Jack expected more swearing and blustering and was completely blown away when all Riley did was slump down in the seat opposite his and bury his head in his hands. “I'm really sorry.” Riley's emotions were so close to the surface Jack could feel every single one of them.
“Stop apologizing,” he ordered. He hated it when Riley felt like he needed to keep saying sorry.
“Sorry,” Riley instantly said, and then smiled briefly at his reaction. “Okay, I won't do any more apologizing,” he added, and then he sat upright and stared straight at Jack.
“How are you feeling?” Jack asked. Whether his husband would be able to vocalize how he was feeling was another matter altogether. Riley Campbell-Hayes was good at the art of saying nothing and internalizing everything.
“Pissed. Sad. Scared,” Riley answered after a brief pause. Well, a start, Jack thought. Riley appeared to have most of the natural emotions after a shock in one hit. “We need to talk.” Riley leaned forward in the seat and looked more serious and earnest than Jack had ever seen him. “I've been thinking, just from the instant reaction of it all. It's way more than you signed on for. If she's mine—if she's a Hayes—or hell, even if she isn't mine, but she's alone? I couldn't turn her away.”
“I know you couldn't, Ri.” Compassion filled Jack as he saw the decisions flying across Riley's expression. His husband could no more turn away a child than Jack could.
“So what I wanted to say is…” Riley sighed, and reached for Jack's hand, which he gripped tightly. “I won't hold you to anything, and I would understand if you decided an instant child—a daughter—was too much.” The words came out in a rush of emotion, and it took a few seconds for Jack to filter through the meaning of what Riley was saying. When he did finally understand what Riley was saying, Jack didn't know what to feel first—pissed that Riley thought Jack would back off or proud that Riley wasn't questioning this child's place somewhere in his own life. Pride won over, along with a healthy dose of affection.
“Okay,” Jack said carefully. He mimicked Riley's stance and leaned forward. “Come closer so I can hit you for being stupid. Do you think that would that help?”
“Hit me?” Shock appeared to push through the glassy-eyed sincerity Riley had been trying for. He glanced down where Jack's hands were resting on the arms of the seat and then back up at Jack. This time his expression held uncertainty.
“I'm going to say this once,” Jack said carefully. “You are my husband, and what happens to you, happens to me. Does that make it clear?”
Riley nodded. “It does. I'm just so tired.”
“We haven't slept for a while. We're gonna need clear heads back home so maybe we should try and get some rest?”
“I don't think I can.” Riley held himself stiffly as Jack tugged on his hand and took him to the couch at the back of the jet. It was dark and soft and incredibly comfortable and dead opposite a huge flat screen TV. Jack flicked to a music channel, and the two men sat side by side. Within minutes, Riley was leaning in against Jack and had closed his eyes in slumber.
Jack didn't join him in sleep for a while. His brain was as full as it had been this morning. This time though there was a fresh worry inside him and a new space for contemplation. He hadn't been joking when he'd said he could have smacked Riley for thinking he'd back away at the first sign of trouble. He chalked it up to shock, though, and thought little more on the matter. Instead, he concentrated on the little girl who had been bought to Dallas looking for a daddy. Children were something dancing around the edges of his life plans. To maybe adopt and to extend his family with Riley was one part of his future. He just hadn't taken the thoughts any further, including not mentioning them to Riley. Hayley may well be a destined part of their family. It wouldn't be easy taking on an eight-year-old whose momma had just died. She was currently being taken care of by an aunt, and she had lost her momma. Jack's heart ached for the little girl and her big world of scary monsters.
Riley interrupted his thoughts by murmuring in his sleep. Jack strained to listen but couldn't make out the restless words. Compassion welled inside just because he felt sure Riley's dreams were not good ones. Wondering whether he should wake up his husband, he rested a hand on Riley's arm, but instead of shaking his lover awake, he smoothed a hand up and down over taut muscles in a rhythmic motion. He didn't stop until Riley turned closer and buried his face in the juncture of Jack's neck and shoulder. Shifting slightly, he allowed himself to sink lower in the sofa, Riley naturally curling into him and following the movement. Lulled by Riley's rhythmic breathing and the huff of each breath warm on his neck, it didn't take Jack long to chase him into sleep.