This was originally written for Amber Kell's Birthday Bash and was posted on her blog, just incase you missed it there…I hope you enjoy this short story set after A Cowboy's Home and before Snow In Montana (out Wednesday).
Crooked Tree Ranch – Nate and Jay’s story
The Rancher’s Son – Adam and Ethan’s story
A Cowboy’s Home – Justin and Sam’s story
The Four Families
The Allens family – Marcus and his gf Sophie, sons Ethan & Justin
The Sullivan Family – Jay and his sister Ashley, along with Ashley’s children Kirsten & Josh
The Todd Family – Nate, Gabriel & Luke
The Strachan Family – Cole & Adam
* * * * *
Sam watched Jay put the phone down, and it had to be a good sign that Jay was grinning from ear to ear. Right? This side of the conversation sounded positive, so Sam was hopeful.
“And?” Sam asked impatiently when Jay didn’t immediately pass on the news.
“It’s done, they want to film here; they chose us. Starting February seventeenth, through to the end of March.”
Jay stood up and did a fist pump, then a complicated dance around the office, which Sam joined in with until both of them were out of breath and laughing like idiots.
“What did they say about catering?”
“That they’d buy into you, and keep it on site.”
That was deserving of another fist pump. Darby Films were using Crooked Tree as a location for a new film, and they were paying for the site, accommodation, and the catering. This meant that not only was Crooked Tree going to be operating in the black but so was Branches.
Sam left with a smile on his face, running straight into Adam who looked like he’d been lurking outside the office.
“I can’t find Justin,” Adam blurted. “Do you know where he is?” Adam looked pale and tense; exhaustion bracketing his eyes and Sam had to snap out of his need to inanely grin. Adam looked so damn serious.
“He’s due back soon, had to go into town for bananas, can you believe I ran out, and I need them for my banoffee—“
“When will he be back? I need to talk to him.” Adam swayed like he was going to fall, and Sam reached out and gripped Adam’s arm to steady him.
“Adam, what’s wrong? Do you want me to get Ethan?”
Adam shook his head, “I’m not putting this on Ethan as well,” he mumbled and jerked free of Sam’s hold. “I’ll wait in the parking lot.”
Adam turned and walked over the bridge and Sam couldn’t think what to do. Should he call Ethan? Ethan was in Missoula working his notice, and the last thing Sam wanted was to get the man driving home in a panic. What about Gabe? He and Adam were close, had been childhood friends, and Gabe had this calming way about him. But Gabe was taking the day off with Ashley and the kids, something about Christmas shopping.
With only three weeks to Christmas, Sam should be shopping as well; he still hadn't worked out what to get Justin, after all, what do you get the man who said he didn’t want anything.
Get back to thinking about Adam. What do I do?
In the end, he decided to follow Adam down to the parking area covered in the latest snowfall, and hover about to see if he could help. Maybe Adam had recalled something concerning Justin?
Justin had been brittle recently, worrying about Adam, and Christmas, and hell, everything, so maybe Sam could be a buffer between the two men.
He caught up with Adam who had chosen to stand right in the middle of the parking area like he might miss Justin turning up. He had his hands pushed deep into the pockets of his thick winter coat, and his dark hair was peeking out from under a beanie which he’d pulled low over his ears. He still looked like a stiff wind would blow him over.
“Adam? I’m always here if you want to talk,” Sam said, gently so as not to surprise him.
Adam turned and blinked at him; then he even offered a small smile. “Thanks, I know you are. Everyone always wants to volunteer to talk to me when I regain a memory.”
There wasn’t sarcasm in the tone, only weary resignation.
“Oh cool, did you remember something?” Sam asked.
“Yeah. A birthday actually. I was seven, or at least I think I was, I counted seven candles on the cake, and I remember that it was so exciting that I couldn’t sleep. Or I think I couldn’t sleep.” He closed his eyes tight. “Some of it doesn’t make sense.” He stopped talking and glanced at Sam. Then he sighed. “I sound like a fucking idiot.”
“No, you don’t,” Sam reassured. “You sound like someone who is confused by returning memories is all.”
“Justin was there, in the dream I mean. He’s in a lot of my dreams at the moment. He gave me a gift, but I don’t remember what it was. I just know that when he gave it to me, I was horribly pathetically grateful that Justin was even there. Why would I be feeling that? And why wasn’t Justin going to be at my birthday? He and Gabe were my best friends.”
Sam certainly didn’t have an answer for that, after all, he’d only been at Crooked Tree a few years, late to the party so to speak. So he didn’t know anything about Justin, Adam, or Gabe, as kids.
A car came around the corner, the large ranch SUV, and came to a stop right next to Sam and Adam. Justin climbed out.
“Hey guys,” he said and looked cautiously from Sam to Adam. “What’s up?”
“What happened on my seventh birthday?” Adam asked immediately, without introduction, without hesitation at all.
Justin stared at Adam and Sam didn’t have to be Justin’s lover to see the evasion that crossed Justin’s expression.
“I don’t remember,” Justin said.
Sam knew he was lying, and so did Adam. For an ex secret-special-agent, Justin sure had a crap poker face.
“Please tell me,” Adam insisted. “Why did you give me my present outside and not inside, why didn’t you stay at my party? Why don’t I remember the present?”
Justin looked at his feet and huffed out a few breaths; white in the cold air. “Because you didn’t have a party,” he said. “Your dad wasn’t in a good place, drunk a lot of the time you know that. And Cole had fucked up somehow; I don’t even know what he’d done, looked at your father wrong, or God knows. Whatever happened, your birthday was canceled. So…”
“We arranged to meet up, using our code, do you remember that? The light in your window?”
Adam shook his head, his expression bleak. “No.”
“Ethan helped me make a cake, it was a disaster, but I put candles on it, and we met up outside your place, and I gave you the cake. That was your present.”
Justin pressed his lips together like he wanted to hold in words. Sam stepped closer and held his hand, getting a soft look of thanks from Justin.
“It’s not a good story,” Justin said.
“Tell me; I can handle it.”
Justin sighed but then he began to talk. “He saw us. I don’t know what happened to the cake. Or to you. Or Cole. I just know you wouldn’t talk about it. Ever. But a couple of days later, I saw where he’d hit you, so I knew you hadn't had a real birthday.”
Now it was Adam’s turn to shut his eyes, and he swayed again only for Justin to steady him.
“Adam?” Justin said, urgently. “Let’s go and get a coffee.”
Adam opened his eyes, and his expression was bleak. “I’m blocking out all the bad stuff, but you’re always there with whatever I remember. I don’t need a coffee; I need Ethan to come home.” He didn’t look happy about that. In fact, he looked kind of broken, and then he turned and left.
Sam leaned into Justin.
“Was I right to tell him?” he murmured. Sam didn’t think that Justin was looking for an answer, so he tightened his grip on Justin’s hand.
They were both startled when Adam turned on his heel and stalked back to Justin, pulling him into a close hug.
“Thanks for the cake, Justin,” he said, fiercely. “Whatever happens, I love you for that.”
And then he walked away, and this time he carried on over the bridge and up the hill, past the office and to his home.
“What was all that about?” Sam asked.
But Justin didn’t answer. His eyes were suspiciously bright, and he pulled Sam close.
“I love you, Sam,” he whispered. “Whatever happens, whatever Adam remembers, you have to know I’ll always love you.”
And all Sam could say back, even as fear gripped him, was one thing.
“And I will always love you.”
Because that was the one truth in his life. Wherever Justin was, whatever Justin did, Sam would follow him to the ends of the earth and love him always.
* * * * *
|Cover by Meredith Russell|
Snow In Montana (Montana #4) will be out on December 7 2016.
An actor in the closet, a sheriff in love, and memories that won’t stay hidden.
Jordan Darby is known as the King of Christmas. The star of eight made-for-TV Christmas movies, the leading man who always gets his girl. Filming at Crooked Tree Ranch in Montana, in the ice and snow, Jordan is fighting to make a go of his new company and dealing with fears of exposure over one huge secret. After all, who the hell would buy into him being a romantic straight lead if rumors about him being gay were proven to be true?
Sheriff Ryan Carter is advising on the new movie being made at Crooked Tree. He hoped this would be one day of work and nothing more. Until, that is, he meets the hero. But while Jordan is sexy, he’s also very much stuck in the closet—everything that Ryan doesn’t need in his life. And then lust becomes part of the equation, and Ryan’s quiet life is thrown into turmoil.
Their story unfolds against the chaos that overtakes the ranch, with Adam regaining memories that terrify him and make him look at Justin differently, and Justin leaving the ranch to make things right. Only through trusting in love and friendship can Justin and Adam learn to look to the future instead of letting the past destroy everything. But will they ever see clearly enough to do that? And will Crooked Tree Ranch settle back into its usual Montana tranquility?