(Changes Book 1)
For three gay men in love, opening the closet door could be a risky move.
Sheriff Casey Barlow has a slick, media-savvy challenger out to beat him in the upcoming election. Casey's damned good at his job, but he hasn't kissed the right asses, and early polls suggest voters like his opponent's style. Coming out now, let alone revealing his relationship with two men, could sink any hope of keeping his badge.
Scott Edison has a real shot at the NHL. He's playing the best hockey of his life. Whenever he can, he travels home to his gruff sheriff and their laid-back cowboy, but there are no out gay players in the NHL. As a rookie working his ass off to be called up, he can't afford to make waves.
Will Rice always figured he'd live alone, managing Graham and Annmarie Slater's cattle ranch, but a hot, young hockey player and a compact, muscled lawman rearranged his plans. Even though he's older and lanky and ordinary, he's been sharing their lives and their beds. He doesn't need to be out— isn't sure he ever wants the Slaters to know about him. Life's good the way things are.
Then Graham and Annmarie are killed in a hit and run that may not be an accident. As Will grieves, and Casey investigates, the coming changes will shake all their lives.
** this is a re-edit and expansion of the story in the "Hunting Under Covers" anthology
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Publisher: Independently Published
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 3 Age: 36-45
Tropes: Age Difference, Coming Out / Closeted, Hurt / Comfort, In Uniform, Menage
Word Count: 89000
Setting: rural Kansas
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
Chapter 1 Excerpt :
Scott Edison shoved his phone in his jeans pocket and ran his hand over his hair. Not that he could do much with the short cut he wore during the hockey season, but it was habit. Shit. Fuck. Motherfucking hell with a side order of son-of-a-bitch.
He’d gotten into town an hour ago, looking forward to reconnecting with his guys. Hot, intense Casey and sweet, mellow Will. After a month with nothing but long-distance calls and his imagination, he was finally back in Kansas, with three days carved out of his schedule to remind them all how good they were together. He wondered every day how he got so lucky.
But this apparently wasn’t his lucky day. Instead of losing himself in Casey’s strong hands, and then both of them heading out to see Will after evening chores, he was going to spend his rare free time breaking Will’s heart.READ MORE
And way to go, making this all about yourself.
Snorting in self-disgust, he pushed off the bed and stood. He was half-naked, his shirt open to frame his chest, a calculated display of some of the toned muscle he knew Casey liked. Now he buttoned it with unsteady fingers.
The Slaters were dead. He’d been lucky enough at twenty-three to not lose anyone he loved yet. It was so unfair that Will, who’d lost his real family early in some painful not-to-be-discussed way, now had to face the deaths of the new family he’d adopted as his own.
Merde. Câlis. Tabarnac. The colorful swearwords of his French-speaking teammates didn’t help any either. He dug clean socks out of a drawer, found his sneakers under the bed, and headed out.
It was cold for the beginning of November, and before he’d even started the car, he was regretting grabbing his lightest leather jacket. Habit, because he knew Will liked the way he looked in it, but that would hardly matter tonight. He cranked the heater and practiced phrases as he drove.
“I have something to tell you…”
“Casey called me and wanted me to… asked if I would…”
“We should go inside and…”
The drive out to the ranch took about twenty minutes. Long enough for him to decide that he wasn’t ever going to find the right words. Also long enough to decide that the first thing out of his mouth needed to be “Casey’s okay.” Because he’d bet that Will also had nightmares where someone showed up unexpectedly, looking stunned, and said, “I have bad news about Casey…” Just like he’d clutched for a moment when Casey had said someone was dead and then stopped. For an instant he’d pictured life without Will, and it’d been like a punch to the heart.
The news he was delivering was awful, but at least it wasn’t that news.
The road past the gates of the Tri-Cross ranch was rough. With the ease of long practice, he pulled left around the washout by the big oak and slowed near the hill, watching for the potholes that got filled every spring and hollowed out again in the freeze and thaw of winter. The bounce of the suspension was familiar. How many times had he done this drive in the last couple years? Lots, but never enough.
There were still lights on in the barn and the bunkhouse. The Slaters’ big house was dark and quiet.
It would stay that way now.
Scott pulled into the parking area and turned the engine off. For a minute he sat there. He could hear a couple of the hands in the barn, joking back and forth as they tossed down hay bales from the loft. The dogs lay in the long grass near the barn door, snoozing in the spill of yellow light. They’d barely glanced his way before returning to their nap, familiar with the sound of his Camaro. Off in the quiet night, he could hear the fluttering hum of the wind generator, the soft whicker of horses, the creak of some hinge in need of oiling. All the sounds of Will’s home.
He gave it one more minute. And one more. The last moments in time when all would be well on the Tri-Cross. Then the barn door swung wider. Someone glanced out and yelled back into the barn, “Hey, Will, Scott’s here.” Now time had to move forward. He unfolded his tall body from behind the wheel of the sports car and got out.
Will appeared in the barn doorway. He paused for an instant, silhouetted against the light. Despite everything, Scott felt a rush of want for that lean, wiry, perfect piece of cowboy. It’d been far too long. But he suppressed the thought as Will hurried toward him, his expression anxious.
“Casey’s fine,” he said, before Will could even ask.
“Then what are you doing here so early?”
“Casey asked me to come. To tell you…” He swallowed, but there was really no good way. “Graham and Annmarie were killed a little while ago in a car crash.”
Will froze, standing so still Scott wasn’t sure he was even breathing. Then he slowly swallowed, licked his lips, and said, “That’s not possible.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“No, you don’t understand. They’ll be back in a couple of hours. They’re out to dinner. It’s their anniversary. They should be back soon.”
“Will.” Scott’s chest ached in sympathy.
“We’re just finishing chores. Annmarie will want to see Thunder’s hoof before I turn him out for the night. They’ll be here soon.” Will turned, peering down the driveway as if he could make the old couple’s truck appear by the force of his stare.
“I’m so sorry,” Scott repeated. He really wanted to reach out and touch Will, but not here, where at any moment one of the men might appear. “Casey will come as soon as he can.”
Will shook his head. “No.”
“What can I do? Tell me what to do.”
Will pulled out his phone, fumbling, dialing with shaking fingers. “Casey? Scott just pulled up at the ranch spouting this crazy piece of nonsense…” He froze, listening. “No. Oh God, no.” Then after a pause, “How? Was it… fast?”
Scott stood there feeling useless, as Will pressed the phone to his ear. All Scott could make out was the bass rumble of Casey’s voice. Then Will held the phone out to him. “He wants to talk to you.” He walked off, away from the barn, and leaned on the paddock fence staring into the darkness.
Scott kept his eyes on Will’s back as he answered, “Yeah, Case?”
“How’s Will? How are you?”
“I’m good, he’s… shaken.”
“No shit. Listen, you did good. You’re there and you told him, straight out.”
“He didn’t believe me. He called you.” Scott hadn’t realized how much that had hurt until he said it. He worked his ass off to be an equal partner to the two older men, and now when something important happened, Will had immediately turned to Casey for confirmation. Like Scott didn’t know what he was talking about.
“I’m a cop, and I’m the one who was on the scene. He needed to hear it again. If I’d phoned him, likely he wouldn’t have wanted to believe me at first either. Now hang up and take care of him.”
“When will you get here?”
“A couple of hours yet. You guys hang tough.”
Scott tapped off the phone and walked toward Will, making enough noise that Will would hear him coming. Will didn’t move as Scott came up beside him. Scott offered back the phone. “Casey says two hours yet.”
Will didn’t look at him. “Okay.”
When Will didn’t reach for the phone, Scott slipped it into Will’s jacket pocket, taking the chance to give Will’s arm a squeeze. “We’ll both wait.”
There was a long silence. Scott shivered as the late fall breeze found its way down his collar, chilling his back. A cloud crossed the moon, darkening the barnyard to shadows. Behind them, there was a yelp of laughter, and something thumped lightly.
“How do I tell them?” Will’s voice came disembodied in the sudden darkness. “Graham and Annmarie were special to everyone. And this is their home too, all those hands. How do I tell them they’re gone, that it’s all gone?”...
Read the rest of Scott, Casey's and Will's story in Changes Coming Down ebook, and soon available in paperback as well.