When Jack Frost’s aunt dies and leaves him her house in the tiny town of Great Falls, Jack seizes the opportunity to escape the rat race of Chicago for the quaint village he loved as a child. On his first night he’s welcomed by a baseball bat and a trespassing warning from Nick St. James—longtime Great Falls resident and infamous curmudgeon.
Jack wants to give Nick the benefit of the doubt—he can’t deny his attraction to the big man—but after several run-ins with Nick’s grumpiness and closed-off heart, he’s ready to give up. Only after discovering the secret Nick’s been covering up for years does he vow to break through Nick’s walls to find the loving man hiding behind them.
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Heat Level: 2
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 36-45
Protagonist 2 Age: 46-65
Tropes: Age Difference, May/December
Word Count: 18,110
Setting: Small New England town
Languages Available: English
WELCOME TO Great Falls, Vermont. Established 1787, Population 432.
Population 433 now, I thought, smiling as I drove past the sign. Although technically it would still be 432, since I was essentially replacing the person of my aunt in the town population. My smile faltered as I realized this would be my first time in Great Falls without my aunt Maggie’s warm smile and big hug to greet me.
I yawned and stretched as much as I could in the small confines of my car. It had been a long drive from Chicago and a huge struggle to stay awake for the last hundred miles. I tapped my phone, mounted on the dash, to wake the screen—1:15 a.m. No wonder I was so tired. I was a night person, accustomed to staying up late, but driving almost nonstop for fourteen hours was another thing entirely. Thank God Great Falls was small. Two stoplights and three miles and I’d be climbing into a soft, comfortable bed by one thirty.READ MORE
The town—every last one of the quaint houses and storefronts—was completely dark and still. “Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse”—as the old poem went—was certainly appropriate right now. Glancing around as I drove, a smile spread across my face. Great Falls. While to most the name might bring to mind images of majestic waterfalls, there were none such in the area. Instead the name came from the town founder, John Quincy Higgenbottom. The story went that he had vertigo so bad, he was constantly falling over. None of the residents wanted to live in a town named Higgenbottom, however, so they voted to become “Great Falls.” It was a name that was respectable, as far as town names went, but still paid homage to the town founder. I’d always wondered what old John Quincy thought of the name. However, that tidbit of info was never mentioned in any retelling I’d heard of the town’s history.
It had to be thirty-some years since I had last been here as a young child. During the school year I would come and spend the occasional weekend with Aunt Mags, but once school was out, I would be allowed to come and stay for two whole weeks, and it was the best part of the whole summer. I didn’t really remember why I stopped visiting. Too busy with friends and activities once I hit my self-absorbed teen years, I supposed. I loved Aunt Mags, even though the rest of the family didn’t quite know what to do with her. She was a free spirit, feisty and headstrong, with a thirst for, well, everything life had to offer. “Why go through life sipping tea? I’d rather have a shot of whiskey, and while you’re at it, make it a double!” was one of her favorite expressions. She traveled all over the world and never lived her life in regret. She also never married, which meant when it came time to make her will she had no children to leave her estate to. So she left everything to her favorite nephew—me. “Everything” consisted of the beautiful old three-story Colonial house where I had just pulled into the driveway and all her earthly possessions housed within.
When I received the call from Aunt Maggie’s lawyer two weeks ago, I was floored. For about a minute I debated selling the place, until I realized that maybe this could be exactly what I’d been looking for. I’d worked as a financial analyst for eighteen years, starting right out of college. I thought I was good at it, and I was… for a while. By the time I hit forty, though, I was burned out and tired of it all. Tired of business, tired of the city and the congestion and the rat race. Instead of buying a fancy sports car, I took my midlife crisis back to school and got a degree in library science. My family and friends all thought I was nuts. But I’d always been a voracious reader and lover of books and knowledge, and I realized if I could pick a dream job, it would be working with books. When I found out about Aunt Maggie and her house, I was two months graduated and desperately looking for a job. I remembered how much I’d loved my summers here, and when I googled the town, I found a job listing for a head librarian. It was too good to be true. Within a week, I was hired, packed up, and on my way to live in Great Falls.
Sighing heavily, I groaned into a stretch as I shut the car off. I was so tired. I couldn’t wait to get inside and find a bed. Tomorrow the movers would arrive with the rest of my stuff, so tonight I needed a good night’s sleep.
My legs were stiff, and the cracking of two forty-three-year-old knees echoed loudly in the desolate stillness. I grimaced. Geez, I didn’t feel old enough to have body parts making creaky sounds already. Then again, I had been in the car a long time. When was my last pit stop? Somewhere in Upstate New York, maybe?
I stretched again, hands on my hips, twisting my back until I felt it crack in relief. After grabbing my duffel bag out of the back, I shut and locked the car door, then headed up the walkway to the front door.
“Stop right there!”
I jerked and dropped the keys on the front porch. The booming voice thundering through the quiet darkness behind me caused my heart to slam double time in my chest.
“Step away from the door.”
I raised my hands and turned around slowly. I didn’t know who the guy was, but at least he wasn’t wearing a cop uniform or carrying a gun. He did, however, have a baseball bat… held by two thick, sturdy arms. He was a tall, burly bear of a man with long wavy hair, and in the low light I caught the beginnings of a beard across his face.
The man bounded up the steps, holding the baseball bat out defensively in front of him with both hands. “This house is the private property of Ms. Margaret McKinnon. You’re trespassing!”
I took in a couple of breaths and put on a shaky smile before I spoke, hoping to calm the big guy down. “Listen, I know what this looks like, a stranger trying to get into a house at this time of night. But I’m Maggie’s—Ms. McKinnon’s—nephew. I’m moving in.”
The man moved his head imperceptibly and squinted at me as he processed my explanation. His body was still tensed and his mouth tight.
I nodded toward the floor. “I’ve got keys, see?” I would have bent down and picked them up, but as the man was still holding the bat, I decided as little movement as possible on my part was the best policy.
“Show me proof,” the man growled.
“That you’re Margaret’s nephew.”
Lowering my hands carefully, I bent down to open my duffel bag. The man followed my every move, his steely dark eyes trained on his target.
I pulled out the folder of papers from the lawyer and handed them over to the man. “I’m Jack, by the way.”
No response, but the man lowered the bat to take the folder and open it. As he read, his whole face sagged and his eyebrows shot up. “This says Last Will and Testament… is Miss Margaret….” His voice grew hoarse and trailed off.
I nodded gently. “Three weeks ago.”
“Damn,” the man said quietly. He went back to scanning the papers and soon was scowling again. “These papers refer to a Jonathon Frost. You said your name was Jack.”
He made a motion to reach for the bat again, so I spoke up quickly.
“Jonathon’s my name, but everyone calls me Jack. Aunt Maggie gave me that nickname when I was born, and it just kind of stuck.”
“My mother and Aunt Maggie were sisters. Frost is my mother’s married name.”
Geez, how long was this inquisition going to go on? I appreciated the man watching out for my aunt’s house, but I was exhausted and it was cold out. Was I going to have to list every cousin twice removed to prove who I was? Maybe I should just hand over my driver’s license and social security card too.
The man grunted and handed the papers back to me. “My condolences. Miss Margaret was… a hell of a lady. Damn shame.”
I opened my mouth to say thank you, but the man was already down the steps and close to the street. No “Have a nice night” or “Sorry for nearly beating you with a baseball bat.” I shook my head, grabbed my duffel and keys, and went inside.COLLAPSE