This is a republished story that has been completely rewritten and re-edited. It also has new content and added chapters. This is the start of a nine-book series.
Tragedy brought him back home. Can love convince him to stay for good?
Jaron McAllister thought nothing would ever change in the small town where he grew up. The same bullies would harass him for being gay, and no one would really care. Still, Pickleville is a better environment for his six-year-old son than the rundown neighborhood in the city. Despite his low expectations, he finds that Pickleville isn’t the same old tired farming town and some people missed him after all.
Warning: Contains scenes of bullying and a violent hate crime.
- 3 Read lists
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Coming Home
Word Count: 57000
Setting: Small Town, USA
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Same Universe / Various Characters
It had been a long time since he’d been in the grocery store, and in all that time, nothing changed. Not the board right inside the front door with business cards and written notes all over it, and not the gossipy cashiers who worked behind the counter.
Jaron grabbed a cart and swung Bobby up and into the seat. Bobby chuckled as Jaron made an airplane noise before settling him inside. He latched the cloth seat buckle that hung from the back of the seat. It probably wouldn’t do anything to protect Bobby much, but it couldn’t hurt either.
Jaron ignored the looks the cashiers gave him and dug the list out of his pocket. He had to remove his keys to get it all the way out, but he managed, putting his keys back. He handed the list to Bobby. “Okay, what does it say we need?”
Bobby blinked at him before he ran his finger over the word Milk. “Cookies.”READ MORE
Jaron raised his eyebrows with a grin and then leaned in enough to point to the first word. “Milk.”
Bobby repeated him.
“Yep. To the milk aisle, jeeves.” Jaron made a show of pushing him further into the store, making Bobby laugh. He put one arm up, holding Bobby in place when he turned the corner faster than expected.
One cashier walked over to the other one and leaned in, whispering something to him.
Jaron didn’t know what they said, but they looked over in his direction.
He had known the grocery store was the hub of all the gossip. Not even the restaurant rivaled it, although he had a feeling whatever gossip the mongers spilled around town started at the restaurant the day he arrived.
God, he almost forgot how small towns worked. In the city, the gossip never really touched him at all. He had made connections so deep he considered them family, even though they didn’t share any blood connections. Or he made no connection at all. Hardly anyone was just his friend. No one who cared about him would ever gossip about him. They’d tell it to him straight, having a conversation. Andrew was especially like that. Pickleville was different. Things were slower, and with that slowness came boredom. His presence had broken up the monotony for those bored few who had seen him in the restaurant, and those who would listen to the embellished story about them that day.
His presence in the grocery store would fuel the gossip fires for a while. People would get used to him and stop caring what he did, and during the entire process, Jaron would know not one of them truly cared. And that was okay because he hoped it would change for a select few. If it didn’t, he’d find a different spot to call home.
“Leanne Shembarger’s daughter is pregnant. Poor girl is only fifteen years old. You ask me, she should give it up for adoption.” At least he wasn’t the only one at the shit end of the gossip.
Jaron rolled his eyes at the two women standing in front of the coolers on the right side of the store. He smirked at them. “Excuse me.”
One of them moved over without even looking his way. “I heard it was Travis Heath who got her pregnant.”
Okay, he might not want to pay attention, but he did when he heard Travis’ name because he had been such a player back in high school.
The other woman waved away that comment. She had hair so blonde and teased it looked like a light-yellow hive of bees on her head. It didn’t move at her animated gesture. “I don’t believe that. He hardly leaves his farm since his father passed away. And he’s never messed with an underaged girl.”
Jaron grabbed a carton of milk and moved passed them, refusing to listen to anymore. He didn’t like it when people made him gossip fodder so he wouldn’t do it to Travis Heath.
“What’s next on the list, Jeeves?”
“I’m a snuggle bear. Not a Jeeves.” The way Bobby said Jeeves was cute because he put an a at the end.
Jaron chuckled. “I forgot.” Jaron leaned in and pointed to the next word. “Eggs.”
Bobby repeated it, running his finger across it as if memorizing the sound each letter represented. The eggs were in the cooler next to the milk, so Jaron grabbed a dozen quickly.
“Next?” Jaron repeated the same process. “Bread.”
They went down the bread aisle, and Jaron grabbed a loaf. The bread and cookies were across the aisle from each other, so Jaron pointed to the next word. “That says cookies.”
Bobby’s eyes lit up. “I want the little man cookies.” Bobby pointed to the packages with elves on them.
“The fudge ones?”
Bobby nodded. Jaron grabbed them off the shelf and placed them in the cart.
“Good choice,” someone spoke from behind Jaron. The voice was deep enough the guy could say just about anything, and it would sound good.
Gossip about him and he shall appear. Travis Heath stood in front of the crackers, searching the shelves.
He’d gotten hotter since high school. And taller.
Jaron came to the guy's shoulders. Or probably did, anyway. It was hard to tell from down the aisle. What hair Jaron could see poking it from under his cowboy hat, looked darker than Jaron remembered.
“I haven’t seen you two in town before. Are you new to Pickleville?” He had a kind smile, but those eyes held a sparkle of mischief that told Jaron he better steer clear. If he didn’t, he may find himself falling into Travis’ charm.
“Something like that.”COLLAPSE