How can two men find common ground when one makes a living in the soil and the other in the surf?
Pressured by his friends, Kai and Quade, Van Duggins makes the trip from Oahu to Wyoming for the annual Cattle Valley Days celebration. Used to surfing every day, Van expects to be bored out of his mind without an ocean in sight. What he didn't expect was to meet a man who would change his life forever.
Raised by his grandparents, Jon Porter returned home after college to help his ailing grandpa take care of the family farm. He doesn't begrudge giving up his chosen career to help the man who raised him, but his situation has been hard on his love life.
For one week a year, Jon is able to break free of his responsibilities long enough to enjoy the Cattle Valley rodeo. It's his chance to be the man he was born to be, and he refuses to waste a second of it. When trouble finds him on his first evening at the rodeo, a stranger with long dark hair and a devilish grin rescues him.
How can two men find common ground when one makes a living in the soil and the other in the surf?
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A sense of pride filled Van Duggins as his student, Kai Hachiya, accepted his first place trophy and cheque. It was Kai's third win in four surfing tournaments, and Van was beginning to think he was no longer needed.
"Did Kai talk to you about Wyoming?" Quade Madison, Kai's partner, asked.
"He mentioned it." Van glanced at Quade. He hated to admit it, but he'd grown to really like the guy, and Kai definitely surfed better with Quade around. Unfortunately, liking Quade and following him and Kai to Cattle Valley didn't go hand in hand. Never in his life had he been landlocked. The mere thought of not being able to see the brilliant blue of the ocean made Van's stomach turn. "Not my idea of a vacation," he mumbled.
"Maybe not, but you won't know until you try it," Quade replied.
"I won't be able to breathe," Van countered.
"You don't have to worry about that, they have air in Wyoming, too." Quade laughed and slapped Van on the back. "It would mean a lot to Kai if you joined us."
"Funny, Kai told me it would mean a lot to you." Van smiled. "So what's the real reason you want me to go to this festival in the middle of nowhere?"
Quade took off his hat and wiped the sweat from his forehead. "I'm proud of Cattle Valley. I guess I'd just like to share it with you."
Van had prepared an excuse to get out of the planned vacation, but he couldn't get the words out of his mouth. Quade had been nothing but supportive of Kai's training and career, and had rarely asked for anything in exchange. "I'll have to leave right after the carnival or whatever it is."
Quade chuckled. "Don't act so thrilled." He bumped shoulders with Van. "You probably won't admit it afterwards, but you're going to love the rodeo."
Van grunted in reply.
"I'm starving," Kai announced as he finally joined them. "I've got an interview in an hour, but I thought we could get something to eat first."
"You aced everyone," Van congratulated Kai.
Kai grinned. "I almost clucked on that last wave, but I remembered what you taught me and hit the lip perfectly."
There wasn't much that he hadn't taught Kai, and the kid never forgot a single lesson. Before long Van would become obsolete to the man he'd grown close to. However, there was still one thing the beach rat had refused to get through his thick skull. "Language," he warned. How many times had he explained to Kai that he hated slang?
"Sorry." Kai broke away from Quade and wrapped his arms around Van. "I couldn't have won without you."
Van hugged Kai back. They both knew the truth, but the words were nice to hear. "You'd better get something to eat while you can." He released Kai and took a step back.
"Aren't you coming with us?" Quade asked.
Van turned his attention to the ocean. "I think I'll go home and catch some waves while I still can." He winked at Kai. "Not many of those in Wyoming."
Kai's handsome face lit up like Van had just given him the world. "Really? You're coming with us?"
"I've decided I can't go to my grave without seeing a rodeo." Van settled his sunglasses down over his eyes. "When do we leave?"
"Wednesday," Kai replied. "I booked you a seat just in case."
With a nod and a wave, Van walked to his Jeep. He untied the leather thong that held his shoulder-length hair at the nape of his neck and headed out of the parking lot. Driving along the coast with the ocean breeze in his face always made him feel free. He'd spent the first eight years of his life in a depressing apartment on Central Park West in Manhattan with a mother who had little use for him outside the money she received monthly from his father.
Van had grown up believing his dad was a rich son of a bitch who cared nothing for him. It wasn't until his mother had been invited to Europe for the summer with her newest lover and had informed Van that he'd be shipped off to Oahu to stay with his father that he'd met the man for the first time.
Turning down a dirt driveway, Van returned to the small cottage hidden behind years of brush and trees. The house his father had owned and the only place in the world Van had found true love and acceptance.
It had become clear on his first visit to Oahu that his father wasn't the rich man he'd thought him to be. Instead, Jimmy Duggins had worked two jobs, grown his own food and lived in a house that had barely been more than a shack at the time in order to pay the large sum of child support Van's mom had demanded.
Smiling at the memory of his dad's broad grin the first time they'd met, Van parked in front of the house. He'd done a few renovations since he'd first set eyes on the beach shack, but the hanging wind chimes and folk art were one hundred per cent original. Christ, he missed that man. Everyone on the island had called Van's father Jimmy Jam, and despite working two jobs, the seasoned surfer had taken the time to teach Van everything he knew about the island, the ocean and what it meant to be a man.
"I'm going to Wyoming," Van said to the house. At his father's request, Van had cremated his dad's body after he'd passed and sprinkled the ashes around the yard and on the beach, making the whole damn place his forever. "Did you ever think you'd see me at a rodeo?" Van had refused to admit it to Quade, but the more he thought about going to the competition the more excited he became.
Van got out of the Jeep and headed straight to the back of the house. He stripped out of his clothes and grabbed a pair of board shorts from the clothesline. The true beauty in the shack's location was the isolation, something he'd grown to crave when he was away from it.
The row of surfboards that leaned against the house like ancient warriors were a daily reminder of his past. He ran a hand over the pale yellow board his father had favoured before taking a moment to stand in front of the expensive board his ex-student and lover, Blain Hardesty, had given him as a thank you.
Blain. Van wrapped his arms around the longboard and rested his cheek against its smooth surface. Not a day went by that he didn't miss Blain. Many in the surfing community still blamed Van for Blain's death, and there were days when he agreed with them. The day before the tournament, Van had been forced to tell Blain he wasn't good enough to perform the Duggin's Slide, a manoeuvre Van had made famous when he'd competed on the circuit. A huge fight had erupted between them and Blain had stormed off to the bar. When Blain had arrived for the tournament, he was still suffering the effects of the alcohol he'd poured down his throat. When Van tried to argue that Blain was in no shape to surf, he'd been summarily fired and told he was a washed-up surfer who didn't want to share the limelight. Hurt and angry, Van had let loose a steady stream of profanities before storming off.
Van gasped for air as the memories threatened to choke him. Blain had died eight years earlier and there still wasn't a night when Van didn't reach for the younger man in his sleep.
Hell, maybe he could use some time away from the water, the memories. He released his hold on the longboard and tucked the ugliest board in the bunch under his arm. His father had given him the competition board when he'd realised Van's potential.
Van jogged to the water. He paddled out and turned his board to face the shack. The solitude his home offered had always done a better job of calming him than all the expensive shrinks he'd gone to after the tragedy that had taken Blain's life. He wondered what would ground him in a town without an ocean.
* * *
Jon Porter kicked off his dirty boots before sprinting through the back screen door. He opened the refrigerator and withdrew the leftover lasagne. "Sorry, Grandpa, but it'll have to be nuked food tonight. I'm gonna be late for the first event if I don't get going."
"You're headed out?" Bill Porter asked, glancing up from his crossword puzzle.
Jon transferred a big piece of pasta onto a plate before sticking it into the microwave. He wasn't the best cook in the world, not nearly as good as his Grandma Dorothy had been, but he had a few meals that Grandpa liked. "Yeah. The rodeo starts tonight. I thought I told you this morning." He knew for a fact that he'd told his grandpa his plans at breakfast. Hell, they'd spent nearly twenty minutes reliving Grandpa Porter's glory days on the rodeo circuit. Of course, that was before his grandpa had settled down and bought the farm with Dorothy, his wife of fifty-eight years. It had been six years since cancer had ended Grandma's life, five since Jon had quit his dream job at an advertising agency to come home and care for Grandpa after a stroke had left him in need of help.
Jon took the food out of the microwave ten seconds before the timer went off. He set the plate in front of his grandpa.
"What would you like to drink?"
"Tea'll do," Bill answered.
"Would you like to go with me?" Jon asked as he refilled Bill's glass.
"No. It'd just remind me of better times." Bill picked up a fork and moved the food around his plate. "I'm not very hungry. I think I'll save this for later."
Shit. Jon kissed the top of Bill's head. "I miss her, too."
Bill nodded as he pushed his plate towards the centre of the table. "Go on, you'd best hurry if you're gonna make it in time."
Jon hated to leave his grandpa alone when the old man was feeling low, but he hadn't been away from the farm except to pick up supplies since before winter. Cattle Valley Days was the one time of year he had an excuse to make the forty-minute drive.
Leaving his grandpa to his memories, Jon climbed the back staircase to his room on the second floor. He discarded his dirty work clothes and tossed them into the hamper. Since his grandpa used a wheelchair to get around, they'd set his quarters up in the old cook's room downstairs, leaving the entire second floor to Jon.
Naked, he walked down the hall to the bathroom. He wouldn't have time for the kind of shower he usually enjoyed, but he would definitely make time for a thorough cleaning. A slut definitely wasn't a term he'd use for himself, but for at least one week a year, he was free to live the life he would've had if his grandpa hadn't had his stroke.
Once he was squeaky clean, Jon returned to his bedroom. He retrieved his secret box out of the closet and set it on the mattress. With the lid opened, he ran his hands over the soft satin, silk and polyester panties inside. When a bit of lace caught on one of his callouses, he pulled back.
If he had his way, he'd wear the sexy panties every day, but the hard work he put in each day was better suited to boring cotton. He wondered which of his panties Guy would like the best. It wasn't as if he'd ever get a chance with the athlete, but in his mind, all men had to live up to Guy's perfection. Selecting a pair of bright red silk boy shorts, Jon slipped them on. He sighed as the material caressed his cock and balls.
Jon stepped over to the full-length mirror that had once belonged to his grandma, and stared at his reflection. 'Sexy' was the word that came to mind. It turned him on to wear the feminine article of clothing under his Wranglers and pearlsnap plaid shirts.
Grinning, he flexed his muscles. He might be shorter and leaner than some men, but his body was rock hard and artfully defined after the hours he put in on the farm. His taste in underwear had nothing to do with the need to feel like a woman any more than his desire for men did. It was simply the way he was, and although he'd never confessed his love of soft underwear, he had a sneaky suspicion his grandpa knew he was gay. It wasn't something they'd ever discussed, but his grandparents had raised him since the age of eight, so — how could they not have known?
He dressed quickly before running a quick brush through his hair. Selecting his straw Stetson, Jon settled it on his head and took a last look in the mirror. "Wish me luck," he whispered to his reflection before leaving his room.
* * *
"Do ya mind if we stop in town before going up to the lodge?" Quade asked.
"Makes no difference to me as long as I can get something to eat in the next hour or so," Van answered. The flight hadn't been too bad, but the food they'd served in first class had sucked. So far, the scenery was decent, though. He hadn't expected so many rolling hills and mountains, but then he knew very little about Wyoming.
Kai reached across the console and ruffled Quade's hair. "I'm sure we can grab something at O'Brien's."
"I was hoping you'd say that." Quade grinned.
Van returned his attention to the landscape. It was a few minutes after eight and the sun was starting to dip lower in the sky, giving the entire valley a pink cast. Lights in the distance caught his eye. "Is that the town up ahead?" Quade shook his head. "That's the rodeo grounds. They'll be doing preliminaries about now."
"Would you mind dropping me off before you head to town? I assume they have hotdogs and shit." Van pulled an elastic band out of the side pocket of his carry-on and gathered his hair at the nape of his neck.
"I don't mind at all. I used to go to all six nights of the rodeo, but I didn't want to push it on either of you," Quade replied. He lifted Kai's hand to his mouth and kissed it. "Feel like watching some cowboys, love?" He grinned. "They sell the best funnel cakes west of the Mississippi."
"Sold!" Kai declared.
Van glanced down at his shorts and sandals. "Pull over for a minute so I can change."
Quade eased the rented SUV to the side of the blacktop. "There's not a dress code."
"Yeah, well, I'm going to stick out enough as it is." Van got out of the vehicle and opened the rear door. He unzipped his suitcase and felt for the one pair of jeans he'd packed. Soft, faded denim brushed his hand and he grabbed them. "Gotcha."
Socks were easy, those he always stored in a side pocket. For the first time in his life, he wished he owned a pair of cowboy boots, but boots in Oahu would get him stared at as much as sandals in Wyoming. He retrieved a pair of athletic shoes and decided they would have to do. Moving to the side of the SUV, he wasted no time stripping out of his shorts, and within a minute he was climbing back into the vehicle. "Okay."
Kai glanced over his shoulder at Van and shook his head. "You're taking this seriously."
"No, but I don't want to look like an ass either." Van moved his seat back as far as it would go and pulled on his socks and sneakers. He refused to feel guilty about changing. He'd promised himself he'd make the most of the week and by God that was exactly what he'd do.
A good-looking man at the front gate started to laugh when he spotted Quade. He came over to the SUV and leaned against the open window. "What the hell'd the cat drag in?" Quade reached out and shook the man's hand. "How're you doing, Rio?"
"Fine and dandy."
"How's that ornery partner of yours doing?" Quade asked.
Rio chuckled. "Which one?"
"The tiny one who cares more about looking good than doing good," Quade answered.
"Nate's doing a better job than you ever did, you sonofabitch." He looked around Quade to Kai. "Good to have you back in town. Saw your name in the paper here a while back. Sounds like the surfin's agreeing with you."
"It's been a good year." Kai gestured to Van. "This is my coach, Van Duggins. We finally talked him into coming inland with us."
Rio stuck his arm through the window, barely missing Quade's face, and reached towards Van. "Welcome to Cattle Valley."
Van shook Rio's hand. "Thank you. I'm looking forward to checking out the rodeo. I've never been to one before."
"Then you're in for a real treat." A horn honked behind the SUV, drawing Rio's attention. "Yeah, yeah, hold your horses." He slapped Quade on the shoulder. "Give me a call in the morning. Maybe you can squeeze me in for a little fishing while you're here."
"Sounds good." Quade put the SUV into gear and drove away. "Rio's partner, Nate, is the mayor and his other partner, Ryan, is the sheriff," he explained as they found a parking place in a big field.
Van had heard both men talk about the threesome, but he still didn't believe it was possible for three men to fall in love. Fuck, maybe, but not the kind of everlasting love needed to make a relationship work. He got out of the SUV and stretched his arms over his head. "I think I'll take a stroll and see what they have to eat before I sit my ass in those bleachers."
Quade wrapped his arm around Kai's waist. "I've got my phone if you need to find us later."
Van headed to the circular area of food wagons. He passed by the sweets — — cotton candy and snow cones weren't going to fill him up. The smell of smoked meat caught his attention and he followed his nose to a tent set up in front of a big metal smoker. He crossed his arms over his chest as he stared at the menu board. Ribs sounded damn good, but from the looks of it, all the tables were taken. He settled on two smoked sausages and a beer.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Finding Absolution"
Copyright © 2013 Carol Lynne.
Excerpted by permission of Totally Entwined Group Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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