All Jaron McAllister wanted to do was get out of the small town where he grew up. After being bullied all his life for being gay, that’s exactly what he does. He loses all contact with everyone in the town of Pickleville, including his emotionally distant mother and the only true friend he ever had.
When his best friend and mother of the child they share, get murdered he knows he must ask for help in the one place he thought he would never go back to. Coming back home isn’t easy and finding himself attracted to the town man-slut spells disaster. Travis Heath isn’t at all what his reputation suggests though.
Jaron had been to the grocery store three times this week. Going only once a week would be grand, but very unlikely to happen apparently. He seriously needed to start making lists every week.
“I want the little man cookies.” Bobby was practically bouncing in the cart, pointing at an elf.
“The fudge ones?”
Bobby nodded his head. Jaron grabbed them off the shelf and placed them in the cart.
“Good choice,” someone spoke from behind Jaron. The voice was deep and made him moan in appreciation. He turned to put a face to that wonderful voice.
It was as if Jaron’s thoughts had conjured him up and placed him right next to the Oreo cookies . Travis Heath got hotter since high school. And taller. When did men stop growing? Jaron was probably at the guys shoulder, but it was hard to tell from down the aisle. Travis Heath’s strawberry blonde hair was longer than it had been in high school and could be seen curling around the cowboy hat he wore.
The two women at the end of the aisle clammed up upon seeing him. Jaron didn’t blame them. He wouldn’t want to be caught talking shit either.
“I haven’t seen you guys in town before.” His smile was kind but his brown eyes—oh God help him—held mischief, as if the guy was up to something.
That more than anything kept Jaron’s mouth shut to all but basic knowledge. “We’ve only been in town a short time.” He had to give the guy something. He didn’t want to be rude after all.
“What brings you in town?” Travis said casually, while looking over the crackers in the aisle. “Damn it. Why is it she needs the most obscure friggin’ cracker on the planet,” he said under his breath.
Jaron’s eyebrows raised, not that the man was looking at him to even see his expression. “What are you looking for?”
“Wheat thins or something like that.”
Jaron look at the shelf and spotted what Travis needed. “What flavor?”
“I have no idea.”
“Well, they have two different flavors too choose from.”
“Where?” He asked, his eyes scanning the shelf, looking for whatever Jaron already saw.
Jaron picked up a box and held it out. Travis took it from him, looking right into Jaron’s eyes when he did.
“No problem.” Jaron cleared his throat and looked away, uncomfortable all of a sudden.
Travis took his cell phone out of his jean’s pocket and dialed. Before he even started talking, Jaron took off down another aisle and away from temptation.
“Daddy, you’re driving fast,” Bobby complained.
They checked out quickly. The cashier rang them up, not saying a word but it was clear from the devious look on the girl’s face that she wanted too. Jaron could just tell she want to ask the thousands of questions going through her mind and then relay that information to everyone who would listen. She looked familiar but he couldn’t quite place where he might have met her before. He didn’t really care anyway.
It wasn’t until they were all checked out and down the sidewalk in front of the store that Jaron saw Travis again. And Jaron was secretly hoping to see Travis again. He was just hoping he wouldn’t get caught looking. Travis was sitting in a black pickup truck with his hand resting on the wheel and the window open. Jaron didn’t even see him until Travis called out, “Hey!”
He looked up instinctively, raising a couple fingers in greeting, hands full of kid and groceries, taking off around the corner towards home. The black truck pulled into a parking spot in front of the hardware store.
“Would you like a ride somewhere?” Travis said, leaning towards the open passenger window.
“No, thank you,” Jaron replied and kept on walking. In fact, he walked faster until Bobby protested the speed.
“I’m Travis, by the way.”
Jaron remained silent and just kept walking. The truck slowly moved along-side them.
“And you are…”
“This is Bobby and I’m Jaron.” Jaron didn’t want to be rude.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you Bobby and Jaron.”
Jaron stopped walking, looked at him in his big fancy truck, and shook his head in disgust. Of course the hottest guy in this town wouldn’t remember the little queer who got bullied every day since seventh grade. Jaron thought for sure that was the end of it, the truck wasn’t following anymore, but then he heard a door slam. Jaron stopped, looking back just in time to see Travis get out of the truck and jog towards them.
Damn it. Okay, Jaron changed his mind. He didn’t want to see Travis again. Well, maybe just a picture, preferably one where the man was half clothed…or not clothed at all. Please God that would be good. Amen. In Jaron’s mind he imagined himself with his head bowed and his hands folded together. That way maybe God would give him what he wanted, if he did the whole prayer thing right, even if it was all in his mind. Wasn’t God supposed to know what you were thinking? And wasn’t that a scary thought.
Sorry for thinking up all the bad things that run through my head every minute of every day. Especially about that one buff pornstar. In my defense I really can’t help it. I’m just that weird. Oh, and sorry for watching porn.
“Let me help you with your bag.” Travis said and took it from him before Jaron even had a say.
“Thank you.” Politeness was going to kill Jaron, damn it. He had worked hard to curb his big mouth over the years, as he got his ass kicked on more than one occasion. A good ass kicking was a strong motivator and he was successful most of the time.
“It’s my pleasure.” They walked in silence for a couple minutes, Jaron very much aware of Travis’ presence beside him. Travis was huge compared to Jaron, with wide shoulders and long legs. And his jeans and black t-shirt seemed to make him look bigger somehow. He had on boots, the kind a real cowboy would wear. They were scuffed and well worn. They probably added an inch to his height. Jaron still only came up to his shoulder.
“So how long are you in town?”
“I plan to stay for a while.”
“How long is a while?”
“I’m hoping to stay for good actually.” He was trying to make a home here for himself and Bobby, even though coming back to this town was like re-facing a firing squad whose guns misfired the first time around.
After that the questions stopped and a companionable silence fell between them. Pickleville always seemed to be surrounded by trees, even in the heart of the little town where the storefronts lined up in two small rows with Main Street in between them. The backdrop was a forested area. At some point in Jaron’s childhood he had learned how many forested acres surrounded the small town but couldn’t remember at the moment. His mom’s street was a dead-end street and it ended with trees surrounding the edge of the road. If you looked hard enough you could make out a trail that Jaron knew led back to a sand pit. The local garbage dump took sand from the pit to put over all the garbage the locals produced.
As a kid it was forbidden to play back there. His mom always told him it was dangerous. But Jaron went anyway and had a great time playing hide-and-seek when he was little. When he got a little older he would meet Brian back there and they would fool around. That was where Jaron had had his first kiss. Brian had been the nerdy type, but a cute nerd who fumbled around a lot and apologized for it even more. At the time, Jaron found it enduring. He probably still would, even though time changed him in ways that he sometimes didn’t like.
It wasn’t until they stood in front of Jaron’s house that Travis spoke again. “I just figured out why you look so familiar. You’re Jaron McAllister.”
Jaron let go of Bobby’s hand long enough to unlock the door. He opened it for Bobby to enter and then looked at Travis. “Thank you for walking with us. And for carrying the groceries.” Jaron smiled up at him as he took the bag of groceries from Travis and placed it inside the door on the table.
Travis pulled out a cell phone from his jeans pocket. “Do you have a cell phone?” When Jaron nodded Travis asked, “Can you text?” Jaron nodded again. “Let me get your number,” he said stepping just inside the door.
“Excuse me.” Travis would never cease to amaze him. He was like an entire herd of cattle, just running all over Jaron with everything he had.
Travis fiddled with his phone for a second before he looked at Jaron expectantly. “I’m ready.”
“I don’t want to be rude, but why do you want my number?” Jaron just had to know.
“We can catch up.”
“Catch up on what exactly?” They were never friends in high school so there was nothing to catch up on. In fact, Travis’ group of friends was the main source of the bullying and caused Jaron all kinds of grief. Although, Travis never gave him the time of day, not even to bully him.
“I get what you’re not saying, okay. I was never your friend in school, but I would like to be now.”
“Jesus Christ. Why do I have to have a reason to be your friend?” Travis’ forehead got this cute wrinkled looked between his eyes. The irritation in his voice only added to the attraction Jaron felt for the other man.
“Forget it. Just get out of the doorway so I can close the door.” Jaron made a shooing motion with his fingers.
Travis just stared at Jaron like he had lost his mind.
“If I give you my number, will you get out of my doorway?”
“Absolutely.” Travis smiled. The smile got bigger as Jaron rattled off his cell number.
Five minutes after Travis left his stoop Jaron got a text.