Retro Read: Elements of Retrofit
BUY LINK : Amazon : Pride Publishing : All Romance
Generation versus generation, traditional versus contemporary, these men are about to learn a lesson in architecture and love. Can they prove that the old and new can be the perfect design?
A successful New York architect, Thomas Elkin almost has it all. Coming out as gay and ending his marriage before his fortieth birthday, he needed to start living his life. Now, four years later, with his relationship with his son back on track, and after a few short-lived romances, this esteemed traditional draftsman thought he knew everything about architecture, about life.
Cooper Jones, twenty-two years old, is about to take the architect world by storm. Talented, professional, driven, and completely infuriating, Cooper is the definition of Generation Y.
Starting an internship working with Thomas, Cooper is about to knock Tom’s world off its axis. Tom can teach Cooper about the architecture industry, but Cooper is about to teach Tom what it means to live.
Looking out of my office window over the darkening New York City skyline, I could see my reflection in the wall of glass before me. Beyond the expensive suit and shoes, there was grey hair at my temples, my once-black hair was now salt and pepper, and there were creases at the corners of my eyes.
Forty-four years old. Forty-four. How did that happen?
It seemed like I’d missed half of my life. In many ways I had.
The light on the intercom flashed. “Mr Elkin?”
My receptionist was fifteen years older than me and had been my receptionist for ten years, since the day I’d started at the firm, and yet she never faltered in her professional etiquette.
“Ryan is on line two. Would you prefer I take a message?”
“No, it’s fine,” I told her. “I’ll take it.” I pressed the speaker button. “Ryan?”
“Hey, Dad, yeah, it’s me.”
“Anything wrong?” I asked. It was unusual for him to call the office. “Still coming for dinner?”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s all good. Just about dinner,” he hedged, “I was just wondering if you’d mind if I brought someone?”
This surprised me. Since his mother and I had separated, it’d taken a while for things to get back to normal between us.
“Yes, of course, that’s fine,” I told him. “Someone special?”
“Oh no, nothing like that,” he said with a laugh. I could hear muffled voices in the background. “Just ran into an old buddy from school. He just got into town, he’s by himself and I told him he could have dinner with us.”
“Okay, that’s fine,” I said. Ryan was very social, and growing up, he had forever had a crew of friends who lived at our place as much as their own. I’d quite often get home late to a den of high-school kids pretending to be asleep. I looked at my watch. “See you soon.”
I disconnected the call and pressed Jennifer’s line. “Can you please order dinner for three to be delivered to my home address?”
“Certainly,” she replied. “Thai? Italian? Japanese?”
There was a soft click in my ear and I went back to staring at the evening skyline for another half an hour, before packing my laptop into my satchel and walking out of the door. Jennifer gave me a polite smile. “Japanese, delivered to your door at seven-thirty.”
I smiled warmly at her. “Thank you, Jennifer.”
“Have a good weekend, Mr Elkin,” she said, knowing I’d be working all weekend. I worked most weekends. “I’ve taken the liberty to have lunch ordered for you tomorrow. Security will bring it up.”
“Don’t know what I’d do without you.”
She smiled proudly. “Have a good evening, Mr Elkin. Give Ryan my best.”
I took the elevator from the top floor of executive offices down to the executive marble lobby, walked a block to the executive marble lobby of my apartment building, took the elevator to the executive suite on the top floor.
Expensive. Polished. Predictable.
Those three words just about summed me up.
I’d been preoccupied lately, unsettled and lacking something. I’d quite often catch myself staring out of the window for some lengths of time, not able to recall a single thought. Maybe I needed a vacation. Maybe I’d take one after this next big contract was done.
I loved my job as an architect. Loved it. I loved the lines in structure, the quiet confidence in well-built, historical buildings, and I loved the superiority and functionality of modern design.
I loved my apartment, had some good friends and I even had an amicable relationship with my ex-wife, all things considered. My relationship with my son was better, good even. We’d had a rough patch when his mother and I first separated five years ago, but now at twenty-two years of age, he could see all sides of the situation and had made peace with it. With me.
I’d changed into jeans and a button-down shirt and poured my first glass of wine when there was a knock at the door. I checked my watch, and knowing the doorman would have sent Ryan straight up, I called out, “It’s unlocked.”
“Hey, Dad,” Ryan yelled from the door. I could hear him mumble something else and I remembered he was bringing company. My top-floor apartment was a large, open floor bachelor pad and the kitchen ran along the inside wall, out of line of sight from the front door.
“In the kitchen,” I replied. “You boys want a drink?”
Ryan walked in, followed by a face I didn’t recognise at first. “Dad, do you remember Cooper Jones?” Ryan asked, by way of introduction. “We went to high school together.”
The name yes, but he didn’t look a thing like I remembered. Gone was the gangly, awkward teenager, replaced by a fit-looking young man. He had messy short brown hair, a wide smile and mischief in his hazel eyes.
“Yes, I remember,” I said, extending my hand for him to shake. “You just grew up.”
Ryan rolled his eyes. “That’s what happens, Dad, when you don’t see someone for five years.”
Cooper shook my hand firmly. “Nice to meet you, sir.”
“Can I get you boys a drink?” I asked again. “Dinner will be here in about half an hour.”
I had my wine, they opted for a beer, and Ryan told me how Cooper’s family had moved to Chicago and how he’d lost touch with him through college, but Cooper had come to New York City for the summer. He’d literally checked into his room and gone in search for something to eat when he ran into Ryan on the street who then pulled out his phone and called me to see if he could tag along for dinner.
Retro Reads: Point of No Return
BUY LINKS: Amazon | Pride Publishing | ARe | B&N
Matthew Elliot is one of LA’s best detectives. He’s been labelled the golden boy of the Fab Four: a team of four detectives who’ve closed down drug-rings all over the city. He’s smart, tough and exceptionally good at his job.
He’s also a closeted gay man.
Enter Kira Takeo Franco, the new boxing coach at the gym. Matthew can’t deny his immediate attraction to the man his fellow cops know as Frankie. But in allowing himself to fall in love with a man known to his colleagues, Matthew risks outing them both.
Matt and Kira work to keep their relationship and private lives hidden from Matt’s very public life, fearing it would be detrimental to their careers.
But it’s not the other cops who Matthew should be worried about finding out his deepest, darkest secret…it’s the bad guys.
The four of us hit the gym like we always did after a stressful day and were met by a round of applause from the other cops who were there working out. The gym itself was a main floor space with various fitness equipment, a service desk and some rooms off the far wall for different classes. It smelt like sweat and dirty socks. I loved it.
On the wall facing the treadmills was a row of TV screens, usually showing repeats of different sports. But not tonight. The TV screens were tuned to the five o’clock news, and all the guys there were watching the four of us standing outside the West Street headquarters.
A reporter introduced the story. “Breaking another link in one of LA’s biggest drug chains, Croatian expat Pavao Tomic was taken down in what can only be described as a successful drug heist by police.”
I waved them off, heading straight for the treadmills. I didn’t need to watch it.
I’d been there.
“Detective Elliott, it must be a relief after weeks of hard work to finally have this notorious drug supplier in custody.”
“Yes, it is,” I heard myself answer diplomatically on-screen. “The streets of LA are safer. The people of LA are better off with Tomic behind bars.”
What I couldn’t say on air was that the slimeball deserved everything he got. With no regard for human life, types like Pavao Tomic were best left to rot in jail.
Instead, all suited up out in front of HQ, the television version of me went on to say it wasn’t just me who did all the work, like the press insinuated, but a team effort.
I didn’t outrank the other three men on my team. I didn’t do anything they didn’t do, but that wasn’t how the media portrayed it. To them, I was the leader of the media-dubbed ‘Fab Four’—one of four detectives in the Narcotics Division who had broken crime rings right across the city. My partner, Detective Mitch Seaton, and detective partners Kurt Webber and Tony Milic made up the rest of the team who had seen a record number of criminals behind bars.
“Yeah,” Mitch snorted from the treadmill beside me. “The one-man show here did it all on his own.”
I rolled my eyes before looking over at the other guys. “Any time either of you three idiots want to speak up when the cameras start rolling, be my guest.”
Kurt laughed. “No freakin’ way! I’d rather your ugly mug be all over the news than mine.”
“The general public would too,” Mitch joked. He reached over and tapped the side of my face. “This pretty-boy makes all us cops look good.”
Tony laughed at me, and the three of them started talking crap just like the media did. But they gave up trying to goad me when they realised I wasn’t going to bite. I tuned them out and tuned into the rhythm of my feet hitting the treadmill instead.
They’d settled in to running it out on the treadmills with me when Kurt told us he couldn’t stay long because he had dinner plans with his girlfriend, Rachel. “Workout first, then we hit the bar, just for a few. It’s been a helluva week.”
And so it had.
We’d spent months watching Tomic, waiting for the intel to pay off, nabbing him red-handed in a multi-million-dollar drug bust. It had paid off today. No one injured, no casualties, several million dollars’ worth of cocaine, ice and meth off the streets and one more link in the crime chain behind bars.
So we did what we always did. The four of us hit the gym, then we hit the bar. They didn’t drink much, and I drank even less, but we’d blow off steam in the gym then unwind in the bar, talking crap and having a laugh. It was a cops’ gym and a cops’ bar. I’d been a cop for ten of my twenty-eight years. Police work was all I knew.
The guys I worked with were like my family, like brothers. I knew almost everything about them, as they did with me.
Almost everything. There was one part of my life they knew nothing about.
When the other guys commented on me being the blond-haired, blue-eyed playboy of the police force, the one all the ladies wanted, I was reminded of exactly what it was they didn’t know about me.
Because it wasn’t the ladies I wanted at all.
That was what they didn’t know about me. That was what I kept secret. Hidden. Private. Would the guys I worked with treat me differently if they knew I was gay? Maybe…probably…
I wasn’t ashamed. I wasn’t scared. I didn’t flaunt being gay because I didn’t want it to precede me. I wanted to be known for being a good cop, not a gay cop. But above all, I kept my sexuality to myself because it was no one else’s goddamn business.
After twenty minutes on the treadmill, I jumped off, ready for my bag workout. Boxing was my thing. The gym had a sparring room—no ring, just mats and pads. It was mostly just a form of fitness, and a little self-defence. The other guys on my team didn’t bother with it. They’d watch me spar sometimes, and they’d tease and taunt me, but not one of them had the balls to spar with me.
I headed into the boxing room, and Chris, the owner of the gym, followed me. “Hey, Matt!” he called from the door. “There’ll be a new trainer taking your session today.”
“No worries,” I replied. “Is Vinnie okay?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Chris nodded. “Just a change in his timetable, that’s all.” He looked over my shoulder and called some guy over. “Frankie, this here is Matthew Elliott. He’s your five-thirty appointment. Matt, this is Frankie.”
I looked at him then, my new boxing trainer. And I got stuck.
Jesus fucking Christ.
I did a double take, trying not to give myself away. But he was fucking beautiful. He had dark hair, dark skin, dark eyes. He was European, or Asian. Or both.
He smiled. Oh, fuck. His smile.
“Frankie’s real name I can’t pronounce,” Chris went on to say with a laugh. “But he knows I’m an ex-cop and not overly bright, so he forgives me.”
This Frankie guy extended his hand and introduced himself formally. “Kira Takeo Franco.” I couldn’t detect an accent, but his name rolled exotically off his tongue. I shook his hand, and our eyes met. It was like I couldn’t look away. His stare deepened for just a second and his eyes flashed, as though he could tell I found him attractive. Then he smiled and said, “You’re the guy on TV.”
“The one and the same,” Chris said. “Anyway,” he continued to me, with a smile, “I’ve seen Frankie in action and thought I’d come in and watch how he does with our best student.”
Then the door behind me swung open, and Mitch, Kurt and Tony walked in.
I looked at my team standing in the door, all smiling, then back to Chris. “And what are they here for?”
Chris answered hesitantly. “Well, Frankie’s pretty good. I might have told them it could be…entertaining.”
I looked at the three smiling cops, my so-called partners. “And you guys have come in to watch me get my ass kicked?”
They nodded and laughed, and Mitch defended me…well, kind of. “I got twenty on ya,” he said. He threw his thumb back at Kurt and Tony. “These two aren’t so confident.”
I rolled my eyes and smiled at them, then started strapping my hands. When I turned around and saw my sparring partner, I almost lost my breath. He was stretching out—his broad shoulders were barely concealed by his singlet top, revealing well-defined muscles and beautiful, olive skin. My dick twitched.
Retro Read: Blind Faith
The Blind Faith series has three books; Blind Faith, Through These Eyes and Blindside. The first in the series, Blind Faith, introduces us to Isaac Brannigan and Carter Reece, and Brady, of course.
BUY LINKS: Amazon
Blind Faith Series is now only available on Amazon and is part of the Kindle Unlimited program.
Starting a new job in a new town, veterinarian Carter Reece, makes a house call to a very special client.
Arrogant, moody and totally gorgeous, Isaac Brannigan has been blind since he was eight. After the death of his guide dog and best friend, Rosie, his partnership with his new guide dog, Brady, isn’t going well.
Carter tries to help both man and canine through this initiation phase, but just who is leading who?
I always thought a person’s car was reflective of its owner, and as I opened the passenger door of the late ’80s Ford Taurus and got in, I smiled to myself. Like its owner, Dr Fields, it was gray in color and in impeccable condition. Not a scratch, not a dent, not a thing out of place. Polished, tidy, and clean. Family oriented, safety first. Just like its owner.
And although it still ran well, although it was still reliable, it was getting on in miles, years. Just like its owner.
Was my car reflective of me? As much as I wished otherwise—yeah, it was. A sturdy Jeep 4×4, a few dents and scratches. Not too old, and certainly not showroom-pretty by any means. More rugged, well-worn, sometimes fun, always practical. That’s me. Practical for my work as a vet, practical for me on days off to harness my dog in the backseat and head out of town. Nothing about my car strictly screamed “gay man” but nothing about me did either.
Unless you counted the small star decal on the rear bumper.
My best friend Mark had stuck it there before I’d left Hartford, Connecticut to start my new job in Boston. He’d known I’d bury myself in my work like I always did, limiting my chances of meeting anyone new. He had told me by having a star stuck on my rear bumper, it might increase the chances of some guy seeing the one tattooed on my hip. He’d said the star was more discreet than the “I’m gay. Wanna fuck?” decal he was going to put on my car. He thought it was hilarious. Mark always thought he was hilarious.
“What’s got you smiling?” Dr Fields asked.
I looked at the older man behind the steering wheel. “Oh, nothing,” I said dismissively. But I looked at him and smiled.
He smiled back at me. Then the older man asked, “How are you settling in? You enjoying it here?”
“Yes,” I answered him honestly. “Very much. I mean, it’s only been a week, but I love what I’ve seen so far.” And I did. My new job at East Weymouth Animal Hospital was quite the step up for me.
He smiled again, seemingly pleased with his decision to hire me.
He concentrated on driving for a moment, then he asked, “Did you do house calls in Hartford?”
I laughed. “Uh, no. I thought house calls were something doctors and vets did in small country towns for large animals.” Or in television shows, I thought errantly, but kept that to myself.
This time it was Dr Fields who laughed. “Well, there’s not many house calls left on my books these days. Just the families who’ve been coming to see me for years.”
And that’s where we were on our way to now. The animal hospital was in a nice part of town, and all house calls were close by. Our first visit was to a Mrs Yeo and her seventeen year old cat, Mr Whiskers. When we got there, I wasn’t surprised Mrs Yeo preferred house calls. She must have been near a hundred years old, all of four feet tall, with gray, wiry hair and skin like wrinkled paper.
“Don’t let her appearance fool you,” Dr Fields had warned me in the car. “She’s as sharp as a tack.”
So she was, but poor old Mr Whiskers wasn’t doing so well. He was slow and not too responsive as Dr Fields gently checked him over. He gave Mr Whiskers some more arthritis medication, but even Mrs Yeo had given a sad nod, acknowledging she knew the poor tabby’s days were numbered.
Against our insistence, Mrs Yeo had walked us out. Dr Fields had given her a reassuring pat on the arm, telling her if she needed anything to give him a call. As we got back into his car, Dr Fields sighed. “I don’t think poor Mr Whiskers will see the end of summer,” he said sadly. “Not sure how Mrs Yeo will cope without him. She got that cat for company after her husband died…” The older man’s words trailed away. He didn’t need to say any more. I understood.
It was easy to tell the older man loved his job. I’d only worked with him a week, but he knew every patient and owner by name, and he took his time with each of them. He knew their personal histories. He had an old-school work ethic, and I wondered how his pending retirement would fare on him.
I assumed he’d miss it as much as the hospital would miss him, and from my first week on the job, one thing was very clear—I had very big shoes to fill.
We drove in silence for a short while, and I watched the slow passing of houses through the passenger side window. The animal hospital was in Weymouth, South Boston, which was a nice neighborhood already, but the houses we were driving past were getting even nicer, the gardens and lawns well-tended.
Wanting to keep conversation going between us, I prompted the old man, “Next stop is the Brannigans.”
Dr Fields nodded. “Isaac Brannigan…” he said quietly with a shake of his head. “Sad story, but not really mine to tell. Hannah will be there. She’s his official caregiver,” he said rather cryptically.
I wondered what he meant by that when we pulled into a circular drive. The large, single story house sat proudly in the midst of manicured gardens. It spoke money.
Dr Fields pulled up at the front door, but before he got out of the car, he said, “Isaac’s having some adjustment issues with his new dog, Brady. He’s a little…” he searched for the right word, “…insistent, but I guess he’s got his reasons.”
Before I could ask if he was referring to the dog or its owner, the older man got out of the car. I followed suit, grabbed the bag off the backseat and followed him to the front door.
A woman answered the door and smiled warmly as soon as she saw Dr Fields, standing aside to welcome us in. She looked around thirty years old—just a few years older than me—and had brown, curly hair, pale skin, and a wide, kind smile.
“Hannah,” Dr Fields introduced us, “this is Dr Carter Reece. Carter, this is Hannah Brannigan.”
I extended my hand, which she shook. “Very nice to meet you.”
She was still smiling. “Does Max have you doing the rounds with him?”
She called him by his given name, so I quickly deduced she knew him well. Before I could answer, Dr Fields answered for me. “Dr Carter will be taking my place at the hospital.”
“Oh,” she said quietly, looking from me to the old man. “You’re retiring?” she asked, and Dr Fields nodded. “Isaac never mentioned it…”
“He doesn’t know,” Dr Fields told her quietly. “I was going to tell him today.”
Just then, a man no older than me walked into the foyer. He was dressed as though he’d just stepped off a yacht. Khaki shorts, white polo t-shirt, expensive leather boat shoes and small, dark, designer sunglasses worth what I earned in a month. He was fit looking, matched my five foot ten height and had short, spiky dark brown hair and pale skin. He was gorgeous.
He smiled. “Tell me what?”
Retro Read: Ten in the Bin
BUY LINKS: ARe | Amazon | Smashwords
Heartbroken, Dean Cartwright leaves Sydney and heads home, to the coastal town of Newcastle. In a bid to make new friends, he signs up for a local rugby league team where he meets a man known as Macca.
Dean and Macca are both front row forwards, meaning they’re the biggest guys on the team. Over six feet tall and over a hundred kilos each, they’re a force to be reckoned with.
But when Dean gets knocked out, Macca gets even by punching the other guy, and both Dean and Macca end up on the sideline.
Dean soon realizes that being knocked unconscious is the best thing to ever happen to him.
I sat on the bench seat in the dressing room, and oblivious to the noise around me, caught sight of myself in the mirror. My short black hair was a spiky mess, and my dark brown eyes seemed a little dull. I was pretty fit for a big guy and my protective gear, strapped tight to my chest and shoulders, flaunted the fact I’d had nothing but time to work out since I left Sydney.
I’d moved back to Newcastle six months ago. I’d grown up in the coastal town on the New South Wales mid-coast, went to school there, but moved to Sydney for uni and stayed there for work.
Three years out of university, I found myself alone and heartbroken, so I applied for a transfer and came home. My mum was happy about it, even though she knew I wasn’t, and she suggested I play football again to meet some new friends. I hadn’t played rugby league in years, but I needed to get out there, she’d said.
Which is why, on a wintery Saturday afternoon, I was pulling on a football jersey for Central Newcastle. It was only second division reserve grade, so it was more about having fun with the boys than it was about serious football. Don’t get me wrong. We played to win, but we had some fun too.
I looked up at the sound of my name being called to find Moose, the team captain smiling at me. At his side was Macca, a front-rower like me, and he grinned. “You ready?”
“Sorry. I was a million miles away,” I told them. I stood up, put my mouthguard in and gave them both a plastic smile. “Let’s do this.”
Retro Read: Red Dirt Heart 4
Moving from a Texas ranch to an Australian Outback station was a life changing decision for Travis Craig. Though it wasn’t really a decision at all. Something in his bones told him to go, though he had no clue as to why.
Until he met Sutton Station’s owner, Charlie.
Loving Charlie shouldn’t have been easy. The man was stubborn, and riddled with crippling self-doubt. No, it shouldn’t have been easy at all. Yet somehow, falling in love with Charlie was the easiest thing in the world.
Loving him was easy. Living with him, teaching him how to love in return and, more importantly, how to love himself, was not.
But Travis knew all along it’d be worth it. He knew the man with the red dirt heart was destined to be his. Just like he knew the red dirt that surrounded him was where he was supposed to be.
In the final instalment of the Red Dirt Series, we see Charlie through Travis’ eyes. We see how much he’s grown and how much he loves. We go back to Texas with them, and we see Charlie get everything he truly thought he never deserved.
Red Dirt Heart 4 is Travis’ story.
And this is the story of not just one red dirt heart, but two.
Looking at Charlie Sutton was real easy. He was works-the-land fit, with no-fussing short brown hair, sun-tanned skin, the brownest brown eyes and a killer smile.
When he showed it, that is.
Like now, lazin’ in the sunshine with his eyes closed, the corner of his lips were curled just so. He was wearing his swimming trunks—or boardies, as he called ’em—his hair was still a little wet from the pool, and water was drying on his skin. I could look at him all day.
“What?” he asked. He didn’t even open his eyes. “I know you’re lookin’ at me. I can feel it.”
I rolled onto my side on the sun chair beside the pool, shoved my arm under my head and full-on stared at him. “We should vacation more often,” I told him.
He opened one eye, looked right at me, smiled and went back to snoozin’. “I’ve vacationed more these last eighteen months than I have my entire life.”
I thought back to the other trips we’d done. Charlie wanted me to see more of the Northern Territory than just the Alice and Sutton Station. He took me to Kakadu, to Uluru and Kings Canyon, which to most people are just spectacular natural wonders. To me they were a geological history lesson, and Charlie said I drove the tour guides nuts with questions. But it was incredible, and it made me fall in love with this place just a little bit more.
Right now we were in Darwin, the Territory’s capital, the most northern capital in Australia. Closer to Indonesia than any other major city in Australia, it was the smallest, most laid-back capital of anywhere I’d seen. It was more like a big coastal country town, but there were some creature comforts. Like being poolside at the SkyCity Hotel. Five stars of absolute luxury.
But it wasn’t the marble foyers and expensive furniture, fancy food and room service that I loved. It was seeing Charlie all well-slept and stress-free that made it worth every penny.
We’d spent the entire morning in bed, had a late lunch and spent the afternoon by the pool.
“Well, this isn’t technically a vacation.” I rolled onto my back. “We are here for work.”
Charlie lifted his head and looked around the tropical pool, the ferns and the cocktail bar. “Doesn’t look much like to work to me.”
I snorted. “Well, it kind of is. You’re here on official business, and I’m your personal assistant.”
“My personal assistant?”
Charlie laughed and closed his eyes again. He soaked up the sun, the smile still gracing his lips, and he looked so damn good.
I sighed contentedly. Content. That’s what I was. Charlie couldn’t understand it—I think he thought I was crazy—but I just loved it here.
Not just here. Not just Australia, not the Outback, not just riding horses and chasing cattle through the red dirt and burning sun. Hell, even winter was warm. I loved it all.
I loved Charlie.
The most stubborn, infuriating, impossible and absolutely wonderful guy. I was still looking at him. I hadn’t stopped yet. Charlie was pretty clear on the no public displays of affection; even though he wasn’t hiding who he was, he still didn’t want to be blatantly offensive about it. He’d reasoned that we were here on business and should act accordingly, which I had no problem with.
The fact that he’d put his hand on my back when we stepped into the elevator or how he’d make a point of touching me if he thought someone was checking me out made me smile. It was such a Charlie thing to do. He was a mix of old-fashioned gentleman and green-eyed monster, and the way he struggled with both was almost comical. He was the type to hold a door open for me, and he’d blush and smile at a compliment. But if he thought for one second another guy was even thinkin’ of hitting on me, he’d find a way to touch me in a not very subtle he-belongs-to-me-so-fuck-off kind of way.
And belong to him I did.
We were technically engaged. I’d asked him to marry me and he said yes. But we hadn’t told anyone or made it more official than that. I didn’t need to. Just knowing was enough.
Like I said. Content. Happy. At peace with my place in the world. Home.
I just wished we could stay right by that pool all night, but our time here in Darwin was short and our list of things to do was long. “What time is dinner tonight?”
“Sam said they’d get here around seven.”
Sam, Charlie’s new-found brother, lived in Darwin, and we’d already seen him twice in the two days we’d been here. Charlie suggested dinner at the hotel we were staying at, and Sam suggested hitting the bars the next night. We had a dinner meeting already planned, Charlie had explained, but Sam insisted we go out afterward. So Charlie relented, and our three-day stay in Darwin was fully booked.
Not that I minded. I loved that Charlie was forging a relationship with Sam. They spoke on the phone often in the last twelve months, and although this was our first time visiting Sam and Laura, Charlie’s biological mother, in Darwin, Sam had visited us at the station twice. He loved it. It was like some working farm-stay vacation for him. He got to ride horses and dirt bikes, camp out, and he did his share of jobs and chores.
I liked Sam. He was a so much like Charlie, just a city version is all, and despite my hesitation at the very beginning, I was so glad they’d met. I’d even taken to liking Laura. She was patient with Charlie, and Lord knows if anyone’s gonna get to know Charlie, they needed patience by the truckload. It seemed to me that Laura’s motive for reconnecting with Charlie wasn’t for herself, but more for her son. She wanted Sam and Charlie to be brothers, or friends at the very least.
Which they were. They just kinda clicked.
They had the same sense of humour, which meant they found things funny in their heads. When someone said something, they’d just kind of look at each other and smile, as though only they understood the reference. It was entertaining to watch, and dinner was no different.
Sam, his girlfriend Ainsley, Laura and her husband Steve met us at the restaurant. Charlie, looking all clean-shaven, well-dressed and smelling even better, spent the night talking and laughing with his brother. He had his foot hooked around mine or his hand on my knee under the table most of the night, and I’d smile every time he’d laugh. “No, no, no,” he said, telling them about the email he’d received about taking on another post-grad student for an exchange program, like the one I’d done that landed me on his doorstep. “Last time I agreed to that, the bloody guy never left,” he said, putting his arm around my shoulder.
Everyone laughed at that, or maybe at my expression. “Thanks a lot. I specifically remember someone asking me to stay.”
Charlie chuckled and squeezed my knee. “And the guy before that was an English fella who almost cooked himself.”
Sam laughed. “Didn’t handle the heat too well?”
“Nah, apparently not. I was in Sydney when he was there, so I didn’t see firsthand, but from what I heard, it wasn’t pretty.”
“But the American guy worked out okay, didn’t he?” Ainsley asked, winking at me.
Charlie looked at me and smiled. “Yeah, yeah. I’ve decided to keep him.”
“So why don’t you want another agronomy student?” Sam asked. “Everything’s settled down for you now, hasn’t it? I mean, you were busy as hell before, but it’s quieter now, isn’t it?”
“It is,” Charlie conceded, and then he shrugged. “Everything right now is perfect. I’ve got my degree—finally—thanks to Trav, I’ve got another year at least on the board of the Beef Farmers Association, we’ve got the supermarket supplier contract, Ma’s been given the all-clear health-wise and everything’s running smoothly.”
“He doesn’t want to jinx it,” I told them. “Charlie seems to think if he pushes his luck, it will all go to shit.”
Charlie didn’t even try and deny it. He just laughed. “Everything is great at the moment. I don’t need some kid from God-knows-where gettin’ lost in the desert.”
My mouth fell open. “I’m not some kid. And I didn’t get lost in the desert. Your horse threw me off.”
Charlie’s eyes widened as he obviously realised what he’d said and he squeezed my knee. “I didn’t mean you!” He laughed. “But yes, you did all those things.”
I fought a smile. “Yeah, it’s all fun and games until someone nearly dies in the desert.”
Charlie smiled at me, but there was a softness in his eyes, and he leaned his arm against mine a bit, giving me a gentle nudge in an it-wasn’t-fun-and-games-at-all kind of way.
“How’s Nugget?” Laura asked.
“Oh, he’s great,” Charlie said, lighting up immediately. “Still a pain in the butt. Well, he’s less of a pain in the butt now that I don’t have to feed him at night, but he still runs around the house.”
“Still chews everything,” I added.
Charlie chuckled at that. “He chews Trav’s things. Not anyone else’s.”
Laura laughed. “And how is that adorable little Grace?” It had been a few months since Laura had seen her.
“Well, Gracie’s just the cutest thing,” Charlie said. “She’s walking now, saying some words. I’m trying to get her to say ‘Uncle Charlie,’ but it just makes her laugh.” Charlie just beamed when he talked about Trudy and Bacon’s little girl. He always did. “It’s her birthday this weekend. That’s why we gotta go home the day after tomorrow. There’s a very important party we need to get ready for.”
“Charlie’s spoiling her rotten,” I told her.
“I don’t spoil her,” he said defensively. “I just…”
“Spoil her,” I finished for him. I was smiling at him. That girl had him wholly wrapped around his little finger. He might have been some tough cattle rancher, but that little girl would just have to giggle and put her arms up to him, and he’d pick her up and be a big puddle of baby goo.
Yet I still couldn’t get him to talk about having kids with me.
He had no clue how to see himself the way I do or how to think he deserved such things in life. It’d taken me two years just to get him to realise he deserved to be loved. I knew I was in for a long haul to get him to see he could get married and have kids. But I didn’t mind. I could wait.
I knew his reluctance, his hesitation in wanting kids had nothing to do with me. It was a deep-rooted fear of being a father—or more to the point, being his father.
I knew that. I just had to get Charlie to see it too.
And what I thought might take years and the slowest of steps took a huge freakin’ leap that night. After a whole year of nothing, not a word, not a mention, Charlie said something I wasn’t supposed to hear.
After we’d eaten dinner, we moved to the bar. It was a five-star resort-style bar, there were patio chairs and tables by the pool, and we found ourselves having a few after-dinner cocktails. I had offered to buy a round for all of us and Laura had come with me to the bar. Charlie and Sam were talking, and maybe there was a lull in the music or maybe his voice carried, but we could hear Charlie crystal clear.
“Travis asked me to marry him.”
Just like that.
Laura’s eyes shot to mine, and her hand went to my arm. She was smiling. “Is it true?”
I was stuck for words, dumbfounded that after a year of barely talking about it to me, he’d just blurt it out like that. “Um.” I shook my head in wonder and snorted. “Um, yes.”
“Why didn’t you tell us earlier?” she asked. An innocent question, really.
“Well, I asked him a year ago. He said yes, but, um…” I tried to think of how to say this without hurting her feelings, “Well, he hasn’t mentioned it in a long while, and I’m guessing he just wants Sam to know.” I cringed. “Sorry, but I don’t think we were supposed to hear that.”
Laura glanced over to Sam and Charlie and her smile faltered just a bit, but she took a breath and raised her chin. “I’m just glad they get along. They have each other now and that’s all I can really ask for.”
“I’m glad too,” I told her. “And I’m glad he has you, as well. I know you’ve chatted over the last year or so, and I know he still seems a little defensive sometimes, but, Laura, can I tell you something?”
Laura took a deep breath, as if steeling herself for bad news, but she nodded. “Yes, of course.”
I turned to face the bar and spoke quiet enough so there was no way Charlie could hear. “When I first came here, he was… I don’t want to say the word broken, because he wasn’t, but he was very detached from the people in his life. I guess he figured the only way to be with people and to survive at Sutton Station was to be just like his dad.”
Laura nodded sadly. “Oh. I gathered that much from what George and Katie told me. Charlie never talks about it…”
That didn’t surprise me. “He won’t talk about it. It’s not easy for him. It’s taken me two years to fix him, Laura, and I’m a long way from being done.”
She gave me a sad smile. “You’re so good to him.”
I looked back at Charlie then, who was now laughing at something Sam had said. “Don’t think him not telling you things about himself is a reflection on you, because it’s not. It’s about him. But I can tell you this much, the fact that he wants you in his life, that you’re here with him now at all, is huge for him. And him telling Sam just now about us being engaged”—I shook my head slowly—“well now, that’s kinda monumental.”
Laura smiled at me. “So you haven’t set a date?”
I barked out a laugh. “Ah, no. I literally asked him a year ago, and he hasn’t even told Ma or George yet, so no, we’re a while away from that.”
“Really?” She tilted her head. “He hasn’t told anyone?”
“Well, he told Sam just now.”
“But it’s been a year!” she whispered, obviously baffled.
I laughed. “Welcome to living on Charlie Sutton time. It’s either everything all at once, or trying to fill an ocean one drop at a time.”
And the epilogue…
The epilogue, found at the back of Red Dirt Heart 4, was the final scene of the series. Split into time-fragments, snippets of insight, not just of Charlie and Travis, but the legacy of Sutton Station.
Charlie Sutton would never have a true HEA without knowing Sutton Station, his few million acres of red dirt that he loved so much, wasn’t in good hands.
Retro Read: Red Dirt Heart 3
Life for Charlie Sutton has never been better, or busier. With Travis now a permanent fixture of Sutton Station, a permanent fixture at Charlie’s side, Charlie’s convinced he couldn’t do anything on his ever-growing to-do list without him.
He can run a multimillion dollar cattle business, finish his degree, try and further the local beef industry, deal with staff issues, Ma’s failing health, and an attention-demanding wombat. He can even deal with an unexpected visitor and some shattering news.
He can deal with it all, as long as he has Travis.
But what happens when he doesn’t?
Red Dirt Heart 3 is the story of Charlie Sutton finally realising he can be the man Travis Craig deserves, even if he doesn’t have Travis. It’s a story of love, family, holding on, letting go and coming home.
Nugget is the little wombat that Travis brought home with him at the very end of RDH2, and he plays a very important role in RDH3. It’s Charlie who cares for him, and who Nugget has decided in the only human allowed to feed him. He’s quite possibly the cutest, most adorable character I’ve ever written…
Where Travis changed seats and changed Sutton Station.
We boarded the plane at Darwin, fully expecting the flight back to Alice Springs to be a non-event. People were still boarding when Travis decided he wanted to sit by the window, and then he didn’t, then he did, then he didn’t. And then he did.
“Too bad,” I said, refusing to move seats again. “I pity the person you sat next to for twenty-something hours when you flew to Australia.”
“You really wouldn’t,” he said. He leaned in real close. “We ended up joining the mile-high club.”
My eyes shot to his, and I glared. Instantly jealousy, anger and hurt flared in my belly.
Travis threw back his head and laughed, making a few of the other people still boarding the plane look at us. “Just kidding. I totally didn’t.”
“I hate you.”
He snorted. “I like making you jealous. You’re too easy,” he said, smiling. He could tell I was still a bit peeved by his comment. “Honestly, it was some woman with two kids who, if they weren’t yellin’, they were crying.”
“Serves you right.”
He laughed again. “You know, you were so much more relaxed at Kakadu,” he said. He leaned in and spoke quietly, “And I just happen to know how to really relax you, so if you want to head to the bathroom first, I’ll follow.”
I coughed as some poor bastard took his seat next to Travis. I wasn’t particularly hiding my sexuality anymore, but I wasn’t up for lewd comments in front of the unsuspecting public either. I gave him a behave-yourself glare, and as Travis struck up conversation with the guy next to him, I bid that man a silent good luck, put my earphones on and closed my eyes.
I’d barely shut my eyes for ten minutes before Travis tapped my leg.
I blinked, realising we were now up in the air. I pulled off the headphones. “What?”
“Swap seats,” he urged, standing up.
I looked at the guy who was sitting on the other side, and without time to wonder what had happened, I slid over—with some degree of difficulty given the tight space and Travis standing in front of me. Travis didn’t look pissed off or even worried, so I figured the guy now next to me was harmless. I gave the man a nod and indicated Travis. “Did he say something inappropriate?”
He was mid-thirties with short brown hair that was kinda greyed at his temples. He had a thick-set build, and the stereotype that he played rugby was typified by his been-broken nose. He laughed. “No. Not at all.”
“Good,” I answered flatly. “I wasn’t gonna apologise, I just could have sympathised with you, that’s all.”
Travis whacked my arm with the back of his hand. He leaned forward so he could include all three of us in conversation. “Charlie, I wanted to introduce you,” Trav said with a would-you-shut-up look in his eye. “Blake Burgess, this is Charlie Sutton.”
The name meant nothing to me, but Blake’s eyebrow flicked. “Charlie Sutton? As in Sutton Station?”
“The one and only,” I said, wondering who the hell this guy was and how he’d heard of me. I gave a quick glance to Travis to get him to explain.
“Blake here was just telling me what he does for a living,” Travis said. “Thought you two might like to chat.”
I was confused, and when I turned back to Blake, he was smiling at me. “I’m a buyer for Woolworth’s. More specifically, I source out beef suppliers for supermarkets across the country.”
I blinked. Slowly. Twice. Like an idiot. Travis laughed quietly beside me and mumbled something that sounded like “thank you Travis” before putting on headphones and before I composed myself to actually speak to this guy.
But speak we did. For the next hour and a half—the remainder of our flight—we talked beef: prices, stock rates, ratios, buying, selling, exporting, breeding. For a suit-wearing guy, he knew his stuff. He probably thought that for an outback dirt junkie, I did okay too.
As we were landing, Blake said, “Your friend was telling me you’ve just been to Kakadu.”
I nodded. “Yep.”
“How was that?”
“Wet,” I answered. “And green.”
Travis, who I had thought was asleep, chuckled. “Charlie thinks anything that’s not red desert sand is abnormal.” Trav sat up straight, took the earphones off and straightened out his long legs.
I shrugged. It was kind of true. We’d been gone a week. A whole week! And as incredible as the holiday with Travis was, I was keen to get home.
“I’d love to see it,” Blake said.
“Kakadu?” I asked. “It’s beautiful,” I agreed. “If wet and green is your thing.”
Blake laughed. “No, I meant your farm.”
The plane had taxied in and people started to move, collecting bags from overhead lockers, and our conversation kind of ended with that. We disembarked and headed toward the luggage conveyor belt.
“Thanks for the company,” I told Blake as I shook his hand. “It was good to talk to someone who appreciates what we do.”
He collected his bag, but seemed to hesitate before leaving, like he was making a decision in his head. He turned back to me. “Look, Charlie, I was serious when I said I wanted to see your place,” he said. “In an official capacity. I’d like to oversee what you do out there. I’ve spoken to enough farmers in my time to know who’s legit or not, and I’ve seen enough stock rate figures to know your name when I hear it.”
“Oh.” Shit. Shit. Shit. This was kind of a very big deal. His offer threw me for a six. “Oh, um…”
He smiled. “If you’re interested, that is. I’ll need to check my schedule, and I’ll let you know when I can fit you in. I hadn’t planned on meeting you, and I’m only here for two days, so it’s real short notice. But I’ll need to see some sales-to-weight reports and I’ll require your vet to be onsite. Can you arrange that?”
“Sure.” I swallowed down my excitement and gave him a nod. “Sounds good.”
We swapped phone numbers and shook hands, and when he walked away, Travis and I stood there for a long while in complete silence.
“Holy shit,” I whispered.
Travis laughed. “Thought you might like to talk to him.”
That made me laugh. “I can’t believe you did that.” I looked at him, still not quite believing what just happened. “Travis, this could be kinda important for us.”
“I know,” he said like I was stupid. “That’s why I swapped seats.”
“I owe you something big.”
“Big as in eight inches?” he asked. “Or big as in a pizza oven or a week in Kakadu?”
Laughing, I pushed him to the luggage conveyor belt. Ours were the only two bags left. When I looked over to the reception area, George was there watching us, smiling and shaking his head.
Man, it felt good to be home.
I really wanted people to see that Charlie Sutton had grown. Yes, he needs Travis in his life, but on the flip side of that, he needed to know he could stand on his own two feet if he had to. I had worried that Charlie’s dependence on Travis, his mindset of “I couldn’t do anything without him, I wouldn’t have any of this without him” really wasn’t healthy.
Of course, we all knew Charlie was capable. It was Charlie who doubted himself.
A family crisis back in Texas sends Travis stateside, and both boys have to stand on their own for a while. Naturally, Charlie believes Travis won’t come back – not a reflection on Travis – but rather a reflection of Charlie thinking he’s not worth coming back for.
But, survive, they do. And in this journey – the chapter’s aptly titled “Longing in the Loneliness” and “Strength in the Solitude” – show that Charlie, although heartbroken, can get on with life just fine. And maybe it’s Travis who struggles with the absence.
Retro Read: Red Dirt Heart 2
LINKS: AMAZON | B&N | ARe
Up until Travis arrived on his doorstep, Charlie had lived a very solitary life. He had surrounded himself with isolation; a couple million acres of red dirt, scorching sun and loneliness.
Six months on, winter has settled over the desert, and Charlie has the life he never dreamed possible. But living and working together, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, for six months straight starts to take its toll.
Charlie is a stubborn, stubborn man, who tends to have more conversations in his head than what comes out his mouth, whereas Travis has no problem saying what’s on his mind. And even as they both struggle to communicate, struggle to make sense of need versus want, Charlie can see that he’s pushing Travis away – yet seems helpless to stop it.
When it all boils down to whether Travis should stay or go, maybe the decision won’t be theirs to make.
You can watch a pretty cool cattle mustering by chopper video here (link takes you to National Geographic site)
Four days. Four bloody long it-wasn’t-like-this-before-him days.
Leaning against the kitchen counter, I looked at my watch for the twentieth time and sipped my tea.
“He won’t be much longer,” Ma said.
I pretended not to know what she was talking about, and she pretended not to smile. Ma was trying to get dinner ready, and I was under her feet and in her way. I put my still-full cup in the sink and sighed. “It makes no sense,” I said. “I spent twenty-six perfectly capable years without him, how can four days be so fu—” I stopped short of swearing and tried again. “How can four days be so bloody long?”
Ma smiled her eye-crinkling, that’s-so-cute smile. “You miss him. It’s only natural,” she said. “Can you lift this tray for me?”
I carried the old heavy cooking tray of roast beef to the centre table where Ma usually cut it for serving. “But still. Four days. It’s pathetic,” I mumbled. “And they’re late! How long does it take for them to come in from the southern fence line? It shouldn’t take them this long.”
Ma ignored my whining and asked me to get the platters down from the shelf. Then she asked me to get the plates and set the table. I knew she was just keeping me busy and getting me out from under her feet. I’d annoyed her enough for the most of the afternoon. And possibly some of yesterday as well. Day three hadn’t been much fun either.
Travis had been gone for four days. Four freakin’ days. Four days when time stretched thin, draggin’ its sorry self forward. Four days of keepin’ myself busy, four days of being a miserable disgrace.
He was fixin’ fences on the southern line with Ernie, Bacon and Trudy. I wasn’t surprised the fencing needing doing; it was too many years of sun and rust in the making. There was a stretch of fencing a few kilometres long that needed restumping and rewiring. It was a big job and about a hundred kilometres from the homestead. It wasn’t worth coming in each night for. We kept in constant radio contact, and George flew fresh supplies down to them on the second day, similar to what we do when droving cattle.
When Travis said he’d join the others for the job, I’d said I could go too. We were in bed, and Travis rolled us over so he was on top of me and laughed at me. “Can’t you live without me for four days?” he’d asked.
“Don’t be stupid,” I’d shot back at him. “Of course I can.”
He’d grinned in the darkness, kissing me with smiling lips. “You totally can’t.”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” I’d replied.
“You’ll be useless without me,” he’d goaded, pinning my hands above my head and nudging his nose to mine. “You’ll see.”
And the smug bastard was right.
“You know,” I told Ma as I pulled out the tray of condiments from the dry store pantry. “You know what I hate the most? I hate that he has to be right all the time. It really pisses me off.”
“Hm mm,” Ma hummed in that sure-it-does-honey tone.
“And I hate that he thinks he’ll be the one to decide whether or not he goes fencing for four days, when I said the others were more than capable. I mean, I’m not his keeper, but I am his boss.”
Ma said nothing, just looked at me as she stirred the pot of gravy. She had one eyebrow raised in a ’course-you-are-honey kind of way.
“And he didn’t seem to think leaving me for four days was a problem. He volunteered to camp out for four days rather than be with me, for shit’s sake. So what does that say about me?”
“Charlie,” Ma chided.
“And you know what else I hate? He leaves his towels on the bed. I really hate that. How hard is it to hang it back up again? It’s not hard. At all. And he grinds his teeth when he sleeps. I really hate it when he does that. And what the bloody hell is that letter from my old uni addressed to him for—”
Then we heard the sound of motorbikes and the old ute pulling up at the gates near the shed.
And my chest got all tight and my stomach knotted with butterflies.
Ma burst out laughing. “Hm mm. I can tell by your smile just how much you hate all those things.”
Retro Read: Red Dirt Heart
BUY LINKS: Amazon | All Romance eBooks | B&N
SOME INFO FIRST:
Sutton Station, while fictional, is based on a real working station by the name of Lucy Creek Station, in the Northern Territory, Australia.
A link to “Sutton Station” on Google Maps (zoom in to have a proper look)
Makes the RED DIRT part of the title pretty obvious, yes? 😉
Sutton Station is big. As in 2.58 million acres big. Roughly the size of a small country (Lebanon, for example) and is approximately three times the size of the largest ranch in the US.
There is a glossary for Australian terminology at the beginning of the book. Australians are renowned for nicknames and shortening of every day words. As this book is based in Australia and has Australian characters, regional lingo is used.
Australian Terminology Glossary:
Station: Farm, ranch.
Paddock: Large fenced area for cattle; a pasture.
Holding yard: Corral.
Swag: A canvas bedroll.
Ute: Utility pick-up truck.
Motorbike: Motorcycle, dirtbike.
Akubra: Australian cowboy hat.
Scone: American sweet biscuit, usually eaten with cream and jam.
Getting to know a little more about these boys…
Five foot ten inches tall, stocky build and brown eyes. Born and raised on Sutton Station, he spent three years in Sydney at college but came back to the family farm when his father died.
There are two songs that reflect Charlie:
Just over six foot, lean with blue eyes and a striking smile, he knows what he wants and isn’t shy to ask for it. Studied Agronomy and when offered a place in a Diversification Exchange Program, something in his bones told him to choose Sutton Station.
Welcome to Sutton Station: One of the world’s largest working farms in the middle of Australia – where if the animals and heat don’t kill you first, your heart just might.
Charlie Sutton runs Sutton Station the only way he knows how, the way his father did before him. Determined to keep his head down and his heart in check, Charlie swears the red dirt that surrounds him – isolates him – runs through his veins.
American agronomy student Travis Craig arrives at Sutton Station to see how farmers make a living from one of the harshest environments on earth. But it’s not the barren, brutal and totally beautiful landscapes that capture him so completely.
It’s the man with the red dirt heart.
CHAPTER ONE – Where the American guy walks in, all blue eyes and disarming smiles, and my life goes to shit.
Just on sundown, I got off the motorbike, kicked the stand down so the bike stood upright without me and closed the gate. I’d been out all day in the South paddocks doing a final check of fences and water trough pumps before we bought the cattle down from the North. I’d seen the ute back at the homestead as I came in so I knew George was home.
George was my leading hand. He was in his fifties, with greying hair and sun-hardened skin. He’d worked here for as long I could remember, but he was more than a loyal employee. He was my friend, and in a lot of ways, more of a dad to me than my own old man ever was.
He’d been out all day. Left before sun-up and headed into Alice Springs. We were a good three hours from the nearest town, and with a list as long as his arm from the Station cook, Ma – who also happened to be his wife – he needed a few hours in town before heading out to the airport to pick up the real reason for his trip.
An American agronomy student by the name of Travis Craig.
When my father ran this farm, every year we’d have people from another country come and spend a couple of weeks as part of some Diversification exchange program. My old man always said it was a good way to source out what other countries were teaching, but really I think he just liked the extra pair of hands at the finish of the dry season. And when we’d had a phone call back in July to ask if we’d be interested in hosting another student, and given it’d been a few years, I thought it seemed like a good idea. Now I couldn’t help but wonder if this Travis Craig would be a help or a liability.
I rode the bike into the yard and pulled up in the shed. I figured they’d know I’d arrived, having heard the bike, so I headed straight for the house. Like most homesteads built almost a hundred years ago, it was a weatherboard home, with an old iron roof and a veranda around four sides to try and keep it cool.
I kicked the red dust from my boots on the veranda steps and tried to brush the same from my jeans, took off my hat before I opened the door and walked inside. There was a suitcase and a duffel bag near the front door, and voices at the back of the house.
“In the kitchen,” George called out.
I followed the sound of chatter and the smell of something good to find a meeting of sorts in the old country-style kitchen. The worn, solid wooden table that graced the middle of the room was covered with plates of scones and trays of cups and tea, and three people were in chairs around it. My right-hand man, George, his wife the cook, Ma, and a stranger with short light-brown hair and pale blue eyes.
George was the first to his feet, and the man beside him soon followed. “Here’s the boss, Charles Sutton,” George said, introducing me formally. “Charlie, this is Travis Craig.”
Travis, who looked about twenty-two years old, held out his hand and smiled. “Mr Sutton. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” His accent was strange to hear at first, but his smile was warm and wide.
I wiped my hand on my shirt and held it out for him to shake. “Travis,” I said with a nod. “Please, call me Charlie.”
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