KING OF HEARTS excerpt
In Sundance, Wyoming.
It was one of the worst scenes Deputy Cam McKay had dealt with. And he’d seen a lot of horrific things over the years. He’d served several rotations in Iraq and witnessed the aftermath of suicide bombers. He’d seen animals used as vessels to hold bombs. He’d been in a caravan that’d hit a string of IEDs, resulting in death and dismemberment of his fellow soldiers. He hadn’t come away from war unscathed—he’d lost most of his left leg, part of his hand, and bore scars, both visible and invisible.
During his time as deputy in Crook County, he’d dealt with deadly car accidents, including a fatality involving his cousin, Luke McKay. He’d broken up domestic disputes where one or both of the parties were drunk, armed, angry, and bleeding. He’d stumbled across a wild horse slaughter.
But this? It was beyond sickening.
The hysterical 911 call from the neighbor who’d discovered the bodies hadn’t prepared him at all for what he’d found at the crime scene.
His stomach roiled as his brain flashed back to the carnage and he fought the urge to throw up.
But Cam hadn’t been alone in his reaction. Sheriff Shortbull had stumbled outside and heaved over the juniper hedge after his glimpse at the dead couple.
In Sundance, Wyoming.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
Maybe it seemed worse because Cam knew the couple. He’d graduated from high school with Jeff Wingate. Cam couldn’t fathom how the mild-mannered insurance salesman could carry out such brutality, especially to his wife. And Angela hadn’t fought back. She’d literally lay down and died.
What a fucking waste.
What a fucking mess.
There’d been no indication of domestic issues. No 911 phone calls in the last year. No history of violence. He’d seen them eating in Dewey’s Delish Dish two weeks ago. They’d acted… happy.
Because the crime scene was beyond their small county’s investigative expertise, they’d had to call in the DCI from Cheyenne. Which meant waiting for the crew to arrive. But neither Cam nor Sheriff Shortbull could stomach waiting inside the house where the bloodbath had occurred.
So they stood outside in the frigid February weather, taking turns warming up in their patrol cars. He and the sheriff were too disturbed to slide into their usual defense mechanism, cracking jokes—which was how most law enforcement officers handled unpleasant aspects of the job—trying to find any bit of humor to escape the horror of the gruesome scene.
ROUGH ROAD excerpt
“Mama, what’s a faggot?”
Chassie’s entire body seized up and she nearly dropped the bowl she was washing. She turned her head and met the startled eyes of her husband Trevor, who was packaging leftovers on the counter beside her. She managed to ask, “Where’d you hear that word?” in a steady voice.
“At school. A third-grader said my dads were faggots.”
She briefly closed her eyes. Living an unconventional lifestyle in a conservative rural area guaranteed this question would come up at some point—but she hadn’t expected it this soon. Their six-year-old son Westin had just started first grade a month ago.
Chassie rinsed and dried her hands before she turned around. “How about if we wait to talk about it until Papai is done giving Max his bath? You can stay up a little later tonight.”
Westin’s big blue eyes were somber, suspicious of the bribe. But he nodded and returned to his “homework”—an activity book they’d purchased after his disappointment at not having schoolwork every night in first grade.
Trevor came over and set his hands on her shoulders. He kissed her temple and whispered, “Come on, Chass. Baby, take a deep breath. We’ll get through this. That word doesn’t have the power to destroy what we’ve built unless we let it.”
She nuzzled his jaw. “I know that. It’s just…”
“Mama!” A little person slammed into the backs of her legs. She glanced down. A naked little person.
Two-year-old Max grinned at her, his brown eyes triumphant, his dark hair sopping wet.
Edgard sauntered into the kitchen, a bath towel draped over his forearm. “That boy is as slippery as an eel.” He wrapped the towel around Max like a straightjacket and hoisted him up amidst Max’s happy shrieks and giggles. “Kiss Mama and Daddy goodnight, little streaker. Then if we can wrassle your jammies on fast, we’ll have time for one book.”
Chassie smooched both of Max’s chubby cheeks and smoothed her hand over his wet hair. “’Night, Max. Love you.”
Trevor kissed Max’s forehead. “Love you son, ’night.”
Edgard’s gaze winged between Chassie and Trevor. He mouthed, “Problem?”
“I’ll fill you in upstairs. I need to check on Sophia anyway,” Trevor said. He looked at Chassie. “I’ll tuck her in if she hasn’t already crashed.”
Four-year-old Sophia ran at such high speed all day that many nights she conked out while watching TV or playing in her room.
The guys disappeared upstairs.
Chassie finished cleaning the kitchen and headed to the basement to throw a load of clothes in the washer. Her mind had locked on Westin’s question. She knew one thing about her thoughtful son—the taunt hadn’t been tossed at him just today. Westin tried to figure things out on his own, so she worried he’d been dealing with defining the nasty word for longer than a day.
She leaned against the wall, fighting tears, fighting memories of the cruelty directed at her growing up. The jeers—lazy Indian, ugly squaw—still lingered years later. Back then she’d been so shy she hadn’t fought back. Her brother Dag might’ve gone after her tormentors, but he’d been fighting his own demons. No doubt he’d had the word faggot hurled at him.
What really caused that long ago hurt to deepen was the knowledge that if their father had known Dag’s sexual orientation, he would’ve flung that word at his son without hesitation.
When Chassie, Edgard and Trevor decided to add kids to their family, they all three worked every day to make sure their children knew they were loved. To make sure their children knew their parents loved each other. And to show them that love is what built and what sustained their lives. Especially when it was love that a lot of people didn’t understand.
Chassie held on to that thought as she scaled the stairs.
Trevor plugged in the nightlight and left the door open a crack before he headed down the hallway to the master bedroom.
He removed his long-sleeved shirt and T-shirt, tossing them in the hamper along with his dirty jeans. After washing his face and arms, he slipped on a pair of black sweatpants and a gray tank top. He’d need to channel his frustration after they talked to Westin, because guaranteed he’d wanna punch the shit out of something.
Faggots. Who taunted a kid—a kind, innocent little boy—with that term?
You would have.
Goddamn. Trevor didn’t want to think along those lines, to remember the judgmental asshole he’d been at one time. He’d been raised that way—as had Chassie and Edgard—which was why they were raising their kids differently.
He perched on the edge of their gigantic custom-made bed, forearms resting on his thighs, his face aimed at the carpet. Westin and Sophia were aware their family was different from the norm. But due to divorces and remarriages, didn’t most kids these days deal with multiple parents? How was it anyone’s business how they lived in their own home? Or how they loved each other? He’d bet the ranch very few traditional family units were as attuned to each other as theirs. They had to work harder at communication because of having a third partner. And he wouldn’t have it any other way—regardless of the societal repercussions.
Footsteps fell across the carpet. A pause. “Did you mean to leave the light on in Sophia’s room?” Edgard asked.
“No. Guess my mind was elsewhere.” Trevor glanced up. “Was she still awake?”
“Nah. She just yanked the covers over her head. I shut the light off.”
“Thanks. And Max?”
“Out. He didn’t last through one book, let alone two.” Edgard gave Trevor a once-over. “We working out tonight?”
“I’ll need to hit the heavy bag after…”
“Trev, what’s goin’ on?”
So Trevor told him.
Edgard didn’t say anything. Then he crouched in front of Trevor to get his attention. “That’s not all of what’s bugging you.”
The man knew him so well. Trevor reached out and ran the back of his knuckles along Edgard’s jaw. He hadn’t shaved for a day and Trevor had the sudden need to feel beard burn on the inside of his thighs. On his chest. Scraping on his cheeks and neck as he kissed Edgard senseless.
“Dangerous to keep lookin’ at me like that, meu amor. Burning me alive with those fiery eyes of yours won’t make me forget the issue at hand, as much as I’d like to.”
“I know.” Trevor dropped his hand. “I fuckin’ hate that I used to be that type of kid Westin is dealin’ with. Anything I didn’t understand, I belittled. I laughed when I made kids cry. Laughed. Jesus. How many people I bullied growing up would say I’m getting what I deserve? Seeing my son cry.” He exhaled. “I’m to the point I can handle what anyone calls us. But it breaks my damn heart that Westin is hearing that shit.”
“Hey. You’re not the same man you were. Thank God for that.” Edgard stood and held his hand out to Trevor. “Worrying about karma coming back to bite you in the ass won’t help us now.”
As soon as he was upright, Trevor tugged Edgard against his body and buried his face in Edgard’s neck. “I’m grateful every damn day that we have this life.”
“Me too. We knew goin’ into it, it wouldn’t be easy.”
“Some days I can’t believe we’ve all been together eight years. And other days, I feel like my life started when I met Chassie and you came back.” Trevor lifted his head. “Do you think we oughta cancel—”
Edgard covered his mouth with a brief kiss. “No. The three of us need the time together. Chassie will be relieved that we’d planned to keep Westin out of school tomorrow anyway.”
“So we’re all set?”
Trevor grinned. “Chass is really gonna be surprised.”
“I was surprised. It was a sweet, romantic thing to plan, Trev.”
“What can I say? You and Chassie bring out the best in me.” Trevor kissed him, more than a soft peck but less than the tongue tangling soul kiss he preferred. “Let’s go talk to our son.”
Keely—seven months pregnant…
Keely West McKay Donohue had this pregnancy thing down pat.
Well, except for the occasional glitches when her heightened emotional state hit overload and she had a teeny, tiny, barely noticeable…episode or two.
Most of those incidents hadn’t really been her fault.
Like when the grocery store had run out of her brand of laundry soap again and she’d attempted to express her displeasure to the manager. But he’d refused to listen to reason, calling her consumer’s request a crazy woman’s rant, puh-lease—she hadn’t even hit rant stage. Then the weasel had barricaded himself in his office, had her escorted from the premises by a pimply fifteen-year-old and banned her from the store for life. Luckily, the other grocery store in town had been much more accommodating. They’d even assigned her a shopping assistant to personally escort her through the store every time she showed up.
And Jack could’ve prevented the incident last month if he’d just taken her out for finger steaks like she’d asked him to. His refusal to understand the depth of her craving had forced her to cook the yummy bits of breaded and fried steak herself. So, it wasn’t completely her fault that she’d accidentally started a small grease fire in the kitchen and she’d had to call the fire department. The fire department in turn had called the local ambulance crew, and they had contacted her brother Cam—a Crook County Deputy—who had called her entire family. Except no one had remembered to call her husband. So when Jack had come home after work to see the driveway filled with emergency vehicles and McKays, he’d lost his mind.
She’d had to spray him down with the hose to cool him off. Then she’d really caught hell for ruining his bajillion-dollar, triple-worsted wool suit crafted out of special sheep butt hairs or some such. And people claimed she was on edge during this pregnancy?
Besides, Jack had it easy. His job as her baby daddy entailed three things:
1) Sucking it up and listening to her every pregnancy complaint like she was reciting secret stock tips.
2) Keeping her fed and never ever ever mentioning the amount of food she consumed on a daily basis.
3) Fulfilling her sexual needs whenever and wherever she wanted; or keeping his dick far away from her on those bad pregnancy days she suspected she’d chop it off if he showed it to her. Happily those days were mostly behind them now.
Not such a hard list. So why was he dragging his loafers on getting on with checking off task number three today?
Keely had even given him a choice on where he could perform his husbandly duties. While she waited for him to choose, she studied her hot hunk of manflesh. The man defined sexy—who could blame her for wanting to jump his bones all the damn time? His dark hair was disheveled from constantly running his fingers through it. His silk paisley tie remained neatly knotted and he hadn’t taken off his suit jacket, which in her mind meant he hadn’t really started to work yet. So this was the perfect time for a break. Besides, Jack never really meant no.
“Come on, Jack.”
“I’ll make it worth your while,” she said, adding a purring rowr.
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Jack said, without looking away from his computer screen. “And stop staring at my crotch to see if I’m getting hard,” he warned her.
“Just tell me if your boxers are getting tight?”
“Because A, I’m thinking about work not sex, and if you want to see me before midnight, which isn’t likely, you’ll find a way to entertain yourself and let me finish this. B, if I do take your offer to bend you over the conference table and fuck you until you scream, guaranteed one of your ten billion family members will decide to pop in and interrupt us. Again.”
Keely crossed her arms over her chest trying not to feel self-conscious. She could almost rest them on her protruding belly. “That was not my fault. I cannot control my family, Jack.”
“I know that only too well,” he muttered. “Besides, don’t you have a client scheduled?”
“She had to cancel.” That’s when she knew she should’ve lied. He’d see her offer as a way to kill time. When in actuality, she saw it as a chance to revisit their spontaneous pre-pregnancy trysts for the first time in what seemed like weeks.
Jack stopped typing and looked at her sharply. “Just because you’re bored doesn’t mean I am.”
Bored? Fuck that and fuck you too, buddy. Or better yet, I wouldn’t fuck you right now if you begged me. In fact…Then just like that surly girl disappeared and weepy woman took her place.
Awesome. She hadn’t run this hot and cold even as a teenager. She hated that a curt word or a scowl from him set her off into a fit of rage or a river of tears. Yet she was sick of him and everyone else muttering about her out-of-whack hormones.
So she opted to take the high road for a change. “Sorry to interrupt you.” Keely pushed off the doorframe and pulled the door shut behind her. Not slamming it. Point for her.
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