LONG ROAD HOME – Hill Country Heat Book 1
Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance
What should have been a beautiful new beginning is undone by the hatred and envy of another.
Ten years ago, Kaine Keeley watched in horror as the love of his life turned his back on him, taking with him his one true chance at happiness. Now that he’s no longer the penniless, shy boy he once was, Kaine is ready to fight and take back what was stolen from him.
A long time ago, Graeson Hardin thought that Kaine was worth fighting for. But after witnessing a crushing betrayal, he ran and never looked back. He wants nothing now but to live his life of solitude, protected from a love that almost destroyed him.
When Kaine shows up ten years later with a heartfelt apology and a believable explanation, Graeson must decide if he can make peace with his past to have the possibility of the future he always wanted.
Having traveled different roads in life, will these former lovers be able to battle the evil that may still be working to keep them apart and find a way to begin their long journey back home?
I am a native Houstonian, with a deep love of Texas, especially our gorgeous Hill Country. I am mother to five awesome children who, like their mom, are all weird and quite possibly a little bit nutty. I attended the University of Houston and have BA in Business Administration. By day I am a Treasury Analyst in the Oil & Gas industry but by night, I let my inner freak-flag fly.
I have always been an avid reader. I distinctly remember begging my poor mother to paint my room lavender so that it would coordinate with my Harlequin romance novel collection that had taken over my room. My love of romance has evolved over the years to a passion for darker, more dangerous love that is hard fought. After stumbling upon my first M/M novel I was blown away and from then on I was hooked. My love of hot, sexy men aside, I love to read – and now write – stories with rough, sexy alpha males that struggle to find their HEA. My stories can be sparked by a name I hear, a delicious recipe I see, or even the lyrics of a song that move me. I will hear it or see it and a complete character pops into my brain demanding that I write their story.
Graeson exited the towering, modern glass and steel building that sat just outside the Chinatown District of downtown Houston. Hardin Offshore Drilling, his company – well, his and his siblings, twins Tyler and Olivia, who actually ran the company. When the board meeting had adjourned Graeson quickly said goodbye to his brother and sister. He was anxious to get home. Graeson was not a fan of the city and much preferred his cabin in the hill country and small town life. His family had owned the property for generations and Graeson had never been more thankful for that than when he’d returned from Brazil. He’d already known he wouldn’t live in Houston or live for Hardin Offshore. He wanted to be far away from the drilling business, the cutthroat dealings of corporate America, and most importantly – far away from lying, cheating men. Because when it came down to it, Graeson much preferred his own company.
Graeson had always loved Perfect. His mother’s family had founded the town and lived there for generations. Graeson loved that he now lived in the same cabin that his grandfather and mother and grown up in. When Graeson had returned from Brazil, the land, the town, and his cabin had been his sanctuary. Graeson’s father had never cared for Perfect and had always resented Graeson’s mother’s insistence that Graeson and the twins stay with her father every summer. Graeson loved it. The twins, not so much. They would be fine for the first few weeks of their visit, but would soon want to return to the comforts which Houston and the Hardin money provided.
Graeson loved the area so much that he bought the land surrounding his own as it became available. He still smarted a bit at having lost the bid to purchase some lovely acreage last year, but it had been snatched right out from under his nose. He wondered at the time who had purchased the property, but when he looked into it, all he found was the name of a company he wasn’t familiar with. He prayed they wouldn’t mar the untamed beauty of the hills with hotels and fucking condos or other such shit. Perfect was a tiny but quaint town tucked away in the undeveloped glory of the hill country, and Graeson was loathe to watch some soulless corporation come in and destroy it.
Graeson had little interest in the family business. It had always been that way. The more determined his father was that Graeson learn the business, the more he pulled away. Hardin Offshore had never brought him happiness, only despair. Graeson instead preferred to focus on charity work, devoting much of his time helping homeless and high-risk inner city youth.
As Graeson’s car was brought around, he thought he should probably have had lunch with Tyler and Olivia, but that bastard Trent, once his best friend and now ex-friend as well as one of the company’s lawyers, was joining them. So as usual, Graeson begged off rather than spend one moment more than necessary with the man who caused him a pain so great that a decade later the wounds were still raw. Besides, it was all he could do to be polite to the idiot when the man never gave up trying to get close to him, as if the past could simply be forgotten.
Trent Chaney – fucking asshole bastard – was one of the main reasons Graeson treasured his own company over that of others. Trent tried everything he could to place himself in Graeson’s path. As if, after the stunt he pulled, Graeson would or could ever forgive him. Graeson grunted involuntarily, his mouth turning sour with hatred. He had to admit Trent’s latest attempt several years ago was brilliant. Suggesting Graeson use one of the larger lodges on his property to entertain clients. Asshole. Though it was a good idea from a business perspective, Trent, the devious snake that he was, had only wanted a chance to have access to Graeson outside the cold, unwelcoming corporate headquarters Graeson only visited four times a year. The lodge had helped Tyler and Olivia seal quite a few deals, and by unspoken agreement between the siblings, Graeson’s contribution to the family business was recognized whenever he played host.
Neither he nor Trent had ever told anyone about what happened during their last year of college to destroy their friendship. Trent and Graeson had been childhood friends, mostly because their fathers had started as business partners, throwing their sons together. They remained friends throughout high school, playing football together. Once they graduated, Trent even followed Graeson to California. Graeson had secretly dreamed of attending UT in Austin, but had to get as far away from his father as possible. Trent and Graeson were roommates and, Graeson thought, close friends. Until… Olivia had tried over the years to broach the subject of Graeson’s hostility towards his former friend, but Graeson steadfastly refused to expose his shame before his siblings. He had remained silent for ten years and would remain so.
Graeson snorted as he thought of how he’d welcomed it when his dad almost disowned him upon hearing that he wasn’t going to return to Houston to work for Hardin Offshore after graduating from college. A familiar sharp pain knifed through his gut as he remembered the reason he’d risked his father’s considerable wrath and disappointment. No! Whenever his thoughts tried to return to that horrible time in his life, Graeson bit the inside of cheek to force them back. Goddamn him! The whoring… Fuck! For some reason, being in the city always brought this back. Shit, he needed to get back home. Fast.
“Sweet car, Mr. G.” A tall, slim, dark-haired kid smiled up at Graeson as he slid out of the expensive leather seat of Graeson’s new Audi R8. “Didn’t think you could top that Porsche 911!” Micah, one of the valets for Hardin Offshore, was also a junior at the University of Houston. He’d called Graeson Mr. G. since the day Graeson told him Mr. Hardin was his father’s name and to call him Graeson. Only fifteen at the time and raised to be respectful of his elders, Micah balked at the directive and decided instead to call him Mr. G.
Micah was one of the young men from Graeson’s most beloved charity. Hardin’s Helping Hands – the name Olivia’s bright idea – helped boys from single parent homes and lower income families by providing jobs and college assistance, as well as full-ride scholarships. Most of the kids working in the Hardin Offshore cafeteria and valet service were kids and young men from Graeson’s charitable organizations.
Hardin’s Helping Hands, or Tri-H as Graeson preferred to call it because he resented the charity being associated with his father’s name and company, was Graeson’s passion. It galled him to know that people often thought the charity was in honor of the late Jack Charles Hardin. The man did not deserve such an honor. He was a greedy, violent, self-involved man who would never have approved of the charity. The work he did with Tri-H was one of the few things in Graeson’s life that actually brought him joy.
“Thanks, Micah. Keeping those grades up?” Graeson asked as he handed the familiar valet a hundred-dollar bill. “Definitely! Only have a year to go. No way I’m gonna screw it up now, man.” Micah smiled broadly at the generous tip and moved to shut the door for him. Graeson smiled to himself and said goodbye to Micah, putting the car in gear and pulling into the nightmare that was Houston traffic. As he drove off, he idly recalled a time when he’d been that young and full of hope. Graeson’s thoughts began to stray towards his own last year of college, but a rock as big as Dallas sat in the pit of stomach as he tried to relax his lean, 6’4”, well-muscled body in the dark, cool interior of the car. He inhaled the sharp scent of new leather and was soothed of unwanted thoughts. God he loved this car. He didn’t get to drive her nearly as much as he would like and the anticipation of being able to open her up once he was clear of Houston city limits began to chip away at the familiar knot in his stomach.
Finally on the highway, Graeson sighed and snuggled gratefully into the buttery leather seat. Graeson had been in the Houston for the better part of a month, working with Tyler and Olivia to finalize a deal that would allow Hardin to build one of the first state of the art, high-tech, and drill ships. Tyler and Olivia had been working non-stop for months to close the deal. Their excitement was almost contagious… almost. The rig they would be building was called an Ultra Deepwater Drill Ship and would make their company a serious contender in the international oil drilling business. The Hardins had been in the business for several generations, and thanks to Tyler and Olivia’s dedication, their position was only getting stronger. Graeson, being the oldest, was expected to take over the reins, and when his father was alive, he had fully intended to do so. During his time away at college, things changed. Graeson had foolishly thought he had found what he was meant for and it was not corporate wheeling and dealing. He’d been on the cusp of leaving that pre-destined life behind and following his heart. In the end however, it turned out he’d been wrong.
Graeson could never think of those dark days without the sharp pang of betrayal and gut twisting agony. As of late, Graeson seemed to fight a daily battle to keep his mind from conjuring up… him… that fucking bastard. Graeson knew it’d begun when he saw a man who had so reminded him of his cheating ex that he’d been left breathless and physically weak. He’d seen the man in the most unlikely of places, Peach St., the main street in Perfect, which ran the length of the town. The hub of the tiny oasis, Peach Street boasted an eccentric assortment of shops and eateries.
Graeson had spotted the man strolling contentedly into one of the shops along the magnolia tree-lined street. Graeson saw the man again, months later, sitting inside a quaint tearoom with a longhaired blond. Graeson knew it wasn’t Kaine, it couldn’t be. He’d left that man behind in California a lifetime ago, but damned if the stranger didn’t strike a chord deep within, reminding him of that feckless bastard. Graeson was sure those sightings were at the crux of his increasing discontent. It was the only explanation for the damn near constant fucking flashbacks that would catch him off guard and slam into his gut like a sledgehammer every time.
Besides, the stranger was fantastically sexy, muscular, with broad shoulders and long, strong legs. The mysterious stranger had been immaculately and expensively dressed, with an air of confidence and style that Kaine had never possessed. Although his ex had been tall, he had been slight to the point of frailty and had been more pretty than handsome. The man he’d run away from ten years ago had also been terribly shy and more… sweet, with an inherent innocence that had enthralled Graeson for over two years. There was no way the sleek, sexy, self-assured man he’d spied strolling about without a care in the world could be his ex. Graeson never let himself dwell on the mysterious stranger for long. It mattered not that the mystery man was sex personified; he absolutely had neither the intention nor the desire to lust after any-fucking-body. Ever.
As Graeson got closer to home, he eased his foot off the gas and unclenched his teeth. This unease would pass. This constant nervousness and expectation was just the tension of being in the city. He just needed to get back home… to Perfect.