Ash Watts has his life exactly how he wants it: burgeoning career, gorgeous boyfriend, and an apartment with a fabulous view of LA. But his perfect world comes crashing down around his ears when learns of his only sister's untimely death. A small town isn't all he finds when he lands in Freedom, Alabama for Annie's funeral. This small town is brimming with secrets; secrets that could change Ash's life forever.
Kaleb Gibson, honest-to-God cowboy, and native of Freedom, born and bred, found his best friend the moment Annie Watts breezed into town. Her death left a gaping hole in his heart, and while Annie's brother may have her same dark hair and green eyes, Kaleb refuses to lose his heart all over again, and he can’t forgive the man for neglecting his sister when she needed him most.
Revelations from Annie's Will throw Kaleb and Ash together in ways they never imagined. Will Kaleb be able to carry out Annie’s last wishes without killing her beloved brother and without revealing a secret from his own past that could destroy everything? And will Ash stick around long enough to see that Freedom may hold an even more perfect life than he could have imagined?
Grabbing his keys from the ignition, Kaleb opened the door and jumped down to the ground. His boots echoed on the steps when he climbed the porch and peered into the living-room window, cupping his hand against the glass.
“Wouldn’t it be easier to knock?”
Kaleb spun on his heel, cursing loudly, “Christ, City Boy, you scared the shit out of me!” He padded across the porch to the cane love seat under the study window. “What the fuck are you doing sitting out here in the dark?” Kaleb caught a glimpse of moonlight reflecting off the bottle of whiskey Ash raised to his lips. “Are you wasted?”
“Nearly. Wanna join me?”
“Stop being an asshole for five minutes and sit the fuck down,” Ash hissed, holding out the bottle. “Have a drink.”
Kaleb ignored the voice in his head telling him this was a really bad idea and tossed his keys onto the small cane coffee table, then took the bottle from Ash’s outstretched hand. He lifted the liquor to his lips and took a healthy draw, his breath hissing from between his clenched teeth as the alcohol burned its way down his throat and expanded in his chest. “Make some room, City Boy,” he said, nudging Ash’s ankle with the toe of his boot. The other man shuffled along on the love seat and Kaleb flopped down on the cushions beside him. He took another healthy gulp of whiskey before handing the bottle back to Ash and propping his feet on the small, circular table.
The sound of Nickelback’s Burn it to the Ground broke the silence from the vibrating cell on the table. Kaleb turned his head to look at Ash, who was swigging from the bottle and ignoring Chad Kroeger. “Don’t you wanna answer that?”
“Could be important.”
Kaleb raised an eyebrow and accepted the bottle held out to him, “Right, I forgot, you don’t do phone calls.” He cursed as the bottle was grabbed from his hand en route to his lips. “What the fuck?”
“Seriously?” Ash ground out, his words slurring very slightly. “You wanna do this now? We buried Annie today. She’s gone. Nothing I do is going to make any difference.” Kaleb grabbed the bottle back and took several swallows before half-turning in the love seat and glaring at Ash, who was obviously only getting started. “Do you think I didn’t mean to call her back? Do you think I haven’t called myself all kinds of asshole for not picking up the phone? What gives you the right to be so sanctimonious, so fucking righteous?”
“She was my friend,” Kaleb growled. “I loved her.” He moved back when Ash twisted on the love seat and rose to his knees before ripping the bottle from Kaleb’s hands and chugging it back.
“She was my sister,” Ash spat. “I loved her more!”
“Then where were you?” Kaleb yelled into the other man’s face, getting to his own knees on the cushions. He’d be damned if he was going to have City Boy looking down on him, literally or metaphorically. “Huh? Where were you? She asked for you, did you know that?” Kaleb wanted to stop the words, but they tumbled over each other in their haste to get out. “When they were cutting her out—she asked for you.”
Kaleb slapped his hand to Ash’s forehead in irritation. “Who do you think was holding her hand? Who do you think told her everything was going to be okay? They were going to get her out? That it wasn’t that bad? That she was going to be fine? Who do you think lied to her? Told her you were coming, that you were on your way? That I would take care of—” He bit the inside of his lip and ran his fingers through his hair, the lump in his throat so big he could barely breathe. “They kept looking at me while they were cutting her out, shaking their heads, and I had to tell her it was all going fine, it was all good. But she knew. She knew I was lying, I could see it in her eyes.”
“You were there? At the accident?”
“Of course I was, who else did you think they’d call, you?” Kaleb snapped, grabbing and downing the remainder of the whiskey in the bottle. Then slamming it onto the table, surprised that the force didn’t shatter the glass. “I’m not sure you would’ve considered your sister bleeding to death a good enough reason to return the call!”
Kaleb was unprepared for the sloppy punch Ash threw at him. The fact that he’d not eaten today meant that the neat whiskey had slowed his reflexes. The blow caught him on the shoulder and he almost toppled backwards, throwing his hands out to grab Ash’s arms to steady himself.
“I’m a bastard? I’m not the one who ignored her when she needed me! I’m not the one who sat on my ass, too tied up in my own life to support her.”
“I’m gonna kill you, you asshole!”
Kaleb grabbed hold of Ash’s hands and his breath huffed out of his body when the other man lost his balance and fell on top of him, forcing him flat on his back on the love seat. He pinned Ash’s hands behind his back and tightened his grip until Ash stopped struggling, his green gaze heated and angry as they glared at each other. “Are you finished, City Boy? Don’t mess with the bull, you’ll always get the horns.”
“God, you’re such a cliche.”
“And you’re not? What do you call this? If you wanted to get me horizontal, all you had to do was ask.” Kaleb snapped his head to the side when Ash attempted a very miss-aimed headbutt, ending up with his face against Kaleb’s throat. “What?” Kaleb could feel Ash’s lips against his skin as the other man mumbled an angry retort, and his irritation was heightened by the fact that his cock had taken a sudden interest in proceedings.
“I said,” Ash ground out, turning his head, “you’re a neanderthalic asshole.”
“A what? You just made that up. Trying to pretend you’re smarter than this poor ole country boy?”
“Let me up, so I can break your face!”
“You can’t even break wind!”
“I’m gonna rip your fucking head off!”
“Like to see you try, City Boy!”
“Stop fucking, call—”
Kaleb had just wanted to get Ash to stop talking. He probably could’ve found a better way than releasing the man’s hands, grabbing his face and kissing him. But it would be fair by that point, considering the way Ash’s hips were inadvertently grinding into his, to suggest that his brain wasn’t exactly running the show. The kiss was over almost before it had begun, a mere hard pressing of mouths, and they stared at each other, lips parted, breath panting harshly into each other’s faces. “Ash… I—” His words were stilled by Ash’s mouth against his, long fingers sliding into his hair, gripping tightly and tilting his head to enable Ash to deepen the kiss.
ALWAYS HOPE IS AVAILABLE ON THE 20 FEBRUARY 2012