And, it's new release week around here...Hold Tight...the long awaited sequel to Ty Hard is now available.
Obviously you'll find a lot of Holden and Drew, but you'll see Ty and Cass, too. Plus get a glimpse of the guys from the NEXT two books in the Willow Springs Ranch series.
Here's a look at the blurb and first chapter. Stop by all week for more excerpts from Hold Tight. There will also be give-a-ways from my other June new release, Redemption (Three's Allowed), the hot new MMF, and keep watch for a reissue of an old favorite---
Sheriff Holden Titus had organized his fresh start down to the last detail. Except for the part about the bomb that blew his plans all to hell. Now he’s running out of time, without a job, without a home, and struggling to get back on his feet. Literally.
Despite the impolite rejection, Drew knows he didn’t have the wrong impression months ago when he asked the sheriff to dance, but he never expected to have Holden’s life in his hands. Literally.
Thanks to some meddlesome matchmaking, the two men are now temporary housemates at the Willow Springs Ranch and Drew is determined to help Holden heal, both physically and emotionally. Even if it means he has to drag the other man kicking and screaming to physical therapy…and out of the closet.
In fact, that might be kind of fun.
The problem is, Holden doesn’t consider himself in the closet…but not all secrets are created equal.
“What the fuck do you mean he’s on the way to the Willow Springs Ranch?” Sheriff Holden Titus shouted into his phone as he hurried into the kitchen.
Ty and Cass stopped their conversation to look at him as he struggled to untangle the Velcro tabs on his Kevlar vest. God this was just another cluster-fuck. Everything had been under control. Then one of his goddamn deputies located the suspect the entire county was looking for and decided to let him go? He shouted directions at the hapless officer who’d drawn the short straw and had been the one to call in the fuck up. Now the suspect appeared to be driving straight here to the ranch, the location of the original cattle killing crime. He hoped to God the man wasn’t looking to come after ranch-owner Cassidy Cartwright or his partner Tyler Hardin.
Holden wrapped up his conversation with a few terse orders then turned to face the two men. He apprised them of the situation, noting the way Cass moved closer to Ty while the former Navy SEAL seemed to bow up slightly, as if he was preparing for battle. He knew the man could handle himself, but given his struggle with PTSD, he’d just as soon the two men go somewhere else for a bit. Just in case the fugitive had fighting on his mind.
“I suggest—” His words were lost in a thundering explosion that rocked the kitchen to its foundation, shattering glass and raining hell upon all three of them. He couldn’t exactly say his life flashed before his eyes, but the regrets certainly did. In the remaining seconds of his life, Holden Titus saw a perfect vision of the future he would never have.
Holden pulled back on the right wheel and turned his chair in a slow circle as he looked around the room once more. He knew he hadn't forgotten anything, but it was a compulsion with him to leave everything in order.
“You ready, big guy?” Tyler asked from the doorway.
“More than goddamned ready,” he said.
“Oh, no, Mr. Ty. You're not allowed to wheel the sheriff out.” Annie, the petite Asian nurse who had tried her best to terrorize Holden for the last six weeks brushed the former Navy SEAL out of her way, like he was nothing more than a pesky housefly. “The rules say it must be one of the staff. Let's go Mr. Crabby Pants. Ty, you grab his bag. Did you bring the low car like I told you?”
“No, ma'am. We have to drive the truck to get to Willow Springs Ranch.”
“I'm not a damn invalid,” he said, automatically picking up the thread of their daily grousing match.
“Oh yeah? I don't see you walking out of here on those two fine legs.”
“Yes. But you're going to miss me.”
He would, but he wasn't going to admit it. No one spoke as he endured the indignity of letting Tyler lift him into the cab of the truck. Then Annie climbed onto the running board of the ranch truck, and pecked him on the cheek.
“Just because the rules say we had to use the wheelchair to take you outside, doesn’t mean you’re supposed to use it all the time. Get up on those legs and make them work. You follow the doctor’s orders, and do your damn PT, Titus, or I’ll kick your grouchy ass.” Without another word, she hopped down, slammed the truck door closed and pushed the chair back through the automated doors on the front of the glass vestibule of the long-term rehabilitation facility. Holden looked out the side window of the truck as they rolled away from the building that had been his home since his release from the hospital six weeks earlier. Now, he technically had no place to call home. He blew out a frustrated breath.
“Look, Ty…you don’t really have to do this,” he said. He immediately realized the stupidity of the comment. What the fuck else was he supposed to do? His legs didn’t yet work right, he couldn’t drive, and he had blinding migraine headaches. Cass and Ty had already packed up his second floor apartment and put his belongings in storage. The only place he had to go was the Willow Springs.
“Cass and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Cass blames himself, you know. You were at his house, trying to protect us. If you hadn’t been there you’d never have been hurt.”
Blinking rapidly and swallowing around the frustration, he tried to offer his own reassurance. “I won’t stay long, Ty. I just need a couple of weeks to figure out what I’m going to do. The docs don’t figure I can go back to…” he trailed off. What the fuck was he going to do now? No job, no home, and responsibilities weighing on him that weren’t going to go away.
Ty patted him awkwardly on the arm, but kept his eyes on the road. “Holden, there isn’t anybody on the planet that knows exactly how you feel right now, but I expect I’m pretty damned close. You talk when you’re ready. We’ve got a few things planned, including introducing you to Perry, my counselor at the VA. He’s really good with PTSD. I mean, I’m not saying you have that or anything,” Ty stammered. “We just thought…I mean Cass and I just thought it might be a good idea.”
Holden glanced over at the handsome man with the scar marring the right side of his face, from hairline to jaw. Medically discharged midway through his Navy career, no longer able to do the job he thought he’d do his entire life. He remembered that Ty had come to WSR to spend some time with Gibby, his Navy mentor and surrogate father, only to discover the man was dead. Suffering from debilitating PTSD, Ty had been in a bad way, but Cass had taken him in and the two men seemed to fit each other
“Thanks, Ty. I don’t know what to feel.”
“You feel what you feel. There’s no right or wrong. It’s going to be weird at the ranch because that’s where everything happened.”
Thinking about it, he decided he could tell Ty. “I don’t remember any of it. They’ve placed Morgan in as acting sheriff, and he brought me some of the reports. I know you said I was on the phone, but I have no memory of anything after dinner.”
The salsa beat of his ring tone interrupted his recollection. He pressed the button on his new phone, courtesy of Cass. “Titus,” he answered. After the brief, one-sided conversation, Holden closed his phone.
The road was nothing more than two-lanes stretching endlessly into asphalt ribbons. The waves of heat created ever-elusive puddles of water, mirages that hovered always just in front of the truck but never attainable. A fucking metaphor for his life.
It would be easier to tell Tyler alone, before they arrived at the ranch. “Well, it’s official,” he said. “The mayor accepted my letter of resignation based on medical disqualification. The city wants to settle on an amount of compensation as soon as possible. They’ll have to cover all medical expenses outside the insurance, but that’s about it.”
“Talk to Cass before you settle anything,” Ty said. “Trust me on this, Holden. Now, hang on, it’s going to get bumpy,” Ty said. They turned onto the rough graded road that wound for twenty-five miles before eventually leading to the Willow Springs Ranch turn off.
Holden blew out a breath and shifted his legs to try and get into a more comfortable position as the truck bounced over the rutted dirt road.
Cass stood looking out the window of his study in the long, low adobe main house. He watched his lover lift Holden from the truck and place him in the borrowed wheelchair. The chair moved easily enough over the hard-packed dirt. Holden expertly maneuvered in a circle, then made for the low ramp the hands had added to the front of one of the twin casitas. Over the years, the small adobe houses had served as homes for the ranch cook and the ranch foreman. Currently both were empty and it seemed like a good idea to put Holden in the recently renovated unit. Using crutches and a wheelchair without help in his second floor apartment would have been nearly impossible. Cass had wanted him in the main house, but Ty had been right when he’d said although Holden was injured, he wasn’t going to need permanent care. It was important that he kept a sense of independence all the way through his recovery.
Cass wanted to go help Ty, go greet Holden, but his feet might as well have been nailed to the floor. What the fuck do you say to a man whose whole life changed because of you? Oh, he knew in a logical sense it wasn’t his fault. The fucking prick, Tony, had tried to kill them all. Still, if Holden had just left after gathering his evidence instead of—
“Well it’s just not the way it happened, now is it Cartwright, so get over your damned self,” he said aloud.
He moved to his desk and aligned the folders, checked through his list once more, then sat to wait for Tyler and Holden. It wasn’t long before the two men emerged and headed to the main house. Tyler was big enough to be a professional running back at just a touch over six feet and weighing in at two hundred and five pounds. Broad and hard in all the right places. Cass had to quickly shift his attention to the other man or risk meeting their guest while sporting wood.
Looking at Holden erased any thoughts of sex from his mind. The man was still good looking, with his chestnut colored skin, powerful arms, and barrel chest. But it hurt to see his big frame trapped in the wheel chair. As the two men approached they chatted easily enough. Ty casually walked alongside Holden’s chair, making no effort to help, as the other man powered his chair over the hard-packed earth. The two of them had a lot in common, both former Navy, both injured in explosions, both having to carve out new lives for themselves from the ashes of important jobs. He hoped what he had to offer would be enough. For both of them.
“Welcome, Holden. Good to see you here,” Cass said. He felt awkward and foolish. What the fuck was he supposed to say?
“Cass.” Holden gave a brisk nod and he wheeled into the study. He used his hands to brake the chair then rotated one wheel until he turned to face the rest of the room. “I appreciate you having me here.” Gesturing toward the window, he continued. “You went to a lot of trouble with the ramps. And I sure wasn’t expecting one of the casitas. I don’t need much more than a room, you know. I’ll be out of your hair—”
“Shut up, Holden,” Cass said. As soon as the words were out of this mouth a sense of relief flooded through him. He grinned at the shocked expression on Holden’s face. Suddenly he felt on steadier ground. This wasn’t about his own feelings…he needed to make Holden feel at home.
“The three of us might be new at this friends business, but I think we can manage. You’re welcome to stay as long as you want. We’ve got two vacant casitas right now, and I see no reason at all you shouldn’t stay in one of them.”
Blowing out a breath, Holden gave a quick nod. “All right. Thanks. I’m not quite sure…things are just…” he trailed off, glancing toward the window.
“Hey, Holden,” Ty said, moving to sit on a couch near the wheelchair but not too close. “Don’t try to overpower what’s happening. You’ve got some healing to do and a lot to think about, but you also have some time. Okay?”
Holden nodded, looked at Ty, then over at Cass before dropping his gaze to stare at his own legs.
“Yeah. Well…we’ll see. It’s pretty evident my career in law enforcement is over. I’m not sure what the
fuck else I’m cut out for.”
Cass winced at the bitterness in the tone. Ty looked over and mouthed an order. “Tell him.”
There was a tightness in his chest as he realized his lover knew more about the changes in Holden’s life than anyone because of their shared similar experiences. If he wanted Cass to push at Holden a little right now, then he would.
“Maybe. Do me a favor, Holden…take a look at this.” Grabbing the folders from his desk, Cass crossed the room, and held out a folder to Holden. When the other man made no move to take it from him, Cass dropped it onto his lap, then took a seat on the couch next to Ty.
“Look at this record, tell me what you see.” He turned his back to Holden and carried on a quiet conversation with Ty. After a long pause he heard the rustle of paper and knew Holden had been unable to resist looking at the contents.
Several minutes later, Holden interrupted. “Okay, I’ve looked. What do you want to know?”
As Cass turned to face Holden, Ty gave him an encouraging wink. Ty had explained that what he’d mourned most when he was first discharged was the sense of purpose that came with knowing you belonged, that you were a part of something beyond yourself. They’d come up with something that they both hoped would help Holden’s internal cop see that he was still necessary. Ty had warned that the first reaction was likely to be anger and rejection. So Cass steeled himself for both.
“Do you think I should hire this man?” Cass asked.
Holden’s eyes narrowed, drawing his brows together in a frown line. His dark fingers tapped against the manila folder. “My first instinct is to recommend against it, but if you insisted, then I would recommend checking with the foreman at the last couple of places. I would certainly have to know more. Why? Did he apply here?”
“This was Tony’s record. I paid a fortune to a private security firm to acquire all of these records. Of course, it’s a damn sight easier to figure out you might have a homicidal maniac on your hands, after the fact.”
“Most of the information in this report would be readily accessible with a simple background check and a few calls to previous employers. Whoever you hired to do this shouldn't have needed to charge a fortune,” Holden said, obviously interested.
“That's how I figure it, too. The problem is, we don’t have access to the data, even in this day of the Internet, unless we pay for the specialized reports. For the smaller ranches that’s just too damn much money. And who the hell has time to do the searches and analyze the reports even if we did pay for them?
“I've been talking with some of the owners around the tri-state area. There are hundreds of ranch hands and itinerant workers during different times of the year in this part of Arizona, Nevada, and California. This incident with Tony wasn’t the only time one of us has been burned by hiring someone who could have been weeded out with a simple search by someone more experienced than any of us. We know cows. Or lettuce. Or horses. We want to hire you to figure this background shit out for us.” Cass was about to go on, even as he saw the heat building in Holden’s face.
He held up a hand to try to forestall the coming storm, but the slam of the front door distracted them all for a moment.
“Hope you don’t mind I let myself in,” a voice called from the front of the house. Cass closed his eyes briefly. Drew. Otherwise known as Andrew Van, the local large animal veterinarian could be heard taking off his boots and then moving toward them, a running commentary about his reason for arriving unannounced.
“Hey, Cass. Is Ty here? Did he get Holden yet?” Drew broke off as he stepped into the study. “Oh. Hey, Holden. How are…” he trailed off as Holden made a sound that could only be described as a growl.
“Bunch of busybodies. I don't want your goddamn charity, Cartwright. I’m not a fucking invalid.”
“What the hell's going on? He shouldn’t be—” Drew said. His last word was lost as Holden shouted at the young vet.
“And I suppose you’re in on all of this shit. Did you come here to gloat? You probably think I got what I deserved.” His gaze whipped back around to nail Cass to his seat. “I’ll be out of here as soon as I can make arrangements. Meanwhile, all of you leave me the fuck alone.” He wheeled his way toward the front of the house. Ty hurried after him to hold the doors, leaving Cartwright and Drew staring at each other in an uncomfortable silence.
“Well. That went well,” Cass said.
“What went well? What the hell were you thinking? He can’t be this upset, he needs time and space to heal. I thought you understood that. Tyler knows damn well—
“Enough, Drew. That was Tyler’s idea.”
“What? To pick Holden up from the hospital and then give him a heart attack?”
Cass raked his fingers through his hair trying to throttle back some of the tension of the last few minutes. “Ty said the very worst part of his recovery was loosing his place, of not belonging to something he thought he’d do his whole life. He said when he realized, really understood, that he couldn’t go back to active duty, he got so angry it nearly drove him over the edge. He suggested we give Holden some place to belong and somewhere to focus his anger.” Cass swallowed hard. “I don’t know if it was worse watching Holden or thinking about Tyler going through that alone.”
Drew stood looking out the window while they waited for Ty to return from helping Holden settle in to his new place.
The front door closed with a bang and a few seconds later Ty entered. He cast a quick glance at Drew then moved straight for his lover. Unable to find the words he wanted to say, Cass just folded Tyler against his chest and held him.
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