on January 20, 2015
Genres: New Adult, Romance
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I grew up with three brothers. They weren’t tied to me by blood, but our connection went beyond genetics or bearing the same last name. Our connection was forged the summer I turned thirteen, the summer my mom ended her life and left me in the custody of John Armstrong, a man I’d never met. Packing all I owned in a couple of boxes, I left the familiarity of the big city and headed west to Red Mountain Ranch, set in a lonely valley outside of Jackson Hole.
Nothing was as it seemed at Red Mountain—it didn’t take long for me to figure that out. John was kind to me but distant, as if he was afraid to let anyone get too close. His three teenage sons had their own devices for keeping love as far away as they could. The eldest distracted himself with cheap relationships that had a shelf-life of one night. The middle son threw himself into the rigor of running a ranch, and the third wielded cruelty and mind-games in his quest to keep people from getting close.
Time has gone by, and I’ve spent those years trying to forget the brother I’d fallen for—the biggest mistake of my life.
Finally, I’ve moved on. Finally, I’m back. But what I didn’t realize was that running away from the wrong brother meant I’d also run away from the right one. The one who’d been there for me all along, waiting in his brother’s shadow for the day I either would or could move on.
But a decade is a long time to wait. Has the brother I should have chosen all of those years ago moved on too? Am I about to discover that my biggest mistake wasn’t falling in love with the wrong brother, but failing to return the love of the right one sooner?
Does unrequited love have an expiration date?
I’m about to find out.
Author’s Note: This book is a "sweet" romance that isn't overly sexy. Fans of LOST & FOUND will be interested in THREE BROTHERS.
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I stood there, sucking in deep breaths until I felt something that resembled calm. And that was when I noticed a faint red glow coming from one end of the porch. That I hadn’t smelled the familiar scent that came with it was an indication of just how not myself I’d been when I fled out that door.
“You might want to keep running. Things are only going to get worse in there. There’s no happy ending waiting for anyone on the other side of that door.”
His voice blew past the walls I’d been so sure had been impenetrable and threaded through me as it always used to. Instead of feeling like the twenty-five-year-old woman I was, I became that impressionable girl who had worshipped the ground beneath a boy who had no right to be worshipped.
I closed my eyes and bolstered my strength. “You were always the one who was better at running, Conn. That’s more your style than mine.” Instead of down the stairs or back inside, I went toward him. I wanted him to see that he didn’t have power over me any longer. At least, I wanted him to see the façade of him not holding power over me.
“Yet how long were you frozen on that first step when you arrived? I kind of lost count at five minutes.”
His voice was just as smoky and smooth as I remembered it, and age had deepened it a key or two. The porch lights were out. With just the light coming from the buildings and barns dotted around and the orangey glow of his cigarette, I could barely make out Conn’s face. Not that I needed light to remember it. I’d memorized the perfections and imperfections of it years ago, and despite my efforts to forget, it had revisited my dreams too frequently.
Where Chase had been big, blond, and beefy, Conn was the opposite. He was taller than me but only by a couple of inches, and his hair was the same dark chestnut John’s had been before the silver took over. Conn’s body could have been described as lanky and lean, and his dark long-sleeved shirts and pants gave off just the right degree of sinister meets tortured. That, matched with his brooding expression, had alerted me from the beginning that he was the kind of boy I should keep my distance from. The kind who had let so much darkness into his life that it suffocated all of the light
“You were here the whole time? Camped out in your chair, smoking your cigarettes, watching me, and you didn’t say anything?” I stopped when I was still a good ten feet back from him. Distance was a good thing when it came to Conn, both mental and physical. “I should probably be surprised, but I’m not.”
Conn’s jagged smile crept into place. “So? Are you keeping your fingers crossed for a repeat of your sixteenth birthday?”
I didn’t have to see the image flash through his eyes to know exactly what he was talking about. “Nothing happened.” I crossed my arms and stood taller, trying to convince myself at the same time.
“And is that why you disappeared for seven years?” The cigarette dangled from Conn’s lips. The bottle in his hand was already a third empty, and even though I could barely see them, his eyes were both calling me closer and shoving me away. Everything about him flashed danger. Everything screamed stay away.
I’d never read the signs when it came to Conn. This time, I’d promised myself I would. I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t come back here if I wasn’t sure I could keep him at an emotional and physical distance.
“I came back because John, aka your father, is dying. I came to say good-bye.” I leaned into the railing along the porch, keeping a safe distance without making it seem as though I was concerned about how close or how far I was from Conn. “Unlike you, I’m not trying to discover what gives out first: my lungs or my liver.”
“I’m hoping they go at the same time.” Conn plucked the cigarette from his lips long enough to take a pull from the bottle.
Unlike his father, who was adamant that scotch was the only thing to drink when a person needed one, Conn chose tequila. It wasn’t a simple matter of a difference in taste. No, whatever John liked, Conn preferred the opposite. What was sad though was that in Conn’s effort to defy John at every turn, he was only proving just how significant a role his father played in his life. He was just as in tune with his dad as if he’d been mimicking him at every turn.
“Why aren’t you at dinner?” I asked, reminding myself to keep our conversation short. Conn was a master at wordplay and could lure even the greatest of cynics to his side.
“Because I don’t want to go.” He held out the bottle. When I shook my head, he let the bottle hang between us for a few moments before taking another long drink. At this rate, Conn would be shit-faced before that cigarette burned out.
“That seems to be your go-to answer to every question.”
“That’s because that’s my go-to feeling for most everything, family most of all.” Conn looked off into the distance where Red Mountain rested. Unlike the rest of us, who dodged looking at it or venturing up it, Conn seemed to view it as a refuge.
“Still haven’t gotten over your daddy issues?” I closed my eyes, instantly regretting my words.
I was just about to apologize when Conn leaned forward in his chair. All I could see were the whites of his eyes, but that was all I needed to see to know he was staring straight at me. When I’d been younger and under the impression that Conn could do no wrong, I’d measured my life in the moments when Conn had looked at me and me alone. There were only two ways he looked at me: straight through or straight on. Now I would have preferred he look straight through me because his eyes pulled things out of the place I’d buried deep inside myself.
“I don’t know. Have you gotten over your Conn issues?”