Audie Barrack is in it up to his elbows with a sick calf when his son’s school calls. Seems Grainger has gotten into yet another fight. When he walks into the principal’s office, he’s shocked to find his son has been fighting with a little girl named Randi.
A little girl with one blind dad and one dad who recently passed away.
Dixon has lost his sight, his career, and his husband. Thank God for his brothers, Momma and Daddy, and his little girl, or he would simply give up. The last thing he needs is for Randi to start trouble at school, especially trouble that puts him in contact with another dad who might expect him to be a functional human being.
Dixon is struggling to live as a blind man, Audie is terrified someone might see he has a closet to come out of, and everyone from the school to both men’s families is worried for the men and their children. Unless they get themselves together and commit to change, neither of them stands a chance.
“HELLO?” AUDIE figured there was some kind of law that said as soon as he was up to his elbows in an early calf who’d come down with the runs, his phone would ring. He held the stupidly small electronic thing to his ear, not daring to do more than swipe to answer.
“Mr. Barrack?” The lady on the other end of the line sounded a little tight-lipped.
“This is Jennifer Laws, the secretary at the school.”
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
“Is Grainger sick?”
“No, sir. He’s in the principal’s office. Do you have time to come down to the school?”
“Uh… in about half an hour? I have to clean up. What happened?”
“Grainger and another student have been in a series of fights, sir. Principal Shields would like to see you, please.”
“Okay.” Well, fuck a duck. His Grainger? His yes-ma’am-no-sir boy? “I’ll be there as soon as I wash up. Been working with a sick calf.”
Audie hung up, his brain racing.
Just what he needed. His boy suddenly losing his damn mind. He got the calf dosed and settled in a pile of straw in the barn, hoping the poor thing didn’t expire before he got back. Then he loped up to the house and changed.
He gave Momma a call as he pulled his shirt on. “Momma, I got to run up to the school. Can you get Sister to keep an eye on the calf?”
“Is he sick? Grainger, I mean, not the calf.”
“Nope. It’s no big deal. I’ll be back in a jiff.” He hoped.
“Okay, Son. Your daddy’s due in off the road next weekend. He wants to take that boy of yours to a picture show. Tell him if he ain’t good, PopPop won’t take him.”
He was going to make Grainger miss time with his granddad. Dad loved his boy, even if they only saw each other a couple days in a month. Losing that time would break Grainger’s heart. Oh hell. An hour without his DS would make that boy ready to promise to be good forever. Maybe a day without helping Daddy feed the horses too. His kid had a real thing for the horses. Audie whistled up Duke, their border collie. No way could he leave that evil smart dog home with a sick calf. He’d worry the poor thing to death.
Bright eyes gleaming, Duke jumped up into the truck. He was ready to go. Go, go, go.
Audie headed into town, wondering what kind of kid could make Grainger fight. Not once, but in a series of fights. His son was quiet, laid-back, the sort of kid that people liked. Not a scrapper. Not like Audie had been, and God knew he’d earned his share of trouble.
He pulled up in front of the school twenty minutes later and sat, taking a deep breath.
“Okay. Whatever it is, I’ll deal. I’ll make Grainger apologize and then threaten to whip his butt.” Like he’d spank Grainger for anything not dangerous. The threat was enough, and he’d wait to issue that in the truck.
Feeling like he was back in kindergarten, Audie went to the principal’s office.
“Mr. Barrack? Go on in. They’re waiting.” Miz Laws winked at him as he walked by, which relaxed him, because, Christ, this sucked. He went into the office, which was a mixture of colors and pictures of kids and that weird sternness that meant business. Dr. Shields stood and offered him a hand. Lord, he remembered when she was the drum major back when his Aunt Shirley was in the band.
There was a tiny little girl—and he meant teeny—sitting next to a dude who had hair like a girl, a dour-faced older lady, and his Grainger, who jumped up, one eye bruised. “Daddy! Daddy, I swear, I didn’t start it!”
“Hush, now. Let me talk to Dr. Shields.” He wanted to snatch Grainger up, but he knew better.
“Let’s all sit,” Dr. Shields said, and Audie fought the urge to point out he was the only grown-up standing.
Feeling chastised, he perched on the other side of Grainger.
They all sat there, staring, before Dr. Shields spoke up. “Now, we all seem to have a problem. Randi and Grainger have been in a half-dozen incidents in the last few weeks.”
“Really? Why didn’t I hear about this, buddy?” Half a dozen? Shit.
“You said not to be a tattletale, Daddy.”
Oh God. He damned near swallowed his tongue. They’d have to talk about information versus snitching.
“I didn’t start it. Not onced. I don’t hit girls, but Daddy! She hit me in the face! Hard!” There were tears there, threatening, and Grainger had that hell of a shiner.
“Now, Grainger, are you saying you didn’t push Randi?” the principal asked.
“She called me a doo-doo stupid-head!”
Did the wee girl not talk? She sat there, her chin set, her bright green eyes flashing fire. Her thin arms were crossed over her chest, and her feet swung in an angry rhythm.
“Name-calling can’t hurt you, buddy.” Was he the only adult with a brain here?
“No, but name-calling is completely inappropriate, Miranda.” That was the dad, just looking straight ahead. “You know better.”
“He’s mean! He told the girls I was smelly and not to play with me!”
Audie looked at the principal. “Am I the only one not up to speed?”
The older lady glanced over at him. “Beverly White. Pleased. My granddaughter has had some… transition issues. We’re sorry.”
“Mrs. White.” He nodded, then snuck another peek at the man sitting next to her.
The guy stared straight ahead, not looking at him at all. Crazy.
“Grainger is usually a good kid,” Audie offered. “I’m sorry about those uh, transition things.” Way to sound like a hick.
“Children, can you please wait on the green chairs while we talk?”
Grainger nodded, squeezing Audie’s fingers one more time. Audie nodded and smiled at his son, pretty convinced his boy hadn’t done anything really heinous.
The little gal stomped out, pure fire in her eyes. Oh, she was a hellion, he could tell.
“Are you going to tell me you’re going to move her again?” That was the dad, and the dude seemed about as pissed as his daughter. “She’s not the Antichrist. She’s a tiny little girl. She still sits in a car seat, for chrissake.”
“No, I think we can safely leave her where she is. I really felt that we all needed to chat, though. It’s clear that Audie here had no idea what was going on.”
“Yeah, no shit.” Audie glanced at the gran. “Pardon my French.”
“No worries.” She winked at him. “She’s not a bad girl. She’s had some terrible things in the last year.”
“And for some reason, she’s targeting Grainger. Has he spoken about Randi at all?” Dr. Shields was trying, he could tell.
“No, ma’am. He’s not said a word.” He snuck another look at the dad. This guy was a piece of work. “It’s not like him to pick on someone who’s having a hard time.”
“Of course it’s not. Randi’s the one that’s the vicious little bitch, right?”
Damn, Mr. Snooty could snap.
“What? She’s had a shit life for the last year. She lost one of her dads, she had to leave Austin and her friends and her school, and suddenly she’s the fucking bad guy?”
“Hey, I never said my boy was perfect,” Audie said, snarling a little himself. “He’s managed to get to six without trying to kill anyone, though, so this is new. Back off.”
“Enough. No one is saying either of these children are bad. Randi has a huge number of hurdles to overcome, and Grainger is a shy little boy with a tendency to follow the crowd. Neither of these children have mothers at home, and I was hoping we could brainstorm some ways to help Randi feel included with the others.”
This was ridiculous. It wasn’t his fucking job to make sure this asshole’s little brat felt like she didn’t need to punch his son anymore.
“That’s her teacher’s job, Shannon.” Audie was through with this shit. “I’ll tell my boy to stay away from her. Can we go now?”
“Yes. Yes, of course. Mr. White….”
“I’ll talk to her. If it happens again, I’ll… shit, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll make it up as I go along.” The guy stood, and his mom handed him a cane. A white cane.
Oh Jesus fucking Christ. Seriously? Seriously, Grainger picked the kid with a blind dad and a dead….
Her other dad was dead. Jesus. This guy was blind, had lost his man, and his kid was a shit? That sucked hugely. “I can try to get Grainger to help. I promise.” He had no idea why that popped out, except this guy’s life had to suck, and because it had been a long time since Audie had met anyone who would openly admit to being queer like he was.
“Take us home, Mom. Please.” Now that he could see the White guy, he kind of wanted to wince. Lean, tattooed—this guy wasn’t made to be here, and obviously he wasn’t a local. Hell, his parents weren’t that local; Audie didn’t know them.
“Of course, Son.” She stood and offered Audie a frosty smile. “Thank you for being so, er, understanding.” She put a hand on her son’s arm, and he turned her way, the cane tapping as they left the room.
Audie glared at Shannon Shields as soon as they were out of earshot. “You couldn’t’ve had Miz Laws warn me?”
“I assumed you knew, Audie. Everybody knows.”
“Well, now, you know I don’t have much to do with townies.” He sighed, rubbing his hand over his bristly chin. “I’ll talk to Grainger, okay? See if he can’t find some way to understand. I mean, he ain’t used to being picked on.”
“I’d appreciate it. This poor little girl—she was in a private school in Austin, and suddenly she’s here, the daughter of two gay men, one dead, one who’s lost his sight. The grandparents are good people, but… they weren’t intending on raising another child, you know? She’s getting the help she needs, but she’s still a tiny ball of rage, and I’d hate to have to tell them she can’t come back to school.”
“Like expel her?” No. No, come on. She was thirty-five pounds of hurting. That wouldn’t be right. He sighed. “They live in town, or do they have a place like mine?”
“They’re out on the way to Commerce off of 34. Gentleman’s ranch. I think the granddad’s raising llamas and chickens.”
“Llamas.” He chuckled. “Well, they sure don’t kick as hard as cows.”
“Nope. Sorry there’s trouble. The teacher will keep them separated in the classroom, and I’ll have everyone keep an eye on the playground.”
“Thanks.” He figured he was dismissed, so he put his hat back on and went to get his son.
Grainger was sucking his thumb, which he hadn’t done in damn near a year, legs swinging furiously.
“Hey, buddy.” Audie squatted down, gently removing thumb from mouth. “You doing okay? Duke is in the truck.”
“Uh-huh. Are you mad at me, Daddy?” That little bruise on his boy’s face made him purse his lips and shake his head.
“No. No, I’m sad because that little girl felt like she had to pick a fight, but I’m not mad.” He picked up his son and hugged him. “We got to talk about the difference between tattling and telling Daddy what’s going on in your life, though.”
“Okay, Daddy.” Grainger wrapped around him and held on, and Audie didn’t discourage it. How much longer would he have this? This easy love from his boy? He loved Grainger enough to want to be in on everything, from little league to pimples, but Audie knew he had to keep these moments close.
“Come on. I got that calf in the barn, and you can feed him tonight.” They would even stop at the truck stop and grab a cookie or some fried mac and cheese.
“Yeah? Is he better? I think his name should be Snoopy.”
“Snoopy?” Huh. A calf named Snoopy. Duke went nuts as soon as they came into view.
“Duke!” Grainger wiggled to climb down, then ran over to the truck. “Duke, it’s been a yuck-o day.”
Duke hopped down to meet his boy, licking Grainger’s face. Poor kid. Audie’s mom was gonna have a fit when she saw her grandson with a black eye.
Of course, kids healed quick. Maybe they’d just beg off dinner over there tomorrow night, go have pizza in town….
He grinned at the little voice in his head that sounded like his momma. Coward.
Yeah, yeah. Still. If he worked it right, he wouldn’t see her until she came to pick Grainger up for Sunday school….
“Daddy! Can we have ice cream?”
Well, that settled it. He knew what they were getting on the way home. “Sure, buddy. Just a small one, huh?”
“Yes, sir. I’m sorry about pushing Randi, but she’s real mean, and she hit me.”
“She’s got a tough row to hoe, kiddo. Her daddy is blind, did you see?” That was a good start to a conversation, and he hoped Grainger might find a little understanding.
“He can’t see. That’s why he has that special white cane.”
“Like he can’t see nothing? For real?”
“For real.” He had no idea how much vision Mr. White had, but the cane told a grim story.
“How does he work?”
“I don’t know what he does, buddy. I can’t say.” He had no idea what a guy like that would do. Maybe that was why he came to live with his folks.
“Can I tell you a secret, Daddy?”
“Sure, kiddo.” He would never say no to that.
“Randi had a whole ’nother dad, and she said he was smashed to death in a car.”
“Oh man.” He lifted Grainger up, then waved Duke back into the truck. “That’s terrible, huh? No wonder she’s so mad.” Christ. A wreck. He wondered if that was what took the live one’s sight.
“Nobody else has another dad.”
“Not one?” He knew that, but this was also a prime opportunity to get some stuff talked out.
“Uh-uh. Well, not and no mom.”
“That’s not bad, though. Just different.”
“Yeah? It’s okay? Shelly and Hannah say it’s not.”
“Well, Shelly and Hannah are likely just saying what their folks told them. What do you think?” He had always been super careful not to push anything with Grainger around, but people who lived in glass houses didn’t teach their kids to throw stones, either.
“I think they don’t like her ’cause she’s got ugly hair.”
He snorted, trying to hold back laughter. “She has wild hair, bud. It’s not ugly.”
“Uh-huh. It’s like the old man book, the one with the beard that has birds in it. Gram reads it to me.”
“Lord. You might like her, you gave her half a chance. She sounds a lot like Auntie Grace.”
Grainger turned to look at him. “Auntie Grace has short hair, Daddy.”
“I know that.” He decided on Braum’s rather than the truck stop, heading into town instead of toward the house. “I mean her temper and all. Auntie Grace used to wale on me.”
Grainger nodded, bouncing as they drove. “She was bigger than you forever, huh?”
“She was. She can still whap me real hard, it just doesn’t hurt as much.” Grace was a horse trainer. She had some strength.
“But you don’t never whap her ’cause she’s just a girl.”
“I’ve wanted to a time or two.”
Grainger crowed when they pulled into Braum’s, and even Duke got to barking. Audie knew he’d have to work on Grainger over the weekend to try to keep this from happening again, but he was pretty pleased with his son’s resilience.
He was a good kid, no matter what the principal thought.
I absolutely loved this book. I just read Ms. Tortuga’s The Terms of Release a day or two ago and had signed up for Ever the Same without realizing it was the same author, but when I finished The Terms of Release I was compelled to begin this book. The fact that I have dozens due to review before it was irrelevant because I enjoyed the author’s writing so much that I had to find out if it was the specific book I had read or her style in general. After finishing Ever the Same, I am pleased as punch to discover it’s her writing style that I enjoy.
Once again, Ms. Tortuga has created wonderfully compelling characters with Audie and Dixon. Although both men are single dads, gay, and have overbearing mothers, there similarities pretty much end there. Dixon lost his partner almost two years ago and his sight about a year ago as a result of the same accident. He’s been living with his parents ever since he got out of the hospital, trying to figure out how to live as a blind man, and his daughter Randi is about the only thing that he feels he has to live for. Even though Audie is also a single dad, no one outside of his immediate family and his son’s mother know that he’s gay. Audie doesn’t live in the closet because he’s ashamed of his sexuality, but rather he doesn’t want Grainger to have to deal with any negativity as a result. While I don’t typically read books in which the children are pivotal to the storyline (don’t ask me why because I don’t know), in this case I loved that the kids are so involved in the story and were responsible for them meeting; it doesn’t hurt that the kids are cute as can be. As Audie and Dixon spend time around one another and eventually begin spending time together, the way in which they complement each other is so obvious that even a blind man can see (I couldn’t resist), even if their overinvolved mothers couldn’t. I’m not sure how to characterize their chemistry, it’s not that it’s hot or not hot, but rather I could feel the connection between them. The sex scenes are quite enjoyable, but there’s more of a focus on affection, comforting touches, holding one another, cuddling, snuggling – acts of human contact that clearly communicate love and something both men were sorely in need of. If you’ve read my reviews before, you know I love me some hot man-on-man action, but I think in the case of Ever the Same, it was this focus on touch and affection that made this a 5-star read for me.
Even though their children are the same age, Audie became a father fresh out of school and is about ten years younger than Dixon and I cannot even begin to express how pleased I was that the author didn’t feel the need to make the age difference an issue as there were so many more important things these guys had to deal with – Dixon’s blindness, their mothers butting in where they weren’t needed or wanted, that Audie wasn’t out, Randi’s other grandparents wanting to take her to live with them, financial issues, INTERVENTIONS!!!, and most importantly, whether or not they wanted a life together and, if they did, how they could go about it. I loved the way the author paced the telling of the story, some things came slowly and this allowed the men to form a friendship and for their relationship to evolve at a realistic pace. There were also times when they were smacked over the head with multiple situations that left them scrambling just like life does. Even better was that there wasn’t an oversimplified solution to every problem, nor was every issue drawn out to increase the angst of the book – rather each issue gave Audie and Dixon a chance to get to know one another, to communicate, and to decide what they did and did not want and what they were willing to do to achieve it. Ever the Same was a wonderfully enjoyable read for me and one that has made it on my reread list and moved Ms. Tortuga to my author watch list, fortunately she has an extensive backlist I get to check out.
I received a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Reviewed by Angela at Crystal's Many Reviewers!
This...this is the kind of story that I love reading.
Audie is a single father who has lived his life hiding who he really is. His life revolves around his horses and his son--until fate brings Dixon and Randi into his life. Audie can't stand by to see a little girl with a world of hurt in her eyes, but still he hesitates in approaching the quiet, surly blind man. But once he comes to learn Dixon's story and the man behind the attitude, he can't seem to stay away.
Dixon is not looking for love. Hell, he doesn't even have much desire to keep on living. His days are an endless loop of trying to figure how to move forward, take care of his daughter and learning to be blind. Pain, indecision, confusion and helplessness are some of the constants in his life--until Audie with his charming personality, easy manner and flirty comments slowly but surely urges him to take that one step that will put him back to living a 'normal' life. But with change comes challenges, lack of support from the people around him and frustration.
Soon Audie and Dixon must fight not only for their new found love but for the life they want to make for themselves and their family.
I loved this story from beginning to end. Both Audie and Dixon were amazing characters to get to know. Audie with his humble ways, caring nature and desire to love and be loved was adorable. Dixon on the other hand, was more complex. Torn between having lost his partner and his sight and wanting what Audie offered, he was confused and scared as to how to move forward, but regressing to his former self was not an option. Add to that two little kids and of course everything gets a bit more complicated--and interesting too!
For me the addition of the kids made a big difference in my enjoyment of this story. Often times kids are introduced in a story and soon forgotten. But not here. BA Tortuga managed to focused on developing Audie and Dixon's connection while still allowing the reader to experience the connection between Audie, Dixon, Grainger and Randi. I loved how she took the time to showcase how the characters bonded without it taking away from the romance.
And what a romance it was! Moving slow and steady and making absolutely sure that a connection was established, BA Tortuga didn't miss a beat in bringing the romance to the page. There was heat and flirty banter, intense emotional moments, doubts and hesitations and like the sap I am I devoured it all!
I loved Audie's reluctance to make a move and his determination to take things at Dixon's pace. I especially loved how he came to stand up for himself and what he wanted out of life and never doubting that Dixon was who he wanted. I also enjoyed seeing Dixon letting go bit by bit and letting Audie into his life. A supporting touch, a careful caress...he came to allow it and me? I was grinning like a maniac. (or so I was told!)
I don't even have to into the chemistry between these two--this is BA Tortuga after all. But I liked that the intensity of their attraction transitioned nicely from hesitant to full-on steam as the story progressed. A treat for sure! There was this one scene....*sigh* perfection!
Ever the Same is one of those stories that have a perfect mix of romance, emotions and conflict. The pace allowed the reader to really get into the story, the characters were complex and showed much growth and the romance was tentative and blooming as the story moved along. All in all, a wonderful romantic story.
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