“JESUS CHRISTMAS, why did I let you talk me into this whole wedding nonsense?” Stoney was sitting at the kitchen table with Geoff, about as aggravated as could be, tying a hundred thousand little packets of birdseed together with white and emerald-green ribbons.
“Me?” His husband, Ford, raised an eyebrow at him, then reached to pour himself a cup of coffee. “Event space. That was my schtick. I blame Mason for all the weddings.”
“We have ten this summer, honey. Ten!”
Geoff began to cackle. “Poor abused cowboy, having to deal with… what? Seventeen grooms and three brides?”
Ford grinned. “He’s such a drama llama, huh?”
“It’s all the birdseed,” Geoff murmured, looking a little dazed.
Poor guy was the ranch cook, and he’d made dozens of canapés in the last two days. If anyone had the right to be tired of weddings, it was Geoff.
Still, Stoney wasn’t dumb enough to refuse help. He had rough old fingers made for roping calves and leading horses, not tying fancy ribbons that were slippery and tee-tiny.
“Want me to send help?” Ford asked, coming to rub Stoney’s neck. “Quartz has little fingers.”
His head fell forward, and his lips parted as he groaned deep. Oh fuck, that felt so good. So damn good.
“Damn, babe, you’re tight as a drum.” Ford dug in deep, loosening his muscles.
Geoff cleared his throat. “Why don’t you two escape into the bedroom and I’ll find Quartz?”
“Really?” Man, he could use an hour of not this. One of the groomsmen was coming in tonight….
“Really. Come on, lover.” Ford’s words pleased him, down to the bones.
Stoney dropped his last tied bag of birdseed like a hot rock. “Oh well, then. I’m with you.”
Ford chuckled softly, taking him by the hand and tugging him up. That look on Ford’s face was dear, familiar, and had him grinning right back.
“You ready for this one?” Stoney asked. “Mason says it’s a big one.”
“All weddings are big. It’s a big day. You remember ours?”
Stoney shot Ford a look. “You’re not serious.”
“Only a little.” Ford winked at him to show he was teasing, Stoney thought. Sometimes Ford still stumbled over play a little. Like a show dog who never learned what a tennis ball was.
Stoney lifted his face for a kiss, humming deep in his chest as Ford leaned down. This Ford never forgot how to do now. Not ever. Whenever Stoney needed him, the man was right there, giving him what he needed.
“Mmm… take me to the bedroom, please? Love on me?”
“Hell, yes. The guests can wait a bit….” Ford looped an arm around him, drawing him back to their sanctuary. “I’ll love you into goo before I go schmooze.”
“Good man.” Goo sounded better than it should.
“I really am. I’m willing to meet with the bride for you.”
“Damn. My hero. She comes in tomorrow.” Stoney had it all planned out with Mason, the wedding planner. They always let someone else come see the venue before the bride, just in case. Fewer meltdowns.
“Her groom and his brother are already in Glenwood, enjoying the springs.”
“Oh, cool.” He thought? Stoney wasn’t sure he had a handle on all the family members. Only the plan.
“Mm-hmm. Come on, you don’t need to worry about this. You need to think about me.”
“I do? I do.” He wanted Ford. He really did.
“You do. We have an hour.” Ford’s grin was pure-D wicked.
“That’s enough to really get naughty.”
“That’s the point.”
The sound of the door locking made him smile. “Yessir.”
“WOW, THIS place really is pretty remote.” Mateo Harris checked his phone, which only had one bar on the little service meter. How was he supposed to get a hot spot out of this?
“I know, right? Jennifer picked the place. Her daddy took her there for summers when her momma died. They camped and fished and all.”
Mateo grinned at his baby brother. Alejandro was hooked through the ball sac, had been since he’d met Jennifer at Texas Tech their freshman year. One electrical engineering and one art history degree later, Jen had followed Alejandro to Santa Fe.
“Well, it’s pretty.” He did love a mountain view, even if it wasn’t his Sangre de Cristo range. And he was feeling pretty mellow after a soak at the Glenwood hot springs.
“Howdy.” An old cowboy wandered out to meet them, coming from what looked like the main house. “You the Misters Harris?”
“Yes, sir.” He grinned as Alejandro let him be the one to step up, offer his hand. “I’m Mateo, and this is the groom.”
“Well, welcome to the Leanin’ N. I’m Doogie, and I swear I won’t be interactin’ with your guests.” The old guy shook hands and winked. “Come on in and have a cup of coffee. I’ll get Tanner to get you settled.”
“Of course, thank you. Coffee sounds amazing.” And it was a way to ascertain whether the place was decent or not.
“My brother is a coffee whore, Mr. Doogie. I just want a beer.”
“Plebe,” he muttered, and Alejandro hooted.
“You know it, bro.”
Doogie led the way up a solid set of back stairs, which opened into a warm, bright kitchen that had a homey look and professional equipment. It also smelled like heaven. “Well, we got both, boys. Espresso machine with all the hookups and a whole fridge in the back for beer.”
Mateo thought he’d died and gone to heaven.
A wild-haired man with a warm grin and laughing eyes turned to meet him. “You must be part of the Harris-Whitehead party.”
“Mateo Harris. This is the groom, Alejandro.”
“Pleased. I’m Geoff.” Geoff held up flour-covered hands. “I’d shake, but I’m a mess. I hear you guys went to the pool. What did you think?” A plate of cookies landed on the big butcher-block table, and somehow they were sitting, Doogie giving Alejandro a little beer menu.
That was adorable.
“It rocked, man. Seriously. I baked all sorts of things.” Alejandro’s eyes were on the cookies like white on rice.
“I bet. It’s good to boil yourself on occasion. Please, help yourself. I’m making supper in about an hour, but there’s a ton of snacks. What kind of coffee can I make you, Mr. Harris?”
“Can I get a double shot latte, please?” Oh, he was all over this. Coffee on demand.
“Absolutely. Give me two shakes.”
Alej looked up from his phone. “Yo, bro. Jennifer’s already on her way. She’s bringing Lucia and Daniela with her.”
His heart skipped a beat. He hadn’t seen his baby girls since he had filed for shared custody three months ago. Apparently Reid, the asshole ex, hadn’t been too pleased to hear from his lawyer because the response had been “See you in court,” and then suddenly both girls were visiting their grandparents in Florida. The temptation to file on Reid had been huge, vast, and it had been Mama, of all people, to say that he just needed patience. Patience his ass. “Is she bringing Reid?”
“I imagine so. He’s her best man.”
Shit. He put both hands on the table to hold down the world, which was suddenly whirling.
“Hey. Hey, now.” Alejandro eased him back down. “You knew this was going to happen. I warned you.”
“The girls are in Orlando.” That had been months ago, and no one—no one—had mentioned it since.
“There was no way Jen was going to not have the girls at the wedding.”
“No. No, of course.”
Geoff was right there, pressing a piece of chocolate into his hand. “You look a little shocky. Would you two like me to step out or have Tanner show you to your cabin, Mr. Mateo?”
“I….” He wanted that coffee. He wanted it to be ten minutes ago. Hell, he wanted it to be two years ago, before he’d made the biggest, dumbest mistake of his life.
Alejandro put a hand on his shoulder. “Coffee, please, Geoff. Then maybe you folks have a front room we could go sit in and chat?”
“We do. Absolutely.” Geoff bustled.
Doogie came back with a beer, and Mateo felt his feet moving when he had his coffee, but he had no memory of getting from kitchen to living room, sitting in front of a cavernous fireplace that, right now, held a metal sculpture of a cavorting moose.
“You okay, man? Talk to me. What did you think, eh?”
“I don’t know, Alej.” He spread his hands, just feeling like the bottom had dropped out. “I was kinda afraid I’d never see the girls again.”
“You think Reid would do that to you? Seriously?”
“I don’t want to think so, but he’s been hiding all sorts of shit from me.” Reid had custody, and Mateo had visitation because Reid had more time to take care of the girls. So why was he suddenly hearing about a full-time nanny? Did Reid have a guy? Someone who was bankrolling the nanny? Because his child support was nowhere near enough to fund the household and two full-time staff. They already had Marta, for fuck’s sake. She was a dream.
God, he should have listened to his lawyer. He should have, but a part of him—a way bigger part than he wanted to admit to—trusted Reid, and if Reid was in Orlando, he wasn’t with the new guy, right?
Shit, he was messed-up.
“I’m sorry, man. I hate that you guys are going back to court, but you gotta chill for the wedding. That’s all.” Alej was at the pleading stage of this negotiation already.
Was he that much of an asshole?
“Besides, the girls are so excited to see you. They’re tired of the Florida scene.”
“You talk to my kids more than I do.” He gave Alejandro a ghost of a smile. “I’m so glad they’re coming.” He could ignore Reid.
“You’re freaking out, huh?”
Mateo nodded again. “It hurts how much I still love him, man.”
“I’m sorry. I should have told Jen no, but….”
But his brother had never refused Jennifer anything.
“Hey, it’s her wedding. I know you two will do it right and stay married, so….” He grimaced. “Okay, so maybe I just need to eat my chocolate and drink my coffee and shut up.”
“I never thought….” Alejandro sighed. “You two were perfect.”
“I know.” Everything he felt when he talked about Reid boiled up in his chest, and his belly revolted at the first sip of coffee. “Bathroom.”
“A la ve!” Alejandro’s eyes went wide, and he started hunting. It only took a second before his brother pointed. “There.”
He ran because there wasn’t even a trash can he could see, and puking in the fireplace was bad, right? Right.
He made it, just barely, but he made it.
Shaking and sweaty, Mateo walked back to the living room after he washed up, finding Alejandro talking to a nut-brown cowboy who was easily forty years younger than the one who’d met them outside.
“This is Tanner, bro. He can take us to our cabins.”
“I have a bunch of bottled water, saltines, and some ginger ale in your cabin. It’ll help, I bet.”
“Oh. Thank you.” It would help.
“No problem. Should I tell Geoff to have anything specific for supper?”
“Uh, just something bland?”
“He loves mashed potatoes,” Alejandro put in.
“Of course. I’ll tell the kitchen. He makes a great potato soup.”
Mateo swayed a bit. “That sounds lovely, thank you.”
“I’ll get the bags for y’all if you don’t mind me having the car keys,” Tanner said. “But first come on, and I’ll let you rest.”
“That’s kind of you, thank you so.” Alejandro could be incredibly polite when he had to be. Like their mama. Pop was more direct, if hellacious poetic.
The cabin he was led to was gorgeous—this rustic but incredibly lush room with a huge king bed, a love seat, a recliner, and a small dinette. Not at all the old hunting lodge he’d expected.
No, this was the perfect place for Jennifer and Alej to get married. Hell, there was already a tray with a box of saltines, and in the mini-fridge there was water and ginger ale, as promised. Alej must have told them about his stomach troubles.
“You folks are amazing. Thank you.”
“Anytime. If you need us, call. We’ll send you down supper, if you need it.”
“Oh, I bet I can come up.” He really wanted to see how dinner worked, how the flow moved once a few more people showed, but he had a feeling it would be seamless.
“Whatever trips your trigger. Come on, Mr. Groom. I’ll take you to your suite.”
“Thank you.” Alejandro waved, making the “call if you need me” hand against his cheek.
Mateo waved back, but was so damn grateful when he was alone that he could have cried.
Reid. Reid was coming for the wedding. Mateo doubled over, clutching his belly. He would turn and leave right now, if it wasn’t for his baby girls. They would be there. He’d get to hold them, talk to them, ask about Florida, about whether Lucia was ready to start kindergarten.
God, he missed being part of their lives day in and day out. He needed this, and Reid could go jump off a cliff.
He was their father, as much as Reid, and he would be damned if he missed this.
Feeling calmer, he opened up a pack of saltines and a bottle of water before looking over to see Tanner had snuck his bags in, just in the door. Okay, time to get some work done before the kids got there.
With any luck, he’d never see Reid except for the rehearsal and the wedding.
That worked for them, he guessed. Avoiding each other was the one thing they were good at.