The Winchester brothers were coming home.
All three of them. At the same time.
That hadn’t happened in years and every female this side of the grave had perked up when she’d heard the news. Madison wouldn’t be surprised if a few down under had taken note, too.
Like bees, they’d buzzed about it over the tables at Bella’s Bakery, sweetened the air at Artie’s Groceries, and buttered the bread at Venti’s Italian restaurant with their gossip. Everyone had something to say about it.
And no matter how many times Madison told herself she didn’t care, she couldn’t keep her distance from the conversations about their native sons, or the mere mention of the Winchester name . . . . It brought a rush of twisted excitement each time she heard it.
Wrong, in every way.
Her best friend and partner in crime, Christopher Kuchar, heard it from Zoe Martelle, who heard from Henry Venti who got it from Catherine Winchester herself. Her sons, JT, Scout and Hamilton, were coming home for Thanksgiving. They could be here any day now.
They’d all been expecting Scout—the town had voted to rename Winchester Ice Rink to Scout Winchester Ice Rink and there would be a ceremony tomorrow in his honor. But the other two brothers joining him? That was the shocker no one could believe.
Until rumors begin to surface. Talk of an investor meeting with the three brothers while they were here—which immediately sent the local gossips into wild speculation about which investor and what investment the brothers could be making. Property? Property here? Was it possible they might be thinking of moving home after all these years?
Madison rubbed her neck, hoping it wasn’t true. The last thing she needed was to see JT Winchester every single day. And in a town the size of Plymouth Rock, Colorado, it would be hard not to.
A blast of cold air snapped Madison from her angst as Mrs. Shelton came through the front door of Lane’s packaging—the mail depot and packaging shop Madison had taken over from her grandmother six years ago. Mufasa, Madison’s giant shepherd mix, lumbered to his feet from his coveted spot near the window, and went to greet the older woman. Moof knew better than to bark at the customers, but ever the gentleman, he did feel it was his duty to allow some one-on-one time with his perky ears and waggy body.
Mrs. Shelton didn’t care much for dogs. They couldn’t talk and didn’t do anything worth gossiping about, but she knew resistance was futile. She air-patted Moof a few times before making her way to the counter. Not an adequate show of affection in Moof’s estimation, but he accepted the token and flopped on the floor again.
Mrs. Shelton had her weekly bundle of bills—no online payments for her, no sir—in one hand, and a cup of coffee and a white paper sack from Bella’s Bakery clutched in her other. Inside the bag would be a cherry Danish. Mrs. Shelton was nothing if not predictable.
“Morning, Mrs. Shelton,” Madison said, taking the stack of envelopes and fanning through them to make sure they all had stamps before adding them to the basket for pick up. Plymouth Rock didn’t have its own post office but a mail truck made a daily delivery and pick up at Lane’s—just as it had for the last fifty years. Change took its own damn time in Plymouth Rock—or simply skipped them altogether.
“Have you seen JT yet?” the elderly woman asked casually as she selected a copy of the Durango Herald from the rack beside the counter and paid for it. The Plymouth Rock newsletter next to it was free, so she took that, too. “Lorelai told me he pulled in around eleven last night.”
He was here, already? “She saw him?”
“Said he drives a fancy SUV. Black, she said. Just a guess, since the color was hard to make out in the dark. She said she’d recognize JT Winchester anywhere, though. No missing that man.”
Any man under the age of fifty was hard to miss in this town. Single people didn’t arrive in Plymouth Rock without notice and very few decided to stay. They migrated to and from, like ducks fleeing a frigid fall. But JT Winchester had always cut an imposing figure, even when he was a teenager. He’d been the captain of the football team and their hometown hero. Everyone had expected him to go pro.
Everyone but Madison, that is.
He’d left the rest of the town scratching their heads when he’d quit playing for UC Boulder after his sophomore year and transferred to ASU, declining a follow up offer to play for the Sun Devils in favor of dual degrees in English Literature and Sustainability. He’d since put both degrees to good use.
“Is JT staying with his mother?” Madison asked, knowing the question would become part of Mrs. Shelton’s narrative from this point on. But pretending she didn’t care would only raise Mrs. Shelton’s antennae and add intrigue to her translation of the conversation.
No one in Plymouth Rock had forgotten the Chocolate Donut Incident. No one ever would.
“I’m not sure if he’s staying with Catherine or up at Win Creek Cabin,” Mrs. Shelton said pensively. “I want to know, too.”
Like it was her business. But that was life in this town. Privacy was a hard won and often pointless battle.
“My guess would be Win Creek Cabin,” Mrs. Shelton finished with a decisive nod. As if that would make it so.
It did make sense, though. The cabin sat on a gorgeous piece of real estate high up on the summit of Turkey Ridge, near enough to Win Creek to hear the gurgle of its waters. In truth, the house pretended to be a cabin but with five bedrooms, a gourmet kitchen and floor to ceiling views over the Rockies and the town proper, it didn’t fool anyone.
Grandpa Winchester—or Grandpa Win, as everyone had called him when he’d been alive—had left his three grandsons the cabin when he’d died. If she was JT, that’s where she’d be staying.
Mrs. Shelton took her coffee, pastry and paper, moving to her favorite table by the window, leaving Madison to obsess about JT in peace. It was pretty much all she’d been doing since she’d first heard he was coming home and it really pissed her off. It had been years since she’d dwelled on memories of JT. Longer still since she’d shed a tear. She was over him. That ship had sailed.
Quietly, she scanned the street beyond her big front window, looking for a fancy red SUV and the big man who drove it.
Here was here . . . somewhere close . . . .
The back door opened and Chris entered with another icy blast of winter, shrugging out of his heavy coat as he closed the door behind him. Moof trotted over to greet him, big doggy smile in place. Next to Madison, Chris ranked high as Moof’s favorite human.
“Guess what I heard?” Chris announced, bending to give Mufasa a hug and a vigorous scratching.
“JT got in last night,” Madison answered.
“No—wait, what? He’s in town?”
Madison nodded. “Mrs. Shelton told me. What were you going to say?”
Chris glanced at Mrs. Shelton before pulling Madison into the alcove by the mail cubbies and lowering his voice, although it was common knowledge that Mrs. Shelton had bionic ears making the effort pointless.
“I was at the bank making our deposit and Johnny Marcus said he heard that Jeff Winchester is coming to town, too.”
Jeff Winchester—aka Jefferson Tate Winchester, II and JT’s deadbeat father—was bad news all around. If he was back in town, no doubt JT would be cutting this visit short. JT and his father hadn’t seen eye-to-eye ever.
“Why in the hell is he here?”
Chris made big eyes and shook his head. “It can’t be good, whatever the reason.”
True that. But anything that got JT to get out of town quickly was a bonus. Right?
A sudden prickle at the back of her neck made her look up and out the big window at the front of the shop, just in time to see a black SUV park curbside at Artie’s Market across the street.
JT Winchester, in the flesh, got out from behind the wheel. Larger-than-life, sexier-than-sin, and dangerous to every single cell in her body.
Just the sight of him turned her gray matter into batter. It always had. Scowling, she watched him enter Artie’s like his being here was the most natural thing in the world.
At her side, Moof made a high, questioning sound.
“You don’t think their dad is the reason they’ve come home, do you?” Chris asked, down on his knee, again, petting Moof. The dog knew his mark well and would pester Chris as long as Chris let him get away with it.
“Why would everyone be talking about the brothers making some local investments then?” she asked.
“What if they’re thinking of selling the cabin?” Chris responded and Madison’s stomach plunged.
The cabin sat on land that had been in the family for generations. Grandpa Win had handcrafted it for his beloved wife Grace. Selling it seemed like a sin.
“They wouldn’t sell the cabin,” Madison said decisively, not liking how much she sounded like Mrs. Shelton.
“It’s not like they use it. When was the last time they were all three here?”
For the funeral, when they’d laid Grandpa Win to rest. Five long years ago.
“How would I know?” she said.
The door to Artie’s Market opened and JT strode out carrying a canvas bag.
“Oh my God, that’s him,” Chris exclaimed, standing up and pressing close to Madison so he could peer out the window, too. “God, he’s good looking.”
She and Chris had the same taste in men. Chris was always more vocal about it, though.
JT’s winter coat added bulk to his big frame and the cold brought a flush to his face, but there was no mistaking who he was. There never would be for Madison.
Artie had followed him out of the store. “Good to have you back, Winchester,” he bellowed as JT walked away. His voice carried clearly on the crisp, chilly air.
JT turned and shook his head with a laugh. She felt the impact of his grin all the way across the street, through the window and over the counter where she stood gaping.
“I’m not back,” he responded, in an equally booming voice.
Yep, got it, JT. Loud and clear.
He glanced up as he stepped off the curb and his gaze snagged on Lane’s big front window. For a moment, he paused, staring in. As if he could see through the shadows, see her standing behind the counter, staring out. Deep in her chest, her heart stuttered.
“Do you think he spotted us?” Chris whispered, frowning at the gray sky outside, no doubt wondering if it made the window more or less reflective.
Madison could have told him it was a mute point. He saw her. She could feel him seeing her. The bastard.
Finally, JT got in his fancy vehicle and started the engine. The windows were tinted and she couldn’t see inside, but she suspected he was still watching her. She couldn’t look away, no matter how loud the voice in her head insisted she should. A moment later, he pulled from the curb.
“He can’t sell the cabin,” Madison said as the car disappeared around the corner.
Chris lifted a shoulder, like there’d been a question in her statement. “He can if his brothers agree with it. So . . . are you going to talk to him this time?”
“JT and I have nothing to say to each other,” Madison said with a sniff.
From the table up front, Mrs. Shelton laughed. “Now that’s a crock of shit.”
Shaking her head, she gathered up her paper, her coffee cup and the last of her pastry before heading out the door. Moof dutifully hurried over to the table and sniffed the floor for any offending crumbs that might have been left behind.
The last time Madison had had anything close to a conversation with JT, she’d been seventeen and standing in his snowy front yard dressed in her Uggs and a bright purple parka that made her look like a hot air balloon—only worn when the temperatures dipped below zero for that exact reason. Even vanity withered in those temperatures.
Madison had crushed on JT in the worst kind of way. An epically worst kind of way.
To this day, the smell of chocolate donuts was enough to make her sick.
Not that she hadn’t gotten over what had happened that morning all those years ago. She’d moved on, met other boys, other men. She’d never forgotten him, though, no matter how hard she tried.
“I doubt our paths will even cross while he’s here,” she said to Chris.
Chris’s brows shot up and he snorted. “Baloney. You’ll see him tomorrow at the ice rink ceremony.”
“Seeing and speaking aren’t the same thing. And even if we do happen to run into each other, so what? I’m twenty-seven years old, Christy. I can talk to JT Winchester without having a meltdown. No big deal.”
“Whatever helps you sleep at night, sugar.”
Well, thoughts of talking to JT certainly wouldn’t do that.
“High school is over,” she said firmly.
“High school is never over,” Chris said with a laugh. “You, of all people, should know that.”
|A LITTLE BIT OF SUGAR
Snowed In & Snuggled Up Holiday Collection Book 1
eBook - October 29, 2015
Lucky Me Publishing
Amazon ASIN: B017CNQ5F6 B&N ID: 294-0151017435
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