Only For the Weekend

CHAPTER ONE

Cole Reid follows Pammy and the shelter dog that she’d brought in for Susan to look at through the vet clinic. He thought he’d recognized Pammy’s voice and had come to investigate why his cousin was in the clinic. Shaggy’s nails click on the concrete floor as they pass the large birdcage with the resident large breed cockatoo. The bird squawks at them and puffs up her pale pink feathers. Cole taps a fingernail on the cage. “Easy, girl.”

“You coming to the reunion?” Pammy asks, stopping at the glass front doors of the clinic. Blue-tinted hair is piled on her head. A small stud sits in the flesh of her left eyebrow. The Houston Astros tee is faded and bleach-splotched; multiple holes and rips mar her jeans. The red Chucks have seen better days. Of course, she works at the kennel, so he gets why she appears so scraggly at the moment.

“I am.” Cole nods. “I’m back in Ten Rigs. No excuse not to.” He offers her a lopsided smile that feels more like a grimace on the inside. It’s his first family reunion since his freshman year at A&M what seems like a lifetime ago. In reality, it’s been six years, and so much has happened.

Pammy throws her arms around him. “Well, cuz, I, for one, am glad you’re back. I want you to meet Rafe.”

“Rafe, huh?” Cole’s eyebrow arches. This time his smile is genuine.

She nods. “Rafael Sanchez, my boyfriend. We’re not at that point yet, but I think he’s the one. So, yeah. What about you? Family rumor mill is churning overtime that all work and no boyfriend is making Cole a very dull and crabby boy.”

And that’s not a surprise. Maybe he is dull and crabby, but he’s earned the right.

“Well, you know, I’ve been a little busy becoming a veterinarian for six out of the last ten years.” Not to mention the death of his fiancé that he had to deal with on top of some epic coursework. He hasn’t had the time, energy, or even the inclination to be in another relationship.

“I know, man, but seriously. You’ve been home, what? A year? Maybe it’s time to find happiness again.” After a wink and a snap of her chewing gum, she adds, “Or at least a little fun.”

Cole huffs a laugh. There’s a decent club in Big Spring that he visits every once in a while to do just that. Casual, no-pressure hookups to take care of his physical needs when his own hand just doesn’t do the trick. “I have fun.”

A surprised expression rounds her big gray eyes, and a smirk twists her lips. “Do you now? Gilmore Girls marathons and Chunky Monkey ice cream binges?”

“Hey, watch it, squirt. It’s How I Met Your Mother and Blue Bell’s Pecan Praline’s ‘n Cream. I’m a proper Texas boy.”

Pammy laughs, head thrown back. “Fair enough. Okay.” She presses a kiss to his cheek. “See you at the lake then. Bye, Kara!” The German shepherd limps out the door ahead of Pammy, his back left paw wrapped in gauze.

“See you,” says Cole.

“Bye,” says Kara.

Cole turns to Kara, sitting quietly behind the receptionist’s desk, typing away. Crinkles frame her eyes and the corners of her mouth are turned up.

“Does everyone seriously think I’m that pathetic? That I don’t have a life?” He looks up into the rafters of the open-ceiling gridwork and sighs.

“They’re just worried about you,” Kara says, drawing his gaze. “You’ve worked so hard for the last several years. The ranchers and their livestock love you, for sure, but that won’t keep you warm at night. Pammy’s right; you deserve some happiness.”

Everyone’s forgetting that happiness was snatched away from him, not once, not twice, but three times. The fates don’t seem to think he deserves it.

“Maybe you should sign up for one of those meet-people activity groups,” says Kara.

“A dating site?” he scoffs. Call him old-fashioned, but that kind of thing isn’t for him.

“Not a dating site.” She shakes her head, still typing away. Her copper-colored curls bounce with the motion. Dark brown eyes glance at him. “Just group activities—trips to amusement parks or museums, hiking or camping trips. Wine tasting, cooking classes, all kinds of things. My aunt got divorced a couple of years ago after being married for fifteen years, and she had few friends outside her and her ex’s shared friends. She joined one of those organizations and says it was one of the best decisions she made. Now she goes and does all the time.”

“Huh.” He is starting to settle back into the ebb and flow of Ten Rigs life. The workload has evened out. Truth be told, he could use a few more friends outside of his family. He could use some friends, period. Hiking, wine tasting, amusement parks all sound like fun. Relationships, though…he’s done with those. They never seem to work out. “Maybe,” he says. “In the meantime, I’m going to have to endure a long weekend of pitying looks and nosy questions, aren’t I?”

Kara throws him a wink. “Well, you could just stay home and plow through Orange is the New Black and a couple of gallons of Blue Bunny’s Bunny Tracks.”

* * *

Tucker Naughton wiggles his toes inside the foot soaker. The lavender scent of the Epsom salts floats up on the steam of the hot-as-he-can-stand water. His aching tootsies are screaming their thanks. The library hadn’t been any busier than usual today, but perhaps wandering around the apartment in his bare feet yesterday hadn’t been such a good idea. The rug in the living room of his and Kara’s tiny little two-bedroom is worn thin and the wood flooring is uneven, but it had been so hot, he couldn’t stand having anything on his feet.

“So, now, poor Cole’s freaking out because he thinks everyone in his family pities him.” Kara takes a bite of her Bunny Tracks ice cream. She’s lying stretched out on their old nubby sofa, ankles resting on the arm with foam spreaders between her brightly painted toes.

Tucker sighs. If only he could pull off that shade of purple. “He should take a date to that family thing. Show ‘em all he’s out and proud.” He slides a spoon in and out of his mouth and “mmms” around a bite of rocky road. The cold chocolate melts in his mouth, and God, does he love chocolate.

“That’s the problem. He doesn’t know many people in Ten Rigs or anywhere else that I can gather.”

“Hmm…” says Tucker, taking another delicious bite. They eat in companionable silence for a few moments.

Tucker knows Cole a little bit. He is Kara’s boss, after all. They’ve met several times.

Cole’s around his height, but he’s bulkier—in that way that looks effortless but comes from hard physical labor and a little help from regular workouts. With dark hair, eyes that could be light brown or hazel—Tucker’s never been close enough to tell—and a Roman nose, Cole is classically handsome, and Tucker wouldn’t mind getting all up in Cole’s business, that’s for damn sure.

“I’ll be his date.” The words are out of his mouth before he can stop them. Or think the whole thing through. Tucker’s not a subtle gay and Cole seems as straitlaced as a gay man can be. The likelihood of Cole agreeing to such a thing is pretty slim, so Tucker releases the breath he’d taken in surprise at his own crazy idea.

“Wait. What?” Kara sits up and looks at him, her brown eyes wide. “Really? You’d do that?”

Well, shit. Would he? He gazes into his mostly empty pint of ice cream. He swallows the marshmallows and nuts in his mouth and seriously considers it. “Well, let’s see…long weekend at the lake. That’s fun. Free food? I’m so there. Three days with hunky Dr. Cole Reid? How could anyone consider that a hardship, right? I mean, have you seen the guy?”

Okay, so maybe Tucker lusts after Cole a little more than he wants to admit to Kara. Also, Cole may not, probably won’t, want to share anything more physical than a buss on the cheek or loose hand holding to complete the charade. That’s if he agrees to the idea at all. “Sure. If he agrees, I’m in.”

Which he won’t. Because he’s mature and grown up and why would he?

“Seriously?”

“Yes, Kara.” Tucker pulls his feet from the footbath and sets them on the towel on the floor. “Seriously.” Why the hell not? The chances of Cole agreeing are slim. “Remember when he treated Benji last winter? I kind of owe him.”

She nods and makes a sad face. Ultimately, Benji had had to be put to sleep, but Cole had treated Benji free of charge. “I miss that cat.” Then she squeals like a teenager and snatches her phone off the table. It takes a few moments, but then she’s jabbering at the person on the other end. Tucker’s going to assume it’s Cole, although he wholeheartedly believes in what they say about assuming. He’s been an ass more than once in his life. Hell, more than once this year. You’d think he’d learn. But all things considered, it’s a pretty safe bet she’s talking to Cole.

Kara stares at her phone and then looks at Tucker with surprised glee etched on her face. “Oh my God—he said yes.”

Tucker’s heart stops and then stutters back into a rhythm.

Well.

That’s…surprising. But okay. Tucker agreed. Cole agreed. So they’ve got a weekend-long date. Tucker’s not sure how to feel about the whole thing now that it’s suddenly become a reality. Cole’s way out of his league, but what the hell? It’s a weekend. Afterward, they go their separate ways. No harm, no foul.

“Show up at his place the Friday night before and go over the details of your relationship.” She makes air quotes when she says “relationship.” “Texting you his address now...”

 

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February 2018