Excerpt from: Finding Absolution
A sense of pride filled Van Duggins as his student, Kai Hachiya, accepted his first place trophy and cheque. It was Kai’s third win in four surfing tournaments, and Van was beginning to think he was no longer needed.
“Did Kai talk to you about Wyoming?” Quade Madison, Kai’s partner, asked.
“He mentioned it.” Van glanced at Quade. He hated to admit it, but he’d grown to really like the guy, and Kai definitely surfed better with Quade around. Unfortunately, liking Quade and following him and Kai to Cattle Valley didn’t go hand in hand. Never in his life had he been landlocked. The mere thought of not being able to see the brilliant blue of the ocean made Van’s stomach turn. “Not my idea of a vacation,” he mumbled.
“Maybe not, but you won’t know until you try it,” Quade replied.
“I won’t be able to breathe,” Van countered.
“You don’t have to worry about that, they have air in Wyoming, too.” Quade laughed and slapped Van on the back. “It would mean a lot to Kai if you joined us.”
“Funny, Kai told me it would mean a lot to you.” Van smiled. “So what’s the real reason you want me to go to this festival in the middle of nowhere?”
Quade took off his hat and wiped the sweat from his forehead. “I’m proud of Cattle Valley. I guess I’d just like to share it with you.”
Van had prepared an excuse to get out of the planned vacation, but he couldn’t get the words out of his mouth. Quade had been nothing but supportive of Kai’s training and career, and had rarely asked for anything in exchange. “I’ll have to leave right after the carnival or whatever it is.”
Quade chuckled. “Don’t act so thrilled.” He bumped shoulders with Van. “You probably won’t admit it afterwards, but you’re going to love the rodeo.”
Van grunted in reply.
“I’m starving,” Kai announced as he finally joined them. “I’ve got an interview in an hour, but I thought we could get something to eat first.”
“You aced everyone,” Van congratulated Kai.
Kai grinned. “I almost clucked on that last wave, but I remembered what you taught me and hit the lip perfectly.”
There wasn’t much that he hadn’t taught Kai, and the kid never forgot a single lesson. Before long Van would become obsolete to the man he’d grown close to. However, there was still one thing the beach rat had refused to get through his thick skull. “Language,” he warned. How many times had he explained to Kai that he hated slang?
“Sorry.” Kai broke away from Quade and wrapped his arms around Van. “I couldn’t have won without you.”
Van hugged Kai back. They both knew the truth, but the words were nice to hear. “You’d better get something to eat while you can.” He released Kai and took a step back.
“Aren’t you coming with us?” Quade asked.
Van turned his attention to the ocean. “I think I’ll go home and catch some waves while I still can.” He winked at Kai. “Not many of those in Wyoming.”
Kai’s handsome face lit up like Van had just given him the world. “Really? You’re coming with us?”
“I’ve decided I can’t go to my grave without seeing a rodeo.” Van settled his sunglasses down over his eyes. “When do we leave?”
“Wednesday,” Kai replied. “I booked you a seat just in case.”
With a nod and a wave, Van walked to his Jeep. He untied the leather thong that held his shoulder-length hair at the nape of his neck and headed out of the parking lot. Driving along the coast with the ocean breeze in his face always made him feel free. He’d spent the first eight years of his life in a depressing apartment on Central Park West in Manhattan with a mother who had little use for him outside the money she received monthly from his father.
Van had grown up believing his dad was a rich son of a bitch who cared nothing for him. It wasn’t until his mother had been invited to Europe for the summer with her newest lover and had informed Van that he’d be shipped off to Oahu to stay with his father that he’d met the man for the first time.
Turning down a dirt driveway, Van returned to the small cottage hidden behind years of brush and trees. The house his father had owned and the only place in the world Van had found true love and acceptance.
It had become clear on his first visit to Oahu that his father wasn’t the rich man he’d thought him to be. Instead, Jimmy Duggins had worked two jobs, grown his own food and lived in a house that had barely been more than a shack at the time in order to pay the large sum of child support Van’s mom had demanded.
Smiling at the memory of his dad’s broad grin the first time they’d met, Van parked in front of the house. He’d done a few renovations since he’d first set eyes on the beach shack, but the hanging wind chimes and folk art were one hundred per cent original. Christ, he missed that man. Everyone on the island had called Van’s father Jimmy Jam, and despite working two jobs, the seasoned surfer had taken the time to teach Van everything he knew about the island, the ocean and what it meant to be a man.
“I’m going to Wyoming,” Van said to the house. At his father’s request, Van had cremated his dad’s body after he’d passed and sprinkled the ashes around the yard and on the beach, making the whole damn place his forever. “Did you ever think you’d see me at a rodeo?” Van had refused to admit it to Quade, but the more he thought about going to the competition the more excited he became.
Van got out of the Jeep and headed straight to the back of the house. He stripped out of his clothes and grabbed a pair of board shorts from the clothesline. The true beauty in the shack’s location was the isolation, something he’d grown to crave when he was away from it.
The row of surfboards that leaned against the house like ancient warriors were a daily reminder of his past. He ran a hand over the pale yellow board his father had favoured before taking a moment to stand in front of the expensive board his ex-student and lover, Blain Hardesty, had given him as a thank you.
Blain. Van wrapped his arms around the longboard and rested his cheek against its smooth surface. Not a day went by that he didn’t miss Blain. Many in the surfing community still blamed Van for Blain’s death, and there were days when he agreed with them. The day before the tournament, Van had been forced to tell Blain he wasn’t good enough to perform the Duggin’s Slide, a manoeuvre Van had made famous when he’d competed on the circuit. A huge fight had erupted between them and Blain had stormed off to the bar. When Blain had arrived for the tournament, he was still suffering the effects of the alcohol he’d poured down his throat. When Van tried to argue that Blain was in no shape to surf, he’d been summarily fired and told he was a washed-up surfer who didn’t want to share the limelight. Hurt and angry, Van had let loose a steady stream of profanities before storming off.
Van gasped for air as the memories threatened to choke him. Blain had died eight years earlier and there still wasn’t a night when Van didn’t reach for the younger man in his sleep.
Hell, maybe he could use some time away from the water, the memories. He released his hold on the longboard and tucked the ugliest board in the bunch under his arm. His father had given him the competition board when he’d realised Van’s potential.
Van jogged to the water. He paddled out and turned his board to face the shack. The solitude his home offered had always done a better job of calming him than all the expensive shrinks he’d gone to after the tragedy that had taken Blain’s life. He wondered what would ground him in a town without an ocean.
Excerpt from Fingerprints and Muddy Feet:
Nate Gills tossed another kernel of popcorn in the air for his partner, Ryan Blackfeather, to catch in his mouth. He loved lazy Sunday nights indulging in trash TV with his partners. “I think Kim’s by far the hottest one,” he sighed.
“You’re kidding, right?” Rio scoffed, tousling Nate’s hair. Rio was the only person who could get away with mussing Nate’s perfectly sculpted locks. “Were you not sitting right beside me when Brody went almost an entire episode without a shirt?”
Nate rolled over and licked a path up Rio’s bare chest. “I’m in girl mode. You can’t compare Brody to Kim. That’s cheating.”
“Why the hell would you be in girl mode? Last time I checked, you were a man.” Rio reached for Nate’s cock. “Yep, still there.”
Ryan groaned and reached for the popcorn bowl. “Why do we have to play ‘who’s the hottest’ on every show we watch?”
Nate stretched out and tickled Ryan’s balls with his toes. “Would it help if I said you were the hottest?”
“No,” Rio answered, squeezing Nate’s cock. “I’m the hottest.”
Nate’s phone began to ring, interrupting the clever comeback he was forming. He wiggled out of Rio’s grasp and snagged the cell off the bedside table. “Hello?”
“Turn on the news,” Joseph, Nate’s long-time friend, instructed.
“Just do it,” Joseph replied.
Nate grabbed the remote away from Ryan and turned to one of the twenty-four-hour news channels. The ticker at the bottom of the screen captured his full attention. He caught the name of his brother and felt like he couldn’t breathe.
“Who is it?” Ryan asked, sitting up.
Nate ignored his partner and turned up the volume, waiting for more information.
“A small aircraft carrying Maryland State Representative Robert Gilloume, an up-and-coming figure in the Republican Party and the son of Senator William Gilloume, crashed in a field in western Pennsylvania at five-fifty-four this evening. Mr Gilloume, his wife, Laura, and the plane’s pilot, John McKenzie, were all confirmed dead at the scene.”
Nate turned off the television when a helicopter flying overhead began to show footage of the fiery crash scene.
“Nate?” Joseph said.
“Thanks for calling. I’ll talk to you later.” Nate hung up on his friend before dropping the phone to the mattress. He looked from Rio to Ryan. Although they both knew he had a younger brother, Nate never spoke of him. “I need to go to Baltimore.”
“We’ll go with you,” Ryan offered, pulling Nate into an embrace.
Nate’s natural instinct was to decline the offer. Subjecting Ryan and Rio to his parents wasn’t something he thought he’d ever do, but he couldn’t let his baby brother be buried without him there.
“Thanks,” Nate finally said. He gave each of his men a quick kiss before climbing out of bed.
Although he hadn’t seen his brother since he’d snuck into Robby’s high school graduation, Robby’s wife had sent Christmas cards for the last few years. Nate entered the closet and retrieved the box that contained everything he had of his past life as Senator William Gilloume’s son. He withdrew the previous year’s card. It was one of those photograph cards that everyone seemed to be sending lately. He left the closet and handed the card to Rio. “That’s my brother, Robby, his wife, Laura, and their kids.” He tapped the photograph. “Will was seven in this picture, but he’s eight now, and Hannah’s now twelve.” He sat on the side of the bed as Rio studied the card before handing it to Ryan. “What’s going to happen to them?”
“Depends on whether or not Robby and Laura had a will, but most likely, they’ll go to the nearest relative. Do you know if Laura had family?” Ryan asked.
Nate shook his head. “The first Christmas card she sent contained a brief letter. It said she’d discovered where I was by one of those magazine stories written after the grandstand collapse. She didn’t have my address, but she knew I was mayor, so she sent it to city hall.” Although he didn’t really know Laura, he wished he had. The woman had definitely been resourceful. “In the letter, she said she’d always wished for family and the fact that Robby could disown his own brother pained her. Laura gave me a way to know my niece and nephew, and I’ll never forget that.”
Rio’s dark eyes narrowed. “Why didn’t you share these cards with us before?”
Nate shrugged. “I loved getting those pictures. It made me feel like I was still a member of the family, and as long as I kept that fantasy to myself, no one could make me believe otherwise.”
Rio brushed his lips across Nate’s temple before kissing it. “I’m sorry that you felt we would take that away from you.”
“You don’t have to be sorry. To be honest, it was one of those secrets that I kept for purely selfish reasons,” Nate explained. “My heart wanted to believe my brother missed me, even though my head knew better. Laura was the one who sought me out, not Robby.” The truth finally hit home. If it had been left up to Robby, Nate wouldn’t have the cards. He’d pretended for a while that Robby knew Laura was reaching out to him. That for some reason Robby couldn’t contact Nate himself for fear of what their father would do, but the truth was, Robby was either an asshole or too far under the Senator’s thumb. Brother or not, maybe Robby didn’t love me at all. Nate pushed away the thought and turned back to the card.
“What’re you saying?” Ryan asked.
“Nothing. Just that I’m going to Baltimore to pay my respects to Laura. Whether or not they let me into Robby’s funeral, they can’t keep me out of Laura’s.”