Authors: Ranae Rose
|Sleepy Hollow |
|Ranae Rose (2012)|
The war that won the country its independence also lost many of the men who fought to achieve it, including Brom’s lover. Years later, he still feels as if he left half of himself on the battlefield. When a new schoolmaster comes to Sleepy Hollow, a spark and a whiskey-flavored kiss ignite feelings he thought were long dead. But in order to be with John, he’ll have to let the past be the past, or risk letting it destroy his opportunity to start over. And even then, loving another man is a dangerous endeavor.
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This book is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places and events are products of the author’s imagination and are in no way real. Any resemblance to real events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 Ranae Rose
Cover Design by Ranae Rose
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Brom rolled out of bed, rising quickly from the mattress as if it were a hot stove burner. The sun had already risen, pouring its light through the single window, announcing that the day had begun without him.
He pressed his hand to his forehead, grimacing as he poured a cup of water from the ewer on the bedside table. It never worked when he attempted to rub away the dull ache between his eyes, but he tried anyway as the lukewarm water slid down his dry throat. He had a full day’s work ahead of him, whether he felt like performing it or not, and he’d already wasted an hour.
Not that he’d done so out of slothfulness – it had been a miserable hour, and he’d have risen before dawn if he’d been able. But some mornings, dreams held him captive, so intense he couldn’t wake up even though the time to rise had come. The last vestiges of those nightmares clung to him now, shrouding his mind in a fog like gunsmoke. He finished the water in a hurry, not caring that some had spilled down his chin, dripping onto his chest and beading on his skin. His mouth still felt like cotton, but at least the drink would help with the headache. Perhaps he would have been able to avoid it altogether if he’d risen during the night for water, as he usually did, but the night’s dream had been inescapable.
Setting down the cup, he pulled open the bedside table’s drawer.
It was empty, save for one small object. It was a length of ribbon, and he picked it up, threading it through his fingers. It was cool to the touch, and though he remembered when it had been a rich emerald green, it had faded to a paler shade despite his efforts to preserve it. He clutched it for a few brief moments before throwing it back into the drawer and swiftly shutting it, turning his back on the table and beginning to dress. Within minutes he’d left the house, eager to escape its emptiness even if it meant skipping breakfast. Outside, he traded its shadows for the light of the springtime sun.
It was a beautiful day, and as he strode toward the barn by his farmhouse, the vividness of his dreams began to fade, little by little. He went about saddling his best horse, waiting for the familiar task to dispel the lingering grief, as it usually did.
By the time he’d haltered a second horse, he felt the same – as if he were still walking partially in the dream, physically in the present but mentally ensnared in the past. Shaking his head, he left the horses in their stalls and walked to the end of the barn aisle, barely pausing to grimace as he stepped out into a shaft of sunshine that seemed all the brighter for his having just spent the past twenty minutes in the cool shadows of the stable. Bracing himself with one arm against the weathered boards, he leaned over and vomited.
Too much drink – that was what he owed this morning to, and he had no one to blame but himself. He should have known better than to have overindulged the night before – he
known better – but here he was, staring down at a puddle of what was mostly water, thanks to the fact that he hadn’t eaten breakfast. He’d been a fool, but at least he could get on with the day now. He retreated back into the barn, where he rinsed the bitterness from his mouth with cold water.
Torben, his handsome black stallion, was eager to be out of his stall. Brom clutched Torben’s reins in one hand while he led the other horse – a Roman-nosed sorrel – with the other.
Blinking against the bright morning, he climbed onto Torben’s back and heeled him forward, leading the sorrel alongside. He’d spent weeks turning the young gelding into a reliable saddle horse, and had secured a buyer. The ride through Sleepy Hollow to the interested farmer’s property wouldn’t take long, and would have made for a fairly pleasant morning if it hadn’t been for the ache between his eyes and the memories he was having more trouble than usual suppressing. Damn it all, he shouldn’t have touched strong drink.
The ride went uneventfully, as did the final sale of the sorrel. Before Brom knew it, he’d bid the farmer goodbye and was riding away from the sprawling farm and toward the heart of the village. Torben’s trot was smooth, and the motion of the horse beneath him helped to calm his mind. As he approached the cluster of gambrel-roofed buildings that were the heart of Sleepy Hollow, he drew in the reins. He was nearing the blacksmith’s shop, and he’d been meaning to have a word with the man about shoeing one of his new acquisitions – a filly with a cracked hoof.
There was a carriage Brom didn’t recognize parked in front of the shop, and in a village as small as Sleepy Hollow, that meant there were strangers in town. Brom eyed the pair of bays hitched to it critically, searching for signs of lameness. Just as he was noting the way one of the horses favored its front right leg, the carriage door swung open, and time seemed to stop.
A man stepped out, tall, built in a way that hinted at lean muscle, with his light-brown hair tied back into a loose tail that gleamed in the sunlight. His descent from the carriage was hampered by the large stack of books he carried tucked under one arm, but there was a certain grace to his motions nevertheless, something undeniably mesmerizing about the way he moved. Brom stared, strangely aware of his heartbeat as the man’s shoes touched the ground, stirring up small clouds of dust. One of the carriage horses – a mare, no doubt – turned her head toward Torben and whinnied in invitation, breaking the spell that seemed to have settled over Brom. Torben started forward, and Brom didn’t stop him.
When Brom reined Torben to a halt a few feet from the carriage, the man turned to face him, fixing him with a slight smile as he adjusted the books beneath his arm, balancing them against his hip. “Good morning.”
“Good morning,” Brom replied as he slid from the saddle and his boots hit the ground. His voice came out rougher than he’d expected, almost raw, and he struggled not to frown at the sound of it. The liquor that had felt so smooth burning down his throat the night before certainly hadn’t done it any favors this morning.
“This is Sleepy Hollow, isn’t it?” the stranger asked, his full lips curving in a hint of a nervous smile as he continued to meet Brom’s eyes. His eyes were the most extraordinary shade of grey, and banished all thoughts of dullness or drabness that Brom had ever associated with the color. Their hue was reminiscent of a stormy sky, and looking into them made Brom feel as if he were standing in an open field as lightning streaked overhead – his skin shimmered with nervous energy, causing the hair on his arms to stand on end, and he felt as if he might at any moment be utterly struck with something electrifying and all-consuming. Lust hummed through his veins, like metal begging for the touch of lightning.
“It is,” Brom said, employing significant effort to remove his gaze from the man’s eyes, lest he notice Brom was staring and somehow sense the instant, alarming attraction that was broiling beneath Brom’s skin. “Are you passing through?” He eyed the carriage, which looked to have been stopped due to an unexpected problem with one of the horses’ feet – perhaps a thrown shoe, or a stone caught in a hoof.
“No, not me. He is, and was kind enough to give me a ride on his way to New York.”
For the first time, Brom looked past the striking stranger and into the carriage. A second man nodded at him as he stepped out, then asked where he might find the blacksmith. Before Brom could reply, the blacksmith emerged from the shop, approaching the small group of men. The man who owned the carriage gave a quick explanation, peppered with a few choice obscenities, of how his mare had lost her shoe a couple miles before they’d reached Sleepy Hollow. Having lost all interest in the state of the harried stranger’s horse, Brom turned to the first man, the one who’d said he
passing through. “Might I ask what brings you to Sleepy Hollow for longer than it will take the blacksmith to re-shoe a horse?”
Redoubling his one-armed grip on his books, the man extended his free hand. “John Crane. I’m the new schoolmaster.”
As Brom’s fingers slid over John’s, warmth rushed from his fingertips into the rest of his body, causing his heart to beat more quickly, as much with shock as with the unfamiliar excitement that was coursing through him. How long had it been since the simple touch of a man’s hand had filled him with instant heat? He cut off that direction of thought before he could give the answer he knew so well. “Abraham Van Brunt. Or Brom Bones, as most of the folk here like to call me.” The heat John’s touch had inspired lingered even after their handshake ended and they stopped touching.
“It’s a pleasure, Brom,” John said, flashing a smile that emphasized his youthfulness. He was younger than Brom had first realized – surely not past his mid-twenties, at most.
“Have you been teaching long?”
“This will be my second assignment. I taught at a schoolhouse in Connecticut for a year before coming here.”
Brom nodded, scanning their surroundings for any sign of anyone come to welcome the new schoolmaster. There was no one. “It’s a long journey from Connecticut to here. I’m on my way home, and you may accompany me if you wish. You’re welcome to rest there, and to refreshments.” What the hell he meant to offer John in the way of refreshments, he had no idea, but the invitation had leapt from his mouth.
“That’s very generous of you.” John’s lips quirked in a mesmerizing smile, and Brom was prepared to climb back into the saddle and begin the journey home when he remembered that he’d come to the blacksmith’s with a purpose.
“Very well, then. I’ll only be a moment.” He turned to the blacksmith and the other stranger, who he’d all but forgotten. They were both bent in study over one of the bay mare’s feet, and he interrupted briefly to arrange a time to have his new filly shod. When that was done, he turned back to John, still burning with the heat their brief contact had incited.