Keeping Promises

Contributors: Jodi Payne and BA Tortuga
Series:
Genre: , , , ,
Release Date: March 23, 2021
Pages: 262

Jeremy M. Dunn III has the single dad thing down, so the last thing he wants to do is call his ex-husband to ask for help with their two kids. They didn’t part on good terms, and they’ve barely spoken since the divorce. But with a cast on his arm that goes up past his elbow, Jeremy has no choice. He needs a few days to figure out how to bathe their daughter, make school lunches and parent their son one-armed, and there isn’t anyone else he can ask for help.

Former rodeo cowboy West Belen was already on his way back to his kids, and to Trey (“the third”, his nickname for Jeremy). He made a promise to try again, and he means to keep it, so when he sees his chance to move back into his family’s life, he grabs it like the brass ring he knows it is. He’s determined to be more than an “every other weekend” dad to his children, and he doesn’t want to keep on living with regret about how he and Trey ended.

Jeremy still desires West, but he isn’t sure he can trust West to be responsible and available. West still thinks Trey is the hottest thing he’s ever seen, but he has no idea how to convince the man he’s ready to settle down. The two of them have never had trouble butting heads, but now they need to learn to work together to make a home for themselves and their kids where they both belong.

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Excerpt

 

Chapter One

“Kiddo. Kiddo, you awake?” Hank’s voice jolted West upright from where he’d been dozing in the old recliner he’d moved near the hospital bed they’d put in the sunroom so Hank could see out the window and watch the hummingbirds.

“Yessir. You hurtin’? I can get Gretchen.” The little hospice nurse was on it. She lived two houses down, too, so it took her no time to show up.

“No. No, I just wanted to talk to you.” The hand that had been whole and strong three weeks ago was a sack of bruised bones, and West took it so carefully.

“Anytime. Anytime at all.” Hank had been his best friend, his mentor, his adopted father for as long as he could remember, and time was getting short. They could both sleep when Hank was dead.

“You’re a good man.” Hank stared at him, gray eyes seeming to blaze with light, and West thought maybe that was what happened when the best of them was being called home.

“I try. I’m not feeling all the way on that, you know.”

Hank shook his head. “No. You’ve been dealt some shit, but you have managed it. All of it.”

What was he supposed to say to that? “Thank you.”

“If you could go back and change anything in your life, what would it be?”

He rolled his eyes at Hank. “I would have bet on me two years ago in the finals.”

Hank swatted his hand. “I’m serious, boy. Tell me. It ain’t like I’m telling.”

West took a deep breath. He knew the answer to this one. He’d known it for two years, two months, three weeks, and four days. “I would have told Trey no when he asked for a divorce. I would have stuck like a burr and kept my kids and my husband and damn the consequences.”

Hank bobbed his head at him like a big, dying bird. “I hear you. I couldn’t have had a family like y’all did. I never will now.”

Shit. He didn’t say anything to that because he didn’t have anything to say. Hell, he’d lost his whole life—his kids, his husband, his house. He was working a job that was Friday through Sunday, and those were the days he could see Lukas and Ava. He got to keep his truck, his child support payments, and the knowledge that his ex hated him enough to make sure he had to choose between rodeoing or his babies.

Shit, why did he even want Trey back?

He guessed because he loved the son of a bitch.

“So, go make it right.”

West looked up, just utterly confused. “What?”

They were divorced. That meant it was over.

“Go home and fix it. You have a chance. You survived that last bad wreck; you can do this.”

He rubbed the back of his head, that heavy scar back there. “Oh, Hank… Trey don’t want me no more. He hates everything about my life.”

“So change. If you want it—them—bad enough, do what you have to. Those babies need you, even if Jeremy Fancy Pants No Fun doesn’t.”

He started chuckling. Jeremy Fancy Pants No Fun. That was going down in history.

“Promise me, kiddo. Swear you’ll try. Don’t—don’t end up dying with your regrets.”

“Hank—”

“Goddamn it! I’m dying. You give me this. I’m never going to get to see those babies again. Promise me you’ll try.”

“I swear to God. I’ll try.” West felt his face try to crumple, because he didn’t want to figure out how to be a man without the person who taught him how to cowboy up. He kept it together, though, because it was their way. “I promise, Hank.”

“Good boy.” Hank sighed, that light fading as he closed his eyes. “Know that I love you, West Belen. You are my son, just like as if I’d borned you.”

“I love you, Hank. I got your back.” Even though this was a trip West couldn’t make with Hank right now, he was here ’til the bitter end.

“I never doubted that for a second. Just hold my hand a minute and pray for me.”

So West did. All the way until Hank wasn’t holding on anymore.

 

Chapter Two

“You did what?”

Jeremy shook his head and tried not to glare at the nurse fussing with his IV. “Remember I told you I was going to paint the kitchen?”

“Jeremy Dunn the Third versus a cane-back cafe chair.” Drew laughed. “Loser.”

“It has a wobbly front leg.” He’d managed to go thirty-two years without breaking a single fucking bone. He wasn’t pouting. He was not.

Drew snorted, and he could picture the exasperated look on his best friend’s face. “Then why were you standing on it, idiot?”

“Fuck you.”

His nurse gave him the side-eye. “Watch your language, please.”

“Sorry.” He shrugged at her.

“Where are the kids?”

“Annie has them. She’s had them a couple of times before.” He wasn’t sure what he’d have done if his neighbor hadn’t been home.

“She’s keeping them overnight?”

“I—maybe? I’ll be home later today, but it’s my right arm…” Four years of high school sports, rock climbing, and all of his idiotic shenanigans in college, running and mountain biking all over Boulder…and he shattered his elbow falling off a stupid fucking chair.

“Your right arm? Jer, how are you going to—I mean, maybe…” Drew sighed, and Jeremy’s stomach sank as he realized what Drew was going to say before he said it.

“No.” Nope. No way.

Drew sighed. “You have to—”

“I’m not fucking calling him.”

“Jer—”

“What?” He shouted. “Did I hear someone yell ‘shark’? Sorry, what? You have to go? Okay, man. Enjoy your honeymoon, get a great tan.”

“Don’t be an ass, Jeremy.” Drew shouted back over his babbling.

“Talk to you later! Bye!”

He hung up.

Yep. He hung up on his best friend for not quite suggesting that he call his ex-husband for help with their kids.

Because he knew Drew was right.

Jesus, he’d gone off the deep end.

He looked at his phone. It was great of Annie to take them for the night, but she wasn’t going to keep the kids long. She had a life and four hundred boyfriends and a day job.

West was their father after all, and it wasn’t like Jeremy had asked him for anything since the divorce. Nothing. Ever. Maybe West could come take them for a few days until he figured out how to scratch his butt with his nearly useless left hand.

He pulled up West’s number and frowned at the picture, feeling sick that he still thought that smiling vortex of chaos in a cowboy hat was handsome.

“Fuck.” He hit the number and dialed.

“Trey.” No hello, no what’s wrong, just that nickname that he hated.

“Hey.” He could hang up. Say he butt dialed West by mistake. The idea of asking his ex for a favor was making the bile rise in the back of his throat. But he tried to imagine giving four-year-old Ava a bath left-handed while trying to keep from jostling his right arm and decided he was going to have to suck it up. Fuck. “So…listen, have you got plans the next couple of days?”

“Why? What’s wrong? Are the kids okay?” West’s voice was sharp, clear, and focused. God, he remembered being the center of that focus.

“Yes, they’re fine. I’m… I’m in the ER.” He let that hang out there a second since West hadn’t asked if he was okay.

“I’ll be there in four hours. I was doing a signing in Raton.” West’s voice got quiet. “I got to bounce. Family emergency. Yeah. See you.” Then West was back. “What’s wrong?”

A signing. Still in the limelight. Some things never changed.

“I broke my elbow.” I got into a fight with a rabid dog… I was barreling down this crazy trail on my bike… I went rock climbing and man, it was a close one. “I…fell off a fucking chair.” He rolled his eyes. Drew was right; he was an idiot.

“That hurts like a motherfucker.” West didn’t laugh, but Jeremy knew that bastard was grinning. “Who has my babies?”

Asshole. West had broken every bone in his goddamn body. Twice. “Our children are with Annie, next door. I’ll text you her number if you want it. They’ll be fine with her for a while.”

“Okay, good. Do you need a ride home, or should I just come to the house?”

“Let me know when you get up here, and we’ll see if I’m home yet.” Annie had a key, but no way was West going to wander around his house and pack up the kids unsupervised. His lawn might get mowed, but the kids would be covered in mud, and there’d be no beer left.

“Fine. I’ll see you in a few.” And just like that, the line went dead. Infuriating asshole. Seriously, if Jeremy hadn’t needed him…

“Ow!” He dropped his phone.

“Sorry. I need to get your sling fitted.” The nurse picked his phone up and handed it to him.

“Thanks. Sure.” He nodded and sat up so she could reach, the simple move making him a little dizzy. He tried to text Annie’s details to West, but texting with one hand, and left-handed at that, was a pain in the ass and it took him forever.

“Jeremiah M. Dunn, the Third.” A doctor came in, grinning broadly and reading his full fucking given name off an iPad. “That’s quite a name.”

“It was my father’s.” Ha-ha. So funny. “Jeremy works.”

“Jeremy. Got it. How are you getting home today?”

Fuck.

Title: Keeping Promises
Published by: Tygerseye Publishing, LLC
ISBN13: 978-1-951011-43-7