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Of Sunlight and Stardust
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After the death of his wife, Tanner Rowe takes a step toward making her dream come true and buys the house with the dilapidated barn she’d been inexplicably drawn to in the picturesque Upper Peninsula. But after a year, he still can’t get past his grief long enough to make the repairs he’d promised.
Recently out of prison, Cole Lachlan has little to his name. Homeless, broke, and without many options as a felon, Cole heads to Red Bluff with hopes of a second chance. There he meets Tanner, whose loneliness mirrors his own, and soon Cole is trading room and board for rebuilding the burned-out barn on Tanner’s property that hasn’t been touched in seventy years.
Turns out, the barn holds more secrets than either of them could have imagined. After unearthing a hidden journal from 1948, Cole and Tanner spend their evenings poring over the pages, reading about a young man pining after his best friend. The deeper they delve into this forbidden affair from the past, the more Cole and Tanner’s own relationship shifts—from acquaintances to friends…to undeniable attraction.
But as they begin to deal with the newness of falling in love in the wake of Tanner’s loss and Cole’s past, they also become more determined to unravel the mystery of the young lovers who’ve captured their hearts, the rumors about the fire, and what really happened that fateful night.
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Something strange happened today. I shouldn’t risk writing it down… If anyone read it… Lord, if anyone read it, I’d be sent away. But it’s there in my thoughts, begging to burst free. Maybe by putting the words on paper, I can force it out of my head, out of that place where it won’t stop spinning, it won’t stop circling my damn fool brain like a mare running laps as the whip comes down on her ass.
Charlie and I were working in the stables like we always do, like we have since the day he moved to town when we were six and I found him, dirty and nosing around on our property. Despite my parents, and his dad, we’ve been inseparable ever since—best friends, two peas in a damn pod. But this was different.
The air was particularly hot, heavy with wetness. Charlie pulled off his shirt like he’s done a million times before, like we’ve both done a million times before, only this time…I noticed the way his muscles moved when he did. Saw them constrict and twist and turn as he mucked out the stalls, and it made me tremble.
I forced my eyes away, kept forcing them away, but then they’d get drawn back to him again, and again, and again.
A bead of sweat ran down the middle of his back, and I watched it. When he got tired, stopped, and wiped his forehead with his shirt, I watched that too.
It was like I’d finally opened my eyes. Like they’d been sewn shut my whole life, but now I could finally see.
My stomach got real tight, and my pulse sped up.
When he noticed me staring, he smiled, picked up a handful of hay, and threw it at me. It stuck to my sweaty skin, and I jerked my eyes away as though my closest friend could see inside my brain and know I was thinking thoughts I shouldn’t be thinking.
Not when he’s male too.
That’s deviant, wrong.
Plus, everyone knows that one day I’ll marry Paige. She’ll be a good wife. I’ve always known that. She’s kind and gentle, carefree and fun. Besides Charlie, she’s my best friend in the world. I love Paige, but today I realized something that scares me. As much as I love her, looking at Paige doesn’t make me feel the way looking at Charlie does.
Tanner looked up at the old house and wished like hell he could burn the motherfucker to the ground.
Not because it was in bad shape or anything like that. It had held up fairly well for how old it was. Weeds filled the yard, of course. It could use a paint job, but that wasn’t something he would have to rush. The barn was the worst, most of the roof and the back gone from a long-ago fire.
None of those reasons were why he wanted to torch the damn thing.
No. He wanted to burn it because Emma had loved this house so fucking much. A house she’d never lived in, never seen the inside of, and had no reason to adore.
“I don’t know what it is about it, Tan. It’s just…every time I look at it, every time we drive by, my heart beats faster and my breathing speeds up. It’s meant to be ours.”
He’d put it off because he hadn’t been ready to leave the city. He was a professor at the local college, and though there had been discussions of him working from home and teaching online, he hadn’t made the leap at the time. Emma had been so full of life, a painter, an artist, and she’d wanted Tanner to have more freedom, like she had. He’d put it off, told her they’d buy the house one day…they had time. There would always be time.
But there hadn’t been.
And as he’d watched the woman he loved more than life itself, the woman who had more life inside her than anyone he’d ever known, wither away, he’d hated himself more and more for not giving her this one thing she’d wanted.
This house. This land, with the old half-burned-down barn, where she’d paint and he’d brew beer. It really had been a simple dream.
She should have died here.
If he hadn’t promised her before she passed that he’d buy it, that he’d live out their dream, he wouldn’t have. He’d bought it a year ago, when she died, but it had taken him this long to convince himself to move in, this long to start living the way Emma had wanted for them.
The house reminded him of how he’d failed her. How he hadn’t given her something he’d known would make her happy. Emma was so damn easy to make happy. She’d loved to smile and laugh. She found joy in everything. She didn’t ask for much. Why hadn’t he given her this?