Read Beginnings (Crawley Creek Prequel) Online

Authors: Lori King

Tags: #erotic, #short story, #hea, #western, #ranch, #cowboys, #north dakota, #prequel, #foster children

Beginnings (Crawley Creek Prequel) (6 page)

He shook his head no, thinking briefly of
the three t-shirts and two pairs of torn jeans resting in the
bottom drawer of his mother’s dresser. It wasn’t much, but it was
all he had. Clearing his throat he tried to tell her. “M-my
c-clothes, um…they’re in m-my house...er…ap-ap-apartment.”

Embarrassment filled him making the
stuttering even worse as he struggled to get the words out. Danica
nodded, but her eyes were sad. “Unfortunately, the police have the
apartment roped off while they do their investigation, but I’ll do
my best to collect whatever you need from there tomorrow. For
tonight, we’ll just have to make do.”

She didn’t mention the stuttering at all,
and his anxiety eased. When she reached for his hand, he gratefully
accepted the gesture. There was no way she could know that it was
the first time in his life he could remember anyone holding his
hand. Following her lead, they left the hospital that held the
empty body that was his mother, and went directly from there to a
fast food restaurant where Danica let him choose anything he wanted
off the menu.

After a large cheeseburger and fries washed
down by an enormous cola, his eyelids began to droop heavily. He
didn’t remember anything about the ride other than climbing into
the car and buckling his seat belt. On that frigid February night,
all that mattered was that he was full for the first time in
months, and comfortably tucked in front of the heat vent in
Danica’s car.

She woke him when they parked in front of a
massive white ranch house that had a wrap-around front porch.
Drannon couldn’t see much more in the dark, but he got the
impression of other buildings off to his left as he followed Danica
to the front door. A tall man with dark hair and a mustache that
looked like a huge caterpillar swung it open and gestured them
inside.


Who have we here?” the man’s voice was
deep, and it brought a shiver to Drannon’s spine as it reverberated
in the foyer and on down the wide hallway.


This is Drannon.” Danica answered,
patting his shoulder hard enough that he had to take another step
further into the house. “Drannon, this is Abraham Crawley. He owns
the ranch, and he and his wife will be your guardians until we find
you a permanent place to stay.”


Drannon?” Abraham’s eyebrow rose.
“Strong name. Do you have a last name, son?”

His throat was drier than the desert, but he
managed to force out a reply. “R-Ru-Russo.”


Drannon Russo, yes sir, that’s a strong
name. Italian last name, I believe. Tell me son, do you have a
strong backbone to match that name?” Abraham looked him over as if
he was measuring up a man his own size, and Drannon felt his chest
puff out in an attempt to live up to the other man’s estimation of
him.


Y-yes s-sir.” He said, grimacing at the
repetitive sounds. Over the last couple of years he’d managed to
get a handle on his stuttering, but the moment he found his mother
sprawled out on the bathroom floor with her face covered in her own
vomit, he lost all control over his own tongue.

Like Danica, Abraham didn’t react to the
stuttering, and Drannon breathed a sigh of relief. It was hard
enough to speak to adults, much less disappoint them when they
heard him slip up. He realized Danica was talking to Abraham and
tuned back in to the conversation. “…release the body from the
coroner’s office tomorrow. So far we haven’t located any living
relatives.”

A soft voice tinkled from behind where
Abraham’s broad shoulders blocked the opening from the foyer into
the rest of the house, “So sad. I’m sure she was way too young.
Well, anyways, it’s lovely to meet you, Drannon, no matter the
circumstances.”

For the first time, Drannon noticed a petite
woman with braided brunette hair standing just behind Abraham. The
way she slid under his arm against his side, assured Drannon that
she was the lady of the house, and he nodded his thanks to her
without speaking.


Drannon, I’d like you to meet my wife,
Seraphina Crawley.” Abraham looked down at the smiling woman with
pride. For just a moment, Drannon felt envious of Seraphina. What
would it be like to have such a strong man look at him with pride?
He couldn’t remember his mother looking at him with anything but
affection and obligation. Although he knew she loved him, he’d
always come second to her addiction.


Call me Sera; only Abe gets away with
using my whole name.” Sera’s eyes were dark chocolate brown, and
her kind smile radiated warmth. Drannon’s heart flip-flopped and he
fell half in love with her in that moment. “Have you eaten
yet?”


We stopped and ate a burger on our way
out here. Unfortunately he’s been stuck at the hospital most of the
day. I was in court or I’d have picked him up earlier. I didn’t get
the message about his m—er…situation, until after seven.” Danica
gave him a smile he figured was supposed to be apologetic, but
really held only pity. He hated pity. Thankfully there was no pity
in the sympathetic gazes Sera and Abe turned on him.


Poor thing. I’m glad you’ve got a full
belly. That will make it a little bit easier to rest tonight. Come
on upstairs and I’ll show you where you’ll be sleeping. We only
have one other boy here right now, and he’s in the room across from
yours. You’re lucky it’s a quiet time. We’ve had up to fourteen
children here at one time.” Without a backwards glance at Danica,
Drannon followed the chattering Sera farther into the house and up
a wide staircase that split the living room in two. It was an
enormous house from the looks of it, but it felt warm and cozy in
spite of its size.

At the top of the stairs she turned and led
him to a set of closed doors. Opening the one on the left, she
stepped aside for Drannon to enter first. The bedroom was larger
than the apartment he’d been living in with his mother, and the
bedding covering the massive wood framed bed looked clean and
fresh. A thick blue comforter covered the mattress, and a chest of
drawers taller than he was, was tucked into the corner.
Heavy-looking blue curtains hung over a window opposite the bed,
and the whole room smelled like cedar.


This is going to be your room; we call
it the blue room for obvious reasons. The other young man we have
staying with us, Vinnie, is across the hall, you’ll meet him at
breakfast in the morning. He’s been here a while now, so he can
show you the ropes. Abe and I are through those double doors at the
end of this hall, and there’s a bathroom right here,” Sera gestured
just down the hallway, “You and Vinnie will have to share it, and I
don’t tolerate fighting, so make sure you get along. You’re welcome
to use anything you find in the medicine cabinet and linen
cupboard, but if you need anything else, you just holler.”

Drannon’s head was spinning. He’d gone from
a crack house to a mansion in a day, and somehow, even though he’d
lost everything, he couldn’t feel the sadness anymore. He wanted to
feel sad about his mom. He was going to miss her, but he wasn’t
going to miss cold nights on the dirty floor while she was tucked
away with someone in the only bedroom. And he wasn’t going to miss
racing to school in the mornings so that he could arrive in time
for breakfast because it was the only food he was going to get
before class.

Turning back to Sera, he surprised himself
when genuine emotion boiled up and his eyes stung, “T-thank y-you,
Miss Sera.”


You’re welcome, Drannon. This is your
home for as long as you need it, and we’re glad to have you here.
Now, make yourself comfortable. I’ll grab you some clothes to sleep
in, and if you’ll leave your dirty clothes in the laundry hamper
tonight, Marilyn will make sure they get washed for you.” She
bustled into the bathroom, and Drannon followed just far enough to
keep his eyes locked on her. He had no idea who Marilyn was, but he
didn’t really care either. All that he wanted now was to crawl into
that big bed, and sleep until he could put this whole nightmarish
day behind him.

Sera pulled a brand new toothbrush and
toothpaste out of the cabinet behind the mirror in the bathroom,
and laid them on the counter. Next came a bar of soap, a washcloth,
and a towel. “Do you need help taking a bath, Drannon?” she asked,
with a look of concern on her face. He didn’t like it when she
frowned like that. It made her forehead wrinkle, and she was much
prettier smiling.


N-no ma’am. I c-c-can do it.”

Her smile of approval nearly blinded him,
“Good. I figured at eight years old you were probably well on your
way to taking care of yourself, but like I told you, if you need
anything at all, Drannon, just come find me. Okay?”

They watched each other, she with rapt
curiosity on her face, and he with wary reservation and admiration
for the tiny woman in front of him. He wondered why she was being
so nice to him. They were strangers, but she was treating him like
family. When her face fell into a sad frown he realized he’d voiced
his thoughts, and he immediately took a hesitant step backwards
when her hands reached to embrace him.


You poor dear. I’m so sorry for what
you’ve been through today. No one should have to go through that.”
Her genuine concern stole his breath and cracked the shield he’d
been holding over his emotions all day long. Tears filled his eyes,
and his lungs burned as he panted for air. “It’s okay, let it out.
Cry all you need to. There’s no shame in crying when the tears are
for someone you love.”

The validation meant everything to him, but
he couldn’t find it in him to respond verbally so he just nodded
mutely, and wept against her shoulder. All of the fear and sorrow
from the day seemed to leak out of him rolling down his cheeks and
soaking into her blouse. When his sobs finally subsided and he was
left hiccupping and wiping his snotty nose on his hand, she finally
released him.


There now. You’ve got that all out of
your system, and now you’ll sleep better.” Tenderly pushing his
shaggy hair from his eyes, she brushed her lips across his
forehead. “We’ll talk when you’re ready, but tonight you need to
rest. Sleep well, Drannon.”

Silently, he watched as she headed off down
the hall, turning at the top of the stairs and disappearing from
sight. He stood dumbly for several minutes in the doorway of the
blue room, taking in his temporary home with a hint of envy for the
people who lived here permanently. He assumed by the way Danica
spoke it was unlikely he’d be here long, but he was going to take
advantage of the luxury while he could. After all, it wasn’t like
his mother was going to come back to life and scold him for
indulging in a bath with real soap.

If he was going to be on his own for the
rest of his life, he was going to take advantage of every possible
good thing that came along and relish in it while he could. Who
knew what kind of home permanent Danica would find for him? For
this brief moment, he was safe, surrounded by warmth and people who
genuinely cared about his feelings, and that was all he’d ever
wanted.

 

A door opened and closed downstairs,
startling Drannon from his reminiscing, and he shook off the lump
of emotion in his throat. Abe and Sera became his salvation as he
grew into a temperamental young man with an ax to grind. They’d
just as easily been his cheerleaders when he finally realized no
one owed him anything and he’d have to go out and work for his
future. He invested his energies in a career that turned sour on
him, and eight years ago, he came home from the big city with his
tail between his legs, and found his heart back home on the
ranch.

He and his three closest foster brothers,
Roman, Vin, and Hawke had bought the ranch off Abe and turned the
main house and most of the cabins into a guest ranch. Of course it
was Marilyn who ran the guest side of things, while the boys took
care of the ranch. It turned out to be a great investment, and a
timely one considering Sera died a couple of years later, and the
fire inside Abe fizzled.

Now that both Crawleys were gone, the big
house seemed cold and empty most days, even when it was full of
guests or ranch hands. Skimming his hand up the wide oak banister,
Drannon remembered sliding down it on his rump and getting scolded
over and over by Sera, who always did it with a smile on her face.
He remembered garland wrapped around it with twinkling lights
encircling the posts, and the smell of pies and Christmas cookies.
This Christmas Marilyn had put up the tree alone, and the tree
skirt had remained empty since the boys decided not to bother
exchanging gifts with each other. Maybe it wasn’t just Abe who lost
his heart when Sera died. The whole of Crawley Creek Ranch seemed
to have lost its sparkle.

Pushing aside his sad thoughts, and longing
for the old days, Drannon went back to bed already listing in his
head the multitude of chores that needed to be done when the sun
rose.

Rough Ride
Romeo

Crawley Creek Book
2

 

Chapter 1

 

The sound of an engine shattered Roman
Freemont’s peaceful snoring, and he choked on an inhale fumbling
awake. His mouth tasted like shit, and his tongue felt like it had
been sanded down with fine grit sandpaper. The haze in his vision
could have been his hangover, or a thick fog bank, but considering
the height of the sunshine beating down through the windshield, he
was more apt to assume the former.

Shoving a hand through his shoulder length
brown hair, he encountered something sticky matting the ends of
several pieces, and grimaced. It wasn’t like this was the first
time he’d slept off an all-nighter in his truck, but this wasn’t
even the first time this week. He could already feel Drannon and
Vin’s disapproval, and he hadn’t even seen them yet this morning.
Hell, the sensation was strong enough that the hair on his neck
prickled.

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