Travis pushed a lock of obstinate hair off his forehead and glared at the monitor before him. Moments like these, when the words just wouldn’t come and a deadline was staring him in the face, his stereotypical Irish side flared and flared big. “Stupid ass computer,” he growled, knowing it had nothing to do with the computer and everything to do with himself.
Christmas was approaching rapidly – three days and counting until The Big Day – along with his deadline just two days after. And he was stuck. He rarely dealt with writer’s block, but for some reason, this novel had him stymied. It had been plotted, fleshed out, just not fully written, and he figured it’d be cake, no more difficult to finish than any other had been. But, like usual, he was wrong. Something was missing. Whatever it was, it sure was keeping him from making any real progress.
To make matters worse, he was expected at his parents’ house for the holiday. He loved his folks dearly, their odd combination of heritages always made the holidays fun and exotic, compared to what his friends had had growing up, but his lack of suitable company always plagued them. Travis had promised to try better, to get out more and to find someone this year, but his good intentions had fallen by the wayside. Sometimes his muse could be a demanding bitch.
And then there were times when the whore left him in the lurch, like right about now.
He was fortunate in that his parents accepted his lifestyle wholeheartedly. Both the solitary writer’s life he’d chosen as well as his preference for men. Travis remembered how surprised he’d been when his father had admonished his reservations in telling them about his sexuality that night when he was eighteen.
“Travis, my son,” he’d said, thick Irish brogue filling the room, “why would you ever think we wouldn’t love you the way you are?”
His father had a point. They’d never held his delinquent teenage years against him, including a brief stint in the pokey, so why would they have started with that? Aracely Murphy, on the other hand, hadn’t been such a slam dunk. Having been raised a devout Catholic in Mexico, she’d had some concerns at first. However, in true Murphy fashion, she’d come around and embraced his news. As long as he was happy, she’d be happy for him. Truly, he had wonderful parents.
Frustrated, he pushed back his rolling chair and ambled into the kitchen. He dug around his mostly empty fridge, contemplated buying groceries, and immediately dismissed the idea in favor of the last beer on the shelf. He’d just popped the top when a knock alerted him to a visitor at the front door.
Travis lived off the beaten path, thirty or so miles outside of the nearest town. Close enough to run and get things when needed, but far enough away from the rest of the world to placate his reclusive writer’s soul. His location also meant that he didn’t often get unannounced visitors either. When he did get a surprise guest, it was either a lost individual or a missionary of some sort. He peeked through the blinds before opening the door, making a mental bet on which it’d be this time.
Or sometimes the police, he corrected himself, doing a quick double take. Interesting.
Travis unbolted the locks, opening the door with a smile for the nice officer. Facing a cop always made him uneasy, even though he hadn’t been in any kind of trouble for over fifteen years now. During high school, he’d spent too much time in their company to ever be quite at ease. Old habits die hard, he supposed. It did help soothe his nerves when the cop in question was as attractive as the one currently standing on his stoop. “Good morning, what can I do for you?”
The handsome brunette on the other side of the screen door gave a halfhearted smile. “Good morning,” he recited blandly, obviously tired of having to repeat – yet again – whatever message he’d come to deliver. “The City of White Pine wants all residents to understand the severity of the storm headed our way. We’re going door-to-door making sure everyone is comfortable, not in need of medical attention, and ready to possibly be snowed in for a few days.”
The entire situation amused him. Only in a town like White Pine would they send the police department out knocking on doors, checking on the residents. “Are we low on uniforms because if I’m not mistaken, you’re dressed like a detective. Isn’t this above your pay grade?”
The officer smiled fully this time, his bright green eyes glistening with mirth. “Yes, well, I’ve taken a break of sorts from my duties as a detective in the big city. Because of that, the good sheriff agreed to allow me to work plainclothes during my tenure here in White Pine. This is a bit of a… change, to say the least.” He shifted uneasily, looking at his feet for a moment before returning his gaze upward.
“I bet,” Travis agreed. “So, that makes you our weather patrol out here in the boonies then?” He couldn’t help but tease the poor guy. There was something about him that brought out the mischievous in Travis. He thought about it for approximately four seconds before blaming it on the dimple. It had to be the dimple.
“Something like that, yes. You good Mr.?” Two reddish brown eyebrows lifted in question.
“Murphy. Travis Murphy and yes, I’m good. Need some food, but that’s it.” His stomach growled in agreement.
“You’d better get a move on and get some groceries, storm’s coming faster than we think. Have a good day.” He nodded his farewell before moving towards the street.
“Thanks, and you as well, Detective.” Travis stayed in the doorway, watching.
The brunette stopped a few paces from Travis’ front door, compelled to add to the conversation. “McDowell. Ethan, if you like.”
He liked. From his burnished cowlick to his shiny dress shoes, there wasn’t a damn thing he could find fault with. “Stay safe, Ethan.”
Detective McDowell nodded and continued along the path towards Travis’ nearest neighbor, several hundred yards down the road. Two curious blue eyes following him until he disappeared from view.
For the first time since he’d been banished to this nowhere, backwater town, Ethan McDowell had reason to smile. He’d spent the last six months filing reports, taking calls, and sweeping floors in penance for something he’d done out of impulse. And he’d be damned if he wouldn’t do it again, given the chance. It had been the right choice, even if his superiors thought differently. As a cop, you had to run with your gut. Sometimes it saved lives and sometimes… well, sometimes you were wrong.
White Pine was so small, so quiet, and honestly so boring that he thought he’d never find anything to pique his interest during his tenure of penance, but he’d been wrong. So very, very wrong. Interest in the form of Travis Murphy had sprung out of nowhere.
A sound caught his attention halfway between the Murphy property and the nearest neighbor, a good quarter mile due west. He directed his attention over his shoulder in time to see an aging blue pickup carrying the home’s odd yet adorable resident out of his drive and into town. Ethan’s mouth quirked up at the corner. “I’ll be damned, someone actually took my advice for a change.”
Ethan shook his head, amused, and continued on his way to the street’s next inhabitant. He was getting his exercise here in White Pine that much was for certain. He’d discovered early on that, if you were crass enough to actually use your vehicle for any short, walkable trips, you were verbally abused by the kindly, yet eco-friendly citizens. After the third haranguing, he came to two conclusions: one, it was much simpler to just walk and two, the citizens weren’t nearly as eco-friendly as they were just plain anti-lazy.
He figured he’d deal with it as it came. In the meantime, he walked.
Travis took the detective’s advice to heart and headed out to the local grocery to stock up while he had the chance. He’d put it off one too many times before and spent more than one snowstorm cold and hungry. His mother would have been appalled, had she known, but he’d learned his lesson. Eventually.
Getting out of the house and away from his disaster in progress had done him some good in the end. As he was restocking his shelves with all his favorites, he’d had an idea. It started small and began to grow, the words filing his mind’s eye while he shopped. Travis couldn’t wait to return home and throw all those new friends onto a document.
Inspiration fueled by a pair of fiery green eyes and a dimple that wouldn’t quit.
As much as he hated to admit it, even to himself in the quiet of his little office, he was crushing on the sweet detective – hard. Ethan McDowell had been in the forefront of Travis’ mind since the moment he’d walked off his porch this morning. He hated it when he obsessed, but on the bright side, the unexpected visit had given new life to his flat, boring new detective he’d been working with. Maybe he’d make his deadline after all?
He’d always prided himself in being cautious, taking his time, getting to know a guy first. Regrettably, not this time. He was ready and willing to dive right into the depths of this detective and find out how badly it was going to hurt when he landed on his ass. Travis Murphy was a lot of things – eccentric, arrogant, mouthy – but one thing he couldn’t ever be accused of being was timid. Least of all when it came to getting what he wanted.
But for now, he settled for delving back into the dredge he was calling his current work in progress. Hoping that maybe, possibly, some of the hijinks his new fictional detective was about to get himself into could play themselves out in real life.
Travis smiled at the thought.