It took longer than he had expected, even in the snow, to arrive at his destination. Travis hadn’t needed to ask where they were staying, there was only one logical possibility. The Blackmore Inn on Main was the only option. Leaving his truck in the first open spot he could find, Travis entered the lobby and waved down the girl at the counter.
“Hey Maggie,” he said, flashing that smile of his. “I hear you’ve got two customers tonight.”
“Sure do, Travis. You looking for one of them?” She smiled back at him, eager to have someone other than herself to talk to tonight.
“Yeah, I am. McDowell,” he said. “Ethan. Which room is his?”
With a wink, she simply said, “Five.”
“Thanks Mags,” he called over his shoulder, disappearing down the hall.
“Anytime, Murph,” she shouted after his retreating form.
Travis knew the inn like the back of his hand after having worked summers here as a kid. It took approximately four and a half minutes to find Ethan’s room and knock. The moment the door cracked open, he thrust his palm against it, pushing his way inside.
“Come on in, Travis,” Ethan giggled, more drunk than he’d ever thought to see.
“Don’t mind if I do,” he growled, pulling him into a long kiss.
“Travis,” he breathed. “I’m so fucking sorry. I – I should have done so much, said so much but…”
He stopped the flood of words with another kiss. Taking his time to explore every inch of the detective’s mouth, he didn’t pull away until he was certain Ethan would stay quiet. “You taste like tequila,” he observed.
Ethan chuckled. “Yeah, I’ve had a few… sips… so far.”
The grin on his face said otherwise. “You sure you want me here,” Travis asked, unsure of what should happen next.
“Yes,” Ethan assured him. “We were drunk off our asses the first night we spent together and that worked out okay, right?” He got quiet for a minute before his smile disappeared. “Well, it worked until I decided to be a prick and leave.”
Startled by this admission, Travis stammered, trying to find the right words to put him at ease. Not finding any, he decided pulling Ethan into the circle of his arms and holding him tightly would have to do. Ethan sighed, relaxing against Travis’ broad chest. Slowly, his arms lifted and made their way around the writer’s waist.
“I’ll never forgive myself for leaving,” Ethan whispered.
“I’ll never forgive myself for not stopping you, either,” Travis whispered back. “I came so close that night… but I just couldn’t.”
“Maybe it’s better that you didn’t,” he confessed. “Because if you had, we wouldn’t have right now.”
Acknowledging Ethan’s point, Travis dipped in for another kiss, allowing his lips to linger on the other man’s. Ethan opened his mouth to him, silently begging for another taste. Travis happily obliged, slipping his tongue into the wet heat of Ethan’s mouth. The detective moaned in encouragement, arms tightening around Travis’ waist.
Breaking the kiss, Ethan looked into Travis’ stormy blue eyes. “I was an idiot. I got scared, so instead of talking to you first, I bailed.”
“Shhh,” he soothed, caressing his face with a hand. “You’re here now, with me, remember? And that counts for everything.”
Morning arrived loudly, with a banging at the door that wouldn’t stop. At first, Ethan assumed the banging had to have been inside his own head as loud as it was. But when he heard Travis’ disgruntled mutterings from the pillow beside him, he decided to answer the door.
With one eye squeezed closed, he poked his head out through the opening. “What the hell, Mason? What’s with the banging?”
“It’s almost nine AM, McDowell, we should be on the road by now.” He attempted to push his way inside the room, but Ethan held the door firm.
“About that,” he began, unsure of where the idea had come from. “I’ve been thinking, Mason. I’m not going back. You can get a taxi and send me the bill. I’ll call the captain myself.”
He began to close the door when Corey jammed his foot between it and the jamb, stopping its progress. “The hell you’re staying, McDowell. We’ve got a case to solve and…”
“And,” Ethan spat, exhaustion and worry finally taking over, “I’ve come to discover that I just don’t care any longer.”
Jabbing his bare heel onto the toes of Mason’s dress shoe, he watched the foot disappear from the crack, giving him the opportunity to close it on his now ex-partner.
“Your captain up in the city isn’t going to appreciate that,” Travis professed from the bed, covers having fallen to mid-chest.
“Nope,” he agreed, flopping onto the bed beside Travis. “He won’t. Actually, he’ll be pissed. Your lovely sheriff gave me a job once, not caring what my past said about me. I can only hope that he’ll take pity on me one last time.”
“I guess there’s only one way to find out,” Travis hinted.
“Oh, and what way is that?” Ethan cocked an eyebrow, waiting.
“By asking, duh.” He laughed at the incredulous look on Ethan’s face. “What did you think I was going to say?”
Ethan shook his head, undeniably falling for the goofy, handsome man-child in the bed beside him. “I really didn’t have a clue. You always surprise me, so I learned never to assume. I guess this means we need to go ask him then?”
“Yes,” Travis agreed. “But later. Much, much later.”
“Good call,” he said, moving closer for a kiss.
When Travis had first suggested it, Ethan had thought it a bad idea. Their relationship had crashed and burned once already, what would he do if that happened again? Not having a home of his own to retreat to made him nervous. Travis said that this way, with each of them forced to stay, they had no other choice than to make the bad things work. He had a point, but still, he’d been wary of moving in with the enigmatic writer.
That had been six months ago. Now, with Travis’ birthday approaching, Aracely Murphy was visiting the station on a regular basis, making secret plans with Ethan for her son’s big day. “And then,” she said, accent thick as flan, “in a few months, I’ll sneak around with Travis to plan my other son’s birthday.” Here, she pinched his cheek, letting him know she meant him.
The Murphys hadn’t been too keen on trusting Ethan again after the mess he’d left Travis in previously. It had taken a massive amount of making up on his part to get them – all three of them – to trust him again. But it had been worth it. Aracely and Liam had taken him in and declared him one of them for the long haul. He’d never been happier.
When the fallout from his abrupt refusal to return to Minden Lake arrived, he took it in stride. If he hadn’t had Travis by his side, he wouldn’t have made it through the red tape and tremendous amount of bullshit he’d had to wade through. For once, he’d been thankful for the way news traveled in a small town. Every day, someone stopped by to thank him for telling the big city to stuff it and sticking with the community of White Pine. He was wanted here, and that meant the world to him. That support alone would have carried him through the rough spots, but Travis’ continuing love lifted him above and beyond.
He’d settled in finally and had made a home for himself here in White Pine. A place he’d initially thought of as a stop along the way to something better had somehow become his something better. And he’d almost missed it.