That horse has bolted… (short story)

“It’s a bad break. We need to get him to a doctor.”

Sam gritted his teeth against the pain while he listened to the McKenna brothers argue over what to do with him.

“I know,” replied Jack, “but it’s a good half day’s ride to the house and it’s damn near dark now. It’s not safe. He’s going to have to wait until morning.”

Sam breathed deeply, trying to find the strength to fight the pain. The last thing he wanted was to look like a weakling, a child, in front of his best friend Mike, and Mike’s older brothers. He was the youngest, but it didn’t mean he’d bawl like a baby or he needed rushing to the doctor for the smallest scratch. Okay, it wasn’t scratch, it was a broken arm, but still… “I’ll be fine,” he grunted. He looked up to find the other three men staring down at him, identical frowns on their foreheads.

“We don’t even have any painkillers, Sam,” Mike protested. “Dude, that’s gotta hurt.”

“I’ll be fine,” Sam repeated.

Jack’s face changed as he thought. Jack was the oldest of the McKenna brothers, with Riley between him and Mike. Sam and Mike had been best friends forever. “I might have something…” Jack murmured.

The other two brothers spun to look at Jack with narrowed eyes.

“What do you mean?”

“What have you got?”

They spoke in near unison, both clearly curious.

Jack smirked, and Sam tensed. It was bound to be something terrible, knowing Jack’s sense of humour. You’d think he’d be the responsible one, being the oldest, but he wasn’t. He loved dragging the younger guys into whatever mischief he’d cooked up.

When Jack drew a bottle of whisky from his saddlebag, jaws dropped.

“You can’t give him that,” hissed Riley. “He’s underage! He and Mike aren’t legal yet!”

Jack rolled his eyes. “I wouldn’t normally, but he’s broken his arm, Riley. He needs something for the pain. We can’t head back tonight, and even if we did, the trip’s going to be hard on him. This,” he lifted the bottle up, “will make it easier.”

“Oh god,” groaned Riley. “We’re going to be in so much trouble.”

Mike was grinning gleefully. “We won’t tell anyone, will we, Sam?”

Jack frowned. “You can’t have any. It’s for medicinal purposes only, and you ain’t hurt.”

“No way! If Sam’s drinking, I’m drinking!”

Despite the pain throbbing in his arm, Sam had to chuckle at the familiar sight of the brothers squaring off.

“What’s it gonna hurt, Jack?” asked Riley, playing the peacemaker as usual.

“Yes!” Mike did a fist pump and turned to grin at Sam.

Jack grumbled, but eventually gave in. “Set up camp first. Mike, since you’re all excited, you can take on Sam’s usual duties. Ah ah ah….”

Sam froze in a crouch and looked up at Jack.

“Sit your ass back down.”

“I can help.”

“Nope. You need to be as careful with that arm as possible, or you’re going to make the damage worse. Sit down, and let Mike do it.”

“It’s fine, Sam,” Mike yelled out as he ran to find firewood. “I got this!”

With a relief he didn’t really want to admit to, Sam leaned back against the saddlebags behind him and let the pain wash over him. The throbbing was radiating all the way up his arm and into his head, not to mention the searing pain every time he accidentally moved his arm. He knew he’d get through the night, but he wasn’t looking forward to it.

“Here,” Jack said, leaning forward with a small glass of whisky. “Sip it. Don’t gulp.”

Sam reached out with his good arm and took the drink. It smelled strong, with a faint hint of ash that reminded him of his father’s cigarettes. He sipped and gasped as the liquid hit his throat.

“Easy,” Jack cautioned. “Just let that settle and then take another. Slow and easy does it.”

Sam took another sip. He wasn’t sure he liked the taste, which seemed to be of smoke and chemicals, but if it was going to help with the pain in his arm, he was happy to give it a shot.

It wasn’t much longer before Mike was giggling and Sam was falling asleep. The warmth of the fire and the whisky combined to relax him, and the pain in his arm wasn’t bothering him as much anymore.

“You good, Sam?” Riley leaned over to ask. “You want me to help you move so you can go to sleep? Probably the best thing for you. Be a good idea to get a decent night’s sleep, since the ride in the morning will be hard for you.”

Sam smiled, but it felt a little lopsided on his face. “You guys are the best,” he murmured. Did his voice sound right?

Riley laughed, and the other two sat forward with eyebrows raised.

“What’s so funny?” they asked.

“Sam’s a bit pickled.”

“Maybe,” Sam mumbled, feeling his cheeks heat. “My face feels funny.”

Jack burst into peals of laughter. “Shit, Riley, don’t give him any more! He’s wasted!”

Riley wrapped an arm around Sam’s shoulder, careful not to jostle him. “You’re not truly wasted until you tell your friends that you love them, right, Sam?”

Sam felt a wave of ice wash over him. He stared up at Riley with wide eyes. “I wasn’t gonna tell him!”

The laughter from the other three faded into uncertainty in the face of Sam’s expression. “Dude, he didn’t mean you really loved us. It’s just something drunk people say,” Jack said. “And he didn’t mean love love, just mates. It’s not a gay thing. Chill, dude.”

“Oh shit,” Sam whispered. He looked up at Riley with worry in his eyes. “I fucked it up, didn’t I?”

“Fucked what up?” Riley asked.

“They didn’t know, but I thought they knew, but they didn’t, but now they do,” Sam babbled.

“What?” Riley frowned and smiled at the same time. “What did they know? Or not know? Shit, I’m confused.”

“Wait,” said Mike, “does this mean Sam’s in love with me?” His eyes grew wide and his mouth fell open.

Jack slapped a hand under Mike’s chin, causing him to howl in protest as he narrowly missed biting his tongue. “No, you dumbass,” Jack said, rolling his eyes. “He’s not in love with you. Who would love you?”

“Shut up. I’m loveable.” Mike looked over at Sam and Riley. “I’m totally loveable, right, guys?”

Riley laughed. “Sure, Mike, whatever you say.”

“Sam?” Mike asked, crawling around the fire to where Sam and Riley sat. “Tell them, Sam. Tell them how loveable I am.”

Jack groaned. “Dude, you’re fucking wasted. No more for him either, Riley.”

Riley reached over to push Mike away. “Don’t touch his arm, Mike.” He eased back and looked down at Sam. “You okay? You’ve gone quiet. Tired?”

“Um…” Sam tried to gather his wits, but his head was foggy and his thoughts were slip-sliding all over the place. “So, does that mean you guys know I’m gay or is it still a secret?”

For a moment, the only noise was the crackling fire, before Mike let loose with a loud “Fuck!”

“Mike!” Jack and Riley scolded in unison.

“What?!” he protested. “That’s…. That’s… Fuck!”

Jack pushed himself to his feet before walking around to cuff Mike on the back of the head.

“Ow! What’d you do that for?”

“Shut your mouth before you say something you regret, dumbass.”

“But…!”

“Shut it,” growled Jack.

Mike slumped, his mouth in a pout.

Jack circled around to crouch in front of Sam, careful not to get too close to the fire behind him. “Sam, you okay?”

“I dunno,” mumbled Sam. “I think I’m drunk.”

Jack laughed. “Yup, you certainly are. So is Mike.”

“Yeah,” said Sam with another lopsided smile. “We’re drunk.”

“So…” Jack drew out the word. He looked up at Riley as if seeking inspiration.

Sam felt Riley shrug.

“I’m guessing Mike didn’t know that you’re gay, huh?” Jack offered.

“Nah,” said Sam. “Nobody does.”

“Uh huh,” Jack nodded. “Is it okay that we know now?”

“I dunno,” shrugged Sam.

Riley squeezed him with the arm still wrapped around his shoulders. “Yeah, Sam, it’s okay.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Riley and Jack replied.

“Okay, good, I guess. I mean…” Sam trailed off and closed his eyes. “I’m tired. And I think I’m drunk.”

The older men laughed, and Riley withdrew to help rearrange Sam’s saddlebag so that he could lie back and use it as a pillow.

“Mike will be okay with it too,” Riley whispered. “He was just surprised.”

“He was?” asked Sam.

“Yeah. Not that you can tell now.” Riley gestured to Mike who lay on his side in the dirt, snoring. “Just give him time to get over his hangover and adjust to the news, and he’ll be fine. Now, get some sleep. And for god’s sake, don’t roll onto your arm in the middle of the night.” Riley reached down and rearranged Sam’s limbs into something resembling the recovery position. “Good night, Sam.”

“Night, Riley,” Sam mumbled.

Books read in January

Stay With Me by Ann T Cee *Star**Star**Starw**Starw**Starw*

Smoky Mountain Dreams by Leta Blake *Star**Star**Star**Star**Starw*

Quinn by Lily Baldwin  *Star**Star**Star**Starw**Starw*

A Cowboy’s Home by R J Scott *Star**Star**Star**Star**Starw*

Snow In Montana by R J Scott *Star**Star**Star**Starw**Starw*

Second Chances by Jerry Cole *Star**Star**Star**Star**Starw*

Switched by N R Walker *Star**Star**Star**Star**Starw*

Bloodline by Barbara Elsborg *Star**Star**Star**Star**Starw*

Speechless by Kim Fielding *Star**Star**Star**Star**Starw*

Stay With Me by Ann T Cee
There was no conflict in this story.  I was hoping for something…more.  It was sweet and…boring.

Switched by N R Walker
We’ve all heard stories of babies being switched at birth, but few of us can imagine what it must feel like to be in that situation.  N R Walker gives us a fascinating insight.

At first I felt like Israel’s parents were too evil.  No one is black and white.  But the author corrects this by giving us insight into their behaviour and showing other sides of their personalities making them more multi-dimensional.

Overall, I found the concept and story quite fascinating.

Bloodline by Barbara Elsborg
The characters in this were well fleshed out, which made them feel real and believable despite the paranormal aspect.  I loved the Princess Bride references and the general humour.

Books read in December

Downtime by Tamara Allen *Star**Star**Star**Star**Starw*

Fractured Hymns by A M Arthur *Star**Star**Star**Starw**Starw*

The Alpha’s Hunger by Renee Rose  *Star**Star**Star**Starw**Starw*

An Ordinary Girl by Barbara Elsborg *Star**Star**Star**Star**Starw*

Ricky by Ashley John *Star**Star**Star**Star**Starw*

A Cowboy’s Christmas Promise Maggie McGinnis *Star**Star**Star**Starw**Starw*

Talking Trouble by Barbara Elsborg *Star**Star**Star**Starw**Starw*

Chosen by Barbara Elsborg *Star**Star**Starw**Starw**Starw*

Downtime by Tamara Allen
Morgan Nash is a 21st century FBI agent. He is somehow accidentally ‘summoned’ back to the 19th century by some scholars who were testing their Latin.

The book with the spell in it is stolen and as they hunt for the means to send Morgan back to his own time, he becomes embroiled in the legendary Jack the Ripper case (irresistible to an FBI agent!) and starts falling for Ezra, his housemate.

Sometimes when writing time travel novels, authors go to the ridiculous (or tedious) trying to convince us that they are familiar with the time period and to help us ‘see it’. In this case, the author focuses on the characters and the plot, and the time periods are secondary, to the point where they feel natural rather than forced. It’s well done.

I actually ended up researching ‘Prince Eddy’ online to find out more about the real man and what happened to it. It’s always great when an historical story prompts you to do real research.

Talking Trouble by Barbara Elsborg
The plot was good, but I would have enjoyed it more without all the gratuitous sex scenes.

Chosen by Barbara Elsborg
Kate is kidnapped by Jack.  He not only rapes her, but threatens every good Samaritan that Kate tries to seek help from, and kills the one man who does try and help her.  Then Jack kidnaps a child from a McDonalds and takes Kate and the child to live in a remote house in the woods where they are going to be happy families.  The raping and violence continues, and Jack threatens the child to help keep Kate in line.  She tries desperately to seek freedom for herself and the child, enduring increasingly more violent punishments each time she is caught.  Meanwhile, Jack’s half brother Nathan has been stalking and monitoring Jack ever since he came out of the mental hospital he went into after sleeping with Nathan’s fiance.  He doesn’t really have any better motive than revenge, but it does mean that he is the one that notices that Jack has disappeared right after buying flowers for a mystery woman.  He hunts Jack down and when Kate appeals to him for help, Jack draws Nathan into his sick and violent plot.  When Nathan and Kate finally manage to escape with the child, Jack goes straight to the police with a twisted sob story that is practically impossible to unravel.  Now Nathan and Kate are wanted for kidnapping and the police believe that Kate is not only mentally unbalanced, but involved in an S&M relationship with Jack and not only enjoys the pain but invites it.  There is little hope of ever being free of Jack’s machinations.

For me, this wasn’t a romance.  Kate and Nathan don’t even meet until 75% through the book, and by the time the book has finished, they’ve probably only known each other a week.  That week has been spent either in the hospital or on the run and filled with constant danger.  They really know nothing of each other.  On top of that, Kate has just endured rape as well as physical and mental torture by Nathan’s half brother.  There is no way she is in any state of mind (or body) for what is her first consensual relationship.  No way.  It was completely unbelievable.

The plot was incredibly convoluted.  I haven’t even gone into all the twists and turns the plot takes.  Not only is there the current events which are convoluted, there is Jack’s twisted interpretation of events which are exceptionally complicated, there are events from history which feed into the current events that we learn about in bits and pieces, and on top of all that, there are other people manipulating the main characters.  By the end of the book I was so confused.  It would have been a better story without all the drama from the past, and without the other people who were doing the manipulating.

It is an incredibly dark story.  There is a lot of violence, both sexual and not.  The violence escalates as the book progresses, and I simply can’t imagine that Kate could come through it without horrific mental scars to go with the physical scars she would bear.

The writing style itself was good, and easy to read.  It was the convoluted plot and the fact that the romance was not only far from the focus of the plot but also utterly unbelievable that led me to give it two stars.