In from the Cold
For eighteen years, Nathan Truman and Quinn Anders were best friends. One born of wealth and privilege, the other born to working people, Nathan and Quinn shared everything. Sports, music, first kiss, first love.
For sixteen years, Nathan has tried to forget Quinn. Tried to forget the stolen moments they’d shared as kids. He joined the Marines, married, not once but twice, went into law enforcement. He forgot.
For sixteen years, Quinn couldn’t stop remembering. He fell into addiction, found music, lost himself, and became a country music superstar. He never forgot.
Sixteen years after their one night together, tragedy conspires to reunite them.
The murder of Quinn’s father sets them on a collision course not only with their past but with a killer. Nathan and Quinn struggle to deal with their past while the present slowly crashes around them. Brought together by grief, their tentative new beginning may very well come to a sizzling end, leaving them both out in the cold forever.
Nathan Truman drove fast around the tight curves leading up the side of the mountain. Siren wailing, rain slashed against the windshield. He drove recklessly, tires skidding in mud, the call for back-up nearly ten minutes old now. Nathan was the closest. He lived on the other side of the mountain and was heading home for the evening when dispatch came over the radio. He didn’t know much. Just that Theo was in trouble. And he had to hurry.
One last curve, the back end fishtailed but Nathan kept control. He slammed on the brakes at the scene, flashing lights telling him he’d found the right place. Gun in hand, Nathan stepped out of his cruiser, the rain only a nuisance now. Mud squished under his boot. He listened. Nothing. He was alone. God, he hoped he was alone. Caution forgotten, he ran through the mud to the other cruiser, the one marked Sheriff.
He was too late. Sheriff Anders lay deathly still on the hood of his cruiser. Blood mingled with freezing rain forming rivulets as it ran to the ground below. Nathan opened the line on his personal radio and called for an ambulance. “Hell, send me anything, just get it here now,” he shouted to the worried dispatcher.
He holstered his gun as he reached the car, cold emotion gripped him, this was his job, he’d done this more than he wanted to recall. He wouldn’t think about who the victim was this time. He was still a victim. One whose mouth moved the second Nathan laid his hand on his neck, the words indiscernible. A pulse and gibberish. Oh, God, he was alive. Relief didn’t come. Blood poured from a head wound. Alive, but for how long?
“Theo? Can you hear me? Help is coming. Hang on Theo.” Nathan shrugged his jacket off and pressed it to the wound hoping to stop the blood flow. He leaned in close repeating the demand for him to hang on. Theo’s mouth moved his words so very faint, his eyes glassy, unmoving. Theo repeated the guttural words over and over while Nathan tried to stop the blood from seeping from his body. He tried to buy Theo time. He tried.
“Quinn. Tell. Him. Quinn. Love. Quinn.”
* * * * *
Nashville at Christmas was a beautiful sight. Home, well nearly home, at any rate. Home was a small town across the state, with small minds and no bright lights and no adoring fans. Quinn Anders lived for the fans screaming his name just for singing a little holiday music. He loved the sound of applause. The pleasure that coursed through him as the audience came to its feet was more addictive than any drug. High on adoration, he took a bow, his blood singing through his body. The peculiar vibration on his hip seemed foreign at first… his phone. Of course, he’d forgotten to leave it in his dressing room before the show. He ignored the buzzing as he left the stage. It would be a while before he could answer it, so he let it go to voice mail.
After a quick drink of water, he changed into a different jacket before he returned to the stage with an acoustic guitar to sing a duet with an up and coming new starlet fresh off the farm. A pretty, freckled face redhead with green bedroom eyes and the promise of fulfilling his wildest fantasy, if he was interested. He wasn’t. “Just sing, sweetheart. The people aren’t going to bite,” he told her just to watch her face turn red. His phone buzzed again, he ignored it again as he strummed the guitar once to check the sound. Unease settled over him with the first strands of I’ll be Home for Christmas.
When the song was finished he kissed what’s-her-name on the cheek and made a break for backstage. He thrust his guitar at a roadie and with impatient fingers, he dug his phone out of his pocket. His dad’s number showed as a missed call, twice. There was a voice message. Quinn plugged his finger in his other ear so he could hear. Dad never called during a show. Something was wrong.
The voice that came on the line wasn’t his dad’s. Quinn’s heart pounded with each word. He’d forgotten how his voice sounded. It was so much deeper now than he remembered. Yet still his heart lurched at the very first word. The familiar craving forgotten as the words the voice spoke banished all other thoughts from his head. “Quinn, its Nathan, I…ah…I didn’t want to leave a message…there’s been…an accident. You need to come home. He’s not going to make it.”
When the message ended, Quinn simply stood there holding his phone numbly in his hand, his mind blank for a moment. Knowing what Nate did for a living, coming from him, accident could mean anything. He held his thumb over the button that would connect him with his father’s phone, but he didn’t want to talk to Nate, not on the phone at least. The thought of talking to Nate in person was worse. Why did it have to be Nate who called? Why did there have to be a call at all?
“Quinn, honey, what’s wrong?” Maria Chambers, his road manager, was at his elbow quicker than he’d ever seen her move before. A look of startled concern on her face that made him wonder what she’d seen on his face to get her attention.
“I’ve got to go home.” With a deep breath to clear his head, he closed his phone and tucked it back into his pocket. Calling Nate could wait until he was alone. His hands shook and he tucked them into his pockets before Maria noticed. He needed a drink. Badly.
“You can’t go home, honey, unless you’ve forgotten, you booked appearances all through the holiday season.” Her voice hit an octave that made him cringe. Panic first ask questions last, that was her motto. And sometimes he wondered why he kept her around. This was one of those times. His gut clutched with fear and so many unnamed emotions, he craved the taste of—he cut the thought off before it could form.
“Fuck the holidays, Maria, cancel everything.” He hadn’t meant to shout. People turned to look at him as if he’d lost his mind. Maybe he had. This wasn’t him, at least not the Quinn Anders he allowed the public to see. “Shit, Maria, I’m sorry. I’ve got to go home-home. It’s my dad…he’s been in an accident.”
He needed to move, to hit something; he unclenched his fists and dragged his hands out of his pockets. Okay, what to do? He had no damned idea. Call Nate back. See how bad it was. How long did he have? The itch to act had him barreling through the crowd toward his dressing room. His last set forgotten. He couldn’t go back out there and sing Christmas songs now for all the money in the world.
“What kind of accident? Is he all right?” He’d forgotten about Maria until she grabbed his jacket sleeve to keep up with him as he stalked through the narrow halls to his dressing room. Musicians played all around him but he didn’t hear the music, he barely heard her voice as she shouted over the din.
“I don’t know what kind of accident. I only have a voice mail and I haven’t had time to call back yet. But he said Dad isn’t going to make it.” Quinn stopped long enough to think. He needed her out of his way, he needed—to focus. “Get me a car, or something. I don’t care how—rent one, borrow, hell, steal one if you have to. I’ve got to go now.”
“Are you crazy? You can’t seriously be considering driving in this weather? And what about the—“ Quinn wasn’t sure what she could have seen reflected in his eyes but she stopped midsentence and sighed. “Sure, honey, I’ll get everything you need. Everything will be fine. Oh, Christ, it’s pouring outside. Be careful out there.” She reached up and kissed his cheek, wiped her lipstick off and ran off to do as he asked. Deciding to skip his dressing room entirely Quinn braved the rain to run out to his tour bus where he threw as much clothing into one bag as he could. He didn’t pay attention to what; he just grabbed and stuffed until the bag was full.
A small crowd, including Maria and his friend Alan Chapman, had gathered around the bus when he came out. Still wearing his stage clothes, Quinn felt the itch of makeup around his eyes, for the cameras, he hated makeup but there wasn’t time to clean up. He had to go now.
Alan was the first to speak. “Sorry, Quinn, I am so sorry, don’t worry about getting her back to me. I’ve got a whole ranch full of ‘em.” Alan held out a set of keys to one of his prize SUVs. Quinn took a moment to wrap his arm around the older cowboy singer’s neck, thanking him silently for the loaner. He slung the duffel bag full of clothes and his beat up guitar case into the back of the SUV. “You just be careful, we’re expecting snow any time now, son. And call when you get there. Let us know what we can do.”
“I’ll do that, Alan, I’ll do that. And tell the guys…I don’t know what…Merry Christmas.” He wiped at his eyes as he took the keys and with the Opry in his rear view mirror, he sped out of town, pointing the SUV east toward home. He prayed it wouldn’t be too late.