sticks & stones (cut & run 2) - Page 20

Zane couldn’t stop the sharp laugh, marveling at how Mara seemed to be able to take everything in stride. “Well, I guess we’ll have to disagree, since he’s watching my back.”

Mara nodded as she dumped another handful of apple slices into her bowl. Her face was set in a frown now, her brow furrowed and her eyes thoughtful. In the silence, Zane could hear Ty chopping wood, the occasional grunt of exertion accompanying the thwack of the axe hitting.

“He’s probably about done with that pile,” Mara observed. “If you want a shower before dinner you best go do it now before he gets in,” she advised.

Zane scooted back and stood to take his glass to the sink. As he set it down, he looked back outside and watched for a long moment. “I’m going to see if he has any other plans. Otherwise I’m good for tonight.” He turned around and offered Mara a smile before walking to the back door.

Mara’s chair creaked as she turned to look over her shoulder at him. “You’re a good boy, Zane,” she told him as she went back to peeling her apples.

Zane paused on the doorstep to look back at her in mild surprise. He wasn’t sure what that was about, but it seemed a motherly thing to say, so he decided not to think on it and just appreciate the sentiment. He stepped outside, let the screen door snap shut behind him, took a few paces along the stone path, and stopped a healthy distance away to watch and wait for Ty to stop.

It only took a few more minutes for Ty to finish the pile. Once he’d arranged the last few halves into a woodpile that wouldn’t topple, he picked up his T-shirt and swiped it over his damp body. He looked up and stopped briefly, betraying his surprise at seeing Zane standing there.

Raising an eyebrow in mimicry, Zane tipped his head to the side. “Didn’t know I was here?” he asked, amused.

“Thought you were asleep,” Ty answered as he moved closer. He was slightly out of breath, his hair wet with sweat.

“Woke up about fifteen minutes ago. Sat with your mom and had a snack.” Zane didn’t even try to look away.

Ty narrowed his eyes and looked him over. “What?” he asked suspiciously.

Zane waggled his eyebrows and smirked, dragging his eyes up and down over Ty’s sweaty and very appealing body.

Ty looked down at himself and then rolled his eyes. “I know,” he muttered as his cheeks colored. “All I need is the long blond hair, right?” he asked wryly, poking fun at himself even though it was obvious he was embarrassed. He wiped himself down with the T-shirt again and walked over to pluck his other shirt from the branch he’d hung it on.

“Don’t change anything on my account,” Zane murmured, sliding his hands into his back pockets. “Different than a gym workout, you know?”

Ty moved toward him, his shirts hanging from his hand. “You a little turned on, Garrett?” he asked with a smirk, his tone surprised.

“More than a little, Grady,” Zane said under his breath. He sighed as Ty approached, eyeing him warily.

Ty hummed wordlessly. “Too bad there’s no wood to chop back home then,” he joked.

Zane shrugged slightly. His smile was just as obvious as before. “I’m sure I could find you some wood to work on,” he said evenly, eyes twinkling.

Ty’s lips twitched as he tried not to smile. “That’s after-dinner talk, there,” he drawled before he started laughing. “We’ve really got to work on your word play,” he said as he moved closer and, to Zane’s surprise, put his arm around Zane’s shoulders as he turned him toward the house. He smelled of a mixture of sweat, wood, shampoo, Old Spice, and… Ty.

Zane chuckled and they bumped against each other randomly as Ty maneuvered them up the walk to the door. “There’s always something you want me to work on,” he complained. “We’re supposed to be on vacation, for Christ’s sake.”

Ty merely squeezed Zane’s shoulders before releasing him, and Zane grinned at him as he opened the screen door and motioned him inside.

Chapter 5

IT HAD been an incredible dinner—a huge, tender pork roast with all the trimmings, hot yeast rolls, and apple cobbler for dessert. Zane had finally sat back from the table, stuffed to the gills. It had been a nice, relaxing day. He’d napped, been shown around the place, been told stories of the havoc Ty and Deuce had wreaked upon the community in their youth, and had taken a short trip into the town of Bluefield to load up on supplies for the hike.

Ty had promised him a better tour of his hometown at a later date, and Zane was actually looking forward to it. He hadn’t seen much more of Ty’s parents. Mara had spent the day cooking and making various and sundry edible things for them to take with them on the trail, and Earl had headed back to the mines.

Ty had carefully avoided anything even remotely concerning the mines or accompanying his father. Zane didn’t blame him. They’d sat on the front porch and relaxed for the remainder of the day, not even really speaking much as each of them tried to unwind and accept their forced vacation for what it was.

Once dinner was over and they were sitting around the table enjoying the last cup of coffee for the night, Mara stood and tapped Ty on the top of the head. “Come help me make up the couch,” she requested.

Ty sat back and frowned at her. “I have to sleep on the couch?” he asked her incredulously. “I’ve slept on rocks more comfortable than that thing!”

“Then you go out back and find yourself a rock so you’ll feel better about it,” Mara suggested.

“Couch?” Zane asked in a low voice as he leaned closer to Earl, an eyebrow rising.

Earl was smiling widely. He nodded when Zane looked to him. “My wife has made up Ty’s old bedroom for you,” he told him in a low voice as Ty and Mara argued over the merits of the couch cushions versus the rocks out back.

“Oh Christ.” Zane laughed, falling back in his chair. “He won’t let me forget this. Losing his bed to me.”

“Well,” Earl said with a sigh, “it’s either that or fight his mama over it.” He sat and watched Ty and Mara for a moment, sipping at his coffee contentedly. “Ain’t none of us ever won that fight,” he told Zane flatly.

“Me and Zane’ll just bunk together,” Ty was arguing.

Mara laughed at him. “You two boys won’t fit in a double bed any more than I’ll still fit in my wedding dress,” she scoffed.

“But—”