A coda for The Growing Season ~ Diana Copland: Outside the Margins

Join us as Diana Copland goes Outside the Margins.

Diana Copland OtM

A coda for The Growing Season

Last year, I wrote a book called ‘The Growing Season‘.  It’s Book Two of the Secrets of Neverwood Anthology, and I found as time went by I just wasn’t ready to leave my main characters, Danny and Sam, behind.  I thought about them a lot, even found myself wondering what might be going on with them now. (Yeah, we writers do that. Danny and Sam are both landscapers, it’s Spring… you know.)  I plan to write at least one more book in the Neverwood Universe, but that one tells the story of a different couple who comes together within Neverwood’s benevolent, and slightly haunted, halls.  So this is the story of Sam and Danny, Part Two: What Happens Next.  Or, as this is entitled, “One Step Closer”.  Oh, and Becky Condit read this for me, and tells me it’s the ‘pre-coda’, that there’s another one that needs to be written.  You’ll see what she means!

ONE STEP CLOSER

Danny had wanted to work later.  Ever since the switch to daylight savings time, and they’d ‘sprung forward’, it was lighter well into the evening and he wanted to take advantage of it.  And he’d tried. But by five thirty the breeze picked up and his fingers were going numb.  Cursing under his breath after he dropped his clippers for the third time, he gathered the bucket full of snipped, dried twigs and headed for the planting shed at the side of the garage.

It was much warmer inside thanks to the small heaters he’d turned on that morning.  He dumped his tools just inside the door and crossed to the grow lights, checking the seedlings on the racks against the wall.  The tiny plants looked none the worse for wear due to the freeze the night before, and he exhaled softly in relief.  He could always start them again, but… he’d never admit it to a living soul, but he grieved a little when the babies didn’t make it.  They were so fragile in this state.  Covering them carefully with plastic, he turned the heaters down to low and made sure they were a safe distance from the wall before closing up and heading to the back door.

He heard a twig snap and stopped, looking out over the forested side of the Neverwood property.  It had been a long time since they’d had any trouble, but he remained vigilant. Lavender shadows stretched long between the close set trees and the thick underbrush dipped and swayed slightly in the cold breeze.  He didn’t move, his eyes scanning the verdant dimness, and then he saw her; a full grown doe, picking her way carefully through the gloom.  Her head came up and she paused, huge Bambi eyes on him, long lashes quivering.

“Hello, beautiful,” he murmured.  “Where’s the bubba?”

It was a moment longer before he saw the tiny fawn stick its little nose out from around one of the thick pines. He smiled.  No more than a week old, its velvety coat marked with tiny white spots, the baby had stolen his heart the moment he’d seen him. He watched as mother and infant nibbled on one of the maiden hair fern plants that grew close to the ground, and then casually disappeared back further amidst the trees.  They were safe on the Neverwood grounds.  Even though it wasn’t hunting season not all hunters were ethical and he’d spotted a baby with an arrow through one of its hind legs the season before.  Danny didn’t exhibit his emotions much, but the sight of that poor hobbled baby had brought tears to his eyes.

“Keep them here, Mom,” he murmured, feeling his voice slip into the breeze.  “Keep them safe.”

“I’ll do what I can, but they don’t always listen. Much like my boys.”

The voice sounded near his ear, so soft it might almost have been his imagination, but he knew better. Hearing it brought a smile.

Audrey still spoke to him occasionally.  The beloved foster mother of Danny and his two adopted brothers Cal and Devon, Audrey Rasmussen brought the boys together when she left them Neverwood, the crumbling Victorian mansion where each had spent part of their childhood.

After she’d passed from ovarian cancer, Danny thought he was losing it when he began to hear her voice.  Then he found out Audrey was visiting each of ‘her boys’ in a different fashion:  he could hear her, Cal dreamt of her, Devon could feel her.  She hadn’t been around much lately; each of her sons had found a measure of happiness and the corrupt contractor who tried to steal Neverwood from them was still in jail.  It took months, but he was convicted of breaking and entering and attempted murder.  Audrey saved them all the night he’d broken into the house and confronted them in the attic. She’d put on quite a light show, attacking him, chasing him from the house.  Danny supposed it was a good thing when she turned up less frequently; maybe it meant they were doing something right.

Once the doe and her offspring were hidden amongst the trees, Danny climbed the back steps, entering the huge old house through the kitchen door. The moment he was inside, his senses were assaulted on multiple fronts.  Warm air brushed over his cold face, and the scent of lasagna and garlic bread filled the air. He inhaled gratefully.  He’d forgotten it was Tuesday and therefore Italian night, but he was happy to be reminded.  Cal made a mean lasagna, and he knew there were at least eight pans divided between the two ovens.  It took that much to feed the nine adults and thirteen kids who lived at Neverwood full time, not to mention any of Cal’s group who chose to hang around after their weekly meeting.  They must be up in the second floor lounge, he thought. That would explain why Wes, Cal’s building contractor boyfriend, was currently sitting at the kitchen table, dividing his attention between to the two youngest residents of Neverwood, each in a high chair.

“You pull rug rat duty?” Danny grinned as he crossed to the sink to wash his grubby hands.  He turned on the tap and sighed in relief as the warm water flowed over his cold fingers.

“I did,” Wes answered, trying to feed little Megan a bite of baby food. She was having none of it, pulling her face to the side to avoid whatever it was Wes had on the spoon.  “Cal sent out an S.O.S. earlier this afternoon. Aw, come on, baby.  You’ve got to eat.”

“She probably wants lasagna,” Danny quipped.

Their plan, once Neverwood was repaired and back up to safety codes so they could reopen its doors, had been to take in displaced gay boys, as Audrey had done.  But the system was so overloaded that once they’d passed their state certification they’d become a ‘safe house’ for babies in crisis situations, too.  When local law enforcement first approached them about it, they hadn’t been sure they were qualified.  But as Cal said, they were better than a play pen in a police station or being bounced from foster to foster.  Most of them weren’t with them long but while they were there they were part of the family.  Like little Megan, whose dad was in jail and whose mom had checked herself into rehab.

“Come on, sweetie,” Wes begged.  “If you don’t eat, Calvin will have my hide.”

“Oh, sure.” Danny pulled a paper towel from the roll and dried his hands.  “If that means he’ll have you flat on your back at bedtime.”

“Daniel!”  Wes gave him an exaggerated scowl.  “Not in front of the infants.”

Danny laughed and crossed to them, leaning down to rub his cold cheek against the other baby, little Connor.  The bright eyed eighteen month old giggled and reached out with his pudgy baby hands, grabbing Danny’s lower lip.  Connor’s sixteen year old mother left him at a local fire station, and his grandmother was currently attempting to get custody.  Cal wasn’t sure how he felt about turning the boy over to a woman who had kicked her pregnant daughter out, but he was always very protective of the babies. “They’re the most vulnerable,” Cal said.  “They need us the most.”

“Easy there, champ,” Danny said, pulling the small hand away and placing a noisy kiss on the sticky palm.  “No damaging the money maker.” He hooked a chair with his booted foot and pulled it over, sitting and picking up the spoon and jar of toddler food that was on the table.

“Thanks,” Wes said, sounding relieved.  “I don’t know how Cal feeds them both at once.”

“It’s a gift,” Danny agreed.  He glanced at the contents of the jar and made a face, then read the label.  “Sweet potatoes, huh?  Looks like shit to me, but if you like it…”  He took some on the small spoon and fed it to Connor, who smiled at him, pureed sweet potatoes dripping down his chin.  “Lovely.” He grimaced.

“The first time one of them says the s-word to a social worker, I’m pointing them right in your direction, Danny boy.”  Wes tried another spoon full for Megan, and she took it in her mouth just long enough to spit it back at him.  Danny chuckled as Wes stiffened, and then wiped it from his chin with a cloth.  “Okay, you’re done.”

He screwed the lid back on the jar.

“Get her some Cheerio’s,” Danny said, feeding Connor another bite.  “She loves them, they’re good for her, and she won’t cry later because she’s hungry.”

“Sold.”  Wes crossed to the butler’s pantry and disappeared inside, then returned holding the box of cereal.  When she saw it, Megan grinned in delight and banged on her tray. “Is this all it takes?”  He shook the box, then opened it and poured some onto the high chair tray.  She dove for them and shoved several into her mouth at once, sending Wes another toothless grin. He shook his head.  “How did you know about these?”

“I’m usually around when they’re getting breakfast.”  Danny fed Connor another bite, and he clapped his little hands together in delight.  Wes watched them with a bemused expression. “What?” Danny asked finally, feeling his gaze.

“Nothing.  It’s just —  for some reason I thought you’d be the last person who liked the babies.”

“I love the babies.”  Danny made a face at Connor and he giggled.  “They’re the only ones I’m taller than.”

“That’s the god’s honest truth.” Danny’s oldest brother Devon said as he pushed in through the kitchen door, his dark hair mussed and a coffee cup in his hand.  His shirt was wrinkled and his eyes looked tired, and he crossed to the coffee maker, saw the empty pot and cursed extravagantly.

“And it’ll be MY fault if they cuss?” Danny said wryly.  “I think we can blame old potty mouth over there.”

“Oh, stow it, brat,” Devon grumbled, opening the cupboard and pulling out a container of ground coffee.  He yanked out the coffee maker drawer, dropping in a filter and scooped some coffee from the bag.

“Pulling an all-nighter?” Wes asked.

“That was last night, hence – “ He held up the empty cup.  “I’d like to get this assignment done and I keep dozing off in front of the monitor.”

“Where’s Nick?” Danny asked.  “Still at the high school? I didn’t see his car.”  Devon’s partner, Nickolas, taught Math to grades nine through 12.

“Algebra two on the sun porch,” Devon answered, pouring water into the machine.  “And the Bronco is in the shop.”

“Again?” Danny made a face.  “He needs a new car.”

Devon chuckled.  “So Robbie keeps telling him.”

Wes snorted.  “Robbie just wants there to be a new one for when he gets his permit.”  Robbie, Nick’s son, was almost sixteen and chomping at the bit to drive.

“Hey, whatever keeps him off my bike.”  Devon’s beloved Harley was currently parked in the garage and had been declared off limits to fledgling drivers, but that didn’t stop Robbie from asking.  Devon leaned against the counter and rubbed his red rimmed eyes as the coffee maker hissed and began dripping.

The door from the dining room swung open again and Cal came through followed by two of the boys from his group.  He leaned over as he passed and picked up a Cheerio from Megan’s tray. He popped it in his mouth.

“I see you’re taking parenting tips from Danny,” he said dryly, softening the criticism by pressing his lips to Wes’s.  When he would have pulled away, Wes grabbed the front of his Henley, holding him in place, deepening the kiss.  Cal smiled into it.

“Yuck,” Danny whined, looking at Devon.  “Dad, make them stop.”

The two teenage boys with Cal laughed when Devon flipped him the bird.  Cal finally pulled back, his hand smoothing over Wes’s strawberry blond curls as he gave him an intimate smile.  He then turned to Danny.  “You’re just jealous because Sam’s been gone for two weeks and you aren’t getting any.”

“True,” Danny replied.  “So, stop reminding me that the homo of my dreams isn’t going to be back any time soon, okay?”

Devon laughed.  “The ‘homo of your dreams’? I am so telling Sam you called him that.”

Danny just shrugged.  “Better than some of the things I’ve called him to his face.”

“Why the man loves you, I have no idea.” The coffee machine began to sputter, and Devon turned with a grateful sigh and poured himself a cup even before the stream had stopped.  The hot liquid hissed on the warming plate.

“Oy, were you raised in a barn?” Cal complained, pushing him out of the way as he picked up a sponge and wiped up the spill and the bottom of the clear glass pot.

“Now, boys. Play nice.”  Danny grabbed the damp cloth Wes had used on Megan’s face and wiped Connor down, then tossed the empty jar across the kitchen into the recycling bin.  He threw up his hands when it landed with a thud.  “Score!”

“Nice teachable moment, there, Daniel.”  Cal gave him a dark look then turned to the teenagers.  “We do not throw glass jars across the kitchen.  Really.”

“Right,” Danny said with mock solemnity.  “Never.  Ever.  We don’t do that.”  He stood and leaned over to buss Connor on the cheek then leaned quickly away when a musty odor filled his nostrils.  “Whew.”  He picked the baby up under his arms and held him out to Cal.  “Time for Daddy Cal.”

Cal took the baby, then made a face.  “Why can’t Daddy Danny take care of this?”

“Because Daddy Danny will whoops his cookies if he tries,” Danny answered.  “Plus, I need a shower.”

He started for the kitchen door.

“Danny.” He stopped and looked back at Cal.  “Dress nice.”

Danny frowned.  “For dinner with the crew?  Why?”

Cal looked down and rubbed noses with the baby.  “Because.  We’re having company for dinner.”

Danny scowled.  “Who?”

“Sal’s bringing the new social worker by,” Cal answered. Sal was their contact at Child Services.

“Shit.  I’m going to Burger King.”

“You aren’t,” Cal said, giving him a direct look.  “And don’t cuss in front of the babies.  The first time one of them says the s-word in front of a social worker…”

Danny threw his hands up when Wes laughed.  “I swear to God, you two share a brain.  And fine, I’ll ‘dress nice’, whatever the hell that means.”

“It means slacks and a sweater, not torn up jeans and a t-shirt.  And let’s go clean you up, sir,” Cal said to a grinning Connor, “before Daddy Cal whoops his cookies.” He pushed past Danny.  “I mean it,” he said pointedly.  “Nice.”

“Fine.”  Danny grimaced.

Devon raised his mug to the two teenage boys, who were leaning against the kitchen counter and grinning.

“Welcome to the madhouse, boys.  Staying for lasagna?”

 

After standing under the shower spray until the water started to go cold, which wasn’t long in the big old house, Danny emerged and rubbed his dark hair nearly dry with a towel.  He squeezed some hair gel into his hands and rubbed it into his dark hair, then ran a comb through it as he stared in the foggy mirror over the sink.  ‘That’s as good as it’s going to get’, he thought, wrapping a towel around his waist before walking into the corner bedroom he shared with Sam. He stepped into a pair of briefs, and then stood in the doorway to the large closet studying his wardrobe.  He finally chose black Levi’s and a white sweater, but didn’t reach for them right away.  He was distracted by Sam’s pants and shirts, hanging across from his.  Stepping in, he sniffed the dark gray sweater Sam wore the last night he’d been home two weeks before. The scent of Sam’s cologne clung to the fabric.  Making a sound in the back of his throat, Danny caught the soft wool in his hand and buried his face in the neckline, inhaling deeply.  A tight, squeezing sensation gripped his heart. God, he missed him.

Sam Ignatious, the love of Danny’s life, was in Seattle installing a yard and garden for an old client.  It was a five figure job, too much for him to turn down while he was saving for a new truck, but it was taking longer than they’d thought it would. The client kept adding paths and gates and rock gardens, and Danny briefly considered going over to join him. He wasn’t comfortable leaving Neverwood’s massive grounds just when spring was settling over Eastern Washington, however.  In Seattle things had been blooming for weeks, but not in Elk Ridge, the small community not far from the Idaho border.  Even though the crocuses along the fence line were in riotous bloom, they could still get snow.  Sam called every day and they Skyped once a week, but it wasn’t the same as having Sam there, in his arms. Determined to tell Sam it was time for him to come home at least for a weekend, he took out his slacks and ignored the white sweater, pulling out Sam’s instead.  It would be too big for him, but at least the scent of his lover would be with him for the evening.

He could hear voices in the dining room as he came down the stairs, and Danny smiled faintly.  He hoped this new social worker was made a sturdy stuff; dinner at Neverwood could be a bit overwhelming for the uninitiated.  With so many people it was usually accomplished with twenty in the massive dining room and eight to ten on stools around the butcher block with the kitchen door open in between. The babies had already eaten but they were there, too, in their high chairs, adding to the din. It would be noisy and raucous but to Danny the first time they’d had more than the seven of them around the huge, scarred old mahogany table in the dining room was the first time he’d truly felt at home.  The more extending leaves they added to the table, the more he felt Audrey’s benevolent spirt lingering around them.  She’d loved nothing better than surrounding herself with ‘her boys’, and feeding a crowd.  Danny secretly thought Cal felt the same.

He heard laughter and the low murmur of the voices and hoped he wasn’t too far behind the hoard.  The policy at Neverwood at meal time was ‘you snooze, you lose’, and his stomach growled at the delectable smell wafting through the downstairs.  He pushed through the dining room door, hoping he hadn’t missed out on the lasagna.

He didn’t see what he expected to.

The babies and the little ones were in their seats, eight kids in all, but everyone ten and up seemed to be gone.  Nick was sitting at the far end, deep in conversation with his son, Robbie, and Devon was pouring milk into plastic cups then screwing on tops with straws.  Danny could see into the kitchen and it looked empty but for Cal and Wes, who were plating food.  Danny frowned.

“Where are all the big kids?”

“Change of plans.” Cal looked up at him.  “Madge and her daughters took them into Spokane for burgers and to see a movie.”

Madge worked in the kitchen three days a week and her daughters helped out so they were familiar with the boys.

“That was brave.”  Danny went to his seat halfway down the table, noting that it was set with china and Audrey’s sterling.  They didn’t usually go in for fancy, but then he remembered the new social worker.  “Sal and her guest running late?”

“They should be here any minute.”  Wes gave Danny a wry smile, studying the sweater with its too long sleeves that he’d shoved up to his elbows and the length that hit him mid-thigh.  “Nice sweater. Looks like something I’ve seen Sam wear.”

Danny ignored him but shoved at the sleeves.

The kids were chattering as Cal brought plates into the room.  He set them before Devon, who picked up a knife and fork and began cutting the servings of lasagna into little kid bite sized pieces. Cal and Wes passed in the doorway, grinning when their hips brushed. Nick laughed at something Robbie said, then stood and began helping Devon get the plates prepared.

It was all so domestic, the pattern they’d fallen into.  They made adjustments when one of them was gone; when Nick was taking Robbie to see his Mom, or Devon was away on a shoot.  Or Sam was in Seattle.  But they did what needed to be done for their charges, always.  Thinking of how Sam usually took care of the sippy cups, filling them with milk or juice, made Danny miss him even more. Pushing down his melancholy, he got up and began taking a cup of milk to each of the children, grabbing garlic bread from a platter in the middle of the table and adding it to the plates as Devon finished with them. He rubbed one little boy’s head, smiled at another. There was food in front of each of the kids in record time. The noise level dropped dramatically as they dug in.

The doorbell sounded through the downstairs.

“I’ll get it,” Danny said.

“No,” Nick said quickly.  He and Devon exchanged a look.  “I’ll get it.”

“You do that, Dad,” Robbie said, a mischievous look on his handsome, teenaged face. He took a bite of garlic bread. “You get that door.”

Devon shot Robbie a quelling look as Nick wiped his hands on his khaki trousers, almost as if he was nervous, as he left the room.

“So, this is supposed to be the social worker?” Robbie’s eyes were bright as he looked from Devon to Cal, who was standing in the doorway, a dish cloth in his hands. Devon smacked him on the back of the head as he returned to his place at the huge table and pulled out his chair.

Robbie rubbed the spot.  “Good timing on that.  I can report Devon for child abuse.”

“Will you put a sock in it?” Devon growled but Robbie just grinned.

Something about the whole thing began to strike Danny as very odd.  His brother’s and their partners were on edge, and Robbie was clearly in on it and enjoying their discomfort.  The majority of the kids were gone, the table was set with linen napkins and silver flatware… Dimly he was aware of the sound of the heavy front door opening and then voices coming their way.

“What’s going on?” Danny demanded.  His brothers looked at him, then Devon shrugged and Cal and Wes exchanged another of those enigmatic looks. Danny opened his mouth, but there wasn’t time for anything else.  The dining room door swung open and Danny turned, freezing at what he saw.

Nick was holding the door open for Sam’s sisters, Dana and Leslie.  Dana was holding a pie and Leslie was carrying what looked like a large container of cupcakes.  Even more startling, behind them came Sam’s father, city councilman Bernard Ignatious.

At one time the senior Ignatious had tried everything he could to have Neverwood taken from Audrey’s boys and torn down.  That had changed, and he’d even come to accept Danny’s relationship with his son, but having him calmly enter their dining room was still a shock.  They saw Danny, and Dana smiled brightly.

“Hello, handsome,” Dana said, kissing his cheek as she passed on her way to the kitchen.  “Cherry pie, Cal,” she called.  “I hope that’s okay.”

“It’s excellent, thank you.”  Cal took the pie and set it on the butcher block.

“I brought chocolate cupcakes.”  Leslie smiled, squeezing Danny’s arm as she followed her sister.  He stared after them, for once in his life startled into silence.

“I call dibs on those,” Robbie said with an irrepressible grin.

“There’s enough for everyone.”  Leslie tousled Robbie’s dark hair as she passed.

“Daniel.”

Bernard Ignatious offered his hand, and after a stunned pause, Danny shook it.

“Sir,” he said faintly.  He turned and looked at Devon, who was watching him with an amused expression.  “What the hell?” he mouthed, and Devon grinned.  “Uhm, did I miss something?” Danny asked the room at large.

“Hey, babe.”

Danny whirled, his heart jumping into his throat.

Sam was standing just inside the dining room door.  He looked tall and lean and fantastic, his sandy blond hair combed back revealing the beautiful bone structure and the deep brown eyes Danny so loved. His first impulse was to go to Sam, wrap his arms around his neck and pull him down to kiss the living daylights out of him.  But something stopped him, whether it was the look in Sam’s eyes or the expectant faces around the room, he couldn’t be sure.  Even the little ones were quiet, watching with wide eyes, sensing… something.

Sam was wearing a dark suit, a gray shirt and a striped tie, and he looked beautiful but very pale.  And something else, as well.  Like he was —  terrified.

“Sam?” Danny ventured.

Sam crossed to him and took Danny’s hand.  It was cold against Danny’s palm as he pulled him out from behind his chair.

Danny glanced around at the expectant faces watching them, then back into Sam’s eyes.

“Did I forget something?” he asked, his voice soft.  Sam managed a small smile as he shook his head.

Sam licked his lips and Danny could feel him trembling.

“Sam, what…?”

“Please, just – don’t talk,” Sam said finally.  “I’ll never get this out if you don’t just –listen, okay?”

Danny stared into his wide eyes and nodded slowly.

“I never thought this could happen to me,” Sam began.  “For me.  I never thought I’d meet someone who could make me want this.  But I was wrong.  You’re – snotty and sarcastic, and sometimes I want to strangle you.”  Soft laughter sounded around them, and Danny gave Sam a withering look.  He smiled in response.  “And in spite of the tough guy image you try to project, you’re also kind and considerate, and when you love someone, you love them with your whole heart.  You loved Audrey, you love your brothers and their partners and the kids here, and – “ Sam’s smile softened, “ – you love me.”  Sam stuck his hand into his jacket pocket, and then slowly dropped to one knee.  Danny’s eyes widened.

“What are you doing right now?” he asked, his voice raw.  “Sam?”

Sam looked up at him, dark eyes shining. “Danny Redmond, I love you. I’ll always love you.  And I want to spend the rest of my life with you.  And since the voters in Washington made it legal, I can ask you now.”  He fumbled in his pocket and withdrew a dark red velvet box.  He opened it, and resting against the white satin interior were two black rings, shining along each edge, brushed matte finish in the center.  He presented them with a shy smile.  “Baby,” his voice dropped to a soft murmur, “will you marry me?”

Danny felt like someone had sucked the air from his lungs.  His heart slammed into his ribs and unexpected tears sprang to his eyes.  He’d never even contemplated the idea of marriage.  He was unapologetically gay; he’d resigned himself to never having the right to marry.  And yet, now he could.  Not only could he, but the man on his knee in front of him was the only person he could imagine spending the rest of his life with.  He stared into Sam’s waiting face, felt the people around the room watching them in breathless anticipation, and didn’t even try to fight the tears that filled his eyes.

Unable to speak past the huge lump in his throat, Danny nodded.  Sam squeezed his hand, hard.

“Yes?” Sam said, his eyes suspiciously bright.  “You’re saying yes?”

“Yes,” Danny finally managed. “Yes, I’m saying yes.”

There was a rush of happy noise, exclamations and laughter, as Sam took the smaller of the two rings and slipped it onto the third finger of Danny’s left hand.  His hands were shaking, but he managed to get the other ring onto his own before he dropped the box and stood, pulling Danny into a crushing hug.

He bent his head, his mouth against Danny’s ear.  “I love you,” he said.  “So damned much.”

Danny wrapped his arms around Sam’s neck, jumping to wrap his legs around his narrow waist.  More laughter bubbled up around them.

“Classy, Daniel,” he heard, but he ignored it in favor of taking Sam’s face between his palms and sealing their mouths together in a deep, searching kiss.  He wanted to convey how he felt, to make Sam understand what this meant to him, how completely he owned Danny’s heart.  Their tongues met and moved together, and Sam’s hands slid up the back of Danny’s thighs, lifting him, holding him in place.

Danny didn’t know how long he’d been lost in the taste of Sam, the feel of him when a throat was cleared very nearby.

“Okay, boys,” Audrey murmured, laughter in her voice.  “This is lovely, but let’s ink-thay of the ids-kay.”

Danny giggled against Sam’s lips.  Audrey had occasionally spoken pig-latin around the little ones.  Usually at Christmas time, or near birthdays.  Sam pulled back, startled, and looked into Danny’s eyes.

“Oh my God,” he gasped.  “Was that…”

Danny grinned.  “It must mean she approves.”

“She definitely does,” her voice whispered.

There wasn’t time for more.  They were surrounded by their families, Dana wiping at tears and Leslie taking Danny into a hard hug when Sam set him on his feet.  Devon took Danny into his arms next, squeezing him tight against his chest.

“Congrats, runt,” he said, his voice rough.  Cal was there next, his hug not as hard but no less sincere.

“I’m happy for you, Danny,” he said, his hand coming up to caress the back of his younger brother’s head.  “You deserve it.”

Wes shook his hand, his smile bright, and Nick wrapped his arm around his shoulders, squeezing him against his side.  Even Robbie gave him a hug, something Robbie rarely did, and Danny and Nick exchanged a smile over his shoulder.

Then Bernard Ignatious was standing in front of them, and both Sam and Danny became guarded, leaning into one another.  Sam’s dad had come a long way in the last few months, but neither of them was sure how he would feel about his son marrying another man.  He stared at Danny for a long, tense moment.

“I haven’t always been the best father,” the older man finally managed.  “But if you hurt him, I know where you live.”

The laughter around them held more than a bit of giddy relief even as Sam rolled his eyes, his cheeks filling with rusty color.

“Way to seize the moment, Dad.”

Bernard smiled and offered his hand to his son, then to Danny.  He stepped closer, his voice lowered.  “I wasn’t kidding.”

Danny squeezed his fingers. All of the work he’d done trimming and planting had made his hands strong, and the senior Ignatious looked startled. “I didn’t for a moment think you were,” Danny said.  “But you don’t need to worry.  I have no intention of doing anything other than making him happy.”

The two men exchanged a long look, and Sam’s father finally nodded and stepped back.

Next all the kids seemed to feel the need to get in on the action, and Sam and Danny spent a few happy minutes hugging and kissing a handful of demanding little boys.  Finally Cal and Wes brought huge bowls of salad and platters of lasagna from the kitchen, and Cal gestured expansively to the empty seats.

“Sit, sit,” he said brightly.  “Let’s eat.”

Chairs were pulled out, seats were taken.  Sam sat next to Danny, holding his hand, his thumb moving over the ring on Danny’s finger as if he needed to assure himself it was actually there, that he had actually said yes.  Danny leaned into his shoulder and looked around the table, taking in the faces of his brothers, their lovers, Sam’s family and all of the messy, shining faces of the kids. He’d never seen anything he thought more beautiful in his life.

He’d come to Neverwood a lost, snotty fourteen year old brat and he’d run away again at seventeen, sure he knew what he wanted.  He hadn’t, but those three years he’d spent with Audrey had planted a seed, made him want something he’d never had; a home, and a family. It had taken him an additional six years and the facing of his own personal demons, but he’d found what he’d been looking for.

Neverwood, his brothers, and Sam.  His home.  And his family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About

Title: The Growing Season
Publisher: Carina Press
Genre: M/M Romance

Secrets of Neverwood Book Two

The four years since Danny Redmond left Neverwood have been heartbreaking, and past mistakes continue to haunt him, even after he returns home. Together with two foster brothers he barely knows, he plans to turn the decrepit mansion into a welcoming place for runaways once again—the dying wish of their foster mother, Audrey.

Danny has nothing to contribute to the restoration, save for a gift for growing things. But his efforts to bring Audrey’s beloved gardens back to their former glory are complicated by handsome landscaper Sam Ignatius…and the feelings developing between them, despite their fiery differences of opinion. One voice gives him hope, the only one he’s always trusted—Audrey’s.

Danny comes to care deeply for Sam, but things look bleak when Sam’s city councilman father threatens to have Neverwood torn down. Why should Danny have expected the future to be different from his past? All his relationships end in disaster…

Three foster brothers are called home to Neverwood, the stately Pacific Northwest mansion of their youth. They have nothing in common but a promise to Audrey, the woman they all called mother…
Secrets of Neverwood is a multi-author trilogy; One Door Closes, The Growing Season and The Lost Year can be enjoyed either as a continuity or as standalones.
53,000 words

Carina Press
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA
All Romance eBooks
Barnes & Noble
Kobo US

~ Diana Copland

About Diana Copland

Diana Copland began writing in the seventh grade, when she shamelessly combined elements of Jane Eyre and Dark Shadowsto produce an overwrought Gothic tale that earned her an A- in creative writing, thanks entirely to the generosity of her teacher. She wrote for pure enjoyment for the next three decades before discovering LiveJournal and a wonderful group of supportive fanfiction writers, who after gifting her with a “”Best New Author”” Award encouraged her to try her hand at original gay fiction.

Born and raised in southern California, Diana moved to the Pacific Northwest after losing a beloved spouse to AIDS in 1995. She lives in eastern Washington with four obnoxious cats, near her two wonderful adult children.

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

Brandilyn
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