Finally Home 1
Josiah Nelson left the family home where his father’s bullying and his own fears made life a penance, swearing never to return. Now he has a funeral to arrange, another joyless Christmas holiday to survive, and a ranch to sell, before he can finally wipe the last dust of his childhood off his shoes and settle into his lonely big city life.
When he arrives in his hometown, Wyatt Ames is still there, still out and proud and everything Josiah secretly wanted when they were growing up. He can’t help feeling a tiny, fragile hope that this time, things might turn out differently. Especially when Wyatt seems set on teaching him that home isn’t the house you live in. It’s the place where your heart belongs.
Publisher: K-lee Productions
Release Date: Wednesday, December 9 2020
Cover Artist: Karrie Jax
Genres: mm romance, contemporary, western
Pairings: Josiah Nelson and Wyatt Aames
LGBTQ+ Identities: gay, bi
Tropes: friends to lovers
Keywords/Categories: cowboys, friends to lovers, gay romance, mm romance, gay, romance, contemporary, western, bi, bisexual, friends to lovers
This book was originally published in 2011 under the title "Finally Home." This second edition has been meticulously rewritten and expanded.
The steps creaked and groaned as Josiah made his way upstairs. He stopped half-way up to peer at the old family photographs hanging along the dingy white wall of the stairwell. Most of the pictures were old black-and-whites of his mama’s family, but there were a couple of Josiah.
One showed a gap-toothed, grinning six-year-old heading off for his first day of school, backpack slung over one shoulder, hair shiny and slicked back. He recollected being happier than a pig in shit when he finally got to go to school.
The ranch offered more isolation than social activity, and his parents—more specifically, his father—hadn’t been partial to company. Plus, since Wyatt started school the year before, Josiah had felt very alone. Grown Josiah felt sorry for the kid in the picture. He was so young, so naïve about the cruelness of other children and the tragic losses he would suffer in the future. He wanted to tell him things would work out, that he’d be fine, but Josiah didn’t have it in him. And it was barely the truth.
The second photo of Josiah offered no warmth and depicted more sadness than excitement. He remembered that day clearly. He’d been thirteen, his expression sullen, almost as cold as the one on his dad’s face beside him. Father and son stood pin-straight, as far apart as they were in actual life. And Josiah was angry.
Mama insisted on taking a family photo but bowed out at the last minute. “My boys look so handsome. Why ruin it with a sick old woman thrown in.”
Josiah was certain she’d planned it that way—a first, carefully disguised reminder that their family would be missing one member, the most important member, very soon. The chemo had already taken its toll, her eyes sunken and yellow, skin the color of the grayest clouds in the sky, her body emaciated. Gone was the energetic woman who would burn down the world for Josiah’s sake.
Josiah remembered feeling helpless and pissed at everything and everyone. The rage covered the pain, and he oftentimes lashed out at his mom for no good reason except he was terrified of losing her. He suspected she’d understood his motives, and never chastised or reflected his mood back at him. Simply pulled him against her thin body and held him until he stopped fighting her. Those were the last times Josiah remembered being hugged and held, feeling secure and loved.
And now there was so much pent-up emotion, so much emotional agony turned physical. He was mad at his mama for dying, mad at his father for not loving him, mad at himself for letting the built-up dam that held back his pain break into a million pieces.
Before he knew what he was doing, he’d snatched the picture from the wall and thrown it down the stairs. It crashed to the floor in shatters of glass and splinters of wood and opened up Josiah’s floodgates of grief. Tears stung his eyes, his lashes fluttering madly to contain them. The bottle of water he’d been clutching slipped from his fingers and followed the photo down the stairs.
Josiah slumped onto the steps with one hand wrapped around the chipped wooden railing so he didn’t tumble forward. His body convulsed with gut-clenching sobs as he fought to gain control of his spiraling emotions. But the pain was too strong, too all-consuming, too long shuttered within himself—grief for Mama, grief for the loss of his teenage years spent with an over-bearing, cruel role model, grief for what could have been, and what certainly would never be.
There was grief for the man who had caused so much of the pain in his life, too, the man whose body waited to be buried the day after Christmas. The man who’d forced Josiah to come home and face this pain.
Wracking sobs sapped his strength while tears continued to stream down Josiah’s face. His vision blurred as he struggled to breathe. Dizziness and nausea overtook him while he lost his grip on the railing. The last thing he remembered was not wanting to die in the house he hated so much, before two strong arms caught him, saving him from a fall and holding him tight.
It was like a bad dream come to life. Not the kind where a monster is hiding in the closet ready to eat your face, but more like an unending loop of being stuck somewhere you didn’t want to be.
Josiah Nelson hadn’t thought of the old ranch in that way for a long time. Yet there he was, tramping up the old weathered steps to the house he grew up in and regretting every minute of it.
The high-pitched squeal of the old weathered screen door shook the silence of the chilly night air. Josiah startled and a storm of memories rushed to the forefront of his mind, some good, but mostly bad. Stepping over the broken doorframe, he slipped inside the house of his dreams and nightmares. That particular board had been broken since he was a child and should have been fixed long ago. Josiah supposed there were things he’d have to take care of before listing the property.
The musty smell hit him first—earthy and damp like a moldy pair of wet socks. He wrinkled his nose when the underlying scent of pine cleaner assaulted his sinuses next. Someone had obviously tried to scrub away the history of the place, the bad memories holding anger and dysfunction. After Josiah's mom died, his father’s domestic skills hadn't changed, hadn’t improved. Anything not involving horses, trucks, or beer had been half-assed at best.
Gosh, had it really been ten years since his mama had been gone? He supposed his parents were together again—if you believed in that kind of thing—though his mom was more suited to Heaven while his dad should be further south. Cancer had taken them both; different types, different years, but the same body-ravaging killer.
His mama’s death had been the hardest time of his life. The sympathies he’d been offered when she passed still burned a hole in his heart: “She's in a better place”, “at least she's not suffering anymore”, “she wouldn't want you to be sad.” The empty platitudes disturbed him, made him angry. Had they expected him not to mourn his mama? To let her go and wash his hands of all she’d meant to him? Josiah hadn’t been ready to let her go, but how much of a monster would he have been to want to prolong her last few months of suffering?
Losing her had made Josiah’s world so much smaller, unhappier and darker. Saying she’d been his rock, his best friend, was cliché, but true. He’d been left with a father who was no better a stranger, and well, that was a whole different can of worms.
Even the prospect of coming home brought back deep-buried regrets and guilt that rocked him to the core on bad days. Josiah imagined most people felt those things and learned to deal with them, but he wore his like a badge of disgrace or failure or both.
He closed his eyes, concentrating as he inhaled deeply, slowly let the breath out. Unwanted emotions threatened to send him huddling in the corner like the child he’d once been, but they had to be set aside, shoved back in that overflowing box at the back of his mind. If he was going to fall apart it couldn’t be in the first five minutes of stepping into the place. His mind and heart had to be clear and open, and he had to be able to deal with things before any feelings could be allowed to run loose. Sprawling into an emotional abyss of emptiness would have to wait.
Reminding himself that it was only for a few days had become his mantra since he hauled himself into his truck for his trip home. And he really hoped that’s all it would take to sort out whatever things he needed to do, then toss the rest into the lawyer’s hands. A few days and he could leave all this behind again, go back to the sad life he’d built for himself. Sad, but sealed away from the pain of the past.
But good intentions didn’t always pan out, and Josiah’s true feelings scurried to the surface as he trailed shaky fingers over his mom’s cherished antique buffet table. He became breathless, and hot tears stung his eyes when he caught sight of the white urn, pushed to the side of the credenza like an after-thought, rather than holding a place of honor where it belonged.
Before her death, Josiah’s mama had picked out her own urn. She’d liked the pretty dragonflies pressed into the base, and the simple shape and color. Josiah’s biggest regret was buried deep in the bottom of the empty vase. Mama had wanted to be cremated, had made it perfectly clear when she brought her purchase home. Josiah’s father had not been impressed and threw the thing against the wall in a drunken rage.
“It’s okay, baby. Sprinkle some of my old ashes by the pond, Josi. Then I’ll always be here to watch over you. I’ll always be close.”
He missed her so much, not a day went by when he didn’t think about what he’d lost that sorrowful day. And even worse, he’d failed her last request.
Because the awful fact was that she was buried in a dark box in the wet ground, rather than being scattered around the pond and spending the rest of eternity in that stupid urn. Josiah’s father had made the final decision, and the stubborn old bastard had refused to accept the last wishes of his wife of twenty-eight years.
Instead, he’d put Josiah’s mama in the cheapest casket he could find, and buried her in the local cemetery—all because he didn’t believe in cremation. Josiah had been afforded no say in the matter and his father had thrown-out his wife’s last request like yesterday’s news. Knowing the man better than he’d ever wanted, his decision shouldn’t have been a shock to Josiah.
Fortunately, his mama’s best friend, Mrs. Aames, had known of her request and brought an identical urn over after the funeral.
“She wouldn’t have blamed you, Josiah. Your mama knew that your father wanted a casket, so she told me exactly what she wanted, and I picked it up before she passed. And if that man gives you any grief about it being here, you tell him to come see me.”
Now, ten years later, the rage remained, fueled by the things he’d never said to his dad. And Josiah would be damned if he’d fulfill any wish his old man might have—Christmas or not.
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K-lee Klein grew up in the beautiful mountains of British Columbia and now lives only two hours away in Calgary, Alberta. Her life is blessed by three now-grown (but still spoiled) kids and a new, adorable grandson who calls her Gwaa Gwaa. She has a patient husband of over thirty years and spends her days being bossed around by a kitten named Poe, a senior feline called, Miss Chili, and a canine, Princess Chewie.
K-lee’s writing muse is terribly temperamental so to keep him close by and in-check, she had him inked on her left calf. Yet she still writes on his schedule and inspiration, and quite honestly, he can be a bit of a drama queen. K-lee writes mostly contemporary but has forayed into paranormal and urban fantasy, and her favorite tropes to write and read are hurt-comfort, friends to lovers, opposites attract, and relationships with children. Her biggest accomplishment as an author was overcoming all the hurdles to transition from publisher releases to her first self-published book.
Although K-lee considers herself to be an extroverted introvert and revels in her solitude, she very much enjoys traveling to conferences to meet up with friends old and new. She’s grateful for all the people in her life who accept her as she is and support her through the ups and downs as a mom, wife, friend, and joyfully obsessed writer.
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