Rocky Mountain Forever (Six Pack Ranch #12) by Vivian Arend



Part I





Tell me, tell me, smiling child,

What the past is like to thee?

‘An Autumn evening soft and mild

With a wind that sighs mournfully.’





Past, Present, Future

Emily Brontë





SP Ranch Journal

~Michael Coleman, first journal entry, one week after the passing of his father, Royce Coleman, January 1983~





Life changed in a moment.

This was not what I expected—it’s not the place I want to be. Yet, here we are. Suddenly I’m in charge of all of the Coleman holdings, and the privilege of it and the responsibility make my fingers tremble as I write this.

You made it look so simple, Da. Never a thing you couldn’t do, and now you’re gone, and hell if I know how to fill your boots.

Why didn’t you say something—

No. I know exactly why you didn’t mention feeling sick. You were always strong. Always the first one up and caring for the family, making the tough decisions and working until you dropped. You didn’t want us to know because you didn’t want to admit to yourself that you weren’t strong enough to fight sorrow and death. Damn stubborn fool.

It was clear you’d been a little lost the last couple of years, ever since Mom died. That wasn’t a fault, you know. Caring so much that it broke your heart once she was gone. You taught us a lot with how much you loved.

I’m so glad I had you as a father, but I sure as hell wish I’d been watching closer to see exactly how you made it look so easy. I’m not ashamed to admit I’m going to miss you even as I move forward, one foot after another. No use trying to solve problems that haven’t even shown their faces yet.

Thank God for Marion, though, or I’d be in one hell of a mess. She’s the one who got us through the funeral and the rest of it. Even hauling baby Matthew around with her, nothing slowed her down. Blake stuck by my side most of the time, the little tyke wide-eyed and with his lip quivering, because even at not yet three, he knows his Grampa is gone.

And now I don’t even know who I’m writing this for. You, the family…my sons?

Yet I know you journaled all the time. Somehow it feels right to pick up this part of your legacy. Can the act of copying something you did push me in the right direction?

Maybe it’s wishful thinking to hope that, in putting pen to paper, I’ll be able to work through troubled times. Maybe it’ll let me savour the good times better.

Or perhaps somewhere between the two extremes of grief and joy, I can build a world that makes the Colemans rich. Not as in money overflowing from our pockets, but as in a family that’s rock-solid far into the future. That’s my goal.

Always did have more gusto than brains, but we’ll see.





1





December, present day, Six Pack ranch, Alberta





Darkness filtered to the edges of the room, the cool of the early December morning leaving the air outside the quilt crisp.

But the warmth in his arms told Blake Coleman everything he needed to know. Jaxi lay curled against him, face pressed to his chest, legs tangled with his. Skin on skin, the sweet scent of her filled his head and made his heart swell.

How he had this miracle in his life day after day—no idea. No damn idea what he’d done to deserve the goodness in his world.

She moved, head tilting back as her blue eyes opened the narrowest bit. Sleepy warmth and contentment all but dripped from her expression.

“Morning,” she whispered.

Blake pressed his mouth to hers, a smile curling his lips. “You’re not rocketing out of bed like your panties are on fire.”

She hummed, a secretive hush. “You’re the one with the lighter. If there’s going to be any panty bonfires—”

“Mama? Daddy?”

They both went silent.

It was a long shot. The chance to lay in bed late, with neither of them needing to rush away for chores, was rare in the first place. Add in five kids, and Blake could count on one hand the number of mornings in the last month they’d had the room to themselves past five a.m..

When the quiet persisted, Blake began to relax.

Curled up against him, Jaxi pressed her lips against the side of his neck, easing her legs on either side of his. A throaty moan escaped her, and Blake wanted to both laugh and curse as he realized his hand no longer rested innocently on her hip. Nope. He’d full-on cupped her ass and was even now in the process of dragging her on top of his body.