TITLE: Wide Open Spaces
AUTHOR: Renee Stevens
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner Press
COVER ARTIST: Maria Fanning
LENGTH: 35,632 words
RELEASE DATE: August 31, 2016
BLURB: Devon fled Wyoming as soon as he turned eighteen, leaving behind his high school love, Levi. After six years in the big city, Devon returns to his hometown. Not much has changed, except that Levi is no longer in the closet. He’s also single and living his dream—managing the local wild horse population. Both of them are very interested in picking up where they left off, but Devon is no more ready to reveal his orientation than he was as a teenager.
No one is going to shove Levi back in the closet—not even Devon. For a relationship to work, they’ll have to put the past behind them and find the courage to face the future as who they really are—a couple in love. But Devon doesn’t know if he’s strong enough. Maybe Levi would be better off without him—and his hang-ups.
States of Love: Stories of romance that span every corner of the United States.
Devon dug his keys out of his pocket and headed for the door. He’d get something to eat and then maybe stop at the store to pick up a few staples. Paper plates, sandwich fixings, some chips, and he’d be good for a couple of days. At least it would give him time to get a few things—like pots and pans—unpacked. Then he could do a full grocery shop.
An hour later he was comfortably full from a greasy burger, fries, and a shake. He’d never eaten a lot of fast food, but he had few other options. He headed to Walmart, determined to stick to his list of sandwich stuff and maybe some eggs. Surely he could dig out some pans before the food expired. He headed to the chips first and scanned for the familiar bag of Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles. They were his all-time favorite, though he also knew he’d want something else after a day or two. So he grabbed a couple of other bags and headed for the eggs and then the freezer aisle.
Sandwiches and chips would get old fast. He found some frozen breakfast sandwiches he could microwave, tossed them in the cart, and moved on. Frozen lasagna quickly joined the few other items in his cart, followed by some potpies, a few TV dinners, and a bag of chimichangas. So what if he wasn’t sticking to his mental list?
He was more focused on getting groceries for the next few days than on the people around him.
He froze when a familiar voice spoke his name. He closed his eyes briefly, ducked his head, and steeled himself. He knew it would happen eventually, when he found out Levi still lived there. He thought he’d have more time to prepare. He swallowed—hard—and turned to face the man who had at one time meant everything to him. The man he’d risked being found out for. He lifted his head and gazed into the moss-colored eyes.
“Levi.” He hadn’t changed much. The goatee was new, but the shaggy black hair was the same. Devon kept his gaze squarely on Levi’s face, despite wanting to look him over completely. Not that he needed to. Levi had always been his exact opposite when it came to looks. Green eyes to his blue. Black hair to his blond. Slender and toned where he was more stocky and muscular. The only similarity was their height. Devon was no giant, but he was a little taller than average, and Levi was only slightly shorter than him.
“I wasn’t sure it was you at first.” Levi smiled, but Devon could still see the same hurt in his eyes as the day he left. “I thought you were never coming back here. At least that’s what you said when you left.”
There was no accusation in Levi’s voice, but Devon winced just the same.
“I never planned to.” He forced himself to shrug like it didn’t matter. “I tried to stay away, but the city is nothing like here. Too many people, too much traffic, and you have to drive quite a ways to be able to see the stars.” Devon shifted from foot to foot, and he opened and closed his hands at his side. “We don’t have to do this.” He motioned from Levi to himself and back. “In fact I’d understand if you hate me and want nothing to do with me.”
“I never hated you.” Levi sighed. “I understood why you left. Even if I wished you didn’t feel the need to.” Levi scanned him from head to toe. He smiled, but there was a sad quality to it. “You look good. When did you get back?”
“A few days ago.” Somebody reached around him, and he realized he was blocking the burrito section. He moved out of the way and motioned with his head for Levi to follow him. He wasn’t sure if he was happy or not when Levi complied. He headed to the fruit and vegetable department, knowing there was a spot near the bananas where they could talk without being in anyone’s way. He stopped by the display and turned back to Levi. “I wasn’t sure if you’d still be here.”
“You know me.” Levi glanced away for a second and then turned back. “This is home. Are you back for good?”
“Yeah. I learned I’m truly a country boy at heart.” He chuckled. “Guess I should have listened when you told me I’d hate the city.”
“You never were very good at listening.” Levi shook his head. “I should let you go before both of our groceries start thawing.”
Devon wanted to stop him but wasn’t sure it was a good idea. He’d never completely gotten over Levi. Devon studied his ex as he walked away. He was still slender, but he had more muscle tone than he had at eighteen. Levi stopped and looked back.
“Maybe we could get together sometime. Catch up over a few beers?” Levi’s voice was barely more than a whisper, like he wasn’t sure he was doing the right thing, but Devon heard him. “I’m sure we have a lot to talk about.”
“Nothing yet, but I’ll be starting twelve-hour shifts in a few days.” Everyone around knew what that meant. General laborer at one of the local mines.
“Ouch. I’ve put in some long hours occasionally, but not on a regular basis like that.” Levi grimaced. “Not to mention the rotating shifts. I don’t know how anyone can get used to working days one day and graveyards the next.”
“Well, I’m going to find out.” Devon shrugged. “The pay is good.” The mines and plants were the place to work if you weren’t in the oil field.
Levi nodded and studied him. His direct gaze made Devon shift in his seat.
“Which one you working at?”
“I’m out at the coal mine.” He wasn’t looking forward to the half-hour drive once winter hit. They had a tendency to close the road, but if things hadn’t changed, they allowed the miners to bypass the closures to get to and from work.
“They lease from the BLM. So, surface or underground?”
“Underground.” Devon shrugged. “That’s what they were hiring for. They had some surface jobs, but I wasn’t qualified for those.”
“You couldn’t go somewhere else? Somewhere you don’t have to worry about the roof caving in and trapping you?” Levi frowned and tightened his hold on his beer bottle. Devon almost reached out and took it from him, just to make sure he didn’t shatter it and cut himself. “There’s the soda ash plants, which have a lot more job stability than coal, or the fertilizer plant. There’s even that one—I can never remember the name—that makes all sorts of products out of soda ash.”
“You do know the soda ash plant has an underground trona mine. Right?” He’d meant it to come out lighthearted, but he knew he’d failed when Levi started working his jaw. “I’d love to be aboveground, but none of them were hiring, and the only place with a guaranteed surface job would be the one that makes the different products.” He couldn’t remember the name either, but he remembered a friend’s dad giving his mom laundry detergent and other things he got from work.
Levi was right in one aspect though. There was always talk about the coal mines closing, but there was so much trona throughout the state, primarily around the area where they lived, that it would last for a couple thousand more years, at least. He remembered doing a report on it in high school. He hadn’t even known what trona was at the time or why it was important.
But he did his research and was amazed to find out the extent of Wyoming’s trona beds. He never expected Wyoming to be the leader in much of anything. And was surprised to learn that Wyoming had 90 percent of the nation’s trona—more trona beds than anywhere else in the world—and it was the top export for the state globally.
Renee Stevens first started writing in her teens but didn’t get serious about being an author until her mid-twenties. Since then she’s written a number of contemporary stories, as well as delved into the paranormal. When not writing, or spending time in the outdoors, Renee can be usually be found working on GayAuthors.org in her capacity of admin and Anthology Coordinator.
Renee resides in Wyoming with her wonderfully supportive husband and a menagerie of four-legged critters. Making the most of the nearly constant negative temperatures and mounds of snow, Renee spends much of the winter months in hibernation with her laptop, the voices in her head keeping her company while her husband works. When she needs a break from writing, Renee takes to the sewing machine to design, and make, beautiful quilts.
When the snow finally disappears, usually around May or June, Renee can be found in the great-outdoors. She spends her time on the mountain, at the lake, and just anywhere that she can do some camping, take some photos, and ride the four-wheelers with her hubby. Once back at home, it’s back to writing.
Winner’s Prize: No More Hiding ebook, Challenging Fate ebook, $10 Amazon GC.
Runner Up Prize: No More Hiding ebook.
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