Home > Final Stretch (Glen Springs #1)(7)

Final Stretch (Glen Springs #1)(7)
Author: Alison Hendricks

My eyes widen a little, but Eric just smirks. “The holler troll speaks!”

My eyes go wide and even Jake coughs and sputters around his drink. “Eric, dude. I get him out here rarely enough as it is—”

Okay, hence the troll remark, I guess.

“He’s just mad I won’t let him under my bridge,” Shane jokes back.

Eric lets out a loud and boisterous laugh, then folds his table to leave. “Let me know if y’all need anything else.”

“You got it, sugar,” Shane says, and I swear I see Eric very quickly flip him off.

This is… one of the weirdest interactions I’ve ever seen, but nobody seems even remotely bothered by it. Definitely a small town, and I tell myself to put a lid on my big city expectations and just eat.

The first bite I take of my burger tells me everything I need to know about Eric’s job security, though. It’s a perfect medium rare, the beef juicy and full of flavor. The cheese is almost over-the-top melty, the veggies nice and crisp, and somehow the bun holds everything together without getting soggy or weighed down. It’s one of the best burgers I’ve ever tasted, and now I think I understand why Jake’s kitchen is so empty.

“This is amazing,” I say. “You guys come here a lot?”

“I do,” Jake admits. “Shane’s always working. I have to twist his arm to get him to come out a couple times a month.”

“Oh yeah? Where do you work?” I ask Shane.

Finally the shift in conversation feels natural. Apparently good food does a lot to ease awkward social situations.

“I own a ranch just outside of town,” he says. “I rehabilitate and train horses.”

That’s not what I expected, and yet it fits. He looks like the sort of guy who’d spend his days on a ranch. It puts me at ease for some reason. Anyone who makes his living caring for animals has to be an inherently good person, right? Even if you’re kind of an ass to them.

“He used to be one of the best jockeys in Kentucky,” Jake adds.

I cut a glance to Shane, my brows lifting in even more surprise, but he’s giving my brother what I can only describe as a death glare. Touchy subject, then. I guess that’s another thing for me to avoid walking right into.

Conversation bounces between Jake and Shane’s respective jobs for a bit, and things are actually peaceful, but eventually focus shifts back to me, Shane readying a question it seems like he’s been sitting on for a while.

“So what made you want to dedicate your life to football? Seems kinda dicey to me, what with all the crazy stalkers you must get.”

“That’s… a super specific job concern,” Jake says, giving Shane a quizzical look.

But the meaning and context behind it passes easily between the two of us. We haven’t moved past it, and that’s pretty fair. Honestly, if this weren’t happening to me right now, I’d be laughing. Shane’s comment was funny, pointed, and all too real.

“More of a problem than you’d think,” I say. “But I love football. Always have. It’s how my dad and I bonded.”

The only thing we bonded over.

Jake goes still across from me, and I realize I shouldn’t have brought up Dad at all. It’s too sore a topic, and not really something I wanted to get into.

I’m saved from that awkwardness when his phone rings, though. He gives both of us an apologetic look before rising from his chair. “Sorry, I have to take this. It’s one of my kids.”

He takes calls from his students? I wonder if all teachers do that nowadays, or if Jake just gives them extra attention. Either way, I’m grateful for the brief break.

Until I realize there’s more awkwardness on the horizon, since I’m now alone with Shane. I keep going to town on my burger so I don’t have to talk, and watch him just sort of push fries around on his plate until the silence finally gets to me.

“Look, I’m… really sorry about earlier.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he says, hardly even looking at me. “It all worked out for the best, anyway.”

I guess he’s right. It would’ve been even more awkward if I’d taken him back to my place—Jake’s place. But it still gets under my skin. I don’t want this guy to hate me. If I’m going to foster any kind of relationship with my brother, this isn’t a good first step.

“I’d really like to clear—”

I’m not able to finish my plea before Jake comes back. Shane engages him immediately, asking if everything’s okay. They talk for a bit, and a part of me actually feels jealous of them both. I can’t talk to my brother. I can’t talk to Shane. I’m just the odd man out here, looking like a fool.

But to my surprise, Shane actually excuses himself. “Thanks for the dinner, but I’ve got an early day tomorrow.” He looks to me and offers a tight smile. “Nice to meet you, Travis.”

I just sit there, watching him leave. My gaze turns warily back to Jake and his brows are already raised in question.

“So that was weird,” he notes.

Dammit. It’s not like I expected him to be oblivious, but I’m not sure I want to have this conversation. We need to start off with trust though, right? It can only help our relationship, even if it makes me look like an idiot.

“Yeah, I uh… like he said, we met at the store earlier. What he was nice enough not to mention was that we also flirted at the store. Over a bottle of vinaigrette. Then my rental got a flat later, and—”

“Your rental got a flat? Did you call the company?”

So missing the point, but I appreciate his concern.

“Yeah, they’re comping the repair and rolling back some extra fees. Anyway, I was pulled off on the side of the road and Shane happened by. He helped me change out the tire and… I asked him out for coffee.”

Jake’s raised brow arches even higher. Whatever he’s thinking, he doesn’t say it.

“He gave me his number, we parted ways, but as soon as I pulled back onto the highway, I noticed he was following me. I had no idea he was the guy you invited here, so when he followed me all the way here…”

Jake just busts out laughing. So hard and so loud that the other patrons are looking at us, and I just want to sink down into my chair.

“Is that what that ‘crazy stalker’ thing was about?” He’s breathless when he says it, and there are tears at the corner of his eyes.

He’s getting so much enjoyment out of it that I can’t help but crack a smile. And then I start laughing, too, and I just can’t stop. Because it’s fucking hilarious. Who else would have this kind of luck? Who else would make this kind of mistake?

“I’m sorry,” Jake says earnestly, wiping the tears away. “I should’ve told you who was joining us. I didn’t think you’d go and hit on the first guy you met though.”

I bristle for a second, my insecurities kicking up. But there’s a smile on Jake’s lips, and I can tell he’s just messing with me. I almost expect some kind of warning to follow—some well-meaning admonition that I need to keep it in my pants, but it never comes.

“Try not to take his behavior tonight too personally. He can be a bit of a grump sometimes,” Jake says, almost apologetically.

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