Rough Ride Romeo

By: Lori King

Chapter 1

The sound of an engine shattered Roman Freemont’s peaceful snoring, and he choked on an inhale fumbling awake. His mouth tasted like shit, and his tongue felt like it had been sanded down with fine grit sandpaper. The haze in his vision could have been his hangover, or a thick fog bank, but considering the height of the sunshine beating down through the windshield, he was more apt to assume the former.

Shoving a hand through his shoulder length brown hair, he encountered something sticky matting the ends of several pieces, and grimaced. It wasn’t like this was the first time he’d slept off an all-nighter in his truck, but this wasn’t even the first time this week. He could already feel Drannon and Vin’s disapproval, and he hadn’t even seen them yet this morning. Hell, the sensation was strong enough that the hair on his neck prickled.

Rubbing at his nape with one hand, he searched the scattered contents of his old Chevy pickup for his cell phone. As usual, its battery was completely dead, but he figured there were a dozen messages from the ranch already filling his inbox. He tossed the useless gadget into the glove compartment, and climbed out of the truck, stretching his long, lean form as he went. Drinking and cavorting were the only medicine for the aches in his soul, but he could use some aspirin for the twinges in his back right about now.

A quick glance around the parking lot of Mick’s Watering Hole assured him that there was no one watching his walk of shame. There were half a dozen vehicles on the far side of the lot, but they all stood empty, their owners off doing their business somewhere along the six block town of Montford, North Dakota.

With no one watching, he made his way across the empty lot to the convenience store next door. His head was pounding, and he could still taste the bitters from last night’s beer. The small bell attached to the glass door sounded like an air raid siren, and he groaned softly.

“Morning Romeo.” Amelia Dewitt called out from her stool behind the register.

“Roman Freemont, you look like shit.” Brandon Bowers rested his hip against the countertop and crossed his arms over his chest. His eyes were hidden behind a pair of mirrored sunglasses, but Roman knew they were taking in his hangover and cataloguing it in detail. Lately it was Roman’s natural state.

“Well good morning to you, too, sunshine,” he retorted, heading straight for the cold case at the back and snagging a large bottle of pop. Caffeine would help him face the day while it was too early to drink.

Bran didn’t respond to his comment, but Roman could tell he had something he wanted to say just by the way his jaw ticked. Ignoring his friend for the moment, he placed a bottle of aspirin on the counter next to his soda and gave Amelia his most charming smile. “And how are you this fine morning Amelia?”

“Better than you are I s’pose,” she answered with a playful wink. Her graying hair was wound in a tight bun atop her head, and her plastic framed glasses perched on the end of her nose. She was a comforting staple in small town Montford, and one of the nicest people Roman knew.

“I’ll admit I’m feeling a bit low this morning, but it’s nothing a hard day of work won’t cure.” Roman responded.

“Day’s half gone already, son. You’d better get a move on if you’re planning on accomplishing anything before the sun goes down.” Handing him his change, she planted herself back on her stool and rested her elbows on the counter. Before Roman could respond, Bran laughed.

“No worries there, Amelia. Romeo here wouldn’t know hard work if it bit him in the ass.” Still laughing at his own joke, Bran slapped Roman on the back hard enough to bring a frown to his face.

“Kiss my grits, Officer,” he snapped, throwing back the aspirin and taking a big swig of soda to wash it down.

“That’s Sheriff Bowers to you, Freemont.” Bran said sternly. To a stranger it might have sounded like the two men were at odds, but that was the absolute furthest thing from the truth. A couple of decades ago, Brandon was one of Roman’s biggest idols. He could remember following the three musketeers—also known as Roman’s older foster brothers, Drannon, and Vin, who were best friends with Brandon—all over their small town and out into cattle country. Hell, they’d even taken him camping and fishing with them a time or two before they forgot about everything but girls.