Barnes & Noble
Melinda Sweet loved her husband before she learned of his wealth and she loves him still, despite the fact that it’s gone. Unfortunately, while she knows the collapse of his Chicago financial services business had nothing to do with him, he believes otherwise. His upbeat adjustment to their new – and temporary – life on his grandfather’s rundown honey farm is a foil to cover the burden of failure. She wasn’t expecting to throw – in five weeks – the traditional Sweet Christmas Open House, but it’s a good earning opportunity and how hard could it be?
Austin Sweet is determined to make his wife proud of him again. But he also wants to erase the sting of shame he feels from his parents, to whom he owes a debt of gratitude for arranging for this caretaking job. Getting paid to fix up this disaster is better than living in their basement, sure. But what does he know about bees? Or fixing broken plumbing? Or cleaning a chimney?
But when Austin’s grandfather gives him the farm as a Christmas gift, there’s only one response. Accepting the gift will secure a future that will make his wife even more unhappy than he already is. Refusing the gift will finalize the rift between him and his family, but he’d rather lose them than Melinda. Then he discovers she’s spared him the choice. Austin’s not-so-Sweet side rears up as he determines that he’s done trying to make everyone happy. He’ll get his wife back, no matter what. And they’ll decide their future together.
Splinters of bark and wood exploded onto the snow as the last log split apart at his feet.
Austin Sweet yanked the axe-head out of the stump, straightened up and stretched his back. A cord-and-a-half of dry lodgepole pine, split and stacked neatly next to the honey shed. Would it be enough to heat the 150-year old pile of ugly he now called home, through to spring?
He took off his work glove and wiped the sweat off his face, surprised again by the beard. He hadn't intended to grow it exactly, but a month without shaving will do that.
The temperature dropped dramatically in December after dark and suddenly he felt it. Time to go in. He looked across the yard at the house, the sagging wrap-around porch, the weathered shingles, the shutters falling drunkenly away from the windows, like his grandfather's eyes after the stroke that finally killed him.
Maybe, thought Austin, if he closed off the parts of the house he wasn't using, the firewood would last long enough. "Come on, Speedy Gonzales, let's go scrounge up some food."
The ancient Malamute or husky or wolf or whatever he was began the process of getting to his feet. His actual name was Jackson. According to the neighbour who'd handed him the keys, the dog came with the farm. From the way he moved, you'd think he'd been there from the beginning.
"I feel like you look, buddy."
Jackson's tail swayed politely, too busy putting one foot in front of the other for any more enthusiasm. Could also be he was deaf.
Austin shrugged his jacket back on and hiked up his jeans, reminding himself to punch another hole in his belt. And to go to town for some groceries.
Bring home the bacon, son. That's what a man does. A husband provides.
He shook his head, trying to erase the thoughts but they were on replay. The best he could hope for was a shuffle.
He hated going to town. Shopping meant people. And people always had questions.
Are you reopening Sweet Montana Farms?
How are you handling the adjustment from Chicago?
Aren't you lonely, out there all by yourself?
And the worse one of all.
So what brought you to little old Marietta, Montana?
The answers were yes, badly, yes and don't ask.
Austin helped the dog up the rickety steps to the porch and through the front door.
"Yeah, yeah," he muttered, at a particularly loud creak. He told himself yet again that he'd fix it. The whole thing. Tomorrow.
Or, he'd let it fall off and put a milk crate under the front door. Who cared? What did it matter?
Inside the kitchen, he opened a can of dog food for Jackson and a can of human food for himself. The dog ate from his dish on the floor. Austin stood at the sink and didn't bother with a plate. They finished at the same time.
"So," he said to the dog. "That's dinner. Now what?"
With no cable or wi-fi, no city or nightlife, what did a single guy do?
He looked down at the wedding band still on his finger. Was he single? He wasn't divorced. They weren't even formally separated yet. But if a man moves to the forest, and his wife isn't there to share his spaghetti-os, are they still married?