Five Years agoâ€¦
Pete Compton looked around the feed store. It was now his baby, a hundred percent his and his alone. He no longer had to worry about the stress of his family and their fortune. It was him out in Texas by himself. And he didn't pick some big town like Houston or Dallas. He was in Copper Creek. The population was small. He'd worried about being in a small town where everyone knew everything, but once his brother had his second meltdown he knew he had to get out of the family business and the big city.
If he needed some big city feel he could always take a trip to Austin, but he had enough on his plate with the new business to not leave Copper Creek anytime soon. He'd kept the name the original owner had. Copper Creek Feed & More was a great name so there was no need to mess with something the town was familiar with. His family name didn't need to be on everything no matter what his father said.
The town didn't have a whole lot of options. They had a small mom and pop store, Touchet Grocery & Gas, but that didn't help the ranchers in the area. There was only so much one store could carry. What they didn't have, the feed store kept stocked.
Pete had the resources of his family to get what he needed for the feed store. Just because he'd walked away from a high stress job didn't mean he hated his family. Not that he needed much; Frank Rogers, the original owner, had it down to a science. And, he should. He was going on ninety and had been in Copper Creek for most of his life. Not only had Pete bought the store, but he'd bought the contacts from the old man and now the guy could retire in style. Hopefully he had enough time left on earth to enjoy the money.
He'd just arrived in town and decided to take a stroll around the place before settling into his apartment above the feed store. The town wasn't very big. They did have a post office set up in a building by itself, which seemed unusual for a small town, but it appeared to work for them. They had a nice inn. Pete had stayed there when he was checking out the property. And, the food was good. Copper Creek even had a bakery, Copper Creek Sweet & Eat. He hadn't been there yet, but planned on rectifying that soon. The town had a repair shop, Burch's Service as well, which was good, he had an old beat up truck that would need work.
While walking around the downtown strip, Mayor Sasha Zolnerowich introduced himself. It seemed so odd for Pete to see all the friendly people wave and ask him how he was doing and asking if he was enjoying the town so far; but having a city official just walk right up and introduce himself was an oddity to a city boy. He was used to making an appointment and being kept waiting and that was from an old school friend.
It was going to be interesting settling into a town that didn't even have a Starbucks, but he'd make do. He strolled back to his store. He really couldn't afford to keep it shut down for long; the outlying ranchers had needs. He could get familiar with the stock while he was open for business.
He put the open sign in the door and went behind the counter to look over the books. The door opened and sunlight filtered into the room obscuring his vision for a moment, then it cleared. Standing in his doorway was a blond god. Okay, he wasn't really a god, but the man was very handsome, with scruff on his face. He wasn't close enough to see eye color, plus the guy was wearing a cowboy hat. Pete had to get used to that around these parts.
He smiled, "What can I help you with today?"
It took a couple seconds for the man to answer.
"You're new." The guy still stood in the doorway, but he had taken off his hat and smoothed his hair down; not that it helped any, the hair was a mess, but it suited him.
"Yep, bought the place from Old Man Rogers." Pete thought most of the town knew by now that he was taking over.
"That's right." The stranger pointed his hat at Pete. "He told me that."
Pete walked around the counter with his hand out. "I'm Pete Compton.
They shook hands and Pete didn't want to let go. The rancher's hands were strong with calluses, but MacKenzie did let go of their grip. He had no idea if the man was gay and he hadn't announced to the whole town he liked men. Pete figured he'd wait to get to know everyone before any word got out.
"McKenzie Hallowell. I run Prairie Falls Ranch."
"Yes! I saw that in the books. You have a standing order. We've actually got that ready for you."
"Great. Great. I've got some guys out front ready to haul stuff to the truck." McKenzie gestured over his shoulder.
"I'm just getting settled, but I do know your order is packed up in the storeroom. Rogers made sure the transition would go smoothly." Pete was happy he didn't sound like an idiot and that Rogers had made sure he could keep the place running.
"I'm surprised he sold out. I figured he'd die before he left this place."
"His grandkids pushed for it. Not sure where he went off to, but he seemed happy last time we spoke."
"That's good." McKenzie put the hat back on his head, stuffed his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels.
"I thought so. Well, let's get you loaded up so you can get back to work."
"Right. I'm sure you need to--"
Pete laughed. "I've got plenty of time to get settled. I have no plans to go anywhere."
Pete followed McKenzie out the door and stared at his ass. It didn't hurt to look.
And that was how Pete met McKenzie.
The rain pounded on the windshield, the wipers barely keeping up with the wet stuff falling from above. McKenzie Hallowell needed to pick feed up for his horses, but he was worried about a flash flood. Those suckers had a way of sneaking up on a body in Texas and if he wasn't careful he'd be caught in more than just the rain. If not for the horses he would have stayed at the ranch making sure the greenhorns on his dude ranch stayed inside. The horses didn't need to be out in this shit. He trusted his ranch hands, but always felt better when he was on site. The place was his baby handed down for generations. He hated that he had to add on a side business to keep things going, but he'd do what he must to keep the place in his family.
McKenzie had both hands on the wheel, his knuckles white with the pressure of holding on tight, his wipers going as fast as they could and he still had trouble seeing out of the window. Fuck. Driving in the rain wasn't his favorite thing, but at least it wasn't dark. He should just turn around. They had enough to last a few days, but he hated being short in case of an emergency. He always planned ahead. If it weren't for a new batch of customers showing up out of the blue yesterday, it would have been taken care of. His partner in Prairie Falls Ranch had failed to mention the team-building group coming from Fresno to see a real ranch in action.
So yesterday he'd had to settle a group into the bunkhouse. They didn't always stay the whole week out at the ranch. Those who didn't want the full experience would head into town and stay at The Snugg Inn, known by the townies as Snuggles. If that name didn't beat all he didn't know what did. This group wanted the whole deal. He wondered how they'd feel at four a.m. when he got them up to feed the animals. God he needed a drink.
No, what McKenzie really needed was to focus on the road, not how good it would be to stop in at Shotz for a drink. His nerves were on edge. Fuckin' storm.
There was a small puddle in the road, but his truck could handle it. Famous last words. Water rushed out of nowhere, filling the area. The current moved his truck along with it. He was going to have to abandon his vehicle, if only he could find a way out of the water. He was fucked. If he didn't get his ass out of the truck now, he might not get another chance. McKenzie rolled down the window because opening the door would be a struggle he didn't want to have. He'd need to conserve as much of his strength as he could if he was going to make it to land.
He crawled out the window and shimmied up to the roof of the truck. The water was already halfway up the hood of the vehicle. McKenzie was going to have to swim. He looked around to see which side would be best but the current was very strong. It could pull him under and keep him there. Fuck. He wasn't looking forward to any of it.
McKenzie turned his head toward the sound. Off to the side on a patch of grass there was a guy standing by his truck waving his arms wildly trying to get his attention.
Was that? It was. Pete Compton, the owner of the feed store. The two had interacted some, but it was just on a casual basis because Compton sold what he needed for the ranch. What was he doing out here? Not McKenzie's best moment to make a fool of himself in front of a hot guy. And not only was Compton there, but he could see a news crew as well. They were probably trolling to find a good story on the storm.
Shit. This would be all over the news, showing the world what an idiot he was. He remembered last year laughing at some guy who'd gotten stuck in a flood. Now he was that guy. In a small town that wasn't something you wanted to be known for, the idiot out in the rain driving into deep water.
"I've got a rope. Think you can catch it?" Pete yelled.
"Yeah. Thanks!" McKenzie shouted back.
Thank all that's holy, someone with a rope stopped.
He felt much better about his chances of surviving. He could still have done without the television crew filming his rescue, but there was nothing he could do about it. Not like he could get a do-over.
The first try he missed the rope; it slipped through his hands and slid into the water. It took time for Pete to pull it back in to try again. This time Pete lassoed it up and caught McKenzie. He'd laugh if he wasn't in such a dire situation. It was the first time someone had roped him in, but he didn't have time to think on that right now. Maybe when he was safe on dry land he could think of kinky things Pete could do with a rope, right now he had other things to focus on. The truck was going down and still moving. The rope tightened. McKenzie moved it so it was around his hips and slid off the truck before it pulled him under with it. He wanted to be in control of the situation. Well, as much control as he could be against the raging water.
It was slow going. He'd slipped under a couple times, but the rope stayed taut and he kept going, one foot in front of the other. He couldn't think about the camera crew or Pete on the other end. McKenzie's focus had to be on survival.
McKenzie lost his footing, and the currents in the water tugged him under. He had just enough time to take in some air and close his eyes before the water was all around him. He did the only thing he could think of. He went to his hands and knees and started to crawl. He hadn't been that far from dry land. The tension from the rope was still there. Pete had to be pulling him--helping him along. McKenzie had to hurry. He was about out of air and there was no way this storm was going to take him down. Today was not a good day to die. There were too many things left undone.