FIVE STARS FOR Rafe
September 26, 2023
The Walkers of Coyote Ridge, 11
LGBTQ+ Romance – Bisexual Ménage
✔️ Second Chance
✔️ Friends to Lovers
✔️ Family Saga
✔️ Small Town
A history of running…
When Rafe Sharpe was eighteen, he put Coyote Ridge, his family, and everyone he knew in his rearview in order to escape his past. When he returned three years ago, everyone thought he’d returned to face the horrors that had shaped his existence. What he didn’t tell anyone was that he’d been running then, too.
But settling in didn’t mean settling down because that wasn’t in the cards for Rafe, even if he was secretly pining for the beautiful, pure-hearted Bailey Weber. Despite being his greatest temptation, Rafe managed to keep Bailey in the friend zone, opting to be her confidante and protector, ensuring she believed her feelings for him weren’t reciprocated. After all, Rafe wasn’t worthy of anyone’s love. Not after what he did.
The past and present collide…
It isn’t until a handsome man from his past rolls into town that Rafe realizes what he was running from and what he’s been resisting would soon come together, becoming a powerful pull on the heartstrings he didn’t even know he had.
Rafe Sharpe sat quietly at the bar, tucked in the corner, watching the room as he sized up the few people who’d graced this establishment with their presence. You didn’t need to be a mathematician to count the eleven people, including the bartender and the waitress.
Aside from those who worked here, there was a group of guys at the pool table bumping fists to celebrate the round they won against the guy they didn’t yet realize was a hustler. When they figured it out, those fist bumps would have a bit more power behind them and be aimed at a nose, not knuckles.
A couple of old-timers were at the opposite end of the bar, drinking beer like it was fine wine, sipping from time to time while fully engaged in a fascinating conversation involving a rusty well pipe and a couple of frolicking fillies. Horses, not women.
And, of course, the three stay-at-home moms who came in every Wednesday like clockwork to celebrate a few hours without heathens—the term they used to refer to their kids. Lovingly, of course. They were chatting it up over some not-so-fine wine but, based on the giggles erupting from their corner, enjoying themselves regardless of the vintage.
And then there was her.
Bailey Weber, Moonshiners’ most tenured waitress and easily the most beautiful woman Rafe had ever laid eyes on. He’d been captivated from the moment he looked into those big hazel eyes and received a smile in return.
Being that it was Wednesday, there wasn’t a lot going on, but it was still active enough that Mack was willing to keep the place open. Rafe got the feeling the man purposely worked on nights like this to avoid the rowdy crowd that ventured in on the weekend. Rafe had been taking those shifts regularly for the past few months, offering because it gave him something to do and kept him out of trouble.
Trouble. He liked that word. Especially when it was used as an adjective to describe him. And while plenty of folks in this small town remembered him as such, it’d been a damn long time since he’d gotten in any. Did that mean he was getting old? Twenty-nine wasn’t old, was it? Or had he been running in the wrong direction all those years, and his wild youth had caught up to him?
If he had to guess, he would say it was the latter because his wild and rowdy days seemed to be behind him. He’d been back in Coyote Ridge for three years—two years and ten months, to be exact. A helluva lot longer than he’d intended to stay when he showed up on his brother’s doorstep that warm September day to find Rex remodeling the old farmhouse where they grew up, transforming it into a bed-and-breakfast, which was just a fancy name for a small backwoods hotel from what he could tell.
Since then, Rafe had somehow put down roots, although he damn sure hadn’t planned on it. Maybe not the roots you’d find from a walnut or a hickory tree. Nothing too strong or sturdy. More like pine or maple. Yet, they were roots all the same.
Hell, he’d even gotten a job. Right here. At Moonshiners.
It was the only bar in the small town, and as of three weeks ago, only one of two places you could get your grub on. Since Mack finally conceded to Rafe’s request to serve appetizers, they’d been seeing a different clientele moving through. Of course, the regulars weren’t gonna stray far. If you didn’t get your liquor here and weren’t looking for a forty-ounce at the Gas ’n Go or the box wine the general store recently started selling, you had to head down the road a good twenty minutes to get to a store that sold it. So here it was. And now they could get French fries and chicken wings to go with the cheap booze, bottled beer, or the few tap brews they served.
Rafe took a long pull on his beer, the one he’d been nursing for the better part of an hour now, while he waited for Bailey to finish her shift. She didn’t necessarily need him to stick around, but he did it simply so he could see if she needed a ride home. It was pathetic, he knew. One of two days he had off this week, and here he was, inhabiting the place he spent most nights working behind this very same bar he was bellied up to now.
Rafe looked over at the gray-haired man with the bushy beard behind the bar. Michael “Mack” Schwartz dried a glass and tucked it away before moving on to wipe down the lacquered bar top, careful not to disturb the old-timers. Rafe considered calling him over, pitching his idea to Mack for the eleven thousandth time. The one that would take Moonshiners from just a bar to something the entire town could enjoy.
Not that it was his place to suggest converting the small bar into something resembling a roadhouse, but during the year and a half he’d been working here, Rafe had gotten comfortable around Mack. The man had continued to give Rafe more and more responsibilities, now trusting him to open and close on his own while manning the bar several nights a week. Truth was, Rafe would be content to do just that for the rest of his days. It wasn’t a fancy joint, and Rafe appreciated it for that fact. However, he did see some potential. Maybe slap a coat of paint on the place and give the rest a little refresh, add a few things to the menu, and they’d be in real business.
Too bad Mack hadn’t committed yet. According to him, it was one thing to serve up fries and wings, something else entirely to give this place a makeover. It was long overdue, considering some of the decor was as vintage as the bartender. Like the ugly ass flamingo painting that was straight out of the 50s.
“You want good luck, might wanna hit on that,” one of the gloating assholes at the pool table said as he lined up for a shot and missed.
Rafe’s attention shifted to the guy chalking his cue stick and openly ogling Bailey’s ass. Rafe had been keeping an eye on them since they strolled in two hours ago. Looked like the hustler had amped up his game, throwing the other two off theirs in the process.
“Hey, honey,” one of the assholes called out as Bailey sauntered back with empty glasses from the chatty ladies who were gearing up to make an exit.
As usual, Bailey beamed them a radiant smile as she carried the glasses behind the bar and tucked them into the dirty bin.
“I’m about done here, Mack,” she told her boss. “You need me to do anything else?”
“We’re good. Gonna close it down in a bit.”
She smiled and grabbed the cleaning rag before heading back to the table to wipe it down as the ladies made their way to the door.
And then there were eight.
“Hey, girl, you wanna help a man out?” the asshole called out on Bailey’s return trip to the bar.
Bailey stopped, giving them her full attention, including a smile—the one she used in hopes of earning more tips.
“I think my buddy here needs some luck, sweet cheeks,” the drunk one said. “Maybe you’d like to help him out with a kiss.”
Rafe sat up straight, glared in their direction.
“She can hold her own,” Mack grumbled in that not-so-polite way of his. “She don’t need you fightin’ her battles.”
Rafe briefly cut his gaze to the bartender, then back to Bailey and the assholes.
Mack had a point, but that didn’t mean Rafe wasn’t ready and willing to do just that. And while he had no intention of starting any shit, that didn’t mean it wouldn’t happen anyway. Rafe was a magnet for shit. Had been his whole life. Didn’t matter if he was here at Moonshiners, at the diner, or hell, at the bakery, for that matter. Wherever he went, it seemed someone wanted to rag on him for something. The douchebags in this town thought he was an easy target. They generally learned their lesson with a bloodied nose, hand-delivered—pun intended—by him.
Over the past ten years, Rafe had learned there were only two ways to silence the chaos in his head. Fighting or sex. Never together, of course. The fighting was saved for the assholes who deserved it, and the sex was reserved for the women who could handle him. For the record, there weren’t all that many of the latter. Not these days, anyway.
Although he was abstaining from his promiscuous lifestyle, the anger was still a living, breathing thing inside him, churning hot, bright, and powerful. It had been that way for the past seventeen years. Ever since the night his crazy fuck up of a father forced Rafe to kill him. Even with the old man rotting in hell, Rafe still hated him with a passion.
Every time he thought about that night, he remembered how Rex had been chained to the bed, crying, terrified as Jolene Snyder, his father’s warped and twisted girlfriend, had dared to put her hands on him. Rafe remembered his brother’s sobs. Hell, he still heard them in his nightmares. They were what had woken Rafe from his hiding place in the closet that night. Without hesitation, he’d grabbed their grandpa’s shotgun, pushed to his feet, and squared his bony twelve-year-old shoulders. There hadn’t been any rage at that point, only single-minded purpose and a desperate need to save his brother from the hands of the devil.
“What, honey? Your bodyguard won’t let you have no fun?” one of the assholes crooned at Bailey.
Rafe didn’t move, but his gaze was honed on the fucker.
“Leave well enough alone, son,” Mack told him. “There’s no sense lettin’ ’em rile you up. They’re just tryin’ to get you to cause trouble.”
There was that word again. And today, it could very well be his middle name. That was what these pricks expected of him, wasn’t it? They expected Rafe to detonate with the slightest provocation because he was the outcast, the deviant who’d gone and killed his father. Didn’t matter that he’d claimed self-defense—which had been the truth—and the jury had agreed. It also didn’t matter that Rafe hadn’t spent any time in prison for ridding the world of the insane bastard.
Nope. They simply knew him from the bullshit story that had drifted through the grapevine: the spoiled brat who’d pulled the trigger because he didn’t like his father’s new girlfriend.
At least part of that was true. Rafe had hated Jolene Snyder with a fucking passion. If he’d been a homicidal maniac, he would’ve killed her that night, too. In fact, he should’ve killed her the first night she put her fucking hands on him. Rafe still had fucking nightmares about it. Had he taken her out then, she never would’ve had the chance to put her hands on Rex. That was his only regret. That he hadn’t done something sooner. And he’d lived with it for nearly two decades, unable to face his brother because if he’d been stronger, his big brother would never’ve been put in that situation.
Rafe hadn’t shed a single tear when Jolene overdosed just a month after Rafe had filled his father full of lead. The bitch could rot in hell right alongside Rafe’s old man for all he cared.
“You got a problem, boy?” the redneck at the pool table asked, glaring daggers at him from across the room.
Rafe didn’t say a word. He tipped his beer bottle to his lips and held that bleary-eyed stare.
Daryl Hogan was a piece of shit who deserved to get his ass kicked, but Rafe had been making strides lately. He’d kept himself out of trouble, focusing on working and nurturing the few relationships he’d established since he got back. Rumor was Rafe had turned over a new leaf. He wouldn’t go that far, but he’d admit he wasn’t trying to buck the system as much these days.
Granted, he wouldn’t turn away from a fight if it came knocking on his door. The mere thought of it had his hands flexing, his muscles coiling as the adrenaline slithered through his bloodstream.
The sweet, almost musical lilt of her voice had Rafe turning to look at Bailey as she approached. With a smile, she slipped off her apron and tucked it behind the bar before coming to stand beside him.
“I’m ready to go. Can you give me a ride home?”
Rafe wasn’t sure how he’d gotten so damn lucky to have Bailey as a friend, but at some point, that was exactly what had happened. And he liked her. A hell of a lot more than he should, considering.
Granted, it hadn’t been her sweet nature or kind eyes that had originally turned his head. No, he attributed that to her ass. Yeah, Bailey had an ass that deserved a fucking shrine. The way she filled out a pair of jeans should’ve been illegal. But the moment she’d turned those pretty hazel eyes on him, Rafe had been a fucking goner.
Although he certainly enjoyed spending time with her, Rafe hadn’t come back to land a relationship. He wasn’t looking for love, romance, or even a hookup. Hell, he hadn’t even been looking for a friend, but then there she was.
And damn near every day since, Bailey had been right by his side, making him laugh with her stories, giving him insights into all the goings-on in this small town.
Rafe valued her friendship because those were damn hard to come by for him. She had grown up here, heard all the stories from whoever shared the tale of woe that pertained to the Sharpe brothers, yet she still insisted on hanging out with him. Rafe couldn’t figure out why she wanted to be around the likes of him, but he was long past questioning her motives. The woman was the only light in an entirely too dark world.
“Come on,” she said with a nudge of Rafe’s arm. “Let’s go.”
“You slummin’ it tonight, Bailey?” Daryl asked with a yellow-toothed grin. “’Cause, honey, you just hafta ask. I’d be more’n happy to oblige. I could take you home, spend some time foggin’ up the windows in my truck.”
Bailey cast him her signature sweet smile, but her voice held a slight edge. “Oh, Daryl, I’m not sure what your wife would think about that.”
When she turned back to Rafe, she rolled her eyes and feigned gagging.
Setting his beer on the bar, Rafe stood. He pulled out a twenty, tossed it beside t