Home > Sundae's Best (Briar County #2)

Sundae's Best (Briar County #2)
Author: Riley Hart

 

Chapter 1

 

 

Grady

 

 

Grady Dalton was afraid he was becoming a stalker.

That hadn’t been his intent, of course. He couldn’t say exactly what his actual plan had been. What he knew was that after breaking up with yet another boyfriend, in yet another city, he’d needed a change. He also needed to put down roots. At thirty-eight, it was high time.

That was how he’d found himself in Everett, a small town in Briar County, North Carolina. It was where Nathan grew up—Nathan, whom Grady had met his first day of basic training and who became his best friend. They’d looked at each other, eyes catching, and…well, the motherfucker had given him a cocky grin before beating his ass in one of the exercises. In the beginning, Grady had thought he hated him, but really, he was pretty sure he’d always known he hadn’t. Even from that initial, brief glance, he knew Nathan would be an important part of his life.

They’d become friends right away—though always in competition with each other.

They’d admitted to each other they were both queer. Nathan was the first person to know Grady was gay, and Grady was the first person Nathan had told.

They’d spent four years in the army, then moved to DC together.

They’d learned to be okay with who they were together. They’d gone out and danced and met men. They’d had a second sort of growing up together, one where they’d been authentically themselves.

Nathan had been Grady’s family when Grady came out to his own and they turned their backs on him.

Then Grady had supported Nathan when he’d made the decision to come out to his own family at thirty years old. Only Nathan hadn’t had the chance. He’d been driving to Everett to see them when he’d gotten into the car accident that had taken his life.

He and Nathan had never been lovers, not once, but the man had been his brother, his confidant, a part of his soul.

And now, seven years later, Grady was in the town Nathan had told him so much about, while stalking his dead best friend’s sister’s husband.

Stalking was maybe a strong word to use. Following? That was just as bad. Interested in talking to him? Though he didn’t know what he would say. He didn’t plan on outing Nathan. But while Nathan had been nervous to tell his family, he’d always said that out of everyone, he knew his sister, Birdie, wouldn’t care.

Sadness washed over him. Grady had known the man for twelve years and didn’t even know Nathan’s sister’s real name. He’d always called her Birdie. He knew Deacon’s, though—he’d listened to stories about her husband and Sundae’s Best, the ice cream parlor Deacon owned.

Grady had yet to see Birdie, but he’d seen Deacon, hence the whole creeper vibe he had going on. What did a guy say to the family of the man who’d known him better than anyone in the world, when said family likely didn’t know Grady existed?

He watched the brick ice cream shop across the street, taking in the old-fashioned facade. The black awning over the glass door and the large window out front provided a nice contrast to the inside of the place, which was painted in white, pinks, and other bright colors.

He’d seen Deacon enter earlier, before Grady had gone to lunch. It was fall, but he noticed they still stayed busy. It wasn’t cold yet, but he had a feeling the winter months wouldn’t slow down people’s clear love for Deacon’s ice cream.

He needed to get his ass off the bench, approach the man, and ask him where Grady could find Deacon’s wife—in the least psycho way possible.

He also needed to get a job if he was going to stay in Everett—or hell, regardless. He had a bit of money saved after leaving Richmond, where he’d settled for the last year, but if he didn’t put down roots in Briar County, he’d have to somewhere, and that would require the money to continue to come in and not just out. For now, he’d rented a small house in Everett. It wasn’t his dream place by any stretch of the imagination, but it would do. He was an easy guy. He didn’t need a lot.

It was stupid, coming here. He didn’t know what he’d thought would happen—that Nathan’s family would welcome him with open arms? That they’d be to him what his own family hadn’t been? Did he think he’d find here what he couldn’t find with any of the men he’d dated either—connection, something real, something more than how much fun they had being naked together?

Fuck, he was being mopey today.

He stood up, walked down Wildflower Street and away from Deacon.

 

 

There was a part-time job available at a place called Covington Supply Co in Harmony, a small town not far from Everett. The store was a one-stop shop for feed, farm and gardening supplies, and the like.

Grady had spent most of his adult life after the army doing construction. He was good with his hands and knew enough about tools and farm equipment that he figured it might be something he could do. He’d even done some customer service in his past, though even if he hadn’t, he was willing to try anything once.

Early the following morning, he typed the address in his phone and headed over.

As he drove through town, he couldn’t help thinking about Nathan growing up here, about some of the stories Nathan had told him, both good and bad. Growing up Black in a Southern rural community hadn’t always been easy. Nathan had loved his hometown, though, had said one day he wanted to go back, that it had grown and changed and he wanted to be part of that. It killed Grady that Nathan never had that chance.

It didn’t take him long to make the drive to Harmony, which was even smaller than Everett. Covington Supply Co wasn’t hard to find—a large, white building with a nursery out back and riding lawn mowers and small tractors for sale out front. If he’d been applying for a job in the city, he would have done it online, and while he was sure that was an option here, something told him he should head down in person. He had a feeling that in a place like Briar County, people liked that. It made it more personable.

Plus, he wanted to check it out before he decided. He was at a place in his life where he wanted to be comfortable. He was proud of who he was—it had taken him long enough to come out of the closet, and he sure as shit didn’t ever plan to go back in—and if he didn’t get a good vibe from Covington Supply, he didn’t want to work there.

It was nice inside, spacious and clean. Even though it was early and they’d just opened, there were quite a few customers already browsing around.

He took a few minutes to roam the aisles and was on his third one when he saw an older gentleman trying to get something off the top shelf. He was reaching high, despite the signs warning to ask for assistance. Grady saw the man’s arms shake, the container wobble and rushed toward him, reaching him just before the fumbled box hit the top of the man’s head.

“Thank ya for that.” The man’s cheeks went pink, and it was clear he was embarrassed for almost busting his head. “I thought I could get it on my own,” he added wistfully just as Grady noticed someone coming quickly around the corner, his eyes wide.

“Perry! How many times have I told you about that? You could’ve hurt yourself.”

“Sorry, Roe,” the older man—Perry—told the newcomer. “I’ll, um…be going now.” He sped off empty-handed.

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