Eastern Ambitions: Compass Brothers, Book 3, страница 1
For all the people in our lives—and those of our readers—who have fought cancer and won. We also remember those who’ve lost the battle. The circle of impacted lives encompasses so many more than those who have the disease. Our hearts go out to caretakers, partners, neighbors, family and friends too.
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In Memory Of
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One Goal: End Cancer - www.pelotonia.org
Sam Compton rocked on his heels as his twin, Sawyer, waved goodbye to their father. Shitty speakers and awful acoustics beneath the tin portico protecting the drop-off lane at the airport garbled shrill flight announcements.
The racket disguised the rasp of Sam clearing the knot from his throat as his brother jammed his hands in his pockets and sighed. Sawyer hitched his duffle higher when it slipped from his slumped shoulders.
Sam winced. If Sawyer’s back ached as badly as his, that had to hurt like a bitch. He needed something to take his mind off the pain—both the sting between his shoulder blades and the disturbing ache residing somewhat deeper in his chest.
Sawyer squinted at the vanishing taillights of the ranch’s pickup.
“Guess that’s that.” Sam angled toward the automatic doors leading to the terminal. His twin followed as though he were a reflection in a mirror instead of a separate human being. It was only right that they leave together even if they were heading in opposite directions.
All their lives, they’d been so much the same while ultimately completely different. It figured they’d only discovered how strong their bond could be shortly before sacrificing it for their futures.
Dreams of attending college had sprouted in Sam long before Sawyer had kicked Roger Latner’s ass, for teasing them about their ranch family’s ignorance, in the third grade. No one had laughed once they grew old enough to realize how much power the Comptons—especially JD—wielded in their Wyoming town, Compton Pass. Most of their friends would have killed to be one of the infamous Compass Brothers, yet every one of the four—starting with Silas—had left home the moment they’d turned eighteen.
Probably had something to do with their frontiersmen genes, which urged them to blaze their own paths and create their own kingdoms instead of ruling a hand-me-down legacy. Pride was never in short supply in their pastures.
Still, the look in his mother’s eyes as she’d surrendered her youngest…
“Gotta admit we were lucky JD talked Mom into staying behind or we’d still be standing on that curb out there.” Sawyer’s usual permagrin chased away some of their gloom.
“No shit. As it was, I thought she might crack a few ribs during that never-ending goodbye at home.” Sam would miss sharing this wavelength with Sawyer. He’d never once been lonely in his entire life. Between his crazy-ass older brothers, the ranch hands, JD and Vicky plus his twin, he’d hardly had a thought he didn’t share.
What would it be like to live in silence?
His back throbbed. The giant compass design there had been worn first by Silas. Now all four of the Compass Brothers bore their own brand of home. Each with unique flair. Sam smiled as he recalled the ornate E on the frame enclosing a mural of their spread. No matter where he roamed, Compass Ranch would remain the center of his universe.
The scrollwork and intricate lines comprising the script of his cardinal direction reminded him of the illuminated dropped capitals featured on the Learning Channel’s special about the Book of Kells and other ancient tomes. Maybe someday, when the blaze dulled to something less than this raging irritation, he’d enjoy the damn thing.
“My back is on fucking fire.” Sawyer flexed his shoulders.
If JD had caught the twins getting matching, massive tattoos from Snake—the same cowboy-turned-artist who’d inked their brothers when each had come of age—it would have been more than skin-deep discomfort making their plane rides awkward. Still, Sam suspected even if he’d whopped their asses like he had the time he busted them stealing a case of beer from his employees’ bunkhouse, their old man would have been proud.
Maybe grateful they hadn’t abandoned everything and everyone who loved them.
Sam glanced at his watch. He’d typed up a master schedule of his flight numbers, departure times, trip duration and connecting gates, then arranged the info in a three ring binder along with maps from La Guardia to his residence hall at Columbia. Sections had smudged from his frequent handling. He’d studied the notes enough to have the worn bits memorized.
An hour and twenty-seven minutes should be plenty to make it through security and share one last drink with his brother. “Looks like we made good time. What do you say we check our bags and then hit the bar until take-off?”
Sawyer laughed. “We’re eighteen, Mr. Hotshit. They’re not going to serve us.”
Sounded like a challenge to Sam. One-upping dares had landed them in tons of trouble over the years. Why should this be any different? “I bet I can charm us into a couple of microbrews. Especially if the bartender is a college girl.”
“Make mine a Miller Lite.”
There was no accounting for his brother’s taste. Sam couldn’t wait to surround himself with culture, education and class. People who relied on their brains instead of blisters for their living. Sawyer had always wallowed in the down and dirty while Sam had clawed his way out of the muck.
As though Sawyer could read Sam’s thoughts, he took a swipe at his brother, smacking him in the gut with the back of his knuckles. “Besides, who’s gonna be smart enough to hit the books but dumb enough to forget to card your scrawny ass?”
Ouch. This past summer Sawyer had bulked up. Sam made a mental note to check out the fitness center he’d spied on the school’s website. Ranchers didn’t have to rely on slick machinery in air-conditioned buildings to stay in shape. Without his chores… Well, he wouldn’t mind if girls drooled over him like they had over Sawyer lately.
Afternoons splashing around at the local swimming hole had netted them both plenty of stolen kisses. But Sawyer had nearly drowned in female attention. The jerk.
“Really, Sawyer? How many times have I explained why insulting your twin is ridiculous?” Sam faked a pretentious laugh as he shook his head.
“Hey, not my fault you spent all your time studying instead of working out in the barn.”
“Are you referring to bucking hay or bucking Beth while her dad rode herd with JD?”
“Take your pick.” Sawyer rubbed his flat abs and sighed. A shit-eating grin highlighted the dimples they both had hated when they were younger. His brother hadn’t hesitated to add them to his hottie-hunting arsenal as soon as he realized how effective they were. “We may have started out identical. Now I can kick your ass.”
“Probably could if you were smart enough to catch me, baby brother.” Okay, so Sam was only a few minutes older. Never hurt to remind the runt he was littlest, though. “I still say we should have taken Snake up on his offer to make us identification.”
“How are you gonna survive without me?” Sawyer had never made the grades Sam did. He did have a knack for conjuring luck and surfing his instincts through tricky situations. “Those fake IDs of his look like shit. We’d have been bu
“Fine, chicken. I won’t tell if you indulge in one last watermelon fizz.” Sam ambled toward the ticket counter. To tell the truth, he wouldn’t mind a shot of something sweet either. If his brother went for it he could chalk up the childish indulgence to sentiment.
He dealt with the agent, supplying each piece of data before she requested it. With his license out and ready, he watched her input something off the card. A clatter followed as she banged on the ancient keyboard. Why exactly it took her roughly four million keystrokes to verify his information remained a cosmic mystery. After all, he was pretty sure she could have launched a space shuttle with all those clicks.
A cough rasped through his throat, which dried out as they dropped off their baggage and passed through security. Counting down the seconds to escape from rural, small-town life had somehow never registered as a ticking time bomb about to obliterate his bond with his twin.
Sawyer dove into the first bar past the scanners and plopped onto a stool. Sam would have preferred to locate their gates and sit closest to the departure point, just in case, but he let it slide. No sense in spending their final time together arguing. A pretty waitress dropped off a pair of sodas.
“At least we’ll be on the same coast for a bit.” Sawyer played with the condensation on his glass. “Cape May’s not all that far from New York City.”
“You’ll be in basic training for eight weeks. And then the Coast Guard will station you God knows where. Doesn’t matter how damn close the cities are, it’s not like we’re going to be hanging out together.” Sam was glad his portfolio, funded with birthday and Christmas money, had performed well enough to buy them both decent laptops without having to bug their parents to spring for them. Maybe next year, after he started his finance classes, he would ramp up his trading. To guarantee he could keep in touch with Sawyer, he’d pulled the trigger on riskier investments than he would have preferred.
They wouldn’t share the new discoveries waiting in the worlds they’d chosen side by side. At least they could email and use the new service he’d read about, Skype, if their schedules ever lined up. Maybe they could even teach Silas and Seth how to join in.
“I get ten days leave after basic. I’ll come check out your fine preppy institution in New York before I ship off.”
“More like you’ll raid the coed dorms before you’re forced to spend months in barracks with a bunch of dudes.” Not that the sleeping arrangements would stop Sawyer. Growing up on the ranch they’d learned all kinds of strategies from the hands, who had devised a naughty playbook to liven up the evenings. Sneaking girls in to share, finding shadowy spots in the barn for some privacy, a midnight jaunt to the local bar… The cowboys never suffered a shortage of the horizontal two-step despite their close quarters. Sam sort of regretted not being able to employ some of the veterans’ tag-team tactics with his twin.
“Yeah well, I’ve waited a long time to use the I’m-leaving-in-the-morning-give-me-something-to-remember line.” Sawyer twisted his face into a pitiful mask. His wide eyes and crimped brows probably would compel droves of women to comfort the sneaky bastard.
“You’ve seen Band of Brothers one too many times, Saw.”
“Whatever. No shitting, though, it’d be cool to see the Statue of Liberty.”
At least they agreed on that. Sam couldn’t wait to explore the monuments and museums of NYC. He’d watched his share of Law & Order and The Real World Manhattan when he’d wrestled the remote to the TV in their room from Sawyer. “I’ll take you around the city. We’ll hit the clubs and I’ll show you all the fun we’ve been missing in Bumfuck.”
Sam had argued the grass was greener in the big city ever since he’d applied to the single university, Ivy League Columbia, he was determined to attend. JD pointed out nothing grew in the concrete landscape where Sam was headed. Sam had shaken off the morose thought and imagined standing in front of the famous Egyptian Temple of Dendur in the sunroom at the Met and what it would be like to chow down a hotdog in the stands at Yankee Stadium.
When no one spied on him, he’d scooped up a bottleful of the Wyoming dirt and tucked it in his new suitcase next to his digital photoframe—loaded with snapshots of his brothers—and wrapped it in his favorite T-shirt, which Silas had mailed home from Alaska his first Christmas absent from Compass Ranch. How could that have been three years ago already?
Sawyer chuckled before turning serious. “I can’t wait. Look, Sam…”
“Last call for passenger Compton.” A choppy crackle blasted through the elevator music in the airport lounge. “Please proceed to gate 5A. This will serve as the final boarding call for Flight 328 to Atlantic City.”
“What the—” Sawyer bolted to his feet, digging in his Levi’s for his boarding pass.
With one hand, Sam saved the seat his brother had occupied from crashing to the floor. Not only had he committed his schedule to memory weeks ago, but he’d also badgered Sawyer until the dumbass had looked up his stuff late last night. “I thought your plane left at 3:30?”
“Shit!” Sawyer double-checked the info. “That must have been the flight number. Three twenty-eight. It’s scheduled for 3 o’clock.”
“You better run.” Sam shoved Sawyer toward the door instead of smothering him in another hug guaranteed to send spikes down his spine. Sam didn’t even clap him on the shoulder in a more manly display. “It’s already five after.”
“But…” For the first time, Sawyer looked like the youngest Compton. He stumbled as he crossed the line between the tile of the bar and the industrial carpet of the main thoroughfare.
“Go!” Sam shooed his twin, then spun toward the waitress. Without glancing at his brother—who froze, biting his lip—he snagged the young lady gently by the wrist and smiled when she didn’t yank free. “Would you mind paging the airline for us? Let them know passenger Sawyer Compton, C-O-M-P-T-O-N is en route for Flight 328.”
“Sure thing, sugar.” She smiled slow and wide. “If I can take his place while you finish your drink.”
“Sounds great.” He winked and groaned inside where normally he’d have done a big mental fist pump. Because Sawyer still hovered on the edge of Sam’s peripheral vision. He flung his arms out wide. “What are you waiting for?”
“I don’t know.” Sawyer swallowed hard enough Sam saw his throat flex from ten feet away. “You’ll email, right?”
Shit. If Sawyer bailed now, Sam could never go through with his own desertion.
“Promise. Every day. I’ll write you so many letters, I’ll put Lucy to shame.” Sam grinned as he thought of the sweet woman engaged to his father’s best ranch hand. She’d carried her notebook everywhere these past three years, keeping Silas in the loop on the activity at home. Sam had always wondered… “How else will I make you jealous over all the ladies on campus?”
“They’re waiting for you, cowboy.” The waitress flashed a smile worthy of a toothpaste commercial. She pointed. “Head that direction, to the very end of the concourse. They said they’ll give you five and then you’re out of luck. You look like you can make it.”
She checked out the lean muscle of Sawyer’s build in a not-so-subtle sweep.
“You will make it.” Sam nodded as Sawyer took one step, then another, picking up speed.
“So will you.” Sawyer grinned over his shoulder before sprinting down the hall.
“Thank you.” Sam held the chair out for the waitress. “Still care to join—”
A giant bellow caught them both off guard. “Compass Brothers rule!”
Sawyer’s battle cry faded.
Sam couldn’t help but smirk.
“He can say that again.” The waitress giggled. “Two guys like you should be illegal. How long before your flight?”
“Have to be at the gate in twenty minutes.” Tension in his hand melted beneath her stroking fingers, which roamed over his knuckles.
“I have a break. Let me
“That’s not necessary.” Sam swallowed a glug of soda and coughed.
Her roaming hand cupped him. “It’s my pleasure.”
Oh man, Sawyer would be greener than the Hulk when he read the first installment of their perpetual email chain, which Sam would start tonight.
Seven Years Later
“You should have seen them. Smoking hot quadruplets, Sam.” Sawyer bragged about his most recent conquest to Seth and Sam over the open videoconference link while they waited for Silas to join in the call. “Two for you, two for me.”
“Sawyer Compton, what kind of trouble are you getting into now?” Vicky, their mom, laughed at the horror on her youngest son’s face when she popped into the last quadrant on the screen. Silas had returned to Compass Ranch. Too bad his trip had been courtesy of an oil rig explosion that had nearly killed the tough son of a bitch.
“Dude, a little warning would have been nice before you tossed Mom on the line.” To see the Coastie blush made Sam’s day. Even better was the hazy image of Silas in the background, looking mostly in one piece. His leg would be jacked for months, maybe forever. Otherwise, he’d recover. Funny how hearing the news hadn’t convinced Sam as much as that one glimpse of home and his family out west.
Four pictures divided his screen. He’d placed the images of his brothers as they were situated around the country. His window on the right. Sawyer—in San Francisco—on the left, Silas—home from Alaska—on the top and Seth—in Texas—at the bottom.
“Hello, my sons.” Vicky tried a little finger wave, giggling at the reflection of herself on the screen.
“Hi, Mom.” They answered her together.
“All right, I see I’m crashing this party. Just wanted to see my boys a second. Have fun and call me soon. I love you.”