A Second Chance in the Show Me State

 

Chapter 1

This airline fuel shortage thing could end up being a real problem.

Reid Hudson waited at the St. Louis International Airport for his son, Houston, to come around the corner and down the hall.

Houston had been flying most of his life, and even the long trip from Switzerland to St. Louis didn’t faze him.

In fact, both of his twin boys were perfectly okay with long flights.

They had to be, since he and his estranged wife, Emerson, had been flying them back and forth between Switzerland and St. Louis, Missouri, for most of their lives.

Dallas, Houston’s twin brother, fidgeted beside Reid.

Dallas took after Reid. Impulsive. Headstrong. And a lot more likely to open his mouth and say a bunch of things he shouldn’t.

Possibly, those were all characteristics that had led to the fact that he lived in Cowboy Crossing, Missouri, and his high school sweetheart, whom he married the summer after they graduated from college, now lived in Switzerland.

Normally, Dallas would be on an airplane heading toward Switzerland as he waited to pick Houston up.

But the fuel shortage had messed up all the flights, not just in St. Louis, but all over the country, and internationally as well.

Because, of course, Reid had waited until the last minute and hadn’t been able to book a flight for Dallas until three days from now. It had never been a problem before.

Emerson had not been happy.

She’d insisted that she get to spend three extra days with the boys in Switzerland the next time they switched.

Dallas bounced on his toes as people started coming down the hall. As the passageway filled, he jumped higher and higher to make himself taller to try to see over their heads. He wanted to be the first to see his brother.

Deliberately, Emerson and Reid did not let the boys spend a lot of time together. They had decided early on that was best for everyone, since it was hard for the boys, once they had spent a bunch of time playing together, to leave each other.

Maybe it seemed heartless, but they’d been able to keep their arrangement now for almost a decade. Eight years and three months, if one was counting, which Reid assured himself that he was not.

“Careful, son. It’s getting crowded, and you don’t want to hit anyone.”

He understood Dallas’s excitement. He also understood his inability to be still. That had been him his whole childhood.

Out of all of his brothers, he had been the one that had been in trouble the most for not being able to sit still in church. For not being able to keep his mouth shut. For talking back or just plain talking.

How many times had he been sent to the principal’s office for whispering to his neighbor in school? A couple of times he’d even gotten in trouble because his teacher had thought he was cheating.

He’d never cheated—dishonesty wasn’t one of his many flaws—and thankfully his parents had believed him, although he had been disciplined for the talking.

Constant talking, constant motion, impulsive and reckless.

Yep. Dallas had it all.

“This is his plane, isn’t it, Dad?” Dallas had quit jumping like he’d asked him to, but he still leaned up on his tiptoes, trying to keep his balance by swinging his arm.

A grumpy-looking, balding businessman shot an irritated glance at Dallas as he ducked the flying hand, his large black suitcase twisting and rolling behind him as he moved out of the way.

Dallas didn’t even notice.

The man gave Reid a glance that communicated clearly the man’s opinion of a father who couldn’t control his child.

“Sorry about that, sir.” Reid put a hand on Dallas’s shoulder. “Be careful, son. Watch the people around you. You can’t get so caught up in yourself that you don’t notice where your body is in space and whether or not your appendages are flying dangerously close to other people.”

Dallas looked at him with a quizzical expression. “What’d I do, Dad?”

Yeah, that’s exactly what he thought. Dallas didn’t even know. “Just try to stand still so you don’t hit anybody.”

Once again, Reid wondered at his mom’s amazing ability to be patient and firm. He didn’t recall her ever losing her temper at him, even though he knew he’d been exactly like Dallas. How had she done it with five other boys?

“I’m just trying to see Houston, Dad. Do you think something happened to him? Why isn’t he first?”

The question made Reid smile. Dallas was always first off the airplane. Just like Reid would be if he were travelling.

He supposed when Dallas got older they’d probably butt heads because they were so much alike, but for now, Reid knew when he went to pick up Dallas, it would be an in and out, fast and furious kind of deal.

Whereas with Houston, he was much more likely to wait until the very end…

Yeah. He could see Houston now, walking along beside an elderly gentleman who had a cane in one hand and was waving a pointer finger with the other. Houston was looking at the older man and nodding solemnly.

That was Houston. A good audience for anyone. And just as slow as his brother was fast.

Very similar to how Emerson had been with Reid. Total opposites.

But they fit. Perfectly. And complemented each other with his weaknesses being her strengths, and vice versa.

When they’d first started dating, there had been several people who had said they were so opposite they probably wouldn’t get along, but that had not been true.

Their separation had nothing to do with their opposite personalities.

It had everything to do with Reid’s stubbornness.

And everything to do with Emerson’s aversion to risk.

Money played a part too.

“Houston!” Dallas yelled. So loud even jaded travelers lifted weary heads to see what the commotion was.

Dallas didn’t pay any attention, probably didn’t notice, but took off running for his brother. Emerson and he had been so successful at keeping them apart that it had been about four years since they’d seen each other.

That year they’d spent Christmas with Emerson and New Year’s with Reid. Emerson and he had agreed the separation for the twins after seeing each other had been too hard. And neither one of them wanted to go six months without seeing one of their children.

The discussion had been quite unemotional.

There hadn’t been a divorce, and they didn’t seem to have a problem being civil in their emails.

When Dallas got to where Houston was, he wrapped his arms around his brother, dragging him in a circle, with Houston letting go of his luggage and being careful not to bump the elderly man beside him. All the other passengers had gone on ahead, and he and that man were the last ones left.

Reid strode ahead, not technically supposed to be going that way, but figuring the twenty-five feet he was going to be walking wouldn’t get him into much trouble.

The boys were talking a mile a minute—Dallas was talking a mile a minute and Houston was listening with a huge grin on his face—so Reid stuck out his hand to the elderly gentleman, who looked up at him underneath heavy white brows, his brown eyes sharp and perceptive.

“I’m Reid Hudson, and that was my son, Houston.”

The man’s gnarled hand gripped his with a surprising strength. “He’s quite a young fellow. A seasoned traveler, so I hear. And a good listener.” The older man’s lips parted in a self-depreciating smile. “He listened to me run on about life on the farm when I was a kid growing up. He said you guys had a place in the southern part of the state.” The man looked at him expectantly.

“Yeah. We do.” Reid wasn’t sure how much longer he was going to be farming. He’d made a couple of really bad decisions, and he was on the verge of losing everything. Not even his family knew. He would have to tell them eventually, probably by the new year.

“Well, it’s probably a lot different than it was when I was a kid. We didn’t have electricity, we had to get water from the well, and we used horses, because we were too poor to afford a tractor.”

Reid nodded. It was different all right. Maybe not better.

“Your kid said you just put in a big new dairy barn, with all electronic equipment. But then something happened, and you don’t even have cows now.”

Reid just nodded, although the man was peering at him like he wanted an explanation. Reid didn’t have one other than he took a risk, lost a milk contract he thought he had in the bag, and was left holding a banknote to the tune of way more than he could pay.

Not something he wanted to hash out in the airport with a stranger.

“Dad!” a female voice from behind him called, and the older gentleman’s face wreathed into a smile, wrinkling up like the folds of an accordion.

“Excuse me,” he said, and he shuffled off.

Reid didn’t turn around to watch him leave. Instead, he took three steps to his boys and wrapped his arms around both of them, picking them up and squishing them in a group hug.

They were probably too old for it, and they would soon be too big for him to pick up anyway. He wanted to take advantage of these last few years while he was still bigger than they were.

They weren’t too old to enjoy it, and their skinny little boy arms came out and wrapped around his neck and back.

“Missed ya, son. You’ve been off drinking hot chocolate and skiing in the Alps, letting your old man do all the farmwork by himself.”

“Hey, Dad. You had me,” Dallas protested.

“And that’s another thing, you left me with this crazy kid that acts just like me. Can’t sit still, can’t stop talking, and has about six thousand ideas every three seconds.”

“That’s because he takes after you. That’s what Mom says anyway,” Houston said seriously.

Reid set the boys down and grinned. “Your mom and I don’t agree on everything, but I suppose that’s something she’s right about. As much as it pains me to say it.” He was kinda teasing about that. He never said anything bad about Emerson to the boys. Nothing more than he would tease her about if she were with them.

That had been one of their unspoken rules.

They got along so well that once in a while, okay, about once a day, Reid wondered if he ought to get on a plane and fly to Switzerland. He’d regretted their split since the day she left. And he never stopped loving her.

But he supposed a man had his pride. A lot of times it was a stumbling block.

“I can’t believe we get three whole days together,” Dallas said, bouncing around Houston. “I have everything all planned out. If it’s warm enough, we’re going to go camping, and we’re going to go swimming, too. And we can spend some time with the cousins, but not too much, because we need to spend time together since we never see each other. And they’re in school anyway. And Dad said we don’t have to do school for the three days that we’re here. We’ll have to make it up some other time. But don’t tell Mom until it’s over, or she won’t let us. Because she’ll be upset, because she’s real strict about school. You know. And Dad said that Uncle Loyal might let us borrow some of his horses, and we can take a trail ride. We can stay at Grandma’s house one night, but no more, because we have to go camping too. We only have three days.” Dallas wasn’t nearly done, but Reid interrupted him.

“Come on, boys, let’s head out to the truck. Is that all the luggage you have?” Reid asked, looking at the suitcase Houston had sitting beside him.

“Yeah. I’ve pretty much outgrown everything, and Mom said you’re gonna have to buy me new clothes while I’m here. She didn’t bother sending any of the stuff that was too small.”

Dallas put his arm around him, and Houston returned the gesture.

“You have no idea how angry Mom was when she found out you weren’t going to be there when you were supposed to be.” He shook his head and looked up at Reid. “I think if you’d been there, she would’ve yelled at you. Although I’ve never actually heard Mom yell. But I’m pretty sure she would’ve. Because her face was really red.”

Reid’s lips twitched. He tried not to let them turn up.

He put an arm around Dallas and an arm around Houston and turned them toward the exit. “I guess it’s a good thing I’m half the globe away from her. I wouldn’t want to get yelled at.”

He could tell the boys that Emerson had yelled at him once before.

It wasn’t a good memory. Although at the time, in the heat of the moment, even though he was more angry at her than he’d ever been at anybody in his entire life, he remembered very clearly thinking how beautiful she was.

It wasn’t that she was a raving beauty. Everyone else in school had considered her very average, he supposed. She had those flashing brown eyes and that dark hair that reminded him of an expensive walnut floor. Shiny and swirled and so alive.

Even when he was angry at her, he couldn’t keep from admiring her.

Unfortunately, it hadn’t been enough to keep them together.

He’d been twenty-four and young and dumb. Now, at thirty-two, he wished he’d just swallowed his pride and done what she wanted him to.

Even though he was between them, his boys—Dallas—still chattered, making plans, telling stories. Guilt pushed hard in his chest. The best memories of his childhood were of playing with his brothers. And yet, because of his stubbornness, not only had he lost his wife, but his boys had lost the opportunity to get to know each other. And of course, there were no siblings.

He wasn’t the slightest bit interested in remarrying. Emerson had been all he’d ever wanted.

He could only hope she felt the same, since she’d never asked for a divorce.

When the boys came back from staying with her, sometimes he’d gently probe to see if there was a boyfriend. He never heard of any. He kind of hoped she felt the same way he did, even if they never spent another day together.