We have L.A. Merrill stopping by today with her new release Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch from Dreamspinner Press
Read an Exclusive “Deleted Scene” from L.A. Merrill’s New Novella, Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch!
David Marks is looking for the perfect place to film his new web series and recover from his latest failed relationship. When reclusive writer Michael Sharp opens his Montana ranch to paying guests, David knows he’s found the right place—but he doesn’t expect to find Mr. Right too.
Forty years ago, Michael Sharp’s father was murdered in front of him. No one believed a six-year-old boy’s testimony against the powerful Carver brothers. For years Michael has lived in self-imposed exile, the only living witness who can bring down the Carver criminal empire. But now the money is running out, and he’s forced to play host to a troupe of temperamental web actors and their energetically attractive director in order to stay alive.
The Carvers aren’t about to stand for rebellion. Michael has outlived his usefulness. Now Michael and David have to find a way to end this fight once and for all, finding justice for Michael’s father and meeting David’s funding deadline—all before one or both of them ends up dead.
If you’ve ever watched a dvd, you will be familiar with those “Deleted Scenes” lurking in the special features section. Sometimes you can tell why they were cut; sometimes you realize the story would have been much clearer if that scene had been included, but the directors had no time for pesky exposition. Sometimes the deleted scene is a romantic interlude, cut because in interrupted the flow of the storyline, or moved things ahead too quickly (or because you don’t want us to be happy, do you Chris Carter?). These are the kinds of scenes that live on in cult fandoms, passed around the internet in YouTube videos and gifsets. This is the kind of scene I’m sharing with you today. (Although I don’t hardly expect you to make a YouTube video or a gifset about it.) Originally, there was more kissing in this novella, but it was cut for ARTISTIC REASONS (and not because I don’t want you to be happy). I thought I’d share a taste of what might have happened between our heroes, David and Michael, after a long hike in the woods one day. Then head over to Dreamspinner and buy the official “canon” version!
Deleted Scene: “Romantic Interlude in the Woods”
Michael stowed Willard in the truck when he got out our packed dinner. “He’ll be a nuisance about the food,” he explained, “and if I let him off lead, he’ll just head straight for Jen’s place, picking up fifty ticks on the way. I think she feeds him bacon and doesn’t tell me.”
Dinner was cold chicken, sliced vegetables left over from lunch, and the now-ubiquitous corn muffins. We spread out a plaid blanket and sat on the ground to eat, leaning against the side of the truck. I found another jacket in the back of the truck and put it on over mine. It was huge and smelled of soap, dog, and wood smoke.
“I watched your old shows,” Michael said, after we’d started eating. “Zenda and Arrow.”
“And? What did you think?”
“Good. Really good. Did you write them?”
“I wrote Zenda on breaks at Lowe’s. Kacey wrote most of Arrow.”
Michael bumped his eyebrows at the mention of my ex-everything. “And you think she’s the better writer.”
“She is a good writer. She just got a job in Vancouver.”
“So I heard.”
I felt myself flush. “How much of that conversation did you hear?”
“Enough.” He lobbed a piece of corn muffin through the open window of the truck. I heard Willard scrabble for it. “Just so you know, I do know what bisexual means.”
“It does not mean having sex with two people at once, Kacey,” I joked.
Michael stared. “Seriously? That’s what she thought?”
“I think what we had there was a failure to communicate,” I said, doing my best Paul Newman voice.
“Think what you had there was a shit girlfriend,” Michael muttered.
I shrugged and popped a zucchini spear in my mouth. “She knew what she wanted—sex and a paying job. I wasn’t giving her either one, ergo—” I mimed waving bye-bye.
“Either one?” Michael repeated.
“Oh. Um. No. I’ve never… had sex. With anyone. I never… really wanted to, and it seemed wrong to just… I mean….” “Don’t do it unless you want to,” Michael advised. He set his plate on the ground and half turned to face me. “What about kissing?”
“Kissing is nice. I like kissing.”
“Good.” He cupped the back of my neck and pulled me close, his mouth tasting of chicken and sweet corn muffins.
Overhead, Willard started barking again.
Michael eased me down to the grass, letting his weight settle over me. I had never been kissed so thoroughly in my life. It was as if, like the view from the cliff, Michael was memorizing me for the first and last time. He slid his hands inside the jackets, unbuttoning just enough of my shirt to slip inside, rucking up my undershirt to touch me. I shivered at the coolness of his fingers and arched my head back, dry grass scratching my ear.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. I flailed upward, dislodging Michael and slamming into the side of the truck.
“The hell?” said Michael, understandably.
“Spider, there was a spider. Sorry.” I cleared my throat and tried to straighten the jackets.
Michael was half laughing and shaking his head. “City boy.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“Name a useful skill you’ve learned in the city.”
“I have skills.” I scooted closer, reaching out to unbutton the top of his flannel shirt. (Hello, waffle-knit tee.) “I may not have had sex, but I have skills.”
“That word has a z on the end of it, doesn’t it.”
“It might.” I leaned in and kissed the base of his throat. His hands stayed at his sides, but I could feel one clench into a fist in the grass. “I could put a z on the end of anything you want.”
“You’re really bad at this sweet-talk thing.”
“Yeah, don’t care. Shut up and kiss me, kid. Now.”
“That’s more like it.” He yanked me across his lap, letting my legs settle on either side of him and pulling my head close for a deeper, stronger kiss. His good hand gripped my hair, holding me against him, his other arm wrapped tight around my waist. I have no idea what my hands were doing. Unspeakable things, probably. Things that made Michael groan into my mouth and bite my lip and then whisper apologies and then start all over again.
“You’re incredible,” he murmured, divesting me of both jackets at once.
“Stop saying that.”
“Agree with me and I will.” His fingers stumbled on the tiny top buttons of my shirt, and I took over. He slid his hands up my thighs instead, and the way he was looking at me made my fingers shake. No one’s ever really looked at me that way since college. I haven’t let them.
“I think you think I’m incredible,” I said.
“Close enough.” He pulled the shirt off me the rest of the way, disregarding the remaining buttons. I shivered at the shock of the cold evening air and the feel of his hands running up my bare back.
“I’ll freeze,” I whispered.
“No. You won’t.”
I was starting to feel a little lost in all this, a little drifty in the clouds of our hot breath, until he pulled me back into a kiss with one hand twisted tight in my hair and the sharp, delicious pain of it focused my attention. He turned us sideways, lowering me onto his jacket on the grass until I was spread out before him, and he trailed a line of openmouthed kisses down my chest. On the return trip, his teeth grated against the silver chain of my Star of David necklace where it lay pooled in the hollow of my clavicle. He stopped, his body stretched out on top of me, and brushed the six-pointed star with one finger.
“Bar mitzvah gift,” I said, a bit randomly. “From my aunt. The cool one in Portland.”
He nodded, then shook his head and dropped his forehead to my chest. “What am I doing,” he muttered into my skin.
“Making me feel incredible.” I skimmed my hands through his velvet short hair, feeling the prickles when I rubbed against the grain. I cupped the back of his head and held him there. “Don’t stop, please.”
He kissed my sternum almost absently. “Why are you doing this? I’m an insurance risk, David, why—”
“Because I—really, really like you,” I said, my mind apparently taking refuge in middle school euphemisms. “And because I’m a masochist, remember?”
“Mmmm, yes, and what does that entail, exactly?” Successfully distracted, he raised himself up and rested on his hands above me.
“The biting thing from earlier, that was good. Biting in general.” I shifted his left hand up to my head and his fingers automatically dug into my hair. I smiled, and he dragged me closer for a kiss.
“And ‘don’t stop’?” he asked, pulling away again. “How far does ‘don’t stop’ mean?”
“Oh. Um.” I tensed. I really, really liked—shut up, brain—I was pretty sure I loved this man, and we were having some sort of Last Night of Safety emotion-charged make-out session, but even so…. “Everything but?” I said, hating how high and breathless my voice sounded. “I mean, I’ve always—”
“Good,” he said, cutting me off. “Because I don’t have any condoms, and you get wound tighter than a piano string whenever I bring it up.”
“Sorry. Maybe later?” And then I hated myself, because “maybe later?” was what I said to Kacey, and a dozen other girls and boys, who got tired of waiting for later to turn into now. And Michael and I both knew that later was a dim option right now, not an absolute.
Michael kissed the look of self-loathing off my face, drifting down to my ear and gently biting. “I haven’t thought about the future in a long time,” he said quietly, in between biting kisses. “Not like it was real. You make me want it to be real, David.”
“And in this real future,” I said, squirming to get closer, “am I there?”
“Sure.” He pulled back, brushing hair out of my face. “As long as we’re making up imaginary scenarios, why not?”
“Hey, don’t knock the imaginary scenarios. I make up imaginary scenarios for a living.”
“But does it count as a living,” he teased, “if you don’t make any money?”
“I make up imaginary scenarios in order to live, how about that? Getting paid is just a necessary evil.”
“Whatever keeps you happy,” he said, and the look in his eyes told me he wasn’t just talking about my work or holding off on sex. “Keeps you happy, and safe.”
“Well, that would be you, then,” I shot back.
He smiled and nuzzled my neck until I started laughing. “I aim to please, City Boy.”
Eventually we stopped to clean up dinner. Neither one of us wanted to go back to the lodge yet, so we sat in the deepening twilight on the pretext of elk-watching, although no elk deigned to grace us with their presence. When I started shivering, Michael moved us back into the truck cab. I am ashamed to say I fell asleep. My defense is that I’d barely slept all week, and Michael’s shoulder is very comfy.
It was full dark when I woke up. Willard had given up and was snoring loudly (and somewhat pointedly) in the back. Michael had shifted to lean against the door, so that I was lying along his side, against the seat back. His right hand rested heavily on my head, his fingers moving lightly in my hair.
“I don’t want anything to happen to you,” I whispered, pressing my face into his chest.
His hand stilled, then resumed the little circles he was etching in my hair. “Lots of things have happened to me long before now.”
“Not since I found you. I’ve just found you, I don’t want to lose you again.”
“Hush.” His fingers tightened in my hair, tipping my head back. His expression was infinitely gentle, and infinitely sad.
“Come here,” he said.
After that, an entire herd of elk could have walked by the truck and neither of us would have noticed.
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch is available now! Follow the links to buy it today, and be sure to check out L.A. Merrill’s other stories, and the rest of the States of Love series!
L.A. Merrill is a tiny blonde woman who loves a good story. She has worked as a tour guide and an assistant stage director, and spent one memorable summer as a camp counselor. After five years in vocal performance, production work, and arts education, she now writes full-time. Her work has appeared in
Kansas City Voices magazine, on the YouTube series The Blank Scene, and online. Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch is L.A.’s fourth story with Dreamspinner Press, and her first published novella. (There’s an unpublished novella, about murderous husbands and Scottish ghosts, written when she was thirteen, that is sitting in a file at home. It will likely never see the light of day.)
An avid knitter, she has yet to follow a pattern and has made some interestingly shaped hats as a result. L.A. makes handknit and crocheted blankets and hats for local charities, as well as leading a LGBT+ writers group in her hometown. She lives with her family in the Midwest, where she can usually be found reading, writing, and making things up as she goes along. Follow her on Twitter for feminism and fangirling at @la_mer92