BURYING THE HATCHET by A.C THOMAS
These boys have an axe to grind.
Home for the holidays for the first time in five years, Clayton Osborne steps off the plane with a chip on his shoulder and a suitcase full of grief…only to come face to flannel-covered chest with his worst nightmare. It’s Jake Carver, his high school nemesis and guilty crush. Clayton never expected Jake to still be working on his family tree farm. Of course, now that he’s older and wiser, it will be no problem to ignore Jake’s axe-swinging, barb-slinging, larger-than-life presence. Right?
Jake Carver loves his work, running NorthStar Tree Farm like it was his own. He’s let other things in his life fall by the wayside as he poured everything he had into his job. Until Clayton Osborne, star of his teenage dreams and his greatest regret returns home as beautiful and feisty as ever. If Jake just keeps his head down and focuses on his work, he can make it through the holidays without revealing his lingering feelings for Clayton. Right?
The mountains of North Carolina ring with more than Christmas bells when boyhood enemies collide as men. Long-buried feelings blossom and grow while the pair work side by side to save the farm, until Clayton must confront his obligation to return to his job in Chicago. He’s going to have to choose. Does he want his big-city life, or love in the mountains? All of this hinges on whether he and Jake can finally bury the hatchet. Can love overcome the years of conflict in their past?
With the help of a good old-fashioned Christmas miracle, it just might.
Jake’s eyes glinted in the porch light, the hazel bright against his rich umber skin. Clayton used to fantasize about seeing his own pale, skinny fingers spread against that skin in startling contrast, though it would have been more realistic to imagine the contrast of Jake’s fist against his face.
That would also have been startling, for all it used to seem inevitable. Clayton was still surprised they had never come to blows.
Jake had preferred to peck away at him in little, infuriating ways until Clayton felt as small as a mouse.
He stepped onto the square, still studying Clayton as though he was expecting him to evaporate into a flurry of snow and blow away down the mountain.
“When did you get home?”
The lump in Clayton’s throat turned to searing, awful laughter, spilling out onto the square with an ugly, echoing sound.
“Home? Oh, no no no. This patch of evergreen purgatory is no longer my home, thank you. Home is a loft apartment in Chicago with floor-to-ceiling windows and absolutely. No. Trees.”
A smile tipped the edges of Jake’s mouth upward, axe-head absently tapping against his leg. “Good to see the big city couldn’t make you forget your roots.”
Clayton’s groan originated in the soles of his feet, dragging every ounce of irritation up with it as it exited his mouth.
“Was that a tree pun? You know what? Screw this. Why don’t you take that axe in your hand and go ahead and Marie Antoinette my head from my body because I cannot do this with you.”
Jake shifted the axe in his grip as if he was considering taking Clayton at his word. It sent a familiar thrill of fear down Clayton’s spine, dropping him straight to the memory of cold metal lockers at his back as Jake Carver and the rest of the football team knocked his books to the floor beneath a flood of jeering laughter.
Anger bubbled up Clayton’s spine and trickled down to his fingers, rolling them into fists at his side.
He surveyed Jake up and down like he was examining wood rot, lip lifted in a sneer.
“Actually, Carver? You don’t work here, because you’re fired.”
Jake didn’t move except to brush his thumb over the handle of his axe. A small, very dumb part of Clayton was suddenly jealous of the axe.
God, he was still stupidly gorgeous. Like a statue of Hercules carved from mahogany, only twice as beautiful.
And twice as mean.
Jake tilted his head to the side, voice soft and deep as blackstrap molasses. “I’m fired?”
Clayton nodded, crossing his arms over his narrow chest and staring him down. Jake nodded back, rubbing his hand over his lips before turning and throwing the axe with a fluid movement, burying the blade deep into a stump.
Clayton jumped, muffling a squeak at the burst of violent motion.
Jake jerked his head at the axe, hands buried in his jacket pockets, shoulders lifted against the cold.
“Alright. Go get it.”
Like he was the one giving orders. Like Clayton had come home to Jake’s family farm instead of his own. Like Clayton would ever listen to anything coming out of his idiotic, perfect mouth.
Jake used one of his pocketed hands to point at the axe, jacket swinging open with the movement to reveal more of a seemingly endless sea of plaid underneath.
“That’s an expensive axe. Can’t leave it out here; it’ll rust. So, go get it.”
Clayton rolled his eyes and stomped over to the stump, wrapped his hand around the axe, and pulled.
It didn’t budge.
He tried it with both hands, bracing his foot against the wood, grunting and straining like he was trying to pull a sword from a stone and had been found unworthy.
Broad fingers wrapped around the handle just above his, callouses rasping over Clayton’s skin.
Jake pulled the blade out with one hard yank, Clayton stumbling along with it to fall against his chest.
It was like hitting a brick wall covered in flannel, if the bricks were warm and fragrant of pine. Jake rested the axe over his shoulder, looking for all the world like a pornographic depiction of Paul Bunyan.
Okay, maybe he just looked that way to Clayton, but, still. Come on. Was that really necessary? No, it wasn’t.
Jake looked down at Clayton’s hands, still braced against his chest. Clayton yanked them away, stepping back several paces for good measure.
Jake used the blunt side of the axe to gesture first out at the rows of trees waiting to be cut and then down at Clayton.
“You need me.”
If you're looking for a holiday romance on a tree farm with all the feels, look no further because Burying The Hatchet by A.C Thomas is it. It's the perfect book to enjoy a hot cup of cocoa with on a cold night. I will certainly be reading it again next Holiday season!
Jake and Clayton were like oil and water as teenagers. Jake picked on and teased Clayton until he fled to Chicago. Unfortunate circumstances brought Clayton home, back to Jake. Together, they have two weeks to get North Star, the tree farm that is the life blood of Clayton's family, in order. It's a monumental task for two men with so much bad history between them.
The back and forth between Jake and Clayton as they navigated their new found circumstances was a rollercoaster ride I really enjoyed from start to finish. They had high moments that made me smile and lows that made me tear up.
The story is told solely from Clayton's POV but the way A.C Thomas wrote Jake, he was so expressive and easy to read. We didn't see the events unfold from his eyes but it was obvious how he felt long before he admitted anything.
With a little Christmas magic, Jake and Clayton do get their happily ever after.
I wish Burying The Hatchet was longer because honestly by the time I reached the last page I was not ready to let these characters go. I wouldn't mind seeing more of them in the future.
A.C. Thomas left the glamorous world of teaching preschool for the even more glamorous world of staying home with her toddler. Between the diaper changes and tea parties, she escapes into fantastical worlds, reading every romance available and even writing a few herself.
She devours books of every flavor—science fiction, historical, fantasy—but always with a touch of romance because she believes there is nothing more fantastical than the transformative power of love.