Cost of Repairs #1
"Fixing the home can heal the heart-if you can find all the pieces. "
Police officer Samuel Briggs is getting to know the people on his new, third-shift beat, but he'd prefer they not know too much about him-or the painful past that drove him away from New Mexico to start fresh in small-town Stratton, PA.
All he wants is peace, a manageable routine, and time to fix up his project home. There's no room in his broken heart for a new relationship. It's crowded with too many memories. But there's something about the Dixie's Cup short-order cook, who's flirty one minute, distracted the next, that piques Sam's interest.
Part-time cook, part-time hardware salesman and full-time handyman Rey King lives to work-but not because he loves it. Relationships? No time. Until one glance at Sam's haunted eyes sends a plumb line straight to his wary heart.
One afternoon of impulsive, no-strings sex begins to grow into a cautious friendship. But when Rey is seriously injured protecting a friend, the cracks in their already shaky foundation begin to show. Falling in love wasn't in either man's recovery plan...and this time, the risk could be too great.
***Warning: Contains one emotionally wrecked cop, one angsty short-order cook, a few too many secrets, some meddling small-town folk, and plenty of hot man-on-man action.***
Such a well written story with characters that you really fall for. My heart just is so divested in both Sam and Rey's lives that it just pains when they find themselves at odds, usually from either miscommunication or no communication.
Looking to the future begins with forgiving the past.
Barrett McCall once lived like there was no tomorrow. Now the reformed party animal savors each day as a gift. His short order cook job at Dixie’s Cup pays the rent, and he’s content with his sober—if solitary—life.
When a fire leaves him homeless, Dixie’s offer to let him move into her basement apartment puts him on a collision course with her nephew, art teacher Schuyler Rhodes. The heat between them crackles, but in Schuyler’s eyes Barrett recognizes the same demons he exorcised long ago.
Dixie’s kind-hearted offer couldn’t come at a worse time for Schuyler. It’s the anniversary of his teenage cousin Matty’s drowning. Everyone believes it was an accident, but Schuyler knows the truth—and so does the culprit. For fifteen years that truth has burned a hole in his soul…and now it keeps Barrett at arm’s length.
One lingering kiss melts away the barriers between them, but when the other witness to Matty’s death shows up in town, Schuyler is forced into a confrontation that could cost him Barrett’s love—and possibly his own life.
***Warnings: Contains a hot man-on-man romance between a slightly uptight art teacher and a free-spirited tattoo-artist-turned-line-cook, a bucket of guilt sprinkled on top of past regrets, and the improper use of bamboo kabob skewers.***
I was having a hard time getting into this one at first because I couldn't stop thinking of Schylar as kind of a jerk he was in Cost of Repair and I was having a hard time letting go of Sam and Rey. But after about 3 ch. I was hooked and really cheering for Barrett and Sky.
Weight of Silence #3
Summary:The wrong secret can poison everything--even if it’s kept with the best of intentions.
Gavin Perez knows he’s a living cliché. He works a dead-end job, shares a trailer with his waitress mom, has an abusive, absentee sperm donor, and he’s poor. So color him shocked when middle-class, white-bread Jace Ramsey agrees to hang out with him.
Granted, Gavin is trying to make up for dumping a bowl of cranberry sauce on Jace at Thanksgiving. And boy, is Gavin forgiven, over and over again…until Jace goes back to college for finals and stops returning Gavin’s calls.
Back home from the semester from hell, Jace doesn’t want to do anything but sleep through the holidays. It’s easier than coming out to his family—or facing Gavin’s hurt. But Gavin’s ready forgiveness draws them back together, and Jace won’t be able to stay in the closet much longer.
Nor will he be able to keep hiding his pain. He trusts Gavin with his body, maybe even with his heart. But can he trust that a devastating secret that’s eating him up inside won’t destroy everything—and everyone—he loves?
***Warning: This book contains one slightly hyperactive hero from the wrong side of town, a frustrated college student looking for a little life experience, and an unexpected romance amid dark secrets that just won’t stay buried. Also contains references to physical abuse some readers may find disturbing.***
You can't help but love both Jace and Gavin. They both seem so disheartened by life but in each other they find a little piece of what life could really be. But are they both too jaded to take a chance on love and each other?
Acts of Faith #4
Love can be built on a broken past…but not on broken trust.
Rey King has settled into his new life with Samuel Briggs, and his catering business has taken off to the point he’s brought a business partner on board. Yet something is missing. He’s still haunted by the pain of losing his daughter, Faith, in a custody battle six years ago.
Then, one month before Christmas, Faith’s grandmother passes away, and Rey gets a shocking offer he never saw coming.
Samuel knew loving Rey wouldn’t be easy, but then again he’s no walk in the park either. Still, for eighteen months they’ve thrived as a couple…until a shy seven-year-old girl shakes his belief that he and Rey can overcome anything.
Settling Faith into their chaotic lives would be a welcome challenge, if things weren’t complicated by Rey’s too-cute, overly attentive new business partner. As misunderstandings, miscommunications, and unresolved tensions escalate, Rey begins to wonder if the best Christmas gift of his life could cost him the man he loves.
***Warning: Product contains one overprotective (and slightly jealous) police officer, an angsty chef whose heart is in the right place (even when his actions backfire), and an adorable little girl who turns their lives upside down. Added bonus—hot man-on-man action and the inappropriate use of a washing machine.***
Foundations of Trust #5
Not everyone gets a second chance with their first love.
David Weller thought he had it all—a loving partner who gave him a ring, a steady job he didn’t hate, and so much hope for the future. But in the wake of a devastating diagnosis, everything he thought was solid and real lay in pieces at his feet.
Four years later, he’s still sifting through the rubble of his life. His catering partnership occupies his days, while his nights are filled with dangerous sexual hookups and very bad decisions. Then the last person he ever expected to see again walks back into his life.
Owen Hart’s single biggest regret is the way he was forced to leave David behind—no explanations, no chance to make it right. Until now. Finally free of eight years of lies, Owen’s back for the only man he’s ever loved.
An incendiary encounter in a club proves that time hasn’t weakened their physical connection, but David’s wounds run deeper than Owen’s deception. And if David can’t first forgive, Owen doesn’t have a second chance in hell.
***Warning: This book contains an Australian transplant with a head full of secrets, a party planner with enough baggage to sink a battleship, and a surly teenager who just wants them both to get over themselves.***
Cost of Repairs
As promised, Rey knocked on his door forty minutes later. Samuel couldn’t help noticing Rey had swapped his faded T-shirt for a red polo, the color of which highlighted the dark stubble scattered across Rey’s chin. Samuel smiled without comment. Rey’s bike was propped against the porch rail, its basket supporting a black bike helmet he hadn’t noticed before. Maybe Rey only wore it on long trips.
“Come on in,” Samuel said, stepping aside.
Rey made a small show of sniffing the coffee-perfumed air as he entered the foyer. His attention seemed to dart everywhere, from the wide staircase leading to the second floor to the empty formal living room directly to the right of the foyer. “You weren’t kidding,” he said.
“What wasn’t I kidding about this time?”
“This place needing work.” His eyes widened a fraction. “It’s nice, though. Has good bones. Isn’t that what architects say?”
“I have no idea, but I agree. It’s why I bought it. That and it has an amazing rear deck.”
“Oh?” The single word invited a viewing.
Samuel swallowed, mouth suddenly dry. He hadn’t been a tiny bit nervous about lunch until Rey cast those interested, searching brown eyes on him. It also made him stupidly self-conscious about turning his back on Rey and leading him down the narrow hall to the kitchen. Amazing rear deck—why had he said that?
“Kitchen’s back here,” he added. “How do you take your coffee?”
“Black’s fine.” Rey sounded very close.
He beelined for the coffee maker where he’d already set out two royal blue mugs, exact matches to the dinnerware set tucked away in his garage, along with most of his other belongings. Waiting for him to finish the house and unpack them to their proper new homes. Coffee mugs, however, were necessary to daily function.
“I didn’t even ask what sort of deli meat you like,” he said as he poured two mugs. “I have ham and roast beef, plus Swiss cheese.”
“I’m not picky about food.” Rey was definitely right behind him, within an arm’s reach.
Samuel picked up one mug by the rim, handle out, and turned carefully. Rey was leaning one hip against the counter, right elbow braced on it, a very casual pose.
He accepted the mug then lifted it in the direction of one wall. “I like the color you picked. Gonna repaint the entire house?”
“That’s the plan.” Samuel stirred a packet of sweetener into his coffee, forgoing milk this time. “I do most of it on weekends when I’m off-duty.”
“So far, yeah. It’s a work-in-progress, but I wouldn’t have bought the house if I didn’t want to put the time in.”
“Ever thought about hiring painters?”
He lifted one shoulder in a half shrug. He’d considered it briefly, but… “Not really. It isn’t as if I have anything more pressing to do with my free time.”
“So you say.”
Unsure how to take that enigmatic comment, Samuel put his coffee down and shuffled to the fridge. “So, sandwich?”
“Roast beef and Swiss sounds good.”
Samuel collected the bags of sliced meat and cheese from the fridge, as well as a jar of mayo and bottle of mustard. The loaf of rye was already on the table next to a pair of paper plates and plastic utensils. Rey joined him at the kitchen table but didn’t sit down.
“Everything’s still in storage?” he asked, poking at a paper plate.
“Yeah.” Samuel plucked a bag of barbecue potato chips out of the cardboard box that held most of his non-perishables. “It’s why I’m trying to finish the kitchen first. Seems like the most important room to get fully functional.”
“Not the bedroom?”
He nearly dropped the bag of chips. Rey’s deadpan delivery of the question left no clues as to how he’d meant it. Serious? Flirtatious joke? Samuel hadn’t openly flirted in years and he felt a bit out to sea. Especially around Rey, who made him want to jump out of his own skin. He was so flustered he let himself say, “It’s the least used room in the house, so it can wait.”
“Shame.” The teasing light in his eyes was back, even though he didn’t smile. He put his coffee mug down next to the roast beef. “You know, I’m really not that hungry.”
Samuel swallowed. “You’re not?” Somehow he’d lost control of the situation. The script had changed and he didn’t know his lines. Hell, he wasn’t even sure about the scene.
“And you still haven’t shown me your rear deck.”
His heart pounded harder at the keen interest in Rey’s expression—his wide eyes and parted lips. Rey drew his tongue across his lower lip, and Samuel’s dick took a sudden interest.
“It’s, uh, this way,” Samuel said. He scooted around Rey and walked to the back kitchen door that needed a new coat of paint and a screen not covered with patches. He unlocked and opened the storm door to give them a better view of the rear deck.
Rey stepped to his side, close enough that Samuel could feel his warmth. Rey smelled like Ivory soap and sweat, not a hint of cologne or strong shampoo. Samuel liked the clean, natural scent. He also had enough control of his faculties to not give in to the urge to lean over and inhale more deeply. He stared at the ancient oak tree standing sentinel in the middle of the yard to keep from staring at Rey.
The object of his inattention leaned slightly forward, gazing through the ripped screen door. “You’re right again, Samuel,” he said. “An amazing rear deck. The owner’s isn’t too bad, either.”
“Uh…” It wasn’t the most intelligent thing to tumble out of his mouth, but Samuel couldn’t quite manage higher thought. Rey was definitely flirting and bordering on an overture of intent. He’d invited Rey over with the hope of making a friend, maybe even getting his full name. Nothing else.
He might even believe himself if he wasn’t already half-hard, his blood heating in his veins, his eyes taking in Rey’s narrow build and shorter stature with keen interest. The tree was no longer important.
Rey tilted his head to the side, eyes crinkling with his impish smile. “Don’t tell me I’m the first person to admire your deck since you moved here.”
He started to deny it. The truth tumbled out, instead, as it had a habit of doing around Rey. “You’re the first in a long while, actually.”
“Now that’s a crime, Officer.”
It certainly was, but not in the way Rey’s teasing implied. Not that Samuel had any intention of bringing that particular truth to light—now or ever. Samuel Briggs, currently of Stratton, Pennsylvania, had a clean past and no painful memories left behind in New Mexico. He had just the future, and in that golden moment in his unfinished kitchen, he liked the idea of Rey being part of his future.
Or at the very least, a part of his present.
“You know, I, uh”—Samuel scrubbed his hand through his short hair—“I really did just invite you over for coffee.”
“You did,” Rey said, agreeable and still smiling. “But like I said before, I’m not really hungry and you brew your coffee a little weak.” He cocked his hips just so and Samuel shoved his hands into his rear jeans pockets to keep from reaching for Rey. “Look, I’m not asking for any promises here, Samuel. But if you’re not into it, I’ll go, no hard feelings.”
He would, too, Samuel knew. Rey was like hourglass sand—trapped in his circumstances, but with the ability to flow easily between the situations in which he was tossed. Adaptable, but unable to free himself fully from certain constraints—much like Samuel.
Asking Rey to stay, knowing his intentions, scared him to death. He hadn’t been with anyone since Ben died three years ago, and before that they’d had five years of joy. He didn’t know how to accept a near-stranger into his bed, even if it was a new bed for a new man who’d left his past behind in another state. A different person had been in love with Ben, a different person had watched him die. Samuel needed to take the next step in his life.
Rey was cute. Rey was available. Rey was there and he wasn’t asking for anything beyond the physical.
So Samuel said, “Please stay.”
Color of Grace
Awareness began deep in his guts, pushing up in such a way that Schuyler was scrambling for the toilet, even though he wasn’t sure where he was or if a toilet was even close by. Sheets twisted around his legs. Someone grabbed his head and turned it down, where he thought maybe the mattress was, and he really didn’t want to barf on—
“There’s a wastebasket in front of you,” the hand owner said.
He heaved and spilled his guts into the trash can, revisiting the awful combination of bile, chili fries and beer. It stung his eyes and nose, and sweat prickled across his back and shoulders. His vomiting turned to dry heaves. Something new was pressed close to his mouth.
“It’s water. Sip and spit.”
The voice was so familiar, but he didn’t have the energy to wonder who was with him, or whose bed he’d ended up in. It felt like his own. He sipped the warm water, swished it around a bit, then spit. This time he forced sticky eyelids apart. The first thing he saw was the brownish mess at the bottom of his bathroom trash can. Then the can was pulled away, and he saw Barrett, kneeling in front of him, dressed in the same rumpled clothes he’d worn last night.
Barrett traded out the glass of water for a damp washcloth, which he pressed into Schuyler’s hand. “Might want to wipe your face,” he said. Barrett didn’t look angry or worried, just tired.
Schuyler took the cloth and scrubbed at his entire face, as if he could wipe away the disgusting feeling that permeated his body. It had been a long time since he’d shared a hangover with someone else, and he wasn’t quite sure what to do. “Thanks,” he said.
“Paying it forward.”
“Huh?” He started to ask more, but Barrett stood up and moved back a few steps, holding the trash can out in front of him. “I am not cleaning this up, but I’ll stick it in the bathtub for you.”
Schuyler muttered another thanks, then flopped over onto his back. His stomach was tight and thoroughly nauseated and—what the hell? He glanced down and realized, to his complete bewilderment, that he was naked. When had he taken his clothes off? Why had he taken his clothes off? Had Barrett taken his clothes off of him?
He closed his eyes and tried to remember what happened last night. He recalled the party, chatting with Barrett on the deck, then leaving. They ended up at Charlie’s. They ordered a pitcher of Sam Adams, and a plate of chili cheese fries. He was pretty sure they played pool. After that?
Good lord, had they had sex and he didn’t even remember?
Not necessarily. He could have made a mess of his clothes, so Barrett stripped him out of pity for his sheets.
He clenched his butt, testing, but felt nothing and relief hit him in the chest like a fist. He’d experienced the pleasures of anal penetration a few times in college, but nowadays he much preferred to be the one doing the penetrating. His last time hadn’t gone so well, nearly a decade earlier and during a drunken blackout. He didn’t recall the experience itself, only that his partner had been gone when he woke up, and he was incredibly sore for several days afterward. It had begun his longstanding habit of only getting that drunk in the safety and solitude of his own home.
Still, that didn’t preclude the possibility that he’d screwed Barrett.
How the hell was he supposed to ask that question of someone he saw on a semi-regular basis?
The bedroom floorboards creaked. He opened his eyes to see Barrett standing at the foot of his bed, hands in his pockets, seeming perfectly at ease.
“I put Gatorade on your nightstand,” Barrett said. “Drink it and try to eat something later.” The words carried the same resigned weariness as the rest of him.
It alarmed Schuyler for a brand new reason. “Crap, Barrett, did you drink last night?”
He blinked hard several times. “You don’t remember anything, do you?”
“Aw, hell.” Schuyler sat up, feeling suddenly like the world’s biggest jerk. “You were sober for so long. Why did you take me to a bar?”
“I took you to Charlie’s because when we were talking, you gave me the impression of a guy intent on getting hammered and punishing himself for something. I’ve been there, Schuyler. I’ve been the guy who woke up in a stranger’s bed, unable to remember how I got there or if we used condoms, and spent the next three months hoping every HIV test came back negative.”
Schuyler stared, shocked at the perfectly conversational way Barrett said such personal things, as if reciting the various parts of the color wheel. It was a kind of trust that Schuyler didn’t think he deserved. His hangover addled brain had him asking, “Are you?”
“Am I what?”
Barrett looked at him with an irritatingly calm expression. “Does it matter?”
“Only if we screwed.” Schuyler felt like an a-hole for saying it, but dehydration and nausea didn’t do much for his brain-to-mouth censor.
“Well, that’s refreshingly honest. Yes.”
“Yes what?” They had screwed?
“Yes, I’m negative, Schuyler.”
Relief hit him hard, and not only because Schuyler still didn’t know what they’d done last night. He liked Barrett—quite a lot for having only had his first real conversation with the man last night. “So you didn’t drink?”
“Not beer,” Barrett said with a wry smile. “But I may have gone through their entire supply of ginger ale, trying to keep up with you.”
He vaguely recalled Barrett throwing back glasses of something fizzy and amber, and now the picture made more sense. “I’m glad.”
“That I nearly drowned my kidneys in ginger ale?”
Schuyler couldn’t stop a small grin. “No, that you’re still sober. I can be a selfish prick sometimes, but I hate to think I’d ever intentionally sabotage someone’s sobriety.”
“Staying clean is something I fight with every single day, and I’ve had plenty of chances to fall off the wagon that were more tempting than your private pity party.”
He deserved that. “I’m still glad.”
Weight of Silence
At precisely 1:21 p.m., Gavin Perez dumped an entire serving bowl’s worth of cranberry sauce on the most adorable boy he’d ever seen. Gavin knew the exact time of the saucing because his mother had just asked him for it (the time, not the sauce), and the only reason he wasn’t looking in front of him was because he’d glanced down at his cell phone.
Head down + Push door = Disaster.
He couldn’t blame his mother. She’d asked an innocent question. Gavin should have stopped walking long enough to check his phone and answer her question. Should have. Did not. Usually did not and/or could not. They’d never had the money for an official doctor’s diagnosis, but Gavin had all the major traits of adult hyperactivity.
Plus he’d read a bunch of books on the topic. After twenty-three years, he figured he knew a heck of a lot about himself, including his incurable need to multitask from waking to bedtime. He also had a long mental list of mishaps and accidents caused by his need to be on the move and going at optimum speed. The cranberry sauce collision just jumped to the top of said list.
And to be fair to himself, the incredible cutie he’d sauced hadn’t seen him either, or gotten out of the way. They were both trying to go through the same door at the rear of the diner—Gavin into the back room and Cutie Pie out of it and into the dining room. The door had a wide window at eye-level, probably to prevent such accidents during regular business hours, and neither of them had used it.
Gavin had stopped short the moment he realized he’d caused an accident, and Mama ran right into his back, which nearly made him ram into the door a second time. He grabbed it as it swung back at him, ignored Mama’s curious squawk, and peeked around the corner.
Cutie Pie gaped down at the huge splotch of red goo clinging to the front of his white dress shirt. Most of the sauce was still in the bowl, but some had dripped to the floor and onto his shoes. He hadn’t even looked up yet to see who’d dressed him up like a Thanksgiving turkey. But in a diner as small as Dixie’s Cup—and with so many people rushing around getting food out to the counter—they’d already drawn a small audience.
“Dios mio,” Mama said. She’d inched around Gavin to see what had stopped him. “Oh dear, that’s going to stain.”
“My mother made this from scratch,” Cutie Pie said to the bowl of sauce.
“Most of it is still in there,” Gavin replied.
He thought it sounded helpful, but Cutie Pie gave him a sour look. “It splashed all up on my shirt. Do you think people want to eat cotton fibers with their cranberry relish?”
“Sorry.” That sounded horrible, even to Gavin’s ears. “I mean, I’m sorry about hitting you with the door.”
“My fault too.” He gave the cranberry relish such a forlorn, kicked-puppy look that Gavin was struck momentarily speechless—and that didn’t happen often.
“Look, dinner doesn’t start for twenty minutes,” Gavin said. “I’m sure we can find some canned sauce somewhere.”
“On Thanksgiving Day?”
“No need,” Mama said. “We have some in the stock room. We can doctor that up and use it for today.”
Cutie Pie blinked. “Why does Dixie have canned cranberry sauce in stock?”
“For Barrett’s Gobbler Panini. It’s a lovely sandwich he does on special once a week.”
Gavin gave himself a mental head-knock. Ever since Dixie had splurged on a Panini press two months ago, her night cook Barrett McCall had been experimenting with combinations. The Gobbler had been a success from the first day. Mama had called Gavin in to taste test it before it went public, and he’d called it “Thanksgiving on a bun”.
Barrett had corrected him and said it was “Thanksgiving on ciabatta”.
“Great. Problem solved,” Gavin said.
Mama ushered the three of them into the small, cramped back room of the diner. She took the bowl of ruined sauce from Cutie and stuck it in the large industrial sink, then disappeared to root around for the canned sauce.
“Half the problem is solved,” Cutie said. “I need to change.”
There is absolutely nothing wrong with you, sweetie, very nearly popped out of Gavin’s mouth. That would have been incredibly embarrassing. The simple fact that Cutie Pie was here helping out with Dixie Foskey’s annual Thanksgiving Feast meant she knew his family, which meant Gavin should know him too. After all, Gavin’s mom had worked for Dixie for over ten years and Cutie Pie was awfully familiar.
“I mean, my shirt’s ruined,” Cutie added.
“Not necessarily,” Gavin said.
“So big red spots on white shirts are fashionable now?”
The light-hearted tease gave Gavin hope that he hadn’t made a total disaster of a first impression. “Well, maybe in a hipper town than Stratton, but we can save the shirt.”
“Take it off.”
“Hey, Jace, what’s—oh.” A brown-haired girl stopped in the back room doorway, eyes wide as she took in the pair of them. “What the hell happened to you?”
“Minor accident,” said Cutie Pie, whose name was apparently Jace.
Gavin knew exactly who they both were now. Jace and Rachel Ramsey, twins, college sophomores, children of Keith Ramsey, local police officer. The Ramseys had been staples of the diner for years, and Gavin had seen Jace dozens of times before without getting lost in the dark shaggy hair, the wide brown eyes or the dimples that wanted to say hello even when he wasn’t smiling.
College had been good to Jace Ramsey.
“But we’re going to fix it,” Gavin said, giving Rachel a bright smile.
“How?” she asked. “With blindfolds?”
Gavin rescued the ruined cranberry relish from the sink, grabbed Jace by the wrist, and dragged both items around to the small bathroom. He ran the water in the sink until it warmed up, then pulled the stopper and dumped half the cranberries into it.
“Take your shirt off, please,” he said again.
Jace gave him a dubious look but unbuttoned his shirt. Gavin reigned in his instinctive need to check him out—ogling while trying to be helpful was rude—and took the shirt once Jace had stripped it off. Gavin shoved the whole thing into the pink water, which enticed an adorable squeak of protest from Jace.
“Trust me,” Gavin said.
“Do I have to?”
“It’s too late now.”
When the sink was half-full, Gavin turned off the water and swirled the shirt around in it. He realized too late he should have been using gloves, because the water quickly stained his cuticles pink. After a minute of soaking in silence, he released the stopper.
“There should be a hair dryer in that basket of stuff beside the toilet,” Gavin said. “Can you find it and plug it in?”
Jace hesitated then turned around to rummage. He bent over, instead of squatting down, and the narrow room gave Gavin a lovely view of his ass in those black linen dress pants. An ass that was connected to a trim waist and a lean, smooth back… Nope. Gavin snapped his attention back to rinsing out the shirt. The white material was now stained pink all over, instead of only on the front, and by the time the rinse water ran clear, Jace was back with the hair dryer at the ready.
They tag-teamed the shirt until the newly pink fabric was dry enough to wear and only smelled slightly of fruit.
“That was kind of brilliant,” Jace said after he’d put the hair dryer away.
“I was an accident prone kid. Sometimes you have to get creative when there’s no money to buy new clothes.” Gavin wasn’t ashamed of growing up poor. Most people in Stratton knew him and his mother, and they also knew his father was a deadbeat asshole who Gavin had vowed to kill if he ever laid a hand on him or his mother again.
Jace eyed the shirt but didn’t put it on. He didn’t seem to know where to focus his attention—the shirt, the floor or Gavin. The bizarre nervousness made hopeful little butterflies spring loose in Gavin’s stomach. He hadn’t actually lucked into meeting someone his own age in town who was—
“Hey, you guys coming?” Rachel asked. She appeared in the doorway, and her thin eyebrows shot up when she saw the shirt in Jace’s hands. “Wow, you fixed it.”
“Kind of,” Jace said.
“It’s all one color now. I call that fixed.”
“Yeah? So are roses and baby butts. Suit up, bro, I’m hungry.”
Gavin laughed before he could stop himself. He liked Rachel already.
Jace gave him a look that seemed to say, “Don’t encourage her,” then put on the shirt. Gavin didn’t say it out loud, but he allowed himself a moment to appreciate the fact that Jace looked very good in pale pink. It lightened up his brown hair and made him even more boyishly adorable than he already was. Gavin, with his mixed Mexican and Hawaiian heritage, never had the complexion for pastels.
“All you need is a black string tie,” Gavin said once Jace buttoned back up and presented himself for inspection. “And maybe a jacket to sling over your shoulder. It’s very Sinatra.”
“Great, I’m channeling a dead singer,” Jace said. He was smiling though, which gave Gavin hope that he hadn’t made a complete fool of himself.
“A dead singer who had men and women falling all over him.”
Jace’s eyebrows jumped. “And probably a mafia boss or two puppeteering his entire career.”
“A man who knows old Hollywood.” Gavin had to mentally stop himself from falling head over heels into insta-crush with Jace. “Where have you been my whole life?”
Acts of Faith
Even after eighteen months together, the simple sight of Rey standing in their kitchen made Samuel smile. Seeing him standing over a tray of slightly scorched…things, parked on a trivet on the island countertop, would have normally elicited a smartass remark that Rey would fire right back with his trademark sass.
The grinning stranger in his kitchen, standing comfortably close to Rey on the other side of the island, curbed Samuel’s ability to tease. Something unusual turned around in his stomach—not jealously, certainly, but far darker than simple curiosity about the handsome man he didn’t know.
“Hey, babe,” Rey said. His smile looked adorably guilty as his dark brown eyes flickered from Samuel to the tray of blackened things in front of him. “Sorry about the smell.”
Samuel hadn’t even noticed until Rey pointed it out. The room carried the lingering odor of burned toast. “Did it set off the fire alarm?” Samuel asked.
“No harm done then.” He purposefully ignored the stranger until he’d locked his gun away. When he turned around, he assessed the man he’d only glanced at earlier. Taller than Rey, but shorter than him. Slim, toned build. A head of thick, blond hair that was shaggy and bordered on unkempt. Green eyes. Handsome. Their age.
Rey slipped around the island to wrap an arm around his waist, and Samuel leaned into the easy embrace. He enjoyed coming home to Rey after a long night walking his third-shift beat around Stratton. “This is David Weller,” Rey said. “David, my partner Samuel Briggs.”
The name clicked for Samuel. “The guy you were talking to about the expansion opportunity. I thought that was tomorrow.”
“David had a last minute thing come up tomorrow, so I suggested tonight. I didn’t figure you’d mind getting our Saturday back.”
Samuel pressed a kiss to Rey’s temple. He didn’t mind at all. Samuel was a police officer, and he worked Monday through Friday nights, three to eleven p.m., and he’d been irked when Rey said they were having a guest on what was typically their date night. He hadn’t argued the point because he knew how important this potential expansion was for Rey. Even though Samuel would have preferred being there to judge Rey’s prospective future business partner for himself, he trusted Rey’s opinion.
And he trusted Rey.
“I don’t mind at all,” Samuel said. “Nice to meet you, David.”
“You too,” David said, speaking for the first time. “I feel like we’ve already met, for all Rey talks about you.”
Rey chuckled. “I’m not that bad.”
“He’s that bad.”
Pride and possessiveness swelled in Samuel’s chest. “So what did you burn?” Samuel asked Rey.
“We were playing with a recipe I wanted to try for Keith and Becky’s party next weekend,” Rey replied. “I forgot to set the timer.”
“Turnovers are better when they aren’t black,” David said.
Rey rolled his eyes. The familiar teasing boded well for working together. But the affectionate look in David’s eyes only intensified the funny feeling in Samuel’s gut. He needed to distract himself from it, and food was always an excellent method.
Samuel raided the fridge for sandwich fixings, unsurprised when Rey gravitated to his side and began helping him assemble it. “So what did you two talk about?” Samuel asked.
“Little bit of everything,” Rey replied. “I talked about my catering and my numbers for the last six months. David told me about the last few parties he planned and his numbers for those. We both seem to have similar ideas on how to proceed.”
“That’s great.” Samuel layered a few slices of deli turkey over Swiss cheese. To David, he asked, “So what does your significant other think of going into business with a near-stranger?”
The nosy question probably should have earned Samuel a glare, or even a poke in the ribs. But the question was genuine, asked with the best of intentions. As a police officer, Samuel was trained to gather information, to observe and then to make judgments. He needed more pieces to clearly see this puzzle picture. Rey must have understood that, because he didn’t object to the question.
David flashed him an amused smile. “No significant other at the moment, Officer, but unless they put a ring on my finger, they wouldn’t get a vote in who I go into business with. Not that I don’t respect the fact that you two operate differently.”
Samuel smoothed out his rising hackles. He glanced at David’s left hand—pale spot around the wedding band finger suggested he’d worn a ring there for a long time. He was still uncertain if David had received it from a man or woman. “Well, until the laws in Pennsylvania change with the times, any ring on our fingers would only be symbolic of a promise, not a sign of marriage.”
Next to him, Rey had gone still. Before Samuel could ponder the significance of that, or re-examine what he’d said, David spoke. “Who says I was married?”
“Your finger did.”
David looked at his hand as though he’d never seen it before. “Ah, well, maybe the ring I wore there was only symbolic as well.”
A rush of irritation made Samuel slap the top layer of rye bread onto his sandwich a little too hard. David was being deliberately obtuse and vague with his answers. “So you’re making this decision all on your own.”
“Well, no.” David winked. “Rey has some input too, wouldn’t you say?”
Samuel couldn’t figure out if David was flirting with him or just being a dick. He was too tired and hungry to care very much tonight, so he decided to make his exit before his temper got the best of him and ruined what could be a good thing for Rey.
“Hey, why don’t you two finish what you were doing?” he said to Rey. “I’m going to go watch TV and eat this.”
Rey blinked several times as he shook himself out of his own deep thoughts. “Okay, we’re about done anyway.”
Samuel cleaned up his mess then took a bottle of water and his sandwich into the den. He settled on the wide, micro-fiber sectional sofa and sank deeply into the cushions. He loved his sofa more than almost any piece of furniture in the house. It took up nearly two full walls and had a chaise lounge on the left end. The right end had an electric footrest that he used to prop up his feet and his sandwich.
The rumble of voices from the kitchen cut off when he turned on the TV. He flipped through a few channels until he found The Ref playing on cable. Edited for television was less fun, but his choices were limited this late and this was a Christmas movie he didn’t mind.
A tiny waver of guilt settled in while he ate. Even if David had been baiting him, Samuel should’ve been better than that. This was important to Rey, and he hoped that Rey wasn’t in there apologizing for the sideways interrogation from his boyfriend the cop. He’d never do anything to deliberately hurt Rey. He knew how hard Rey worked for everything he had.
When they’d first met eighteen months ago, Rey had been a handyman/short order cook who’d barely scraped by. He was attacked while helping out a friend and the resulting head injury had left him without full sensation in his left hand. After physical therapy and a hell of a lot of King stubbornness, Rey had nearly complete control of his hand back after less than a year. Even before then, Rey had been making extra money by helping out with parties, mostly through friends. He hadn’t thought to create an organized catering business until this past May.
The idea had taken off quickly. Rey was a damned fantastic chef, and he was soon booking multiple events a week. The only promise he’d made to Samuel was never on a Sunday. Sunday was their day, always, to spend together and not work. Samuel was the one who suggested Rey think about taking on a business partner. He’d brought it up at Halloween when he saw how stressed Rey was getting about a particular corporate party he was catering. Samuel and their friend Barrett McCall had both pitched in to get him through it, but Rey had agreed he needed help.
Finding someone that Samuel had been given a chance to meet was the first real step forward in that process. Rey had been making calls and posting on the Internet for weeks, trying to find someone nearby he thought he could work with. And apparently David Weller was someone he would work with, if their long evening and cooking accident was any indication.
Samuel wanted Rey to succeed and to be happy. Rey loved cooking, and he loved doing things for others—this job was the best of both worlds, and Samuel would do anything to help Rey achieve his dream. After all, Samuel was living his dream: renovated home, stable job as a police officer, sharing his life with a man he loved and who loved him.
By the time he’d demolished his sandwich, the front door had opened and shut. Old floorboards in the hallway creaked as Rey headed toward the den. Rey snatched the empty plate off Samuel’s lap, deposited it onto the coffee table, then took its place, snuggling up close and wrapping his arms around Samuel’s neck. His c*ck immediately took notice of his lover’s proximity.
“Sorry to surprise you like that,” Rey said. He pressed his nose into the short hair above Samuel’s temple, breath tickling his ear. “Time got away from us.”
“Sounds like you were having a good time.” He realized that sounded bad, as if he was jealous, so he amended, “Which is a good thing, especially if you want to work with him.”
“We definitely hit it off. He’s got some really good ideas on party themes and menus, ways we can expand our client list. Plus he has an Associate’s degree in accounting, so he’s better at the math side of things than I am.”
“Is he gay?”
Rey pulled back far enough to look him in the eyes. Deep in the eyes, as if he could see right through him. “Are you jealous?”
Samuel didn’t like lying to Rey, even about little things. And a hot, potential business partner was not a little thing. Still, he didn’t want to come off like a jealous teenager who wouldn’t let his boyfriend have other male friends. He was not that controlling, and he’d be a hypocrite, since two of their best male friends were, in their own unique ways, pretty hot. “Maybe a tiny bit,” he admitted.
“You have no reason to be jealous, Sam.” Rey’s left hand slid down his chest then lower to press against Samuel’s growing erection. “No reason whatsoever.”
A gentle growl rose up in Samuel’s throat as he went from interested to fully hard. “Oh? Something down there you like?”
Rey’s eyelids drooped and his voice went husky. “There’s something down there I like quite a lot. Love, actually, especially when it’s in my mouth.”
Foundation of Trust
Extreme anger was not the reaction Owen Hart anticipated receiving when he finally spoke to David again. Surprise, naturally, or even some form of grief. But no, David was furious and seemingly growing more furious with each passing second. Owen’s words hadn’t helped matters in the least.
“You came back for me?” David said, each word dripping with a kind of condescension that he’d never leveled in Owen’s direction before. “What did you think? I’d be sitting on the couch at our old place, patiently waiting for you?”
“Of course not—”
“Go to hell.”
David stepped to the side, and Owen countered the movement. He hadn’t planned on this occurring in the men’s room. He had only wanted to see David again from a distance, to observe and then form a plan of engagement. His skills must have been slipping, because eight years ago his target never would have seen him from across the room, and he never would have run into him on his way to the john.
He used to be better at a lot of things.
“All I want is a conversation,” Owen said. “Please.”
“I’m working. And for your boss, apparently. Am I supposed to believe that’s a coincidence?”
No sense in lying about it. “No, it isn’t a coincidence. I gave Mr. Harper your business card.”
“How the hell did you get my card?”
David’s face went red, and a dangerous fire sparked in his eyes. “You talked to Lindy? She knows you’re back?”
“Yes. We talked a few days ago. She wouldn’t give me your address or tell me where you’d gone, but she gave me your card.”
“I can’t believe she did that.”
“She believed me when I told her why I left the way I did, and that I wanted a chance to explain it all to you in person.”
“I don’t care anymore, Owen. You were an absolute bastard, and I don’t want to hear any apologies or explanations. I want you out of my life.”
“No.” The low growl in David’s voice had a fierce finality. “Leave me alone. I’m going back to work.”
He didn’t stop David from leaving this time. Owen leaned over a sink, hands braced on the cool porcelain, and let the knot in his gut slowly uncurl. The knot had socked him hard the moment he realized David had seen him in the lobby. Now that they’d spoken, the anxiety slipped away. First contact was a step toward what he wanted most in the world—to tell David the whole truth. Even if David didn’t forgive him and refused to give them another chance, Owen could say he tried.
Two men from the office came in. Owen gave them the friendly nod one exchanges with co-workers then set to the business of washing his hands. He searched his memory for their names and came up with Bob and Louie.
He’d only been back in Harrisburg for a month. Settling in and learning a new job had taken a lot of his time. So had keeping an eye on Michael, whose rebellious streak had only intensified with this latest move. Owen had always heard that raising a teenager was hell. Freshly fourteen, Michael seemed determined to walk him through all nine levels of it.
Being in Harrisburg again was painful for both of them. Everything about the city reminded Owen of David, and of the life they’d shared. They’d been best friends during a time when Owen wasn’t quite aware of his sexuality, then lovers when he came to his senses. Then they’d made a promise that Owen destroyed because he’d hidden his real past from David. A past he had every intention of revealing in great detail. He owed that much to David.
He owed it to Michael, as well. It took Michael nearly a year to warm up to David, but once he did, David had been Michael’s favorite person. David had a magic touch that quelled the rebellion and anger that was always present in Michael. They got very close those last two years, even though Michael could never completely open up about his troubles. Neither of them could. And Michael had viciously blamed Owen for leaving David behind when they moved away from Harrisburg.
Owen had been trying to right the wrongs of his past for years. And now that the danger to him and his son was gone, he could finally fix his family.
David hit the street and kept walking until he found a metal bench that looked clean enough to sit on. After storming out of the bathroom, he’d made a quick excuse to Rey about feeling queasy and needing some fresh air. The warm June night was scented with gasoline and the contents of a nearby garbage can, but at least he’d put some physical distance between himself and Owen.
Seeing him, talking to him, had created the worst kind of emotional storm—rage and joy. Rage at Owen’s audacity in saying he’d come back for David, after dropping him so cruelly and suddenly. Joy at seeing Owen again at all. And if that wasn’t enough, old feelings had stirred, tempting David to give Owen a chance to explain.
Until rage reminded him why that wasn’t going to happen.
Owen hadn’t mentioned if Michael was with him. Had he left Michael in Australia? Or wherever the hell he’d moved to? Owen apparently had a job at Harper & Gross, so was he back for good? So many questions David hadn’t bothered to ask. Thinking of Michael—he’d be fourteen now—made his heart ache. He never once hated or blamed Michael for the way things ended. Michael had been a kid, powerless to the whims of his father. And David had missed Michael like crazy. He often thought of him when he saw Rey with his daughter Faith.
The one thing that David and Samuel could potentially bond over was loving a kid who wasn’t biologically theirs, but David had never brought it up. And he’d made Rey promise to not mention it.
His phone buzzed with a text from Rey: You okay?
Yeah. Need a few minutes. BBS.
He needed more than a few minutes. He needed to go home and drink himself to sleep so he could forget this whole nightmare. But he couldn’t be selfish and leave Rey alone to finish this. He had a job to do. They had to clean up afterward then drive the van back to Rey’s house to unload what needed to be unloaded. After that David could drive his own car home.
A few more hours and he could forget the arrival of a man who’d just as abruptly walked into his life seven years ago.
No stranger to the writing world, A.M. Arthur has been creating stories in her head since she was a child and scribbling them down nearly as long. She credits an early fascination with male friendships and "bromance" (and "The Young Riders") with her later discovery of and subsequent affair with m/m romance stories. When not writing, she can be found in her kitchen, pretending she's an amateur chef and trying to not poison herself or others with her cuisine experiments.
Cost of Repairs
Color of Grace
Weight of Silence
Acts of Faith
Foundation of Trust