Light Up The Dark - Suki Fleet
Cover Design: Natasha Snow
For two years Nicky has wandered the dark empty corridors of the overgrown Thorn Hall, unseen and untouched, feeling like a ghost. His only company, the cold man who promised to keep him safe from harm, Lance.
But when Lance dies, Nicky's assurance of safety disintegrates and his world suddenly becomes a lot more real and a lot more dangerous. Scared to leave the house, Nicky longs for daylight. He employs a gardener to clear the over-grown bushes and vines that have nearly swallowed Thorn Hall whole.
The last thing Nicky expects a little light to do is show him something to fight for.
Eighteen months in a young offendersí institute has taught Cai two things: he occupies the playful puppy end of the How Dangerous Are You? spectrum, and he has an unfortunate knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Desperate for a job, he takes the first offer he gets. Even though Thorn Hall creeps the hell out of him and he barely knows one end of a pair of garden shears from the other.
Things start to fall apart when Cai is drawn into Nickyís strange world of sticky notes and secrets. Cai finds he is now a target, blamed for a crime he didnít commit. Desperate not to go back to prison, he digs deep and risks all the good things in life to help Nicky run.
But now Nicky has someone he wants to protect, he knows he can't run any more.
The drive back was barely traumatic at all.
Cai pulled up in front of the house. The quiet when he turned the engine off was profound. Nicky wasn't sure what broken impulse made him disturb it. "I didn't know that was going to happened."
"I kind of gathered that." Cai turned in his seat but Nicky made no move to look at him. "I..." Cai took a deep breath. "You look like you need a hug but I also kind of want to keep all my limbs and, you know, most of my teeth. I'm not a big fan of pain of any sort, just so you know."
Staring at his hands, Nicky snorted back a laugh, then scowled, annoyed that the sound had burst out of him before he could stop it.
Cai sat watching him, not moving.
"Stop staring at me, and get it over with, then," Nicky huffed.
Even though he was expecting it, he still nearly leapt out of his skin when Cai's big palm circled his shoulder.
Cai stopped. "You sure about--"
"Yes," he hissed. "I'm just... sensitive to stuff sometimes." That was an understatement. Closing his eyes, he held himself still and didn't breathe as Cai's arms came around him in the gentlest hug he'd ever experienced. He would not lean into it, nope, no chance. But he wanted to. He badly, badly wanted to.
After less than ten seconds, Cai began to move away. Nicky didn't want that either. Gripping the front of Cai's T-shirt, Nicky pulled him back. And Cai let himself be pulled.
Up close, Cai smelled of the inside of his van, of rain water, sex and sweat. He smelled ridiculously safe. Steady and strong, his heart thumped against Nicky's shoulder as their bodies pressed awkwardly around the gearstick.
"One minute," Nicky whispered, his grip tightening on the material in his fist.
"One minute," Cai agreed.
They remained locked together until Nicky's hand began to ache, and even Cai's warmth couldn't keep him from shivering in the chilly night air.
"Your van is draughty as hell," Nicky murmured, holding his mouth open against the soft material of Cai's top, even though it was in desperate need of a wash.
"It's falling apart," Cai agreed. "But it was cheap, and it runs on fresh air." He shifted back a little and the scruff on his chin rubbed across Nicky's ear. "I'm sorry things happened the way they did earlier. We should have probably just... done this."
This would never have happened, though. The only reason it was happening now was because... Nicky shook his head. He had no idea why they were doing what they were doing. "It's been two years since anyone's... touched me." The words just came out. He wished he could swallow them back down. Saying them aloud made him feel empty and alone. He'd never been the most tactile person but, fuck, he never imagined how much he'd miss being held.
Cai, of course, got the wrong end of the stick. "Two years without any... sex?"
"Is that all you think about?"
Cai tried to smile, but it didnít reach his eyes. "No, not at all. The entire time I was in the YOI, holding someone like this would have been enough. I missed sex, obviously, but I missed cuddling more. Weird, eh?"
Nicky blinked at him, trying to figure him out. "So how long since you've fucked around with someone?"
"Before today? More than eighteen months." Now Cai was smiling. It made Nicky feel weird. Good weird. Really good weird. "No wonder we went too far if we were both kinda gagging for it."
Gagging for it? Nicky rolled his eyes. Then he turned his head and met Cai's gaze close up. "Was it too far?"
Looking shocked, but amused, Cai pulled away entirely. Nicky missed his warmth. Wanted to drag him back. "You confuse the hell out of me, you know."
"Thought you'd have figured out by now that I'm kind of messed up."
Dropping his head back down and sending a warm rush of breath tingling down Nicky's spine, Cai murmured, "Thought you'd have figured out by now that I don't care what you think you are. I like you too much."
A soft knock on the passenger window made them both jump.
Adrenaline surged through Nicky's veins and instinctively he ducked and dragged Cai down with him into the foot well. Slinging his arm over Cai's head, he readied himself to shield them from a blow that didn't come.
"It's okay. It's okay. It's Loz." Cai pushed himself upright.
Heart still racing, Nicky loosened his grip on Cai's T-shirt and turned.
Face pressed up against the window, Loz looked between them and grinned like a satisfied fox. Oh, perfect. Just perfect.
Suki Fleet writes lyrical stories about memorable characters, and believes everyone should have a chance at a happy ending.
Her first novel This is Not a Love Story won Best Gay Debut in the 2014 Rainbow Awards, and was a finalist in the 2015 Lambda Awards.