Author: Erin E. Keller
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 7/17/17
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Genre: Contemporary, romance, contemporary, gay, cisgender, explicit, domestic abuse, panic attacks, law enforcement
After his partner’s death, Thomas Doyle lives a life made of work and late-night sexual encounters with unnamed bodies. It’s a life of solitude that leaves him too much time to think and regret.
Yet, despite everything, he jealously treasures it.
That’s why when Elias Byrne—who comes out of the shadows of Thomas’ nights—suddenly bursts into his everyday life with arrogance, Thomas finds himself fighting against ambivalent feelings—the need to reject the tormented Elias and the strange, inconceivable, and difficult to accept desire to join their solitudes.
Erin E. Keller © 2017
All Rights Reserved
The regular sound of the windshield wipers and the constant beat of rain on the car roof were the only sounds in the cabin.
Thomas’s hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles were white. He stared down the street while remaining pulled over on a secondary road near his house, one that led toward the police department of Landmeadow. His breath came fast and his heartbeat quickened.
He’d stopped when the first symptoms made him think he was having a heart attack, but he was used to these occurrences by now. He knew it was simply a panic attack. It wasn’t the first time he’d experienced it, but that didn’t mean that when the panic arrived there was anything to do besides trying to limit it. Once the terrible chain reaction started, he just had to find a way to stop it, one way or another.
He hated the condition; he hated his body for not being able to answer to rationality, to being influenced by this nervous short-circuit. There was nothing he could do to stop the flood of bad sensations, the oppressive feeling of death.
He wasn’t dying. In fact, he was quite healthy and young. He took care of himself and didn’t have heart disease. He really wasn’t dying. It was just panic. Bad, suffocating, terrible panic. He wasn’t dying. He only had to breathe. And maybe count. Distract himself.
He tried to take slow breaths, deeply, thinking about taking the pill, but maybe—since he was going to the police station—if he concentrated on the things he had to do, that would be enough. Maybe today, in this corner of South Ireland, there would be a case for him and his colleague. He didn’t hold out too much hope, but no doubt hoping was better than worrying about not having anything to help him emerge from this momentary crisis.
Keeping busy was the only thing he had been able to do since Aiden’s death. Aiden, his partner for ten years. He wasn’t supposed to leave so soon; he wasn’t supposed to leave Thomas alone. It wasn’t how things were supposed to go. They had bought the big house where Thomas was now living to start a B&B. Aiden would have managed it, and they had planned to live there for the rest of their lives. But accidents happen, and a fatal crash had torn from his hands the man with whom he had spent so many years and whose days had ended far too soon.
Two years had passed since that night, but he still felt the desire to close his eyes and give in to his melancholy. And sometimes cry. He often pretended his reality was something different. Daily he searched for the desire to find a new meaning to his life, to break free from the anxiety that had accompanied him since the night he received the news of Aiden’s accident.
In the end, he was lonely in that big house. In spite of the wishes of everyone, including his colleague Anne, he couldn’t follow his former dream of opening a B&B. Who would manage it? He wasn’t at home enough to take care of guests and, actually, the idea of having strangers at home didn’t exactly thrill him. He didn’t feel like being in close contact with people he didn’t know.
But that wasn’t true during those nights made colder by solitude…
Regardless, the house was still beautiful, big and almost empty. White and gray it stood, lonely and silent, in one of the best areas of the village. He loved living there, despite the echo of Aiden’s presence, but sometimes living alone didn’t seem like the best idea. Ghosts whispered and anxieties took over. Maybe it also wasn’t good to stay sitting at his desk at the police station, but work always helped him.
Right then, he just had to reach the office. He had to hope he wouldn’t faint while driving. What if he lost control of the car and wasn’t able to pull over in time?
Those thoughts made him lose his breath again. Thomas got out of the car, letting the rain soak his clothes and wet his face. He lifted his face to the sky and opened his mouth, inhaling and exhaling, reaching his arms out to the sides and stretching his muscles, trying to think about anything but death. He turned around a few times where he stood, continuing to take large mouthfuls of air and water.
Rain dampened his light brown hair and his pale face, sliding past the collar of his shirt and down his chest, leaving cold traces that gave him shivers and distracted him from the oppression he was feeling.
“Perfect. Go away. Come on…” he murmured, loosening his dark tie. He congratulated himself on being able to knot a tie without help from anybody. Which was lucky, because now nobody was the life companion he had chosen for himself here in Landmeadow, where somehow he was playing out a life that no longer felt like his, alone. Thirty-eight years old, county police detective, wealthy family, charming. But lonely.
Lonely in so many ways he didn’t even want to think about. Lonely, more out of choice than need. Which didn’t mean that six-letter word made him feel less empty inside. He’d promised himself not to get close to anybody else, not to let anybody get close enough to be able to hurt him again. Everything was meant to end—everything. Sometimes too early, too violently.
So, he lived his life as if it was made of airtight compartments. There was his job: his current partner and other colleagues. His female colleagues were always smiling at him and hoping to end up with him in some dark corner, as if being suddenly “widowed” could have changed his sexual orientation. There were also his parents, who he rarely spoke with, and the people he was working for. That was the fake stable reality that was his life. And then there were those nights when solitude was so heavy it pushed him to go out and look for a body to share it with for a few hours. A body that, the morning after, would leave the house before it was daylight, because Thomas didn’t want them to stay long enough to warm up the surrounding air.
His career and his job were what he concentrated on the most. He and his self-imposed solitude had found a good rhythm, a kind of pathological balance. And usually everything worked perfectly.
But he was lonely. And he was alone right in this moment too. He was afraid of dying and not having anyone to call.
“What are you doing? Dancing in the rain?”
Thomas jumped and turned in the direction of the voice. A guy, wrapped in a jacket that was too large for him, was staring at him from under the dripping gutter of a house close to where Thomas’s car was parked. He had his arms crossed and his hands under his underarms. His black hair was so long it fell over his eyes. He seemed thin and very young, but from the little Thomas was able to see of his expression, he was anything but innocent or young.
Thomas didn’t know how to answer such a question, nor did he even understand why the guy felt like talking to him.
“No,” he simply answered, then opened the door and quickly got back inside his car. What a fucking question. “Shit,” he swore when he realized he was getting everything wet. He turned back to the sidewalk and noticed the stranger was still looking at him. What did he want? Well, at least the short distraction had helped him to recover better than twirling under the rain.
He passed his hands through his hair, over his face and his short, well-trimmed beard, trying to wipe off as much water as he could. His eyelashes were full of raindrops, and he blinked rapidly.
He heard somebody knocking at the window and turned to the passenger seat, finding the guy from the street staring at him from outside the car. Thomas could see his face better now. He had sharp features, and he seemed to have dark eyes as well as dark hair, even if Thomas couldn’t be sure of what was hidden behind his long wet locks.
Thomas started the car and lowered the window a little, turning off the heating to get rid of the condensation on the windshield.
“What do you want?”
“A ride. Can you give me one?”
Instinctively, Thomas would have said no, but at that moment, he was grateful to the boy who had distracted him from his panic attack. Also, it was pouring rain and he felt bad for him. Thomas nodded and waited for the guy to get in and close the door before speaking again.
“Where do you need to go?”
“Far from here.”
Thomas looked at him, puzzled. “Okay, listen, I’m sorry to let you down, but I only have a ten-minute trip to make, so you won’t get very far with me.”
The guy turned to look at him but didn’t say anything. He moved his hair a little off his face and blinked. Thomas noticed that his hair was as long and wet as his own was.
“Okay, so let’s go for the ten minutes. I’m going where you’re going.”
Thomas wrinkled his nose but didn’t speak and pulled away from the sidewalk, back onto the road. None of their conversation had made any sense, but he was still confused by his anxiety and he didn’t feel like thinking too much about what was happening. He only hoped that, if the guy was a delinquent, he wouldn’t pull out a knife to rob him because even though he was a police officer and armed, Thomas felt like he was on the edge of an abyss. Not that Landmeadow was full of criminals, but you could find bad eggs everywhere, even in a lovely Irish village. His heart contracted in an unpleasant way, and Thomas started tapping nervously on the wheel to push away the bad sensation.
Panic, just go away. Thanks a lot, shit brain.
The trip continued silently. The stranger kept his face stubbornly turned toward the window, and Thomas couldn’t stop himself from wondering who he was, now that he had decided —or almost—that he wasn’t a danger, or looking to assault him, rob, or slice him open. For no particular reason, he felt curious. It also felt strange that this guy was sitting in his car after he’d dealt with his panic attack, asking him for a ride. Now, thinking about it, Thomas could have been dangerous too, for all the guy knew.
“Shouldn’t you be at school?” he asked, trying to lighten the atmosphere, since his last thought had given him another worrying sensation. It was ridiculous that a grown man could be afraid of a teenager, but that strange feeling was really weird. And he wasn’t feeling that good at the moment.
“Why would I be?” the boy answered, turning slightly to look at him.
“I don’t know, you seem…young. Don’t they go at school at your age?”
“At my age? How old do you think I am?”
Thomas shut up and studied him out of the corner of his eye. “Eighteen? Seventeen?”
A sound similar to a woof came from the boy, and Thomas jumped a little, realizing only afterward that it had been a curt laugh.
Thomas turned and observed him better. “Well, it’s impossible to see your face with all that hair and you’re…thin. You look younger.”
A couple seconds passed before the man answered. “Do you usually prefer them bigger? Guess I’m not your type.”
Thomas almost slammed on the brakes in the middle of the street. He swerved a little and felt his blood pumping in his temples.
Who was this man? What did he want from Thomas? Did he know him? How could he? Had he crawled from the hidden night life to mix with Thomas’s life on the surface? What a fucking start to the day!
“Who are you and what do you want from me?” he asked, hoping his voice wouldn’t crack as he looked at the man from the corner of his eye.
The young man shrugged his shoulders. “My name’s Elias. I’ve seen you a few times at the Black Sheep. I followed you. I’ve seen where you live.”
Pulsations at his temples started up violently, in a worrying way.
Oh my god, what if I have a stroke right now?
Elias is a strange name around here.
What has he seen? With who? When?
My temple is pulsing so much.
Count! You are not going to have a stroke.
“What are you? A stalker?” Thomas asked in a harsh voice, keeping a strong grip on the wheel, pushing away the last terrible thought.
Elias smirked. “I don’t know. Is that what you’d call it? I wanted you to notice me.”
What the fuck?
Thomas didn’t know how to respond. He turned back to the guy again, keeping an eye on the road. The humidity in the car made it difficult to breathe, and the rain on his clothes was drying, leaving a bad, sticky sensation. He was used to the weather, and despite everything, he loved it. Still, he deeply hated the feeling of his clothes stuck to his skin.
“I could be your father. Don’t talk bullshit.” It was useless to deny it. The guy knew exactly what he was talking about.
“I don’t care. Don’t you like me?”
“I can’t even see your face. How the fuck can I know if I like you? What do you want me to say? No, you’re twenty-three, Elias. I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know. Listen, get out please.”
Thomas pulled over on the sidewalk and looked at Elias, but the young man didn’t move.
“Don’t make me get you out of the car by force.”
Elias didn’t move and didn’t speak; he stayed looking at Thomas with eyes as dark as deep abysses. Magnetic abysses like black holes that could suck you in and never let you come back up to the surface.
“Okay, that’s enough.” Thomas got out of the car and spun around. Keeping a hand on his head, he opened the side door and took Elias’s arm to pull him out of the car. “I told you not to push me,” Thomas said, a moment before he found two arms around his neck and a soft wet-from-the-rain mouth pushing against his, a soft tongue searching for his tongue, a thin body pushing against his.
It only lasted for a few seconds, but to Thomas, it seemed like an eternity. If before the violent beating of his heart had been caused by anxiety and neurosis, now it resounded in his chest for a totally different reason.
He pushed Elias away, held him back by the arms, and stared into his eyes, puzzled, shocked, and shaken. For a moment, he was breathless and speechless.
“Are you crazy?” he was able to say after a moment.
Elias licked his lips and remained silent for a while. “I want to see you again.”
Thomas opened his eyes widely. “Do you speak my language or not? No. No. N. O. I don’t know who you are, and I don’t want to know. I don’t want to see you again, okay? Shit, this feels like the Twilight Zone.”
Thomas stopped for another few seconds, maybe waiting for a reaction, maybe to realize it wasn’t a dream or his imagination. Then he turned, got back into the car, and slammed the door before taking off with a screech of the tires, leaving Elias on the sidewalk, looking after him. The fact that Thomas knew Elias was looking at him because he’d checked him out in the rearview mirror didn’t mean anything.
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If you could sequester yourself for a week somewhere and just focus on your writing, where would you go and what would the environment be like?
Ireland. South west. Ring of Kerry are. A small cottage near the sea, surrounded by green fields.
What's the one thing, you can't live without?
What internet site do you surf to the most?
Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook.
If you had your own talk show, who would your first three author guests be and why?
Marie Sexton, because her “Promises” is the first book that made me fall in love with the genre.
Hayley B. James, because her “Demetrius” in “Undercover Sins” is still one of my favorite characters ever.
J. W. Knight, because “Hidden Away” is a masterpiece.
When you got your very first manuscript acceptance letter, what was your initial reaction and who was the first person you told?
I stopped breathing. Then I rose and started pacing behind my chair. And when my husband came home I finally screamed! (He’s the first person I told the news)
Meet the Author
Erin is Irish in her heart and soul, and she hopes she’ll move to the Emerald Island one day. She lives with her husband and their cats in a house near a wheat field.
She has been writing for years but admits she is a very undisciplined writer. The problem is that handling a couple of jobs makes it almost impossible to write every day. She loves letting her mind wander through the real world and likes to write contemporary M/M romance, because she loves love. And men.
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