When SEAL, Viktor Zavodny, left small town America for the Navy he made sure he never had a reason to return for anything other than visiting family. He wanted to see the world and fight for his country and nothing, or no one, was getting in his way. He fights hard, and plays harder, and a succession of men and women share his bed.
But a phone call from his sister has him using his thirty day down time to go home instead of enjoying his usual thirty nights of random sex and sleep.
What he finds is a mystery on the Green Mountains and the only man attempting to make sense of seemingly unrelated deaths. His childhood friend and first love... Lieutenant Aiden Coleman, Sheriff.
There were reasons Viktor left his home. Not least Aiden Coleman with his small town innocence and his dreams of forever. Now Adam and Viktor need to work together to save lives and prove there is a hero in all of us.
When it's done, if they make it out alive, can Aiden persuade Viktor that he has a reason to stay? Maybe forever?
- 2 To Be Read lists
- 3 Read lists
Two Years Ago
“You remember Aiden Coleman?”
Viktor Zavodny looked up at the name he hadn’t heard in a long time. His sister was making cookies for some school event and talking aimlessly about everything she thought Viktor should know was going on in Steepleshend. He’d advanced to a new level of Angry Birds on his iPhone and had spent the last hour attempting to get past it. His sister’s talking was a backdrop to his concentration, and all he had to do was grunt occasionally. Aiden Coleman’s name, though, tore him away from deciding the angle and velocity of his exploding bird. Aiden Coleman was his first love. Or, rather, Aiden Coleman’s first love had been Viktor. Viktor’s first love had been the Navy and a very definite plan for his life that didn’t involve Aiden in any way, shape, or form. Still, Aiden had been cute.
“Yeah,” Viktor began cautiously. “I was a couple years above him in school.”READ MORE
We kissed quite a bit before he started talking boyfriend status and I pulled back. He didn’t say that part aloud.
Monika tipped chocolate chips into the latest batch and concentrated so hard at scraping the mixture to include them that she stopped talking—just at the moment Viktor became interested.
“Moved away to be a cop up in Essex,” she continued, “but he’s coming back here to take up a deputy position in the sheriff’s office. He’s taking over his old house after his parents retired to Florida.”
The white house on the green, a sprawling, artfully decorated showpiece, was the pinnacle of the large houses around the center of this small town of only a thousand people. Aiden was that close? Viktor fidgeted in his seat and wondered how to get Monika talking without making it obvious he was curious about Aiden. It had to have been fourteen years since he’d last seen the boy who’d caught his eye. He was lying if he said he hadn’t caught himself thinking about the tall, skinny, dark-blond, blue-eyed rich kid on more than one occasion over the years. Sometimes, when he was in the direst of situations, it was good to focus on the parts of his life that remained unblemished by his career. Like his sister and his nephew and his school days. And all the potential that had been Aiden and what he represented.
“Really?” Viktor finally said in his most practiced noncommittal tone. “Have you seen him?”
“No, Mandy told Stacia, who told Abbey, who then announced it at coffee last week. He had some huge falling-out with his parents, but apparently they reconciled just before they retired to the panhandle, the parents that is, not Aiden. Rumor is that he’s single, and Mandy had it on good authority that he’s gay, which is probably what caused the falling-out all those years ago.” She looked pointedly at Viktor. “Did I mention he was single? And gay?”
Viktor knew exactly where his sister was going with that. He could almost script it in his head. She would make some throwaway comments about the fact that Viktor was single and that while he was in town he was more than capable of picking up a boyfriend.
“Stop that,” he said irritably. Glancing at the clock, he realized he was two hours past his need for painkillers. That explained the knifing pain in his thigh. It seemed like Angry Birds must have been akin to a drug if stopping it made the pain come back with a vengeance. Maybe he should look into having cell phone games added to the list of pain-killing options for the team. He bet Joseph or the LT would go for that one.
“Stop what?” Monika asked innocently. “I wasn’t saying anything. Just that there’s a guy you used to know who’s in town, he’s available, and he swings at least one of the ways you appear to swing.” She laughed as she said that.
So sue me if I like everything on the menu, Viktor thought irritably. Doesn’t mean I’m interested in catching up on old times with every single available gay man in the town.
He’d compartmentalized Aiden into good times had at school, and he wasn’t ready to let those memories out of the box.
“You know exactly what you’re saying.” Viktor gestured at his leg, foot up on a stool and bandages peeking out from under his long shorts. An IED had sent shrapnel through the meaty part of his thigh—nicking an artery and causing him to code on the operating table—coupled with another piece embedded in his kneecap had him on enforced sick leave for six weeks. He was only a week in and already his sister had come up with twenty different ways to keep him occupied. Hooking up with someone from his past was a new one, though, even for her.
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” she said with a grin. When she changed the subject to Ben’s science project, Viktor lost himself back in Angry Birds and refused to recall anything about Aiden or that long, hot summer where he almost decided, on the strength of a few heated, innocent kisses, that going into the Navy could wait.
“You still coming to the science fair tomorrow? Ben wants you there.”
“You didn’t have to add the emotional blackmail, you know. I told the kid I would go and I will.”
“You’re Mr. Grumpy this morning,” Monika commented cheerfully.
Viktor grunted, then ignored her. He liked being grumpy. People didn’t talk to him if he was grumpy.
* * * * *
Viktor stood by Ben’s science project, leaning on his crutches and wishing the ground would open up and swallow him. The pills that were supposed to alleviate the pain left him feeling nauseated, and his leg ached like a bitch. If there was one thing that Viktor didn’t do well, it was inactivity, and that was all he was capable of at the moment.
“Oh look, Aiden is here,” Monika said at his side.
Viktor groaned silently. “Did you know he’d be here?”
“His dad used to be on the judging panel, so I thought maybe he’d show his face.”
“Monika, I don’t need my big sister organizing my dates.”
Ben arrived back at his table, looking both nervous and excited. For a few seconds Viktor focused on Ben, but he couldn’t fail to see Aiden straightaway, milling around the tables amidst the crowd. He was still taller than Viktor, a couple inches maybe, and that skinny sixteen-year-old had become a man. Boy, had he become a man. With broad shoulders and a muscled back, Aiden was solid, and when he crouched down to look at something by the door, his jeans stretched obscenely over an incredibly fine ass. Viktor wished he could still run, preferably in the opposite direction. Aiden had been a temptation too far when Viktor had been eighteen and Aiden sixteen, and he was still that in his thirties. His dark-blond hair was cut short and he had designer stubble. Not the scruff that Viktor had, but stylish shaved-that-way stubble. He wore a pale blue-checked shirt and those sinful jeans. It seemed like a lot of people were reacquainting themselves with Aiden Coleman.
From his vantage point in the shadows behind Ben’s project, Viktor observed as Aiden moved closer and closer. From the way he stopped and talked to all the kids, he looked to be part of the judging panel on those damn projects. Had Monika known that? Was that why she insisted on Viktor supporting Ben in this thing?
Aiden clearly hadn’t noticed him, and Viktor shuffled back a little farther in the hope that it could remain that way. After the way they’d left everything all those years ago, Viktor felt nothing but embarrassment. The kid had professed love, the kind of love only a teenager could feel, and all Viktor had done was laugh. That had been one of the regrets that piled up in his head, but it didn’t mean he could fix it today. Aiden reached Ben’s table with its environmental project all laid out, looked directly at Viktor, and suddenly Viktor’s embarrassment turned into instant lust.
Jeez. Those eyes. That face. Aiden had become something more than he ever was. A man. A man who stared at Viktor like he was debating whether to acknowledge he even knew him. Aiden’s gaze moved to the display, and he engaged in a short question and answer session with Ben. Then he left. He said nothing to Viktor, didn’t even look at Viktor a second time.
Viktor wasn’t sure how that made him feel. Happy? Pissed? Relieved? Finally he settled on accepting. He’d humiliated a young, naive Aiden by laughing at his desire for them to be high school boyfriends, and the guilt still swirled inside him. Aiden had only been sixteen and he’d had stars in his eyes, but Viktor, on the other hand, was already in the mindset of keeping his sexuality a secret. The Navy wouldn’t willingly accept a guy with a boyfriend.
“I came in second,” Ben said with a wide grin, and Viktor showed his pride with a quick sideways hug for the kid. Ben must have got the science brains from his absentee dad, because Viktor and Monika were never known for their skills in science at school. It was weird given that Viktor was now an ordnance expert. He knew almost everything there was to know about the ways an explosive device could kill or how he could neutralize one before he was dead and forgotten. He had an excellent understanding of the math and science behind keeping his team alive.
As the fair settled down toward the handing out of certificates, Viktor chose a chair toward the back of the rows in the church hall and scooted a second chair back so he could elevate his left leg. Monika sat next to him.
“You okay?” she asked, concerned.
“Yep,” he answered. Then he lowered his voice. “I just had sex with Aiden in the bathroom,” he said.
She looked at him startled. “You did? Jesus, Viktor…” She seemed to realize what she had just said, in a church as well, and blushed. “Tell me you are yanking my chain.”
Viktor shrugged. “I’ll leave you to imagine how I could have sex while not actually being able to stand up for longer than five minutes at a time.” He winced as Monika slapped him on the arm.
“Asshole,” she whispered loudly. A couple a few rows ahead of them turned around at the noise and glared at Viktor and Monika disapprovingly.
“Veteran,” Viktor said firmly, just loud enough for them to hear.
They immediately appeared guilty and turned away.
“You can’t do that,” Monika admonished him, although she was laughing.
Viktor shrugged. “They tried to guilt us. I played the only card I have.” Then he too was smiling and he leaned in to bump shoulders with Monika. At least Aiden hadn’t walked over and punched him for what had happened the last day. Viktor chalked that up to a win.
Coughing over the microphone pulled his attention to the front. Viktor recognized Mr. Arnold, his old math teacher, standing on the slightly raised platform. “…welcome Aiden Coleman, who has recently moved back to town to take up a new role in the sheriff’s department. His family’s sponsorship of this annual event is something we thought we would lose when Annabelle and Richard left for warmer climes.” The crowd laughed at the obviously inside joke. “So I give you Aiden Coleman.”
Aiden moved onto the small stage and Viktor found himself straightening in his seat to get a clear look. No one would question him staring at Aiden when Aiden was up there talking. Viktor didn’t visit home much and he hadn’t physically laid eyes on the guy since school. How did that happen? They’d been friends, before the friendship turned to heated kisses and exploration, that was.
They’d had choices back then. Viktor always wanted to go into the Navy. He knew where he was going as soon as he finished school. He didn’t care about college. Aiden wanted a degree. Viktor didn’t want to stay in his hometown, but Aiden always said he wanted to stay local and make a difference. Viktor sighed as he listened to Aiden talk.
“…always a science nerd.” Aiden finished and left a pause for the people in the room to insert the appropriate response, in this case, laughter. “Someone once said to me that nerds were born to rule the world.” He looked pointedly around the room until his gaze rested on Viktor. “I’m not sure about the world, but having an education with science and math at its core is going to get you places.”
Viktor moved uneasily. He had been the one to say that to Aiden about nerds, likening Aiden’s abilities in exams to a glimpse of genius. He’d been teasing. Jeez. He felt himself growing warm. They’d been kissing and touching while watching Star Trek reruns in Aiden’s basement TV room. He remembered that very clearly.
“Anyway,” Aiden continued, “in third place…”
Viktor waited for Ben’s second-place award and clapped the loudest in the room, putting his fingers between his lips and whistling his approval. Ben waved and returned to his seat.
“He likes having you here,” Monika said as soon as she could be heard over the clapping. “He kinda misses out, not having a dad.” Viktor squeezed his sister’s hand. The anger that flared in her expressive green eyes made Viktor feel useless. He couldn’t handle her anger: he didn’t know what to say. Daniel had left the picture not long after Ben was born. Too young for responsibility was his excuse. In Viktor’s opinion, his sister had a lucky escape from the fucker who was way too happy to use his fists to solve issues. He may never have touched Monika, but there was something about him that seemed dangerous. Thank God they never tied the knot like Monika had wanted. Daniel had left in the night with nothing more than a scribbled note, but Viktor had tracked him down with his team’s help a few years back. Needless to say, Daniel Hillier had shown his true colors when Viktor found him in prison for GBH. Having an entire SEAL team visit him was enough to have him reconsidering ever getting back in Monika’s life. Viktor didn’t feel guilt—he’d seen the photos of the woman that Daniel had beaten. There was no way the fucker was having access to Viktor’s family.
People began to move, indicating the event was over, and Viktor tried his best to help Ben dismantle the project and pack it all away in the box. It was kind of difficult when he needed the crutches to keep him upright, but he did try. Monika had gone off, helping the organizers clean up.
“I’m proud of you, Ben,” Viktor said. He clapped his thirteen-year-old nephew on the back and ruffled his hair.
Ben screwed up his nose. “I wanted to beat Henry this time,” he said. Then he lowered his voice in an action so similar to Monika’s it made Viktor smile. “He always has the best ideas, but he’s an ass and no one likes how rude he is.”
“Maybe you will next time,” Viktor reassured him.
“Maybe next time you could help me?” Ben said suddenly. “We could do something about bombs or something.”
Viktor shook his head. The thought of his nephew anywhere near what he did was enough to send icy chills scurrying down his back. “Let’s leave the explosives for another day,” he said.
Ben looked disappointed. “It would be so cool if we could blow something up one day. Together.”
Viktor hoisted the last of the project into the box. Uncle/nephew bonding time over C4 and timers? Only in his world was that even possible.
“One day, maybe.”
Ben carried the large box to the car, and Viktor struggled alongside him. His leg ached like a mother and he knew he’d pushed too far today, but hell, he was sick of sitting around feeling like an axe was hovering over his head. The more he walked and proved he was okay, the more likely it was that he was damn well getting cleared to go back to the team. This was not holding him back.
Viktor turned as quickly as he was able to on uneven ground with a fucked leg and two crutches. The one thing he’d been hoping to avoid was staring right at him.
“Aiden,” he said simply.
“Nice to see you after all this time,” Aiden offered. He held out his hand, and carefully Viktor released the hold on his right crutch to shake it.
“You’re looking well,” Viktor countered. Fit, toned, sexy, grown-up: a man.
“Wish I could say the same to you,” Aiden offered with a half grimace, half smile. He gestured at Viktor and Viktor knew what he was seeing. The IED had sent gravel and dirt slicing into his neck and face, and his left eye was still swollen with the resulting infection. Viktor was limping and relying heavily on the crutches. He looked as bad as he felt.
“Yeah” was all he could think of to say.
“What happened to you?”
Viktor shrugged. “Walked into a door,” he deadpanned.
Aiden shifted his stance a little. “We should catch up,” he said.
“Beer,” Viktor suggested.
“I’ll call you.”
And with that, Aiden left.
Left Viktor standing like an idiot with his sister in his peripheral vision, smirking. That didn’t go how he’d expected. Finding himself on his ass in the dirt was how he’d expected it to end up. It wasn’t like he could defend himself, injured as he was, and Aiden had grown up.
After all, he was the one who did the leaving fourteen years ago. He was the one who fucked it all up. He was the fucker who laughed in Aiden’s hopeful face.COLLAPSE
Joyfully Jay on Joyfully Jay wrote:
"....So what we have here is an awesome story, quite possible my favorite RJ Scott book. Some of my issues with her other books were totally missing in this one. Her military bits felt right to me, she had her sailor correct someone who called him a soldier (pet peeve of mine), and there were no British words or phrases used in a book set in the US. The writing was excellent. I’ve been reading RJ’s books for several years now, I’ve liked most of them, loved some of them, and had issues with a couple here and there… But with this one I can see how she has grown as a writer. I loved it! It may just be me, but I think this may be her best book yet!..."
Scattered Thoughts & Rogue Words on Scattered Thoughts & Rogue Words wrote:
"....A Reason to Stay is a story of star-crossed lovers and mistimed attempts at a relationship. It’s also a story of mystery and intrigue and adventure. I loved every single thing in this story—from the broken relationship between Aiden and Viktor to the family dynamics in the Zavodny family, from the mystery of the dead bodies to the adventure up the mountain and the discovery at the top, from the struggle between what Aiden knows in his heart to the denial of every part of Viktor’s being. This is a story of contradictions, excitement, and happy endings...."
Rainbow Book Reviews on Rainbow Book Reviews wrote:
"....What I loved about this book? The sheer physicality of these men and the sometimes abrasive aspect of their relationship. It’s hard to call this a typical romance because its not. Nor should it be. There is plenty of action, fights, nefarious goings on to along with the arrogance, stubbornness, and a determination that is almost cellular from Viktor as well as Aiden. Sometimes the testosterone is only tempered by the sweetness of the scenes between Viktor and his sister, or Aiden and his friend Sam.
....In the meantime, pick this up and get acquainted with some wonderful characters sure to pop up in the next story in the series. Consider this another highly recommended story from this wonderful author...."
"....If you like mysterious goings-on with deadly consequences, if two men who are too tough to admit they love each other sound like an exciting addition to all the mystery-solving going on, and if you’re looking for an intense, emotionally charged read that is as tension-filled as it is hot, then you will probably like this novel. And the relief at the end? It’s all worth it. I certainly hope there will be more books in this series—and soon!...."