You can never escape from yourself.
Zac McKenzie is an ex-professional footballer with a secret he gave up his career to protect. Several years ago, he fled to his home in the North East of Scotland to avoid being outed as gay. Now, he owns a successful hotel and restaurant, but is it time to finally come out into the open?
Seth Pritchard feels he’s damaged goods. He comes to Scotland to escape memories of the accident that left him injured, his bullying stepbrothers and a life of lies.
For their whole lives, Zac and Seth have denied who they truly are to themselves as well as others. When they meet, each man is forced to confront his fears and tear them down one by one.
- 1 Read list
Publisher: Pride Publishing
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 36-45
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Age Difference, Coming Out / Closeted, Coming Out Later in Life, Famous / Not Famous, Hurt / Comfort
Word Count: 57000
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Same Universe / Various Characters
“Morning, sir, and welcome to Moray Lodge How can I help you?”
Seth Pritchard tried not to grimace. He hated feeling so weak, but spying the chair in reception, he made for it and sat, stretching out his leg in the hopes that taking his weight off it for a moment might help—it didn’t.
“Are you all right, sir? Can I get you anything?”
Seeing the concern on her face, he raised his stick in explanation. “Sorry, I think the plane ride and drive from Inverness may have been a bit much. I’m Seth Pritchard. I’ve booked the cottage for six months, and I need the keys.”
“Of course, Mr. Pritchard.” She returned to the desk and pressed a few buttons on the laptop in front of her. “Here are your keys. My name is Caitlin, and you’ll see me around the place. If you need anything, press one on the phone in the cottage and it will come straight through to here. To get an outside line, you need to press nine.
The cottage has a reasonable mobile signal, depending on your service provider. There’s a file with all the instructions on the coffee table in the property. I hope you’ll enjoy your time with us.”
He stood and pain shot through his leg once more. “Thank you,” he managed, taking the keys from the beautifully polished surface of the reception desk.
“Do you need any help unloading your car, Mr. Pritchard?” Concern clouded her features. “We’re setting up for lunch, but I could send someone over later.”
As she spoke, a couple entered the area and stood waiting.
“I’m fine,” Seth said. He knew he sounded tetchy, but he’d had enough sympathetic looks to last a lifetime. “Don’t worry. I’ll have a rest then get myself sorted later.”
He limped outside past the couple and around the back of the hotel to where he’d left his new car next to the small cottage. After opening the driver’s door, he sat with his legs on the ground and breathed in. The smell of the sea made him feel better. It was different here, cleaner somehow, but also more pungent than the Bristol Channel. He turned his face up in an attempt to capture any warmth from the bright sunlight, then he closed his eyes and listened to the waves crash onto the rocks. The sun disappeared behind a cloud and he shivered in the cold February breeze. At least it wasn’t snowing.
He leaned over and pulled his shoulder bag from the passenger seat. His suitcases could wait. All he wanted to do was wrap a heat pad round his knee, take two painkillers and lie down.
The lock needed jiggling, but once he’d mastered the technique, Seth entered straight into the open plan living room-come-kitchen. The space was surprisingly large, painted in neutral colors, with windows on two sides. Although he’d seen photographs on the Lodge’s website, they often gave no idea of size and scale. Happily, he noted a desk under one window where he could work. He dropped the bag on the sturdy piece of furniture, sat on the chair and stared at the view. It was beautiful. The winter sun made patterns on the constantly shifting water. He guessed there would be frost in the morning after another bitterly cold night. The current high-pressure system locked over the country would keep things dry and sunny, but cold.
Seth removed his laptop from the bag and gazed at his surroundings while automatically rubbing his knee. One door led off the main room, which he supposed could only be the bedroom. He tucked a hot pad in his pocket, then, bracing himself, he stood once more and pressed his stick to the floor. At least the carpet provided purchase to cross safely. Laminate floors were a nightmare if the stick got wet, and he’d almost fallen more than once when he’d forgotten to wipe the rubber ferrule at the end. He opened the door to the bedroom. The furniture inside consisted of a large, high bed, which would make life easier, a chest of drawers, a triple wardrobe and an armchair. He liked the shades of blue in the bedding, carpets and curtains. His injury made him assess every piece of furniture, something he’d never considered before the accident, to make sure he could get off it without too much pain. The open door to the bathroom revealed it contained a large shower at one end as well as a bath.
Finally, he sat on the edge of the bed, took out the hot pad and wrapped it around his knee. He downed a couple of painkillers, then swung his legs around to lie on what appeared to be a comfortable bed and closed his eyes.
* * * *
“Shit. What the hell?” It took him several moments to remember his location. The alarm clock told him he’d been asleep for nearly three hours.
“Hello, anyone here?”
“Yes,” he shouted. “Give me a minute.” Seth pulled the wrap from around his leg and moved carefully, testing his knee before he stood up. The first step after sleeping was always painful. He moved it gingerly. It was stiff still, but bearable. He grabbed his stick and went to meet his visitor.
He entered the room to find a tall, dark-haired man in jeans and a jumper standing with his back to him, scanning the view out of the kitchen window. He turned and Seth took a sharp intake of breath. The man facing him smiled, showing straight white teeth and dimples on either side of his face. Heat rushed unbidden to Seth’s cheeks and his body stirred in response to the way his visitor scrutinized him from bottom to top, then he moved forward and put out his hand.
“Hi, I’m Zac McKenzie. I own the Lodge. Caitlin told me you’d arrived. I hope everything is all right for you.”
Seth noticed the quick glance at his stick, but he had no intention of explaining why he needed it. He’d come up here to put a few hundred miles between him and his past. No one knew his current location and he intended to keep things that way. He doubted anyone other than his mother would be worried, but after so long in a hospital bed, he couldn’t face his mother fussing around him, or the piteous looks and tedious teasing from his stepfather and brothers. He knew it was his fault, what had happened to Anna, cosmic karma for all the lies, so he’d made his plans and had left his family a note.