A new and unexpected love… An ex with revenge on his mind…
Ben’s not in any hurry to fall in love. Sure…he misses the passion and the sweet caress of someone special in his life, but after freeing himself from his last mistake of a boyfriend, it’s time to reevaluate his choices. Until a gorgeous, fascinating guy slips into the seat beside him at a mutual friend’s wedding…then all thoughts of going slow vanish.
Adrian keeps the men in his life at arm’s length…it’s safer for everyone. Casual hookups without emotional entanglements are his specialty, and the guy sitting next to him looks to be perfect for the job. But as the evening progresses, a hot, steady flame of desire flares within him, and Adrian has to tamp down the sparks. Because Ben has the potential to become something different…something more.
When old secrets are revealed, Adrian and Ben must come together to heal past wounds, and that includes dealing with a dangerous ex who won’t take no for an answer. When threats to their personal and professional lives escalate into violence, they will have no choice but to take action to protect their newfound love.
- 1 To Be Read list
Heat Level: 5
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 3 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Bad Breakup, Love Can Heal / Redemption, Queer Wedding
Word Count: 61,000
Setting: New York City
Languages Available: English
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK
Carl’s handsome face twists into a grimace of rage. He takes a step closer, his right hand curling into a fist. “You think I don’t know what’s really going on? Poker game, my ass. Whose cock did you suck this time, you dirty little whore?”
Ben backs up, angry indignation giving way to alarm at the crazed look in Carl’s eyes. He can smell the alcohol fumes on Carl’s breath, and knows from way too much experience that his lover is well past reason.
In that split second, the whole painful, inevitable series of events unfurls in Ben’s mind. The shouting, the bruises, the broken, sobbing recriminations, the fancy chocolates sent in apology, the gesture ruined by his words… “If only you didn’t make me do this. It’s because I just love you so fucking much.”READ MORE
The fist comes hurtling toward his face. Ben ducks, and the fist crashes through the bedroom wall. Carl crumples to the ground, blood streaming from his knuckles, howling with rage.Furious, disgusted and heartsick in equal measure, Ben walks out for the last time.
Ben shook away the unpleasant recollection as he knotted his tie in front of the bathroom mirror that Saturday afternoon. He had seriously considered giving this wedding a miss, since both he and Carl had received invitations. But he’d known Tom since college, and had promised to give a toast at the reception. Plus, he’d be damned if he’d stay away from friends and life events just to avoid an ex-lover. He was done letting Carl control his life in any way, even from a distance.
He smiled as he thought about Tom and David. They had met while in the Peace Corps, both having ditched jobs they hated in order to do something good for the world. As soon as they were married, they planned to adopt a baby, and had already got the wheels on the apparently arduous process in motion. They would be, Ben knew, excellent parents.
Satisfied with his tie and his appearance, Ben went into the bedroom to finish dressing. He found the index card where he’d written some ideas for his toast and slipped it into his jacket pocket.
He thought about when he’d first met Tom. They’d been roommates freshmen year, both new to New York City, both away from home for the first time. Tom had been terribly homesick, and cried sometimes late at night when he thought Ben was asleep. When Ben asked him in the morning if he was okay, he would frown as if he had no idea what Ben was talking about, and say he was just fine. Ben tried to feel him out, hoping they could be friends, but Tom had been aloof and kept pretty much to himself, until one fateful day…
That was the day Ben had accidentally walked in on Tom making out with another boy. He’d stopped just inside the door, taking in the situation. “I’m sorry,” he’d managed as the two boys sprang quickly apart, both blushing a bright red. “You should have texted me or something,” he said to his roommate.
“Shit,” Tom cried. “I thought you were in class!”
“Prof cancelled,” Ben explained, dropping his backpack onto his desk. He couldn’t help grinning.
“This—we—it isn’t what you think,” Tom blustered as the other boy hid his face in his hands.
“Relax, you guys. Of course it’s what I think. And I happen to think it’s great. I’m gay too, you doofus.”
They’d become fast friends after that. They’d never hooked up romantically, which was probably why they’d remained friends to this day.
Carl knew David from their grad school days, and Ben and Carl had still been together when the invitations had arrived. The odds were good that Carl would be there, but hopefully Ben would be able to avoid him.
The temple where the wedding was being held was located in a tree-lined neighborhood in Brooklyn. Ben didn’t want to hassle with the subway, so he took an Uber and arrived as people were being seated in the sanctuary. He stood at the back of the room, looking around to see if Carl was there. He was relieved not to see him as he moved toward the pews and found a seat near the front next to a family of four.
They made small talk for a while, and Ben learned that the woman was Tom’s cousin. She shared a funny story about Tom during one of their summer vacations on the Jersey shore. He was about five years old at the time, and he’d gotten separated from the family as they were heading back to the parking lot, and he’d climbed into the wrong car with the wrong family, nearly giving his parents a heart attack.
There was a slight commotion to Ben’s left, as someone slid onto the cushioned bench beside him. At that moment, the happy couple appeared at the back of the sanctuary, and everyone rose to their feet to watch them walk up the aisle. Whoever was beside Ben smelled fantastic—a fresh citrusy cologne of a definitely masculine variety.
Trying not to be too obvious, Ben glanced toward the newcomer. His heart skipped several beats as he took in the devastatingly handsome guy standing beside him. He looked familiar somehow, though Ben would have definitely remembered if they’d met before. His shiny chestnut-brown hair was brushed back from a high, noble forehead. His eyes were a deep, unusually dark blue beneath slightly arched brows. He had a long, straight nose and strong jaw. He wore a dove gray suit that accentuated his broad shoulders and powerful physique.
No doubt feeling Ben’s eyes on him, the guy flashed him a dazzling smile, deep dimples appearing on either cheek, a knowing look in his eyes. If Ben had had any doubt as to the guy’s sexual orientation, he no longer did. His cock instantly hardened, and he turned quickly away, his heart racing.
By the time Tom and David had processed up the aisle and stopped in front of the Rabbi, Ben’s libido had calmed enough for him to focus. Tom and David looked great in matching tuxedos, a small, red rose tucked into each groom’s lapel. They stood beneath the marriage canopy, beaming as they took each other’s hands.
The ceremony was brief, with the Rabbi talking about the sanctity of marriage, and how the Jewish faith had adapted to welcome same-sex marriages. Tom and David had written their own vows, some serious, some funny, and Ben listened wistfully, wondering if he’d ever find that kind of love.
At their joint breaking of the glass, Ben reflexively called out, “Mazel Tov,” along with the rest of the guests. The man beside him leaned over and murmured, “I’ve never been to a Jewish wedding before. That was really cool.”
Ben turned to him, glad his instantly returning erection was hidden by his jacket. “A gay Jewish wedding with a female Rabbi, no less. My grandfather would have had a heart attack.”
“My father would have got out his shotgun,” the handsome man whispered back. It was clear he, like Ben, was struggling not to laugh out loud. They got to their feet along with everyone else as people began to file out to the attached reception hall.
The handsome man stuck out his hand. “I’m Adrian Taylor, a friend of David’s.”
“Ben Richman,” Ben replied, accepting the man’s firm shake. “Tom and I were freshman roommates in college.”
Adrian asked, “Are you here alone?”
“Yeah,” Ben said. “At least I hope so.”
Adrian made a quizzical face. “What does that mean?”
Ben frowned, regretting he’d brought up his ex right out of the gate, but it was too late to backtrack. “It means my ex might be here. We were both invited.”
It had been nearly a month, and Carl’s constant stream of phone calls and text messages that alternated between heartfelt apologies and drunken rants had finally slowed to a trickle. The last Ben had heard from Carl, he was supposedly in AA, conscientiously working on his sobriety. Ben only hoped Carl would stay with the program this time.
“Awkward,” Adrian said as they made their way into the reception hall, where a jazz band, an open bar and a lavish buffet awaited them. “I came alone. I always come alone to weddings. You never know who you’re going to meet.” He flashed a warm, sexy smile that melted Ben’s insides. Was he, just possibly, interested?
That suited Ben just fine. He was more than ready to reenter the singles scene. While he didn’t miss Carl, he did miss the closeness, the friendship and the sex a relationship afforded. Most of all, he missed being in love.
Slow down, his brain commanded. You’re still in rebound mode, plus you met this guy less than an hour ago.
“I’m starving,” Adrian said as they entered the lavishly decorated reception hall. Long tables filled with platters of food and dozens of chafing dishes. On the opposite wall, two bartenders were at the ready behind a fully stocked bar. “That buffet looks great.”
“I think I’ll get a drink first. Can I get you something?” Ben asked.
“Sure. Get me a tonic and lime?”
“Gin and tonic?”
Adrian shook his head. “Hold the gin.” He flashed another dimpled smile. “I’ll save you a place in the buffet line. It’s already a mile long.”
Ben got a beer for himself and Adrian’s requested soda. As he made his way back toward his new friend, he glanced around the crowded room, relieved he hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Carl Young.
He joined Adrian in the line and they piled their plates with various salads, vegetables, pasta and meat. Balancing their drinks and plates of food, Adrian and Ben took the last two seats at one of the long tables near the wedding party. The two grooms entered the hall at that moment, lifting their hands into the air as everyone cheered and applauded the newly married couple.
Wait staff began moving through the hall, armed with trays of champagne flutes. When they had distributed the glasses to the hundred or so guests, a man Ben recognized as Tom’s older brother got to his feet, his champagne glass aloft. He clinked the glass with his spoon until the room quieted, and then made a touching toast about the new couple, with a few funny anecdotes about Tom as a little boy thrown in.
Ben grabbed the folded scrap of paper from his jacket pocket and scanned the list, praying he’d remember what he wanted to say and not make a fool of himself. “Okay, next is David’s Aunt Sarah, then their friend, Roberta, and then me.”
“Nervous?” Adrian asked.
“A little,” Ben admitted. “I never really liked public speaking.” He took a fortifying sip of champagne.
“Few people do,” Adrian replied. “Just focus on Tom and David, and pretend they’re the only ones in the room. You’ll do fine.”
“Thanks.” Ben reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his index card. “I took a few notes.”
“Forget the notes,” Adrian advised with a smile. “Just tell Tom and David how you feel about this special day. Throw in something from Tom’s past that will make people laugh, and you’re done.”
Ben smiled back and tucked the card back into his jacket. Adrian was right. They were among friends here, and Ben definitely had lots of funny stories about Tom’s first year at NYU.
All too soon, it was Ben’s turn to do his toast. He got to his feet, his mouth suddenly dry, his heart beating overly fast.
“Remember,” Adrian whispered. “You’re just talking to your friends, Tom and David.”
Ben lifted his champagne glass toward the couple, touched at the way they were glowing with happiness, their new gold rings glinting on their left hands, and suddenly it was easy. He spoke briefly, reminiscing about how clueless they’d both been as freshman, without saying anything that might embarrass Tom. Tom, who had loved card games, used to joke that he was great at poker, but sucked at love. “It looks like life has finally dealt you a royal flush. To true love.”
He took his seat amidst the applause, his face heating with pleased embarrassment. Adrian was grinning at him. “Nailed it,” he said, lifting his untouched glass of champagne in Ben’s direction.
A shadow appeared suddenly over the table. “Well, well. Quite the toast, Benjamin. I remember true love.” Carl’s deep, resonant voice whipped like a knife over Ben’s senses, and he jerked his head up, his stomach twisting.
“Carl,” he managed. “Hey.”
Carl cocked an eyebrow. “And hey to you, darling boy.” He lifted his glass, which was filled with ice and amber liquid, no doubt his favorite Scotch. Judging from Carl’s ruddy color and over-bright eyes, it was probably not his first. So much for AA.
Carl’s eyes slid over Ben to settle on Adrian. “Mr. Taylor,” he said dryly. “Still doing underwear ads?”
That’s where Ben had seen Adrian before. He was a model. Of course he was.
A little color moved over Adrian’s cheeks, and his answering smile was cold. “Among other things.”
Carl lifted his glass to his lips and drank the contents in one gulp. Turning back to Ben, he said in a tight voice, “I wasn’t aware the two of you knew each other, Ben. But then, why would I? Apparently there were quite a lot of things I didn’t know.”
Don’t start, asshole, Ben thought furiously. If Carl created a scene at Tom and David’s wedding, he’d kill him. “We just met,” he said quickly. Then he cursed himself. Fuck Carl. Ben didn’t have to explain himself to him—not anymore.
Adrian leaned closer and put his arm lightly around Ben’s shoulders. The contact sent an instant electrical charge through Ben’s body. It was all he could do not to grab Adrian’s handsome face and kiss those perfect lips, Carl or no Carl. “And we’re hitting it off really well,” Adrian said, fixing Carl with a small smile as he stared him down.
Carl’s skin flushed an angry, mottled red, his nostrils flaring. His mouth moved, but no sound came out. Ben felt almost sorry for his ex, but at the same time he felt wildly, giddily free. If this gorgeous new guy wanted to put his arm around Ben’s shoulders, it was nobody’s business but his own, and definitelynot Carl’s.
Carl turned away abruptly, vanishing onto the crowded dance floor.COLLAPSE