Dare Buckley has come home — or at least, he’s come back to Palladian, the small town he left as a teenager. After a major lapse in judgment forced him to resign from the Seattle PD, Palladian is the only place that’ll hire him. There’s one benefit to hitting rock bottom, though: the chance to investigate the mystery of his father’s suicide.
Dare also gets to reacquaint himself with Finn Fowler, whose childhood hero worship ended in uncomfortable silence when Dare moved away. But Finn isn’t the same little kid Dare once protected. He’s grown into an attractive, enigmatic stranger who neither wants nor needs what Dare has to offer.
In fact, Dare soon realizes that Finn’s keeping secrets — his own and the town’s. And he doesn’t seem to care that Dare needs answers. The atmosphere in Palladian, like its namesake river, appears placid, but dark currents churn underneath. When danger closes in, Dare must pit his ingenuity against his heart, and find his way home the hard way.
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Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Tropes: Badass Hero, Bodyguard/Guardian Angel, Coming Home, Criminals & Outlaws, Friends to Lovers
Word Count: 94000
Setting: Palladian, Washington, USA
Languages Available: English
The night Dare Buckley arrived back in town, Finn saw his SUV pass Lyddie’s house not once, but twice. From his place on the porch swing next to his sleeping aunt, Finn tried to read how the years had fallen on Dare. Did he still have his twin blessings—movie-star looks and athletic ability—or had his recent failure knocked him off-balance enough to make his killer confidence slip? Finn couldn’t tell. The light on Lyddie’s street was bad, and Dare didn’t slow down anyway.
Bill Fraser had been the first to pass along the gossip making the rounds at the police station. Dare had fucked up spectacularly on the job in Seattle and come back to Palladian, where it had taken family friendships and old ties to get him hired on.READ MORE
That was going to go down poorly. Hiring anyone—especially a detective—from outside rubbed everyone raw. No one had more to say about it than Officer Bill Fraser, who’d expected to move up through the ranks on merit and seniority and instead had found himself competing with his childhood nemesis.
A few days later, Finn pulled into the lot at the Safeway just in time to watch Dare stroll out with a cartload of frozen dinners and beer. Seeing Dare’s face—at last—set off a depth charge of bittersweet memory and unwanted longing.
“Not today,” he muttered as he maneuvered his piece-of-shit car into one of the remotest spaces in the lot. In his rearview mirror, he watched Dare put his cart away in the designated return.
God. What a Boy Scout. How does a guy like Dare fuck up badly enough to get fired from a job he was born to do?
Finn’s heart gave an inconvenient, mawkish little leap when he saw Dare scan the parking lot with what Finn thought of as professional detachment. For a minute, his gaze landed on Finn’s car, and Finn could swear he saw Dare’s altogether too memorable blue eyes narrow. The sunlight caught Dare full in the face just then, so that strands of glittering gold winked among the many colors in Dare’s hair and late-afternoon stubble.
Dare raised his hand to shade his eyes, almost as if he knew Finn was watching, almost as if he knew Finn was there. Without really thinking it through, Finn drove through the empty space in front of him and out of the lot, heading toward the convenience store three blocks further down the road, his heart thudding as though he’d run the whole way.
Fifteen years was a long time.
Finn got the few things he needed from the store and then made his way home through streets he knew as well as he knew his times tables. When he pulled up in front of the house, Lyddie sat on the porch swing waiting for him. He spent a minute pretending a preoccupation with his cell phone, as if he were checking nonexistent messages or replying to friends he didn’t have. That gave him time to put on the perfectly amiable mask he wore around his aunt and her friends.
Behind the house, the river gurgled along its sluggish course. The dank smell of it assailed him the minute he opened his car door. It wouldn’t be long before they had rain and when they did, the river would churn past, carrying off whatever debris made it smell like garbage.
Most probably it was actual garbage.
Lyddie watched him walk up the path, an enigmatic half smile on her lips—as though she knew he was only putting one foot in front of the other for her sake. As though she worried what he’d do when it wasn’t necessary anymore.
“Finn Fowler. When were you going to tell me Dare Buckley is back in town?”
“Didn’t I mention that?” He didn’t meet her shrewd gaze as he settled himself beside her.
“You most certainly did not.”
“Yeah. Well, I guess he got a job with the Palladian PD.”
Finn swung them both with a lazy push of his foot. His long legs reached the wooden porch, while her dainty feet dangled in fluffy, yellow nonskid socks. Her eyes were closed against the setting sun, but Finn knew she was awake and aware of every sound, every movement around them. Bees hummed. Birds chirped. The slightest of breezes blew warm and humid against his skin, ruffling his hair.
“Happiness doesn’t just come up to you and call out, Finn. You have to be prepared sometimes to just grab it as it goes by.”
Finn knew. God, he knew.
“I may be an old woman, but know what I’m talking about. Love makes your heart soar.”
“Why on earth would anyone want a sore heart?”
“Soar, baby. S-O-A-R.” She gave his thigh a light slap. “It feels like your heart has wings or it’s on fire or something. Sometimes you fly so high it hurts, even when it’s good. You ever feel that for one of your young men?”
“Can’t say I have.”
She gripped his hand, her thin fingers so cool and delicate in his. Everything about her felt fragile. “Happiness comes down to intention. You have to know what you want and ask for it. Kate says she saw a whole movie about that on Netflix. It’s how Oprah got where she is. Intent is key.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Intention, sure. He knew how powerful that could be.
He’d tried so hard to win his mother’s love, it’d burned his heart to ash. After she died, he’d hoped to belong to a family like Dare’s, even if it was only pretend. He’d set his heart—his intent—on what he’d wanted and grabbed for it like every molecule in his body depended on it to live. Twice he’d reached for love he’d thought was just within his grasp and ruined everything.
Twice was enough.COLLAPSE