Chris Hart owns the only grocery shop in Nortown, but he isn't exactly overrun by customers. Some days he wonders why he bothers to open the doors at all. Spending his days smiling at the few people trickling in and his nights alone in bed isn't the most interesting life a man could lead. But when Chris suddenly gets the excitement he's been craving, it may be more than he bargained for.
Gabriel Miller loves his life. He's close to his sister, has a job he adores and is the proud owner of one and a half cats. But all of it is taken away when he witnesses a murder. To keep him safe, the police place him in Nortown, of all possible locations.
Chris can't believe they're letting someone live in his gran's old cabin in the middle of the winter. It's too cold. When the poor man shows up in his shop looking to buy clothes, Chris's heart melts, despite the freezing temperature. Gabriel notices the way the shopkeeper looks at him, but it can't be right. No one looks at a heavyset man with heat in their eyes. Do they?
- 1 To Be Read list
- 1 Read list
- Apr 28 - May 14: 20% off in pre-order/new release sale at Publisher
Publisher: JMS Books, LLC
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Pets Are 'Portant
Word Count: 31000
Setting: small town
Languages Available: English
Gabriel couldn’t stop shaking. He hadn’t slept all night. The cold had kept him shivering; there had been moments of teeth chattering. At one point, he’d managed to get a fire going, but the smoke had poured in and then it had died again. The only difference from before the fire was his stinging eyes.
Maybe he should be grateful for the extra layer of fat he carried around. It would probably keep him from freezing to death a bit longer, but what did a bit matter? Had he desired to die, he could’ve stayed in the city and done so without being cold.READ MORE
He’d put on every T-shirt and sweater they’d given him, and there weren’t many. Every single one of them stretched taut over his chest and belly, making him want to puke.
He swallowed down the sob threatening to escape. It wasn’t too bad. He was still alive. Toffee and Caramel were with Emma, and the animals at the veterinary clinic would manage without him. Everyone would manage without him.
They hadn’t let him contact anyone from work, but he was sure Emma had taken care of it—he hoped she had.
Rubbing his stinging eyes, he sucked in a shaky breath.
Maybe, one day, he could go back to work. Maybe they’d hold his position for him until after the trial.
The knot in his stomach grew tighter by the second. They wouldn’t keep it for him; he would never be able to go back. He would never feel Caramel’s soft fur under his hand again. Toffee wouldn’t wake him at dawn in protest about the food bowl running low.
The sobs he’d managed to suppress all night fought for space in his throat. He could hardly breathe through them, couldn’t fight them off.
Without knowing what he was doing or where he was going to go, he grabbed the car key a strictly dressed woman had dropped off yesterday evening and went to the door.
There had to be somewhere nearby he could find something to eat. His breaths became white clouds inside the car before the heater came on.
The frost-covered pine trees boxed in the narrow forest track. Gabriel gazed up the trunks as far as he could, afraid a tree would suddenly fall on the road. If he got squashed, all of this would be in vain.
It didn’t take long before more light found its way between the tree trunks. The trees became fewer and fewer, and a small, not really picturesque, but almost homey-looking town appeared. Gabriel gripped the steering wheel tighter. The road glistened in the light, and not even the ugly tenement buildings could take away the beauty of the winter morning.
He slowed down as the narrow road leading through the town’s centre took him to an open, asphalted parking space. A battered Jeep and a bright-yellow Smart car were parked outside a rundown café. Gabriel’s mouth watered at the thought of a caramel latte and a few cinnamon rolls. After the night he’d had, he deserved a dozen cinnamon rolls.
Parking next to the rusty Jeep, he turned off the engine. Before pulling out the key, he glanced at himself in the rear-view mirror.
God, he couldn’t go inside. He hadn’t touched a razor in over a week, and the dark bristles could hardly be counted as stubble anymore. His hair was a mess, too long and in dire need of a wash. He sucked in his belly and pulled at the fabric of the ugly moss-green sweater. Who in their right mind wore moss green?
He’d been whisked away from the police station as soon as he’d told them what he’d seen, and that he would be able to identify the men if he saw them again. Once he’d pointed them out in photos, a frenzy had taken over the police station. It had all happened so fast, and he hadn’t been able to grab any of his clothes.
The wine-red slacks he’d been wearing under the lab coat and a T-shirt was all he had. The clothes Hart had given him were a size too small, but he’d squeezed himself into the too-tight sweats before going into town anyway. Sweats in town. Gabriel sighed. He would never leave his flat in sweats back home, but he didn’t expect a village like this to take too kindly to fat queers in red trousers.
He scratched his beard, hoping they wouldn’t treat him badly for looking like a vagrant, and opened the car.
The first thing he noticed as he neared the door to the café was several people inside. He glanced at his watch: twenty past eight. What the hell was everyone doing here? He hadn’t expected the café to get many customers in a day, but as he opened the door, he was greeted by no less than seven pairs of eyes.
“Erm…good morning.” He pulled self-consciously at his sweater, hoping it didn’t draw too much attention to his wobbly middle.COLLAPSE