Paul Stone moved to Wyoming to escape white people in general and journalists in particular. He’s not averse to social media, but he wants to spin his story his way.
Blaze Langdon is more than another pretty face on Instagram. He’s going to save the pikas one post at a time, melding his capstone project at the University of Wyoming with observing the little rodents in the wild. Except he has to find them first, somewhere they won’t interact with people, unlike the hand-fed diva-pikas in Grand Tetons National Park.
When Blaze nearly tumbles over a concrete barricade on Paul’s mountain, they both find more than they bargained for: easygoing companionship, shared social justice causes, and steaming-hot sex. A chance meeting could be what they both needed to find companionship in the real world, beyond Paul’s thriller novels and Blaze’s online followers.
- 1 To Be Read list
Publisher: MLR Press
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 18-25
Tropes: Interracial Relationship, Meet Cute
Word Count: 25,000
Setting: Jackson Hole, WY
Languages Available: English
"Thank you for calling. This is Paul." He cringed at the sound of his own voice.
Paul hated answering the phone like a cheerful human being. He'd been waiting for a call from his agent all day. He had to be nice to her because she got him the book deals that paid his bills.
"Paul. Hi. It's Ranger Hicks. You remember me?"
"Yeah. Hey." She was a decent person, and one of the few to whom Paul had given his phone number.
"The local-yokel tourist season's still going strong," Hicks said. "I saw a Land Rover on its way out of the park, up your mountain. Is there snow up there?"
It had already been an active autumn, with heavy snow at the end of September. The snow had melted at his elevation after a week, and had resulted in humidity Paul hadn't felt since leaving the Midwest. "No snow around the house, but there's still some above the tree line."READ MORE
"It looked like Blaze's Land Rover. He's one of the college kids from the research program. If it is him, that's where he's headed." Paul sensed agitation in her voice. "Sweet kid, but looney-toons. I wanted to warn you in case he stops by your place on the way up."
Paul glanced out his writing-cave window at the steep rise of the mountain. The light had faded to the murky gray of twilight after a day of thick clouds hovering just out of reach of the mountain peak. If he had to go searching, Paul would be lucky to find someone on the mountain on a cloudy night.
"I won't shoot him, I promise."
She laughed. "Might scare some sense into the kid, but I didn't think you would. I know how you feel about people on the mountain. I wanted to let you know in case you run into him."
Paul didn't mind tourists or researchers on the mountain, but he hated insolent reporters. He'd had trouble with them since his debut novel. They wanted to exploit his life story and spin it into a catchy headline. "True Crime Past Influences Thriller Author," or some shit. They didn't seem to understand. He'd moved to Wyoming to get away from them. He didn't want to be famous for his past. He wanted to be known for his words, his stories. His college professors had praised him for his tales of "cathartic overcoming of fear." He wanted to capitalize on those tales, not the ones in the tabloids. For that reason, he'd told reporters to fuck off the first time. To some kid out camping, he'd try to be polite.
His phone rang again. This time, it was his agent, Dacia Marquez.
"I have some good news and bad news," she said.
"Hit me." They had an unspoken rule, bad news first.
"What? I love that manuscript the way it is!" Slut Shame was the title of his new thriller about a serial killer preying on strippers. "What do they want me to change?"
"They think it's too close to Kink Slave, and they can't sympathize with Erica. They don't think she's believable. Anyone that callous wouldn't be a target for your serial killer."
"It's her look, not her personality."
"I know that," she said. "They don't buy it, and they're the ones who need to buy it." She sighed. "I warned you about this."
"You warned me about this," he said at the same time.
"Ten variations on the same theme. This last one didn't sell as well as the others, so they think the Sex Workers series may have run its course." She paused, waiting for him to respond. The problem was, he didn't have a response. She was right. This book had felt hollow from the beginning. As he was writing, he'd wondered if he had words left in him to say more about his mom's senseless murder. Maybe he'd said all the words he could. He'd come up with ten ways she could have lived another day, to ease his own nightmares. Maybe it was time to let it go.
"Rewrite Erica to be more sympathetic. Wrap with Detective Taylor finally catching his mom's killer. With a couple of changes, this could be the strongest book in the series."
"The final book, you mean."
Dacia sighed. "It's time to put the Sex Workers to bed, Paul. This last book will tie up loose ends and give the readers what they want, but we both know you can't drag it out any longer."
He chuckled. "Did you really say, â€˜It's time to put the Sex Workers to bed'?"
"Shut up," she said, also laughing.
"How long do I get?"
"Can you have it back to me after the holidays?"
He agreed. Three months was plenty of time, even though he had no idea how to fix the main character, Erica. Likable had never been his thing. People liked his novels for the suspense, not for the human element. Erica was harsh because she had to be. She had to survive in a world where Paul's mom had died.
Paul had just reread the first chapter when his German Shepherd Dexter barked the first warning. Someone was driving up the mountain. Paul heard the thrum of an SUV then the ping of gravel as the vehicle turned off the hard-surfaced road. The vehicle had pulled into the parking lot fifty yards and a good twenty-foot drop from his front porch. He had at least two short chapters to read before he had to worry about a knock on the door. He settled down to read them. Through the window, he saw Dexter lying on the porch, ears pointed toward the driveway.
When Paul reached the end of the third chapter without a single peep from his visitor, he dropped the manuscript on the side table beside the lamp. He stood and stretched. The familiar ache in his shoulders threatening to stab him with sharp pains if he sat another moment. Even after his talk with Dacia, the stress never let go. The familiar question returned with each setback. Would she be proud of me? Am I living up to her dream of me?
Paul Stone's mom died when he was a college freshman. She'd been working double shifts as a nurse at South Shore Hospital. She'd taken two bullets to the chest when a drug addict couldn't convince her to give him some morphine.
At first, Paul couldn't deal. He had blamed himself. He should have gone to community college, but then he'd gotten the opportunity of a lifetime. He was accepted to Macalester College and earned the Catharine Lealtad scholarship, a full ride the first year. Guilt pushed him to succeed that first year. He hadn't wanted to let Catharine Lealtad down.
He supplemented with other scholarships, grants, and student loans for the rest. He'd graduated summa cum laude, out of spite. Spite for the white kids at his private school, telling him he'd never amount to anything. Spite for the white kids on campus trying to hold a vigil when his mom died and acting like they knew more about gun violence in Chicago than he did. Spite for the world where a white drug addict could walk right up to an ambulance bay, shoot a black nurse in the chest, and still have a chance for parole in ten years.
He carried spite with him and wore it like resting dick face. He knew he looked scary as fuck. That was one of the reasons he'd moved to Wyoming. Sure, Wyoming's population was mostly white people, but when the white people were outnumbered by cows two to one, he didn't think it mattered. No white people lived on his mountain, and that was fine by him.
There was probably a white college kid in his future, though. He still hadn't heard a knock on the door, and twenty minutes had passed since he'd heard the vehicle. He grabbed his Assassin's Creed hoodie from the coat tree by the door then slipped into his hiking boots and followed Dexter down the porch steps.
Dexter whined and took off toward the parking lot.COLLAPSE