If you no longer recognise someone, how can you possibly be expected to trust them with your life?
Some might describe Blake Brannigan’s life in the small Yorkshire village of Thwaite as bordering on mundane. His job in a café doesn’t exactly set the world alight. But, he’s got his own house, a boyfriend, and a close-knit group of good friends. For him, that’s more than enough to lead a contented life.
Then in one fell swoop, everything’s ripped away when he’s forced to flee the village with only his boyfriend for company. He doesn’t know why they’re leaving. He hasn’t got the faintest clue what’s going on, and he’s struggling to understand the actions and behavior of a man he thought he knew. A man that it soon becomes clear knows far more about what’s happening than he’s letting on. A man hiding a multitude of secrets.
When the true extent of what’s happening comes to light, Blake is rocked to the core. Peril lurks around every corner. The smallest decision suddenly spells the difference between life and death. If Blake’s to have any chance of survival in this new and frightening world, he’s going to have to unearth buried secrets, figure out whether love really can conquer all, and face emotional, physical, and mental challenges the likes of which he could never have imagined.
One thing's for sure, when life suddenly boils down to nothing more than the desperate need to find refuge, priorities change. Blake’s certainly have.
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 18-25
Word Count: 93 500
Languages Available: English
Fingers dug painfully into Blake’s upper arms. He stared in absolute shock at his boyfriend, trying his best to wriggle free and pull away. But rather than letting go, the grip only tightened, the fingers digging in even more. “You’re hurting me!”READ MORE
With a stricken look on his face, his boyfriend released him. It was so sudden, Blake found himself staggering backward a few steps. He righted himself quickly, rubbing at his sore arms and trying to find the right words. “You’re not making any sense. You can’t just tell me I can’t go to work today without any explanation whatsoever. I need to open up the café because Cherry’s not working today. It’s her day off. There’s only Pete, and he doesn’t have the keys. If I’m not there, Pete will call Mrs. Davies. She’ll have to drive in and open up herself and then she’s going to be seriously pissed at me. And what about the customers? You know what some of them are like. They get crotchety if the door’s not open a minute before nine. Like, they can’t wait more than five minutes for their breakfast.”
His boyfriend ran a hand through his hair, his frustration at Blake’s refusal to simply do as he was told, clearly growing. “I told you. We have to go!” He checked his watch. “In nine minutes, I have to leave. I want you…” He paused. “No, I need you to come with me.” Blake shook his head, his bewilderment growing with each moment that passed. The whole conversation was beyond crazy.
Ten minutes earlier, it had been a perfectly normal morning: he was dressed; he’d located his keys and had gotten as far as having one hand on the door handle to leave for the short walk to the café where he worked. It was exactly the same as every weekday morning. Then everything had suddenly been turned on its head; his boyfriend grabbing him, swinging him around to face him, and launching into a flurry of instructions, none of which made the slightest bit of logical sense. All Blake could do was listen in stunned amazement. “Why nine minutes?”
His boyfriend sighed, like Blake was the one being unreasonable. “I don’t have time to explain now. We’re wasting time standing around having this conversation. You need to start packing. I need to get…something.”
“But you won’t tell me where you want us to go? Or why?”
His boyfriend checked his watch again, a look of weary resignation settling on his face. “In eight minutes time, I’m walking out of that door. If you won’t come with me, I’m going to have no choice but to go without you.” His look turned imploring. “I don’t want to do that. I need you to trust me.” He grabbed Blake’s hand, interlocking their fingers together. “You trust me, right?” Blake nodded automatically. “Then please…do as I say. I can’t tell you why at the moment, but I will explain later. Or I won’t need to, you’ll be able to see for yourself by then. But, there’s no time. We have to go!”
The cryptic comments were starting to give Blake a headache. How he was supposed to explain this to his boss, he had no idea? She was probably going to fire him. He’d have to find another job, which given the size of the small Yorkshire village they lived in, wasn’t all that easy. There was always the pub. They usually took on bar staff fairly frequently. It would mean he’d have to work evenings, which wasn’t ideal. He rubbed wearily at his temples. The hand still holding his trembled slightly. Whatever was going on, his boyfriend was clearly strongly affected by it. He had to stand by him, right? “What do I need to pack?”
His agreement was met by a noisy exhale. “Just essentials: a couple of changes of clothes, toothbrush, toothpaste, water bottle. Don’t take anything that won’t fit in the backpack. The one we used when we went camping a couple of years ago.” He checked his watch again. “Seven minutes, Blake. You’ve only got seven minutes. Not a second longer.”
Blake turned on his heel, jogging quickly up the stairs. The empty backpack was squashed into the space on top of the wardrobe in the bedroom. It was hard to know who was more insane: his boyfriend for clearly losing it, or him for agreeing to go along with it.
Three years earlier
Blake Brannigan’s work colleague and good friend, Cherry, sidled over to him. Her hair currently matched her name: a bright, fiery red. Before that it had been purple. Blake couldn’t even remember what colour it had been the week before that. Possibly green, or maybe blue. She liked to cycle through all the colours of the rainbow. He gave her serious side eye. “What? I’m busy.”
She leaned her elbows on the counter next to him. “Hon, you are not busy. Stop being so prickly.” Cherry pursed her lips and made loud kissing sounds. “You know you love me really.” Blake didn’t bother to respond. It had been a seriously shit day: he’d gotten caught in a rain storm on the way to work—without an umbrella. That meant his hair had started to curl, which he hated. The customers in the café had been particularly fussy, complaining about everything from their tea being too strong to the size of the pastries which they brought in from a large-scale catering company in Leeds. They looked exactly the same bloody size to Blake as they did every day. In the end he’d had to cut one up and give them an extra piece just to shut them up. And then there was the temperamental coffee machine. He’d been begging Mrs. Davies for a new one for months now. But, oh no, they’d just keep getting it fixed over and over again, meaning they went for long periods without one at all while they waited for an engineer to come and patch it up for the zillionth time. All in all, Blake had had enough for one day. Any other day, he usually found Cherry’s brand of bluntness and bitchiness entertaining. He sighed, irritation taking precedence. “What do you want?”
She drummed her fingers on the countertop, the multiple rings on her fingers clanking together musically. “What’s the current status of your on-off relationship with Brendan?”
Blake pulled a face. The mention of his sort of boyfriend doing absolutely nothing to improve his disposition. “Off. Definitely off. We had a huge argument last week over something stupid. I can’t even remember what. We’d both had a bit to drink. He flounced out of the club in Harrogate and said he never wanted to see me again. He said we were done for good this time. I had to shoulder the whole cab fee back on my own rather than just paying half. Then he rang me the next night—five times. I ignored him, of course. You know, same old. I’ll make him suffer for a few days. Then, I’ll no doubt cave in and call him, and everything will be fine. For a few weeks anyway, until the next time.”
Cherry rolled her eyes, the story coming as no surprise to her. “He’s a dick. I don’t know why you bother with him.”
Blake shrugged. “We get along alright in between blowups. Besides, in case you haven’t noticed, there’s not exactly a long line of gorgeous, gay men around here.”
Cherry smiled. “Is that so? Well then, you should probably know that the most divine-looking man has been staring at you for the last ten minutes. If you weren’t so glum today, you might have noticed him drooling over you.” Blake lifted his head, quickly scanning the café tables. It was empty, apart from two workmen tucking into an all-day breakfast and a pair of old-age pensioners trying to out-do each other with tales of poor health.
He glared at Cherry. “Ha, ha. Very funny! Kick a man while he’s down, why don’t you?”
She wrinkled her nose, the ring in it touching her lip with the movement. “He’s in the bathroom. That’s why I’m telling you about him now…before he comes out. He hasn’t ordered anything yet. You can swoop in there and then he can eye-fuck you to his heart’s content.”
“Tell me that once you’ve witnessed it. Just keep your eyes on the bathroom door. I give it all of two seconds after he comes out before he’s back to staring at you. I reckon if we covered you in chocolate sauce, he’d break all known land-speed records to get over here to lick it off.”
Blake rolled his eyes. “Lucky we don’t have any chocolate sauce then, isn’t it?”
Reaching over to the nearest table, Cherry plucked one of the squeezy bottles from it, holding it close to Blake and miming tipping it all over him. “Ketchup?”
Batting her hand away, Blake tried his best to stay annoyed with her. She gave a knowing smirk. “But seriously, babe. If a good-looking man came in here, undressing me with his eyes like he was doing to you, I’d have him in that storeroom, on his back before you could blink.”
Blake shook his head. He didn’t doubt it for one minute. Cherry went through men like most people went through hot dinners. Trying not to make it too obvious, he positioned himself where he could watch the bathroom door. After five minutes of nothingness, he was three-quarters of the way to being convinced Cherry was yanking his chain. Then the door opened, and a man stepped out. Blake almost forgot how to breathe. Cherry hadn’t been joking when she’d described him as divine-looking.
He was tall; a good few inches taller than Blake himself, and Blake was six foot. Despite it being a hot day, he was dressed all in black; his long jean-clad legs tapering nicely up to a lean, muscular chest, and his worn T-shirt doing absolutely nothing to hide the definition beneath. Letting his gaze travel upward to the man’s face, Blake was stopped short in his mental inventory. The guy was staring right back at him. Blake quickly looked away. A nudge in his ribs served to remind him Cherry was right next to him. She raised an eyebrow. “Told you he was gorgeous, didn’t I?”
Blake let his gaze flick back over. The guy was still staring. “He knows I’ve seen him. Why is he still staring?”
She flicked a lock of fiery-red hair back over her ear. “Because…darling. He wants to fuck you, and he’s obviously not afraid to let you know that. So, you know…you should.”
“I should what?”
Cherry shot him a look of pity. “Take him home. Fuck him. Have some fun for once that doesn’t involve bucketsful of angst, and an argument. Oh, he’s coming over! I’m going to make myself scarce.” She backed away with a wink, leaving Blake to deal with the man who now stood less than a foot away, only a counter between them.
Blake pasted his best professional smile onto his face before turning to address the man. “Hi. If you sit down, I can come over and take your order.” The guy’s face was as beautiful as his body. Jet-black hair, contrasted sharply with the palest skin Blake had ever seen. It was like the man had never seen a single beam of sunlight. Cheekbones so sharp they could cut glass were off-set with almond-shaped, chocolate-brown eyes. He looked exotic but not like any nationality Blake could actually put his finger on. Perhaps he was some sort of mixture of numerous nationalities. And then there was his lips: perfectly shaped, the bottom one fuller than the top. For some reason, nerves kicked in. Blake did what he normally did to calm himself. He worried at the piercing below his lip with his teeth.
“I don’t want to order anything. I wanted to talk to you.”
Christ! The voice was beautiful as well. Blake made a concerted effort to collect himself. It was just a guy. A guy who was staring at him like he wanted to devour Blake, but a guy nonetheless. There was no point in getting all wound up over one man. He wondered if Cherry was still watching. Ignoring the temptation to turn around and look, he focused on the man in front of him. “Well, here we are. Talking.”
The man’s hand suddenly reached out, heading straight for Blake’s face. Blake whipped his head back, moving out of reach before contact could be made. “Hey, man. What the hell!”
Surprise blossomed on the other man’s face, the hand freezing in mid-air while Blake glared at him. “Sorry. I wanted to touch.”
“Your…” The man thumbed his own lip in the same place as Blake’s piercing like he didn’t know or couldn’t remember the correct name for it.
“Are you serious? What’s wrong with you? You can’t just touch without permission.”
The man nodded slowly, his hand finally dropping back to his side. “I understand. I’ll know in the future. Sorry.” There was an awkward silence before he spoke again. “Am I allowed to ask your name?”
Blake sighed. “Well, it’s certainly preferable to pawing at my face. It’s Blake.”
“Blake.” The man rolled the name around in his mouth like it was a new and exotic word he’d just learnt.
Blake was beginning to get a strong inkling that although the stranger might be gorgeous, he was also seriously weird. He should have known a beautiful stranger wandering in off the streets and being interested in him was too good to be true. Things like that just didn’t happen in a small Yorkshire village. There had to be a catch and he’d just found it. His manners were far too good, though, not to return the favor. His parents might have died in a car crash years ago, but he was still a product of his upbringing. “And you are?”
Much to Blake’s confusion, the man gave the question a long period of consideration before finally answering. “Zed.”
Blake frowned. “Zed? What kind of name is that? Is it short for something?”
Brown eyes held Blake’s gaze. “You wouldn’t understand my full name.”
Another weird answer. “Okaaay…what do you want to order?” Blake gestured above his head at the chalkboard menu which covered the majority of the back wall. “That’s what we’ve got.”
The man, Zed, didn’t spare it so much as a glance, his gaze still fixed on Blake. “I already told you. I don’t want to order anything, I just want to talk to you.”
“Well, this is a café, not a drop-in centre. You have to order something. Or you’ll have to leave.”
Zed finally lifted his head and frowned at the menu. He rummaged in his pocket while Blake tried his hardest to avoid staring at the man’s crotch. He unfurled his hand, revealing a few paltry coins in the centre of his palm. “What can I get with this?”
Blake leaned over, peering down at the coins. There was less than two pounds there. “Not a lot. A plain coffee? That’s about it.”
The man nodded. “I’ll have a…coffee then.”
Blake welcomed the opportunity to turn his back and busy himself with the coffee machine. Thankfully, it seemed to be back to behaving itself. Cherry was still missing. She’d either nipped out the back for a cigarette, or she was skulking around a corner watching every move he made. Knowing her, it was probably the latter. He placed the finished drink on the counter. “There you go.”
The man handed all of the coins to Blake. Blake shook his head, picking out the ones he needed and returning the rest. It shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise when the man didn’t move. Blake coughed, hoping he’d take the hint. Nothing. Those beautiful eyes just kept staring right at him. He tried a more direct approach. “You need to sit down.”
The man’s gaze left his for the briefest moment to take in the seats behind him. “Will you come and sit with me?”
Blake was beginning to feel stuck midway, somewhere between flattered and freaked out. He wasn’t quite sure which way the pendulum would swing. “I can’t. I’m working. Sorry.”
Looking crestfallen, the man picked up the coffee and moved away to the closest table. Blake went in search of Cherry. It didn’t take long to find her. She was in full smirk mode behind the storeroom door. He grabbed her elbow, manoeuvring her further into the storeroom so that they were completely out of sight of any of the customers. She propped her hand on her hip. “Well, what do you think? Hot, right?”
Blake could hardly deny that part. “Yeah, sure. But he’s also weird with a capital W.”
Cherry looked momentarily surprised, before her look became more pensive. “Does it matter?”
“What do you mean?”
She shrugged her shoulders expansively. “So what if he’s weird? You don’t need to talk to him. You take him home. You fuck him…or get him to fuck you…whatever floats your boat, and then you kick him out. I’m sure you can think of something to shove in his mouth to stop him from talking.” She let her eyes drop suggestively to Blake’s crotch, just in case he was in any doubt what she was referring to.
Blake let himself enjoy the fantasy for a moment, before shaking his head. “And what about when Brendan finds out?”
Cherry’s eyebrows furrowed. “Remind me. What was the name of that little red-haired twink Brendan was fucking when you guys were on your last break? You know the one I mean, the one he picked up at the bus stop? The one who was only about four foot tall. The one who—”
Blake cut her off. “I know who you mean. He was five foot five actually. And Brendan said they didn’t sleep together.”
Cherry’s look of disbelief made Blake feel like a gullible fool. He had to admit, he’d had his doubts too. “So…you really think I should…” He gestured back toward the café.
Cherry smiled wickedly. “Oh yes! If he were straight, I’d be all over him. I wouldn’t let a little thing like weirdness put me off.”
Blake took a moment to think about it. He wondered if the man was just as pale all over. He imagined what that pale skin might look like stretched across his sheets, and what that beautiful face might look like when he came. Would he be noisy? Quiet? Did he like to get fucked? Or did he prefer to be the one doing the fucking? It didn’t really matter. Blake was versatile. He’d be up for either option. “He’s probably already left. He only ordered a coffee.”
Crossing her arms, Cherry leaned back against the doorjamb and regarded him silently, a look of challenge in her eyes.
He wilted under the intent stare. “Or…he could still be here.” Despite knowing there was no way of being able to see the café from that angle, he glanced over his shoulder. “I’ll go and see.” Cherry still said nothing. Blake spun on his heel before he could chicken out.
The man was indeed still there, staring at his coffee cup like it had done something to offend him. Blake approached the table without any idea what his opening gambit was going to be. How exactly did you suggest to a complete stranger that you wanted to get horizontal together? Sure, he’d done it in a club after one too many tequilas, but he’d never done it in his workplace completely sober.
As he drew closer, it was clear the man had barely touched his coffee. Blake gratefully seized on that titbit as a conversational opener. “Is it too hot? I can put some cold water in it for you.”
Zed lifted his head, looking incredibly pleased to see Blake. “The temperature’s fine. But is it meant to taste like that?”
Blake’s brow furrowed. “What’s wrong with it?” The machine had seemed fine. But, that didn’t always guarantee that what came out of it was drinkable. Had the machine decided to start mixing strange concoctions again? Lifting the cup to his mouth, he took a sip: perfectly, ordinary coffee. “It’s fine.”
Zed nodded slowly. “I don’t think I like coffee then.”
“You don’t think you…like—Why’d you order it then?”
There was a clear look of puzzlement on the man’s face. “You told me to.”
“I said…I didn’t—” Blake cut himself short. The conversation was going nowhere. He needed to remind himself that talk was not what he was after. Conversations just highlighted the strangeness and stopped him from picturing what he’d look like naked. Well, almost. “Listen, I came over to say...well to see, that is…” Zed stared at him intently, as if he was hanging on every word Blake said. “I live around the corner. Well, a few streets away. It’s like a five-minute walk. Six at most.” He took a deep breath. What was the worst that could happen: he could get turned down by the weird guy he’d never see again? Either that or the guy would say yes, come home with him, and then murder him in his bed due to being a deranged serial killer.
Blake glanced over to Cherry. She’d left the storeroom at the same time as him and was now leaning nonchalantly against the counter. She made a big show out of licking her lips lewdly. He looked away before the other man could follow his gaze and notice what she was doing. “After my shift finishes…which is in like”—he checked his watch—“thirty minutes. I wondered if you wanted to come home with me. We could…”
There was no way to finish that sentence delicately, so he left it hanging, trying to say the rest purely with his facial expression.
There was no hesitation from the man. “Yes. I’d like that.”
Blake let his breath out in a whoosh, relief at not being rejected, making him forgo any attempt to play it cool. “Great. Good. So…that’s settled then. We can go back to mine…and…” Desire throbbed through his veins, making him feel momentarily dizzy.
“Can I wait here? Or do I need to wait outside for you?”
Is he being sarcastic? “Why would you need to wait outside?”
Zed poked at the neglected coffee cup with his finger. “I can’t drink that. You told me I needed to order something in order to stay. I don’t have any more money. I don’t mind waiting outside.” He pointed over to a wall on the far side of the street. “I could go and sit over there.”
Blake couldn’t keep the edge of frustration out of his voice. “Of course, you don’t need to bloody wait outside. Here’s fine. I’ll bring you something else over. My treat.”
He beat a hasty retreat before he could start to seriously question what the hell he thought he was doing.COLLAPSE