Beyond the shadows, his love held true for only one man
Derek Lawrence is a player. There is no other way to phrase it. He's been unstoppable since coming out in high school. Guy after guy, conquest after conquest. He isn't looking for any kind of commitment from anyone. His life is perfect the way it is.
Except for one rather significant exception. Derek has been in love with his best friend and business partner, Justin Leary, since the first day he set eyes on him over twenty years ago.
When an implication surfaces that Justin's feelings for Derek might also run deeper than friendship, he considers approaching Justin about it. But before he can, one targeted act of violence followed by the aftermath of violation challenges the depth of Derek's love for Justin.
Publisher: Steambath Press
Heat Level: 3
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Coming Out Later in Life, Fated Mates / Soul Mates, Friends to Lovers, Hurt / Comfort, Love Can Heal / Redemption, Passing as Straight, Slow Burning Love, True Love, Unrequited Love
Word Count: 54500
Setting: Washington State, USA
Languages Available: English
Justin clenched his eyes shut, his thoughts suspended somewhere between prayer and hope as he listened to Derek move closer to him. Maybe Sam's rant had stirred something in him.
Don't be an idiot.
Yet his body burgeoned with the dim prospect of Derek's actions when his best friend's hand came to rest on his chest. Strong and heavy. As it had so many times before.
He breathed up into its weight as Derek's thumb stroked the material of his jacket. Deep down, he knew there was no intent beyond friendship, so he bottled the impulse to turn toward Derek, capture his lips, and run his hands through the deep dark curls that were more often than not decorated with drywall dust, wood chips, and colorful stripped casings of electrical wires.
"Hey, about what Sam said ...," Derek mumbled.READ MORE
"Yeah, what the hell, right?" Justin made an attempt at a laugh but only managed a single exhalation in its place, panic strangling his breath. He hadn't expected Derek to bring up what Sam had said. His breath quickened, fueled by uncertainty.
Derek grunted and laughed, barely audible. "That's our Sam for you."
"Yeah," Justin whispered. "It sure is."
Derek stopped stroking the material of Justin's coat but left his hand where it lay, resting on Justin's chest. He shifted his shoulder and repositioned his pillow. The change in position brought Derek close enough for Justin to feel Derek's warm breath on his cheek.
"You like working with me, don't you? The whole business? Our business. Doing renovations and everything." Derek's hand emphasized each sentence in turn by patting Justin's chest.
"Of course, I do." Justin laughed, the sound erupting short and breathy. "Do you honestly think I'd put up with you otherwise?"
"I'd like to think so," Derek said.
Justin laughed in earnest this time. "Yeah, I suppose. Right back at you. Who else would put up with me singing twenty-four seven?"
"But is that …"
Derek fell silent as he gripped Justin's coat, then smoothed it out.
"Never mind," he mumbled into his pillow.
They must have passed out because Justin found himself being startled awake when Derek coughed, pulled his hand away, and curled up facing away from him.
"You better head over to Nick's tent," Derek said. "I think we fell asleep."
Justin cleared his throat. "Yeah. Right. Sure."
Within moments, he was struggling to gather up his things to share a tent with a man he barely knew, while his body was aching to be held by the one person who'd made it impossible for him to love anyone else. His dream of a wife, a loving home, and children were nothing more than a glimmering illusion. He'd left a string of ex-girlfriends in his wake because of Derek.
Every woman he'd ever had a serious relationship with, eventually backed away, when it became obvious he wasn't capable of committing to them long-term.
As each year passed, he'd come to accept he'd never have a life similar to his parents. Not while Derek continued to have an unrelenting hold on his heart.
Justin slipped out of the tent, paused for a moment, and looked up at the star-filled sky as he clung tight to his motley collection of belongings.
He snorted through a laugh. Wishing on a shooting star was more likely to grant him a release from Derek's hold on him than the course he was currently on.
"You hear that, star," Justin mumbled, almost dropping his pillow as he spun around staring skyward. "Help me let him go." He stumbled to keep his balance until he slammed up against a tree, his back pressed firmly to its ridged bark, steadying the tilt-a-whirl in his head. The nauseating repercussion of suppressing a steadfast heart intent on inciting an absurd unattainable duet between him and Derek.
Justin kicked at an offshoot of root extending from the tree, unsheathing a small section while swearing under his breath. His feelings toward Derek were never going to relinquish their grip on his life. It was a reality he knew was slowly crushing him.
He grunted in aggravation, then took a moment to relieve himself before setting off across the open area surrounding the fire pit. His pillow, sleeping bag, and extra clothes being released, then retrieved. Released—retrieved. Released—retrieved, imitating a pack of rebellious children on a midnight outing, their chaperone too drunk to contain them.
Justin bashed his flashlight against his thigh a few times. It was still acting up, stubbornly refusing to stay lit. He careened onward, undaunted by the obstacle course of discarded beer bottles encircling the fire pit. He stuffed the flashlight into his coat pocket as he arrived fireside.
He stared down at where they'd all been gathered earlier, the warm cheery glow of the firelight uniting them, now dark and cold.
Justin blinked as he willed his eyes to adjust, then staggered along the gravel road leading to the site where Nick had pitched his tent.
He managed to remain on his feet despite the relative darkness.
Arriving with minimal swearing, he pawed at the billowy fabric until he found the tent flap and unzipped it. He looked back over his shoulder toward the direction of Derek's tent.
Their tent. They'd bought it together.
It was where he should be. Their bodies entwined, skin against skin.
Justin lowered his chin to rest on his chest.
It'll never be.
Derek had been acting differently though. Nervous almost.
Go to sleep.
After edging into the empty space on the tent floor, Justin had kicked his boots off, shrugged out of his coat, and shimmied his way into his sleeping bag when Nick spoke.
"Thanks for doing this for me. I know you'd rather be sleeping with Derek."
Like with, with? Or just with?
Justin rolled over and pushed himself up onto one elbow as his gut twisted, tense with apprehension.
He has to be joking.
His ability to make out Nick's features was hindered, given the limited amount of moonlight illuminating the tent. He couldn't be sure without asking.
"What do you mean?" Justin asked.
"I saw the way you were looking at him tonight."
The sound of Nick emitting a short laugh after that statement sent shivers up Justin's spine, prickling his skin. It wasn't a malicious sound necessarily, but it unsettled him. He was Sam's cousin, but Sam hadn't seen him in years, so they didn't know much about him.
"Too bad he's completely oblivious," Nick added as he moved closer to Justin. "He has no idea what he's passing up."
Justin shifted his position and backed away.
There was purpose in Nick's advance.
"Whoa, Nick." Justin raised his hand and pressed it against Nick's bare chest. "I think you've got me all wrong."
"Do I?" Nick snatched Justin's hand from his chest, restraining it, and guided it down his body.
Justin groaned as his hand was thrust into the front of Nick's sweatpants and introduced to Nick's semi-erect cock. He didn't retreat or recoil.
He should have, but he didn't. Likely, due to the excessive amount of alcohol he'd consumed, but maybe not. Inebriation aside, he should have stopped himself from wrapping his fingers around Nick's thick girth, and caressing its warmth, but he didn't.
"Okay," Justin admitted. "Maybe not entirely wrong."
"Thought so," Nick said, then released Justin's arm in order to grapple him closer.
Whoa, hold on.
Justin whipped his hand out from the front of Nick's sweatpants. "I'm not going to sleep with you."
"Why not?" Nick asked. His movements were ardent and determined as he unzipped his own sleeping bag and shrugged out of his sweatpants, then tossed them behind him.
"No." Justin shifted his body until he felt the material of the tent wall straining behind him. He was unable to back up any further.
He shivered as a gust of chill air rushed past the exterior of the tent, permeating his spine and radiating its indifference to his situation, straight through to his chest.
He clenched his hands into fists—prepared.
"Come on," Nick said. "You know you want to."
"Nick, stop," Justin almost shouted as a rough hand fumbled and narrowly succeeded in unzipping the entirety of his sleeping bag.
Justin reached for the zipper, wanting to re-encase himself against the threat but missed, grazing his knuckles on the biting metal teeth before making contact with Nick's arm.
"I'm serious. I'm not interested," Justin said, shoving Nick to push him away, but Nick held steadfast, his much larger frame making him immovable.COLLAPSE
Freya on Sinfully Gay Romance Book Reviews wrote:
(5 out of 5 stars)
This is truly a heartbreaking story. The sad fact though is it is a story that I am sure sadly many have had to live through. And I am sure that some have had the same line of thoughts about suicide as one of the main characters in this story did that has been in the same horrible situation as he was.
This book broke my heart on so many different levels. I do not want to get into too many situations in this book because it will give away a big part of this story but the part that I will get into is the fact that Justin and Derek have lived each other most of their lives. But what is so heartbreaking about that is that neither man found the courage to tell the other, even though everyone around them knew that they did.
These two men have let the love and the secret of loving one another without having the courage to tell the other almost rip them apart. They have been best friends and inseparable since they met but both are afraid of losing the other. So they keep their secret to themselves and torment themselves because of it. This one secret is enough to almost destroy both of them. Add to the fact that even though they are best friends, they keep other aspects of their lives from each other and it is also causing tension between them and you have a major recipe for disaster.
Can Derek and Justin finally get their acts together enough to be completely open and honest with each other or will they both continue to destroy the other until the damage is too much to come back from?
This read as I said was heartbreaking on so many different levels. I can only imagine how hard to write a story like this was. It is definitely a book that even though there is some horrible traumatic things that happen, there is still that hope that is in there for maybe something good on the other side. Leigh Jarrett definitely did a wonderful job in writing this book. Like I said, no doubt it had to be difficult to write. I look forward to more from Leigh in the future.
Lulu on Alpha Book Club wrote:
(5 out of 5 stars)
Inseparable friends Derek and Justin have loved each other for a long time but never told each other. Their confessions stayed secret because, although Derek came out of the closet, Justin stayed firmly in. Derek loves Justin, but after being rejected by Justin years previous, he became a player. More secrets threaten their future.
Right from the off, this story pulled at my heartstrings. I’m not giving away spoilers as something is already in the blurb. But, a simple kiss of need with another leads to something brutal and unwanted. The consequences are dire for Derek and Justin. It leads to unjust self-recrimination and a host of actions and emotions through the period of recovery. The secrets kept over the years, too, come to the fore. Coupled with pain and regret, they are events they may not be able to survive. They have to find themselves before they can find each other.
Many memories are recalled, often with only a few sentences of the current timeline before sinking back into another memory. Occasionally, I found this a touch confusing as I’d just realised the change before the timeline changed again. But, this evened out as the story progressed.
There is lots of pushing away, coming back together, anger and blame. All need to be processed. Absolutely every emotion is on show. On many occasions, my throat closed and tears welled up. If they thought the anguish of not confessing their love was stressful, it pales in comparison to what happens after they confess it.
Shadows On My Soul is a story of hurt and recovery, that soooo has to be read. For much of it, my heart was thundering. The drama lasts right up to the final pages – awesome.
Cee on Alpha Book Club wrote:
(5 out of 5 stars)
You need to read this book! Beautifully and heartbreakingly written by Leigh Jarrett.
"I'll never stop loving you."
Derek and Justin have been best friends since school and are on one of their regular camping trips with friends. They always share a tent and this one night all their buried feelings for each other seem to come to the surface but before anything can happen Justin ends up sharing a tent with their friends cousin.
Now this next part was understandably difficult and harrowing to read and I don't know how anyone can read these scenes without feeling heartbroken and angry all at once. But it was written so well by Leigh and I applaud her for that because it is very difficult to write about sexual abuse in books but it is an important topic that needs highlighting and she did this to perfection.
The next part is about trying to move forward with their lives and there's a lot of reflection on their past and picking apart their tricky feelings for each other.
"Your love has been the only thing I've ever wanted. From the first day we met, I knew I wanted you in my life. Forever."
There's plenty of mistakes a long the way and at times I wanted to shake Derek and knock some clarity in to him but they both came round in the end and resolved their issues.
"There is so much I want to say to you," Justin said.
"So much more than I love you." He cast his eyes downward. "I can't even …"
"You don't need to." Derek rubbed his thumb across Justin's bottom lip then kissed him. "I can feel it."
After the abuse there understandably isn't a lot of sex scenes for quite some time and when they do come they are not in a great deal of detail. Now personally I thought this was very well done and showed true realism but if you're after lots of hot sex scenes this is not the book for you.
Character development was fantastic and the chemistry between the two of them was realistic and genuine. Secondary characters were great and there was a few side issues going off as well as the main story which I enjoyed and offered a much needed break at times from the difficult parts.
A fantastic book and with a vast majority of proceeds going to a brilliant cause this is a must read! It has certainly made me want to read more by this author.
Christina on Christina's Bookshelf wrote:
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Maybe someday, you'll see it, Justin. Like, really, really see it."
Loving your best friend was easy. Admitting it was the hard part, especially when you were so deep in the closet, Narnia was real.
What should have been a special bonding moment during camping, as they did for so many years prior, the night became an eternal nightmare for Derek as he witness the abuse of his friend and business partner suffered at the hands of another.
They had been so close for so long, however, both were hiding secrets.
One night that should have cemented a defining change in their lives was soiled as Justin was ripped from Derek when he was attacked. Unable to cope, Justin attempted to remove the catalyst, sending both he and the man he secretly loved into a situation it would take more than trust to restore. With too much time on his hands, Justin is forced him to relive earlier days, examine his attraction to Derek and the thoughts of never having him as more than a friend. And Derek is left wondering if the man he always wanted to be his would ever find his way back home.
One situation, borne of hatred and escalated into mind numbing pain brought these two men to defining their status.
When I received this book for my group leader, the synopsis gutted me. I knew to prepare for angst and all the feels. What I did not expect was to be sucked in and invested so easily. As I read I could not stop asking: why have I never read for this author before? And as I scour my kindle, I realised that I have a few of her books, which I am prepared to read. This book has left an indelible stain on my soul. It proves how easily anything can be torn apart and rendered sullied if we allow it. Through the hurt and the pain, the misunderstanding and the damned, true love prevails once again.
(5 out of 5 stars)
I absolutely LOVED this book. The subject matter was intense and rough, but sadly it's very real.